The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (Frei)

Frei, Hans. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Frei investigates the breakdown between story and reality, realistic and figural interpretation. His Yale post-liberal presuppositions aid his analysing German liberalism. Unfortunately, tyalehey do not help him construct a coherent alternative.

A realistic interpretation is a strict correspondence between word and reality. There can only be one meaning: that of the author. This is problematic when one approaches biblical prophecy: were the prophets’ intended meanings the same as that of the New Testament readers? At this point the realistic paradigm breaks down.

A figural reading is close to Reformed typology: the narrated sequence contains its own meaning (Frei 28). While Frei doesn’t draw the explicit conclusion, if typology is true, then one must also employ a narratival epistemology. One will note this is standard Protestant–especially Reformed covenantal–hermeneutics. So what happened in history, especially in Germany? The blossoming liberal schools quite correctly saw that if typology is true, then the bible has a coherent unity. If the bible has a coherent unity, then it forces a narratival epistemology. If that is true, then dualisms of a Platonic or Kantian sort are ruled out.

“What if Plato were a German Liberal?”

The development of hermeneutics didn’t take place in a vacuum. Scholars were interacting with contemporary philosophical shfits. The liberal schools would not accept a realistic hermeneutics because it was obvious (for them) that miracles and resurrection were not part of “reality.” They could not accept a typological reading because typology is at war with internalized, spiritual pious gush.

Schleiermacher’s comments are appropriate at this point. His denial of the Resurrection and the miraculous is well-known, but perhaps not his reasons why. They are several: if the truth of the story is in the event, then it stands or falls apart from my internalized spiritualization of the text. Further, if the goal of Jesus (on the liberal gloss) is his coming-to-realization of God-conciousness, then the Resurrection makes such reading pointless. Indeed, the cross is an anti-climax.

Lessons to be learned: A Conclusion of sorts

It’s not clear if Frei himself avoids all of the criticisms of liberal theology. His distinction between factuality and factuality-like probably won’t hold up under scrutiny (which is why few liberals adopted it). His understanding of narrative theology is brilliant, but narrative theology only works if the narrative is…well..real. Did it actually happen?

If we do not have eschatology as the corresponding pole to history, as none of the liberals did, then it is hard to avoid D. F. Strauss’s criticisms. If the goal of hermeneutics is eternal, timeless truths (ironically shared by both modern Evangelicals and Schleiermacher), then Lessing’s ditch is insurmountable. If truth is Platonic and necessary and eternal, necessary because it is eternal, then why bother with historical contingencies like narratives? If this is the case, Lessing is absolutely correct.


Volume 2 of the Syntopicon (Adler)

Mortimer Adler regularly claimed that it was impossible to be educated before the age of 40.  If true, I would also suggest it is difficult to be educated without working through something like his Syntopicon.  The setup is the same as the earlier volume.    There is a ten page essay, topical indexes, and a recommended reading list.  This review will only outline his key topics, the various positions taken, and how the great thinkers interacted with their predecessors, if time permits.


Man is the only subject where the knower and the object known are the same (Adler 1).  Indeed, “the human intellect is able to examine itself.”

The Western tradition is divided on man’s essence.  The standard (and correct) view is that man differs from animals because he is rational.  His use of speech is a consequence of this rationality.  It is not the main difference.  If this is true, then there must be some distinction between reason and sense (5).


The mind is capable of self-knowledge. This is the difference between sense and intellect.  Senses do not seem to be aware of themselves (172). 

Following Aristotle, we see that if “the soul is the principle of life and all vital activities, so mind is the subordinate principle of knowledge” (173).  And the act of intellect moves as such:

1) conception
2) judgment
3) reasoning.


Adler wisely separates the principle of absolute government from monarchy, since republics and democracies can be as absolutist (205). Monarchy as an idea underwent a transformation in the Middle Ages. It did resemble an absolute system in one sense by giving power to one man, yet it placed supremacy of law in the hands of the people (207).  The only problem with this idea is that given its birth in feudalism, it did not last long in the modern age.

Hegel suggests a robust constitutional monarchy.  In this view the state is more of a corporation. The advantage of this view is that it is quite flexible with modernity and market forces  It doesn’t have any of the disadvantages that plagued medieval models.  On the other hand, it’s not always clear what Hegel is saying.

One and the Many

In line with Aristotle, unity is the first property of being.  All contraries are reducible to things like being/nonbeing, one/many, etc.  Moreover, unity belongs to the individual natural substance.  Man is a substance.  He is not made of other substances.  Machines, though, are.

This is somewhat different from Plato.  Plato’s view had problems.  The idea of the one is also one idea among many.  Plotinus corrected some of these problems.  For him, the one transcends being.  It also transcends intelligence, since knowing requires an object, which would introduce duality into the One.


Opposites do not simply distinguish, they exclude.

Plato: Everything has one opposite.  This was his idea in Gorgias and Protagoras on the unity of virtue.  This also illustrates the numerous subdivisions in Western taxonomies.

Aristotle: made the distinction between correlative opposites (double, one-half) and contrary opposites (odd/even).

Hegel: Unites opposites by reconciling their differences.  Every finite phase of reality has its own contrary.  For example, being and nonbeing imply and exclude one another.  They are united in becoming.


The words “if” and “then” indicate that reason is a motion of the mind from one alternative to another.

Plotinus: any form of thinking signifies a weakness.  It introduces duality.  Higher intelligences, by contrast, know by intuition.  Later Christian thinkers didn’t accept this extreme a view, but they did borrow his idea on intuition and applied it to angelic intelligences.

All the praise I gave of volume one also applies to this volume.

Parmenides (Plato)

It’s not a good feeling you get when you go to the article on this dialogue at and the author says, “This is his most enigmatic dialogue.”  Much of it, though, is quite interesting and fairly easy to follow.  Plato explains his Forms and the standard responses to his view.

Problem: how can the whole Idea, being one, be participated in by man?

If something participates in an Idea, does it participate in part of the Idea or the whole?  The One cannot be a whole, since wholes have parts and the One can’t have parts, otherwise it wouldn’t be One. From here Plato’s interlocutors discuss the metaphysics of the One, which is interesting for Christians on how we gloss God’s simplicity.

The One can’t have beginning or end, since those are limits and it is unlimited.  Neither can the One have motion, since motion is a coming to be in one place or another.  This is the same reason the One cannot change, since change is motion.

The One is also above time, since it cannot participate in time (as that would compromise its unicity).

This was a very difficult dialogue, but it is mandatory reading for understanding Plato’s metaphysics.  It also introduces the main problem against Plato: the Third Man Argument.

Protagoras (Plato)

This is a complete masterpiece of rhetoric.  It ranks with Gorgias and often surpasses the Republic in terms of logical focus.  All educators should read it.  Plato reminds us that we cannot separate Being, Rhetoric, and Goodness. Whatever you learn, you take into your soul.

That’s how the dialogue begins.  It doesn’t retain that level of intensity as Socrates routinely gets sidetracked.  Another point to keep in mind: while Protagoras is known for saying “Man is the measure of all things,” that’s not what this dialogue is about.  

I always wondered why Socrates was so insistent that virtue cannot be taught, for it seems obvious that it can.  What he argues, I think, and the same problem arises in Euthydemus, is that you can’t just pay money to hear a few lectures by a huckster and then say you are virtuous. (Have you ever noticed how postmodern university courses on ethics never make people virtuous?).

Socrates and Protagoras spend the rest of the dialogue debating whether virtue is of a whole or if it can be parceled out in pieces?  For example, both justice and courage are virtues.  Do we say that the unjust man can be courageous?  It seems like he can.  I suppose the question we should then ask, which neither Socrates nor Protagoras ask, is whether his courage flows from his injustice, and that is obviously no.  Yet this seems to give the nod to Protagoras that they can be distinguished.

Socrates then reframes the argument:  if everything has an opposite, and wisdom and temperance aren’t the same thing, then they can’t be parts of virtue, for then virtue would have a contradiction.  I think this is a better argument on Socrates’s part, but I think it was up to Aristotle to give the final say on it.  What Socrates needs is some kind of cipher like the later model of divine simplicity and then apply that to the virtues.  He ends the debate by suggesting–and only suggesting–that knowledge is this kind of cipher that unifies the virtues.

Theaetetus (Plato)

Plato returns to his criticism of Protagoras’s claim that man is the measure of all things.  Granted that such an argument is wrong (and silly), we explore the nature of knowledge and why it can’t be sense impression.

Theaetetus has just come back from the Sophists who argue that knowledge = sense perception.  The larger context is Protagoras’s claim that “man is the measure of all things.” We will call this claim (P). We will distinguish this from Theaetetus’s claim that knowledge is perception, called (T).

Socrates asks him that if (T) is true, then knowledge must also be perceiving, to which Theaetetus agrees. If this is true, then a thing’s appearing-to-me must also be a thing’s being or existence.  Our claim now entails that such knowledge is unerring (since it is connected with being).  This, however, is manifestly false. Case in point: we perceive things in dreams, but no one thinks dreams are real.

Theaetetus retreats from this claim and attacks from the Heraclitean point of view that “motion is the source of being.”  Flux, not stability is primary.  There is no self-existent thing.  Everything is becoming and in relation. He has the nice phrase “Partisans of the perpetual flux.”  Indeed, we can’t even say man or stone, but only an aggregate of x.  This is word-for-word Karl Marx (Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, Thesis VI).

Let’s return to (P). If it is true, then there is no reason to believe that Protagoras (or the modern university professor) is correct. If knowledge is sensation, and I can’t discern another man’s sensation, and yet Protagoras purports to be true, then why prefer him to anyone else?  This was the first response to postmodernism long before postmodernism came on the scene.

Another problem: I can have knowledge from memory, yet memory isn’t a sense.

Another problem: I can have knowledge of abstract entities and categories, yet these aren’t present to the senses.

Let’s return to the Heraclitean claim.  If nothing is at rest, and everything is supervening upon everything else, then every answer is equally right, since all we have are moving targets.

There is yet another diversion where Socrates explains that the soul perceives some things by herself and others by means of bodily organs. The soul has something like “wax” in it that handles the impressions.  If a soul is deep and virtuous, then the impressions sink to the heart of the soul.

The dialogue ends with discussions of justified, true belief.

Arguably the most important of his “epistemology” dialogues, it is somewhat a difficult read as Socrates goes through numerous diversions.

Beauty for Truth’s Sake (Caldecott)

Caldecott, Stratford.  On the Re-enchantment of Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009.

Argument: We must go back to Plato through Boethius and Augustine.  Our goal, however, is not Plato, but Pythagoras.  That last name separates this book from all others on classical education.  Caldecott’s argument, though, is straightforward.  If the universe is an ordered cosmos (implying, among other things, a harmonic structure), then we have to deal with Pythagoras.

The book borders on sheer genius.  I say that partly because I have no clue on how to classify it.  I’ve seen it promoted among classical school educators, and that certainly makes sense, but even then it isn’t clear how the book would be integrated into a day-to-day classical school classroom.

I wouldn’t even call this “classical education.”  It is simply, as he notes, “liberal arts.” The point of the quadrivium is to enable us to contemplate God and the harmonic nature of the universe.

One of our goals in education is to transmit a culture. If we let education become fragmented into disciplines, we communicate that education is simply bits and pieces that we can choose (Caldecott 17).   By contrast, the keys to meaning are always form, interiority, beauty, relationship, and purpose.

Ancient man as knowing man: The ancient man, presumably following Socrates, understood that it is the nature of man to know. This “knowledge can only be obtained through the systematic ordering of the soul” (21).

Four levels of Platonic knowledge:

Reason — Nous
Perception of shadows

Point: the instrument of knowledge must be a turning of the whole soul from becoming to being (22). Plato believed that the trivium is the tool to awaken us to the inner vision of the soul.

Caldecott realizes we can’t simply drop the quadrivium on students today.  Even in the middle ages, it struggled to integrate new knowledge.  Further, students would probably be better off studying medieval, rather than ancient, literature (or both). He argues that we must teach these advanced maths and sciences from a history of ideas standpoint (28).

Object of Education

It is difficult to summarize education into one single purpose.  Each angle, though, sheds light on the whole:

Socrates: The purpose of education is to love what is beautiful.  Beauty for Socrates was something objective.

Poetic Education

A child studies music and harmony at a more mature age in order to have his soul geared towards such a proportion.

Education and Number

Following Pythagoras, he suggests number is a facet of the Unity (Father) projected through Duality (mother) to create multiplicity (55).

One: Unity of being, often depicted by a circle.  When it is squared it is still itself.

Two: Duality; separation of male and female, matter and spirit. It is a line between two points.

Three: Unity and diversity are reconciled in harmony.  Depicted by a triangle within a circle.

Four: First solid number.  Represents earth or the material plane. In the four elements, earth and fire (contraction and expansion, respectively) are opposed to each other. Water and air mediate.

Five: As it is the midpoint within the Decad, it symbolizes the human.

Six: Perfect number as it is the sum and product of its divisors. Represented by a regular hexagon.

Seven: Totality. It is the sum of four (the material world) and three (the Trinity).

Golden Ratio

This is the essence of beauty and probably the key to unlocking the universe.

Phi = whole/large part = large part/small part


He takes these harmonies and applies it to the Trinity.  By itself that isn’t wrong.  However, you are getting on dangerous ground when you have the Son participating in both deity and humanity.  The Son has these natures.  He does not merely participate in them.  

Fun fact: early Platonists anticipated the octave by the shape of the letter lamda.  “The musical scale was a model of the cosmos” (92).

In the middle of an excellent discussion on beauty, Caldecott says in a footnote that he does not wish to deny the beauty in modern and postmodern works (32 n28).  This beggars belief.  There is no beauty in postmodern works.  It is trash.  Literally.  Some of it is pieces of garbage glued together.

Caldecott follows an amazing section on numbers with the Trinity.  He tries to tie in certain number theories with Trinity and defend, among other things, the Filioque.  I’m not saying his arguments are wrong, but they do seem out of place.

The book is written from a Roman Catholic perspective, so readers should be aware of that.

Dugin’s Genealogy of Modernity


Earlier notes on Dugin

The Beginning and End of Western European Philosophy

The Greek take on Being leads to the oblivion of Being.

Being–beings-as-a-whole–is replaced by the notion (Vorstellung) of it.  This notion then becomes more disconnected and mechanical (92)

“Thought.”  Differentiation is the main attribute of thought.

The Pre-Socratics took the obvious claim that “beings” are, but they then sought to find what was the “Being” of beings, and they interpreted this as phusis (99).  This means that Being now is. Now Being (Sein) precedes beings and is different from them.


Being is now an Idea. It is that which is placed before man (106).  That’s Dugin’s language and I don’t think it is the clearest. This is one of those times where German could be clear.  Ideas function in a gegenstand relationship with Man. That’s not all, though. Not only does man stand before Ideas, but Ideas stand before things of the world (107).

Maybe we can say it this way:  Ideas are always across from man.  There is a “gap.” Man is always “before” (across) the ideas.  Thus Heidegger’s conclusion: man (being) is no longer in the world, but across from it.  Man is pre-sented before the world, which means Ideas have to be re-presented to him. Truth is now correspondence between Idea and Object.


I’ll skip Heidegger’s section on Christianity.  For all of his genius, he is utterly incompetent on this point.  If all he had to say was that Thomas Aquinas helped with the oblivion of being, then fine.  But he didn’t understand Semitic thought, nor did he want to. Thus when Yahweh says “I am that I am,” Heidegger just thinks it means Being qua Being.


Descartes adapted but never left Plato.  In Modernity instead of Plato’s Idea we have new “representations: the subject, apperception, energy, reality, the monad, etc.” (114). Descartes starts with the Subject.  This subject either is or inside the human mind.

Everything is is re-presented before the Subject.  Descartes calls these beings objects (115). A subject must have an object to stand before it. Modernity will then use Scientism to function as the subject.  This means that Scientism now controls the objects before it, which could be anything from plants to animals to humans.


Whose Community? Which Interpretation?

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Whose Community? Which Interpretation?

Realism:  claim that the world (the real) is “out there” and is what it is independent of whether or what we might think of it (18).  Plato intimated as much when he said the philosopher apprehends the purely intelligible structures (Phaedo 66e). 

immediacy:  “the object is given to the subject without any mediating input from the subject” (20).  

But Kant said we don’t perfectly mirror the world, we apprehend it mediately through the forms and categories we bring with us to experience.  

Historical Background

Schlieiermacher:  sought to apply a general hermeneutics that would apply to all culturally relevant texts.  Hermeneutical circle. Also advocated historical method about author.  

Psychologism:  language is primarily to be understood as the outer expression of the inner psychic life (29).  Project oneself into the experiences of the text (ala Romanticism).  

Against Romantic Hermeneutics

Relativist hermeneutics:  1) we are always somewhere and never nowhere when we interpret; 2) We never escape from hermeneutical circularity.

Speech-Act Theory

Words are performative.

Wolterstorff argues that speaking does not necessarily have self-revelation as its primary function for either human or divine discourse.  Divine discourse usually comes to us in the form of promises and command (covenant).  authorial discourse interpretation: per Wolterstorff to interpret the bible correctly is to ask what speech acts did the author perform (40).  

Revoking Authorial Privilege

Even the French trio doesn’t think the author is truly dead.  “To deny that the author is the unilateral source of a text’s meaning is not to deny that the author plays an important role” (58).  Westphal explains, “For our French trio, the finitude of the author in relation to the text is expressed in a double relativity. In the first place, human authors ‘create meaning’ only relative to the language available to them…this language shapes and conditions their thought in ways of which they are unaware and over which they do not preside” (59).  

To say it yet another way: “The author is not a godlike, infinite creator of meaning” (65).  Humans are finite and our sub-creations (what Milbank would call mythopoesis) are always within the realm of the finite and conditioned.

Rehabilitating Tradition

Gadamer.  Fundamental thesis about tradition is “belonging.”  p. 70. Tradition plays a double-role. It gives us a place to stand and it is is plural.  We do not belong to a single, universal tradition. “All interpretation is relative to traditions that have formed the perspectives and presuppositions that guide it” (71). 

“To be historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 301-302).  

Alterity Thesis.  Tradition as other.  Tradition will set before us what it has already done within us.

Authority Thesis.  We acknowledge tradition as a “sub-authority” over us.  “My conscience is a grounded opacity that allows a richly mediated knowledge of its object” (Westphal 74).  

Fallibility Thesis.  Question of critique:  “How can we distinguish the true prejudices–by which we understand–from the false prejudices (by which we misunderstand” (75).   Tradition must be open to this critique. Even worse, the difference between true and false is not always either/or but a matter of degree. 

Back to authorial intent

It’s important but maybe not the main point.  When I read a text I am only interested in the author to a certain degree (unless it’s an autobiography).  This is a bad problem in a lot of conservative introductory surveys to the Bible (cf Carson, Moo, Morris). One gets a lot of different theories on authorship and place (important, no doubt) but the meaning of text gets sidelined. 

Authorial intent is important in understanding a text, but only to a degree. Authors themselves are wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstein, historically effected consciousness.  They don’t have absolute self-transperancy either.  Westphal has an interesting suggestion: “there is a power at work in finite authorial creation–for Gadamer, tradition–of whose agency and effects the author is never fully aware” (81).  

Truth Beyond Method

Art as the location.  Classic texts of literature.

It should read “Truth Beyond Scientific Method.”

“Language is at once a primary bearer of tradition and an ever-changing form of tradition” (90).  

Bildung/education as formation…training in the sensus communis. 

Performance and Application

Interpretation is not so much a completed object but an event (102).  It is performative.


Natural Right and History (Leo Strauss)


Strauss, Leo. Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957.

This is a pivotal book by a world-class intellect.  Strauss discusses the genealogy of “rights” talk from the ancients to the present day.  He doesn’t really offer a program on how to move forward, but that’s not really his point, either.  Before we can work on human rights today, we need to know what the phrase means.

The difficulty in speaking of “natural right” is that we moderns are so far removed from the ancients.  They knew man had a telos. Nature is connected to the universe’s natural end (Strauss 7).

Strauss identifies the two main opponents of natural law: positivism (aka, university sociology departments) and historicism.  The former assumes the fact/value dichotomy, which doesn’t allow us to make value judgments on a particular society. The upshot is you can’t say a particular society is embodying the Good.  In fact, you can’t say good at all. That distinction breaks down, though. Even if a Weberian refuses to make a value distinction, he is working within his own framework of values and he filters the evidence through those values.

The Story of Natural Right

Prephilosophical man identified the pleasant with the good (83).  The right way is our custom. Philosophy begins when we doubt this ancestral code. Applied more broadly, this creates problems: if many communities’ ancestral codes are different, which one is right?  This forces us to search for the Good.

The ancient philosophers generally began to see that “nature” is the “actualization of a human possibility which …is trans-historical, trans-social, trans-moral, and trans-religious” (89).

Classic Natural Right

All knowledge presupposes a horizon (125). This pushes us to a view of the whole, which means we cannot rest with any single community code. To help them in their quest, the classics employed the term Politeia. It means constitution, but it means more than simply a legal code. “It is the factual distribution of power within the community” (136). It is a way of life determined by a form of government.

Here is where it gets interesting.  The Politeia should not act unjustly. This means it can’t engage in things like deception during war.  Therefore, we need a world-state to outlaw war! Seems rather extreme. In any case, the solution “to the problems of justice must transcend the limits of political life” (Strauss 151).

Variations of Natural Right

Aristotle: the relation of virtue to human nature is like that of act and potency (145; Ethics 1097b24).

Platonic: giving to everyone what is due to him according to nature (Republic 331c1-332c4).

Thomistic: principles of the moral law.  Points to man’s moral and intellectual ends.

Modern Natural Right

Hobbes: teleology is impossible. We do not begin with the nature of man, but in prima naturae (180).  Everyone is guided by the fear of death. The state, therefore, is not to safeguard virtue but simply protect our negative rights. 

Strauss then offers a penetrating critique of Hobbes.  Hobbes built his philosophy on the extreme cases, when the social fabric has broken down. We fear the violent death.  Yet Hobbes also said that the fear of violent death is sometimes overridden by heroism, virtue, charity, etc. Therefore, his principle isn’t universally valid.  In fact, it isn’t valid in the extreme case at all. Therefore, it is useless (196). Remember that scene in Batman where the Joker plants bombs on the ships to see who will blow it up first?  That scene is a complete refutation of Hobbes.

The Problems with Modern Rights

Burke pointed out that participation in political power “does not belong to the rights of man, because men have a right to good government, and there is no necessary connection between good government and government by the many.”  If anything, the rights of men point to a natural aristocracy (298).

That’s good.  Unfortunately, Burke held to the British sensualist view of art, which specifically denied a connection between intellectual beauty (e.g., mathematical proportions) and sensible beauty (312).  The result is an emancipation of sentiment from reason

Recovering Natural Right

Man’s true freedom requires “ends of a certain kind,” which must be “anchored in ultimate values” (44).

Plato’s Cratylus

For as his name, so also is his nature” [Plato 395]

Cratylism throughout this narrative is an extreme naturalism: sign and signifier are so alike as to erase the gap between them. Hermogenes’ position is more relativist: the consequence is language cannot be language and so the LOGOS cannot disclose the thing.

Socrates and Hermogenes discuss whether names are identical to the thing named. The original “Cratylian” view is names are “fit” to the named. This leads Socrates into an extended genealogy showing how Greek names arise from the essences of the named.

Throughout Socrates points to a number of problems: if we keep abstracting words and names for their meaning, the process will go on forever.

P1: Primary names precede analysis and arise from the essences.

Socrates then espouses something like a mimetic theory: names imitate things [422]. But Socrates does not hold to a strict correspondence theory. If all things are in motion and flux (as the Greek world said they were) how can we have a stable conception of a thing?

Further, how will a man name something without knowing what it is, and how could he know it without the name [438]? This is the problem of knowledge. Plato’s hinted answer is that the knower is always seeking beyond himself. To quote Pickstock, “It is a pre-understanding of the unknown” (Late Arrival of Language, 240).

Plato seems to end this dialogue with an aporia: both relativism and Cratylism are wrong.