Wednesday, September 20, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

You can read the text here. Throughout I am deeply indebted to Thiselton's marvelous treatment of this section.

As we had seen earlier, the Corinthians were having trouble with factionalism. The antidote, in Paul's mind, is a reminder about the gospel they had received. Paul preached a powerful message, but only to those who saw it that way, to those who were transformed by it. Most did not see it that way. The message of a crucified Messiah seemed like the message of a failed Messiah to the Jews. To the Gentiles it sounded like a sure way to humiliation, not to an elevated status. But that wasn't God's way of seeing things, and that's all that matters is how God sees things. For the Corinthians, Paul's proclamation was a transformative event, one that should change the way they see and evaluate things. God subverts the ways of the world because he does not value what they value. The power of his love overcomes the folly of worldly pride.

Paul goes on to remind them further, that they are a mixed group. While a few of them may have been of high status, most of them weren't. God did not bestow grace upon them because they were worthy of it, but because of his love for them. Grace did not depend on status, but in the long run, status will depend on grace. By being in Christ the Corinthians get to share in his victorious status, a status which only comes through union with him because he paid for it by redeeming us, which then undercuts all pride.

This is the background for why Paul preached as he did in Corinth. He was not trying to get a following for himself as one skilled in rhetoric. He preached in a manner faithful to the message, and he did not try to emphasize anything but the message of Jesus, the crucified Lord. He did not want their allegiance to Jesus to rely on anything he brought to the table, but to rely solely on the work of the Spirit to give them eyes to see reality the way God sees it. All of the power came from the Spirit of Christ, otherwise the centrality of Christ would have been compromised and the footing of the Corinthians new found allegiance would have been shaky.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

You can read the text here.

In the next section Paul addresses one of his major concerns in the letter, one which he has already hinted at, namely, unity. The issue here isn't theological, so when Paul says he wants them all to be in agreement, he isn't talking about some doctrinal issue. The word has more political overtones. He wants them to all take the same side, or be on the same team, working towards a common goal.[1]

The Corinthians had been at odds with one another. They had split into factions that magnified one spiritual leader or another.[2] No matter how great the teacher, s/he is not to replace Jesus as the one to follow. Schism elevates the teacher over Jesus.[3] Our unity is in Jesus, not in a teacher or person. Same with our status. It is God who confers our status as co-heirs with Christ. It is a status that is given freely and makes relative all other statuses that we possess.

Paul's role was to preach the gospel of Jesus, and not in a way that sought to get people to follow him over others, and certainly not in a way that took the focus off of Jesus and put it on himself and what he could do for the Corinthians.[4]

[1] Thiselton hammers this point home.

[2] See Thisleton's very lengthy excursus on the different factions. In the end we really don't know much about them.

[3] I know that Paul is not referencing doctrinal differences, but most new denominational movements started as a following of a charismatic and gifted individual, and to that extent are under the condemnation of this text.

[4] In terms of them attaining status by patronizing and following a gifted teacher.

Monday, August 21, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

You can read the text here. For those following along at home, for this series I'll be leaning on the commentaries of Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner. I'd love to be wrapped up by the end of June, but no promises.

Paul opens the first extant letter we have between him and the Corinthians by mentioning his calling by God to his apostleship.[1] Paul has been called, just like them, for a purpose. Paul's calling is to be an authoritative representative of Jesus, theirs is holiness. The Corinthian call is the same call that goes out to all Christians everywhere: to be holy in Christ. After all they and we are God's church, not the church of any particular personality. Jesus was their Lord. These are the two foundations of unity, belonging to God and holiness. As Thiselton notes, this picture minimizes notions of autonomy of the local church. All churches are part of a whole.

Paul is grateful for the work that he has seen carried out in the Corinthians. They have been given the Spirit as a seal of union with Christ. Through the Spirit they have experienced an abundance from the Father, an abundance we call grace.[3] The Spirit manifest in concrete ways for the Corinthians, in knowledge and speech.[4] These gifts have a purpose: making the Corinthians holier while they wait for the return of Jesus so that they will receive a favorable verdict on that day.[5] The gifts are also a sign that God is with them collectively, helping them and guiding them collectively, to give them peace and comfort that they will collectively attain life in the age to come.

This passage is very powerful in the way it emphasizes the non-individualistic nature of the Christian life. We are not saved alone. We are not even independent churches. We are integrally part of a whole due to our union with Christ. So how do we deal with the challenges this non-independence creates? Stay tuned!

[1] There is disagreement between Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner on whether or not Paul's claim to apostleship is a claim to authority.

[2] Ciampa and Rosner push back against understanding 'sanctified' in moral terms. They stress the root meaning of being 'set apart.' I don't see this as an either or. Being set apart can both be in terms of status but also in terms of quality.

[3] To use Barclay's very useful taxonomy, the perfections of grace on display in this passage is are superabundance, efficacy, and, subtly, incongruity.

[4] Though Thiselton does push back against this, I think it is likely that Paul has in mind the issues he addresses later in the letter related to knowledge and tongues.

[5] Thiselton prefers to put it as 'unimpeachable' over blameless, which I find helpful.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Another Personal Update

About 2 weeks back I finished up my Masters of Applied Statistics, so that means that I will have a lot more time on my hands. This will mean a significant increase in posting to this blog. I am going to start a series on 1 Corinthians much the series I had done on Paul's Thessalonian correspondence. I would expect a post most weeks, even if not quite weekly. I'll also do occasional book reviews. These won't be at quite the same regularity as they used to be for two reasons. First, my wife is no longer a professor, so I don't have library access anymore and have to buy anything I want to read. Second, most of my reading will still be focused on the Exploring the Christian Way of Life series.

The timing of finishing school is good for me in that regard. By early next year I'll be up to Karl Barth who will be followed by Balthasar. Reading those two will take an inordinate amount of time. If I am able to complete a review of their Christology by the end of 2018 and finish my fourth paper, that would be an accomplishment. The next paper, which will focus on modern theologians and current Christian experience and movement of the Spirit, will take another six to nine months. Then I plan to edit all five papers into a cohesive whole (including a thorough rewrite of the first two) issuing a pdf hopefully by the middle of 2020.

Thanks if you've stuck with this blog and me though there hasn't been much content the past three years. I hope and pray it provides nutritious food for thought and conversation.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Penal Substitution (at least Calvin's version) Contradicts the Trinity?

I have been working on my next paper on Christology. Calvin's doctrine of penal substitution is central to his Christology. This has got me thinking. Does it implicitly deny the Trinity (at least an Orthodox version like Aquinas's)? Consider the following argument. It seems sound to me:

1.       The only distinctions between persons in the Trinity is the way they relate to each other.
2.       Calvin’s doctrine of penal substitution affirms a debt payment made from Son to Father.
3.       Debt payment is a financial metaphor that necessarily depends on the concept of accounts or stores of a commodity that can be used for payment.
4.       For the payment to be real (i.e., not fictive) the Son and Father must have separate accounts.

5.       Conclusion: Points 1 and 4 are in contradiction to each other since separate accounts go beyond relations.

I'd love to hear rebuttals.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Aquinas and Conclusion

When we reach Aquinas we come to the pinnacle of orthodoxy when it comes to the Trinity and Christology. Christology was important to Aquinas and he dedicated the first fifty-nine questions of Tertia Pars of his Summa Theologiae[1] to the topic. In many ways it is refreshing because he does not treat solely the more philosophical questions of who Jesus was that preoccupied theologians from the third century on. He also spent extended time on Jesus earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification which was a major innovation.[2] Of course every possible topic of Trinitarian and ontological speculation is also probed. For the sake of space we will only hit some highlights.

Aquinas is clearly in step with the tradition that can be traced from Nicea, through Augustine and the Lombard, to the heart of the Middle Ages. One thing to briefly note is that even in his densest argumentation, Aquinas was not trying to prove elements of his theology via rational argument as that is impossible and not fitting given the topic. Things like the incarnation are held by faith with reason to help one understand better.[3] We will cover three main topics, pre-existence, the two natures, and the mission of the Son and his relation to the other members of the Trinity before we move into a brief discussion of Jesus as king.[4]

One can get a sense for how settled the topic of the pre-existence of the Son was by Aquinas day by how brief and straight-forward his presentation was. The Son pre-existed as a divine person in eternity past.[5] Only his human nature was created.[6] On the other hand, the humanity of the Son and the union between the human and divine receives extended discussion.

Aquinas devotes the first nineteen questions in Tertia Pars to the incarnation and to understanding how the two natures co-exist. For Aquinas it was important that the natures were indeed two. In the incarnation we did not have two natures joining together to make something new. Neither however do we have two persons. The single person of the incarnate Son possessed two united natures.[7] They are so united, that “words which are said of Christ either in his divine or his human nature may be said of either God or man.”[8] He also extensively delves into questions surrounding the divine attributes that Jesus possessed and what his limitations were. One that clearly was a big deal was the extent of Jesus’ knowledge.[9] Aquinas was clearly concerned to affirm the full humanity of Jesus while not undermining his divinity.[10] Humanity required potentiality when it came to knowledge.[11] What is interesting, however, is how Aquinas believed Jesus learned.[12] It was only via discovery, because it would be improper for him, also being divine, to be taught anything.[13] In his divine nature, Jesus possessed complete knowledge as is necessary given his role as the judge of man.[14]

So how did Aquinas understand the mission of the Son and the relation between Father and Son? The relation is what makes the person of the Godhead.[15] What makes the Son, the Son, in distinction from the Father, is the way he relates to the Father.[16] Aquinas cites Augustine when discussing the issue of subordination, saying that the Son is only subordinate “in the form of a servant” because, in his human nature, he did not attain to the goodness of the Father.[17] Human nature is inherently inferior to divine nature. Jesus’ prayer of agony in the garden in Mt. 26:39 can be understood along these lines. It was a demonstration of the submission of a sensual human will to the will of God.[18]
The Son is sent by the Father, and this in no way implies subordination, but is linked to his mission. The Son was not sent to a place where he was not before, since God is everywhere, but is best understood as consisting in “… a new mode of presence in the person sent, his rendering himself in an innovative way.”[19] In other words, he was sent into a new mode of being or revelation, not a new location.[20] The Father, especially his wisdom, was revealed in the incarnation. For this reason the Son came as a human, a rational creature.[21] The Father sends the Son and works through him as one united cause.[22]

Eschatology makes up the conclusion of Aquinas’ work on Christology. Jesus will return as the divine judge and he is sitting at the right hand of the Father, possessing judicial power.[23] The Son is co-regent with the Father. For Aquinas, 1 Cor. 8:6 is programmatic and he interprets the verse as describing their unity of governance.[24] This is an ongoing governance of all of creation. His rule is very much in the here and now and will be displayed dramatically upon his return.

As we can see there has been both consistency and variation among the greatest theologians of the church up to the time of the Reformation. No one would object to our statement that Jesus is the divine king, though some would emphasize that more than others. For some it’s an afterthought outside of eschatology, while others emphasize the importance of Jesus rule now.

His divinity garnered a lot more discussion. Clearly the Father acts through the Son and there is a complete unity of wills between them. Many of the earliest theologians found hierarchy in this relationship with the Son being subordinate to the Father. Over time the church refined its understanding of their relationship and any distinction between Father and Son was understood as reducible to the way they relate to each other. As the focus on the Son’s divinity increased through the centuries, we also see more discussion on what it meant for him to be human. All tried to preserve his humanity, some succeeded better than others. Also, was his humanity divinized, were his natures mixed into something new, or were his two natures in contact but always distinct? Here no consensus formed among the theologians we consulted, though over time divinization clearly fell out of favor.

[1] I will abbreviate Summa Theologiae as ST and all quotations from the Summa are from Shapcote’s translation.
[2] Wawrykow 2005 p. 233.
[3] Wawrykow 2005 p. 228 and also Emery 2007 pp.25-26. I appreciate that I never sensed any of the hand waving of Augustine anywhere in the portions of ST that I read.
[4] My treatment of Aquinas is very selective, otherwise it could easily turn into a paper of its own.
[5] ST.TP.Q16.A9
[6] ST.TP.Q16.A10
[7] ST.TP.Q2.A6, c.f., ST.TP.Q17. Aquinas pushes back hard against a Christology of mixture. Aquinas also makes clear that the union is not eternal (presumably he believes it begins in the incarnation) in ST.TP.Q2.A7. Also see the strong affirmation of ST.TP.Q16.A1 that in Jesus, ‘God is man,’ i.e., Jesus was a member of the Trinity. Wawrykow 2005 has a nice discussion on pp. 225-27. It is also important to note that Aquinas pushes back against the notion of a divinized human nature. Christ as man is not God. See ST.TP.Q16.A3, A7, A11.
[8] ST.TP.Q16.A4 with due qualifications.
[9] ST.TP.Q9-Q12.
[10] See esp. Gondreau 2005 passim, esp. p. 255.
[11] ST.TP.Q9.A1.
[12] I.e., he gained empirical knowledge.
[13] ST.TP.Q9.A4. Davies 2014 p. 303, c.f., Gondreau 2005 p. 267. This is a place where I think his balancing act falls apart. I see no reason why Jesus couldn’t be taught. However, I appreciate the point Gondreau makes, that even going this far was groundbreaking.
[14] ST.TP.Q10.A2. Davies 2014 p. 302. Other discussion points include omnipotence (he didn’t have it) and Christ’s “defects.” Sinfulness was obviously not one of them. Jesus did not even have the capacity to sin. Pain and fear were (though the discussion on his fear is pretty complex). See ST.TP.Q13-Q15.
[15] More precisely, “…the person cannot be known independently of the relative property which constitutes it as such.” Emery 2007 p. 120.
[16] The word distinction is intentionally chosen here. For Aquinas, there are no differences between persons in the Trinity, only distinctions. See Emery 2007, pp. 134-35. This move by Aquinas, though not completely innovative on his part, provides the most satisfactory classical explanation of the Trinity of anyone I have read to date. See Emery 2007, pp. 87-96 for a full presentation.
[17] ST.TP.Q20.A1.
[18] ST.TP.Q21.A2.
[19] Emery 2007 p. 367, emphasis original.
[20] On the importance of revelation to the divine mission see Emery 2007, pp. 200-04.
[21] Emery explains that this was also the way to redeem all of creation, as Aquinas understood humanity as summing up all of the created order. This is an interesting suggestion if humans are indeed the end of the evolutionary processes that God used to bring life to this earth. His coming as a creature was necessary for mediation to take place at all, see ST.TP.Q26,A2.
[22] Emery 2005, p. 71. C.f., Wittman 2016, p. 154.
[23] ST.PP.Q58-Q59. Davies 2014, p. 322. It is important to Aquinas to affirm that the Son will return while possessing both a divine and human nature.
[24] ST.PP.Q103.A3.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Calvin on Loving Your Neighbor

I ran across this paragraph yesterday when reading Calvin's Institutes. This is from book 2, chapter 6, section 55. It needs to be heard today as much as at any other time. Emphasis mine.

But I say: we ought to embrace the whole human race without exception in a single feeling of love; here there is no distinction between barbarian and Greek, worthy and unworthy, friend and enemy, since all should be contemplated in God, not in themselves. When we turn aside from such contemplation, it is no wonder we become entangled in many errors. Therefore, if we rightly direct our love, we must first turn our eyes not to man, the sight of whom would more often engender hate than love, but to God, who bids us to extend to all men the love we bear to him, that this may be an unchanging principle: whatever the character of the man, we must yet love him because we love God.

Calvin nailed the interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It's amazing how it still speaks today and rebukes us on both the left and the right. Donald Trump is unquestionably of low moral character, yet I must find a way to see him with the love of God and pray for him. I am not permitted to hate him, even if I denounce the reprehensible things he says and does. That is not easy!

For my Christian brothers and sisters who have embraced him, they need to check themselves to ensure that they are embracing the whole human race without exception, not acting with hatred towards Muslims, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, or "liberals." Instead they too need to do the hard work of extending love even if it is not natural or easy. Of course extending love is different than agreeing, but exclusion and oppression are not love.

As we saw in the Super Bowl a couple of days ago, the country longs for healing. How can we as the church bring God's healing if it doesn't start in our hearts and communities first? If only we would focus more on love than on being right!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Peter Lombard

From here we will fast forward to Peter Lombard. I realize I am skipping over several Christological controversies. I don’t view them as relevant for our purposes because they were either overly technical and seeking precision over matters I don’t view as important, or the views under discussion will come under discussion at some point in this or a future paper when discussing some of our key theologians, so I will leave them until then.[1]

The Lombard may seem like a bit of an odd choice. He’s certainly not one to be charged with originality. However, no work was more influential in shaping medieval theology than his Sentences. He also serves as a prime example of traditional orthodoxy and is particularly clear and consistent with his terminology.[2] Additionally, I believe the depth of his thought has been underappreciated.

Peter’s key source was Augustine, so there’s a high level of agreement between the two. Particularly noticeable is their unwavering commitment to divine unity, with no subordination and the insistence that all three members of the Trinity participate in every action by any member.[3] The only distinction between persons is in how they relate to one another, with the Son being eternally generated from the Father.[4]

Christology is discussed in a systematic fashion in book 3 of the Sentences. He has major sections on the incarnation, soteriology, and the virtues, presenting a well-rounded doctrine focusing on ontology and activity. At this point we will focus on ontology and in a later paper cover activity more thoroughly. Jesus possessed both divine and human natures, united in partnership from birth.[5] Peter spends a lot of time defending this unity as opposed to a divinization of Jesus’ human nature because he felt that divinization would, in effect, deny the humanity of Jesus or allow one to distinguish between divine and human natures.[6] When the Son took on human nature he took on its defects, but not its faults. This way he could deal with the problem of sin without bearing any guilt.[7] Also, his human nature became enlightened via contact with his divine nature so that he did not fall prey to the fault of ignorance.[8] In the process of making this argument he walks a tightrope because he cannot have the possibility of sin or distraction from God caused by suffering or any other experience in the human body or jeopardize the impassability of God. Thus Christ truly experienced suffering and pain but not to the point where it ever drew him away from communion with God.[9] Human emotions were experienced but not succumbed to. It was something that Christ’s divine nature allowed him to rise above. Jesus’ ultimate exultation is a recognition of the fact that, as a man, he was God (i.e., he possessed divine nature).[10]

There is no extended discussion of Jesus’ status as Messiah or king in the Lombard. We do get a discussion of his role in judgment. In his glorified human form he executes judgment on the last day, as the representative of the triune God.[11] He also seems to imply that a glorified human form is not the ultimate form of the Son.[12]  This is a kingly action, and presumably Peter understood it as such, but it is not made explicit.

[1] If one wants to read up on what I’m skipping, I recommend Uthemann 2007.
[2] His orthodoxy on the humanity of Christ was challenged, however, I agree with Rosemann 2004 pp. 131-33 and Colish 1994 pp. 423-25 that those challenges were misguided. He doesn’t seem to deviate from traditional orthodoxy. Any difficulties I pose are difficulties for the mainstream Christian tradition as a whole. On his terminological clarity, see the praise of Colish 1994 pp. 398-99.
[3] Sentences 1.XXV.3, 1.XXXI, 3.IV.1. Rosemann 2004 p. 91.
[4] Sentences 1.XXVI.2, 3, 1.XXVII.2, 3. Rosemann 2004 pp. 84-85. This extends to Christological titles as well, like Image and Word. They are taken to express how the Son relates to the Father and nothing more. See Sentences 1.XXVII.3, 1.XXXIII
[5] Sentences 3.I.2, 3.III.1. Rosemann 2004 pp. 122-26. See also Sentences 3.XIII.1 where the Lombard’s total commitment to full divinity from birth causes him to deny growth in wisdom as Jesus grew. This seems more in line with the portrait of the apocryphal gospels than the canonical ones. This view also subtly differs from Augustine’s theology of mixture of natures. See Colish 1994, p. 418.
[6] Colish 1994 p. 426.
[7] Similar to Augustine, Mary’s virginity is important at this point. Sentences 3.III.4.
[8] Sentences 3.XV.1-4. This assumes that the human and divine natures were both present and united as the divine Son took on flesh. See Sentences 3.V-VII.
[9] This does lead him to a strange statement in 3.XV.4 where he denies that Christ was sorrowful because of his impending death but claims that Jesus was sorrowful “because of those who were going to be scandalized…” c.f., Mark 14:34. This is one of a few cases where the Lombard’s theology can’t make room for diversity of Scripture and he just explains it away. See Rosemann 2004 p. 136
[10] Sentences 3.XVIII.3.
[11] Remember, Father, Son, and Spirit always act in concert. Sentences 4.XLVIII.2. Colish 1994 pp. 712-13.
[12] Sentences 4.XLVIII.2, Rosemann 2004 p. 187.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Nicea and Augustine

Just as Arius and “Arianism” is greatly misunderstood, so is the Council of Nicea and its creed. The goal was not to create a universally binding statement of Christology that was authoritative for all time. Its purpose was to resist Arianism. Local baptismal creeds that often deployed different language were assumed to still hold sway over their congregations.[1] The creed’s goal was to win as wide a consensus as possible in renouncing Arius and those like him.[2] The Son was declared to be of the same substance as the Father and eternally generated from him. He was true God from true God which eliminated any possibility of an adoptionist Christology. Subordination is not entirely eliminated by the creed, just the Arian form that posited that the Son was ontologically inferior because Father and Son share the same being.[3] In the anathemas coming from the council, insistence on the immutability of the Son was also insisted upon.[4] The difficulty this last point makes for the incarnation was not perceived.

Augustine stood in continuity with Nicean Christology even as he pushed beyond it, especially in terms of types of themes he focused on.[5] His most focused treatment of Christology is in On the Trinity. We will also work in relevant material City of God.[6] While his formally presented Christology may have lacked the New Testament emphasis on kingship, it is present in ancillary but important ways in this latter work.

Of utmost importance to Augustine was to emphasize the unity and equality of Father, Son, and Spirit. All three members of the Trinity are involved in every divine act.[7] There is a creator/creature dichotomy, and the Son is on the side of the creator and thus equal to the Father.[8] The eternal Son is in no way subordinate to the Father, it is only in the incarnation, when enfleshed, that he is subordinate, in his role as mediator.[9] To substantiate this, Augustine resorts to what can only be called terrible exegesis trying to dismiss passages that could challenge his position and special pleading.[10] This process culminates in Augustine’s discussion of the sending of the Son in On the Trinity II.2. Augustine starts from the assumption that God is everywhere, which means that the Son is everywhere. So what can be meant by the sending of the Son in the incarnation, since he already was in the world? It merely means that he became human.[11] Additionally, the logic of Augustine’s understanding of the way the Godhead acts results in him affirming that not only the Father, but the Son as well sends the Son.[12] At every step of the argument, Augustine remains steadfastly committed to his foundational beliefs about the divine economy.[13] However, Augustine does try to be careful to not lapse into a modalistic understanding of the Trinity. He clarifies that while they act inseparably, they are distinct manifestations of the same substance.[14] The heart of their distinctiveness is the way they relate to each other.[15]

The humanity of Christ posed some interesting challenges for Augustine. Augustine believed that being born of a sexual act caused one’s soul to be corrupted prior to birth.[16] Thus, the virgin birth is vitally important since it excuses Jesus from the taint of sin. His flesh was real human flesh and subject to physical corruption, however there was no possibility of sinning.[17] He could embrace death, the penalty of sin without a sinful nature.[18] Additionally, whatever was left of his will was overridden by the Word dwelling in him.[19] Of course this means a very different experience of humanity for Jesus. Augustine went as far as to place the experience of emotions down to the choice of the Son to do so, so he could be a model for humanity.[20] With Keech, I must agree that it is hard not to see Augustine’s Jesus as less than fully human.

Divine kingship was a very important for Augustine. That the God Christians worship is king of his kingdom is the central presupposition of the City of God. His kingship is rooted in his role as creator.[21] While Ayres pushes back on claims that Augustine focused so heavily on unity in the Godhead that he eliminated difference, his emphasis on unity results in subsuming the New Testament emphasis on Jesus as divine king. Most of the discussion of kingship in City of God is the kingship of God more generically. When Jesus is called king, it is specifically when discussing eschatology.[22] There Jesus takes on the kingly role of revealing divine judgment on the last day.[23] As it relates to salvation, Jesus’ kingship is subsumed into a bigger category, that of mediator.[24] That Augustine does not focus on the kingship of Jesus is not surprising given Augustine’s insistence that all three members of the Trinity participate in every act. Otherwise it would be nothing short of stunning in a work like the City of God, which emphasizes the superiority of divine rule. Given the content of the work, it seems fair to say that Augustine seems to be unwilling to emphasize the role of the Son in ruling the way the New Testament texts do.

For Augustine, the role of the Son is primarily to reveal the Father as mediator between God and humanity. Augustine believes that is why there is such strong focus in Scripture on the Son as the wisdom and Word of God.[25] Through the Word, God’s wisdom is revealed and we are instructed in the proper pattern to follow. Our debt of sin made it necessary for Christ to come, so he could subvert the system.[26] In the incarnation you have a perfect mixing of human and divine natures, resulting not in God in man, but God actually being man.[27] When we are redeemed we participate in the life of God, but not perfectly as Christ does.[28]

[1] Ayres 2004 pp. 85-92.
[2] Ibid., p. 99.
[3] Edwards 2006 p. 553, also Ayres 2004 pp. 95-96.
[4] Grillmeier 1975 p. 266.
[5] I am not suggesting that we seek to understand Augustine’s Trinitarian theology as an adaption of Nicean theology, per the concerns expressed by Ayres 2010 p. 2. That there is continuity, particularly in the topics of focus is obvious as Ayres would agree. If one is interested in the speculative aspects of Augustine’s Trinitarian theology, Ayres work is the place to start along with Levering 2013. An adequate treatment would takes us way too far afield given our purposes. I will simply suggest that Augustine’s analogies of books 8-11 of On the Trinity may make the divine relationships too abstract for real beings, even if their existence is spiritual.
[6] It is a shortcoming of this paper that I could not read through his sermons, as I’m sure his expositions of Scripture would greatly enrich this paper. The task was just too great.
[7] On the Trinity II.7., Kelly 1978 p. 273.
[8] On the Trinity I.1-2.
[9] Ibid. I.3.14. For Augustine, the human Jesus Christ is less than the eternal Son, here taking Philippians 2:7 seriously. Even here Augustine is very cautious. See Ayres 2010 pp. 178-81.
[10] See, e.g., On the Trinity I.3.15-21, II.1. II.1.3 is particularly inadequate. Levering 2013 p. 154 notes that Augustine in the end claims that Scripture speaks this way to wear down our pride and cause us to rely on grace. That sounds to me like an admission of defeat.
[11] Of course the sending of the Son has more meaning for Augustine, as the sending of the Son opens up the possibility of faith for us via the revelation of the Son. See Ayres 2010, pp. 183-85, who generally is more generous than I in his reading of Augustine, a fact I don’t take lightly.
[12] In fact, the divine Son of Man stayed in heaven while the Son of God walked the Earth. Keech 2012 pp. 92-93.
[13] This includes the Old Testament theophanies. Often all three members of the Trinity are involved. See On the Trinity II.4-7, especially II.5.26, Kelly 1978 p. 273 and Levering 2013 pp. 155-56.
[14] On the Trinity IV.5.30.
[15] Kelly 1978, p. 274, Chadwick 1986 p. 93. Aquinas fleshes this point out in detail as we will see later on.
[16] Keech 2012 pp. 147-48.
[17] Ibid. has an excellent extended discussion on pp. 92-99.
[18] Ibid. draws out the ties to Origen’s thought on pp. 124-33.
[19] Ibid pp. 181-83.
[20] Ibid. 2012 pp. 162-63.
[21] See Ayres 2010 pp. 196-97.
[22] See, e.g., City of God XV.1, XX.9
[23] City of God XX.30. See Levering 2013 p. 142 and Kuehn 2007 p. 580.
[24] City of God XVII.16 is particularly instructive. In a passage discussing Christ in kingly terms, Sion is said to be set free by rebirth.
[25] On the Trinity VII.2.4.
[26] Keech 2012 p. 82.
[27] Grillmeier 1975 pp. 409-11.
[28] On the Trinity IV.4. See Levering 2013 p. 158, Grillmeier 1975 pp. 410-11.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Origen

Next we examine Origen who was probably the greatest theologian the church saw in the first few centuries, if not all of the way to Aquinas. Christology was one of a few areas where Origen came under fire after his death. The criticism leveled against him was unfair in many ways. We will attempt to sketch out the main contours of his understanding of the Son in what follows covering pre-existence, the relationship of Son to Father, and the nature and purposes of the incarnation.

For Origen, the Son is the eternal image of God, which entailed a preservation of the ‘unity of nature and substance.’[1] There never was a time when he was not with the Father and their unity did not override their individuality.[2] But, while Origen did see distinctions, and even a degree of subordination in the Son,[3] he did not see subordination ever entailing that there were cross purposes between Son and Father. Their wills were a unity, but they were not the same.[4] For example, Origen clearly sees the Father as the embodiment of goodness, but he is at least willing to discuss whether or not that is true of the Son.[5] As the image, he makes the Father known. His role is revelatory.[6] He exists in the intermediate space between the uncreated God and created humanity.[7] Origen interprets Phil. 2:6 to mean that in the incarnation, the incorporeal, pre-existent Son emptied himself of his equality with God. In his role as the Christ he was subordinate to the Father.[8] It resulted in no loss of divinity. In human flesh, the fullness of the Word and wisdom of God resided.[9]

The most fascinating aspect of Origen’s Christology is his speculative suggestion that even in his pre-existence, the Son had a dual nature. Origen believed that all souls pre-existed and the soul of the human Jesus, pre-existed in union with the divine Word.[10] This soul remained unsullied when all other souls fell prior to creation, which made it the “…ideal meeting-point between the infinite Word and finite human nature.[11] The comingling resulted in the deification of Jesus’ humanity and his participation in the life of God.[12] It served as the pattern for our own participation.[13] Like Justin, the divine Son forms the necessary link between God and creation. The Son must occupy some sort of intermediate space to make mediation possible, that is to say there must be real distinction between Father and Son.[14]

More specifically, Origen sees the Son as the divine Word, or rational principle which is rooted in God’s wisdom.[15] Here, again, in some ways, his views are similar to Justin’s, though there is a stronger emphasis on the Son’s role as revealing God and his wisdom.[16] The incarnation itself, its emptying, for Origen, was the epitome of God’s wisdom and showed us the fullness of the Son’s deity.[17] “…the Word became man in order to translate his message into a human person, into human acts and deeds: it is in fact the whole life of the incarnate Logos that is the Word.”[18] Through the life of Jesus we see God’s wisdom on display.

Interestingly, Origen believes that in his second coming that the Son will return in his divine nature alone.[19] Presumably this is due to the way he downplays the corporeality of the resurrection. Origen, thus sees the Son as the Messiah as a purely divine king after his resurrection and in his return.[20] This is probably rooted in the fact that his kingship is rooted in his status as firstborn of all creation.[21] Origen was not a millenarian, so Christ as king focuses mainly on the judicial image and thus plays a more focused role in his eschatology than Justin or Irenaeus. That in no way implies Origen did not see the resurrected Son as king now, he clearly did,[22] but it isn’t made to bear much weight and seems more of a traditional affirmation than a central conviction.

[1] First Principles I.ii.6, trans. Butterworth. See also IV.iv.1 for a clear statement on the relationship of Father and Son.
[2] Ramelli 2011 pp. 26-43.
[3] On subordination, see e.g., First Principles I.iii.5 in a Greek fragment from Justinian, which is corroborated by Jerome. It is difficult to determine the precisely how much of a subordinationist Origen was. Neither Rufinus or Jerome represented him completely accurately. My method is to follow Rufinus, unless there is corroboration of Jerome’s reading from another source. See comments in Balthasar 1984, p. 14 on the necessity of not-overemphasizing Origen’s subordinationism. Trigg 1998 pp. 23-24, too, emphasizes Origen did not anticipate Arianism as does Crouzel 1989 pp. 174-75, 186-88 and Heine 2010 p. 97. Ramelli 2011 passim­ argues that Origen was in no way a subordinationist which I think goes too far. Hildebrand 2011 pp.104-05 sees tension in Origen’s thought that could lead to Arianism or Nicean orthodoxy. That seems probably right, though I think the balance tilts more toward orthodoxy.
[4] Lyman 2010 p. 120. See Heine 2010 p. 99 for a discussion of how Origen differentiates himself from other contemporary views of the Trinity.
[5] First Principles I.ii.13 again from a Greek fragment in Justinian, corroborated by Jerome.
[6] Ibid. I.ii.8. His being the image coalesces with his identity as Word and wisdom.
[7] Contra Celsum III.34.
[8]First Principles I.ii.8.
[9] Trigg 1998 pp. 25-26.
[10] Crouzel 1989 pp. 192-93
[11] Kelly 1978 p. 155.
[12] Ibid. 156-57.
[13] Ibid. pp. 156-157 and Grillmeier 1975 p. 141.
[14] Young 2006 p. 464-65. As we will see later on, this is where Augustine’s views run into difficulty.
[15] Heine 2010 p. 93.
[16] See, e.g., Contra Celsum VI.69-71. Trigg 1998, p. 23.
[17] Jer J 8, 8 and First Principles I.ii.8 from Balthasar 1984, p. 122.
[18] Crouzel 1989 p. 69.
[19] Contra Celsum I.56.
[20] Kelly 1978 p. 157-58.
[21] Grillmeier 1975 p. 144.
[22] See e.g., First Principles I.ii.10.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Irenaeus

Starting from Irenaeus, Christology, in some respects, moves on. A big part of this would have been due to the “gnostic” controversies. It became increasingly important to clarify the relationship between Father and Son and to minimize their distinctiveness, while still maintaining Jesus’ full humanity. From this point on, clashes over heresy about the nature of Christ and discussions related to Trinitarian theology dominate Christological discussion to the point that the original emphasis on Jesus’ Messianic identity fades to the background.[1] Maintaining the affirmation that Jesus was both human and divine was critical for Irenaeus and those after him because they saw that as the necessary grounds of salvation.[2]

Of particular interest to Irenaeus was the baptism of Jesus. What happened when he received the Spirit?[3] It was not the means by which the Word entered Jesus. He was not merely human before that point.[4] Rather it was a divinization of the human nature of Jesus, a nature that was already connected to the divine Word, and in line with the divinization of the king pictured in some of the Psalms as we discussed in our first paper. It empowered the human Jesus for Messianic ministry, presumably by unifying the wills of the human and divine natures of Jesus more fully and culminated in the resurrection. The reception of the Spirit in Jesus also is what paves the way for our own divinization and hence our salvation.

What was Jesus status in the Trinity? In a passage like Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 7, Irenaeus can sound like he was a subordinationist. However Irenaeus makes crystal clear statements on the matter in Against Heresies III.VI, referring to the Father and the Son, “Therefore neither would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named as God, definitely and absolutely, him who was not God, unless he were truly God…”[5] Thus, what we find in Irenaeus is only functional subordination, not ontological subordination like what Justin argued for.[6] The increased focus on Jesus’ unity with the Father in Irenaeus is not solely driven by his clashes with the “gnostics.” If God is to be made known, or seen, through Jesus then there must be the utmost unity.[7]

Jesus still maintains Messianic identity and is presented in kingly terms by Irenaeus. The focus of his kingship has expended as, “…the Christ is called Son of God and King of the Gentiles, that is, of all mankind…”[8] which is part of the core of a lengthy exposition on Jesus’ identity.[9] It was God’s plan to install Jesus as king forever on David’s throne, and “…he awaits the time appointed by the Father for the judgment when all enemies shall be put under him.”[10] All of this is very traditional Christological belief. Given its position of prominence in the Demonstration, I take it to be the most central of his beliefs about Jesus.[11] Jesus’ status as divine king remained central for Irenaeus. This kingdom also remained very much an earthly kingdom, as he expected Jesus to reign on earth for 1000 years after the resurrection.[12] This is in contrast to Justin who understood the kingdom spiritually, even while continuing to claim a physical resurrection. For Irenaeus, Jesus was the king who restores and heals his creation at great cost to himself and in revelation of his divinity.[13]

[1] The fact that we can discuss Christology apart from Messianic identity, given what the root word for Christ in the Greek meant to the earliest followers of Jesus, is amazing.
[2] Smith 1997 p. 622. For a discussion on the nature of the union of the two natures in Irenaeus’ thought see Briggman 2013 passim.
[3] For this entire paragraph I am deeply indebted to Smith 1997.
[4] See e.g., Against Heresies 3.IX.3
[5] Translation from Ante-Nicean Fathers Vol. 1. This passage is emphasized helpfully by Presley 2012 p. 169.
[6] Minns 2010 pp. 60-62 argues persuasively that if anything Irenaeus was a modalist.
[7] See Slusser 2012 passim for an exposition on the centrality of Christ as revealer for Irenaeus. The argument here seems to be anticipating the fuller elaboration we find in Barth.
[8] Dem. 49. All translations from the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching are from Robinson as printed in Mackenzie 2002.
[9] It roughly covers Dem 31-88. Though see the arguments that 42b-97 is focused more on the Holy Spirit in Wiegel 2014,pp. 122-26, 129-30. Even if granting that, I would simply say that the focus on the Holy Spirit is on his role as witness to Christ, which Wiegel does grant, “the reader should expect the section on the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the work and person of Christ” p. 130. See also MacKenzie 2002,p. 177.
[10] Dem. 85.
[11] In my opinion, a positive pedagogical work is more likely to emphasize his core or central beliefs rather than a negative work like Against Heresies.
[12] See e.g., Against Heresies 5.XXXIII-XXXVI, esp 5.XXXVI.3. See Minns 2010 pp.140-47 for an extended discussion of Irenaeus’ eschatology.
[13] In addition to the just cited texts of Against Heresies, Dem. 67-69, also with a focus on judgment of the wicked.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Justin Martyr

Justin expounded his Messianic Christology most extensively in his Dialogue with Trypho, so that is the natural place for us to focus our discussion. In the middle of the second century there apparently was still Jewish-Christian dialogue[1] concerning the beliefs of Christians, though they clearly are two separate groups appearing to have separate identities. Much of the discussion continued to focus on Jesus, and who exactly he was.

For Justin, the divinity of the Messiah and his identity as Jesus was something that one should be able to gather from a straight forward reading of the Old Testament. The Old Testament theophanies require the existence of another divine being other than God the Father. The Father was transcendent and did not appear in space and time (e.g, Dialogue 60.2).[2] He acted through divine agents on earth, chiefly his Son, whom he had begotten before as a rational, revelatory power, though clearly lacking transcendence. His role was to reveal the Father’s will.[3] For a transcendent God to be known he required a divine mediator. The pre-existent Son was the God who acts in both the Old Testament and the New, tying the two together. In the Old Testament, “He acts in a way which is considered as an anticipation of his incarnation.”[4] Any distinction between Father and Son did not extend to difference in will.[5]

The scope of the Son’s revelatory activity extends beyond his mission to the Jewish people. Justin applies a variety of philosophical understandings of the logos to the Son.[6] All who lived rationally, that is to say morally, knew the Son to some extent.[7] However, their knowledge was incomplete.[8]

He also argues extensively for the Messianic status of Jesus and the divinity of the Messiah. When this is all put together you get a divine, pre-existent Jesus. While affirming the divinity and pre-existence of Jesus, Justin never approaches later Trinitarian thought that fuses Father and Son into such a close relationship as to be nearly indistinct. Dialogue 128-129 is one of two particularly clear passages on that point. For example, his statement in 128.4 that “…this power which the prophetic Word also calls God and Angel not only is numbered as different by its name (as is the light of the sun), but is something distinct in real number.”[9] In fact one could even claim that Justin understands Jesus as, “…another God next to the Father of all, begotten by him as a distinct person.”[10] This seems to be a very natural conclusion from the basis of both the Old Testament theophanies which Justin discussed at length as well as some of the New Testament texts that we examined in our last paper. In 2 Apology 13 we get a statement of similar effect, “For next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God…”.[11] Again we have a clear statement of distinction, and even subordination but also an emphasis on unity based on God being the source of the Son.[12]

For Justin, then, the gospel centered on the Son’s saving begun in the Old Testament and brought to a head in the Messiah Jesus. This is the overarching argument in the Dialogue with Trypho.[13] Jesus’s death put himself in a place of authority over evil powers; a subduing that will be completed when he returns in a great act of judgment.[14] Jesus return was something that was looked forward to by the church.[15] It was through him that they would become the people of God awaiting the return of their heavenly king.[16]

[1] Otherwise why write the Dialogue?
[2] This is a key point for Justin. Any other view is ridiculous to him. See Bucur 2014 p.37, and the rest of the article for a discussion as to the degree to which Justin is innovative.
[3] See especially Dialogue 60.5 and 61.1 and Trakatellis 1976 pp. 86-88, to whom I am greatly indebted in my entire reading of Justin’s Christology, even if I have slightly different concerns at times. See also Barnard 1967, pp. 89-91.
[4] Ibid., p. 91.
[5] Osborn 1973 p. 32.
[6] Hurtado 2003 pp. 643-48.
[7] First Apology 46, Second Apology 13. Bucur 2014 p. 36.
[8] Precisely how incomplete is unclear. See Kelly 1978 p. 146.
[9]All translations of the Dialogue come from Falls 2003
[10] Trakatellis 1976 p. 180. See also Barnard 1967 p. 89-90.
[11] Translation from Ante-Nicean Fathers Vol. 1.
[12] Osborn 1973 p. 29.
[13] See ibid. p. 100-105.
[14] Dialogue with Trypho 121.3 as pointed out by Osborn 1973, p. 63.
[15] Dialogue with Trypho 52.1,2 again ibid. p. 192. Bates 2009 passim drives home that Justin has inverted the expectation of Isaiah with the church in the role and dominant status of Israel and Israel in the role of the nations and Jewish individuals incorporated into the church if they believe in Jesus.
[16] First Apology 11. Justin sees the battle as being on the spiritual plane, though his willingness to be martyred shows that he does not see the battle as only spiritual, but at the intersection of spiritual and physical (whether the duality is appropriate or not is irrelevant as that is how Justin saw things).

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Introduction and 2 Clement

As we noted at the end of our last paper, we start to see Christology develop in a different direction in the Gospel of John. The gospel is roughly contemporary with Revelation, which still seems to have a clear Messianic Christology. Towards the end of the first century, we are clearly seeing divergent Christologies.[1] There probably was diversity in belief even earlier, but no documentation of it has survived. Certainly in the second century, the diversity of beliefs increased and is better documented. Our goal in this paper is not to track down each variant belief and understand how it came to be. Instead we will focus on key figures and documents in the history of the church. We want to wrestle with the great minds of the church as they wrestled with the identity of Jesus. Specifically, we want to focus on how they developed what we found to be the key New Testament insight, that Jesus is the divine king. This will be our general methodological approach, to hear from our experts. Our path will be chronological, with our early focal points being 2 Clement, the works of Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus. From there we will move into Origen, Nicea, and Augustine. Then we will conclude with the Lombard and Aquinas before engaging reformation and post-reformation theologians (Calvin, Wesley, Schleiermacher, Newman, Barth, and von Balthasar) in our next paper.

The dating of Second Clement is an open question, but our best guess is that it probably dates to somewhere around the early-mid second century.[2] We bring it up not because of its importance to the growth of Christianity, but because it will serve as corroboration for the reading we laid out in our previous two papers. Christology is not something argued for in 2 Clement, rather it is argued from, it is conventional to its auditors,[3] which makes it all the more valuable as a witness to what was likely the dominant Christology of the early church. 2 Clement opens in 1:1 with an exhortation to “think of Jesus Christ as we do of God, as judge of the living and the dead.”[4] This is a simple statement of functional equality, where Jesus is pictured as the eschatological judge.[5] The rest of 2 Clement assumes this fact and develops a series of ethical appeals on its basis.[6] Jesus’ status is morally foundational.[7]

Chapters 3-5 expand on this basic point. 3:1 plainly contrasts the Father with the dead gods that pagans sacrifice to. Jesus is then identified in verses 2 and following as God’s agent of salvation. Christians are to confess Jesus by doing what he says.[8] This all sounds very much like a king/subject relationship. This is made clear at the end of chapter 5; what Christ promises is, “rest in the coming kingdom and eternal life!” (5:5c). Again, it is important to note that Jesus’ role as divine king is fundamental for the unknown author of 2 Clement, and the whole thing still sounds very Jewish, or at least anchored to Jewish concepts and understandings of the Messiah and his kingdom. Justin Martyr holds a similar theology, and spells it out in more detail which will be good confirmation, again, of our thesis from the last paper.[9] We will see, though, some ways in which Justin is starting to innovate, and elements of his thought which may have begun the drift away from a Jewish Christology.


[1] If von Wahlde’s reconstruction of the Gospel of John is correct, we can probably even push it back into the 60s, into the second edition of the Gospel, See von Wahlde 2010 pp. 397-430 for a full discussion of Christology in the Gospel and Epistles of John.
[2] This is the well-reasoned opinion of Tuckett 2012. See his discussion on pp. 62-64. C.f., Holmes 2007 pp. 133-35.
[3] 2 Clement was likely a sermon of some sort. See Holmes 2007 p. 133 and Tuckett 2012 pp. 19-23.
[4] All quotations of 2 Clement will utilize the translation of Holmes 2007.
[5] Tuckett 2012 ad loc.
[6] Ibid.
[7] A point which will be developed fully in a series of papers further down the road.
[8] Ibid. 
[9] In fact, according to Hurtado 2003 p. 647, all proto-orthodox texts from the second century portray Jesus as a subordinate divine figure.