Review of Hodge’s 3 Volumes

Charles Hodge is the highpoint of American theology. While Dabney searched deeper into the issues, Hodge’s position (if only because the North won) allowed him a wider influence. Thornwell was the more brilliant orator and Palmer the greater preacher, but Hodge was the teacher and systematician. Of the Princetonians Hodge is supreme. His writing style is smoother than Warfield’s and he is deeper than his predecessors.

We rejoice that Hendrickson Publishing is issuing these three volumes at $30. Even with the page-length quotations in Latin, Hodge is strong where American Christianity is weak. A renaissance in Hodge would reinvigorate discussions about epistemology, the doctrine of God and God’s knowledge, justification, and God’s law. We will look at Hodge’s discussion of epistemology, doctrine of God, human nature (including both sin and free volition), soteriology, and ethics.

Common Sense Realism
Far from stultifying the gospel, Hodge’s position safeguards the reliability of “truth-speak” and if taken seriously today, adds another angle to the “convert” phenomenon. A properly basic belief is one that doesn’t need another belief for justification. I’m not so sure if Hodge is making that claim. However, he does anticipate some of Plantinga’s positions by saying that God so constituted our nature to believe x, y, and z. My aim is to show from Hodge’s own words that our cognitive faculties are (1) reliable and (2) made so by God. I will advance upon Hodge’s conclusions: a commoner can read the Bible and get the general “gist” of it apart from an infallible interpreting body. Secondly, to deny the above point attacks the image of God. Thirdly, to deny the above point is to reduce all to irrationality. The practical application: Those who deny this position often find themselves looking for “absolute” and infallible arbiters of the faith. Such a position denies a key aspect of our imago dei.

“Any doctrine [and Hodge is using this word in the technical sense of philosophic and/or scientific beliefs], therefore, which contradicts the facts of consciousness, or the laws of belief which God has impressed upon our nature, must be false” (I: 215).

“Our knowledge of mind, therefore, as a thinking substance, is the first and most certain, and the most indestructible of all forms of knowledge; because it is involved in self-knowledge…which is the indispensable condition of all knowledge” (I: 277).

It is interesting to note his reference to self-knowledge. One is reminded of Calvin’s duplex cognito dei.

Doctrine of God

…[S]tart with the revelation that God has made of himself in the constitution of our own nature and in his holy word. This method leads to the conclusion that God can think and act, that in him essence and attributes are not identical (I: 564).

It’s also interesting to note Hodge’s comment about God constituting our nature in a certain way. Shades of Thomas Reid.

“To say, as the schoolmen, and so many even of Protestant theologians, ancient and modern, were accustomed to say, that the divine attributes differ only in name, or in our conceptions, or in their effects, is to destroy all true knowledge of God…If in God knowledge is identical with eternity, knowledge with power, power with ubiquity, and ubiquity with holiness, then we are using words without meaning (I: 371-372).

The attributes of God, therefore, are not merely different conceptions in our minds, but different modes in which God reveals himself to his creatures…just as our several faculties are different modes in which the inscrutable substance self reveals itself in our consciousness and acts (I: 374).

So what do we mean by simplicity? Rome has a thorough, if ultimately chaotic, answer to this question. Orthodoxy has an outstanding response to Rome, but nothing in terms of a constructive view of Simplicity. Following Turretin, Hodge writes,

The attributes are to be distinguished not realiter, but;”virtualiter, that is, there is a real foundation in the divine nature for the several attributes attributed to him (I: 370).

What does virtualiter mean?
Richard Muller defines it as “literally, i.e., with virtue or power” (Muller 371).

It’s interesting that Muller mentioned “power.” This corresponds with Radde-Galwitz’s interpretation of Gregory of Nyssa. Alluding to Michel Barnes he notes that divine power is the causal capacity rooted in the divine nature; inseparable from the divine nature and gives rise to the divine energies (Barnes 183). Further, each “Good” (or attribute, in our case) entails another.

Human Nature
Charles Hodge’s key argument regarding the free will controversy is this: does infallible certainty of a future event destroy human liberty? He answers no. Hodge gives a lengthy explanation that the Reformed tradition can maintain free agency, yet God’s foreknowledge of future actions is not threatened (Hodge, II: 296-304). Part of his discussion is labored and a bit confusing, for he realizes that “free will” has as many glosses as it does adherents. He explains what is and is not meant by “free will.”

I do not always agree with his defining of the terms. He lists the three options: necessity (fatalism), contingency (free-willism) and certainty (Reformed and Augustinianism). My problem with Hodge’s list is that traditional Reformed orthodoxy made a distinction between the necessity of the consequent (absolute necessity as pertaining to God ad intra) and necessity of the consequent thing (conditional necessity). My problem with his term “contingency” is that it risks confusion: God is a necessary being; man is a contingent one. It is evident, though, that Hodge makes clear he means the semi-Pelagian options. He does advance the discussion forward, though, with his use of the term “certainty.” Hodge is content to show that opponents of the Reformed system cannot demonstrate a contradiction between the proposition “all events are foreknown by God and will happen with certainty,” and the proposition, “Man can make rational choices apart from absolute necessity.” Hodge lists several metaphysical and biblical examples. God is a most perfect being. This is a certainty (else we are doomed!), yet few will argue that God’s liberty is impinged. Jesus’s crucifixion was foreknown in the mind of God, yet the Roman soldiers sinned most freely.

This raises an interesting issue: many semi-Pelagians try to duck the Reformed charge by saying, “God simply foresees who will believe and elects them based on his foreseeing their believing.” Besides being a crass works-righteousness, does this really solve the problem? Is their belief any less certain? If the semi-Pelagian argues that election is God’s foreseeing their faith, then we must ask if this is a certain action? It’s hard to see how they can say no. If they do affirm that it is certain, then they must at least agree (hypothetically) with the Reformed gloss that certainty does not destroy free agency.

So what does it mean for a man to act “freely.” Few people on either side ever define this satisfactorily. Hodge loosely follows the standard Reformed gloss: the will follows the intellect (which is assumed to be fallen). Man can be said to act freely if he acts naturally: man acts according to the way he was created (II: 304).

Imputation

One of the objections to the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ is that the transfer of guilt (ours/Adam’s) and/or the transfer of righteousness (Christ’s) is morally and legally impossible. Hodge answers:

“The transfer of guilt or righteousness, as states of consciousness or forms of moral character, is indeed impossible. But the real transfer of guilt as”a responsibility to justice, and as righteousness which satisfies that justice,’ is no more impossible than that one man should pay the debt of another. All that the bible teaches on the subject is that Christ paid as a substitute our debt to the justice of God” (II: 540-541).

Justification
Vol. 3: 114ff

Hodge gives a wonderful and penetrating treatment on justification. He notes that The nature of the act of justification Does not produce subjective change. It is an Act of God not in his character of sovereign but in character of judge (speech-act?)

Includes both pardon and declaration that believer is just in the sight of the law. It is not saying that the believer is morally just in terms of character. The believer is just in relation to the law–guilt is expiated (120). It is not mere pardon: sinner’s guilt is expiated (125). Mere Pardon does not produce reconciliation (128).

Scriptural usage:
Dt 25:1. Judge pronounces a judgment. He does not effect a character change. Condemnation is the opposite of justify. A sentence of condemnation does not effect an evil character change. Thus, if sentence of condemnation is judicial act, so is justification (123).

Romanist Views
Infusion of righteousness does nothing for guilt (though possibly they would say the guilt is washed away in baptism). Accordingly, justification does nothing for the satisfaction of justice. Even if the Romanist claim that justification makes me holy were true, I would still be liable to justice (133).

Satisfaction of Justice
An adequate theory of justification must account for satisfying justice (130). Nothing “within” me can do that.

Works of the Law
Scripture never designates specifically “what kind of works” (137). The word “law” is used in a comprehensive sense. Nomos binds the heart–law of nature. Not ceremonial. Paul says “thou shalt not covet” as the law that condemns me (Romans 7). Not ceremonial. Grace and works are antithetical. It doesn’t make sense to subdivide works (138).

Ground
The Ground of justification is always what is done for us, not what is in us

  • justified by his blood (Romans 5:19)
  • by his righteousness (5:18)
  • If just means “morally good,” then it would be absurd to say that one man is just because of another (141).
  • We say that the claims against him are satisfied.
  • When God justifies the ungodly, he does not declare him morally godly, but that his sins are expiated.

Hypothetical Objections Proves Protestant View
Why object over possible antinomianism if faith alone not true (Romans 6; p. 140)?

The Law of God
Like older Reformed systematics, Hodge has a treatment of the Decalogue. Much of it is common fare. What is interesting is the way he handled it. By reading his arguments we see a commentary on problematic cultural issues. Of particular importance, which I won’t develop here, are his expositions of the 4th and 7th commandment. In the latter he specifically deals with Romanist tyranny in marriage.

Throughout the whole discussion he is combating Jesuitism. We do not see that today. Modern systematics, even conservative ones, are scared of appearing “conspiratorial.” Hodge’s age was a manlier age. They called it for what it was. They knew that Jesuits swear an oath to destroy Protestant nations by any means necessary. And they knew that only the Law of God provides spiritual and political liberty.  This is why God doesn’t take conservative, political evangelicalism seriously today.

Hodge is not entirely clear, though. When he wants to prove the Levitical prohibitions as binding today on sanguinuity and close-kin marriage, he argues like Greg Bahnsen. Almost word for word. If he did that today he would be fired. But when he wants to argue against more theocratic penalties, he sounds like a dispensationalist.

Sacraments
Keith Mathison’s book on Calvin’s view of the Supper is now something of a classic, and deservedly so. I am in large agreement with most of the book. I certainly lean towards Calvin. That said, I think one of the unintended consequences of the book is a slighting of Charles Hodge among the “Young Turk Calvinists.” It’s not that I disagree with Mathison or Calvin, but I am concerned about the new interest in Nevin. I used to be a hard-core Hegelian for 3 years. Nevin was also an Hegelian. Granted, Nevin pulled back from the worst of Hegel. I am not so sure Nevin’s modern interpreters fully understand that. I hope to give something of a modified defense of Hodge on the Supper:

“really conveying to the believing recipient, Christ, and all the benefits of his redemption…There must be a sense, therefore, in which believers receive the body and blood of Christ” (III: 622).

However,

Anything is said to be present when it operates duly on our perceiving senses” (637). I am not so sure Hodge is able to dodge Mathison’s charge. I agree with Hodge’s common sense realism, but I don’t think Hodge’s next point follows: “In like manner Christ is present when he thus fills the mind, sheds abroad his love into our hearts…” (638). I suppose the question at issue is this: we grant that Christ fills the mind. We grant that sensory operations also fill the mind, but it does not necessarily follow that Christ is present in the Supper in a sensory manner. In some sense I think all Reformed would agree with that.

Hodge makes the common Reformed point that “what is affirmed to be present is not the body and blood of Christ absolutely, but his body as broken and his blood as shed” (641). This is a decisive point against High Church traditions: when they insist upon a literal reading, “This is my body,” the Reformed can point that Christ’s wasn’t sacrificed yet, so the “body” at issue can’t be the sacrificial body.

Hodge concludes his exposition of the Reformed teaching with “There is therefore a presence of Christ’s body in the Lord’s Supper; not local but spiritual; not to the senses, but to the mind and to faith; and not of nearness, but of efficacy” (643).

The Problem with Nevin
Throughout the work is a running attack on Nevin’s theology. Hodge makes a point that isn’t always grasped by Nevin’s defenders today: if we accept Nevin’s platonic essentialism, especially with regard to the Eucharist and Christology, then we run into huge problems. If Christ assumed the universal humanity, then he also assumed the rules of predicating of genus: the more universal a genus, the less specific it is. If Christ is the universal humanity, then there is nothing specifically human about him!

Evaluation
It is superfluous to sing of Hodge’s greatness. That is a given. I do have some issues with his treatment. Hodge routinely appeals to the “received consensus of the church” for many of his doctrines. There are several problems with this. Aside from the most general teachings from the Creeds, appeals to the Patrum Consensus are problematic and question-begging. Further, the Eastern Orthodox Church, to which Hodge sometimes appeals, would not share his assumptions about Adam’s imputed guilt, for example.

Advertisements

Review Paul Tillich History Christian Thought

Tillich, Paul.  History of Christian Thought.

As far as histories of Christian thought go this is actually one of the better ones.   A number of issues, though, prevent it from a fully recommendation.

Absorption into “The One”

Tillilich’s most important contribution in this volume is his lucid discussion of Neo-Platonism.  Going beyond traditional accounts, Tillich describes it as “the abyss of everything specific.”  Neo-Platonism, as it relates to the “One,” says that the One is beyond all distinctions, beyond the difference between Subject and Object (it’s hard to define what Neo-Platonism means by “the One.”   Loosely-speaking, we will call it the “God-concept” for lack of a better term).  It is not purely negative but is rather positive: it incorporates everything into itself.

This might seem like an arcane discussion, but it is crucial to understanding not only the rest of Christian thought, but Tillich’s own ethics and theology.  Tillich will identify God, or more importantly, our experience of God, as the “ground of being.”  Salvation, thus, for Tillich, is entering into the “New Being.”  Sin and evil are, obviously, nothing, no-thing, the dissolution of being.  Readers will certainly recognize Augustine’s discussion of evil as a privation of Good.

Universals

Tillich gives a particularly good analysis of the recurring realist-nominalist debate.  He goes beyond the mere textbook descriptions which say that realists believe that universal ideas exist, whereas nominalists do not.  That’s true, but fails to capture the power of the movement.  Tillich notes that for the realists, universals were dynamic powers of being arranged in a hierarchy where the one universal above mediated below, and so on.    When I read this, all of a sudden Platonism made perfect sense.  Interestingly, Tillich notes that when Greek paganism became Hellenized, the pagan gods were simply transposed into universal mediations.   This is particularly insightful when we apply this same analysis to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox syncretism ala Mary and the saints.

High Points Through History

Not every thinker is going to be consistently good in analysing church history.   Tillich’s particular strengths are Augustine, Anselm, and Luther.   I do not buy into Tillich’s apologetics, but his discussion of the ontological argument was good.   While risking some oversimplification, he notes a number of differences between Eastern and Western thought.  Salvation for the former was absorption into the One, a vertical movement, whereas the primary reality for the latter was a horizontal movement, eschatology.  This is a terrible oversimplification, but there is some truth in it as it relates to Origen’s influence on Eastern theology and Christology.  Western thought, by contrast, was able to better develop a kingdom of God eschatology.  Tillich, though, does not develop this point in greater detail.

The Bad Parts

Tillich, despite his protests, is a liberal.  He relies on outdated scholarship which makes the silliest claims (he thinks Daniel got his material from the Persians, which is silly even on Tillich’s own analysis since the Persian religion was ontological absorption, whereas Daniel spoke of the horizontal movement of the Kingdom of God in history–Daniel 2, 7, and 9).  Further, while Tillich himself gives a good criticism of Eastern ontology, it’s difficult to see how his own view isn’t similar

Depraved Sexual Ethics

Tillich makes a number of strange claims that do not make sense unless one is aware of Tillich’s own life.  (Tillich, while there was no official diagnosis, likely suffered from satyriosis).  He accuses Calvinist countries of having a repressed sexual ethic.  This is strange since it was the Puritans and Reformers who delighted in sexual love between husband and wife.   The Romanist Thomas More accused the Reformers of drinking and “lechering.”  What does Tillich mean by this claim?   According to his wife’s biography of him, and his son’s own memory,

And I am saying that at the beginning they agreed sexual involvement with others was permitted and that this arrangement got out of hand. He wouldn’t stop and she didn’t like it anymore, perhaps after the trauma of emigration and adjusting to a new world and a new child” (p. 14)

This quote is one of the rather tame ones and I won’t cite more for propriety reasons.  It gets a lot worse, including Tillich’s frequenting of brothels.  How can Tillich justify this?  Simple.  It goes back to his “ground-of-being” theology.  Salvation is finding actuality in “the New Being.”  Tillich, thus, would seek sexual experience in other women, even prostitutes, but rationalized this by saying he wasn’t seeking “actuality” in these encounters.

Unfortunately, even by Tillich’s own ethical theory, I think he fails.  We must bring up the uncomfortable likelihood that he risked (if not openly caught) venereal diseases from these encounters.  This would have a destructive side-effect on his existence.   Would this not, accordingly, be a slide into non-being and dissolution?  Indeed it would, and so by his own existential standards he is condemned.

I think this explains his anger at the Calvinist sexual ethic.   The Reformers and Puritans saw joy in married sex–something Tillich rejected in his own life–and denied sexual encounters with strange women, something Tillich openly sought.

Conclusion

Is this book worth getting?  It’s hard to say.  The philosophical analyses were superb, but knowing Tillich’s own background I’m uneasy recommending it.  I bought my copy at a garage sale for about ten cents (and the previous owner bought it from a public library book sale for about the same price.  No profit or royalties were made by anybody).  I wouldn’t spend more than that on it.

 

Epistemology, Trinitarian Distinctions, and the Divine Decree

(The Reformed structure this discussion) “Around the epistemological problem of the finitum no capax infiniti and its resolution in the explication of the eternal decree and its execution of the sovereign will of God in and for the temporal economy. Here we see both a statement of the non capax and an approach to the divine relatedness: the mind cannot conceive of the way in which the attributes belong to the utter simplicity of the divine essence; nonetheless, the distinct attributes are correctly distinguished by reason in the effects and operations of God in the world—and these effects and operations rightly and genuinely reveal the identity of God, indeed, the invisible essence of the utterly simple Godhead. The effect of this distinction, like the effect of the distinction between the decree and the execution, is to direct attention away from the divine essence toward the divine economy” (298).

Again, I am amazed at how the Reformed orthodox interweave epistemology, (Christology), trinitarian distinctions, and predestination in one fell move.  If we begin with the Creator-creature distinction, then we necessarily have the archetypal-ectypal distinction.  If we have the ectypal distinction, then we realize that we can never give adequate and full accounts of how their can be distinctions in the divine essence.  Yet God has not left us in the dark.   We can see distinctions in God’s operations toward us in the world.   These are the outworking of God’s decree.  Yet, if there is an outworking of the decree, it logically follows that there is a divine decree.

Christological issues of the Supper aside, this is the second most reason I am Reformed:  ectypal theology.  People will ask, “Yeah, but how do you know you are elect?”  If we begin with the understanding of ectypal theology, then we can begin to answer this question (though I doubt any answer I give will satisfy the interlocutor)..  I can not “know” in the sense of having ultimate, archetypal knowledge (and to seek such is sinful).  I can know, however, based on the understanding of God’s providence and execution of the decree (and issues of Christ, the Supper, Church discipline).  The problem is that the interlocutor has presuppositionally denied any predestination by God, so dialogue is fruitless.

This is also another reason why I read Orthodoxy so sympathetically, yet ultimately rejected it.  I liked the way they rejected the Romanist reading of absolute divine simplicity and seeking the knowledge of God in his operations and energies.  Yet problems remained. I couldn’t find a satisfactory account of foreknowledge and predestination that did not lead to open theism.  And even the energies was problematic:  while it is true we know God by his outworkings to us (emininter and virtualiter) in the ad extra, this is not exactly the same thing that the Eastern Orthodox were claiming.  They were claiming that we know God by the peri ton theon and the logoi around God.  It’s hard to see how this isn’t any less speculative than Thomas’s beatific vision.

Reading notes on Muller’s PRRD, volume 3

I usually don’t take copious notes when I read books.  This book, though, is of importance.  Further, it is out of print (I will forgo the usual slams against Baker Academic at the moment) and I acquired it temporarily via ILL.  So anything I learn from the book has to last permanently. Hence, the notes.

 

Notes on Muller, PRRD 3

Simplicity in pre-Reformation

The scholastic understanding of “identity” assumes various levels of identity (essential and formal), so the term “identity” does not indicate radical equation in every sense posssible (40 n. 63).

The goal is “to argue a certain manner of distinction (for the sake of manifesting the three) while at the very same time denying other kinds of distinction (for the sake of confessing the one)” (41).

Normally speaking essence and existence are not identified. The essence “humanity” is not synonymous with any one human (52).

Simplicity and Predication

Many critique absolute divine simplicity as eliminating the possibility of any real predication (on our part) of the divine essence. But when medievals used this term, all they meant was that God is not composite (54-55)

Plurality in God is secundum rationem, not secundum re (55).

Development and Decline of late orthodoxy

Interestingly, the medievals viewed “space” and time,” not as things but as relations (148).

Existence and knowledge of God

The orthodox followed three ways of approach to the problem of the knowledge of God (166):

  1. via causationes (a cause can be known in some manner from its effects)
  2. via emimentiae(we attribute to God all the perfections known to creataures)
  3. via negationis (we remove from God the imperfections known to creatures)

Rules of predication

“Predication is the logical act of attribution by which a subject is united with a predicate” (197).

Disproportionality between finite and infinite.

Essence/Energy distinction rebutted

An alternative reading of the so-called Western doctrine of God is the essence/energies distinction made famous by Gregory Palamas.  It posits that we cannot know God in his simple essence, but we can know him by his energies (or operations).  Hints of this doctrine are found in the Cappadocians and Maximos (though I deny they are saying exactly the same thing as Gregory).  The doctrine has an initial appeal.   Admittedly in our prayer lives, we do not pray to “essence itself,” but to the persons of the Trinity.   It also appears that we do know God by his actions towards us, and not by transcending to the essence.  So this means the distinction is correct, right?  If this is the only alternative to the Thomistic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity (e.g., person = relation =essence; person = essence!), then how can we avoid not assenting to it?

Some form of the doctrine might in fact be correct, but even when I was gung-ho for anchoretism, a number of questions kept coming up.

  1. Is it true that the Thomistic model of divine simplicity is the only choice for Western doctrines of God?  I simply deny this to be the case.  I think it is disputed that even Augustine held to a form of this.
  2. While it’s true that we know God by his actions toward us, can the “energies” model really account for all biblical data?   Even Orthodox theologians note this difficulty.   Vladimir Moss, in rebuttal to Fr John Romanides writes, “Do the Scriptures speak of our having an energetic relationship with God or a personal relationship with God?”
  3. It is true that God relates to us by our actions, but as Gunton notes (Act & Being), when Scripture uses these concepts it does so around terms like providence, Incarnation, and covenant.  When the fathers use these terms they usually mean the peri ton theon (things around the godhead) or the divine logoi (think eternal forms).

Technical critiques of the doctrine:

Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw writes, ““Somehow by energeia Gregory and Basil would appear to understand both that which God is, and that which God performs. … Basil and Gregory in their turn revise Plotinus by rejecting the distinction of hypostasis between Intellect and the One.  For them the relevant distinction is rather that between God as he exists within himself and is known only to himself, and God as he manifests himself to others.  The former is the divine ousia, the latter the divine energies.  It is important to note that both are God, but differently conceived:  God as unknowable and as knowable, as wholly beyond us and as within our reach.”

In other words, God’s energies are ad extra, outside the Godhead.  They relate to creation.   This raises a troubling point, as Olivianus has noted, “if there were no creation would God’s nature be the same? On the Eastern view, no. On said view, in order for God to have the nature he does he must create. Thus creation is a necessity of nature.”  Remember, in some sense the “energies” are part of who God is.  All Christian traditions believe that God’s essence is stable and unchanging.  God would be God regardless of creation.  However, God’s energies only relate to creation (God’s manifesting himself to others).  So here we have a disjunction between God ad intra and God ad extra.  The only way out of his is to posit a necessary creation, which few traditional theologians are willing to do.

Addendum: Vladimir Moss’s extended critique:

Moss is one of the outlaw theologians of the Orthodox Church.  He is a Western convert to a catacomb branch of the Russian Orthodox Church.  (When the Moscow Patriarchate surrendered to the Bolsheviks, a number of Orthodox believers rightly resisted and went underground, forming denominations–I know they hate that word–like ROCOR and ROCA.  Most of these denominations have since rejoined the MP.  Moss’s has not).   Moss’s theological project is odd, but in many ways it is quite helpful.   He does not have rose-colored Tsarist-Holy Serbia glasses.  He honestly points out problems in current Orthodox theology, historiography, and practice.  His comments on topics like substitutionary atonement, theosis, and original sin are very helpful, surprisingly.

Fr John Romanides in some ways resurrected the theological project of Gregory Palamas. In his works one will note a strong antipathy towards anything Western:  substitution, original sin, AUGUSTINE, etc.  While Romanides has a clear manner of writing, it appears that he often overshoots his target.  While he makes many good points, his method precludes a number of valuable insights in Christian theology.  Moss realizes this and responds accordingly.  In its starkest form, the essence-energies distinction, most starkly represented by Romanides, adopts the Dionysian hyper-ousia (God is beyond being) of which we cannot know, but he reveals himself in his energies, which we can know.  The following are Moss’s glosses:

Romanides:  “ The relationship between God and man is not a personal relationship and it is also not a subject-object relationship. So when we speak about a personal relationship between God and man, we are making a mistake. That kind of relationship between God and human beings does not exist…The relations between God and man are not like the relations between fellow human beings. Why? Because we are not on the same level or in the same business with God.”

Moss: But God came down to our level in the Incarnation (this is precisely the same point Gunton makes against Dionysius).  What reason could Romanides have for denying that God is a Person(s) and that our relationship with Him is personal? The present writer can only speculate here, but the answer may lie in Romanides’ obsession with the distinction between the Essence and the Energies of God, according to which God is unknowable in His Essence, but knowable in His Essence. Now this is a valid and very important distinction, but Romanides abuses it as often as he uses it correctly. It would be an abuse, for example, to say that since God can only be known through His Energies, our relationship with Him can only be “energetic”, not personal. For Who is known through His Energies? Is it not the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – that is, the Persons of the Holy Trinity? So our relationship with God is both “energetic” and personal: we know the Persons of God through His Energies. For, as St. Paul says, God has “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [His Energies] in the face of Jesus Christ [His Person]” (II Corinthians 4.6).

Romanides:  “No similarity whatsoever exists between the uncreated and the created, or between God and creation. This also means that no analogy, correlation, or comparison can be made between them. This implies that we cannot use created things as a means for knowing the uncreated God or His energy.”

Moss: But this immediately raises the objection: if there is no similarity whatsoever between God and His creation, why, when He created man, did He create Him in His “image and likeness”? And again: is not this likeness between God and man precisely the basis which makes possible the union between God and man, and man’s deification?

Bayou Huguenot:  This touches on the analogia entis, which most Protestants reject in its Romanist form.  I had never realized Moss’s point before. I offer a hearty amen.

Theological Pressure Points

Some Ortho blogs have been advancing criticism of Calvinism for several years now.  Very little is new or different than the typical Romanist criticisms, except there is a heavier emphasis on “person,” “union,” and eucharist.  Much attention is paid to problems that some Protestants might have on Unity and Scripture.   These same guys invite “dialogue” from the Protestants.  Translation:  Come listen to us tell you how screwed up you are.  I started focusing on some questions they don’t like asked.  Here goes:

  1. What about the True Orthodox?  Honest reader, you tell me if they answered me as of 8:51 PM?  I remember four years ago when this same commenter sent me and a number of Reformed a question on why the Apocrypha shouldn’t be canonical.  I responded with the typical answer that Judith and Tobit are historical nonsense.  He deleted my response and told me it was “irrelevant.”
  2. Ask about how God can be both being and beyond being at the same time.  I then asked a few basic questions on how the Orthodox can say God has “energies” (plural) when Chalcedon only predicates one energy per nature.  Read the responses and tell me if they actually answered the questions.  I got a lot of quotations from Palamas on foreknowledge, but nothing actually dealing with the question.  I think this is why Jay Dyer mopped the floor with these guys four years ago.  For all of Jay’s faults, he actually thought through the issues.
  3. Ask if Pseudo Dionysius introduced neo-Platonism into the faith once delivered to all the saints.  I have demonstrated here that they hold to the same NeoPlatonism that they accuse the Filioque of.  You can read their responses and see if they gave anything close to an actual answer.

For the longest time many Orthodox have been bullying Protestants on a few key issues (which, btw, we have answers for.  They just don’t like them).   Turn the tables.  Ask the above questions.

Absolute Simplicity: Q & A

This is from an older blog, but I thought it worth reposting here.  I hold to the doctrine of simplicity virtualiter, ala Charles Hodge.   The below is more of an attack on the Thomist doctrine of simplicity.  My original interlocutor was a rabid fan of Ron Paul.  I don’t feel like switching the names for time reasons.

Plato’s works are more popular, if longer, than Aristotle’s because they are written in conversational format. I will give it a try.

Ron Paulite for the Republic (RPR): I don’t get why you always talk about “absolute divine simplicity” when we could be exposing the FED and beating up on Arminians.

Triadic: (Tr): Priorities. If there is a problem in our Triadology and understanding of reality, then it will manifest itself in every area of life.

RPR: You said “Triadology.” What do you mean by that?

Tr: Triadology is a specific way to speak about the Trinity. More importantly, it explores the implications of Trinitarian belief.

RPR: Could you expound on that?

Tr: Sure. St Gregory of Nazianzus, a man whom all Christian traditions hold as either a great saint and/or a great teacher, said that if you make a mistake in one area of Trinitarian belief, it will come out in every area, including those of politics and culture.

RPR: That makes sense, I guess. Since we are having this conversation, you seem to think I have a mistake in my Triadology?

Tr: That’s for you to find out. My point is that trying to have the better government or economics, without fixing the problems within, is pointless.

RPR: Care to elaborate?

Tr: It does no good to “rail against the evils of the Hegelian dialectic” when you have just as robust a dialectic within your own system.

RPR: That’s an argumentum ad elenchio!

TR (to himself): ???? (To RPR): Don’t use Latin words unless you know what they mean. We’ll see if I can demonstrate step by step what I am saying. First of all, do you know what absolute divine simplicity (ADS) is?

RPR: Isn’t it the doctrine that God isn’t made up of parts?

TR: That’s the doctrine of simplicity, which all Christian traditions uphold. The doctrine of ADS says that God is so simple, his essence is simple and one to the degree, that it admits, not only of no parts, but of no distinctions. In other words, God’s essence is his power, his will, his love, his wrath.

RPR: Meaning…

TR: Think of simplicity as a big “=” sign. God’s essence = God’s love = God’s wrath.

RPR: That’s not a big problem. Isn’t God so holy that his wrath is pure, like his love, and so can’t they function similarly?

TR: That’s an interesting suggestion, but we’ll have to discuss it later. My argument is that given ADS, God’s simplicity is so strong that it admits of no distinctions; yet, the Christian faith argues for three persons in the Godhead. My question is whether ADS can sustain this.

RPR: You’ve thrown out a lot of philosophical jargon. I want to see if you can back it up.

TR: Okay. The Western tradition is Augustinian, right?

RPR: Okay.

TR: Augustine drew from Plotinus, right (City of God, Book VIII)?

RPR: Yes, Augustine did say that.

TR: Didn’t Plotinus posit the One as a completely Simple Entity that is all there is (Enneads, 1:3:1; 6:9)

RPR: Yes, it seems Plotinus did say that.

TR: Here we have a problem. On one hand we have “The One” as unity throughout with all philosophical categories not applying to it; yet, on the other hand we find ourselves talking about it. How can we speak of the One–know the one–if it is utter unity?

RPR: You tell me.

TR: Plotinus says we know The One by means of the dialectic, which is clarifying a term by comparing it to its opposite (Enneads 1:10).

RPR: I told you not to read Hegel back into Augustine!

TR: I just quoted from Plotinus. If you are seeing Hegelian connections, well and good. We’re not done with the One, yet. While Plotinus knows the One by dialectic, the One’s simplicity and unity is so strong that it swallows up these distinctions.

RPR: So?

TR: this was the problem Aquinas saw when he dealt with Augustine’s triadology. He saw that Augustine’s view of simplicity was so strong that he couldn’t logically posit three persons of the Godhead (see Augustine’s letter to Nebridius, found in Letham on page 164, I think ). Therefore, Aquinas, in good neo-platonic tradition (see Milbank), identifies and distinguishes the persons as “relations of opposition.”

RPR: Well, who cares what Augustine says? I follow the Bible!

TR: No tradition, eh? So you’re a Baptist?

RPR: That’s uncalled for? There is no point insulting people in a debate? Let’s not say things we can’t take back.

TR: My apologies. The baptist remark was unnecessary. However, you want to define sola scriptura, you do realize that everyone draws upon a tradition, and even if this tradition is not authoritative like the Bible, it cannot merely be dismissed, either.