Richard Swinburne on the Soul

Swinburne, Richard.  Evolution of the Soul.  Oxford.


person: anyone who has the facets of consciousness which men possess, whether human or not (Swinburne 4).

substance: a component of the world which interacts causally with other components (5). They have properties (whether monadic, relating to themselves, or polyadic, relating to others).

event: states of substances.  They are tokens, particular occurrences.

properties: universals that are instantiated in many different substances in many different occasions.  Properties can be either mental or physical. Physical properties are publically accessible. There is no privileged access to them (6). 

mental properties: only the subject has privileged access to them.  Someone can look at me and see a cut and deduce that I am cut, but not necessarily that I am feeling pain. Or, they can’t know what I think about the pain.  

mental events: events which involve  instantiation of mental properties (John was in pain yesterday).  

Different Views on the Mind-Body Problem

  1. Hard Materialism; mind-brain identity theory.  
  2. Soft Materialism: property dualism.  Mental properties are different from physical properties.  
  3. Soft dualism: distinct from Plato and Descartes.  Makes no assumption on soul’s structure or immortality (10).  


A thought is not the same thing as a belief.  I can have a belief without being conscious of having a belief.  Not so with thoughts (63).


criterion of belief:  Have a lively (as opposed to faint) idea of it (Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, 1.3.7).  It seems Hume confuses “belief” and “thought.” I can have a belief without being aware of it.

To believe p s to believe p is more probable (greater than ½ ) than ~p.

Summary of the Five States

These five states interact with brain-events but are not reducible to brain events.

Structure of the Soul

If we say the person can continue if the body is destroyed, we mean it is logically possible (146). 

basic argument: knowledge of what happens to bodies and their parts will not necessarily give you knowledge of the persons within them (147).   Cf., B. Williams, “Mad Surgeon Story.” Further, a man’s mental properties are not necessarily the same as his physical properties (155). At least, we have no reason for thinking so and those who hold to materialism have far more to prove.  

sub-argument: these claims for the soul should be verifiable.  Continuity of brain and apparent memory do not constitute personal identity, but they can provide evidence for it (155).  

The Evidence for Personal Identity

memory.  Fallible but reliable.  A source of belief-justification, if not the strongest form.

Origin and Life of the Soul

problem: can the soul function when it is not having conscious episodes (sleep, etc)? Swinburne makes the distinction that the soul cannot “function” without a properly functioning brain, but it can exist without the brain (176).   

I am not so sure Swinburne’s evolutionary narrative accounts for morality. He asserts with Darwin that those who evolved have well-marked social instincts which would eventually acquire morality (224).  The only evidence he offers is that animals demonstrate altruism towards their kin (except for those animals who eat their young and eat their mates, no doubt). The universality of morality, therefore, can be attributed to some “core principles” (226).

I am not persuaded and neither was T. H. Huxley.  Swinburne admits with Huxley that the “practice of what is ethically best…is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic system” (quoted in Swinburne, 227).  

His argument for free will is along the lines that Quantum Mechanics has ruled out a universal physical determinism, which would be our wills aren’t determined by our brain-states.  So far, so good. The rest of the chapter consisted of mathematical formulas before which even the mightiest reader would quail.

The Structure of the Soul

Agents have belief-desire sets.  Per Quine, our beliefs “form a net which impinges on experience only at its edges” (see Quine, From a Logical Point of View, 42-46).  Our beliefs have to “mesh” with other beliefs (though there can be inconsistencies that aren’t obvious).  Swinburne takes Quine’s correct thesis and adds to it: desires interact with our belief network (Swinburne 263-264).  

Desires require beliefs.  If a man desire heroin and knows the effects of heroin, and you inject him with heroin, then as the effects wear off he will desire more heroin.  If you inject a sleeping man with heroin, as the effects wear off he will feel uneasy but won’t desire heroin (not knowing what to desire).

 There are three ways to change desires: bodily change, a belief change, and a change of other desires (270-271).  Swinburne gives an extended and fascinating account of how our beliefs and desires function. The upshot of this is our beliefs can’t always be “changed” by neural procedures.  If one did succeed in “switching” beliefs, my other beliefs in the “web,” themselves not changed, would “conspire to restore” that former belief which gave unity (281). Granted, this isn’t a powerful stand-alone argument for the existence of the soul, but it is a difficulty for materialist views.  

The person tempted to suicide might go to counseling.  This reveals conflicted desires within his psyche. He is exhibiting a desire not to have a desire to commit suicide.  

an argument against determinism: insofar as our beliefs which require reasons for their justification do not have acceptance of those reasons among their causes, they are unjusified (290). 


Super-ego (conscience)

Ego: person which performs public actions

Id: system of conative impulses).  These impules exist side by side with each other without neutralizing each other.  

Similarly, the soul has a structure of internconnected beliefs and desires which are more or less integrated with each other (295).  

Future of the soul: 

Can the brain be reactivated? 

Will the soul function without the brain’s functioning?  Three arguments

  1. parapsychology.  Swinburne rejects mediums talking with the dead and opts for the clairvoyance argument.  He gives more weight to near-death experiences (NDE) since those can be verified. However, he rejects them because in most cases there is no evidence the brain stopped functioning even though the heart did.  (???)
  2. natural survival.  

HIs conclusion: the soul cannot survive the body simply on its own powers.  I suppose that’s true, but Swinburne comes dangerously close to (if not actually affirming) “soul sleep.”

Excellent discussions on supervenience.




*Swinburne offers lots of penetrating suggestions on the mind-body problem and how hard materialism really can’t account for it.  

*Excellent, if incomplete section on beliefs and belief-formation.



Eternal Living (Dallas Willard)

Image result for eternal living dallas willard

When Jane Willard first met Dallas in the college library, she noticed he never wore socks.  She thought he was some kind of rebellious hippie. She later found out that he couldn’t afford socks.

Richard Foster:  Dallas and I used to team-teach Sunday School.  When I taught, people might come. When Dallas taught, they brought their tape recorders.

Every contributor notes how Dallas was always in the presence of God.  He was never rushed. Never startled. He moves and speaks with a calm power.  Dallas not only imitated what Jesus taught, but the Hebraic way he taught (Cf. Jane Willard’s chapter).

Husserl and Knowledge

Greg Jesson: For Dallas knowledge was the most practical thing, as it enabled you to grasp reality.  The problem with modern philosophers (Kant, Hume, etc) is they believed our awareness is always of some mental state, such as an idea or perception.  They couldn’t explain how it relates to the mind-independent world.

If I am thinking of the Pythagorean theorem, then I am thinking of the same mind-independent fact that he thought of 2500 years ago.  This means that the mind has the ability to grasp things that are not part of itself. For Husserl, a mental state isn’t something that just floats about in our mind.  It is necessarily vectorial. It is always of something other than itself. This pointing feature is called intentionality.

Moreland and Dallas

Moreland gives a brief summary of Dallas’s epistemology and the various ways it means “to know.”  There is knowledge-by-acquaintance, propositional knowledge, and know-how. Further, knowledge doesn’t require certainty.  Only immutable facts are certain, and there aren’t many of those. In Ephesians 5:5 Paul says to “know with certainty,” which would be redundant if all knowledge were certain.  Further, my degree of knowledge can grow or weaken over time.

Five Tips for a Teacher

By Gary Black Jr.  

Focus on your purpose.  

Cultivate patience.

Accept solitude and sustenance from God.

Stay engaged with others.

Beware of intellectual pride.


Renovation of the Heart (Willard)

Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart.  NavPress.

It’s hard to write a new book on spiritual formation. Even the books that are good seem to have covered already-covered ground. What more is there to add? Dallas Willard takes a different angle. Rather than aiming for spiritual formation or spiritual disciplines, which advice always runs the risk of sounding pedantic, he speaks of “forming Christlikeness.” In this review I will summarize some of his key points, note some potential problems and tensions, and end with a reflection.

Unlike other authors on spiritual disciplines, Willard is a trained philosopher and brings analytical reflection the table. Without entering the free will debates he notes that the will (or the mind, or the heart) never acts in isolation but always in conjunction with other faculties. This has important implications for spiritual growth: one simply can’t “grow the mind” without growing the heart, will, etc.

The book was much better than I expected. It wasn’t pedantic and he covered ground not found in Foster and Whitney. I have some concerns about the books he recommended. Like Foster, he seemed to convey the idea that any Christian who has written on the reflective life should be consulted. I am not so sure. I highly doubt that consistent Roman Catholics, Charismatics, or others would agree one can isolate the spirituality (Francis de Sales et al) from the larger theology. Indeed, Willard’s own arguments (rightly) suggest otherwise.

But by all means please read the book. It’s probably the best spiritual disciplines book on the market

Finding Quiet: What is the Soul?


Moreland, J. P. Finding Quiet: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices that Brought me Peace.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019.

This is JP Moreland’s memoir of how he overcame debilitating anxiety.  It’s more than that.  It explains–in a way that the ancient Christians had long known–how formative practices can rewire the brain to combat anxiety. It deserves widest possible readership.

Some fundamentalists say we can’t go to the outside world to learn about the soul or medicine, but Scripture does exactly that: Isaiah 19:11; Jeremiah 49:7; Zech. 9:2; Job 28:1-11).

Moreland begins with his well-known insights on the soul.  “The soul is an immaterial substance or thing that contains consciousness and animates/enlivens the body” (Moreland 31). The soul has sensations that reside in the soul, not the brain.  However, given certain “triggers,” they can obtain during physical moments.  The soul also contains faculties, capacities that are not currently “being actualized” (32).  When these capacities are properly grouped, they are called “faculties.”

The spirit is the faculty of the soul that relates to God (33).

Moreland’s key point, which I believe unanswerable, is that the body and the soul, while not the same thing, interact with each other.  The body “traduces” the soul, as it were. The soul has the faculty of sight, but without working eyes it cannot see. The body traduces the soul.

Then there are habits.  These are ingrained bodily practices.  Moreland argues, and I think it makes sense, that “anxiety is a learned habit that, through repeated flesh-forming activities (e.g., engaging in ‘what if?’ thinking about the future and exaggerating what might happen if the ‘what if?’ actually happens), forms grooves in the brain, the heart muscle, and nervous system that trigger uncontrollable anxiety” (43).

Let’s Sum Up

  • Our habits form grooves in the brain.  If these grooves are triggered (e.g., by a memory), “the conscious state will obtain in the soulish aspect of the body” (45).

John Locke: Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Image result for john locke

Locke should have put Book IV first, not because of order of argument but of style.  Books 1-3 are so badly written and tedious, whereas Book IV is interesting and occasionally funny.  Be that as it may.

The how of knowledge

(1) At the risk of oversimplification, ideas for Locke are sense-impressions.  If I see a tree, light waves from the tree reach my eye, go to my brain/mind, and from there form a mental image of a tree in my mind. An idea is the object of understanding when a man thinks.  The power to produce any idea is a quality (II.8.7). Ideas are in the mind, qualities the body.

On the Soul

problem of identity: the soul cannot be reduced to physical causes/objects, otherwise how does one account for personal identity if we are just matter in motion (II.1.12)

  • primary qualities are inseparable from a body: solidity, extension, figure.
  • secondary qualities are that which produce various sensations in us by means of the primary qualities: colors, sounds, tastes.

Substance: combinations of simple ideas representing distinct things subsisting in themselves (II.8.6)

Modes of thinking:  

  • thinking: when the mind contemplates itself (II.19.1)
  • sensation: the entrance of any idea into the understanding by the senses (II.1.24).
  • intention: the mind focusing on an object

Thinking is the action of the soul, not its essence.  Otherwise, when we stop thinking we stop having a soul (implications for pro-life arguments).   

On Free Will

power: the possibility of acting change.

  • The will is a power.
  • we can’t speak of free will.
    • Liberty is a power that belongs to agents (II.21.14).
    • It doesn’t make sense to ask if one power has another power.
  • will is the ability to choose.
    • the mind operates the will.  
    • faculty, ability, and power are names of the same thing.
    • The mind determines the will (II.21.29).
  • Uneasiness: psychological determination of the will (II.21.34-40).  Locke has a very perceptive chapter on the difficulty of “willing ourselves to be better.”  A drunkard knows his decisions are destructive, but he is habituated in them. A direct charge to change won’t do anything for him.  
    • The good cannot determine our wills (practically, psychologically) because we are so overwhelmed with desire and unease.
    • There might be some spiritual import to this.  Fasting and other disciplines “turn down the volume” of the flesh.  
    • Our wills are only truly free when we suspend the desire.  
  • Psychological remarks (very perceptive)
    • We cannot directly change our beliefs (doxastic voluntarism), but we can change the surroundings which condition our beliefs (II.21.62).
    • The pain anyone actually feels is the most intense of any possibly present pains.
    • Future pleasure (absent good) is usually unable to prevent uneasiness/wrongdoing. This is why social justice programs have universally failed to reformed poverty-stricken neighborhoods.


Essence is “the very being of anything, whereby it is, what it is” (III.iii.15).  Locke held to the corpuscular hypothesis: the constitutions of things consists of minute particles of some sort, and that their workings are entirely due to such configurations (IV.iii.25).


The Ethics of Belief (Courtesy of Wolterstorff)

(2) Our assent is regulated by the grounds of probability (IV.16.1).

Doxastic Duty

Book IV. 17.24

“Faith is nothing but a firm assent of the mind…regulated…as is our duty, cannot be afforded to anything but good reason…He that believes without having reason for believing…neither seeks truth as he ought nor pays the obedience due to his Maker.”

(3) For Locke epistemology is linked with doxastic duty.  

Epistemic justification is deontological justification.  Is this Knowledge as Justified, True Belief? Maybe; however, Locke applies duty to belief, not knowledge.


(~1) Is Locke’s account of belief-formation really how the mind works?  Following the godly and right-thinking Mr Reid, we offer the critique: “idea” is a visual term.  How does Locke’s project work when we take a non-visual sensation like “touch?” How does the mind form an “image” of a non-imagery sensation?

(~2) This seems true and it is probably a wise way to live, but as later thinkers have pointed out (Wm. James, Wolterstorff, Plantinga, Kelly James Clark), what is the evidence for this claim?

Microcosm and Mediator (Lars Thunberg)

Key terms in St Maximus

Diaphora: it is the difference that safeguards the variations and unity within creation

Diairesis: division; Diaphora does not necessarily imply diairesis.  Christ has diaphora, but not diairesis. Diaresis is never constitutive of creation.  Man as mediator is called to annihilate the divisions on the moral level but never the diaphora on the ontological level.

Diastasis/Diastema: distance and separation.  Maximus uses diastema in a spatial sense.  Since all created entities are moved, they have diastema.  Diasteme is with motion.

  • Diastasis means that since God has established history, he has marked out a distance to himself.
  • Diastasis stands in a particular relationship to stasis, rest.

Diastole: expansion, distinction.  All of created ousia moves, because movement is endemic to creation.  The movement of diastole goes from the most general to the more differentiated species. The movement of sustole goes in the opposite direction.  

  • In both cases movement comes to a limit.
  • Universals and particulars:  there is nothing more particular than that which is made particular by God; there is nothing more universal than the fact that all is created.
  • Diastole is the movement of God’s condescension in creation.
  • Sustole is very close to deification.  

Creation because of God’s Will

The Logoi

  • the principles of differentiated creation, pre-existent in God.
  • the logoi manifest a general law:  always and in all God’s Word and God wills to effect the mystery of his embodiment (Thunberg 65; [=Amb. 7, 1084CD])

The concept of Providence

  •  Five modes of contemplation
    • substance
    • motion
      • the natural movements, positive self-determination of each being.
    • difference
    • mixture
    • position

Creation by the Word

The Logoi of Creation

  • logos tou eu einai: the principle of motion for each being (Thunberg 74 [=Amb 7, 1084B].
  • logoi gegonoton/ontown/phuseos: not only define essence, but the coming into existence of a thing
  • The logoi preexist in God, who keeps them all together.

The Logoi are held together by the Logos

Creation and Motion

  • Maximus’s triad of genesis/kinesis/stasis rebuts the Origenist problem of a pre-eternal fall. There cannot be a motion to fall before creation (genesis) because genesis introduces motion.
  • Thus, Maximus breaks the back of Hellenism.  There is no longer any idea of successive falls  and endless generations (Thunberg 81 n217).

Maximus on substance

    • substance: ousia.  Maximus can speak of ousia as a generic category of created being or something closer to “nature.”
      • category of creation; hence, God is above being.
      • characterized by limitations, so it has a contrary (non-being)


  • ousia and einai are not quite identical, the latter seems to connote existence
  • ousia needs to be realized in self-fulfilment.


  • The concept of nature: reduced to the sphere of universals.
    • connected with the idea of “motion” and defined by its dynamic element (88).

Maximus’s Anthropology in General

Constitution and Position of Man

In order to combat Origenism, Maximus holds to the indispensable unity of body and soul.  He is not saying, pace modern Christian materialists, that the soul cannot exist without the body, but that the soul cannot pre-exist without the body.

For Gregory of Nyssa, a fall into the material world would not purify the soul, but would lead to successive falls leading to the soul’s destruction.  Maximus agrees but takes it a step further: the pre-existence of souls gives the body a negative and punitive function. God is forced to create because of evil.

Human Trichotomy

For Gregory of Nyssa, man’s nous is an aspect of the soul (108). It is the higher capacity of the soul.

Image and Likeness

Image is to likeness as potency is to act.  They ultimately refer to the same reality.

Microcosm and Mediator

Man is the natural link between creation and this will allow him to reintegrate the fallen aspects of creation.

Man mediates among the five divisions:

  1. Created and Uncreated Nature
  2. Intelligible and Sensible
  3. Heaven and Earth
  4. Paradise and the world (both under the sphere of earth)
  5. Man and Woman



Review: Medieval Exegesis volume 1


de Lubac, Henri.  Medieval Exegesis volume 1.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Argument: Medieval exegesis isn’t simply allegory, for it goes far beyond the method of ancient pagan sources. Rather, it seeks the “spirit” of Scripture.

Medieval Exegesis. Volume 1: The Four Senses of Scripture. By Henri de Lubac. Translated by Mark Sebanc. Foreword by Robert L. Wilken. Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans

Henri de Lubac is a master writer and theologian, but this book presents a challenge to the reader on a number of levels. De Lubac opens the door to a wide forest of patristic and medieval thinking–and he provides no map to navigate this forest. (Later volumes in the series do provide the map). That’s not to say de Lubac fails to offer a model for medieval exegesis. He does. You just have to read for a while to find it. In what follows I will try to provide a model of medieval exegesis–or rather, foundational presuppositions.

P1: The letter teaches what happened, allegory what we should believe, moral what we should do, anagogical what we should hope for.

(P2) “For the doctrine of the two senses of Scripture and the doctrine of the relationship between the two testaments are in essence one and the same thing” (De Lubac 8).

In order to show that the “spiritual sense” of Scripture is not completely arbitrary, de Lubac notes that it is always tied to “discipline,” which implies a rule or manner (23ff). Scripture is sacrament and symbol, spirit and rationality (76). The implication is the letter of Scripture always points beyond itself. Scripture, like the world, is like a garment of the godhead.

Early Christian symbolism was liturgical symbolism.  De Lubac writes, “It is well know that medieval symbolism readily encompasses not only Scripture and the visible universe, but that other universe, that other living, sacred book which is divine worship. The fathers transposed the ancient doctrine that saw the universe at once as a temple and as a body and each temple as being at once the human body and the universe.  By virtue of this transposition, the cosmic and liturgical mirrors, while corresponding with each other, also correspond to the mirrors of history and the Bible” (103).

The Cross as Cosmic Universe:

“This Christian, who undertakes a new kind of De natura rerum, has achieved a profound realization of the cosmic dimensions of his faith.  He wants to show forth a universe that has been entirely taken up by Christ and recreated in the same Christ…He plants the Cross of Christ at the center of everything, just as Virgil placed Orpheus in the middle of the cosmic cup.  Time and Space, Heaven and Earth, angels and men, the Old Testament and the New, the physical universe and the moral universe, nature and grace: everything is encompassed, bound together, formed, “structured,” and unified by this Cross, even as everything is dominated by it” (111).

But there is a problem in the sources. Most of us are familiar with the so-called “fourfold method” (history, allegory, tropology, anagogy). But medieval and patristic writers didn’t always follow this model. Sometimes it was threefold, or maybe the terms were inverted. Is there a threefold distinction of Scripture, or a fourfold one? Sometimes authors collapsed anagogia into allegory.

Beginning with the fathers we note:

Body = history
Soul = tropology
Spirit = anagogy

The problem before the house: tropology was seen as an intermediary principle between body and spirit (140). There was a danger of introducing the “psuche” Scripture before its “pneuma.” This fails to respond to the intentions of the spirit. De Lubac highlights the problem: there “cannot be found in it an explicit allusion to the Mystery that is at once historical and spiritual, interior and social, a Mystery which is recapitulated in the other formula by “allegoria” (140-141). So which method is correct and when did the fourfold start? De Lubac doesn’t really tell us.

Unity and Harmony

Thesis: Christian tradition understands that Scripture has two meanings: literal and spiritual (pneumatic) and these two meanings have the same relationship to each other as do the Old and New Testaments to each other (225). The spiritual meaning discerns internal causes. The spirit is contained and hidden in the letter. History as a key to understanding the present is more and more transformed into allegory of the future (230).

Typology is not enough. It needs allegory, allegory understood as the pneumatic sense (259). Typology simply tells that A prefigures A’. It says nothing of the opposition or unity between the two testaments.

Conclusion and evaluation.

“High hopes and empty pockets” may be the best way to summarize this book. This is one of those instances where de Lubac’s brilliant reputation actually worked to his disadvantage. Given the rich spirituality of the patristics and medievals and de Lubac’s own brilliant handling of Augustinian Supernaturalism, one rightly expected this book to be a stunning tour de force. It wasn’t.

Given what I’ve read of de Lubac on the social dimension of Christianity and his take on the Surnaturel, I expected this book to outline the failure of liberal and fundmentalist hermeneutics (including, obviously, the failure of modernity), a brief section outlining the medievals’ take on Scripture, the structure of allegory, and how to do allegory in today’s church.

As tedious as this book was at times, it is a necessary read if one is interested in reading de Lubac’s corpus. Fortunately, volume two appears to be more smooth, compact, and focused on the main issues. It was that de Lubac seemed to merely compile quotations of people who agree with him. While I suppose that makes his point, he is always bordering on overkill (I tried to pull this stunt on graduate level essays. The profs were not amused!). Still, at the end of the day when reading de Lubac, one knows one is in the presence of a master.

Witsius, Notes: Vol 1

This is mainly Books 1-3 of The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (Reformation Heritage reprint)Image result for herman witsius economy of the covenants

Book 1

Chapter 1: Covenants in General

Generally, covenants signify a mutual agreement between parties, with respect to something (43).  A covenant of God, furthermore, “is an agreement between God and man, about the way of obtaining consummate happiness,” including sanctions (45).  This covenant comprises three things: a) Promise; b) condition; c) sanction.

While it is a free agreement between God and man, man really couldn’t say no.  Not to desire God’s promises is to refuse the goodness of God, which is sin.

Covenant of Works: in the covenant of works there is no mediator (49).

Chapter 2: Of the contracting parties of the covenant of works

The CoW = natural law = covenant of nature (50).  Witsius notes that there was supernatural revelation in this covenant (53).

Image of God

The imago dei has knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (54).

Chapter 3: Of the Law, or Condition, of the Covenant of Works

The law of nature: the rule of good and evil inscribed on man’s conscience.  Further, it is identical with the substance of the decalogue (62).

Witsius views the CoW as probationary, yet Adam wouldn’t have “earned” the reward per any intrinsic merit.  The reward is rooted in God’s covenant, not in man’s merit.

Chapter 4: Of the Promises of the Covenant of Works

Man’s natural conscience teaches him that God desires not to be served in vain (71).

Chapter 5: Of the Penal Sanction

Nature of the soul: a spiritual substance endowed with understanding and will (89).  Witsius notes that the soul is conscious of itself, which modern philosophers like JP Moreland call “self-presenting.”

Aquinas and the majesty of God: Adam’s disobedience, no matter how small, is divine treason–it is not honoring and infinite majesty as it deserves. God’s holiness is such that he cannot admit a sinner to communion without satisfaction first made to his justice (94).

Chapter 7: Of the First Sabbath

Contra Turretin, Witsius doesn’t think Adam fell on the first day (126).

Chapter 8: Of the Violation of the Covenant of Works on the Part of Man

Witsius suggests that Satan’s suggestion to Eve that she can disobey God and not die, which is a venial sin, is functionally equivalent to Rome’s definition of venial sin (138).

Foreknowledge and Predestination: God’s knowledge of future things cannot be conceived apart from his decreeing them (141).  The creature acts in concurrence with God’s action. All things come from God. There is only one first cause (I.8.15). If something could act besides having God as its cause, then there would be multiple first Causes, which is polytheism.

God and sin.  If all beings come from God, and even though sin is privation of being, it, too, is a kind of entity, then it also arises from God’s plan (para 22).

Chapter 9: Of the Abrogation of the Covenant of Works

The covenant of law demands a merit of perfect obedience, otherwise Christ would have been under no necessity to submit to this covenant (158).

Book II.

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Covenant of Grace

Definition: a compact or agreement between God and the elect sinner, God on his part declaring his free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant, by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that goodwill by a sincere faith (2.1.5).

Chapter 2: Of the Covenant between God the Father and Son

The covenant of redemption is between God and the Mediator. The will of the Father, giving the Son to be the Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the will of the Son, presenting himself as a Sponsor or Surety for them (2.2.2). Christ’s suretyship consists in his willingness to undertake to perform that condition (2.2.4).

The exegetical foundation is in Zech. 6.13.  There is a counsel of Peace between God and the Branch. 

Covenant and Justification: God the Father, through Christ’s use of the sacraments, sealed the federal promise concerning justification (para 11).  Christ’s baptism illustrates the sealing of the covenant from both sides.

Chapter 3: The nature of the covenant between the Father and the Son more fully explained

Lines of argument:  Christ was foreordained (1 Peter i.20).

Rejects the idea of liberty of will = indifference (p. 187).

The reward the Son was to obtain:

  1. Highest degree of glory (John 17.1).
  2. Christ’s obedience is the cause of the rewards.

Chapter 4: Of the Person of the Surety

4 things necessary for a surety: true man;  holy man; true God; unity of person.

Chapter 7: Of the Efficacy of Christ’s Satisfaction

The proximate effect of redemption and payment of ransom is setting the captives free, and not a bare possibility of liberty (235).

Chapter 9: Of the Persons for whom Christ engaged and satisfied

Key point: those “all for whom” (2 Cor. 5.15) Christ died are those who are also dead to the old man (257).

Chapter 10: After What manner Christ used the sacraments

Key point: Christ used the sacraments of the old covenant to show them as signs and seals of the covenant, whereby mutual contracting parties are sealed (273). The promsies made to Christ as mediator were principally sealed to him by the sacraments.


Chapter 1: Of the Covenant of God with the Elect

The contracting parties are God and the elect (281). The son is not only mediator but testator, who ratified the covenant with his death. Are there conditions in the covenant of Grace?  Earlier divines like Rutherford spoke a qualified “yes,” though Witsius removes himself from that language. Condition: that action which gives a man a right to the reward (284).

Chapter 12: Sanctification

Witsius gives a warm and pastoral chapter on mortifying the flesh.

Concerning body, soul, spirit:

  1. Spirit is the mind, or the leading faculty of man (II.17).
  2. Soul denotes the inferior faculties.
  3. Yet spirit and soul aren’t two different substances.

God is the author and the efficient cause of sanctification (18).

Chapter 13: Of Conservation, or the manner by which God preserves us

God conserves us internally by the Spirit and externally by the means he hath appointed (55).  This is otherwise known as “P” in the unfortunately-named “TULIP.” Our security is guaranteed because of God’s covenant, not only with us, but between the members of the Trinity (62ff).

Chapter 14: Of Glorification

Df. = that act of God whereby he translates his chosen and redeemed people to the next life.

Nature of the Soul

The soul must continue after death because the righteous who die in the Lord are considered “blessed,” yet how can someone be blessed without knowledge or feeling?

Paradise and the thief on the cross:

It makes no sense to say that the “today, I say to you” refers to when Christ spoke.  The thief already knows that Christ is speaking on that day (p. 95). The thief was asking a “when” question, and Christ gives him a “when” answer.


Bringing the nous into the heart

This is from John Mcguckin’s The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years, pp. 862-869.  It is very difficult for many people to approach the ancient fathers on prayer.  For some, it looks too much like Buddhism.  And for many activists theologians, it doesn’t make sense to do hesychasm when you can be lobbying on Capitol Hill.  Nevertheless, the “stillness” model rests upon a particularly sophisticated anthropology, one that can help us in our technological age.  Indeed, one that can counter (with God’s help) deep state monarch programming.all flame

Have you ever prayed and felt dead?  Like the prayer wasn’t real?  Maybe it’s because you carried into prayer the mindset you had when you were watching the Kardashians ten minutes ago.  The Fathers teach us how to develop a mindset for prayer.  This mindset is important because it prevents us from having a “fractured psyche.”

St Gregory of Sinai clearly states that forgetfulness of God is a disease of the soul and of the faculty of reason. It has a direct impact on human memory, which ends up divided, diffused and fragmented, a prey to tempting thoughts. If I forget God, my memory will crumble into pieces, resulting in scattered, wayward thinking: “Dia-logismos”.

Now, on to McGuckin: “The heart is the inner place where the creature stood before God” (Path 865).  Heart isn’t quite the same thing as nous.

  • It is a biblical cipher for the whole spiritual personality.
  • It is sometimes expressed by the word wisdom (Prov. 19.8).
  • It is a synonym for the innermost self (Rom. 7.22).

So how does this apply to prayer?  Where does the doctrine cash out?  The fathers practiced the monologistos prayer.  It was a short phrase from Scripture that was repeated over and over until it soaked the consciousness (870).  That sounds like it violates Jesus’s command not to pray over and over like the heathen, but several things need to be noted:

  • He probably meant pagan incantations.
  • You are going to have something soaking your mind anyway.  Your mind is never neutral.  You will either soak it with God or with Katy Perry songs.  Take your pic.  Would you rather wake up in the middle of the night singing, “Romeo save me/I can’t ever be alone” or with

McGuckin notes the effect of this practice, “Charging and reorienting the human  consciousness, focusing it, as it were, like a lens on the singleness of the idea of the presence of God” (871).  The ancients knew that our minds wonder during prayer.  This trained us to begin the struggle of prayer.

The Anthropology of Prayer

We have a body (physical impulses), soul (feelings and desires), and nous (spiritual intellect). If the body was agitated, the other two “ranges” of consciousness would be pulled down as well (871).  Therefore, the monks knew that bodily needs are controlled by redirection.

That takes care of the body.  What about the soul?  Our prayer lives are usually by default rooted in our soul (consciousness).  This is where we live habitually. The monologistos prayer quiets down our soul. McGuckin succinctly points out, “Thoughts generate thoughts.  Words make words.  Monologistos prayer kills those unnecessary words” (872).

When the soul is finally quieted, the nous descends to the heart and one reaches stillness. This is what the hesychasts knew.  You aren’t just doing funny breathing.  At this point when you slow down the breathing, your body calms even more.

Everyone wants to claim that the human person is a body-soul unity, or some kind of unity.  I think it is the genius of Palamas to see how the person is a unity.  There is a dynamic interplay between body, soul, and nous.

Person =/= Soul

Key to the definition of person is that it can’t be defined in terms of any of the soul’s or nature’s functions.  As part of what it means to be human is to have a soul (however you want to gloss that), this means that person can’t be defined as the sum total of will, memory (Augustine), consciousness, etc.