Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Calvin to Farel on Melanchthon, Bucer, Ecclesiastical Ceremonies, and Ecumenics

Some of you may remember that I recently purchased a 7-volume set of Calvin’s tracts and correspondence. I’ve been reading through the first correspondence volume as a sort of summer vacation treat (and to prepare for teaching a Reformation course in the Fall…), and it has been a lot of fun. I came across the following passage and decided to post it since (a) it is interesting on a number of levels, and (b) I knew that Tim Butler would be interested in seeing it (he’s in the early stages of a doctoral program aimed at writing on Bucer). It might also be of interest to friend-of-the-blog Jason Ingalls, who has worked on the influence of Calvin on early Anglican theology. So, here we go…

Calvin was very involved in the political and theological maneuvering within the Holy Roman Empire during his stay in Strasbourg. Bucer had recognized Calvin’s talent early on, and tended to keep him nearby if disputations were in the works. As far as I can tell, this letter’s context are preparations undertaken by the Protestants to establish some basic unity between themselves before the coming HRE diet (held in 1541at Regensburg, otherwise known as Ratisbon; this diet both continued and supplanted some more restricted conferences at Worms the previous year; it was also with respect to Calvin’s work at Regensburg that Melanchthon referred to him as “the Theologian”). In the course of this epistolary extract, Calvin takes on a number of less than flattering opinions concerning Melanchthon and Bucer.

Letter of John Calvin to William Farel in April of 1539, as represented in John Calvin, John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, 4.136-7. As always, emphasis is mine.

Of late, I have plainly told Philip [Melanchthon] to his face how much I disliked that overabounding of ceremonies; indeed, that it seemed to me the form which they observe was not far removed from Judaism. When I pressed him with argument, he was unwilling to dispute with me about the matter, but admitted that there was an over-doing in these either trifling or superfluous rites and ceremonies. He said, however, that it had been found necessary to yield in that matter to the Canonists, who are here the stumbling-block in the way; that, however, there was no part of Saxony which is not more burdened with them than Wittenberg, and even there much would be retrenched by degrees from such a medley. But he made a small reservation, to the effect that the ceremonies which they have been compelled to retain were not more approved of by Luther than was our sparing use of them. I wish that our excellent friend N. could behold how much sincerity there is in Philip. All suspicion of double-dealing would entirely vanish. Besides, as to Bucer’s defence of Luther’s ceremonies, he does not do so because he eagerly seeks them, or would endeavor to introduce them. But no means can he be brought to approve of chanting in Latin. Images he abhors. Some other things he despises, while others he cares nothing at all about. There is no occasion to fear that he would be for restoring those things which have been once abolished; only he cannot endure that, on account of these trifling observances, we should be separated from Luther. Neither, certainly, do I consider them to be just causes of dissent.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Again, I’m playing fast and loose with that whole “Fortnight” thing, although we’re pretty close this time – only a few days short.

Anyway, here’s another batch of links to keep you busy. The buffer is getting lower now, but it isn’t empty yet so look for another installment in due course. This will be a big one, though…

To begin, there have been a few posts with actual content here at DET since the last of these posts. One of these was contributor Scott Rice’s post dealing with Ben Myers’ paper on Augustine and Romans 5 at the recent PTS Romans conference. Speaking of Scott, if you flip over to the DET contributing authors page, you will notice that Scott has graduated from PTS and will begin the ThD program at Harvard Div next semester. Well done, Scott!

There was also a post from me on Dan Migliore and fideism. And don't forget the stuff on recent Roman Catholic shenanigans.

Enough preliminaries. Here are some links…

  • Jason Goroncy has a post up about some of his current project. Jason is one of the better theo-bloggers out there (I was very pleased to meet him at the Barth conference in Princeton about a year ago), so it is fun to see what he is working on offline, as it were.
  • Nathan Maddox has a sermon up entitled For the Love of God and dealing with John 21.9-22. He seems to be sticking with that whole numbered thesis structure…
  • For Christ and His Kingdom, the blog associated with a number of Wheaton College grad students, has a post up discussing Keith Johnson’s paper from the recent Wheaton Bonhoeffer conference. Coincidentally, Keith’s most excellent book on Barth and the Analogy of Being is now in paperback and, consequently, much more affordable. Go buy it.
  • Darren Sumner takes aim at Leo’s Tome in this post about the communication idiomatum. I’ve never liked the Tome, so I’m very glad to see Darren taking it down a peg. I always think of McGuckin’s comment on the Tome, explaining that it was only accepted by the council insofar as it agreed with Cyril.
  • Bobby Grow gives us an update on the Evangelical Calvinism book project that he has been working on with Myk Habets. It’s almost here!
  • I’m sure many of you have seen Ben’s recent post on how to access materials and video from Sarah Coakley’s recent Gifford lectures (here is the link). But I also wanted to thank Darren for posting about this a while back and bringing it to my attention.
  • Good friend of the blog and Episcopal priest currently serving in the UK, Jason Ingalls, shares his attempt at retelling the story of Genesis 1-3 in “Once upon a time” form. I particularly like his bit on sin.
  • Another sermon, this one from Halden Doerge and on 1 John 3.1-7. The title is We only know it will be love.
  • Michael Gibson digs up some interesting ecumenical letters that passed between Barth and various Roman Catholic groups.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Roman Catholicism in the News, with some Protestant Reflections

This was originally an appendix to the link post that I have scheduled for Saturday morning. But it continued to grow and began to take over that post, so I decided that it required separate billing. I recognize that I'm diving into dangerous territory here, what with rolling up theological, ecumenical, sexual, and political issues into a big ball...but what are blogs for if not stuff like this?

I’m sure you have heard about the current fracas within Roman Catholicism over the recent Vatican (CDF, actually) censure of a large North American nun organization (Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing ~57,000 women whose median age is over 70…). There have also been reports of the USA bishops "investigating" the Girl Scouts and, of course, there's all that stuff in the political arena at the moment over health insurance and contraception. For my very Protestant money, this is one more instance of the deeply broken nature of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and of Rome’s continuing commitment to rolling back not only specific provisions established in the Second Vatican Council but also its spirit. But that’s all I’ll say about it, for now anyway. Here are some good links on the subject.

  • Gary Willis comes right out with it in the New York Review of books and talks about Bullying the Nuns.
  • Mary Hunt writes for the Religion Dispatches mag, offering a pronouncement of solidarity: We Are All Nuns.
  • Nicholas Kristof rips off Hunt’s title when writing for the New York Times a few days later: We Are All Nuns.
  • Maureen Dowd brings her characteristic sarcastic wit to bear on the situation in this stinging New York Times op-ed entitled, Bishops Play Church Queens as Pawns.
  • Sticking with the New York Times, Jim Dwyer writes about the humanitarian work that the nuns undertake in New York City: In Deeds, Nuns Answer Call of Duty.
  • More from Maureen Dowd, this time taking shots at how remarkably un-catholic the Roman Catholic church has looked lately: Here Comes Nobody.
  • Also, it now seems that United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is going after the Girl Scouts. Apparently it doesn't seem to matter that the Girl Scouts are in no way affiliated with the Catholic church... Mary Hunt offers some commentary, under the rather clever title: Bishops Search for Condoms in Cookie Boxes. Here is a nice excerpt comparing this stuff with the Scouts to that with the Nuns:
    "The bishops fretted in both cases about sex and gender, especially reproductive justice. The straw that broke the camel’s back for the nuns was the support some of them showed for a more inclusive health care policy. For the Scouts, it was the organization’s public acceptance of a transgender child into a Colorado troop. Underneath those decisions lurks the fact that nuns, not bishops, were seen as normatively Catholic, and even though a quarter of all Girl Scouts are Catholic, they didn’t consult the bishops before doing the right thing. Who would, given the men’s handling of abuse cases?"
  • Still more Maureen Down, this time tying things back into politics in a piece entitled: Father Doesn't Know Best. I find it impossible to resist reproducing two short but particularly cutting paragraphs:
    The bishops and the Vatican care passionately about putting women in chastity belts. Yet they let unchaste priests run wild for decades, unconcerned about the generations of children who were violated and raped and passed around like communion wine.
    The church leaders headed to court hope to undermine the president, but they may help him. Voters who think sex is only for procreation were not going to vote for Obama anyway. And the lawsuit reminds the rest that what the bishops portray as an attack on religion by the president is really an attack on women by the bishops.
  • Finally, here is a list that has been kicking around the web for a while and that is important background reading for this whole scandal: Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn’t Be Ordained.

As a Protestant reflecting on these things, I'm struck by 4 observations:
  1. This recalcitrant RC curmudgeonly turn is empowered in no small part by the conservative political alliance forged between them and American evangelicals. When will the latter wake up?
  2. All this is, of course, no surprise to Protestants who - despite the tendency of Catholics in the United States to play rather nice during the last half of the 20th century, and the advances made at Vatican 2 - knew that this other side was not exorcised but merely lying dormant.
  3. Continuing, there are some within Protestant theological circles who desire that a greater unity could be achieved between Catholics and Protestants but who are incredibly put off the issue by Rome's paternalism. Stuff like this only adds fuel to that fire. Why would Protestants want to come back to these particular arms? Why should they want to be more closely associated with these highly questionable (at best!) moves? Why should Protestants be inclined in any way to view Roman Catholicism as something to emulate?
  4. Half my student population is Roman Catholic, and I would hazard the educated guess that the RC powers that be are not winning hearts and minds through this maneuver. It also makes it hard for me, as a Protestant teaching a good number of Roman Catholics, to be charitable... Indeed, I am forced to emphasize what I find to be the most salutary aspects of the Catholic church rather than the arch-conservative backlash that has been building since Vatican 2. If that upsets the bishops or the Vatican, they are welcome to investigate me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pictures on a Tuesday

Not much to post about at present, but I figured I'd throw up something of a more personal interest - namely, a few photos of the DET HQ, as it were. In other words, here are some pictures of my close...I mean, office. In all seriousness, it isn't as bad as these pictures might make it look, but we humanities profs certainly don't get the prime real-estate. The best news is that I should be moving next door to slightly plusher digs later in the summer...

Anyway, here is the view from the hallway. I actually put up a nice PTS Barth postcard above my nameplate since I took this shot...

Thrilling, eh? Nice, old-school radial heater there, and a window A/C unit that is pretty old but can still do its job. And I definitely put it through its paces here in MO...

Anyway, here is the cockpit, with some books behind - part of M through Z, for those who keep track of such things.

My favorite bit of that photo are the post-it notes on the wall next to my desk. High-class organization we've got going on here...

Finally, here is something like the view from the desk (actually more up and behind the desk), taking in the rest of the books along with the hallway and the very conveniently located bathroom right across the hall.

Well, there you have it. That's where all the magic happens. I figured some good demythologizing was in order. ;-)

Now back to trying to get done everything I've been putting off all the past academic year...


Friday, May 18, 2012

Dan Migliore on Fideism

One charge that is often leveled against folks of a more Barthian persuasion is that of fideism. Barthians are fideistic, so the argument goes, because they do not accept the existence of generally accessible knowledge of the Christian God. This refusal, one is told, results in an intellectual ghettoization, since it is clear that one can only benefit from intellectual engagement with other traditions of thought if one is willing to grant them a common starting point. In other words, Barthians are told that natural theology is necessary if they want to avoid intellectual autoeroticism.

As you can well imagine, gentle readers, this argument has never satisfied me. I know that is a surprise to you, but it is true. Really, it is. So I was happy to find the following passage where Migliore helpfully distinguishes between fideism on the one hand and faith-seeking-understanding on the other. After all, what we Barthians want is a thorough version of the latter.

Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 3.
Christian faith is at bottom trust in and obedience to the free and gracious God made known in Jesus Christ. Christian theology is this same faith in the mode of asking questions and struggling to find at least provisional answers to these questions. Authentic faith is no sedative for world-weary souls, no satchel full of ready answers to the deepest questions of life. Instead, faith in God revealed in Jesus Christ sets an inquiry in motion, fights the inclination to accept things as there are, and continually calls in question unexamined assumptions about God, our world, and ourselves. Consequently, Christian faith has nothing in common with indifference to the search for truth, or fear of it, or the arrogant claim to possess it fully. True faith must be distinguished from fideism. Fideism says there comes a point where we must stop asking questions and must simply believe; faith keeps on seeking and asking.
As always, the emphasis is mine.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ben Myers on Augustine and Romans 5

Last week at Princeton Theological Seminary’s Roman’s Conference Ben Myers offered a resourceful presentation on the Adam/Christ typology of Romans 5, Augustine, and the Confessions. While I will only give a cursory overview of Myers’ message, a full text (including an additional section on Augustine and the Psalms) is forthcoming.

The gist of Myers’ presentation is a response to Krister Stendahl’s claim that the introspective turn in theology to self-consciousness (e.g., Luther’s ‘Where can I find a gracious God?’) can be traced as far back as Augustine. Wherever one looks for this turn, notes Myers, Augustine is not the culprit. To make this point Myers looks to the Adam/Christ typology embedded within the Confessions, particularly in two unforgettable moments: the ‘pears’ account and Augustine’s conversion. In the first account Augustine mirrors the Genesis 3 narrative when he and his friends steal the coveted fruit from the garden:
"[I] tasted nothing in them but my own sin."
In the second account, lying prostrate in another garden after reading the words of Paul, Augustine’s struggle and eventual conversion of will mirrors the beginning of the passion account at Gethsemane. The juxtaposition is a vying of separate and yet linked narratives for Augustine’s identity. What is more, the latter account in Book VIII is preceded by miniature conversion retellings in which Augustine connects his story to the church past in figures like Paul, Victorinus, and Antony.

What does Myers want to say? Far from laying the basis for an exclusively introspective take on salvation, Augustine’s story is not his own. It is a story that is rooted in and engages an overarching typology. Augustine incorporates his own story into that of the biblical narrative, into the plight of Adam and thus humanity, into the struggle of Paul and others and thus the church, and ultimately, following the logic of the typology, into Christ who precedes all other narratives. Myers offers an excellent rendering of how Augustine sees his own salvation in light of the larger (and nonetheless personal) redemption of Christ.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Well, not even a fortnight this time. Only ten days have passed since the last of these link roundup posts, and I’m still working off my backlog. So without further ado…

  • To begin, we celebrated Karl Barth’s birthday here at DET (for the first time, I believe, although don’t hold me to that!) the other day with, among other things, a picture of a very special cake.
  • Remember a month or so ago? That Holy Week think? Well, on Holy Thursday il papa gave a speech chastising a group of priests who have been agitating for opening the priesthood to women and removing the requirement of clerical celibacy. Against such dangerous free-thinkers, Benedict recommended the “radicalism of obedience.” Here is an article about it. In a delicious line, the article’s author notes that this phrase “perfectly captures the essence of the theologian pope’s thought.”
  • Kim Fabricius showed up the next day with a Good Friday sermon over at Faith&Theology that deals with the Amish and how they tend to respond when violence is perpetrated against them.
  • Millinerd is all about what he describes as a post-secular turn to the religious. Somehow it only makes me think of this and its aftermath. Personally, I could go for some true, hard-core, self-conscious, and principled secularism. It would probably do current Western culture some good, rather than undertaking yet another rendition of the Feuerbachian two-step. Haven’t we already played that tune?
  • Speaking of the death of God (See what I did there? Pretty cool, eh?), Darren Sumner from over at Out of Bounds offered a Good Friday reflection on what the cross means for impassibility.
  • There are interesting things afoot over at Per Caritatem, where proprietor Cynthia Nielsen has added a blogging colleague, Dr. Kristina Zolatova.
  • Longtime friend of the blog, Jason Ingalls, returns with the fourth installment of his multi-part series on the Anglican baptismal covenant.
  • And last (for today) but not least, the folks over at For Christ and His Kingdom, a blog run by some folks out of Wheaton College’s graduate school, check out this post on Phil Ziegler’s reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a theologian of the Word of God.

There you have it. My link buffer is diminished, but by no means empty. So expect another link round-up in the near future. What is more, the academic year is in its death throes, so an uptick in DET productivity should be immanent.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

It’s Karl Barth’s Birthday

So, Karl Barth was born 126 years ago today. I feel like I am celebrating his birth today because I just had the pleasure of hearing a paper criticizing Protestant criticisms of Thomas Aquinas on nature and grace from one of our graduating seniors (who is, coincidentally, going on to graduate work at St. Louis University – we’re all very proud of her!), and I concluded the colloquy, if you will, by discoursing on the history of doctrine on this point from Augustine to Barth. I’m mildly ashamed of this, but comfort myself since there were no other questions / comments forthcoming at that point…

Anyway, here is an excerpt from Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts:
Karl Barth was born in Basle on 10 May 1886. He came into the world on a Monday morning, about five o’clock, at Grellingerstrasse 42, and he was called Karl after his mother’s older brother.

His parents’ names were Johann Friedrich (‘Fritz’) Barth and Anna Katharina, née Sartorius. They had only been living in Basle for a month when Karl, their first son, was born, and it was exactly a week since Johann Friedrich had taken up a new post there. Before that he had been for seven years pastor in the parish of Reitnau, in the canton of Aargau. He had lived there for five years as a bachelor before meeting Anna; by that time he had already had a patristic study published (on Tertullian’s interpretation of Paul) for which he had been awarded a doctorate of theology in 1881. This was one of the reasons why, somewhat surprisingly, at the beginning of 1886 he was invited to be a lecturer at the College of Preachers in Basle. This college had been founded ten years earlier by W. Arnold, a pastor who was also its Director, for the training of ‘scriptural’ preachers, mostly for the free churches, in opposition to liberal theology.

So Fritz and Anna Barth came to Basle. However, neither of them were strangers to the city. Both had been born and had grown up there. Their fathers, Karl’s two grandfathers, were pastors in Basle from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. The Barth family originally came from Mülligen in the Aargau. ‘My great-grandfather moved there to Kleinbasel at the beginning of the nineteenth century and was in the tobacco business.’ The oldest son of this Samuel Barth and Veronica Elisabeth, née Otto, whose name was Franz Albert (1816-79), studied theology, ‘He was one of J. T. Beck’s first Basle students, but he also held de Wette in great respect. He became pastor in Bubendorf, in Basle Land, which in 1833 had been made a separate canton, and in 1840 he was married by Beck, his teacher, to Sara Lotz. IN 1852 he became a teacher at the Girls’ High School (his subjects were religion and music!); finaly in 1861 he became what was then called “deacon” (third pastor) at St Theodore’s church in Basle.’ ‘He had a keen eye for anything contrived, inauthentic or exaggerated, and was blunt in saying what he thought about it…’
Sound like anyone we know?

***The picture is of John Drury (foreground right) holding a cake bearing the likeness of Karl Barth that was especially prepared by Amanda Drury for the student reception thrown for Daniel Migliore (foreground left) after his final lecture as Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Shannon Smythe is pictured, slightly blurrily, in the background.


Friday, May 04, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

As has been true of the last few installments, “fortnight” applies only loosely. Just because I don’t have time to post here as the semester finishes up doesn’t mean that I’m not paying attention to the theo-blogosphere. I am, and I have – as usual – culled some of the more interesting stuff for your consideration. Some of this stuff was getting a bit dated, so when I found a few minutes sitting on my hands I figured that I would share them with you.

To begin, you’ll want to be sure and check out what has been available recently on DET: a post on Barth’s dialog with Catholicism in his Münster period, a call for papers from an upcoming graduate student conference at Harvard, and an announcement for the C. S. Lewis Essay Prize.

That said, here is some of the other stuff, presented as bullet-points in a more-or-less random order:

  • Why not start with politics? Here is an article about an MIT economist who has written about how income inequality significantly undermines the political power wielded by the middle class. This reminds me forcibly of the claims made by a recent social protest movement on, which I have had occasion to comment on before.
  • Continuing on in a similar vein, here is an article from The Atlantic about what it means to live in a culture, as we currently do, that puts a price-tag on virtually everything. Here are some examples from the article of things you can buy: “A prison-cell upgrade: $90 a night”; “The right to emit a metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: $10.50”; “Stand in line overnight on Capitol Hill to hold a place for a lobbyist who wants to attend a congressional hearing: $15–$20 an hour”; “Access to the carpool lane while driving solo: $8”; etc.
  • We’re developing a theme… Here is a piece from the NYTimes entitled, “The Rich Get Even Richer,” which deals with some recent studies on income and wealth inequality.
  • Changing the subject a bit, here are some more doodlings from Kim Fabricius over at Faith and Theology. Here is the first as a kind of sample: “The homophobic Christian world should be applauding gay marriage. If it’s anything like the heterosexual variety, there goes the torrid sex it finds so disgusting.”
  • Sticking with F&T, here are “Eleven Theses on Love” from Ben Myers.
  • So we’ve done politics, we’ve done theology, and now we’ll combine them. Remember that fracas earlier in the year when the Catholic bishops threw a hissy fit because the government was going to require them to provide access to contraception through their various medical organs (a very crass oversimplification, sure)? Well, the folks over at Women in Theology were paying close attention. When some of the bishops suggested that they would give up their hospitals for lent (i.e., shut down their hospitals, denying care to God knows how many patients, all to make a political point) the WIT folk replied, quoting various official RC documents, that perhaps Catholics ought to cut all ties with the US military. This is a must-read.
  • Alas, my time is up and I must break off this communiqué. I will do my best to bring you another link roundup as soon as possible, as my hopper is nowhere near empty yet. But I leave you with this: an incredibly humorous letter from the British tax services in response to…shall we say…a dissatisfied citizen?