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, 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).

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 Unity of Christ (Beeley)

THE GREAT MASTER: ORIGEN

Alexandria Egypt was the crossroads of the world (Dio Chrysostom).  Alexandrian Christianity had rather diverse beginnings.

First Principles: “Origen’s presentation of his doctrinal system here is arguably the most influential single theological project in all of Christian tradition outside of the canonical Scriptures” (Beeley 11).

Christ and Cosmology

words of Christ include “the whole of Scripture” (13).  

“Origen encourages readers to move beyond the human Christ.”

  • dualist view of the cosmos: the physical and sensible world seen as radically impermanent compared to the intellectual sphere. God and the saints inhabit a spiritual world in contrast to the physical world (15).  

Origen’s dualist cosmology came at a certain cost:  it determined how he spoke about Christ.

  • he notes that Christ has two natures, but places these two natures within a Platonic, dualist cosmology.

Divinity and Distinctness

  • our source of knowledge: epinoiai; conceptions.  
  • For Origen a hypostasis is a distinctly existing thing; a concrete entity or being (Cm. John. 10.212).  
  • On the Son’s being:  ousia meant something different for Origen than it did for Nicea.  For Origen this suggested a diminution from the Father’s being.  “Being” suggests the actual existence of a thing, so for two things to share the same being is to be the same thing.

The Image of God

  • The Son has many epinoiai in contrast with the Father’s simplicity.  The Father cannot be directly describable because of his simplicity. Only the Christ, who becomes many things, can image the Father’s simplicity.  The Son is mediator between God and creation, not as an intermediary of being, but in the Son’s way of being divine.

Incarnation: Image Revealed

  • The human soul of Jesus bridges the gap between God’s divinity and Christ’s humanity. In fact, Origen must hold to trichotomy as the only way to bridge the gap. 

FOURTH CENTURY AUTHORITIES

Eusebius of Caesarea

Origen was regarded by some as an accurate transmitter of the rule of faith (51).  ++

Economia

  • God’s ordered dealings with creation, which culminate in the Incarnation.
    • Eus. wants to maintain that Christ is “divine” and older than creation.  Therefore, the Christian faith is really ancient.
  • “theology:” confession of the divinity of Christ.  It is the interpretation of economia (64).
    • Christ’s manner of existence is two-fold
      • He is known to be God by those who believe.
      • Yet he put on human existence capable of suffering.
    • Beeley maintains that Eus. does not see Christ’s generation in any temporal sense (67).  
      • Christ is divine not as an independent deity (one god among others), but as the direct result of his specific relatinship with God the Father.

Does Eusebius hold to a hierarchy of being ala Middle Platonism?

  • To be sure he does say the Son is the bond between creation and God.  But this may be an overly literal reading of his texts. 

Is Eusebius a Semi-Arian??

  • Beeley argues that Eusebius uses temporal prepositions devoid of temporal meaning (91).  He is concerned to use “biblical, rather than philosophical” terms to stress the Son’s transcendence over creation.
  • Eusebius uses a sequential language to underscore our theological epistemology:  we must remember the “causal ordering of the divine generation…Eusebius’s language preserves the economic basis of theological knowing with respect to the inner structure of the Trinity, resisting the leap to an artififical, abstract conceptuality of pure eternity” (92).  

Christology:  Martyrdom leads to political triumph.

  • Eusebius’s understanding of matyrdom “is far from an abstract concern.  It is initially tied up with the surrounding Greco-Roman society in wys that call on Christians to witness to Christ with their bodies as much as with their minds” (96).

NICEA AND ATHANASIUS

Both Arius and Alexander departed from Origen:

  • Arius in denying the Son’s consubstantiality
  • Alexander in denying that the Son was generated from the Father’s will (116).

Alexander’s modifications:

  • Son always exists from the Father..  The Greek term aei denotes nonsequentiality (116);  

Athanasius I

  • Christ’s identity as the eternal Word of God. 
    • Logos idea: Word is truly of or from the Father (128).  
    • Principle of existence or means of God’s providence (C. Gent. 29, 42, 46). 
  • Salvation Through Incarnation
    • Our need to overcome death and mortality (Inc. 10).  Overcome this by participating in the Word (Inc. 4-5, 11).  
    • Our natural state is “corruption towards non-being” (Inc. 4, 7).  
    • Christ’s death reverses all of this
  • The Word versus its Flesh
    • highly dualist conception of Christ (Beeley 133).   Distingishes between the human body and the Word. 
    • Divine word did not suffer at all when it was born/died (Inc. 17).  
    • The Word used the body as an instrument (Inc. 20).  
  • Dualist Cosmology and Anthropology
    • strong distinction between intelligible and sensible realms (C. Gent 10).  
    • Radical division between being and nonbeing. 
    • God is known by works, but we can’t know his essence.  This raises a tension:  how can the Word reveal itself through his bodily acts yet deny any knowledge of God’s essence (136)?  
  • Conclusions:
    • Logos Christology is dualist.
    • Absolute impassibility of the Word.

Athanasius II: The Orations Against the Arians

Per Marcellus of Ancyra, the human Christ will eventually cease to be in the eternal kingdom; this is probably why the Creed says “His kingdom will have no end” (144).  

  • Rhetorical strategy:  mean
  • The Image of God
    • This is a new development in his works.  
    • Christ is the image and form of divinity.
      • He reveals the divinity of the Father, the brightness of the Father’s light.
      • The Father sees himself in this image (Prov. 8:30; C. Ar. 1.20; 2.82).
    • If Image, then fully divine
    • Language of mediation:  
      • denies the “Word” is a mediator of divinity to creatures, except in Incarnate form (C. Ar. 1.59: 2.31).  
      • If God requires a mediator, then wouldn’t the mediator require a mediator, and so on ad infinitum? (C. Ar. 2.26). 
    • Is God’s will distinct from his being?
      • C. Ar. 1.29; 3.62
  • The Incarnation
    • Christ’s human experiences were not the experiences of the WOrd, but of his human flesh alone (C. Ar. 1.41).  
    • Beeley argues Athanasius’s debt to Marcellus (154). 
    • The communicatio idiomatum is strictly verbal (155; cf. C. Ar. 3.32; 41).
    • It is hard for Athanasius to say that Jesus developed (Luke 2:52).  
  • Technical terminology
    • emphasis on strict oneness between Word and Father (follows Origen).  
    • metaphysics:  real problem with Arian term “originate” is that it means the Word was created in time and ex nihilo (Decr. 16).  
    • homousion as generic: relationship b/t father and son–common nature shared by derivation; relationship b/t all humans of one class (Ep. Serap. 2.8-9).

Athanasius III: The Late WOrks 

CAPPADOCIANS

  • Homoian debate
  • Apollinarius
    • Despite his problems in truncating Jesus’s soul, he raises a valid point: what is Christ’s “acting principle?”  Traditional ontology and psychology would have said “the soul.”  If Jesus had two souls, per Apollinarius, then which one is the “acting” one?
  • Gregory of Nazianzus
    • Views Christ’s identity in dynamic, narrative terms (Beeley 185)
    • the very nature of human existence is a dynamic movement towards God rooted in our creation and oriented towards consummation (185).  By anchoring theosis in the goodness of human creation, Gregory avoids most of the pitfalls associated with this doctrine.
      • Christ is the means of our restoration.
      • Xp effects our divinization in and through himself.
      • He uses language of “mixture” (mixis), “union” (henosis), and “blending” (krasis). in regards to the divinity and humanity in Christ.  
        • Not a crass mixture, though.  Gregory isn’t too clear on this point.
    • Biblical interpretation:  Gregory’s understanding of perichoresis is to emphasize the difference b/t intra-Trinitarian relations and the union of God with humanity (Beeley 189, cf. Ep. 101.20-21).  
      • communicatio is true at the level of Christ’s being.  Christ did not merely operate (energein) by grace, but was and is joined together with human existence in his being (Ep. 101.22).  Here is a huge advance over Athanasius’s dualism. 
      • His method preserves the unity of Christ and, pace Athanasius, does not see the humanity as a separate existence.
    • The suffering of God.  incorporation of human suffering into the divine life (not simply divine being;  he is not abandoning impassibility, but seeing God’s being as life).  
    • Through the knowledge of Christ as “God made visible,” Christians are divinized and elevated through faith (Beeley 194; cf. Or. 29.18-19).
  • Gregory of Nyssa
    • he embraced Greek philosophy more than did Basil or Nazianzus.
    • Against Eunomius
      • Nyssa focuses on the language of creation.
      • For the most part Gregory does not represent an advance on the Nazianzen.   Per the communicatio he repeats both Ath. and Naz., “the lowly statements apply to the Servant; the honors to the master’ (Beeley 208; cf. C. Eun. 3.3.65-66).  
        • the divinity participated in Christ’s passion by serving as the active principle against the passivity of the flesh (210).  
    • Against Apollinaris
      • Here Gregory’s dualist Christology almost comes apart (see his references to a drop of wine in the sea; Christ not coming again bodily, but in the Father’s glory–Antirrh. 230).

THE CONSTRUCTION OF ORTHODOXY

Augustine and the West

  • Hilary of Poitiers
    • Transition point between East and West.
    • “carries forward a revitalized Eusebian tradition…Origen” (226).  
    • “The Trinity”
      • The Son’s generation is closely tied with role as unique revealer of the Father.
      • Distinction between Father-Son relationship and Creator-creature relationship.
      • The Son is image of the Father’s substance; distinct but not dissimilar.
      • One God because one principle (Trin. 5.10; 7.32).
    • Hilary’s weak points:
      • Jesus did not have the same kind of humanity as us (10.23), 
      • Did not believe Jesus possessed a corruptible human substance.
      • This “froze his Christology in a particular dualist position” (Beeley 230).
  • Ambrose of Milan
    • He indirectly corrected Hilary’s project.
    • echoes Nazianzus that Christ’s divine identity need not conflict with his human.
    • The Word died a human death, not a divine one (Inc. 5.36).
    • Divine mediation:  not only reconciles us to God but positively convey’s divine nature to us (Inc. 4.23).
  • Augustine’s early Christology
    • Consciously adopted the “one persona, duabas naturas” (concept).
    • Strongly unitive Christology
    • Christ is the crucial link between the divine love and the love we show others.
    • Totus Christus
    • Augustine’s use of “two personae” is not meant to be dualist: “he uses the term to mean something like a literary persona or voice” (Beeley 240).
  • Augustine’s Mature Christology
    • Christ’s humanity is humanity of the divine Son; he is divinely human.
    • Augustine’s project, while deficient in many respects, does constitute an advance in one key area:  he ties in the juridical aspect. (Trin. 4.19).
  • Augustine’s Late Christology
    • Christ’s introduces “healing into the death of the flesh” by the hidden and mysterious power of the divine decree.
    • Christ’s mediation is his divine-human identity.  
      • The nature of divine mediation is not to wield absolute power but to extend oneself in love and justice (Civ Dei. 9.16-17).

CYRIL, LEO, and CHALCEDON

  • Cyril of Alexandria
    • His major influence, argues Beeley (258), was not Athanasius but Gregory Nazianzen.
      • His use of “Hypostatic union” at this point is not strictly technical.
      • The Word is united with human flesh as a single hypostasis.  Union is “the concurrence into one reality (en) of the things united” (Un. Chr. 3.62/ Ep. Eulog. 64).  
      • “The one nature”
  • Leo of Rome
    • we see the language of “both natures acting.”  This is a very definite–though often unnoticed–move away from Cyril.   Natures do not act.  Persons do.
    • Beeley openly states that “Leo’s position is essentially the same as Nestorius” (Beeley 276).
    • Chalcedon bypasses the earlier narrative dynamics of Gregory and Cyril (economy of salvation) and moves into technical language (282).

POST-CHALCEDONIAN CHRISTOLOGY

  • Leontius of Byzantium
    • all natures are hypostasized but need not have multiple hypostases. 
    • the hypostatic characteristic of every nature is not the same as the nature itself.
      • a nature is a general category; hypostasis a specific one. A hypostasis exists in itself, whereas a nature can only exist in a hypostasis.
      • The problem is that this leads to a generic definition of the Trinity
      • The hypostasis is seen as a principle of individuation.  
      • His connection of the two natures suggest they exist within a kind of netrual space, rather than in the Son of God (291). 
  • Constantinople II
  • Maximus the Confessor
    • Did he misunderstand Gregory?  Gregory sees the Trinity as a monad moving to a dyad and ending in a triad (Or. 23.8).  Maximus resists this meaning and says Gregory is speaking of creation (Quaest. 105; Ambig. 1).
    • Places himself in a narrative understanding of Christology.
    • The wills work together in this way: The divine Son wills all that Christ does.  He is the ultimate subject of all of Christ’s works.   But Jesus also had a natural human will–whether or not to follow and obey the divine will.
    • Jesus’s will is not gnomic (300ff). It does not wander or subject itself to wavering human condition.
  • John of Damascus
    • He differs with Maximus’s approach in several respects:  he does not begin with Nazianzen but as a committed Chalcedonian he filters the fathers through that standpoint.
    • He relies heavily on Leontius.
    • Even though Jesus’s humanity is divinized, Damascene emphasizes that it was God who became man, not man becoming God.

Observations

Beeley shows how the old Antiochene/Alexandrian divide breaks down at key moments (272).

Augustine (Lewis Ayres)

Ayres, Lewis.  Augustine and the Trinity

Continuing the argument in his Nicea and its Legacy, Ayres wants to posit Augustine as a faithful exponent of the “pro-Nicene” tradition.  In order to do so, he must rescue Augustine from the charge that Augustine simply framed Trinitarian theology around explicitly neo-Platonic categories.    Thus, Ayres argues that Augustine used a number of non-Christian sources ranging from Platonic to neo-Platonism; therefore, a 1:1 parallel between Augustine and Plotinus is unwarranted, or so Ayres argues.  Ayres continues with a Latin context for Augustine, and here we are treated to some excellent expositions of Hilary and Ambrose.  

Pro-Nicene, but…

I grant Ayres’ argument that Augustine was not a full-orbed neo-Platonist.  Further, I can even agree with him that Augustine did not use the idea of “hypostases” in the Plotinian sense (he may well have, but I lack the ability to judge that topic).  Notwithstanding, though, Augustine did say he was heavily influenced by Platonists and did admit he framed his doctrine of simplicity around Platonic categories (City of God, books 8 and 11).  Elsewhere in the book, Ayres routinely says that Augustine’s models often follow Platonic categories (Ayres: 209, 314, 316).  So, do we see Augustine as a neo-Platonist or not?  Why not?  Ayres has certainly advanced the scholarship on Augustine and neo-Platonism, but he has come nowhere close to overturning the earlier scholarly consensus.  Earlier scholars, therefore, are not off-base for seeing Augustine within at least some category of neo-Platonism.  

Ayres also wants to argue that Augustine held to a robust view of the irreducibility of the divine persons:  in other words, an emphasis on the “three-ness” of the Trinity.  A few questions arise, though:  if the persons are irreducible, how can they subsist in the essence relatively?  It seems the concepts of “relative subsistence” and “irreducibility” are mutually exclusive, especially given the fact that Augustine didn’t even like the term “persons!”  Secondly, if the Holy Spirit is the love between Father and Son, or the love of the Father and Son, then one must immediately ask, “Is the Holy Spirit now an attribute of the other persons, or is he an irreducibly divine person?”  

The book ends with a thorough discussion of how Augustine used the Trinitarian analogies.  This book is quite fine in many ways.   Ayres gives us careful arguments and advances much recent scholarship.  I do not think his “pro-Nicene” thesis is as strong as he presents it, nor do I think he successfully disengages Augustine from the neo-Platonic model.  

Nicea and its Legacy (Ayres)

Ayres, Lewis.  Nicea and its Legacy.

For the most part Ayres gives us a magisterial survey and exposition of the Nicene era.  His goal is to identify and commend what he terms a “pro-Nicene” theology.  His second goal is to combat a problematic understanding of Trinitarian theology:  Eastern personalism vs. Western monism, also known as the “De Regnon” Thesis.  

He begins his narrative as most do—with a discussion of Origen.   Ayres helpfully notes that early Christian thinkers were reticent to use the term “homousios” since it implied a material division in God.   Also, “hypostasis” was seen as connoting a reality; therefore, thinkers were reluctant to confess multiple realities in God.  

Ayres then continues with a long discussion of Athanasios.  While he gives us much useful information and helpfully establishes the context, he really isn’t breaking any new ground.   Ayres’ key sections deal with explicating his “pro-Nicene” theology, particularly as the Cappadocians relate to Augustine.  He gives us very helpful analyses of the two Gregories and Hilary.

Of his erudition and scholarship there can be no doubt.  This will likely serve as a standard reference for doctoral students, and rightly so.  I do not think his analyses are wrong, just incomplete. I agree with Ayres that simplistic readings of “Greek vs. West” are wrong.  

De Regnon did not make up this “persons vs. essence” historiography.  St Hilary of Poitiers was acutely aware of it.  No one is claiming that the Evil Latins begin with the one essence while the Trinitarian Greeks begin with the Persons.  Rather, one is making the argument that formulating theology within a specific philosophical framework reduces the persons to the one essence (shades of Aquinas!).  St Hilary specifically identifies this problem in De Synodis 67-69.  He said if you start with the one essence (homousion) as a template for theology, you will end up with modalism.   

While I can agree with his arguments on what constitutes a pro-Nicene theology, I don’t see how this category is any more logically tight than de Regnon’s.  I suspect that Ayres commits the “Word = concept” fallacy in his chapter on divine simplicity.  He appears to work under the assumption that the “pro-Nicene” guys used the term “simplicity” (aplosis) univocally, notably Augustine.  I think one example will suffice.  In de Trinitate Book VII (and numerous other places) Augustine identifies person and essence, along with identifying within God all of God’s attributes.  If all of the attributes are identifiable with the divine essence, and the divine essence admits of no distinctions, then all of the attributes are identifiable (synonymous) with each other.  Interestingly, this is what Ayres’ student Andrew Radde-Galwitz calls the “Identity Thesis.” 

In Letter 234 St Basil specifically identifies the Identity Thesis and rejects it (along similar lines as recent analytical philosophers did).  Therefore, I don’t see how Ayres can claim that Augustine and the Cappadocians taught the same thing on simplicity.   

Conclusion

This book is outstanding on so many levels.  The student gets much information on key passages in Athanasios and the Cappadocians.   The book occasionally borders on overkill and Ayres’ constant raising and rebutting the “De Regnon” Thesis gets old very quickly.  

Bonds of Imperfection (O’Donovan)

O’Donovans, Oliver and Joan Lockwood. Bonds of Imperfection: Christian Politics Past and Present.  Eerdmans, 2007.

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I’ve read this book more than any other book over the past eleven years.  Each essays is a Master’s course in social ethics.  With all the combined essays, you will know more about ethics than the average seminary graduate. This post is going to be very long, but given the contents, that is unavoidable.

The most important essay, and the one from which most others spring, is Oliver O’Donovan’s essay on Augustine’s City of God 19.4.  O’Donovan is in the very dangerous waters of whether the City of Man constitutes a true res publica.  And if it doesn’t, and if the Church does, does this mean that the Church is actually the only true political society?  If so, we aren’t that far from Yoder.  But I don’t think O’Donovan takes it in that direction.

Some background terms:  A thing’s end is its perfection.  The summum bonum is that object for which other objects are sought, but which is sought only for itself.  

  • each city has its own end.
  • Augustine is not saying that the two cities get along together by having a common use of means towards different ends.  The connective phrase ita etiam connects chapter 16 with the first line of chapter 17:  the comparison is between the earthly city and the earthly household

Consensus of Wills

But what of the obvious fact that the Two Cities do seem to “get along” from time to time?  For one, we note that members of the heavenly city use the earthly as a means to an end; whereas the earthly city sees itself as an end.  There is no tertium quid between the two cities, no neutral space. The agreement can only be on a surface level of means, and only that.

Ius and Iustitia

Augustine notes that “ius” flows from the source of iustitia (19.21).  There can be no iustitia common to the two cities because the earthly city does not deal or participate in the forgiveness of sins (Ep. 140.72; Spirit and the Letter 32.56).  Iustitia, nonetheless, is not at the forefront of Augustine’s concerns.  

If a state does display some virtues but it relates to some object other than God, then it is disorder (19.14-16).  This insight allows Augustine to say that there is some relative order and good in a state, but gives him the space to critique the State. (Interestingly, Augustine has no vision for political programs; sorry, Reconstructionists).  

O’Donovan then outlines a pyramid of ascending orders of peace in the universe (rerum omnium).  I will number them but I can’t reproduce the pyramidal scheme here. The numbers aren’t of greater importance to lesser, or vice-versa.  Rather, beginning with (1) it is a continual movement outward.

(10) ?

(9)  peace of the heavenly city

(8) peace of the city

(7) peace of the household (19.14-16)

(6) pax hominum (Peace of Rome? or basic Peace between men)

(5) peace with God

(4) Body-soul union

(3) rational soul

(2) irrational passions

(1) Body

The relation between peace and order is one of definition.  The peace of any household is the tranquility of order.

Household (Domus)

It is an ordered harmony of giving and receiving commands.  Unlike the City, though, the commands are not given from a desire to dominate, but from compassionate acceptance of responsibility. Augustine does not try to “transform” society.  It is impossible to read Book 19 or the whole City of God that way.  Rather, he “transvalues” society’s structures (O’Donovan 68).  

The Proprietary Subject and the Crisis of Liberal Rights

Key point:  The possession of rights is always proprietorship; all natural rights (for the West) originate in property rights (Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, 75).   This originated with Pope John XXIII (1329 AD).  He saw man as created with full lordship and ownership as possession (dominum).  His point was to discredit Fransiscan theologians who insisted on radical poverty.

This is the rights culture that would spring full-bloom in the modern world.  The problem it created was how to have community if the above take on rights is true.

Patristic Foundations of Non-Proprietary Community

The fathers thought men should share as an imitation of God’s sharing his goodness with us.Augustine’s AchievementAugustine distinguished between two objective rights:  (a) divine right, by which all things belong to the righteous, and (b) human right, in which is the jurisdiction of earthly kings (79, quoting Epistle 93).

  • Justice for Augustine is a rightly-ordered love seen in the body politic, which would mean men loving the highest and truest good, God, for God’s sake.
  • Therefore, the bonum commune is a sharing in a rightly-ordered love (City of God, BK 19.21).
  • Because this sharing is spiritual, it is common and inclusive.  Thus we have a republic in the truest sense of the word:  res publica, public things.
  • Conversely, a disordered love in the soul is the privatization of the good.
  • Therefore, a disordered love will see the destruction of community.

O’Donovan comments,It is the regulated interaction of private spheres of degenerate freedom, secured by the protection of property and enhanced by the provision of material benefits at the hands of unscrupulous tyrants (80).

Fransiscan Poverty: The Evangelical Theology of Non-Possession

  • Renouncing property right means that the viator is not a self-possessor, but rather is possessed by Christ and receives his powers (85).

Wyclif’s Ecclesiological Revolution

Irony: Wyclif’s reform program actually owed a great deal to Pope John XXIII’s reflections.

  • Non-proprietary posession belonged not only to Adam’s original state, but all the way forward to the episcopolate today: this should be seen in the church militant (88).
  • Divine lordship (dominum):  per Wyclif’s predecessor, Fitzralph, God is the primary possessor and enjoyer of creation.  Therefore, his giving of creation to Adam is a communication and sharing of himself, rather than a transfer of Lordship (89).
  • For the church, for Wyclif, this is God’s gift of himself as the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13).
  • Therefore, all of the “justified,” who coexist with Christ’s love, share (communicant) in this lordship directly from Christ.
  • Therefore, just dominion involves rightly-ordered love towards these communicable goods, which in turn depends on true knowledge of them available in Christ.

Medieval Theories on Usury

medieval economics: A Christo-centric ethic of perfection that drew heavily upon the Stoic-Platonist tradition.  

  • drew upon the Patristic vision of polarity of opposing loves of spiritual and earthly riches, “viewed avarice as the root of all evil,” property right as morally tainted (Lockwood O’Donovan, 99).  
  • Not fully Aristotelian, though.  The Patristic vision viewed community primarily in terms of a common participation in invisible goods and a charitable sharing of divisible goods by its members.  

Canonical Development of the Usury Prohibition

The church recognized two intrinsic titles to interest (indemnity) on loans in the case of delayed repayment:  the title of damages sustained and that of profit foregone. Further, contracts are distinguished from loans.

  • The locatio: a rental contract on a piece of property
  • The societas: partnership where profit and risk were shared
  • The Census:  sale or purchase for life of a rent-charge (the return varied on the productivity)

The church in fact gave moral license to limited opportunities for investment and credit that favored the welfare of the poor but did not serve an expanding commercial economy (101-102).  However, as contracts became more complex over time, it was really hard to not engage in some form of usury.

The Earlier Medieval Treatments of Usury

God’s original will for human community:  

  • its members make common use of the goods of creation to relieve material want (104).  
  • air, sun, rain, sea, seasons (divinely created as koinonia, unable to be monopolized; cf. modern American government attacking those who store rainwater)
  • Gratian argues this did not mean private ownership and amassing wealth.  It’s hard to see how this squares with Proverbs injunction that a godly man leaves an inheritance.  And if the wealth is to be distributed by the church, it’s hard to see how the church can make any claim to poverty and non-possessorship.

The usurer sells time:  time originally belongs to God, and secondarily belongs to all creatures.  Thus, to sell time is to injure all. Further, time is a koinon, indivisibly shared by all creatures.  

Roman contract of loan (mutuum):  a fungible good is transferred from owner to borrower. Ownership is transferred because the borrower is not expected to repay the exact same item.  The borrower assumes the risk of loss and is bound to repay it. Thefore, Lockwood O’Donovan argues, “The medieval theologians and canonists could argue, in the first place, that the usurer charges the debtor for what the debtor already owns” (107).

The Thomistic Treatment of Usury

Commutative justice (ST 2a2ae. 78)

Usury sins against justice in the exchange, a violation against equality in the exchange

Thomas does presuppose property right

  • sterility of money theory
    • Money is a means of measuring equivalence in an exchange.  It can only establish equivalence if it is formally equal to the thing itself in exchange (
    • the usurer inflicts on the needy borrower a moral violence of making him repay more than he was lent.
    • Thomas also argues that human industry, not money is the cause of profit.
  • to charge separately for a thing

Problems with Barth’s Political Ethics

For Ramsey, God accepts Christ’s regnant new humanity.  For Barth, God rejects the old humanity.  This seems to mean that God also rejects extra-ecclesial orders as such.  When Barth comes to war as such, he does not interact with Just War reasoning but simply lists the evils of the Second World War.

Ramsey can point to “monuments of grace” in such a horror, even to legitimate uses of State force.  Barth can only suggest a delaying action (CD III/4, p. 456).  As a result, notes O’Donovan, Barth “ends up precisely in the place he intended to bypass, in a politics that can only be viewed soberly and not with evangelical faith or hope” (O’Donovan 264).

A Way Forward With Ramsey

Ramsey has what Barth needs: a way to bridge the gap between homo politicus which is redeemed in Christ and homo politicus that is in need of redemption. We are back with the distinction between esse and bene esse.  The latter terms also suggests something along the lines of goal or end. Ramsey is speaking of true political activity.

Is Barth an Apollinarian?

Ramsey offers a model in which political power is both used appropriately and judged:  the Incarnation, homo assumptus.  This means that Christ takes on the fallen order, including homo politicus.  There is no radical “Other” realm to which Christ has no access.  As O’Donovan notes, “Only so can the homo politicus that is redeemed be the same homo politicus that was in need of redemption” (266).

Barth will not grant this.  But in not granting it, he is partitioning off a section of man’s redemption.  To be fair, Barth resists this temptation in Christology but not in politics.

Who is Ramsey’s “Liberal?”

A liberal for Ramsey is one who splits politics and military doctrine.

Liberalism for O’Donovan: the inadequacy of every human attempt to render justice.  A magistrate’s power should be limited.    Therefore, power is suspect but necessary (270).

What does Ramsey mean by Just War and International Politics?  So, O’Donovan: “The international sphere was a constitutional vacuum, but by no means a moral or political vacuum” 271). Ramsey suspects there is a continuum that links violent with nonviolent resistance. Indeed, is not democracy justum bellum (Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience, 126)?  Jesus never said to resist evil by ballot boxes.

Muller notes on Divine Will, part 2; Aristotle and Aquinas

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Aristotle and Aquinas

Main idea: Aristotle never set aside the principle of bivalence but instead presumed a distinction between “definitely true” and “indefinitely true” propositions (88).  A human being can have opposing potencies, and even when one is actualized, the contrary potency doesn’t disappear but remains as a potency.

The Medieval Reception

It isn’t simply “either we are free or God knows everything.”  Rather, as Augustine pointed out, there is an “order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God” (Civ. Dei 5.9).

Boethius

Let’s take the statement, what will be tomorrow is necessary.  The medievals understood this statement to be mean: “Whatever is, when it is, cannot be in the same moment other than what it is” (Muller 107). To anticipate later discussions, while the future may not be “up for grabs” from God’s point of view, it is nevertheless contingent.

There is also a distinction between necessity and certainty.  Necessity is lodged in the thing known and certainty in the knower.

Aquinas

Aquinas held that not all effects have necessary causes.  Aquinas maintained free choice by saying rational beings have the potency to more than one effect.  We have a simultaneity of potencies (SCG III.72).

Aquinas and Divine Power.

Muller then discusses the standard distinction of absolute vs. ordained power. This undergirds how God is said to relate to the world, and the world order itself is contingent result of God’s free willing (Muller 121).

Since this created order is contingent, “God has created contingent agents that act or cause effects contingently” (123).  As a result, we have the potency to do otherwise.  We should also point out the language of “determined” in the medievals.  They weren’t thinking about the determinism vs. libertarianism debate.  Determined simply meant the “terminus whether a quo or ad quem of a causal sequence has been identified” (130).

Therefore, per a future contingent, it is “undetermined” not in the sense that God is not aware of it, but that it doesn’t have a determinate cause.  God knows future contingents as “hypothetically necessary, as the effects of contingent causes” (131).

Father, Son, Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, Relevance (Ware)

Ware, Bruce. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance. Crossway, 2005.

Thesis: “examine the ways in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another, how they relate to us, and what difference this makes in our lives (Ware 14-15 emphasis original).

Ware begins with 10 principles for the Trinity and how it is relevant (15ff).

Ware’s Argument

The key to the Trinity, according to Ware, is the “authority-submission structure” (21).  In this structure

“the three Persons understand the rightful place each has. The Father possesses the place of supreme authority, and the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. As such, the Son submits to the Father just as the Father, as eternal Father of the eternal Son, exercises authority over the Son. And the Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son.”

This is bad. 

“We can only distinguish the Father by his roles” (45).   He then lists three or four roles of the Father. Most of them are unobjectionable, even if they don’t prove his point. 

Ware wastes no time in applying the Trinitarian authority-submission structure to male-female relations: “Clearly, every married man is in this category” (59).  While it is true that “husbands should imitate their heavenly Father,” I can’t help but wonder if Ware is reading this paradigm backwards from earth to heaven.

Beholding the Wonder of the Son

True to his thesis–and I do give Ware credit for having a focused thesis–how do we distinguish the Son?  We distinguish him by his role (69). This is not what the Church has confessed. We distinguish the Son by his eternal generation from the Father.

Ware begins with the correct proposition that it is the eternal Son of the eternal Father.  From this he draws the inference that it is the eternally subordinate Son (72). He does note that the early church used the word “order” or taxis, but they did not make it a structuring principle.

Ware has several pages of discussion of the Son’s submission in his economy, but no one questions that so I will pass by it.

He is correct, quoting Augustine, that the differences in the person reflect differences in relations.  What Augustine did not say, and most certainly did not mean, is that differences in relations entail an authority-submission structure.  For Augustine the relations depended on the Filioque. Given absolute divine simplicity, the only way we can distinguish the persons is through relations of origin.  That’s it.  

He faults egalitarians for not having anything to ground the eternal relation between Father and Son.  And what is so desperately needed: authority-submission. He writes, “There is no reason that the Father should send the Son” (82).  He hasn’t considered the pactum salutis.

He comes close to full Arian in saying that the “Father” and “Son” have to connote exactly that.  This is completely opposite of what the church has taught. Basil and Augustine settled on the term “person” because they didn’t know what else to say.  Reading human concepts back into God is polytheism. Per Father and Son we note “eternal generation” as something only non-physical. We can’t say anything more.  

Ware realizes that the Spirit’s casting Jesus into the wilderness comes close to refuting his position.  He counters by saying Jesus sends the Spirit. The only problem is that Jesus does so in his Incarnation (depending on how you want to gloss the Upper Room and Pentecost).  In any case, Ware hasn’t proven that “send” = “eternal authority over.” He just asserts it.

At every point he sees “sending” as implying “being in authority over/being in submission to, etc.”  Why must it be this way? None of these passages remotely suggest eternal submission. Even worse, as he correctly notes the Father and Son are co-senders of the Spirit, he then goes on to say that the Father is the ultimate sender (i.e., ultimate authority), which means the Son is the penultimate authority, which leaves the Spirit in a rather awkward place (97ff).  It gets worse. This means the Spirit is twice removed from the Father in terms of eternal submission. Ware has come right to the edge (if he hasn’t already crossed over) to Plotinus and Gnosticism (yes, I realize that Plotinus opposed Gnosticism).

Beholding the Wonder of the Holy Spirit

(Let’s get this over with.)

The structure of this chapter is similar to the previous two.  The only thing that distinguishes the Spirit is that he is his role. Unlike the Son, he is in Submission (gradation?) to two divine persons.

Things he gets right

Ware is attuned to the Trinitarian ordo, especially as it relates to worship (Eph. 1:3-14), even if he frames it in typically bad concepts (Ware 19). He understands that the persons of the Trinity are related to each other in a specific order, rather than just popping in and out of infinity. This applies especially well to our prayer life (151). In Christ we have access in one Spirit to the Father.  What Ware doesn’t realize is that this is an epistemological grammar, not an ontological one.

Ware correctly notes that Jesus does his miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28).  There is a tendency to see Jesus simply zapping miracles left and right because he is God. That’s not actually how we see it in the text.

His stuff on the image of God is fairly good.  We are God’s representatives. His problem is that he immediately reduces it to roles of authority-submission in the human sphere (133).

Things Iffy

He speaks of a “unity of differentiation” (20). I think I know what he is getting at, but I shouldn’t have to guess in a popular work on the Trinity.

It’s dangerous to speak of the Trinity as a “community” of “society.”  Yes, there are multiple persons, but there is only one will. It doesn’t make sense to speak of a society of one essence and will.

Things Wrong

>>Ware seeks to distinguish the Persons at the level of function.  The historic church distinguished them by modes of origination.

>>Ware says Bishop Athanasius was the hero of Nicea with his defense of homoousios (37).  Athanasius in real life was not bishop at that early date. He might not even have been at Nicea.  He did not use homoousios as a construct until later. Later on, Ware says that the three Cappadocians, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil of Caesarea, were “heroes” at the Council of 381.  Strictly speaking, this is inaccurate. Gregory of Nazianzus presided over the beginning of the Council, but left when the Council wouldn’t call the Holy Spirit “God.” Basil of Caesarea, while soon gaining legendary status, died two years before the Council.  How did Crossway not catch this?

Rebuttal

But “Son” doesn’t always mean “lesser in authority.”  Jesus is called “The Son of Man.” Does that mean Jesus is inferior to the idea of men?  Jesus is called the Son of David. Does that mean he is inferior to David?

Let’s go back to the order of the Trinity: From the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.  According to the gradationist model, with each term there is a diminution of authority. Logically, then, the Holy Spirit should be the bottom-rung.  But if that is the case, then why is the Holy Spirit “casting Jesus” (εκβαλλω) into the wilderness (Mark 1:12)?  

Ware says that the hierarchical structure of authority is part of the essence of the Trinity (Ware 2005, 21), that it “marks the very nature of God.”  Millard Erickson points out the problem with this line of reasoning: if authority over the Son is an essential attribute, then the subordination of the Son is essential.  This means they are neither homoousion in essence or in relation.