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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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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“Christic” Grace in Augustine’s Christology

February 5, 2010

“If Adam had been created upright (rectus ) and without defects (sine ullo uitio ), how could he possibly lack the gift of final perseverance? Augustine responds by saying that Adam was not lacking in this respect, but that he lost that gift when he fell from the state of grace in which God has created him. Moreover, the real difficulty arises as the logical consequence of the first statement, viz. : if Adam was perfect, how could he, in fact, lose his perfection, and sin against God?

Ogliari, Gratia et Certamen: The Relationship between Grace and Free Will in the Discussion of Augustine with the so-called Semi-Pelagians, Leuven, 2003.

“Analogously [to the angels], the first man, had he so willed could have remained in his original state of uprightness (rectitude) and bliss (beatitudo) without any defects or faults. Had he stood firm using his free will in accordance with God’s plan, instead of abusing the gift God had given, he too would have received, like the angels who did not rebel against God, eternal, perfect bliss and happiness of resting in God’s beneficent regard. Having freely abandoned God, Adam was condemned to be abandoned by God, together with his heirs who share in his sin.”

Ogliari, 78.

“Since the time of Adam’s fall and condemnation in which all men became obstricti, only Christ’s redemptive and gratuitous death is able to save those predestined, through God’s design, for salvation.  This redemptive grace is great but at the same time different (magna, sed dis parem) from the gratia laeta …Mankind then requires not so much a laetior gratia as a potentior gratia, a more powerful grace than that given to Adam, namely the grace that comes only from the incarnate Son of God, Christ the Savior, through whom human beings are enabled to overcome the sinful desires of the flesh…the grace accorded to Adam was ultimately dependent on his own free will which having been perfectly created, was able to decide whether to remain in perfection and persevere in justice of abandon it. The grace accorded to Adam’s heirs through Christ, instead is more powerful (plus potest), not only because it gives man the possibility of doing good and persevering in it, but above all because it makes him desirous of that same good.”

Ogliari, 80.

“In Augustine’s eyes, divine grace is ‘one’, even though it operates on different levels (or regimes, temps), and is per se efficacious at any stage. Adam was left completely free in his decision for good or evil, and yet could not have desired and chosen good, nor persevered in it, except under the sovereign influence of God’s bountiful grace.  On the other hand, the internal action exercised by Christ’s grace on Adam’s descendants, an action which has to be sought ‘plus loin,-et plus bas’, possesses the prodigious feature of providing fallen human nature with the capability of following righteousness in an unquestionable and unfailing manner. This does not mean that the human being remains passive before grace, but certainly, de facto, he remains a secondary co-operator, subordinate and subservient to the agency of grace…In other words, if primordial operative grace did preserve intact the human (and angelic) ability to obey or disobey the will of God, in Adam’s heirs, this ability would seem to be overshadowed from the beginning by the ‘Christic’ grace, the direct cause of mankind’s desire for good and of its perseverance in it.”

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He’s Got Issues

July 3, 2009


As I noted above in Three Strange Days the Lutheran radio program, Issues, Etc. had a three day series of programs on Eastern Orthodoxy now about a month ago. Here I wish to go through the programs and address the arguments given by David Jay Webber and Todd Wilken.  The programs are divided up into, Orthodoxy: Strength and Weaknesses, Orthodoxy Today, and The Pelagian Controversy.

In the first broadcast that I heard, Strength and Weaknesses there is the usual attempt to tar Orthodoxy with something very much alien to it, namely the Charismatic movement. The criticism made by Webber is that Charismatics and the Orthodox go to worship for the same thing, namely the attainment of a mystical experience rather than to be slain by the law and revived by the gospel. What constitutes “mystical” or “experience is really left undefined. Consequently it is very easy to mash these two bodies together. The term “mystical” is deployed to connote an experience that is irrational or contrary to reason and that the goal is some kind of absorption into God and a loss of one’s identity. The implication is that Orthodoxy and the Charismatics are modern Schwermers and are really peddling Buddhism in Christian garb.

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The Nub

May 6, 2009

Fr. Jean Miguel Garrigues has an interesting article on Latin Trinitarianism relative to the Filioque. Here are some sections that I thought expressed well a major problem. Hat Tip to Bekkos.

The Arian crisis and the reaction of the orthodox fathers would not fundamentally change the Latin theology of the procession. In the East, Arianism, in its radical version with Eunomius, in fact quickly situated its denial of trinitarian consubstantiality on the metaphysical level of the Godhead; marked by Neoplatonic theories of hierarchical participation, Eunomius postulated that any multiplicity of divine persons could only be possible under the form of subordinated participation. That obliged the Cappadocian fathers to confess in God one principle of personal multiplicity, irreducible to any order of essence: the hypostasis. In the East, the natural theology of Eunomius obliged the Cappadocian fathers to profess, in all its irreducibility, an authentic theologia of the Living and Threefold God distinguished from all order of essence, even from that of the economy. But at the same moment the Latin fathers were running up against a more unpolished, less metaphysical Arianism, which was content to deny the divinity of Jesus and of the Spirit in considering them concretely in their economic mission upon the earth. For the Latin fathers, therefore, it was not an issue of defending the possibility of a plurality of persons within a unique divine essence, but of showing that the consubstantial procession of the Son and of the Spirit was prolonged even at the point where they “left the Father” in order to come on their mission into the world. Not needing to confront Eunomius’s philosophical Arianism, the Latin fathers were able to continue their deepening trinitarian reflection in continuity with the economic theology of their third century predecessors. For them, it was a matter of showing that the mission of the Son and of the Spirit “outside the Father” is rooted in the order of their consubstantial procession from him, an order which is revealed in the economy. In this task, they were aided by an assimilation of vocabulary between the verbs proerkhomai (Jn 8:42) and ekporeusthai (Jn 15:26) — the most ancient translations of the Gospels and, following them, St. Jerome’s Vulgate translate these two different Greek verbs by a single Latin verb: procedere… 

 St. Hilary, nevertheless, influenced by the Eastern notion of ekporeusis (he wrote book VIII of De Trinitate in exile in the East) presents a distinction between the procession of the Spirit from the Father (Jn 15:26) and his reception of divinity in the Son who holds this from the Father (Jn 16:14-15). Evidently reserving the verb procedere (in the sense of ekporeusthai) to signify the relation of the Holy Spirit with the Father alone, he nevertheless sees the Holy Spirit as a manifestation of the full trinitarian consubstantiality which he receives from the Father and the Son:

“‘All that the Father has is mine; that is why I told you, “The Spirit will receive from what is mine and will announce it to you” (Jn 16:15). He receives, then, from the Son, he who is sent by him and who proceeds from the Father. And I ask if it is the same thing to receive from the Son and to proceed from the Father. If one thinks there is a difference between receiving from the Son and proceeding from the Father, it is certain, contrariwise, that it is one and the same thing to receive from the Son and to receive from the Father…” (De Trinitate, VIII, 20; PL 10, 251A).

Leaving open the possibility of a specific sense of the procession of the Holy Spirit as ekporeusis from the unique personal principle of the Father, St. Hilary directs his attention above all to the Spirit’s reception of divinity from the Father and the Son. Under this more scriptural term of “reception,” he takes up again, as his own, all the teaching of early Latin tradition concerning the Holy Spirit’s consubstantial procession as seal of the divine plenitude.

“The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father, and the Holy Spirit receives from both of them (accipiat ab utroque), given the fact that the Spirit expresses the inviolable unity of this Holy Trinity” (PL 10, 656B).

Unfortunately, St. Hilary’s distinction between procession and reception was too hesitant to have had a decisive influence upon a Latin tradition which, for more than a century, had already fixed the sense of processio as derivation of the triune consubstantiality from the paternal source. It was seen above that St. Ambrose of Milan took up again St. Hilary’s accepit ab utroque (receives from both) in formulating this as a Patre et Filio procedit (proceeds from the Father and the Son)…

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