Augustine’s Confessions

For the most part I will try to avoid some of the more memorable scenes. You probably already know them.

Augustine begins by lamenting his learning of Virgil. Why should he weep over Dido when his teachers did not know enough for him to weep over his own soul? This might seem that Augustine is condemning classical learning, and he probably thought he was, but Augustine’s own life mirrors Aeneas’s, so there is that.

Like Aeneas, Augustine arrives in Carthage. And like Aeneas, Augustine succumbs to its pleasures. He failed to understand that true love was a calm “communion of minds” (2.2). Rather, he sought only to be in love with love.

We also get a profound meditation on the proper ordering of goods. There isn’t just one “flat” good thing in our lives. There is a gradation of goods. We sin by desiring lower goods at the expense of higher. This anticipates his later claim that evil is a lack and/or a perversion of the good.

In books three and four he meets a number of important people. He meets Cicero in a book, and Cicero teaches him to seek after higher things. Unfortunately, he also becomes a Manichee. From the Manichees he learned wrong ideas of God and evil. He thought substances must be physical, and so he could not imagine an immaterial substance (3.7).

He also met Faustus, the leader of the Manichees. Ironically, this would lead him out of Manicheanism. He was underwhelmed. Most importantly, he meets Ambrose in Italy, and in Ambrose’s rhetoric he sees that form = substance.

Although in book seven he was still struggling with Manicheanism, he found the Platonists’ books. This reoriented him to the possibility of immaterial substances. He now saw reality as a chain of being. Things are good, and the lower a good is, the more susceptible to corruption it is. This was a breakthrough. Evil couldn’t exist unless there was already a good for it to corrupt. Evil, therefore, is a lack.

Book 8 contains his famous conversion scene. It is dramatic psychology. You’ll have to read it. It also takes place in a garden. That is typology and very important.

Book 9 contains the baptisms of him, his son, Nebredius (I think), and Alypius.

Books 10-13 are extended meditations on memory, time, and creation.

In terms of reading and appreciating the Great Christian Tradition, this is the classic text with which to start.

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).

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

The Angels and Us (Adler)

Adler, Mortimer J. The Angels and Us. New York: MacMillan, 1982.

This is not a theological-exegetical treatment of angels. That is neither a criticism or a compliment. Adler’s purpose is to give a philosophical explanation, not a theological proof for angels.  One might ask, “Why can’t we just go by what the Bible says on angels and leave it at that?”  There are several problems with that idea.  I learned the hard way that people really do not want to deal with what the ancient Near East, including the Bible, says about malakim and dark spirits.   Moreover, logical deductions from sound premises are just as binding.  Philosophy is inescapable.

Mortimer Adler limits his analysis to that which philosophy allows one to say about angels.  This means at best he can give only an explanation of x, not a proof.  This is frustrating at times, but I understand why he does it. The philosophical benefit to such an approach is that it allows him to focus on the mind-body problem, since an angel is a mind without a body. One more preparatory note: I am not necessarily convinced of the Chain of Being model. I grant Adler’s rebuttal to Lovejoy, but I am not so sure he adequately dealt with Samuel Johnson’s criticisms.

Ptolemaic societies had an easier time with philosophical approaches to “planetary intelligences.” For Aristotle, these moved bodies which in turn move others seem a lot like what we would call angels. Quite obviously, “an incorporeal agent could be nothing other than a mind or intelligence.”[1] Even though angels are minds without bodies, they can assume corporeality in their missions to earth.[2] The biblical text itself is quite clear, as Abraham’s visitors ate with him and later grabbed Lot and his family.  (We will leave aside, of course, Genesis 6:1-4.)

Not surprisingly, Adler’s main guide is Thomas Aquinas, and his main guide to Thomas is Etienne Gilson.  This is as it should be. Beginning with Pseudo-Dionysius, Christian reflection saw the angels as a hierarchy. I do not think Pseudo-Dionysius is correct in his taxonomy, but the underlying principle bears reflection.  Adler notes: “The descending order of hierarchies…consists in grades of creaturely perfect…The perfection referred to is not moral, but metaphysical—a perfection in the mode of being.”[3] This is the Great Chain of Being, or one series of links in it, anyway.

This chain marks a intellectual mode of perfection. The fewer the ideas, the higher up.  This is simplicity in its classical sense.  A Seraph, for example, has fewer ideas than a malak, but he comprehends more in those fewer ideas. Is this Chain of Being really necessary?  Aquinas thinks so.  There would be a gap in reality without them. But can the Great Chain of Being survive modernity’s attacks on it, particularly in the fine book by Arthur Lovejoy?[4] Lovejoy’s actual, if not intended, target is Leibniz, not Aquinas.

When the Great Tradition speaks of a chain of being, it does not have something like arithmetical sequences in mind. Each links differs in kind, not in degree.[5] Moreover, each angel differs with the next by species, assuming, of course, that one accepts Thomas’s account of the angels.

Hell’s Angels

This is where Scripture is largely silent.  We know Satan fell.  We just do not know when. We know it was before man’s fall but after the “Everything is good” pronouncement. Angels, like Adam, were created mutable. If angels were created perfect, then some could not have fallen for obvious reasons. As best as we can tell, the angels that fell, in choosing evil instead of good, did so in the second moment of their existence. Their wills were then locked in place. The angels who obeyed were confirmed in grace.

The Substance of Angels

If a substance is a conjunction of form and matter, and angels are immaterial, then either all their forms are the same, and hence all angels are the same angel, or they must differ in some other way.  They do so by species. Each angel is its own species.[6] Each angelic species is a conjunction of form and its individual act of existence.

That angels interact with physical matter is clear.  How they do so is not as clear.  Since they are not physical, they cannot do so physically (except when they assume bodies). It does so by means of spiritual power. An angel “occupies its place intensively by surrounding it with its power.”[7] This might make more sense if we contrast it with humans.  When a man fills a place, he does so extensively, by physically occupying that place.  Not so with angels.

An angelic mind is purely intellectual.  It does not know discursively. When a man knows something, he does so by forming concepts and judgments.  Angels know with one act of intuition, but not all angels have the same knowledge. They know by virtue of infused knowledge.

Conclusion

Theologians and biblical scholars will wince at some of Adler’s conclusions. His philosophical reticence to affirm theological truths is annoying at times.  On the other hand, his analysis is on point and he avoids getting off topic. For those who read the Great Books, this is required reading.


[1] Mortimer Adler, The Angels and Us, (New York: MacMillan, 1982), 6.

[2] Adler, Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 45.

[4] Arthur Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, (Cambridge: Harvard, 1971).

[5] Adler, The Angels, 62. This also eliminates any fear of pantheism between God and man.

[6] Ibid, 126.

[7] Ibid, 130.

Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works

Davies, Brian and Evans, Gillian. eds. Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

In 2005, I bought this volume before I left for seminary. It has been a constant companion ever since. Anselm did not anticipate every problem in contemporary philosophy of religion, but he did anticipate the most important problems. Even when his conclusions might not convince, one can only stand in wonder at how clearly he stated the problems.

Monologion

This is Anselm’s treatise on God’s being.  It should be required reading for all discussions on divine simplicity. In short, differing things can both be said to be “good,” yet it is clear they are not the same thing. They are good though a greater good. This ultimate good is good through itself. Anselm calls this the supreme good and ascribes the predicate “existence” to it. This is the first plank in the “perfect being theology.”  

Everything that exists, exists through something or nothing. Obviously not through nothing. There is either one or more things through which everything exists. Either one of these options will ultimately reduce to one thing.[i] Anything that exists through something other than itself is necessarily less than that thing through which it exists. Anselm calls this the divine essence. It is the highest good and efficient cause of all things.

Creation ex nihilo

Things didn’t spring from nothing as from a void.  Rather, they pre-existed in the Divine Mind. The Supreme Essence creates through an “inner verbalization.[ii]

Back to the main argument (sec. 15): “Now it is quite out of bounds to imagine that there could be some P true of the substance of the supreme nature such that ~P would be better in some respect.”  

God and Time

Sect. 21 gives the standard account of God’s timelessness. The Supreme Essence is not spatially in time.  Rather, it is present as a whole simultaneously to all places and times.

Sect. 23: We say God exists everywhere rather than in every place.

Sect. 26ff: Substance language.  In the rest of the treatise Anselm explores how the Son is of the Father.  It’s a good meditation but nothing new here.

Proslogion and Reply to Gaunilo

Either you are convinced of the ontological argument or you are not. I think it is more of a meditation on divine perfections than an actual argument. Gaunilo’s analogy to an island doesn’t work because an island, or a tree, implies contingency. A perfect being implies necessity.

Kant’s objection:  existence isn’t a predicate. A concept must contain as much content as possible.
Response: Kant’s objection holds for contingent things.  But if we are talking about modal necessity, it might not hold.

On Truth

In this dialogue Anselm begins by setting forth a roughly Platonic theory of truth: something is true by its participation in the truth.  That’s true (no pun intended).  It’s inadequate, though.  He sharpens it to mean: “A true statement has ‘its cause of truth.’”  There is something that just makes it true.  Modern analytic philosophy calls this something “a truthmaker.”  It is to Anselm’s credit that he anticipated this development. Of course, truthmaker theory is itself dense and this discussion can’t exhaust it.

He expands it to mean “truth is rectitude” (1.2). It fulfills its function of signifying rightly. In fact, he asserts that if both “truth” and “acting well” have the same contrary, then “they are not different in signification” (1.5).

This raises a problem, though.  If there is correlation between truth and being, then wouldn’t we have to say that some bad things (I’m deliberately not using the word ‘evil’) are true since they exist?  With these cases of “ought not to be,” Anselm opts for a “thinner” account. God only permits them.

On Free Will

Thesis: To be able to sin does not belong to the definition of free will (1.1).  However, we did have a capacity to sin or not to sin, yet this was not of necessity. We do have a “natural free will” of sorts (3). Our liberty of will is “the capacity of preserving rectitude of will.”

A truly free will is one that preserves rectitude of will for its own sake (13).

Why God Became Man

Aside from the ontological argument, this might be what Anselm is most known for. God became man because only a God-man could properly mediate between both God and man.  Seems simple enough.  Yes, this is substitutionary atonement, but not in the way a modern reader might think. Anselm’s primary argument is that only a God-man could restore the offense against God’s honor.  God, as our feudal lord, has been wronged.  This is not what we normally think of in the atonement.

That has always been my criticism of this book.  I was recently corrected on this by Mr. Philip Pugh.  He pointed out that Anselm’s model is closer to ANE covenant models than one might expect.  To be sure, Anselm knew nothing of such models. Nevertheless, if only by accident, he got much of it correct.

Conclusion

You cannot be called a serious student of theology if you have not read this book.  The Monologion and Proslogion could probably be read with profit every few years.  Other treatises, such as De Grammatico, are better read with commentaries on Anselm in h and.


[i] Davies and Evans, Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 13.

[ii] Ibid.

The Lion of the Covenant

The Lion of the Covenant by Maurice Grant.

Even in the best of times the relationship between Church and State has always been uneasy. While the idea of a Christian state is a hoped-for goal for many, the fact remains that the State has more often than not been the enemy of the church. Even more diabolical, however, is when the ecclesiastical establishment allies with the State and it, too, becomes an enemy to the people of God. So it was in Richard Cameron’s day.

Maurice Grant does a fine job in quickly and deftly explaining the context of the Cromwellian period and afterward. Of particular note is the controversy between the Protestors and Resolutioners, the former rejecting any compromise of Jesus’ crown rights over his church. The flow of the story parallels Richard Cameron’s own life. It starts small and remains uneventful for quite some time. Grant treats his readers to the intricate details of Cameron’s own development, his turbulent ministry, and his climactic (and prophetic) death.

More importantly, however, are the issues around which Cameron fought. If the civil magistrate proclaims himself head of the church, and thus blurs the distinction between Church and State, is it logically possible to resist him only in the realm of the church but leave him be in the realm of the State? Cameron’s critics say yes. Cameron said no. The Stuart monarchs also said no.

So what should we do?

I am not uncritical of Cameron, though. On a theoretical level, I agree with his taking arms against thugs who happened to have been deputized by a foreign power. That is Lex, Rex plain and simple. Grant is correct, though, that Cameron had not thought out the issues as thoroughly as his friend Donald Cargill had. The Scottish Reformation championed the idea of armed resistance to a king. But it still saw the king as king. Disowning a king, however, runs very close to the Romanist concept of a pope deposing kings as he saw fit. Cameron could have justified his actions with far more powerful arguments by relying much more closely on Rutherford.

Should we, likewise, resist tyrannical rulers? Well, it depends. Our situation is not analagous to Cameron’s, though one suspects the we live in a secular Erastianism. Cameron saw himself fully justified in resistance because by culture, tradition, and prior law he was bound to uphold the Covenants. We can’t exactly make that claim today. So what should we do? At the moment, nothing beyond a careful reading and application of Rutherford.

In conclusion, Richard Cameron represents an interesting case-study in church-state relations. He brings almost all of the logical implications of a previous century of covenantal thought to an armed showdown. I say “almost all.” He didn’t read Rutherford as carefully as he probably thought he did.

The New England Mind: The 17th Century (Miller)

Miller, Perry.  The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954.

One reads Perry Miller for the same reasons one reads Edward Gibbon: the delightful prose and the breathtaking scope of his topic. Never go to Miller for accurate doctrine.  He gets much of it wrong.  That might not be accurate, though.  Miller has read the primary sources, and there are many of them.  How well he understood them is another question.

On Predestination

“….penetration of God’s sovereignty into his [the Puritan’s] personality” (Miller 17).

Piety

“Virtue is not, as Aristotle and the scholastics said, a mean between two ends, but an extremity itself” (46).

Peter Ramus

Many Puritans considered him as dying “equally for the cause of logic and of Christ” (Miller 117). Missionaries would translate Ramus and condense him down so the Native Americans could read him alongside the Bible.

Aristotelian systems divided the whole of logic into three parts: simple terms, proposition, and discourse (122ff). A simple term contains the predicable.  The key is that its logic didn’t focus on method so much as learning the predicables.

To Ramus most of this was unnecessary memory work and didn’t actually train the student to use systems and methods. By focusing more on method than memorizing predicables, a Ramist was able to show how the terms are interconnected, something Aristotelians could not always do.

Logic is divided into invention and judgment.  “Invention is the part in which are arranged individual terms, the concepts, the arguments or the reasons, with which discourses are constructed; in judgment are contained the methods for putting arguments together”(128).

Arguments can be either artificial or inartificial.  An artificial argument is the facts as they are observable (e.g., fire causes heat).   The argument is embedded in the thing itself. An inartificial argument is one whose cause is not immediately apparent.

The most important point is that the syllogism serves the axiom, not the other way around. This removes the tendency, probably common among scholastics, to reduce everything to syllogisms.  In other words, “judgment is made immediately from axiom, mediately from syllogism” (135).

Ramus went even further.  He simplified the syllogism “into two modes, which he called the simple and composite” (136). A simple syllogism is one of the standard three figures.  A composite is something like a hypothetical or disjunctive syllogism.  Whereas Aristotle emphasized the square of opposition, Ramus introduced the opposition in a catalog of arguments.

Ames: “Contradiction in the composite syllogism always ought to divide the true from the false” (138).

“Method proceeds from universals to singulars.”

Miller suggests that the division between Aristotelians and Ramists is like the one between nominalists and realists, with the former seeing logic as a product of the mind (146).

Invention: an act of faculty intelligence performed according to the law of truth.

Ramism ran headlong into a problem: how can one really assert the identity between arguments and things (155)?  They denied that concepts were merely mental and subjective, which would seem to be nominalism.  Both the medieval nominalists and the Puritans (at least as Miller reads them) believed in an almighty, albeit arbitrary God. By putting rationality in the nature of things, Ramus allowed the Puritans a God without the chaos.

Ames illustrated how art (i.e., the rule of making and governing things to their ends) moves from God to man: the mind of God → enacted by God → clothed with objects and forms → extracted from objects by the human mind.

While he was a Ramist, much of William Ames’ theology is quite Thomist.  He asserted divine ideas or “platformes” in the mind of God.  The idea of a thing preexists in the mind of God. Especially as relates to “art,” these divine ideas are the radii of divine wisdom (167).

“Affections” are “the instruments of the will as it embraces or refuses a thing” (253).

Ramus didn’t so much as attack Aristotle on rhetoric; he simply got rid of the unnecessary parts.  Ramus’s students, especially ministers of the Word, saw that forcing a sermon to fit the grid of “praecisio, significatio, extenuatiom digressio, progressio, regressio, iteratio, dubiatio” was useless, if not actually impossible (315).  Ramus argued that the logical form (which the student would have already covered in the dialectic) could carry the weight of the “rhetorical” aspect.  Ramus said a student was better off imitating Cicero than trying to reproduce an Aristotelian manual.

This view on rhetoric led quite naturally to the “plain style” of Puritan preaching.  By plain style they didn’t mean “ignorant.”  They meant setting forth the “reasons” and “use” of a text.

The Covenant of Grace

Here is where Miller gets in trouble.  He writes, “Accordingly, between 1600 and 1650, English Puritans were compelled, in order to preserve the truths already known, to add to their theology at least one that hitherto had not already been known, or at least not emphasized, the doctrine of the Covenant of Grace” (366). This statement is false on every level.

Maybe he isn’t saying that, though. A few pages later, he mentions that the covenant of grace was in earlier Reformers.  What he suggests, I think, is that the Covenant of Grace took on a new practicality among the New England Puritans who also happened to be Ramist, Federalist, and Congregationalist all at once (374).

The problem is not that Miller hasn’t read the sources.  I dare say few have read New England Puritanism as intensely as he did.  He limits his vision, though.  He is completely aware of any developments/origins of covenant theology outside of North America and some aspects of Perkins and Ames.

Historicists on Matthew 24

The key to remember is that the abomination of desolation causes the Great Tribulation. The language doesn’t allow any separation in the events of v.15 and v.21. It stands to reason that Titus’s actions, at least on this reading, cause the Great Tribulation. Moreover, and Matthew Henry is very clear on this, the Great Tribulation is cut short only by the return of Christ. Therefore, any tribulation you experience today as a Christian is ultimately caused by Titus’s actions in AD 70. This is the practical conclusion historicists not only must draw, but in fact do draw.

Matthew Henry

verse 15: The Romans setting up the abomination of desolation in the holy place.
verse 21: links it with the Roman armies, which makes sense.

The tribulation of those days includes not only the destruction of Jerusalem, but all the other tribulations which the church must pass through; not only its share in the calamities of the nations, but the tribulations peculiar to itself; while the nations are torn with wars, and the church with schisms, delusions, and persecutions, we cannot say that the tribulation of those days is over; the whole state of the church on earth is militant, we must count upon that; but when the church’s tribulation is over, her warfare accomplished, and what is behind of the sufferings of Christ filled up, then look for the end.

John Gill

verse 15: From signs, Christ proceeds to the immediate cause of the destruction of Jerusalem; which was, “the abomination of desolation.”

verse 21: The burning of Sodom and Gomorrha, the bondage of the children of Israel in Egypt, their captivity in Babylon, and all their distresses and afflictions in the times of the Maccabees, are nothing to be compared with the calamities which befell the Jews in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.

Unlike Henry, Gill seems to limit the entire discussion to AD 70 on this point. He doesn’t draw the conclusion Henry does.

The Eusebians (David Gwynn)

Gwynn, David M. The Eusebians: The Polemic of Athanasius of Alexandria and the Construction of the ‘Arian Controversy’. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

This book is everything you expected a dissertation to be. It is a historical reconstruction of Athanasius’s writings that seeks to show when he began to speak of a “Eusebian party” that was the driving force behind the Arian controversy.  (The Eusebians refer to Eusebius of Nicomedia and not to the church historian of the same name). As such, it is somewhat light on theology but it advances an interesting idea. Given that Arius was the heresiarch, Athanasius may have seen deeper forces involved.  It isn’t simply that Arian-friendly emperors opposed Athanasius.  It’s doubtful how committed to metaphysical Arianism they really were.  There must have been something else, a network of bishops and clergy who promoted Athanasius and stood in his way.

The best way to approach this volume is to open the volume of Athanasius in the Schaff series.  Look at the table of contents.  Gwynn then analyses the possible dates when each was written and how that would determine whether Athanasius was operating with a Eusebian network in mind.

It is in the Epistula Encyclica “that we are able to identify all the essential elements of Athanasius’ construction of his opponents as ‘hoi peri Eusebion.’ Here, as throughout Athanasius’ works, the ‘Eusebians’ inspire persecution and violence, and are patrons of both secular power (Philagrius) and episcopal office (Gregory)” (Gwynn 53).

This book is about politics, not theology.  True, in the ancient world the two couldn’t be separated.  Notwithstanding, you won’t get detailed analyses of what Arians and Athanasians believed. The last chapter, however, does give a somewhat detailed account of what “the Eusebians” believed.

While Gwynn gives the impression that Athanasius routinely misinterpreted his opponents, Gwynn grudgingly admits that section 15 of De Synodis is an accurate account of Arius’s theology, which is: The Father was not always a Father, which means the Son is a creature (190ff). Moreover, Christ is God by participation and does not know the Father exactly, as only someone who has the essence can know that essence. The Son is called Word by name and not because he is the true word.

Gwynn says that pro-Athanasian scholars like Gregg and Groh ignore Arius’s distinction between seeing the Son as a creature vs. the Son as one of the creatures (Gwynn 197).  I can’t understand how that distinction is relevant or even coherent.

Notwithstanding some of Gwynn’s nitpicking, he does highlight key distinctions that more moderate Arians made.  Arians like Asterius or Eusebius could in fact say that the Son was ek tes ousias tou Patros.  They simply said he was a product of the Father’s will.  This is why Athanasius countered by saying the Son was the Father’s Will. The union “is not ontological and great emphasis is placed on the distinct identities of the individual hypostases of the Trinity” (226).

Gwynn makes a good point that Athanasius does not use homoousios as a construct in his early writings.  This is important because some popular accounts of Nicea have Athanasius heroically championing the homoousion at the council.  Nothing of the kind happened.  Athanasius started consistently using it as a construct in De Decretis and De Synodis (230-231).  It only appears once in three of the “authentic orations against the Arians. 

In what could be confusing to the initial reader, Gwynn correctly notes, citing Torrance (1995, 206-212), that the terms ousia, physis, and hypostasis were initially synonymous. Using Torrance’s reading, hypostasis is ousia with an outward direction, whereas ousia refers to the internal relations.

It’s not that Gwynn rejects Athanasius’s account of the history.  He sees it as a polemic and while it might be true, it can’t be trusted.  That conclusion appears more than once.  It makes for ironically somewhat tendentious reading.  The book’s prohibitive price means that it will not replace more standard accounts of Nicea in the near future.