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.