The comment that got me banned

On Ortho Bridge’s future of protestantism thread, the admin mentioned Nevin, particularly Leithart’s use of Nevin.  I was intrigued.  I’ve long read Nevin (and Leithart) and I knew that Leithart’s project depends on Nevin’s theology.   I made a comment along the lines of “The Trueman-Leithart debate is an exact replay of the Nevin-Hodge debate.”  I thought it was a commonsensical and brilliant comment.  I was warned not to derail the discussion.  Well, the comment I was about to make, and one pertaining directly to both Nevin’s and Orthodoxy’s anthropology was this:

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!

On not praying to angels

A prior note on terminology.  Anchorites will insist they don’t worship angels the same way they worship God.  The Bible, however, collapses the distinction between doulia (reverence by way of service) and latria (proper worship).  God specifically tells his people neither to worship these gods (however you want to define that term) or serve them.   Further, the claim that praying to an angel is no different from asking your friend to pray for you won’t hold up.  If you examine these prayers, besides the fact it is nowhere commanded by God, the angels are simply asked to intercede, but to act in such a way that they have power to do x and y.  That is simple Paganism.

Old Creation Judged and Gone

Angels ruled the Old Creation.   That has since been destroyed in the Death-Resurrection of Christ and the Death of Jerusalem.  Why would we pray/invoke entities who no longer rule?   Does not the New Covenant say The “lights” of creation (day 4) were designed to rule (thus the language of greater lights ruling over the lesser lights).   Lights (e.g., the sun) manage time, and so also in the Old Creation they are connected with Festivals.

Before Jesus humanity was under angelic tutors. Psalm 104:3-4 (and Heb. 1:7) connects angels with the natural forces.  Further, this is also connected with Torah.  The law was to shut the whole world under sin (Gal. 3:22-23) and was given by angels (Acts 7:53).  Thus we can conclude that the angels had some authority over the world which was connected with Torah.   Paul further connects Torah and Angels with “elementary principles” (stoichea, Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8).  We may further conclude that any attempt to live under the guidance of angels, however slight, is seeking to go back to the stoichea and is elsewhere condemned in the book of Hebrews.  Oliver O’Donovan even notes that Paul connects both Torah with the stoichiea. In fact, Paul even notes (Galatians 4) that the Gentiles were in bondage to Stoichea.  This is shocking.  No one ever accused the pagan Gentiles of being too much under Stoichea. It’s not as shocking as it seems:  apart from Christ both Torah and the stoichea appear to us as a threat (RMO, 22).  This conclusion of Paul’s only makes sense if we keep in mind that Angels, Torah, and Stoichea are interconnected under the Old Creation.

Forms, Realism, and Nominalism

One thing I noticed in recently reading Homer and Vergil is that the pagan deities were often invoked as powers.  This is not that different from the language of Forms.  Forms in this philosophy is not simply an idea of x, but that the higher form causes and acts in such a way that is is a power to the lower forms.  Paul Tillich made the interesting connection that ancient Christianity simply baptized the older view of Forms with the newer view that these forms were saints and angels, which form a hierarchy of being to God.

Tillich’s suggestion makes sense.  After Plato and the skeptics, few Greeks and Romans were stupid enough to believe that Athena sprang from Zeus’ head.  However, Greek mythology did have a lot of explanatory power.  It might have been philosophically naive to suppose that the pantheon was rule, but it was philosophically astute to transpose that understanding of deity to the realm of the Forms.

Maximus the Confessor famously (though not originally) spoke of the distinction between Logos and Logoi.   Jesus is the Form in whom all the forms exist.  He is the inter-causal causal cause.  It’s beautiful philosophy.  It runs into problems with the Forms are identified with the stoichea.

This is why I am neither realist nor nominalist, but covenantal verbalist.
Nota Bene:  I wonder if this is why demon-possession stories are so common in Catholic and Orthodox lands (see Seraphim Rose, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future and  The Soul After Death).  They are playing too close to the elementary principles of the Old Creation, which God has specifically condemned.  If they get too close to these principles, then God just might let them get close indeed.

Towards a Reformed Anthropology

I meant to include this in my post on Answering the Anchorites, but time prevented it.  Often one hears that the Reformed doctrine of “Total Depravity” (TD) is completely alien to the early church.  What do we make of this?   Part of the confusion rests on what TD really is.  When we say TD we are not implying that we see the face of Stalin in our newborn child.  We are not implying that man is utterly sinful.  The original phrase had the word radix in it, implying that sin touches the root of our actions.  This is the most important post I have ever written.

Some Propeudatic Points

Some points to consider (taken from Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms):

  1. Thus sin is not a substance, but a stain (macula) or a fault (reatus) [137]
  2. Will is distinct from intellect (intellectus) [330].  The intellect is that which knows objects, and the will is that which has a desire for them.  Will and intellect are the two highest spiritual powers.  The question immediately arises as to which of these faculties stands prior to the other.  The Protestant Orthodox frequently state the problem of priority without really solving it (but also avoiding Thomist and Scotist difficulties, though I personally lean towards the Thomist reading).  The Reformed acknowledge the relationship between intellect and will and focus on the problem of fallen man.
  3. Will, defined as the appetitive faculty of man, must also be distinguished from choice.  Will is the faculty that chooses.  Arbitrium (choice) is the capacity of will to make a choice or decision.  Thus, the will can be described, even post-fall, as “free” and unconstrained but nonetheless limited by its own capacity to choose particular things.
  4. Charles Hodge, in glossing original sin and nature, writes, “Although original sin corrupts our whole nature, yet the essence or susbstance of the soul is one thing, and original sin another…Original sin is said to be an accidens quod non per se subsistit, sed in aliqua substantia est, et ab ea discerni potest (II: 229, 230)
  5. We deny any “gift” or superadded qualities to man in his original state, purus naturalibus (Turretin I: 463).  It is called this pure nature state by a negative, not positive purity.
  6. The pure nature has a relation of negation, the fallen a relation of privation (Turretin, Ibid).
  7. We say “pure nature” to deny superadded gifts, not to suggest man was created completely neutral, for he was created in the image of God.

Rome and the Superadditum

Rome, pace Bellarmine (“De Gratia prime hominis,” 5, 6 in Opera [1858], 4:23-29, quoted in Turretin, I:471), viewed in natural man a contest between flesh and spirit, and God’s superadded gift is like a “golden bridle” to reign in the flesh. Endnote 1.   By contrast, Turretin notes that if original righteousness were an added gift, then man’s nature would have been inherently lacking.  Rome places concupiscence before the fall; Protestants place it after the fall.  At this point Rome cannot escape the age-old stereotype that matter is “not quite bad.”  If concupiscence is natural to man’s created state before the fall, then ultimately man’s problem isn’t sin but finitude. (Endnote 2)  The inevitable conclusion is that God made man’s very matter one of disorder (472).   Protestants do believe in concupiscence, though.   We see it as an inclination to sin after the fall. Still, we reject a positive principal of sin in the human nature.   This rejection, plain and simple, precludes any possibility of a so-called Manicheanism.

The Image of God and Human Nature

One of the stronger arguments that anchorites use is that if the Reformed deny a superadditum of God’s image to man’s original nature, but rather place the image of God in man’s nature, then any fall in the garden has to result in either a loss of God’s image or a positive principal of sin in that image, thus the imago satanis of the extreme Lutheran Flacius Illyricus.  (It is true, pace Pelikan, that Luther hinted at such a doctrine and some early Lutherans did espouse it.  They were rebutted by Melanchton and their doctrine was never formally accepted, Pelikan, 145). This is not what the Reformed state, though.  We make several distinctions (which in my reading I never see acknowledged).   Drake notes,

The essential attributes to man’s nature is his rational faculty not his morality. Charles Hodge said,

“While, therefore, the Scriptures make the original moral perfection of man the most prominent element of that likeness to God in which he was created, it is no less true that they recognize man as a child of God in virtue of his rational nature. He is the image of God, and bears and reflects the divine likeness among the inhabitants of the earth, because he is a spirit, an intelligent, voluntary agent; and as such he is rightfully invested with universal dominion. This is what the Reformed theologians were accustomed to call the essential image of God, as distinguished from the accidental. The one consisting in the very nature of the soul, the other in its accidental endowments, that is, such as might be lost without the loss of humanity itself.Systematic Theology Vol 2 pg. 99

Towards a Reformed Psychology

The problem with the term “psychology” is that it has a nasty secular baggage today.  Even on a more neutral reading in theology, few people are willing to spend time on it.  Admittedly, talking about grace is much more exciting. But a faulty psychology, or lacking the tools to defend the Reformed view, will leave one open to a number of potentially penetrating criticisms.  When Jay Dyer and the dreadlords (that is a reference to Robert Jordan; it was a joke, please do not read it in a pejorative manner) began to attack Reformed theology, they didn’t so much focus on predestination and soteriology, but constructed a string of reductios based on a perceived faulty anthropology.  Reformed apologists by and larger were unable to resist the onslaught.  I speak as a survivor.  It is imperative, therefore, to construct a Reformed Psychology, without which a Reformed Anthropology fails, using the best of Protestant Scholasticism and seeking roots in its medieval heritage.

Man’s soul can be divided into two parts (rhetorically speaking, not actually, since the soul is simple): will and intellect.  It is debatable which has priority, as noted above.

A Federal Ontology

Pop apologists often accuse the Reformed of being philosophical nominalists, believing that the forms of things are simply names.   This argument is used to set the stage for the claim that Reformed theology leads to secularism.   The truth, however, is much more complex.   There are both realist and nominalist elements in Reformed theology for good reason: a hard core realism is silly and a hard core nominalism is equally false.  Both, however, can make good, subordinate claims which need to be taken seriously.  For example, did the Logos assume the realist form of human nature, or did he assume a human body?

Michael Horton notes that “A covenantal ontology suggests that this [our union and communion with Christ–BH] is more like the relation of a commonwealth and its monarch…than a fusion of essences” (Horton, 202).  The following are key points of a covenantal (or federal) ontology, taken from Horton:

  1. Mediation is not a principle or process, but a person, Jesus (183).  This explicitly denies participationist ontologies, ladders, chain-of-being, etc.
  2. The relationship which God guarantees to his people by means of Covenant is seen in the term echo, “having” (184).
  3. For example, we have “eternal life” (John 5:24), the Spirit of Christ as the deposit of the consummation.
  4. Our union with Christ is by the Spirit and not a fusion of essences.
  5. Eschatology is the locus of a federal ontology.  It is an announcement of the good news from afar off (Isaiah 52:7ff).   Participation (realist?) ontologies, by contrast, struggle with the concept of good news. Horton writes, “It is unclear how the gospel as good news would figure into his [John Milbank, but also any Dionysian construction–BH] account of redemption, since ‘news’ implies an extrinsic annoucnement of something new, something that does not simply derive from the nature of things (169).  What he means is that those who who hold to participationist ontologies–chain of being–see a continuum between God and man.  Any saving that happens to man happens within that continuum.   The announcement of good news, by contrast, comes from without.   To borrow Horton’s delightful phrase, a federal ontology is meeting a stranger, whereas a participationist ontology is overcoming estrangement.

The issue of a Federal ontology is important to the relation of Christ, human nature, and sin.  The anchorite will ask, “How can Christ have a real, representative human nature if he never sinned and transgressed the law?   Drake has helpfully answered,

The passages in the scripture which mention the fall of mankind and the imputation of Adam’s sin never mention Eve as playing any kind of federal role, they always mention Adam. All the Reformed authors that I have read teach that if Adam had obeyed God and not given into temptation he would have secured justifying life in the covenant of works and given access to the tree of life (The Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 20 speaks of the tree of life as a pledge). Therefore, we can infer from this that the curse of the covenant of works/original sin is through the male line, not the female. Therefore, Mary could not have passed a sinful soul under the curse of the covenant of works to Jesus but she did pass a mortal body. Therefore, the curse being both physical and spiritual; the physical aspect concerns mortality, the spiritual aspect concerns original sin. In this case only the physical aspects of the curse fall to Jesus, in that he dies and suffers hunger and pain etc.

I would like to add one more point:  Christ really does represent us because he federally represents us (Romans 5:12-21).  This is not a legal fiction because, among other things, it is a real proposition in the mind of God (so if folks want a realism, there it is).   People may object that such a view is false and is not true justice.   If they accept that, then they need to scrap Romans 5 from their Bibles and stop voting in Western legal political systems, both of which are predicated on a federal ontology.

Endnotes

1. This is why the Protestant Orthodox deny that the Covenant of Works had a grace-principle in it.  If the Covenant of Works had grace in it, the question immediately arises:  why did it have grace in it?  Was it because man’s nature was defective (not fallen, mind you, but naturally weak) that it needed grace to hold it up?  This is another area where the Federal Vision inadvertently ends in at Rome.

2.  This sheds light on the theosis debate: who was the first being in history to say that man’s finitude could be solved?

Addendum

One important point that I did not deal with is the charge that the Reformed view is Nestorian because the Father “cuts off” the Son.   The question is in what sense did the Father cut off the Son?  Admittedly, recent Reformed theologians have done an inadequate job of addressing this.  If the Son is “cut off” in the sense of natural communion with the Father, then it is Nestorianism.  I don’t see the Reformed as obligated to accept this for a number of reasons:

  1. “cutting off” is covenantal language (Genesis 15, 17, passim)
  2. Scripture explicitly says the Messiah is “cut off” (Isaiah 53:8)
  3. The Reformed ontology, as noted above, is neither realist or nominalist, but Federalist.   The complaints of “cutting off” and Nestorianism come from those with a strong realist tradition.

Works Cited

Bellarmine, “De Gratia prime hominis,” 5, 6 in Opera [1858], 4:23-29.
Hodge, Charles.  Systematic Theology vol. 2.
Horton, Michael.  Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ.  Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
Muller, Richard A. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Sources.  Grand Rapids, Baker Academic.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
Turretin, Francis.  Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing.

Problems with hyper-realist theology

I hold to philosophical realism.  There is a problem, though, when some Anchorites use realism as a foil against the Reformed faith.  The argument goes something like this:

  1. The Reformed faith is nominalist (usually no evidence is cited)
  2. Orthodoxy (and to a lesser degree Roman Catholicism) hold by contrast that the Logos assumed the universal form of human nature in the Incarnation.
  3. This therefore defeats Reformed theology.

The problem is that the word “essence” is used equivocally (and for the moment, I am using essence, nature, and ousia somewhat synonymously. I know they are not the same thing, but they are close enough for this purpose).   When we say that Christ assumed all of human “nature” in the incarnation, are we using nature in Aristotle’s first or second sense?  The primary sense is a concretized object.  The secondary sense is an abstract.  The usage in these debates tends towards the latter, but the problem is that after Cappadocian theology, nature is used more towards the concrete.   This is why the Confession (and probably the Cappadocians, cf Sergius Bulgakov, The Comforter, pp. 29-31) use nature in the concrete sense:  The Logos concretized a human nature.

Therefore, how can Anchorites accuse us of not holding to a universal assumption of human nature when it seems that Tradition-Christology doesn’t hold to a universal assumption of human nature?