Monday, March 14, 2005

Room for agreement

Based on his last response, I'd say that there are more things on which Dr. Svendsen and I agree than I previously thought. He opines as follows:

In [the blog entry on Theodoret of Cyrus] he mentions me in an incidental way toward the end of the article, and then proceeds to offer rather snide, but otherwise tenuous comments on selected quotations from an article I wrote about modern Roman Catholic epologists (of which he is one).

Considering that the entire entry was posted in response to the "snide" suggestion by someone on your board that Catholics were condemning their own writers as Nestorian, perhaps it will be understandable that I undertook to expose the position for being exactly as ridiculous as it is. As far as being an epologist, I pretty much restrict myself to being an epologist for historical fact, not Catholicism in particular.

In those selected quotes, I cite Augustine's view of Jesus' relationship with his mother--which, by the way, is opposed to modern RC musings about it. In his snide comments, Prejean presumes to accuse me of not knowing the difference between person and nature, although his emotion-laden ramblings do not make it clear just why he thinks this. The quotes he cites from my article certainly do not lend credence to his false accusation (again, for the sake of justice, I do hope he's a better analyst of things legal than he is of things theological).

Let's look at the record. The quote from Augustine was as follows:

Since, then, Christ is God and man . . . we must take account of both these natures in Him when He speaks or when Scripture speaks of Him, and we must mark in what sense anything is said. When we say that Christ is the Son of God we do not separate His humanity from Him, nor when we say that the same Christ is the Son of man do we lose sight of His divinity. For, as man He was on earth, not in heaven where He now is . . . although in His nature as Son of God He was in heaven, but as Son of man He was still on earth and had not yet ascended into heaven. . . . and He will so come, on the testimony of the angel's voice, as He was seen going into heaven, that is, in the same form and substance of flesh to which, it is true, He gave immortality, but He did not take away its nature. According to this form, we are not to think that He is everywhere present. We must beware of so building up the divinity of the man that we destroy the reality of His body. It does not follow that what is in God is in Him so as to be everywhere as God is. . . . God and man in Him are one Person, and both are the one Jesus Christ who is everywhere as God, but in heaven as man" (Augustine, Letter 118.8-10).

Svendsen drew the following conclusion:

According to Augustine, Mary could not have been the "Mother of God," since Jesus in His divinity had no mother. He insists over and over again in this passage that Mary was the mother of Jesus humanity only.

So I argued that Svendsen can't distinguish between person and nature, which I thought was obvious based on the conclusion he drew. However, to spell it out clearly and obviously, Jesus is no person other than the Word of God. Therefore, it is plain theological error to say that what happens to the person does not happen to God. Obviously, God in that context doesn't mean the divine nature, because God's divine nature is impassible and eternal. But it does mean that Jesus is truly the Second Person of the Trinity. If you deny that Mary is the Mother of God, then you are denying that Christ the person is the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. Svendsen asked previously, "Where in the world have I denied the full humanity and divinity of Christ--especially since I am a staunch defender of these things?" Far from that being the case, Svendsen has explicitly denied that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity. I'd call that a pretty significant error for a "staunch defender." And I imagine that I am far better acquainted with law than I am with theology, but to be honest, spotting this one is a lay-up for anyone who's even decently well read in patristic theology. That's why Svendsen's position is so inexplicable.

Incidentally, Svendsen failed to mention another error that he made in the same article, when he said "In short, Apollinaris' view was that Christ was a body of flesh formed and animated by a nous (spirit and intellect), but that the nous was not human, but rather divine. What Apollinaris means by nous is 'person'." The Apollinarian belief was actually that Christ did not have a human rational soul, but was instead "possessed" by the divine nous. Nous doesn't mean person; it means something akin to the divine "soul." The Apollinarian error was in not realizing that spirit and intellect went with nature rather than person, so that a human being without a rational soul did not have human nature at all. Hence, the Apollinarian heresy maintained that Christ was not fully human. Again, this is evidently sheer ignorance on Svendsen's part, as the issue was nature rather than person.

He then presumes to think I might care whether I fall under the condemnation of the fifth ecumenical council. The magnitude of such a charge is tantamount to the reverse charge that Prejean falls under the condemnation of the Westminster Confession! Just in case that analogy is lost on Mr. Prejean, let me make it clear to him in no uncertain terms. This may come as a shock to him, but the fifth ecumenical council is not authoritative for me! Does it condemn me? Who cares? The ecumenical councils--all of them--were wrong in many, many things.

Two points. First, I was and will continue to be the first to applaud your willingness to own up to your Nestorian error. Heck, I think you ought to rename your entire ministry "NTR Nestorian Ministries" so that people will know exactly what they are getting. Please, by all means, publish your rejection of the ecumenical councils, put a notice on your discussion board, and shout it from the highest rooftop. Just please restrict your claims of historical support for your position accordingly, such as removing the spurious claims from your website that the church fathers were closer to modern-day evangelicalism than Catholicism.

Second, the particular condemnations are Christological, and they relate particularly to the denial that Christ is fully God and fully man. By your own reasoning, that would jeopardize the basis of our salvation. So while you may be indifferent to your condemnation by an ecumenical council, the more serious problem is that you have condemned yourself by your own standards.

News flash to Mr. Prejean: I cite councils and church writers as hostile witnesses against the Romanists who do hold these gatherings as authoritative. But you can't cite them against an Evangelical who does not hold to some inate authority of catholic church councils. They don't speak on my behalf. But you hold they do speak on your behalf. Hence, I can use them against you but you can't validly use them against me. Didn't you learn anything about the valid use of hostile witnesses in law school Mr. Prejean?

My point was exactly to defend against your erroneous charge against Catholicism based on incorrect citations of councils and church writers. That's my entire point; you are speaking in an area in which you have no competence, and you are making elementary errors in doing so. And incidentally, it is only your interpretation of councils that makes them hostile; I feel perfectly comfortable dealing with them.

As far as being able to cite councils against you, you've already conceded the premise that Christ must be fully God and fully man to save us. In that respect, it doesn't matter than the councils are authoritative. They just happen to be right. You are essentially accusing the council of being wrong in saying that Christ was fully God and fully man, so the fact that they aren't authoritative doesn't really help your case much.

[Re: my acceptance of the Letter to Hebrews] Including the one that says he is without [human] father or mother?

Of course. The fact that you're equivocating between the sense in which "without father or mother" is true and the sense in which "Mother of God" is true doesn't really amount to an argument.

In all of this, not once does Prejean demonstrate what he has been blustering about for the past few days: namely, that my view contradicts the views of patristic scholars. Prejean doesn't cite even one patristic scholar in the article, let alone one who provides an assessement of the views of RC epologists.

Perhaps Dr. Svendsen would care to explain why he ventured to write an article accusing Catholics of a heresy without substantiation. How many patristic scholars agree with your explanation of "Apollinarimonophysitism?" If I am so wrong on this subject, it should be trivial to produce some kind of evidence on this point. I, for one, am not going to waste my time producing quotes from Meyendorff and Pelikan (although I could do so rather trivially, as anyone who actually reads those books would realize) when (1) you have produced exactly zero patristic scholars to substantiate your charge against Catholicism and (2) you have admitted exactly what I argued, which is that you deny the full humanity and divinity of Christ by your Nestorianism. Trust me, if you're going to use as your sole defense that I don't have support for what I'm saying, I am all too happy to let people consult the sources. Meyendorff's Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (not to mention Byzantine Theology) and Sherrard's The Greek East and the Latin West are excellent (and short) introductions to the subject by actual scholars that will quickly expose the absurdity of your position. So by all means, if you want to call it quits here as having offered the best defense of your position that you can, please do so.

And not once does he interact meaningfully with my articles. It is exceedingly difficult for me to believe that these are the "objections" that Prejean thinks were instrumental in my being "plainly corrected beyond doubt." I'll give him one more chance: But if Prejean doesn't produce something of substance in his next reply, I'll be turning my attention to more productive things.

Again, what incentive do I have to waste time when you have put yourself in such an indefensible position already? I can just link this dialogue in response to your works being cited anywhere, and anyone who isn't convinced by that is probably beyond convincing anyway.

By the way, Mr. Prejean might want to begin reading historical works that lean less toward the RC view of these issues (Jurgens, Newman, etc.) and more toward the Reformed view. It is beyond obvious that Prejean's exposure to historical analysis is limited to a select few "quote books" that are commonly cited (although erroneously) by the Catholic Answers crowd, and that he has no idea what the "overwhelming majority" of patristic scholars even looks like.

Most of my patristics reading has been outside of the Catholic camp. I just mentioned Jurgens and Newman for the sake of completeness, but you'll notice that my list included three from the Orthodox camp, two Anglicans, and a Lutheran, leaving out several that I didn't mention.

One such work I might recommend to him (to get him started) is Harold O. J. Brown's Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984). Brown received his Ph.D in Historical Theology at Harvard. The foreword was written by George Williams, Hollis Professor of Divinity Emeritus, at Harvard. If I'm not mistaken, that's Prejean's alma mater, so I assume he would regard this work as "authoritative" enough. Time will tell.

I certainly will take a look at that work. I've put it on my Amazon list, and I'm looking forward to getting it as soon as I can. But I'm not sure how it bears on the present controversy. Was Dr. Brown arguing that Nestorianism was something other than a denial of the full divinity and humanity of Christ?

UPDATE -- Pursuant to Dr. Svendsen's request, I will refrain from replying to his arguments until he is finished making his argument.


Perry Robinson said...

What Svendsen doesn't seem to get with respect to 2nd Constantinople is that he doesn't have to subscribe to a Catholic view of the Councils since the Reformed tradition subscribes to their doctrinal definitions and decrees with respect to Christology. Charles Hodge for example in his Systematic theology Vol 2, p 391 makes it pretty clear that Christ is a divine person before, during and after the incarnation.

Likewise John Gill makes it clear that

"Now the Logos, the Word and Son of God, who is made flesh or become incarnate, is not to be understood of the human soul of Christ; for this Word was "in the beginning with God;" that is, was with him from all eternity; (see Prov. 8:22-30), whereas the human soul of Christ is one of the souls that God has made; a creature, a creature of time, as all creatures are; time is an inseparable adjunct and concomitant of a creature; a creature before time, is a contradiction: besides, this Word "was" God, a divine Person, distinct from the Father, though with him, the one God; which cannot be said of the human soul."

And again,

By the incarnation nothing is added to, nor altered in the divine nature and personality of Christ. The human nature adds nothing to either of them; they remain the same they ever were; Christ was as much a divine Person before his incarnation as he is since; the union of the human nature to the divine nature, is to it as subsisting in the Person of the Son of God; so it is always to be understood, whenever we speak of the union of the human nature to the divine nature; for it is not united to the divine nature, simply considered; or as that is common to the three Persons; for then each would be incarnate; but as it has a peculiar subsistence in the Person of the Son of God: and so the human nature has its subsistence in his Person, and has a glory and excellency given it; but that gives nothing at all to the nature and person of the divine Word and Son of God.

And again Gill says

And the incarnation of the Word or Son of God, is expressed and explained by his partaking of flesh and blood; and by a taking on him the nature of man; or by an assumption of the human nature into union with his divine Person; so that both natures, divine and human, are united in one Person; and there is but one Lord, and one Mediator between God and man."

2nd Constantinople is significant because the Reformed tradition that Svendsen claims to belong to endorses its Christological decisions. To that extent Svendsen has placed himself outside the Reformed tradition and Christianity more generally.

Svendsen's general problem is that he is taking a modern conception of personhood as intellect or consciousness and trying to make sense of Chalcedon by it and it won't work and here is why. In Chalcedonian Christology intellect is a faculty of a nature that is employed by a person so that an intellect can't consititute a person. This is why Christ has two intellects and two wills but is only one divine person. This point is agreed on by Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans and Reformed. It has never been a point of contention between those bodies.

Tim Enloe said...

Hey Perry, hate to use Jonathan's blog for this; I'll erase it after you see it. Tried to e mail you last week but it bounced back. Drop me a line when you get a chance. Thanks!

CrimsonCatholic said...

You're always welcome to use the blog as a message board, Tim! Anything to encourage reasonable discussion among Christian problem-solvers is good in my book. Also, I wanted to compliment you on your recent pieces on various worldviews. There's a fine line between surveying complex issues and oversimplifying, and I think you walked that line admirably.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jonathan! I assume you meant the four posts on "postmodernism" stuff? Yes, truly difficult issues. Far more difficult than many folks on this Internet seem to think. It's ironic that I can write four huge posts based on a pop-Evangelical book, and yet most of the pop-Evangelicals have NOTHING to say about any of it. They either remain silent to my face (while talking darkly about me behind my back) or else just repeat their original charge without offering any kind of interaction with the counterarguments. You find an exception here and there, of course, but interestingly it seems to be the most obnoxious ones who take the least responsibility for what they say. It's really surreal sometimes.

CrimsonCatholic said...

Yes, those, and the foundationalism post as well. Keep in mind that you're dealing with people who are still conditioning truth on fallible human reason. In their minds, any attack on the limitations of human reason is an attack on truth itself. In a very real sense, you are seen as denying absolute truth in a way analogous to the atheist's denial that God's absolute truth exists. Absent a charitable and sincere effort to understand you, you're not going to make any progress, and even then, it will probably be slow going. When dealing with concepts around which people organize their lives, there is understandably some hesistation to upset that foundation.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that I'm dealing with people who have an excessive confidence in fallible human reason (which they very often confuse with the infallible purported "plain meaning of Scripture") is becoming clearer to me all the time as I deal with these "Evangelical" types. It's been about 10 years since Reformed theologian Michael Horton taught me that Evangelicalism is at its root a thinly-veiled Christian compromise with Secular Humanism, but this fact has become increasingly clear in practical terms to me over the last year or two especially.

As the arguments against their views continue to pile up and continue to be simply summarily dismissed by the increasingly radical leadership as the mere irrational ravings of "heretics", "unregenerate fake Christians", "postmodernists", and "rC compromisers", it also is becoming clear to me that you are right: prayer is what is needed. Bless those that curse you, and pray for those that despitefully use you.

CrimsonCatholic said...

Just in case Dr. Svendsen is reading the thread and not the entire blog, this is the note I just submitted:

"After having read Dr. Svendsen's first couple of forays into this area, I'm going to say a couple of things strictly in the interest of saving both his time and mine. Everybody with any familiarity in the relevant history knows that it is somewhat doubtful that Nestorius was Nestorian and that some scholars have made the argument (albeit pretty convincingly discredited by recent scholarship) that St. Cyril was a monophysite. While interesting as a historical matter, it has absolutely nothing to do with the heresy of Nestorianism (aka, the error attributed to Nestorius), which is the substance of my charge against Dr. Svendsen. Rather than wasting time discussing historical matters on which we completely agree (or matters entirely irrelevant to the Christological discussion, such as Catholic Mariology), it would probably be more expedient to address the actual disagreement."