Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pomplun on the high medievals on Hilary

"the beatific vision is thus the sole instance in which an act of the will is wholly free and wholly subject to its own natural necessity. . . . in stark contrast to modern voluntarism . . . the soul enjoys such delightful spontaneity only because she has been created with a natural desire for supernatural fulfillment.
"This conception of the beatific vision is an important bulwark against the misleading objection that Hilary's teaching implies that the Word did not suffer 'naturally' or 'spontaneously.' . . . The beatific act that perfects human nature cannot make us less human. . . . Christ's impassibilitythe unique integrity of his body and soulis precisely what allows him to experience pain more vehemently and so identify with those who suffer in a way that we cannot. . . . Christ's freedom from pain's tyranny cannot make him less free. . . .
"Just as perfect impassibility ensures that Christ feels suffering and sorrow all the more vehemently, the perfect love the beatific vision enables Christ to accept that suffering and sorrow with a perfectly natural spontaneity.  Christ's possession of the beatific vision not only guarantees that his humanity is a perfect instrument (in the properly Thomistic sense of the phrase), it also ensures that his sacred body suffers in the mystical proportion necessary to reconcile the world to himself.  His saving atonement, the consummation of love and spontaneity, requires nothing less than perfect impassibility.  More importantly, the two are theologically inseparable:  The suffering that Christ obediently undertook as a necessary component of his mission'He learned obedience from what He suffered' (Heb. 5:8)becomes true passion by dint of the perfect and total cooperation afforded by the beatific vision that Christ possessed from the moment of his conception'For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world' (John 18:37).
"And so it remains that Christ felt the force of his suffering without its sorrow, for his suffering was made all the greater by the impassible nature he had from the Father, coursing into the soul that bore his body across the waters, that shook his sacred body with tears for his friend Lazarus, that blazed in his transfiguration like fire flashing from an alabaster jar.  That Hilary saw no need to trisect Christ into deity, soul, and body is his strength.  But if we must import the later categories of divine and human nature, considered abstractly, into his meditations, we can see that the medieval and early modern treatments of Hilary largely make more sense than most of our contemporary historical treatments.  Knowing full well the difficulties that surrounded Hilary's peculiar vocabulary, these theologians confronted the difficult passages of De Trinitate with the the same ardor, but without the same perplexity, as many of their modern successors.  Having never forgotten the spiritual importance of impassibility, they applied the necessary distinctions in the serenity afforded by their common tradition.  They maximilized the Patristic tradition, to be sure, but they also humanized Christ, and their joint contribution to Christology shows us that impassibilityproperly understoodallows Christ to suffer more, not less; allows him to do so with greater freedom, not less; allows him to embody the maximal love (John 15:12) and nothing less.  It allows, in sum, God's power to be made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), and so overcome weakness once and for all."

Trent Pomplun, "Impassibility in St. Hilary of Poitier's De Trinitate," in Divine impassibility and the mystery of human suffering, ed. James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P. (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 211-213 (187-213).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Nor are we expected to forgive the unrepentant sinner."

"no reconciliation, no forgiveness and no negotiations are possible without repentance. The Biblical teaching on reconciliation and forgiveness makes it quite clear that nobody can be forgiven and reconciled with God unless he or she repents of their sins. Nor are we expected to forgive the unrepentant sinner. When he or she repents we must be willing to forgive seventy times seven times but before that, we are expected to preach repentance to those who sin against us or against anyone. Reconciliation, forgiveness and negotiations will become our Christian duty in South Africa only when the apartheid regime shows signs of genuine repentance."

     Challenge to the church:  a theological comment on the political crisis in South Africa (The KAIROS document, 25 September 1985), 3.1 (Reconciliation).  I have not read this through.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Schweitzer on service: "the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."

"And when I answer such letters I add something else:  'Seek a humble sort of thing.'  Our hearts often look for something very big, something wanting a lot of sacrifice, and often our heart does not see the humble things.  At first you must learn to do the humble things and often they are the most difficult to do.  In those humble things, be busy about helping someone who has need of you.  You see somebody alonetry and be with him, try to give him some of the hours which you might take for yourself and in that way learn to serve:  and then only will you begin to find true happiness.  I don't know what your destiny will be.  Some of you will perhaps occupy remarkable positions.  Perhaps some of you will become famous by your pens, or as artists.  But I know one thing:  the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."

Albert Schweitzer, in a speech to the students of Silcoates School, Wakefield (along with "a number of boys and girls from Ackworth School"), on "The Meaning of Ideals in Life," at approximately 3:40 p.m. on 3 December 1935.  "Visit of Dr. Albert Schweitzer" (as translated from the French of the address by Dr. Schweitzer's interpreter), The Silcoatian, New Series No. 25 (December, 1935):  784-785 (781-786 with 771-772 ("Things in General")).  I have mounted the scan of the entire address so kindly supplied by Louise Leach, Administrative Assistant to the Silcoates School Foundation, on 3 November 2010, with her permission, granted on 7 February 2011.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scruton on freedom

"We are not born free. Freedom is something we acquire. And we acquire it through obedience."

     Roger Scruton, in The uses of pessimism and the danger of false hope (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2010), 50, as quoted in The Telegraph by Simon Heffer on 12 June 2010.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Snyder on the Holocaust

"Rather than consider the political or historical backdrop, we should rely upon our intuitions, upon 'what we know about individual and social life in general.' This ostensible knowledge includes the capacity to perceive the 'beast within'—within other people, that is, never Goldhagen himself or his readers. National societies, we are to understand, differ in their level of subhumanity: 'there is variation of beastliness across cultures and subcultures.'
"Goldhagen's writing has been, as his publisher says, 'very popular,' perhaps because it is tempting to distinguish among murderers and the murdered in such a stark way. [Yet] Goldhagen's own categories, if rigorously applied, reveal a problem with his approach. For Goldhagen, a 'perpetrator' is someone who 'knowingly contributes in some tangible way to the deaths or elimination of others, or to injuring others as part of an annihilationist or an eliminationist program.' . .
"Goldhagen is right that no account can do without the ideologically motivated leaders. . . . [Yet] in Engelking and Leociak's compendium of the creation and destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, the importance of its two thousand Jewish policemen is also excruciatingly clear. They did most of the work and they knew what was happening; by Goldhagen's definition, they too were 'perpetrators.' As such, the Jewish policemen must have acted, in Goldhagen's account, according to their anti-Semitic desire to eliminate Jews. This is absurd.
"Goldhagen might of course counter that Jewish policemen acted from non-ideological motivations, such as the desire to save themselves or their families. But his analysis leaves no room for perpetrators who act according to such calculations. He might wish to argue that Jewish policemen armed with clubs were taking orders from German policemen armed with guns, as was the case. But Goldhagen explicitly and repeatedly denies the importance of coercion to the actions of perpetrators. He seems reluctant to examine the layers of authority that brought Jews to the death factories. . . .
"Goldhagen is of course right that anti-Semitism is indispensable to the explanation of the Holocaust. Where Goldhagen differs from other scholars is his impatience with plural causality. . . . He is wrong to see free will, and only free will, everwhere we find mass killing. The Holocaust as it actually happened involved the participation of many tens of thousands of people who, contrary to Goldhagen, had no 'decision-making moment,' had not 'freely opted' to participate in the killing, and had taken part in no murderous 'conversation about the dehumanized or demonized victims.'
". . . Like the Jewish policemen, [these captured Soviet soldiers under German command] were not free actors realizing their individual wills withing 'supportive eliminationist milieus.'"

Timothy Snyder, "What we need to know about the Holocaust," New York review of books 57, no. 14 (September 30, 2010), 78.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yeago on "the gnostic and antinomian devolution of contemporary Protestantism"

     "If it is true that the law oppresses simply because of its formal character as ordered demand, then the converse would seem to hold:  anything with the formal character of ordered demand oppresses.  That is to say, anything which proposes some particular ordering of our existence or calls for a determinate response from us will be perceived as being, simply as such, the oppressive law from which the gospel delivers us.  And since the gospel's liberating character is defined in terms of its antithesis to the law, it will not be our sinful abuse of the law and hostility to the commandment, and God's wrath against us on that account, from which the gospel liberates us.  Rather, the gospel will liberate us from the situation of having to hear commandment at all, from having to reckon with any word whatsoever which has the formal character of ordered demand.
     "Thus the law oppresses because it proposes a determinate ordering of our existence and calls for a specified response, and it follows that the gospel liberates because it delivers from determinate order and specified response. . . ."
"already in the tough-minded [Werner] Elert[, even,] we are [therefore] well on the way to contemporary tender-minded rhetoric about all those 'hurting people' who need more than anything else to be liberated from all order and absolved of all expectations by the redemptive 'inclusivity' of the antinomian church."

     David S. Yeago, "Gnosticism, antinomianism, and Reformation theology:  reflections on the costs of a construal," Pro ecclesia 2, no. 1 (Winter 1993):  41, 42 (37-49).  But the costs are not just ethical; they are also dogmatic (pp. 43 ff.).  For "Within a horizon structured by the absolute antithesis of law and gospel, of form and freedom, dogma  must be suspect simply as such, as a form of that oppression and bondage from which the gospel is to liberate us" (43):
     It is not only that from within a theological universe structured by the absolute antithesis of law and gospel the very idea of dogma is finally inadmissable. . . . The problem lies even deeper.  If the saving gift of God through the gospel is deliverance from form, liberation from order and the call for order, then the God of the gospel cannot himself be a God who has 'taken form' concretely in history.  When the law/gospel distinction is absolutized, it becomes at least plausible to regard the triune God, the God who is conclusively self-bestowed and self-identified in the particular history of Jesus, as the oppressive, hidden God of the law, the God who enslaves and torments the human spirit.  As Robert W. Jenson has written, 
Surely, it is said, God . . . cannot be Jewish, or male, or a figure from a long-past century, or an apocalyptic seer, or hung up on legal commandments, or . . . Whatever may be true of the human individual Jesus, it is said, surely the 'Christ' of Christianity must be a 'Christ principle' or a 'Logos-in-itself' or something similarly metaphysical and malleable, that is not Jewish, or male, or crucified, or blessed with a mother, or hung up on righteousness, or etc.
     It matters little what feature of the particularity of God's self-bestowal is singled out for offense; the deeper offense is that God should take form in history at all.
     The logic is simple:  if form is enslavement,then a God who took form in history would be an enslaving God.  The liberating God must therefore be a formless God, a God at most dialectically related to any particular form, a God who is everywhere and nowhere, whose faceless elusiveness frees us from the tyranny of the particular and ordered and definitive.  This is the God whom, we are told, we must not 'limit,' that is, whom we must not confess as definitively self-given and self-identified in Jesus Christ.  This is the God whom we know only in an endless sequence of throwaway 'images' whose utility consist solely in their novelty, their capacity to shake us loose from familiar forms.  This is the God with whom we commune only on an endless 'spiritual journey,' an infinite quest with no goal and no purpose except sheer ceaseless movement beyond form [43-44].