Over-honoring Mary?

Starting a new category on mariology.  I hope people don’t take this the wrong away.  I am not saying that honoring Mary is wrong.  I am not even saying that Anchoretism’s special honoring of Mary is wrong, but I am pointing out how these unguarded statements will usually be interpreted by the less-educated.

In the very words of Cabasilas, ‘Mary’s blood became God’s blood,’ by the ineffable communicatio idiomatum and by her personal effort to raise fallen humanity to its original purity and perfection. Even more so, she recreated earth and heaven and united them—angels and men–by showing to them, more directly and more clearly than ever before, the ‘enhypostasized wisdom and love of God,’ the very God and their Savior Himself. She is, therefore, the very first and last created human being who represents microcosmic and macrocosmic perfection, having fulfilled God’s purpose of creation: the original and ideal humanity perfectly united with His love and will.

Basically, everything Protestants have said of Jesus, Cabasilas is saying of Mary.  This is the most basic textbook definition of idolatry.

because our Lady is the first ‘divinized’ human creature, making all men able to rise to deification by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

I have no problem with theosis.  I have no problem with saying the Holy spirit divinizes us into the image of Christ.  That’s classic Reformed teaching on sanctification + glorification.   I Have a problem with making Mary the active agent.

That is why Gregory Palamas calls the Mother of God ‘the boundary between the created and the uncreated,’

When I translated Genesis 1 from Hebrew, one of the more powerful repetitions was raquiyy, boundary or division.  I don’t think God was thinking about Mary when he said that.

(Constantine N. Tsirpanlis, _The Mariology of Nicholas Cabasilas_)


Union with Christ: Letham (5)


Lane Tipton: “Union with Christ allows Paul to speak in relational and judicial categories simultaneously, without conflating either into the other.”  “Union with Christ and Justification,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for us in Justification, ed. K. Scott Oliphant (Fearn, Ross-Shire, UK: Mentor, 2007), 38.

Jesus’s resurrection is a forensic verdict (Horton).

Ordo Salutis

Explores Gaffin’s comments on the ordo.


Humans remain human while deified.  “It is union and communion with the persons of the Trinity” (92).  While Letham is giving the East a fair reading, it must be acknowledged that the Palamite strands of Eastern Orthodoxy revert to an impersonal, energetic union.  See the comments by Vladimir Moss.  Romanides writes, “But in Patristic tradition, God is not a personal God. In fact, God is not even God. God does not correspond to anything we can conceive or would be able to conceive,” Patristic Theology (Uncut Mountain Press: Dalles, Oregon, 2008), pp. 139-140.

What is truly meant by the Athanasian claim that “man becomes God?”   According to Norman Russell, “It is either to emphasize the glorious destiny originally intended for the human race, or to explain that the biblical references to ‘gods’ do not encroach upon the uniqueness of the Word made flesh” (Letham 92-93, quoting Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition, 168).   If that is all that is meant, then the Reformed tradition has no real argument, but would better see that under the teaching of “glorification.”

Metochoi (Partakers):  we are called to glory.  This is not alien to Reformed thought but sometimes it doesn’t receive enough attention.  It would be interesting to link this with the OT concept of the glory-cloud.  Points to our destiny.

Letham then quotes numerous sources (almost to overkill) pointing out that the Reformed had a rich and nuanced appreciation of Union with Christ (102-122).

  • Per Calvin, the Spirit unites the spatial difference between us and Christ in the Eucharist (Comm., 11 Corinthians; CO, 49:487, in Letham, 105; see also Institutes, 4.17.10).  “That a life-giving power from the flesh of Christ is poured into us through the medium of the Spirit, even though it is at a great distance from us, and is not mixed with us.”  Here Letham seems to contradict part of his narrative.   He notes (correctly) for Calvin that we participate in God’s attributes, not his being (107).  However, earlier he said that the Greek (Palamite?) view does not see theosis as participation in God’s attributes (92, “Nor, on the other hand, is it simply communion with God’s attributes.”  If, however, Letham means for the East that the communion with the persons is also a communion with the attributes, then there is no real contradiction.  Even still, I have my doubts that the East can truly avoid collapsing the communion with the Persons into a communion with the energies (see comments by Moss and Jenson).
  • Contra detractors, Calvin affirms that the body and blood of Christ are substantially offered.  He simply explains the mode: the Holy Spirit transfuses the flesh of Christ to us (Theological Treatises, 267).  We just reject a local presence.
  • Letham is aware of the Nestorian charge and sense that Calvin drifted there at times, given his comments on 1 Corinthians 15:27-28.   But see Richard Muller’s response to Jurgen Moltmann on that point.
  • Per Polanus there is a real sacramental union and a conjunction between signum and res.

While there are suggestions that Calvin was close to the East, I think Letham overplays that point (115).  However, Letham is correct to criticize Michael Horton’s claim that we participate in the energies of Christ (Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 285, 302). The East does not mean by energies what Horton means by it.

Notes on Pannenberg, part two

The world as history of God and unity of the divine essence:

Existence and essence:

~Attributes: in the context of how to relate the unity to the plurality.  Notes that things are different only when external.

~Palamas:  much to commend his project; quite beautiful, really, when we see the energies as the power-glory and the kingdom of God.  Something like that should be retained, whatever critiques may follow.  However,

“how is it possible to ditinguish from God’s essence the light that radiates from it and yet at the same time to view them as inseparably linked, so t hat the qualities which are said to be God’s on the basis of energies radiating from him are really God himself?  The opponents of Palamas rightly argued that we either have (relating to God) qualities that are not independent but belong to the divine essence or we have a distinct sphere which involves positing a further divine hypostasis alongside Father, Son, and Spirit” (361-362).


“How can one speak of uncreated works of God?  Is this idea not self-contradictory?  Not to be created is to be essentially one, as in the case of the Trinitarian persons.  But if there is not to be this unity, and with it a fourth in God alongside the three persons, we must posit a distinction between the effects and the cause” (362 n. 55).

Is there a connection between Dionysius’s construction of the qualities via delimitation and elevation and the critique of Feuerbach that we are projecting our views onto God (363 n. 58; cf. Barth CD II/1, 339).

The end of a debate

Ever since being placed on semi-permanent ban status at Orthodox Bridge, I haven’t really kept up with it.  For two reasons:

1) They haven’t actually advanced a new argument beyond “this makes us different from Reformed and thus Reformed aren’t good” and

2) It takes a long time for my comments to get approved, which ruins the rhythm of debate.   Someone forwarded the following to me this morning.  I was aware of the admin’s reply to my comment.  The following was new:

Bayou Huguenot says:
April 15, 2014 at 10:38 am

While tangential, my post had some relevance. A lot of comments on thisblog border on EO “triumphalism” of steady new converts and the ever-imminent doom of Protestantism. My point was that this phenomenon–which you correctly identified to an extent–is probably present in all communions.

    robertar says:
    April 16, 2014 at 1:09 am


    The Orthodox-Reformed Bridge blog was begun as a place where sincere  Orthodox and Reformed who want to learn to understand each other might talk openly. It is also for serious inquirers and/or lurkers alike might read quietly so they can to understand. I sincerely mean no offense by this but given your reading and understanding of both the Reformed faith and Orthodoxy, I’m not sure there is really much here for you to learn. The blog is certainly not a forum for men like yourself to use as the resident naysayer, who takes pot-shots at the sins supposed (opinionated) deficiencies of Orthodoxy. I recommend that you use your own blog for such things. The current post focuses on obvious points — the Reformed have at best a weak, or no real commitment to Holy Tradition as understood and revered and given a priority in Orthodoxy. It is what it is. Sadly, I’m not sure this blog has much left to offer you, though you are welcome to stay and comment graciously. But it will not be a place for you constantly play the contrary Reformed naysayer. Use your own blog for that please.

        Prometheus says:
        April 16, 2014 at 2:20 pm

        Robert, I understand your frustrations with some of the ways Bayou has written on your blog in the past, but I do think that his point is pertinent. You seem to claim that the reason that the Protestant church has such a hard time with inter-generational continuity is the lack of continuity in tradition. But if the Orthodox have the same lack of inter-generational continuity, it isn’t lack of tradition that is the culprit, but something else. My suggestion is that it has something to do with how we teach our youngsters the faith – is it just the motions or is it internalized. As one Orthodox writer has asked, “Are We Religious or Are We Faithful?”. And Bayou is right. If your blog only allows
EO triumphalism, then it won’t allow people to adequately wrestle with the issues. I say this as someone who is still sympathetic to Orthodoxy (i.e. I still may end up there).

In other words, we welcome dialogue as long as we get to focus on only the other guy’s weak points.   Nobody wants to debate Palamas‘ frozen god theology, or the scale of being, or donum superadditum or anything like that (neither do most Reformed, oddly enough).  We’d rather talk about silly stuff like Together4Gospel or Reformed Rap is bad (or good or whatever)

Some thoughts on the extra-Calvinisticum

When I was examining Eastern Orthodoxy I was especially impressed by their (and the Lutheran, also) critique of the so-called “extra-Calvinisticum.”  It means some of the Logos exists outside the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  The reasoning behind it is fairly obvious:  If we hold that Jesus has a really divine nature, and omnipresence is an attribute of divine nature, then it stands to reason that some part of Jesus will be outside Jesus.  The equally obvious critique is that this is Nestorian, since it posits a division in Christ.  If we left it at that, it would seem that the Calvinists have a unique problem.  What was equally problematic, though, was that many Eastern fathers held to precisely the same view!

So who is right?  I’ve gone back and forth on this, and for a while I was a closet-Lutheran on Christology, but I think the truth of the matter is that both sides make equally legitimate points.   The reason both can be right–and that I am not contradicting myself when I say that–is that both are holding to substance-metaphysics.  Both sides are positing a God behind God.   Palamas does this when he makes the divine nature (and divine persons) hide behind the divine energies.  Calvin does this, if McCormack’s reading is correct, when he posits the decree to save after the decree to elect:  this means that the Logos already has a fully-formed identity before the decree to save and become Incarnate.

What is a tentative response?  Let’s remember what the Cappadocians said in their better moments:  God’s ousia exists as his divine life, existing as Father, Son, and Spirit.   There can be no extra outside the persons because that “extra” is rather the Spirit and the Father.

Event and God’s Identity

If we posit a God beyond the God revealed, then we are left with the worst form of nominalism (I know, I just said the n-word) and skepticism.  This is one of the reasons I reject Palamism.  There is no such thing as a God-in-itself.  Ousias do not have interiorieties.

McCormack writes,

“For Barth, the triunity of God consists in the fact that God is one Subject in three modes of being. One Subject! To say then that ‘Jesus Christ is the electing God’ is to say, ‘God determined to be God in a second mode of being.’ It lies close to hand to recognize that it is precisely the primal decision of God in election which constitutes the event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being. Election thus has a certain logical priority even over the triunity of God. [Quoting Eberhard Jüngel:] ‘Jesus Christ is the electing God. In that here one of the three modes of being is determined to be the God who elects, we have to understand God’s primal decision as an event in the being of God which differentiates the modes of God’s being.’ So the event in which God constitutes himself as triune is identical with the event in which he chooses to be God for the human race. Thus the ‘gap’ between ‘the eternal Son’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ is overcome, the distinction between them eliminated…. There is no ‘eternal Son’ if by that is meant a mode of being in God which is not identical with Jesus Christ” (pp. 218-19).

As Ben Meyers summarizes,

The event in which God chooses to be “God for us” is identical with the event in which God “gives himself his own being.” And this event of election is not located in any timeless eternity. God’s eternal decision coincides with the temporal event in which this decision reaches its goal. This coincidence – this event of utter singularity – is God’s being. Time, then, “is not alien to the innermost being of God” (p. 222). The time of Jesus Christ is the time of God’s decision – it is the primal time, the time of God’s eternal movement into history. There is no still-more-primal divine being which lurks behind this movement into history; God’s being is this movement, this effectual decision.

Review of Lacugna’s God for Us

I did the first part here.

The Problem of Arius

Arius’s challenge was not so much that he had good arguments against the Son’s deity, but that the way he phrased the arguments seem to account for a lot of biblical passages. He did highlight key areas where talk of God’s economy had been eclipsed. The response to Arius was mostly successful: Christ is the economy of God come into the world. The metaphysical oneness of Father and Son, however, made it difficult to talk of God suffering for us.

The Cappadocians

In this section Lacugna gives some helpful clarifications of the philosophical jargon that the Cappadocians used. She sets forth the fundamental thesis of the Cappadocians as God’s ousia exists as three hypostases (54).

Stoic categories: a category is a predicate, a way of talking about being. There are four of these:
substance ←> matter
quality: that which differentiates matter
Disposition: being in a certain state of matter
relation: that which an object is defined by

Aristotelian categories:
Primary substance: a particular entity (this oak tree)
secondary substance: a generalized entity (oak-ness)
relation: a term is relative to another if it implies another (a Father is constituted by Son). Relation is the weakest (thinnest) of categories because it only says what a thing is with reference to another and nothing about the entity itself.

Relational categories work quite nicely when talking about Father or Son. Problem, though: “Spirit” is not a relational term. As Lacugna notes, “The distinction of hypostases is grounded in the relation of origins” (67).   This is one area where Zizioulas’s project falls flat.

Pros and cons of Cappadocian Theology

Saying that the three hypostases manifest the divine ousia lessens the gap between ontology and economy. However, this seems to cut against their likewise assertion that God’s ousia is so unknowable. One agrees that it is, but what is the point of saying that if the hypostases manifest the ousia? If they do, then in some sense the ousia is knowable.

Further, to the degree that hypostasis still connotes a concrete existent of the divine ousia, there is the spectre of tritheism. To speak of hypostases concretizing the ousia almost implies that the ousia is divisible (Sergius Bulgakov makes this point with much force, The Comforter, Eerdmans).


After Feurbach and the Enlightenment, the idea of an “in-itself” is viewed as an impossibility.


The main problem with Palamas is that he posited an essence-beyond-essence, or God in itself. Indeed, one can see the Palamite structure accordingly:



—————– (line of hyperousia)


the heart of the criticism: ousias do not have “interiorities.” In other words, there is not a subsection of ousia apart from the life of that ousia. As Heidegger reminds us, “ousia” is always “par-ousia,” being present. If Palamas wants to say that the energies make the ousia present, fine. But if he says that, then one really doesn’t have warrant to speak of a superessential, ineffable ousia by itself, for the very point of the energies and of ousia in general is that it is not by itself.
Perhaps the most damaging criticism of Palamas is the divorcing of economy and ontology. Related to this is that the energies seem to replace the role of the Persons in the divine economy. For example, the energies are not unique to a single person but common to all three who act together. This is not so different from the standard Western opera ad intra indivisible sunt. Lacugna, quoting Wendebourg, notes, “the proprium of each person…fades into the background” (Lacugna, 195). By contrast, the Cappadocians would say we distinguish the Persons by their propria–by their hypostatic idiomata. In Palamas, though, this role has been moved to the energies. This is further confirmed by the fact that Palamas has the persons as hyperousia. If we can no longer distinguish the persons by their propria, then Palamas is guilty of the same modalism that the East accuses the West of.

Part 2

Lacugna begins with an interesting observation. Pre-Nicene liturgy consisted of a lot of mediatorial prayers to the Father through Christ. While this was not denied by later Trinitarianism, neither was it affirmed as much. From a later vantage point it didn’t seem to make much sense to see Christ as a mediator when he was primarily thought of as sharing the same being as the father. Of course, one does not deny Christ’s consubsantiality, but the emphasis on theologia soon eclipsed the biblical witness to economia. Lacugna draws the conclusion: the saints were soon seen as mediators (210).

Conclusion and Critique

My critique will also include a lot of the later material in her book. While I think her initial thesis is sound (a hard divorce between economy and theology posits an irrelevant Trinity), I think she is rather haphazard in applying it. She correctly notes that on the Cappadocians’ model, God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit, yet she downplays problems for the Cappadocians (they came very close to concretizing the essence; their mysticism made much of their Trinitarianism irrelevant, and so they are prey to Lacugna’s critique). Further, while her take on Zizioulas is appreciated, and though she offers a brilliant and brutal critique of Palamas, she doesn’t really take into account Palamas’s virtual dogmatic status in the Orthodox world. This makes it rather problematic for her to say we should look to the East on the Trinity.

Further, regarding the word “Person.” In her discussion on Barth she does note that that the definition of “person” shifted from the ancient world to the modern.. She accuses Barth of modalism because Barth defined “person” as tropos huparxos and that God is one divine subject who exists in three modes of simultanaeity. There is a certain irony in Lacugna’s rejection of Barth: Barth used the exact same definition, literally word-for-word, as Gregory of Nyssa, to whom Lacugna says we ought to return! The problem, as Bruce McCormack has noted, is that the word person in the post-Enlightenment world simply doesn’t mean the same thing as it did in the ancient world. He notes,

Second comment: as Bruce indicated, the problem repeatedly in the nineteenth century was the assumption that the patristic hypostasis and prosopon could be translated into the English ‘person’, with all the connotations of those words in a post-Romantic age. Strauss, for instance (a quotation Bruce used): ‘to speak of two natures in one person is to speak of a single self-consciousness, for what else could a single person mean?’ However, it is clear that in the patristic construction of Trinity and Christology such ‘personal’ characteristics as ‘self-consciousness’, if considered at all, were attached to natures not persons—this was, for instance, the whole point of the orthodox solutions to the monoenergist and monothelite controversies. (This is why Barth preferred ‘mode of being’ to ‘person’ for the three hypostases of the Trinity; in post-Romantic terms, all that is ‘personal’ in God is one.)

Translation: Person in modern-speak means a situated self-consciousness, implying, among other things, a mind. This is most certainly not what the Patristics meant, to the degree they had a coherent definition of person, anyway. “Self-consciousness” and “mind” for the Fathers was located in the nature, not the person (otherwise we would have three or four minds in the Trinity). Lacugna simply hasn’t reflected enough on what person can mean. To say we should go back to “personalism” is not helpful at all. You can’t say you want to go back to the robust personalism of the Cappadocians if you mean person = self-consciousness, for that’s precisely what the Cappadocians rejected! I have my own reservations about Barth’s project, but he knew exactly what both he and the Cappadocians were saying and avoided all the problems that Lacugna’s project succumbs.

A Trinitarian Ethic

This is where he project comes close to self-destruction. Despite being a Roman Catholic and teaching at Notre Dame, Lacugna is a feminist. To be fair, though, she blunts a lot of her feminist critique and actually raises good points. My problem in this section is her use of vague language that will likely provide fodder for later mischief.


Despite being published by Harper San Francisco, this is a surprisingly good read. The historical analyses on the Cappadocians and Augustine are superb. She corrected a lot of my own misreadings of Augustine. I don’t think she has fully reflected either on how the modern world forced Trinitarian dialogue to mutate nor does she really understand what the Cappadocians were saying.