Liturgical View of Scripture: Intro

This little series is an attempt to flesh out my understanding of Scripture. It is like my own personal “doctrine of Scripture.” It might be called “a liturgical understanding of Scripture,” and I think it is right down the center of classical Anglicanism (including Cranmer and Hooker), but postmodernized (that is, perhaps, filtered through the theology of Rowan Williams and Radical Orthodoxy).

I am trying to challenge (what I perceive as) some basic ways that modern Protestant Christians (including biblical scholars), both more conservative ones such as those associated with Westminster Theological Seminary, as well as more revisionist ones such as Bart Ehrman, are thinking about the Bible. I think this approach helps to explain the anxiety over “inter-biblical conflict” which causes, on the one hand, Westminster Seminary types defensively to freak out over “liberal” views of the Bible, and, on the other hand, the (proto-) Bart Ehrman types to want to jettison Scripture (at least in terms of a norm or rule for the Christian faith and life).

Here’s my  outline:

  1. Communion of Saints
  2. Philosophy (time)
  3. History
  4. Scripture Itself (NT)

For the first article in this series, go here.


St. Thomas on Scripture (Theology Class #2)

Only now, nine years after finishing my MDiv, am I finally getting around to reading Thomas Aquinas on Scripture. Some interesting points which I wish I had known much earlier:

1. Thomas emphasizes the priority of the literal sense of Scripture, its sensus litteralis. However, he does not mean by this what most modern people mean by “literal.” When most modern people talk about “literalism” or “literal” interpretations of Scripture, they tend to mean something like “common sense” (whatever that is) or “the plain meaning” (whatever that is) or some kind of univocal historical precision (which presupposes a modern, positivistic view of history and historiography). However, when Thomas discusses the literal sense of Scripture, he is talking about the historical meaning: the “mighty deeds” wrought by God in space and time. He does not presuppose in this, however, “a univocal description and exact representation of particular sequences of ‘fact’” (to quote Rowan Williams).

2. Thomas affirms what later Reformed theologians would mean when they say that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” Specifically, Thomas says that “everything in Scripture that is taught metaphorically is elsewhere in Scripture taught nonmetaphorically.” (Walter Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching (2005) p. 41, n. 36). So, for example, if one wanted to interpret, say, from the Book of Revelation the “literal” rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem at some point in the future, this would fall short of this “test” which Thomas proscribes (since nowhere else in Scripture is there a nonmetaphorical reference to this).

3. Thomas, as is well known, advocates the four-fold meaning of Scripture. What I did not know, however, is that this is one of the “doctrines” he defends in the Summa Theologica using the structure of disputatio. He quotes Gregory the Great: “Holy Scripture, by the manner of its speech, transcends every scientia, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.” (Bauerschmidt, 43). He then develops this by distinguishing between the literal sense (see above) in which the text of Scripture refers to the “things” in creation and the spiritual senses of Scripture. This is one “kind of referring,” (the first kind), he says. These created things, however, themselves refer to God himself (or to heaven, or to the church, etc.). This is the second kind of referring, the spiritual kind of reference, which presupposes the literal.  It is this spiritual sense that has a three-fold division. “So far as the things of the Old Law refer to things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense. So far as the … things that signify Christ are signs of what we should do, there is the moral sense. So far as things related to eternal glory are signified, there is the analogical sense.”


Theology Class (#1 & #2): Williams, Augustine, Chesterton

For background on my reasons for posting this, see here.

Readings we discussed in class today (Tue, 2-10-09):

– Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology, prologue & ch. 1

– Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, prologue

– St. Augustine, Confessions, Bk. I.

– Chesterton, GK. “The Blue Cross” (from The Essential Father Brown).

Summary of Augustine’s Confessions, ch. 1.
God has created us with desire, desire for him. To desire is at the very depths of who we are as human persons, but only God can satisfy this desire. Which is why it is frustrating and destructive when we try to satisfy our deep desire for God with anything that is “less” than God, ie, the creatures which God has made. Christ makes it possible for our desires to be satisfied in the world, by Christ, in and even through the creation, which is intended by God to be an icon to God, and not an idol which is a (dead) end in itself.

Summary of prologue to Rowan William’s On Christian Theology. There are three registers of theology: the celebratory, the communicative, and the critical. The celebratory is the language of praise or worship of God. The communicative is the attempt to pursuade those not in the faith / tradition / church to accept the claims of theology. The critical is the church’s attempt to critique its own discourse throughout history in order to make it more honest and integral.

Summary of chapter 1 of Rowan William’s On Christian Theology. Any discourse lacks integrity when it is not really about what it claims to be about. In advertising, for example, a “text” might claim to be about the safety of your children or the attainment of satisfaction but it is really about the sale of cars or the sales of a new restaurant chain. Many theological texts claim to be about God or some aspect of God’s economy or dealings with humanity, but in fact they are really about power.

Summary of Chesterton’s “Blue Cross.” forthcoming.


“Systematic” Theology, Anglican Style

This blog is about my theological pilgrimage (Lt. peregrinatio), and so I am going to blog about an experience I am having which is profoundly important for me. I am finally experiencing, in a formal way, one way to do (“systematic”) theology postmodern, Anglican style.

I am going to try to summarize, in one paragraph each, each of the texts we read in our “Theology I: God and Creation” class taught by Tony Baker at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX.

I do want to call attention to the selection of the texts we are reading in this class (which is sort of the first forray into theology which MDiv students at this Episcopal seminary are getting). I am grateful for my training at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, but it is interesting to compare in contrast the assigned readings in this this class versus what we were assigned to read at Westminster. I am pretty sure that, at Westminster, we did not read anything older than the reformation (in formal theology classes), and nothing from outside the Reformed tradition. (I will get back to this point and confirm it or correct it later.)

First Summary: here.

Here is the assortment of texts, portions of which we are assigned in this theology class at SSW:

Augustine, The Confessions.

Chesterton, GK. Father Brown: The Essential Tales.

Floresky, Pavel. The Pillar and Ground of the Truth.

Pickstock, Catherine. Asyndeton: Syntax and Insanity: a Study of Revision of the Nicene Creed.

Origen. Commentary on the Gospel of John.

De Lubac. Henri. Medieval Exegesis.

Augustine. On Christian Doctrine.

Hooker, Richard. Ecclesiastical Polity.

Maurice, FD. Theological Essays.

Solovyov. Vladimir. Lectures on Divine Humanity.

Florensky, Pavel. The Pillar and Ground of Truth.

Von Balthassar, Hans urs. Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, Volume IV: The Actions.

Gregory of Nyssa. Concerning We Should Not Think of Saying That There are Not Three Gods.

Johnson, Elizabeth. Basic Linguistic Options: God, Women, Equilavence.

St. Anselm: Proslogium.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent.

Borges, Jorges Luis. Funes, the Memorious.

Bonhoeffer, Deitrich. Letters and Papers from Prison.

Weinandy, Thomas G. Does God Suffer?

Edwards, Jonathan. Ethical Writings.

Sayers, Dorothy. The Mind of the Maker.

Gregory of Nyssa. On the Making of Man.

Williams, Rowan. On Christian Theology.

Bauerschmidt. Holy Teaching.

Tanner, Kathryn. God, Jesus, and the World.


Essential Quotations

“Since to live is to recognize and be recognized, to live is to philosophize. Perhaps this is true for all finite existences to some degree, but it is certainly so for animals and still more for human animals. To live is to construct an ontology: one that must ceaselessly be revised by the vicissitudes of events and encounters, and so be rendered constantly questionable, problematic, and provisional. The requirements of bodily practice–of survival, protection, and enjoyment–necessitate a perpetual contemplation, or referral to the ordinances of space, time, and being, if one is to discriminate and not to perish.”–Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, 2.

“The doctrine of the Trinity is only possible as a piece of baffled theology, so to speak.”–Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, 172.

“For sanctification consists in this, that virtues, which are the loins of the mind, are transformed in God.”–Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexaëmeron, XVIII.13.

“Beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, you will be able to nourish true virtue, and become the friend of God.” – Plato (Symposium, Speech of Diotima, at the very end of it).

“Christ is present to us in so far as we are present to each other.” — Herbert McCabe.

“Dogmas must be nothing other than aspects of the love which manifests itself yet remains mystery within revelation; if they are no longer this, then gnosis has triumphed over love, reason has conquered God, and at this instant— first in theology, then in the Church, then in the world — God is ‘dead’.”–Hans urs von Balthassar.

“Legend has it that in an argument with a cardinal, Napoleon pointed out that he had the power to destroy the church. ‘Your majesty,’ the cardinal replied, ‘we, the clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last eighteen hundred years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.'”– from Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, 49.

“If Eros, put most generally, is longing, then the philosopher who pursues the knowledge he does not have could be considered erotic. He longs for knowledge. If the need to know is what is most characteristically human, then such philosophical Eros is connected with pleasure, a very powerful pleasure, and this would account for the philosopher’s continuing his uncompleted quest, which might appear to be very bleak without such accompanying pleasure.” — Allan Bloom, “The Ladder of Love,” in Seth Bernadete, _Plato’s Symposium_, 56.

“… the suggestion that our concepts could somehow be enlarged somehow to capture the unconditioned was an illusion, and it was an illusion which was most dangerous in that it obscured from us the actual commerce with the unconditioned which we continually enjoy.” – Donald McKinnon, quoted in Fergus Kerr, _After Aquinas_, 22-23.

“The good of the city appears to be something greater and more complete [than that of the individual]: the good of the individual is certainly desirable enough, but that of a nation and of cities is nobler and more divine.” – Aristotle, NE, I.3 (1094b5).

“Omega revolvit ad alpha.” – Jerome, quoted in Ratzinger’s _Theology of History_, 113.

“The beast that bears you fastest to perfection is suffering.” – Meister Eckhart.

“Whenever the strength of a belief strongly steps into the foreground, we must infer a certain weakness of demonstrability and the improbability of that belief.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Toward the Genealogy of Morals: a Polemic, III, 24, 1887.

“I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.” – Chesterton.

“I beseech you, therefore, be transformed. Resolve to know that in you there is a capacity to be transformed.” – Origen, in Peter Brown, The Body & Society, 162.

“The usefulness of incomplete representations of ancient things is, so far as I can see, the only reason for feeding scholars.” – Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, 2.

“For no one is in any way disposed for divine contemplation that leads to mystical ecstasy unless like Daniel he is a man of desires.” – St. Bonaventure.

“One possible definition of modernity is: the social order in which religion is no longer fully integrated into and identified with a particular cultural life-form, but acquires autonomy, so that it can survive in different cultures. This extraction enables religion to globalize itself (there are Christians, Muslims, and Budhists everywhere today); on the other hand, the price to be paid is that religion is reduced to a secondary phenomenon with regard to the secular functioning of the social totality. In this new global order, religion has two possible roles: therapeutic or critical. It either helps individuals to function better in the social order, or it tries to assert itself as a critical agency articulating what is wrong with this order as such, a space for the voices of discontent–in this second case, religion as such tends toward assuming the role of a heresy.” Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, 3.

“There is no more dreary or more repulsive creature than the man who has evaded his genius.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (quoted in James Miller, _The Passion of Michel Foucault_, 71).

“The lord whose oracle is at Delphi neither conceals nor reveals, but gives a sign.” [Ho anax hou to manteion esti to en delphois oute legei oute kruptei alla sêmainei.] – Heraclitus (DK22B93).

“Socrates, as one who in engaged in unlimited questioning, is compelled to carry this questioning so far that finally he must question the questioning itself, must ask, ‘What about the what?’ ‘Why the why?’ And even if he should resist this radicalization of his questioning, it is forced upon him when the men of Athens bring him to trial precisely because of what his incessant questioning has provoked. What is crucial is that Socrates ‘answers’ the second-order question, the question about questioning, by setting his practice back upon a mythos. He confronts this most dangerous question–the question which amounts to a calling of questioning, of his practice, into question–by explicitly attaching his practice to a mythos, that is, to a basis that is not immediately dissolved by the reiterated recoil of questioning upon itself.” – John Sallis, Being and Logos, 27.

“To think that you are not following a rule is to follow a rule.” – Wittgenstein

“We are working for the Communitarian revolution to oppose both the rugged individualism of the capitalist era, and the collectivism of the Communist revolution. We are working for the Personalist revolution because we believe in the dignity of man, the temple of the Holy Ghost, so beloved by God that He sent his Son to take upon Himself our sins and die an ignominious and disgraceful death for us. We are Personalists because we believe that man, a person, a creature of body and soul, is greater than the State, of which as an individual he is part. We are Personalists because we oppose the vesting of all authority in the hands of the State instead of in the hands of Christ the King. We are Personalists because we believe in free will, and not in … economic determination.” – Dorothy Day (quoted in Stratford Caldecott, “Beyond Left and Right”

“At every moment, step by step, one must confront what one is thinking and saying with what one is doing, what one is.” – Michel Foucault, in James Miller, _The Passion of Michel Foucault_, 9.

“… [M]an is not simply and entirely man, and therefore is not substance after all. For what he is he owes to other things which are not man.” – Boethius, De Trinitiate

“In the mid-second century Papias of Hierapolis felt nearer to the authentic tradition when speaking with those who could recall the oral teaching of the apostolic and sub-apostolic age, than when reading books.” – Henry Chadwick, “Tradition, Fathers, and Councils” in _The Study of Anglicanism_.

“Individualism is a denial that life has any meaning except the gratification of the ego; in politics it must end in anarchy. It is not possible for one man to be both Christian and Individualist.” Russell Kirk, “Academic Freedom.”

“People who think they have no belief quite often say they want to pray but they do not know who or what they could be praying to. Aquinas would not say to such people, ‘Ah, but you see, if you became a believer, a Christian, we would change all that. You would come to understand to whom you are praying.’ Not at all. He would say to such people, ‘If you became a Christian you would stop being surprised or ashamed of your condition. You would be happy with it. For faith would assure you that you could not know what God is until he reveals himself to us openly.'” Herbert McCabe, “A Very Short Introduction ot Aquinas,” 94-111. In Faith Within Reason. New York, Continuum, 2007.

“The ears of the common people are holier than the hearts of the priests.” – John Henry Newman.

“Language … is not an abstract construction of the learn’d, or of dictionary-makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground. Its final decisions are made by the masses, people nearest the concrete, having most to do with actual land and sea. It impermeates all, the Past as well as the Present, and is the grandest triumph of the human intellect. ” [Whitman, “Slang in America;” H/T Kris Lundgaard]

“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.” – Chesterton.

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – Chesterton.

“God has brought me to Kentucky…the precise place he has chosen for my sanctification.” – Thomas Merton [H/T David Cassidy]

“Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.” – Chesterton on Santa Claus.

“‘I heard your voice behind me,’ (Ezek 3:12) calling me to return. And I could hardly hear because of the hubbub of people who know no peace. Now, see, I am returning hot and panting to your spring. Let no one stand in my path. Let me drink this and live by it. May I not be my own life. On my own resources I lived evilly. To myself I was death. In you I am recovering life. Speak to me, instruct me, I have put faith in your books. And their words are mysteries indeed.” Augustine, Confessions XII.x(10).

“A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves out to achieve instead – often not recognizing fully what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming age of barbarism and darkness.” – Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue.

“For Dante and Aquinas, then, the universe meant something; it made sense; it had order. And the order was a Christian order. This order God Himself had revealed. But how was one to fit into this ordered scheme, based on revelation, the findings of natural reason, as arrived at by the great pagan philosophies? Obviously, something had to be done about it. Either one must say, with Turtullian, that all human reason, and consequently all philosophy, art, and literature not supernaturally revealed, was nothing and worse than nothing – which was the position taken up later by the Calvinists and the modern Barthians…. Or one must find a means of reconciliation, which would fit all these human activities into the revealed order of things, and permit Christianity to follow the way of Affirmation along with (though not necessarily instead of) the way of Negation. This was the second great crisis at which the Church had been faced with this choice, and for the second time she decided against Turtullian. She decided to include rather than to exclude. She made it possible to sanctify the reason and the arts. For the second time in her history she set free and blessed all the images.” – Dorothy Sayers, “The Divine Poet and the Angelic Doctor,” in Further Papers on Dante (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1957), 43.

“The world will be saved through beauty.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

“… once one has realized, following the great English literary visionaries William Shakespeare and Thomas Nashe, that sexual puritanism, political disciplinarianism, and abuse of the poor are the result of the refusal of true Christianity … one is led to articulate a more incarnate, more participatory, more aesthetic, more erotic, more socialized, even a more ‘Platonic’ Christianity.” – John Milbank

“Christian theology is a hair’s breadth away from nihilism.” – John Milbank

“Man is what he eats.” – Alexander Schmemann

“Academic theology is false.” – Alexander Schmemann

“It takes the whole church to know the whole truth.” – Rowan Williams

“We imagine the past, and remember the future.” – Carlos Fuentes

“The mind, unless it is pure and holy, cannot see God.” – Seneca

“The glory of God is the human being, fully alive.” – St. Ireneaus

“In the post-Christian world, all Christians will be mystics.” – Karl Rahner (loosely attributed)

“The depths of the self are the heights of God.” – James Finley

“Our social program begins with the dogma of the Holy Trinity.” – Nikolai Fyodorov

“The whole story of creation, incarnation, and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ’s body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God’s giving that God’s self makes in the life of the Trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this, so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.” – Rowan Williams

“Traditions, when vital, embody continuities of conflict. Indeed when a tradition becomes Burkean, it is always dying or dead.” Alisdair MacIntyre (After Virtue, 3rd ed., 222).

“Experiences of the first order, of the first rank, are not realized through the eye.” – Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.” – Martin Luther

“[Knowledge is governed not by] a theory of knowledge, but by a theory of discursive practice.” – Michel Foucault (quoted in Graham Ward, Cities of God, 17)

“Desire within the postmodern city can never come to an end – or the market would cease.” – Graham Ward

“The Bible gives no hint that a Christian “belief system” might be isolated from the life of the Church, subjected to scientific analysis, and have its truth compared with competing “belief systems.” – Peter Leithart

“Live as though you were dying every day….” St. Antony, according to Athanansius in his Life of St. Antony.

“In conformity with the philosophy of Christ, let us make of our life a training for death.” – Maximus the Confessor.

“Beyond the desert of criticism, we wish to be called again.” – Paul Ricoeur (in The Symbolism of Evil).

“Our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves, and of our visible, sensible world.” – TS Eliot

“Like all the best radical positions, then, mine is a thoroughly traditionalist one.” Terry Eagleton, _Literary Theory_ (2nd ed.) 179.

“The true way to worship the saints is to imitate their virtues, and they care more for this than for a hundred candles…. You venerate the bones of Paul laid away in a shrine, but not the mind of Paul, enshrined in his writings.” Erasmus, quoted in Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 72.

“He who fears hell runs toward it.” Luther, quoted in Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 75.

“… if one denies all hierarchy, all that remains is the hierarchy of money and brute force.” Unknown, quoted here:

“… facts, like telescopes and wigs for gentlemen, were a seventeenth century invention.” – Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice, Whose Rationality? (4th ed) 357.

“We no longer know, it is said, how to restore certain colors in the stained-glass windows of the cathedral at Chartres.” Josef Pieper.

“Man is emphatically self-made.” – Cardinal John Henry Newman, Grammar of Ascent (1979), 274.

“Our own self-awareness arises not in the Cartesian cogito, but in our finding ourselves in relation to other beings in whom we both actively recognize and do not recognize our own subjectivity, in an inexhaustible dialectic.” – John Milbank, The Word Made Strange, 125.

“Poetry is language trying to become bodily experience.” – Herbert McCabe.

“Neither for Augustine himself nor for any thinker in the Augustinian tradition is a true philosophy, distinct and separate from theology, even possible.” – A.H. Hilary.

“Morality which is no particular socity’s morality is to be found nowhere.” – Alasdair MacIntyre, postscript to 2nd ed. of After Virtue, p 266.

What we call “nature” is merely one mode of the disclosure of the “supernatural,” and natural reason merely one mode of revelation, and philosophy merely one (feeble) mode of reason’s ascent into the light of God. Nowhere, not even in the sciences, does there exist a “purely natural” realm of knowledge. To encounter the world is to encounter its being, which is gratuitously imparted to it from beyond the sphere of natural causes, known within the medium of an intentional consciousness, irreducible to immanent processes, that grasps finite reality only by being oriented toward a horizon of transcendental ends (or, better, “divine names”). There is a seamless continuity between the sight of a rose and the mystic’s vision of God; the latter is in fact implicit in the former, and saturates it, and but for this supernatural surfeit nothing natural could come into thought.” – David Bentley Hart. 

“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can a say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ The old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.'” – Joseph of Panephysis, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

“Without the cross the Discipline of Confession would be merely therapeutic. But it is so much more. It involves an objective [a better word would have been “metaphysical”] change in our relationship with God and a subjective change in us. It is a means of healing and transforming the inner spirit.” – Richard Foster, _Celebration_, 144.

“It is the absolute primacy of possibility over actuality that constitutes the mark of modern metaphysics.” – Adrian Pabst.

“… Suarez, both in his preoccupations and in his methods, was already a distinctively modern thinker, perhaps more authentically than Descartes the founder of modern philosophy.” – Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions, p. 73.


The Church’s Organ of Unity: Dioceses, not Provinces

During this sad time of division in the church, fundamental matters of ecclesiology come to the fore again with a new urgency.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recently re-articulated one such fundamental matter: that the basic organ of the church which binds the catholic church together is the diocese, centered on the bishop, and not the province (or the congregation, for that matter). See here.

This catholic and patristic perspective is definitely shared by and elaborated on by the Windsor Report and the proposed covenant, as well as the theology (ie, the communion ecclesiology of John Zizioulas and others) and texts (ie, The Virginia Report as well as The Church of the Triune God: The Cypress Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican – Orthodox Theological Dialogue) upon which they rest.


God’s Acceptance or God’s Redemption? Phil Turner on the Episcopal Church

Phil Turner, here, argues that the current malaise of the Episcopal Church is not simply about morality, but rather about theology, the “working theology” of a church which is not so much found in the church’s official documents, books, and creeds as much as, for example, from the Sunday pulpit, week in and week out. Turner writes:

For those who view the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops and its General Convention from the out­side, many of their recent actions may seem to repre­sent a denial of something fundamental to the Chris­tian Way of life. But for many inside the Episcopal Church, the equation of the Gospel and social justice constitutes a primary expression of Christian truth. This isn’t an ethical divide about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It’s a theological chasm – one that separates those who hold a theology of divine acceptance from those who hold a theology of divine redemption.”

Acceptance versus redemption. What a wonderful way to put it. Anyone who has been in a real relationship knows that true friendship, true love, involves much more than mere acceptance. It involves things like confrontation and admonition. It involves honest pleas for change in behavior and attitude. Such is the love of God for us. Which is why God’s relationship with his church and his world is best thought of as redemption, not mere acceptance.

And what is most encouraging to me is that two of the men who have taught me this more than anyone else are currently serving as global leaders of the worldwide Anglican communion. Their names are Tom Wright and Rowan Williams, and both would heartily agree with Phil Turner’s diagnosis of the Episcopal Church’s current malady.


Archbishop of Canterbury & Sharia (preliminary thoughts)

For background on this issue see this article, and also see Jon Barlow’s blog post (and don’t overlook the insightful comments).

While on the one hand Rowan is far from “calling for the introduction of sharia into British law,” it is true that he is suggesting, and beginning to articulate in public, a different kind of politics, and alternative politics which is rooted in the political theology of Radical Orthodoxy.

Some thoughts:

1. When it comes to the larger culture, the church has two vocations: to convert, and / or to suffer as martyr. Great wisdom is required to discern when and how to apply these two vocations.
2. England, like the US, is no longer a Christian nation. (Actually, it is debatable if the US, unlike England, ever was a Christian nation in any meaningful sense.) Modern England is a modern nation state which participates in the grand Enlightenment political project of privatizing religion in the name of creating a public space for diversity and tolerance. This, however, presupposes an ontology of original violence (in radical opposition to the Christian ontology of original, edenic peace) and actually serves as a mechanism for the state to tyrannize and control the public according to its own needs.
3. The archbishop’s suggestion of an eventual recognition of sharia in the UK (a nation which, like its neighbor France, is increasingly populated by Middle Eastern people, many of whom are Muslims) is a slight move to undermine the hegemony of the modern nation state. This is a state, remember, which plunged itself into the “Iraq War” in an alleged claim to be fighting forces of evil, a claim which grows more dubious with every passing day. (Note: Archbishop Rowan did not “call for” the inclusion of sharia into the British legal system; he merely said that such a development is inevitable, suggesting that such an inevitable development would be a good thing.)
4. This is not to sanction sharia in every sense, or to deny that it itself sometimes legitimates violence against women, etc. Rather, what is going on here is an attempt to give a religious community the right to practice its politics, to bind itself together, publicly and without domination by the modern nation state.
5. What, then, of cultural Christianity and its dominance in the West? Two things to keep in mind: first Williams does not consider the modern nation state of England to be Christian in any meaningful sense, and, secondly, he senses that it is time in the West for the Church to let go of secular power and to begin to practice her second calling, that of martyrdom.

For credible detailed analysis of his comments, see this.


What I’m Reading

Books I am reading this year (in addition to reading for my classes):

1. Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. [finished]

2. Henri de Lubac, Catholicism. [finished]

3. Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain. [finished]

4. Walker Percy, Lancelot.

5. George Herring, What was the Oxford Movement?

6. Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter.

7. John Zizioulas, Being and Communion. [finished]

8. Zadie Smith, On Beauty.

9. George Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism.

10. James Martin, A Jesuit Off-Broadway.

11. Rowan Williams. Anglican Identities.

12. Peter Leithart. The Baptized Body.

13. Hans Urs von Balthassar. The Theology of Henri de Lubac. [finished]

14. John Milbank. The Suspended Middle.

15. Margaret Duggan. Runcie.

16. The Journals of Alexander Schmemann.

17. Peter Candler. Theology, Rhetoric, and Manaduction. [finished]

18. James Jordan, Handwriting on the Wall.

19 John Moses, A Broad and Living Way.

20. Leonel Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing.

21. George Lindbeck, et al, The Nature of Confession: Evangelicals and Postliberals in Diaglogue.

22. Helen Hanff, Q’s Legacy

23. Helen Hanff, 84, Charing Cross Road


Must-reads in Political Theology

Berry, Wendell. Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community

Cavanaugh, William. Torture and Eucharist

Cavanaugh, William. Theopolitcal Imagination

Gornik, Mark. To Live in Peace

Jordan, James. Sociology of the Church

Leithart, Peter. Against Christianity

Liethart, Peter. The Kingdom and the Power

MacIntyre, Alistair. After Virtue

Milbank, John. Theology and Social Theory

O’Donnovan, Oliver. The Desire of the Nations

Pickstock, Catherine. After Writing

Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace

Wright, N.T. Bringing the Church to the World

Ward, Graham. Cities of God

William, Rowan. On Christian Theology


_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.


Palamas & God’s “Acts of Self-manifestation”

In his Aristotle East and West, David Bradshaw writes, “One way to look at Palamas is as inviting us to reconceive what have traditionally been regarded as distinct categories — the eternal, necessary divine attributes [on the one hand], and contingent, temporal divine divine activities [on the other hand] — as species within a broader genus, that of acts of self-manifestation.” (274)

The context here is that, for Palamas (and Dionysius?) God’s energies are eternal acts of self-manifestation on the part of God that “happen” “within” the Holy Trinity “before creation,” and ad extra trinitatis after creation.

Becuase God’s energies also encompasses inner-Trinitarian manifestation(s) (which, again, along with “contingent, temporal activities” [274] fall under an overarching genus) it is not necessarily the case that the eternality of God’s energeiai implicate Palamas as affirming “a kind of organic unity with the creation” (as Rowan Williams accuses him of  in his 1977 article “The Philosophical Structures of Palamism”).

The EO (Eastern Orthodox) view of the divine energies doesn’t implicate EO in pantheism. To say that it does is to fail to appreciate the “pre-creational,” inner-Trinitarian character / aspect of the divine energies.

In this passage in his book Bradshaw goes on to say, “It is interesting in this connection that at least some divine attributes, such as truth and righteousness, are spoken of in Scripture as activities to be performed.” He then lists a footnote with several Bible verses, both NT and OT.



For Matt’s bio, see here and here.

For Matt’s C.V., see here.

Update: March 5, 2019.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a week in Maynooth, checking off some additional boxes, working on a couple of tasks which are necessary for the completion of my PhD in philosophy. Here, in a nutshell, is where I’m at:

  1. I submitted my first chapter (which is also my second “unit,” since it follows on a lengthy, 11,000 word introduction and statement of method). This first chapter is a curated historical introduction to both Bonaventure and Ratzinger.
  2. I officially asked Professors John Milbank and William Desmond to serve as the examiners at my dissertation defense (in Anglophone Europe called a “viva”), which means, among other things, that both of these towering scholar leaders will be reading my dissertation … and they both said “yes!”
  3. I participated in a colloquium on St. Augustine’s Confessions, Book XI (which includes his treatment of time), together with John Milbank, William Desmond, Philipp Rosemann, and Phillip Gonzales (of the University of Dallas, Rome Campus). This served as the partial fulfillment of a requirement as part of the PhD program at Maynooth. (I will also be submitting a journal article in connection with this gathering.)

Update: December 26, 2018.

It was a joy to spend about a week with Dr. Rosemann last summer (during my sabbatical, spent mostly at the Institut Papst Benedikt XVI in Regensburg) on campus, while staying at the historical and picturesque St. Patrick’s College, and I will visit again this coming February for a colloquium on Book XI of Augustine’s Confessions. While there I will also meet with William Desmond and John Milbank to discuss my work and invite them to serve on my committee.

The process of writing the dissertation has been challenging. After an initial “burst” of success during last summer’s sabbatical in Europe, this semester has been marked by, among other events, the death of my mother, Rosemary, R.I.P.

Yet I am encouraged today, because of an email I received this morning, in which Dr. Rosemann responded to my revision of the first “unit” of my dissertation (the Introduction and Statement of Method) with minimal revisions requested.

I think this means that I am now on my way to getting the dissertation written. With the first of six units under my belt, I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Update in May, 2018.

Very soon after passing comprehensive exams (see below), my advisor Dr. Philipp Rosemann notified me that he was departing the University of Dallas–where I had been studying under him for about five years–to take over the chair of the philosophy department of Maynooth University, on of four campuses of the National University of Ireland, about 25 kilometers outside of city center Dublin.

He also invited me to accompany him in this transition.

While eternally grateful for my education at the University of Dallas, I nevertheless agreed to “follow” Dr. Rosemann to MU, in order to finish my dissertation under him.

Update in May, 2017.

After five years of grueling coursework at the University of Dallas, and one Master’s Degree later, I am finally “ABD,” or “all but dissertation.” That is, I passed my comprehensive exams (oral and written) for my PhD program, and now will turn my attention to my dissertation, under the direction of Dr. Rosemann (see below), which will treat Joseph Ratzinger’s _The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure_.

Update on April 28, 2012

After more than a decade of praying, planning, dreaming, and scheming I have finally been given a wide open door to pursue graduate work in philosophy / theology (having been admitted to and funded for the PhD program at the University of Dallas with Professor Philipp Rosemann).

I will begin this fall, even while remaining in my position as Asst. Rector at Christ Church in Tyler. My plan is to commute to UD twice per week.

For more on the program I’ll be involved in, see here and here.

My areas of interest at this point include the relationship between philosophy and theology; the theoretical conversation between Thomas Aquinas, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Luc Marion on metaphysics and ontology; faith and reason in Aquinas; the question “What comes after post-structuralism?”; sex and gender issues after post-structuralism; Wittengstein on language; Slavoj Zizek; the methodology (or lack thereof) of Radical Orthodoxy.

Update on July 3, 2010

As of tomorrow (Sunday, July 4, 2010) I will be the new Assistant Rector at Christ Church (Episcopal) in Tyler, Texas. Although I never could have imagined that we would live in Tyler, God has clearly been at work in this move. I am excited about the parish here and my work in it (including the launching of a new ministry / service, as well as working with the gifted and godly rector, David Luckenbauch). Just as important, my girls (Bouquet, Bella, and Ellie) are just as excited as I am.

As a little taste of our new life here, our house is 70 years old, with big trees in the yard, less than a mile from my office! Life, and God, are good. I am grateful to him, as well as to Christ Church.

Update on July 15, 2009.

Last Saturday, the vestry of St. Richard’s Episcopal Church in Round Rock, TX (15 miles north of our house) confirmed my call to be the Assistant to the Rector at this parish, marking (in my mind at least) the end of a five year vocational transition during which I was cared for by God at every step through the wilderness.

Today is my first day “on the job,” and I am scheduled to be ordained to the diaconate in the fall and to the priesthood in the summer of 2010.

I am grateful to the many brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas who have shepherded me through this process into Holy Orders. I am deeply grateful to be a (potential) presbyter in this Anglican branch of the Catholic tradition (God willing).

February 2007

I (Matt Boulter) am a former Presbyterian minister in Austin (having recently demitted my orders in the South Texas Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America), the husband of a beautiful woman Bouquet (who has the sensibilities of a medieval troubador, with a smattering of hobbit-like qualities, combined with an embodied concern for the poor and oppressed) and the father of Isabella Ruth (age four) and Eleanor Bay (age five months).

We live in urban Austin, and I have just ended a wonderful three year pastoral season with Christ the King Presbyterian Church (some of my sermons can be listened to by going here) in Southwest Austin in order to seek Anglican orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. To that end I am taking about a year’s worth of classes at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest dealing with Anglican worship and history.

I love to run, to read, to drink (scotch, bourbon, dark beers and hoppy bears), and sometimes to smoke. We love to work in our garden, and long for more time to do so.

I am currently working 20 hours per week at Starbucks, and this is proving to be a stimulating experience indeed.

My most influential Christian thinkers are: C.S. Lewis, GK Chesterton, Peter Leithart, Rowan Williams, Tim Keller, Walker Percy, N.T. Wright, and Eugene Peterson. (Honorable mention: John Milbank, Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor, Alexander Schmemann, William Cavanaugh, James Jordan.)

I studied philosophy (and finance) at the University of Texas, and theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

A current interest of mine is tracing the ways in which Augustine’s doctrine of God (especially divine simplicity and God’s ousia) differs from that of the East (with its emphasis on the energies of God and also their distinctive understanding of hypostasis), and how these divergent understandings led to subsequent developments in the East and in the West. (The claim of many Eastern Orthodox writers is that much of the philosopohical — and cultural and spiritual — impoverishment in the West is traceable to very early emphases in how God is defined, articulated and understood in Latin theology.)

I am also convinced of the centrality of liturgical worship and the sacraments in the Christian life, as well as in the church’s witness to a watching world.

This blog is dedicated primarily to a discussion of (things related to) political theology, particularly with respect to Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed tradition.