Another way to look at the Christmas story…
Happy Hellenism (Christian Universalism) vs. Broken-Down Carthaginianism (Augustinian Theology)
Christians from the earliest days had a conception of God as the Responsible Parent-source, immanent in the Universe. They regarded the Incarnation, not as an expedient to remedy a marred plan, but as the climax of God’s eonian purpose. These weren’t bound by the narrow and depressing limits of Augustinian theology, but they joyfully soared with the depth and optimism of the noble thoughts of those early promoters of the benevolent God.
Hellenistic thought and vocabulary saw the whole creation moving gradually toward the elimination of all discord and evil. Holy Scripture plainly declares the salvation of all mankind and the restitution of all things. This Larger Hope, this infallible truth, is “the good tidings of great joy,” the Gospel promise which is “to all people.”
The trustee in this process is Immanuel, the Logos manifested in the flesh, made man for us and for our salvation. But as the universe is really One, the work of the Logos cannot be limited. The grace of God knows no limits. The incarnation is thus the expression of God’s universal purpose of unification, education, and restoration. This plan may be traced in all God’s dealings with us. His wrath and vengeance are really the expressions of His endless love. God’s judgments are but moments in the great redemptive process. The Resurrection is its climax.
In early Christian and Hellenistic vocabulary, Western ideas inherent in their doctrines of imputation, satisfaction, and substitution are non-existent; sin, however awful, is always curable. That’s because sin resides in the will, and not, according to Augustinian theology, penetrating to the nature of man. While the ties of heredity are recognized, yet infant innocence is firmly held. The Church, if not technically, is yet potentially and vitally a synonym for the whole human family.
The crude absolutism which has always characterized the Latin ideal of God, and which is reflected in the claims of the Pope, as God’s vicegerent, is also wanting in Hellenistic theology. This indeed recognized the Divine sovereignty, but it is the supremacy of a reasonable and loving Creator and Parent.
To man a special interest and dignity is assigned, stamped as he is indelibly with the Divine image, a child of the Father of all mankind, a pupil whom the Heavenly Tutor is educating. But man is more than this. He is the microcosm or mirror of the universe, God’s representative and vicegerent, a common bond and center uniting the universe.
These doctrines contrast profoundly with our traditional Western Creed. They require a new philosophy (which is yet the oldest) of God and man. They involve a new diagnosis of sin and a new estimate of redemption.
I hope many will reconsider their adherence to that theology still largely current among us, which, historically viewed, is little better than a broken-down Carthaginianism — an Augustinianism largely disintegrated, and disguised with a motley array of patches; I hope they may come to see the “Glad Tidings” which Latinism has never really believed.
Western divines have, and no doubt sincerely, professed to teach the Gospel, but their genuine message has been the deliverance of only a portion of the human family from a hell that doesn’t even exist, and a final dualism where sin, and pain, and woe, are forever triumphant.
The preceding article is based on a series of reflections from correspondence between 19th century Anglican Priest Basil Wilberforce and Thomas Whittemore. Daniel Sheridan of SuccessfulSavior.com edited some of the 19th century language and added a few of his own words to make it a complete article.