Posted on: February 11th, 2010 Bishop Wright on Virtue

Followers of Bishop NT Wright (among whom I count myself, since he was a primary reason I left the PCA to become an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Texas) will know that his third (and final?) book in the series which began with Simply Christian which was then followed up with Surprised by Hope is called After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, and is, among other things, the good bishop’s treatment of the Christian tradition of virtue.

This is good news, since (in my opinion) one of the most urgent tasks for the church in terms of its current vocation in our nihilistic culture of consumeristic emotivism is training the people in virtue, closely related to what the ancient church called paideia.

For a briefer taste of what Bishop Tom is up to here, check out this video lecture, given at Fuller Seminary a few months ago.

Here are some of my notes on this lecture:

For Aristotle, happiness (eudaimonia) which is our telos as human beings, is not something that “just happens” naturally. In fact, it is something which must be intentionally chosen, and then repeatedly put into practice, such that they eventually become “second nature.”

Nothing in this is inconsistent with how God graciously saves us and sanctifies us. As Reformed theology has always insisted, sanctification is synergistic.

NTW’s three proposals:

1. Rehabilitate virtue within Christian discourse, as opposed to Enlightenment and Romantic thought.

2. “Rethinking Aristotle into a Christian Key.” The eschatological vision of “new heaven & new earth” allows us to reframe Aristotle’s theory in a new and creative way, which other virtue thinkers have yet to grasp. Reframes “ethics” (as opposed to rules or consequence calculations, that is, deontology and utlitarianism / consequentialism) within the a theology of stewardship of creation. Substitute NH&NE (“new heavens & new earth”) & resurrection for eudaimonia.

a. The telos is the NH&NE, inauged by Jesus, and completed in the future.

b. This telos is achieved thru the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus.

c. Christian living in the present consists in anticipating the NE&NE through the Spirit-led practice of the acquiring of the theological virtues of faith, hope & love wh transcend & strengthen the cardinal virtues. These sustain our present existence which already reflect God’s healing & victory & glory of the future world. A true anticipation.

3. This challenges the church in such a way to sustain the mission to which it is called.

Pelonias in Hamlet: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.”

Nobody knows the language of virtue as their mother tongue, but we do glimpse that country from afar from time to time, we pick up hints about how its language works, what patterns of brain & body are needed. The more we practice that language, the more easily familiar it will be.

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Posted on: January 1st, 2010 A Brief History of Translation: _arsenokoitai_

It is now clear to me that, in fact, there has been a significant shift in the translation of this Greek term in I Cor 6:9 and in I Tim 1:10. Wyclif’s translation in 1380 is “thei that don lecherie with men” (Webster’s definition of “lechery” is “free indulgence of lust; selfish pleasure”). Tyndale (1534), Coverdale (1535), Cranmer (1539), the Geneva Bible (1557), the KJV (1611), and the ASV (1901) render it “abusers of themselves with [the] mankind.”

In 1946 the RSV changed to “sexual perverts” and in 1973 the NIV translates it as “homosexual offenders.”

Dale B. Martin rightly describes this shift from a “reference to an action that any man [I would say “any person”] might well perform … to a perversion, either an action or a propensity taken to be self-evidently abnormal and diseased.” (Sex and the Single Savior, ch 3)

I think it is horrible to say that male-female sex & sexual desire is “normal,” while (fe)male-(fe)male sex & sexual desire is “abnormal.” This is not a theological statement. What is a theological statementis to say that male-female sex & sexual desire is creational in the sense of God’s creation-intent, while (fe)male-(fe)male sex & sexual desire is anti-creational, in the sense that, as a result of the fall, it runs counter to God’s creational intent.

Thus, I think that this 20th century shift in the translation of this term is deplorable, since it buys into the late 19th century view (documented by Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality) that same-sex attraction is a disease. It is wrong to allow such secular assumptions to creep into our translation of the Church’s sacred text(s).


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Posted on: December 31st, 2009 _Sex & the Single Savior_: Historical-Critical Method


This year (2010) I am redoubling my efforts to better develop (and justify) my convictions on same-sex issues. In addition to that, I strongly suspect that part and parcel with this process is a deeper grasp of the nature of Scripture in the Christian Tradition.

Therefore, I am reading Dale Martin’s Sex and the Single Savior (2006) with great interest. Martin identifies himself as both a “reader-response” theorist and as a post-structuralist. He thus roots himself within two schools of thought from which I have learned much over the years, and which I think ought to be incorporated into theology in a non-reductive way. That is, theology ought to be open (as Radical Orthodoxy is) to both of these ways of thinking without granting them complete hegemony over Scripture, turning it into something which they alone can define and describe. For example, reader response theory rightly points out the role of the reader’s (or the community of readers’) interpretation for meaning. However to reduce the meaning of the text down to just this aspect (thus ignoring authorial intent and the text itself) does violence to meaning.

When it comes to the biblical hermeneutics of historical criticism, whereas I would want to recognize the legitimacy of this approach as a part of the total meaning of the text (seeing a pre-modern precedent in the sensus literalis), Martin wants to discard it completely.

Only thus can Martin deny that Scripture affirms the immorality of same-sex practice, which is one of the central goals of his book.


Martin rejects all attempts to justify the use of this hermeneutic approach theologically. For example, he rejects the argument that, due to the historical nature of the Christian religion (seen for example in the doctrine of the Incarnation), historical criticism is necessary or helpful for determining the meaning of a text.

That God took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazereth is unverifiable by historical study, says Martin. And I agree with him on this. However, the point of the historical – critical method (rightly used) is not to verify the claims of Scripture or theology. This would be to subsume theology under the standards of modern science. Rather, the historical – critical method is rightly used to shed light upon the original meaning of a text (be it author’s intent or original audience’s understanding).

So the Incarnation’s unverifiability (and resultant unfalsifiability) by the canons of modern scientific study is irrelevant to the validity of the use of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.

For Origen, by way of contrast, the meaning of the terms employed by the ancient author (or authors, or redactor(s)) is helpful for understanding the original meaning of the text. This is not at all to say that the sensus literalis, was the most important sense for someone like Origen. On the contrary, Martin rightly points out that this is not the case. However, it is a crucial aspect of the full meaning of the text, and it is also first in order of sequence, serving as a foundation for other senses such as the allegorical sense.

Nothing Martin says in this book undermines such an approach.


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Posted on: December 17th, 2009 Luther on Predestination

I have been trying to relocate this Luther quotation for years, ever since my dad originally showed it to me from a service leaflet from his church, The Falls Church (Episcopal). It is vintage Luther.

When a man begins to discuss predestination, the temptation is like an inextinguishable fire; the more he disputes, the more he despairs. Our God is opposed to this disputation, and accordingly he has provided against it in baptism, the Word, the sacraments, and various signs. In these we should trust and say: “I am baptized; I believe in Jesus Christ; what does it concern me, whether or not I am predestined?” He has given us ground to stand on, that is, Jesus Christ, and through him we may climb to heaven. He is the one way and the gate to the Father. But when we begin in the devil’s name to build first on the roof above, scorning the ground, then we fall!…. I forget all that Christ and God are, when I get to thinking about this matter, and come to believe that God is a villain. We ought to remain by the Word, in which God is revealed to us and salvation offered, if we believe it. Moreover, in trying to understand predestination, we forget God, we cease to praise and we begin to blaspheme. In Christ, however, are hid all treasures; without him none may be had. Therefore we should give no place whatever to this argument concerning predestination.

A couple of thoughts about this:

1. The part about Christ, through whom we may climb to heaven, being the one way and the gate to the Father reminds me of a quotation I read recently by Hugh of St. Victor: “We travel to God along the road of God.”

2. For me this quotation of Luther’s vindicates the attempts of the “Federal Vision” folks in my former church, the PCA, in their attempts to develop a theology and practice which emphasizes visible means (evoked by the word “covenant”) over an undue stress on God’s election.

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Posted on: November 14th, 2009 Advent & Spiritual Sobriety

Why is it that Advent is not merely a time of mirthful exuberance? After all, the event we are anticipating and waiting for – the birth of Jesus – is a happy event.

Advent is, to be sure, a time of joyful expectation, but it is not just that. It is much, much more. It is tinged, it is colored with a certain sense of “Lord, have mercy on me.” Why?

To realize why this is, consider the attitudes of the two main figures which Christians have associated with Advent for the last 1600 years. First, consider John the Baptist, known in the Eastern tradition as “John the Forerunner.”

Was John exuberantly excited about Jesus? I am sure that at one level he was, but the impression we get is that John was also deeply shaken by the coming of this Jesus. He said, “When he comes, I will not even to worthy to relate to him as a slave would to his master: I will not even be worthy to untie his sandals.” He echoed the cataclysmic picture painted by Isaiah, a picture which is breathless in its anticipation of justice and salvation, but which also senses the shaking of the foundations of everything we think we know. When this Messiah comes, he will turn our worlds upside down; he will cut us to the quick.

Profound joy, mixed with deep and sober penitence.

Consider the Virgin Mary. Was Mary excited about the Redeemer of her people whose arrival was imminent? I am sure that at one level she was. But she was also barreled over with penitent humility. “How can these things be? … Here I am, your slave; have your way with me, according to your word.” Sure Mary was prostrate as she uttered these words to St. Gabriel.

Why this sober aspect of Advent? Because, to paraphrase Rowan Williams, when Jesus comes into the world it is unplanned, overwhelming, making a colossal difference. It satisfies out deepest longings, but we don’t know what it will involve, other than risk and pain, along with the restoration.

And so we can respond to Jesus by saying “No, thanks. I prefer my own darkness,” or we can say “Yes, I will take you, along with the risk and the pain.”

Either way, this is sobering if not scary stuff.

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Posted on: November 6th, 2009 The Names of God: St. Thomas on How Language Works

“The Names of God” in the Summa Theologica (Section 1.13 / Question 13)

When Thomas speaks of the “names” (Lat. nomen) of God, he means the words we use to describe God, including his “attributes,” such as “good,” “wise,” etc. (not just biblical names such as “Lion” or “Rock”). In the first section (1.13.3) Thomas argues that some of the words we use do, in fact, refer to God literally. Unlike some words such as “rock” or “strong” which are metaphorical in that they posit an analogy between God and creation, other words such as “good” are literally referential of God, even though they, too, Thomas admits, are derived from our understanding of creatures.

Literal, yes, but univocal, no, for “no name belongs to God in the same sense that it belongs to creatures.” (69) The definition of “wisdom” is dependent upon its referent. So it does not mean the same thing when referring to God as it does when referring, say, to a serpent. (Since this is the case, it seems like Thomas does not believe in univocal language at all [not just with respect to God]).

(Section 1.13.5) Words of perfection describe something in God which preexists what they describe in creatures. In fact any term of perfection, when applied to a creature, refers to something independent of the creature. For example, to call a man “good” is to invoke the objective reality of “the good” which is totally independent of the man spoken of. Not so with God, however. When we say that God is good we are not invoking some standard which God is then compared to and subsumed under. Rather, what we are signifying is not distinct from God’s “essence, power, or existence.” (70) So “good” here is not univocal: it means something different, or at least something non-univocal, when applied to God vis a vis creatures.

However, “good” here is not (purely) equivocal, either. Otherwise, we would have no knowledge of God, for language of God would always be guilty of the fallacy of equivocation.[1] Rather, language about God is analogical, since it is neither univocal nor equivocal.

Analogy functions in two ways. First, many things (two or more) can have a “proportion” (relationship?) to a third thing. For example, “healthy” can refer to urine or medicine, because both are related to a third thing: the body. Second, two things can have a relationship to each other. For example, “healthy” can refer to medicine or to an animal, since these two things are related to one another directly (ie, without a third thing). Our language about God falls under this second category. The two “things” are creation and God, and they are related in terms of cause. The perfections in the cause “preexist in the most excellent way.” (71)

Hence Thomas’ arguments about language presupposes his argument about causation, that God is the cause of creation.

Not just words are univocal or non-univocal. Agents (ie, causes and effects) are, too, since “the non-univocal agent is the universal cause of the whole series.” (My “gloss” on this: Thomas is saying that the cause “contains” the whole series. Hence its “meaning” must contain the meaning of all the effects, or something like that.)

Thomas has been presupposing that language and causality themselves are analogous or somehow related, and he makes this pruspposition explicit near then end of this section: “[This universal agent ] can be called an analogous agent, in the same way that in predication all univocal predications are traced back to the first non-univocal analogous predication, which is being.” (72) Bauerschmidt puts it nicely: “Whatever we affirm in our language involves a logically prior affirmation of some sort of being.” (72)[2]

Analogical language lies between univocal language and equivocal language. Hence our language about God is true, although it still contains an element of non-fixedness or perhaps ambiguity.

I find it interesting that, throughout this entire discussion, Thomas is speaking about God as if God were not incarnate. I am not suggesting that this is inappropriate. However, it does seem that in the Incarnation opens up whole new possibilities between God and man. For now, in Jesus, there is not an analogy between God and man, but a unity or an identity.

[1] Question: Does Thomas think that language is prior to thought, ie, that no thought is possible apart from language, and that all thought is in effect linguistic? I don’t think he thinks this. What “camps” of thinkers historically have thought this? (Phenomenologists?)

[2] So this means, then, that unicorns exist in some sense. (In the mind?)

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Posted on: October 15th, 2009 The Trisagion

During Advent at St. Richard’s we will be using the hauntingly beautiful words and melody of the Trisagion (“Thrice Holy”) during the first portion of the service of the Word (ie, during the synaxis)  in our Eucharistic services.

Quoting from Howard Galley’s The Ceremonies of the Eucharist (p. 81):

The Trisagion is a text drawn from the entrance rite of the Byzantine liturgy. It became widely popular, and was taken into regular use by many other liturgies, both eastern and western. The chief exception is the Roman rite, in which it is used only on Good Friday. The present Prayer Book is the first Anglican liturgy to include it. The rubrics (p. 406) provide that it may be sung three times, which is recommended here, or antiphonally, which is the traditional western method….

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Posted on: September 2nd, 2009 Verse & Quote of the Day

“O Lord, you know all my desires,

and my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Ps 38:9)

“God is not the kind of father who casts off sick and erring children; if he were, he would have no children.” – Martin Luther.

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Posted on: August 15th, 2009 John Calvin: Anti-ritual?

Peter Leithart, in Against Christianity (p 89), writes

… Calvin was fatally wrong in suggesting that [the Roman Church’s] Galatianism was found wherever there is an emphasis on ritual per se. Calvin notwithstanding, the redemptive-historical move that the New Testament announces is not from ritual to non-ritual, from an Old Covenant economy of signs to a New Covenant economy beyond signs. The movement instead is from rituals and signs of distance and exclusion (the temple veil, cutting of the flesh, sacrificial smoke ascending to heaven, laws of cleanliness) to signs and rituals of inclusion and incorporation (the rent veil, the common baptismal bath, the common meal)…. Rituals are as essential to the New Covenant order as to the Old; they are simply different rituals.

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Posted on: August 9th, 2009 Curate Camp & “Postmodernism”

I am encouraged by what I experienced this last Thursday and Friday at our monthly diocesan gathering of curates. One of my new curate friends was telling me that I should read some contemporary author on politics and natural rights theory, and while doing this I could tell that he had a very negative view of “postmodernism.” As I heard him talk, I asked if he was influenced by Francis Schaeffer, and sure enough, he is a big fan.

This is the same basic conversation I have been having for almost 15 years now, so I thought I would just state what I mean by “postmodernism.”

What I mean by it is simply antifoundationalism. It is basically the admission that the modern followers of Neitzche, including Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard, have successfully put forth a genealogical critique of modern (and therefore, secular) ethics, showing it to be grounded not in some ontological reality but rather in various versions of a will-to-power. This move is known as a hermeneutic of suspicion.

Now,  “good postmodernists” both agree with these post-Neitzcheans, and disagree with them. They agree that there is value in genealogy as a way to see where so many of the conditions of our time which seem to us as “self-evident truths” actually came from, but they disagree that this history is just a chain of arbitrary transitions. Rather history is a story of “constant, contingent shifts either toward or away from … the true human telos.” (Theology and Social Theory 279)

The good postmodernists agree in the validity of an ontology of difference, but this difference is not necessarily violent, not “equivocal at variance,” but rather rooted, ultimately, in the difference within the Trinity and therefore within humanity (as image of God). This difference, then, is, at its truest level, a harmonious difference.

These two presuppositions of secular postmodernism (genealogical historicism and an ontology of difference), therefore are embraced and modified by us “good postmodernists.” The third premise of secular postmodernism, which flows from the other two, and is utterly rejected by Christian theology, is ethical nihilism. This premise is more complicated, since almost none of the contemporary or recent neo-Nietzcheans actually embrace this nihilism. Actually, they sneak in, through the back door, an ahistorical Kantian self whose freedom must then be protected by someone … someone, that is, with power. Thus, for these neo-Nietzcheans, “the protection of the equality of freedom … collapses into the promotion of an inequality of power.” (Theology and Social Theory, 279)

By the way, there are planty of foundationalists in the Episcopal Church, but there are a whole, whole lot more in the PCA.

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Posted on: July 13th, 2009 Hooker, Herbert, & “Contemplative Pragmatism”

More from Rupert Shortt’s autobiography of Rowan Williams, Rowan’s Rule (p 346-7):

“Richard Hooker … thought that the ordering of the household of faith required what Rowan terms ‘contemplative pragmatism:’ ‘pragmatic’ because sin makes the Church more muddled than the tidy-minded are prepared to allow, but ‘contemplative’ as well, owing to the ‘hidden action of God beneath the generally unbroken surface of the world’s processes.’ Hooker habitually warned his hearers of what an inexact science theology is. As Rowan reminds us, George Herbert gave a similar warning about spiritual experience. In other words, there should be room in the Church for those hanging on by their fingertips, as well as for the firm in faith.”

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Posted on: May 8th, 2009 Candler on Participation & Representation

In his Theology, Rhetoric, and Manuduction, Peter Candler “defines” participation and representation (p. 34):

By ‘participation’ I refer to an ontological principle by which creatures ‘are’ by analogy to the way in which God ‘is,’ but also the notion that sacra doctrina is a kind of scientia which participates in God’s knowledge of himself, and is therefore not something superadded to God.

And again,

Representation … is a matter of immediate apprehension by virtue of an exterior sign, and is removed from the variables of time and human communities. As such, representation is the fundamental philosophical and theological strategy of modernity.

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Posted on: May 6th, 2009 Genealogy of Modern Thomism

I have been trying to map out the genealogy of modern Thomist movements (using Fergus Kerr’s Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians as well as The Cambridge Companion to Christian Thought), and here is what I found:

1. Leo XIII decided to “revive scholastic philosophy and theology which had fallen largely out of use,” and issues Aeterni Patris (1879), to “advocate the return of the church to ‘the wisdom of St. Thomas.’” (“Thomism [1], modern, Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, 703).

2. Desire Mercier, at the Higher Institute of Philosophy (which he himself established in Louvain in 1889) was able to bring (the study of) Thomism and scholasticism into dialogue with the contemporary scene, largely due to the fact that he was working in the vernacular (French), as opposed to many of his contemporaries at monastic schools, etc., who were required to write in Latin.

3. Thus the study of Thomism and scholasticism begins to gain currency in the late 19 century. Enter Maurice Blondel and Henri Bergson, who (were perceived to have) resonated with many aspects of Thomism. Many Catholic thinkers begin to be attracted to them.

4. But due to the non-Catholic aspects of some of their thought, they also cause something of a scare, and this prompts  a reaction (including Pius VII’s Humani Generis in 1950). Garrigou-Langrange and Gardiel, both 20th century Thomists who were reacting against (the catholic attraction to) Blondel and Bergson, both ground the mind’s immediate grasp of reality in the stable concept of being abstracted from the object of sense experience, thus securing a longed for stability. This sounds like representation to me. Garrigou constructed “a Thomistic metaphysics and philosophy of God grounded upon the three degrees of abstraction he had inherited from Cajetan, the 16th-century Dominican commentator on Thomas.” (“Thomism (1), modern” 704) Maritain (like Garrigou, a Dominican) was deeply influenced by Garrigou (especially his Cajetan view of the three degrees of abstraction), but also by Bergson (an influence he never superceded). Maritain is a “systematic neo-Thomist.”

5. Etiene Gilson. Gilson, the hallmark of whose work is a close textual attentiveness to the medievals (Augustine, Bonaventure, Thomas, and Duns Scotus) opposed Maritain’s proclivity toward abstraction as a basis for knowledge, and claimed that this kind of neo-sholasticism is not Thomistic. Gilson limited his work, however, by and large, to historical study of Thomas’ text.

6. Balthassar, de Lubac, Congar are more properly thought of as humanist Thomists, following Gilson, and are critical of Thomist scholasticism, including its Baroque and Twentieth Century retrievals.

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Posted on: April 21st, 2009 Liturgical View of Scripture (III): History

Intro to this series. Part I. Part II.

Now for some history.

Another anecdote. In a liturgy class here we were discussing the Didache. Modern scholarship now dates it at 100 CE. Now, what is interesting about the Didache (among other things) is that the Eucharistic liturgy it gives us is in certain very important ways continuous with the way that the church (many branches of it) continued to celebrate the Eucharist down through the centuries. The Didache has the same shape or structure (in important respects) as both the Eastern Orthodox Church has always had as well as the Roman Catholic Church. It is this shape or structure which is then recovered in the 19th and 20th century “liturgical renewal movement” (eg, Dom Gregory Dix) and then imported back into many Protestant churches (including Anglicanism).

The preceding paragraph allows us to say that the liturgy of the church predates (at least much of) the NT documents. We know that if they were worshiping in a particular way in the year 100, then (because liturgy is inherently conservative) they were worshipping that way in the year AD 60.

Hence, liturgy is older than Scripture. Now what, exactly, does that “prove?” I am not quite sure, but this realization has had the effect on me of opening my mind to the possibility that Scripture is something which somehow belongs “within” the liturgy. And I think one could develop this in many ways, including the very liturgy of the didache which is consistent with “the Great tradition” (alluded to above) in which the reading of the Scriptures is decidedly a liturgical act or a liturgical reality. Hence the liturgy provides the context for Scripture.

Now we finally come to the Paschal Mystery, or “the death and resurrection of Christ.” What is the liturgy? One could say that it simply is the Paschal Mystery. It is the death and resurrection of Christ ritually enacted (important phrase) in so many ways and on so many levels. This is true for the Anaphora of the Eucharist; it is true for the rite of Holy Baptism; it is true for the Great Vigil of Easter, out of which and around which developed the entire liturgical year. (BTW, we know about that from another of these ancient historical documents: the reconstructed liturgy of the Roman presbyter Hippolytus.)

Next article: Part IV.

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Posted on: March 7th, 2009 The Moral Tradition of Virtue (Part I): Priority of the Social

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.

First, we recognize in each of these civilizations, a certain priority of the social. That is, the particular traits of personality or character which come to be prized in a given culture are rooted in the social arrangement of the time, along with the specific roles which accompany that arrangement. So, for example, in the heroic civilization described and narrated in the epic poems of Homer,  we find those qualities which make for an effective warrior are valued: loyalty (to kin), courage, and strength (principally physical strength). The warrior is the glue, you might say, which binds the society together, and so the virtues of the role of soldier  come to be seen (by Homer as well as his later ancient interpreters) as the highest virtues – at least in that particular society and culture – of the human moral life.

In fifth-century Athens, however, nothing could be more formative on the moral vision of Plato, Aristotle and the various schools (Stoicism, Skepticism) than the establishment of the democratic city state of Athens. Here a different politics, a different “prior social arrangement,” is going on other than that of Homer’s kinship-based, warrior society. Writes MacIntyre:

For Homeric man there could be no standard external to those embodied in the structures of his own community to which appeal could be made; for Athenian man, the matter is more complex. His understanding of the virtues does provide him with standards by which he can question the life of his own community and enquire whether this or that practice or policy is just. Nonetheless he also recognizes that he possesses his understanding of the virtues only because his membership in the community provides him with such understanding. The city is a guardian, a parent, a teacher, even though what is learnt from the city may lead to a questioning of this or that feature of its life.

No longer does the common good of the society depend primarily upon the warrior’s effective performance of his role. Here, in fifth century Athens, a different role is required with different standards, or excellencies, of performance. What matters now more than a society full of good warriors is a society full of good citizens, together with the different social role which accompanies the citizen.

This social situation gives rise the particular values of fifth century Athens. Hence young men were enrolled in various schools and academic formation societies in order to cultivate the virtues of   rhetoric (on the more pragmatic side) and justice (on the more theoretical side). Again, the four “cardinal virtues” of justice, temperance, prudence, and fortitude (among others) were seen as foundational to the well being of the city state.
With the rise of medieval Christendom, however, we find a radically different social situation. Gone are the days of classical Athens and its counterpart, that cultural echo which is the city of Rome. In this new political reality, several factors come into play to create a different kind of, and a different conception of, social space. First, no longer is the polis, as classically conceived, becomes the primary locus of one’s committed loyalty. Rather, there is a new city in town, that city set on a hill, the politeuma  of the church, together with her sister city, the Christian kingdom. In these overlapping communities a different set of excellencies, a different set of aretai, is valued, encouraged, and cultivated.

Second, in medieval Christendom, for example the span of Thomas Aquinas’ life in thirteenth century France, the church and the civilization of which it is the center is being challenged and confronted by Islam. This new cultural situation gives rise to the need for mission, and in response St. Thomas writes his Summa Contra Gentiles. Here we see an example of how the values of the community are not just for the purposes of the community itself, but also for its expansion, its social mission to the world.

Third, the Europe just before St. Thomas’ time is a Europe now getting the first tastes of the literature of classical antiquity mediated through a kind of proto-Renaissance. As MacIntyre points out, this widespread confrontation served as a social crisis of a different kind, one which forced the society how to deal with challenges from a pagan (ie, not just Muslim) world view . Such a social challenge was utterly new, nothing of its kind having occurred either in classical Greece or in its predecessor culture.

This new social situation gives rise to the particular values of medieval Christendom, values needed for the survival and bene esse of the Christian church community. Faith, hope, charity are at the top of the list of virtues required for the collective eudaimonia of the Christian church, which is why Thomas borrowed them from I Corinthians 13 and with them adorned the more secular virtues of Aristotle and the classical tradition.

We see, then, that each of these three predecessor cultures to modernity share a common feature: their social setting conditions the human character traits which it values. But the point is actually deeper than this: far from exhibiting a denial or even a nervousness of the social or political rootedness of moral discourse, these three predecessor cultures are willing openly to admit and celebrate this. And we are now in a position to show why that is: for all three of these civilizations, morality and the practice of morality was intended to serve the common good, the good of the whole community, in each of its different conceptions / configurations, respectively. And because the common telos of man / humanity is public, it is unitary in its public nature: we see no bifurcation – not in the narrative world of Homer, not in the city state of Athens, not in medieval Christendom – of the public and the private. If the private exists at all (a doubtful protasis), then it exists only for the sake of the public, for the sake of the commonweal, for the sake of the common good of all its members.

For Part II of this series go here.

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Posted on: March 7th, 2009 The Moral Tradition of Virtue: Introduction

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.

Within what Anglicans call the Apocryphal / Deuterocanonical books of Scripture, in the book of I Maccabees, we read in the first chapter that, after many years of Jewish struggle to maintain its own faithful identity in the context of Gentile rule,  that “certain renegades … from Israel … built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.”

“What hath Jerusalem to do with Athens?” asked the African church father Tertullian in the early third century. According to the narrative perspective of I Maccabees, the answer is clear: absolutely nothing.
And yet this paper, investigating antique (ie, pagan) virtue is not written from the perspective of Jerusalem. Rather it is written from the perspective of Antioch, or of Rome, or of Canterbury. For Christianity is not merely Jewish, any more than it is merely Gentile.

And so in this paper we are perhaps asking, “What does Rome  have to do with Jerusalem and Athens?” For an answer to this question which is at once historical and theological we will turn to St. Thomas Aquinas. But before we do that, we will rely on Alisdair MacIntyre to guide us through times and seasons before and after St. Thomas. For what precedes Thomas – what he inherits and baptizes – is a rich and complex tradition of virtue. According to MacIntyre, this tradition has its primative origins in the ancient culture which MacIntyre calls “heroic” (primarily the narrative – epic and saga – world of Homer as well as those of other lands such as Ireland, Iceland, and Germany). It then finds its touchstone in the developments of fifth century Athens of Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, and especially Aristotle.  This tradition is then translated into Latin (with Cicero and Boethius playing mediating roles) and inherited (and sometimes rejected) by medieval theologians in the eleventh and twelfth centuries such as Peter  Abelard and Thomas Aquinas.

These three predecessor cultures – primieval heroic culture, fifth-century Athens, and medieval Christendom – are important as the backdrop to modernity. For in modernity the plot thickens, as the tradition is apparently discarded by such thinkers as Descartes and Kant. I say “apparently discarded” because, as MacIntyre crucially points out, most modern thinkers (including the profoundly Christian Kierkegaard) retain many fragments of theology from this predecessor tradition while at the same time both living in a radically new social situation lacking the social and political soil in which the previous world view had grown up, and rejecting many of the philosophical and theological bases in which these very retained fragments are rooted. This situation – retaining traditional concepts like “God” or “love” while rejecting their foundations or reasons – gives rise to moral incoherence, especially when accompanied by the complex rise of pluralism, in which many different communities of voices and cultures of voices pick and choose and arrange their fragments from the past differently. MacIntyre calls this state of moral confusion “emotivism.”

As I inquire into the nature of this moral tradition of virtue, however, I do so not simply as some generic Christian, but rather as a member of the particular tradition of Anglicanism. What, if anything, does Anglicanism think of this tradition of virtue? Has it received and developed it, or simply rejected it? Is this premodern tradition in need of retrieval within Anglicanism? To begin to answer these questions, we will examine and evaluate the work of 20th century Anglican moral theologian Kenneth Kirk. What is going on in his work from the point of view of the virtue tradition (with Alisdair MacIntyre as a prime interpreter, representative, and advocate)?

Before we turn to an evaluation of Anglican moral thought embodied in the thought of Kenneth Kirk, however, we need to look more closely at these three predecessor cultures to modernity. Instead of looking simply at the differences between these three cultures and civilizations, let us examine what they share, what they hold in common. When we do this, we find three broad overlapping features, more or less shared among them: (what I will call) a priority of sociology, a practice of philosophy, and a presupposition of anthropology.

See here for Part I of this series.

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Posted on: March 6th, 2009 Summary of Gregory of Nyssa’s “On Not Three Gods”

In this essay (a letter, actually) Gregory is arguing against those who say there are three deities.

I.    Some argue for three deities based on the idea of deity (that is, what Father, Son and HS have in common) as essence or ousia.

  • This argument is based on analogy with the way we speak of human persons, or in this case, of men. The argument is that we can refer to “Peter, James, and Paul” because of what they all three have in common: man-ness. So what is going on here is that they are being referred to as individuals by reference to what they have in common.
  • But this is actually problematic or misleading (though it would be futile to try to change the way we speak) and though this linguistic problem is relatively inconsequential for created things like men or pens, it matters supremely when we are speaking of God. What is going on here that the individual things are being referred to by their (common) nature.
  • Gregory’s argument runs something like this. I might say “I have three pens in my backpack.” But formally speaking that is not actually correct. I don’t have three distinct essences of pen-ness in my backpack; I actually have three distinct participants in  or intstantiations of  “pen-ness” in my backpack. The essence of ousia of God is like “pen-ness,” and the hypostases of God are like the individual “things” which are subsumed under the category “pen” or “pen-ness.”
  • To employ another analogy. Consider matter or materiality. If in my backpack I have three items: a pen, a rock, and a ball, I don’t say that I have “three matters” in my backpack. (It would even be a bit strange to say that I have “three materials” in my backpack.) It would be more formally correct to say “I have three material objects” in my backpack: three distinct hypostases, all of which participate in materiality or matter.

II.    Some argue for three deities based on the idea of deity (that is, what Father, Son, and HS have in common) as operation or act or energeia. But this cannot be the case because we know that all of God’s actions are shared or indivisible. We know this in two ways:

  1. In Scripture we see that all of God’s actions are one. Father sees (Ps 84:9); Son sees (Mt 9:4); Spirit sees (Acts 5:3).
  2. In our Christian experience we see that all of God’s actions are one. I have one “crown of free gifts,” one graciously given life which is from Father, Son & Spirit. I don’t have three lives, and so it must be the case Father, Son, & Holy Spirit are jointly at work in this activity of bestowing life to me.
  • Therefore, even if one conceives of deity as operation / energeia (and we know that all our categories fall short of the infinite God, cf 152), one still must admit that there are not three deities.
  • Note: Gregory’s argument here concerning the operations or actions of God, it seems to me, presupposes the neoplatonic principle that  energeia is revelatory of essence (see here).
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Posted on: March 4th, 2009 Florensky & Pickstock (indirectly, perhaps) on the Trinity

In “Letter II” of his The Pillar and Ground of the Truth one of the things Paval Florensky is actually doing is providing some arguments, based in reason (as opposed to revelation) for the Christian doctrine of God as Trinity.

He does this in part by arguing negatively against secular ways of “knowing:” “The knowledge that Pilate (in John 18) lacked, the knowledge which all mankind lacks is above all the conditions of certitude.”

He then considers three basic attempts people have made to try to attain these “conditions of certitude:” the sensuous-empirical, the transcendental-rationalist, and the subconscious-mystical.

All pretensions to certainty, be they sensuous-empirical, transcendental-rationalist, or subconscious-mystical, are ultimately only asserting that something is given. “My sense perception is my sense perception. The sun shines because the sun shines.” This, in turn, reduces down to A=A, which is givenness in general. This tautology pretends to be necessary and universal, but in actually, in space and time, it destroys being. If A=A, then not-A=not-A, and so A comes to be defined in terms of not-not-A. So all connection between things, including the connection of being, is destroyed. Hence, tautology, A=A, destroys all being and rationality.

“Where there is no difference, there can be no connection.” Enter Pickstock, who argues that “context is everything,” that meaning comes in connections. (Hence the senselessness and the nihilism of asyndeton.)

“Where there is no difference, there can be no connection. There is therefore only the blind force of stagnation and self-imprisonment, only egotism. Outside of itself, every I hates every I, and, hating, I strives to exclude every not-I from the sphere of being. And even the I hates itself, I, over time: the present I hates the past I, etc.”

This state of senselessness is an unavoidable antinomy of human ratioality, which Florensky describes another way: “… it turns out that the rational is at the same time unexplainable. To explain A is to reduce it to “something else,” to not-A, to that which is not A and which therefore is not-A. But if A really is satisfies the demand of rationality, it it is really rational, ie, absolutely self-identical, then it is unexplainable, irreducible to “something else”…. Therefore, A is absolutely non-reasonable, blind A, opaque to reason.

Florensky is saying that real things, reality, life, is inot in accord with “rationality,” but with reason, by which he surely means (something like or related to) logos, the divine logos.

The alternative to A=A is indirect discursis of reason, which posits a chain, a regression of reasons, which either “dream of eternity” or ends in God. But this is only marginally better than the above.

One is an impenetrable wall; the other an uncrossable sea.
What does all this have to do with the Trinity? Florensky’s critique of these three rational systems does not hold for the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity does not simply reduce down to A=A. Florensky shows, that when the church Fathers (surely he has in mind the Cappedocian Fathers) said that God is one ousia but three hypostases, they were in effect saying that A=A and that A=notA.

Are the things in the world connected? This, the problem of the one and the many, is the age-old problem of philosophy. Florensky’s ultimate answer is going to be: “Yes, the things in the world are connected, because the “things” or the hypostases in God are connected. This connection, in the language of ontology and metaphysics, is called essence or ousia. But, as we have seen above, in order for there to be such a connection there also must be difference. And, in God, there is: three distinct persons, three distinct hypostases in harononious plenitude.

Pickstock is correct: context is everything; meaning is in the connections.

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Posted on: March 1st, 2009 Entering the New Community – Acts 2:37-47 (Class #7, 2/22/09)

Here is the outline for class #7 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.

Acts 2:37 – 47 (Sunday, February 22, 2009)

“(Entrance into) the New Community”

I. Review: “these last days” from Holy Eucharist Rite II, Prayer B.

II. Repent & be baptized.

A. Repent, or turn, from what?[1]

B. Baptism: comparison with John’s baptism

1. Repentance in Lk 3 (vv 3, 8)

2. “What should we do? (Lk 3:12)

C. Baptism: contrasts with John’s baptism

1. Name of Jesus

2. Reception of HS

3. John’s baptism not sufficient: 18:24-26;19:4-5

III. Life in the New Community

A. Teaching

B. Fellowship / koinonia

C. Breaking of Bread

D. “The Prayers”

· Rather than look at all four of these separately and in depth, I want to suggest that this is a picture of a “worship service” in the early church. The key to this is to see that it was the breaking of bread which is central (perhaps because tactile and concrete) to the worship service: see Lk 22:19; 24:30-35; Acts 20:7,11.[2]

[1] NTW, 40 – 41.

[2] For some background on “first day of the week,” see John 20:1,19. Here John is stressing that it was on the first day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead.

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Posted on: March 1st, 2009 Pentecost as New Creation – Acts 2:1-36 (Class #6, 2/16/09)

Here is the outline for class #6 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.

Acts 2:1-36 (Sunday, February 15, 2009)

“The Beginning of the New Creation”

I. The Phenomenon of Pentecost: Thinking Typologically (2:1-4)

A. Holy Spirit as first fruits.

1. Some NT uses of this word.

a. Rom 8:23

b. Rom 16:5

c. I Cor 15:20

d. James 1:18

2. First fruits of what?

B. Holy Spirit as new law.

II. New Words for New News (2:5-13)

A. Blessing the World through Israel.

1. Reversal of Babel

2. New house / oikos.

B. Deed à Question à Word (NT Pattern of Mission)

III. Words of Explanation: Peter’s Sermon (2:14-36)

A. Prophecy of Joel: Now Being Fulfilled (2:14-21)

1. “Last Days”

2. “Day of the LORD”

3. Earth-shattering events.

4. Radical Inclusivity (& Political Discomfort)

5. “Salvation”

B. King of Israel, for the World.(2:22-36)

1. Ps 16: King of Israel

2. Ps 110: for the World

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Posted on: February 18th, 2009 Origen on Scripture (Theology Class #3)

Origen, Commentary of the Gospel of John.

Origen is discussing the nature of Scripture. In this text one finds lots of issues raised (and positions on those issues taken) which have recurred over and over countless times in the history of the church, for example:

–    Section 4, “The Study of the Gospels is the First Fruits Offered by These Priests of Christianity.” The primacy of the four Gospels as the “first fruits of the Scriptures.” Origen clarifies that in one sense the epistles of the NT are not properly called “Scripture,” since when Paul says things like, “I say, and not the Lord” and “so I ordain in all the churches,” etc. Also when Paul says “Every Scripture is inspired and profitable by God” he is probably not referring to his own writings. The four Gospels are the first fruits of the Scriptures for Origen in that they are the first which are offered to God, after the whole has become ripe.

–    Section 5, “All Scripture is Gospel; But the Gospels are Distinguished Above Other Scriptures” and Section 6, “The Fourfold Gospel.” John’s Gospel is the First Fruits of the Four. Qualifications Necessary for Interpreting It.”  the primacy of John as the “first fruits of the Gospels.” Origen thinks this is the case in light of two considerations: first, that, while the other Gospels discuss Jesus genealogically, John gives us a picture of God the Word before all genealogy and indeed before all time; second, that John summons us to an intimate commitment to Christ in that we must follow the Beloved Disciple in lying “on Christ’s breast and [receiving] from him Mary to be … mother also.”

–    Section 7, “What Good Things are Announced in the Gospels.” How the Gospel announces and delivers good things. When a believer hears the Gospel, “it brings him a benefit and naturally makes him glad because it tells of the sojourn with men, on account of men, and for their salvation, of the first-born of all creation, Jesus Christ.”

–    Section 8, “How the Gospels Cause the Other Books of Scripture also to be Gospel.” The nature of the Old Covenant Scriptures. Origen teaches that the four canonical Gospels reveal the gospel of salvation in the other books of Scripture. When Christ “sojourned with men and caused the Gospel to appear in bodiy form … [he] caused all things [in the “Old Testament”] to appear as Gospel…. He opened the way for all who desired it … to understand what things were true and real in the law of Moses, of which things those of old worshipped the type and the shadow, and what things were real of the things narrated in the histories which ‘happened to them in the way of type,’ but these things ‘were written for our sakes, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.’

–    Section 9, “The Somatic and Spiritual Gospel.” Analogies between old covenant (“the law”) and the new covenant (“the Gospel”). [Note: I think that this hermeneutic instinct is important for de Lubac, whose hero is Origen.] Origen seems to extrapolating by analogy from old covenant to new covenant. In both, there is a “not-yet” component: just as “the law contains a shadow of the good things to come,” so also “the Gospel teaches a shadow of the mysteries of Christ.” Based on this, Origen concludes another analogy: just as, for Jews it was necessary to be faithful to their Jewishness  (ie, “to be a Jew”) both outwardly (by circumcision) and inwardly (“in secret” … this must go along with “circumcision of the heart”), so also for the Christian it is necessary to be faithful to one’s “Christianness” both outwardly (Origen sees this as baptism) and inwardly (“in secret”).

–    Section 10. “How Jesus Himself is the Gospel.” Origen is saying here, quite simply, that Jesus is the content of Gospel Proclamation. He himself is the good news; he is the promised good things. He is the resurrection; he is the glad tidings.

–    Section 11. “Jesus is All Good Things; Hence the Gospel is Manifold.”

I am attempting to summarize all our readings in our “Theology: God & Creation” class class at SSW. For the list of texts we are reading, see here.

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Posted on: February 17th, 2009 ++Rowan on Scripture (Theology Class #2)

Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology,  “The Discipline of Scripture” (ch5)

In this chapter Rowan Williams argues that the discipline required by the Church in order to read Scripture aright is the discipline of time spent with the text of Scripture in the context of the church’s liturgical practice, its lectionary which is connected to the festal cycle of the Church, supremely the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. Patiently waiting upon Scripture, with all its internal conflicts and challenges, is necessary for the church in general, but it has never been more urgent than today, when we (the church) find ourselves struggling deeply with the same conflicts which are plaguing the world around us.

The key word here is “time.” What Rowan is trying to do in this article is in many ways to show how our (the Church’s) reading of Scripture is like, is analogous to, Scripture itself: it is a diachronic process, much to the chagrin, perhaps, of recent reactions to the higher criticism of the previous generation of high modernity, reactions which, even if quite close to Rowan’s own orthodox views (one thinks of canonical criticism a la Brevard Childs), have tended to eclipse the time-bound nature of the narrative in favor of a synchronic reading of the text in which the only “time” acknowledged is the “eternal present” of the reader. Synchronic readings “spatialize” something which is intended to flow through time; they spatialize the narrative of redemptive history.

It is somewhat ironic that Rowan in this article is defending the more explicitly modern ways of reading Scripture such as source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, as well as their modern, positivistic “kissing cousin,” fundamentalism, with its would be “univocal descriptions and exact representation of particular sequences of ‘fact.’” (48)  And yet, at least these approaches (the nonfundamentalist ones, that is) maintain that readers must be attentive to the difficulties and struggles within the text. Unlike the tendencies of some types of canonical and literary approaches, these hermeneutic strategies refuse any easy unity or harmony of the text.

And yet, all of the above modern approaches fail to appropriate and develop the medieval hermeneutic which we see in the sensus litteralis of, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas. It is true that for Thomas this literal sense is primary, but for him the literal sense includes not just the record of the events wrought by God in history, but along with that all kinds of complex human workings such as metaphor and perspective. So where the higher critics of modernity (and the positivistic fundamentalists) fall short of Thomas is in their reduction of historiography down to the something positivistic, but where the literary types (in reaction to the former) err is at the deeper level of the priority of the historical or temporal nature of the text, its “messy” duration through time. For Thomas as well as for Rowan, this must be primary, in a nonreductionistic way.

One way in which we see the fecundity of this medieval approach is that it posits an analogy between the development of the text of Scripture itself though and my (or our) own development through time in our faith journeys. As Rowan puts it, “The time of the text is recognizably continuous with my time.” (49) Synchronic readings, again however, tend to overlook this.
If the Bible’s movement through time mirrors our own movement through-time, then we can also pattern our own reading of the Bible on its movement through time. Hence the festal lectionary of the Church. There is an “analogy of duration between us and the text.” (50)

The use of a scriptural lectionary bound to the festal cycle is “a major mediation of the sensus litteralis,” since the latter includes not just a dramatic mode of exegesis but also a public performance, a “taking of time now for the presentation of the time of the text.” (51)

As we live the Passion narrative(s) during Holy Week, it is as if we don’t know the ending. We enter into the thick of risk and open-endedness. And we have been doing this before the advent of modern criticism: the church has always had, read, and celebrated the confrontational discussion going on between the four Gospels, for example.

Now, modern critical scholars may be correct to emphasize the ideological disputes between, say J, D, and P in the Hebrew Bible. However, as Rowan has already suggested, the pre-modern community of believers had long before modernity accepted and canonized such diversity of voices and agendas Ruth versus Ezra on the issue of cross-cultural marriage; Chronicles versus Kings on the presentation of various kings (or even kingship itself), to take just two examples.  So this cacophony of voices which leads us into discussion and group struggle, has already been embraced by the community of faith. If anything, higher criticism only underlines a point which has already been made.

And if this is so, if this kind of “diachronic” conflict is built into Scripture, then our (individual and corporate) reading of the same ought to be shaped in analogy to this pattern. This means that we can only discern the “inner reality” of Scripture through time spent hearing, considering, and interacting with all the voices in the text over time: seeing and meditating upon the issues, the connections, the questions raised. So, again, our reading of the text takes place diachronically, over or through time. Reading deeply and faithfully takes time.

Where, then, does the unity and coherence of Scripture come from? It comes from its community of readers: not so much that this community simply invents its own meaning, but rather the meaning comes from the connection, or the analogy, that exists between this diachronic narrative we have been considering and the self-identifying practices of the church which it precisely does and did not invent. We are talking about the central things which give this community its identity: baptism and eucharist, which point to the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ, is the hermeneutic key to Scripture, and not some abstract Jesus, but the Jesus who is embodied, and whose life is reenacted, in the church.

In order not to lose this meaning and this identity, we must participate in this same diachronic struggle which we see in Scripture, even as we read it together. It is in the difficulty of the struggle, the risk, the cost, the disappointment, that we open ourselves as the church to Christ, and grasp the possibility of speaking Christ into the world. Far from a cheap pluralism (and the advocates of cheap pluralism do abound), however, we all must remain open to the judgment of the Paschal mystery.

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Posted on: February 17th, 2009 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.”

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Posted on: February 9th, 2009 “Ascension” – Acts 1:9-11 (Class #5: 2-9-09)

Here is the outline for class #5 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.

(Once again I am encouraged by the depth of the discussion last night, as we discussed the meaning of the ascension (“stage 2” of the resurrection) of King Jesus.)


I. Cosmology of “Heaven and Earth”

A. Gen 1:1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Hendiadys for the whole creation.

B. “Heaven is “God’s Dimension or realm,” not “where you go when you die.”

C. The whole narrative of Scripture, including the resurrection and the ascension (and the incarnation!), is about the coming-together of “heaven” and “earth.”

D. St. Thomas Aquinas on the human person: “a rational animal.” Kind of like animals (body), and kind of like angels (disembodied souls). Human being as nexus of “heaven” and “earth.”

II. Scriptural (ie, OT) Precedent: Dan. 7:9-14 & “The Ancient of Days”

A. Daniel would have been in people’s minds due to the “abomination of desolation” text we have discussed in connection of the sacriledge of Antiochus Epiphanes IV.

B. “… coming on the clouds.” Typology of cloud in OT.

III. Greco-Roman Precedent: “ascensions” of Caesars.

Arch of Titus: souls of emperors going up to heaven.

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Filed under: Bible, History / Genealogy, liturgical theology, New Kind of Conquest, political theology, the Christian Life / Prayer, theology / ecclesiology | Comments Off on “Ascension” – Acts 1:9-11 (Class #5: 2-9-09)

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 Acts 1:6-8 (class #4: Feb 1, 2009)

Here is the outline for class #4 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.


“A Question about the Kingdom”

I.      Is it bad to be a child?

II.    Why were they[1] still like children? 

III.  OT Precedents

  • A.   Ps 72
  • B.    Ps 89
  • C.    Isa 40 – 55

IV. Kingdom Dreams Transfigured

V.   Didn’t Jesus basically answer, “No”?

VI. Not just a trip, but a journey (1:8)

VII.  “My witnesses: King Jesus. We have a job to do.

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