Februrary 10th there will be airing an interview on Ancient Faith Radio by Kevin Allen with myself on the subject of Universalism. For logistical reasons the interview will be recorded earlier (Feb 5th) but listeners can submit questions now via the AFR web page. Listen in and share!
“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.
A number of years ago having completed a course on Philosophy of Religion being exposed to western arguments for the existence of God, I was of the opinion that even if these arguments were only true at a theoretical level and not at an ontological level it was better to believe in God who was theoretically necessary than only in a system without God and without any reason to be. However, since then my opinion has evolved to realise that God does not exist by any necessity because such a necessity must preexist, or at least coexist with God, whether it be a greater God or some logical principle and thus limit God. Here are some thoughts regarding the existence of God, freedom and our existence.
God is all existence and all life. This statement must not be understood as pantheism, our existence is truly other than his existence, but that everything about us is an image of who He is, or more specifically we are a created, ex nihilo, image as the Son is the uncreated image of God; as the Fathers say all our logoi are in the Logos. (This idea sets orthodox Christian thought apart from those who conceive God, or gods, in man’s image as “other” in human terms such as the pagan Greeks, Mormons or some Protestants tend to inadvertently do and from those who see man as God, even if only partially, yet not as truly “other” such as in Buddhism or Platonism.) There is no truly independent existence apart from God in any form, such as matter, energy or even principle, logic or space/emptiness. So nothing could be said to cause God’s existence other than himself. Thus, God is completely free from any necessity upon himself; His existence and life is truly free.
Does God’s nature necessitate his existence? This can only happen if one can say that God necessitates himself otherwise one must put God’s nature prior to himself to be effectively a prior external principle, which would contradict it being God’s nature. God necessitating himself would mean that God causes his own existence, yet because God is free then his causing of himself must also be free. Thus, one cannot say that God’s nature necessitates his existence; nature is also free and does not necessitate.
To say that God freely causes himself seems to imply that God exists before himself. This would be true if cause and effect where purely sequential but if the cause and effect are simultaneous and eternal then there is no logical contradiction. Also, this understanding of God’s existence means there must be a priority of person over essence, as only a person can be said to freely cause his own existence.
If God freely exists then one could say that God exists because he wants to exist, else it would not be free, and because he knows himself to exist; if he is ignorant of his existence then he can’t be said to cause his existence. If he knows himself then this process must eternally generate an exact living image of himself that is enhypostasised distinct from himself. Without an image there would be no knowledge and hence no knowing. The knowing is not merely conceptual but experiential and so the image is not merely an abstract but a living image; a distinct hypostasis/person. This person is properly called the Son of God as being generated and caused by and out of God, who thus is the Father, and yet is also with God, in God and is God being everything that God is. It is inconceivable to consider that God was ever without the Son, else God would not be, yet because God freely exists the Son is also freely generated. The Son is both out of God and yet in God. This seems to be a contradiction as being out and in at once would require two contradictory states and raise the questions of how can he be out of and yet not divided or in and yet not confused there being nothing to distinguish the Son from the Father other than being generated? These problems cease to exist once it is understood that there is a third person, the Spirit. The Spirit both unites and distinguishes the Son so that the Son can be understood to be both out of and in God without contradiction, division or confusion. The Spirit shows that the Son is out of God by proceeding into him, thus ‘moving’ from God, the Father, to the Son. This procession is only possible should the Son truly be out of the Father, which means having his own hypostasis because there is no possibility of being spatially outside God. Yet, the Spirit also shows that the Son is in God and united to God because he shares the same Spirit as the Father, he does not have another Spirit of his own. The Spirit must also be God, else his procession to rest in the Son could not be said to show that the Son is in God; God cannot be divided into parts and connect only in part, He is simple and is always present completely. Also, the Spirit must have a distinct hypostasis, else he could not be truly said to proceed distinctly into the Son from, or out of, the Father. Thus, one cannot conceive of the generation of the Son without the procession of the Spirit nor the procession of the Spirit without the generation of the Son. Nor can one conceive of the Father without the Son and Spirit. Nor can one consider the three without returning to the One and the ‘monarchy’ of the Father, because the Son is the image of the Father; the manifested Word of the thought of God about himself.
Does the logic expressed above necessitate God’s existence in some way? Because logic “demands” that God has a Son and Spirit and yet freely causes himself, does this not mean that the logic is external to God? Couldn’t God just be anything? Firstly, the logic we use exists only because God exists in a particular way. Thus, if God was not true or truth then there could be no logic to validate truth. If God did not know himself then we could not know ourselves, let alone anything at all about him. Because he knows himself then we have a possibility to know him, although only so far as our limited created being allows. Although God is free to exist without any logic necessitating his existence, this does not mean that God can exist in any way whatsoever. This is because God cannot deny himself, else he would cease to exist. If God was to exist in a form that couldn’t exist in and of itself, such as a banana, then he would effectively deny himself. We can quickly see that he couldn’t exist as any other created thing, material or immaterial. If God was to deny anything about himself then he would deny himself because although we can speak of many distinct energies or operations of God they cannot be divided and denied independently from each other else He would not be simple. God cannot exist of parts else it must be said that the parts existed prior to God for him to be composed of them and/or one must imply space/time to God to separate the parts from each other. Neither is God absolutely simple else he couldn’t exist because existing must be distinguishable from creating and from willing and also if God is equated to existence then we would come to a meaningless situation of saying that existence exists without there being something to exist which is no different than saying nothing exists; the something must be distinct from its act of existence to truly speak of it existing. Also, because there is distinction without division in God we can have logic and truth. If the distinct are contradictory then they could not be united without denying themselves. Nor could they be divided without denying their being of God. Thus, it is because God freely wants to be that we can have logic and truth, with all other things, and can use the logic to confirm who God is. These things don’t exist apart or above him of their own right. (Note: the logic about God and his existence is not knowing God. Knowing God is experiential not merely conceptual. Knowing God is only possible by experiencing his life from within, that is in practicing the virtues and in prayer, which only pertains to knowing his energies/operations and not his essence, which is impossible to know/experience without eternally being God.)
If we are to share in the existence and life of God, then we too must share in the freedom of this existence. Thus, our existence cannot be necessitated by external power but must be free. This freedom is expressed most clearly in our free will. We are to exist united God only if we freely want to exist united to him. If our existence is not free then it would not be the image and likeness of God’s existence and incapable of being united to him and of sharing his existence. Yet, we too must exist as God exists, that is in his energies/operations. We are not free to exist as we want to exist because this would imply that there is sustainable existence apart from God, which would imply that this existence would have its energy from a source other than God implying another god or eternally self-existing something. While we have a certain amount of energy given to us by God, of itself, because it is limited, it cannot sustain us eternally and so we must necessarily spiral into non-existence or death apart from God. We end up denying ourselves as God would deny himself if he were to exist other than he does.
Also, without the Son we could not exist because without the generation of the eternal image of God there could be no created image of God. If the image of God was only conceptual and not generated ‘out of’ God then creation could only be conceptual and not created other than God. If there was no Spirit then creation, being other than God, could have no means of coming into God; it would remain estranged from God and fall into non-existence; rather it could never exist because there can be no existence totally apart from God. We can only come to God in the Son because all knowledge/experience of God is in the Son else we would deny the Son is God, divide God, or say that God does not know/experience himself and hence deny God. Without the Spirit is it impossible to be a son of God because one cannot exist as son without the Spirit. God must be all in all for us to exist eternally and yet we do not lose our unique personal existence as both other and in God due to the reality of the tri-hypostatic/personal God.
Finally, we do not revere, bless, and praise God because of some external standard of meetness and rightness but because God is worthy and just in himself of our reverence, blessing and praise and this is correct for us because we are in his image and likeness.
“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.
“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.'”
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.
“An awesome and marvelous mystery today is coming to pass. The Incorporeal One is being held; the One, freeing Adam from the curse is bound; He Who tries the inner hearts and thoughts of man , is unjustly tried; He Who sealed the abyss is shut up in prison. He stands before Pilate, before Whom the Powers of Heaven stand with trembling. The Fashioner is smitten by the hand of the fashioned; the Judge of the living and the dead is condemned to the Cross; the Despoiler of Hades is shut up in a Tomb; O forebearing Lord, compassionately enduring all things and saving all from the curse, glory to Your.”
When You the Redeemer of all, were placed in a new tomb for us all, Hades, the respecter of none, crouhed when he saw You. The bars were broken, the gates were shattered, the graves were opened, and the dead arose. Then Adam, gratefully rejoicing, cried out to You: ‘Glory to Your Condescension, O Merciful God.’
When You, O Christ, of Your own will, submitted bodily to be closed in the tomb, being by nature of the Godhead, remaining indescribable and limitless, You closed down the chambers of death, and emptied the palaces of Hades. Then You rendered this Sabbath worthy of blessing and glory, and of Your own splendor.
When You, the Immortal Life, descended to Death, You struck Hades dead with the lightning of the Godhead; and when You raised up the dead from the abyss, all the powers of Heaven cried aloud; ‘O Life Giver Christ, our God, glory to You!’