Augustine, Spirit and the Letter

Initial argument: to respond to Pelagius’s claim that one can live a sinless life.

Other topics addressed: justification by free grace, spiritual interpretation, the nature of human willing and choosing.

Observations:  There are many important topics in this book, yet it is neither an easy nor a pleasant read.  Augustine jumps from point to point, only to return without warning to an earlier point.

  1. The Law as Letter that Killeth
    1. Without the Spirit, the Letter (law) inflames concupiscence.
    2. Whoever obeyed the law without the Spirit, did only because of reward/fear (c.14).
  2. Justification by free grace
    1. Our soul wants to attribute to itself that which it freely received from God (c. 18).
    2. Law: what we do, not simply “external ritual markers” (c.23).
    3. Works do not precede justification, otherwise it is pointless to say we are justified freely by his grace (c. 45).
  3. Human nature and grace
    1. Grace restores nature (c. 47).
    2. Grace establishes free will
      1. When we say we do something “in our power,” we presuppose two things:
        1. Will: the assenting to of something
        2. Ability: the capacity to do it.
      2. The Free Will of man is an intermediate power–it can incline towards faith or unbelief.
      3. The very will comes from God but that is not the same thing as saying, “God made me will it.”
      4. The will probably follows the intellect.  Augustine isn’t clear on this point (c. 60) but it seems to be his argument.

Augustine: Baptism and Forgiveness

These are some notes from Augustine’s treatise Baptism and the Forgiveness of Sins.  Once you get passed the grim assertions that unbaptized babies aren’t saved (which guaranteed that the Catholic church would come up with theories of Limbo), there are some important points on concupiscence.

Book II

  1. Infants are born with concupiscence (II.4).
  2. God works…
    1. God works our salvation in us, but not in the manner of external working on stones (II.6).
    2. Regeneration:  Augustine says the term doesn’t have a univocal sense.  When we speak of “baptismal regeneration” we don’t mean the same thing as “regeneration of the Spirit” (II.9).
  3. Perfection:  A Relative term (II.18).
    1. I can be perfect in one sense (as a scholar) but imperfect in another (giving wisdom).
  4. Does God command the impossible?  Sort of.
    1. This is how God measures righteousness to himself.
    2. Why does man not live without sin?
      1. Because of both ignorance and unwilling.
  5. Concupiscence
    1. First movement of the will is a desire for power, disobedience through pride (II.33).
    2. Man did not have concupiscence before the fall (II.36).
      1. This is the law of sin in my members (pudenda).
      2. primal righteousness: my members did not fight against the law of sin
      3. Old carnal nature = law of sin (II.45).
      4. Concupiscence remains even if the guilt is gone.  
    3. If there is the “likeness of sinful flesh” then there must be the reality of sinful flesh (II.58).

The Scandal of the Incarnation

This is the most accessible treatment of Irenaeus’s works. Hans urs von Balthasar provides a fine introduction, discussion, and brief critique of Gnosticism–showing how Irenaeus’s theology is relevant today. Further, von Balthasar provides a matrix for interpreting St Irenaeus (von Balthasar 9ff):

 

The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus Against the Heresies
(1) Unity of Old and New Testament: God’s Logos.
(2) The crossbeams are the world’s true center–it is here where creation is renewed (13). The four points of the cross match the “four corners/dimensions” of the world (Irenaeus 16).

Doctrine of God

By God’s simplicity, Irenaeus means he is non-composite. God is “wholly mind, wholly thought, wholly reason, wholly hearing, wholly seeing” (Irenaeus 19, quoting AH II 13, 3). Since God is rational, he produces things by his Logos and orders them through his Spirit. The Spirit manifests the Word (Defense of Apostolic Preaching, 4-10). God’s thinking is His Word and the Word is Mind (AH II.28.5).

God is not a Groundless Void, for where there is a Void and Silence, there cannot be a Word (II.12.5). Irenaeus offers several reductios: can a void fill all things? How can he be a spiritual being if he does not fill all things? (II.13.7)

Irenaeus affirms the analogia entis

“He is rightly called the all -comprehending intellect, but he is not like the intellect of man. He is most aptly called light, but he is nothing like the light we know” (AH II 13, 3). God confers proportion and harmony on what he has made (II.25.2).

saint_irenaeus_oflyons

Incarnation as Recapitulation

“The second Adam is the repetition, in divine truth, of the first Adam…The second Adam repeats the whole natural development of man at the higher level of divine reality” (von Balthasar 53). Indeed, “what was bound could not be untied without a reversal of the process of entanglement” (AH III.22.4).

Anthropology

(Redeemed) Man is body, soul, and spirit (AH V.6.1). Without the spirit man may have the image of God but not his likeness. The Spirit saves and forms the flesh and the soul finds itself mid-point between the two. The breath of life (ruach) is not the same as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). The former makes man a psychic being; the latter makes him spiritual (V.12.2).

Conclusion:

I think this is the best entry point for Irenaeus. True, the complete text of Against Heresies (such as it is) is too important to ignore, but most beginning readers will get lost in the Gnostic genealogies. Until, of course, one sees their modern counterparts, listed below:

Gnosticism today:
(a) Hegelianism
(b) Marxism
(c) Idealism
(d) Romanticism
(e) Freemasonry
(e) The American University System
(f) Hollywood (the symbolism is there, if you know where to look)

On God and Man

Review of On God and Man: The Theological Poetry of St Gregory of Nazianzus (SVS Press)

On God and Man: The Theological Poetry of Gregory of Nazianzen

{1} Some have compared this work to Augustine’s Confessions, but that’s misleading. True, Gregory does open his soul to outsiders, and the literary skill is magnificent, but it isn’t nearly as introspective as Augustine’s work. But echoes certainly remain. One theme in this book, similar to that of Ecclesiastes, is the evanescence of life. Gregory ties this with our materiality. Yes, matter is good and created good, but matter’s fallen mode is one of change and flux.

{2} Only eternal things remain.

{3} Of particular importance are Gregory’s stirring accounts of the human soul. The soul has mind and reason (Gregory 82). It is superior to flesh (96). Indeed, it is the very breath of God (lit. “the efflux of the divine Mind, 103 passim).

{4} As we would expect with St Gregory, he displays a high and holy view of God. The Father is “Mind” and the Son is the Father’s intellect (53, 38). The Son is the archetype’s image. Echoing some Neo-Platonic themes, man, indeed creation, proceeds from God and returns to God (157). While he rejects the eternality of creation, nonetheless creation was an idea in the mind of God–and God’s ideas are eternal per the doctrine of simplicity.

{5} Gregory combats pagan ontologies, Paganism is agonistic. If two forces struggle (light/dark; God/chaos), then who/what is the third term that brings harmony (49ff)?

{6} This work ends with one of Gregory’s most famous poems, including the prophetic dream he had of the Two Virgins. (Incidentally, if you are a cessationist then you will have problems with Gregory).

Conclusion:

This work is magnificent. In many ways it is better than “On God and Christ.” Because it is poetry, it is more accessible (if occasionally incomplete in thought). Some lines, even in translation, are simply sublime.

 

Properties and Attributes

Why is this important?  Understanding that this is what “makes up” a human being is crucial in apologetics, evangelism, and the pro-life cause.

Older theologians made a distinction between property and attribute, the latter being a wider category than the former.  Modern philosophers haven’t held to that distinction.  I am going to list different writers’ takes on it and see what comes up.

JP Moreland (either works by Moreland or about Moreland) :

property: a universal (Moreland and Craig, 219), that which can be instantiated in more than one place at once.  It would still exist apart from the substance. A substance “owns” a property (215).  Properties always come together in groups.

Gould and Wallace clarify Moreland’s position by saying a property is an instantiation of an abstract object (Gould and Wallace 24).

substance: more basic than properties. Substances do the having, properties the “had.”  “A substance is a deep unity of properties, parts and capacities.”

Richard Muller:

attributum: the attributes identify what the thing is and are inseparable from its substance (Muller 50).

proprietas: pertaining to God, it is an incommunicable attribute.  More specifically, that which is uniquely predicated of the person.  Regarding the doctrine of man, what is predicated of an individual (250).

Alvin Plantinga:

property: Plantinga broadens the discussion to where he can say “God has a nature–a property he has essentially that includes each property essential to him” (Plantinga 7).  So, God has the property of having a nature.  Plantinga seems to have reversed the relation between property and attribute.

Conclusion

On one hand, properties are had by the person, attributes by the essence.  Or rather, attributes are predicated of the essence.  Yet J. P. Moreland says properties are had by the substance.  Is Moreland confusing substance and person?  Maybe not.  In the West substance wasn’t necessarily identical with “essence” or ousia.  Substance denotes a standing under, which points to the idea of person.

Yet it is also important to realize that properties are explanatorily prior to the things that have them (Gould and Wallace 25).  The easiest conclusion is that attributes are predicated of the essence, properties of the person, provided we also see properties functioning as universals.

Works Cited

Gould, Paul and Wallace, Stan.  “On what there is: theism, platonism, and explanation” in Eds. Gould, Paul and Davis, Richard Brian. Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J.P. Moreland.  Chicago: Moody Press, 2010.

Moreland, J. P. and Craig, William Lane.   Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.  Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2003.

Muller, Richard A. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, reprint [1995].