Monday, October 27, 2008

Types of Theology

I have been thinking lately about how to classify different types of theology. This is what I have come up with thus far. Don’t be shy in terms of leaving feedback as I would love to hear whether or not this sort of typology rings true.

What I am interested in here is only secondarily connected to the sorts of theological positions taken by those doing theology in any of the modes that I will explicate. The modes themselves are what interest me. It seems to me that one can fall anywhere on the continuum between orthodoxy and heterodoxy while working within any of these modes. Of course, some modes may make it easier than others to lean toward one or the other pole on this continuum, but that is beside the point.

Also, I don’t think that any theologian is working exclusively within any single one of these modes. Every theologian operates in combinations of these modes, with certain of them being primary and others secondary. Furthermore, the various modes within which a certain theologian works can be ordered in particular ways, such that certain modes serve more or less as a basis for movement toward other modes, or a particular mode can be understood as the telos of others. There is a lot of flexibility here. My descriptions below, however, will refer to what these modes tend to mean when adopted as the primary theological mode.

(1) Biblical Theology

This mode of theology is interested in unpacking the theological meaning of the biblical text. It can function at the level of canon, author, book, chapter, verse, phrase or word. It can be pursued with varying degrees of attention to the history of the text, whether history of development or history of reception.

(2) Confessional Theology

Confessional theology takes as its starting point the theological affirmations of a particular theological tradition, often identified in terms of denomination. It seeks to develop the particular insights of that particular tradition and to provide a compelling expression of that tradition in light of the contemporary situation.

(3) Constructive Theology

Innovation and idiosyncrasy are prized in constructive theology, where the goal is to take the theological tradition – broadly or narrowly conceived – in heretofore undeveloped or underdeveloped directions. It is often individualistic and academic in orientation.

(4) Contextual Theologies

Contextual theology takes the contemporary situation with utmost seriousness, and looks for ways to address that situation. Liberation and feminist theologies are fine examples, but postmodern theologians and American evangelical theology would fall broadly within this designation as well, although the latter perhaps not in terms of intent. Indeed, all theology ought to be contextual to some degree.

(5) Dogmatic Theology

Pursued in a Barthian style, Dogmatic theology is concerned with doing theology in service of the church. In this sense, it is similar to confessional theology. Torrance understands this to be related, also, to a particular version of scientific theology. Pursued in a Roman Catholic style, Dogmatic theology is similar to normative theology. One’s understanding of Dogmatic theology relates to how one parses the relationship between dogma and dogmas.

(6) Ecumenical Theology

Ecumenical theology is similar to confessional theology except that it works with a much more broadly defined tradition, namely, Nicaea, Chalcedon and their derivative councils. It looks for paths toward unity where the various sub-traditions need not give up their emphases, even if they must learn to appreciate and incorporate the emphases of other sub-traditions.

(7) Philosophical Theology

Philosophical theology seeks to bring theology into conversation with philosophy. This can be done in two ways. First, it can be done by bringing the tools of philosophical analysis, as well as philosophical modes of thought (philosophical topics: metaphysics, etc), to bear critically upon theology. Second, it can be done by bringing theology to bear constructively upon philosophical analysis and modes of thought.

(8) Natural Theology

Natural theology attempts to establish knowledge of God without appeal to specifically Christian revelation. It traditionally depends heavily on certain forms of metaphysics, cosmology, and ethical theory.

(9) Normative Theology

Undertaken from by a certified authority within a particular ecclesial polity, Normative theology is pursued whenever theological statements are made by which a particular ecclesial identity is constituted or delimited. Nicaea and Chalcedon are examples of such statements, as is the Augsburg Confession. It is operative for Roman Catholics whenever the Pope speaks ex cathedra.

(10) Scientific Theology

How one conceives of scientific theology depends on how one understands science. For instance, Charles Hodge – working with a more or less Baconian understanding of science – described theology as the collection and ordering of facts found within the biblical text. Another example is TF Torrance, who – working with a more or less Einsteinian conception of science – describes theology in terms of being confronted by and in turn expressing in a limited way the reality of God.

(11) Systematic Theology

There are different ways for theology to be pursued in a systematic mode. It can be understood in terms of a logically deductive system, where a single first principle or a collection of such principles are analyzed and synthesized in the production of a system. It can also be understood in a loci communes way, where various theological topics are ordered and discussed, usually in a creedal sequence. In either case, and most basically, systematic theology is concerned with penetrating to and explicating the relations inherent between the various loci of Christian doctrine.

(*) Historical Theology

A mode of theological engagement that focusses on theological texts, thinkers, and schools from the past. In keeping with the dictum that those who do not know the past are bound to repeat it, all modes of theological inquiry should have their historical elements. In this way, historical theology - like biblical theology - provides vital raw materials for further theological deployment as well as helps to elucidate the context within which theological inquiry is pursued in the present.

(*) Pastoral Theology

While theology is inherently practical, it is possible to do theology with greater or lesser attention to particular pastoral situations and the way in which theology’s claims are made concrete in individual and community life. This is the task of pastoral theology. Practitioners in this discipline often use tools and approaches from the social sciences.

(+) Political Theology

Here we have a theological mode that brings together many of the others. For political theology, done aright, must be biblical, is necessarily confessional, is always constructive if it is to address the people and problems of its own time and place, which also makes it contextual; normative, systematic, historical, and what could be more pastoral? Etc. Jesus gave his followers two great commandments, and in the sphere of political theology one deals with the intersection of love of God and love of neighbor.

An '*' indicates a mode of theology that the author originally forgot to include or was suggested to him for inclusion in the comments section. An '+' indicates an addition made in 2016.


Friday, October 24, 2008

My Most Recent Publication

W. Travis McMaken, "Review of Simon Chan's Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community," Evangelical Review of Theology (32.4): 375-7.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology - Take 3

In an encyclopedia entry entitled “The Trinity in Modern Theology,”[1] Colin Gunton lays what he considers to be the problems of Western trinitarian theology at Augustine’s feet.  As per Gunton’s estimation, Augustine “weakened the impact” (940) of the Cappadocians, who ingeniously developed a new way of thinking of God’s being – being-as-communion (939).  The first charge which Gunton levels against Augustine is that he reintroduces a neo-Platonic dualism that undermines this Cappadocian breakthrough (940), but the criticisms that most interests us is that Augustine blunted the social ramifications of conceiving of being-as-communion (based on the Cappadocian understanding of God’s being as being-as-communion) by “seeking…analogies for the being of God in the individual human mind – what is sometimes known as the ‘psychological analogy.’”  In Gunton’s mind, this makes the doctrine of the trinity “chiefly devotional” as opposed to ecclesial and social (941). 

            Gunton does not seem to understand what Augustine is up to in De Trinitate.  Gunton appears to assume that Augustine’s use of the “psychological analogy” contributes to the material content of the Augustine’s doctrine of the Trinity.  While we do not have the space to do so here, we would argue that the psychological analogy does not contribute to the material content of Augustine’s doctrine of the Trinity, but it does materially affect Augustine’s anthropology.  It is at precisely this point that Gunton does not understand De Trinitate.  Ellen Charry has argued that “De Trinitate is as much a treatise in moral as dogmatic theology.”[3]  De Trinitate isa protracted anthropological discussion grounded upon the doctrine of the Trinity.  In the closing pages of the work, Augustine summarizes the import of the preceding exploration by noting that God “has shown you those three things in yourself, in which you can recognize yourself as the image of that supreme trinity” (15.50).  The soul’s recognition of itself as in the image of the Trinitarian God is Augustine’s goal, and this is a goal aimed at moral reshaping of the human person.  And yet, this moral reshaping is not “chiefly devotional” as Gunton would lead us to believe, for it involves growing in the virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation and justice (14.12) – virtues which only find expression in our interaction with our fellow humanity and the rest of the created order.  Furthermore, Augustine is clear that in this process our love is transformed from “twisted” to “straight,” and while the straightening of our loves must begin with the straightening of our love for God, it does not exclude the straightening of our love for neighbors (14.18). 

            In summary, we would content contra Gunton that Augustine’s work in De Trinitate has immense social and ecclesial import and that the “psychological analogy” should not be understood as a way of our understanding God as much as a way of our understanding ourselves as being in the image of God.  Furthermore, the Augustine’s ordering of placing proper love for God as the basis of proper love for neighbor is correct, in that it is only as our love for God becomes renewed that our love of our neighbor can become renewed.

[1] Colin E. Gunton, “The Trinity in Modern Theology,” pp. 937-57 in Companion Encyclopedia of Theology (Edited by Peter Byrne and Leslie Houlden; New York, New York: Routledge, 1995).

[2] While our being unable to conceive of it does not make it necessarily false, Augustine did touch on one very important aspect of this quandary in the course of De Trinitate.  As Augustine says, “if being is predicated by way of relationship, then being is not being…every being that is called something by way of relationship is also something besides the relationship” (DT 7.2).  In this way Augustine makes the point that being must precede relationship since for there to be a relationship there must be two ‘things’ to be related.  In this way, while we affirm that being (especially God’s being) is defined by communion, it is not constituted by communion.  This becomes tricky when dealing with God because there is the play the notion of God as actus purus, which would seem to want to break down this distinction.  With reference to God this seems fine, but it is not self-evident that this then should be predicated of the created order.

[3] Ellen Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine (Oxford: OUP, 1997) 129.  Gunton had read Charry by 1998 as evidenced in his essay “The Forgotten Trinity” published in Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Essays Toward a Fully Trinitarian Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2003), where on page 8 he favorably interacts with Charry’s discussion of Basil of Caesarea.  


Friday, October 17, 2008

Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology - Take 2

In a paper[1] delivered to the Southeastern regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Brad Green undertook to defend Augustine from his modern day detractors.  He focuses specifically on the work of Colin Gunton, first describing the trends of Gunton’s own interpretation of Augustine and then turning to Augustine’s own De Trinitate in an attempt to mitigate against Gunton’s arguments (1). 

            Green points out that Gunton interprets Western thought against the background of the philosophical problem of the One and the Many, moving from there to consider the continuity between creation and redemption as well as the question of a Christian ontology (2).  Gunton’s understanding is that in the West the One has triumphed over the Many and he attributes this victory primarily to Augustine’s work on the Trinity (3).  Further, Gunton thinks that this ancient emphasis on the One lead moderns to privilege the Many (individualism being one example of this – 4).  With reference to the relationship between creation and redemption, Gunton thinks that it is vital to affirm continuity and argues that Augustine fails in this affirmation.  Drawing on Irenaeus, Gunton maintains that redemption is the telos of creation (5).  Augustine is not able to make such an affirmation as far as Gunton is concerned because he sees Augustine’s emphasis on the One as making salvation history irrelevant for the doctrine of God.  Thus, Augustine, under Gunton’s account, has trouble dealing with particulars and must look to the human mind rather than redemptive history for analogies to the Trinity (6).  With reference to a Christian ontology, Gunton thinks that this is the result of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Cappadocians.  Gunton argues that, for the Cappadocians, communion and relationship constitute the divine ousia (7).  The result of this move for Gunton is that the One is defined in terms of the Many, that is, there really are three divine persons who are joined so closely in relationship that the one ousia of God is actually constituted by this relationship (8-9).  As far as Gunton is concerned, Augustine is working with an Aristotelian ontology with its distinction between ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ (9) that prevents him from truly being able “to conceive of the persons as the substance of God.”  The effect of this in Gunton’s estimation is to establish and unknown substance of God behind the known relationships such that God’s being remains unknown (10). 

            Having thus described Gunton’s criticisms and concerns with reference to Augustine, Green turns to Augustine’s work in De Trinitate to test Gunton’s claims.  Green commends Gunton in his attempt to rethink contemporary theological problems in light of their historical roots (11) but lists six points of disagreement with Gunton’s understanding of Augustine based on Green’s own reading of De Trinitate.  First, Green seeks to mitigate against Gunton’s concerns about the hidden-ness of God in Augustine’s scheme by pointing out that Augustine’s goal is to attain a vision of God, even if this vision will only be fully attained in the next life, and it is for this reason that Augustine offers the anthropological analogies for the Trinity so reticently.  Further, redemptive history is revelatory for Augustine because he writes as one who already believes in the Trinity (12-13).  Second, Green argues contra Gunton that Augustine does understand redemption to be the telos of creation as attested by the revelatory role that the created order plays.  We “come to know invisible realities through the visible world” (13-14).  Third, Augustine’s distinction between the divine missions and the divine processions is important.  Green points out that “Augustine holds that what God does in time reveals who God is in eternity.”  Gunton’s criticisms of Augustine as to the unknowability of God and the superfluous place of the three persons are called in to question (15).  Fourth, Green points out the polemical nature of De Trinitate (making reference to Michel Rene Barnes).  One of the most important polemical features in De Trinitate by Green’s account is the centrality of Christ’s death, which he notes as playing a key role in books 4 and 13.  Because Augustine reframes the vision of God as only being possible through Christ, Green detects an “anti-neoplatonic polemic” (16).  This emphasis serves to show that for Augustine we really only come to know God through Christ (17).  Fifth, Green argues that the Trinitarian relationship is attributed to the divine substance in Augustine’s understanding.  While Green recognizes that this is not made explicit in De Trinitate, he views it as consistent because without relationship the divine Trinity would cease to exist in Augustine’s account (17-18).  Sixth and finally, Green pushes us to consider the relational aspect of the imago Dei in Augustine’s thought, noting that for Augustine the image “is not a static faculty such as reason” but is to be centered on a relationship with God (18). 

            On the basis of these six points, Green feels as though a more careful reading of Augustine’s De Trinitate serves to protect Augustine from the brunt of Gunton’s criticisms.  In closing, we would like to raise questions for two of Green’s points.  With reference to the sixth, while Green seems to be correct, he also misses a step.  Augustine’s understanding of the imago Dei is certainly directed toward relationship with God, but it is also the means to that relationship.  This is the role of the vestigia trinitatis, namely, establishing the necessary conditions for relationship between God and humanity - the human person’s knowledge of God.  Second, Green’s fifth point concerning relationship as a substance term for Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity lacks nuance.  Augustine argues that while nothing can be said of God “modification-wise” there is another alternative to speaking of God “substance-wise,” namely “relationship-wise” (V.6).  Indeed, Augustine argues that being cannot equal relationships because being precedes relationship.  The basic insight here is that there must logically be two “things” before they can be in relationship.  Finally, Augustine does not finally relegate the divine attributes such as “great” and “wise” to relationship speech, but refers them to the Trinity as a whole (VII.2).  So, the ousia is not constituted by relationship but by these attributes.  However, these attributes only find expression in relationship whether intra- or extra-Trinitarian.  Thus, while the ousia is not constituted by the divine relationships, we might say that it is defined by those relationships. 

[1] Brad Green, “Augustine and the Trinity in Contemporary Theology” from the Theological Research Exchange Network (TREN): Conference Papers; 2001, 20p.   Citations given above.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology

In an article entitled “Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology,”[1] Michel Rene Barnes explores what he considers the bankruptcy of contemporary systematic treatments of Augustine with specific reference to the doctrine of the Trinity.   Barnes’ specific interest is revealing the “methodological presuppositions” at work in these treatments of Augustine (237).  He notes the standard division of “patristic Trinitarian doctrine” into the Greek and Latin camps (ibid), noting that this division derives from the work of Theodore de Regnon in the late 19th century and that this division must be demonstrated (238).  After sketching some ways in which de Regnon’s paradigm is employed in contemporary treatments of Augustine, Barnes points out that these treatments depend on broad generalizations of Augustine’s thought (239).  Barnes detects a certain confidence in employing these broad generalizations and attributes this confidence to two points.

First, the confidence reflects a positive sense of all the new things that we have learned as moderns through the mechanism of “paradigm shifts”; not the least of what we have learned is the existence of such paradigms themselves.  Second, the confidence to speak in architectonic narrative forms reflects a general sense that details matter less than perspective, that historical facts are only epiphenomena of an architectonic paradigm or hermeneutic, so that a sufficient knowledge of “facts” can be acquired solely through the practice of a hermeneutical or an ideological critique in itself, since any “fact” can itself be reduced to an expression or the symptom of a hermeneutic or ideology (241).

That is, contemporary treatments are confident in their generalizations because we tend to think ourselves more aware than our forebears and because specific statements and positions are read in light of the larger paradigm rather than the larger paradigm being built with attention to specific statements and positions.

            Barnes attributes the fact that contemporary systematic theologians seem to prefer architectonic narrative forms to their preference for “an idealistic style of writing” (243), by which he means (1) interest in polar opposition (2) describing cultural forms by means of the logic of ideas.  For Barnes, all of these things suggest the influence of German idealism (ibid).  In the realm of historical studies, Barnes identifies Oliver du Roy’s work on Augustine as particularly influential and particularly flawed along these lines.  This is primarily because du Roy discussed Augustine’s Trinitarian theology in conversation with the philosophy of Augustine’s time as opposed to its relationship to preceding doctrinal understanding (244). 

            At this point, Barnes has built up to what is his fundamental critique.  He writes, “The rhetorical voice of such reconstructive narratives is one of comprehensiveness, but the ‘historical method’ supporting the narratives is in fact reductive.  Stories of increasing scope are told on the basis of diminishing experience and evidence” (248-9).  For Barnes, it is bad enough that scholars would make sweeping generalizing claims based upon careful attention to the sources, but it is altogether unacceptable when these kinds of claims are developed out of a basic failure to read the relevant primary sources.  For instance, Barnes notes that polemical context is frequently avoided (cf. 245) and that Augustine’s last Trinitarian works are not read simply because they exist only in Latin and systematic theologians generally do not work in Latin (cf. 248).  Specifically with reference to De Trinitate, Barnes notes that contemporary treatments tend to be insufficient for three reasons: (1) little attention is given to the polemical context (2) little attention is paid to the fact that Augustine builds his arguments on exegetical series (3) few are aware of the previous use of many important Scriptural passages for earlier Trinitarian theology (cf. 247). 

            Barnes’ explication of contemporary systematic treatment of Augustine is a challenge to systematic theologians.  But, it also begs the question of to what degree systematic theology can properly be separated from historical theology.  As per Barnes’ argument, the former seems to begin where the latter leaves off.

[1] Michel Rene Barnes, “Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology” pp. 237-50 in Theological Studies 56 (1995).  Page citations given in the main text.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

2008 Stone Lectures: Lecture 5 - “President Edwards and Esther Edwards Burr Return to Princeton University: Is There a Problem?”

George Marsden
Thursday, October 9, 12.45 PM.

Esther Edwards Burr was Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ daughter, who died a few weeks after her father died at 26 years old, leaving two children behind. Esther is Marsden’s favorite of the Edwards on a personal level. We know a lot about her personally because she and a good friend exchanged daily diaries reflecting on their daily lives and thoughts – discussing novels, for instance. Also, Esther could hold her own in social situations, and she recalls one instance where a man disparaged women’s intellectual abilities. She “talked him into silence,” as she put it. She was not initially happy to move to Princeton, but became less recalcitrant after a revival hit the College of New Jersey campus.

Neither Jonathan nor Esther would find much to cheer them if returning to Princeton University today. What occurs in social sciences and humanities classes would dishearten them, and they would have a hard time conceiving of what the point of a contemporary university education could be. The question is, “How does an Edwardsian orientation fit in with the contemporary university?”

Marsden is not interested in conservative Christians somehow retaking control of the historic American universities. Such an occurrence seems so unlikely as to be a waste of time to talk about. But, Marsden does not think that Jonathan Edwards would be a good candidate for president of Princeton University today. The fact is that he was fundamentally Constantinian in orientation. Even the Protestant Christian Right today hold to the separation of church and state, but Edwards had no such conviction and tended to think that Reformed Protestantism would one day rule the world. The only way for Edwards to regain such a presidency would be for him to be convinced to play by the rules of contemporary culture, and he would likely be more likely to stick with his pastoral and missionary work, or perhaps set about founding a new higher education establishment for those of similar orientation.

Still, might there be a way for Jonathan or Esther to teach at Princeton University without leaving behind their theological convictions? Would they be able to find a place within such a university?

It would be necessary to explain to them how universities like Princeton have been shaped and reshaped by the demands of social, economic, and political forces. One of the important moments in this development occurred after the Civil War when higher education was refitted to serve national interests of social consolidation and technological development. Woodrow Wilson played a role in this as Princeton University president and as President of the United States. He recast Princeton University in terms of a vague and ecumenical Protestantism, and a strong public / private distinction was made. Private, sectarian religion was something that you increasingly checked at the door. Part of this was driven by the ascendency of natural science in the academy as the model for truth-seeking. One had to be free from prejudices and faith commitments, it was thought, to pursue objective scientific research. What happened was that the old religious Constantinianism was replaced by a new secular Constantinianism.

The post-1960 era is another stage of development, whose dominant motif is diversity and not uniformity or conformity. Further, the trend toward technological and vocational training and away from training in the humanities continued. Universities increasingly came to serve the global and consumerist marketplace. Postmodernity, Marsden thinks, has had the positive effect of overthrowing natural science as the final arbiter of truth, but it has unfortunately gone even further by dethroning all authorities – further damaging the humanities.

All these forces make it difficult to reintroduce religion to the university setting. The fundamental question is, “Which religion?” Particularist religious beliefs, especially those that once held power or still have aspirations of power, are often worrisome because they contradict the politically- and market-driven desire for stabilization. The universities cannot really be blamed for this worry, since the social rhetoric of conservative Christians is often cast in the mode of reclamation of power. Marsden, as previously noted, does not agree with this rhetoric and wants to appeal to Kuyper and the Dutch tradition in negotiating the relation between Christians and the universities.

Kuyper represents a version of the Christian tradition that is neither Constantinian nor sectarian – this tradition is in the world but not of the world. Three core beliefs of this position are that no religion or ideology should have a monopoly or be established by the state, that substantive religious groups should have a place in the public sphere, and that the place of various religions should be one dimension in thinking about what constitutes a just society. Pluralism must include, not exclude, religion. The proper role of public institutions is to promote justice, maximizing equal treatment for all religions and ideologies. Some religious practices must be limited in the public domain, but the goal should be to keep these limits to a minimum. This runs counter to the current tendency of inhibiting substantive religion in the public sphere. Such a policy can never succeed since people of particular religious convictions can never and would never want to set them aside within the public domain.

Perhaps if Jonathan and Esther understood how far gone our culture is from their spiritual concerns, they would dedicate themselves to instructing students and – given Jonathan’s constant desire to engage with the best minds of his day – perhaps even seek to do so at Princeton University.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Announcing the 2008 Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary

That is right! Your intrepid band of PTS theo-bloggers are at it again, organizing and combining their efforts to bring you coverage of the 2008 Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary. This year’s Stone Lecturer is George Marsden, noted historian and Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. His lectures are entitled “Rip Van Edwards: President Jonathan Edwards Returns to Princeton After 250 Years,” and promise to be interesting – to say the least. I encourage you to take a look at the official poster for the lectures.

Links to coverage of each lecture will be provided at each participating blog. The following is a schedule of the lectureship’s coverage:

Monday, Oct 6, 7PM – David Congdon
Tuesday, Oct 7, 1.15PM – Darren Sumner
Tuesday, Oct 7, 7PM – Chris TerryNelson
Wednesday, Oct 8, 7PM - David Congdon
Thursday, Oct 9, 12.45PM – Travis McMaken

So, stay tuned! The fun begins tomorrow!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Gregory of Nyssa’s "Great Catechism": Synopsis, Chapters 1-32

I worked this out in conjunction with my duties as preceptor (assistant instructor, discussion leader) for one of the introductory theology courses here at PTS.  It summarizes the argument and high-points of the various chapters of Nyssen's Great Catechism so that one can more easily grasp the whole.  Any beginning theology students who come across this synopsis are encouraged to treat it as a reading guide to help them better grasp what Nyssen is up to, but they should under no circumstances employ it as a substitute for actually reading Nyssen's text.   - WTM


Chapters 1 & 2: An unfolding of God’s trinitarian existence through analogy to human existence.

Chapter 3: Summary of the preceding, Christianity a mean between Hellenist polytheism and Jewish monotheism.

Chapter 4: All this grounded in Scripture, aimed at convincing a Jewish interlocutor.

Incarnation and Redemption:

Chapter 5: Setting up human participation in God / goodness, and free will is a necessary piece. Evil comes from free will. Vice is the absence of virtue.
Chapter 6: Explaining how evil / vice could arise. Humans are a mixture of intelligible and sensible elements, and are changeable. Envy is the root of vice.

Chapter 7: More of the same. There is no evil other than wickedness, and wickedness is the deprivation of good. Evil does not exist in itself but is located in the human will.

Chapter 8: Evil in the will is predicated upon an erroneous judgment about the good. Salvation conceived as our re-creation. Soul and body are joined in evil and in re-creation. Virtue heals the soul in this life, and if it is not healed now it will be hereafter. God foresaw our sin and devised a plan to fix it. Creatures are subject to change, and evil when that change is divorced from their created goodness. Revelation shows that only God is capable of saving us after our fall.

Chapter 9: Nyssen anticipates the criticism that the incarnation is degrading to God, and argues that the morally beautiful belongs to God’s being. The implication is that the incarnation is morally beautiful.

Chapter 10: Nyssen argues that there is no reason to think that divinity is circumscribed by humanity in the incarnation.

Chapter 11: There is an analogy between how the soul and body relate in human beings and how the divinity and humanity relate in Christ. Both are ineffable.

Chapter 12: Christ’s activities correspond with the divine, and this is evidence of the incarnation.

Chapter 13: Birth and death are usually considered un-divine because both involve weakness: the weakness of birth as resulting from sensual pleasure, and the weakness of death as physical decay. Neither of these things took place with reference to Christ, so no weakness in Christ’s birth and death.

Chapter 14: A pivotal question: Why did God become incarnate?

Chapter 15: We would not know God if he had not become incarnate and secured salvation’s benefits for us. Only vice opposes virtue, not materiality as such, so the incarnation does not involve God in vice and does not contradict divine goodness.

Chapter 16: There was no sensual pleasure involved in Christ’s birth and no vice in his life, so incarnation does not involve God in weakness. Birth and death are changes / movements in human existence to which God is subjected in the incarnation. Christ’s death does not involve weakness because, whereas the soul and body are separated by death, Christ reunited them in the resurrection.

Chapter 17: Nyssen addresses detractors. Patients don’t debate the terms of healing with physicians so we ought not do so with God. The eye of faith is required to grasp matters, although in the end it will be revealed to all.

Chapter 18: Though the eye of faith is required, there is still the witness of history. The flourishing of the church and the destruction of the Jewish temple argue for the truth of the incarnation.

Chapter 19: Nyssen finally begins directly addressing the question of Chapter 14. Human nature is healed by union with divine nature.

Chapter 20: God is defined by all excellent things, and especially by goodness. How do these fit with the incarnation? Nothing is more good than God’s acting to regain our allegiance, while God’s wisdom and skill are revealed in the economy as God does so. God’s wisdom and justice require special attention.

Chapter 21: Nyssen returns to his anthropology. Humanity is subject to change because it comes into existence. Human alteration is also necessary to distinguish humanity from God. Alteration can move either toward good or away from good (toward evil), and this movement is driven by the will which desires beauty but can be mistaken about what is beautiful. This is the situation from which we need saving, and God’s goodness / wisdom / justice are revealed in the salvific process.

Chapter 22: Justice pertains to the means by which God ransoms humanity.

Chapter 23: What would Satan take in exchange for humanity? Something better, which Christ reveals himself to be while his divinity remained hidden. That redemption was a matter of exchange exhibits God’s justice and the manner in which this was prosecuted reveals God’s wisdom.

Chapter 24: God’s wisdom hid Christ’s deity under his humanity, which made him like a baited fish-hood. In accepting the exchange, Satan inadvertently established the conditions necessary to break his own power by introducing divine life and goodness into the heart of human death and evil.

Chapter 25: The incarnation is not all that strange conceptually speaking because God is always present to everything, but he is uniquely present in the incarnation so that our nature might become divine.

Chapter 26: God skillfully combined justice and love. Justice is defined by fitting recompense, and it is fitting that the deceiver (Satan) was deceived. The approximation of divine goodness to human sin obliterates the latter, and this expulsion of evil restores us to the primal state in which we were created. This is done by means of God passing through all accidents of human life (and, though it is not stated here, by Christ acting virtuously therein).

Chapter 27: All aspects of human life are tainted by sin, and so all require healing. That is why God partook of all human life’s accidents (recapitulation). All creation is equally beneath God’s dignity, but doing good to those in need is not. The incarnation is therefore not foreign to God.

Chapter 28: God is separate from evil, but human nature and materiality are not evil as such. So, the incarnation is not inconceivable.

Chapter 29: Why did God wait so long to become incarnate? He waited for evil to become as extensive as possible so as to heal it as extensively as possible.

Chapter 30: Why is sin not now entirely removed from our existence? Sin is defeated and dead, but still in its death throes. Free will is part of this equation.

Chapter 31: God does not work through fiat or sheer omnipotence, but respects humanity’s free will – which God created. There is no virtue without free will, and there is no value to life without virtue.

Chapter 32: Some say it was needless for God to submit to death, but he had to because death is part of human existence (in the background is the logic of ‘what is not assumed is not redeemed’, see chapters 26 & 27). Christ’s birth was for the sake of his death since our nature needed lifting from death. Christ’s resurrection has implications for the whole human race. Mystagogy of the cross: the shape of the cross points in four directions, and represents the union of heaven (God) and earth (humanity) spanning from birth to death.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

John Paul II’s / JP2’s “Top 13” of Vatican II / V2

The following list was compiled by Dennis Doyle and is based on JP2’s “As the Third Millennium Draws Near” / Tertio Millennio Adveniente (1994). It ranks what JP2 thought were the important developments of Vatican 2. Some context is required, however, and Doyle provides it: “For John Paul II, the greatest principle of the Council was its affirmation that salvation comes through Christ, and the second is like it: that the salvation of Christ is mediated to us through the mystery of the Church, his body. All other developments of the Council need to be read in this light” (80). So, without further ado, here is the list.

Dennis M. Doyle, Communion Ecclesiology: Vision and Versions (Orbis, 2000): 80-1.

  1. A renewed discovery on the part of the Church of the depth of its identity as a mystery and as the body and bride of Christ.

  2. The reaffirmation of the universal call to holiness.

  3. The reform of the liturgy.

  4. The renewal of church life on both the universal and local levels.

  5. The promotion of various vocations, from those of the laity to those of religious, deacons, priests, and bishops.

  6. The rediscovery of episcopal collegiality.

  7. The openness to Christians of other denominations.

  8. The openness to followers of other religions.

  9. The openness to all people of our time.

  10. The affirmation of religious liberty.

  11. The affirmation of cultural diversity.

  12. The attention to the means of social communication.

  13. The authentic autonomy of earthly realities (understood as compatible with the absolute lordship of God).
Doyle provides further commentary, noting that JP2’s list is especially interesting because of “its simultaneous stress on the Church as mystery and on strengthening the church’s internal and institutional elements” (81), which amounts to something of a consolidation of both conservative and progressive readings of Vatican 2. However, there is represented here “a subordination of the progressive matters to concerns for the institution, which concerns are in turn subordinated to a regard for the mystical elements of the Church as a mystery” (ibid). When all is said and done, what we find here is an “ordering or priorities. Progressive reforms such as increased sensitivity to cultural diversity, ecumenical progress, religious freedom, the preferential option for the poor, and interreligious dialogue are to be pursued, but always humbly in a spirit of repentance, and with a strong affirmation of ecclesial structures and above all of the mystery of Christ and the Church” (83).