Scraps II

October 30, 2010

Just some bits from two of the most well-known representatives of the Nouvelle Théologie, namely, Fr. Louis Bouyer of the Oratory, and Henri cardinal de Lubac, S.J.

Fr. Bouyer, in his The Meaning of Sacred Scripture (p. 151) writes

“before examining this singular expression [see God only “from behind.”], let us notice how, in this page in which the divine transcendence finds one of its most exacting formulas, the antropomorphisms, far from disappearing, accumulate. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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.

Huperousia in John of Damascus

March 4, 2010

“As regards what God is, it is impossible to say what he is in his essence, so it is better to discuss him by abstraction from all things. For he does not belong to the class of existing things, not because he does not exist, but because he transcends all existing things, even existence itself. For if all forms of knowing have to do with what exists, certainly that which transcends knowledge must certainly also transcend essence: and so conversely that which transcends essence will also transcend knowledge.”

An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 1.4

Free Will and Virtue in Athanasius

February 9, 2010

“‘Wherefore having already begun and set out in the way of virtue, let us strive the more that we may attain those things that are before. And let no one turn to the things behind, like Lot’s wife, all the more so that the Lord hath said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and turning back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven.’ And this turning back is nought else but to feel regret, and to be once more worldly-minded. But fear not to hear of virtue, nor be astonished at the name. For it is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing. That they may get knowledge, the Greeks live abroad and cross the sea, but we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue. For the Lord aforetime hath said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Wherefore virtue hath need at our hands of willingness alone, since it is in us and is formed from us. For when the soul hath its spiritual faculty in a natural state virtue is formed. And it is in a natural state when it remains as it came into existence. And when it came into existence it was fair and exceeding honest. For this cause Joshua, the son of Nun, in his exhortation said to the people, “Make straight your heart unto the Lord God of Israel,” and John, “Make your paths straight.” For rectitude of soul consists in its having its spiritual part in its natural state as created. But on the other hand, when it swerves and turns away from its natural state, that is called vice of the soul. Thus the matter is not difficult. If we abide as we have been made, we are in a state of virtue, but if we think of ignoble things we shall be accounted evil. If, therefore, this thing had to be acquired from without, it would be difficult in reality; but if it is in us, let us keep ourselves from foul thoughts. And as we have received the soul as a deposit, let us preserve it for the Lord, that He may recognize His work as being the same as He made it.”

Life of Anthony, 20.

Read the rest of this entry »

Contra Mundum: Athanasius and the LDS on Deification

October 30, 2009

For some time, the Mormons have been availing themselves of material in the Fathers of the Church regarding theosis in order to render their own doctrines more plausible. There is no shortage of LDS blogs and websites that exclaim with glee that the LDS doctrine of exaltation is within the bounds of Christian teaching on the basis of the Orthodox cut-n-pastedoctrine of theosis. They routinely pelt Protestants as well as Catholics with patristic material maintaining that not only is their view within the corral of Christian orthodoxy, but that they alone possess the true teaching with respect to deification. They then put such claims in the service of motivating their claims of an apostasy after the apostolic age. Of course, such claims are, so far as I have seen not only false and supported by fallacious reasoning, but in many cases the use of Patristic material would make the cut and pasters over at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society blush. Here I leave an examination of these specific claims by LDS apologists for another time.

What I wish to look at here is one of the principle texts brought out by LDS apologists and its argument thatStAthanasius4 Athanasius’ doctrine of theosis is inconsistent with his doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This claim has become quite common among Mormon apologists and it is well suited to demonstrate the coherence and strength of the Orthodox position.

The specific text is a doctoral dissertation by Keith E. Norman entitled, Deification: The Context of Athanasian Soteriology. It is available in both print and electronic form. The dilemma so far as I can tell from Norman’s text is that if we are to be deified, then we cannot be created ex nihilo and vice versa. And this is so because things created ex nihilo can’t become deified since by essence, God enjoys a kind of underived existence or aseity.  Humans are therefore radically different or “wholly other”  than God, so much so that it is impossible to become what God is by essence. Something cannot both be beginingless and have a begining. Deification would entail a natural and therefore essential change in humanity which is precluded by the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Without such a change, humans can’t be deified and are left in a mutable metaphysical state apart from salvation. The implication is that the LDS can affirm theosis consistently because they reject the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Therefore LDS theology stands in superior position to the Athanasian and by extension, the Orthodox teaching on deification.

Read the rest of this entry »