PTS Barth Conference, Day 1

Wow. That was quite a day. There were two sessions today, each with one speaker from the Roman Catholic side and one from the protestant side. The first session was on divine being, and Robert Jenson was the first speaker. He began by highlighting the strangeness of Barth’s doctrine of God, especially his use of the notions of decision and event to do the heavy duty metaphysical work generally done by the notion of essence. But at every juncture Barth tries to get us to turn our attention away from the lanugage that we use and toward the encounter with God as and where it occurs.

Is God’s tri-fold being given in the event of divine decision, or is that tri-fold being antecedent to that event? Barth can be read either way, and Jens won’t comment further at present. Of course, the entirety of his discussion move in one of these directions as opposed to the other. The whole of the Church Dogmatics is a doctrine of God’s being. For Barth, discourse about God’s being reduces to the tautology, God is God, and expands to a universal discourse. And the lynchpin that holds both the reduction and the expansion together is the triune name.

Richard Schenk was the second speaker on the topic of the divine being. His lecture had an intricate thetic arcitechure, which I suspect will be easier to read than hear.

He began by noting how past work toward inter- and intra-confessional dialogue and consensus has had as a side effect the undermining the integrity of the various traditions. Consequently, the ecumenical slowdown at present could well be a good thing, allowing time for the various traditions to take stock of what has been achieved and reconceive of their unique identities.

Constructively, he sought to elucidate the theologia crucis implicit within Thomistic / scholastic thought. Thomas’ treatise on God has the structure of a theodicy insofar as, despite appearances, the discussion is fundamentally concerned with the human believer as one confronted by God. Metaphysics persists within Christian theology as a recognition of human abiding need for grace from an Other. All of this, Schenk argues, converges significantly with the concerns of Robert Jenson's theology.

The second session was on the Trinity. Guy Mansini spoke first, reflecting for starters that his lecture could easily carry the subtitle, “Why obedience and humility are not trinitarian realities.” The meat of his lecture began by discussing precisely what obedience and humility entail in the benedictine monastic tradition. He seems to assume that for such things to be a trinitarian reality would require a multiplicity of wills in the trinity. Instead, they are created things, and Jesus Christ acts in this way insofar as he is human but not insofar as he is divine. The thrust of his discussion is aimed at teaching us how to obey and be humble in a human way, which Christ models for us - not some divine humility and obedience that would mean nothing to us. He also has concerns that speaking of humility and obedience as antecedent to the incarnation would introduce something like an eternal incarnation prior to the incarnation, of which he is unable to conceive.

Bruce McCormack provided the second discussion of the Trinity. McCormack expressed astonishment at how much convergence is present between Barth and Thomas on particular topics, and he (McCormack) discussed this with reference to trinitarian missions and processions. He (McCormack) also noted that he has changed his mind a bit about Thomas based on a forthcoming essay by Matthew Levering. The particulars of this are highly technical, and are best engaged when all the material is in print. Suffice it to say here that the basic point Levering makes is that, for Thomas, the missions contain the processions (not a straightforward statement, to be sure!). On the basis of Levering’s reading of Thomas, McCormack’s paper attempts to bring Thomas and Barth into proximity on these matters.

These thought-provoking sessions were topped off by some excellent conversation with a broad spectrum of people. Now to grab a few hours of sleep and try to do it over again...



Bobby Grow said…
Thanks for reporting, Travis!

Now, the question is; how do you read Barth? You believe that God gives himself his being in the Incarnation/Resurrection (election); right?
I believe that I shouldn't haphazardly comment on something that my far betters disagree about.
jstamps said…
What Matthew Levering article on St Thomas did Bruce McCormack like so much? The unwashed masses want to know!
Bobby Grow said…
Yes, good reply. I was just baiting you anyway . . . good eye ;-).
Jordan Barrett said…
Was McCormack talking about Levering's forthcoming book, Predestination (OUP)?
McCormack didn't say what piece of Levering's he was working from, except that it is forthcoming. So it might be that predestination book.
David H said…
I understood Mc to say Levering's was a forthcoming article in the Thomist.

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