Thursday, February 28, 2008

Newsflash: Shane Wilkins Publishes

My good friend, colleague, and co-conspirator has recently published a book review of Neil MacDonald’s “Karl Barth and the Strange New World Within the Bible.” Shane announces the review, and it is posted on the Center for Barth Studies website.

Go check it out!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Word and Spirit: Yves Congar’s Account of Church and Eucharist – Part 2

Word and Spirit in Trinity and Christology

It falls outside the scope of this study to give anything like a comprehensive account of Congar’s doctrine of the Trinity. This is especially true because, in the third volume of I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Congar spends a great deal of time discussing the development of the doctrine and dealing with the most important historical figures of both the Greek and the Latin churches. His study is organized by thinking about the filioque, and this point bears directly on the question of the relation between Word and Spirit.

Congar undertakes an orientating treatment of the relation between the economic Trinity and the immanent Trinity in the opening pages of I Believe in the Holy Spirit volume three. Although Congar accepts Rahner’s Grundaxiom that the economic Trinity simply ‘is’ the immanent Trinity, Congar is a little hesitant concerning Rahner’s umgekehrt - vice versa.[1] Congar isn’t quite ready to affirm that the immanent Trinity simply ‘is’ the economic Trinity for two reasons: first, because the theological tradition affirms (against Arianism as Congar locates it) that God would be Trinity even without the presence of creation, and; second, because even though God is truly revealed, God is not completely revealed. As he puts it, “The economic trinity thus reveals the immanent Trinity – but does it reveal it entirely? There is always a limit to this revelation.”[2]

That God is known truly if not completely is the result of God’s self-communication in the divine economy, or more technically, “the ‘divine missions’ of the Word and the Spirit are the processions of those Persons.”[3] It is precisely this logic that introduces the question of the filioque since it is founded on the Scriptural affirmation that the Holy Spirit is ‘the Spirit of Christ.’ While Congar affirms the importance of the filioque in Western trinitarian theology, he is also sensitive to the ecumenical difficulties that it has produced. At the heart of Congar’s analysis is his conviction that East and West finally have different ways of distinguishing between the divine persons; the East relying on the distinction between begetting or generation and ekporeusis, and the West operating with a much greater awareness of the “consubstantiality within the Trinity” such that all is shared except the various inter-‘personal’ relations.[4] Congar is finally in favor of the suppression of the filioque, provided that the East recognize that it is not heretical,[5] with the hope of calling a new ecumenical council to hash out an agreement on how to speak of the relation of the eternal processions of Word (Son) and Spirit.[6]

Although Congar is willing to suppress the filioque in the interest of furthering ecumenical understanding between East and West, it is not the case that he sees no relation between Word and Spirit. Indeed, Congar himself confesses that perhaps the fundamental conclusion to be drawn from his work on the Holy Spirit is that there should be “no Christology without pneumatology and no pneumatology without Christology.”[7] The goal of the present study makes it necessary to take up the first half of this affirmation and explore the role that Congar envisions for the Holy Spirit in Christology.

Congar is well aware of the trend toward ‘Spirit Christology’[8] developing around him and he does not simply want to discount its gains. But, Congar does interpret Spirit Christology in a very specific way.
This type of Christology in no sense contradicts the classical Christology that has been developed since Chalcedon. What it in fact does is to develop certain important aspects…which have not been sufficiently developed in the classical Christology based on the incarnate Word.[9]
Because he is concerned with the doctrine of the church as a whole extended temporally and geographically, and not with the particular theology of any one author, Congar is able to interpret Spirit Christology as a much-needed corrective. Precisely how Congar integrates Spirit and ‘classical’ Christology is of particular interest.

“Jesus is Son on several accounts,” Congar states.[10] First, he is the Son in terms of the incarnation, that is, his birth. This is where Congar locates the hypostatic union as the ontological reality of the Word of God incarnate. But, there are also two successive moments in which Jesus became the Son of God in a unique way in the economy of salvation, namely, at his baptism and at his resurrection. In these events the “virtus or effectiveness of the Spirit in Jesus was actuated in a new way.”[11] This position avoids adoptionism, according to Congar, because Jesus is ontologically or hypostatically the Son of God on the basis of the incarnation. This ontological reality is, at these later points, simply being realized in a new way for us and our salvation. Indeed, the individual’s salvation is “conformed to this model.”[12] Christians are God’s children on the basis of creation and predestination, which is actualized in baptism and resurrection.


  1. Congar, Holy Spirit, 3:13.

  2. Ibid, 16.

  3. Ibid, 12.

  4. Ibid, 202. The notion of inter-‘personal’ relations is mine. It refers to the relations between Father, Son and Holy Spirit and has no more to do with the mundane sense of the term ‘interpersonal’ than does speaking of ‘persons’ within the Trinity imply that each hypostasis is to be understood as an individual loci of consciousness.

  5. Ibid, 206.

  6. Ibid, 214.

  7. Congar, Word and Spirit, 1.

  8. Cf. Congar, Holy Spirit, 165n1. Congar offers Heribert Mühlen, P. J. Rosato and others as examples of this sort of Christology. Protestant examples would include Paul Tillich in his Systematic Theology (three volumes, University of Chicago Press, 1951-63) and, in a different way, Jürgen Moltmann in his The Way of Jesus Christ (Fortress Press, 1993).

  9. Congar, Holy Spirit, 3:165.

  10. Ibid, 170.

  11. Ibid, 171.

  12. Ibid, 170.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Most Recent Publications

“What Hath Broadway to do with New Haven? Vanhoozer’s Canonically Dramatic Take on Lindbeck’s Cultural-Linguistic Turn,” in Koinonia: The Princeton Theological Seminary Graduate Forum 19 (2007): 67-84

Review of Paul Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (Eerdmans, 2007), Koinonia: The Princeton Theological Seminary Graduate Forum 19 (2007): 162-4
I do not believe that this journal is accessible online, but you can go here for a list of all the libraries that carry it. If your theological library isn't on the list, go talk to your librarian! :-)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Word and Spirit: Yves Congar’s Account of Church and Eucharist – Part 1

*Note: This series is taken from a paper that I wrote a year or so ago. As such, it is - along with everything else that I write here on DET - my intellectual property. Feel free to make use of it as long as you observe the proper conventions of attribution.

Introduction

The significance of Yves Congar’s theology is clearly attested in Avery Cardinal Dulles’s comment that the Second Vatican Council “could almost be called Congar’s council.”[1] An ecclesiologist deeply rooted in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, Congar recognized early the importance of ecumenical dialogue when, as Fergus Kerr notes, “talking theology and praying, with Lutherans, Anglicans and Orthodox, was widely regarded as inappropriate for Catholics.”[2] Congar’s ecclesiological study and ecumenical engagement lead him to recover a doctrinal theme that had languished in the Roman Catholic tradition for some time, namely, the place of the Holy Spirit in theology as a whole and particularly within ecclesiology. Elizabeth Groppe makes this point when she writes that “Congar’s historical and ecumenical scholarship uncovered a tradition in which ecclesiology was indivisible from pneumatology.”[3]

The numerous articles and shorter works that flowed from Congar’s pen confirm this recovery, but perhaps it is most impressively demonstrated by his three-volume work, I Believe in the Holy Spirit.[4] This weighty study represents Congar’s mature understanding, an understanding that corrects certain of his earlier positions, as Congar himself points out. The most significant of these for the purposes of this essay has to do with the freedom of the Holy Spirit. Congar had previously, in his work entitled The Mystery of the Church, argued that though “the Church is always the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells in it,” the Holy Spirit is not “exclusively bound to the institution and working in and through it;” rather, “there exists a kind of free sector” in which the Holy Spirit works immediately, autonomously and personally.[5] Now, in the second volume of I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Congar notes that he still thinks that something like this free sector really exists, although he has come to recognize more clearly that this free activity of the Spirit “is always a question of doing the work of Christ and of building up the Body of Christ.”[6] Congar puts a fine point on this distinction when he makes note of this refinement of his thought again a few years later in The Word and the Spirit:
It is a mistake to think, as I did…that a kind of ‘free sector’ reserved for the Holy Spirit exists alongside the operation of the instituted structures and means of grace. The whole of Christian history bears witness to the fact that this freedom really exists, but it is the freedom of the living and glorified Lord Jesus together with his Spirit.[7]
It is this relation between the Word (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit with which the present study is concerned. The goal of this study is to understand the relation of these two themes in Congar’s understanding of the Eucharist. However, it is generally the case that how one understands the Eucharist is intimately connected to one’s understanding of the church. This is no less true for Congar, and so the relation of Word and Spirit in his ecclesiology must be explored. An investigation of the relation between Word and Spirit in Congar’s doctrine of the Trinity, as well as of the Spirit’s role in Congar’s Christology, will provide further grounding. This study will begin with the doctrine of the Trinity and move through Christology and ecclesiology to arrive at Congar’s doctrine of the Eucharist. Critical reflection on Congar’s theology as here expounded will serve as a conclusion. It should be noted that this study will draw primarily on Congar’s mature work in I Believe in the Holy Spirit and The Word and the Spirit, although limited use will be made of his earlier writings.


  1. Avery Cardinal Dulles, “Preface” in Yves Congar: Theologian of the Church (Edited by Gabriel Flynn; Louvain Theological & Pastoral Monographs, 32; Dudley, MA: Peeters Press, 2005), 27.

  2. Fergus Kerr, “Yves Congar” in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 39.

  3. Elizabeth Teresa Groppe, “The Contribution of Yves Congar’s Theology of the Holy Spirit” in Theological Studies 62 (2001), 477.

  4. Yves Congar, Je crois en l’Esprit Saint, 3 vols. (Paris: Cerf, 1979-80). This essay will make use of the English translation, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, 3 volumes in 1 (Translated by David Smith; New York: NY: Herder and Herder, Crossroad Publishing Company, 2006).

  5. Yves Congar, The Mystery of the Church (Translated by A. V. Littledale; London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1960), 180. Originally published as Esquisses du Mystere de l’Eglise (Paris: Cerf), the second edition of which appeared in 1953.

  6. Congar, Holy Spirit, 2:12. Emphasis in the original.

  7. Yves Congar, The Word and the Spirit (Translated by David Smith; San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986), 61. Originally published as La Parole et le Souffle (Paris: Desclée) in 1984.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Calvin on Confirmation as Catechesis

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.13 - "True Confirmation"
"How I wish that we might have kept the custom which, as I have said, existed among the ancient Christians...Not that it would be confirmation as they fancy, which cannot be named without doing injustice to baptism; but a catechizing, in which children or those near adolescence would give an account of their faith before the church. But the best method of catechizing would be to have a manual drafted for this exercise, containing and summarizing in simple manner most of the articles of our religion, on which the whole believers' church ought to agree without controversy. A child of ten would present himself to the church to declare his confession of faith, would be examined in each article, and answer to each; if he were ignorant of anything or insufficiently understood it, he would be taught. Thus, while the church looks on as a witness, he would profess the one true and sincere faith, in which the believing folk with one mind worship the one God.

If this discipline were in effect today, it would certainly arouse some slothful parents, who carelessly neglect the instruction of their children as a matter of no concern to them; for then they could not overlook it without public disgrace. There would be greater agreement in faith among Christian people, and not so many would go untaught and ignorant; some would not be so rashly carried away with new and strange doctrines; in short, all would have some methodical instruction, so to speak, in Christian doctrine."
I have long been convinced that lack of serious catechesis is one of the things that has lead to the continuing decline and prostitution of the church in North America, and that it is therefore one of its surest remedies. That Calvin took catechesis so seriously is something that I very much appreciate in him. Of course, I imagine that I picked it up from him to start with.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Charitie Bancroft: Before the Throne of God Above

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!
=========================

"[T]here are hymns that contain doctrinal insight to rival that of the best theology ever produced. The fact that they are falling out of the church's collective memory is something to be deeply regretted as it is one more facet of what at times seems to be a concerted effort to fail catechetically." - WTM

Friday, February 01, 2008

My Most Recent Publication

Review of Gerard Mannion, Ecclesiology and Postmodernity: Questions for the Church in Our Time (Liturgical Press, 2007), in Reviews in Religion and Theology 15.2 (March, 2008): 235-7.
If you or your institution have the correct subscriptions, you can find your way to a copy of this review through the Blackwell Publishing website for Reviews in Religion and Theology.