Phlsphy of Rlgn: Starting Points

If I were to teach an intro to philosophy of religion course (which I’d love to do), I would approach the course in the following way:

I.  God according to “Natural Reason.”

A. Parmenides on Simple Being.

B. Aristotle’s Qualified “hi-5” to Parmenides.

 • “P., you think you’re describing “Being,” but really you’re describing God.”

• “Yes, ultimate reality is simple, but we must respect sense perception.”

C. From Aristotle to Plotinus. Teasing out threeness from Divine Oneness.

II. God (& creation) according Revelation (or the Hebrew Scriptures).

A. Tautologies & Jewish Jibberish: “I am what I am”. Huh?!?

B. The opposite end of the cosmological spectrum from God: the tôhu vbôhu, terra vacua et inanis of Gen. 1:2. Sounds like “prime matter,” devoid of form & logos.

III. Putting it all together, both legacies fulfilled: the logos becomes flesh.

 

 

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Month 2 of Mission: Good Problems

Well, as the dust settles from the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan (the metaphorical version, that is: see last week’s Crucifer article) dozens of us at Christ Church South are beginning to catch our breath, and we are trying to settle into a routine.

Things continue to go well, and to be a huge encouragement. Literally dozens of new families continue to visit for the first time, to express interest, and to return the following Sunday.

We do have two problems which I wanted to make you aware of, however.

First, it seems that we have an issue with our offering plates. You see, in an effort to be a good steward of the finances which God has intrusted to us, I made the decision a while back to re-use the same offering plates down south that he had been using for five years in the Epiphany Eucharist on the fourth floor of Christ Church. To that end, a few weeks before our launch I asked a very skilled “layperson” to stain the plates in a dark mahogany / cherry color which would go well with our Christ Church South sacred furniture. (I’m looking at you, Tony Patterson!)

So far so good. Except for one little problem. Our ushers have been consistently complaining that the offering plates are too small! They tell me that the checks, envelopes, and bills are overflowing over the edges of the plates, and falling onto the floor. Indeed, this report “meshes” with the chaotic scenes I have witnessed from the sacred altar out of the corner of my eye as I prepare the elements of bread and wine: on a couple of occasions, I have noticed a chaotic flurry at the back of the Great Hall as little bit of paper float to the ground, only to be picked up and stacked back onto the plates. (Thanks be to God for a dedicated usher team, who has been making sure not to lose one red penny.)

Second, we are apparently out of nursery space! On at least two different occasions, we have had reports of concerned parents who say that their littlest ones are a bit too crowded in that dedicated space for the children of the Lord. Please pray that we will find a solution, so that young families with children will be confident that, at Christ Church, their little ones will have the best possible provisions for their safety and growth in Christ.

So, there we have it. Things are going well, but we do have these two problems: offering plates that are too small, and a nursery that is bursting at the scenes.

To say the least, and to state the obvious, these are very good problems to have. Thanks be to God!

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Plato, Patriotism, & the Polis

One of Plato’s dialogues which I assign for my undergraduates is also a text appearing on my upcoming comps exams at UD: the Crito.

In it, Socrates’ friend pleads with him to escape (with the friend’s own help) from the prison where he is being held. Time is of the essence: the one month grace period (resulting from a sacred season of non-violence and mercy toward convicts) is about to end.

In the end, Socrates turns down his friend’s persuasive offer to rescue him and spare his life. Why? There are many detailed reasons and arguments that Socrates gives, including that to escape death would be to renig on an agreement that he had implicitly or tacitly made with city (a kind of social contract). But for me the most compelling motive for Socrates’ resistance has to do with a kind of patriotism, which for Socrates, is constitutive of his identity.

For Socrates, that is, no longer to be Athenian is to be no longer Socrates. There is not such thing as non-Athenian Socrates. For him, the political community to which he belongs is so important that it makes him who he is. For him, the political community is prior to the individual.

Sometimes, this kind of “priority of the corporate” is true for modern people (for example, members of a street gang such as the Crips or the Bloods, or members of extremely tight-knit families, such as the Sopranos family in the HBO series of the same name from a decade ago), but even then it is almost never a political community which takes precedence, thus forming the identity of the individual.

And even though I do sometimes say that I am Texan before I am American, neither of these political entities hold the same sway for me as Athens did for Socrates.

To my mind this leads in as straight line to the sole political community which truly is constitutive of human identity, and only one from which alienation seems worse than death itself: the Church of Jesus Christ.

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Lunging into the Future

It is no secret that we in 21st century America are living through a time of extreme upheaval. To point this out now borders on extreme banality. Yet as a quick example of what I am talking about consider a recent study:

Millennials[*] are less religiously affiliated than ever before. According to the 2012 Pew Research Center report, “Nones on the Rise,” nearly one in three do not belong to a faith community and of those, only 10% are looking for one. Though many millennials are atheists or agnostics, the majority are less able to articulate their sense of spirituality, with many falling back on the label ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’. The General Social Survey of 2014 shows that the disaffiliation trend is only growing.[†]

If one still doubts that the American cultural landscape is shifting immediately before our eyes and directly under our feet, one only need to watch any of the four recent Republican Presidential debates, all of which are easily available on line. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches (in his commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics) that prudence requires right desire, and yet the presumptive presidential frontrunner of the Republican party today uses words in public speech which I would discipline either of my daughters for using. Chaos is ensuing.

In the midst of these cataclysmic shifts, what of the local Body of Christ? Is she simply another item in a long list of “institutions” which will have crumbled and disintegrated 100 years from now? Not according to Scripture: “for the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Not, in addition, to what we are seeing at Christ Church in Tyler, Texas. For here, we find a community of believers that is straining and pushing, prudentially, into the future. I want very simply to list several dimensions in which Christ Church is adapting with the times (not simply like a thermometer, but more closely akin to a thermostat):

  1. Evangelism & Newcomer Ministry: we are removing barriers for folks visiting our church.
  2. Worship: we are drawing & “wooing” people into the richness of our sacramental tradition.
  3. The Brotherhood of Saint Andrew: we will infuse it with a small army of new, excited men.
  4. A Christ Church App: we will soon launch a platform for “Christ Church Global”[‡] to communicate more efficiently.
  5. The Christ Church South Altar Guild: we are raising up and training leaders to perform this crucial ministry, in conjunction with our Altar Guild who serves our downtown community.
  6. Forming an Executing Committee and broad-based Launch Team for Christ Church South: as we “ramp up” to Opening Sunday, we will sow the seeds and position ourselves wisely in the community in all sorts of ways.

When it comes to church, it is no longer true that “if you build it they will come.” However, it will always be true that human beings (who are spiritual by nature) will be drawn irresistibly into the love of Christ when it is embodied by a healthy, sacrificial community of Jesus.

Anyone remember the original “creation mandate” given to the Man and the Woman in the Garden of Eden? “Fill the earth and take dominion of it.” This is what we are doing here at Christ Church, Tyler Texas. We are not simply lunging into the future. Humbly and by the grace of God, we are co-creating it.

[*]Roughly defined, a millennial is one who was between the ages of 18 and 34 in the year 2015.

[†] This study can be found here: https://caspertk.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/how-we-gather.pdf

[‡] My new term for Christ Church Downtown plus Christ Church South.

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Anglicanism, “Missions” & the Bible Belt

Ah, the joys of being an Episcopal priest in the Bible Belt. Never shall its thrill wane, I suspect.

The latest wave of joy springs from a conversation with a man who works closely with me in ministry under the aegis our local Episcopal parish. He and I both have a good friend who is a kind of “missionary,” among many kinds of missionaries in East Texas. (Surely we in East Texas boast the highest per capita density of missionaries in the US.)

Our friend finds it objectionable and offensive that our Episcopal Church has no foreign missions pastor or committee or budget.

At a certain level, that makes sense. After all, I too grew up in an evangelical, Bible Belt culture. I vividly remember the first time I ever put money into an offering plate at my family’s Bible church: two silver dollars, after a slide-show missionary presentation, to support a missionary working on the other side of the globe.

However, there are many good reasons why Episcopal Churches, in the main, do not have these kinds of structures. Today I mention only two: historical consciousness and global communion.

First, historical consciousness. Ever wondered why most Roman Catholic churches in American don’t have “missions pastors?” Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they don’t see themselves as the “Mother Ship” of their church, which after all was established 2000 years in Rome. And I’m not referring to Rome, Texas.

American Roman Catholic churches see themselves as the mission field, themselves as the result of missionary efforts (from the other side of the Atlantic, not to it). The real missionary control center of the Catholic Church is in Rome, or perhaps in the headquarters / cathedral of each diocese, but not at the local church. Only American evangelicals (and some mainline Protestant liberals) see America as the Mother Ship, the sending center from which the conversion of the heathen issues forth.

Secondly, and related, global communion. How does one explain the shocking and horrendous fact that virtually no American Episcopal Church raises up and sends missionaries to, for example, Nigeria? Maybe it is because Nigeria has 25,000,000 Anglicans who love and worship Jesus. That’s more than twelve times the amount in the states. And while the numbers vary, similar things could be said about Japan, the Middle East, and Asia.

The American Episcopal Church is one of 38 global Anglican provinces, among whom are numbered the Church of Kenya, the Church of Australia, the Church of the Southern Cone in South America. Should we be sending missionaries to those countries? In the main the Anglican tradition has answered questions like this in the negative. In fact, historically Anglicans have refused to send missionaries to lands that already have a Christian presence. (So for example, there have never been Anglican missionaries in Russia.)

To my mind, there are two fundamentally different ways of being Christian. There is the American Evangelical way (based in many assumptions which are typically American), and there is the historical catholic way (with many habits, convictions, and quirks rooted in the past). This issue of foreign missions is a case in point.

 

 

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My Take on (American) Evangelicalism

Thanks to my friend Tish for posting this, I assume at least partly in response to this. And also one should see this, with which I heartily agree.

Of course “evangelicalism” is a slippery term b/c it is both a sociological descriptor and a theological tradition.

Question: where does Catholic Christianity figure in all this?

Reason I ask: I walked away from evangelicalism (at least in my own mind!) not so much b/c it was so militantly opposed to progressive culture (in terms of science, poverty, & liberal politics … the things cited in the title of Tish’s blog post), as Tish’s interlocutors (eg, Rachel Evans) seem to be saying and against which Tish seems to be protesting, but precisely for the opposite reason.

I see evangelicalism as being part and parcel with secular culture: individualistic, private, trend-obsessed, market based. (Example: show me a church planter’s vision statement [the mere fact that evangelicals use “vision statements” speaks volumes] that does not tacitly try to position itself in terms of the contemporary religious “market” in America.)

Which of course is why many, many of those who decry evangelicalism are themselves … evangelicals. It is now trendy in evangelical circles to be progressively anti-evangelical. (Witness the “emergent church” … as I throw up in my mouth a teency bit.)

Evangelicalism, as best I can discern, is not sacramental; it is not sacred; it is not other worldly; it is not mystical; it is not transcendent; it is not rooted in history (by and large). I say this as an ex-evangelical (said in the most wounded tone of voice I can muster, imagining myself to have gone through a painful “de-conversion” experience.)

I’ve been convinced for about a decade now that evangelicalism is actually the reverse face (the “kissing cousin” or the “other side of the coin”) of our distinctively American secular culture.

 

 

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Rainbows & Light (Nyssa & Desmond)

Gregory of Nyssa and quantum physics (about which I know almost nothing) agree: the rational mind cannot fully grasp the nature of light.

William Desmond might say that it is “overdetermined:” the problem is not that light manifests too little to our souls (mind, sense perception, imagination), but rather that it manifests too much. We cannot stare directly at the sun. Light is both wave and particle at the same time (which makes little sense rationally).

This “overdeterminedness,” Gregory argues, characterizes the Christian God who manifests himself (“godself” if you like) by revelation and who is apprehended by faith.

In Gregory’s words, in the context of his rainbow analogy for the Trinity,

… for just as in the case of things which appear to our eyes experience seems better than a theory of causation, so too in the case of dogmas which transcend our comprehension faith is better than apprehension through processes of reasoning, for faith teaches us to understand that which is separated in person [in the three persons of the Trinity], but at the same time united in substance. – St. Gregory of Nyssa, Epistula XXXVIII, quoted in Adrian Pabst, Metaphysics 71.

What is the relationship between nature and grace, between philosophy and theology, between reason and faith? Here we find a clue: faith apprehends that which overwhelms and transcends reason. Against virtually all modern thought beginning with late medieval nominalism, faith is more than reason, not less.  Which is what John Milbank is trying to get at with his language of “intensities.”

Question: how does Desmond‘s “overdeterminedness” differ from Marion’s “saturated phenomenon?”

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Beer to the Glory of God

Of the many times I have been proud to be Episcopalian, a few truly special moments come to mind. My ordination to the priesthood at the hands of two dearly beloved bishops. The opening Sunday of the Epiphany Eucharist, when I got a vision for what is possible. My chance to meet with the Most Reverend Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi of Nigeria.

And then, there is this:

shota_house_beer

Way to go, Nashotah House!

For more on this vital means of grace, see here.

 

 

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Augustine on _Totus Christus_

From Augustine’s Homilies on the First Epistle of John:

Then let us rejoice and give thanks that we are made not only Christians, but Christ. Do you understand, brothers, and apprehend the grace of God upon us? Marvel, be glad, we are made Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members: the whole man is he and we… The fullness of Christ, then, is head and members. Head and members, what is that? Christ and the Church (In. Io. XXI.8).

Thanks, David Thomas.

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Breathe

These days are better than that.

These days are better than that.

Every day I die again and again I’m reborn.

Every day I have to find the courage to walk out into the streets

with arms out

Got a love you can’t defeat.

Neither down nor out

There’s nothing you have that I need.

I can breathe.

– U2, “Breathe” from No Line on the Horizon

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Pentecostal Heterogeneity

Joel Green writes in this Festschrift to Richard Hays about the event of Pentecost in Acts 2:

“I will urge that Luke’s account constitutes a profoundly theological and political statement displacing Babel – and Jerusalem – and Rome centered versions of a unified world in favor of an altogether different sort of community. Unity is found at Pentecost, but not by reviving a pre-Babel homogeneity. With the outpouring of the Spirit, koinonia is possible not by the dissolution of multiple languages but rather by embodiment in a people generated by the Spirit, gathered in the name of Jesus Christ.” (pg. 199)

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The Moral Tradition of Virtue: Kenneth Kirk & Conclusion

Last semester I had the opportunity to do an independent study with Nathan Jennings at the Seminary of the Southwest in the moral tradition of virtue in Christianity. I felt that this tradition was something almost completely eclipsed in my Reformed theological training at Westminster Theological Seminary. I am grateful for the opportunity to engage in this study, which follows. For the introduction to this five-part essay see here; for Part I see here; for Part II see here; for Part III see here.

We turn now to a consideration of virtue as represented in the Anglican tradition, the representative in this case being Kenneth Kirk, who stands in direct succession with the moral tradition of virtue on at least two of the three features articulated above: the necessity of a pre-theoretical (note Aristotle’s use of theoretikos above) practice and an anthropological commitment to man as teleological by nature. (On the other of my three “marks” of the moral tradition of virtue – the priority of the social – Kirk is silent. We will forgive him for that, however, since he lived before this postmodern insight came to be appreciated, for example, by Michel Foucault among many others.)

Beati mundo corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt.    The history of these words, Kirk writes, is the history of Christian ethics itself,  for Christian ethics centers on the idea of, the possibility of, the experiential attainment of, the vision of God.  For Kirk, steeped as he is in the moral tradition of the Church (and that in more than a merely academic way), this vision of God is the chief end of man. Not unlike his contemporary Henri de Lubac, he articulates this position, however, by means of a panoply of historical voices, beginning with characters from (what Christians have traditionally and historically called) the Old Testament, progressing through “pagan” stages (both “classical” as well as from the so-called mystery religions) and neo-Platonic fathers of the Church, and finally culminating with medievals such as Thomas Aquinas and 15th century figures such as Ignatius of Loyola and Francis de Sales.

“They will see God.” Virtually all of the Christian thinkers enlisted by Kirk to represent the sweep of the tradition agree that man’s ultimate purpose is the vision or the contemplatio  of God, whatever inter-mural squabbles they might  have on the details of such an experience.  Thomas Aquinas, perhaps, is on what one might think of as the “conservative” extreme of the spectrum, in that he insists that the intuition of the divine essence – the sight of God “face to face”  – is sternly reserved for eternity.

And yet, what all have in common in the conviction that the human life ought to be ordered around this telos of the direct experience of the divine. And what is this telos? Kirk is more explicit than many of his fellow participants in the tradition, certainly more concrete in elaboration of this telos than Alisdair MacIntyre, for example.  For Kirk identifies this telos for which humanity was made as worship:
The doctrine “the end of life is the vision of God” has … been interpreted by Christian thought at its best as implying in practice that the highest prerogative of the Christian, in this life as well as hereafter, is the activity of worship; and that nowhere except in this activity will he find the key to his ethical problems.

Taking precedence over “codes of behavior,” it is worship which orients the ethical project, which orients the moral life of Christian (and human) persons. Appealing to Aristotle, Kirk writes:
Aristotle … explicitly invested the high pursuit of philosophic truth with a religious coloring.  The ‘highest branch of contemplation,’ he said, ‘is theology,’ and the philosophic ideal is the ‘worship and contemplation of God.’ Met V, I (1026a, 19).

Such primacy of worship or praise could also be adduced from multiple Old Testament texts to which Kirk appeals: Jacob saw God face to face and lived (Gen 32:20) (The Hebrew Peniel here means “the face of God”). Similar insights are gleaned from Abraham and Moses in Gen 12:7; 18:1. Isaiah held the LORD high and lifted up in Isaiah 6. Amos & Micah report similar visions: Am 7:7; 9:1; Mic 1:1-3. Ezekiel saw God in his chariot; he saw the Shekinah glory.  Kirk supplies us with many more examples from history and tradition to show that, according to the moral tradition of virtue in which Kirk situates himself, worship is our ultimate purpose.
One primary way in which Kirk’s understanding of worship as man’s end is so fecund, however, is that for Kirk, while worship is an end or a purpose or a telos, it is also more than that: for it is also the way to the telos, as Kirk makes clear throughout his discussion of worship. One can see this discussion as implying a view of worship as (something like) both means and end. It is an end, but it is also the precondition to the achievement of that end. In this sense there is a deep resonance with Kirk’s understanding of worship and Aristotle’s understanding of eudaimonia, for, on Aristotle’s view, happiness is not merely a means to an end, pursued for the sake of something else, but nor is it nothing more than a telos in the sense of terminus, for it is also the way.
For example, Aristotle’s understanding of happiness is not like the production of walls from bricks and morter. The sole (or at least the overwealmingly primary) purpose of brick-laying is to produce a wall. The brick-laying is the means to that end which is the wall. But for Aristotle, eudaimonia is neither reducible down to brick-laying nor reducible down to the wall. It is both, and / or it is neither.  So also, on Kirk’s view, for worship. It is not merely a means, for worship is what we will be doing for all eternity, and is our highest possible way to commune with God. And yet it is a medium or a way which leads to something else, something more. But nor, on the other hand, is worship merely an end, for surely it is more true to say that our end is God himself, and worship is a means to that higher end. And yet, in saying this one must constantly remember that not true apprehension of God can ever take place outside of or independently of worship or praise, and so worship itself is ultimate, in that it is bound up with the ultimate end of man which is God Godself.

In showing that worship is humanity’s true end, two voices which Kirk enlists are those of Psalm 24 (“Those with clean hands and a pure heart … will seek the face of the God of Jacob”) and Psalm 27 (“One thing have I asked of the LORD, and that will I seek: to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple”). These two ancient Hebrew poems, separated by only a few strophai in the Hebrew Bible, are among the most provocative of all the voices Kirk brings to bear upon this issue of worship as both (or neither) the way to our ultimate telos and part and (or nor) parcel of that same telos. Consider Psalm 27, which conflates worship and the experience of beholding God, as if they are the same thing. Indeed these two things, says the Psalmist, are the “one thing” that he seeks. Worship and the vision of God are bound up in unity. And yet, worship is also a preparation for that “one thing:” worship purifies us (cf Isa 6,where Isaiah is penitentially “purified” by a burning coal from God’s altar) such that we are able to worship and to see God, as implied in Psalm 24. Kirk therefore shows that worship is not just (wo)man’s ultimate end but also our way of preparation unto that end.
In other words, “they will see God,” indeed. But who is “they?” Only the pure in heart, says Jesus in Matthew 5 and the tradition which follows his lead. There thus develops in the tradition, an emphasis on the pre-theoretical preparation for such a vision. The entire (neo)Platonic tradition, of course, heavily emphasizes such preparation, often in the form of purification, an emphasis nicely summarized by Seneca’s  dictum that “the mind, unless it is pure and holy, cannot see God.”

Kirk receives this emphasis on preparation for the divine vision and reads (Christian) worship as its fulfillment, for such purity must involve first and foremost a sense of disinterestedness, which “Christian ethics must advocate.”  “Worship [alone],” Kirk argues, “lifts the soul out of preoccupation with self and its activities, and centers its aspirations entirely upon God.”

Where, then, Kirk invites us to ask, is the place for service and self-discipline? By showing that “both of these are antecedents and the consequences of worship” Kirk argues for an approach to ethics which does in fact begin and end with worship but is fruitful for the life of the world:

When once it is recognized that worship is the key to disinterestedness, the effort to conform to codes and standards falls into its proper place. it is, on the one hand, an effort which the worshipping soul finds itself compelled to undertake, so that its worship may flow more freely; on the other, an invariable outcome of all true worship, insofar as it the latter invariably strives to render its environment more harmonious with the Idea of which it has caught glimpses.

Here we see that for Kirk, ethics begins with worship and ends with worship (of God, finally in the beatific vision). However, the value of this approach for (what I think of as) “the streets of the real world,” consistent with the best of the virtue tradition of Christian moral philosophy, is that worship (together with the worshipping community) is a “glimpse” (to borrow Kirk’s own term) or an icon of the world’s true nature, reality, design, and goal.

This actually underscores, and does not diminish, the importance of service and self-discipline, for Christian practices such as alms-giving, fasting, meditation, and service to neighbor flow in and out of worship – concretely in the Eucharist – as its “wings.”  Worship is a means to our final end, as are (and for that reason) Christian self-discipline and service.

We have considered, as two modern advocates of what can be thought of as a deeply traditional (though not without real critique and certain innovations) moral tradition of virtue. I would like to suggest in closing, however, that without Kirk, MacIntyre would be incomplete. For as John Milbank has argued,  MacIntyre’s articulation of the tradition, despite all its philosophic erudition, despite all its historical context, despite all its grasp of the real issues, is at the end of the day, insufficient in its affirmation of real, concrete content.
What is the concrete content of moral thought, to which the tradition of virtue, from Homer to the present, in its best and truest moments, has pointed (even if at times obscurely)? Surely it is, as Kirk argues, that man’s moral life begins, ends, and flows forth, from the worship of God, who will be seen by the pure in heart.

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The Moral Tradition of Virtue (III): Teleological Anthropology

Last semester I had the opportunity to do an independent study with Nathan Jennings at the Seminary of the Southwest in the moral tradition of virtue in Christianity. I felt that this tradition was something almost completely eclipsed in my Reformed theological training at Westminster Theological Seminary. I am grateful for the opportunity to engage in this study, which follows. For the introduction to this five-part essay see here; for Part I see here; for Part II see here; for the conclusion see here.

Having now considered two overlapping features of these three historical stages of the virtue tradition which are the predecessor cultures to modernity (Heroic society, classical Athens, medieval Christendom), we turn now to the third: the ways in which these cultures conceived of man or humanity. The core idea here which overlaps onto all three civilizations is that humanity is a functional concept, about which MacIntyre writes:

… Moral arguments within the classical … tradition – whether in its Greek or its medieval versions – involve at least one central functional concept, the concept of man understood as having an essential nature and an essential and an essential purpose or function…. That is to say, “man” stands to “good man” as “watch” stands to “good watch” of “farmer” to “good farmer” in the classical tradition.

Nowhere does one see Thomas’ reliance upon Aristotle more clearly than in this anthropological commitment to man as a functional concept. Here the Angelic Doctor appears to be taking his cues directly from Aristotle (e.g., chapter 13 of Book I of the latter’s Nicomachean Ethics, where he states and then builds upon the analogy, alluded to above, that a good man is analogous to a good harp player).  Ralph McInerny argues, that on Aquinas’ view,

Beginning with the classical tradition,  Aristotle says in Nicomachean Ethics, that the relationship of “man” to “living well” is analogous to that of “harpist” to “playing the harp well.” (Nicomachean Ethics 1095a 16). This “living well” for Aristotle is man’s essental telos, and the word he uses to denote it is eudaimonia, variously translated as “happiness,” “success,” and “blessedness” (among other options).

What is interesting about this elusive sense of eudaimonia for Aristotle is that it is neither simply a means to some other end (although at various points in his corpus the Philosopher does suggest that meditative contemplation of the divine – that is the Unmoved Mover – is the supreme telos of the human person ) nor is it simply an end in itself. Reducible to neither of these, it is instead a virtue (perhaps, for Aristotle, the ultimate virtue) whose end is intrinsic to itself. That is, its ultimate end (what both D.S. Hutchinson and Stanley Haurwas  / Charles Pinches consider to be “living a well-lived life”)  is intrinsic to the practice, and even the attainment of, eudaimonia. What is clear, however, is that for Aristotle man does have a purpose, which he can fulfill or accomplish well or poorly. Just as a hammer can be said to be a good hammer or a bad hammer based on how well it fulfills its purpose or performs its function, so also a human being can be said to be a good or a bad person.

Turning now to the medieval period, nowhere does one see Thomas’ reliance upon Aristotle more clearly than in this anthropological commitment to man or humanity as a functional concept. Here the Angelic Doctor appears to be taking his cues directly from Aristotle (e.g., chapter 13 of Book I of his Nicomachean Ethics, where he states and then builds upon the analogy, alluded to above, that a good man in analogous to a good harp player). Ralph McInerny argues that, on Aquinas’ view,

… the human agent is precisely one who performs human actions with a view to the good. If we want to know whether something or someone is good, we ask what its function is…. I can say that an eye is good if it performs its function of seeing well. The organ is called good from the fact that its operations are good, are performed well. The “well” of an action, its adverbial mode, is the ground of talk of virtue. The “virtue” of any thing is to perform its natural function or proper task well.

We have looked at three “chapters” in the story of the development of this tradition of virtue: heroic antiquity, classical Greek civilization (rooted in fifth century Athens), and the medieval synthesis which finds it main protagonist in Thomas Aquinas.

But where does this leave us in the early 21st century? Following on the heals of modernity’s rejection (a la Descartes and Kant, two name two foundational examples) of these three common strands we have traced (the social rootedness of morality, the pre-theoretical practice of philosophy, and the anthropological presupposition of human as a functional concept with a concrete telos) it leaves us in the morally chaotic state of what Alisdair MacIntyre describes as “emotivism.”   For MacIntryre, only traditioned inquiry is capable of sustaining a coherent, rational discourse about the good life for humans, but this – tradition in general, as well as this tradition of virtue in particular – is precisely what modernity rejects.

In our emotivistic society, moral consensus is necessarily blocked because there is no agreement among the plurality of voices on what constitutes the common good. And MacIntyre is pessimistic to say the least. Given his insistence (along with modernity’s predecessor cultures, with which he is in intellectual and moral solidarity) upon the priority of the social, the best he can envision is a “new St. Benedict” who will create new communities of formation in the midst of our fragmented and fragmenting culture.

It seems clear from the preceding account of the classical virtue tradition that the most fundamental way in which the virtue-centered, Christian moral tradition differs from modern ethical theory is that, according to the former, there is more to the moral – or even the decisional – life of persons than merely the consciously rational dimension. It is this “more than,” this dimension of the human psyche beyond reason (or perhaps behind and under reason) which must be formed or shaped according to an informed rationality. For the most part ignored by modern ethical theory, this dimension of the human psyche will inevitably be shaped and conditioned by something: left to its own devices it will be imprisoned by the drives and desires of human appetite.

See here for the conclusion to this series.

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The Moral Tradition of Virtue (II): the Practice of Philosophy

Last semester I had the opportunity to do an independent study with Nathan Jennings at the Seminary of the Southwest in the moral tradition of virtue in Christianity. I felt that this tradition was something almost completely eclipsed in my Reformed theological training at Westminster Theological Seminary. I am grateful for the opportunity to engage in this study, which follows. For the introduction to this essay see here, and for Part I see here.

We turn now to a consideration of the priority of practice – the practice of philosophy – in each of the three predecessor cultures. Once again, we see a unity among the differences: in all three cultures there is what Pierre Hadot calls a “philosophy before the [moral] philosophy.” Before an agent can know what is good or right (let alone succeed in doing it) she must do something other than – she must do something before – knowing. Knowledge of the good is conditioned by something prior.

The pre-classical society of the heroic is perhaps the most difficult case to establish, but things get clearer when we do two things. First, we must realize that, for a Homeric warrior to be morally successful, he must arrive back to his home victorious after battle. This is the primary standard for virtue in this society. Second, we must ask, “What moral presuppositions must obtain for such a victorious return? There are two moral prerequisites for success  which come into play here, and both are human practices: loyalty and accountability to his kin (otherwise he would not be motivated to return home), and appeasement of the Gods in prayer and sacrifice. The two practices – loyalty or accountability and obiessence before the divine – are for this society its “philosophy before philosophy.” They are the practices which precede and undergird the achievement of virtuous eudaimonia.

In fifth-century Athens the successful moral life also presupposes a disciplined praxis, well documented and described by Pierre Hadot. Hadot points out that, once, when Socrates was challenged
to quit his annoying irony and offer is own definition of justice, he replied: ”I never stop showing what I think is just. If not in words, I show it by my actions.” At the heart of what Socrates meant by knowledge, Hadot says, is a way of life, ”a love of the good.” That love comes from within the individual, and after it is awakened it must be renewed through self-questioning, self-examination, a personal commitment to a life of philosophy.

As Socrates and his contemporaries of fifth-century Athens would say, however, this love for the good must be nurtured and fostered. Hence the practice of paideia, what Hadot describes as “the desire to form or educate:”
This education was imparted by adults…. In the fifth century, as democracy began to flourish, the city-states showed … the concern for forming their future citizens by physical exercises, gymnastics, music, and mental exercises.

Turning now to medieval Christendom, we can see a similar commitment to a disciplined praxis which precedes the attainment of virtue. The supreme articulation and defense of this stance comes the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, where he mounts a defense of habituation or the formation of habits by human acts, as a cause of virtue. In the second article (“Whether any Virtue is Caused in us by Habituation from our Acts?”) to Question LXIII (“The Cause of the Virtues”) Thomas writes

… Dionysius says that good is more efficacious than evil. But vicious habits are caused by evil acts. Much more, therefore, can virtuous habits be caused by good acts.… We have spoken already in a general way about the generation of habits from acts. Speaking now in a special way of this matter in relation to virtue … it follows that human nature, directed to the good which is defined according to the rule of human reason, can be caused by human acts; for such acts proceed from reason, by whose power and rule the good in question in established.… Accordingly, human acts, in so far as they proceed from higher principles, can cause acquired human virtues.

For Part III of this series go here.

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Why the Liturgy Matters

Wow. The “internet age,” while offering so many destructive dangers, also has its “upside.” Recently on an exam question at SSW, I was asked to elaborate, as if I were writing an article for the church newsletter, on why the liturgy matters. Here, copied and pasted from my actual test response, is how I responded:

Dear friends at and friends of (the Church of the) Epiphany,

It is quite obvious to all of us (and painfully obvious to some of us) that, here at Epiphany we are pretty excited about this thing – this way of being, this way of ordering our lives individually and corporately – called “liturgy.” Why? Why is this church so committed to living this way? During this Easter season – and please remember that according to the ancient church as well as our liturgy, the “paschal mystery” of Christ includes both his death and his resurrection since these two are utterly inseperable – I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts with you about how our liturgy grounds our lives as Christians in the death and resurrection of Christ.

First, simply look at the shape of our Eucharistic liturgy, both in whole and in part. Seen from the “zoomed out lens” of the entire service (also called “the Divine Service”) we can see that the very shape or structure of this ritual is that of death and resurrection. I don’t know if you are like me, but confessing my sins is not one of the most pleasurable activities of my day or week. In fact, when done with sobriety and humility (as our prayer book enjoins) it can often feel like a death. And death it is, according to St. Paul’s writings, where over and over again he tells us to give up on our own ways, our own desires, our own agendas, and to participate in Christ’s death and passion in part through laying down – sacrificing – our lives to him. And then there is the reading and preaching of God’s Word.  Have you ever felt that the preacher’s convicting words were directed specifically to you? Perhaps you have an existential awareness of Christ “walking in the midst” of his people, much as is described in the opening section of the book of Revelation, rendering by his Spirit the judgment  so necessary for true holiness.  None of this is a coincidence! Such “death” – also prefigured in a thousand ways in that second part of the Eucharist knows as the Anaphora – is a necessary prerequisite for the “resurrection life” of feasting like kings drinking wine and then being sent out with real energy into a hurting and broken world.

This ritual movement through time, however, gives rise to yet another way in which God’s time is redeemed in our lives. It’s not simply that we shape our worship on the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection, but actually that we begin to participate in that very paschal event or sequence. Truly, the Eucharist is like a time machine which allows us to touch, to taste, to live into, the very mystery of the universe: that God himself has died and bled for us, thereby “trampling down death by death,” as they say in the East, in his glorious and utterly shocking resurrection. One of the most ancient words used to describe this mysterious transfiguration of time is the word anamnesis, from which derives our English verb “to remember.” Because of liturgical reality – that is, because the true nature of the cosmos is liturgical – when we remember Christ’s death and passion it is not simply that we have a picture of the “cross event” in our minds, but rather that the members of his body are being gathered, or literally re-membered. (So much for bringing the past into our “now.” With more time and space than I have I could elaborate on the fancy word prolepsis – the opposite, if you will, of anamnesis, how this Eucharist also brings us to the end of the world, when we are, by the “first fruits” of the Holy Spirit, feasting with all the saints at the banquet supper of the victorious Lamb of God.”)

You see, friends, the Eucharist is, quite literally, a re-membering of the body of Christ. His scarred, fish-eating resurrection body (known in the ancient church as the soma typicon or “typological body”) which hung on the cross, becomes the living members of his true body (corpus verum), you and me. Theologians call this “participation,” but as is painfully obvious, there quite simply are no words to describe this. In a way which transcends the “one flesh union” of my wife and me, we quite simply are members of Christ. We are his body. We are his body for the world and for the world’s life. Which is why the Eucharist involves a third body as well: what the ancients knew as the “mystical body:” the corpus mysticum. This bread, together with the wine, imports the world into the church: the world of harvesting, the world of threshing, the world of trade and commerce, the world of civilized humanity created as God’s image-bearing cultivators of his good world. And so, do you see? As members of his body, we are enacting the world’s true culture and civilization. We are brining about the new world of the living, victorious Christ.

In these ways and so many more, my friends, we are truly living a mystery in doing what we do in the Eucharist. It is the mystery that lies at the heart of the world, the axis mundi. Truly, our liturgy grounds us and our lives as Christians in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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Oops.

Oh, no. My blog, like most blogs, gets lots of spam comments, which I then have to delete manually. Probably 95% of all comments to my blog are in the form of cheap spam.

Well, in my zeal to delete them all last night, it appears that I also deleted ALL the comments that have ever been posted on my blog. Which makes me sad.

Oh, well. Please feel free to contribute if you read something stimulating or encouraging.

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Ritual Enactment vs. Historical Reenactment: Two Sacramental Views
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_Catholicism_ (VIII): Salvation Through the Church

Is it possible for God to save persons who have never heard the proclamation of the Gospel and who have never been baptized? I remember when, as a high school student, I read the impeccably orthodox CS Lewis answer this question in the affirmative, I was scandalized. Only Later did I come to realize that, here and elsewhere, Lewis was consistent with ancient and historical precedent in his thinking. For, as de Lubac shows, the fathers of the church also answered in the affirmative:

“[The Son can be] the salvation of those who are … outside the way.” …  “The invisible presence of the Logos has spread everywhere. Through him, everything is under the influence of the redemptive economy, and the Son of God … has traced the sign of the cross on everything.” – St. Ireneaus

“The divine Sun of Justice shines on all and for all.” – Sts. Cyprian, Hilary, and Ambrose.

“Grace is diffused everywhere, and there is no soul that cannot feel its attraction.” – St. John Chrysostom

“Christ is so powerful that, although invisible because of his divinity, he is present to every person and extends over the whole universe.” – Origen

With Origen here, Sts. Jerome and Cyril of Alexandria “refuse to assert that any man is born without Christ.”

St. Augustine taught that “divine mercy was always at work among all peoples, and even the pagans have had their hidden saints and their prophets.”

This, then, poses a problem (217-222). Given all theses quotations from the church fathers why does the church still teach in her doctrine that she is necessary for salvation? In other words, given the consensus among catholic theologians today that God can and perhaps does save individual human persons who are outside of the reach of the church, in what sense, then, is the church (and her continual expansion) necessary? If so, in what sense?

De Lubac provides us with his solution, as always, relying on the Fathers, as follows:
1.    The human race is one: members get their life from the body. (222-226)
2.    While individual persons outside the cultural expansion of the church might somehow attain salvation, nevertheless other religions always fall short, and hence are ultimately not successful: while “the precise situation [of individual souls] in relation to the Kingdom is never known save to God alone, nevertheless the “objective systems” of other religions do show us that “there is something missing from every religious invention that is not a following of Christ.:” Budhist charity is not Christian charity, and Hindy mysticism is not the mysticism of St. John of the Cross.
3. Our (human persons) cooperation is necessary in (our) redemption (just like in creation). (226-227)
4. Like any other organism, to grow is of the very nature of the church. (227ff)

De Lubac concludes by discussing “the obligation to enter the Church and the responsibilities of the Christian.”

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St. Benedict: “No easy entrance.”

No easy entrance, that is, into the monastic life and community.

“But Matt,” you respond, “You aren’t a monk, and you never will be.” True in one sense, but this is where the wonderful writing of James Finley comes in. In his book Christian Meditation, the most helpful and mind-blowing book I have read on the life of Christian contemplation, he describes the possibility of living in a “monestary without walls.”

Discussing St. Benedict, Finley writes,

St. Benedict knows, better than we, that struggles lie ahead. It is out of this understanding that he says, “Let not an easy entrance be granted to all who seek to enter.” This seemingly less than cordial treatment is actually an act of love on St. Benedict’s part. It is as if he is saying, Look, I owe it to you to give you a small taste of what you are in for. The difficulty you are experiencing in arriving at the gate is but a preview of coming attractions. What lies just inside the gate is not a lifetime of getting what you want when you want it. It is, rather, a lifetime of learning how to wait, with respectful, quiet persistence, in the midst of ongoing delays and difficulties, interspersed with unexpected and sometimes unmanageable graces and blessings.

St. Benedict knows, well, too, that all difficulties, at all stages of the journey, are themselves the very stuff the journey is made of. Patience with one’s slow beginnings and false starts is itself a good beginning in learning to realize that, in the end, everything is right on schedule. Learning to be patient with yourself in your slow and inept efforts has within it the potential of an experiential knowledge of God’s infinite patience with us as we spend our lives fumbling around at the entrance into the depths of the life we are living. It is our growing trust in the loving patience of God that sustains and supports us as we make our way into a meditative way of life.

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St. Basil on Tradition

St. Basil of Caesaria writes:

“Of the dogmas which are preserved in the church, there are some which we have from Scripture, others we have received from the tradition of the Apostles, and both have the same force; nor will anybody contradict them who has any experience of the laws of the church.”

As Richard Traverse Smith points out, though, Basil is referring “to practices or teaching which is embodied within practices, rather than to formal doctrines” (all of the latter of which are contained in Scripture alone). To quote Basil again:

“For if we go about rejecting the unwritten customs as of slight importance, we shall unawares do injury to the vital parts of the Gospel itself, or rather, reduce the preaching of it to a mere name (italics mine). For instance (to mention in the first place what comes first and is most common) who has taught us by writing to sign with the cross those who place their hope in Christ? What Scripture has taught us to turn to the east in the prayers? The words of invocation, when the bread of the Eucharist and cup of blessing are consecrated, which of the saints has left to us in writing? For we are not content with those words which the Apostles and the Evangelists record, but, both before and after, we use others and consider them to possess great importance to the mystery; and these we have received by unwritten teaching. And we bless both the water of baptism and the oil of unction, and even the way a person in baptized. Out of what Scripture? Is it not on account of the silent mystical tradition? The very anointing with oil itself, what written record has taught? And whence received we the custom that man should be thrice immersed? And the rest of the ceremonies in baptism, as the renouncing of the devil and his angels, whence have we….? For this cause we all look to the east in our prayers, but few of us know that in doing so we seek our native land Paradise, which the Lord planted in Eden, toward the sun-rising. And we pray standing on the first day of the week, not only because, being risen together with Christ, we should seek those things which are above, but because that day appears to be a type of the world for which we hope.” – On the Holy Spirit xxvii, 66.

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Westminster, Theology, and Liturgy

Another thought about Westminster Seminary (my alma mater) whose publication “Westminster Today” arrived in the mail recently, which I just read.

What wonderful, rich theology, for example in the article by Vern Poythress on the relationship between biblical and systematic theology, a topic which is perpetually addressed at the seminary with near exhaustive detail.

Indeed, one can read tens of thousands of pages about this relationship, and hear scores of hours about it in lectures.

However, eight years after Westminster, I find myself asking with even more conviction than I did eight years ago, “What about liturgical theology?” What about the ancient maxim, lex orandi lex credendi, which can be rendered as “Our worship determines our theology”?

On the other hand, I don’t really expect Westminster to embrace this idea. It simply isn’t a Reformed conviction, and Reformed theology “is what it is.”

But it is very clear to me that, whatever the deep riches present at Westminster and in the grand tradition it represents — and there are many — it does not believe that theology begins in worship and is rooted there.

Perhaps if it did there would be a chapel on campus in which the sacraments are celebrated.

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Myth, Time, Feast, & Eucharist

Demeter’s hair was yellow as the ripe corn of which she was mistress, for she was the Harvest Spirit, goddess of farmed fields and growing grain. The threshing floor was her sacred space. Women, the world’s first farmers (while men still ran off to the bloody howling of hunt and battle), were her natural worshippers, praying: ‘May it be our part to separate wheat from chaff in a rush of wind, digging the great winnowing fan through Demeter’s heaped-up mounds of corn while she stands among us, smiling, her brown arms heavy with sheaves, her ample breasts adorned in flowers of the field.’ Demeter had but one daughter, and she needed no other, for Persephone was the Spirit of Spring. The Lord of Shadows and Death, Hades himself, the Unseen One, carried her off in his jet-black chariot, driven by coal-black steeds, through a crevice in the surface of Earth, down to the realms of the dead. For nine days, Demeter wondered sorrowing over land, sea, and sky in search of her daughter, but no one dared tell her what had happened till she reached the Sun, who had seen it all. With Zeus’ help, the mother retrieved her daughter, but Persephone had already eaten a pomegranate seed, food of the dead, at Hades’ insistence, which meant she must come back to him. In the end, a sort of truce was arranged. Persephone could return to her sorrowing mother but must spend a third of each year with her dark Lord. Thus, by the four-month death each year of the goddess in springtime in her descent to the underworld, did winter enter the world. And when she returns from the dark realms she always strikes earthly beings with awe and smells somewhat of the grave.” – Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, 3.

A few pages later in this same book, Cahill draws a connection between this Greek myth of Demeter and the “myth become fact” of the Gospel story, and how God’s people, the Church, have understood that story:

In Demeter’s story … the attentive reader may catch dark prefigurings of the Christian Mother of Sorrows and the novenas – penitential nine-day cycles – commemorating her pain at the loss of her magical Child, who rises from the grave in late March or early April.

Now, we could take this insight of Cahill’s and launch off from it in many different directions (for example, we could discuss the nature of “Christianity and culture” and why so many puritan-like or “evangelical” views of “synchretism” are wrong), but when I read this passage in Cahill this morning, I immediately thought of passage in Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World (pages 52 – 59) in which he discusses the Christian understanding of time, and how the Church has used feasting as a way to redeem created time (and creation with it).

This is particularly relevant in our postmodern, nihilistic world, a world which Schmemann calls “serious,” in contrast to the life of joyful feasting which the Gospel brings about for us who are in Christ.

“Through the Cross,” Schmemann quotes the liturgy, “joy came into the whole world.”

[The Jewish feasts of Passover and Pentecost] were – to use another image – the “material” of a sacrament of time to be performed by the Church. We know that both feasts originated as the annual celebration of spring and the first fruits of nature. In this respect they were the very expression of feast as man’s joy about life. They celebrated the world coming back to life again after the death of winter, becoming again the food and life of man. And it is very significant that this most “natural,” all-embracing and universal feast – that of life itself – became the starting point, and indeed the foundation of the long transformation of the idea and experience of feast. It is equally significant that in this transformation each new stage did not abolish and simply replace the previous one, but fulfilled it in an even deeper and greater meaning until the whole process was consummated in Christ himself. The mystery of natural time, the bondage to winter and release in spring, was fulfilled in the mystery of time as history – the bondage to Egypt and the release into the Promised Land. And the mystery of historical time was transformed into the mystery of eschatological time….” — Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 56

This entire transformation – of pagan feast to Jewish feast to Christian feast, of natural time to historical time to eschatological time – culminates, argues Schmemann, in Easter, when the Church says,

Enter ye all into the joy of your Lord,
You who are rich and you the poor, come to the feast,
Receive all the riches of loving-kindness …
And let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.

And again:

The Pascha of the Lord,
From death unto life,
And from earth unto heaven
Has Christ our God brought us….

Now are all things filled with light,
Heaven and earth and the places under the earth.
All Creation does celebrate the Resurrection of Christ the King

On whom it is founded….

We celebrate the death of Death,
The annihilation of Hell,
The beginning of a life new and everlasting.
And with ecstasy we sing praises to the author thereof….

This is the chosen and holy Day,
The one King and Lord of Sabbaths,
The Feast of Feasts and the Triumph of Triumphs….

O Christ, the Passover great and most holy!
O Wisdom, Word and Power of God!
Grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee
In the day of Thy Kingdom which knoweth no night.

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++Rowan Williams on Gay Clergy

From an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, posted on the American Anglican Council website (in which he reaffirms, in addition to the following, his staunch opposition to virtually all forms of abortion), dated Dec. 12, 2007:

Asked about his support for gay clergy, he replied: “I have no problem with gay clergy who aren’t in relationships, although there are savage arguments about the issue you might have heard about. Our jobs mean we have to adhere to the Bible. Gay clergy who don’t act upon their sexual preferences do, clergy in practising homo-sexual relationships don’t. This major question doesn’t have a quick-fix solution and I imagine will be debated for many years to come.”

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_Aristotle East & West_ (review for _WTJ_)

The story of the development of the Christian doctrine of God, beginning with the doctrinal disputes of the fourth century, is long and complex. Certain key themes, however, emerge again and again: ousia, hypostasis, energeia among the most important. In this book Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw lucidly and compellingly deals with all of them, focusing particularly, however, on the ancient concept of energeia (i.e., the “energies” of God), genealogically tracing its evolution from Aristotle through the Medieval Greek speaking theologian Gregory Palamas.

Readers will find the book immensely relevant to such discussions as the relationship between faith and reason (which, according to Bradshaw, has been rent in the West but held intact in Eastern Christianity); the pervasive influence of ancient Greek thought upon Christian theology; the origins of modern, western nihilism; and the nature of the theological issues dividing Eastern and Western branches of the Christian church.

The primary thesis of the book, attempting to indict central streams of Western Christianity in one grand sweep, is that the West, beginning with Augustine, has failed to assimilate the Greek understanding of God’s energeia, a failure due in part to the exigencies of language (none of the major Latin renderings of this term – operatio, actus, and actualitas – fully capture its semantic nuances), in part to historical accident (e.g., Augustine had access only to certain “Neo-Platonist” philosophers), in part due to more pernicious reasons such as Augustine’s absolutization of Plato’s version of divine simplicity unique to his middle dialogues.

Of particular interest is the way in which Greek and Latin theology received the classical heritage. It is perhaps tempting for many to assume that the Greek speaking East is somehow more saturated with Greek thought, but this is not the case: “It is only by seeing both the eastern and western traditions as developments out of a shared heritage in classical metaphysics that they can be properly understood.” (xii)

The book is divided into five parts: the development of energeia from Aristotle through Plotinus (chs. 1- 4; note that this includes Paul’s letters, in which ten occurrences of the term are treated in the book); preliminary developments in the West (ch. 5); preliminary developments in the East (ch. 6); the growth of the Eastern tradition (chs. 7 – 8); and a systematic comparison of Augustine, Aquinas, and Palamas (ch. 9).

Beyond the general point that Christian notions of teleology have their roots in Aristotle, Bradshaw’s articulation of Aristotle’s doctrine of God (i.e., the Prime Mover) already foreshadows how the West has (allegedly) impaired the right use of ancient thought. For Bradshaw shows us how Aristotle’s theos is not simply transcendent (as he is usually viewed in the West) but also radically immanent in his relation to the world (the first heavens, for example, being moved as objects of the Prime Mover’s love). Bradshaw rehearses various other modes of participation between the creation and the divine (with energeia acting as a connecting thread) in the thought of the Hellenistic schools, Philo of Alexandria, and especially Plotinus, whose theory of two acts proved to be formative for subsequent thought. Of particular note here is the development of the concept of theurgy beginning with Porphyry but truly coming into its own in the philosophic outlook of his disciple Iamblichus, those thought – significantly – remained virtually unknown in the West.

Moving to a treatment of these ideas in a specifically Christian context, the influence of energeia is exerted most fully in the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth century. Among the most important examples is the Neo-Platonist logic behind Athanasius’ theological critique of Egyptian bishop Serapion’s denial of the deity of the Holy Spirit. Well known is Athanasius’ affirmation that “the external works of the Trinity are undivided” (in Latin, Opera ad extra trinitatis indivisa sunt.). Less appreciated is that this doctrine relies on a philosophical presupposition of Neo-Platonism: that energeia is revelatory of essence implying in this case that if we know that the three persons of the Trinity perform their works (Greek energeiai) in unison, then we know (or so Neo-Platonist thinking would hold) that their ousia must be unitary as well. In this way Serapion’s theology is demonstrated to fall short of Scriptural implications.

Here lies the primary benefit of this book. Modern western Christians of an orthodox persuasion readily accept Athanasius’ conclusions here (and elsewhere), but ought we to embrace the Greek presuppositions upon which these conclusions depend? For these presuppositions, Bradshaw shows, lead to some rather far reaching consequences, most of which center on the ancient understanding of methexis or participation (at this point the book traffics in the domain of the theological development known as Radical Orthodoxy, with its insistence on the centrality of participation in the Christian life). God mysteriously interacts with his creation in ways that shed new light on such things as the body’s role in prayer (just as the energies mitigate against a God / world dualism, so also do they mitigate against a mind / body, or even a soul / body dualism), the nature of the sacraments (the main connection here being that of theurgy), and the meaning of sanctification (hence the Orthodox understanding of theosis).

Critical reaction to this book centers on three basic points:

First, Bradshaw’s (indeed that of the mainstream Orthodox tradition) reading of Neo-Platonist teaching in the writings of St. Paul needs justification. To load, for example, Paul’s use of energeia in Ephesians 1:19 with classical philosophical meaning seems a bit suspect. What might be the Hebraic background of this idea? Even if such a query lies outside the scope of Bradshaw’s book, this is a question that must asked when grappling with these issues. (To say this is not to totalize authorial intent at the expense of other interpretive postures: such ecclesial and corporate “reader response” may well be legitimate, especially given the dual authorship of Scripture, but such a move ought at least to be explicitly articulated and examined.)

Second, Bradshaw’s genealogy of western nihilism as stemming from Augustine is tenuous (although shared with other compelling Orthodox theologians such as Christos Yannaras). It is true that Western theology and practice is more centralized, monarchical, and centered on the impersonal ousia of God (seen in the papal tendencies of Rome) than the Eastern commitment to the equal ultimacy of the tri-personhood of God. And yet, one must strain to trace modern nihilism in the west all the way back to a supposed Augustinian source. More plausible, it seems to me, is the genealogy of nihilism put forth by Radical Orthodoxy, beginning as it does with Duns Scotus and late medieval nominalism.

Third, the same objections to this account of the divine energies tend to crop up over and over again throughout the history of the church: that this view of God’s energeia reifies what are properly merely logical distinctions, that it compromises the simplicity of God, and that it comes dangerously close to pantheism. To his credit Bradshaw does not avoid these criticism, engaging as he does in a lengthy response to one of the more recent critiques of this Neo-Platonist heritage, that of Rowan Williams. And despite the fact that Williams has modified his views on this particular issue, Bradshaw does overcome several real objections.

However, Bradshaw does not sufficiently bring out the fact that, in all likelihood, important figures usually associated with Eastern Orthodoxy would likely have objections to this view, wanting to protect the simplicity of God. In particular, to say that God decides something other than what he is does not seem to be consistent with the Cappadocian Fathers or Maximus. This, of course, does not mean that it is not true, but nevertheless full context here would be helpful.

This book is the product of a lucid mind and a faithful imagination engaged with his tradition and is worthy of deep respect.

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_Catholicism_ (III): Israel according to the Spirit

A couple of excerpts serve to summarize this portion of chapter 2, “The Church:”

Thus, just as the Jews put all their trust for so long not in an individual reward beyond the grave but in their common destiny as a race and in the glory of their earthly Jerusalem, so for the Christian all his hope must be bent on the coming of the Kingdom and the glory of the one Jerusalem; and as Yahweh bestowed adoption on no individual as such, but only insofar as he bestowed universal adoption on the people of the Jews, so the Christian obtains adoption only in proportion as he is a member of that social structure brought to life by the Spirit of Christ.”

Where Christ is, and there alone, can be found the true Israel, and it is only through incorporation in Christ that participation in the blessings of Abraham may be obtained.” (This is a quotation from Irenaeus, Against Heresies.)

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