Archive for the ‘Theological’ Category

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), of whom I have written a biographical sketch elsewhere, wrote a work called De Pace Fidei (On Peace in Religion), which is a dialogue between the adherents of various religions. In the dialogue the following interesting discourse on justification appears:

Thereupon Paul, a teacher of the Gentiles, rose up, and by the authority of the Word spoke the following:

Paul: It is necessary that we show that salvation of the soul is not obtained by works, but rather from faith, for Abraham, the father of the faith of all those who believe, whether Arab, Christian, or Jew, believed in God, and he was considered as being justified. The soul of the just will inherit life everlasting. Once this is admitted, these varieties of ritual will not be a cause of dissension, for as sensible signs of the truth of belief these things that have been instituted and received as signs are capable of change, not so the thing that is signified.

Tartar: Tell us how, then, does faith save?

Paul: If God should promise certain things because of His liberality and generosity, should not He, Who is able to provide all things and Who is truth, be believed?

Tartar: I’ll have to admit that. No one can possibly be deceived who believes Him, and if he fails to believe him he would not be worthy of obtaining any gift.

Paul: What, therefore, justifies him who obtains justice?

Tartar: Not merits, otherwise this would not be something gratuitous, but a debt.

Paul: Very well put, but because no living person can be justifed through works in the sight of God, but only gratuitously, the Omnipotent gives whatsoever He will to whomsoever He will. Then, if anybody would be worthy to acquire a promise that was purely gratuitous, it is necessary that he believe in God. It is in this, therefore, that he is justified, because from this alone will he obtain the promise, because he believess in God and expects the Word of God to take place.

Tartar: After God has promised something it is certainly just that He keeps His promises. The person who believes Him is justifed rather through the promise than through its faith.

Paul: God, who promised the seed of Abraham, in which all were to be blessed, justified Abraham, that he might acquire the promise. But if Abraham had not believed in God he would have obtained neither justification nor the promise.

Tartar: I agree with that.

Paul: The faith, therefore, in Abraham was only this, that the fulfillment of the promises was just, because otherwise it would not have been just, nor fulfilled.

Tartar: What did God promise?

Paul: God promised Abraham that He would give him this one seed in the person of Isaac, in which seed all races would be blessed, and this promise actually took place. Since according to the ordinary laws of nature it was impossible for Sarah, his wife, to conceive or give birth, yet because he beleived he acquired a son, Isaac. Later on God tempted Abraham, in that He asked him to offer and slay the boy Isaac, in whom His promise of the seed had been fulfilled. And Abraham obeyed God, believing no less in the future promise, even though it would involve the resuscitation of his dead son. When God discovered this faith in Abraham, then he was justified, and the promise was fulfilled in this one seed which descended from him through Isaac.

Tartar: What is this seed?

Paul: It is Christ, for all races have obtained in Him a divine blessing.

Tartar: What is this blessing?

Paul: The divine blessing is that final desire for happiness which we call eternal life, about which you have alerady heard.

Tartar: Do you desire, therefore, that God should promise us the blessing of eternal life in Christ?

Paul: That is what I wish. For if you believe in this same way you will be justified along with the faithful Abraham, and obtain the promise that was found in the seed of Abraham, Christ Jesus, and that promise is the divine blessing.

Tartar: Do you mean to say, therefore, that this faith alone justifies and enables us to attain of eternal life?

Paul: I do. – from “De Pace Fide,” in Unity and Reform: Selected Writings of Nicholas De Cusa, ed. John P. Dolan (University of Notre Dame Press, 1962), pp. 227-229

Note that this was written in 1453, thirty years before the birth of Martin Luther.

Read Full Post »

Political Immediacy

(I posted this first in the comment thread of the previous post, but thought it might be more useful as a post of its own.)

Since we’ve been discussing Kuyper and the doctrine of immediate relation of the soul to God in Christ, I was wondering whether any of you would find this selection objectionable, and if so, in what way:

“Men already dwell in this society of the three blessed persons of the Trinity. Their minds and wills already go straight out to God, unbroken in their course by the intervention of measures made by human authority: their faith rests on the first truth of God, not directly on any articulate dogma or the (teaching authority) of the Church….These are the theological virtues, directly related to God, and not modulated by the reason. Their effect is not to produce a good citizen, or even a reasonable fellow, but to make men move at ease in the extravagances of divine friendship. Christianity offers more than a superior sort of civic philosophy.
The philosophers may counsel it, but they cannot plan for this adventure beyond the severely rational country of the good life where the political virtues are displayed, of men sensibly and justly comporting themselves. Reason may go far, but not into a higher and more mysterious region. At least,not alone. For it is not a place of things clad in meanings and forms, but of naked existents…..Here is no justice content with accommodations to the present city, but (rather a) soaring off to God….and less mysterious, the insistence that no man should suppress his own sincere conscience in the name of an obedience to an extrinsic code.”

Read Full Post »

Until recently my exposure to Kuyper was purely through secondary sources. Recently I got to read some big chunks of his Lectures on Calvinism. While a good bit of what I read resonated with me, I have to say I was surprised to read in his first lecture a ringing endorsement of the idea that one of Calvinism’s great virtues is its ideal of the direct, unmediated relationship between God and the human soul. I don’t have the book sitting in front of me, so I can’t cite it, but perhaps someone here knows what I’m talking about. I’m given from other sources to understand that Calvin himself, at least, had a pretty high view of the institutional Church and the sacraments, so I don’t understand Kuyper’s enthusiasm for the unmediated relationship idea as supposedly intrinsic to Calvinism and one of its great virtues. It reminds me of a critique I saw a few years ago that said Warfield messed Calvinist sacramentology up pretty bad with his own idea of the unmediated relationship. Any thoughts on this?

Read Full Post »

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) is one of the greatest and most profound thinkers which the Reformed tradition has to offer.  His four volume Reformed Dogmatics (Gereformeerde Dogmatick) is required reading for any student of Reformed theology or history.  (Thankfully, the translation into English of the fourth volume of this work was just recently published.)  Picking up on my previous couple posts which have had Reformed confessionalism as their theme, I figured I’d offer a brief selection from Bavinck’s Prolegomena, on dogma quoad nos (for us). (more…)

Read Full Post »

This started out as a comment, but evolved in reflection on recent posts touching theological self-definition (What is “Reformed Orthodoxy) and continuing developments to circumscribe theological development (In Defense of Westminster Seminary).

Ah, Foucault would have fun with these threads, noting the proprietary claims over words as a quest for the power to include and exclude. Perhaps we all would be well-served if we were to take a deep breath and admit to a bit of creeping idolatry here.

If recent studies in lexical semantics have taught us anything it is that there is no inherent stability in a word’s meaning. Rather, it finds its meaning in pragmatic usage and its semantic range is delimited only by its difference from other lexemes in the given discourse.

Perhaps Wittgenstein might also be of use here…

On one hand, Hoss and others are certainly correct to note that words like “Reformed” and “regenerate” are much more elastic than than the public strictures that Hart and others would wish to impose. If we are playing a language game where the rules are informal or irenic or deliberately constructive (as in constructive theological discourse), “Reformed” can embrace something as broad as “corrected” (as when Trent is often described as a “reforming council”) or more narrowly Protestant (Lutherans, Zwinglians, Anabaptists, are all communities originating from the “Reformation”) or even more narrowly not Lutheran (Zwinglians and Calvinians are usually described as “Reformed” in the academic literature).

The problem, however, is undefined or non-stipulated use in specialized, stipulated, or politicized contexts. This practice (whether unintentional or intentionally subversive) virtually guarantees miscommunication and a breakdown of a common discourse. Here, Hart has a point and should be respected for his desire to think and self-define as a Presbyterian and Reformed churchman. One may disagree with the narrowness of his scope and demur at his intransigence with regard to definitions, but his posturing is not simply a self-supplied character defect or evidence of muddleheadedness. Rather, it is more akin to a Catholic theologian who remains unwilling to describe Protestant ecclesial communities as “churches”. Stipulating the Catholic definition of “Church,” he is simply working from the integrity of their own horizon in speaking as he does. It certainly does not imply sin against charity (though the Roman definition itself might be uncharitable) or ignorance of Protestant self-description.

Hart’s ecclesial/academic community is currently engaged in a long, self-conscious effort to shore-up its heretofore fuzzy boundaries. By this, his community hopes to renew some of its flagging integrity as a body distinct from others. Anyone who has read “Deconstructing Evangelicalism” (a book with which I largely agreed, BTW) should have seen this coming like a neon-lighted parade float up 5th Avenue.

This branding of Hart and his OPC/WTS/NAPARC compatriots is nakedly ideological and utopian (both terms intended as Ricoeur uses them) and much of the soreness I detect in Hoss, etc. flows from a self-conscious repudiation of that particular ideological/ utopian power-grab. I have shared in much of that repudiation which is why I am no longer a Teaching Elder in the PCA.

It is certainly fair to note how history attests to self-described “Reformed” adherents outside of strictly Presbyterian contexts and to defend the notion that most of the Magisterial “Reformed” luminaries (Calvin, Bucer, Vermigli, etc.) would leap to agree. The fact that Calvin signed the Wittenberg Concord (containing an explicit declaration of loyalty to the 1530 edition of the Augsburg Confession) when he became pastor in Strassburg testifies that he didn’t seem to self-define as Hart’s later Reformed communities have. We might also note how Calvin attended the ecumenical colloquies at Hagenau, Worms, and Regensburg (1540-41) as a “Lutheran” representative.

It is also quite fair to note that the OPC/WTS/NAPARC agenda is misguided and quite probably quixotic. If we have learned anything from the Norm Shepherd affair, the creation days debate, paedocommunion, Auburn Avenue/ Federal Vision, the New Perspective on Paul, and now the Enns dismissal from WTS, it is that a 17th Century White European confession cannot possibly be employed to speak with unequivocal force to define a 21st Century, multi-ethnic, and  globalized Christian body. Such a refusal to engage in the hard work of communal introspection, continuing reformation, and renewed self-definition (John XXIII’s ressourcement and aggiornamento) impedes the all the [super]natural linguistic, spiritual, theological, and ecclesial developments of faith communities. This strikes me as an effort to close the barn door after the departure of the horses. The result will only be continued “group think” and  increased irrelevance in a globalized Christian context.

Barring accord on these issues, it would be my hope that we could at least be clear with regard to our own ideological commitments and charitable with regard to those who do not share them.

Read Full Post »

Philiip Melanchthon identifies the hotly-disputed issue of free will as being “about the deterioration of human strength through sin, man’s inability to free himself from sin and death, and about the works that man is able to do in such a state of weakness.” [As excerpted from the Loci Communes (1521) in The Renaissance Reader, ed. Kenneth J. Atchity [New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996], pp. 131-134.] For Melanchthon, seemingly unlike for Luther, the deep questions of necessity and the relationship of God’s knowledge to human actions are “extraneous questions” that sidetrack the real issues. Free will is about the harmonious relations between man’s understanding, will, and heart. This harmony was lost in the Fall, and “man’s natural powers became very weak.” [Ibid., 131.]

Though corrupted by sin, man’s natural powers did not become utterly useless. So that God might recognize sin and be able to be punished for it, God ensured that some “knowledge remained in this ccorrupted nature, although it is dim and full of doubt and uncertainty about God.” The ability to have virtue toward God (love of God, trust in Him, and fear of Him) was lost, and man’s heart is “wretchedly imprisoned, impaired, and ruined.” However, this ruination does not extend to man’s ability to perform outward acts based on what he does understand of God and his situation as a creature: God “wants all men to have external morality, and thereby learn the distinction between powers that are free and powers that are bound.” [Ibid., 132.]


Read Full Post »

Limbus Patrum

Do the Reformed all reject this concept, or did any significant theologians argue to retain it?

Read Full Post »

With all of the discussion around Pete Enns, it is very tempting to side with one party or the other based on the larger ethos. “Shall the fundamentalists win?” we hear asked yet again. I am sympathetic to this response, but I would nevertheless like to offer a few reservations that I have with this particular use of the “Christological analogy.”

1. There are different types of inspiration. For instance, Leviticus seems to be rather directly dictated. The Lord spoke these exact words to Moses… The author is primarily a divine person. The Psalms are different. They are typically prayers being made from a human person towards a divine person, often with a prophetic end.

2. There are always at least two persons involved in Biblical inspiration. The person of the Holy Spirit works with the human person to write the Scriptures. Sometimes, the person of the Holy Spirit works with the human person in such a way that he quotes the exact words of the eternal Logos, thus we have two divine persons and one human person. Other times multiple human persons are used along with the one divine person. This quickly moves beyond the basic formula of Chalcedon.

3. The doctrine of the canon suggests to me that the very collection of books is inspired. I realize that this has been debated, but I believe modern biblical theology is strengthening the claim. With this in mind, we think of Peter’s commentary on Paul’s writings. He finds much of Paul’s teaching difficult to understand at times. How could we apply the Christological analogy to this? We have two human authors with different particular thoughts, at times challenging one another and having to learn to work together, but all of this is under the larger guidance of the divine Spirit.

I think that the Scriptures are closer to Pnuematology and Ecclesiology than Christology. In one sense, yes, it is true that they are the Word of God. However, if we begin asking questions of incarnation, then the Bible seems to me to be an incarnation of the Holy Spirit more so than an incarnation of the Son of God.

Read Full Post »

As a Protestant standing in the tradition of the magisterial Reformation, I take it as axiomatic that sola Scriptura is properly defined as “Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith.” This stands in contradistinction to solo Scriptura, which says “Scripture is the only rule of faith.” Now this means that sola Scriptura implies that there are other rules of faith, albeit, fallible ones. Here we would place such things as our Confessions of Faith, our catechisms, and the ministerial decrees of Councils.

But if sola Scriptura means that there are other rules of faith, albeit fallible ones, to what exactly does the word “faith” refer? We speak of “the faith once for all delivered” (Jude 3), and by this we surely mean such Scriptural teachings as creation, the Fall, the nature of the Godhead, the deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Scriptures, justification by faith, the Last Judgment, the recreation of the heavens and the earth, and so on. This much all catholic-orthodox Christians of whatever affiliation agree.


Read Full Post »

More pulpit shenanigans from one brother who emphatically does not push himself into God’s place and lord it in the Church…

Of course that quote from Graham at the end sounds less menacing when it is fully quoted…

Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there’s the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the body of Christ. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don’t have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they’re saved and they’re going to be with us in heaven.

In context, Graham’s words sound more or less like a paraphrase and application of St. Paul:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16).

In any case, Graham seems fairly careful to merely express a hope out of which (as Von Balthazar urges) every Christian ought dare to pray that all will be saved. This is something quite different than actually preaching or offering a gospel that proclaims it unnecessary to confess Jesus as Lord and to believe that God has raised him from the dead. The latter would be a “different gospel” than the one that we have been charged to herald and we are not at liberty to offer it. With a lifetime of preaching behind him as testimony to his own practice, I think that Graham would leap to agree.



Read Full Post »

Update 02/20: I should let everyone know that I inadvertently linked to an outdated file for the latter essay. This is corrected now. Please read at the conclusion of the essay to see the changes.

Alot of ones and zeros have been employed this week with regard to whether one or other person properly understands Calvin’s eucharistic theology. Some (as per usual) have radiated more heat than light. I certainly won’t claim to have exhausted the mystery by recourse to either of the two essays I have placed here, but I do set forth the development of my own thinking with regard to Calvin’s teaching. Given that I actually do interact a good bit with Calvin (in Latin), his sources, and his better expositors (Gerrish, Nevin, McDonnell, etc.) and given that I have been on both sides of the present conversation as a Presbyterian pastor and now an Anglican priest, I hope that these testimonia will help move things along.

For the record, Fr. Kimmel’s heuristic questions, distinguishing the differences between Reformed and Catholic/Anglo-Catholic/Orthodox theologies based on theopraxis, remains the best way of getting at the real points of divergence. The practical differences were ultimately what led me to abandon Calvin’s view as fundamentally unbiblical and pastorally unworkable–but that’s just one man’s considered opinion.

The Contemplative Shape of Calvin’s Eucharistic Thought (Fall 2000)

Left at the Altar by Monsieur Calvin (Spring 2007)

BTW–Neither of these has been edited and neither are ready for review in anything other than a blog setting. Please regard this and don’t cite them as scholarly sources.

Blessings to you all.


Read Full Post »

Paenitentiam Agite

[This is an old post from my own website, but since I never got any comments on it there, I thought it might be a good introductory post for me here. Please, consider this an exercise in amateur theology; I am not a theologian by training, and will be perfectly happy to heed any corrections or qualifications given by those who are.]

Protestants have long been irked by a critical fact that Martin Luther noticed early in his reform work regarding the accuracy of the Vulgate. Luther, using the newly-produced critical Greek New Testament of Erasmus, noticed that at Matthew 3:1 and 4:17 the Vulgate translates the Greek term metanoia (to turn around) with the Latin term paenitentiam agite (”do penance”). This, said Luther, was a dire mistranslation, since the Greek text cannot be made to support the complicated penitential theology of the later Middle Ages. Ever since, the argument has become a major plank in Protestant polemics alleging Rome’s “dislike of plain biblical truths” and reliance instead upon “traditions of men.”Now I do not propose to defend the Catholic theology of penance in this post. However, I would like to bring out a possibility that occurred to me this past week in, ironically enough, the context of some Latin tutoring that I do. One of my students was translating a speech by Pope John XXIII at the funeral of Pope Pius XII (1958). In this speech John XXIII, expounding on the “double reason” why his papal name was “John”, said the following:

“Joannes Baptista precursor Domini: qui non erat certe ille lux, sed testimonium erat de lumine: et vere fuit testimonium invictum veritatis, justitiae, libertatis, in praedicatione, in baptismo paenitentiae, in profuso sanguine.”

That is:

“John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Lord: he was not truly that light, but was a testimony of that light: and truly he was an unconquerable testimony of truth, justice, and liberty in public proclamation, in the baptism of penance, in blood poured forth.”

Note the text I have bold-faced: in baptismo paenitentiae, or, “in the baptism of penance.” Now of course, non-Latin based translations of Matthew 3:1 and 4:17 read “baptism of repentance”, not “baptism of penance.” But, given that Catholic theology doesn’t as tightly distinguish “faith” and “works” as does Protestant theology, I can’t help but wonder if this is a reason why Jerome chose paenitentiam agite for the Greek term metanoia.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »