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.

There is an interesting series of posts discussing the recent “Denominational Renewal” conference over at Common Grounds Online.  They come from a variety of perspectives, with both positive and negative criticisms of the conference.

Though the conference was limited to the PCA (and its speakers all maintained that PCA was basically founded on the right principles in need mostly of an attitude adjustment, whereas our own commentators might hold it to be a slightly more periphereal movement in the scope of Reformed orthodoxy), I think there are still some important overlapping concerns to be noted.  For instance, one comment calls for a sort of “Reformed Resourcement.” This is exactly what we would like to see as well, and in fact, we’ve been planning on running a series of posts that investigate just that.  A few thoughts come to mind:

Reformed Resourcement must deal with real history.  It cannot relegate real-time people and events to “ideologies,” nor can it be content with a theological communitarianism where each tradition colors within its own confessional lines and promises not to bother the other.  Our project will seek to make some universal truth claims.

In keeping with this idea, Reformed Resourcement must be willing to question our current lines of demarcation.  Is it really true that the Puritans were Reformed and their Anglican opponents were not?  Is it true that the most extreme branches of the tradition are the most faithful?

Reformed Resourcement will also only be as ecumenical or unecumenical as the Reformers were.  If it is true that they were all sectarians, then a recovery of their ideas can hardly fail to note that.  Or, more happily, if they were more ecumenically minded than the present age, so too must the project be.  I suspect that the reality will be a little of both.  The Reformers were not interested in unity with idolatry, but they were willing to relegate certain doctrines, now much beloved, to the realm of adiaphora.

Another key point will be to get beyond our current departmentalization of knowledge.  The Reformation was magisterial, meaning that it involved the magistrates.  To properly understand the Reformed churches, we will have to understand the Reformed commonwealths.  America has done a poor job at this, opting instead to discover faithful remnants that set the stage for the American project.

Perhaps the final challenge will be in deciding how much of the tradition can be carried over, and what parts will require appropriate modification, even if only mutatis mutandis.

Once we can become clear on the parameters of this project, then we will be free to offer observations and critiques on other competing movements, but no sooner.  Look for a solid intro post on this by our friend Peter Escalante in the week to come.  It would be great if we could attract a broader Evangelical audience to interact.

**(UPDATE: I have purchased a new domain name, http://www.tgenloe.com, and am in the process of restoring Societas Christiana there. Please update your bookmarks. Those who had my old timenloe.net e-mail address, just change the domain name in it to tgenloe.com and you should be able to reach me at my new location. Thanks!)**

Sorry to do this here, but I have no other way of getting the word out. Through negligence and forgetfulness, I’ve lost control of my domain name, so for those of you who follow my work at Societas Christiana I’m afraid the site is down and might be for some time. The funky page you see there now is courtesy of the fine folks at Yahoo domain services, through whom I purchased the domain name originally.

Best case scenario I’ll remember my login information and get things taken care of this week. Worst case scenario, I won’t remember that stuff and it will be late November before I can redeem the domain name and get re-established.

Given that I am a student and adjunct instructor in theology at a Jesuit university, I became aware of the (Roman Catholic) Congregation for Divine Worship’s June directive concerning the liturgical use of the Divine Name in Hebrew (YHVH) back in the Summer. For those who haven’t seen it, I offer you a look:

Christians have been debating this for the last couple of weeks following publication of the directive in Christianity Today, so I thought I’d weigh in. Having learned to vocalize according to the qere reading “Adonai” or “Lord” when studying and reciting Hebrew in my Master of Arts-Old Testament days at TEDS, I have since gone back and forth on the propriety of vocalizing “YaHWeH” in the context of preaching and teaching. Mostly, I have lapsed in and out of the practice depending on the needs of the moment.

Although I am not canonically bound to observe the discipline, I have thought a bit about the matter and have decided that I am prepared to receive Cardinal Arinze’s directive as reflecting a certain wisdom and theologically appropriate deference concerning the practice.  As a conversation starter, I’ll simply list some of my reasons:

1. The process of “fencing” the divine name by vocalizing “adonai” (Lord) as a qere (that which is read) circumlocution of the kethib (that which is written) “YHVH” was an act of reverence for the holiness of the divine name.  By avoiding its vocalization the name was preserved from abuse.  The scholarly consensus is that this practice originated c. 300 BC in several forms and gradually achieved universal observance. This was not superstitious, but an application of the commandment to never make wrongful use of the divine name.

The deep memory of Exile seems to have driven concern for a fastidious observance of the commandments. Numerous texts survive suggesting that the divine name was polluted by idolatrous adumbration. We actually have surviving graffiti from the ante-Christian period reading, “I bless you by Yahweh of Samaria and by his asherah,” and “I bless you by Yahweh of Teiman and by his asherah.” (Cf. Dever, Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research, 1993). The ANE practice of naming deities often implied some power to authoritatively summon, and thus to control and coerce. The danger of this is often cited as a reason for the mysterious self-designation of Israel’s God by the elusive nominalizing of the Hebrew “hayah” (“I will be what I will be.”). It is likewise reflected in the patriarchal tradition of Jacob’s request to know the name of the angel-man-God who attacked him and in Adam’s naming the animals as a sign of his dominion. Viewed in this light, Israel’s pre-exilic condition and the syncretic idolatry characterizing it propelled Second Temple and Early Rabbinic resistance to similar threats of syncretism in both the Greek and Roman periods. That this memory was inscribed into liturgical practice vis-a-vis the divine name was actually a development laden with serious theological reflection. It is not too far to say, in fact, that the practice of qere circumlocution of the divine name represents a kind of liturgical-linguistic iconography setting forth the teaching of the Hebrew prophets and the post-exilic writings.

2. But why should we observe the practice as contemporary Christians?  To this question I would pose the deeper question of our connection to our older brothers and sisters in the covenant.  At the theoretical level, it requires reflection on whether there is a relationship of essential continuity or essential discontinuity between Christianity and Judaism. On the practical level in requires reflection on whether the Church has yet to learn anything of Jesus from Jews.

To the theoretical question, I think that there is good ground to think of the Christian relationship to Judaism as one of essential continuity with important discontinuities rather than the other way around. Certainly this works for anyone reading the New Testament in light of its reflections on the Hebrew Bible and the story of Israel. Saint Paul in particular was quite willing to narrate the story of his Early Christian communities (churches) in a vital continuity with the stories of Adam, Abraham, Moses, etc.  The fact that his narration reorients that story around a new climactic moment-the death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus-should not obscure his belief that he was fully faithful to Torah and to the essential vocation of Israel as the instrument of eschatological blessing to all humankind.  This continuity works prospectively as well as it does retrospectively, however.  Romans 9-11 witnesses to a certain Pauline hope that Israel as Israel-not Israel as incidental, individual Jewish converts-will be saved in the eschaton. While it belongs to the integrity of Christian confession to acknowledge that this will essentially be an eschatological reconciliation to one covenant wherein Jesus as Messiah and Lord, Paul is at great pains-straining at points, even-to announce and defend God’s eschatological fidelity to all the covenants of promise. This fidelity is applicable, as he sloganizes throughout Romans, to Jews and Gentiles alike.

To the practical question, I argue that Judaism presents a continual challenge and opportunity to learn about Jesus. Saint Paul recognizes that Israel qua Israel is heir to the covenants of promise and constitutes the normative canonical steward of the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament. This has resulted historically in the Protestant appeal to Judaism in order to establish the legitimate boundaries of the canon of the Old Testament (as opposed to the LXX-Vulgata tradition containing the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books).  It has appeared in the Renaissance-Reformation appeal to Medieval Rabbinic exegesis in the Mikra’ot-Gedalot to overturn established Roman Catholic exegesis. It also appears in Benedict XVI’s extended dialogues with Rabbi Jacob Neusner as a norm for his own christological interpretation of the Gospels and his conclusions regarding the historical Jesus. Could it be that faithful observance of this (entirely legitimate) development in Second Temple Jewish theology and liturgical praxis will enhance our own theological reflection likewise? I think that there is good reason to suspect that it might.

3.  Beyond these larger considerations, I would cite the mere apostolic precedent of the New Testament in its citation of the Old. These citations are often directly from the LXX, but not always. Whether they are from additional Greek translations of the Hebrew or original to the New Testament authors themselves, there is not a single instance where YHVH is transliterated or rendered in any other way than kurios (=adonai). Note, for example, Jesus’ citation of Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18-19. While we may, perhaps, acknowledge that Jesus cited the text in Hebrew and expounded upon it in Aramaic, do we really want to accuse Luke of  theological or theo-practical error when he opts to render Isaiah’s ruach adonay YHVH as pneuma kuriou? The same holds true in the next verse where Jesus’ prolamation of Isaiah’s liqroh shenat-ratzon l’YHVH is rendered as eniauton kuriou dekton?

4. Finally, there is simply the governing consideration of the Golden Rule and a general theopraxis of love. While in no way seeking to broaden the narrow way that leads to life, there is something to be said for making the way narrower than it already is.  Acknowledging the stumbling stone that is Jesus’ Messianic claim, we ought also to be mindful of the rhetorical stubling boulders proffered by  Chrysostom, Luther, the Crusades, and Oberammergau. This legacy of Christian Anti-Judaism leads in a disturbingly direct and straight line to the gas chambers of Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. That fact alone requires Christians to do all that integrity of faith allows to prefer others to ourselves. In the end, nothing is sacrificed by ornamenting the Divine Name with reverential silence. The bearer of the Name remains Lord of the Covenant and King of All Creation regardless.  On the other hand, insisting on our Christian liberty despite the weakness of others both overturns the Apostolic command (Cf. 1 Cor 8:12-13) and sublty reduces the Divine Name itself from an icon to an idol.

(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.”

Unmediated Relationship?

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?

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). Continue Reading »