Saturday, July 3, 2010

My yoke is easy, and my burden is light

"the commandments of the New Law . . . have been given about matters that are necessary to gain the end of eternal Happiness, . . . but . . . the counsels are about matters that render the gaining of this end more assured and expeditious" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I-II.108.4.Resp., trans. FEDP).

"the evangelical counsels are 'not perfections but . . . dispositions to perfection'" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles III.130.3, trans. Vernon J. Bourke).

Cf. Dieter Witschen, "Zur Bestimmung supererogatorischer Handlungen: der Beitrag des Thomas von Aquin," Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 51, nos. 1/3 (2004): 32-33 (27-40).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Barth on (let's say) the simple substitution of Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer

"The content of the doctrine of the Trinity which the Church has formulated and dogmatics has to repeat and Church proclamation respect is not that God in His relation to man is Creator, Mediator and Redeemer, but that God in Himself is eternally God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. . . . God Himself cannot be dissolved [nicht aufgeht] into His work and activity [for us]. . . ."

     Karl Barth, CD I/2, pp. 878-879, as quoted by George Hunsinger, in his "Election and the Trinity:  twenty-five theses on the theology of Karl Barth," Modern theology 24, no. 2 (April 2008):  189, but with the Thomson/Knight translation restored (since Hunsinger, or perhaps just Modern theology, drops an ellipsis).

The stress in context is on "revelation," [1] that "work and activity of God in His revelation" from which is derived the both [2b] the doctrine of God as "in His revelation . . . Creator, Mediator and Redeemer" and [2a] the logically prior and much more foundational doctrine of God as "in Himself and to all eternity . . . Father, Son and Holy Spirit."  [1] "The work and activity" of revelation is therefore the "organising and controlling centre of dogmatics" out of which [2] doctrine arises, and in particular [2a] "the doctrine of the Trinity . . . as part of [2b] "the doctrine of God [as Creator, Mediator and Redeemer], which cannot be exhausted in [2a] the doctrine of the Trinity," and stands with it "alongside [3] the doctrines of creation, atonement and redemption."  We need [2b] because "the impression can and must be destroyed that at every point [(I might have said level)] we have to do with a system of trinitarian doctrine."  Yet [2a] is nonetheless "the foundation of th[e] threefold division of His self-revealing action", and guarantees that "even in [2b] this differentiation of God in His revelation . . . we have to do with God Himself."

So much for the context.  But here's the point being made by Hunsinger:  "We have to" place [2b] the doctrine of God as "in His revelation" Creator, Mediator, and Redeemer, and within and behind that [2a] the doctrine of God as "in Himself and to all eternity" Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, "alongside [3] the doctrines of creation, atonement and redemption"
because [2] this Subject God Himself [and behind that the God who is [2a] "in Himself and to all eternity" Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] cannot be dissolved into His work and activity, if His work and activity is rightly to be seen and understood as His.

Here is how I put this distinction between context and use the first time round:

We must distinguish God's "work and activity" ad extra, "the actuality of the Word of God", from "the doctrine of the Trinity" considered as a "dogma," "doctrine," "basic view, or . . . controllable principle which can be used as such for the construction of a system. . . . of trinitarian doctrine."
We did not derive our differentiation of the Loci [into De creatione, De reconciliatione, De redemptione (and before those De Deo)] from the doctrine of the Trinity.  We derived the doctrine of the Trinity itself from the same source as that from which is now derived the differentiation of the Loci, viz., the work and activity of God in His revelation.
The doctrine of the Trinity, like all other doctrines, is preceded by the fact of revelation in itself and as such.  The essence of this fact is that God confronts us as Creator, Mediator, and Redeemer, that as such He speaks and deals with us, that He is therefore God and Lord in this threefold way.  This being of God in His work and activity is not a dogma, or a basic view, or a controllable principle which can be used as such for the construction of a system.  It is the actuality of the Word of God, freely preceding and underlying all views and dogmas.  We attained our differentiation of the Loci by reference to this actuality and not to the doctrine of the Trinity, although inevitably [this actuality] both confirms the latter, and is itself confirmed by it, and safeguarded against misunderstandings.
Only with what I've just placed in italics do we arrive at the use Hunsinger makes of this passage.  This use is perfectly legitimate, as indeed Barth himself makes abundantly clear
("In §§ 10-12 we thought it necessary to understand God in His revelation as Creator, Mediator and Redeemer in order to see as the foundation of this threefold division of His self-revealing action the fact that in Himself and to all eternity God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (and then very shortly the first of the two sentences quoted by Hunsinger)),
but not the main point here.

The dangers Hunsinger sees in the new revisionism of McCormack and company were, in my judgment, dangers for the substitution of Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer before that.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Phaedra on playing the hand you've been dealt

I am contriving to win glory from my shame.

ἐκ τῶν γὰρ αἰσχρῶν ἐσθλὰ μηχανώμεθα.

Phaedra, in Euripides' Hippolytus, l. 331, trans. James Morwood (Medea, Hippolytus, Electra, Helen, trans. & ed. James Morwood, Oxford world's classics (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 48).  The verb is a plural (we), and either indicative (as in the Morwood translation here) or subjunctive.  Greek from p. 188 here.
"Contriving" indeed!  In the end she played it badly:  "I began with this policy--to stay quiet about this sickness and to keep it hidden. . . . My second course was this--I planned to conquer my madness through self-control and thus to bear it easily.  My third course--since I was failing to win victory over Cypris by these means--was to resolve on death" (ll. 391 ff.).  And her fourth course?  Deadly false witness (ll. 885 ff.).
Where did that come from?
"She tried to conquer Cypris by reason but suffered ruin she did not wish for through the schemes of her nurse who made known her sickness to your son under oath" (ll. 1304 ff.).

"This thing, whatever it is, that glistens here on earth"

But whatever else there may be that is more dear than life,
darkness hides it, wrapping it round in clouds.
We show ourselves to be infatuated lovers
of this thing, whatever it is, that glistens here on earth,
for we have no experience of another life
and no revelation of what lies below the ground,
but we drift on a sea of idle myths.

The nurse in Euripides' Hippolytus, ll. 191-197, trans. James Morwood (Medea, Hippolytus, Electra, Helen, trans. & ed. James Morwood, Oxford world's classics (Oxford & New York:  Oxford University Press, 1998), 44).  Greek on p. 176 here.

Sokolowski on the implications of the ontological argument

"God is to be so understood, and the world or creatures are to be so understood, that nothing greater, maius, is achieved if the world or creatures are added to God.  To bring out this implication, and to state the [unstated] premise in terms more akin to Anselm's own expression, we must say:
(God plus the world) cannot be conceived as greater than God alone; or:
(God plus any creature) cannot be conceived as greater than God alone.
. . . if the world or any creature were to contribute greatness to God, then God would not be that than which nothing greater can be thought.  God plus the creature or God plus the world would be thinkable as greater than God alone.  Anselm's definition of how God is to be understood is usually taken to mean that no other being, or no other combination of beings, could be conceived as greater than God; but it must also be true that any being or any beings taken together with God cannot be conceived as amounting to something greater than God alone. . . .
Furthermore, in chapters three and five [of the Proslogion] Anselm introduces the theme of being better, melius, as parallel to the theme of being greater, so another formulation of his unstated premise would be:
(God plus the world) cannot be conceived as better than God alone; or:
(God plus any creature) cannot be conceived as better than God alone.
That is, no perfection would be lost if God had not created the world.  The world and God must be so understood that nothing but God could be all that there is, and there would be no diminution of greatness or goodness or perfection.  God is not better or greater because of creation, nor is 'there' more goodness or greatness because God did create.  This does not imply that God does not care about his creation, or that what is created is not worth anything.  On the contrary, God's benevolence is so great that even though he does not need creation in any sense at all--he does not need it to be himself, nor does he need it for 'there' to be greater excellence; nullo alio indigens--still he has created and, beyond that, has entered into his creation in the person of Jesus."

Robert Sokolowski, The God of faith and reason: foundations of Christian theology (Washington, DC:  The Catholic University of America Press, 1995 (1982)), 8-9.

Jenson on the church's Bible

"The error of most modern biblical exegetes is a subliminal assumption that the church in and for which Matthew or Paul wrote, or in which Irenaeus shaped the canon, and the church in which we now read what they put together, are historically distant from one another.  That is, the error is the assumption that there is no one diachronically identical universal church.  And that is, the initiating error of standard modern exegesis is that it presumes a sectarian ecclesiology.  But while Athens may perhaps have disappeared into the past and been replaced by Paris or London or New York, Paul's church still lives as the very one to which believing exegetes now belong. . . .
"When academic exegetes, continuing our examples, say that Paul's opinions about sexuality are too historically conditioned now to be helpful, or that the parable of the vineyard-keepers cannot itself control what we make shift to draw from it, they are simply interpreting Scripture as it now will inevitably be interpreted outside the church."

Robert Jenson, "The religious power of Scripture," Scottish journal of theology 52, no. 1 (1999):  98-101 (89-105).  The relevant
historical distances. . . . are [only] differences of times and places within the life of one community.
The historical distances with which the interpretation must indeed reckon and of which historical-critical labors must maintain the awareness, are the distances between Moses and the later prophets, or between the prophets and Jesus, or between Jesus and Paul and Paul and us, but never between the story as a whole and us, never between the biblical community as a whole and the present church. . . .
. . . [There is only] the one story of God with his people, who are we
(100-101).  After "they are simply interpreting Scripture as it now will inevitably be interpreted outside the church", this follows immediately:
Current academic, political, and publicistic elite communities are indeed alienated historically from the community in which the Bible emerged, and this is the reason and indeed excuse of their helplessness before this body of text. But when the church reads Scripture in course of her own worship and catechetics and preaching, her interpreters cannot give up so easily, because they are themselves at stake.
Those who interpret Scripture in and for the church are compelled to keep trying to say what it says, and by the mere act claim that Scripture does say something to us; the struggle itself is the hermeneutical principle. Pastors and other scholars in their service are the ones who labor to read the text honestly and faithfully, and whose assumption of the labor this means in their office, will maintain the authority of Scripture, or whose failure to do so will undercut it. The old-Protestant doctrine of Scripture gave it a second essential predicate: it is 'perspicuous', by which they did not mean it contains no obscurities or can be understood without effort, but that the effort need not be finally defeated
(99).  "or can be understood without effort" is followed by footnote no. 26, which is derived from Gerhard's Loci (i.ii, §414):  "Non excludi a nobis per assertionem perspicuitatis pium studium in lectione et meditatione Scripturae adhibendum, nec adminicula ad Scripturae interpretationem necessaria" (Not excluded . . . by the assertion of perspicuity [is] the bringing of devoted effort to bear on the reading of and meditation upon Scripture, nor [that] aids for the interpretation of Scripture [are] necessary; Dinda translation:  "with our pious assertion concerning clarity we do not exclude pious study, which one must apply in reading and meditating on Scripture, nor the essential aids to the interpretation of Scripture" (Johann Gerhard, On the nature of theoogy and scripture, translated from the Preuss edition by Richard J. Dinda, Theological commonplaces (St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 385).

This, from pp. 98-99, is straight Gadamer, and therefore sub-theological:
What the most percipient of the previous generation's 'hermeneutical' theory said must therefore hold in the church and of her Scripture, though perhaps nowhere else: our present effort to understand a handed-down text cannot be hopeless, since it is merely the further appropriation of a continuing communal tradition within which we antecedently live. Past and present do not need to be bridged before understanding can begin, since they are always already mediated by the continuity of the community's language and discourse: the questions and concepts and turns of phrase and dominating metaphors and ready-to-hand warrants with which I now try to say what the text says, cannot be wholly unsuitable since they were inculcated in me by the very tradition of which the text is a part. 'Understanding is not so much an undertaking by the subject as it is further entry into a continuing tradition-event in which past and present anyway mediate themselves'.
Citation for the direct quote is Hans Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1965), 275.