Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (review notes), part 1

Witnesses to Christ:  “They [apostles] do not even claim the same kind of infallibility that rationalists critique them for” (10).  I don’t want to get into the inerrancy debate right now, but if JM is right, then why are Protestants pressed to have a kind of historical and epistemological certainty on the canon and the church?

He justifies Hellenism on the basis that the Church, to minister to the Greeks, had to think in Greek categories.  (Oddly enough, he later rebuts Harnack et al for charging that the Byzantine Church thought in Greek categories).

“The Christological problems of the fifth and sixth centuries thus can be said basically to have shaped the Byzantine theological mentality and to have provided its main theme until about the ninth century” (14).

The first chapter dealt with Cyrillene Christology.  I have no major comments except that Meyendorff didn’t touch the issue of whether deification soteriologies necessitate an instrumentalization of the human nature.  They do.   This becomes hugely problematic when these same guys tie into the communicatio idiomatum.

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Some basics on Ascension

A post on the liturgical day here.

The moderator begins on a surprising covenantal note.    I am surprised–indeed, delighted–because Covenantalism is at war with his larger ontology of being.

He writes,

later entire nations like the Russian people in the tenth century.  God’s redemptive work in Christ aims at the restoration of fallen humanity through union with Christ (Ephesians 1:10, 3:14-15).

Slight difference here.   I can understand how the Tsar could be the federal head of a nation (but if you affirm that, why don’t you affirm Christ as our federal head who imputes his righteousness to us?), but how did it work out for Russian piety?

 The phrase “everything I have commanded you” is the basis for Holy Tradition which comprises both written and oral Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

This is assuming what you are trying to prove.  Paul said to hold to the traditions he had delivered to them.   How do you know that your cultural accretions today–like the iconostasis–are the traditions Paul had delivered?  You simply cannot know this.  Your argument looks like this:

Premise 1: If Paul uses tradition he is using them in the same way we are

Premise 2:  and we use tradition then.

Conclusion:  Therefore, he is using them in the same way we are!

This is the fallacy of asserting the consequent.

The main question I want to ask is this:  Is Jesus bodily in heaven?  If he is, and he only has one hypostasis, then how can he be in a million Eucharists on earth?

Lord and Servant

This is Mike Horton’s second installment in his Covenant series.  He reframes Christology around “covenant” and is stunningly successful.  His genius is in using the covenant to contrast two ontologies:  overcoming estrangement (classical metaphysics) and meeting a Stranger.

Similar to proposals by Robert Jenson, Horton shows how we meet the Stranger by his own revealing himself to us, and doing so “by strong verbs” (23, 55).  The noun (God) is revealed by the verb (his actions).  From this Horton draws the brilliant conclusion about Speech-Act:  speech is an act.  There is no dilemma between word-revelation (Propositional Protestants) and Act-Revelation (the truth at what Barth was aiming, if not fully getting there).

This segues into God’s freedom (and freedom in general).  Horton refuses to see freedom in the abstract.   We do not abstract God’s will from his nature.  Freedom (of any sort) is a natured freedom and if our ousia is a covenanted ousia, then we have a covenantal freedom (this is much more concrete and refreshing than discussions about “Free will,” whatever that means).

The next theological locus is creation.  Contra Anchoretism, the covenant allows us to view creation in its integrity.  It is neither divine nor demonic, rather “Nature has capacities for answering back to the creative speech-act of God” (66).  (While Horton doesn’t draw out the implications, this could explain how the land is said to be defiled by man’s sin).

Horton suggests that the covenant is the nexus between transcendence and immanence.  The God-world bond is covenantal relation (I realize that Aristotle used “relation” as a thinner form of essence; I am not using it in that sense).

Anthropology

Horton does a wonderful job in establishing the “federal-ness” of Adamic humanity.  Horton will contrast his model with the Platonic paradigm (Overcoming Estrangement).  Continuing with the covenantal paradigm, Horton sees the imago dei as:

Sonship/ Royal Dominion:  Adam was invested with kingship as the imaged-son on the Sabbath day.  In Christ this dominion is restored.  Shades of Rushdoony!

Representation:  We are God’s embassy to the world.

Glory:  The glory is ethical-eschatological, rather than essential.

Prophetic Witness:

All of this is recapitulated in Christ.   Interestingly enough, Horton rightly points out that Scripture never speaks of anthropology in the abstract, but always in the covenant.

Christology Proper

Horton gives a brief and lucid description of Reformed Christology against Lutheranism, particularly in the non capax.  He has a very interesting suggestion that the debate between Alexandrians (Divinized humanity) and Antiocheans (Schizo Jesus) is because neither could locate Jesus as he is given for us in the covenant (166).

Atonement

The basic challenge he gives to anyone who rejects penal substitution:  on said gloss, how is the work of Christ appropriated pro nobis?  How does “defeating Satan” (or any such Christus Victor, political liberation variant) become actual for us?

Conclusion

It’s hard to say which one is better, this book or the one on soteriology.  Both are magnificent.  I think Horton’s use of the covenant model is more tightly argued in this book.

On the nature assumed

One of the tricky questions in Christology is to what extent Jesus assumed our human nature.  The problem arises when we ask, “Did Christ assume the sinful part of our nature?”  If we say yes, then it is hard to see how Christ is sinless.  If we say no, then we have to (seemingly) admit that Christ didn’t really assume all of our nature.  The answer lies along the lines that sin is accidental to our nature, not essential to it.   Therefore, Christ can essentially assume our nature without assuming the sinful part of it. 

 

Notes on Deere’s Surprised by Voice

This is not a simple endorsement of Jack Deere’s book.  I think it is problematic in a lot of ways.  It exhibits a woeful lack discernment and much of the exegesis is too simplistic.  Still, there was a number of insightful passages.

He makes the observation that Jesus’s power to work miracles was not merely because he was God, but noting Acts 10:38, and its apostolic interpretation of Jesus’s ministry, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and how he went around doing good and healing, because God was with him.

People on both sides might actually miss this, and Deere himself may not catch it, but this is an important Christological point.  Crucial to a Reformed Christology is the theologia unionis, the union between the human and divine natures of Christ.  This means Jesus’s human nature can never have the attributes of his divine nature, otherwise it would cease to be a human nature!   Deere draws the following inference:  “So even though Jesus was fully God, he took on the limitations of humanity in such a way that he did not heal, prophesy, or minister out of his own divine power.  But he did minister in power.  From where did this power come” (43)?  Deere’s use of Acts 10:38 and elsewhere suggests, quite rightly, that it came from the Holy Spirit.

 
Again, this draws upon a similar, yet another Christological point:  Reformed Christology does not confess that Jesus was fully powered with the attributes of the divine nature acting at all times (while this sounds shocking, this explains how Jesus wept, got tired, suffered, and admitted ignorance of the of the second coming, actions which cannot be properly predicated of the impassable deity).  In contrast to our Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox friends, we believe that Jesus received this power from the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Reformed theology has always confessed this (cf. Francis Turretin, vol. 2, pp. 324ff).   Deere simply (whether he knows this or not) extends the inference.

Turretin on hypostatic union

These are more of summary notes of certain sections of Turretin, vol. 2.

a composite union?  This language is used both by the ancient fathers (rather unsoundly) and more recently by Reformed fathers.  What the latter meant is that it is “composed rather of number than of parts properly so called” (II: 312) because many things (human and divine natures) numerically exist.  The fact that the fathers speak of a composite person should put to rest the charge that the Reformed Christ is Nestorian.

The Communicatio

The effects of the hypostatical union are twofold: some to the human nature and some to the person.   To the former are ascribed the grace of eminence and habitual graces (graces that are still human qualities but magnified). What is communicated?  The communication of attributes is an effect of the union whereby the properties of both natures are predicated of the person.  It is a real communication with respect properly to the person.  When Turretin speaks of abstract and concrete communications, the terms are to be understood this way:  we are not asking whether there is a communication of a concrete human nature to the person of Christ.  All sides acknowledge this.    The question is whether there is an abstract communication of nature to nature.

If the divine essence is communicated to the human nature (ala Lutheranism and some expressions of Orthodoxy), then the following must hold:

  1. A created thing becomes an uncreated thing.

  2. The human nature is thus immense and finite.

Further, what is proper to one cannot be communicated to another; otherwise it would cease to be proper and become common to that which is communicated (324). Either all of the properties of the divine nature were communicated or none were, since the divine essence is simple.  All of the properties of the Logos must be communicated or none are, since the Logos cannot be divided.  Further, if on account of the union the divine properties are communicated to the flesh, then the properties of the flesh ought in turn to be communicated to the Logos (325).  The union is reciprocal.  However, they are unwilling to admit this.  Further, if the union was made (the natures themselves and their properties remaining unconfounded and entire and distinct, as the Lutherans acknowledge) a communication of properties could not have been made in it.  For what is communicated does not remain proper.

Theologia Unionis as Epistemological Model

The Christological problem follows the [epistemological issue]:  if the human nature of Jesus, as finite, is in capable in itself of comprehending the infinite knowledge of the theologia archetypa[think of the simple divine mind, admitting no real distinctions], then any equation of the theologia unionis [for our present purpose, think the communication of attributes; BH] with archetypal theology must involve some alteration of the human nature of Jesus.  For Jesus to be possessed of an infinite divine wisdom according to his humanity, there would have to be either a communication of divinity to humanity or a transference of divine attributes to Jesus’ humanity within the hypostatic union (Muller, PRRD I: 250]

The point is this:  If Christ in his incarnation didn’t exhaustive knowledge, then how can  we expect fallen sinful man to have it?   If you do not accept this point, then you will doom yourself to deadly spiritual models that can only cause theological insanity.  You will end up asking questions like,

  1. If there is no infallible speaking church/pope, then how can I have certainty about anything?
  2. How do I know which books are in the canon?
  3. How do I know I am elect?

All of these questions, pursued in a false context of Illegitimate Religious Certainty, are spiritual death.