Talks with Talmudist Tom

Probably should change the name to “Midrash Moishe,” since “Tom” has Christian overtones.  In any case, a rather popular theoblogger has not actually converted to Judaism, but is intensely studying it.   That’s not all that remarkable, except for his continual shots across the bow of Christian theology.   I’ve avoided the debate for the most part, since internet debates rarely end well.

While I disagree with his conclusions, and quite frankly find much of his reasoning tenuous, he has illustrated a problem with Protestant polemics, particularly sola scriptura.   In fact, many of his posts are quite valuable for they show on Protestant grounds the Protestant must always concede the epistemological debate to the Jew.  In short, the argument is something like this (he has around a dozen variants on this theme):

  • If God gave the law forever, which the Bible says, and pronounces a curse on whoever changes it, on what grounds can you say that Christ “fulfills” (which often means in Christian theology modifies) the law?
  • Secondly, if the Word gave the law, and the law is a reflection of his eternal character, and we are operating on a sola texta basis (think sola scriptura, but since that nomenclature would not be applicable to Jews, I think sola texta captures the same point), on what basis can we say things like circumcision and the feasts are no longer binding?
  • Finally, if you answer that question by saying Christ as the lawgiver has the right to “expand/modify/alter” the law, and we only know this through further revelations, and these revelations only be appeals to “texts,” how can you now deny progress/process in God?  How can you oppose modernism and “expansions/modifications/alterations” of the faith?

He’s absolutely right.  Of course, there are logical and textual problems with the above arguments, and to foreshadow future posts, I think N. T. Wright has done a good job in dealing with these issues.    That said, the Protestant polemicist is now in a tough dilemma.

Horn 1:   Maintain the sola scriptura position, assuming also the early Jews and later apostles operated on the same premise:  the law says circumcision is to abide forever (and similar things about the feasts).  The New Testament was not yet written by the time of Acts 15.  On what grounds did the apostles have the right to say circumcision is not binding on the Church?

Horn 2: deny the sola scriptura position.

Of course, accepting “Horn 2” means subordinating the “texta” mentality to that of the Church (or “interpretive community;” see, I can throw out the postmodern lingo, too!).   As St Ignatius warned of getting to caught up in textual issues with Jews, we can say with him, “Jesus is my canon.”

There are other versions of this argument.   Genesis 12 says God will curse anyone who curses Israel.   Yet, all of the prophets offered judgment on Israel in God’s name (effectively functioning as curses).   So which is it?  This is also why the Talmud says the prophet Isaiah is justly executed and burning in hell.

Of course, I reject Talmudism with all my heart and stand with the church.   On the other hand, the fellow above has done a great job, if unwittingly, of showing the dialectic within Protestantism:   Protestantism reduces back to Judaism.

Review *The Body in St Maximus*

The Body in St Maximus

Cooper takes a theme that is a hot issue in current theological groups (e.g., “the body”) and notes how few Maximus scholars have addressed the issue “what happens to the body when it is deified.”  He breaks new ground and shows remarkably skill in holding his complex narrative together.


Cooper notes the ways Maximus subtly inverts a lot of ancient (and Origenist) presuppositions about the body.  Instead of the body hiding God’s truth, which it does in a way, the body ends up being the focal point for God’s revelation to man in Jesus Christ.  Cooper then gives an extended discussion on the various “incarnations” in St Maximus’ thought.

Chapter 2:  Corporeality and Cosmos.   This chapter is clearer than the previous one.  That said, one should read St Maximus’s “Ambiguum 7” before reading this chapter.  It can be found in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, pp. 45-74.   Cooper is examining St Maximus’ response to the 6th century Origenists’ use of St Gregory’s phrase “slipped from God.”   They claimed that humanity was originally incorporated into a henad of incorporeal unity.  Creation is thus a fall from this henad.   Maximus rebuts this along the lines of 1) it gives creatures a temporal, pre-eternal existence with God.  Therefore, for God to be Lord, he has to be Lord of something (incidentally, this heresy has come again in the teachings of John Piper’s Christian hedonism.  In fact, the latter is almost a word-for-word endorsement of Origenism).  2) The doctrine of the henad implies God created the world out of necessity, and not freely.  If creation is the necessary result of a fall from unitary simplicity, then it can’t be said to be a free creation.  3) Assumes a fall from a state of perfection.  Even if one reaches perfection again (e.g., “Go to heaven”) there is no guarantee against another fall

St Maximus responds to this by reconstructing what we mean by motion.  All created things move since they are brought into existence by God.  Motion is natural to created beings and is the structure of the path to deification.



But St Maximus does see the essential point Origen was getting at.   Our current empirical existence suffers from an instability:  because of “death” we move from our becoming and source of being from the moment of our coming into being.  Cooper anticipates a future answer:  the incarnation (and by extension the sacraments) overcomes the chaos of matter.

In chapter three Cooper gives a good summary of Maximus’ triadology.   God exists triadically.  God is trinity at the level of particular and unity at the level of common.  Neither is apart from another.  The Trinity is a monad because this is how it is, and the Unity is truly a triad because this is how it exists (133).    The one Godhead is monadically and exists triadically.

St Maximus then makes a helpful distinction between LOGOS and TROPOS.  Logos has to do with what a thing is at the level of being, and tropos has to do with how a thing is at the level of hypostasis.   Cooper then has a dense but important paragraph,

It is by divine illumination, consequently, that we move from the level of unity, which in the order of theologia is denoted by logos, to the level of differentiation, which is denoted by tropos.   In the order of economia the pattern is reversed.  Unity in Christ occurs at the level of tropos, or hypostasis, whereas differentiation occurs at the level of logos, or ousia.   Epistemologically, the latter is arrived at by the encounter with the form (134).

The logos became composite at the hypostatic level—assuming a human nature in its full reality, body and soul (140).  The human nature itself is a composite of body and soul; thus, the Logos assumed a composite.


Cooper gives a very nuanced discussion of Maximus’ belief and role of the Roman See.   Was St Maximus a dogged Filioquist who firmly held to the universal monarchical papacy?  The answer is a qualified “no.”  Cooper focuses on two letters of Maximus that seem to affirm his believe in the papacy.  Cooper notes, however, that the textual authenticity of these is doubtful.  Oddly enough, Cooper ignores the Filioque debate and focuses entirely on the Roman See.   In short, the letters, corrupted and extant as they are, have Maximus championing “the six Ecumenical Councils.” The problem is obvious:  the 6th Council had not yet happened.  Roman apologists are quick to point a Lateran Council as the 6th Council of which St Maximus allegedly referred.   Perhaps, but it is doubtful that St Maximus (or anybody) would have so soon placed a local Lateran council on the same level with Nicea.

In any case, assuming Maximus did say that (which is by no means certain), he said that because of the sanctuary he found in Rome and of Rome’s confession of Orthodoxy.   That begs the question of Rome’s supposed infallibility.  Suffice to say, Maximus’ interrogators informed him that Rome had now abandoned dyotheletism (which may or may not have been true at the time).  This forced Maximus to sharpen his ecclesiology:  the truth lay in Orthodoxy itself, not in a particular See.  Indeed, it would go on to say that the dogma judges the synod (and by extension the sees).

That said, that is not the point of the chapter.  Cooper gives us a very good explication of the relation between corporeality, the church, and hierarchy.   Contrary to modern feminists and Gnostics (which are the same thing), hierarchy does not abandon freedom of worship in the Spirit, but establishes it.   In language reminiscent of Dionysius and Proclus, Maximus advocates a “hierarchical return” by means of the liturgy.


Cooper ends his discussion summing up the previous book when answering the question, “What happens to the body in deification?”  The short answer is, “it experiences death in an intense form.”  Maximus identifies our baptism as a baptism in Christ death and resurrection (in other words, he doesn’t hem-haw around Romans 6).  When we participate in virtue and in suffering, we are identifying even more intensely with Christ’s death via our baptism.  Cooper also gives us a fascinating discussion of faith alone and good works.  Contrary to later Protestant polemics, good works are the manifestation of God’s mercy in our flesh for the sake of others.  In St Maximus—on Cooper’s gloss, anyway—good works take on a social dimension.

The book is probably worth the $170, which is unfortunate since few can afford it.   It does not stand alone, though.  It does not deal with the nature of Christ’s wills and its discussion of ousia and hypostasis is short.   To be fair to Cooper this was not his stated aim.   This book will likely remain the standard in the field on these topics.

Monotheletism in the formation of the canon?

Restorationist sects and even respectable Calvinists like John Piper will say the early church had it completely wrong.  Yet at the same time, these guys have no trouble accepting the canon/table of contents page in the Bible.  The problem is that the table of contents page is not Scripture.  It is man’s tradition about Scripture (which presumably dictates how you are to interpret Scripture.  If Scripture interprets Scripture, but we only know the outliers of interpretation by a man-made tradition–the table of contents–then we are not really interpreting Scripture by Scripture, but by tradition).  But I digress.

The point is that these theologically errant men with bad theology, which Piper and Co., affirm, formed the canon.  How then do we know they did not screw it up?   They had bad theology.  They venerated relics, icons, burned incense, had bishops, took the Lord’s Supper frequently, and Constantine.  By all restorationists’ accounts they were the most rank of heretics.  Yet they happened to get the canon correct.  How did that happen?

People will then say the Holy Spirit guided the canon process.  In other words, the Holy Spirit’s will overrode the bishop’s will.   This, unfortunately, is another form of monoenergism (a corollary of monotheletism), which is heresy.   Demetrios Bathrellos makes it clear in The Byzantine Christ (quite likely the authoritative book on monotheletism) that the heresy didn’t simply say that Christ had one will, but that Christ’s divine will overrides human will(s).  In other words, there is no room for synergy, human cooperation with God.

What did the apostles say?  “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” That’s a much healthier approach to take to the formation of the canon.

Okay, so “outside the church there is no salvation…”

Roman Catholics are usually more vocal (and annoying) about this than Orthodox apologists (though, of course, the latter hold to the dictum as well).  The phrase in one form or another dates back to St Cyprian.  This phrase offends Protestants because the way it is defined excludes Protestantism from the true church.  Therefore, this means that Protestants are outside the Church.   Therefore, Protestants are “going to hell” (pronounced “hae-yul” if you are from the South).

So is this true?  Did God create Protestants simply to roast ’em forever?   Not quite.  This is an example of one taking a legitimate theological axiom–the church is the visible and physical focal point of salvation on earth–and making conclusions based on evidence a person cannot possibly have. Blessed Seraphim Rose warned against such scholastic reasoning.

My observations on St Cyrpian’s phrase:

1) Calvinists accept some form of it.   Calvin said somewhere you can’t have God as your father without the church as your mother.  Why then do Calvinists get upset when Orthodox say it?  Similarly, most Calvinists do not believe Orthodox (or Catholics) are “saved,” so why do they get mad when others return the favor?

2) It’s not entirely clear what St Cyprian “meant” by it.  Even in his own time this phrase did not always have “obvious” epistemological clarity.  Who’s in the church?  As St Augustine mused, it’s often hard to know.

3) Maybe it’s truer meaning doesn’t primarily deal with individuals at all.    Protestant and evangelical churches have a tendency to self-destruct over generations.   They simply don’t last.  Either they capitulate to modernism (and by their own admission have little or nothing to do with even the vaguest forms of Christianity) or they simply lose enough members and die, even if they maintain some form of a Christian witness.  Part of the problem is sola scriptura:  if it is ultimately “my interpretation of the Bible,” and there are 200 million of me, then there is inherently a self-mutating motion in evangelicalism.  Therefore, St Cyprian can be said to say, “outside the church, you cease to resemble a real church over the long run.”

4) I don’t think Protestants (particularly evangelicals) and Orthodox view salvation in exactly the same way.  For the Orthodox, as I understand it, salvation is not reduced to a one-time moment at a Billy Graham concert rally. Without the visible, apostolic church, you aren’t going to see the fullness of the faith.

5) On the other hand, the stupidest thing an Orthodox (or Catholic) can do is to go up to a Protestant and say, “Yup, you and your family are going to roast because you aren’t part of us.”  For one, you don’t know that.  The final judgment has not yet happened.  Secondly, you have effectively driven them away from Orthodoxy.  Good job.

Clark Carlton has a fantastic podcast on this topic.

Coming Review on Reformed Filioque Article

I was browsing EBSCO host today and came across an article in the Westminster Theological Journal.  It is titled “How Important is the Filioque for Reformed Orthodoxy?” by Mark Pugliese.   I have my initial response to it, which I will outline below, but I want to do a fuller response later.

The Negatives

There really isn’t much new in this essay.  He repeats a lot of the standard Western arguments (e.g., the immanent trinity is identical to the ontological trinity in every way, and even beyond that).  He assumes that Jesus’ breathing on the disciples proves Christ ontologically originating the Holy Spirit in eternity.  He does not argue this point but merely asserts it.  He spends about four pages demonstrating that the Reformed confessions adhere to the Filioque.  (I assumed this was a given).  About the only strong line of evidence he gives is a list of quotes from the Fathers that seem to profess something like the Filioque (of course, he is using a very crass version of the “word = concept” fallacy, but there are a few quotes to make one pause.  Ironically, the author believes Scripture is the ultimate–and practically only real–authority is Scripture, not the Fathers).  My ultimate beef is that the arguments in the paper do not live up to the title:  I want to see how Reformed theology depends on the Filioque, which is what the title suggest but does not deliver.


I’m fairly certain that only a handful of readers of WTJ recognized this, but Pugliese made very clear the connection between absolute divine simplicity and the filioque.  Of course, he didn’t spell this out in those specific words, but he did say that without the Filioque you could not tell the difference between the Son and the Holy Spirit.   I disagree, but I am glad he makes the connection (since the two depend on one another;  this is an important point because all of the Eastern Fathers he thinks supported the Filioque also rejected absolute divine simplicity).


Western Rite as the awkward elephant

This is the final summary of the debate I had with the Reformed Constitutionalist.   One of the things he pointed out, aside from ridiculing the idea that the Celts were Orthodox, is that the Western church in the early middle ages meditated on the Fathers, too.  They maintained the faith, too.  It wasn’t just the Eastern guys that had a monopoly on the Fathers.   The West had it, too, so that means that the West is just as good as the East, right?

My original answer (which is in email, which I will not divulge here) was less-than-adequate, now that I reflect up on it. I had originally asked him to prove such sources, aside from a vague reference from the well-written, but admittedly non-scholarly How the Irish Saved Civilization.   None was forthcoming.

That being said, I realized this week that the best refutation of his argument was simply to agree with his premise! As I mentioned earlier, there was yet no schism in Europe concerning the Faith.   In fact, we shouldn’t even speak of “East” and “West,” for all was Orthodox (of varying flavors, it should be admitted).  From a strictly legal point of view, which even Roman Catholics will admit, both East and West were one church, for the patriarchates were all in communion with each other (including Rome).

In fact, the Western Rite liturgy is Orthodox.  Secondly, following this point and in contradiction to many overly-zealous Eastern Orthodox apologists, the Western middle ages knew no hard and fast division between the liturgy of the Western world and the Eastern world.  Different appearances at times, but the essence was the same.  St Olga of Russia sought after German liturgists.  St Tikhon of Russia even updated and corrected the Anglican Book of Church Order (which I am not endorsing, but simply noting).















Both Eastern and Western liturgies had the epiclesis, the nunc dimitis, the te deums, etc.   There are notable differences, to be sure, but they are of degree, not kind.

So the final answer:  I agree with my interlocutor, but I also know that there was no division, whether spiritually or legally.

That’s because the church isn’t a text

St Irenaeus advanced a line of argument that would become standard among traditional Christianity:  because the Bible is so complex and deep, it can’t rightly be interpreted by any one man’s reading.  Similarly, it would not do for any community to simply read the “Bible” and that reading be authoritative (for the Gnostics would be vindicated).  No, the only reading is the apostolic reading within the one Church (which has apostolic and episcopal parameters; this is simply a summary of early Church teaching and what they said is not up for debate).

An interlocutor could object, “Suppose you are correct in saying we are misreading the Bible because the Bible is full of ambiguities, how then are you not misreading what the Church is saying on these matters?  If we are guilty of epistemic relativism in Bible reading, how are you not also guilty of epistemic relativism in ecclesial readings?.”

This bothered me for the longest time.  While it is true that most people don’t misunderstand what the Church teaches on x, y, and z (and the misunderstandings and disagreements are nowhere near as radical as the evangelical readings on the Bible), the truth of the matter is the Church is not a text.  The Church is not words.   The Church did not initially operate by “The Bible alone” (since for most early Christians in the first few centuries there was no recognizable “Bible”).   The Church was the body of Christ.  It is flesh and blood, wine and bread.  It is people.   We are not dealing with the laws of literary hermeneutics, in which the evangelical is forever forced to operate, never rising above).