Something else the ring did not expect

A while back I did a post on Putin as something the New World Order did not expect to happen, effectively thwarting their plans of making Russia simply another cash-cow for the globalists.  I’ve always wondered if I can apply that to religion, particularly Christian theology.  I’m responding to the paradigm shift of the author of Giza Death Star.   It’s not too hard to figure out of whom I speak, but I don’t feel right “calling him out” online for a number of reasons:  it  just ain’t friendly, for one; he is a noted scholar–if you have a D.Phil from Oxford you deserve respect; and, I still stand in awe of his ability to synthesize numerous strands of very difficult information.

He is the author of God, History, and Dialectic, arguably the most influential book and project I have ever experienced.  His recent project, beginning with Giza Death Star and continuing through Grid of the Gods attempts to trace the aftermath of a great cosmic war.  In short, he compares different origin accounts from different cultures and religions across the world, noting a number of “early apocalyptic” scenarios, which all sound the same.

As it stands that is fine and good.  While I don’t accept Jim Marrs’ argument that we are the engineering by-product of ancient aliens as documented in Sumerian epics (although I do accept many of his conclusions), I must confess that the similarities across a wide geography and time-frame make a very strong case.  I don’t know what to make of this case.   I see no reason to suddenly think “The Genesis account,” and by extension Christian theology, is somehow false.  Is the Genesis account dependent on earlier creation narratives?  Probably, but does dependency = falsification?  Hardly.  But more on that later.   At the same time, I don’t necessarily feel compelled to accept the Sumerian reading on face value.  That will illustrate another problem.

Let’s see what we can make of his argument against Christian (textual) morality:

  1. Yahweh told Abraham to sacrifice his son (cf. the arguments originally brought forth by Friedrich Delitzsch).  I’ll admit.   Most of the justifications of this are weak, but I think there are responses.  Ultimately, my response to this will be tied up with my response to the reading of texts.
  2. The Caananite Genocide;  how does one justify the fact that Yahweh told the Israelites to kill everyone in Caanan? This leads to the conclusion that Yahweh is a bad guy.
  3. There are stupid Christians today.    I agree with him on this.    Not sure what it proves.

Sed contra,

~1.  I am tempted to let him have this point for several reasons.  I’m not entirely sure of what I think on this passage. I know that theologians and philosophers have wrestled with it for centuries long before Delitzsch.  Maybe they’ve given poor responses; many have (I think Kierkegaard is overrated as a philosopher). With regard to my own spirituality, I don’t feel threatened about one passage that I cannot understand.   Imploding worldviews is a lot like destroying spiderwebs.   You have to take out the heart of the web, which I don’t see this text as representative of.

~2.  One has to ask several questions here:  Were the Caananites nice people?   What did Molech worship entail?  Does that justify armed invasion?   Maybe, maybe not.  Another line of thought–and while this is speculation, I would hasten to add that much of his project, by his own admission, is speculation–is tracing the origin of the Anakim.   If the Anakim, and Caananites in general, were descendants of fallen angels, that would make them a form of demonic offspring.

I have some more to add, but it also involves the reading of texts.  One other thing to add:  C. S. Lewis had a fairly liberal German view of the Old Testament, even noting how mean God sounded at times, yet Lewis didn’t seem bothered by the overall affect to his own Christian worldview.

~3.  In listening to these radio interviews I get the impression he is lumping all Christians into the mold and representation of backwoods fundamentalists.   or baptists.   He would deny that, and charity demands I interpret him accordingly.   Still, he is not making those distinctions when he criticizes “the religious people.”   This, too, involves the reading of texts.  Further, he notes that his reading poses challenges to the traditional three monotheistic religions, but he spends all of his time focusing these challenges to Christians.

I sometimes wonder how hard-core ancient faith radio really is (yes, the programs are awesome), but surely these people aren’t mindlessly reading only their bibles.

As it stands, he originally said he wants Christians to think good and hard about these issues.  Great.  I am actually excited about it.  I agree with hip readings about ancient wars and space programs, but when I hear him call my Father a “murderer,” it’s hard for me to continue charitably (cf., the latest episode on Social Engineering).

Reading Texts

Is one warranted in reading ALL texts in a strict, literal fashion? For whatever their (often violent) disagreements, few major adherents of the three monotheisms read the texts in a 1:1 correspondence.  Now, if he wants his reading to function simply as a reductio against the wackiness of Fundamentalist hermeneutics, while still exploring the possibilities of a cosmic war hypothesis, then I think that is worthwhile.

Another thought: is this the way the Christian church has historically read the Bible?    He might object that is special pleading and not taking the text at its face-value. (But he’s also noted that it is difficult to explain the difference between allegory and typology; cf “Introduction,” Disputation with Pyrrhus).   Maybe.   While there is probably more to be said on hermeneutics, traditioned communities have the right to read their texts–which they formed and passed down–the way they want to read them.

Let’s Pretend We are Liberal

Here is where it gets interesting.   In GHD the author gives probably the most incredible refutation of liberal higher criticism ever accomplished.   He exposes the gnostic presuppositions of the Documentary Hypothesis.   But even if one wanted to go the liberal route, one could say, “Yeah, it seems from that account Yahweh did some unsavory things, but one has to consider the contrasting Priestly, Jahwist, Deuteronomist, and Elohist strands throughout the Old Testament.”

Granted, that is a high price to pay, and one will lose inerrancy in the process, but if he thinks he has offered a painful moral dilemma  to traditional readings, then these JEDP readings blunt that charge (although at a high price).

What if we cannot accept the German liberals’ reading of the Old Testament?  Is there still a truth behind their claim, and if so, can that truth respond to the above criticisms?   I think—maybe.   Walter Brueggemann has done a fantastic job in showing that the Old Testament is full of hard edges.  He has suggested ways to read the Old Testament and take its claims seriously, while at the same time .  While avoiding many of Lindbeck’s conclusions,  Brueggemann notes that the Old Testament is a communal book, shaped within–and sometimes a response to–the community’s life and practice.

Sacrificial Ontology

One word about the sacrifices:  he makes an interesting argument, beginning in Babylon’s Banksters, that this view of “god” which demands sacrifices presupposes a system where the worshipper is already “in debt.”   (This scores huge points against many models of Western theology).  Therefore, sacrifical religions are debt-based religions.  Therefore, big problems for Judaism and Christianity.  Okay:

  1. One can see in the Old Testament that the Temple is not the ideal for worshipping God.   God didn’t seem too thrilled about the idea before Solomon, and afterwards the Temple came for condemnation and not praise in the Prophets.   Christ’s own words foretelling his identification with, and subsequent marginalization of the Temple add to this counter-reading.
  2. Is he making a distinction between Wesern-based soteriology and an Eastern-based soteriology.  I know he is cognizant of such a distinction, yet he does not mention it.
  3. “For you do not desire sacrifice, else I would give it.  You are not pleased with burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken and a contrite spirit.  These, O God, you will not despise.”   To which he might reply, “The Old Testament is changing the rules as it is going along.”   But I point above to the hard edges of the Old Testament.

My goal here was not to powerfully refute his arguments, but actually to take him/them seriously:   while the alternative research community will never amount to much–and he is the most sane and serious scholar, with a few exceptions like Hoagland–he has raised some questions.  Fun questions.

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The Philosopher’s Stone: The Search for Secret Matter

It is difficult to pinpoint his thesis.   It is easier to examine the argument and narrative as they unfold.   Strictly speaking, the question deals with the nature of the philosopher’s stone—the alchemical device allegedly used to transform base metals into gold.  Farrell looks at it from a different angle—the philosopher’s stone is the physical medium itself.    Transforming one element into another is simply putting stress on that medium.

http://www.amazon.com/Philosophers-Stone-Alchemy-Research-ebook/dp/B00398B2HK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1299378144&sr=1-1

From that thesis Farrell brings in his discussion of the occult, high physics, and Nazi technology.   First, alchemy’s occultic roots.  Farrell picks up where his Giza Death Star Destroyed left off.  Before we discuss that we should note a little background information and some of Farrell’s presuppositions.  Farrell assumes (and I think I hold to something similar) there was an ancient “high” civilization with an ancient technology.   Either this civilization experienced a civil war or fought (and lost) a war from the outside.  In either case the losing side “went underground” for much of what would later become ancient and Western history.[i] Much knowledge was lost and alchemical research is perhaps a search for that knowledge.

Farrell notes that the ancient neo-Platonic magicians spoke in alchemical concepts (and probably studied alchemy).   When St. Constantine converted the Roman Empire, alchemy and many of the schools of magic disappeared.[ii] With the rise of the Templars almost 1,000 years later, alchemy and “magic” revived in full form.  Farrell asks the very interesting question, “How did it appear without ‘missing a beat’ when most movements take decades to fully develop?”   The reasonable explanation is an underground alchemical movement.

Farrell takes this reasoning a step further.  Many alchemists were able to disguise alchemical research via Filioquist terminology.  Indeed, if one studies the hermetic and neo-platonic texts of this period, they use almost the same language and concepts of the Augustinian Filioque and doctrine of Absolute Divine Simplicity.

Farrell’s book then becomes an extended discussion in theoretical physics and will probably lose most readers.  Granted, the Nazi connections are intriguing and explain the evidence better than any other model offered by “academics,” but only the most committed reader can progress beyond this phase.

There was a very good discussion on Nikolai Kozyrev and St Maximus the Confessor.  Farrell (likely borrowing from God, History, and Dialectic) shows how Maximus’ worldview on “being and becoming” is very similar to what Kozyrev said on the nature of time.[iii]

CONS OF THE BOOK

It was really hard to follow at times.   I’ve followed Farrell’s works and have read some of his books, but many of his discussions seemed to belabor the point.

PROS OF THE BOOK

While his discussions belabored the point, they also seemed to prove the point.  His arguments are most thorough.

Further, his rhetorical skill has few equals.  He can draw out the implications of a concept or line of argument better than most.  While his discussions on theoretical physics are dizzying because most people aren’t familiar with post-Einsteinian physics, he does a good job of explaining the points.


[i] An alternative reading of this situation is that the losing side was completely destroyed and the victors were too weak to press the advantage.   Further, one could surmise that most of the knowledge was lost and only a small segment was passed down through certain “cliques.”

[ii] While it is doubtful that David Bradshaw entertains this thesis, his book Aristotle East and West suggests something similar.   He notes that many of these ancient sources went mysteriously untranslated.

[iii] Thomas Torrance said the ancient Greek scientist John Philoponos translated the concepts of St Athanasius and St Cyril of Alexandria into “physical concepts” and anticipated something like modern physics.

Church Father Shopping Without Liturgy

From Joseph Farrell’s God, History, and Dialectic. On page 586 Farrell gives an interesting account of the rise of modern Patristic studies (ala post-Reformation).   With the possible exception of the ocassional high-church Anglican, most Protestant appeals to Church Fathers were misleading, for the post-Reformers (pardon the neologism) had purged the Fathers’ writings from their liturgical context.  Therefore, when the Protestant quotes the Fathers she is not seeing them as a living body of witnesses but merely as ancient authorities for current Protestant practices (but only when they agree).

Western Opposition in positing Christ’s wills

Uber thanks to Ancient Christian Defender for reposting this Farrell piece.   It is a deep sorrow that this book went out of print.  While I don’t understand why St Tikhon’s Monastery Seminary let this go out of print, I do understand Dr Farrell’s reasons.  In any case, below

The opposition of Christ’s human will to the divine will was seen to occur for two reasons: one, because of the confusion of person and nature implied in the Augustinian understanding of original guilt; and two, because fallen humanity is the same humanity to be found in Christ, inclusive of its opposing will. Christ’s predestination is therefore the same as ours because it is by grace: the divine will overcomes Christ’s human will in an irresistible manner, much as the divine will overcomes the human will in the case of those predestined to salvation. But this led the Spanish Adoptionists to assume two sons, one of nature, the other of grace. And this in turn implied that they confused a personal characteristic, that of sonship, with that of nature and have thus come full circle back to the confusion which began the process. It is this whole vast and intricate matrix which related Spanish Adoptionism and its underlying predestinational Christology to the filioquist controversies of the ninth century. This would suggest that the Spanish Adoptionist predestinational Christology and the filioque share a common ancestry. That ancestry is Neoplatonism, and it is this consideration which incites, indeed, compels, comparison between St. Maximus and St. Augustine. The filioque is ultimately derived from the philosophical and neoplatonic definition of simplicity and its accompanying dialectic of oppositions. Each of the problems that attended Neoplatonism – the identity of being and will and its consequences of an eternal generation of the Son indistinguishable and indivisible from an eternal creation, the dialectical opposition of the simplicity and the dialectic in collapsing into an infinite series of beings as in the neoplatonic system of Iamblichus, or in erasing all distinctions between beings as in the Neoplatonic Pantheists, the structural subordination of all pluralities to the One-all these implications are to some extent present in the trinitarian theology of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine assumed that if there could be common ground between theology and philosophy there could be common definitions as well. He found this common definition in the neoplatonic definition of the simplicity of the One. Appropriating this definition as an understanding of the divine essence of the Christian Trinity, as a definition of the unity of the Christian God, he made of it the ultimate basis of his attempted synthesis. Consequently it is at the Augustinian doctrine of God that the point of contact between theology and philosophy occurs, and it is through this doctrine of God that the Augustinian conception of predestination must be approached. A proper understanding of Augustine Triadology will yield a proper understanding of the logic and structure behind its predestinational doctrine.

When he appropriated the definition of simplicity as a definition of the divine essence of the Trinity, he accepted it uncritically, and thus made his “philosophical first principle one with his religious first principle” to such an extent that as the French Roman Catholic Etienne Gilson observed, even his notion of divine being “remained greek,” that is, ultimately pagan. Therefore, insofar as his doctrine of predestination is derived from this pagan definition of the divine essence, it is to that extent that it is pagan in its roots. It is at the point of this definition that the divine essence begins to be abstracted from the plurality of attributes and persons as a prolegomenon to theology. In other words, once he had assumed the simplicity as a definition of the divine essence in its full Neoplatonic sense, the essence becomes increasingly singled out ans strictly distinguished from all the divine “pluralities,” the attributes and the persons. The dialectic of opposition between the One and the many is already in evidence in this step, and two things occur because of it. First, the unity of God is seen in impersonal and abstract terms. St. Augustine states it this way: “The divinity is the unity of the Trinity.” But more important is the fact that, at this stage at least, the persons and the attributes are accorded the same logical status. And thus St. Augustine can say that

He is called in respect to Himself both God, and great, and good, and just, and anything else of the kind; and just as to Him to be is the same as to be God, or as to be great, or as to be good, so it is the same thing to Him to be as to be person.

Underlying these mutual identities is the simplicity, once again functioning as a great metaphysical “equals” (=) sign, and consequently the conclusion that the person are attributes or that the attributes are persons is inescapable.

But when he turns to consider the attributes themselves, they become identical with the divine essence and alternative names for it: “The Godhead,” he writes, “is absolutely simple essence, and therefore to be is there the same as to be wise. And this leads to the further implication that since the attributes are identical to the essence, they are identical to each other: “In regards to the essence of truth, to be true is the same as to be and to be is the same as to be great….therefore to be great is the same as to be true.” A=B and B=C, ergo A=C. Reason, logic, and simplicity are the very essence of the divine essence. It is this identity of attributes amongst themselves which led to three very different conclusions, conclusions which are nevertheless related, for they depend upon this identification of the attributes amongst themselves.

First, it is this identity of the attributes with themselves and with the divine essence that allowed Thomas Aquinas, who inherited this definitional understanding of the divine simplicity from St. Augustine, to assert the identity of the divine essence with the divine will. The simplicity is absolute; therefore God’s will is not other than His essence,” a proposition common with Plotinus, and a proposition at the root of the Origenist problematic. Unlike the Athanasian response to this problematic, which depended upon the distinction between essence and attributes being a formal one, this understanding of the simplicity is a definitional one, and it is this which is the ultimate root of the Western difficulties with Palamism: there cannot be ultimate and equal goods which are really distinct from the divine essence as well as being really distinct from each other.

Second, the Augustine doctrine of predestination must, to a great degree, be referred to this identity of attributes amongst themselves, in other words, to this identity of attributes amongst themselves, in other words, to predestinate is the same as to foreknow. If God foreknows the damned and the elect, He also predestines them. The evaluation of Jaroslav Pelikan is therefore not entirely correct. It is in regard to this identification of the attributes of predestination and foreknowledge that he wrote “what was needed to correct and clarify the Augustinian doctrine was a more precise definition of predestination that would distinquish it from grace.” But since the deterministic aspects of Augustinism appear to be not so much biblical as neoplatonic and logical, as they are rooted in a particular dialectically-derived definition of the divine essence, it would appear that what is needed is precisely not another definition, but a non-definitional understanding of the divine simplicity, one which would not permit the term to function as an “equals” (=) sign which identifies the pluralities of attributes.

Finally, this identification of the attributes amongst themselves plays an important role in the derivation of the filioque. Because the categories of the persons and attributes, as multiplicites contrasted to the simple essence, all serve as logically interchangeable definitions of the simple divine “something”, the question for St. Augustine then became one of securely maintaining the real distinction of persons in the face of a simplicity which had already nullified the real quality and distinctions of the attributes amongst themselves. Here the subordination of the persons and attributes to the essence in the ordo theologiae also provides St. Augustine with the means to attempt to distinction the persons from each other. Having assumed an absolute, definitional simplicity, the person can no longer be absolute hypostases, but are merely relations, since the names Father, Son, and Spirit are terms relative to each other. Here again there is a subtle but nevertheless real play of the dialectic of oppositions. One no longer begins with the three persons (since one has already began theology at the divine essence) and then moves to consider their relations, but begins more with their relative quality, with the relation between the persons, itself. In other words, there is an artificial opposition of any given person to the other two. It is at this point that the flexibility of St. Augustine’s neoplatonic basis begins to surface in a more acute form.”

Coming Post(s)

I want to do a post in the future that shows the later Western view of the Trinity has duality and dialectic within it, drawing from Dr. Farrell’s works.   I actually thought did that post on my blog, but I can’t find it.  It’s probably in my own journals.   I am doing that because I got in a debate (or rather, did everything I could to avoid one) with a “Reformed Constitutionalist.”  He and I had actually hashed this out many times over the past year (with he often admitting I was right and he was wrong), but he kept asking how the West has a dialectical Trinity.  Fair enough. I’ll try to do a post on that.   Pre-reading for this topic is St Gregory of Nazianzus’ “Third Theological Oration.”

Review of Irenaeus of Lyons: Early Church Fathers Series

Review of Irenaeus of Lyons (Early Church Fathers) by Robert Grant

Grant did a nice job summarizing difficult sections of St Irenaeus, and a good job in presenting them to us in a nice manner.  Unfortunately, he spent most of his time summarizing the wrong sections and missed many key opportunities to explicate more helpful topics in St Irenaeus’s thought.    For some reason academics think it is very important to summarize what Gnostics and ancient feminists believed about reality.   Are they, too, Gnostics and feminists?  Probably.  Much of the book was laborious and boring—and this comes from someone who has read all five books of St Irenaeus’ Adversus Haerisis.

That is not to say the book is without merit.  As noted earlier, Irenaeus’ key arguments are presented in an easy-to-find manner (this is made even easier if one reads it on the Amazon Kindle, as I did).  We have Irenaeus’s very clear teaching on apostolic succession as a demonstration that the Gnostics are pale imitators of the Faith, and given their lack of AS, they cannot prove their faith.   We see how to interpret Scripture—interpreting it in light of the regula fide within the context of the church.  Most importantly, (if sadly too briefly) we have the Recapitulation of all things in Christ.

Excerpts from Irenaeus

Reading this in the Amazon Kindle makes it possible to bookmark, collect, and recall dozens of passages at a moment’s notice (while Kindle will never replace books, the research and cross-referencing abilities are overwhelmingly superior).

Irenaeus and the Septuagint

“Like other Patristic authors, Irenaeus fully accepted the authority of the LXX.  The idea that the canon should be confined to Hebrew books never occurred to him.  He therefore used 1-2 Esdras as well as 1 Enoch, Baruch (ascribed to Jeremiah) and the Greek additions to Daniel.”

Recapitulation

Irenaeus uses it as the key to at least four events in Scripture: God’s covenant with Adam, Noah, Moses, and the final covenant that renews man and recapitulates everything in itself, that which by the Gospel raises men and wings them for the celestial kingdom (3.11.8).

The structure of anakephalaiosis is this:  events repeat one another, as well as the story involves not just progress, but restoration (see Joseph Farrell’s section in GHD).

The Nature of the Godhead

Irenaeus is rebutting Gnostic claims to God’s being, but he does so in a way that suggests later Eastern expressions of God.  Irenaeus lists the standard attributes of God which can be found in any Western dogmatics model, but he takes it a step further and says, “But he is still above this and therefore ineffable” (1.13.4).  In other words, God is hyperousia and beyond being.

Apostolic Succession

Irenaeus gives the standard defense of apostolic succession: bishops in communion with one another transmit and pass down the sacred deposit, but he goes a step further.  He acts like apostolic succession is a common-sense given, but he says if it weren’t true then a great calamity would befall the church.  (3.3.1)

In 3.4.1 he notes the easiest way to find out what the church believes on matters not found in Scripture is to ask those in the church.   He goes on to say that the wisest thing to do when coming to sacred matters, is to ask for the most ancient form of your religion.

He makes one other interesting point:  he says that many barbarians in German and elsewhere do not have a bible but are fully saved and accurately pass down the tradition.   This one statement destroys a key part of Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism.

Sin and the Curse

In either Book IV or Book V (at this point Kindle is not so helpful) Irenaeus notes that God did not curse Adam himself, but the land.  He also notes this is an ancient tradition as well.

Free Will

In section 20.1 he notes that God has always preserved man’s free will.

Conclusion

Is the book worth getting?  I’m not sure.   Kindle makes the purchasing easier (if going by the paperback price the answer is  a definite no).   I’m beginning to suspect this Early Church Fathers Series by Routledge is not as superior as many wannabe scholars say it is.  You get the same text you will find in Schaff or CCEL.org, although the text is admittedly organized better.  The introductory sections are varying.   Brian Daley’s section on Gregory is good, as is Anatolios’s on St Athanasius.  Neither, however, is remarkable to justify the purchasing price.   Neither section really alters one’s perception of the Father (since the people who take the time and money to read these books are already reasonably familiar with said fathers).

As noted earlier, Grant’s intro to Irenaeus does not stand out one way or another.  He covered the basic ground, but did not say anything too different from what you would find in a theological or church history dictionary.  He spent too much time incredulating (forgive the neologism) on Irenaeus’s belief that Christ was 50 years old, and too little time on the actual recapitulatory hermeneutic itself.

Analysis of the Mercersberg Theology

An essay on Phillip Schaff’s ecclesiology that I did a while back.   It touches on some Christological and Eucharistic issues as well.  It needs to be revised and expanded.  I’ll probably do five or six parts here.

“Analysis of the Mercersberg Theology”

I come not to bury Schaff but to praise him.  Such should be the mindset of those Christians who disagree with the Mercersberg Theology.  It is limited and inadequate at its best and likely heterodox at its worst.   However, it represents a particularly fine analysis of European and American Protestantism up to the 19th century.   Philip Schaff and John Williamson Nevin correctly identified many weaknesses within Protestantism and attempted a systematic reconstruction of the Protestant project with a particular emphasis upon the theology of John Calvin and a hope to return to the ancient faith of the Church.

Introduction

Did Schaff and Nevin return to the ancient church?  The simplest answer is no.[i] Yet a simple “no” does not do justice to their work.  One should first identify their goals, state their arguments, and compare the conclusions to the Fathers and Councils of the Church.   The reader can decide if Schaff and Nevin were successful.

In order not to unnecessarily bias the reader, I should outline my own theological and ecclesiastical convictions.  Whatever else the future may hold, the author is currently a member of a conservative Presbyterian denomination.  Therefore, the following essay should not be read as a rebellious “slam” against the Reformed church.   While the author is sympathetic to the Orthodox Church, and many of his conclusions have been formed by reading the Orthodox fathers, both ancient and recent, the following essay should not be read as a defense of Eastern Orthodoxy, for the criticisms of Protestantism found below have been made by many Evangelical theologians, not least of which the Mercersberg theologians.   If Orthodox and Roman Catholic readers find the following essay helpful in understanding a certain moment in American religious history, well and good.

Finally, Protestants should not feel anxious, threatened, or angry by the following remarks.  This is done in a spirit of charity to my fellow Protestant brethren.  If one is seeking the truth, as we all are, and one has weak arguments, one should welcome correction, and I trust by the grace of God I, too, would respond in a grateful manner.   In responding to the Mercersberg theologians, I am responding to what I deem to be the best defenses of Reformed Protestantism.  If one is going to critique a position, charity and fairness demand that one critique the best possible arguments; I believe Schaff and Nevin Provide these arguments.[ii]

A More Reformed Hegel?

In reading Nevin’s preface to Philip Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism, I had moments when I thought I was reading G. W. Hegel.  In its simplistic form, Hegel’s philosophy can be understood as a process where the subject demonstrates its opposite while still retaining its own identity, leading to a new situation (or “higher mode of consciousness”).[i] In one sense, Hegel’s system can be seen as an evolutionary process.   The specifics of Hegel’s philosophy need not trouble us here; however, one should note that Schaff and Nevin applied the same method to Church History and their location of the Protestant movement within that history.

In a discussion of the place of the Protestant church within the narrative of late medieval Catholicism, Nevin makes the point that Protestantism was birthed in a unique moment in Western History as a result of “the advanced life of the Middle Ages.”  Nevin is quite clear that Protestantism was not birthed from the theological fruit of the fourth century, but rather the fruit of the 15th and 16th centuries.[ii]

This is a very interesting admission by Nevin.  While Schaff and Nevin routinely make the argument that the Reformed Church is the legitimate offspring of the historic church (which is itself often left undefined), he implicitly notes that the theology and practices of the two churches (presumably the Nicene Church and the Reformed Church) are dissimilar.  In any case, Schaff is more clear about the dialectical process of the Protestant church, “But history, since the presence of sin, unfolds itself only through extremes in the way of action and reaction.[iii]”  On one level, Schaff’s comment is perfectly innocent and straightforward.  It is true that one often sees overreactions in history.  Further, it is also true that such overreactions can call for a clarification of the Church’s doctrines and practices.   Nevertheless, it is quite problematic to maintain that history is a (necessary) process of dialectical oppositions.[iv]

There is an even more pressing problem than a dialectical view of history.   If it is true that the church received the faith “once delivered for all the saints” (Jude 3), how exactly does it progress?   It is one thing to say that there is a further clarification of doctrine (for example, the Ecumenical Councils), but it is quite another to say that it is progressing.  The first view is that of the historic Church; the latter is that of modernism.   What is Schaff’s view?  It’s not entirely clear.   On one hand Schaff qualifies what he means by “progression” by limiting it to the “apprehension of Christianity,[v]” placing his definition of progression within the former category.  But on the next page, however, Schaff speaks of a progression of doctrine in terms of a “transforming” element to its content and form.   This language suggests far more than mere apprehension and clarification.

At the end of the discussion, however, Philip Schaff firmly rejects any understanding of the church as “receiving the apostolic deposit.”  I know Schaff does not reject Jude 3, but on his reading it is hard to see how he can affirm it.  Schaff rejects the Oxford Tractarians (think Anglo-Catholics) as regarding “the church as a system handed down under a given and complete form…They wish to shut out of view the progress of the last three centuries entirely; to treat the whole as a negation, if possible; and by one vast leap to carry the church back to the point where it stood before the separation of the Oriental and Western communions.[vi]”   We may advance two conclusions from this:  1) While to his credit Schaff rejects the higher critical modernism of German theology, it is not clear on the above quotation why he can reject it, for German higher criticism simply sough to “develop” the faith; and 2) earlier we asked if Mercersberg can get us to the earlier, undivided church.   Given Schaff’s above quotation, we can safely say not only can it not get us there, but that it does not desire to go there.


[i] Charles Taylor, Hegel and Modern Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 21-22.

[ii] Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism trans. John Williamson Nevin (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1845), 49.

[iii] Schaff, Ibid., 126.

[iv] One cannot help but speculate on the role of the Filioque in the later Protestant and Hegelian formulations of history.  One is referred to the work of Dr.  Joseph P. Farrell, particularly his God, History, and Dialectic: The Theological Foundations of the Two Europes.   One of Dr. Farrell’s arguments is that the Augustinian formulation of the Filioque clause had an implicit dialectical process, for it posits an element of “twoness” within the Triad.  The implications of this are staggering.  If God is dialectically conditioned, and God is seen as the Sovereign Lord of history (a premise all should accept), then one must view history as dialectically unfolding.   Perhaps this is why Nevin and Schaff did not challenge the Filioque clause.   The bulk of Dr. Farrell’s book is available at Google Books.  The full text can be purchased in electronic format at www.filioque.com.  It is unfortunate that Dr. Farrell’s work is not made more easily accessible to the larger public.

[v] Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism, 75.

[vi] Ibid., 160-161.

 


[i] I have received a lot of help in clarification on the Mercersburg Project from Mr. Robert Arakaki in private correspondence.

[ii] Actually, I think the historical theology of Richard Muller provides the best portrayal (if not defense) of Reformed Protestantism.   However, the Mercersburg theology, or at least the texts that inform it, are more accessible to the average reader.

TO BE CONTINUED