Some notes on Nietzsche

1.

I finished The Basic Works of Nietzsche (ed. Kaufmann) the other day.  It was a running project for about seven years.  Love him or hate him, it is one of those classics of the Western canon that must be dealt with, or at least acknowledged. Nietzsche was one of the few philosophers who could actually write.

2.

I had fun reading this.

3.

A full review is impossible at this stage.  I read the book a couple hundred pages a time for over seven years. I simply don’t have the whole narrative in my mind, though I get the general argument.   So, this post is simply “notes” on Nietzsche.  I plan to reread certain sections and get Kaufmann’s Portable Nietzsche next month.

4.

The first book was the Birth of Tragedy.  While Nietzsche himself later eschewed parts of this book, and few scholars follow it strictly today, it is by far the most interesting.  Contrary to popular opinion, Nietzsche points out that Greek culture is not simply “Apollonian” (serene).  It is also Dionysian (wild, debauched, chaotic).   No big deal.  A number of Patristic writers made the same point.  Nietzsche adds a most genius conclusion:  the two poles demand one another.

5.

If we can say it another way:  there is no healthy mean between Heraclitean flux and Platonic unity.

6.

The Gay Science and 75 Aphorisms are a collection of sayings of varying interest.

7.

I am not ready to give a full report of his ethics:  Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil.  I sort of get what he is saying.   He often made brilliant psychological insights.

8.

He credits Dostoevsky with teaching him everything he knew about psychology.

9.

It is fun to read Goethe alongside Nietzsche. Is the mature Goethe Nietzsche’s Dionysus?

These are introductory notes written in a Nietzschean format.

Narrative as hypostatic idiomata

Both in reading Paul Ricoeur’s Figuring the Sacred and in some discussions with fellow Reformed lay theologians, I am troubled by a possible future of Reformed trinitarianism:  we might become modalists.

That is not the point of this post, though.   One of the areas where I actually value Eastern Orthodox triadology is the insistent on maintaining the personal characteristics (idiomata) of the persons in the Trinity.  If we hold to too strong a doctrine of simplicity (idem simplicity) we run the risk of collapsing the personal distinctions in the Godhead to the bare essence.  I reject de Regnon’s thesis, but men fall prey to it regardless.

If we begin with an ontological essence of God and not the God revealed in the narrated life of Jesus of Nazareth, then we will posit a God who is not defined by Scripture at all.

Liturgy Trap: Angelic Celibacy

Here is the key question:  should we place Mary in the context of her Hebrew background (see Judges 11:37-40) or in the thought patters of St Jerome?  The strongest argument that Mary had sexual relations with Joseph after Jesus’s birth is the text itself.   I know of the backbending anchorites engage in to make the text say the opposite of what it says.  It simply doesn’t work.

In the bible perpetual virginity is a tragedy (47).

The strongest argument for perpetual virginity is that Joseph would have been overawed by Mary’s high calling in giving birth to God himself that he wouldn’t have “polluted” her womb with dirty sex afterwards (Peter Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith, Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1989, 118).    Here are the problems with such a view:

  1. Even if correct, it is pure speculation.
  2. If one partner refused sex to the other, he/she would have grounds to divorce the other (Exodus 21:10-11).
  3. Neither Mary nor Joseph knew that Jesus was God incarnate until after his resurrection.  They would have known he was called, perhaps even Messiah, but that didn’t mean Logos Incarnate (51).

Angelic Celibacy

Roman Catholicism is guiltier of this than Orthodoxy, though both share the same unbiblical presuppositions.  If we may reason analogically, the High Priest is sort of an analogue to the Bishop today.  Yet the High Priest could marry.  Why may not the Bishop?

Secondly, God has said that celibacy is “not good.”   The entire scale of being ontology falls with those two words.

Liturgy Trap: Two Stage Christianity

Jordan’s specific target in this chapter is the rite of confirmation.  I want to expand the sights.   If you are in the “Really True Church” and I am not, yet you are kind enough to consider me a “Christian,” then the only conclusion one can draw is that I am a second-class Christian.  Yet the New Testament knows nothing of this.  Jesus gives his Spirit as an arrabon to his people.  Full Stop.

Two-Stage Christianity is simply an advanced form of gnosticism.

Apostolic Succession

A true apostolic succession is the royal priesthood which is succession through baptism.

If we want to wax Trinitarian, then the Church is a creation of the Spirit from eternity by procession, not succession (46).

Will the Reformed world turn on the Klineans?

When the Institutional Reformed wanted to beat up on Bahnsen (after he died, especially) and his students, they used Kline’s arguments.  When this was happening I warned that Kline came very close to dispensationalism and that Bahnsen’s “TR Critics” didn’t really have a coherent response.  I then predicted that they would have trouble applying God’s law today.

Of course, I am no longer a theonomist, but I think I was right.  Current sanctification debates bear this out.  I will make another prediction:  Mainstream Reformed will no longer find Kline useful.  They will turn on him. Outside of pockets on the West Coast, Kline’s students views on Two Kingdoms and Republication will be outcasted.

The irony is that I am somewhat sympathetic to Kline now.

Liturgy Trap: Veneration

The Second Commandment

There is no problem with the actual act of bowing.  The problem is “to what do we people in the context of worship and liturgy?”  The second commandment is very clear that we are never to bow in giving veneration toward man-made objects (24).

The second commandment isn’t saying there should be no pictures of God (a point for another day), but that no image of anything can be set up as an avenue of worship to God and the court of heaven (24).

Only one pesel

Pesel is the Hebrew word for “carving.”  Jordan neatly takes the argument a step forward by pointing out that “there is another pesel in the Book of Exodus:  The Ten Words, which God carved with his own finger” (26).  “The opposition is between God’s content-filled graven Words and man’s silent graven images.”

God’s pesel is how he relates to us.  The relationship is verbal.  It is personal.  “It is God-initiated.”  Jordan comments, “When men set up a pesel it is always man-initiated” (27).  “The ‘veneration’ of man’s pesel is not a conversation with God, but prostration before a man-made object.”  This is the one objection even the most articulate anchorite cannot answer: is conversation–words–possible?

Anchorites love to counter that “Well, God commanded Israel to make various carvings.”  So he did. We say, however, “what is prohibited is the creation of a contact-point with God in the likeness of other creatures” (28).

Jordan makes an interesting observation:  nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures do we see God’s people condemned for making a picture of God.  Rather, they make up images of God and use them as mediators (29).

Application

“God initiates the mediation between himself and us, and He controls it” (29).  “God’s mediation is verbal…God’s mediation is his pesel, the Word.  Manmade mediators are images.”

Jordan concludes the chapter with a reflection on God’s 4th generation curse on image-worshipers.

Liturgical Trap: What is the Trap?

Jordan defines the “Liturgy Trap” as seeing worship as a technique for evangelism (xiv).  Whatever else our liturgy may be, it must always be a response to the Word of God.  Said another way: The Word of God comes first.  The rest of the introduction explains why evangelicals would be tempted to high church traditions.  Since that’s is fairly well-documented by theologians and sociologists (Christian Smith et al), I won’t belabor the point.

The Saints

Should we venerate the saints?  We should at least ask, “What does the Bible say?”  Critics might respond, “Yeah, well the Bible doesn’t say anything about the term T rinity, either” (this is a specific quote from Orthodox Bridge).  True, but assuming the Bible to be part of tradition (which I don’t assume), shouldn’t we at least pretend it is the most important part?

Jordan first notes there is no biblical warrant to pray to saints (18).  Since the disciples asked Jesus specifically how to pray, and he gave them a specific template, it is telling that venerating saints is absent.  Jordan then gives the standard biblical arguments against necromancy,  pointing out that Saul was condemned for talking to the dead Samuel.

Interestingly, had the early Christians talked to dead people, the Jews and Judaizers would have had a field day condemning them, yet we don’t see that.

Jordan writes,

The notion that the saints can hear our petitions means that a given saint can hear thousands of petitions coming from people all over the world.  This means that the saint has become virtually omnipresent.  What happens when that saint gets his resurrection body and is once again limited to being in one place at one time? (21)

Of course, and my critics hate to hear this, but this is a movement back towards chain of being and Hellenistic philosophy.