Higher Criticism and the Passing Down of Tradition

The first and primary challenge I faced in college was dealing with the “claims of higher criticism.” In short, it said that the Scriptures were not given by God but were rather a compilation of oral traditions redacted by men over many centuries. With regard to the Old Testament, all of the books of the Old Testament, accordingly, were not written by who they said they were written by, nor were they written at that time. Rather, they were edited by scribes during the Babylonian captivity.

This post will not so much deal with the Old Testament higher criticism, but the New Testament higher criticism. Suffice to say a few words responding to the Old Testament critics:

  1. First, this position is violently anti-semitic (e.g. the Jews were too stupid to leave in all of the embarrassing “repetitions” and the editors forgot to take them out. This is actually a devastating charge because in the Academy if someone even asserts you are anti-semitic, your career is officially over. And in Europe, you will likely end up in jail). It’s like calling someone a racist. It doesn’t have to be true to be effective.
  2. The men who originally did higher criticism were not familiar with how ancient texts were read. They were all Germans who had originally specialized in Icelandic sagas, which is dandy, but Icelandic sagas are not the same thing as biblical narratives. In other words, they are guilty of the most basic category confusion.
  3. Reading the bible as narrative: the repetitions in the Bible, therefore, aren’t “oopses” left in their by dumb editors, but rather “leitmotifs” and themes that highlight the tension and release of the narrative itself. This is how any good literature of any time period is read. Cf St Irenaeus’s Adversus Haeresis.
  4. Honestly, 90% of the literature isn’t even argument. It’s assertion. They presuppose without question from the outset a closed, naturalistic universe (in which God doesn’t speak) and from that unquestioned presupposition, merely assert that “Isaiah couldn’t have prophesied with such uncanny accuracy; therefore, another person claiming to be Isaiah wrote it (e.g., chapters 40-66).” If someone asks, why couldn’t the supernatural be possible and Isaiah did look into the future?” the scholarly academic response is, “Well, he just couldn’t and if you want an A in this course you’ll write what I tell you to write.”
  5. Even liberals today have given it up. They still accept most of the findings, but the post-liberal school of Yale University (think of George Lindbeck) recognize that however the Bible came down to us, it is supposed to be read as narrative. Even thy prophets testify against thee, Wellhausen!

The same arguments against Old Testament Higher Criticism do not work against New Testament Higher Criticism. Yes, the presupposition of academic unbelief is still there, but since the time frame is smaller (A.D. 33 to A.D 100, give or take 10 years), their claims are much weaker. Usually they will say that some from of oral tradition functioned in the apostolic community until the writing of the first gospel, after that, towards the latter part of the 1st century, other New Testament writings (which the academics think are fictitious) appeared.

The argument goes that St Mark was the first to write his gospel because his gospel is the shortest (if you ask how that necessarily follows, you are met with a blank stare; higher critics would fail logic classes). Mark used some non-existent Q tradition to write his gospel (if you ask the critic to demonstrate evidence of Q, you are met with a blank stare). Other gospel writers felt that Mark left out stuff, so they “added” to his gospel (Matthew and Luke; all sides agree that John did write much later and in a different vein–that’s not a controversial point).

Against their wishes, the higher critics agree that St Paul probably wrote his work (but they deny that St Paul wrote Ephesians and Colossians, since those have a high Christology; again these are mere assertions). Following above, and in response to the higher critics, I observe:

  1. The critics are actually correct in that there is a body of tradition from which the gospels came. However, and here is the key difference, this body of tradition I take to be proof of the divine truth of the gospels. This gives the church a strong, historical, unbroken link from apostle to liturgy to written word to canon. How did the church function and pass down the faith in the absence of a “New Testament canon” or even a complete New Testament? They did so, as St Paul repeatedly says, by handing down the tradition.
  2. It is possible to have a strong view of the faith without apostolic succession, but it is difficult. Because without apostolic succession and the handing down of the tradition/faith, the Christian must honestly face up to the claims of the critics: “so, how do you know the faith wasn’t tampered with?” In fact, one of the claims of sola scriptura against tradition backfires: many advocates of SS say that handing down tradition can’t be faithful because the content of a message is tampered with through each transmission of the messages (remember the old game where 20 people stand in a line and each one whispers the “same” content to the next person, only to find at the end that the content was radically changed?). In this case, since even the SS grants that the first writings of the New Testament weren’t extant until at least a decade after Christ, and even when they weren’t extant, they weren’t universal until many, many years later, the advocate of SS must admit that word of mouth transmission was inevitable.

    Granting that, how do you know that wasn’t tampered with? They will likely say, “The Holy Spirit preserved it.” To which I respond, “Touche!” That’s precisely the argument for apostolic succession. Except that you don’t have a physical historical link to the apostles. This doesn’t logically prove apostolic succession, but it is a tremendous psychological argument for it.

  3. Even granting and early date for the completion of the canon (AD 70), some post-apostolic writings actually predated the final apostolic writings (see The Didache). Granting a late date for the completion of the canon, which most scholars do, quite a few writings predate the Revelation of St John (see the writings of Clement).

Trinitarian Movement of History (GHD part 3)

God, History, and Dialectic, pp. 19-22 notes

The nature of being is becoming. All created things are becoming–in motion. History, being part of time, is created. Therefore, history is in motion and has a telos. This is part of St Maximus’s Ginesis, Kinesis, Stasis, all of which are logoi set in motion by the Logos. Likewise, there is a triadic pattern to humanity: man has a beginning (arche), middle (mesotes), and end-goal (telos).

Trinitarian Theology

Three “whos” and one “what,” with each “who” being fully “what.” Who (person) is not the same category as “what” (essence). Likewise, this triadic pattern can be applied to man. The “whos” (people) share a common “what” (nature): each person has a soul (soul and person are not the same thing).

Each person particularizes human nature in its own mode of existence.

How does this reasoning understand the Fall? Adam and Eve are guilty for their own sin (no, this is not Pelagian). They oppose their personal nature and will to come into existence that which can’t come into existence: evil.

According to Farrell, they “tear their being apart into oppositions which were never natural.” They make distinction between person and nature an “opposition.” They pass on this opposition to their children–death. (I think this makes more sense of the Adam-Christ parallels in Romans and Corinthians; Christ undoes Adam more by bringing Life).

Incarnational Eschatology

Some reflections on last night’s post on St Irenaeus. Several key points:

1. St Irenaeus’s interpretation (which would become mainstream, East and West) of Ephesians 1:10. This is the doctrine of Recapitulation–Christ recapitulates, not simply all of humanity, but all of reality, including history.

2. Apropos (1), God did not make a radical “break” between the humanity of Eve and the humanity of Mary (I’m avoiding the issue of sin in the Virgin Mary; frankly, I don’t understand that part of the debate between Rome and East). Rather, through Christ, and the types of both being virgins, God inverted the curse by Jesus coming through Mary. Instead of a Fall into passions and corruptions, mankind in Christ is raised and exalted (1 Corinthians 15). It’s like Chesterton and Tolkien said, a “eucatastrophe.”

3. The Fathers read the Older Testament from the mindset of “the mystery which hath been hidden from the world” and “the lamb slain from before the world began.” Thus, (and I can flesh this out later), there is a Christological movement to history (well, specifically Old Testament history, but I think it is fair to say to history in general).

Second Corinthians 3
Paul makes a number of important parallels and contrasts:

  • Old/ New
  • Letter/ Spirit
  • Tablet of Stone / Tablet of human heart
  • Kills /Gives Life
  • Ministry of condemnation /ministry righteousness
  • Glory /Surpassing Glory
  • Veil /Veil Removed
  • Minds hardened/ Minds softened
  • Slavery / Liberty

Keeping in mind the Adam-Christ parallel from Romans 5 and 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is saying that from Adam to Christ “death reigned,” but with Christ life was, if you will, “pumped into the world.” With the resurrection of Jesus eschatological life has entered the world. Throughout the prophets the promise of the Spirit was always connected with a new humanity.

The gospel entered the world telling a new story about history. For the pagan world, death was ultimate and tragic. The gospel “re-wired” the laws of death and nature. As Flannery O’Connor said,

“For me, it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh & the physical. Death, decay & destruction are the suspension of these laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified.” -Flannery O’Connor

Basically, this is what postmillennialism is trying to say without all the ugly baggage.

Liturgy “sums” up Salvation-history

The anaphora, regardless of which First Europe liturgy you find it (St Basil, St John, the Gregorian), is a repetition of whole concepts–it is a summing up, a recontextualization, a recapitulation of the person and work of Christ (God, History, and Dialectic, 6).

Orod Theologiae:

First Europe (and generally the East today): Persons, Operations (energies), Essence. The Persons are understood to have done certain things (operations, energiae), and on that basis, we can conclude certain things about the essence.

The Second Europe (think Scholasticism, Papacy, parts of the Reformation, though I respect the spirit of some aims of the Reformers, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment): Essence, Attributes, Persons.

The First Europe’s vision is not only “linear” but also recapitulatory. Certain signal events are contained within later events which recontextualize familiar motifs. The repetition of these motifs helps us understand liturgy and history.

St Irenaeus and the Recapitulation

Christ is the presupposition, method, paradigm, and summit of interpretation (GHD explains more on p. 9). Among other things, given the truth of the Incarnation and Recapitulation, one can infer that the Incarnation recapitulates history as well. 2 Corinthians 3 illustrates this as well (see Peter Leithart, Deep Comedy). The Incarnation influences time and history because it relates to “the mystery hidden” and “the lamb slain from before the world.”

Types are like leitmotifs in music: they are repeated, but with that repetition there is a recontextualization. Examples of types (p.14):

  • The Ark
  • The Temple
  • The Burning Bush

Discussion of St Athanasius begins on p. 14ff

Disturbing 1994 Kissinger Quote

Disturbing 1994 Quote from Kissinger

The magazine Economicos Tachidromos of 14 August 1997, referred to a speech Henry Kissinger gave some three years prior, during which he said the following:

“The Greek people are a difficult if not impossible people to tame, and for this reason we must strike deep into their cultural roots. Perhaps then we can force them to conform. I mean, of course, to strike at their language, their religion, their cultural and historical reserves, so that we can neutralize their ability to develop, to distinguish themselves, or to prevail; thereby removing them as an obstacle to our strategically vital plans in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.”

Why do conservatives still refuse to acknowledge at least some form of conspiracy (see Psalm 2)? I guess no one wants to be labeled a “truther” or something like that. It’s not a conspiracy anymore. World politicians are openly advocating stuff like this. They don’t even bother to hide it.

A few years ago I read Misha Glenny’s excellent historical study on the Balkans (in fact, the only good mainstream study on the Balkans; how Glenny was not subsequently banned by every major newspaper is beyond me). Glenny pointed out a number of shady dealings the US and Britain had in the Mediterranean after WWII. I don’t think he mentioned the Kissinger quote. He did reference how Donovan got Hitler to invade Serbia (I think Glenny mentioned that) in order to weaken Hitler against Stalin. Also noted was British support of Muslim Cyprus against Christian Greek Cyprus.

No void-interval in the Trinity

In one of St Basil’s letters–the famous one where he differentiates ousia and hupostasis–he says that in the Trinity there is no “void” or “interval.” What does he mean? I think he is saying that there is no “space” and/or “time-lapse” in the Trinity. Part of this refutes Arianism, denying “there was a time when the Son was not.”

But a problem arises: if there is no interval in the Trinity, no “gap” between the members, if you will, then how do we differentiate Father and Son and Holy Spirit? I think there are a few ways to see an answer on this:

1. The Church has always taught perichoresis, or mutual indwelling. The members of the Trinity, as Stanilaoe says, “copenetrate” and indwell one another.

2. This could be what Zizioulas (I’m not even going to pretend I spelled his name correctly) meant by “Being is communion.” Ontology linked to fellowship. Interestingly, the Romanian word for “word” (convint, I think) comes from the Latin word “convectus,” which means “come together.” According to some Romanian thinkers, you can’t have “words” without fellowship, without mutuality.

The Father can’t be a father without a Son.

Triad and Dialectic: Problems with an Impersonal God

Only one subsistence/god = impersonal monad. He (it, rather) can’t communicate. This is Islam and Talmudic Judaism.

Two subsistences in god = dialectic of form and matter. Very few examples. Maybe some form of neo-Platonism. The dialectic is one of opposition.

Three subsistences in God = Triad.

Why is this important? Lossky writes,

If, as we have said, a personal God cannot be a monad– if he must be more than a single person– neither can he be a dyad. The dyad is always an opposition of two terms, and, in that sense, it cannot signify an absolute diversity. When we say that God is Trinity we are emerging from the series. of countable or calculable numbers.{25} The procession of the Holy Spirit is an infinite [85] passage beyond the dyad, which consecrates the absolute (as opposed to relative) diversity of the persons. This passage beyond the dyad is not an infinite series of persons but the infinity of the procession of the Third Person: the Triad suffices to denote the Living God of revelation.{26} If God is a monad equal to a triad, there is no place in him for a dyad. Thus the seemingly necessary opposition between the Father and the Son, which gives rise to a dyad, is purely artificial, the result of an illicit abstraction. Where the Trinity is concerned, we are in the presence of the One or of the Three, but never of two.

The procession of the Holy Spirit ab utroque does not signify passage beyond the dyad but rather re-absorption of the dyad in the monad, the return of the monad upon itself. It is a dialectic of the monad opening out into the dyad and closing again into its simplicity.{27} On the other hand, procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone, by emphasizing the monarchy of the Father as the concrete principle of the unity of the Three, passes beyond the dyad without a return to primordial unity, without the necessity of God retiring into the simplicity of the essence. For this reason the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone confronts us with the mystery of the “Tri-Unity.” We have here not a simple, self-enclosed essence, upon which relations of opposition have been superimposed in order to masquerade a god of philosophy as the God of Christian revelation. We say “the simple Trinity,” and this antinomic expression, characteristic of Orthodox hymnography,{28} points out a simplicity which the absolute diversity of the three persons can in no way relativize.

Image and Likeness of God

When I first wrote this at Tesla, I really didn’t know what Lossky was saying. After reading Farrell’s work on St Maximus, I realized what is meant by “dialectic of opposition.”