Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Some Radnerian theological realism

"6. We cannot avoid repetition of the past’s mistakes
"This is an area where I have always sought to be prudent, looking at previous conflicts within the Church and within Anglicanism for indications of the way forward. My miscalculation, I think, has lain in my hope that we could in fact learn from our past mistakes! To acknowledge, as I now do, that we cannot so learn, however, is not an admission of despair. Rather, it is an embrace of the fact that faithful response to our conflict is not a matter of finding the magic bullet that will avoid the bad examples of the past. Faithful response, instead, is about confronting the sin endemic in our corrupted selves and ecclesial existences. This points us in very different directions than our usual strategic thinking, however well-informed by history. In short, the Christian historian is not after Thucidydes’ wisdom on this score, but rather Jesus’ own facing into the Last Days: you know what will happen, so be prepared, love and endure (Mt. 24:3-13)."


Ephraim Radner, "What I have learned these past five years: reflections in Advent, 2008," Anglican Communion Institute, Inc., http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.com/?p=342#more-342. Words of wisdom from a professional historian with first-class credentials. The allusion may be to The Peloponnesian war I.i.22 ("if [my history] be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content"), I.v.123 ("'There is . . . no advantage in reflections on the past further than may be of service to the present'" (speech of the Corinthian delegation to the Second Congress at Lacedaemon)), and so forth (trans. Crawley & Feetham, GBWW, 2nd ed., vol. 5, pp. 354, 379). "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" the first edition of the Oxford dictionary of modern quotations attributes to Santayana (Life of reason (1905), vol. 1, chap. 12). I have not looked any harder than this.

Friday, December 26, 2008

How the sermon got into the Stevinus

"I cannot conceive how it is possible, quoth my uncle Toby, for such a thing as a sermon to have got into my Stevinus."

     Laurence Sterne, The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent., II.15 (GBWW, 1st ed., 1952, vol. 36, p. 254). How much restraint I must exercise, as I reread Tristram Shandy, you can't imagine.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Elliott on "The collapse of dogmatic Protestantism" (1893)

"The collapse of dogmatic Protestantism is our opportunity. Denominations, and 'creeds,' and 'schools,' and 'confessions' are going to pieces before our eyes. Great men built them, and little men can demolish them. This new nation cannot but regard with disdain institutions hardly double its own short life, and yet utterly decrepit; cannot but regard with awe an institution in whose life the Great Republic could have gone through its career nearly a score of times. I tell you that the vigor of national youth must be amazed at the freshness of perennial religion, and must soon salute it as divine. The dogmas of older Protestantism are fading out of our people's minds, or are being thrust out. It is not against the religion of men's ancestors, but against each one's religion of yesterday, as unsteady as it is recent in acquisition, that we have to contend--we who speak for Him who is of yesterday, and to-day, and the same for ever.
"Consider then, how it is with our noble-hearted friends: in their case it is religion wandering here and there in search of a church. How many earnest souls are about us, weary of doubtful teachings, glad to hearken to, ay and to believe, any one who promises them relief.
"See, too, and admire, how their religious instincts strive after organic life. As Calvinism dies, Christian Endeavor is born and counts a million members in a day--good works making little of faith, as at first faith made little of good works. See that while Methodism leaves the slums and is petrifying in lordly temples and in universities, the Salvation Army scours the gutters it has turned from with loathing."

Walter Elliott, "The missionary outlook in the United States," Catholic world 57, no. 342 (1893): 759 (http://tinyurl.com/8xh2jz). I am less interested in the Catholic triumphalism than the largely Newmanesque (?) insight into "The collapse of dogmatic Protestantism". How contemporary (if unoriginal) some of this sounds!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dalrymple on "Coptic influence on the Celtic Church" and Islam

"The proudest boast of Celtic monasticism was that, in the words of the Antiphonary of Bangor:

This house full of delight
Is built on the rock
And indeed the true vine
Transplanted out of Egypt."

William Dalrymple, "The Egyptian connection," New York review of books 55, no. 16 (October 23, 2008): 79, online at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21979. Pp. 79-80 especially are a popular summary of "Coptic influence on the Celtic Church" on the one hand, and emergent Islam on the other, such that "both the art and sacred calligraphy of Anglo-Saxon England and that of early Ummayad Islam grew at the same time out of the same East Mediterranean culture compost and common Coptic models": "if a monk from seventh-century Lindisfarne or Egypt were to come back today it is probable that he would find much more that was familiar in the practices and beliefs of a modern Muslim Sufi than he would with, say, a contemporary American evangelical. Yet this simple truth has been lost by our tendency to think of Christianity as a Western religion, rather than the thoroughly Oriental faith it actually is." Practices, yes. But core beliefs? I don't know Sufism well enough to judge. Two further tidbits: "The Irish wheel cross, the symbol of Celtic Christianity, has recently been shown to have been a Coptic invention, depicted on a Coptic burial pall of the fifth century, three centuries before the design first appears in Scotland and Ireland" (here Dalrymple cites Walter Horn, "On the origins of the Celtic cross," in The forgotten hermitage of Skellig Michael (University of California Press, 1990)); and "The theology of the Desert Fathers was deeply austere, with much concentration on judgment and damnation, a concern that they passed on to the Irish monks."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

James on Bruckner on emancipation

"while the whole world, including the West, dealt in slaves, only the West came up with the idea of setting them free."

The "central message" of Pascal Bruckner's La tyrannie de la pénitence, according to Clive James. "Books of the year," Times literary supplement no. 5513 (November 28, 2008): 8.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm going to have to find a way to quote here the trombone solo in the first movement of Mahler's Third Symphony

This is too much Edwards for one sitting, but he's just so darn quotable!

"there is a great difference between these two things, viz., lively imaginations arising from strong affections, and strong affections arising from lively imaginations."

Jonathan Edwards, The religious affections, pt. 3, sec. 4 ((Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 [1961]), 217). By "strong affections" the first time he uses it here, Edwards means, of course, "strong [true] affections," affections that arise "from the information of the understanding," just for example, i.e. affections characterized by all twelve of the truly "distinguishing signs".

Edwards on the indispensability of the in-formation of the MIND

"Holy affections are not heat without light; but evermore arise from the information of the understanding, some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light or actual knowledge. The child of God is graciously affected because he sees and understands something more of divine things than he did before. . . ."

Jonathan Edwards, The religious affections, pt. 3, sec. 4 ((Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 [1961]), 192).

Edwards on assurance

"It is not God's design that men should obtain assurance in any other way than by mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it. . . . Assurance is not to be obtained so much by self-examination as by action."

Jonathan Edwards, The religious affections, pt. 3, sec. 1 ((Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 [1961]), 123). More to the point, "It is not God's design that men should obtain assurance in any other way than by mortif[ication]".

Friday, December 5, 2008

A corrective on Aquinas worth heeding

We must now take the measure of and correct de Lubac’s understanding of Aquinas on grace. “in biblical poetry . . . the superabundance of God forbids us to restrict ourselves to the model of an anthropology of the open structure (‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord’), without subordinating this [open anthropology] to the pathetic vision of a God of surprise and rupture who puts the love of self to death”; who puts to death at least the hypothesis according to which prelapsarian Adam ‘was able not to sin’ [(qui en tue au moins l’hypothèse chez celui-là même que «a pu ne pas pécher»)] (to take up the formula of Augustine). “For, as we would maintain, the relation of divinization to creation isn’t just a dynamic relation in Thomas, and wouldn’t have been either, not even before the introduction of anthropological disorder and the economy of redemption. Even under the best of circumstances, when man has not [yet] fallen and, abiding still in grace, preserves his ordination to God, Thomistic divination stands in a pathetic relation to creation, a relation not of continuity but of rupture, not of proportion, but of the [infinite] abyss; a relation much sharper than that described by de Lubac, . . . who, in the Petite catéchèse sur nature et grâce, sets it over against the thought of Saint Augustine:
This is not the place to go into the lengthy debates on the history of the differing positions adopted by the two great Latin Doctors of grace, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. We might merely observe that the most usual difference between them, an essential difference but not a contradiction, arises because St. Thomas frequently begins by considering human nature as such in the abstract, independent of sin and its consequences; whereas St. Augustine takes as his starting pont the experience of sinful man. While fully recognizing the transcendence of the supernatural, St. Thomas (giving perhaps a somewhat too facile interpretation of the fecisti nos ad Te of St. Augustine) 'considers it as a completion [(achèvement)] bestowed on nature in the direction towards which its active inclinations already tended' [(trans. Arnandez (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1984), 122-123, quoting (there at the end) Guy de Broglie, S.J.)].
“Without contesting this reading of Saint Thomas in its every respect, we feel ourselves obliged to say that Thomistic reflection on the sin of the angel placed this completion [(achèvement)], considered in its formality--this fulfillment [(accomplissement)] of every spiritual creature--in the renunciation that it must make of considering itself its own end. Now, this renunciation, which refuses to countenance an unchecked pride [(un orgueil disponible)], is according to Thomas a moral act of tremendous severity, a decision as productive of complete disorientation as the God [(un décision vertigineuse autant que le Dieu)] who, by his irruption, instigates and determines it. Let us borrow from de Lubac here his own phraseology, used of Rupert of Deutz in his Postérité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore: the history of salvation as Aquinas conceives of it is at every stage ‘not evolutionary but agonistic’. It may well be that humility in the free and intelligent creature produces acts that complete it ‘along the very lines sketched out already by its active inclinations’. . . . But not less than in Augustine, and in my opinion much more, . . . this act of renunciation is [in Saint Thomas] a death to one’s self.
“About [even] the very best of circumstances, the graced state of original justice, it is necessary to say that the meritorious renunciation of one’s own will and obedience to the precepts of God is the dynamic place where nature is itself, becomes itself, by being [completely] oblivious to [(s'ignorant)] itself. And this refusal to pay any heed [(ignorance)], this non-consideration, is crucifying. Similarly, the Annunciation is not the pacific scene that we tend to think. It is a pathetic scene over which there looms the shadow of an intimate death [to self]. . . .
“In brief, the supernatural object presented to the [open] structure of created spirit for either receipt-in-faith or rejection is an object that determines a theologal history, a history neither completely historienne nor completely natural, but a history [that is] very real [(ni tout à fait une histoire historienne et encore moins une histoire naturelle, mais une histoire bien réelle)]. This object set before the act of faith assisted by grace is therefore an opening structure, a structure that opens angelic and human nature up, in a manner analogous to the opening up of the earth by the plow, or the breaking up of ice by the bow of an icebreaker: ‘The only depths that are not at all deceitful, those that the Spirit himself hollows out in man, suppose the terrain of the faith common [to all]’, . . . for the objectivity of faith is the fit instrument under the action of which the intellect and will of man are turned up [like soil], aerated, reformed.”


     Ph. Vallin, “Henri de Lubac et Saint Thomas d’Aquin: ouverture et structure en théologie,” Revue des sciences reigieuses 77, no. 2 (2003): 232-234, somewhat loosely rendered.  Interesting, then, that according to de Lubac, as quoted by Imbelli, as quoted by R. R. Reno, "Humanism is not itself Christian.  Christian humanism must be a converted humanism.  There is no smooth transition from a natural to a supernatural love" (First things no. 244 (June/July 2014):  70).


     This came to mind when I encountered Douglas Farrow on those who complain of "certain contrarieties in Irenaeus," of the tension between "a Pauline fall/restoration paradigm" and "his belief in deification and hence in progress" (Ascension and ecclesia (1999), 76).  "would it not be better for us as modern theologians to abandon the older Pauline strand altogether" and allow "the evolutionary insight to develop freely" (76)?  No, for "the ascension plainly entails a parting of the ways" (29), such that we must come to grips with a "distinction of history from history" that forces us to give up "the idea of a general ascent of man":
Irenaean theology cannot be recast in the mould of an orthogenetic evolutionary cosmology, because his doctrine of ascension in the flesh forbids it.  Creation may indeed be a process, and the kingdom of God on the way, so to speak; but it is not on the way along our way.  And if in the church 'we do now receive a certain portion of his Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God,' that is a gradualism which only serves to drive deeper the wedge between ecclesial man and the man of the world.  It heightens, rather than diminishes, the eucharistic tension and the choice it thrusts upon us.  For the church, as the bishop argues, finds itself caught up in a decisive clash between Jesus-history and apostate history.  The ascension is followed not only by Pentecost but by a 'movement of the whole earth against the church,' an escalating conflict which will lead finally to an antichristic recapitulation, that is, to a hollow summing up of iniquity in a centre which cannot hold, issuing not upwards into the presence of God but downwards into darkness [(78)].
For this reason we are presented with "a choice of histories" (77), the cross, and a world-affirming martyrdom.  For Irenaeus is neither modern optimist nor gnostic pessimist:
The church, too, though inwardly united, must suffer a painful dissolution; its refusal to be assimilated by the world will provoke the world, attracting its enmity as well as its admiration.  For in our place and time even Jesus brings division as well as communion, ruin as well as resurrection [(79)]. 
The church, since it belongs to him who ascended in the flesh, can neither agree with the world nor let go of it.  It can only take up the cross and the offence of the cross, wrestling with the world to the bitter end in hopea well-grounded hopeof redeeming the time [(80).
At issue is therefore "the firm link which Irenaeus forges between the doctrine of the ascension and the doctrine of the cross":
The former does not negate the latter, as in gnosticism, but is all of a piece with it.  Descent and ascent, as we have seen, constitute a twofold movement in the flesh and for the flesh.  This movement involves a profound break with our world, but a break derived at every point from an even more profound affirmation of it.  Repudiating not the fact of the world but its fashion, it reconstitutes the world in the pneumatic and eucharistic mode of being for which it has always been intended.  Here then is an opposition of redemption to that which undermines or destroys creation.  As an opposition of affirmation, however, it is a costly opposition, as the church through its participation in Christ is learning, and must continue to learn until the end of the age.
. . . The church he describes is not self-affirming but world-affirming; yet it is world-affirming only by choosing to be quite strictly itself, that is, by choosing the cross [(84)].

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Profession a necessary (if hardly sufficient) condition

"when the Scripture speaks of Christian practice, as the best evidence to others, of sincerity and truth of grace, a profession of Christianity is not excluded, but supposed."

     Jonathan Edwards, The religious affections, pt. 3, sec. 12 ((WEJ 2, ed. John E. Smith, 412; Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 [1961]), 332), italics mine.  "Though in these rules, the Christian practice of professors be spoken of as the greatest and most distinguishing sign of their sincerity in their profession, much more evidential than their profession itself; yet a profession of Christianity is plainly presupposed:  it is not the main thing in the evidence, nor anything distinguishing in it; yet 'tis a thing requisite and necessary in it."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Edwards on purity of heart, or, rather, the lack of it

"At last, when it came to extremity, Pharaoh consented to let the people all go, and all that they had; but he was not steadfastly of that mind; he soon repented and pursued after them again, and the reason was, that those lusts . . . were never really mortified in him, but only violently restrained. And thus, being guilty of backsliding, after his seeming compliance with God's commands, he was destroyed without remedy."

Jonathan Edwards, The religious affections, pt. 3, sec. 12 ((Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 [1961]), 326), italics mine. Edwards has undoubtedly his sources, but remains nonetheless a very skillful tropologist.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sterne on the rules of composition

"in writing what I have set about, I shall confine myself neither to [Horace's] rules, nor to any man's rules that ever lived."

     Laurence Sterne, The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent., I.4 (GBWW, 1st ed., 1952, vol. 36, p. 193).

Vallin on the distinction between creatio ex nihilo and creatio ab novo

"Creation ex nihilo isn't just tenable, it is demonstrable metaphysically. . . . Creation de novo, the fact of the beginning in time, by contrast, is a reality to be believed that has a profound significance in the revelation of [(sur)] the God of the covenant. . . .
"Creation remains . . . stricto sensu the metaphysical dependence of beings, which are not causae sui. . . . The fact of the beginning, by contrast, has less to reveal about the immanent condition of creatures than the proper name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

Ph. Vallin, "Henri de Lubac et Saint Thomas d'Aquin: ouverture et structure en théologie," Revue des sciences religieuses 77, no. 2 (2003): 229, 230.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Grace does not render the nature it elevates impure

"God is not, within his creation, the rival of [the] person, and his grace does not render the nature it elevates impure."

Ph. Vallin, "Henri de Lubac et Saint Thomas d'Aquin: ouverture et structure en théologie," Revue des sciences religieuses 77, no. 2 (2003): 222. This on de Lubac's opposition to every theology of a "pure nature".

Friday, October 24, 2008

Buckley on a near-fatal lost opportunity

"If Leonard Lessius and Marin Mersenne, two of the most influential theologians of their time, among the first to write against the early awakenings of atheism as the Renaissance drew toward twilight, can be taken as typical, then the irony of the Church's position toward this new and fatally destructive force can be stated with some precision. The drama that was to become atheistic humanism was opening upon the European stage, and Catholic theologians stood ready to greet it as philosophers."

     Michael J. Buckley, S.J., At the origins of modern atheism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 65. "The remarkable thing is not that d'Holbach and Diderot found theologians and philosophers with whom to battle, but that the theologians themselves had become philosophers in order to enter the match. The extraordinary note about this emergence of the denial of the Christian god which Nietzsche celebrated is that Christianity as such, more specifically the person and teaching of Jesus or the experience and history of the Christian Church, did not enter the discussion" (33). "The integration which Mersenne's comprehensive principle brings about of diverse sciences and the subsequent demonstration he offers of the truth of the Catholic faith would have easily allowed him to follow another great Franciscan, Bonaventure, in making Christ Catholicism's immediate response to the denial of the reality of god, Christ as the supreme manifestation within the world of the divine actuality in its offer to human beings of the possibilities of faith and grace. It was not done. Bonaventure's path was not taken. The argument was cast differently, and this shape was to remain with Western Europe throughout the rise and increasing power of atheism" (64, italics mine). "neither Christology nor a mystagogy of experience was reformulated by the theologians to present vestigia et notae of the reality of god--as if Christianity did not possess in the person of Jesus a unique witness to confront the denial of god or as if one already had to believe in order to have this confrontation take place. In the rising attacks of atheism, Christology continued to discuss the nature of Christ, the unity of his freedom and his mission, the precisely constituting factor of his person, the consciousness of the human Jesus, the nature of his salvific acts; but the fundamental reality of Jesus as the embodied presence and witness of the reality of god within human history was never brought into the critical struggle of Christianity in the next three hundred years. The Enlightenment gradually took over the discussion of the meaning and existence of god. There was no need for the philosophes to draw up their own state of the question. It had been given to them by the theologians. Diderot resumed Charron's religion naturelle but in a form which had already been shaped by such theologians as Leonard Lessius and Marin Mersenne. In the absence of a rich and comprehensive Christology and a Pneumatology of religious experience Christianity entered into the defense of the existence of the Christian god without appeal to anything Christian" (66-67).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Edwards on Christian fortitude

"Though Christian fortitude appears in withstanding and counteracting the enemies that are without us; yet it much more appears in resisting and suppressing the enemies that are within us. . . ."

Jonathan Edwards, Religious affections, pt. 3, sec. 8 ((Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 [1961]), 278).

When God moves the will

"just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary, but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature."

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiæ I.83.1.ad 3, trans. FEDP.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Roth via La Guardia on incorruptibility where it matters

"There's where our imperfect Walter was incorruptible--where it mattered. Walter is too loud, Walter talks too fast, Walter says too much, and yet, by comparison, Walter's vulgarity is something great, and Lindbergh's decorum is hideous."

Fiorello H. La Guardia on the recently assassinated Walter Winchell, in Philip Roth, The plot against America (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004), 304-305. "'We can dispense with the cant at the start. . . . Everybody knows that Walter was not a lovely human being. Walter was not the strong, silent type who hides everything but the muckraker who hates everything hidden. As anybody who ever turned up in his column can tell you, Walter was not always as accurate as he might have been. He was not shy, he was not modest, he was not decorous, discreet, kindly, et cetera. My friends, if I were to list for you everything lovely that W.W. was not, we'd be here till next Yom Kippur. I'm afraid that the late Walter Winchell was just one more doozy of a specimen of the imperfect man. In declaring himself a candidate for the presidency of the United States were his motives pure as Ivory soap? Walter Winchell's motives? Was his preposterous candidacy uncontaminated by a raving ego? My friends, only a Charles A. Lindbergh has motives pure as Ivory soap when he runs for the American presidency. Only a Charles A. Lindbergh is decorous, discreet, et cetera--oh, and accurate, too, wholly accurate always when every few months he summons up the gregariousness to address his ten favorite platitudes to the nation. Only a Charles A. Lindbergh is a selfless ruler and a strong, silent saint. Walter, on the other hand, was Mr. Gossip Columnist. Walter, on the other hand, was Mr. Broadway: liked the ponies, liked the late hours, liked Sherman Billingsley--somebody once told me that he even liked the girls. And the repeal of that "noble experiment," as Mr. Herbert Hoover called it, the repeal of the hypocritical, expensive, stupid, unenforceable Eighteenth Amendment, was no more ignoble to Walter Winchell than it was to the rest of us here in New York. In short, Walter lacked every gleaming virtue demonstrated daily by the incorruptible test pilot ensconced in the White House. [par.] Oh yes, several more differences that are perhaps worth noting between fallible Walter and infallible Lindy. Our president is a fascist sympathizer, more than likely an outright fascist--and Walter Winchell was the enemy of the fascist. Our president is no lover of Jews and more than likely a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite while Walter Winchell was a Jew and the unwavering, vociferous enemy of the anti-Semite. Our president is an admirer of Adolf Hitler and more than likely a Nazi himself--and Walter Winchell was Hitler's first American enemy and his worst American enemy. There's where our imperfect Walter was incorruptible--where it mattered. Walter is too loud, Walter talks too fast, Walter says too much, and yet, by comparison, Walter's vulgarity is something great, and Lindbergh's decorum is hideous. . . . For speaking his mind in the state of Kentucky, W.W. was assassinated by the Nazis of America, who, thanks to the silence of our strong, silent, selfless president, today run rampant throughout this great land. It can't happen here? My friends, it is happening here--and where is Lindbergh? Where is Lindbergh?'"

Friday, October 3, 2008

Byron on Southey

"Byron prophesied that Southey's Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem would be read 'when Homer and Virgil are forgotten, but--not till then.'"

Timothy Larsen, "Reading habits," Books and culture 14, no. 5 (September/October 2008): 34.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Honour all men

"a Christian is like a little child; a little child is modest before men, and his heart is apt to be possessed with fear and awe among them.
"The same spirit will dispose a Christian to honour all men. . . . A humble Christian is not only disposed to honour the saints in his behavior; but others also, in all those ways that do not imply a visible approbation of their sins."

Jonathan Edwards, The religious affections, pt. 3, sec. 6 ((Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 [1961]), 265).

Friday, September 19, 2008

Edwards on the sole "direct, clear, and all-conquering evidence" of "the truth of the great things of the gospel"

"The gospel of the blessed God does not go abroad a-begging for its evidence. . . ."

Jonathan Edwards, The religious affections, pt. 3, sec. 5 ((Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 [1961]), 233).

Too close for comfort

. . . what I say to you, I say
as one that is a stranger to the story
as stranger to the deed. For I would not
be far upon the track if I alone
were tracing it without a clue.

Oedipus, in Sophocles, Oedipus the king, trans. David Grene.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Baciocchi on Mary

"Of the Jewish woman under the Old Testament more than any other is it true that she comes into the world humanly and religiously vowed to maternity by the whole hope of her people."

Joseph de Baciocchi, "Immaculée conception," Catholicisme: hier, aujourd'hui, demain 5 (1962), col. 1276. And yet still, Mary remains "blessed . . . among [even Jewish] women".

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity

"As I look at the town now, dwindling without grace, I think how strange that lives were lost in its formation."

Judge Antone Bazil Coutts in Louise Erdrich's The plague of doves, as quoted by Claire Messud, "Blood relations," New York review of books 55, no. 12 (July 17, 2008): 38.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Speaking of fifth-rate minds like mine (and first-rate minds, too)

"If [the flight from understanding] never refuses to supply superficial minds with superficial positions, it is quite competent to work out a philosophy so acute and profound that the elect strive in vain and for centuries to lay bare its real inadequacies."

Bernard Lonergan, Insight: a study of human understanding (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1958 [1957]), xii.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Prometheus as type

You see me a wretched God in chains,
the enemy of Zeus, hated of all
the Gods that enter Zeus's palace hall,
because of my excessive love for Man.

Aeschylus, Prometheus bound, trans. David Grene, ll. 120-124. Cf. also ll. 11, 28-30, and elsewhere.

Ganoczy on fifth-rate amateurs such as myself

"In spite of the weakness of his argument, Calvin does not seem to have met anyone at Lausanne capable of contradicting him. . . . Neither in Lausanne nor in any other place later on did Calvin confront a truly worthy representative of traditional theology, or at least a theologian capable of resisting him and proving to him the solid foundation of the essential doctrines of the Catholic tradition. The absence of a worthy opponent who was at least equal if not superior to Calvin was to play an important role in the reformer's rapid and unhindered turn toward positions that were objectively heterodox."

Alexandre Ganoczy, The young Calvin, trans. David Foxgrover and Wade Provo (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1987 [1966]), 110.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Boersma on what invites an assertion of the sheer will to power

“the nonviolent ethic that drives much of the agenda of Radical Orthodoxy seems to me morally problematic. If reality is indeed a human construct in which boundaries continually fluctuate according to newly developing socially acceptable arrangements, there may not be much to argue about, let alone fight about. In that case, the Church’s practices of forgiveness can be summed up as a peaceful life of harmonious difference, where constant negotiation and renegotiation determine reality by means of persuasion. My suspicion is that such ‘harmonious flow’ will, in the end, lead to more rather than less violence. The will to power will inevitably assert itself where the readiness to speak for and defend divinely given truth has disappeared. If, on the other hand, as St. Augustine’s view of participation contends, the cosmic order has objective reality as a result of God’s creative and providential care, we may well find that there are divinely ordered fines—‘borders’ or ‘ends’—whose beauty and truth captivate us and which are worth defending in the interest of the ultimate telos: the peace of the City of God (Ps 147).”

Hans Boersma, “On the rejection of boundaries: Radical Orthodoxy’s appropriation of St. Augustine,” Pro ecclesia 15, no. 4 (Fall 2006): 446-447.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hanby (and Schindler) on the "freedom beyond our choosing"

“Augustine defines this act of faith in his anti-Pelagian writings as thinking with assent, but the nature of such assent can be easily misconstrued if viewed through the lens of Cartesian or post-Kantian conceptions of volition. In contrast to these modern views, which for malign metaphysical reasons oppose free choice to all manner of determination, free assent for Augustine is in fact a species of desire. Significantly, Augustine uses assent interchangeably with consent, ‘(con-sentire, to “perceive with another”), an act that so to speak weaves together the work of two agents into one.’ And more significantly still, he makes this subtle shift in terminology in the context of explaining how faith is simultaneously the gift of God in us and in our power, indeed, in our power all the more that it is God’s gift in us. Assent, in other words, is inherently responsive, that is, simultaneously self-determined and determined by another without any inherent antagonism in that relationship. Indeed, it is precisely this co-action—my simultaneous determination to the good and by the good—that constitutes consent for Augustine.”

Michael Hanby, “These three abide: Augustine and the eschatological non-obsolescence of faith,” Pro ecclesia 14, no. 3 (Summer 2005): 352-353. The definition of consent comes from D. C. Schindler, "Freedom beyond our choosing: Augustine on the will and its objects," Communio: international Catholic review 29, no. 4 (Winter 2002): 637-638, another excellent article.

"Antique pieties cannot be restored"

“But what is the consequence, then, when Christianity, as a living historical force, recedes? We have no need to speculate, as it happens; modernity speaks for itself: with the withdrawal of Christian culture, all the glories of the ancient world that it baptized and redeemed have perished with it in the general cataclysm. Christianity is the midwife of nihilism, not because it is itself nihilistic, but because it is too powerful in its embrace of the world and all of the world’s mystery and beauty; and so to reject Christianity now is, of necessity, to reject everything except the barren anonymity of spontaneous subjectivity. . . .
“I for one feel considerable sympathy for Nietzsche’s plaint, ‘Nearly two-thousand years and no new god’—and for Heidegger’s intoning of his mournful oracle: ‘Only a God can save us.’ But of course none will come. The Christian God has taken up everything into Himself; all the treasures of ancient wisdom, all the splendor of creation, every good thing has been assumed into the story of the incarnate God, and every stirring towards transcendence is soon recognized by the modern mind—weary of God—as leading back towards faith. Antique pieties cannot be restored, for we moderns know that the hungers they excite can be sated only by the gospel of Christ and him crucified. . . .
“in the light of this history, . . . this [the first] commandment is a hard discipline: it destroys, it breaks in order to bind; like a cautery, it wounds in order to heal; and now, in order to heal the damage it has in part inflicted, it must be applied again. In practical terms, . . . this means that Christians must make an ever more concerted effort to recall and recover the wisdom and centrality of the ascetic tradition. . . .
“It means, in short, self-abnegation, contrarianism, a willingness not only to welcome but to condemn, and a refusal of secularization as fierce as the refusal of our Christian ancestors to burn incense to the genius of the emperor. This is not an especially grim prescription, I should add: Christian asceticism is not, after all, a cruel disfigurement of the will. . . . It is, rather, the cultivation of the pure heart and pure eye, which allows one to receive the world, and rejoice in it. . . . Christian asceticism is the practice of love.”


David B. Hart, “Christ and nothing,” First things no. 136 (October 2003): 53, 55.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Boersma on Radical Orthodoxy's rejection of boundaries

“this opposition to divinely ordained determinacy with regard to bodily gender can only proceed by disregarding divine prohibitions. Veritatis Splendor repeatedly insists that ‘the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the ‘creativity’ of any contrary determination whatsoever.’”

Hans Boersma, “On the rejection of boundaries: Radical Orthodoxy’s appropriation of St. Augustine,” Pro ecclesia 15, no. 4 (Fall 2006): 444. This entire article is just fabulous.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Faur on the Judeo-Christian distinction

"Only a mythological deity leaves traces of its presence. The God of Israel, even when performing the most astounding miracles, leaves no evidence of His presence. . . . In this fashion God, author of the universe, simultaneously bestows existence to the universe and covers His traces 'out of existence'."

     Jose Faur, as quoted by David Burell, CSC, "Maimonides, Aquinas and Ghazali: distinguishing God from the world," Scottish journal of theology 61, no. 3 (2008): 271. Some qualifications are in order here, but there is an orthodox sense in which this is quite true. (Faur isn't denying the reality of divine action.)

Maimonides on the order of creation

"Let no one think that in the days of the Messiah any of the laws of nature will be set aside, nor any innovation be introduced into creation."

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah 1.12.1 (A Maimonides reader, ed. Isadore Twersky (New York: Berhman House, 1972), 224), as quoted by David Burrell, CSC, "Maimonides, Aquinas and Ghazali: distinguishing God from the world," Scottish journal of theology 61, no. 3 (2008): 278. Burrell cites also Guide 2.29.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Berger on the point of Peter's uncomprehending outburst

"There is a tendency in German homiletic literature, and in the commonly accepted approach to this text, to see the desire to build three huts as an expression of Peter's sense of well-being; and this in sharp contrast to the Passion that is now beginning. But this cannot be the case: the voice from heaven must be understood rather as a sharp correction of precisely this statement from Peter. The point of Peter's 'uncomprehending' answer is revealed clearly in the complete equality with which he treats Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. If each one of them receives a dwelling, then these three authorities will live and speak, teach and die, next door to one another in three similar houses of instruction. For the 'tent' or 'hut' or 'house' or 'dwelling' is not intended for their private lives, but rather as the place for receiving revelation and for an enduring and repeated encounter with God, as was the tent of Moses during the Exodus from Egypt. It is only from this perspective that the statements make sense.
"The meaning of the heavenly voice's correction, then, is this: only the Son, only Jesus Christ is appointed mediator between God and man. Only he speaks legitimately about God. And when the voice from heaven says, 'listen to him,' then this also means that Jesus is the one who legitimately interprets the entire revelation of Scripture, of the Old Testament", Law (Moses) and Prophets (Elijah) alike.

Klaus Berger, "The Transfiguration of Jesus," trans. Nicholas J. Healy III, Communio: international Catholic review 35, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 76-77, emphasis mine. The reference is to Mk 9:5-8 and parallels. Interesting, then, that in Luke Peter says this "as [Moses and Elijah] were parting from [Jesus]", almost as if to keep them there! (The Synoptics, by contrast, are careful to stress that the disciples are left with "Jesus only" (Mk 9:8, Mt 17:8; Lk 9:36).)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Marcellus of Ancyra: God isn't really in this for the long haul

“What then do we learn about the human flesh [(τῆς ἀνθρωπίνης σαρκός)] the Logos assumed”? Will “the Logos . . . possess this [flesh] also forever or only until the time of the Judgment [(καὶ ἐν τοῖς μέλλουσιν ἀιῶσιν . . . ἢ ἄχρι μόνον τοῦ τῆς κρίσεως καιροῦ)]?” (Vinzent 104=Klostermann 116=Rettberg 103)

“If [the Logos] confesses here [in Jn 6:61-63] that the flesh is of no avail, how can it be that th[is flesh] which is of earth and of no avail will be together with him also forever [(καὶ ἐν τοῖς μέλλουσιν ἀιῶσιν)] as if of some avail? . . . [Acts 3:20-21] speaks as if it fixed a certain limit and a pre-determined time [(ὅρον τινὰ καὶ προθεσμίαν)] within which it pertains to the human economy to be united with the Logos. . . . Paul [too] says clearly and obviously [in Rom 8:21, Phil 2:7, and 1 Cor 15:24] that the fleshly economy of the Logos must fall within a short span of both past and future eons [(ἐν Βραχεῖ τινι χρόνῳ τῶν τε παρεληλυθότων καὶ τῶν μελλόντων αἰώνων)], and that this [fleshly economy] will have, as a beginning, so also an end” (Vinzent 106=Klostermann 117=Rettberg 104).

“before coming down from heaven and being born of the virgin he was only Logos. Before the assumption of human flesh what else was [there]? . . . There was nothing other than Logos” (Vinzent 5=Klostermann 48=Rettberg 42).

And “therefore the Logos is in God just as he was also earlier, before there was a cosmos. For then there was nothing other than God alone” (Vinzent 109=Kostermann 121=Rettberg 108).

“But if someone is inclined to say, Human flesh is worthy [(ἀξίαν)] of the Logos because [the Logos] by the resurrection made it immortal, he should acknowledge that not all that is immortal is worthy [(ἄξιον)] of God. . . . [N]ot everything immortal is worthy [(ἄξιον)] of being united with God” (Vinzent 108=Klostermann 120=Rettberg 107).

     Marcellus of Ancyra. References are to fragments, not pages, and the translations (from Vincent's German, with an occasional glance at the Greek) are mine. Vinzent: Markell von Ankyra: Die Fragmente, Der Briefe an Julius von Rom, ed. Markus Vinzent, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 39 (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 2-129; Klostermann: Eusebius Werke, Vierter Band: Gegen Marcell, Über die kirchliche Theologie, Die Fragmente Marcells, ed. Erich Klostermann, 2nd ed. ed. Günther Christian Hansen, Die Griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1972), 183-215; Rettberg: Marcelliana, ed. Christian Heinrich Georg Rettberg (Göttingen, 1794). "heretics of the first centuries (Marcel of Ancyre [for example]) believed that once the redemption was accomplished and the history of salvation concluded, the Word would separate himself from his humanity just as one takes off one's coat when one enters one's home after having braved inclement weather outside" (Jean-Pierre Batut, "The Transfiguration: or, the outcome of history placed in the hands of freedom," Communio: international Catholic review 35, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 49n5). Cf. "But this union will be dissolved one day, . . . for flesh, even immortalized, doesn't suit God" (M. D. Chenu, "Marcel d'Ancyre," Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 9 (1926), 1998). Hence the words of the Creed, which were directed against Marcellus in particular: "whose Kingdom shall have no end."  Cf. the ODCC:  "Marcellus taught that in the Unity of the Godhead the Son and the Spirit only emerged as independent entities for the purposes of Creation and Redemption. After the redemptive work is achieved they will be resumed again into the Divine Unity and ‘God will be all in all’. The clause in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381, ‘whose Kingdom shall have no end’ [(the subject of that being, of course, the subject of its entire second article, namely the 'one Lord Jesus Christ')], was inserted to combat his teaching."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Farrer on "theistic semi-naturalism"

"The transcendentalist may hope to have refuted the rash claim that the relation of created activities to the Creative Act can be made closely analogous to a natural relation, and in so far intelligible. He has not in so doing shown the absolute untenability of what he would call half-theologies, or removed their attractiveness for minds whose religious attitude they fit or form. It often becomes evident to the orthodox student of such systems that their authors are simply articulating a strange religion. The God of Professor Hartshorne, for example, must be human enough to have a natural need of his creatures. It is apparently a matter of no concern that he should be divine enough to save their souls alive. Here is a rival doctrine about that divine charity which is the heart of our religion. The fervour of the faith behind the teaching is unmistakable; it claims to be judged as a new revelation, not as a rational conclusion."

Austin Farrer, Faith and speculation: an essay in philosophical theology (New York: New York University Press, 1967), 169-170.

Farrer on "the anti-scholastic revolt"

"if we attribute to God a life of creative volition we shall see his acts under the temporal form, not only in their effect, but in God's living of them. But it is absurd to say that we in this world have got all the time there is, and if God wants any of it, he will have to come in and have a bit of ours. There is no such thing as time; there is activity, which viewed objectively, may be called process; and there are relations of before and after within it, which for various purposes may be abstracted, described and diagrammatised in various ways. The time-relations to be found within process are determined by the structure of the process, not vice versa; if we knew what it was like to be God, or to live the life of God, we should know what there is in his existence analogous to the temporal forms which characterise ours. But perhaps we shall not be so rash as to claim that knowledge. . . .
"Nothing can be in our time-order without being a natural constituent of our world."

Austin Farrer, Faith and speculation: an essay in philosophical theology (New York: New York University Press, 1967), 164.

Farrer on an important distinction

"No element of theological analogy is involved in the statement of what God intends, when he intends what I should do; but analogy is involved in the statement that God intends it. God's act of intending is not identical with my act of intending, how could it be? The whole mode of divine being and action is other than the human. So in the whole statement 'God wills that . . .' analogy is involved; but attention will commonly be focussed on the part of the statement which does not involve it--the part which expresses what we have to do."

     Austin Farrer, Faith and speculation: an essay in philosophical theology (New York: New York University Press, 1967), 106-107. Meanwhile, I'm trying to determine whether Burrell disagrees: "If the only alternatives are univocity or equivocity, Scotus would be right; but ordinary language use displays terms used evaluatively (and therefore analogously), which we learn how to use in practical reasoning, as Jesus did in reminding univocally minded Pharisees that he 'came to save not the just but sinners'. So the initial step into the kingdom he announced will involve foregoing any empirical way of identifying either group, thereby suggesting quite different norms governing self-knowledge and practice, but ones intelligible to any practised agent" (David Burrell, CSC, "Maimonides, Aquinas and Ghazali: distinguishing God from the world," Scottish journal of theology 61, no. 3 (2008): 286.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Farrer on just "what it is to think theistically"

"'But who made God?' was the question of someone who had not yet emerged from the nursery."

Austin Farrer, Finite and infinite: a philosophical essay (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1959 [1943]), 15.

Cf. McCabe: "what we mean by 'God' is just whatever answers the question ['Why anything instead of nothing?'']. Apart from knowing this, says Aquinas most insistently, all we can do is point, as systematically as we can, to several kinds or categories of things that the answer could not be. For one thing, whatever would answer our question could not itself be subject to the question--otherwise we are left as we are, with the same question still to answer. Whatever we mean by 'God' cannot be whatever it is that causes us to ask the question in the first place" (Herbert McCabe, O.P., "The involvement of God," God matters (London: Continuum, 2005 (1987)), 41).

Cf. Hart:  "In truth, though, there could hardly be a weaker argument.  To use a feeble analogy, it is rather like asserting that it is inadequate to say that light is the cause of illumination because one is then obliged to say what it is that illuminates the light, and so on ad infinitum."
"But such reasoning is also certainly not subject to the objection from infinite regress.  It is not logically requisite for anyone, on observing that contingent reality must depend on absolute reality, to say then what the absolute depends on or, on asserting the participation of finite beings in infinite being, further to explain what it is that makes being to be.  Other arguments are called for, as Hume knew.  And only a complete failure to grasp the most basic philosophical terms of the conversation could prompt this strange inversion of logic, by which the argument from infinite regress--traditionally and correctly regarded as the most powerful objection to pure materialism--is now treated as an irrefutable argument against belief in God" (David Bentley Hart, "Believe it or not," First things (May 2010):  37-38.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Aquinas on an important second subalternation of theology

"theology . . . has no direct evidence of the realities about which it speaks. The existence of God in his trinitarian mystery and all that he has accomplished for humankind in the history of salvation are evident to the eyes of God himself alone; if the blessed who see him face-to-face participate in the évidence of all of this [to God], we who are still on the way can have access to it only by and in faith. The subalternation of theology to the knowledge [1] that God has of himself and [2] that the blessed have of God is nothing other than a translation into technical language of the necessity of faith to the practice of theology."

Jean-Pierre Torrell, "Théologien et mystique: les cas de Thomas d'Aquin," Revue des sciences religieuses 77, no. 3 (2003): 352-353.

Aquinas on the subalternation of theology

"a science can be higher than another in two ways, either by reason of its subject, . . . or by reason of its mode of knowing, and thus theology is below the knowledge that is God's. For we imperfectly know what he knows perfectly, and just as a science subalternated to a higher presupposes certain things and proceeds from these as from principles, so theology presupposes the articles of faith which are proved infallibly in God's knowledge, believes them and through them proceeds to prove what follows from the articles. Thus theology is as it were a science subalternated to the divine science from which it receives its principles."

Pretty basic Aquinas, but always a breath of fresh air wherever re-encountered. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences, q. 1 a. 3 qc. 2 ad 1 (Vivès edition); Thomas Aquinas: selected writings, ed. and trans. Ralph McInerny (London: Penguin Books, 1998), 61-62. According to Enrique Alarcón, who cites pp. 106 ff., 139 ff., and 159 of the authoritative new Leonine edition edited by Oliva (Les débuts de l'enseignement de Thomas d'Aquin et sa conception de la 'sacra doctrina': édition du prologue de son 'Commentaire des Sentences' de Pierre Lombard (Paris: J. Vrin, 2006)), to which I don't have immediate access, this is part of a later, optional addition to ad 2 that some thirty manuscripts (and the Vivès edition) inserted mistakenly after ad 1. Because it doesn't yet have permission to use the superior new Leonine edition, Corpus Thomisticum (http://www.corpusthomisticum.org/snp0001.html#37) follows for now the Parma edition. (All of that in a gracious reply to me dated 29 July 2008.)

Hill on the metaphysical significance of inaccuracy

"'One must, however barely, hope to be taken seriously'": "'The perpetration of "howlers", grammatical solecisms, misstatements of fact, misquotations, improper attributions': these may seem like petty errors, but [Geoffrey] Hill labours in th[e] essay ['Poetry as "menace" and "atonement"'] to bring home to the reader their metaphysical significance. They are not technical infractions but the stigmata of human and linguistic fallenness, the cracks in the tea cup that open a lane to the land of the dead. That is why he admires Simone Weil's proposal that 'anybody, no matter who, discovering an avoidable error in a printed text or radio broadcast, would be entitled to bring an action before [special] courts', which would be 'empowered to condemn a convicted offender to prison or hard labour'."

     Adam Kirsch, reviewing the Collected critical writings of Geoffrey Hill; "The poetry of ethics," Times literary supplement no. 5494 (July 18, 2008): 11. Not surprisingly, Kirsch is not convinced. Hill is one of those who "'after the ethical has manifested itself to him [sinfully] chooses the aesthetical'" (Kierkegaard): "Has 'the ethical' manifested itself to him, that is, does he believe in the absolute authority of the Christian tradition to which he stands in such a close but ambiguous relation? Or are the writers to whom he pays homage in his criticism . . . primarily just that, writers, in whose works Hill finds the tones of authority with which he himself longs to speak?" (12). (I for my part am a competent judge of precisely none of this.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hamann on John 3:16

“In order first to dispose of the infinite disproportion, . . . one must either become a partaker of divine nature, or Deity must take on flesh and blood. The Jews sought to acquire parity through the Palladium of their divine law, and the naturalists through their divine reason: as a result, there remains for the Christians and Nicodemus no other mediating concept than to believe with one’s whole heart, with one’s whole soul, with one’s whole mind: And God so loved the world—This faith is the victory that has overcome the world.”

Johann Georg Hamann, as quoted by John R. Betz, “Hamann before Kierkegaard: a systematic theological oversight,” Pro ecclesia 16, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 326. “the difference between Hamann and [the] dialectical theology [of the early Barth] (and even [Hamann’s great admirer] Kierkegaard) is [this,] . . . that for him the infinite difference is not so much revealed by the Incarnation as traversed by it” (326). There is more on Kierkegaard’s docetism on pp. 332 and 333.

Hamann on Lessing's ditch

“as Hamann discovered from his conversion experience in London and continued to maintain throughout his life, God is to be found, by virtue of the shocking humility of his love, precisely in the world and often in the most surprising places; and for this reason, faith is not a leap across Lessing’s ditch but a discovery of the one who is already there--already in the contingencies of history and one's own life--waiting to be found, waiting even to fellowship and dine with his creatures . . . but hidden from human pride.”

John R. Betz, “Hamann before Kierkegaard: a systematic theological oversight,” Pro ecclesia 16, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 332.

Hamann on the wisdom of the world

“As Hamann puts it as early as 1764 (seventeen years before the appearance of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason), ‘the wisdom of the world has begun to transform itself from a universal science of the possible into a universal ignorance of the real.’ Similarly, to Jacobi, he describes the rationality of the age in terms of an ‘underworld that shadow-boxes with ideas and speculations in the face of data and facts, with theatrical deceptions in the face of historical truths, with plausible probabilities in the face of testimonies and documents.’”

John R. Betz, “Hamann before Kierkegaard: a systematic theological oversight,” Pro ecclesia 16, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 323.

Hamann on Kant and Berens

“A dreamer can have more lively impressions than one who is awake; see more, hear more, think more . . . dream with more order than one who is awake can think; [be] a creator of new objects, great events. Everything is true for him, yet everything a deception. . . . There are dreamers who submit to being questioned and respond intelligently. If in this case a person who is awake wished to put such a dreamer to the test and asked him about his own condition: an exchange of ideas could easily take place. . . . And if the person who is awake spoke the words: you are dreaming, dear friend, a heated exchange between the two could arise.”

Johann Georg Hamann on his friends Immanuel Kant and Christoph Berens, as quoted by John R. Betz, “Hamann before Kierkegaard: a systematic theological oversight,” Pro ecclesia 16, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 319-320.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bonhoeffer on heresy

“We have lost the concept of heresy because there is no longer any magisterium. This is a terrible catastrophe. The present ecumenical councils [(of Lausanne, Stockholm, etc.)] are not quite councils because the name of heresy has been expunged from their vocabulary. But we cannot have a confession of faith without being able to say: in the light of Christ, this is true and this is false. . . . The concept of heresy arises from the brotherhood of the Church and not from a lack of love. A man acts fraternally with regard to another if he does not hide the truth from him. If I do not tell the truth to my neighbor, I treat him as a pagan. And if I tell the truth to someone who is of another opinion, I show him the love I owe him.”

     Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Nicene anathemas, Gesammelte Schriften 3, Theologie, Gemeinde:  Vorlesungen, Briefe, Gespräche, 1927 bis 1944 (München:  Chr. Kaiser, 1960), 206, as quoted by Bertrand de Margerie, S.J., in The Christian Trinity in history, trans. Edmund J. Fortman, S.J., Studies in historical theology 1 (Still River, MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1982), 98.  This appears in DBWE 12 as
For us the concept of heresy no longer exists, because there is no longer a doctrinal authority vested in councils.  Our ecumenical councils of today are anything but councils, because the word heresy has been struck from our vocabulary.  And yet the concept of heresy is a necessary, nonnegotiable factor for the confessing church.  Doctrine must always be set over against false doctrine; otherwise one does not know what doctrine means.  However, care must be taken that the concept of heresy be one that is used by the church out of love, not out of lack of love.  For if I do not speak the truth to my brethren, I am considering them as heathens; if I do speak the truth to them, I am doing it out of love.
     Lectures on Christology (student notes), Summer 1933, Berlin:  1932-1933, ed. Larry L. Rasmussen, trans. Isabel Best & David Higgins, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 12 (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2009), 332 =Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke, ed. Carsten Nicolaisen & Ernst-Albrecht Scharffenorth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke 12 (München:  Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1997), 316.

John and Polycarp on heretics

"There are those who have heard [Polycarp] tell how when John the disciple of the Lord went to bathe at Ephesus, and saw Cerinthus inside, he rushed out of the bath without washing, but crying out, 'Let us escape, lest the bath should fall while Cerinthus the enemy of the truth is in it.' Polycarp himself, when Marcion once met him and said, 'Do you know us?' answered, 'I know you, the first-born of Satan.' The apostles and their disciples took such great care not even to engage in conversations with the corrupters of the truth, as Paul also said, 'A heretical man [(ἁιρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον)] after a first and second warning avoid, knowing that such a man has fallen away and is a sinner, being self-condemned.'"

     Irenaeus, Against heresies 3.3.4, trans. Edward Rochie Hardy (LCC 1, 374). The words of Paul are taken from Titus 3:10-11 (αἱρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον μετὰ μίαν καὶ δευτέραν νουθεσίαν παραιτοῦ, εἰδὼς ὅτι ἐξέστραπται ὁ τοιοῦτος καὶ ἁμαρτάνει ὢν αὐτοκαθάκριτος).  "Irenaeus, who was a native of Smyrna, states that he met [Polycarp] as a child and hear him speak of his acquaintance with 'John,' whom he identified as the apostle.  In all likelihood, he was probably referring to 'John the presbyter' whom Papias explicitly distinguished from the apostle John (cf. Eus., HE 3,39,4)" (Encyclopedia of ancient Christianity, ed. Di Berardino, sv Polycarp, by P. Nautin).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sesboüé claims that ideas have consequences

"The tragedy of this logic of opposition is that it backfires on the affirmation of the glory of God; and in the same stroke, it turns on man as well, as the sequence of history (which obeys a whole set of factors) shows. For Luther, 'God can only be everything, if man is nothing.' But man does not feel like nothing, and later would [therefore] think it necessary to affirm himself against God. Fr. Sesboüé summarizes this process:

'The same line of thought leads Protestantism to exalt the sovereignty of God (i.e. Calvin’s soli Deo gloria). But this affirmation seems to be made at the expense of man, as though the lower man is, the more proportionally greater God is; as though uplifting man constitutes an attempt on divine glory. Is there not a certain dualism here, structured on a principle of rivalry? . . . But we are far-removed from Irenaeus’ beautiful phrase: "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." Hence, understandably, such a unilateral goal was deemed intolerable and historically gave birth to its opposite, i.e. the demand for a human autonomy which would banish God.'"


Charles Morerod, O.P., Ecumenism and philosophy: philosophical questions for a renewal of dialogue, trans. Therese C. Scarpelli (Ann Arbor, MI: Sapientia Press, 2006 [2004]), 114-115. The words "God can only be everything, if man is nothing" are not Luther's, but Chantraine's. These are sweeping remarks that a specialist could probably pick effortlessly to pieces. Still, Sesboüé and Morerod are on to something, it seems to me. Ecumenism and philosophy is far from a great book, but could well still be right. Michael Root concurs, more or less, although he thinks that "the fine grain of particular disputes is lost" (Modern theology 24, no. 3 (July 2008): 507-508). Interesting to me is the fact that the Orthodox theologian Yannaras levels the very same charge against Catholicism: "The endeavor of Gothic architecture is to elicit an emotional response by demonstrating intellectually the antithesis of natural and supernatural, human smallness and the transcendent authority, the power from on high": "'It was nevertheless the art of the Gothic cathedrals which, in the whole of Christendom, then became the instrument--perhaps the most effective one--of Catholic repression': Duby, L'Europe des Cathédrales, p. 72. Direct experience alone can justify and verify these conclusions. In the cathedrals of Cologne, Milan or Ulm, and other European cities, anyone with experience of the theology and art of the Eastern Church can see the ways in which man revolts against this transcendent authority which is expressed with genius in architecture: it is an authority which humiliates and degrades human personhood and even ultimately destroys it. Revolt is inevitable against such a God, who consents to encounter man on a scale of such crushing difference in size" (Christos Yannaras, "The ethos of liturgical art," in The freedom of morality, trans. Elizabeth Briere, Contemporary Greek theologians 3 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), 242-243, 243n19). So if Yannaras in defense of the Reformers is preposterous, then perhaps Sesboüé in dismissal of them is, too. Or there is a measure of truth in both (since individual Reformers and Catholics both, though Catholics, weren't speaking ex cathedra). Or only one is right. And from where I sit, that would have to be Sesboüé. For it would be virtually impossible to show, as Yannaras claims, that the Summa theologiae "demonstrat[es] intellectually the antithesis of natural and supernatural"! No, gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pseudo-Luther on the importance of the fight at precisely the one position under assault

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. To be steady on all battle fronts besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

     Martin Luther, as quoted by the prominent Lutheran theologian and ecumenist the Rev. Dr. George A. Lindbeck, Pitkin Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at Yale, in his The nature of doctrine: religion and theology in a postliberal age (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984), 75 (88n2); (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox, 2009), 61 (74n2). Lindbeck, like many others of reputation, cites the Weimarer Ausgabe of the Briefwechsel (i.e. Abteilung 4), vol. 3, pp. 81 ff. (=Letter 619 to Count Albrecht von Mansfeld, dated 3 June 1523 (?), original according to the WA no longer extant), but I'm not seeing this there. Analogous ideas, yes, but this very passage, no. So I'm working on it. Meanwhile, Lindbeck.
     Update:  though I wrote Dr. Lindbeck about this in 2008, I received no reply.  And when the "25th anniversary edition" of The nature of doctrine appeared in 2009, this had not been corrected.
     Update: I've since discovered that the discussion is carried much further here: http://blogstuhl.blogspot.com/2008/05/confessing-vis-vis-professing-christ.html?showComment=1210723080000. There the Rev. Joel A. Brondos channels the Rev. Dr. Christopher Brown's translation of the passage cited by Lindbeck and others (above) as follows (though I have re-consulted the WA edition of the original German, and therefore reproduced here the two emphases (einem and ein)):
Neither is it of any help if someone would say, 'I will gladly confess Christ and His Word in every other article, except that I may keep silence about one or two that my tyrants may not tolerate, such as both species in the Sacrament and the like.' For whoever denies Christ in one article or word has denied the same Christ in that one article who would be denied by [denying] all the articles, since there is only one Christ in all His words, taken all together or singly.
Auch hilft nicht, daß jemand wollt sagen:  "Ich will in allen Stücken sonst gern Christum und sein Wort bekennen, ohn daß ich müge schweigen eines oder zwei, die meine Tyrannen nicht leiden mögen [(or: die mein Tyrann nicht leiden mag)], als die zwo Gestalt des Sacraments oder desgleichen."  Denn wer in einem Stück oder Wort Christum verleugnet, der hat ebendenselbigen Christum in dem einigen Stück verleugnet, der in allen Stücken verleugnet würde, sintemal es nur ein Christus ist, in allen seinen Worten sämptlich und sonderlich. 
I also look forward to the publication of an article on this by my colleague Bob Caldwell (j40bob there).
     Update:  looks like Bob's article is out:  http://creation.com/battle-quote-not-luther.  That would be
Caldwell, Bob. "If I profess": a spurious, if consistent, Luther quote?" Concordia journal 35, no. 4 (September 1, 2009): 356-359 (SPU PDF here).
Mr. Caldwell traced it to p. 321 of the Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta family, by two of themselves (New York:  Dodd, Mead, & Company, Publishers, 1864 (© 1863)), by the Englishwoman Elizabeth Rundle Charles (1828-1896).
     From the Oxford dictionary of national biography, s.v. Charles, Elizabeth Rundle, by Elisabeth Jay:
Andrew Cameron, the editor of the Family Treasury, a Scottish magazine, offered Elizabeth Charles £40 for a story about Luther. A fellow historical novelist, Charlotte Yonge, might criticize The Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family (1863) for the book's post-Romantic sensibilities and its portrait of ‘a lady's Luther, without his force or his coarseness’ (Monthly Packet, 1865, 446), but the novel passed through numerous editions, and was translated into most European languages, Arabic, and several Indian languages. Luther's career as religious reformer and national hero is recounted through the eyes of his printer's children, offering religious exemplars through the medium of historical drama. . . . Her subsequent family chronicles, such as The Bertram Family (1876), swiftly establish the dynastic relationship of their narrators to their predecessors in the Schonberg-Cotta Family. . . .
     In the novel itself it appears (under the heading "Fritz's story, Ebernburg, April 2, 1526") as follows (which is to say, slightly differently):
But now, to confess Luther seemed to me to have become identical with confessing Christ.  It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity.  It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess.  If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity.  Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.
     Variants:
"If you preach the gospel in all its aspects with the exception of the issues that deal specifically with your time, you are not preaching the gospel at all." 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Morerod on the elephant in the room

“The dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans must [now] confront seriously the philosophical question whether it is possible for two agents to perform one and the same action simultaneously, each of them performing the whole of it on its own level of being. This question is philosophical from the get-go, and touches on the conception of being and the possibility of analogy.”

Charles Morerod, O.P., "La philosophie dans le dialogue catholique-luthérien," Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 44, no. 3 (1997): 238, italics mine. Kathryn Tanner, who defends the coherence of the claim that "it is possible for two agents to perform one and the same action simultaneously, each of them performing the whole of it on its own level of being", has probably the more comprehensive view, however: "Granting the general accuracy of both Protestant and Catholic accusations of distortion in Christian discourse, it is difficult to accept either side's diagnosis that the source of the error lies with some philosophical seduction of Christian purity. The general disruption of Christian discourse that occurs in mutual charges of impropriety between Christian factions crosses all philosophical lines distinguishing those factions. This general disorder suggests, not the accidental corruption of any particular theological faction through the untoward outside influence of flawed philosophical principles, but a curious forgetfulness about the rules for proper Christian talk on the part of the church itself as a whole" (God and creation in Christian theology: tyranny or empowerment? (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 5 (2.1 ff.)). A seduction of sorts has taken place, and from the time of the Reformation approximately, but it was a seduction of Protestants and Catholics alike by "a specifically modern source" (4), a "modern framework for discourse" (124 ff.) that issues in a Pelagianism of those--Catholics as well as Protestants--who mishandle the traditional "negative" emphasis on the sovereignty of God, as well as a Pelagianism of those--Protestants as well as Catholics--who mishandle the traditional "positive" emphasis on the integrity of the creature. (For this "two-sided character of the rules", see pp. 105 ff., 121.5, and, for the modern context prescriptively, 161-162; for a more complex account of the rules themselves, see pp. 90 ff., 47.2; for historical examples, mostly Catholic (Biel; Banez and Molina), but influential also in Protestant circles (pp. 142-143), see pp. 132 ff.) The Pelagianism here, modernist, Protestant, and Catholic, consists in the assumption that the creature is in some sense independent of (i.e. not, as in Aquinas, utterly and in every respect dependent upon) God's creative agency (157.2, 159.1). And it results in "What is odd about the modern situation": "the degree to which difference takes on the character of mutual exclusivity" (4, cf. 123.1), and "what might have been a complementary difference of theological priorities turns into a theological conflict" (148).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Would that I were this quick

“Greene tells how he once reproached Waugh for his ‘anti-Semitic rudeness’ to Korda at a dinner party. Waugh said ‘He had no right to bring his mistress to Carol Reed’s house’, to which Greene said, ‘But I had my mistress with me’. Waugh’s caustic reply, ‘That is quite different. She is a married woman’, deserved a monosyllabic retort, which Greene remained too deferential to deliver.”

     Frederick Raphael, reviewing Graham Greene: a life in letters (“Terriblement anglais”), Times literary supplement no. 5469 (25 January 2008): 4.

Jenson on the givenness of all true speech about God

“The difference between Christianity and the gnostic spirit is then simple and straightforward: for the latter, apophaticism means that we have continuously to make up language in which to speak of God, since all speech fails as soon as it is used; for Christianity, apophaticism means that we are given language that is immune to our manipulating, that is ‘sacramental’ in its destiny.”

Robert W. Jenson, “‘The Father, He . . .’”, in Speaking the Christian God: the Holy Trinity and the challenge of feminism, ed. Alvin F. Kimel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 109.

Duffy on Ratzinger on Williams on tradition

“An insistence on the subversive potential of tradition is valuable in a culture where self-styled ‘traditionalism’ is more often than not invoked in the service of reaction. But there are problems about privileging the notion of unsettlement as much as Williams does.
“Tradition on this account can seem a never ending argumentative seminar, constant upheaval without any point of rest or leverage. Yet if unsettlement is built into the vocabulary of Christian self-understanding, there is also a venerable Christian vocabulary of solidity, dependability, confidence in a faith once revealed to the saints, tradition as a rock. Argument has its limits. The believer is not always to be at the mercy of the scholars, and there must be ways of deciding when at last a particular problem has reached resolution, an argument has come to an end.

“In Rowan Williams the see of Canterbury has its best theologian since St Anselm. As it happens, the new Pope is probably the best theologian to hold the see of Peter since almost as long. Like Archbishop Williams, Benedict XVI is steeped in patristic thought and much given to reflection on the religious value of the past. In his new role, however, Joseph Ratzinger embodies a quite different set of emphases and affirmations, an understanding of tradition precisely as settlement, his office an embodiment of the Church’s confidence that the voice of Christ is, at least occasionally, heard in answers as well as questions. Ratzinger on Williams on the past: now what a seminar that would be.”

Eamon Duffy, reviewing Why study the past? The quest for the historical Church, by Rowan Williams, Times literary supplement no. 5340 (5 August 2005): 25.