Review of Bulgakov’s Lamb of God

This is the hallmark of Bulgakov’s “Sophiology” project. Since it is prone to misunderstanding, and those councils  which condemned it likely lacked the philosophical tools to evaluate it, it would be wise to state what Bulgakov means by “Sophia.” The short answer: Imagine what would happen if Platonism and Hegelianism had a child. Longer answer: Sophia is the divine prototype. To speak even more loosely, it is the receptacle and vehicle of God’s divine nature (Bulgakov, 98ff). It is the divine glory. Bulgakov even says it is “the divine world.” He then moves to identify Sophia as the “pre-eternal humanity in God” (113).

Whether we agree with him or not, Bulgakov’s comments gain new relevance after we explore what he calls “The Patristic Dialectic.” The heretic Apollinaris was the first to identify the problematic: What is divine humanity and how is the Incarnation possible (4ff)? He, in good Alexandrian fashion, denies a duality of personal principles. He argues, rather, that two perfect principles cannot become one. Thus, how can one understand the union without transforming it into a duality?

We reject Apollinaris’s heretical teaching, but we must admit he formulated it on very good grounds: the union cannot be of two whole integral persons, which is why Apollinaris dropped the human nous from the humanity. Aside from the comments on the nous, this isn’t that different from Chalcedon (11)!

Cyril responds to this by giving his famous answer: there is one nature of the enfleshed Logos. Cyril now has several difficulties: in order for this statement to be Orthodox, we have to reinterpret what we mean by “phusis.” It is also worth pointing out that Cyril is ideologically dependent on his opponents, which likely prevented him from developing a full, positive alternative to Nestorius.

Bulgakov’s genius (if he proves successful) is to solve the dialectic in this manner: man contains within himself the receptacle of divinity. This is so because he is created on the divine proto-image. In other words, there is a mediating principle between divinity and humanity. It will be Bulgakov’s argument that this is what preserves Chalcedon: the third-term mediation allows a true union and avoids duality.

An Analysis and Critique

Strictly judged on Platonic grounds, it’s hard to argue with him. Without agreeing with him on all specifics (heavy Mariology), I have to admit his project seems to ‘work.’ He gives a very beautiful and engaging discussion on creation, time, and eternity.

His heavy Platonizing could be forgiven if it weren’t for the occasional foray into Gnosticism. He identifies the Logos with the “Demiurgos” (111). This isn’t that different from the god of Freemasonry and Egyptian magic religion. It is an “architect” that merely re-shapes dead matter.  And that is what magic essentially is:  the manipulation of dead matter.  He runs into other dangers with loose terminology: he speaks of a tri-hypostasis, a feminine hypostasis of Sophia, but at other times he denies that Sophia is en-hypostasized. He gives an impressive defense of Orthodox Eucharistology, but I do not think it holds water. He rightly argues that the Ascended Christ is bodily in heaven, notwithstanding any difficulties that entails. The problem for his Eucharistology is that how can the bodily Christ stay in heaven and be physically present in the elements? Bulgakov responds by saying…I kid you not…”He comes down without leaving heaven.” Understandably, some won’t be convinced.

I think Bulgakov successfully defended himself from charges of heresy. Further, if one is committed to substance-ontologies, then it’s hard to avoid Bulgakov’s proposal. If there remains some truth in Hegel, then Bulgakov’s ideas could prove quite valuable. At the end of the day, though, many are nervous about employing a heavily Platonic schemata in our theology

When I hear “Hegelian” I reach for my pistol

Hegel is the most influential philosopher who has never been read.   Granted, he’s not easy to read.   Philosophy of Right may have been the hardest book I have ever read.   I get so annoyed when I hear right-wing politicos talk about the “Hegelian dialectic.”  Usually they mean something like the following:  The US Government creates a problem and then applies a pre-planned solution which generates the desired political outcome.  Yes, this is exactly what the government does.  The problem, though, is that Hegel never said anything like this.  He never said, and there is a book written on exactly this point, we should start with a Thesis and then Bring in an Antithesis so we can get a synthesis.  What he said, to the rare degree even used those three terms(!), is that reality itself is dialectical and every thesis we come across contains within itself its negation.

Of course, I don’t think I believe that and there are huge problems with saying reality is dialectical, but this should be enough to rebut the idea that Hegel is the occultic father of modern New World Order conspiracies.    Factually speaking, Hegel was a conservative monarchist.  Fr Matt Johnson claims that Hegel specifically condemned the Illuminati, though I haven’t been able to substantiate that claim (it isn’t in Philosophy of History or Philosophy of Right).

I don’t think I am going to be a Hegelian again, though.  As Martyn Lloyd-Jones admitted he felt a satanic presence in his room one day, I, too, felt a dark presence when I was reading the neo-Hegelian atheist Slavoj Zizek.

Defending Hodge on the Supper

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).  Incidentally, this blunts the charge made at Orthodox Bridge that the Reformed view is Platonic.  If anything it is Aristotelian in terms of causality (though in fact it is neither).

Notes on Taylor’s Hegel, Part One

The Enlightenment Context
These thinkers (Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes) held to an atomistic view of man and society. They rejected the medieval worldview of “final causes” (4). The world was no longer seen as “symbol manifesting the rhythm of the divine” (5).

Modernity’s epistemology is that of a “self-defining subject” (7).

  • First of all this implies a “control over things” (8). For example, nature/matter is now seen as “dead matter,” able to be manipulated by the elite (Taylor does not draw this out but this is arguably the simplest definition of magic).
  • With a self-defining subject there comes a new definition of freedom (9).
  • There came a dis-enchanting, or objectivifying of the world. Modern understandings of meaning and purpose apply exclusively to the thought and actions of the subject” (9).
  • Most deleteriously, man himself was seen as an object–was objectified.

This hard Enlightenment anthropology will itself break down (almost immediately). Some couldn’t live without a God; these are the mild Deists. Others took the epistemology consistently and became radical materialists.

The German Romantic Counter-attack
Post-Reformation Germany never experienced the same “church versus state” problems that France did. Thus, German’s religious expression to the Enlightenment was formed differently: pietism. Pietism stressed a heart-felt religious experience of the soul’s meeting with Christ (11). There followed a denigration of dogma and confessional status. Like with the Enlightenment itself, the reaction in Germany went along two paths.

Sturm und Drang
The main counter-attack was led by Romantic Johann Herder. Herder dislikes the Enlightenment’s objectification of man, and he proposes an alternative anthropology: expressivism (13). Human life and human activity are seen as expressions.