Review Pannenberg Part 3

What does the Bible call God?

When Paul calls God pneuma does he mean it in the sense of Middle Platonism’s understanding of God as nous?

But what is ruach?  “Ruach is decribed as a mysteriously invisible natural force which declares itself in the movement of the wind” (373). “The breath of Yahweh is a creative life force.”  Very seldom does this relate to what we call “spirit,” the thinking consciousness. Ties it in with Psalm 139:7 as the field of God’s activity.

Capitalizes on these insights into Trinitarianism.  There was always the difficulty of seeing the divine essence–Spirit–as a subject alongside the three persons.  WP, while not going into great detail, suggests his models gets beyond this impasse (386).

Hebrew view of truth:  not merely self-identity and correspondence, but that process of events at their end in which the essence of things is revealed:  the end-time event invovles also the judgment of the world, the disclosure and true character of things (387).

WP does say that the three persons are the one subject of divine action (388).  This means he  cannot be accused, pace Letham, of Social Trinitarianism.  I think it is easier to follow Jenson’s reading of the Cappadocians via the essence as the divine life.

The future of the world is the mode of time that stands closest to God’s eternity…The goal of the world and its history is nearer to God than its commencement (390).

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).

Further,

“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).

Notes on Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology (volume 1), part 1

Great comments on the Vincentian Canon.

Decent section on the identity of God.  Gives the standard arguments against liberal Protestantism (See Feuerbach) and shows Barth’s own limitations.  Pannenberg has since been surpassed by his student Robert Jenson on the identity of God (i.e., the Guy that got us out of Egypt and raised Jesus from the dead).

Natural theology:  does a good job in carrying the discussion back to pre-Christ Roman theorists, all of which highlights the various strands of natural theology.  I have no problem with a natural theology of sorts, provided we understand that the term is by no means universally understood as meaning the same thing (of course, which sort of defeats the purpose of modern natural theologies).  Pannenberg points out that older divines, both Protestant and Catholic, saw natural theology as meaning “in accord with the nature of God” and the God-world relation (81).  Now it means in accord with the nature of the world.

Natural knowledge of God:  He is not entirely clear.  WP hovers around Romans 1:20 and suggests something like “infinity” as the natural knowledge of God.  He develops this thought more in Metaphysik und Gottesgedank.

Revelation:  WP tries to steer between the Barthian claim that God reveals himself as revelation and other claims. Eventually settles on the claim that revelation is the announcement and event of the future in the first coming of Jesus.  I have no problem with that–I think there is some truth to it; I just don’t see how that is more plausible than some of the views WP criticizes as “implausible.”

The God of Jesus and the Trinity:  The Spirit is the presence of mediation between the Kyrios and God the Father.  WP notes the very close similarity (yet not identity) of pneuma and Kyrios (drawing heavily on 1 Cor. 15:45 and 2 Cor. 3:17):

The Kyrios is the risen and exalted Jesus whose return the community awaits.  The Spirit is the form and power of his presence and of the relation of believers to him (I: 269)

Interestingly, WP notes that early Christian reflection on the Trinity (though they didn’t call it that) was not dissimilar from late Jewish reflection on God’s transcendence and immanence (277).

Pace the Cappadocians:

Basil distinguished between the fact that the deity is without oriign and the fact that the Father is unbegotten in distinction from the Son, who is begotten, but he did not go so far as Athanasius, who applied the relational conditioning of personal distinction, as mutual conditioning, to the Father as well, so that the Father can be thought of as unbegotten only in relation to the Son.  The idea of the Father as the source and origin of deity  so fused the the person of the Father and the substance of the Godhead that the divine substance is originally proper to the Father alone, being recieved from him by the Son and Spirit.  In distinction from Athanasius this means a relapse into subordinationism, since the idea of mutual defining of the distinctiveness of the persons does not lead to the thought of an equally mutual ontological constitution, of which it can be said that strictly they are constitutive only for the personhood of the Son and the Spirit if the Father is the source and origin of deity (280).

Distinction and Unity of the Persons:  The Son is posited as a self-distinction from the Father (310-311).  Fine, but I don’t see how this is different from Athanasius.  And then, one wonders how stable is Athanasius’s argument.

On another note, WP advances the argument that the self-distinction of the Son is not merely in his being begotten, but in his “handing over the kingdom to the Father.”  This doesn’t solve all of the problems but it is a superior move in that it roots the Trinitarian movement in eschatology.

WP raises a point I’ve always wondered:  can we honestly speak of mutual self-distinction  of the three persons if no distinction is made between subject and object in God (320 n. 184)?

“The monarchy of the Father is not the presupposition but the result of the common operations” (325).

Systematic Theology as anti-polytheistic tract

Reading Pannenberg’s laborious treatment of the natural theology and religio got me wondering, in response to something Pannenberg said:  modern treatments of religion treat the gods of different communities as if they are all the same.  But this will not work.  If two gods clash, who is mightier?  Liberal Protestantism simply said the gods were a projection of their worshipers.  This is probably true but it misses a larger point:  the identity of God and gods arises from a faith’s narrative (read canon, covenant document).

So I started thinking, what if systematic theology, when focusing on the doctrine of God, dealt more with a narratival thrust as an attack on polytheism rather than the author shadow-boxing dead German scholars?

A Post-Western View of the Trinity

In Robert Arakaki’s “Plucking the Tulip,” while the majority of the piece dealt with “calvinism,” he did make some comments on why the Eastern view of the Trinity is more preferable than the Western view (and with what the Filioque entails).

In this piece I evaluate the shortcomings of Augustinianism and the inadequacy of the Eastern essence/energy distinctions.  I conclude with some suggestions on moving past the impasse.

This is the final part both of Arakaki’s “Plucking the Tulip” and my response to it.  The response was delayed because I actually thought this part of his critique was very good.  I have demonstrated my own reasons why I find his critique of TULIP to be unconvincing.  I had to wrestle and think through these issues much more than on soteriology.   Indeed, when I was looking into Eastern Orthodoxy, it was the Trinitarian issues that had the most “pull.”   Western theologians today, at least in the Evangelical world, have done a terrible job in presenting a Western view of the Trinity that understands the East’s concerns (or presenting any view of the Filioque, period.  It is a mark of deep and deserved shame on American Evangelicalism that Karl Barth has the most thorough, recent defense of the Filioque).   This is one of the areas where new thought is actually possible.

   I must begin by repeating the now-common refrain that there really isn’t as big as gap between East and West on the Trinity as once was thought.   This is undoubtedly true in the earlier Patristic eras with greater differences coming to light as the first millennium ended.  Certainly, there is a marked divide between later figures like Aquinas and Palamas.

Arakaki begins by noting Calvin’s Western roots.  He writes, “Unlike Eastern Orthodoxy which draws on a wide range of Church Fathers,Western Christianity in both its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms depends heavily on Augustine of Hippo” (Arakaki 12).

Mr Arakaki tries to connect predestination with the Western view of the Trinity.  He writes, “This is because theology (the nature of God) and economy (how God relates to creation) are integrally related” (14).   Mr Arakaki is correct to note that double predestination is not unique to Calvin.  As the former Orthodox theologian Joseph P. Farrell has noted, double predestination is an inference from absolute divine simplicity (Farrell, 332 passim.), and almost all medieval Western theologians held to this model of simplicity. Further, Arakaki’s claim that God’s nature is related to God’s economy is absolutely correct.    He notes that his Eastern view is the Cappadocian one, grounding the monarchy of God in the hypostasis of the Father.   Following Metr. Zizioulas he states that such a position emphasizes the person over the nature.  God exists through his mutual love.   To borrow Zizioulas’s famous title, “Being is Communion.”   There is a certainly a truth to this.

Mr Arakaki contrasts this with the Augustinian view.  His summary of Augustine is by and large correct, and I won’t belabor the point with more quotations.  He quotes sources on Augustine to the effect that Augustine emphasized the nature over the person.  Arakaki then notes difficulties with the West’s view:  “the Father is God, the Son is God,the Holy Spirit is God; but the Son is not the Father, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit; but there is not three gods but only one God” (16).  Obviously, such a view is unsatisfying.  It is not surprising that one infers the Filioque from such a construction.  Indeed, if the above is problematic, then it appears that the Filioque is also problematic.

A High-Church Reformed Response

It must be first noted that Western theologians do in fact have a response to Mr. Arakaki.   How can one claim that “The Father is God/The Son is God/The Spirit is God/There is one God”?   Western theologians could make this claim work by positing a “relations of oppositions.”   I am not going to take that route.  I have my own questions about such a model.  I only mention it to say that there are cogent, rational alternatives to his presentation.

Mr Arakaki has certainly placed his finger upon the Western problem.  Indeed, it is a pressure point.   In fact, even more problems could be adduced.   We shan’t mention them here.   In order to respond to Mr Arakaki, I will flesh out the Eastern view a little more, drawing upon perhaps its most forming theologian, Gregory Palamas (as interpreted by Vladimir Lossky).  According to Lossky, “The Father is the sole monarchy of the Godhead,” but this isn’t subordinationist because “terms such as procession and origin are but inappropriate expressions for a reality alien to all becoming, all process, all beginning” (Lossky, A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu, 78, quoted in Jenson, 152). This point shouldn’t be passed over.   This is in line with the Eastern emphasis on apophatic theology:   we have knowledge of God by negation.  At its most basic it denies any knowledge of the divine nature.  Rather, we know God by his energies.  (Much more could be mentioned and Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw’s outstanding work, Aristotle East and West, will fill in any lacunae in my narrative).

Palamas on the Essence/Energies

Not only does Palamas see that God has an ousia (I understand the fine nuances between ousia, substance, and essence; in the following I will use ousia as roughly synonymous with essence), but “God also possesses that which is not substance” (Palamas, Chapters 135, quoted in Sinkewizcs, 241).  Yet Gregory is clear that this is also not an accident, of which one does not admit in God.  Palamas calls this entity which is neither substance nor accident an “energy.”  Elsewhere he calls it the “arche of deity” (Triads 3.1.29).  This is crucial for his view of the spiritual life.

In one of Palamas’ more brilliant moves, he notes the Western view of divine simplicity (God’s essence is absolutely simple, admitting of no distinctions) and how impossible it is for deification:  If God’s essence is absolutely and immutable, how exactly can the saint participate in it?  If the saint participates in the essence, then the saint is absorbed into the essence.   If the saint participates in “created grace,” then he is participating in a created medium and not in God.  Admittedly, it’s a brilliant move.

One should keep in mind that Gregory likely holds to something similar to divine simplicity.  He is careful to note that God is “according to the ousia beyond ousia” (ibid).  What he likely means is something like Plato’s beyond being or hyperousia (Republic 549b).  If this is in fact what Palamas means, and I think it is, then he is not as far removed from the West as one might think.  The only difference, it seems, is that he adds a tertium quid to the equation:  the divine energies.

Lossky’s problem points back to Gregory Palamas. Palamas employs the Cappadocians, but with a subtle difference. The saints, for Palamas, participate in the divine energies, but not in the divine ousia, deity sheerly as such. The problem, though, is that the Cappadocians were a lot more flexible than Palamas in their use of terms. Their use of the term ousia (Basil probably excepted) does not suggest anything other than the divine life. As Catherine Lacugna says, whom Mr Arakaki quotes elsewhere with approval, “God’s ousia exists as Father, Son, Spirit.  The three persons do not have a common ousia; they are the divine ousia…Further, as Rowan Williams points out, the doctrine of the Trinity means the identification of ousia with energeiai” (LaCugna, 192, quoted in Letham 249ff).  Here is the problem for Palamas: “It is one thing to say that abstract deity is itself always the same quality, as the Cappadocians did; it is quite another to say that deity taken as God himself is a static essence. Ironically, Orthodoxy is here driven to a bluntly modalist doctrine: God himself is above the biblical narrative, which applies only to his energies (Jenson 153).  Jenson’s comment needs to be fleshed out:  we can only identify God by his self-identifying in the biblical narrative–the persons arising out of the narrative.  But on Palamas’s gloss what can we even know of the Persons?  He seems to intimate that this “energy(ies)” is above the gospel narrative itself (Triads 3.1.10-13; 3.1.16-19; 3.3.26-27).   Perhaps most disastrously, Orthodoxy has a tendency to “reify the energies, the moments of the divine life, and at least in the case of the Spirit, the energies replace the person in the historical actuality of salvation” (Jenson 157).

Further, it appears that Orthodoxy is in danger of what (ironically) Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart calls the “pleonastic fallacy.”  According to Hart, this fallacy claims “the fallacy that says that—since there is an infinite qualitative distance between the ultimate principle of all reality and the world of “unlikeness” here below—it is necessary to posit a certain number of intermediate principles or “hypostases” in the interval between the two in order to bridge that distance” (Hart).  While this fallacy was initially pointed out against neo-Platonists and Arians–and I have no intention of saying the Orthodox are the latter!–one cannot help but see certain similarities.  On such a gloss we see an apophatically unknown God who is made knowable–not by the persons, mind you, because Lossky says the terms for hypostatic differentiation are only “inappropriate expressions”–but by some other tertium quid, the energies of God.

Further, we can only have an indirect knowledge of God.  Granted, we aren’t knowing God through a created medium, pace Roman Catholicism, but it is still a medium nonetheless. We do not know God as he is but only through the energies.  If this knowledge is indirect knowledge, then how do we know God’s essence?   As Robert Letham remarks, “If the divine essence is unknowable, how does Gregory know it” (Letham 249)?

Given Orthodoxy’s commitment to a relational ontology, one must ask how this is even possible if we only relate via the energies and not the persons, as it appears Palamas says.  Further, we must note Arakaki’s earlier claim:  “This is because theology (the nature of God) and economy (how God relates to creation) are integrally related” (Arakaki, 14).  I agree, but if all we can know are God’s energies and not his ousia, as Basil says (Letter 234), then one wonders how such a claim is even possible.   If the ousia is hyper-ousia and beyond our knowing, which was Basil’s point against Eunomius, then we may be allowed to hope that that theologia and economia are integrally related, but that is only a guess.  By definition, we can’t know that.  As Robert Letham remarks on Palamas,For all of the problems of the Filioque, it at least attempts to say that what is true in ontology is true in economia: The Son is the giver of the Spirit in history because he is a giver of the spirit in ontology.

Putting the Filioque at the End

Let’s assume that my (and Jenson’s) critique of Palamism holds.  Even so, that does not prove the Filioque is true.  This is not a problem, though.  As of now, one can affirm what the Filioque is trying to get at (God is not dissimilar in ontology and economy; the economy reveals the ontology) while seeking to work past difficulties inherent in the project.

At the risk of horrifying everyone both East and West, I will expand (and correct)  Hegel’s “I-thou/Master-slave” analogy.  This does not mean I agree with all of what Hegel says.  I think he is more insightful than people realize, but he is also wrong on a number of points.  The present use of him is simply an analogy. I am not endorsing his ontology.

If you and I are to be free for one another, each of us must be both subject and object in our discourse. If I am present, I am a subject whom you have as my object. But if I am not an object for you as subject, if I somehow evade that, I enslave you. I am not reciprocally available to you (Jenson 155).

How then, can this mutual availability happen? How is an I-Thou relationship possible without becoming a struggle for power? (Jenson notes with humor that postmodernism carried out this program under a tutelage of horror!) Following Jenson, in perhaps a mildly Augustinian strain, we can note, “there is freely given love…a third party in the meeting of ‘I’ and ‘Thou. Thus, if you and I are to be free for one another, someone must be our liberator (okay, granted this isn’t the best term–JA)…If I am to be your object and you mine, so that we may be subjects for each other, there has to be one for whom we are both objects, and whose intention for us is our love for each other. The theological conclusion is obvious.

Still, it does not fully answer the Filioque debate, at least not here. We can tentatively  toward a Western answer. The debate over the Filioque is misplaced. If God is indeed the God of the future, and we see Cappadocian hints of an ever-forward moving futurity in God, then does it not make more sense to see the better question as “The Spirit is the End and Goal of all God’s ways”? East and West debate over the beginning Archimedean point when they should be discussing the divine goal as the Spirit’s Archimedean point” (157). Quoting Pannenberg again, “The fault of the Filioque is that the true Augustinian insight that the Spirit is the fellowship of the Son and Father ‘was formulated in terms of relations of origin’” (Pannenberg, I: 347, quoted in Jenson, 157 n. 67).  Seen from this light, the East-West debate is simply two sides of the same coin.  Neither side tries to rise above the problematic.

On What Can We Agree?

I certainly agree that Augustinian triadology is simply inadequate.  It solves many problems but at great costs.   While I think the Orthodox concept of the divine energies is problematic–and I’ve only touched on one aspects.  I think there are more damaging criticisms available which I won’t pursue here–to the degree that Orthodoxy talks about the “divine light” I can appreciate.  I realize that Orthodoxy sees the two terms as synonymous.  I do not.  My arguments challenge a concept of the divine energies but not the divine light.  There is no reason why on a post-Augustinian gloss that one cannot appropriate the divine light.   Protestant biographies abound with saints who experience the divine light–glory–of God.  The Covenanter John Walsh was known to be surrounded by light while he was praying.   Even the modern Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, recalls an instance when he was flooded by divine light in language quite similar to that of Eastern Orthodox stories (Pannenberg).

In conclusion I agree with what the Filioque is trying to say.  God is not dissimilar in mission as he is in ontology.  Further, while God is transcendent we must be careful in positing that God’s essence is so radically other that we have no consistent way of saying how we can know God.  But even granting Eastern criticisms, we must confess that the East is not the way we should go.  Their Trinitarianism, while consistent and occasionally beautiful, comes at too great a cost.  If pressed hard enough we are left with a frozen view of God (to borrow Jenson’s phrase) above the biblical narrative–and such a view tends toward agnosticism (since we can’t know God as he really is).     Even worse, and in line with some other Orthodox critiques of Palamism (Moss), it’s hard to see on an Orthodox gloss how we can even have a “personal” relationship with God if the persons, too, are hyperousia and our only manner of communion is through the “energies.”

Which Way the West?

It is often remarked that Protestantism is divorced from the early church, that it can’t look back to church history and find itself.  What does one make of this claim?  Admittedly, it’s hard to find the location of First Presbyterian Church, Jerusalem.  Certainly, Protestants must acknowledge the hard work of the ancient church(es) in working through canonical, Christological, and Trinitarian issues.  We stand upon the shoulders of giants.   However, since Protestantism does not claim an infallible tradition, nothing significant is sacrificed when Protestant theologians began to admit that their tradition erred in formulation et al in years passed.

Further, nothing is lost in admitting that previous models of metaphysics may not have been the best to work with.  This does not mean jettisoning the hard work of the early church(es).  It does require a critical receiving of texts and positions, asking what light can they shed on our current situations, and cautiously moving forward.  Rowan Williams has cogently suggested that we saw such a handling of philosophical issues in the Nicene crisis (Williams 2002).  According to Williams’ reading, Arius conservatively employed a number of respected (if pagan) philosophical traditions which compromised the biblical narrative of the Son’s being with the Father. It was to the Nicene Fathers, Athanasius and Hilary, to “deconstruct” the older metaphysics around a new terminology that was more faithful to the biblical narrative (Farrell 184; cf. Hilary, De Synodis 76).

When one reads the Filiioquist debates, especially between two competent debaters, one has to admit that both sides make good cases.  I think there is a reason for that:  both sides are operating off of the same problematic: the Person(s) as causing the origin of another Person(s).   Either side, as Sergei Bulgakov noted with great clarity, must inevitably result in some dyad:  either Father-Son + Spirit or Father + Son/Spirit.  The triad has been lost.

It is to the credit of some recent theologians like Pannenberg and Jenson that they can find models to speak of the Trinity in a way that does not inevitably reduce to some form of monad + dyad.  Indeed, Panneberg can speak of mutual reciprocity, “the divine consciousness existing in a threefold mode,” and “each of the persons relates to the others as others and distinguishes itself from them” (Pannenberg 1991, 317; contra Robert Letham, Pannenberg is not advocating, at least not here anyway, three centers of consciousness, which would fall prey to some form of social Trinitarianism.  Pannenberg’s language is very clear:  a consciousness existing in a threefold mode is still one consciousness, one subject).

My own essay does differ from traditional Protestant proposals.  I do not hide that fact.  I hope I have demonstrated the truths behind the Filioque and what it means for our knowledge of God, even if I demur from the confessional formulations of it. It must be admitted that Calvinism’s Trinitarianism (to the degree that such an entity exists) stands or falls independent of my own formulations (and vice-versa).  Calvin did not write much on the Trinity for the simple fact that he didn’t have to.   Roman Catholicism did not differ from him on that score, so there wasn’t a point.  Calvin’s later doctrine of autotheos per the Son did raise some concerns, but even Catholics like Robert Bellarmine conceded that Calvin was largely in the “Tradition” on this point (Bellarmine 307-310, quoted in Letham 256).  I depart from Calvin in terms of language but hope that my own conclusions are not too far removed from his.

Works Cited:

Arakaki, Robert. “Plucking the Tulip,” http://orthodoxbridge.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Plucking-the-TULIP4.pdf (accessed 6 January 2014).

Basil the Great.  Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol 8.  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publ.

Bellarmine, Robert.  “Secunda controversia generalis de Christo,” Disputationum de controversiis Christianae fidei adversus haereticos.  Rome, 1832.

Bradshaw, David.  Aristotle East and West:  Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom.  Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Bulgakov, Sergei.  The Comforter.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2005.

Farrell, Joseph. P.  God, History, and Dialectic:  The Theological Foundations of the Two Europes and their Cultural Consequences.   Seven Council Press, no date.

Hart.  David Bentley.  “The Lively God of Robert Jenson.”  First Things.  October 2005.  [Accessed 10 January 2014].

Hegel.  GWF.  Phenomenology of Spirit.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology vol 1.  Oxford University Press, 2001.

LaCugna, Catherine.  God for Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.

Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship.  Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2004.

Lossky, Vladimir. A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu.  Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1967.

Moss, Vladimir.  “Romanides on the Holy Trinity.”  http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/410/romanides-holy-trinity/ [accessed 13 January 2014].

Palamas, Gregory.  One Hundred and Fifty Chapters. ed. Sinkewicz, Robert.  Toronto:  Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1988.

——————-.  Triads (Classics of Western Spirituality).  Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart.  Systematiche Theologie.  Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1988-1993.

—————-.  “God’s Presence in History.”  http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1710.  [accessed 10 January 2014].

—————-.  Systematic Theology.  Trans. G. W. Bromiley.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Plato, The Great Dialogues.  trans. W. H. D. Rouse.  New York: Signet Classics, 2008.

Williams, Rowan.  “The Philosophical Structures of Palamism,” Eastern Churches Review 9 (1977): 27-44D.

—————.  Arius: Heresy and Tradition.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Zizioulas, John.  Being as Communion. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.

Pannenberg saw the divine light

As a Protestant I cannot affirm the essence/energies distinction.  While Orthodoxy equates that with “the divine light” and I do not, the latter concept is certainly biblical. It is the love and glory of God.  Wolfhart Pannenberg recounts an event in his life:

The single most important experience occurred in early January 1945, when I was 16 years old. On a lonely two-hour walk home from my piano lesson, seeing an otherwise ordinary sunset, I was suddenly flooded by light and absorbed in a sea of light which, although it did not extinguish the humble awareness of my finite existence, overflowed the barriers that normally separate us from the surrounding world.

This actually sounds a lot like stories of St Seraphim of Sarov.  I mention it because if it isn’t from Jesus, then it must  be from Satan.  Yet it would be a very odd move for Satan to make.  Why would he want people to follow Jesus and write books defending Christ’s judgment in this world?   Common sense says otherwise (as does Jesus in Matthew 11-12).  We can note a number of implications from this event:

  1. Protestants are within the saving power of Jesus.
  2. There is no such thing as “Second class Christians.”   The book of Galatians was written to condemn that very idea.
  3. This brings us to Cyprian’s problematic claim: outside the church there is no salvation.   This is where Kallistos Ware’s book falls woefully short, though one applauds his moving away from his early hard Russian stance:  if Ware advances (2), as it seems he does, then he has to concede that Protestants are in the True Church.
  4. If (3) means “only my institution” (be it Coptic, Nestorian, Orthodox, Catholic, Steelite) and none others, then Cyprian’s claim is clearly false.
  5. If (3) means “those who confess Jesus is the Risen Lord” or some such equivalent, then it is completely true.
  6. If (2, 5) then Protestants are within the True Church.
  7. If (6) then much ecclesiology needs to be rewritten.

God as Fugue: The Musical Theology of Robert Jenson (1)

Jenson, Robert W.  Systematic Theology vol 1.  Oxford University Press.

Robert W. Jenson’s systematic theology is refreshingly different from standard models.   Loosely drawing upon older medieval and early Reformational loci, Jenson gives us a succinct yet profound model for presenting theology.  True, Jenson does cover the standard loci (norms of authority, God, Christology, etc), but Jensons’s theology, either unlike others or more explicitly than others, operates from a common theme.  Jensons’s theme is “the identity of God.”  The way Jenson works this theme is similar to a musical fugue.  As he introduces his theme, he allows it to take upon itself different connotations with each repetition, ending in a stunning climax.

Norms of Authority

    Jenson’s approach here is very interesting.  He doesn’t simply say, “The Baahhbul alone is our authority.”  Perhaps we may fault him on that, but neither does he open himself up to immediate counters to that position.  He recognizes the inevitability of tradition in the Church’s identity, but he raises a question from that that few do:  it was tradition itself in the mid-2nd century that necessitated a formal canon.   The implication: tradition, whatever its specific liturgical content may have been, was no longer adequate to the Church’s life by itself.

    Jenson adds yet another key to this piece:  the Spirit’s life in the church (26ff).  Such a move sounds a lot like Eastern Orthodoxy, and it does incorporate a lot of Orthodoxy’s strengths on this point, but Jenson takes it to a different (and utterly more biblical) conclusion:  the Spirit’s presence is the in-breaking of the Kingdom, which opens God’s future to God’s people.  A Spirit-founded church is a future-moving church.

Jensons’s theme, accordingly, is “the identity of God.” The practice of theology, then, is “speaking this identity,” which is speaking the gospel.  Jenson defines the gospel as “Jesus of Nazareth, the one who….is risen from the dead.”

What is God’s identity?  Classical theology will say “3 Persons/1 Essence.” This is of course true, but the twilight of classical ontology and the current earthquakes from nihilism force clarification upon the theologian.  This is the Church’s opportunity.  Jenson identifies God as “The One who brought Israel out of Egypt” (44, quoting Exodus 20:2).  The New Testament expands this identity as “The One who raised Jesus from the dead.”  God is the one who rescued the Israelite from the dead.  It is important to see that God is identified by his events (59).  Jenson that follows with several profound meditations on the nature of idolatry.

The music is not yet finished.  We have easily established the Father’s identity.  We have hinted at (though not fully developed) a connection between the Father’s identity and that of his Son, the Resurrected Israelite.  We must now see how these two “connect” in identity without losing their differences, and the role of the Spirit in that connection.

God’s identity is told by his story.  In identifying God, we have a dramatis dei personae, “characters of the divine drama” (75).  Exegetes have since come to the conclusion that “Son” is often a title for Israel. Yet Israel as a fallen nation cannot live up to that sonship.  Another Israelite, God’s Son in a different sense, is with and by whom God is identified.   “He is God himself as a participant in Israel’s story” (76).  This leads naturally to an extended discussion of the Servant passages.  Jenson, contrary to many evangelicals, does not say that the “Servant” is simply code for “Jesus.”  He allows the Servant narratives to unfold and in the unfolding we see “Suddenly, the Servant is an individual within Israel” (80).  Giving his prophetic speech, rising from the dead, and ushering in eschatological peace, the Church could not help but identify this servant with the Son of David from Nazareth.  The next persona in the drama is the Spirit of the Lord.  Jenson does not at this point explicate the Spirit’s role-identity.

How are they One Being?

Jenson notes that classical pagan ontology identified “god” by metaphysical predicates.  Deity is a quality that can be participated in by degrees.  To bridge any gap, pagan metaphysicians would invoke relatively divine-human figures to mediate that deity.  From this standpoint, Jenson explains the work of the early Christian apologists until Origen and the role of Logos-theology.

Logos had a two-fold meaning:  the sense the world makes and the expression of that sense (96).  This allowed Justin Martyr to say that the Logos enthietos is eternal relative to God’s being (although there was some equivocation as to his timelessness)  but the Logos prophorikos is temporal relative to God’s creating act (97).   Besides obvious problems, Justin’s theology could not explain why there should only be one mediator between the divine realm and the temporal one, and not many like in Gnosticism and Paganism.

Origen sharpened this problematic.  In Jenson’s beautiful description, Origen “conceived of the work of Father, Son, and Spirit as a sort of inverted stepped cone: the Father gives being to all creatures, the Son opens  the knowledge of God to creatures capable of knowledge, and the Spirit performs the purification” (98).  Origen perfected and avoided Justin’s starker problems by exploiting a favorite image of classical antiquity:  the image.  A statue of painting is not its archetype but neither is it not its archetype.  “Being an image of something is a distinct mode of being” (98).  This allowed antiquity (and early Christians) to posit a descending hierarchy of images.

Anticipating Hegel (!), Origen, using this imagic model, can say, “In that God knows himself, there subsists God as the object this knowledge; and in that this knowledge is expressed with divine perfection, God-as-his-own-object in an actual other than God himself” (99).  Despite its beauty and profundity, Origen’s problematic was unstable.  Beginning from the presuppositions of pagan metaphysics, Origen could not avoid the question “How divine was the Logos, on a spectrum of being of sheer divine and sheer temporality?”  Any answer disrupts the inherent subordinationism.  Scripture, however, asks different questions:  Creator or creature?  Origen really couldn’t answer this question, either. Not surprisingly, the Arian crisis soon exploded this problematic.

Discussions of Arianism, Nicea, and Athanasius are well-known, so this section of the essay will be brief.  What is important to note is that key terms are beginning to be sharpened.  Ousia in early Nicea is what a thing is; hypostasis is the differentiation of it.

Despite the Nicene-Constantinople victory, we must note what they did not accomplish.  As Jenson notes, “The Cappadocians acknowledged only relations of origin as constitutive of the divine life.  Thus, the eschatological character was suppressed” (108).

How does God’s reality present itself in history?  Following Pannenberg (Systematiche Theologie, 3:333-347, quoted in Jenson 109n. 132) Jenson gives an interesting musing that “It is exactly in that Jesus or his Father or the Spirit refers absolutely from himself to one of the others as the One God that he is in a specific way a perfect correlate to that other, and so himself God within and of the history plotted by these referrals.”  Jenson will later clinch this argument by sharpening Gregory of Nyssa’s:  the term God for Gregory refers to the mutual action of the divine energies, to the perichoretic divine life” (214).  This being of God is not a something (and thus we avoid Heidegger’s destruction of classical ontology), but a palpable going-on…God is primally hypostatic: to be God the Father, or God the Son or God the Spirit, does not require that there antecedently be something one could call ‘God’” (214, 215; and thus we avoid Tillich’s critique of a quaternity).

Jenson’s discussion of Christology necessarily leads to a rather unique locus in his system:  Patrology.  This seems odd, since Patrology itself is not an ultimate norm for doing theology and authority.  True, but Patrology does function as a grammar of how to do theology, illustrating key moves and problems.   Those who ignore Patrology will find themselves unable to explain key problems in Christian theology.

Before we continue the discussion on Patrology, and in keeping with our musical theme, we should not Jenson’s masterful handling of the Holy Spirit and the Filioque debate.   It must be admitted that conservative American evangelicals have failed miserably on this point.  If I could think of harsher language, I would use it.  Jenson begins by noting the problems in Augustine’s formulation:  exactly how is one of the three specifically “spirit?”  If hypostases are identified by relations of origin (Father-Son), we have a further problem, since no relation appears in the name “Holy Spirit” (147).  Jenson then mentions Lossky’s poewrful argument against the West:  by positing the Father and Son as a single cause of the Spirit, the West has muted the hypostatic characteristics of both Father and Son.

How can we respond?  Before responding, we should briefly note the Eastern position.  The Father is the sole monarchy of the Godhead, but this isn’t subordinationist because “terms such as procession and origine are but inappropriate expressions for a reality alien to all becoming, all process, all beginning” (Lossky, A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu, 78, quoted in Jenson, 152).  Jenson remarks: “This is a vision of God as frozen as any we have encountered, and a new evacuation of Trinitarianism.  The trinitarian propositions in their Eastern use fail to describe the Father’s subordinating of the Son and the Spirit, we discover, only because they do not describe any action at all (Jenson, 152).

Lossky’s problem points back to Gregory Palamas.  Palamas employs the Cappadocians, but with a subtle difference.  The Saints participate in the divine energies, which are the divine life, but not in the divine ousia, deity sheerly as such.  The problem, though, is that the Cappadocians were a lot more flexible than Palamas.   Their use of the term ousia (Basil probably excepted) does not suggest anything other than the divine life.   Here is the problem for Palamas:

“It is one thing to say that abstract deity is itself always the same quality, as the Cappadocians did; it is quite another to say that deity taken as God himself is a static essence.  Ironically, Orthodoxy is here driven to a bluntly modalist doctrine:  God himself is above the biblical narrative, which applies only to his energies (153).  Perhaps most disastrously, Orthodoxy has a tendency to “reify the energies, the moments of the divine life, and at least in the case of the Spirit, the energies replace the person in the historical actuality of salvation” (157).

So what is Jenson’s solution?  By way of clarification, he explains Hegel’s famous “I-thou/Master-slave” analogy.  If you and I are to be free for one another, each of us must be both subject and object in our discourse.  If I am present, I am a subject whom you have as my object.  But if I am not an object for you as subject, if I somehow evade that, I enslave you.  I am not reciprocally available to you (155).

How then, can this mutual availability happen?  How is an I-Thou relationship possible without becoming a struggle for power?  (Jenson notes with humor that postmodernism carried out this program under a tutelage of horror!)  Jenson, in perhaps an unacknowledged Augustinian strain,notes, “there is freely given love…a third party in the meeting of ‘I’ and ‘Thou.   Thus, if you and I are to be free for one another, someone must be our liberator (okay, granted this isn’t the best term–JA)…If I am to be your object and you mine, so that we may be subjects for each other, there has to be one for whom we are both objects, and whose intention for us is our love for each other.  The theological conclusion is obvious.

Still, it does not fully answer the Filioque debate, at least not here. Jenson tentatively works toward a Western answer.   The debate over the Filioque is misplaced.  If God is indeed the God of the future, and we see Cappadocian hints of an ever-forward moving futurity in God, then does it not make more sense to see the better question as “The Spirit is the End and Goal of all God’s ways”?  East and West debate over the beginning Archimedean point when they should be discussing the divine goal as the Spirit’s Archimedean point” (157).  Quoting Pannenberg again, “The fault of the Filioque is that the true Augustinian insight that the Spirit is the fellowship of the Son and Father ‘was formulated in terms of relations of origin’” (Pannenberg, I: 347, quoted in Jenson, 157 n. 67).

Jenson has an interesting, yet ultimately unsatisfying chapter on the atonement.   He accepts many of the criticisms of Anselm:  strictly speaking, on Anselm’s view there is no need for the Resurrection.  Upon the death of Christ the transaction is complete.   Theology, unfortunately, remains incomplete.  Even more pointedly, “The New Testament speaks of God’s action to reconcile us to himself, and nowhere of God’s being reconciled to us” (186).  The problem, however, with these subjective critiques of Anselm, and the theories they represent, fail to say how Jesus’s death accomplished anything specific.

After a brief and interesting discussion of the Christus Victor model, Jenson proposes a liturgical understanding of the atonement:  the church’s primal way of understanding the atonement is that we live this narrative (189).  “We rehearse the Word-event in our lives.”  I am not exactly sure how he describes his proposal.  He gives an interesting outline of public liturgies during Passion week and ends with an admittedly interesting suggestion:

“If a theological proposition is one that says, ‘To be saying the gospel, let us say F rather than G,’ and if the gospel is spoken in language and by more embodied sorts of signs, by sacrament and sacrifice, then we must expect theology to take the form of ritual rubrics” (190).

This isn’t wrong, per se, and I can attest to the power of liturgy in my own life, but one suspects that Jenson himself isn’t entirely free from the critique he offered of subjective models:  precisely what happened on the cross?  He answers it was Israel’s denouement of her Scriptures” (183).  Very good and well said, but what does that have to do with me?

We must wait for the Resurrection for the answer to that question.  He asserts that it accomplishes our reconciliation to God.  With this we agree, but we suspect Scripture has said much more.

Jenson concludes his book with summary chapters on Spirit, Jesus, and the Being of the One God, incorporating much critical scholarship and noting the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.

Conclusion:

Astute readers will notice some similarities between Jenson’s approach and that of David Bentley Hart. Both theologians write musically. There are some differences, to be sure.   Hart, for the most part, accepts classical ontology;  Jenson does not.   Jenson, further, is sympathetic to those in the Reformed tradition (see his spirited defense of Jonathan Edwards).  Hart’s vitriol towards Calvinism is well-known.  Most importantly, perhaps, is that Jenson can write in a coherent and readable (if sometimes dense) manner.  Hart cannot.

Appendix:  God and the Future

Our God is different from the Pagan gods because he is not afraid of “time.”  God’s acting in salvation for his people is an acting in time, “not defending against the future, but securing it” (67).  Gregory of Nyssa was on the verge of completely dismantling classical metaphysics hold on God-doctrine.  Identifying the divine ousia as infinity, Gregory took it a step forward and identified it as temporal infinity, a future-oriented infinity (infinity qua infinity would dissipate into nothingness, the temptation of absolute models of simplicity).  According to Jenson, “The Arians err defining God as having no beginning, when they should define God as having no end” (216).  In Jenson’s succint pjhrase, “The Father is the whence of the divine life; The Spirit is the whither, and the Son the specious present” (218-219).  The way in which the whence and the whither are one, the way in which the Triune God is eternal, is by the events in Jesus’s death and resurrection” (219).