Another Anti-Western Orthodox Bigot (Sigh)

August 29, 2011

“For the rest, Augustine’s conception of the oneness of Christ is shown, although with more or less clarity, in the various, likewise traditional ways of describing the incarnation: as an event (fieri), a taking on (susceptio) or assumption (assumptio), a drawing close (accedere), or even a mingling without confusion (mixtio sine confusione). Although in using those terms Augustine is clearly starting from the teaching of the faith according to which only the Son became a human being, he does not yet arrive at the technical formulation of the dogma. That is, he does not use the epxression ‘the one person of Christ’ in order to describe the starting point of theincarnation.  In his thinking, ‘the one person of Christ’ is rather the result of the ineffable union between the godhead and the humanity in Jesus Christ.”

 Basil Studer, The Grace of Christ and the Grace of God in Augustine of Hippo: Christocentrism or Theocentrism?, trans. Matthew J.O. Connell, Liturgical Press, 1997, p. 34.

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An Equality of Honor

August 24, 2010

“One therefore is Christ both Son and Lord, not as if a man had attained only such a conjunction with God as consists in a unity of dignity alone or of authority. For it is not equality of honour which unites natures; for then Peter and John, who were of equal honour with each other, being both Apostles and holy disciples [would have been one, and], yet the two are not one.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Third Letter to Nestorius


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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Some Notes on the Christology of Nestorius

February 14, 2010

Since there seems to be widespread misunderstanding regarding the heresy of Nestorianism and what Nestorius actually taught, I’ve decided to post some notes illustrating and explicating Nestorius’ teaching. I have used McGuckin’s, Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. I’ve numbered selections for ease of reference. There are a number of things to notice in the notes. Notice the problem of mixture. This was a significant issue all by itself in antiquity since for Platonists as well as Aristotle, matter was not intrinsically extensional as the modern conception has it. A mixture was a meeting of powers. Notice also that Nestorius takes the will to be almost exclusively hypostatic rather than natural so that there is only one will in “Christ.”  Terms like “Christ” also do not refer to the eternal Logos exclusively but the end result of the union. There is also an apparent confusion between person and nature as manifested in Nestorius’ language concerning the eternal hypostasis of the Logos,where hypostasis seems to do double duty to refer to the divine essence as well as the divine person. A person then seems to be an instance of a kind. It is entirely unclear where or what the divine person of the Logos is. Also notice the extrinsic relation he posits between the two instantated essences or “hypostases” where one uses the other in an instrumental way such that the union transcends nature and is one of “grace.” Christ was then the chief moral examplar. It isn’t hard to see why the Pelagians cuddled up to the Nestorians. On the other end, the instruemtnalization of Christ’s humanity with the union as one of “grace” as superior to nature maps onto Augustine’s Christology. Some overlap into semiotics is also important as well as the preceding history of medical science in the notion of prosopon as a “sign” of a nature or a somewhat metaphysically thined out energy.

1. “To be fully human, on the other hand, demands that one must be ready to attribute to Christ the fully panoply of human characteristics, excepting sin which is not a ‘humanising’ characteristic or even a defining human attribute in any case.  He must have a human mind, a human soul with human feelings choices and limitations, both mental and physical, involving him in a range of testing situations (the temptations of the Lord) which proved and refined his virtue as a man, and which involved him inexorably in all the suffering consequent on being human.  Nestorius was unswerving on the point that this demanded that the approach of Apollinaris  represented a dead-end…here it will suffice to remark that Apollinaris had found no place for a human limited consciousness in Christ, or for a human soul which could be considered as the seat of genuine human choices. Apollinaris’ logic demanded that these things must be sacrificed in the interests of the unity of the person of Christ, if one were to accept the infinite mind of the Logos inhabited his human frame. Nestorius took the earlier Christological heresy of Docetism as an extreme form of the same tendency in Apollinaris to acknowledge merely the appearance of fleshly limitations in the divine Christ who was really unlimited.

For Nestorius it was this tendency to absorb or evaporate away the human reality in the face of the divine that was the chief deficiency of Apollinaris’ heresy, and like Gregory Nazienzen before him he attacked such presuppositions on soteirological grounds, for a theory of incarnation that wiped away the human reality in the advent of  the deity constituted not only a failure of revelation theology but an inability to value the extraordinary role which the Christian Gospel gave to human experience in its conception of God’s redeeming work. Nestorius taught that such ‘absorption theory’ in Christology was sub-christian or mythological, inevitably involving its proponents in concepts of incarnation based upon Krasis or mixture. He was ever on the look out for the ‘mixture’ or ‘confusion’ of divine and human spheres of reality in Christological discourse, and regarded this as the most serious deficiency of Cyril’s work.  He regarded all sense of ‘mixture’ as inevitably connoting change, and even the annihilation, of the individual elements that were so mixed.”

John Anthony McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, SVS, 2004, 130-131.

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More Jedi Mind Tricks

August 17, 2009

Steve Hays has taken it upon himself to reply on behalf of my recent criticism of James White and his ascription of libertarian free will to God here and here. I promised Steve I would reply to the rest and I think at least one round of replies would help clarify my position. As of today I am still waiting for any of White’s toadies to defend White’s claim that G0d has libertarian free will and that the Bible teaches it. Steve gives a two pronged response. First, White was being ambiguous, and second with respect to the Fall, I face the same problems Calvinists do in explaining how our first parents could sin being created good. As I am sure you’ll see, especially in the case these are just more Jedi mind tricks.

Jedi Mind Tricks

 William Lane Craig

Craig may have some quirky and erroneous positions, but I think White does as well so noting that fact about Craig really doesn’t move me.  To say that White’s theology is “consistently sound” is to preach to the choir at best. Furthermore, apart from being a serious problem it is actually a sign of genuine scholarship, as odd as it may seem. Professional theologians and philosophers often do hold such views. It’s a sign that White really doesn’t have any professional competence in the philosophical topics he discusses. That was part of the point. White is accusing Craig of gross ignorance regarding Calvinism, when White doesn’t seem to know the terms he is using.

White’s Libertarianism

To say that White didn’t use the term in the “elaborate sense” that I gave it concedes the point, that White doesn’t know what the term means. Second, the content I gave to the term has been spread across the literature for the last thirty years. Anyone familiar with any of it would recognize the sketch I gave as representing the concept. Arminians have been employing it in the sense I gave it, and I know White has read some of that literature.

Steve notes that it is a blog post and not an article in a journal. Fair enough. But I think that Steve misses the salient point. Craig’s comments weren’t in a journal either but a Sunday school podcast. If it is fair for White to criticize Craig’s brief comments, then it is so for my criticism of White’s. 

Craig may have access to a research library, but one doesn’t have to in order to have access to catalogs from Oxford or any academic publisher. I can’t think of any introductory text on the issue in the last twenty years that doesn’t in the main give the gloss I give. So it is irrelevant that Craig has access to a research library.

Doubting that the philosophical literature on Frankfurt counter-examples was in White’s mind is exactly the point. He doesn’t really know of what he speaks. Secondly, even if he weren’t, any Calvinist worth his salt is familiar with Edward’s work on free will or Luther’s Bondage of the Will. If he thinks that God fulfills the libertarian conditions on free will, then the arguments given by Edwards and others that are quite popular that Libertarianism is incoherent are still out the window. I only need one case where an agent has it that White agrees to, to preclude him from using such arguments. And he gave me that one case. Moreover, White claimed that the teaching is Biblical and given his adherence to Sola Scriptura, he owes us some biblical support. So far none has been forthcoming. Why is that I wonder?

The disagreement is again not over whether Libertarianism is a coherent concept or if it is true. To say that there is a difference between White’s comments and a Calvinist with a doctorate in philosophy who specializes in the finer points of action theory does no work. First, this is not a finer point of action theory but a major term.  Second, Steve makes the mistake of thinking that I am engaging Calvinism as a position, but I am not. I am engaging White and so for as White is concerned, Libertarianism is not an incoherent concept. So I am not burning a straw man, unless White is the scare crow.  Moreover, White seems to think that he is competent to take on and correct someone with a doctorate in philosophy who does work in action theory and metaphysics. If that is too much for White then he should refrain from doing so and refrain from taking on persons who have expertise and training that he lacks. Otherwise, he is just as responsible for his comments as anyone else is. If White doesn’t wish to be held to the standards of precision of an expert then perhaps he shouldn’t entry the fray.

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Reformed Doctrine of Imputed Righteousness Refuted

May 18, 2009

“You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Christ’s earthly life and/or obedience to the law will be called R and his other acts as a divine person will be called D.

(1) R & D are belong Christ as a Divine Person equally. If R & D are not predicable of the same *subject* at all times, then Christ is (at least) two persons.

(2) If R is predicated of a divine person, accredited to him as a divine person, but also imputed to human persons as having performed R, then it follows that forensically the divine subject is a human subject or the human subjects are divine subjects, that is, through the Incarnation either a divine person forensically became a human person or human persons forensically become divine persons.

(3) If R is imputed to human persons as though executed by a human subject, then it follows that Christ is a human person and his personal righteousness creaturely rather than divine.

(4) If (1) is true, then (2)-(3) are false.

Comments and criticisms of this argument are not only welcome but actively sought.

“We are considered, as soon as we believe, as though the works of Christ here our works. God looks upon us as though that perfect obedience, of which I have just now spoken, had been performed by ourselves,—as though our hands had been bony at the loom, an though the fabric and the stuff which have been worked up into the fine linen, which is the righteousness of the saints, had been grown in our own fields. God considers us as though we were Christ—looks upon us as though his life had been our life—and accepts, blesses, and rewards us as though all that he did had been done by us, his believing people.” (Charles Spurgeon, The Lord Our Righteousness”)

[H/tip to Jay Dyer and Perry Robinson.]


Aborting Jesus

April 27, 2009

abortion_icon3“As with St. Ireneaus, there is an ecclesiological and sacramental dimension to the doctrine of Recapitulation. Baptism is an essential component of the mystery and for the spiritual life, since the believer must recapitulate that which Christ Himself fulfilled and repeated in His own Recapitulation. As was the case with Sts. Ireneaus and Athanasius, one cannot separate the divine and invisible nature and therefore one cannot separate water and the Spirit into two separate baptisms or events, as this would be a kind of sacramental Nestorianism.

Ftnt. 37 This point cannot be lingered over too long, since many Evangelical Christians make just such a separation. For the Fathers, such a separation always indicates a distorted and incorrect understanding of the Incarnation. It is on the christological basis of recapitulation that infants are baptized, since not to baptize them until they reach the ‘age of reason’ or ‘accountability’ implies that communion between God and man is impossible at this stage of life.  If this principle were pressed into the Incarnatin itself, it would mean that Christ only became God subsequently to His conception. Likewise, the Church’s condemnation of abortion is rooted in the recapitulational principle, since this stage of human life was united indivisibly and unconfusedly with God the Word.  It is therefore contradictory to maintain at one and the same time that infants cannot be baptized, and yet to argue against abortion on the basis of an abstract principle of the ‘sanctity of life’ divorced from its Christological basis.

Joseph P. Farrell, Introduction, The Disputation with Pyrrus of our Father among the Saints Maximus the Confessor, p. xvi.


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