Imputation means that something is reckoned to our benefit, or, as it were, a debt paid on our behalf by someone else. The term is of Latin derivation, as puto, putare, means to think, to believe, to reckon, to value, to esteem. As a Calvinist, as a Protestant, few things were more important in my theology than imputed righteousness. The distance between God and the sinner, the state of our corruption, our inability due to our lack of original righteousness, made this doctrine a nice, tidy answer. Adam failed the test; he lost his innocence. As the federal head of the whole human race, he stood before the judgment of God as our representative, and thus passed to us not only corruption, but also guilt. We were as guilty of Adam’s sin just as if we were Adam. The law, that is, the Mosaic law, was a refined and exquisitely articulated restatement of the law given Adam. After all, were not traces of this found before Moses: the giving of tithes, the injunctions against murder, inter alia. Indeed sin, as St. John said, is a transgression of the law. When Christ comes, he comes as the second Adam. Where Adam failed, he succeeded. By His active obedience (the keeping of the law) he inherits for us righteousness, and by his passive obedience (his death) he satisfies God’s justice by being punished in our place. God then imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, that is, when he looks at the ledger of our life, he does not see our righteousness, for we have none, but sees that of Christ. Such verses as II Cor 5:21 (“For He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him”) seemed clearly to teach this.
But there are problems. Lots, in fact. For this post, only one will be addressed, and that is, that it robs the Person of the Son, the divine Logos, of being the sole mediator between God and man. For Calvinists, of course, it goes without saying that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God incarnate, and that only the God-man could provide redemption. In this Calvin, Vermigli, Bullinger, and Zanchius were all following St. Anselm (though with the necessary Protestant twists, for St. Anselm did not hold to imputed righteousness) that God had to become a man for only eternal God provide the means to fulfill the infinite demands of justice, and only man could pay for man’s sins, and thus the God-man. Yet from this very definition we will see the problem.
But first, some side notes. For the Church fathers, whether Irenaeus, or Origen, or St. Athanasius, or the Three hierarchs (Gregory Nazianzen, Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom), or St. Ambrose, or St. Augustine, our chief problem is that we lack life, and that having turned to death and unreality, we have separated ourselves from God. This we all do because of our corruption (the death inherited from Adam), and while all are corrupted by Adam, we are guilty of our own sins (and we sin inescapably due to the fact that we are turned to death). Our nature is not sinful, but corrupted. More importantly, in each of us is our own individual mode of willing, in which sin resides. Thus we are each individually guilty of sin by the exercise of what the fathers called our gnomic will (will is a natural human faculty, and since natural, is not changeable, otherwise we would stop being human and start being something else).
Next, between human nature and the divine nature there is an infinite gulf. Indeed, for the Fathers, God is so infinitely removed from us that we cannot even speak in univocal terms about anything to do with God. While this is given in exquisite form by Pseudo-Dionysius in the late fifth century, it was also well said by Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great of Caesarea (for a really good intro on this, see Deirdre Carabine, The Unknown God. Negative Theology in the Platonic Tradition: Plat ot Eriugena). If God’s glory is infinite and indescribable, how much more so his very essence, said St. Basil. This was stated in their arguments with the Eunomius. For Eunomius, the divine nature could be reached by the human intellect. One consequence of this is that there is no need for Christ to be God. Why? Because the mind, linked to God by intellected categories, had those categories as intermediaries. If I know something in the same way that God knows something, or I know something univocal with that category in God (for Eunomius it was God’s unbegottenness), then God and I share that in common. Having this in common, why do we need something else then in common to reunite us?
This brings us back to imputed righteousness. The righteousness that Christ gives us, according to the Calvinists, is a created righteousness, not uncreated. Christ fulfills the law that Adam failed to do, and thus we are saved by Christ’s works. Were it argued, and perhaps there are some that will argue thus, that the works Christ performed, and the righteousness that he gives us, is the righteousness of the divine Son (and this is clearly not what Calvin taught), then it would have to be admitted that there was no necessity within this economy (within this created universe) for the incarnation. Further, this so divides Christ as to make him two Lord Jesus Christs. But, Calvinists don’t argue this way, for they will say that the Divine Transcendence, and the creature/Creator divide is only bridged in Christ (and thus the real tendency to Nestorianism among them, but more on that at another time).
But the real problem is, even were we to admit that Christ’s righteousness whereby he merited us righteousness was a divine righteousness, is that to hold to the imputation theory, the category of justice or righteousness now inhabits that place uniting us to God, and it is righteousness or justice that is the mediator, and not the second person of the Trinity. The union between us and God is not established by an attribute or property of God (righteousness or justice, though I should note, these words are the same in the Greek), but by the second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son, the Logos/Word of God. And this is where salvation resides (and I should note also, that in both Greek and Latin, the word we translate as salvation comes from the word for health or wholeness). The Calvinists will go on no end about the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God, though with a good bit of fudging: e.g., Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology (pp. 55-56) writes that since “none of the attributes of God are incommunicable in the sense that there is no trace of them in man, and none of them are communicable in the sense that they are found in man as they are found in God, we see no reason why we should depart from the old division which has become so familiar in Reformed theology.” Yet for the Orthodox all the divine attributes are communicable to us, for the divine nature is shared by the human nature, and vice versa in the Son. Both St. Maximus the Confessor and St. John of Damascus maintain that even the eternity and infinity of God are ours, in that Christ in his Person mediates these to us. Thus it is not righteousness that saves us and brings us to God, but the second Person of the Trinity brings us to God, and God to us, for within his Person our nature is deified, made partakers of the divine nature, and of all the divine properties.
Well, please tell me what you think.