One Being, Three Persons (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas.

The homoousion is a decisive step in the life of the church.  It guarantees how we understand the internal relations in the Trinity.  Not only are the persons homoousion, but so are the relations.

“Only in Christ is God’s self-revelation identical with himself” (Torrance 1).  In Christ God has communicated his Word to us and imparted his Spirit.  

God’s three-fold revelation and self-communication to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (7).

The mutual relationship between knowing and being between God and the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-12) has been embodied in Jesus.

Since the proof of an unknown reality is its own evidence, and the conceptual mode of relating to it there must be a breaking through to a new realm of truth, and this calls for faith (19).

Knowledge of new realities calls for new ways of thinking–new concepts and new thought patterns (Contra Arianos, 1:23; 4:27; De Synodis 42).

The difficulty the early church overcame was in acquiring knowledge of something yet unknown (20).

Being and Act

God reveals himself out of himself.

God gives himself as a whole. In knowing God we do not know God as a part, but we apprehend the Whole.  But in apprehending the whole, we know that full comprehension eludes us (26). We know God as Totum, but not en toto.

In the Communion of the Spirit our own way of knowing is lifted up into the transcendent life (33).  By our indwelling the Scriptures our minds form a structural kinship.

Personal Knowledge

We interiorize what we seek to know and rely not just on external evidence (38).  The object naturally integrates into us and we let it disclose its depths of meaning to us.

Knowledge of the father, Son, and HS are locked into each other.

The Trinitarian Mind

The mystery of Godliness means thinking about God in a  Trinitarian way.

“The Son is the knowledge of the Father, but the knowledge of the Son is in the father and has been revealed through the Son” (Irenaeus 4.14.5).  

Homoousion: God’s revelation of himself as Father, Son, and HS in the economy of salvation is grounded in and derived from the eternal being of God” (80).

P1: Our conceptual statements must be open-ended and point beyond themselves.

Top Level: More refined scientific theory/Trinitarian relations in God

——————————————————–

Middle Level: Theory/ Economy of Christ
——————————————————–

Ground level: day to day experience/ Evangelical apprehension and experience

Each level is open to the others.  When we move from one level to another, we seek to order the basic concepts from the lower level to the higher.

The intuitive mind takes its first principle at once and as a whole, naturally and tacitly (84).

Since the Act and Word of God are internal to his being, we may know God through the Act and Word in the inner reality of his being (Contra Ar. 1:9ff).

Since the Spirit is not embodied in space and time, we cannot know him in the concrete modalities.  Our knowledge of him rests directly on the objectivity of God, unmediated.  

One Being/Three Persons

Ousia–not a static being but the living and speaking being (116). Athanasius preferred to use verbs when speaking of God (De Synodis 34).  Ousia is to be understood in terms of the divine “I am.” Being-in-Act and Act-in-Being.

God’s being is a being-for-others. 

Monarchy and Taxis

The monarchy means there is a specific order to the divine Persons.  It is the order manifested in the history and revealing of God’s saving acts (176). The Son is begotten of the Father, not the other way around.

Cappadocian Developments

If one presses the cappadocian distinctions too far, then we are left with the claim that the person of the Father causes, deifies, and personalizes the Being of the Son, Spirit, and even Godhead!

We can say, however, that the monarchia of the Father is cause not of their being, but of their mode of enhypostatic differentiation (179).

Torrance wants to see the monarchia referring to the Being of the Father, rather than strictly the Person.  For him this points back to the intrinsic relations of the Being: The Being of the Father as Father means the Being of the Son of the Father.

Perichoresis reinforces that the Holy Trinity may be known only as a whole.

Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought

Anatolios, Khaled.

Broader thesis: “My position is that Athanasius’s theological vision is Irenaean” (Anatolios 4; loc. 126). The distance and (convergence) between God and man: “The theme of the immediate presence of God to creation implies an anthropology that conceives human being in terms of receptivity to this presence of God (23; loc. 477). Further, “to say that creatures are “external” to God means in fact that they participate in God” (107; loc. 2230) This is interesting because his gloss of Irenaeus begins to sound a lot like the Sophiological project of Sergei Bulgakov.

On various Platonisms: He notes on a Scriptural view “there arises no need to set up a kind of buffer zone of mediation to protect divine transcendence” (15; loc. 314). This is a great statement that will eventually run counter to later Ps. Dionysian tendencies to see a hierarchy of mediation. “Athanasius wants to reiterate that the original purpose of creation included the overcoming, from the divine side, of the ontological chasm that separates God and creatures” (42; loc. 880). See Michael Horton’s essays on overcoming estrangement; foreign to a covenant ontology. Anatolios is careful to say that Athanasius doesn’t hold to the neo-Platonic chain of being ontology, otherwise he couldn’t maintain the thesis of continuity between Irenaeus and Athanasius. But on the other hand, Ath. certainly comes close: “For immediately after establishing that the Son’s participation of the Father constitutes an identity of essence, he goes on to establish a kind of chain of participation in which our participation of the Son amounts to a participation of the Father” (111; loc. 2318)

Indeed, while Athanasius rightly rejects the “chain of being” ontology explicitly, he seems to default back to some form of it at times. Anatolios notes, “Thus while it is intrinsic to the definition of created nature to relapse into the nothingness whence it came….” (167; loc. 3463). This is fully in line with the Eastern view’s seeing the problem as ontological, not ethical. Our problem on this gloss is finitude and the perpetual slide into non-being.

The Logos and the Body

Anatolios will take his thesis and apply it to the inter-relation of the Logos and the body. Broadly speaking, and Anatolios does not ultimately challenges this, the Alexandrian tradition saw the Logos as instrumentalizing the human nature. This is beyond dispute. (See Bruce McCormack’s various essays for a lucid discussion). Anatolios, however, cautions interpreters against interpreting this thesis in too literal and crude a fashion, pace Grillmeier. Rather, Anatolios argues that we should see such instrumentalization in an “active-passive” paradigm. Perhaps he is correct but I don’t see how this is really any different materially than the other theses.

Later on in the monograph, though, Anatolios does admit that “the interaction of passibility and impassibility in Christ is conceived not so much in terms of feeling and non-feeling, but of activity and passivity” (157; loc. 3292). If that’s true, and I think it is, then it is hard to see the material difference between his view and other interpreters’ (Grillmeier, Hanson).

Extra-calvinisticum: “in relation to both the world and the body, the Word is both in all and outside all…the Word is outside the cosmos and his human body insofar as his relation to it, while quite intrinsic, is one of activity, not passivity” (80; loc. 1684ff).

Logos as Subject

Anatolios suggests that we see the relation of Word to “body” as one of a grammatical subject rather than an organic model. In a move that sounds almost word-for-word in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith, Anatolios notes that the “characteristics of both humanity and divinity, in Christ, are predicated of a single grammatical subject” (81; loc. 1708). He is not saying (although perhaps not ultimately denying, either) that the characteristics of one nature are predicated to the other nature.

I don’t think that Anatolios fully solves all the problems, and his quite lucid discussion merely highlights a tension in Christologies that operate off of classical metaphysics. On one hand he wants to show that the Word really did take on human suffering as “his own,” even as “His body’s own,” but does this really advance the discussion? There is still a “0” acting as a metaphysical placeholder between the two natures. I am not faulting either Anatolios of Athanasius for that. Impassibility must be maintained, but Anatolios’s reading isn’t as novel as he makes it to be. If he says suffering is “predicated” to the Word (147; loc 3074, and I agree), then one must ask if since there is a unity between the two natures, how does this “perturbation” not flow to the divine nature? To be fair, this wasn’t Athanasius’ main point so one can’t fault him too hard for not really answering it. However, it would be one of the main points in later Alexandrian and Cyrillene debates and it fully impacts the analogy of a fire and iron (in fact, it shows the analogy to be quite flawed).

Anatolios expands on this meaning by saying that the human attributes are “transformed” by the Word (151; loc. 3162). That’s fully in line with later Eastern theology but it does seem to jeopardize the humanity of Christ.

Athanasius and Barth

It is popular among recent interpreters of Athanasius to compare him favorably as the “proto-Barth” (pace Williams). Anatolios puts a stop to this, but he is not critiquing Barth on the lines where Reformed thinkers would. Anatolios notes that Athanasius held to a form of the analogia entis (211; loc. 4409). Barth did not; indeed, he called it an invention of the Antichrist. Anatolios then proceeds to give a fairly accurate exposition of Barth’s theology in contrast with Athanasius. Problematically, we cannot follow Athanasius on this particular point. Whatever Barth’s faults may be, he emphasized preaching, proclamation, and salvation as an “extra-nos” announcement. On Barth’s (and the Protestant’s) gloss, good news is first of all a proclamation. It is in fact, news. For Athanasius (and the later Orthodox) it is something God begins to do in us. True, Anatolios does affirm that God alone bridges the gap between created and Creator, but he doesn’t do it by a proclamation, but by a process of transformation.

Analysis and Conclusion

As a monograph of Athanasius, this is superb. It is well-written and interacts with the best scholarship. I do not think Anatolios’s reading of Athanasius, for whatever merits it may have, is really all that different from Hanson’s and Grillmeier’s. True, he does correct some of the cruder readings, but the fundamental point remains the same: Athanasius saw the Logos as instrumentalizing the human nature. He had to if he wanted to maintain deification soteriology. Further, this places a strain on just how much “activity” Athanasius could logically place on the human side (and eventually this paradigm would “snap” at the 6th Ecumenical Council). For he had earlier written, “The power of free choice (he proairesis) thus conditions the active-passive paradigm model, insofar as it is meant to lead humanity into an active clinging to the prior beneficent activity of the Word” (61; loc. 1287). This may very well be so, but one wonders how it could have been with regard to Christ’s human nature.

God of Israel and Christian Theology (Soulen)

Soulen,  R. Kendall. The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Criticisms of supersessionism must be anchored in Romans 9-11.  Unfortunately, liberals, while rightly condemning the church’s treatment of Jews in the past, tend to posit dual covenants with Israel and the Church.  A better criticism of supersessionism acknowledges that God’s call is irrevocable and the church’s future is anchored in God’s covenant to Israel, not the other way around.

Thesis: Christians cannot claim to worship the God of Israel by making God indifferent to Israel (Soulen 4).  The question of supersessionism hinges on whether baptized Jews must negate their Jewish heritage in order to be Christians?  The post-Constantinian church said yes. The book of Acts appeared to say no.

Israel and Election

Soulen makes the argument that corporate election is just as offensive as “individual election.” What sense does it make for a universal God to elect a minority people?  This is the scandal of particularity. Soulen counters by noting that love can’t be merely abstract. A pure “agape” love abstracted from any particularity is meaningless.  

This determines whether the church will seek an “abstracted” divinity behind God’s election of Israel. Soulen frames his discussion around what he calls a “canonical narrative,” an understanding of “the inner configurations” and “interrelationships” of the canon (14).  All such construals, as in our example of supersessionism, contain their own promises and problems. They have their own “grammar.”

The standard model’s main problem is that it makes God’s dealings with Israel largely irrelevant for how God will deal with creation.  Soulen’s main problem with the standard model is that it makes Israel obsolete (29). This involves hermeneutics as well: on the standard model, do you need the Hebrew scriptures to make decisive judgments on how God deals with creation? Take the four points of the standard model:

1) God creates
2) Adam and Eve fall
3) 1st Advent
4) 2nd Advent

All four of these propositions (or if they are stated in propositional format) are true.  However, with the exceptions of Genesis 1-3, you can formulate this system without regard to the Hebrew Scriptures. We see this early on with Justin Martyr, who advocates what is sometimes called (fairly or unfairly) replacement theology (Dial. 11). 

How biblical is Justin’s Logos-theology?  Despite a surface-level similarity with John 1:1, it doesn’t have much biblical support.   It is “the principle of divine revelation that sprung forth from the transcendent God” at the moment of creation (35).  What it isn’t is the life-giving, creative Word of the Covenant God. To oversimplify, cosmic history replaces salvation history.

Irenaeus’s perspective, on the other hand, is a bit more ambiguous.  He championed the unity between the Old Testament and the New, yet Israel still functions like a 5th wheel.  Missing from Irenaeus’s account, however, is the center of the Hebrew scriptures: God’s covenant dealings with Israel (45).

Christian Divinity without Jewish Flesh: The Legacies of Kant and Schleiermacher

Schleiermacher saw only three true monotheisms.  Of the two, Judaism and Christianity are the better ones.  Since Judaism, though, is still committed to non-spiritual things like land and Torah, they can’t fully develop their “God-consciousness.”  Judaism and its doctrine of election is too particular.

Schleiermacher’s project removes the inner connection between Judaism and Christianity and leaves only an external relation. If Jesus were truly Jewish, he could never bring about our universal God-consciousness (76).

Consummation at the End of Christendom

Barth and Rahner do well to expose the semignosticism within the classical model, yet they never fully escape gnosticism. Barth begins on a promising note as he replaces Schleiermacher’s “God-consciousness” with “creation and covenant.”  Unfortunately, Barth never fully lets the covenant model rescue him.

God’s covenant actions, for Barth, “summon the human creature beyond the dynamism of its natural being” (Soulen 85).  Covenant is the internal logic of creation.  

Barth goes on to say that Israel’s election is the medium for God’s consummating work in the world.  This is a vast improvement over Justin and Irenaeus. Because of God’s fidelity to Israel, we believe he will be faithful to us (89).  

Unfortunately, what Barth gives with one hand he takes away with the other.  His “Christomonism” swallows up his emphasis on God’s particularity with Israel.  Christ isn’t just the center of Barth’s theology. It is the whole field. With the person of Jesus Christ, carnal Israel comes to an end.  So far that’s standard covenant theology. Barth then takes it in a bizarre direction: not only does Israel’s history in particular come to an end, human history in general ends (CD III/2, 582).

Soulen makes the poignant criticism that models of Barth and Rahner (and any such model that downplays “historical particularity”) finds itself unable to speak a new word.

Summarizing the problem: the traditional model makes God’s identity as the God of Israel largely irrelevant.  If Israel is just transient, why does God make a big deal of being the God of Israel?

Constructing a New Model (Or Finding an Older One)

Working Conclusions

1) “The God of the Hebrew Scriptures acted in Jesus for all the world” (178 n3).

2) Consider how the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” reinforce the standard narrative.  The apostles used the term “Scriptures” for the Old Testament. We could probably say something like “apostolic witness” for the New.  While Soulen doesn’t explicitly make this point, neither of these terms threaten issues about infallibility or authority.

3) Israel is the form of God’s intercourse with history.  God’s “history with Israel and the nations is the permanent and enduring medium of God’s work as the consummator of human creation” (110).

4) Instead of an “economy of redemption” where everything is subsumed under “getting saved,” Soulen posits an ‘economy of blessing,’ where Israel will bring shalom to the nations (however we want to frame that around Christ’s mediatorial work).  This blessing is anchored in Yahweh’s gifts to Israel of People, Torah, and Land.

5) God’s historical fidelity to Israel is the narrow gate that opens to the New Creation (133).

Isaiah 19 posits an economy of blessing where the distinctions between Israel, Egypt, and Assyria are maintained, yet all experience Shalom.

Criticisms

While we acknowledge that the standard model has big flaws, Soulen needed an extensive analysis of Galatians 3.  How do we tie in the blessing of the nations from Abraham to the promise of the Seed in Galatians 3? Further, he completely avoided Romans 11, which would have only strengthened his case.  This is baffling. He should have spent more time on Romans 11 and less on Bonhoeffer.

Irenaeus on the Apostolic Preaching

This book’s brevity is part of its appeal yet ultimately what makes it a frustrating read. While Irenaus wrote in Greek, it’s doubtful that this book is from the Greek. As far as we can tell, it is an English translation of an Armenian translation of a probable Greek text.

st irenaeus

It does a nice retelling the story of salvation. Unlike later Fathers, Irenaeus keeps the Gospel narrative of what God-has-done-in-Christ-for-us in the foreground. Metaphysical speculation is kept at a distance.

Further, it lacks the anti-Gnostic polemic that you find in Against Heresies. I’m all for bashing and trashing Gnosticism, but you have to admit that made for a very painful reading. This book is wonderfully more focused.

Yet…

The “book,” such that it is, really isn’t that deep or profound. It is more a running commentary on the main story of the Bible. That’s a good thing. That is something that would be slowly eclipsed over the centuries. On the flip side, though, he isn’t telling you anything you don’t already know.

A Patristic Linkstorm

05-St-Gregory-Nazianzus-764x1024

This is a database (or will be) of my references to the church fathers.  People ask me, “So what should I read?”  This might help.

Getting the Trinity Right

Barrett, Matthew.  Simply Trinity.  The best book on the Trinity.

Erickson, Millard.  Who’s Tampering with the Trinity.

Giles, Kevin. The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity.

Torrance, Thomas. One Being: Three Persons

Torrance, Thomas.  The Trinitarian Faith

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Set

Ephrem the Syrian.  Lyrically beautiful but hard to read without some understanding of the Syriac mindset.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies.  Bailey links to this edition. I understand that AH is hard to read through, but books III-V are just too important to condense.  However, it is very difficult to find an accessible edition, so I will go with that version.

Athanasius, Contra Arianos.  Everyone links to On the Incarnation.  I admit it is important, but it’s not that important and it is nowhere near as good as CA.  Unfortunately, you have to go to the Schaff edition to find an accessible version.

Origen.  On First Principles.  Yes, you have to be careful reading Origen, but he is just too important to dismiss.  I am aware of the 5th Council’s anathemas, but they aren’t part of the council itself (and are morally and historically suspect).  Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine a Gregory or a Maximus without an Origen.

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity.  A so-called “Western” take on the Trinity before the Augustinian revolution.  This volume is expensive, but you can find the Schaff edition online somewhere.

John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith.

Popular Patristics Paperbacks

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ. Read this before anything else.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  Festal Orations.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Man.

Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching.

Four Desert Fathers.

Hippolytus, On the Apostolic Tradition.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Lectures on the Sacraments

John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood.

Maximus the Confessor, The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.  Read this at least three times.  It is the most important book on this list.

Maximus the Confessor, Two Hundred Chapters of Theology.

Basil, On the Holy Spirit.

BasilOn Social Justice.

Basil, On Christian Doctrine and Practice.

Basil, on Fasting and Feasting.

Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

Theodore the Studite, On the Holy Icons.

John of Damascus, Three Treatises on Divine Images.

Melito of Sardis, On Pascha.

Ancient Christian Texts

Severian and Bede on Genesis 1-3.

Andrew of Caesarea on Revelation.

Ancient Christian Doctrines

We Believe in One God, ed. Bray.

And in One Lord Jesus Christ, ed. McGuckin.

Athanasius

Anatolios, Khaled.  Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought.  Probably the best text on working out the God-world relationship in Athanasius.  He tries to rescue Athanasius from the charge of of “instrumentalizing Christ’s humanity,” but I am not sure he succeeds.

Williams, Rowan.  Arius: Heresy and Tradition.  Kind of limited and scope and Williams tends to see Barth and Bonhoeffer as the Athanasiuses of our day, but his handling of ancient philosophy is masterful.

Gwynn, David.  The Eusebians: The Polemic of Athanasius of Alexandria and the Construction of the ‘Arian Controversy.’

Augustine

Ayres, Lewis.  Augustine.   Good read.  I think he downplays any neo-platonic elements, but certainly will be a standard text.

Nicea

Ayres, Lewis.  Nicea and its Legacy. Ayres has a tendency to use “simplicity” (aplosis) as a univocal term among the fathers, when it clearly isn’t.  Notwithstanding, this will end up being the standard work in the field.

Beeley, Christopher.  The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in the Patristic Tradition.  Tries to rehabilitate Origen somewhat; a fantastic read.  Limited in scope, though.  Origen and the immediate aftermath get a lot of attention.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Beeley, Christopher.  Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God: In Your Light We Shall See Light .  Hit or miss.  But outstanding discussio on Gregory’s usage of “cause” and “monarchia.”  In fact, the best treatment on that in the English language, period.  I have his essay on this if you want it.

McGuckin, John.  St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography.

Gregory of Nyssa

Boersma, Hans.  Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa.

Radde-Galwitz, Andrew.  Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity.  The best patristic book on divine simplicity.

Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius.

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses.

Barnes, Michel. The Power of God: Dynamis in Gregory of Nyssa.

Von Balthasar, Hans urs. Presence and Thought.

Origen

de Lubac, Henri.  History and Spirit.

Cyril

McGuckin, John.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  One of the best texts on Cyril.  Period.

Gavrilyuk, Paul. Suffering of the Impassible God: Dialectics of the Patristic Tradition.  Excellent discussions.  His goal is to close the gap between Cyril and modern critics of Cyril..  Not sure he succeeds.

Maximus the Confessor

Cooper, Adam.  The Body in St. Maximus the Confessor: Holy Flesh, Wholly Deified.  Great discussion of Maximus’s “Five Divisions” and their subsequent unities.

Bathrellos, Demetrios.  The Byzantine Christ.  The best discussion on Maximus the Confessor.

von Balthasar, Hans urs.  Cosmic Liturgy: Maximus.   Great section dealing with terms like hypostasis.  He tries to make Maximus a hard-line neo-Chalcedonian.  Other scholars have thoroughly attacked Balthasar on this point.

von Balthasar, Hans urs.  Presence and Thought.

Thunberg, Lars.  Microcosm and Mediator.   Encyclopedic work on Maximus.  No original ideas here, but an outstanding summary of the Nyssa-Maximus tradition.

Loudonikos, Nikolaos.  A Eucharistic Ontology.  My favorite work on Maximus.

Barnes, Michel.  Dunamis in the thought of Gregory of Nyssa. The best discussion on what Gregory means by energy and power.

Tollefsen, Torstein.  The Christocentric Cosmology of Maximus the Confessor.

Torononen, Melchisidec. Union and Distinction in Maximus the Confessor.

Survey Texts

McGuckin, John.  A History of Christianity.

Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity.

Review: Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross

nouvelle

Boersma, Hans. Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Hans Boersma uses concepts like violence and hospitality, particularly in their recent philosophical venues, as a set of ciphers to explore the atonement. He succeeds brilliantly. I wish I read this book in seminary. It might, just might, have staved off a number of bad decisions later on.

Asking “Is the Atonement violent” sounds funny, and it is, but feminist and postmodern theologians think it is an important question. Unfortunately, they answer it. For Boersma, Hospitality is God’s work of reconciliation in Jesus Christ (Boersma 15). God comes to us in Christ to invite us into his eternal fellowship. Hospitality is a metaphor for the love of God (17).

Violence, then, is any exclusionary practice. Theologically, it could be something legitimate like church discipline, but raised to doctrine of God levels, it could be something more problematic: the decree of election which excludes others from God’s presence. Boersma will deal with this later.

Problem: Does “violence” negate God’s hospitality in Jesus Christ?

Boersma examines the three models of the atonement and notes that when they are abstracted and placed as *the* model, problems can arise. For example, the Christus Victor model is wonderful and scriptural, yet it doesn’t tell me *how* sins are forgiven. Boersma will place it within a larger Irenaean framework and show how it works.

Postmodernism, following Jacques Derrida, says that any act of true hospitality must be pure, unconditional. Pure hospitality means I forego all judging, analyzing, and classification of the other.”

Is the Derridean model coherent? Not really. Boersma points out that hospitality always takes place within the finite limits of space and time. By definition it will be limited in character (31). There is always this fear in postmodern literature that the limits of temporality are negative. Boersma wonders why. I think it goes back to the old Origenist problematic: the Fall and Finitude are linked.

Postmodernism isn’t on any firmer ground when it challenges violence. What is violence? It is something like “anything that contravenes the rights of another, or causes injury to the life, well-being, etc., of another” (quoted in Boersma 44). The problem is that this definition rules out all forms of corrective punishment. It also rules out self-defense, but perhaps worst of all, it is self-defeating when postmodernists try to “protest” systemic injustices. Boersma lists a number of defeaters:

  1. If I physically restrain my wife from crossing the road when a car is coming, am I offering violence?
  2. When the govt forces my kids to go to school, is that an act of violence?
  3. If I engage in economic boycotts, knowing that such boycotts will jeopardize the well-being of the average worker, how is that not violence?

Postmodernism cannot give a coherent reason why their good acts of physical resistance aren’t violent, yet “the other side” (Alterity!) is violent. The takeaway is that there can be good acts of violence. “Hospitality does not exclude all violence” (48).

Nonetheless, hospitality bespeaks the very essence of God. Violence is one of the ways he safeguards it.

Boersma argues that the High Calvinist (read: Supralapsarian) understanding of double predestination draws violence back into the being of God in eternity (56). Specifically, the violence (exclusion) of his hidden will overshadows the hospitality of his revealed will.

Boersma’s survey of Calvin is accurate. He avoids the Calvin vs Calvinist thesis and is free from any rebuttals from that side. His argument has some force and can’t be ignored. If the will that really matters is the hidden will, then I can never truly know if Christ died for me.

On the other hand, Boersma doesn’t deal with the “Owenian” challenges to non-limited atonement.

Boersma argues that Paul’s doctrine of election was focused on Jewish historical categories, rather than eternalist categories. Divine election, then, has four characteristics: 1) it is an act of sovereign grace, 2) it is an act of God in history, 3) it is a corporate act, and 4) it is an instrumental act (77).

The instrumental aspect links election and covenant (80). Israel isn’t elected for her own sake. While this approach certainly relieves God of having violence in his eternal being, it does play out rather violently in history. Israel’s election means the Canaanites exclusion. To his credit, Boersma doesn’t balk at that hard fact. Boersma concludes: “Precisely because God’s hospitality takes place within a history that is already marred by human violence, his hospitality cannot be pure or universal in character” (84).

We have to speak of God’s action in Christ in metaphorical terms. That doesn’t make them “less real.” Boersma asserts that all our language is metaphorical. Indeed, I would have taken it a step further and said our language is analogical. As he notes, “All interpretive access is indirect, by means of association” (105).

Staving off charges of relativism, he notes that not all metaphors are created equal. Some are root metaphors. While Jesus likens himself to a hen at one point, it’s better to speak of him primarily as a Son than as a chicken.

In terms of the three models of the atonement (moral, Christus Victor, substitution), Boersma suggests that the best way to unite the three models is by means of Irenaeus’s recapitulation model (112). He takes it one step further: Not only does Jesus reconstitute humanity, but he does so as Israel’s Representative.

Liberal theologians initially seized upon the Abelardian model of Jesus’s Atonement as a good moral example because it seemed to remove violence from God the Father. This ideal collapses upon a careful reading. Boersma notes, “As soon as a moral-influence theory introduces any divine purpose at all into the crucifixion, an element of violence or exclusion is introduced into our understanding of the cross” (117).

Boersma gives a fine summary of Rene Girard’s thought. Girard argues that the only violence in the Cross is human violence “and that God uses the cross to bring about a nonviolent society” (134). The violence is one of a scapegoat mechanism. While an attractive and compelling theory, it comes at a high price:

  1. Human culture is violent at its origin. This is a half-truth. If he means all post-fall culture, then it is true that it can never be free of violence. But if that’s the case, then it is not clear how the Scapegoat can create a violence-free culture.
  2. To say it another way, Christ has nothing to do with creation.But Jesus is the Word that spoke creation into being and in himself sets forth an “eternal hospitality” (145).
  3. Girard opposes any “penal” language about the cross, going so far to suggest that the early church corrupted the pure message (Girard, Things Hidden 180). If the cross on Girard’s reading is so obviously a scapegoat mechanism, then how did the church get it wrong so early? Further, if Western culture is so violent at root, then how can Western culture (presumably by way of the Cross) also have the seeds of democracy, equality, etc.?

The violence of the atonement in Augustinianism

Boersma, and he isn’t alone, notes that the Augustinian tradition faces the temptation to “juridicize” the atonement at the expense of other models. This is exacerbated by some forms of federal theology. The high point is seen in the pactum salutis where the members of the Trinity engage in a transactional exchange.  Boersma notes, “In federal theology, therefore, the world of God’s eternal decrees overshadowed the historic covenant relationship and diminished its significance” (166). In a footnote Boersma attributes this mindset to Klaas Schilder, citing a passage from Berkouwer’s Providence of God.  Yet Schilder didn’t believe this.  True, he rejected common grace, which seemed to be Berkouwer’s point, but Schilder’s own critique of federalism is very much in line with Boersma’s.

An inference from this is the individualization of the atonement. It’s not clear how God’s dealings with Israel in history function in this scheme.  Boersma counters with a brief Pauline study on law and salvation. He calls it a “national-historical reading” (174). It contains penal elements but places them within the larger recapitulatory action of Christ. The curse falls on the people as a whole, which Christ, the reconstituted Israel, takes upon himself for his chuch.

Therefore, there is certainly substitutionary language, but it should be seen more in terms of representation than a 1:1 exchange (177).  God’s justice is restorative justice (178).

The book ends with several learned interactions with liberation theology and Radical Orthodoxy. This is one of those books that engages criticisms of traditional doctrine at a very high level. It stands within the tradition while seeking to clarify tensions that have arisen.

Violence, Hospitality, Cross: Notes, 2

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Chapter 2: Limiting Hospitality

Boersma argues that the High Calvinist understanding of double predestination draws violence back into the being of God in eternity (56).  Specifically, the violence (exclusion) of his hidden will overshadows the hospitality of his revealed will.

Boersma’s survey of Calvin is accurate. He avoids the Calvin vs Calvinist thesis and is free from any rebuttals from that side. His argument has some force and can’t be ignored. If the will that really matters is the hidden will, then I can never truly know if Christ died for me.

On the other hand, Boersma doesn’t deal with the “Owenian” challenges to non-limited atonement.

Chapter 3: Preferential Hospitality

In this chapter Boersma argues that Paul’s doctrine of election was focused on Jewish historical categories, rather than eternalist categories. Divine election, then, has four characteristics: 1) it is an act of sovereign grace, 2) it is an act of God in history, 3) it is a corporate act, and 4) it is an instrumental act (77).

The instrumental aspect links election and covenant (80).  Israel isn’t elected for her own sake.

While this approach certainly relieves God of having violence in his eternal being, it does play out rather violently in history.  Israel’s election means the Canaanites exclusion. To his credit, Boersma doesn’t balk at that hard fact. Today, we can make his argument stronger by linking the Canaanites with the demonic practices of the fallen beney elohim, per Michael Heiser.

Boersma concludes: “Precisely because God’s hospitality takes place within a history that is already marred by human violence, his hospitality cannot be pure or universal in character” (84).

The chapter ends with some good comments on authorial intent, justice, etc.

Chapter 4: Atonement, Metaphors, and Models

This chapter links the two sections of the book.  We have to speak of God’s action in Christ in metaphorical terms.  That doesn’t make them “less real.” Boersma asserts that all our language is metaphorical.  Indeed, I would have taken it a step further and said our language is analogical. As he notes, “All interpretive access is indirect, by means of association” (105).

Staving off charges of relativism, he notes that not all metaphors are created equal.  Some are root metaphors. While Jesus likens himself to a hen at one point, it’s better to speak of him primarily as a Son than as a chicken.

In terms of the three models of the atonement (moral, Christus Victor, substitution), Boersma suggests that the best way to unite the three models is by means of Irenaeus’s recapitulation model (112).  He takes it one step further: Not only does Jesus reconstitute humanity, but he does so as Israel’s Representative.

Chapter 5: Modeling Hospitality, Atonement as Moral Influence

Liberal theologians initially seized upon the Abelardian model of Jesus’s Atonement as a good moral example because it seemed to remove violence from God the Father. This ideal collapses upon a careful reading.  Boersma notes, “As soon as a moral-influence theory introduces any divine purpose at all into the crucifixion, an element of violence or exclusion is introduced into our understanding of the cross” (117).

Chapter 6: Atonement as Mimetic Violence

Boersma gives a fine summary of Rene Girard’s thought.  Girard argues that the only violence in the Cross is human violence “and that God uses the cross to bring about a nonviolent society” (134). The violence is one of a scapegoat mechanism.  While an attractive and compelling theory, it comes at a high price:

  1. Human culture is violent at its origin. This is a half-truth.  If he means all post-fall culture, then it is true that it can never be free of violence.  But if that’s the case, then it is not clear how the Scapegoat can create a violence-free culture.
  2. To say it another way, Christ has nothing to do with creation.But Jesus is the Word that spoke creation into being and in himself sets forth an “eternal hospitality” (145).
  3. Girard opposes any “penal” language about the cross, going so far to suggest that the early church corrupted the pure message (Girard, Things Hidden 180). If the cross on Girard’s reading is so obviously a scapegoat mechanism, then how did the church get it wrong so early?  Further, if Western culture is so violent at root, then how can Western culture (presumably by way of the Cross) also have the seeds of democracy, equality, etc.?

Chapter 7: Hospitality, Punishment, and the Atonement

Anselmian tradition: economy of exchange

Did Constantine Ruin Everything?

According to some feminist theologians, Constantine marked the shift from a more Christus Victor model to the satisfaction/substitution model.  Historically speaking, this is silly. The truth behind it, though, is that with Constantine and Christendom enshrined, there really wasn’t a point to the Christus Victor model anymore.

Boersma explores substitutionary and even penal language in the fathers.  It’s there, but I would caution against reading too much into it (and Boersma doesn’t).  There is no one atonement model and to say that the fathers taught penal substitution is misleading.  

The violence of the atonement in Augustinianism

Boersma, and he isn’t alone, notes that the Augustinian tradition faces the temptation to “juridicize” the atonement at the expense of other models. This is exacerbated by some forms of federal theology. The high point is seen in the pactum salutis where the members of the Trinity engage in a transactional exchange.  Boersma notes, “In federal theology, therefore, the world of God’s eternal decrees overshadowed the historic covenant relationship and diminished its significance” (166). In a footnote Boersma attributes this mindset to Klaas Schilder, citing a passage from Berkouwer’s Providence of God.  Yet Schilder didn’t believe this.  True, he rejected common grace, which seemed to be Berkouwer’s point, but Schilder’s own critique of federalism is very much in line with Boersma’s.

An inference from this is the individualization of the atonement. It’s not clear how God’s dealings with Israel in history function in this scheme.  Boersma counters with a brief Pauline study on law and salvation. He calls it a “national-historical reading” (174). It contains penal elements but places them within the larger recapitulatory action of Christ. The curse falls on the people as a whole, which Christ, the reconstituted Israel, takes upon himself for his chuch.

Therefore, there is certainly substitutionary language, but it should be seen more in terms of representation than a 1:1 exchange (177).  God’s justice is restorative justice (178).

St. Irenaeus’ Church Spoke in Tongues

From Eusebiusirenaeus-of-lyons

As also we hear that many brethren in the Church possess prophetic gifts, and speak, through the Spirit, with all kinds of tongues, and bring to light the secret things of men for their good, and declare the mysteries of God.”

So when people make the claim, “Our church has remained unchanged in its practice and liturgy from the earliest days,” ask them if they speak in tongues.  Then ask which churches today speak in tongues. Worshiping_the_Lord_Southern_Baptists

 Adv. Hær. V. 6. 1.

Review: The Scandal of the Incarnation

by Hans urs von Balthalsar.

This is the most accessible treatment of Irenaeus’s works. Hans urs von Balthasar provides a fine introduction, discussion, and brief critique of Gnosticism–showing how Irenaeus’s theology is relevant today. Further, von Balthasar provides a matrix for interpreting St Irenaeus (von Balthasar 9ff):

saint_irenaeus_oflyons
(1) Unity of Old and New Testament: God’s Logos.
(2) The crossbeams are the world’s true center–it is here where creation is renewed (13). The four points of the cross match the “four corners/dimensions” of the world (Irenaeus 16).

Doctrine of God

By God’s simplicity, Irenaeus means he is non-composite. God is “wholly mind, wholly thought, wholly reason, wholly hearing, wholly seeing” (Irenaeus 19, quoting AH II 13, 3). Since God is rational, he produces things by his Logos and orders them through his Spirit. The Spirit manifests the Word (Defense of Apostolic Preaching, 4-10). God’s thinking is His Word and the Word is Mind (AH II.28.5).

God is not a Groundless Void, for where there is a Void and Silence, there cannot be a Word (II.12.5). Irenaeus offers several reductios: can a void fill all things? How can he be a spiritual being if he does not fill all things? (II.13.7)

Irenaeus affirms the analogia entis

“He is rightly called the all -comprehending intellect, but he is not like the intellect of man. He is most aptly called light, but he is nothing like the light we know” (AH II 13, 3). God confers proportion and harmony on what he has made (II.25.2).

Incarnation as Recapitulation

“The second Adam is the repetition, in divine truth, of the first Adam…The second Adam repeats the whole natural development of man at the higher level of divine reality” (von Balthasar 53). Indeed, “what was bound could not be untied without a reversal of the process of entanglement” (AH III.22.4).

Anthropology

(Redeemed) Man is body, soul, and spirit (AH V.6.1). Without the spirit man may have the image of God but not his likeness. The Spirit saves and forms the flesh and the soul finds itself mid-point between the two. The breath of life (ruach) is not the same as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). The former makes man a psychic being; the latter makes him spiritual (V.12.2).

Conclusion:

I think this is the best entry point for Irenaeus. True, the complete text of Against Heresies (such as it is) is too important to ignore, but most beginning readers will get lost in the Gnostic genealogies. Until, of course, one sees their modern counterparts, listed below:

Gnosticism today:
(a) Hegelianism
(b) Marxism
(c) Idealism
(d) Romanticism
(e) Freemasonry
(e) The American University System
(f) Hollywood (the symbolism is there, if you know where to look)

 

Readings in Christian Ethics (O’Donovan list)

Focusing mainly on more classical and patristic texts.  These are the texts in the O’Donovans’ work.  So, if you wanted to read in the patristic tradition and how earlier Christians engaged in political reflection, this is a good list.

Justin Martyr,

  •  First Apology. Sections 1, 2, 4, 10, 11.
  • Letter to Diognetus 5-7

Irenaeus of Lyons: Empire as a demonic force; Christ’s coming into the world was already an act of judgment (O’Donovan 16).

  • Against Heresies V.24-26.  Also contains some of his eschatology.

Tertullian. A strong rejection of military service, though Tertullian’s later arguments begin to shift…

  • Apology 4, 30, 38.
  • “Military Chaplet,” 11
  • Against Marcion, IV:16.

Clement of Alexandria: Contrary to Plato, philosophical kingship is already present because God manifested it in His Son (O’Donovan 31).

  • Stromateis I:24-28.

Origen

  • Against Celsus 8:68-75.

Lactantius: The meaning of property is given by the structures of community relations in which material goods are communicated (O’Donovan 47).

  • Divine Institutes III:21-22; V:5-7, 14-15; VI:10.

Eusebius: The Word (Logos) of God mediates the kingship of God.

  • Dedication Holy Sepulchre 16

Ambrose of Milan: emergence of episcopacy; renounced private property in favor of an “ecclesial sociology.”  Institutionalized charity.  Explores different forms of economic slavery (O’Donovan 69ff).

  • Epistle 75a, 1-8; 24-37.
  • Story of Naboth, 1, 2, 4, 11, 12, 36, 37, 52, 53, 63.
  • Letter 7:4-19
  • Letter 50
  • Duties of Clergy I:28-29; II:15-16

John Chrysostom: aesthetic of Christian government: “the drama of overcoming wrath with mercy” (O’Donovan 91). In giving charity, the giver reasserts the original community of goods.

  • 24th Homily on Romans
  • 17th Homily on the Statutes
  • 11th Homily on Acts
  • 12th Homily on 1 Timothy

Augustine: the law of Christ can be obeyed in time of war if the right attitude is sustained.   Civil justice prepares the way for penitence.  We must look behind the tasks of authority to the society that gives authority its rationale (O’Donovan 109).

  • On Free Choice of Will I:5
  • Against Faustus, 19:18, 19, 25, 26; 26: 74, 75, 76
  • Letter 153
  • Letter 93: 3, 5, 12
  • Letter 189
  • Letter 24
  • City of God II:20; IV:3-5; V:24-26; 14:28; 15:1, 2, 4, 5; 19:5, 7-15, 16, 20, 21, 24-27.