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: 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:  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.
"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.

Just not the kind of crap that we print

“the one truly inspired character in Angels is not a dissident hero, à la Druzhnikov, but a cynical and corpulent editor named Yakov Rappoport. Drained of all his ideals by years in a labor camp followed by years of ghostwriting speeches and articles, Rappoport is a genuine late-Soviet type. He does not think truth can be mined and extracted and presented whole and immutable to the world. ‘I’ll be honest with you,’ he says to a man who’s brought a manuscript to the newspaper. ‘Everything we print in this newspaper is crap. What you’ve written is also crap. But it isn’t the kind of crap that we print.’”

     Keith Gessen, reviewing Yuri Druzhnikov’s Angels on the head of a pin, New York review of books 51, no. 20 (16 December 2004): 65.

Fürst on the novum that was (and is) Christianity

“Pagan religion was on the whole a religion with neither a metaphysic nor an ethic.
“With Christianity it is in both cases completely otherwise. To the Christian faith belong [1] its justification and foundation by means of reason (and therefore theology or dogmatics in the broad sense of that word), and [2] implications for the lifestyle of the believer (and therefore ethics or morals). To put it another way, faith and religion require in the Christian understanding both [2] the love of neighbor and [1] a claim to the truth of that to which faith testifies that has been established rationally. On the basis of this character, which among other things it inherited from Judaism, Christianity had an effect upon the culture (and not just narrowly the religion) of antiquity so transformative that Western culture right down to the present day remains influenced by it.”

Alfons Fürst, “Der Einfluss des Christentums auf die Entwicklung der kulturellen Identität Europas in der Spätantike,” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 43 (2000): 8.  Cf.

More Sokolowski

"the Christian sense of God must be 'distinguished' from issues such as these. God is not the ever elusive but ever involved oneness, the steady pivot that lets the plays of presence and absence, and sameness and otherness, and rest and motion, occur in the beings and the forms of presentation we encounter. This oneness or goodness is what thinking catches glimpses of when it reaches the edge of rational order and tries to think about what lets the order be: but this letting be is not creation. Perhaps the Platonic oneness and the dyadic divergence that is always played off against it were obscured as themes for thought because of the theological brilliance of [the Christian doctrine of] creation; but Heidegger's statement of these issues, and the emphasis many writers have placed recently on relation and opposition as prior even to substance, demand that the Christian sense of God and creation be more explicitly differentiated from these things that appear so much like it. Even mysticism, if considered a form of experience appropriate to approaching the center of things, is not necessarily or exclusively related to Christianity, nor can Christianity be judged by the criterion of its potential for mysticism. There is another dimension beyond being and reason, and it is acknowledged by Plato, but it is not the same as the transcendence of God appreciated in Christian faith. . . . There are difficulties in making contrasts here because the sense of oneness we find in Plato is itself reached only by the most refined and angled expression, . . . and it is reached as a nec plus ultra for language. But the Christian God is not simply a plus ultra, something yet more distant but in the same direction. . . . The Christian sense of the divine is simply and entirely another issue."

Robert Sokolowski, The God of faith and reason: foundations of Christian theology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1995 [1982]), 50-51.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Farrer on double agency

"man's salvation is not achieved by man's passivity. He may be passive to God; but his passivity to God involves and indeed is an activity on his own part. The trees were passive to Orpheus; that's why they danced."

     Austin Farrer, Faith and speculation: an essay in philosophical theology (New York: New York University Press, 1967), 22.

Sokolowski on the Christian distinction

"Unless the Christian sense of the divine is differentiated from anything and everything in the being of the world, unless the Christian God is differentiated from what philosophers have called the whole, all the Christian mysteries cease to be mysteries. Either they become impossibilities, or they become accommodated to natural necessities, or they are made to compete with what is natural and to obfuscate the way things have to be."

Robert Sokolowski, The God of faith and reason: foundations of Christian theology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1995 [1982]), 38.

Burrell on what is needed

"What is needed, then, to articulate the distinction between God and the world in such a way as to respect the reality appropriate to each, is a distinction which makes its appearance, as it were, within the world as we know it, yet does not express a division within that world."

     David B. Burrell, Knowing the unknowable God: Ibn-Sina, Maimonides, Aquinas (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986), 17.

Hauerwas on the story "not of our own making"

"the church does not believe that you should have no story except the story you chose when you had no story. Rather, the church believes that we are creatures of a good God who has storied us through engrafting us to the people of Israel through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians do not believe that we get to choose our story, but rather we discover that God has called us to participate in a story that is not of our own making. That is why we are called into the church as well as why we are called 'Christian.' A church so formed cannot help but be a challenge to a social order built on the contrary presumption that I get to make my life up."

Stanley Hauerwas, "America's God," Communio: international Catholic review 34, no. 3 (Fall 2007): 480. That one from your colleague there at Duke just for subscribing, Roger!

Sunday, July 13, 2008


1 Samuel 2:3 Vulgate, and a common motto.

Sallustius on the superiority of pagan over Christian truth

Faculty of Theology & Religion,
University of Oxford
"The superiority of pagan over Christian truth was believed by Catholic Christianity's critics to subsist precisely in the fact that 'these things never happened, but always are.'"

     Markus Bockmuehl, quoting Sallustius (4th cent.), De dis et mundo 4.9 (Ταῦτα δὲ ἐγένετο μὲν οὐδέποτε, ἔστι δὲ ἀεί), against Hauerwas' Matthew; Pro ecclesia 17, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 27.  Cf. Sallustius, Concerning the gods and the universe, ed. & trans. Arthur Darby Nock (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1966 [1926]), p. 8, ll. 14-15 (Greek), p. 9, ll. 17-18 (English); and Saloustios Des dieux et du monde, ed. Rochefort (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1960), p. 8, ll. 9-10. Glancing through this quickly, I saw no direct reference to Christianity.  μὲν is absent in the footnote in Pro ecclesia, but present in the editions of Nock and Rochefort. Rochefort: “Ces événements n’eurent lieu à aucun moment, mais existent toujours: l’entendement voit tout, d’ensemble, tandis que la parole exprime les uns d’abord, les autres ensuite” (καὶ ὁ μὲν νοῦς ἅμα πάντα ὁρᾷ, ὁ δὲ λόγος τὰ μὲν πρῶτα τὰ δὲ δεύτερα λέγει).

Zangerle in early Nazi Germany

"in this lies the great danger for the Catholic Christian [trapped in the abstract realm of the natural law]: [that] for the merely intellectual possession of the truth [he will] neglect being fervently possessed by it" in such a way as to live it out in the concrete circumstances of space and time.

     Ignaz Zangerle in early Nazi Germany, "Zur Situation der Kirche," Der Brenner 14 (1933-1934): 59.

Aquinas on the difference between a disposition and a nature

"the vice of a thing seems to consist in its not being disposed in a way befitting its nature."

     Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I-II.71.1.Resp. ("vitium . . . uniuscuiusque rei esse videtur quod non sit disposita secundum quod convenit suae naturae"), all italics mine.  FEDP here.

Aeschylus on the simple in heart

And Righteousness is a shining in
the smoke of mean houses.
Her blessing is on the just man.
From high halls starred with gold by reeking hands
she turns back
with eyes that glance away to the simple in heart. . . .

Aeschylus, Agamemnon ll. 772 ff., trans. Lattimore.

"nothing ever seems to dislodge from their secure livings those on the theologically liberal end of the spectrum"

"nothing ever seems to dislodge from their secure livings those on the theologically liberal end of the spectrum. . . . I remember hearing an interview with an English vicar who had recently abandoned any belief in God. When asked if he would resign, he replied without missing a beat, ‘Now that we know there is no god, my people need me more than ever.’”

     Timothy Larsen, "Should I stay or should I go?," Books and culture 10, no. 1 (January/February 2004): 21.

Farrer on the relative method of dating

"the datings of all these books are like a line of tipsy revellers walking home arm-in-arm; each is kept in position by the others and none is firmly grounded. The whole series can lurch five years this way or that, and still not collide with a solid obstacle."

Austin Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964) , 37. This on the so-called "relative" method of dating, which Martin Mosse would distinguish from the "historical": "I doubt whether the optimal approach to any historical problem is to jettison all the available ancient evidence at the outset" (Mosse, as quoted by A. E. Harvey, Times literary supplement no. 5486 (23 May 2008): 30).

Webster on the so-called "historical Jesus"

“To say that Jesus is God incarnate is to say that there is a history of Jesus only because in it God’s very being reaches out to us; only because of that outreach of the divine being is there this historical figure, and only on that basis can his history be known for what it is. Put differently: incarnation goes all the way down; it’s not something added onto a more basic historical reality. Without the movement of God’s unrestricted love and self-giving, without the Son’s eternal obedience to the Father, there is no history of Jesus.”

John Webster, as quoted by Jason Byassee and Mike Allen in “Being constructive: an interview with John Webster,” Christian century 125, no. 11 (June 3, 2008): 32.

McCabe on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

"by contrast with this biblical God, the God spoken of by those who insist on God's participation in the history of his people, sharing their experiences, their sufferings and triumphs, is perilously like one of the gods."

     Herbert McCabe, God matters (New York: Continuum, 2005 [1987]) , 42.  Cf. David Bentley Hart:
when all is said and done, the idea of a God who becomes through suffering passions, whose being is determined in a history, according to 'encounters' with other realities, even realities he creates, is simply a metaphysical myth, a mere supreme being, but not the source of all being.  To wax vaguely Heideggerian, he is a God on this side of the ontological difference.
"No shadow of turning:  on divine impassibility" (2002), in The hidden and the manifest:  essays in theology and metaphysics (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2017), 51 (45-69).

Llewelyn Moss on money

. . . It’s a false god.
Yeah. But it’s real money.

     Carla Jean Moss and Llewelyn Moss respectively, in Cormac McCarthy, No country for old men (New York: Knopf, 2005), 182.

Aeschylus on Helen of Troy

Once a man fostered in his house
a lion cub, from the mother's milk
torn, craving the breast given.
In the first steps of its young life
mild, it played with children and delighted the old.
Caught in the arm's cradle
they pampered it like a newborn child,
shining eyed and broken to the hand
to stay the stress of its hunger.

But it grew with time, and the lion
in the blood strain came out; it paid
grace to those who had fostered it
in blood and death. . . .

Aeschylus, Agamemnon ll. 716 ff., trans. Lattimore.

Marion retracting his position on Aquinas

"The act of being St. Thomas contemplates derives neither from metaphysics nor from ontology nor . . . from the [Heideggerian] 'question of being', but from the divine names and the 'luminous darkness'."

"L'esse que médite saint Thomas ne relève ni de la métaphysique, ni de l'ontologie ni même de la «question de l'être», mais des noms divins et de la «ténèbre lumineuse»."

     Jean-Luc Marion, "Saint Thomas d'Aquin et l'onto-théologie," Revue thomiste 95 (1995): 66.  This was later translated by Thomas A. Carlson as "The esse that Thomas meditates on may deal not with metaphysics, or ontology, or even the 'question of being' but, instead, with the divine names and on the 'luminous darkness'" ("Thomas Aquinas and Onto-theo-logy," in God without being, 2nd ed., trans. Thomas A. Carlson with a foreward by David Tracy and a new Preface by Jean-Luc Marion (Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 2012), 236 (199-236, 270-280)).