The recons flee defeated on Christology

Here’s the context behind my recent post on Rushdoony.  I participated on a facebook thread where several kinist-reconstructionists were attacking Eastern Orthodoxy.  That put me in an odd decision, for I, too, have criticized EO.  But their arguments were just bad.  Like if people used these in a debate with a formidable EO apologist, they would get massacred and people would probably leave (rightly) for EO.

So I went to play Devil’s Advocate.  I did this for several reasons. Outside of selected texts from Rushdoony and Van Til, recons read little to nothing outside their own tradition. And also given the current evangelical debacle on the Trinity, I want to show that we should spend more time on Patristics questions than getting angry about big gubbment. So I asked the question:

Isn’t Rushdoony a Nestorian because he separated the flesh of Christ from the worship due to the Divine Person?

Correct Answer: Yes.  Rushdoony said that and Ephesus condemned that.

And this point there answers revolved around several charges:

  1. You are a monophysite for accusing us of nestorianism.
  2. Rushdoony didn’t say there were two dudes in Jesus.
  3. Nestorius didn’t really believe that because Harold OJ Brown said he didn’t.
  4. If you disagree with (3) then that’s just your opinion.

I’m just glad it was me and not Jay Dyer or Perry Robinson.  It would have been a massacre of colossal proportions.  So let’s look at the charges.

~1. I asked them repeatedly to prove where I mixed the two natures of Christ.  No answer.
~2. Never said he did, but that’s not the problem with Nestorianism. Until John Robbins and Gordon Clark, no one thought Nestorius posited two dudes in Jesus.
~3. Brown was a great guy and a fine ethicist.  He just wasn’t a patristic scholar and the guys I referenced (McGuckin et al) have read the original texts from Nestorius and Theodore of Mopsuestia.  Nestorianism posits two acting agents in Jesus.  Not two dudes in Jesus.  It also separates the Person of Jesus, which is what Cyril condemned and what Rushdoony did.
~4. So I asked them to show where my reading of Nestorian sources was wrong and why a non-specialist has them right.  No answer.

So here is what the debate looked like:

Jacob Aitken Okay, tired of defense. Now on the offense: Did Rushdoony worship Nestorian Jesus?

Recon 1: No. Jesus died in His Manhood, not His Godhood. Just like He slept in His Manhood, but not in Godhood.

Jacob Aitken But did not Rushdoony say that you must separate the flesh of Christ from his deity? He writes,

 

<<But the Council made it clear that only God could be worshipped; not even Christ’s humanity could be worshipped, but only His deity. The humanity of Christ is not nor ever could be deified” (Foundations, 41).>>

 

This is precisely what the 3rd Council rejected, as Cyril notes., “he Only-begotten Son, to be honored with one-adoration together with his own flesh.”” Rushdoony unwittingly quoted this on p. 40. But even Berkhof cndemns Rushdoony (not by name) on this point. This means that the human nature of Christ, from the very first moment of its existence, was adorned with all kinds of rich gifts, as for instance…the grace and glory of being united to the dinive nature of the Logos, also called the gratia emenentiae, by which the human nature is elevated high above all creatures, and even becomes an object of adoration…[that’s deification, as we say] (p. 324)

Recon 2.. have you read Harold O. J. Brown’s “Heresies?” He offers a different take on Nestorianism.

Jacob Aitken. Long ago. Prof Brown was my ethics prof. I understand what he is getting at, but the modern understanding of what Nestorius taught is fairly well established. He believed in two-acting subjects in the incarnation. Cyril and the Christian faith believed in one acting agent.

Recon 1. Did Jesus sleep in His Godhood?

Jacob Aitken Question doesn’t make sense. The divine person slept. You can’t abstract the natures, which is what Rushdoony did. And for what it is worth, that’s also Reformed Christology, too.

Recon 2: I think charges of Nestorianism are going to be forever the complaint of those who nestle in Eutychianism.  And Brown tells us that Nestorious was falsely charged though some of his followers may have been guilty of the charge.

Jacob Aitken And with all due respect to my professor, he is incorrect. Nestorius taught two acting agents in the Incarnation. He held that the hypostasis was the synthesis of two prosopa.

Recon 2: Says you. I’ll stick with Brown’s assessment.

Me: Well, it is what every scholar on NEstorius and Cyril says. I don’t know what else to tell you. Brown was a genius at ethics but he is no Patristics scholar. That doesn’t mean the scholars are right. But if someone labors hard in Syriac and such,t hen they probably are.

Recon 2Shrug ^ … you don’t come to truth by counting “scholar” noses.

Jacob Aitken No, but by examining the documents, which is what McGuckin et al have done.

Recon 2: Come on … I shouldn’t even have to type this. Scholars differ and disagree upon examining the texts. It’s why this game is so fun.

Jacob And if you can point out where McGuckin and Fairbairn interpreted the texts incorrectly, and where Brown interpreted the same texts correctly, then I’m open to revision.

Recon 2 I’ll get right on that. Nothing else on my calendar except to rescue a facebook thread.

Jacob: rescue the thread or don’t. You are the one that asserted something. You can back it up or not.

Recon 3:  Jacob: aye, but there is a direct correlation in your wavering between Eutychianism and Reformed theology. Perhaps you can’t perceive it, but it is there. Has much learning made thee mad?

MeWEll, then point it out to me. Because I don’t see you really keeping up with te arguments. Where have I posited a mixing of the natures? Be specific.

Recon 3You might be surprised, but this thread isn’t all I had planned for today. Trying to multitask a bit here. Hyperfocused individuals aren’t the most productive ones, I’ve noticed.

MeYou are the one that accused me of flirting with a heresy.

Recon 3Yeah, well, reading 1,000 books a month, a body has a tendency to float in between doctrines. Ever read Lovecraft? Most of his protagonists were destroyed by their lust for knowledge as well.

Jacob Aitken So I take it you can’t back up your insinuations?

Recon 3Hey, you were the one who came on this thread as an EO apologist, Jacob. If the shoe fits…

JacobSo, no, then?

The rest of the debate is glossing WCF 8, but doesn’t add anything new to the discussion.

Barth and Ramsey on Political Power

This is a summary of Oliver O’Donovan’s essay of similar title, found in Bonds of Imperfection.  What’s important is not so much the conclusions reached, but how they are reached.

Ramsey: The crux of the difference between pacifists and justifiable-war Christians turns on the person and work of Christ (Ramsey, Speak up for Just War or Pacifism 111, quoted in O’Donovan 247).

  • While this sounds pious and truistic, it has a very precise meaning for both thinkers.
  • For Barth it concerns the proper location of the political order within the covenant of Reconciliation between God and man (OO 251).
  • For Ramsey it means that Christ assumed one common humanity: there is no ontological disjunction between homo politicus and any other kind of man/order.

 

O’Donovan summarizes Barth’s ethics in several stages:

    1. Despite some of Barth’s shifts on election, there is a stable stream of ethical reflection–grudgingly acknowledging the state’s right of force but noting the abnormality of it.

 

  • Romerbrief may be discounted as “anarchist” and “backwater” (O’Donovan 249).

 

  1. Barth’s wartime writings veered closer towards a realist use of the State’s force.  His later writings veered towards a more anabaptist view.
  2. This is because of a dialectic within Barth’s thought that is never fully settled.
  3. This is partly the case because Barth doesn’t (will not?) imagine the possibility of both a peace-state and war-state within the same framework.

Here is where possible confusion arises:  Ramsey will critique “liberals” on pacifism and note they follow Barth.  What does he mean by “liberals?”  I don’t think it is simply “those who reject the Bible.”  I think he has in mind Niebuhrian liberalism.

Paul Ramsey

Key Point: The Legitimate Use of Power

  1. The use of power, including the use of force, is of the esse of politics
  2. The use of power is inseparable from the bene esse of politics.

As a foil, Ramsey will have Barth say:

B3: War should not be seen as a normal, fixed, or necessary part of a just state (CD III/4, p. 456).

Back to Ramsey’s theses.  We may add another

R4: The use of power implies the possible use of force.

Ramsey’s argument presupposes a proper ordo of politics, the connections of iustitia, lex, and ordo.

  • Ordo = the disposition of power.

R5: The cross casts a shadow over politics, not pure light (OO 259).  

Politics, community, and the cross should meet in that area where light and shadow meet.  

R6: “The task of politics is to be a sign of the rule of Christ, disclosing right, preserving community and determining the basis of community in right” (259).

Political reflection based on the gospels should not begin with the Advent, as important as it is, but with the fact that Christ has come in history.  O’Donovan: “He [Messiah] has reached for the crown which will allow no rival crowns beside it.  Because he has come, history has divided into two, its back broken on this outcrop of rock which it cannot negotiate” (260).

Corollary: There is a disjunction within the community of election (visible/invisible church), not in the works of God as such.  

Problems with Barth’s Political Ethics

For Ramsey, God accepts Christ’s regnant new humanity.  For Barth, God rejects the old humanity.  This seems to mean that God also rejects extra-ecclesial orders as such.  When Barth comes to war as such, he does not interact with Just War reasoning but simply lists the evils of the Second World War.

Ramsey can point to “monuments of grace” in such a horror, even to legitimate uses of State force.  Barth can only suggest a delaying action (CD III/4, p. 456).  As a result, notes O’Donovan, Barth “ends up precisely in the place he intended to bypass, in a politics that can only be viewed soberly and not with evangelical faith or hope” (O’Donovan 264).

A Way Forward With Ramsey

Ramsey has what Barth needs: a way to bridge the gap between homo politicus which is redeemed in Christ and homo politicus that is in need of redemption. We are back with the distinction between esse and bene esse.  The latter terms also suggests something along the lines of goal or end. Ramsey is speaking of true political activity.  

Is Barth an Apollinarian?

Ramsey offers a model in which political power is both used appropriately and judged:  the Incarnation, homo assumptus.  This means that Christ takes on the fallen order, including homo politicus.  There is no radical “Other” realm to which Christ has no access.  As O’Donovan notes, “Only so can the homo politicus that is redeemed be the same homo politicus that was in need of redemption” (266).

Barth will not grant this.  But in not granting it, he is partitioning off a section of man’s redemption.  To be fair, Barth resists this temptation in Christology but not in politics.

Who is Ramsey’s “Liberal?”

A liberal for Ramsey is one who splits politics and military doctrine.

Liberalism for O’Donovan: the inadequacy of every human attempt to render justice.  A magistrate’s power should be limited.    Therefore, power is suspect but necessary (270).

What does Ramsey mean by Just War and International Politics?  So, O’Donovan: “The international sphere was a constitutional vacuum, but by no means a moral or political vacuum” 271). Ramsey suspects there is a continuum that links violent with nonviolent resistance. Indeed, is not democracy justum bellum (Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience, 126)?  Jesus never said to resist evil by ballot boxes.

 

Patristic Age and Politics

From the O’Donovans’ From Irenaeus to Grotius. These are summary points of the introductions to each section.

Outline on Irenaeus to Grotius

  1. Baptismal rules treated military as a problematic profession.
  2. There were Christians in the armed forces.
  3. The difficulty explained
    1. The military oath had quasi-religious connotations.
    2. Then there was the responsibility of bloodshed.
  4. Christian opinion changed imperceptibly between Tertullian and Basil.

There was a subtle difference in how West and East approached rule.  The former was a res publica and the latter a Basileus.

East

Moses as law-giver
Nomos subsumed under Logos

West

  • The line b/t political imagination and Christology was formed by the narratives of Christ’s confrontations with power and the reality of future judgment.

Christ in the Summa Theologiae

Notes from Fergus Kerr’s After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism (Wiley/Blackwell)

ST recast traditional works about vice and virtue in terms of the human being’s progress toward beatitude (Kerr 163).

Prima pars: mystery of the Godhead

Secunda pars:   enjoyment of divine beatitude

Tertia pars: mystery of Christ

religio = religious life.  On a broader level, the Christian religio detaches us from earthly things to focus on heavenly glories.

The Fittigness of God’s Becoming Flesh

  1. Good as self-diffusive.

Motive of the Incarnation:

  1. The incarnation took place to deal with the Fall
  2. Incarnation
  3. There is a tension, though:  Aquinas holds that God is the diffusive Good, which seems to suggest that The Incarnation would have happened anyway.  Yet most fathers hold that it came about because of sin.

The Singular Man:

  1. Was the man Jesus sanctified/transformed by grace?  Aquinas says yes, appealing to Isaiah 61.
  2. The Passion
    1. Cry of dereliction on the cross: The Father withdrew his protection but maintained the union (ST 3.50.2).
    2. Jesus was simultaneously viator and comprehensor.  Thomas says there must have always been a continuous union because of the Trinity.
    3. Then what do we make of death, which is the severing of soul and body (if Christ maintains both human nature and divine nature, which the latter is still in union with the Father)?
      1. Neither Christ’s soul nor body was separated from the Word of God (3.50.3).

T. F. Torrance (Intellectual Biography)

This book is divided into two parts: a brief treatment of Torrance’s life and an examination of his thought. His parents were missionaries to China and fostered a deep piety and evangelistic zeal in the young Torrance. Torrance grew up reading the bible through each year. His dad could repeat the Psalms and Romans by heart.

T. F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography

Of particular interest is Torrance’s lectureships in America, ironically at liberal institutions. They were not ready for his evangelistic style of lecturing. Auburn Theological Seminary (largely liberal) invited a 25 year old Thomas Torrance to guest lecture. He ended up evangelizing his students on the deity of Christ. He was invited to teach at Princeton University but they told him it was to be a neutral atmosphere and that he shouldn’t get involved with the students religious beliefs.
Torrance: I make no such promises. He was hired nonetheless.

McGrath skillfully makes use of unpublished mss and shows us a very interesting side of Torrance. Torrance’s life often borders on a heroism found in novels.

His Thought

Was Torrance a “Barthian?” No. As he made powerfully clear to Donald Macleod he was an “Athanasian” before he was a Barthian. Nevertheless, Torrance’s legacy is connected with Barth’s.

On the reception of Barth

No one is a pure Barthian. McGrath notes the numerous difficulties in Barth’s reception in the English-speaking world. This narrative takes place within Torrance’s “cold war” with John Baillie. McGrath quotes A. Cheyne in suggesting four different ways someone could “receive” Barth’s teachings:

1. Superficial influence, but largely unchanged and staying within the liberal tradition
2. Entire outlook affected but withheld ultimate approval.
3. real but cautious admirers.
4. Uncritical admirers (Alec Cheyne, “The Baillie Brothers,” in Fergusson, Church and Society, 3-37, 33, quoted in McGrath, 89).

McGrath notes that Barth wasn’t well-received in the Scandinavian Lutheran countries, given Barth’s firm commitment to Reformed Christology. Barth took longer to make headroads into Anglican because, as McGrath ruefully muses, Anglicanism didn’t have much of a dogmatic center (McGrath 122-123). This was not the case in Presbyterian Scotland, which in many ways was a dogmatic center!

McGrath lists four criteria that must be in place if a foreign thinker like Barth is to make headway:
1. Competent translations of the most important works into the new language.
2. A journal dedicated to sympathetic viewpoints.
3. A publishing house which is prepared to handle primary and secondary material.
4. A platform where a rising generation may be influenced.

Torrance’s thought is a Reformed reworking of Athanasius’s insight that the homoousion–the oneness of being between Father and Son–means a oneness of Being-in-Act in God’s saving and revealing himself to us. The doctrine of the Trinity is an outcome of an intellectual engagement with God kata physin. “The nature of God was disclosed to be such that Trinitarian thinking was the only appropriate response to the reality thus encountered” (161). Scientific realism allows direct correlations between self-revelation of God and God himself.

McGrath breaks new ground in shedding light on a key tension in Torrance’s so-called “Barthianism.” Can there be a positive relation between God’s self-revelation and a bare natural theology? Maybe. Problem: If all theology proceeds from God’s self-revelation in Christ, then where can natural theology fit (185)?

Early Torrance: “revelation is an act in which God confronts us with his person, in which he imparts himself” (Torrance, Christian Doctrine of Revelation, 32, Auburn lectures). If this is the case, how can man “reason upwards to God?” Again, and as always, the solution is found in Athanasius. Knowledge of God and knowledge of the world share the same foundations in the rationality of God the creator.
1. God is in possession of an intrinsic rationality–the divine logos.
2. That logos has become incarnate in Jesus Christ, so that Christology becomes the key to accessing the inner rationality of God.
3. the divine rationality is also seen in the created order, in which the divine logos can be discerned at work in the contingent yet ordered nature of the world.
4. Creation (1-3) makes natural theology possible.

The book is magnificent. Its rather foreboding price prevents it from being an otherwise perfect introduction to Torrance’s thought

Torrance: Theology in Reconstruction

Torrance advances the argument that theological knowledge and its communication must make use of the thought-currents and speech in the world. He makes the claim that Homoousion as the basic logical economy which governs theological grammar in accordance with the pattern of God’s own self-communication in the Incarnation (Torrance 31-35).

He explains that the Reformation made both breaks and advances in the structures of thought. God so objectifies himself “for us in the incarnation that far from negating he rather posits and fulfills our subjectivity in Christ” (70). Indeed, this claim ties in with election. We do not know God through acting upon him but through being acted upon by him. Reformed theology operates with a view of truth that upholds both sides of the knowledge relationship, the side of “the object over against the human knower, and also the human subject in the form of his knowledge.” Since the Truth is the eternal moving into time, reason must move along with it in order to know it. This means it has to break with older habits of knowing. We see similar parallel in physics: Einstein needed a conception of space and time which didn’t depend on the notion of absolute rest. Torrance: “We have to move across a logical gap between knowledge and knowledge we have yet to acquire, which cannot be inferred logically from what we already know, but which is so rational that it entails a logical reconstruction of what we already know” (73).

His most interesting chapter is the Knowledge of God according to Calvin. Thesis: JC worked through the transition from the medieval mode of thinking in theology to the modern mode. We know God through his speaking to us in his Word (Word, being Logos, inheres in the divine being). There is a compulsion of Veritas on our minds. Knowledge of God, like all true knowledge, is determined by the nature of what is known (86).
*arises out of our obedience.
*evidence: evidence of ultimate reality, which means it is self-evident.

Our intuitive knowledge is in and through God’s Word. It is reached by hearing, not seeing. The Word of God we hear in Scripture reposes in the divine Being. That is the objective ground in our knowledge of God.

His final chapter, “A New Reformation?” summarizes the scope of the book and offers one more conclusion: The Reformation applied the homoousion to the acts of God. Jesus as homoousion is reality of God. He is the divine provided Form and Eidos. The early fathers stressed homoousion as the Being of God in his acts. The Reformation stressed homoousion as the Acts of God in his being. When God gives himself to us in Him, it is no less than God who is at work. Homoousion snaps the medieval doctrine of grace. for grace is none other than Christ–God gives himself to us. This led to a more robust doctrine of the Spirit.

There are two basic Torrancian introductions to his corpus: this work and Mediation of Christ. They cover the same ground, except this work is a bit more advanced.

A Clean Dialectics

1.

Dialectics is the “D” word of theology.  It summons the spectre of Barth.   Reformed theology, though, while not historically Barthian (whatever that means) has always affirmed analogical reasoning (see Bavinck).

2.

Analogical reasoning says a thing is and is not like another thing.   This is a form of dialectics.

3.

God is revealed in the human flesh of Jesus but in a sense he is also veiled in the flesh of Jesus.  God makes present himself in Jesus but he hides his essence in Jesus.

4.

God is indirectly identical with the creaturely medium of his revelation, the creaturely medium being Jesus’s flesh (110).   If revelation is Self-revelation, then it involves the “whole” God, albeit his whole being is hidden in a creaturely veil.  McCormack is clear there is no impartation of divine attributes to Jesus’s flesh.

5.

The hiddenness of God in revelation is the hiddenness of the whole God in revelation.  There is no “behind the back” of God when God reveals himself.  He doesn’t hold back.

6.

The dialectic of veiling/unveiling is not static.  Veiling is ordered towards unveiling.  The stand together in an “ordered history” (179).

Works Cited

McCormack, Bruce.  Orthodox and Modern.