Up Against the Neo-Jovinians

Jovinian was an intellectual in the ancient Christian world who scandalized everyone by suggesting marital relations and celibate virginity were on the same level.  Jerome responded.  And what a powerful, if hilariously wrong, response it was.  

Now, I believe Jovinian had the better exegesis.  To quote Kelly, when Jerome has a useful card he overplays it, and when he doesn’t have any evidence, he engages in the wildest reasoning (Kelly 186).  Further, I reject a lot of the metaphysical and ethical assumptions behind Jerome’s defense of celibacy.  (Ironically, however, Jovinian’s view of baptismal regeneration was much closer to later Catholicism than Jerome’s view).  

Still, there is something Jerome can teach us.  Sex and feasting don’t exist for themselves.  Even if one doesn’t hold the view that sex is only for reproduction, that doesn’t mean sex is for sex’s sake.  It’s for the uniting and binding together of husband and wife.

We can add another point.  Sex isn’t a panacea for mental illnesses.  This brings us back to the CREC scandal.  The Wilsonistas are wrong to think that:

(1)   “marrying” him off will provide a safe outlet for one’s urges.

I think many critics of medieval celibacy used to think that.  Sadly, this is not the case.  If it were, one could save a lot of people heartache by simply introducing these people to their right hands.  Crude, yes, and some could argue that such an act is immoral, but at least no children are harmed.

Therefore, we have to add another line of reasoning:

(2)  The problem is not built-up sexual tension, but mental-spiritual.
(2a) The problem is what the Fathers called “The Passions.”

If it is true that pedophiles are “wired” differently, then it is hard to see how (1) will solve the problem.  

Is the “fallen” (defined as someone who committed a terrible sin but has repented) Christian guaranteed equal access to the marriage/family life?  

Many “Wilsonistas” say it yes.  They assert it but never argue it.  This doesn’t appear to be the Apostle Paul’s position.  The Wilsonistas say, “If you can, and why can’t you?, by all means get married.”  Paul said if you aren’t married now, then you might not need to get married (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 26-28).   We can now add another premise;

(3) There are many good reasons for staying single.
(3*) The Church is not obligated to provide you with a family.

The Wilsonistas will say that married sex provides a legitimate outlet for sexual passion.  That is true in normal cases.   But psychology and counseling have shown that men/women who are addicted to porn do not become unaddicted because they get married.  The problem is still there, even if there is an “outlet” for it.  And the outlet does not solve the problem.

This is also true if the spouse is a convicted pedophile.  Where is the wisdom in his “outlet” providing him with more victims?   Wilsonistas will respond, “Would you deny him the opportunity for a family?”


There are alternatives.  None of them fun, but they are noble and workable.  He can join a monastery in the desert and spend the next 30 years denying himself.  Surround himself with a handful of elderly, cantankerous men who do not put up with nonsense.  And who knows, he might be able to find peace and stillness in a way that he wouldn’t in Moscow, ID.



Linguistics as Podvig

Jerome struggled with the passions and he hints some of those were sexual in nature (cf Letter 22.7).  Unlike other monks who engaged in more bodily deprivations, Jerome found deliverance in learning a new language:  Hebrew (Kelly 50, quoting letter 125).

He’s not even trying anymore

It’s like I don’t even have to try.

He writes,

If the culprit is known by us to be guilty,

Except, the two culprits were convicted in a civil trial and imprisoned, so it really isn’t a matter of my not wanting to hear the other side.

Why bother with hearing from both sides?

Alright then.  Talk.  Did your boy Sitler fail a lie-detector test?  What’s the other side of the story for that?  But you probably mean the Jamin Wight case. You’ve repeatedly said “I am protecting the mother so I am not giving the information,” which sounds eerily familiar to a Mafia threat.  But how can we hear the “other side” if you refuse to engage Natalie Rose (beyond slut-shaming a rape victim)?

The next part of the blog post is Wilson’s standard m.o.: long discourse on “principles” and a diversion on how bad abortion is.  

And then the post ends.

TR silence on CREC sex abuse scandal?

The main TR (truly reformed) outlets have been relatively silent on the recent sex scandals in the CREC.   It’s odd.  TRs have no love for the CREC, which they rightly associate as a safe-haven for Federal Visionists.  Then why won’t they attack them on open abuses?

To be fair, the CREC answers to no one, so it is not clear what such a public condemnation would hold.  But I think such a condemnation needs to be made.  Otherwise it will look like these guys only care about rebuking doctrine and not about helping the victimized.

Unleash the theopoets

Flow and Highlights

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus [PB]

I will capture the flow of Gregory’s life along with crucial highlights. McGuckin’s thesis suggests something along the lines that Gregory “midwifed” a new Christian vision into the old imperium.

Gregory’s Post-Hellenic Vision

Gregory opted for something like a Christian Hellenism, or rather the New Byzantine vision (I understand this language is somewhat anachronistic, since Gregory would have seen himself as a Roman). This method and vision allowed him to bring order to a then inchoate biblical theology. It was a bridge between the Hellenic and Semitic worlds. He was able to hold apparent opposites in creative tensions, and he refused to collapse mystery and symbol into logical deduction (McGuckin10). In fact, in Gregory’s hands Christology is never allowed to escape its proper context of reflection: “the dynamic mystery of the economy of God’s salvation of humankind” (390).

In order to counteract Julian, Christians had to offer an inspiration for a new imperium and society (117ff). Both Gregory and Julian agreed that “a culture cannot be divorced from its religious inspiration without being fatally compromised.” In this battle Gregory forges a keen anti-Hellenic apologetics. Much of it is similar to Augustine, albeit with the promise that Christianity is able to synthesize old and new (121).

Indeed, the birth of Byzantium is the new public confession of the Spirit as homoousion. Gregory’s confession of the Spirit is the positive triumph of what was best in Origen: it is the present spiritualization of the current order and the ascent to divine vision (309). Gregory is able to do what his master could not: correlate the eschatological vision with historical unfolding. Gregory’s social program is connected with his anthropology (151). Image and archetype are reconciled in the hominisation of God as a poor man. The human condition is mixis between clay and divine image.

Theological Method

This is not merely an attack on Eunomios. It is a vision for theology (263). He attacks two theological positions: a) that the Son and Spirit are without cause (agenetos); and b) they are caused by the Father as something other (hetera) to him.

principle of causality: it is something other than what is meant by God’s causing the created order. It indicates the manner in which the Father relates his being to the other two persons.

The Theological Orations

They have a triadic structure to them.  Or. 27 and 28 deal with theologia as our perception of God.  Orations 29-30 deal with the Son’s relation to the Father.  Oration 31 deal with the Spirit.

The Monarchia of the Father

  • The Son is generated, not from the ousia, but from the Father’s person.  Otherwise, the Son, having the same essence, would generate himself!  Contra Eunomius, this means ingeneracy or generation is not constitutive of the divine essence.
  • The divine being is primarily the Father’s being, not a generic class of being (McGuckin 294 n352). The Father personally communicates this being to the hypostases of the Son and Spirit.
  • Gregory draws from the earlier church’s vision of the triad as a single coherent process of unfolding the life of the Father.  Therefore, threefoldness is just as much a principle of unity as of differentiation (296 n355).

Feasting in the Spirit

The doctrine of the Spirit is the mean between Jewish monism and Hellenic polytheism (273). Jews celebrate feasts by the letter, Greeks in the body. Christians feast in the Spirit. As McGuckin notes, this fits in with Gregory’s “matrix of liturgical discourse.”

It is through the Spirit that the Father is known and the Son glorified. The idiomata do not define the essence, but are themselves defined in relation to the essence. The three stages of revelation are progressively perfected.


This is a hard read. And it is not quite the same “kind” of work as McGuckin’s masterpiece on Cyril. The latter is a theological commentary; this, as the subtitle makes clear, is an intellectual biography. Still, McGuckin’s scholarship is world-class and this is easily the best biography on Gregory.

Midwifing a Byzantium

Harnack had it backwards.  Did the early church “Hellenize” and thus negate Gospel purity?  The question defies any easy answer.  We will look at a few.

(1) Harnack held that the early church imported Greek concepts into the sweet biblical faith and polluted it.

There might appear an element of truth in this.  Some early Greek Christian writers do appear at odds with a literal reading of Song of Songs.  But that’s not what Harnack meant.  He had in mind something like,

(1*) The Greeks imported the miraculous into the Biblical faith and ruined the message of Jesus and love.

In other words, Jesus was a good German professor.  Harnack is too easy to attack.  Let’s look at other options.

The guys represented by Calvinist International (and this is not an attack on them, so please don’t flood my inbox) say the opposite:

(2) Greek categories were already embedded in the New Testament.

Well, kind of.  Paul uses words like “nature” (doth not nature teach you…) and Peter talks about theosis (2 Pet. 1.4).  Is this the same thing as the NT teaching Hellenization?  The problem is that Hellenism also implied other stuff:

(2a) Definition = limit.

Apply that to Triadology and you will see why early fathers were reticent to define God.  Now, is (2a) wrong?  Not necessarily (right or wrong is beyond the point for now).  But you can’t find that key Hellenic thesis in the NT.  Therefore,

(~2) There is no systematic Hellenization in the New Testament.

Now for my view, which I got from John McGuckin and John Zizioulas.

(3) Immediately after the Constantinian settlement Gregory of Nazianzus posited a new vision of the Roman Imperium, now Christian, as the new intellectual logos (using logos as rational order, not as Jesus).

Therefore, there is no reason to defend “Hellenism” as such.  Gregory’s writings are superior in content and style to anything ancient Greece has to offer.  But someone could counter,

(~3) Should we not go back to the Bible?

The objection implies a going back to the Hebrew ontology, such as it is.  Of course, we should always go back to the prophets, who offered their own social order.  But as to going back to a Hebraic intellectual system, the problem is what is meant by it.

(~3′) What is this Hebraic logos?

I suggest, however, we say with the apostle Paul, “The cross is foolishness to the Greeks and a Stumbling block to the Jews.”   Therefore, we see Paul rejecting both (2) and (~3).  Paul rejects Hellenization and it is doubtful he would be thrilled with reading Aristotle back into the NT.

The CREC’s sandy foundations

As many victims are now speaking out against the CREC’s cult of silence, some are beginning to make connections between the abuse of women and the theology of the CREC.  That’s a good start, but many of these people do not have all the theological awareness to capitalize on it.  Bless them, I hope they continue but I don’t think they can go deep enough.

I am not going to analyze the CREC’s gloss of Scripture to support their notorious view of patriarchy, as seen in the picture below


Rather, I am going to examine the shaky foundations upon which the theology is built.  I spent a few weeks on Facebook asking whether Wilson was formally ordained.  Formally, no.  As best I can tell from his autobiography he found himself promoted from guitar player to preacher.  I suppose there was some sort of common-law de facto ordination, but nothing by a formal and recognized church court.

That means Wilson–by most anybody’s understanding–is not really a clergyman.  He’s laity.  This has nothing to do with whether the CREC is a valid denomination or not.  Even if it isn’t, later ministers of the CREC go through the motions of ordination prior to their ministerial career.  It appears Wilson didn’t even do that.

But that’s not my critique today, however glaring and interesting it might be.  Around two years ago Leithart came out with his “End of Protestantism” proposal.  Unsurprisingly, most didn’t quite get what he was saying.  He argued that Protestantism doesn’t have a future in the sense that it can not exist and yet remain parasitic upon deficient forms of Christianity.  And he’s right–at least on that point.  Dialectics and negation do not make for a healthy Christianity.

The problem is how Leithart tried to put it in practice.  In order to heal the divisions of Christendom was everyone supposed to rally behind Leithart’s proposal?  Geneva (or more likely, Westminster Philly), Rome, and Holy Russia simply scoffed. Leithart was proposing a lowest-common denomination with no one agreeing on the denominators.

Practically speaking, and I know this from numerous conversations, Leithart and the CREC condemn converts to Eastern Orthodoxy as “idolaters” and “heretics” all the while pleading for us to accept EO as fellow Christians.   We can show how problematic this is with a number of questions:

  1. Would you call Fr John Meyendorff and Metropolitan Zizioulas heretics and idolaters?
  2. Assuming yes to (1), how can you promote their works?
  3. Given what you say about (2), how can you in good conscience promote Schmemann from the pulpit?
  4. Can you really act surprised after negating Reformed theology that some of your parishoniers take you up on it and “convert”?

Shucks, I even like the irascible Lossky.