The Light of the Saints

January 4, 2011

Several events within my memory stand out. As with most the big and happy highlights are all there: my wedding, my daughter’s baptism, my reception into the Orthodox Church. Some there also are bitter: sitting with my father as he died, visiting the matushka of the priest who had catechized me and chrismated me on the day after he had died. Some of the memories are of a different kind, and involve more professional and academic matters. I remember a wonderful evening in Oslo, Norway, at the home of the Rev. Dr. Roald Flemestad, now Vicar General of the Nordic Catholic Church. The evening began about 6 and ran till 3 AM. There I had the best cognac ever I have tasted- – Otard – - but as well the humane and lively company of my hosts (Fr. Roald’s wife, a PhD in Medieval French literature, had made the meal that afternoon, all the while on a conference call with her employers, IBM) and their other wonderful guests, various professors and clerics.

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Life in a Windowless Monad

August 28, 2010


(Your Musical Accompaniment)

“These questions, however, have to be answered, from the point of view of systematic theology at least, by placing them within a much more radical framework, namely that of the fundamental question: Is the structure of the Christian Church in light of the gospel, monarchial or collegial? This question is undoubtably radical because it is asked, on the one hand, with the whole Christian people in mind and, on the other, from the point of view of what the Lord himself taught, that is, in the light of the gospel of Christ as a whole.

We may go further and say that, if the structure of the Church is conditioned by and subject to the norm of the gospel of Christ, we must base our argument less on the isolated descriptions or ideas of the Church which occur almost accidentally in the New Testament…and more on the general spirit of the words of the Lord as the origin of those images of the Church. That essentially new elemnt in the teaching of the Lord which distinguishes it from teaching contained in all the religions and ideaologies that have so far arisen in the history of man is the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the differentia specifica of Christianity.

In light of this faith in the Trinity, the Christian teaching about God’s being, the creation of the world and the cosmic mestaphysical order of the universe has always been different from that of other religions or ideaologies. It has, in a word, been trinitarian.  The idea of the Trinity is central, not only in the doctrine of the Christian Church, but also-and in the first place-in the teaching of the Lord himself. If this is so, then surely it is bound to inspire the whole task of the Christian Church to give a new structure to the created world. This brings us to the question of the relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology.

At the most holy moment of his life on earth and just before he left this world, Christ prayed to his Father and at the same time expressed his most fervent desire: ‘I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.’ (John 17.20f.)

It is perhaps symptomatic that, in an attempt to stress the holiness of the ecumenical intention, these words are quoted nowaday at almost every meeting between Christians of different denominations. yet we usually think very little about these important words afterwards. The phrase ‘that they may be one’ expresses the practical and immediate aims of ecumenism better than the idea which follows, namely ‘as thou Father, art in me…’. But these words become even more meaningful perhaps if we remember that this exemplary mode of unity within the Trinity is the basic presupposition for the unity of the Church which we hope will be achieved. the importance of the whole passage is even further emphasized by the fact that Christ did not have a definite gorup of people, such as the apostles in mind when he spoke these words, but rather all those who believed in him and would believe in him throughout history.  It is this universal validity of the moral principle that is expressed here which gives it its distinctive and normative character.  This is why it must constitute the basic and first ecclesiolgy premise for all theological thinking at all times.

It is clear therefore that there must be a direct relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and ecclesiology, a relationship expressed in fact in the striking parallel that exists between the fundamental theological questions of the Church’s Trinitarian and ecclesiological teaching. If the inner interrelationships that exist in the historical development of dogma in the Church have existed since the earliest times are borne in mind, it is not difficult to recognize that the main problem confronting all theological thinking throughout the history of the Church has always been the same-the fundamental question of the relationship between unity and multiplicity.

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Saint Gregory Palamas: Time Traveller Extraordinaire

August 10, 2010

“Then they asked, ‘Is it altogether necessary to speak of wills and energies on the subject of Christ?’ He answered, ‘Altogether necessary if we want to worship in truth, for no being exists without natural activity. Indeed, the holy Fathers say plainly that it is impossible for any nature at all to be or to be known apart from its essential activity. And if there is no such thing as a nature to be or to be known without its essential characteristic activity, how is it possible for Christ to be or be known as truely God and man by nature without the divine and human activities? For according to the Fathers, the lion who loses his roaring ability is no lion at all, and a dog without the power to bark is not a dog.  And any other thing which has lost something naturally constiuative of it is not any more what it was.’”

The Trial of Maximus the Confessor, 23

The Heresy of Calvinism. I

July 10, 2010

About a year ago, his Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah addressed the meeting of the ACNA at which he delineated a number of things that must be jettisoned were real ecumenical dialogue to occur between the Orthodox and this newest iteration of Anglicanism. Among the eschewed was what his Beatitude called “the heresy of Calvinism.” That very weekend, while attending a reception for my nephew John and his new bride Becca, her father, a minster of the Reformed Episcopal Church, and a friend of mine from some years back (more than twenty: we had attended seminary together, we both served as clergy in the PCA parish in Allentown, PA), accosted me wanting to know what was heretical about Calvinism. The following post(s) is my reply.

This, like any essay on some historical ism, immediately demands an explanation of what exactly that ism entails. The matter becomes more urgent when certain people wish to rearrange categories at one time more-or-less settled, and with these disputes I shall have little to say. By “these” I mean the suppliants of the erstwhile Bishop Thomas Durham (aka N. T. Wright) and his putative new readings of Paul, and the tentacles of such readings that have ensnared contemporary Reformed circles under the sobriquet of Federal Vision. To be just, federal vision predates N. T. Durham’s musings by decades, many tracing it back to the disquiet surrounding Norm Shepherd at Westminster Seminary in the early 80s. I remember at the time thinking Shepherd’s stance odd, and later in the decade, having fallen in with a circle sympathetic to Shepherd (the aforementioned PCA parish in Allentown) due to some sacramental and ecclesiological affectations on my part, I found Shepherd more to my newly acquired taste. It is all now too easy to see such readings’ incoherence and inconsistency, both with the Westminster Standards, and with Calvin (though I do not equate the two), and like the Finns with Luther, all seemingly suffering from a case of ‘deification envy’. Thus for them, claims to be “Calvinist” at best must come with the obscene caveat “Calvinism better-informed.” All the arguments about Federal Vision and its accouterments I shall leave to one side, for they do not concern the basic Orthodox critiques: perhaps they are of great weight, but not to the basic problems as the Orthodox see them, for they concern matters “after the fact”. That is, they don’t address the questions of predestination, satisfaction theories of the atonement, and human union with Christ based upon human nature’s redemption through union with the Incarnate Logos. Thus, whether one wishes to sail on R. C. Sproul’s end of the Reformed boat, or on Jim Jordan’s, it is all of apiece for the Orthodox.

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When It Sucks To Be You

June 24, 2010

 (Musical Accompaniment- A- Road To Nowhere)

“But the angels who, though created good, are yet evil now, became so by their own will.  And this will was not made evil by their good nature, unless by its voluntary defection from good; for good is not the cause of evil, but a defection from good is.  These angels, therefore, either received less of the grace of the divine love than those who persevered in the same; or if both were created equally good, then, while the one fell by their evil will, the others were more abundantly assisted, and attained to that pitch of blessedness at which they became certain they should never fall from it…”

Augustine, The City of God, 12, 9.

“Now there is no distinction between what flows from free will, and what is of predestination; as there is no distinction between what flows from a secondary cause and from a first cause. For the providence of God produces effects through the operation of secondary causes, as was above shown (Question 22, Art. 3). Wherefore, that which flows from free-will is also of predestination.”

Thomas Aquinas, ST, Ia. Q. 23, a.5.

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Could a Maverick Go East?

March 7, 2010

Over at Bill Vallicella’s ever estimable blog, Maverick Philosopher, Bill has two  posts on divine simplicity and free will. Bill does a fine job of showing why the former as understood in the Augustinian/Thomistic tradition is not compatible with libertarian free will. They in the main represent my own thinking on the matter. There are a number of things here that are interesting. First is that simplicity pars down all objects of choice to one.  This presents just as much a problem for creaturely freedom as it does for divine freedom as well as freedom for Christ’s human will.

Second, in the conversation there, it is apparent that the problem is recognized but there still remains a desire to maintain some form of simplicity and libertarian freedom. I’ve seen something like this before in the work of Thomas Morris in his exchange with William Mann some time back. Morris comes very close to in a number of ways to Maximus’ distinction between essence and energy.  I think they are right, but the Christian tradition as they are familiar with it doesn’t give the any live options to work with. Part of what motivates Christians doing philosophy of religion to maintain the Augustinian/Thomistic view in face of these objections is not so much that they think such a view is true but rather that they would be giving up traditional theological ground. But if Maximus (and the Orthodox tradition) is right, one can maintain traditional theological positions, its just that the traditional ground is wider than was previously thought pace Augustinian/Thomistic philosophical hegemony.

As for contingent knowledge, it seems that what most people who reject simplicity a la Thomas in philosophy of religion do is move God further down the metaphysical spectrum. (The same is done with the doctrine of divine timelessness a la simultaneity.) I don’t think this is the way to go. The way is not down, but up and so far “up” that we get off the spectrum entirely. If we combine the e/e distinction with the doctrine of huperousia there is another way out of the problem, or at least a plausible line of philosophical development for one.  Part of the problem is change and error. Roughly, if God’s knowledge were to change, then it seems God in fact didn’t know and was in error. Given divine perfection, this isn’t possible and not welcome either. But what if the kind of  “change” that entails substantial alteration via motion/activity is limited to things that “be?”  If God is huperousia, or as Plato remarked concerning the Good, “on the other side of being” then the kind of problematic change envisioned is in principle precluded and cannot be attributed to God. Personal activities could be true of God without implying a defect or a loss of freedom in creatures whose acts God foreknows. (This has parallels to issues in Agent Causation.) Second, the actualization of different truths across logically possible worlds would not entail accidental change in God either, since accidents inhere in substances that be.  Whatever the thing it is, it isn’t substantial and it isn’t an accident, but something else, a specific kind of potency akin to the possessing of a power that is brought to act by the agent whose power it is. Now Thomists worry that if there is something brought to act in God, then there is something antecedent to God moving in terms of actualizing the divine essence. But if what we are talking about is deity, but not the divine essence and is in turn brought about by the divine persons, then such a worry seems mistaken since the kind of actualization entails no alteration in the divine essence and no pure passive potency either.

In any case, Vallicella’s entries are worthwhile reading.

De Deo Uno in Calvin

February 22, 2010

“At the same time, in spite of these laudable efforts, [Paul Jacobs and Richard Muller] it is difficult to avoid the impresison that at a crucial level Calvin has failed to integrate his doctrine of election thoroughly with the broader trinitarian theology of revelation, redemption, and human response that we are highlighting here.  For example, in Comm. John 17:9, Calvin asserts that Christ ‘commends to the Father only those whom the Father himself willingly loves.’  Here, as at many other points, the will of the Father is understood as something omniously arbitrary, rather than as being intrinsically and perichoretically related to the divine manifestation of grace in the Son.  Examples could be multiplied. It appears that in spite of the helpful trinitarian direction Calvin has taken in formulating his undersanding of the divine-human relationship, at the point of the doctrine of election his normal emphasis on the thorough perichoresis of Father, Son and Spirit in the divine operations has been effectively and inexplicably suspended.”

Philip Walker Butin, Revelation, Redemption and Response: Calvin’s Trinitarian Understanding of the Divine-Human Relationship, Oxford, 1995, 168, ednt. 6.

“It may be taken as further evidence of his committment to the perichoresis of the trinitarian hypostaseis in God’s economic work that Calvin consistently qualifies the statement that ‘God is the proper object of faith’ with the immediate affirmation that access to God is only through Christ (1159 Institutes II.6.2,4; cf. III.2.6), which appears to turn the relationship around, asserting that the Father offers Christ to us ‘as the goal of our faith’). However, as we have suggested earlier, Calvin is not entirely consistent in focusing faith on God’s benevolence as expressed in ChristHis commitment to the doctrine of the ‘double decree’ (cf. 1559 Institutes III.21.1ff.) leads to the a priori exclusion of the reprobate from this Christological access to God by faith.  This results at certain points in severe tension between his otherwise trinitarian paradigm of revelation, redemption, and human response and his doctrine of election. For example, in the1159 Institutes III.2.9-12, he appears to theologically justify the concept of the ‘double decree’  by making a deliberate exception to his normally characteristic insistence that the work of the Son and the Spirit be held together in the exonomy of redemption.  Thus-in the attempt to explain why some who appear to believe are not ultimately saved (vf. Hebrews 6:4-6)-he can speak of a ‘lower working of the Spirit…in the reprobate.’ This stirs in them a sense that God is merciful toward them and allows them to ‘recognize his grace,’ but apparently operates apart from the effectual grace that God offers in the Son, and hence does not lead to saving faith (1559 Institutes III.2.11).  It seems that Calvin never faced the omnious theological implicaitons of this move for a doctrine of the Trinity that otherwise wants to hold that God’s immanent trinitarian relations are consistently reflected in the ad extra activity of the hypostaseis.  In addition, at this point he seems inexplicably to suspend his otherwise rigorous insistence on the thoroughgoing perichoresis for the doctrine of the divine decrees. Rather, he applies that paradigm only to the issue of the elect believer’s assurance of election, while the operation of election itself is apparently excempted from the consistency with God’s otherwise trinitarian nature, and left to an inscrutable divine will.”

Ibid., 189., ednt. 81.

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Divine Passivity and Simplicity in Eunomius

December 15, 2009

“It is interesting, however, that though the Neo-Arians made a clear distinction between God’s ungenerated essence and God’s activity (ένεργεία) as Father, Eunomius treated Jn. 14:28 as if it said, ‘The ungenerated essence who sent me is greater than I.”

Kopecek, A History of Neo-Arianism vo. 2, 320.

“From his introductory remarks it is clear that Eunomius intended to base a number of Part III’s arguments upon a refinement of the Middle Platonic theory of language Neo-Arianism had inherited. Like Albinus, Eunomius assumed that there is a ‘natural conformity of names with things’ and that ‘a name is a tool meant for teaching and differentiating the essence of each thing.’ Because it follows that a difference of names indicates a differences of essence, God who is ‘ungenerated’ and the Son who is ‘generate’ must be different in essence.’

Ibid., 321.

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Divine Simplicity in Aetius’ Neo-Arianism

October 1, 2009

 “4.  If God remains endlessly in ungenerated essence and the generate is endlessly generate, then the perverse doctrine of the homoousion and the homoiousion will be destroyed. And incomparability in essence is established when each of the two natures remains unceasingly in its proper rank of nature.

5. If God is ungenerated with respect to essence, what was generated was not generated by partition of essence, but he has made it to exist as a hypostasis by his power. For no pious reasoning permits the same essence to be generated and ungenerated.

6.  If the ungenerated has been generated, what prevents the genrerated from having become generated? For every nature shuns what is improper to it for what is proper to it.

7. If God is not entirely ungenerated, nothing hinders him from having generated essentially. But if he is entirely ungenerated, he was not partioned essentially in generation, but he made the generate to exist as a hypostasis by his power.

8. If the ungenerated God is entirely generative, what was generated was not generated essentially, since his entire essence is able to generate but not to be generated.  If the essence of God, having been transformed, is said to be generate, his essence is not unchangeable, since the change effected the formation of the Son. If the essence of God be unchangeableand superior to generation, relationship with the Son will be confessed to be a mere mode of address.”

10. If the generate was complete within the ungenerated,it is generate as a result of the things from which the ungenerrated generated it. This is false, for it is not possible that a generated nature be within an ungenerated essence.  For the same thing is not able both to be an not to be. For a generate thing is not able to be ungenerated, and being ungenerated could not have been a generate thing, since to say that God consists of unlike parts presents to him the height of blasphemy of hybris.

The Syntagmation

“We have seen from our discussion of syllogisms #5 and #6 that Aetius based at least part of his argument against homoousion on the expectation that his opponents would agree to the axiom of God’s essential unity or simplicity. Certainly syllogisms #7 and #8 depend on this axiom.  If God is admitted to be essentially compound, argued #7, then part of God’s essence could remin ungenerated while the other part  would be able to become generated-or, as syllogism #8b put it ‘transformed’ into that which is generated. But since God is admitted not to be compound, if he is ungenerated, he must be entirely ungenerated (#7).  On the other hand, the Christian tradiiton was unanimous in believing that he in some way caused the Son to exist as a separate entity. With partition ruled out, the only alternative left, reiterated Aetius, is that God’s essence created the Son, that ‘he made the generate to exist as a hypostasis by his power.’ (#7). Moreover, given God’s simplicity, the entire essence of God must have been involved in the creation of the son and, in that sense, to have been ‘entirely generative” (#8). The implicaiton was that God’s essence could have been generated in no sense whatsoever. Homoousion of the entirely generative one with the generated one is impossible. We see how crucial the assumption of God’s unity or simplicity was to Aetius arguments; this will become apparent once again when we consider syllogism #10.”

Thomas A. Kopecek, A History of Neo-Arianism, vol. 1, 231-232, 236.

Saint Cyril on Divine Simplicity

July 16, 2009

Bekkos over at De Unione Ecclesiarum has posted some citations from Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Since he has the Greek text there I won’t bother reproducing it here. Peter seems to think that Cyril’s position on simplicity, particularly with respect to the divine will and being are isomorphic with that of Aquinas rather than say Palamas. I don’t think that’s the case, but let’s take a look at the passages.

Hermias. And how, they say, is the divine simple if, in existence on the one hand and in will on the other, it is conceived of separately? For then it would be composite and as though it existed, in a way, out of parts that had come together into a closer unity.

Cyril. Therefore, since, in your view, the divine is simple and exists above all composition (and this view of yours is correct), his will is nothing other than he himself. And if someone says “will,” he indicates the nature of God the Father.

 Hermias. So it would appear.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Dialogues on the Trinity (Ad Hermiam), book V; SC 237 (de Durand, ed.), p. 290; PG 75, 945 C.

 With the first citation here I’d like to call your attention to a few things. First, the Palamite position doesn’t deny that God is simple, but rather denies a specific understanding of divine simplicity so that references employing terms such as those above will be inadequate until a demonstration is forthcoming showing what concept is picked out by said terms.

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