Troilus and Criseyde (Chaucer)

Imagine a high classical version of Romeo and Juliet. The characters have a higher (although not by much) IQ. If one has read Shakespeare’s version, then this will not have the same shock value (though the ending is pretty obvious in these types of situations). Chaucer writes this in “Royal Rime:” seven line stanzas in a-b-a-bb-cc.

Troilus is the son of King Priam and brother of Hector. Criseyde is the widow of a Trojan soldier. Pandar, Criseyde’s uncle, serves as the middleman between the two.

I will not spoil too much of the story; rather, I will use this space to quote Troilus’s famous monologue on Necessity vs. Free Will. Chaucer is no doubt summarizing late medieval debates about predestination and necessity. This easily surpasses most systematic theologies in terms of sophistication and clarity.

(From Book IV, stanzas 137ff)

“For all that comes, comes by necessity,
Thus to be done for is my destiny.”

This is obviously a strong version of determinism. Troilus does not actually maintain this position.

“For if there were the slightest hesitation
Or any slip in God’s foreordering,
Foreknowledge then were not a certain thing.”

This is certainly true. What Troilus does not understand is that God’s knowing of a thing does not force one’s actions. He asks the correct question: does necessity reside in the event itself?

“Of all the human things we call events
Or does necessity in them reside.
And thus ordaining cause for them provide?”

Is the event itself the causal factor? Maybe proximately.

Troilus, unfortunately, is not able to maintain the balance between necessity and contingency. He opts for fatalism:

“And by these arguments you may well see
That all things that on the earth befall,
By plain necessity, they happen all.”

In philosophical terms, Troilus committed a modal fallacy.

P1. ☐, if Christ predicted Judas’s betrayal, then Judas would betray Christ.
P2. Christ predicted Judas’s betrayal.
C1: ☐, Judas betrayed Christ.

This fallacy confuses the necessity of the inference with the necessity of the consequent (a more absolute necessity). The inference of Q from the premises ☐ (P⊃Q) is necessary in accordance with modus ponens. But Q itself, the consequent of the conditional ☐ (P⊃Q), is not itself necessary.

Take premise Q by itself (Judas would betray Christ). It does not exist in isolation. It is not a necessarily self-generating proposition. It is only necessary as a conditional necessity within the syllogism. This is what the older Reformed writers called “the necessity of the consequence,” in distinction from the necessity of the consequent thing.

Back to the book. Although this is a poem about pagan heroes, Chaucer, for whatever reason, ends with a beautiful hymn to the Trinity:

“O Thou eternal Three and Two and One
Reigning forever in One and Two and Three,
Boundless, but binding all through Father and Son,
From Foes unseen and seen deliver me;
And blessed Jesus turn our love to thee…

Outline of City of God, Book 11

Key ideas: God creates the world AND time. He does not create in time.

Propositions:

  1. God speaks by truth in the mind (11.2).
  2. Time was created with the world. This one idea is crucial in the history of doctrine. This is one of those “moments of no return” (but in a good sense). Time is finite, limited.

    Augustine is not dogmatic on the nature of the days in creation. He notes, “What kind of days they were, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible to say” (11.6).
  3. Begetting is not the same as creating. Divine persons are begotten, not created: “For that which is begotten of the simple Good is simple itself” (11.10).
  4. Vice is contrary to nature and cannot but damage it. This will be important in the next book as Augustine explores the roots of evil.
  5. Image of the Trinity: “For we are, and we know that we are and delight in our being and the knowledge of it” (11.26). Vestigia trinitatis.

    Corollary on virtue: “Because in men who are justly loved, it is rather the love itself that is loved” (11.28).

Outline of City of God, Books 1-10

Books 1-4 deconstruct the Roman civic theology narrative that the evils came upon Rome because the people abandoned the Roman gods for Christ. Augustine points out that by Roman standards, the Roman gods were depraved.  And in any case, these “gods” had a history of both failing to protect the commonwealth and in punishing its noblest citizens. 

The earthly city is motivated by a lust for domination (libido dominandi). This is rooted in man’s fallen nature (Markus xvi).

Book 5: refutes astrology.  Jacob and Esau were born under the same sign, yet radically different.

Foreknowledge and free will: the Christian chooses both foreknowledge and liberty (V.9).  There is a fixed order of causes in God, yet our wills themselves are in that chain of causes, and thus in a secondary sense human acts of will cause human actions. True, God causes our wills, but our wills, as causes within that chain, cause other effects.

Roman civil ceremonies and rituals are “civic theologies” (6.7-8).

Roman natural theology: that which is neither civic nor poetic theology (6.10). Augustine has already refuted the civic theology, as earlier Rome’s gods were neither moral nor able to save from attackers.  Augustine is now addressing the nature of the gods themselves.

He quotes Varro to the effect that God is to the world what the soul is to the body.  Yet Varro also states that both Jupiter and Janus are the main god, so why two worlds?

Book VII

One man contains a multiplicity, but that doesn’t mean there are plural men in him.

Book VIII

Knowing: “now when a material object is thus seen in the mind’s eye, it is no longer a material object but the likeness of such an object; and then faculty which perceives this likeness in the mind is neither a material body, nor the likeness of a physical object….this faculty is the human intellect, the rational constituent in the soul of man” (VIII.5).

If our mind is not a physical object, then how can God be a physical object?

Sections 18-24; gods of the nations are demons.

Hermes Trismegistus knew this, and probably knew the demons. 

He knew that Egyptian gods were false, yet he lamented their overthrow.

Book 9

1. Summary of the argument so far.

“Only truth and virtue can offer a centre of resistance against turbulent and degraded passions” (which Augustine previously identified with demons).

Nature of the soul (9.10).  

In this chapter Augustine wants to refute the notion that demons are intermediaries between God/gods and man.  His argument is something like this (9,13)

  1. The demons must have attributes common to both man and the gods, if the Platonists’ (i.e., Middle Platonism) argument holds.
  2. The demons only have one attribute in common with the gods (eternity) and three with men, so how can they be intermediaries?
  3. This is even worse for the so-called “good” demons.  If the demons were both good and eternal, then they couldn’t be intermediaries, since eternal felicity would bring them closer to the gods.

Book 10

This is the final book in the first half of the City of God. It includes Augustine’s sustained attack on the pagan magus Porphyry.

In one sense the Platonists were correct: the soul is the part of man that participates in the highest good. When rightly ordered, the soul uses the body with respect to God, and in doing so the soul itself becomes a sacrifice.

Note: later Christian thinkers would not accept this idea of the body as merely an instrument of the soul.

The Chaldeans, pace Porphyry, could not have been dealing with good gods. And even if they were, they could not reach them.  They needed theurgy–liturgical, magical rites. This was supposed to purify the soul, otherwise they were open to dark gods. This raises a problem, though. Why were not their good gods strong enough to deliver the people from fear (10.10)?

God used Israel to educate the human race, so to move from visible to invisible (10.14).

Christians exorcise demons. We do not propitiate them (10.22).

Reforming Apologetics (Fesko)

Fesko, J. V. Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019.

There is no way to write a review of this book that minimizes the potential for a literary bloodbath. I will start by stating the thesis in the most minimal of terms.  This allows me to divide the review in three parts: 1) how the Reformed orthodox viewed prolegomena and natural theology; 2) overlap between classic Reformed and Van Tillian methods; 3) disagreements with Van Til.

Side bar: I’ve read James Anderson’s series of reviews on this book.  Anderson agrees with much of Fesko’s presentation of natural law and common notions.  He does a good job outlining Fesko’s position.

The hero of this book is the Puritan Anthony Burgess. From Burgess, Fesko presents an eloquent and compelling account of the importance of the book of nature and “common notions.” The law of nature is the common notions which are on our hearts (Fesko 15). For Burgess, the boundary of the law of nature is “the moral law delivered by Moses at Sinai” (16).  

Aquinas: the principles of natural law are the same for all people.  The conclusions they draw are not (Aquinas, ST Ia-IIae, qu. 94, quoted in Fesko 34). As Fesko, commenting elsewhere on Turretin, notes, “Immediate principles admit, but the noetic effects of sin due to the fall corrupt mediate principles” (43).

Although the chapter on Calvin explains Calvin’s views, it serves an equally important function: it rebuts the “Christological monism” that tempted  historians and apologists for the last 200 years. That’s where people seek a unifying principle and deduce the rest of doctrine from it. This really only works with German idealism. In short, Calvin did not see Christ as the unifying principle of all theology and then deduced everything from him.

Following Richard Muller and others, Fesko notes that scholasticism was simply a method.  It involved lectio, meditatio, and quaestio/disputatio.  It was a classroom format.  You can find elements of it in Calvin.  Contrast the Beveridge translation of 1.16.9 with the Battles translation and you can see Calvin use scholastic terminology and methods.

I am not going to spend much time on Fesko’s analysis of Calvin.  The literature is overwhelming. I do not think Calvin is a Thomist, yet it is obvious that Calvin is not saying what Van Til thinks he is saying.

Regarding Thomas Aquinas, Fesko’s main complaint is that Van Til gave nearly zero evidence that he actually read Thomas. Perhaps he did.  That does not come out in his writings.   We will cut a few moves off at the pass. According to presuppositionalists, Thomas is wrong for trying to synthesize Aristotle with Christ. However, it is not clear why Thomas is wrong for using concepts from Aristotle, yet it is fine for Van Til to use even more dubious concepts from Kant.  

Regarding some of Thomas’s arguments, Fesko notes they are quia, not propter quid.  In other words, they reason from effect to the cause, not cause to the effect. This is important because we cannot know God in his essence; therefore, we cannot reason from God to the world (78ff).

My favorite chapter is the one on worldview.  There is a sense in which worldview talk is legitimate.  If by it one means a way of viewing the world, then there is no big problem.  That is not how it is used in the literature. Historic worldview theory (what Fesko labels HWT) seeks to deduce our understanding of reality from a single principle and provide an exhaustive (or near enough) explanation of reality (98).

Not surprisingly, Van Til embraces HWT. It provides “the true interpretation of human experience” (Van Til, CA, 38, quoted in Fesko 106).  This aspect of Van Til’s is fairly uncontroversial, so I will forgo the rest of the quotations. The problem is that if HWT is true, then there really cannot be any common notions between believer and unbeliever.

 James Anderson, though, has demonstrated that Van Til held to common notions, at least in theory.  Van Til rejected this later on (My Credo, JA, 21). There he moved to common ground, by which he meant the image of God.

Conclusion of the chapter: if one holds to HWT as defined above, then there is no legitimate place for natural revelation and common notions. Moreover, Scripture itself does not say that men will have unique knowledge regarding creation.  God specifically tells Job there are a number of things that he will not know (Job 40:4).

I am tempted to skip the section on transcendental arguments.  Fesko does not disagree with them in theory.  He says they can be useful when you find the rare unbeliever who has a coherent worldview.  

He includes a chapter on Dooyeweerd.  I predicted in 2005 that there would be a return to Dooyeweerd’s thought in the Reformed world.  It was a strange prediction, as Dooyeweerd is often incomprehensible.  It turned out to be true, though.

To some extent for Van Til, but largely for Dooyeweerd, historic Christian thought has been plagued by the nature-grace dualism.  This occurs when man absolutizes one of the modal spheres, usually the temporal one. Fesko counters this charge by noting a) Dooyeweerd mistakes duality for dualism, b) provides little analysis with the key sources, and c) uses a similar methodology to Adolf von Harnack.

Against this dualism, Dooyeweerd suggests the biblical ground motive of “creation, fall, and redemption.”  Here we run into a problem.  Dooyeweerd had elsewhere criticized Van Til for being too rationalist in getting his ideas from the Bible.  For Dooyeweerd, we cannot use the bible as an object of theology.  The problem, one among many, of which Dooyeweerd seems unaware, is that he got his biblical ground motive from the Bible!

Moreover, it is not true that Thomas Aquinas (and by extension the WCF) held to such a dualism regarding body and soul.  For Thomas, the soul in-forms the body. It is the form of the body.  It is not a ghost in the machine.  It is one organic unity.  Dooyeweerd mistook Thomas for Descartes.

And Dooyeweerd does not apply the same criticism to Calvin.  Calvin specifically praised Plato on the soul (ICR, 1.15.16)! Calvin is not this pure font of only biblical theology.  Even worse, Calvin said it was okay to start with the knowledge of man.  The ordo docendi is not the same as the ordo essendi.

When we say that Dooyeweerd used the same methodology that Harnack did, we are not saying that he was a liberal who held the same beliefs.  Rather, both believed that pure Christiant thought was corrupted by Greek philosophy.  

In his concluding chapter on epistemology, Fesko shows how Van Tillians and classical Reformed can work together. Fesko’s comments on covenant sound very Van Tillian. Man’s covenantal origin allows us to embrace the book of nature.

With Van Tillians, we agree that epistemology is about wisdom (Fesko 198). Man submits to God’s authority, remembers his law, and responds with praise.  We see a good example of this in Psalm 19.  

Forgetting God’s law is the opposite of knowing.  It is the same as disobedience. Van Til could have written this section.

There is one category confusion, though, that many Van Tillians make.They confuse axiology (the theory of value) with epistemology.  An unbeliever will almost always have the wrong axiology.  That does not mean he will have the wrong epistemology.  

Conclusion

This book should not be seen as an attack on Van Til. The chapters on historic Reformed methodology are beyond dispute.  The Reformed used the book of nature and believed in common notions.  Nor is this book uncritical of Thomas Aquinas.  Aquinas was wrong on the donum superadditum.  Finally, the real criticisms of Van Til should be appreciated for what they are.  Van Til did not engage in serious historical analysis.  That does not mean the rest of his project is wrong.  Fesko even thinks the Transcendental Argument has its place (although I have my concerns).

Ways of Judgment (O’Donovan)

Note: I read this book 14 years ago. I found the review in my archives. I wish I still had the book so I could review some of his arguments.

Oliver O’Donovan (hereafter OO) argues that the authority of government resides in the act of judgment (3-4). The thrones of the world are subordinated to the task of witnessing to the New Jerusalem. This is commonly, if sometimes misleadingly, called “Christendom.” I do not think OO intends to promote Christendom.

Judgment is an act of moral discrimination that establishes a new public context. Furthermore, judgment must be public in character. Private individuals (e.g., vigilantes) can never speak for the whole. Given the above definition of judgment, we can define punishment as “judgment enacted on the person, property, or liberty of the condemned party” (107).

OO’s discussions of judgment and punishment, always in a communal context, necessarily lead to discussions of international judgment. OO ultimately challenges our idols of democracy and the “liberal rights” tradition. We eventually see that all political orders are failing (and fading) and in their dimming light we see the rise of a more lasting–eternal–order of international judgment: the kingdom of God.

This is tangential to his larger argument, but the claim that all political orders are fading should strengthen the Christian’s conviction that he is a pilgrim.

Conclusion:
Pros: As always, OO is judicious and balanced, writing from the mountaintops and not troubled with petty disputes. His use of Scripture, while sparse at times, is always timely and refreshing.

Cons: Much of this book will not make sense unless the reader is familiar with OO’s other two works, *Desire of the Nations* and *Resurrection and Moral Order,* both of them demanding (but rewarding!) reads. OO can be dense and the reader is tempted to shout, “Just get to the point!” Perhaps. Either way, it does make for slow reading. I had to read this book twice.

John Wyclif, Scriptural Logic, and the Parameters of Orthodoxy

Levy, Ian Christopher.  John Wyclif: Scriptural Logic, Real Presence, and the Parameters of Orthodoxy. Marquette University Press, 2003.

John Wyclif is best known for his Bible translation, but what is often overlooked is the strong metaphysical realism that undergirds his view of the Bible and will determine what conclusions he draws about the Eucharist.

Medieval Philosophical Background

In his response to the Neo-Pelagians Wyclif places himself in the conservative wing of the medieval church.  Most important is the distinction between potentia Dei absoluta and potentia Dei ordinata.  While it was never intended to speculate on what outrageous things God could or couldn’t do, it led in that direction.

The Metaphysics of John Wyclif

Wyclif was a strong realist.

Grosseteste: all knowledge found in the divine intellect (Levy 49-50).

Wyclif’s three-fold scheme:

1. Universal of causation (God). universale ante rem

2. Universal of communication (human nature; angelic, etc). They are communicated to a number of subjects. Universale in re

3. Universal of representation.  They represent real universals. Universale post rem.

Wyclif’s Theological Realism

God knows his creation primarily through universals and secondarily through individuals. God knows the creature’s essence even when it doesn’t yet have existence. We distinguish between the creature’s essence and the means by which it subsists through the divine exemplar (55).

Christ the Word is the principal of all creation.

Predication: all words of predication are grounded in the Word (57).  “All things are created in their effects from an eternal intellectual knowledge.”  To lose universals is to get lost in theories of signs (per Occam).  Levy doesn’t mention it, but that is the entire project of Derrida.

There is an immediate payoff in his eucharistic theology. No particle of the universe can be annihilated.  This means that the essence of bread can’t be destroyed as the Mass would require.

Medieval Eucharistic Theology

Ratramnus: relationship between truth and figure. Christ’s resurrected body is impassible and can’t be crunched on and decayed as in the Mass.

Berengar vs Lanfrac

The Confession of 1059.  Even though Berengar lost the debate, his “Confession” created more problems.  If the elements do not remain, then there is no subject to which the predicate (corpus meum) applies (139).

The elements undergo a conversion in dignity but not in substance.

Transubstantiation

The conversion is one of transition, not union.  A substance isn’t being added to another substance.

Thomas Aquinas

The Early Wyclif

Wyclif accepted transubstantial language early in his career. At the heart of his concern, though, was the intention of the Divine Author (217).  Doubts plagued him, though.  If the elements “disappear” or are annihilated, would this not call the integrity of God’s creation into question?

The annihilation of a substance requires the annihilation of its eternal form.  This part is tricky.  He isn’t saying that when a thing is temporally destroyed (a person’s dying; food eaten, etc) that its eternal form is also threatened.  What realist metaphysics demands is that the eternal Idea causes the form’s exemplar.  The eternal idea of x is found in the mind of God.  There is a correlation between its existence and the existence of the Idea.  Wyclif is saying that if the ectype of the bread ceases to exist, then the eternal idea of the bread no longer exists.  This needs some work.

Think of it this way.  Imagine that there is a string between the eternal exemplar in God’s mind (x) and its instantiation in the world (y).  Imagine that both are “attached” to their respective places (e.g., God’s mind and the world).  Wyclif’s argument seems to be that if you rip out y and throw it away, you rip out x as well, leaving holes in God’s mind.

Perhaps.  The argument is open to several rebuttals, namely that there might be an exemplar without its instantiation.

Wyclif’s Negative Argument

In the phrase “Hoc est corpus meum,” Wyclif argues that “Hoc” refers to a figural presence (though he does allow for some sort of bodily presence later on).  “If the pronoun demonstrates what is already Christ’s body, then nothing new is constituted; and if the pronoun connotes the body of Christ as that which is under the accidents without functioning as their subject, then that is just contrary to Scripture” (246).

Wyclif’s other main argument is that accidents can’t subsist without a subject.  If this holds, then it strikes at the heart of transubstantiation.

Conclusion

Levy does a fine job surveying the Latin sources.  Each page is about ⅔ English with ⅓ Latin text at the bottom.

John Wyclif: Myth & Reality

Evans, G. R. John Wyclif: Myth & Reality. 

G. R. Evans’ book is a welcome addition to the study of John Wyclif. Too often Wyclif studies have divided on partisan lines between Roman Catholics who see him as Antichrist and Protestant apologists who see him as the Forerunner of the Reformation. Evans’ work is valuable in that she demonstrates how both sides fail to take into account both of what Wyclif himself actually taught and Rome’s specific actions in response. As a result, one sees that Wyclif did not see himself necessarily “preaching the wonderful gospel of free grace” (though I maintain the seeds of it are there) nor did he want to separate from the Church of Rome.

Throughout the first one hundred pages of the book, the reader begins to suspect that the real subject of the book is not John Wyclif, but the daily life of an Oxford student in the 14th century. Evans is to be commended for thoroughly setting Wyclif’s historical context. One suspects, though, that move overshadows her thesis. However, Evans does do a good, if very short, job of describing the intellectual currents which form the context of Wyclif’s doctrine. 

As a biography, though, the book fails to narrate Wyclif’s own life beyond a passing glance. I suppose she assumes her readers know enough about Wyclif that she can avoid narrating his life. That’s fair enough, if she lets us know ahead of time. In the meanwhile, each chapter begins with an unidentified source talking about something that will figure later in the chapter, neither of which the reader knows.

The last chapter does a decent job “distilling” Wyclif’s theology. Wyclif’s main points of contention boiled around his doctrine of the Eucharist and his idea of “dominion by grace.” Earlier in the book, Evans ties Wyclif’s denial of transubstantiation with philosophical currents that were prevalent. For example, all sides accepted that God cannot cause the past not to be. As such, he cannot cause matter that now exists to not have existed. The question remains, which was not original to Wyclif, if the bread changes to Christ’s body, where is the bread (Evans 62)? On a more practical note, it seems that Wyclif’s objections to transubstantiation can be placed in the same line as those of Berengar.

Lordship—and an Augustinian Aside

Wyclif, following the vein of thought found in early Franciscans and (ironically) Pope John XXIII, held that the church does not “own” property, but is rather non-proprietary. Further, man’s possession of the property is contingent upon his moral rectitude. Since all property (and dominion) belongs to God, God can take it away for disobedience. As Oliver O’Donovan notes, God’s gift of lordship to Adam has to be a communication and sharing of God himself to man, since otherwise it would be an alienating act of lordship in which God ceases to be Lord. Therefore, this “lent” lordship is a communicating and use of things according to rational necessity (O’Donovan 89). For Wyclif, this gift of lordship cannot be given to just a small part of the church, but constitutes the very Trinitarian communion of the church. God’s Trinitarian self-giving is the archetypal cause of all divine and human communication of spiritual and physical goods. O’Donovan concludes: all the justified “co-exist” in Christ and share in his love and lordship. Wyclif’s second point, O’Donovan notes, is Augustine’s contention that true love is rightly ordered love (presupposing moral rectitude). Any use of physical and spiritual goods is found only in this rightly-ordered love (90).

O’Donovan’s entire essay is worth meditating upon, for he places Wyclif in an undeniably Augustinian context—a context his Papal detractors cannot ignore and must take into account. There are some problems with Wyclif’s account, though. If pressed too far it leads to Donatism. Secondly, if pressed too far it denigrates any role for the institutional church. Surprisingly to some, this was a role Wyclif sought to uphold (Evans 210).

Conclusion

Evans’ book is somewhat disjointed. It alternates between interesting and new insights and whatever else Evans wants to talk about. The book oscillates between the average life of a medieval academician and John Wyclif. Evans’ account suffers from undue speculation (“it seems,” or “it’s not impossible that”) that distracts the reader. Some of the chapters appear to end without warning.

With that said, Evans does a good job in showing how ordinary Wyclif really was. Wyclif’s view of the Bible was the same for any Oxfordian. While he advocated lay reading in their own language, there is some warrant that he was not uniquely responsible for the translation that bears his name. It is true that he rejected transubstantiation, but the actual doctrine wasn’t formally taught until a century or so before Wyclif, and likely taught in an unsatisfactorily manner given the repeated—and seemingly Catholic—objections to it. Wyclif wasn’t even anti-Papalist in approach, as he supported Urban against the Avignon Pope! Evans’ conclusion is that Wyclif’s view of Reform was simply not that of the later Reformation, whatever their outward similarities may have been (210). This means that any Roman Catholic attack on Wyclif must deal with the fact that Wyclif attacked an element of the Catholic Church that had been criticized by Catholics for many, many years. Further combine this was the fact that Wyclif had no intention and never saw himself as separating from the Church

Sacramental Preaching (Boersma)

It is tempting among some evangelicals today to call everything “sacramental” (not unlike the recent phrase to use “kingdom” or “gospel” as an adjective modifying every single noun). As such, I wish the book had another title. In any case, a sacramentum points to and reveals the res. Thus, sacramental preaching will see Christ unfold in the Old Testament. It’s neither crude allegory nor typology.

I’ve criticized Boersma’s approach in the past. My problem is he uses “sacrament” as a term to cover everything, especially relating to hermeneutics. If he would simply use another term, maybe one such as “participatory” or even typological, then much confusion could be avoided. This book is closer to typology than to allegory, and as such it has a fair bit to commend it.

Each chapter contains a short sermon he preached to his students at Regent College. Each sermon is followed by technical “preacher’s notes.” The notes are where the real money is at.

The book is structured around blessedness:
1) Sensed Happiness
2) Pilgrim Happiness
3) Heavenly Happiness
4) Unveiled Happiness

Boersma suggests that patristic and medieval exegesis is 3-D, whereas modernity is 1-D. In a participatory metaphysics, there is always “moreness.” Modernity is characterized by lessness. (Postmodernism is characterized by nothingness). A sacramental reading simply means the text points to Christ.

Me: That’s fine, but I wish he would have actually defined “participation.” Platonists are sometimes notoriously vague on that point. On a similar note, instead of “sacramental” I am going to say “participatory.”

A participatory metaphysics points to (or makes present) realities beyond that of the physical. One neat benefit of participatory preaching is that it bridges the gap between exegesis and application, since we are “in Christ” and Christ is “in the Old Testament,” so in a significant way we have a link with the realities of the Old Testament. And as we open the text and find Christ, we find all the gifts he brings to us.

Boersma’s collection of sermons has an anagogical structure. In each sermon we successively ascend the mountain until we are face to face with Christ in the beatific vision. This, quite simply, is happiness. It is blessedness.

Song of Solomon, Motherhood, and Virginity

The tradition justified an allegorical reading on the grounds that it was so easy and “fitting” to find Christ in it. Secondly, as Boersma notes, a realist epistemology held that “objects of sensed experience lie anchored in the reality of the eternal, heavenly Word of God.”

So far, so good. Boersma’s next move is rather shocking for Protestants, though one should have seen it coming. If you feel that you can do an allegorical reading of the Song of Solomon, then there is no logical reason why you can’t see the Virgin Mary in it. Make of that what you will. Boersma takes this key point to highlight “virginity” and “motherhood” within the history of salvation. Gregory of Nyssa noted that life and death are connected. Motherhood implies grief. Virginity attempts an end-run around that cycle.

Nota Bene:

“How people interpret the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, says a great deal about how they understand the nature-grace relationship.”

The section on Nathaniel being a true Israelite is good. The backdrop is Jacob’s ladder. Jacob, however, was full of guile. Nathaniel is now face to face with the real Ladder, and there is no guile in Nathaniel.

There is a fascinating chapter on Ezekiel 1. Boersma makes the argument, which I can’t develop here, that the heavens opening means God is ready for battle. The wheel within a wheel is a war chariot of the heavens. Where else did the heavens open with angels? The nativity. Also, Boersma reminds us of Fra Angelico’s “The Mystic Wheel.” The wheel within the wheel is the Gospel within the Old Testament.

Four Views on Heaven

Wittmer, Michael. ed. Four Views on Heaven. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022.

Of the Zondervan Counterpoints volumes, this is one of their better ones.  It addresses one of the most practical of subjects, but it also shows the current outlooks on heaven among conservative scholars. The scope of the book is on the final destination of believers, not on the intermediate state. John Feinberg represents the traditional view, Richard Middleton the New Earth view, Michael Allen a heaven on earth view, and Peter Kreeft the Catholic view.

The four views are:

Traditional: John Feinberg. This chapter is the most disappointing in the book. Whatever the traditional view of heaven might be, Feinberg has written a chapter on timelines in dispensational eschatology.  When he actually discusses heaven, I agree.  He affirms an intermediate state, a body-soul duality, and a resurrected body that will exist in the New Heavens and New Earth.  All of that is good. 

Neo-Kuyperian: J. Richard Middleton.  His actual position is “New Heavens and New Earth,” but it is better seen as a Neo-Kuyperian view. 80% of his essay is quite good. He points out, no doubt in line with scholars like Beale, that God is constructing the earth as a cosmic temple and that is where we will be in the New Earth.  To be sure, for Middleton, we will only be on the New Earth. Whatever the New Heavens is, and he is not sure, we will not have access to it. This is where his problems begin, as will be evident in the responses. He also rejects the idea of the soul and intermediate state.

Feinberg’s response: Middleton says we have no access to the New Heavens because, as he notes, Scripture’s language about the New Heavens is metaphorical and we cannot draw any inferences from that. Feinberg points out that he misunderstands what metaphor means.  All metaphors have a referent, and we have cognitive access to this referent. Middleton’s desire is to avoid being too literalistic, yet he also admits that language about the New Earth is metaphorical, yet this does not prevent him from saying we will live there. He cannot have it both ways.

Allen’s response: Middleton should be careful not to dismiss a key teaching of the church without any interaction with the thinkers from that view and the actual texts themselves.  Jesus’s words to the thief clearly teach an intermediate state. Sure, I can grant that Paradise refers to a Garden-like existence, but Jesus actually tells the thief that “today” you will be “there.”

Like many Neo-Calvinists, Middleton downplays the church and corporate worship.What will we be doing in heaven? Cultural activity.  Any kind of worship then (and now) is merely to prepare us for that cultural activity. Middleton’s argument is that the prophets condemn any kind of worship that neglects justice.  However, as Allen points out, the admonitions to justice in the prophets do not actually tell us how to worship God, and in any case the prophets called Israel back to the covenant, not to justice in the abstract.

If I can make an aside.  We all know that there will not be sex or marriage in heaven.  That is a given. However, on the Neo-Calvinist gloss there will still be cultural activity, including “healing the nations” and the “wealth of nations,” if read literally.  So, there will not be sex but there will be business transactions. Or so they say.

Heaven on Earth.  Michael Allen. Allen’s position is close to Middleton’s, but with a few key differences. Both say we will be in resurrected bodies on the New Earth.  For Allen, however, we will also have access to the Beatific Vision and probably to the New Heavens.  I side with Allen in this volume.

Roman Catholic.  Peter Kreeft. Half of Kreeft’s essay is a riff on his lifetime of musing about C.S. Lewis, and for that half it is quite good.  The other half is Purgatory.  That is not good. Kreeft’s argument falls apart if the Reformed claim that “believers at their deaths are made perfect in holiness.”  If I am made perfect in holiness, then I do not need Purgatory.

I truly enjoyed this book and it made me want heaven even more.

Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide (Feser)

Feser, Edward. Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide.

I do not know if I would call this a “beginner’s guide.”  Parts of it deal with discussions in current analytical philosophy, and some of these discussions would discourage the beginner.  It is an indispensable guide, though. Edward Feser highlights the key elements in Thomas’s thought.  You cannot go wrong in interpreting Thomas with Feser as your guide.

Thomas’s views on causality are well-known, so we will only focus on the basics.  Final causality for Thomas is directional. It is always pointing.

Being

Not surprisingly, we get a good discussion of the essence/existence distinction. For God, essence and existence are the same.  There is not a genus called “God” to which one could apply the category existence.  This makes sense at the creaturely level.  I know what the essence of a unicorn is.  Whether it exists or not, I have a clear idea of its essence. For existent things, their essences have to be conjoined with their existences. Even the angels who are pure form are not identical with their existence. They are an essence conjoined with the act of existence.

Feser gives us a good handle on the act/potency distinction.  God is pure act with no unrealized potencies.   The more act a being has, the higher on the chain of reality it is.  God is at the top.  Prime matter, which is only unrealized potency, is at the bottom.  Similarly, motion is simply a change from a potency to an act.

Natural Theology

The greatest harm ever done to Thomas was by philosophy of religion anthologies.  Thomas never intended for his 5 Ways to be read in isolation from his larger project.  I suppose that cannot be helped, though. Feser helps us avoid the pitfalls of misinterpreting Thomas.  We will focus on his argument from motion.  There are two types of causal serieses. There is a causal series per accidens.  This is where one sequence follows another.  Some apologists argue that every effect has a cause and God must be the ultimate cause.  True, but there are some difficulties. In a causal series per accidens one has trouble transcending that series.  

Thomas’s solution, though, is different. There is another type of causal series. It is a causal series per se. If the former is sequential, this is hierarchical. Every potency is actualized by a prior act.  This allows Thomas to evade the charge that since philosophy cannot disprove the eternity of the universe, then it does not need God as a cause.  Thomas answers that is true for a per accidens series, not a per se one.  Even if the universe were eternal, the potencies in it would need to be actualized.

Anthropology

Thomas is a dualist, but he is not a Cartesian or Platonist.  Feser explains that “soul” for Aquinas simply means the form of a person. It in-forms the matter. For Plato or Descartes, a soul was literally a ghost in the machine, with all the problems that entails. Thomas does not need that ghost.

Ethics

Natural law is important for Thomas, but not that important.  He devotes surprisingly little space to it.  What is more important and of higher priority is the Good.  Natural law does not make a lot of sense without a previous orientation to the Good.  Moderns since David Hume have attacked natural law for committing the naturalistic fallacy, of deriving an ought from an is or value from facts. That’s a very sharp criticism, but it only works if nominalism is true and all we have is a mechanistic universe.  Thomas would not have understood the fact-value problem because medieval man did not think in terms of value, but of the Good, and the Good is already inherent in reality.

Conclusion

This is an excellent treatment of Thomas’s thoughts. One will not misinterpret Thomas with Feser as a guide. It’s not a beginner’s treatment, though.