Monday, October 31, 2005

Fo', fo', fo'

That Moses Malone line was the one running through my head today when I heard the President's speech nominating "Scalito" for O'Connor's Supreme Court spot. Four conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court, including the Chief? This is exactly why I voted for Bush; where some Evangelicals would have been anti-Catholic, he goes for the best guy rather than imposing any litmus test. Granted, there was that whole Miers thing, but that was almost certainly cronyism and the spoils system rearing its head rather than any vacillation toward neocon nuttiness. The most frightening prospect in the world would be if I actually thought that the Evangelical/neocon thinktanks actually were influencing Bush's policy (as opposed to the conspiracy theories of many Democrats, who falsely assert it). But I count this as a confirmation of Bush's character and judgment, a sign that he has faith in the innate human capacity for virtue and that he is concerned with allowing people to exercise that capacity rather than fruit-loop theonomy or social engineering. He and his advisors seem to have appreciated Leo Strauss's respect for classical concepts of virtue without falling into Machiavellian cynicism or the equally frightening Rushdoonyite Christian empiricism.

As a Catholic, I also think that the positioning of Catholic jurisprudes in this country has been helpful for the Church. Justice Scalia's willingness to talk back to the Magisterium on the death penalty is an example of precisely the kind of dialogue that defines the Catholic theological method, rather than simply being a case of "The Magisterium said it, so it's settled." Perhaps no figure in all of history crystallizes this idea of respecting authority enough to question it as St. Sir Thomas More, the Catholic patron of lawyers and politicians, who faced his own beheading with the immortal phrase "the King's good servant, but God's first." St. Thomas, as a Christian humanist in the finest sense of the word, who firmly opposed corruption within the Church, but at the same time, like his countryman St. Thomas a Becket, adamantly resisted those who would deny the authority on which it was founded. Because of their acute perception of the need to root politics in the dignity of the human person in the image of God, they were able to act as the "social conscience of the Church" with respect to the rightness of the Church's political actions, a role that is also played by Justices Scalia and Thomas, as well as the so-called Catholic Whigs. That tradition of reasoned defenses of liberty, in strong contrast with either the mere voluntarist assertion of liberty by default or the rationalist accounts of liberty (a la Locke, Reid, Hobbes, Rousseau, et al.), is a valuable gem of Christian Tradition of all sorts.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Example of Intellectual Laziness: Paul Helm

Steve Hays recently reminded me of an example of exactly the sort of intellectual myopia that I mentioned in my last post: Paul Helm. Now, I happen to think that Helm is a smart guy, and when he's interacting with non-Christians, his arguments are often pretty solid. The problem is that this intellectual stricture he places on himself with regard to Scripture renders him utterly ineffective at defending his position against other Christians, because he can't answer serious intellectual objections. Every time he interacts with someone from a more versatile intellectual tradition, be it William Lane Craig's Wesleyan Quadrilateral or Eleonore Stump's scholastic Catholicism, his defense only amounts to preaching to the choir, never once understaking to actually answer the critiques. I mentioned the example some time ago of Craig's objections in Divine Foreknowledge (and specifically, that Helm's view, when it substitutes "Scripture" for argument, fails to answer even the objections that Helm imposes on others). He refuses to justify his idiosyncratic concept of authority, which basically limits his persuasive power to those who accept this concept of authority uncritically anyway, making outsiders of his tradition (like myself) wonder exactly what Helm's point is. He argues that he is merely making his position "defensible," which is something like refusing to carrying one's positive burdens to give a reason to believe one's position. I don't think that everyone has an option to detail reasons for their positions by and large, but in the case where one does undertake an argument, one must do a good deal more than simply demonstrate that the position is logically possible.

The particular weakness that I've seen among all of these guys (Warfield, Hodge, Helm, Frame, Poythress, Vanhoozer, et al.) is that their explanations are almost never sufficiently robust to answer the objections that led to the doctrine in the first place. This is particularly acute when they make the pretense of adopting some historical doctrine (e.g., the Trinity, attributes of God, etc.) when their manner of adoptions effectively eviscerates the historical workability of the doctrine. Helm gives a good example in his analysis of impassibility.

Helm begins:

The doctrine of God's impassibility has fallen on hard times. In the era of the Suffering God and of “Holocaust theology” scarcely anyone has a good word to say for it.[1] This in itself is a striking fact, given the Christian church's eras-long commitment to the doctrine. These days nearly everyone sees the eclipse of divine impassibility as an unqualified blessing. For them the idea is totally unscriptural, a case of “baptised paganism,” an object lesson in what happens when theology takes its lead not from divine revelation but from Neo-Platonism.

The modest aim here is to say a word or two in favour of the doctrine before it finally slips from the Christian consciousness. The words may even help, in some small way, to arrest its eclipse. I hope so. I shall try to show why impassibility is suffering, then to try to show a little of what impassibility, properly understood, means, to offer some scriptural support for it and finally to reflect a little on what divine impassibility commits us to.

All in all, this would present relatively little difficulty. The problem is that it completely bypasses why the theology on this point took the lead from Neo-Platonism in the first place, which was that Neo-Platonism raises valid objections. In effect, Helm here is conceding the validity of the objection that theology should take its lead from divine revelation and NOT from Neo-Platonism. But if that were, in fact, true, then the objection against divine impassibility would be valid, because the question it answers is most fundamentally a Neo-Platonic (and before that, Platonic, and before even that, Parmidean) question: how does one account for divine creation? So Helm has already started off wrong by attempting to convince people on a basis that demotivates the problem in the first place, which is exactly the kind of "preaching to the choir" that doesn't convincingly rebut objectors to his position.

There is, I believe, at least for Anglophones, often a basic confusion between three English words: impassivity,(the English form of impassitas), impassability, and impassibility. The Oxford Shorter Dictionary defines “impassive” as “deficient or void of mental feeling or emotion; unimpressionable, apathetic.” (And it also notes a “good sense,” “imperturbable.”) It goes without saying that Christians do not wish to worship and serve an apathetic God; a God who, like a human psychotic, is unconcerned by the needs of human beings. Nor even a God who, like a Stoic philosopher, is imperturbable no matter what happens. But then to suppose that the doctrine of divine impassibility commits one to such a view is based upon simple linguistic confusion, between impassivity and impassibility—of which more in a moment. But first, what about impassability? If the road is blocked by ice or mud then it is impassable. There is no way through. Such an idea, applied to God, makes matters worse. For if God is not only apathetic, if he is also impassable, then there is no way open to get through to him. He must forever remain in a state of apathy; perhaps, to make matters even worse, of blissful apathy.

The problem is that Helm is exactly wrong on this point. Divine impassibility (apatheia) in fact does commit one to exactly such a view; his last statement about the impassability of God ("there is no way open to get through to him... He must forever remain in a state of apathy; perhaps, to make matters even worse, of blissful apathy") could almost be a definition of divine transcendence. Where the Fathers would have found the error is in exactly the use of analogical predication to describe God, so as to say that he is "like a human psychotic" or "like a Stoic philosopher." It is that attempt at analogy to the unknowable that is the error of the objectors here. But because Helm has disconnected the doctrine from its purpose, he doesn't realize that, far from making matters worse, the apatheia of God actually guards divine transcendence. Helm effectively destroys the doctrine he is supposedly trying to protect, because he doesn't acknowledge divine unknowability hand in hand with divine impassibility.

Helm's goof on this point only becomes more explicit here:
Let's turn finally to impassibility. Unfortunately, among the senses the Oxford Dictionary gives of “impassible” is this: incapable of feeling or emotion; impassive. However the main sense is “incapable of suffering injury or detriment” along with “incapable of suffering; not subject to pain.” I believe it is possible to provide an understanding of “impassible” which does justice to Scripture and church teaching, but it is clear from this glance at the dictionary that it is an uphill struggle. A word, such as “impassible,” that continually needs guarding against confusion and misunderstanding is not a good tool for theological discourse.

There is a second reason having to do with language why impassibility is suffering an eclipse. “Impassibility” is a negative term. Even when properly understood, and then applied to God, it tells us what God is not, or what God cannot do, rather that what he is like and can do. Such a negative approach to thinking about God is nowadays regarded as being too vague and insubstantial for the modern Christian church. For the modern church is impatient with learning what God is not like, she wants to know what God is like, and in particular she desperately seeks reassurance that God is like us—that he is accessible to our imagination, and especially in need of reassurance that he is our emotional peer. This is one reason for the current stress on biblical narrative, on the anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language of Scripture, and on Christology “from below,” as is evidenced (in different ways) by the prevalent social trinitarianism, and by the appeal of “open theism.” Put in conventional theological terms, in the modern Christian mind the language of divine immanence swamps the language of divine transcendence. And impassibility is part of the language—part of the “grammar”—of divine transcendence. I shall return to this point shortly and develop it.

Note the cluelessness here. Helm erroneously asserts that the language of divine transcendence is simply the via negativa, knowing what God is NOT. Of course, a correct apophatic understanding of God, one that preserves the divine unknowability, means that one knows NOTHING about God in Himself, whether the statement is positive or negative. The so-called "alpha privatives" of patristic thought emphasize this lack of knowledge, but if they were taken to be definitive statements that convey knowledge, rather than lack of knowledge, about God, then they would be just as erroneous as any positive belief. Helm continues to violate divine transcendence left and right in his account of impassibility, which as noted before, simply destroys the historical basis for the doctrine.

This contemporary craving for a human-like God is heightened by modern approaches to suffering and evil. Bonhoeffer's phrase, “Only a suffering God can help,” is repeated like a mantra. There is of course a perfectly good sense to these words. God in Christ suffers in taking our sin, and so helping us in a way that nothing else can. But a suffering God who endures suffering in the same way that we suffer may help by comforting us, but he is helpless to deliver us from evil.

This is probably the closest Helm gets to the point, rooting the question in the hypostatic union, as he does again later. But he doesn't understand here that his violation of the unknowability of God is every bit as much of an affront to the divine transcendence as it is to suggest that He must suffer in His divinity. In other words, while touting the divine power to save from evil, Helm implicity denies it by imputing knowability to God.

The grammar of God

The key idea for any appreciation of the idea of divine impassibility, and of its reappropriation and defense, must be the Creator-creature distinction, and the biblical idea of divine fullness. In the case of emotions, we must focus on the idea of a divine life of unimaginable richness and constancy, not of fitfulness and spasm. In this connection it is unfair as well as unbalanced to separate the divine impassibility from all other divine characteristics and to single it out for special treatment. Divine impassibility is part of a web of ideas which constitute a “grammar,” a canonical way of talking about God, a way of articulating the reality of the divine fullness. In this respect, impassibility is an aspect of divine immutability (God cannot change or be changed), of divine simplicity (the sovereign God does not depend for this existence on 'parts' which are more fundamental than he is) of divine necessity (God exists non-dependently), and of divine eternity (God is not bound by time, with part of his life in the past, as all his creatures are). God’s immutability covers his will, his decrees, his promises and counsel, and of course, his emotional life. Its biblical basis is found in such passages as Jas. 1.17, Ps. 102.29, Is. 14.24, Rom. 11,.29, Heb. 6. 17: 13. 8, Is 46. 10, 2 Cor. 1 18-20.

This is Helm at his most perverse. He affirms the Creature-Creator distinction, and then proceeds to violate it completely by conceiving of the divine life as simply some sort of superbeing of "unimaginable richness and constancy," the "divine fullness." He just can't get around this idea of God has having analogically predicated attributes, which causes him to flail about in the issue of divine simplicity, impassibility, necessity, and eternity. Helm is completely off the beam in terms of the patristic understanding of divine simplicity and its relationship to unknowability, and his careless blundering over that line destroys any coherence his account might have.

But none of this means that God is devoid of (what we call) feelings. He loves his creation, he cares for his people, he hates unrighteousness, and so on—he is pure goodness. The trouble is that we are in something of a bind when we attempt to articulate this further. When we think of constancy, steadiness, and dependability at the human level we think of people possessing dispositions that are virtuous. So a person who dashes into the icy water to save the child expresses courage, a courageous disposition. He may never have to act in this way again. But in God these dispositions are never latent, for there is no “slack” in God, but he is utterly engaged. So what are we to make of the expressions of divine anger, or of compassion, in Scripture? We are to understand them in terms of the “big picture” or (in more academic language) a “pattern of judgment'”[2] about God, and thus to see them as expressions of the divine fullness accommodated to the real-time situations of his people, their characters and needs, and of God's purposes for them. For instance, to draw out their faith, (as with Hezekiah) or their obedience, (as with Moses) or their patience (as with Job).

So divine immutability does not signal total inaction or immobility, like the face of the Moon, a state incapable of personal relationship. Rather, it speaks of firmness, faithfulness, covenantal constancy, grounded in who God essentially is. Likewise divine impassibility is not impassivity, but constant goodness, variously expressed (according to God's will and to the specifics of human history) as (for example) love, or wrath, or mercy. Such expressions are rooted in the immutability of the divine nature, the fact that God is unchangeable in goodness and perfection, and cannot be deterred or deflected by outside forces. Of course God’s immutable relation to his creation is not perceived as such by it, but what is perceived is a function of the situation or condition of the creaturely recipient. Just as (we say) the Sun is now setting, now rising, so God is now wise, now just, now loving etc. depending on the human circumstances in which he is “encountered” and on God's purposes in these circumstances.

The philosophical stumbling continues. Had Helm actually rooted his concepts of goodness and love in the ontological categories that preserve divine transcendence, he might have gotten somewhere here. But his apparent ignorance of the problem prevents him from seeing that his entire account here is exactly describing God as a "Really Big Human." This hardly preserves the divine transcendence; in fact, it clearly negates it. Once again, Helm claims to affirm impassibility while denying it.

By contrast human emotion is affected by ignorance and moral weakness, by surprise, fear, partiality and physical distance. (This reminds us that a range of emotions is necessarily connected with human physical embodiment.) For instance, while all of us know that at this very moment there are hundreds of children dying in Darfur this fact fails to move us, whereas if children were dying in a similar fashion on our doorstep we would be moved to grief and compassion and action. These outbreaks of emotion would not be unrelated to our own self-interests, of course, and to what follows from the fact of our physical embodiment.

So emotion in humans is not an unmixed good. Emotion is better than no emotion, but its expression is often the result of selfishness and ignorance. With God it is otherwise. He has an emotional life— he cares and loves and judges and has compassion on his sinful world. But his life—unlike our own emotional lives—is not spasmodic and moody. God does not have a temper. He cannot be cowardly or vain. Rather his “emotional life” is an expression of his perfect goodness and knowledge. The life of God is not first passive and then reactive, as ours is, but it is wholly active.

Again, there are correct ways to cover these problems, but Helm doesn't do them. He's still convinced that he can preserve impassibility and transcendence, this time by appealing to the "disanalogy" between God and man (God's emotion is like us in this respect, but not like us in this other respect). The very assertion of analogical knowledge about God is why Helm can't coherently explain impassibility, because it opens up the very channel by which God is said to be, e.g., "like a Stoic philosopher." Only a view that affirms that God is utterly unlike us can defend God's transcendence. The concept of God's eternal activity here is a good one, one that was used to great effect in Christian history (see Michel Rene Barnes, The Power of God: Dunamis in Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Theology; David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom), but one that Helm can't elucidate effectively because he fails to ground it in God's ontological transcendence.

Is divine impassibility Scriptural?

This, for Christians, is of course the chief question, and we have already begun to offer an answer to it. But it is currently taken for granted by many Christians that the question is easily answered. Many are quick to say that divine impassibility is not and could not be Scriptural. For does not Scripture assert that God suffers, that he is angry, that he expresses surprise, that he fears, and laughs, and repents? Did not Christ, the Son of God, suffer? How could such a God be impassible? Then quickly—all too quickly—it is concluded that the idea of divine impassibility is the result of imposition of Scripture rather than exposition of it, of eisegesis rather than exegesis. It's part of an attempted theological takeover by Greek ideas. But now, it is proudly claimed, we have learned to “take the Bible seriously!”

There are a number of reasons why we should be cautious about this all too common reaction. One is historical. The anthropopathisms of the Bible are not new, nor newly discovered, any more than its anthropomorphisms are. They loom large. Those who affirmed divine impassibility—the theological mainstream from (say) Augustine to Jonathan Edwards—were aware of them. Yet the presence of these data in Scripture was not a sufficient reason for them to deny impassibility. Did they not take the Bible seriously? Why then did they come to the view that God is impassible?

Helm asks the question, but at least with respect to St. Augustine, he can't answer it. Augustine's On Christian Doctrine preserves the role of transcendence in rejecting literal interpretations that would violate it. Helm's idea of "Scripturality" here violates the basis by which one rejects interpretations of Scripture based on outside criteria (including the ontological demand of God's transcendence). Readers will recall that I pointed this out with respect to Nicholas Wolterstorff's Divine Discourse, in that he conceded the necessity of external criteria for interpreting Scripture, but failed to arrive at reasons for those criteria, by contrast with Sts. Athanasius, Augustine, Cyril, et al. Helm doesn't realize that if you blow it on God's ontological transcendence (as Helm does), then you won't be able to apply criteria like St. Augustine's for distinguishing between permissible and impermissible interpretations properly.

Secondly, this approach to Scripture, if carried out consistently, has rather embarrassing consequences. For Scripture also says that God has eyes, ears, a backside—anthropomorphic language, as we quickly say. And we say that God uses such language in Scripture not because he in fact has eyes, ears and a backside but because by the use of such terms he adapts himself vividly to our way of thinking. There is something in God that corresponds to this language, which it draws attention to, even though it is not literally descriptive of God. God sees—what does this mean? That he has eyes? And if he eyes, does he have eyelashes and eyebrows? How many eyes does he have? Does he have 20/20 vision? None of this is appropriate. Talking in this way about God would be absurd. In saying that God sees, Scripture means (something like) God has immediate, unimpaired knowledge of what he allegedly sees. A child will readily understand this.

Why not something similar with the language about God's emotions? Are we really to believe that God gets angry, that he is overcome with anger? That he is incapacitated by suffering? That he is paralysed with fear? Can we allow that such expressions of anger or suffering carry the connotations of surprise and ignorance and apprehension and impatience and selfish vengefulness that human emotion typically does?

So once again, Helm resorts to analogy and disanalogy as his criteria, violating the transcendence of God and defeating the ground for which he makes these distinctions. This culminates in the following manifesto, which summarizes Helm's errors more succinctly than I ever could:

What does affirming divine impassibility commit us to?

As already noted, in the thinking of the classical Christian theologians, the Fathers, the medievals, Reformers such as Calvin, the Reformed Scholastics, Jonathan Edwards, impassibility is an aspect or consequence of divine immutability. Immutability is in turn rooted in divine simplicity. But divine simplicity has been frequently misunderstood, or caricatured.
For though God is simple, without parts, without division, there is nevertheless a complexity in the mind of God, but this complexity does not depend on something other than himself. The classical Christian tradition readily recognises this. So—to take one historical example—in discussing the question “Does God know things other than himself?”
[3] Aquinas asserts that God's essence contains the likeness of things other than himself, and since there are many kinds of things other than himself there are presumably many likeness of things contained in the divine essence. However, Aquinas wishes to deny that God knows things other than himself by learning about them, because then the divine intellect would depend on them, and (Aquinas thinks) God's sovereignty or aseity or Creatorhood would be compromised.

So God knows “many things” and we may think of God's “feelings” as simply his attitudes to what he knows. What he knows—the details of everything that comes to pass—is present to the divine mind, even though that mind is itself simple, without parts or divisions, immutable and impassible. What could be more complex than the universe, with its unparalleled variety? God the Father takes pleasure, no doubt in the goodness of the various aspects of the creation, and in the Incarnation, being well pleased with his beloved Son. And we find in Scripture that among the many things that God knows that he has delight in are: a just weight (Prov. 11.1); the upright in their way (Prov. 11.20); those that deal truly (Prov. 12.22); the prayer of the upright (Prov. 15.8) and so on; among those things which he has ordained which he hates are a proud look (Prov. 6.16), Esau (Mal. 1.3), all workers of iniquity (Psalm 5.3) and so on.

How are we to understand these attitudes of God? I suggest that it is improper to strongly model these on human feelings, to think of these as passions. Although undoubtedly as God has accommodated himself to our human condition in this way he represents himself as passionate, God cannot really be passionate because of the suggestion, in the use of the word “passion,” that the one who is passionate is overtaken or derailed or blinded by the passion. The passion is an irrational response. Though even here we must be careful, for a person may speak with full control of himself, yet in an impassioned way. His passion may be a way of speaking of the strength of his commitment. Because of it he may speak and act with greater care than otherwise. This is unlikely with us, but if God is to be said to be passionate then this is how it must be with him. So perhaps we would not be far astray if we thought of God not as 'having passions' but as utterly impassioned in all that he does.

Does God have feelings, then? We may, influenced by our touchy-feely culture, think that the answer is obvious. Of course he has. But here again some caution is called for. For we use the term “feeling” to cover not merely mental states, feelings of sympathy or compassion, or of betrayal or alienation, but also feeling arising from changes in our bodies, or event the fact of being embodied. We feel tired, we have aches and pains, scratches and itches, sexual pleasure, we experience cold and heat. Is this how it is the God? Clearly not. And our mental states, our feelings or emotions, are frequently the result of selfishness and ignorance. If in saying that God feels, or even that God has emotions, we are simply (and carefully) speaking of God's impassioned attitudes of delighting in, and hating, and loving in the manner sketched above, then clearly the answer is yes.

Here, Helm's self-destruction becomes most painfully clear. He appeals to the authority of the Reformers and St. Thomas, but badly misconstrues St. Thomas's analogia entis (in fact, in exactly the way rejected by Fr. Barbour in the article I posted earlier), endorses a nonsensical concept of the divine ideas that has been rejected by every orthodox Christian throughout history, and once again appeals to the bogus analogy/disanalogy dichotomy that makes God into a Really Big Person. If you want an clear example of where lots of Protestants have completely blown it on philosophy, Helm has provided you here with the best argument you could be given. The incoherence of his account of divine simplicity is mind-boggling; one truly wonders how someone as smart as Helm could ever buy into something this nonsensical. But the answer is right here; he has this concept of Scriptural authority that erodes his capacity to be critical about what he accepts as Scriptural, so he is willing to accept the unjustified absurdities of a Jonathan Edwards at face value. The fact that this contributes to his botched Christology becomes evident here:

But what of the Incarnation? For many, anxieties about divine impassibility are at their highest in the case of Jesus. They say: Jesus is God, and Jesus suffered, therefore God suffered. The conclusion seems inescapable. But is it? Is it then equally valid that: Jesus sat on the side of the well, Jesus is God, therefore God sat on the side of the well......Are we not at such points as these faced with the mystery of the incarnation, of the union of the human nature with the person of the Son of God? But must we not say, to avoid absurdity, something like: Jesus Christ, being God incarnate, the Mediator, sat on the side of the well, and suffered for our salvation?

How are we to understand the emotional life of our Lord? Are episodes in the life of our Lord—his reaction to the Temple money-changers, or to the death of Lazarus, for example—cases of God's emotion made flesh? In a way they are, but not in any way which involves the transmutation of the divine emotion into something else. It is God expressing his impassioned love (along with much else he expresses) through the vehicle of assumed human nature. So the emotional life of our Lord is what you get when the second person of the impassible God assumes is embodied in human nature. It is an inevitable expression of the divine character in a way conditioned by the necessities of being united to what is human and so localised in time and space.

When Jesus was angry then - no doubt - this is expressive of God's impassioned anger. But the predicate anger is not univocal in each case. It is rather like the different ways in which a French horn and a cello sound out middle C; their sounds have the same value, but they sound somewhat different. The predicates “Jesus is angry,” “God is angry” express emotion which has moral parity, but its human expression is conditioned in a way in which the unincarnate divine reality is not.

When I read this, I was quite simply stunned. Helm's monotheletism is unapologetic here; he is actually saying that Christ's human will is an expression of God's divine will. And talk about confusion of the natures! Not only has Helm failed to answer the question of whether the Incarnation violates the impassibility of the natures, he has stated the analogical predication in such a way that it actually undermines the very salvific quality that the hypostatic union provides. This notion of likeness between the natures is, if anything, a repudiation of the union of impassible divinity and passible man, which would deny our salvation itself if true. It is the unlikeness of the natures really brought together in the hypostatic union that opens up the possibility of salvation; that could not be more clear in Christian history. This is exactly what I mean in saying that much of Evangelical theology actually negates the basis for salvation, which renders many of their Scriptural interpretations incompetent for the reasons I stated above. By patristic lights, Helm is not even Christian in his thinking.

It reminds me of this Evangelical claim that I encountered recently, regarding my buddy Quint Tertullian:
Now, with regard to this rule of faith - that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend - it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen 'in diverse manners' by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; then having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics." (13)

There's nothing in Tertullian's description that Evangelicals reject.

On the face of what Quint says, the bolded statement is probably true, but when you get into the actual argument and what Quint considers essential for the doxological statements he makes there, this guy couldn't be more wrong. The problem is that they don't value study of the Fathers enough to get to that point, even smart guys like Helm. Because of the Bibliocentric mentality, the absurdly high priority given to Scriptural revelation above other forms, there is progressive atrophy of their ability to critically evaluate Scripture against other forms of inquiry and to fully study whether their beliefs are tenable when compared to patristic sources. Their laziness causes them to take too much for granted, more's the pity for their efforts to actually defend their position.

Anyway, Helm concludes:
Perhaps we need a new word, or a new family of words, to express the constancy and fullness of God's emotional life, his feelings.[4] But perhaps more than this, we need to allow ourselves the time to re-think our way into the older way of thinking about God. Part of this process will involve resisting the pattern of thought which says; either God is simple and impassible, uncaring and unfeeling or he is an all-too-human God who reacts with human-like passion to what he learns about his creation. There is a “third way,” to recall God's settled attitudes to what he has ordained to come to pass, the varied ways in which the fullness and goodness of God is refracted in the varied life of his creation, and to see this fullness and goodness supremely refracted in the Incarnation, under the all too familiar conditions of time and space.

FN 4 I once suggested the term of art 'themotion' ( in 'The Impossibility of Divine Passibility' in The Power and Weakness of God, ed. Nigel B Cameron (Edinburgh, Rutherford House, 1990), but obviously it has not caught on!

The irony here is that there's a perfectly good patristic term for this (apokatastasis, ever-moving rest), and the reason "themotion" hasn't caught on is that it is vastly inferior. Helm's "third way" here is monothelitism, natural enough for a Calvinist but not acceptable for a Christian. The patristic (and correct) solution was to deny the basis of the analogy/disanalogy altogether, rather than trying, as Helm does here, to make a silk purse our of a sow's ear.

But this is a really good example of how Evangelical ignorance about (and discontinuity with) history leads to vastly inadequate theological explanations, at odds with Christian dogma. You'll see similar errors based on false analogy in the description of God's "complex emotional life," in writers such as John Piper and D.A. Carson. If you want a better Protestant take on impassibility, I recommend Gerald Bray's article on the subject. I certainly don't unqualifiedly endorse Bray's positions on patristics (particularly on Nicaea), but this article seems to avoid attempting to rationalize impassibility based on analogical predication. In any event, this little summary should be a tremendous caveat against taking what those in the John Frame "Old Princeton School" without several grains of salt. On the plus side, I have come across some Protestant authors of late who appear to be doing a far better job of honest historical analysis (Donald MacLeod, mentioned recently by Dr. Paul Owen, seems particularly promising), and I hope to be able to provide some better alternative to my Protestant readers in the near future.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Sad State of Evangelical Intellectualism

I'm not even going to comment on these.

See here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

[EDIT -- Deleted reference to another blogger who said that he didn't have me personally in mind.]

Never mind that most of us who read the commentaries (and I do) just aren't much convinced by the philosophical justification for these people's hermeneutics. Never mind that the analysis of patristic exegesis in such commentaries is, by and large, incompetent, giving people the erroneous impression that they "know," e.g., what St. Jerome's opinion was on a particular passage without ever having read extensively in the literature on the exegete in question.

Contrary to the alleged inability to think for ourselves, the fact is that most Catholics are critical of everything, including Scripture, the Fathers, and the Magisterium, because quite honestly, truth ought to hold up. Catholics have to practice making judgments not only about arguments within an area, but also as between different methods of knowledge. We don't get to say "this one wins;" instead, we actually have to undertake the intellectual effort of harmonizing, rather than dismissing. And yes, people come to lots of different answers, and that's a good thing. It is positive intellectual speculation, the right kind of intellectual diversity. This is what thinking people do; they don't take the easy way out by adopting some irrational principle of cognitive submission in which one form of inquiry is "privileged" or "above" others. Consequently, in addition to being relatively well-read in areas of exegesis ourselves, we know a whole truckload more about everything else. The emphasis on Scriptural authority frankly produces intellectual laziness, and it's evident here. [EDIT -- Thanks for this very kind article by a Protestant pointing out that Catholics have done a good job of integrating Biblical study within the faith.]

These people aren't capable of questioning Scriptural authority, and that's an intellectual weakness. I am quite capable of questioning Magisterial authority, Scriptural authority, and Traditional authority; I don't have to buy everything these people say. More or less, I am never bound to believe any proposition because some particular person said it; they have to actually make a credible appeal to God's authority in the statement. I don't ignore them, of course, but it only raises the need for me to investigate whether they've made a credible claim of authority.

That's why I consider the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy so incredibly implausible; I can't imagine how I could credit the truth of propositional content based solely on authority. Maybe it's just a lawyer thing, but I would never concede the idea that "because the judge said it, it's the law." It's never that simple in real life; that would be more of an intellectual constraint than I could consider realistic.

This whole "damned if you do; damned if you don't" matter of anti-Catholic stereotyping is pretty incredible. If I'm intellectually curious, then I'm "speculating beyond the bounds of Biblical authority," and yet, I'm simultaneously supposed to be so incurious that I accept whatever the Magisterium tells me. Given that I am the same person in both instances, you can start seeing how irrational anti-Catholicism really is. You'll see it plenty in the links above, how I supposedly got caught in contradictions and changed positions when I was, in fact, saying the same thing all along. But people who aren't used to critically thinking about statements to intelligently reconcile them just can't muster the brainpower to see it.

Oh well. If they refuse to use their brains, I can't think for them.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Quint on Apologetics

They put forward the Scriptures, and by this insolence of theirs they at once influence some. In the encounter itself, however, they weary the strong, they catch the weak, and dismiss waverers with a doubt. Accordingly, we oppose to them this step above ,all others, of not admitting them to any discussion of the Scriptures.

If in these lie their resources, before they can use them, it ought to be clearly seen to whom belongs the possession of the Scriptures, that none may be admitted to the use thereof who has no title at all to the privilege.

I might be thought to have laid down this position to remedy distrust in my case, or from a desire of entering on the contest in some other way, were there not reasons on my side, especially this, that our faith owes deference to the apostle, who forbids us to enter on "questions," or to lend our ears to new-fangled statements, or to consort with a heretic "after the first and second admonition," not, (be it observed,) after discussion. Discussion he has inhibited in this way, by designating admonition as the purpose of dealing with a heretic, and the first one too, because he is not a Christian; in order that he might not, after the manner of a Christian, seem to require correction again and again, and "before two or three witnesses," seeing that he ought to be corrected, for the very reason that he is not to be disputed with; and in the next place, because a controversy over the Scriptures can, clearly, produce no other effect than help to upset either the stomach or the brain.

Now this heresy of yours does not receive certain Scriptures; and whichever of them it does receive, it perverts by means of additions and diminutions, for the accomplishment of it own purpose; and such as it does receive, it receives not in their entirety; but even when it does receive any up to a certain point as entire, it nevertheless perverts even these by the contrivance of diverse interpretations. Truth is just as much opposed by an adulteration of its meaning as it is by a corruption of its text. Their vain presumptions must needs refuse to acknowledge the (writings) whereby they are refuted. They rely on those which they have falsely put together, and which they have selected, because their ambiguity. Though most skilled in the Scriptures, you will make no progress, when everything which you maintain is denied on the other side, and whatever you deny is (by them) maintained. As for yourself, indeed, you will lose nothing but your breath, and gain nothing but vexation from their blasphemy.

But with respect to the man for whose sake you enter on the discussion of the Scriptures, with the view of strengthening him when afflicted with doubts, (let me ask) will it be to the truth, or rather to heretical opinions that he will lean? Influenced by the very fact that he sees you have made no progress, whilst the other side is on an equal footing (with yourself) in denying and in defence, or at any rate on a like standing he will go away confirmed in his uncertainty by the discussion, not knowing which side to adjudge heretical. For, no doubt, they too are able to retort these things on us. It is indeed a necessary consequence that they should go so far as to say that adulterations of the Scriptures, and false expositions thereof, are rather introduced by ourselves, inasmuch as they, no less than we maintain that truth is on their side.

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: "With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?" For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.

-- Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, The Prescription against Heretics, Chs. 15-19

The moral of the story for Catholics: it is pointless to dispute the Scriptures with those who don't even claim apostolic succession, including most prominently Protestants. To concede their authority to interpret Scripture is to yield more than they deserve.

EDIT -- Quick clarifications: Just to be clear, I don't mean that all Protestants do this. There are many Protestants who, to varying extents, identify the action of ministers or the church as a whole with that of Christ in the Holy Spirit. But those who make no claim for human beings acting as Christ may (and ought) to be freely rejected.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Stoicism and Western Triadology

One of the more dangerous oversights in the East/West dialogue has been in overlooking the unique contribution of Stoicism to Christianity in the West. IMHO, the tendency has been to identify Christian Stoicism with its unmetamorposized Greek counterpart, much as the West tends to do with Neoplatonism, with the result that genuinely Christian ideas expressed in a particular philosophical medium are simply neglected. Conventionally, the way this argument proceeds is that "Biblical" or "Christian" is set up in opposition to "philosophical" (Neoplatonic, Stoic, etc.). But the fact of the matter is that most any philosophical system can be adapted to Christian use, and every thought "taken captive to Christ," provided that it is Christ that drives the adaptation. Thus it was with Neoplatonism in the East, and thus it is with Stoicism in the West.

To briefly cite some distinctive features of Stoicism that are useful for my purposes, two of the major beliefs included materialism and unity of the soul. The former was the belief that everything was material, so that literally nothing was bodiless (incorporeal). The Stoics accomplished this by modifying the Heracleitean concept of ever-changing fire as the root element. The fundamental substance in Stoicism was pneuma, the combination of air and fire, and it quite well resembled the modern analog: combustion. All of this pneuma pushing matter into collisions, driving it apart, and producing a whole lot of controlled chaos is what made life "go" (following the Heracleitean ethic of constant change and conflict). To explain how pneuma mixed with things, Stoics developed a complicated physics of mixtures, including the concept of a "blending," in which two things remain separable despite being thoroughly permeating with one another (such as water and wine, which can be separated by the use of an oiled sponge). Obviously, this influenced later concepts of the hypostatic union, even though ultimately, the concept of blending as an explanation, proposed by Nestorius, was rejected on account of the inherent separability of the two substances.

The unity of the soul falls in with the Stoic notion that will and rationality were one and the same, leading to the longtime identification with Stoicism as unemotional reaction in the face of circumstances. What is often missed in this account is the crucial importance of the soul being free, providing the entire basis for Stoic ethics. Without that freedom, Stoicism is nothing more than the grim fatalism of paganism bearing with the whims of the gods, something to which Stoicism was prone to degenerate when handled by the careless. This is particularly the case because of the aforementioned materialism; the natural order is established by the divine substance being quite literally in everything, no matter how minute, so that it is quite easy to slip into a mechanistic worldview. But if freedom is preserved in proper Stoic fashion, rationality is a decision, a free choice to behave in coherence with the natural order (and with one's own nature), and indeed, freedom itself is a gift of nature.

The longest Stoic shadow in the West is cast by Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, whom I'll call "Quint" for short, partly because I feel some familarity with him on account of our common occupation and faith and partly because the other name by which he was commonly known has been associated with a large amount of negative press. In fact, I myself didn't think about Quint much, apart from his using a couple of Latin terms that became famous after Nicaea (substantia and persona), but I consider that a grievous oversight. Quint's Christian Stoicism was nothing short of brilliant, exactly because he took every weakness of Stoicism and made it a strength by subverting it for Christian purposes. A good summary may be found in Eric Osborn's Tertullian: First Theologian of the West, but take care not to follow Osborn's denigration of Iamblichean Neoplatonism as irrational "magic," a position which has been convincingly discredited by Gregory Shaw in Theurgy and the Soul.

In Triadology, Quint's Stoic view of everything having a body led him to a pivotal insight about the manifestation of the Word. As Osborn explains, Quint exploited the Stoic distinction between the "inner word" and the "uttered word" to explain that, just as a reasonable man does not refrain from discourse, the Father's inner Word is necessarily uttered. This affirms the monarchy of the Father, as it is in the very nature of the Father to beget (utter) the Son, and the Son as uttered Word conversely serves as the full and entire expression of the Father. Oddly enough, David Bradshaw in Aristotle East and West finds the connection of this concept to Christian doctrine obscure, going so far as to guess that Clement's Stromata might have been an influence on Plotinus. I suspect that this is because he has limited his inquiry to the concept of energeia and neglected that the Stoic doctrine lent itself more naturally to understanding divinity in terms of activity (although having its own difficulties with pantheism).

Likewise, because the Father's substantia is spiritus, it is natural that the Person of the Spirit manifesting the Godhead spiritually ratifies the shared spiritus of the Godhead. At the same time, Quint quite deliberately leaves aside the question of what substantia actually is, and thus he avoids falling into the precarious trap of elementalism and pantheism that beset the Stoics and leaves open the later Neoplatonic solution to the problem of transcendence. In fact, Quint's account of substantia as something like the "defining basis" of a thing is quite creative. He endorses a far broader and less physical concept of substantia, drawing on legal analogies (e.g., a man of "substance" is one of wealth or standing) as well as the more conventional physical analogies so that his idea far outstrips the primitive Stoic/Heracleitean concept.

In addition to preserving the monarchy of the Father, this distinction between the inner Word and the uttered Word also introduces the nature/person distinction meaningfully into the Trinity. Thus, the substantia or quality of the Father and the Son are identical, because the inner Word and the uttered Word both "have" the same content, which is just the divinity/Godhead in its entirety. The only difference between the Father and the Son, therefore, is one of order, aspect, or manifestation (gradus, forma, species), which are personal characteristics. At the same time, it is impossible for the Father to exist without uttering His Word or the Spirit proceeding from Him. This inseparable connection between person and the manifestation of the divine substantia is what inextricably links the economic Trinity to the immanent Trinity.

There's lots more to be said, both about Quint himself as well as his influences and impact. But the lesson here is that Quint's adaptation of Stoicism to Christianity is every bit as original, influential, and yet faithful to Tradition as is the more famous Byzantine adaptation of Neoplatonism. We do a great disservice to Christian history to ignore either of them.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cue Handel





OK, usually I'm not quite this exuberant over sports successes, but this is quite literally once in my lifetime, and a genuine family event. My dad was a damn good Little League pitcher in Louisiana in his youth (pitched a no-no in the regionals even, would've been perfect but for a fielder's error), and his dream was one day to see a professional baseball game. Paw-Paw (that would be Dad's dad) said that if Houston ever got a team, they would make the trip from Lake Charles. Thus, when the Colt .45s arrived in Houston, Dad and Paw-Paw made the pilgrimage, and while the .45s lost that day to a certain pitcher who made something of a name for himself (Bob Gibson), family loyalty was established forever.

My Astros fandom had some high points along the way, such as Nolan Ryan breaking the strikeout record on my 8th birthday, but for the most part, the sobriquet "Disastros" was all too appropriate. And until last year, that playoff breakdown was inevitable, as future Hall-of-Famers Bagwell and Biggio inevitably broke down at the plate. But the pitching genius that characterized the Astros for so many years, especially before moving into the home run factory that is the Juice Box (at least compared to the Astrodome!), has finally been paired with consistent execution and the ability to spring back from defeat. This is a team that was once 15 games under .500 and is now playing in the World Series for the first time in franchise history. This is the kind of story that makes rooting for your team despite adversity worth the whole ride.

I don't know if we're going to win, having seen the White Sox pitching staff throw back-to-back-to-back-to-back complete postseason games for the first time since the sixties, but we've got a chance, and that's all anybody can ask. Of course, the Southsiders have a great story of their own, but here's hoping we can drop a few more tears on old man Comiskey's team.

Go 'Stros!!!!

Economy in Eternity

The Western gloss on oikonomia, as summarized by Tertullian in Ch. 8 of Against Praxeas:

If any man from this shall think that I am introducing some probolh -- that is to say, some prolation of one thing out of another, as Valentinus does when he sets forth AEon from AEon, one after another -- then this is my first reply to you: Truth must not therefore refrain from the use of such a term, and its reality and meaning, because heresy also employs it. The fact is, heresy has rather taken it from Truth, in order to mould it into its own counterfeit. Was the Word of God put forth or not? Here take your stand with me, and flinch not. If He was put forth, then acknowledge that the true doctrine has a prolation; and never mind heresy, when in any point it mimics the truth. The question now is, in what sense each side uses a given thing and the word which expresses it. Valentinus divides and separates his prolations from their Author, and places them at so great a distance from Him, that the AEon does not know the Father: he longs, indeed, to know Him, but cannot; nay, he is almost swallowed up and dissolved into the rest of matter. With us, however, the Son alone knows the Father, and has Himself unfolded "the Father's bosom." He has also heard and seen all things with the Father; and what He has been commanded by the Father, that also does He speak. And it is not His own will, but the Father's, which He has accomplished, which He had known most intimately, even from the beginning. "For what man knows the things which be in God, but the Spirit* which is in Him?" But the Word was formed by the Spirit*, and (if I may so express myself) the Spirit* is the body of the Word. The Word, therefore, is both always in the Father, as He says, "I am in the Father;" and is always with God, according to what is written, "And the Word was with God;" and never separate from the Father, or other than the Father, since "I and the Father are one." This will be the prolation, taught by the truth, the guardian of the Unity, wherein we declare that the Son is a prolation from the Father, without being separated from Him. For God sent forth the Word, as the Paraclete also declares, just as the root puts forth the tree, and the fountain the river, and the sun the ray. For these are probolai, or emanations, of the substances from which they proceed. I should not hesitate, indeed, to call the tree the son or offspring of the root, and the river of the fountain, and the ray of the sun; because every original source is a parent, and everything which issues from the origin is an offspring. Much more is (this true of) the Word of God, who has actually received as His own peculiar designation the name of Son. But still the tree is not severed from the root, nor the river from the fountain, nor the ray from the sun; nor, indeed, is the Word separated from God. Following, therefore, the form of these analogies, I confess that I call God and His Word -- the Father and His Son -- two. For the root and the tree are distinctly two things, but correlatively joined; the fountain and the river are also two forms, but indivisible; so likewise the sun and the ray are two forms, but coherent ones. Everything which proceeds from something else must needs be second to that from which it proceeds, without being on that account separated: Where, however, there is a second, there must be two; and where there is a third, there must be three. Now the Spirit indeed is third from God and the Son; just as the fruit of the tree is third from the root, or as the stream out of the river is third from the fountain, or as the apex of the ray is third from the sun. Nothing, however, is alien from that original source whence it derives its own properties. In like manner the Trinity, flowing down from the Father through intertwined and connected steps, does not at all disturb the Monarchy, whilst it at the same time guards the state of the Economy.

[* As I noted in my earlier post, "Spirit as Divine Substance," the usage of the term spiritus in these cases refers to the divine substantia, not the Person of the Holy Spirit.]

Note the contrast here between Tertullian's characteristically Stoic idea of probole and the Neoplatonic notion of "emanation," with which it could easily be confused. I'll explain how that distinction plays out in more detail in the near future, as well as how it relates to Tertullian's use of the term "form" (forma) in the description above.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

OC's own Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem.

Fr. Hugh Barbour, a Norbertine priest at St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, is one of the more impressive Catholic authors I've encountered. I first saw his formidable intellectual abilities in action dismantling "fundie hick" James White in "Ancient Baptists" and Other Myths, and I've since learned that he has a doctorate in philosophy and has authored an astute defense of St. Thomas's analogia entis against anti-Western polemics. In this defense, Fr. Barbour argues that the priority of being over goodness applies only with respect to predication and not causation. In the order of causation, God is still "remote" and unknowable, exactly as He is in the work of Pseudo-Dionysius, and thus, the anti-Western polemic regarding St. Thomas (and St. Augustine) equating God with being loses its force.

Fr. Barbour summarizes his thesis with regard to the East in this way:

Moving East this distinction can serve to shed light on the Palamite controversy, still in its own way very much alive. The controversy over the so-called "real distinction" between the divine essence and energies can be seen, as Meyendorff following Lossky has rightly pointed out, as essentially regarding the interpretation of Dionysius the Areopagite. Now if the identity of God's essence and act of existing is understood as pertaining to the via remotionis, and the share in the divine life offered by the divine goodness the energies as the foundation of the analogy of the via affirmativa then the difficulty of reconciling the Thomist and Palamite positions is largely overcome.

This seems to fall quite neatly in with the Augustinian mystic tradition of revelation as a six-fold ascent starting from the knowledge of the senses and reason, moving on to revelation in Scripture, and finally to the transcendent experience of the love of God as Trinity. Basically, the notion is that the levels of reason work harmoniously, so that what is knowable reaches toward what is transcendent and knows it in this way without ever knowing the transcendent in its essence (as the Easterns would understand it). Assuming Fr. Barbour's thesis is correct, this would fit St. Thomas squarely within the authentic Western Tradition in his metaphysical thinking, as opposed to being an innovator who overemphasized an Origenist bent in Augustinian/Western theology. Moreover, his theory seems to fit with the two-level structure of interplay between the knowledge of faith and the experience of God, the somatic and the pneumatic, in St. Cyril of Alexandria, as discussed in Daniel Keating's The Appropriation of Divine Life in Cyril of Alexandria. This is particularly illustrated St. Cyril's notions of being fed by Scripture and by Eucharist concurrently, leading to his interpretation of the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 as referring to Scripture. Finally, the notion of Scripture as something that requires a transcendent understanding puts this Tradition even more at odds with the modern Evangelical view of Scripture, which cuts off this interplay between the mystical and the rational.

The reliability of Fr. Barbour's thesis seems to be supplemented by other scholars. First, as Fr. Barbour notes, the noted scholar of St. Maximus Lars Thunberg has observed that the distinctions between St. Maximus's theology and the analogia entis are minimal at best. Second, Fr. Barbour specifically criticized Jean-Luc Marion's assertion that St. Thomas had inverted the order of goodness and being in Pseudo-Dionysius, noting that this inversion is more properly attributable to the anti-Scotistic philosophy of Cajetan and the accompanying notion of the via negativa. It turns out that Marion himself was forced to admit this correction and to accept that the onto-theology attributed to St. Thomas truly originated in the later interpretations of Cajetan and Suarez. Thirdly, it matches better with Fr. Barbour's own observation of the enthusiastic reception of St. Thomas's works within the Orthodox Tradition, something that many Orthodox commentators (including Meyendorff) have been inclined to treat as something of a mystery, perhaps chalking it up to unrecognized Origenism in the East. The conjunction of these factors seems strongly to suggest that Fr. Barbour is right in saying that much of what has been criticized about Western theology originated much later in history, and that only the substantial influence of neo-Thomist scholarship has exaggerated its importance.

I am quite impressed with Fr. Barbour's defense of Western theology against polemical attacks, and as he is the chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society of Orange County, I hope to be able to meet him at some point in the near future (alas, teaching my Confirmation class takes precedence over tomorrow's Red Mass, so it will have to wait a while). Those who share my interest in Fr. Barbour's work on behalf of the Occident may wish to peruse his florigelia on the papacy and Purgatory.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Required Reading for Occident-o-philes

I've had a chance to look over St. Bonaventure again, now with the benefit of knowing a bit more of his context. Rather than seeing him as I saw him before, which was essentially as a source of some scholastic doctrines different from St. Thomas, I can now recognize an incredible synthesis of Western theology in the Seraphic Doctor. So I suggest this homework assignment: read and meditate on St. Bonaventure's Itinerarium (aka, The Soul's Journey to God, The Journey of the Mind to God). If you have gleaned some of the background from the sources I have mentioned, you might begin to see this work as the lynchpin of the authentic Western Tradition as it is carried from the Fathers to the present time, perhaps even moreso than the Summa. And it even works in reverse: if you read St. Augustine in a Bonaventurian way, it opens up an entirely new horizon on Augustine's theology of love, delight, and the vision of God.

I think that people tend to define St. Bonaventure either in terms of his sources or his contemporaries, or even worse, to limit him as some kind of specialist in mystical theology with little applicability beyond that context. That neglect is probably why it took until the 20th century for people (and particularly Hans Urs von Balthasar) to take this Franciscan doctor's theological method on its own terms.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More on "Fundie Hicks"

On further reflection, I have another clarification on my preceding post, "Fundie Hicks." I suppose that technically, it isn't the affirmation of the Chicago Statement, but the affirmation of the Chicago Statement as a necessary condition of Scriptural truth that defines the fundamentalist mindset. To grab some actual quotes, there are some who would argue that if you oppose the Chicago Statement, then you are opposing "the inerrancy of Scripture" and "the plenary inspiration of Scripture," thereby "[going] the way of dying, hemorrhaging liberal mainline denominations." Others contend that "Skepticism is an acid that, after eating scripture, will also devour the Roman claims as well" and that denial of the Chicago Statement's standard of inerrancy is "another sorry display of the barely-suppressed liberal tendencies of some of the higher-ups [in the] Roman Catholic Church." Often opponents of the Chicago Statement are accused of giving equal authority to "uninspired documents" or the like.

IMHO, you simply can't talk to a person who makes denial of the Chicago Statement into denial of knowable truth (and hence, relativism, liberalism, postmodernism, yada yada yada...) or who asserts that making external determinations about the truth of Scripture diminishes the authority of Scripture, because frankly, those are pretty ridiculous positions to take without argument. Sure, you can believe them, but they're like any other peculiar belief unsupported by evidence or experience. This is why I've equated conservative Evangelical theology with astrology or other pseudo-sciences in the past; it starts from a ridiculous proposition (in that I can see absolutely no reason to believe a priori that the selective acceptance of the truth of propositions asserted by Scriptural authors leads to any of the cited evils or to the denial of Scriptural truth) and argues from that ridiculous proposition to its conclusions. And like the case of astrology, I see very little reason not to view the starting premise as blasphemous, being that it construes some baseless human notion of what humans need to know as an obligation on God. Substitute "It CAN'T be that God left us with no way of knowing the future" with "It CAN'T be that something affirmed as true by an author of Scripture could be false;" in either case, it's an irrational proposition that becomes no more believable based on the number of people who fall for it. At some point, you have to just come out and say "You don't really believe that stuff, do you?" Obviously, the fact that there are astrology schools and conservative Evangelical seminaries means that there are people who do, but we oughtn't encourage them.

As I said earlier, the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum and the non-binding (but accurate) PBC document on the interpretation of the Bible in the Church provide a much more reasonable and holistic framework for determining when to affirm the literal meaning, when to deny it in favor of an allegorical interpretation, and when to impute later interpretations to the original texts. Indeed, the documents I cited don't even really prescribe a method of interpretation so much as describe the way interpretation actually takes place, much like the concept of Magisterial authority. Keeping cognizance of the factors described there, without letting any one factor (such as what the author intended to affirm) override any of the others, provides a good way of properly balancing the human and divine quality of the Sacred Texts.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Just Another Halo Victory!!!

Had to drop in at least one post to remind everybody that I'm on the side of the ANGELS in the American League. It's tough to leave the Yankees behind, but with a new home comes new loyalties. So (literally in this case), out with the old; in with the new!

Not sure I can stick with the Halos past the ALCS if the Astros make the World Series though. Having spent this many years in the utter futility of rooting for the 'Stros and the Saints, I can't imagine rooting against Bagwell or Biggio, not to mention Andy Pettitte and the Rocket, the latter of whom I got to see in person sweeping the Braves out of the World Series for his first-ever title. But in the meantime, it's fun to be behind these two teams. And just generally, could there be any classier collection of players than the Astros, the Cards, the Angels, and the White Sox? There are no undeserving teams left in this bunch, no prima donnas, just a bunch of guys who love to play and do it well.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Brief Bibliography

I've had a couple of requests for where my most recent ideas originated. First, I should probably cover what motivated them. The difficulties in the "Western" view are probably best covered by the following books:

Joseph Farrell, The Disputation with Pyrrhus of our Father among the Saints Maximus the Confessor and The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit by Saint Photios

Christopher Hughes, On a Complex Theory of a Simple God

John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought and Byzantine Theology

Aristeides Papadakis, Crisis in Byzantium: The Filioque Controversy in the Patriarchate of Gregory II of Cyprus

Lars Thunberg, Man and the Cosmos and Microcosm and Mediator

Gregory Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus

Eric Perl (dissertation, Yale 1991), Methexis: Creation, Incarnation, Deification in St. Maximus Confessor

I pick those books because they lay out the basic conflict between absolute divine simplicity and St. Maximus's theory of salvation, which itself draws heavily on Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and the Eastern monastic tradition. The other side of the difficulty is in the Trinitarian theology of the fourth and fifth centuries, and there I recommend:

Jaroslav Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism

Michel Rene Barnes, The Power of God: Dunamis in the Theology of Gregory of Nyssa

John Anthony McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy

Daniel A. Keating, The Appropriation of Divine Life in Cyril of Alexandria

Susan Wessel, Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian Controversy: The Making of a Saint and a Heretic

Because I was already familiar with Zubiri's more radical concept of dynamis based on Dynamic Structure of Reality, I found that I had a substantially different reading of the Cappadocians and St. Cyril than the standard account. Specifically, I found myself trying to "get under" the Greek metaphysics to what they were "really" saying. Unfortunately, I found myself thwarted in the endeavor by the various polemical works of both East and West regarding St. Augustine and St. Gregory Palamas (none of which I have included here, because I found them unhelpful). Keating and Wessel both hinted at such a perspective, but the former had little space to cover in depth while the latter was less concerned with doctrinal matters than rhetoric. But Wessel suggested an avenue that has proved fruitful: the study of the Western tradition reflected in St. Leo the Great, which was harmonized with St. Cyril at Chalcedon. That, I concluded, would be the "real" Tradition, whatever it revealed.

By that time, I had already read Barnes's article on the different ideas of theophany in East and West. His references to the "form of God" matched up well with Wessel's remarks about Leo's Christology. The problem was that I still needed a way to match up the Cappadocians with the West, which caused me to investigate the mediating views of Marius Victorinus. Barnes's remarks regarding Tertullian's influence and a reading of Hilary's De Trinitate sewed it up for me that the "form of God" was the real key to distinctively Western theology. That in turn provided the bridge I needed between the "one power" Christology described by Barnes and the orthodox (non-Arian) "two-powers" Christology begun with St. Athanasius that Marius Victorinus adopted. My own reading of the Cappadocians is that they dealt with energies and powers almost solely in the context of creation, meaning that the "form of God" concept did not contradict them in that area. The "form of God" account also provided an orthodox interpretation of St. Athanasius's "two powers" formulation. Some research into the Western Fathers, particularly a couple of articles on St. Ambrose (alas in French only) by Yves-Marie Duval in L'extirpation de l'Arianisme en Italie du Nord et en Occident: Rimini (359/60) et Aquilée (381) Hilaire de Poitiers (+367/8) et Ambroise de Milan (+397), confirmed that the "two powers" and "form of God/form of man" Christology was the position taken by Western Nicenes as against Homoians, leaving me with the inescapable conclusion that there was an authentic Western Tradition (of which the filioque was an authentic development) that could (and must) be reconciled with St. Cyril and the Cappadocians.

My goal in following up on this reconciliation is to illustrate that the notion of whether theophanies are created or not and the parallel accounts of the eschaton are simply theologoumena to explain the identical underlying experience of God. The apparent conflict appears to stem from St. Thomas's replacement of eros/agape as the primal name of God in Pseudo-Dionysius (and St. Denys the Mystic) with ens, which in turn lead to an overemphasis on ontology both in the reading of Augustine and in scholasticism generally. That is, at least, the theory advanced by Jean-Luc Marion in God without Being, and it appears to match my reading of Richard of St. Victor and Bl. John Ruusbroec (both of whose works are available in the fine Classics of Western Spirituality series by Paulist Press). Consequently, I believe that an authentic expression of Western Tradition can be reconciled with the Eastern Tradition, provided neither side insists on advancing theologoumena as part of the Tradition (the uncreated nature of theophanies in the East; the obsession with ontology in Western scholasticism).

Thursday, October 06, 2005

"Fundie Hicks"

At first, this was a term I coined for people who were shocked by the contents of this article, as if the Catholic Church hadn't figured out sometime in the fourth century that not everything affirmed by the authors of Scripture, even taking into account variations of genre and all that, is true.

But then I noticed a pattern: those people tend to be the same ones who subscribe to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. So now I have a clearer definition: "fundie hick" = someone who subscribes to the Chicago Statement. I recommend that Catholics don't even bother with anti-Catholics who subscribe to the Statement, since they will be entirely beyond reasonable discussion. Same goes for so-called Evangelical "scholars;" theology based on the Chicago Statement is pseudo-scientific opinion in the guise of scholarly discipline. Well-educated nuts are still nuts. If they can't conform their belief to some reasonable standard of Biblical inerrancy, like Dei Verbum or The Interpretation of the Bible within the Church, don't bother with them. Conversely, when you see the term "fundamentalism" used in Catholic documents, these are the people they mean.

It seems pretty obvious from the guidance of Pope Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul the Great, that such methods are an insult to the dignity of the Sacred Scripture. With that being the case, I do not see how Catholics can responsibly engage in dialogue within a framework that concedes the legitimacy of such views. The danger is manifested in the blasphemous, anti-Trinitarian views of such authors as John Frame, Vern Poythress, D.A. Carson, Gerald Bray, Paul Helm, and Kevin Vanhoozer (not to mention earlier authors like B.B. Warfield). Having read a good deal of their tripe, I urge people as a prophylactic measure to immerse themselves in the wisdom of the Fathers, who would have never countenanced such absurd anthropocentrism as the Chicago Statement endorses.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Spirit as Divine Substance

One difficulty that arises in translating from West to East is the equivocal use of certain terms, the most significant example of which is the use of the term "spirit" to refer both to God's substance and the Third Person of the Trinity, following Tertullian. Because of this, many have accused Western theology of confusing the divine essence with the Third Person of the Trinity, supposedly resulting in the filioque (the Son is co-cause of the Holy Spirit, which completes the essence as it were). I would contend to the contrary that this is simply an account of the Western focus on manifestation in existence, so that this connection between the Spirit and the divine substance simply reflects the connection that I mentioned before between the immanent life (forms) of the Persons and their unique economic modes of manifestation (which are themselves truly God). The action of the Spirit most clearly manifests the spiritual substance of God, as He appears (acts temporally) only as indwelling Spirit. It is this relationship that allows the exegesis of Romans 8:9-11 (particularly "Spirit of God") to take the form that it does, in Marius Victorinus and also in Hilary (De Trin., VIII:21-24).

Consequently, the accusation that the West was following Arian presuppositions in designating the Son as co-cause of the Spirit, such as suggested in Joseph Farrell's translation of Photius's The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, won't hold up. The substantia to which the Western Tradition refers is nothing other than the manifestation, the form of God, which DOES proceed from the Father and the Son to the Holy Spirit to complete the unity of the essence. St. Augustine's confusion in De Trinitate was thus well-founded; in fact, the two systems were not referring to the same concepts. Thus, while St. Augustine may have been in error about how the systems corresponded owing to his unfamiliarity with the Greek system (viz., substantia in Latin did not correspond to the Greek hyperousios ousios, nor was subsistentia separable from substantia as understood in the Latin view), his exposition of the Latin view was a true one. It isn't that the concepts were unrelated, but the terms don't match up as Augustine suggested that they did.

In this, St. Maximus Confessor had the best read on the subject, not by proposing a solution, but by having realized the source of the problem:

Those of the Queen of cities (Constantinople) have attacked the synodal letter of the present very holy Pope, not in the case of all the chapters that he has written in it, but only in the case of two of them. One relates to the theology (of the Trinity) and according to this, says 'the Holy Spirit also has his ekporeusis from the Son.' The other deals with the divine incarnation. With regard to the first matter, they (the Romans) have produced the unanimous evidence of the Latin Fathers, and also of Cyril of Alexandria, from the study he made of the gospel of St. John. On the basis of these texts, they have shown that they have not made the Son the cause of the Spirit--they know in fact that the Father is the only cause of the Son and the Spirit, the one by begetting and the other by procession--but that they have manifested the procession through him and have thus shown the unity and identity of the essence. ... In accordance with your request I have asked the Romans to translate what is peculiar to them (the 'also from the Son') in such a way that any obscurities that may result from it will be avoided. But since the practice of writing and sending (the synodal letters) has been observed, I wonder whether they will possibly agree to doing this. It is true, of course, that they cannot reproduce their idea in a language and in words that are foreign to them as they can in their mother-tongue, just as we too cannot do.

St. Maximus here rightly discerns that it will not be a simple case of translation, nor is it even a case that procedere equivocates between two Greek terms (ekporeusis and proienai), which would simply be a case of translating the usage. In point of fact, it lies exactly between the two: the Latin view of substance/essence is something like "immanent energies" or "uncreated glory." The forma is a true and whole expression of the being (substantia) of the Trinity (subsistentia), just as the energeia are said to be God "indivisibly divided." Thus, Rahner's Law requires a modification to be accurate: "The economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity manifested in being."

To be strictly correct, the Latin view says nothing about the source of existence of the Persons qua Persons; it doesn't address the question of aitia or arche at all because it only deals with the Persons as manifested. The Latin view starts from the form and personal acts of the Trinity, using Tertullian's observation that the form (manifestation in being) truly reflects the reality rather than simply being an appearance, and moves from there. Historically, that is the actual Latin view of Ambrose, of Hilary, of Leo the Great, all venerated by the East as Fathers of the Church.

This actually brings us to what is the significant difference between the views: whether this manifestation is according to will or nature. Gregory Palamas follows the patriarch Gregory II of Cyprus in assigning the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in being to the good will (eudokia) of the Father and the Son toward mankind, or in other words, the economy. Tertullian and the Latin Tradition assigns this manifestation to nature, so that the generation of the Son and the Spirit and the distribution of the glory of the form of God are simultaneous (although not necessarily identical) and that both of them indicate that God is homoousion. Obviously, I find this explanation to be entirely in harmony with St. Cyril and the Councils of Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople. Moreover, I find nothing in Cappadocian teaching that distinguishes the two, since the Latin view does not even address what the Greek Tradition calls the divine essence or the manner in which the hypostases come to possess it. The question of whether the glory of the Godhead manifests naturally by the enhypostasis of the divine essence in the Father or whether it is an act of will seems to be unaddressed in Eastern thought, and accordingly, I see no cause to reject the Fathers (specifically, St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, and St. Leo the Great) in favor of later innovations about uncreated energies being acts of will.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Summarizing my thoughts

I'm in the middle of a gigantic cross-disciplinary reading project now with the purpose of articulating in detail the connection between Catholic phenomenology and the authentic and ancient Trinitarian theology of the Christian West, as contrasted with both the inauthentic innovation of Protestantism and the oversimplified view of neo-Thomism. It's a far bigger subject than I can possibly claim to analyze in detail, but I have become convinced that it is necessary to do what I can to defend the claims of the Catholic Church against the assaults of neo-patristic scholarship. That's not to denigrate the work of Meyendorff, Lossky, or Romanides in its entirety, but they simply aren't sensitive to the antecedents of Western theology, nor the differences between that theology and the Origenism of which the West is accused. Catholic scholarship bears a significant portion of the blame for that difficulty, having been inclined toward explaining the past in terms of a "nature-grace dichotomy" with the result that either the true opinion of many theologians was suppressed or their wisdom was neglected as "Neoplatonism" or some other equally dismissive classification. But the Eastern response, both in the past and the present, has been so severe as to cut off the branch on which they were sitting.

My thesis, as it stands now, is that there have been two principal and complementary views of the Trinity. In itself, that is nothing other than what Catholics have been saying for centuries. But where Catholic scholars have failed is in identifying the ancient sources of these doctrines, thus leaving themselves open to the charge of innovation or of unknowing adoption of discredited Greek themes. This contributes to the erroneous notion that the East has somehow consciously worked through difficulties of which the West is unaware. Unfortunately, that notion could not be farther from the truth.

The views of the Trinity of which I speak were the direct result of the struggle against later Arianism using Neoplatonic philosophical concepts in the fourth century. In the West, these antecedents most clearly come through Neoplatonists Caius Marius Victorinus, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine; in the East, they are mediated by St. Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers. The culmination of these theories was the harmonious meeting between the teachings of St. Leo the Great and St. Cyril of Alexandria in the Council of Chalcedon. For polemical reasons, it has become fashionable to cast Chalcedon as a victory for one side or the other, as St. Leo is judged against the standard of St. Cyril or vice versa. What this analysis (sadly) misses is the common origin of both teachings and the reason they could be so easily harmonized. Far from being a case of "bad" Neoplatonism which leads to Origenism on the one hand and "good" Neoplatonism on the other, both East and West incorporated the SAME fundamental insight about the goodness of creation and the true divinity of the Son to reject Arianism.

The basic framework of the two views was the Scriptural teaching that God was the Power and Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). As Michel Barnes documents in The Power of God: Dunamis in Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Theology, there were at least two separate Christian veins of thought about this passage, one of which emphasized that unity of power ("dunamis") implied unity of nature (the Cappadocian school) and another which followed Porphyry's study of the Chaldean Oracles in conceiving the complementarity of multiple powers as an expression of unity (specifically, Form/One, Power, and Intellect). This latter school, which Barnes describes as "primitive," was first suggested by St. Athanasius's emphasis on the title "Power of God." A difficulty arose when the "two-powers" formulation was used to argue that the Son was a distinct Power from the Father, so that the Son was given the power to create as a kind of Demiurge, allowing the Father to remain remote from creation. The Nyssen's answer to the Eunomians was based on the identification of "power" with the distinctive ability of an ousia, so that the identity of the Son's Power with the Fathers illustrates a unity of ousia. An analogous argument is made to the "activity" (energeia) of the Holy Spirit, so that He too is of one substance with the Father. The important part of this is that it affirms the goodness and will of the Father for creation contra any theory of Demiurge, an Origenist concept of pre-existing souls that fall into creation, or a Plotinian theory of undescended souls; the creative power is the same for the entire Trinity.

In the West, the analysis took a different tack. It meaningfully began with Tertullian's response to patripassianism, seen in Chapter 7 of Against Praxeas, where Tertullian addresses the use of "form of God" in Phil. 2:5-7 as being a substantive mode of existence, a Person. This sets out the Western model of Person, which is a forerunner of Nicaea, in that it distinguishes personhood by the begetting of the Son from the Father while identifying them in substance. I would argue that it also suggests the identification of personhood in the West with a kind of expression. And that, I would argue, is exactly where the distinction between the two traditions took place. The primary question in Western thought became manifestation, expression, which meant that the roles of the Son and the Holy Spirit became primary in apologetics against heresies. Hence, the "primitive" view fell more naturally into the West's emphasis on the form (existence), as Christ was the unique manifestation of the Power of God just as the Holy Spirit was the unique manifestation of the Gift (or Love) of God. This also provided a bridge between the economic and the immanent in Western thought, in that the form of God was an immanent concept that was fittingly tied to the economic concept. The connection is made explicit in Book IX and Book XI of St. Hilary's On the Trinity, in which St. Hilary ties our own salvation to being conformed to the form of God, which no one had seen except in faith before the Transfiguration and which will only be experienced as a true beatific vision when we are glorified in Heaven. It also played a significant role in the Western fight against Homoianism. That this emphasis on manifestation led rather naturally to the use of the filioque becomes evident in St. Leo the Great's Quam laudabiliter, in which he gives the following clear indication that he considers the Spirit to proceed from both the Father and the Son in terms of personal existence:

And so under the first head is shown what unholy views they hold about the Divine Trinity: they affirm that the person of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is one and the same, as if the same GOD were named now Father, now Son, and now Holy Ghost: and as if He who begot were not one, He who was begotten, another, and He who proceeded from both, yet another; but an undivided unity must be understood, spoken of under three names, indeed, but not consisting of three persons.

Now, according to the polemical view, the West would simply be a collection of backwards theological hicks who, never having confronted Origenism directly, simply fumbled their way through an often-inconsistent orthodoxy that was eventually lost during the Carolingian era because of the Western inability to distinguish theology and economy. I think that is simply nonsense. The reason wasn't that the West viewed "divinity as causality" (like the Origenist view of the essence being prior to the Father) or believe in "absolute divine simplicity" or any other such thing. Rather, the Father, as autotheos, has the hypostasis and form (energies) of God all at once, so that neither the hypostatic generation/procession and manifestation can be said to be logically prior to the other. If there is no interval between the Father having existence and existing, then neither is there any interval between the Father causing the persons and giving them of His substance. And contrary to the Eastern Fathers having rejected this understanding, it appears to me that they were more concerned with energeia as applied to creation than manifestation in the immanent Trinity, not going into inordinate detail regarding perichoresis or the relation between immanent and economic perichoresis, particularly since the singular nature of the divine power was specifically tied to creatio ex nihilo. The Eastern Fathers were concerned about dualism for certain, so that suggesting that the Trinity was generated by "relations of opposition" in the sense of there needing to be different kind of being would have been absolutely rejected, but that in itself has nothing to do with the Western theology of form.

Moreover, the agreement between St. Leo and St. Cyril strikes me as quite decisive. In the monograph The Appropriation of Divine Life in Cyril of Alexandria, Daniel A. Keating notes that the Christological agreement on the significance of the Incarnation of St. Cyril, St. Leo, and St. Augustine is quite remarkable in itself, but on the flip side, the significance given to the moral/ethical relationship with the Holy Spirit is also far more than the allegation of St. Cyril's supposedly "metaphysical" account of salvation would allow. To me, it seems relatively clear that Palamism (and its predecessors at Blachernae) and the conflicts of the Carolingian era are being read back into the fourth century at the expense of truth (and indeed, a hypertraditionalist account of the theology/economy distinction has actually caused denial of true dogma among some Orthodox Christians). On the contrary, it seems to me that the "form of God/form of a servant" account has been the consistent doctrinal teaching in the West from the fourth century and that this teaching was entirely harmonious with the Cappadocian account. Unfortunately, later critics (not to mention some later Western interpreters) have simply looked at it through alien philosophical lenses to infer causes, conclusions, and contradictions that simply aren't there. But the West has always looked at form and manifestation in reality, intrinsically focused on the Self/Other dichotomy studied in phenomenology, as the fundamental principle of theology/economy and transcendence, not to mention language, politics, and a host of other areas.