Redeeming the Time (Russell Kirk)

Kirk, Russell. Redeeming the Time. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006.

Russell Kirk suggests that Western culture isn’t necessarily doomed. There are ways to slow the decay. Whether or not that is true, and I remain doubtful, we can take much advice from his suggestions on how to order the soul.

Order in the soul and order in the polis parallel each other. Kirk writes, “Order, in the moral realm, is the realizing of a body of transcendent norms–indeed a hierarchy of norms or standards–which give purpose to existence and motive to conduct” (Kirk 33). Society does have a contract, but it isn’t Rousseau’s ghastly experiment. Rather, with Edmund Burke we hold that the “rights of towns, the independence of guilds, the code of chivalry–these arose out of faith in what Burke was to call the contract of eternal society” (31).

There is no point in trying to give an analysis of Kirk’s views of education. The best thing to do is simply quote him. A liberal education is actually conservative because it defends order against disorder (43). True education is meant to develop the individual human being rather than to serve the state.

Continuing Kirk’s thoughts on education we see a defense of reading fiction. It’s probably the best defense ever given. It might be tempting for legalists and hyper-gnostics to disavow the reading of fiction because “it isn’t true” (never mind Jesus’s parables). Rather, good fiction trains the emotions. He defines “moral imagination” as a high power of perception that penetrates the human condition (69). A purified moral imagination will apprehend the connection between the right order in the soul and the right order in the commonwealth. These great books train our moral faculties. This relates to what Kirk calls “sentiment.” A sentiment is somewhere between thought and feeling (131). These are what you will fall back on in a crisis. It won’t be syllogisms that keep you from retreating in battle. It will be because your moral faculties have been purified and exalted.

Kirk has a fun chapter on architecture. In short, dehumanizing and modern architecture (whether in its Soviet or mass man variety) keeps man perpetually discontented (87). Kirk suggests this is so because it creates boredom. That’s no doubt true, but I think it is deeper than that. Modern architecture illustrates an open attack upon an ordered telos. Humane architecture, by contrast, focuses on the person, rather than the expediency (which, for what it’s worth, it never obtains). Humane architecture illustrates that the community remains a community; it nurtures roots (91). I urge the reader to visit Wrath of Gnon’s social media profiles to see exciting examples of urban renewal.

There is some repetition in this book, as many of the essays are also found in The Wise Men Know. There is new material, though. The essays on education, virtue, and architecture are worth the entire book.


John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith

May 13, 2015

I read through Damascene’s On the Orthodox Faith in 2009.  At the time I had hyper-Palamite lenses on and really didn’t let Damascene speak for himself.  I am rereading him now, years and paradigms later.  He’s really quite interesting.  Contrary to the neo-Palamite Orthodox today, he isn’t afraid of “rationality” or using proofs for God’s existence.  In fact, he sounds VERY Aristotelian.  To be fair, he does anticipate later Orthodox mysticism by calling God “hyper-ousia” (I.4).

Existence and Nature of God

He does use Scripture and does allude to the Fathers, but the main thrust of his argument is natural theology. His argument for God’s existence is as follows:

(1) All things that exist are either created or uncreated. 

(2) If created, then mutable and subject to change and perishing

(3) But things that are created must be the work of some Maker

Damascene anticipates the infinite regress rebuttal and handles it in an amusing (if not entirely convincing manner)

(4) “For if he had been created, he must have been created by someone, and so on until we arrive at something uncreated.”

Perhaps not the most persuasive argument, but historically it is very telling.  The holy fathers were not averse to using “logic,” even logic apart from Scriptural and Patristic considerations, to prove points about God.

Damascene follows standard Patristic and classical usage in that the nature of God is incomprehensible.

(5) His essence is unknowable

How then can we speak about God?  In what sounds like a later Palamite move, John says, “God does not show forth his nature, but the qualities of his nature” (1.4).  Is this the same thing as saying “We can’t know God’s nature but only his energies”?  Not quite.  John does not use any of the cognates of energein.

A note on apophaticism

If we say, as John does, that God is not “darkness,” but above darkness.  Not light, but above light–why can’t we carry it through and say “God is not love, but above love.”  God is not a, b…z.  If God is above every reference point, then how can we truly predicate anything of him?  We are no longer using analogous language but equivocal language.

Pre-Notes on the Word

He doesn’t deal with Christology until Book 3 but he gives short comments here. 

(6) God always possesses his Word, proceeding from and existing within Himself (I.6).

John reasons analogously from our words proceeding from our minds, and is not identical with mind but not separate from it, so the Word has its subsistence from God.  Probably not the best analogy in the world.I find it ironic that we are always warned against Theistic Analogies, but John and Augustine go haywire on them.

(7) If a Word, then the force of the Word, which is the Spirit (1.7).

God and Being

(8) God is outside of being, yet the fountain of all being (I.8).

Along with this John gives the classic summary that God is one essence, one divinity, one power, one will, and one energy. John then gives a classic summary of the Trinity, but I want to highlight one point:

(9) “Whenever we say God is the origin of and greater than the Son, we mean in respect of causation.”

Here is the problem: Isn’t a cause different in substance to an effect?

Back to Divine Attributes

(5*) Goodness et al belong to the nature but do not explain it.

What does that even mean? 

(5′) We do not apprehend the essence itself, but only the attributes of the essence.

Will this hold water? Later thinkers, with echoes from Athanasius, identify attributes and essence.  If we apprehend the attributes, how are we not apprehending the essence also?

Angelic Personalities

(10) Angels are not spatial entities, but a mental presence and energy.

This is quite interesting and is backed up by numerous accounts of spiritual warfare.  An angel cannot be in more than one place at one time (“cannot energize two different places at the same time”).

Concerning this Aeon or Age

John notes that “age” has many meanings (II.1).

(11) An age is used to denote the temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity.


John has a really interesting section on angels.  It’s too long to replicate here, except to note several points:

(12) Angels are immaterial, mental presences. He notes some are set over nations, and ceterus paribus, this would apply to demons as well (though John fails to cite the most obvious texts to prove his point, Daniel and Revelation).

Days of Creation

John’s discussion of the days of creation is more on the nature of air, winds, constellations et al than concerning timing.  Interestingly, John says the four rivers are Tigris, Euphrates, the Nile, and the Ganges (I didn’t see that last one coming, though I suppose it could work).

Man in Creation

John’s view is markedly different from later views and apparently from the text.  He writes, “He meant for us to be free from care and have on work to perform, to sing as do the angels” (II.11).  This is no doubt true, and I suppose we wouldn’t have anxiety, but God very much intended us to subdue the earth and fill it.

God dwells in the soul, not in the body, and the soul is far more glorious than the body.  To be fair, this isn’t gnosticism or even chain of being, but a hard push can make it so.  However, he does speak of the Tree of life as “a divine thought in the world of sense and we ascend through that to the cause.  Here is the heart and definition of later monastic anchoretism.  The Christian life is one of participation and ascent from sense to hyper-ousia.

John correctly affirms substance-dualism (II.12).  Unfortunately, he holds to the flawed image/likeness dichotomy which can’t stand up to scrutiny.

Free will:  John affirms it, but what does he mean by it?  He says “there is no virtue in mere force,” which seems to be a rejection of materialistic determinism, which no Christian tradition holds today.

On the Soul

While John takes the body-soul dualism in an unhealthy direction, he does have some perceptive remarks on the soul:

  1. Mind is the purest part of the soul.
  2. The soul is free.  (Remember, R.L. Dabney argued that the soul, not the faculty of will was where true freedom lay).
  3. It is mutable because it is created (II.12).
  4. Sensation is the faculty of soul whereby material objects are discriminated (II.18).  This is a remarkably modern observation.  Sensation is not reducible to the matter.  We do not feel the faculty of sensation.  Rather, by sensation we feel pain, pleasure, etc. John reduces sensations into numerous sub-faculties, which need not detain us.
  5. The soul also has the faculty of thought, and it is this faculty which prophecies to us.
  6. Faculty of memory.
  7. Faculty of conception.

Energy:  energy is that which is moved of itself (II.22) and in harmony with nature. .  Our energy is the force within our nature that makes present our essence (II.23).  However, John will call our natural faculties “energies,” as well.  Most importantly, an energy is moved of itself (and here is where the Reformed will ultimately differ with John).  

Our soul also possesses the faculties of life:  

The Movement of the Will

Given that Maximus the Confessor was tortured less than a century earlier for his dyotheletism, it is understandable John will devote a lot of space on the will.   Here we go:

  1. Will as thelesis: faculty of desiring in harmony with nature.
  2. Will as boulesis: a wish for some definite object.  We can only wish for something within our power.
  3. Will as gnome: inclination.  Jesus’s soul did not have a gnomic will
  4. The faculties of will are called energies (II.23).

Jesus has two wills, natural and divine, and his volitional faculties aren’t the same.  However, since the subsistence is one, the object of his will, the gnomic will, is one.

The Act of Choosing

(13) A voluntary act is one which originates from within the actor (II.24).  

John does make distinctions between providential necessity (seasons, laws of nature)

(13*) John says all mental and deliberative acts are in our hands.

This is no different from Reformed Scholasticism, which affirms that we have freedom of contradiction and freedom of contraiety (Muller 1995, 2007)..  

Side note: Elsewhere, John says that Christ, strictly speaking, did not have judgment and preference (gnome; III.14). Judgment and preference imply indecision and unknowing, which Christ, as fully God, could not have had. 

(14) Free-will is tied with man’s rationality (II.27)

If we are going to say, with John, that will is the faculty of willing, we must make a further distinction between that faculty and “choice” (arbitrium), arbitrium being the capacity of will to make that choice.  


John divides the works of providence into things that come from God’s will and God’s permission.  John justifies the misfortunes men experience under providence with the assumption that it works for a greater good (teaching, lead to repentance, etc).  


God knows all things but does not determine all things (II.30).


Much of what John says on the soul and the will is quite good.  This allows the Reformed an opportunity to robustly affirm what we believe about the will, given the confusion of the day. I do think his sub-categories of the will simply become unwieldy and his discussion is too minute.  

John is simply following Maximus, but I wonder how coherent Maximus’s discussion of dyotheletism is.  I affirm dyotheletism, but how many people can understand the difference between will, act of willing, and a mode of the act of willing?  


The Divine Economy

Gives an extended discussion of the two natures.  Standard classical Christology

(15) “But this is what leads heretics astray: they look upon nature and person as the same thing” (III.3)

Communicatio Idiomata

(16) “The Word appropriates to Himself the attributes of humanity” (III.3)

This is good Reformed Christology…so far.  The attributes of humanity are predicated, not of the divine nature but of the Person.

(16*) … “And he imparts to the flesh his own attributes by way of communication”

And here John sounds like a Lutheran.  The flesh receives the attributes of deity.  John wants to preserve several values:

(16a) The flesh is deified (which as to be the case if his teaching on the Lord’s Supper holds water).
(16b) Divine impassibility is not threatened (which is why the communication appears to be a one-way street).

Does John elucidate upon this problem?  

(17) Essence signifies the common, subsistence (person) the particular (III.4).

This lets John say in III.3 that the flesh receives the Word’s attributes while in III.4 he can claim that the flesh doesn’t receive the properties of divinity.

(18) Conclusion: “Each nature gives to the other its own properties through the identity of the Person and the interpenetration of the parts with one another.”

How are they united?

(19) The Word of God was united to flesh through the medium of mind, which stands midway between purity of God and grossness of flesh (III.6).

(See Bruce McCormack’s lecture on Patristic Christology where he deals with this passage).   Does this work?  It seems like “mind” is acting as a metaphysical placeholder between the two natures.  “The mind is the purest part of the soul, and God the purest part of the mind.”  It looks like this:

(gross matter) body—-> soul——>mind ——> better part of soul—>God (Pure Spirit)


“And so the Word was made flesh and yet remained wholly uncircumscribed” (III.7)

John comes back to the question of communication and sounds a Lutheran strain:

(18*) “It [The Divine Nature] imparts to the flesh its own peculiar glories”

Make of it what you will.

From Christology to Liturgy

John demonstrates that Christology informs our liturgy, and gives a defense of the Trisagion

“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” (repeat 3x).  The church learned it when a lad was snatched to heaven and taught the hymn by angels, and so the city averted disaster (III.10).  


Energy is the efficient activity of nature (III.15).  Therefore, Christ has two energies.  John says he works his miracles through the divine energy.  This is false.  He works his miracles because of the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Matthew 12:28: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of god has come upon you.

Acts 10:38: “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power…”

Luke 4:1, 14, 5:17: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness…And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…and the Power of the Lord was present for him to perform healing.”

(19) The flesh acted as the instrument of the divinity (ibid).

John mentions this in passing, but it is at the heart of Orthodox deification soteriology. What does this mean?  A deified flesh is not one that changed its nature, but received the permeation of the divine nature.  

I think we have a potential contradiction at this point.  John is very clear that Christ’s human nature has a human energy, which is its efficient power.  I have no argument with that.  But if the human energy is what John says it is, then what is its relevance in an instrumental humanity?  If humanity is just the instrument of divinity, then why bother speaking of energy at all?  Further, since the subsistence of the Word does everything, then there is no way to say that the human energy of Christ ever activates.

(19*) The flesh received the riches of the divine energies (III.17).  

What is the upshot of all of this?  John says he was able to cleanse the leper because of his divine will.  Will this hold water?  Maybe.  We’ve already established that Christ did his miracles because of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  However, the text elsewhere speaks of Christ’s power going forth from him.  Further, those engaged in deliverance ministries speak of a heightened sense of Christ’s power after they have fasted.  

(19’) The riches of the divine energies heighten the power by which the Holy Spirit works in the believer.

Can John maintain both impassibility and divine suffering?  Maybe.  He has an interesting argument.  

(20) The soul shares in the pain but is itself not changed by the pain (III.26).

John gives an example:  if I cut myself with a knife, my soul feels the pain but the soul, being simple and immaterial, is not cut by the knife.  This is consistent (at least on the first level) with what John said in (19).  If the soul is the medium between God and man, or God’s nature and man’s nature in Christ, then the divine person can be truly present in the suffering without his immaterial nature undergoing change.

This seems to work, but it opens another question:  if the soul participates in the divine nature, and if there is an open street between them, it’s hard to see how the divine nature isn’t also experiencing perturbations.  

Book IV

Book IV is something along the lines of “soteriology” and the “life of the church.”   

Concerning Baptism:  While John, like most of the fathers, probably holds to baptismal regeneration, it’s interesting he doesn’t take it in extreme directions. He says others who have not had a Trinitarian baptism should be rebaptized (IV.9).  Regeneration takes place in the spirit, not necessarily in the act of baptism (p. 78, col. 2).  John justifies the church’s use of oil in baptism because of Noah and the flood (p. 79 col. 1).

The Power of the Cross

The power of God is the Word of the Cross (p. 80 col. 1).  All of this sounds good but John now moves into dangerous waters:

(21) We ought to worship the sign of the Cross because the honor passes from the image to the prototype.

A warning sticks in my head:  something about not worshiping man-made pesels.  

Further, we should worship towards the East (IV.12). John argues:

(22) Since God is spiritual light, and since the sun rises in the East, we should worship towards the East.

This doesn’t follow–at least not yet.  John refines his argument:

(22*) We are composed of visible and invisible nature.  Therefore, our visible nature corresponds to the physical sun rising and our invisible nature corresponds to God’s being spiritual light.

I’m not convinced.  Perhaps there is one other argument:

(22’) Christ will appear in the East and our worshiping towards the East is a joyful anticipation of his return.

It’s a pious sentiment and I suppose it hearkens us to vigilance, as long as we don’t make it a law.  John acknowledges this tradition is unwritten and he says many apostolic traditions are.  The problem he now faces is proving that tradition x is part of the apostolic tradition.  It simply cannot be done without asserting the consequent (and that one argument is why Orthodox Bridge is terrified of me). 

The Sacraments

(23) The bread and wine are changed into God’s body and blood (p. 83 col. 1).  

John warns us not to ask how.    Nor does he give any argument.  He does deny ex opere operato, for he says it only forgives sins for those who receive it with faith.  John appears to contradict himself:

(23*) The bread of communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity (p. 83 col. 2 paragraph 3).

If the bread is changed into God’s body (23), then how can it be united with God’s body (23*).  It doesn’t make any sense to say that my body is united with my body.  

(24) The bread (used metonymically for “bread and wine”) is our participation and communion in Christ’s body.  

On Mary

(25) Mary did not have pain in childbirth (p. 86 col 1).

John has to make this claim if the EO view of Mary’s being uncorrupt holds.  To put it crudely, her “lady parts” were not damaged in childbirth, for how could the one who heals corruption (death, physical destruction) cause physical corruption in someone?

Of course, he holds that Mary never had sex with Joseph and that the phrase “first born,” simply means Jesus was born first, not that there were others.   This is strained almost to credulity.  Further, the argument that Mary knew that she gave birth to God and wouldn’t pollute herself with sex won’t work, for Mary often showed ignorance to Jesus’s identity.

Venerating the Saints

John says saints had God dwell in their bodies, and so should be venerated.  But the verse he quotes to prove his point (2 Cor 3:17) simply proves that God dwells in all of the believers.  The only way John’s discussion makes sense is if “saints” refers to departed believers.

Should we venerate their relics?  John says yes and this is his argument:

(26) God did amazing things like springs from the desert and killing people with the jawbone of an ass, so why should we be surprised that God works miracles in the relics of his saints?

This isn’t an argument.  I suppose it’s possible that oil can burst forth from a martyr’s remains, but even if that is true (and I’ll grant for argument that it sometimes happens), how does it follow that we are to bow down and venerate created pesels?  We can rephrase John’s position:

(26*) We should give honor to these heroes.

No one disputes this.


(27) The honor given to the image passes to the prototype (IV.16)

John says the warning in the 2nd Commandment doesn’t apply because it only concerns worshiping false gods (the demons of the Greeks).  Further, God the Father is incorporeal, so he can’t be imaged by art.

This isn’t John’s full argument.  He spells that out in Three Treatises on Divine Images (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press).


He has a good and profitable section on Scripture.


John posits a future Antichrist (IV.26). He is aware of John’s admonition but uses Antichrist as short-hand for the Man of Sin/Beast.  Enoch and Elijah will come and witness against him, which will convert the Jews to Christ.  Much needs to be filled in, but I agree with John. 

On the Soul and Resurrection (Gregory of Nyssa)

St Gregory of Nyssa. On the Soul and Resurrection. ed. Catherine Roth. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993.

The problem: The soul is either material or immaterial.  If material, it is dissolved with the body. If immaterial, it cannot be contained in the elements of the universe (Roth 15). And if everything has elements, and the soul does not, then the soul cannot be anywhere.

To what degree was Gregory a Platonist?  Let’s ignore the question and highlight just one part: While Plato said the body was a prison, Gregory changes body for “flesh” (sarx), giving it a more biblical feel.

Goal:  To provide Gregory comfort in Basil’s death

The proper view of the soul promotes virtue (Cross Reference to Schaff edition, Nyssa 431).

Nyssa anticipates Leibniz’s law of the identity of indiscernibles:  (x)(y)[(x=y)—>(P)(Px<–>Py)]. In other words, if the soul is something other than these elements, then it isn’t identical with them.

The God-World Relation

God encompasses all things (432).  Indeed, there is a “universal harmony” allowing for “measured intervals.” In fact, “man is a little world in himself and contains all the elements which go to complete the universe” (433).

What is the Soul?

“The soul is an essence created, and living, and intellectual, transmitting from itself to an organized and sentient body the power of living” (433).

Nyssa and his interlocutor bring up analogies between soul, mind, and God (436ff). He does not identify the three but says “one thing is like another.” Prototype and Image.  Despite his reputation, Nyssa rejects the Platonic metaphor of the chariot, choosing rather the “divine axiom that there is no excellence in the soul which is not a property as well of the Divine nature.  For he who declares the soul to be God’s likeness asserts that anything foreign to HIm is outside the limits of the soul (439).

The Condition of the Soul After Death

Hades is the transition to the Unseen world. Macrina is quick to point out that when we say a soul is “in” Hades we do not mean so spatially. In discussing how the soul will be reunited with the body (e.g., the elements), Gregory suggests that the soul is “stationed like a guard over its own” (Roth 68).  That might explain the phenomenon of ghosts, but it doesn’t do justice to the souls being in Abraham’s bosom. Gregory (or Macrina) is aware of that challenge and points out that whatever else is true in the parable, it can’t be about corporeal bodies (since the body is in the tomb).  The gulf, then, is not a physical chasm, but a “barrier which prevents incompatible things from coming together” (70).  It couldn’t be a physical chasm for the obvious fact that a bodiless spirit could easily fly across it!

The Purification of the Soul

Gregory notes that souls that are too attached to fleshly desires retain the form of the flesh after their passing. This might explain the idea of why ghosts resemble their former lives (76).

Macrina divides the souls faculties accordingly: the godlike power is that of contemplation (77).  Indeed, “the accurate likeness of the Divine consists in our soul’s imitation of the superior Nature” (78).

Why is Purification Painful?

It’s painful to remove physical attachments from the soul.  But the nature of virtue should spur us onward.  Gregory notes that “all freedom is one in nature” and “Virtue has no master. Therefore, everything free will be in virtue, for that which is free also has no master” (86).

Transmigration of Souls

Gregory has to cut reincarnation off at the pass, since it seems his Platonic dialogue is moving in that direction. Macrina points out that by going to lower matter in order to be raised up, reincarnation has to have matter purifying the soul.

The Origin of the Soul

Gregory holds to creationism as opposed to traducianism (98).

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.

A. A. Hodge: Outlines of Theology

While this book can never approach the grandeur of his elder, neither will it have the literary quality of Shedd, it probably surpasses them both in its usefulness to the teacher. Unlike Shedd, Hodge doesn’t get distracted by side projects.  However, not all of Hodge is equally strong.  

The book follows questions 1-39 of the Shorter Catechism, though not overtly.   Hodge is strong in every single area that today’s Young, Restless, and Reformed are weak.  In other words, Hodge is strong in a lot of areas.

Arguments for God

Contra Hume, and anticipating Plantinga and others, Hodge notes that “order and adaptation can only spring from an intelligent cause” (37).

Pantheism denies the moral personality of God, man, or both (51).

On The Bible

Contra Rome: When Paul uses tradition, he signifies “all his instructions, oral and written, communicated to those very people themselves, not handed down” (83).

“Romanists appeal to the Scriptures to prove that the Scriptures cannot be understood, and address arguments to private judgment of men to prove that private judgment is incompetent” (91).

Attributes of God

When we say God is infinite, we do not mean that he cannot be an object of knowledge, as though knowing him would place a limit.  Rather, infinity means there are no limitations which involve any imperfections whatsoever (133).

The divine attributes are the divine perfections (135).

There can only be one infinite being.   “If there were two infinite beings, each would necessarily include the other, and be included by it, and thus they would be the same, one and identical” (139).

Per God as spirit: “Spirit is that substance whose properties manifest themselves to us directly in self-consciousness” (140).

Knowledge of God: the mode of divine knowledge: God perfectly, individually, distinctly, and immutably knows all things.  He knows them through himself, through his own essence” (145).  God’s necessary knowledge is the act of the divine intellect, without any concurrent act of the divine will.  His free knowledge is his knowledge being determined by a concurrent act of his will.

Relation to moral action.  God’s knowledge of future contingents makes the events certain, but it does not rule out moral certainty of creatures (147).

Will of God: we reject the liberty of indifference applied to God.  The decretive will of God is God efficaciously purposing the futurition of events.

The Trinity

“Substantia, as now used, is equivalent to essence, independent being” (164). True enough, but substance implies accidents, whereas essence does not.  A subsistence is a mode of substance

He is skeptical of the Johannine Comma (177).

He sees “sons of God” in Gen 6 as “angels” (178).

Eternal Generation: eternal personal act of the Father.  He generates the person of the Son by communicating to him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead (182).  It is a communication within the Godhead.

The Decrees of God

Immanent and intrinsic decrees are the generation of the Son and spiration of the Spirit

God’s decree doesn’t mechanically cause every event.  The decree provides in “every case that the event shall be effected by causses acting in a manner perfectly consistent with the nature of the event in question” (203).

When God decreed everything, he did so as a complete system, having its own internal causes and effects.  As a rational agent, I also act in relation to a complete system. God’s decree does not separate effects from causes and means. God’s decree makes the event certain in the future, yet “not as isolated from other events….but as dependent upon means and agents freely using those means” (212).


Nothing in Scripture says angels are completely destitute of all materiality; indeed, they took bodily form, ate food, and lodged in houses (252, referencing Gen. 18:8 and 19:3).


Contra Edwards: JE says that what we call “the course of nature is nothing separate from the agency of God” (Original Sin, IV, ch. 3).  This makes God the only real agent in the universe, and so logically involves pantheism.

When God chose his great end, he also chose innumerable subordinate ends; these are fixed; and he has appointed all actions and events in their several relations as means to those ends” (262).

“All events are so related together as a concatenated system of causes, effects, and conditions, that a general Providence that is not the same time special is as inconceivable as a whole which has no parts, or a chain which has no links” (266).

Moral Constitution of the Faculties of the Soul

The faculties of the soul are the capacity of the one agent (280).  We choose not to speak of the liberty of the will, but the liberty of the man willing.

Df. will = the faculty of volition, together with all spontaneous states of the soul (282).  It acts in accordance with intrinsic moral tendencies in the soul.

A man is morally responsible if he is in possession of his reason, and self-decided in his will (285).

Df. virtue = a peculiar quality of certain states of the will.  Its essence is that it obliges the will (286).

Turretin: the essential nature of liberty does not consist in indifference.

Man may act against motives, but never without motives (290).

God from eternity foreknows all the free actions of men as certain, and he has foreordained them to be certain (291).

Creation of Man

Pelagians believe that man was created with no positive moral character (302).

Original Sin

We deny that the corruption is physical (excluding possible effects).  Rather, it is purely moral and “biases the understanding” (325). It consists in a morally corrupt habit.  It leads to a schism in the soul (329).

“A universal effect must have a universal cause” (330).


The permanent affections in the soul govern the volitions, but the volitions cannot alter the affections (339).

Contra Traducianism

I don’t think Shedd had published his Dogmatic Theology yet, for had he then Hodge’s charges wouldn’t hold. Hodge thinks traducianists hold to a “pure realism, which is a “single generic spiritual substance which corrupted itself by its own voluntary apostasizing act in Adam.  The souls of individual men are not separate substances, but manifestations” of this single substance” (351-352). Hodge is here quoting his father (II: 251ff).  Both are mistaken on what realism entails. Human nature is a substance, not the property or quality of a substance (see Shedd, 469).  It is individualized in a concrete person.

The problem here is that Hodge is operating under a faulty notion of realism.  First, our human nature isn’t a manifestation of “humanity.” It is in fact a real human nature.  He wants to argue that since the traducianists think human nature can be divided or partialed out, then it is false.  Shedd responds that in the beginning, human nature became four instead of two (Shedd 490, modern reprint). Is that a partialing of human nature?  It seems to be, yet it also seems correct.  There is a constant “diminution of the primitive nonindividualized human nature when once its division and individualization begins by conception.”

Hodge later says that this is 1) Indefinite, 2) fails to explain moral responsibility, 3) assumes laws of natural development limit God’s agency, and 4) doesn’t explain why only the first sin is the one for which we are punished (364).

In response
1*) ?????
2) Again, it isn’t clear.  We are also guilty for our own individual sins.  Yet, we are also guilty for concupiscence, which came from Adam.
3) Again, I am not sure why he thinks that.
4) On everyone’s account, we are only guilty for Adam’s first sin.  

Guilt and punishment.  Guilt is just liability to punishment

The Person of Christ

Mediatorial actions pertain to both natures (381).

Do we worship the human nature?  We distinguish between the ground and object of worship.  The ground of worship is the divine Person, but we do worship the human nature alongside the divine (383). Strictly speaking, we don’t worship, either.  Worship terminates on the person.

Nature of the Atonement

Following his father, AA Hodge gives a lucid account on the nature of guilt and punishment.  A penal satisfaction concerns crime and person.  A pecuniary concerns debt and things.  The former terminates on the person of the criminal; the latter on the thing due (401).

Hodge also denies that “Christ suffered Hell.”  This charge comes up on the internet against Protestants.  Hodge specifically states  that “He did not suffer the same sufferings either in kind, degree, or duration, which would have been inflicted on them, but he did suffer precisely that suffering which divine justice demanded of his person standing in their stead.  His sufferings were those of a divine person with a human nature” (406).

Sin as macula is not laid on Christ.  Sin as reatus is (408).

Effectual Calling

Regeneration: it is a conversio habitualis seu passiva, “the change of character in effecting which the soul is the object, not the subject” (449). Conversion is the opposite.


Standard stuff here, but Hodge does a good job contrasting the Protestant and Romish views. 

Rome: we have a first justification for Christ’s sake. We then (maybe?) have a second one through and in proportion to his merit.

We regard justification as a judicial act, they an infusion of grace.  We say the merits of Christ are the ground of justification, they the merits are made ours by sanctification.  We say faith is the instrument.  They the beginning and root.

John Ortberg: Soul Keeping

Related image

This is the “Zondervan popular” version of Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart.  In fact, much of this book is about Dallas Willard.

What the Soul is

 Thesis: The soul is that aspect of your life that integrates, correlates, “runs” everything else.  It is the outer layer of a set of concentric circles, with the “heart/spirit” at the center, then the will.  The will is good at making (generally) very large and simple decisions. It’s not as good at overriding habits.

Image result for dallas willard soul concentric circles

The next circle is the mind. It is where the thoughts and feelings flow around us.  Beyond that, strangely enough, is the body. After the body is the soul. Does this mean that the body is “in” the soul? I don’t think so.  I don’t think the metaphor is meant to be spatial. I think the outer layer, the soul layer, is also porous. Perhaps that’s what lets us connect on a communal basis.  It might also explain the “soul-tie/one flesh” relation in sexual intercourse.

Your soul integrates the various faculties: will, mind, heart (Ortberg 39).  A dis-integrated soul is one where these faculties are at war. Sin causes this disintegration. Today we have replaced “soul” with “self,” with predictable results. The self is a stand-alone unit.  The soul is not. It points beyond itself (per desires, etc).

Biblical Terminology

Nephesh: life or soul (Deut. 4:9a; Ps. 49.8).

Psyche: life or soul (Matt. 16:25-26).

These two words are words that refer to an integrated life.

Key idea: coming to grips with your soul is tough, because soul-language involves sin-language.


A soul is not a self.  People in the Bible talk to their souls, but not to themselves.  Ortberg suggests that the difference is that our souls are in the presence of God.  I get what he is saying but I don’t know why someone can’t rejoin, “But aren’t our ‘selves’ also in God’s presence?”  Maybe he is saying that God is present to the soul in a way he is not to the overall body-complex.

Our soul is a stream. To make it flow freely we must clear it of anything that obstructs God.


“The velcro of the soul is called ‘desire.’”


Review: Paul Helm, Human Nature from Calvin to Edwards


Paul Helm Human Nature Calvin Edwards

If all Paul Helm had done were to marshal quotes showing the Reformed commitment to substance dualism, he would have done the church an inestimable service. He has done more. He has analyzed these thinkers as they were in conversation with the oncoming modern ontologies represented by Descartes, Locke, and Hobbes. This book is one of a kind and will repay constant readings. In fact, I think you could teach an entire ethics course from his chapter “Morality and Agency.” A key part of this book (and this review) examines the minor in-print debate between Paul Helm and Richard Muller on whether Jonathan Edwards departed from the Reformed tradition on free agency. I do have some criticisms of Helm that I will offer towards the end, but they do not detract from the value of this book.

Purchase Book Here.

Most Christians agree that body and soul aren’t the same thing. Christian reflection in general, and Reformed in particular, however, went a step further. The soul has faculties and powers. This modified Aristotelianism (and only in a modified form) allowed post-Reformation theologians to maintain individual responsibility while being faithful to the Scripture’s teachings on man’s fallenness.

Helm begins with a brief survey on the Patristic and medieval periods. By Patristic he means Tertullian and Augustine. I suppose that is inevitable. Other Western fathers don’t have Augustine’s depth of thought and the East had minimal impact. It is strange that Helm doesn’t mention the role of traducianism. It’s also strange that for all their Augustinianism, the Reformed didn’t really hold to traducianism. Of course, for that reason Helm doesn’t have to mention it. Nonetheless, traducianism allows the substance dualist to address challenges from neuroscience in ways that the creationist view of the soul does not.

Thomas Aquinas

The soul informs the body. When the body dies, many of the soul’s powers “hibernate.” While the soul is not the person, in this state it carries the identity of the person until the resurrection (15).

The intellect is “a possessor of collective powers related in incredibly complex ways between itself and the memory, will, and affections” (16). Specific to Thomas’s claim, and a claim the Reformed (and Roman Catholics) would generally maintain until recent times, was that the “soul itself acts via these various powers” (20).

Free Will Controversy, Part One

In his debate with Pighius, Calvin uses “voluntas” to mean both the Augustinian “heart” and the choice a man makes (34). In order to clear this confusion, Helm focuses on Calvin’s happy phrase that the fall is “adventitious” on human nature, not essential to it.

Body and Soul

Helm breaks new ground in this section. Despite the differences and nuances of the various Platonisms and Aristotelianism of the post-Reformation period, all thinkers to a man held that the soul is not reducible to the body. They would have heartily rejected the Christian physicalism of some thinkers today.

The Faculties and Powers of the Soul

Key idea: “The soul has a range or array of powers which the mind groups as certain activities of the understanding, and others as certain activities of the will” (81).

Flavel: the will is sovereign over the body but not over other faculties of the soul. In regeneration the will does not disturb conversion but is also changed by divine power (87).

Free Will Controversy, Part Two

Man’s free will is indexed to different states of man (e.g., fourfold state). According to the post-Reformation thinkers, man’s “Freedom” relates to spiritual activity. Man’s liberty relates to the capacities of our faculties.

Faculty Psychology

Powers of the soul are intrinsic to one faculty or another and they may be shared. Habits are acquired by nature or grace (105). As Flavel notes these are properties of faculties, not further faculties. When we die, certain habits are reduced to mere dispositions.

Morality and Agency

Aristotle didn’t have a concept of the conscience. This is a distinctly Jewish or Christian phenomenon. For the Reformed scholastics the conscience is a kind of “second-order reflex, telling us what we know about ourselves.” Further, it “binds” the understanding (112).

Free Will Controversy, Part Three

The fall had a “modal effect” on man, “establishing what it was possible and impossible to do hereafter” (134). We sin because we do not have the sufficient will not to sin. We have a natural liberty that “is essential to the will and all its acts.” Our moral ability to do the good, unfortunately, “is only accidental and separable” (136).

Did Edwards’ use of John Locke change how later Reformed discussed the soul and its faculties? There were some changes along the lines of personal identity, but Edwards himself seemed familiar with the subject and didn’t change too much. He leaned more towards Platonism than hylomorphism, but still remained a substance dualist.

Even Edwards’ distinction on natural and moral ability isn’t that novel. He merely sharpened some observations made by Owen and others. Edwards sees our inability along a spectrum (216). As Helm notes, “A natural ability is ability in its proper sense and the moral abilities are secondary” (217).

There are some changes, though. Scholastic faculties become “powers of the heart.” Does this change anything? Richard Muller seems to think it does. Helm disagrees. I think I side with Helm. It’s not immediately clear, either way.

*Reformation Heritage kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Paul Helm and Faculty Psychology

I was recently given a copy of Paul Helm’s Human Nature from Calvin to Edwards in exchange for an Amazon review.  I plan to have the review up this weekend.  I do want to post the notes and analysis of parts which wouldn’t make it into the review for length reasons.

Buy Book Here!


The Soul comprises three sets of powers (On the Trinity X.11).

  • Memory
  • Understanding
  • Will

Augustine has a complex understanding of will.  Sometimes it means “choice” between alternatives or the power of God in regeneration (Helm 12).

Thomas Aquinas

The soul informs the body.  When the body dies, many of the soul’s powers “hibernate.”  While the soul is not the person, in this state it carries the identity of the person until the resurrection (15).

The intellect is “a possessor of collective powers related in incredibly complex ways between itself and the memory, will, and affections” (16).

Specific to Thomas’s claim, and a claim the Reformed (and Roman Catholics) would generally maintain until recent times, was that the “soul itself acts via these various powers” (20).

The Anthropology of Calvin and Vermigli

The short of it is that Calvin took his cue from Plato, Vermigli from Aristotle.  There might be more to it, though. Calvin probably didn’t even intend that. It seems Calvin wanted a model of the soul that could account for life after death and a division of the capacities (33).

Free Will Controversy, Part One

In his debate with Pighius, Calvin uses “voluntas” to mean both the Augustinian “heart” and the choice a man makes (34).  In order to clear this confusion, Helm focuses on Calvin’s happy phrase that the fall is “adventitious” on human nature, not essential to it.

Body and Soul

Helm breaks new ground in this section.  Despite the differences and nuances of the various Platonisms and Aristotelianism of the post-Reformation period, all thinkers to a man held that the soul is not reducible to the body. They would have heartily rejected the Christian physicalism of some thinkers today.

The Soul as a Whole

  • The soul is nonspatial but nevertheless located in the body.
  • Animals have souls but only vegetative powers.

John Flavel:

  • A substance is a subject with properties.

Key shift: Cartesianism reassigned the various powers of the soul (74).


  • The soul has the power of indefinite self-persistence (76).
  • It is immortal by necessity of the consequence.

The Faculties and Powers of the Soul

Key idea: “The soul has a range or array of powers which the mind groups as certain activities of the understanding, and others as certain activities of the will” (81).

Flavel: the will is sovereign over the body but not over other faculties of the soul.  In regeneration the will does not disturb conversion but is also changed by divine power (87).

Free Will Controversy, Part Two

Man’s free will is indexed to different states of man (e.g., fourfold state).  According to the post-Reformation thinkers, man’s “Freedom” relates to spiritual activity.  Man’s liberty relates to the capacities of our faculties.

Faculty Psychology

Powers of the soul are intrinsic to one faculty or another and they may be shared.  Habits are acquired by nature or grace (105).


The Great Omission (Dallas Willard)

Thesis: Discipleship is the modern omission from the Great Commission.

He has a beautiful chapter on “solitude” and “silence.” My only concern is that it is completely unworkable to anyone who has kids, a job with pressing demands, or both.  (I remember I first read this when I was trying to get my 3 year old to sleep).

Towards a Christian Anthropology

In technical language, Willard is a soul-substance dualist, which is generally the Christian position. “The soul is a substance in that it is an individual entity that has properties and dispositions natural to it, endures through time and change, and receives and exercises causal influence on other things” (Willard 139).

“We have knowledge of a subject matter when we are able to represent it as it in fact is, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience” (140).

It is the source of life (143). The spirit is a central part of the soul, the part of determination (is this what Dabney called connative powers?). It is the heart or will. This isn’t trichotomism, though. Trichotomism sees the spirit as a separate entity. This view sees it as a subdivision of the soul.

The Good in the book

Logic as a spiritual discipline. This was a wonderful chapter, “Jesus the Logician.”

It requires the will to be logical (182).  It is freedom from distraction and willingness to follow truth wherever it takes

We are Committed to logic as a “fundamental value” (183). Jesus uses enthymemes. He understates logical points which require the hearer to draw the conclusion–psychologically, this was a very effective move.

As noted previously, his take on anthropology and its suggestions for a Christian psychology was wonderful.


Per Laubach: language of ascent to God (200). This is chain-of-being ontology. Note how the Christian “logic” works. We do not ascend to God. Christ descends to us. I understand that “inner” language has Augustinian precedents.

Nota Bene: I am more appreciative of Laubach now than when I first read this.

This theme is heavier in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. The “rooms” are ways of living in relation to God. Interestingly, Willard notes that this book has become an interfaith manual. Ironically, or perhaps precisely because when the spiritual life becomes “mystical absorption into the One,” then why does it really matter which “One” it is?

Knowing Christ Today (Dallas Willard)

Thesis: A life of steadfast discipleship to Jesus Christ can be supported only upon assured knowledge of how things are, of the realities in terms of which that life is lived (Willard 7). Correct knowledge gives us secure access to reality.

Interplay between faith and knowledge

What is it to possess knowledge? “We have knowledge of something when we are representing it….as it actually is, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience” (15).

Faith is contrasted with sight, not true knowledge. Faith is always exercised “in an environment of knowledge and is inseparable from it” (20).

Exactly How We Perish for Lack of Knowledge

Sub-thesis: People perish for lack of knowledge because only knowledge permits assured access to reality” (39). While some are saying that “worldview” talk is now dated, it is still inevitable. Willard calls it a “biological necessity for human beings, because we act, whether consciously or not, with reference to a whole (a ‘world’)” (43).

One way we perish is by idolatry. It is a mistake about reality, in that we assign powers to an object that it does not have.

The rest of this chapter is a summary of Renovation of the Heart and The Divine Conspiracy.

Can We Know That God Exists?

Willard gives a simplified version of the Kalam Cosmological argument.

(1) The universe had a beginning (evidence from Big Bang, background radiation, impossibility of traversing an actual infinite, etc.)

(2) It was either (p) produced by nothing or by (q) something that is not physical.

(3) P is false; therefore, q (2; Disjunctive syllogism)

(4) The causal closure principle of the universe is false since it cannot explain the cause of the physical universe (see [1]).

(5) There must be a first member in the causal series.

(6) This cause must have a will since he/it willed to create.

(7) Therefore, the causal system is not merely causal.

The Miraculous, and Christ’s Presence in the World

What is a “natural law?” True, there are regularities in nature, yet these regularities are constantly interrupted even by humans. Willard notes that “common regularities in nature all depend upon certain conditions that lie deeper in reality, and if those conditions are modified, then the regularities are interrupted” (125). A miracle is when the ultimate conditioner modifies the conditions. Therefore, it is not a violation of natural law, whatever that means.

Knowledge of Christ in the Spiritual Life

Here Willard summarizes his work on spiritual disciplines. We are cultivating a “constant receptivity” to the presence of Jesus (156). This list is not exhaustive. We do so by:

(1) solitude and silence.

(2) Fellowship

(3) Prayer

(4) Giving

Knowledge of Christ and Christian Pluralism

What would a Christian pluralism look like? Willard defines it as “a pluralism based upon the generosity and justice of the God revealed in Christ” (170). This raises a problem: if by knowledge of Christ we have secured access to reality, then it seems that others are wrong. Willard heads off that line of reasoning by noting we shouldn’t confuse belief with behavior. I can believe you are wrong and still be a decent human being.

In any case, there is a logical exclusivity about knowledge in general. Pluralism as an ideal is false and unworkable, since various religious traditions make exclusive claims. What is valuable in pluralism, however, is having a proper and friendly attitude towards the so-called “Other.”

A Christian take on true pluralism (!) would imply something like the following:

(1) Agape love for everyone.

(2) God will treat everyone justly.

(3) Willard is *not* saying people from other religions *will* be saved apart from Christ.

(4) Yet, God probably won’t cackle maniacally as he watches people on the barbeque pit.

My only real concern is Willard’s exegesis of “no other name.” He says it is in the context of meaning “no other access to God’s kingdom power–resulting in the previous miracle–except through Jesus’ name.” I certainly believe that is a true proposition. I just don’t see how it changes the original meaning.

This book is a good snapshot on Christian epistemology. It is, however, not a text on epistemology. Willard shows the importance of Christianity as a knowledge-tradition and that we have access to it. But he doesn’t deal with the basic problems of epistemology.

This book isn’t as good as Renovation of the Heart, but it is better than Divine Conspiracy. It’s on par with Hearing God