Thursday, April 27, 2006

Further Thoughts on the Invocation of the Saints, Tillich, and the Meaning of Symbols


Recently I posted a quote from Paul Tillich that I want now to apply to the thread on the Invocation of the Saints. Earlier in the same article ("The Meaning of Symbols"), Tillich explained that a symbol participates in that to which it points. This is the main characteristic that distinguishes a symbol from a mere sign (The Essential Tillich, p. 42).

The proposal that I set forth for how we might better understand the practice of the Invocation of the Saints is a case in point. In that entry I stated that the Church employs the metaphoric language of direct address/petition to saints as an expression of her belief that our prayers on earth are joined in union with the prayers of the saints in heaven. Hence the Church's language of prayer in this case (I would actually argue in every case) is symbolic in Tillich's sense of opening up a "level of reality which is otherwise closed for us" (p. 42) -- namely, the Communion of the Saints.

Tillich's other observations are equally true when applied to the Invocation of the Saints. For instance, Tillich states that "symbols cannot be produced intentionally ... They grow out of the individual or collective unconscious and cannot function without being accepted by the unconscious dimension of our being" (p. 42). This observation accords very well with the historical development of the cult of the saints in early to late antiquity and its universal acceptance. The origin of the practice cannot be pinpointed to a specific locale or to a particular person or "inventor" as if it were some sort of innovation. Rather it is more accurate to suggest that the practice "emerged" (please excuse a term borrowed from another recent thread) in antiquity in a variety of locales, growing out of the "collective unconscious" of the Church Catholic in its formative period, and never significantly challenged until the 16th century Reformation (and only in the West).

Finally, Tillich's observation that symbols "grow when the situation is ripe for them" and "die when the situation changes" is also consistent with what we see historically. The cult of saints grew out of the period of persecution and came into maturity in the period immediately following this -- during the era known as the "Peace of the Church" ushered in by Constantine. We should never underestimate the psychological momentum of this period, what Peter Brown aptly describes as "the working of an imaginative dialectic which led late-antique men to render their beliefs in the afterlife palpable and directly operative among the living by concentrating these on the privileged figure of a dead saint" (Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints, p. 71).

This observation also accounts for why the practice of the Invocation of the Saints, as well as the cult of the saints as a whole, fell into disuse and ended up "dying" under the changed situation of the Reformation. The churches of the Reformation, with few exceptions, allowed much of the rich symbolism (i.e., metaphor) of antiquity die, as such symbols were no longer associated with the "pure" doctrine of catholic Christianity as much as they were with the abuses of the medieval church. Catholic Christians of today might lament the throwing out of the proverbial baby with the bathwater, but it is quite understandable why the Reformation churches did what they did in their particular contexts.

The strong suspicion of abuse over the practice of invoking saints persists among Protestant Christians to this day. Obviously, much of this is based on misconceptions of what the practice means to the typical Catholic and within Catholic faith and praxis as a whole. But I think the root of the general Protestant disdain for invoking saints goes much deeper than this. Over the years I have convinced many a diehard Protestant that there is nothing inherently idolatrous or particularly heretical in the practice. There have even been those who have been able to accept the practice on an intellectual level while continuing to be reticent and uncomfortable with it in praxis. Why is this? The answer, I believe, is that we are dealing with two different cultures -- Protestant and Catholic -- which find openings into Tillich's "levels of reality which are otherwise closed to us" by employing two different sets of symbols.

On the one hand it is not fair for the Catholic to expect the Protestant to incorporate what amounts to a foreign metaphor into a Protestant set of symbols. On the other hand, it behooves the Catholic of the third millennium to help re-connect the whole of Christendom, Protestantism included, to its roots in Christian antiquity. This begins with understanding and open minds on both sides of the issue.

Until next time.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

John Polkinghorne on our eschatological hope


...My understanding of our nature is not framed in the dualist terms of an incarnated soul. The Christian hope is, therefore, for me not the hope of survival after death, the persistence post mortem of a spiritual component which possesses, or has been granted, an intrinsic immortality. Rather, the Christian hope is of death and resurrection. My understanding of the soul is that it is the almost infinitely complex, dynamic, information-bearing pattern, carried at any instant by the matter of my animated body and continuously developing throughout all the constituent changes of my bodily make-up during the course of my earthly life. That psychosomatic unity is dissolved at death by the decay of my body, but I believe it is a perfectly coherent hope that the pattern that is me will be remembered by God and its instantiation will be recreated by him when he reconstitutes me in a new environment of his choosing. That will be his eschatological act of resurrection. Thus, death is a real end but not the final end, for only God himself is ultimate. Although there have, of course, been strands of he Christian tradition which have used the language of the survival of an immortal soul, I believe that the tradition which is truer, both to the New Testament insight and to modern understanding, is that which relies on the hope of a resurrection beyond death.

If this psychosomatic understanding is correct, then it is intrinsic to true humanity that we should be embodied. We are not apprentice angels, awaiting to be disencumbered of our fleshly habitation. Our hope is of the resurrection of the body. By that I do not mean the resuscitation of our present structure, the quaint medieval notion of the reassembling of bones and dust. In a very crude and inadequate analogy, the softward running on our present hardware will be transferred to the hardware of the world to come. And where will that eschatological hardware come from? Surely the 'matter' of the world to come must be the transformed matter of this world. God will no more abandon the universe than he will abandon us. Hence the importance to theology of the empty tomb, with its message that the Lord's risen and glorified body is the transmutation of his dead body. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning within history of a process whose fulfillment lies beyond history, in which the destiny of humanity and the destiny of the universe are together to find their fulfillment in a liberation from decay and futility (cf. Rom. 8:180-5).

--John Polkinghorne, Science and Christian Belief, pp. 163-164

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Meaning of Symbol: An Insightful quote from Paul Tillich

Symbols cannot be produced intentionally ... They grow out of the individual or collective unconscious and cannot function without being accepted by the unconscious dimension of our being. Symbols which have an especially social function, as political and religious symbols, are created or at least accepted by the collective unconscious of the group in which they appear.

...Symbols cannot be invented. Like living beings, they grow and die. They grow when the situation is ripe for them, and they die when the situation changes. The symbol of the "king" grew in a special period of history, and it died in most parts of the world in our period. Symbols do not grow because people are longing for them, and they do not die because of scientific or practical criticism. They die because they can no longer produce response in a group where they originally found expression.

--The Essential Tillich, p. 42-43

Monday, April 24, 2006

Johnny asks a great question about the Invocation of the Saints


My cyber-chum Johnny Drums recently asked, "What evidence do we have that a saint in Heaven can hear what a man utters in his heart, or has the omniscience to hear and understand all these prayers at one time? To me, these seem to be attributes of God in which we have no part."

Well Johnny, you are certainly right to suggest that we have no evidence whatsoever that the saints in Heaven can hear what a man utters in his heart, or for that matter, what he utters with his mouth. But this is of no consequence at all to the practice of invoking saints. It is the faith of the Church that matters, in two respects: (1) that the Church believes that the saints, though departed this life, are nonetheless alive and living with God; and (2) that they continue to pray with and for the Church militant here on earth (the doctrine of comprecation). Neither concept should be terribly difficult for a Protestant to accept.

As for invoking saints specifically by name in our supplications, especially those petitions that employ 2nd person address, the Daily Office canticle Benedicite, omnia opera might be able to help us understand such language. Of the many stanzas in this canticle are such like: "O ye Mountains and Hills, bless ye the Lord" and "O ye Fowls of the Air, bless ye the Lord," as well as "O ye Spirit and Souls of the Righteous, bless ye the Lord." Now no one understands the first two of these examples in a literal sense, that is to say, that we would actually expect mountains, hills, or even fowls of the air to hear our exhortations to praise God; let alone would we expect them to understand what we were saying. This is metaphoric language, the truth of which transcends the literal dimension, giving us a glimpse of the realm of the eternal. The same could be said of the last example which exhorts "ye Spirits and Souls of the Righteous" by direct address to bless the Lord. Could not this same metaphoric use make sense of the Church's language of direct address in the invocation of saints, especially in the context of corporate worship?

As I said in my earlier post on this topic, we pray to saints in the certain hope that God will answer the general requests of the Church Triumphant in specific ways for us.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Keith Ward of Oxford University comments on the soul


"The trouble many people have about the soul lies in the particular picture they have of it. They think of God making a complete spiritual thing, with its own personality, and then having to attach it to some physical body. Whereas the biblical account is that man is a truly physical entity, touched with God's spirit. It is this holistic entity that knows and thinks and decides, yet this entity is more than electrons or chemicals or genes or psychological states or social roles. All those elements enter into what it is, but none of them, singly or together, exhaust what it is. That is why it is, after all, misleading to say that it is this body that thinks -- because when we think of a body we think of a corpse, not a living thinking thing. So when we speak of the soul, we speak of this physical entity in its capacity for responsible relation to God, or to those values of truth and beauty through which God is present, often unrecognized" (In Defence of the Soul, pp. 147).

"....It is essential to see that the soul is both a spiritual and an embodied reality. It is not a ghost behind the scenes, and it is not just the physical brain, in its publicly describable properties. It is not an object or event or set of events in the world. It is a point of subjectivity and transcendence, of rational understanding and responsible action, which comes to be at a particular stage of the emergent interactions of spatial, material substances. Once it is generated, it continues to have a place in those physical interactions, to respond to them and realize itself in them, as their 'actualizing principle', as Aquinas put it. It would seem that, though it has a real and distinctive form of existence, it must have something to actuate; the 'form' must be the form of something other than itself" (p. 148).

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Stuck between Plato and Aristotle


In his insightful book In Defence of the Soul (Oneworld Publications, 1998) Keith Ward of Oxford University states, "What Aquinas was doing was to try to tread a middle way between Plato, who saw the body just as an unnecessary appendage to the soul, and Aristotle, who denied any immaterial, substantive soul at all. Aquinas wanted the human soul both to be capable of independent existence and to be essentially the form of a particular body" (p. 37).

Where Thomas Aquinas agreed with Aristotle was in understanding the soul to be the life-principle or distinctive characteristic of all living things -- the "form (i.e., morphe) of the body" as Aristotle proposed. Hence, even plants and animals have souls, the latter having "sensitive souls" which give their bodies knowledge and sense perception (Ward, p. 36). These souls come into being through natural processes, arising from and informing their physical bodies. But once the body dies, so does the soul.

What Thomas did was to introduce a new idea to Aristotle's basic understanding of the soul, namely that human beings possess a different kind of soul which is created directly by God for each individual person. Like the animals, the human soul is constitutive of the body and performs the same "sensitive" and nutritive functions. But it is different in that it is rational, and thus must come directly from God. "Man," wrote Thomas, "is non-material in respect of his intellectual power because the power of understanding is not the power of an organ" (Summa Theologiae, Q.6 Art. 1; quoted by Ward, p. 36). In other words, rational thought cannot be performed by or arise from something corporeal, which means that the human soul is unique in being substantive and able to exist on its own -- hence immortal. However, an existence without the body would be unnatural since the soul was created for the body (contra Plato), or so Thomas argued.

As I reflect on these things I am struck, first, by how Aristotle's philosophy anticipated the advances made in contemporary thinking on this matter, particularly in what is being presented here in this blog as the "soul as emergent property" theory advanced by Ward and other notable theologians. But the second thing that strikes me is how captivated the Church has been by the thought of Plato. Apparently even Thomas Aquinas, who was almost singlehandedly responsible for weaving Aristotle's thinking permanently into the warp and woof of western theology, could not fully escape Plato's influence.

Until next time.

P.S. - I realize this entry may have raised many more questions about the emergent property theory than it answers. All in due time.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The soul as the emergent property of a moral nature

I have for some time been attracted to the view that understands the soul is an "emergent reality," as I think it holds great potential for fruitful dialogue, if not cooperative therapeutic interaction, between the theological and psychological disciplines. Representative theologians such as John Polkinghorne (also a noted scientist) and Keith Ward have been on the forefront of this relatively new understanding of the human soul.

In brief, this view was inspired by philosophical, psychological and medical speculations on the "mind-body" problem, and suggested by new paradigms in physics, specifically the school of thought known as "non-reductionistic materialism." The mind-body problem is actually an old philosophical conundrum pertaining to how the mind is related to and interacts with the body, and what properties, functions, and phenomena should be regarded as, respectively, mental or physical. In physics, "emergent properties" are those that characterize complex systems that, while arising out of the properties and relations that characterize a system's simpler constituents, are neither predictable from, nor reducible to, these lower level constituents or properties. For example, the property of flight (as it pertains to a bird) cannot be predicted from, nor can it be reduced to, the sum total of characteristics, properties, or elements that make up the construction and material nature of a bird's wing.

How the theory of emergent properties pertains to the origin and nature of the human soul is the proposal that the soul emerges (by the design of God, of course) as the unique personal individuation, intelligence, and self-consciousness of a moral (in our case human) nature. Furthermore, as an emergent reality or property of our physical nature and design the soul cannot be predicted from, nor can it be reduced to, the sum total characteristics, properties, or elements that make up our physical existence.

But wait! Wouldn't this still mean that the soul emerges from our physical nature nonetheless? ("That's not what I learned in Sunday School!" I can hear you say.) Yes, indeed, it does mean this. And yes there are incredible theological ramifications that follow from such a proposal. I intend to explore some of these with you in future entries.

So....until next time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More Thoughts on Barth: A Barthian Corrective to Augustinian Thought


Barth holds the Person of Christ as the central category of all theological reflection and inquiry. With respect to election, instead of an abstract impersonal decree we have the eternal will of God to give himself in the incarnation of his Son. Hence the hollow, contextless decretum absolutum of Augustinianism takes on personhood in Christ and a relational context in the will of the Persons of the Trinity.

This is helpful in orienting predestination, which otherwise views the incarnation as an after-thought of man-oriented divine decrees. Barth's christocentricity ensures that Jesus Christ is not merely the remedy of the Fall, but the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” The divine decree of election is none other than Immanuel, "God with us." Furthermore, that Christ is both the subject and object of election wipes away the abstract notion latent in some Augustinian systems (e.g., Reformed thought) that divides the Godhead by picturing Christ as the victim of the divine will. As the subject of election he is the electing God. As the object of election, he is the elect Man in whom all others find their election. Barth's christocentrism also clarifies so-called “double predestination” by presenting Christ as both the Reprobate and the Glorified One.

For the Catholic thinker, Barth's understanding of election as mediated through the community of faith in its witness to Christ in the world also opens up a consideration of the Church and the Sacraments (even if Barth did not take us there himself). The Catholic understands Baptism as the sacrament of our incorporation into the Body of Christ, who in his Person is the constituting means of election. The Church declares the individual’s election, but not all will avail or prevail themselves of it as they reject or defect from the mediation of Christ.

Until next time.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My Thoughts: The Invocation of the Saints


From the Church Militant's earliest and best instinct that in the liturgy she was praying with the Church Triumphant (comprecation of the saints), it is only natural that at some point the Church's liturgy would begin to include general intercessions to members of the Church Triumphant (invocation of the saints). From there, it is not difficult to see where popular devotion would eventually take things. But it is an error to think that the invocation of saints stands on its own as a Medieval innovation or a departure from early church faith and practice; it is neither. Rather the practice of the invocation of the saints is grounded in, and follows from, the Church's earliest affirmations of the comprecation of the saints. That is why I find it helpful to think of saintly invocation in the following way: it is but prayer offered in the certain hope that God will answer the general intercessions of the Church Triumphant in specific ways for us.

Trevor Hart on Barth: Mapping the Moral Field

The man to whom the Word of God is directed and for whom the work of God was done -- it is all one whether we are thinking of the Christian who has grasped it in faith and related it to himself, or the man in the cosmos who has not yet done so -- this man, in virtue of this Word and work, does not exist by himself. He is not an independent subject to be considered independently ... whether he knows and believes it or not -- it is simply not true that he belongs to himself and is left to himself, that he is thrown back upon himself. He belongs to ... Jesus Christ ... He i.e., that which has been decided and is real for man in this Subject is true for him. Therefore the divine command as it is directed to him, as it applies to him, consists in his relationship to this Subject. (Church Dogmatics, 2/2, p. 539, quoted by Trevor Hart in Regarding Karl Barth, p. 80-1)

Trevor Hart comments:

...Believers and non-believers alike are situated (have their true being) within the dynamics of this one man's fulfillment of the covenant on their behalf. Consequently we are called to live in God's world as constituted thus, a world in which good human action is defined and realized on our behalf by Jesus Christ, in whose life, death and resurrection God has fulfilled the covenant and thereby established the kingdom in our midst, bringing our humanity (and with it creation itself) to its proper telos. Our action is thereby bounded and determined by our identification (not identity) with the one who stands before and among us as 'the elect of God'. It is characterized as obedience or disobedience accordingly as it confirms or contradicts our being as those who exist only in relation to him and his history. (Regarding Karl Barth, p. 81)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Summary of Barth's view on Election


The following is taken from old lecture notes of mine for a course I taught some years back at Cranmer House. This section is based on G.W. Bromily’s discussion in Chapter VII of his Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth (pp. 84-98).

(1) Barth, like Calvin, understood the divine decree of election as eternal and immutable. However, he rejected outright the notion of election as an abstract decretum absolutum in the traditional Augustinian sense, considering such to be implicitly deistic. Rather the decree of election is God’s eternal (i.e., ever-present and active) will; and his eternal will is Jesus Christ. The will of God is known to us in the revelation of Jesus Christ, who is both the subject and the object of election.

(2) Jesus Christ is both the electing God and the elected Man. As Son of God He, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the subject of election. As Son of Man He is also elected Man – the object of election. However, he is this not merely as one elected man but as the One in whom all others are also elected. His is the all-inclusive election in which we see what election always is: the unmerited acceptance of man by grace.

(3) The eternal will of God in the election of Jesus Christ is the will of God to give Himself in the incarnation of His Son. This self-giving has both a negative and a positive side – thus it is a “double predestination.” Negatively, God elected Himself to be man’s covenant-partner and as such he suffered death, bearing man’s merited rejection. Positively, the divine self-offering means that God elected man in Jesus Christ to be his covenant-partner and thus to be taken up into His glory as His witness and Image-bearer.

(4) Election should not be understood as one form of predestination, with reprobation as the other form. Such a view inevitably leads to some form of double predestination doctrine that works against the free grace of the Gospel. Rather, reprobation is viewed in terms of Christ’s rejection for us that we in turn might not be rejected. It is the negative side of predestination, which, like the positive side, has Christ as both its subject and object. In this may be seen that God’s predestination is his will in action, neither an abstraction from this will nor a static result of it (hence avioding the implicit deistic tendencies of the scholastic theologies).

(5) Divine election is primarily that of Jesus Christ but His election includes the election of man. This does not mean merely the election of individuals. Between Jesus Christ and individuals is the elected community, which in its mediate and mediating roles mirrors the one Mediator, Jesus Christ. It is only through this mediating election, by inclusion in the elect community, that individuals are elected in and with Christ’s election.

(6) The gospel declares that the individual is already elected in Jesus Christ, who bore his merited rejection. The individual begins to live as elected by the event and decision of receiving the promise. If he does not receive it, he lives as one rejected in spite of his election. If he does receive it, he now lives that which he is in Jesus Christ by the fact that in Jesus Christ his rejection, too, is rejected, and his election consummated. The task of the elected community is to declare the election of the individual.

Until next time

Dialogue with Barth continued...

My friend, Mark T., posted this comment on the earlier "Catholic Dialogue with Barth" entry:

....I would add that a subordinate soteriological existentialism, in all of its sub-categories, depends entirely upon an utterly gratuitous participation in -- or a "living into"-- the soteriological objectivism found in Christ. Without such an incorporation-- in which we may truly say that the church is salvation in the world, but only because she has been realized or translated into all that is objectively true concerning the last Adam -- we run the risk of making soteriological existentialism man-centered and autonomous. That is why I suggested that the notes of the church -- i.e. her unicity, sanctity, catholicity and apostolicity-- ought somehow to find their origin in Christ. Otherwise the Church would possess these virtues in herself.

I've known Mark for sometime now, and I can honestly say that he connects the dots faster than nearly anyone else I've ever known. The best thing is that he is humble and would never admit this and probably feels a little self-conscious about me extolling him in public.

Yet Mark has answered, or has at least begun to answer, the previous question he raised when the whole Barth thread began, namely (to paraphrase, if not to augment his question) -- "How can a sufficient catholic ecclesiology be built on Barth's observation that no particular church can make good on a claim of institutional ultimacy?"

Accepting Barth's objectivist theology compels us to conceive of the Nicene notes (i.e., unicity, sanctity, catholicity, apostolicity) as already actualized realities in Christ. The irony of Mark's earlier question is that the particular church that would make the claim of institutional ultimacy would essentially be claiming the actualization of these realities in itself, rather than in Christ. Meanwhile the church that made no such claim, and as such admitted to a more sobering view of the current divisions within Christendom (along with its own culpability in contributing to these sad divisions), would actually be "living into" the realities, especially that of unicity, better and more consistently than the first.

It's one of those "already, not yet" tensions, but not conceived of in the "unBarthian" sense that views present reality as a state of imperfection/corruption and future reality as a state of perfection/incorruption (i.e., unacheivable in this lifetime, but pursued by the Church nonetheless as an "impossible possibility"). Incidentally, conceiving of the "already, not yet" tension in this way lies behind the failure of the modern ecumenical movement to achieve any semblance of visible unity. Rather, unity, not disunity, is what is "real" about the Church IN CHRIST, because in Christ unity is ETERNALLY real. What is "unreal" about the Church is disunity, for division and schism are destined to nothingness, and eternally speaking already do not exist . In this life schism, division, and disunity are but mere "possible impossibilities": possible to the degree that, in this life we fail to "live into" the reality of what we already are in Christ as the Body of Christ.

Until next time.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Allelulia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Allelulia!

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness: but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I Cor. v. 7.

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. vi. 9.

Christ is risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. I Cor. xv. 20.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Catholic Dialogue with Karl Barth: Beginning at the Center



One reader (a good friend of mine) recently asked, "How would a Catholic Anglican articulate a sufficiently Catholic ecclesiology, using Barth's definition?" (See readers comments in my posting "Food for Thought from Barth" http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=25190947&postID=114435868733104750) I've been pondering how I might be able to address this question all week. There is no easy answer without starting at the center and working outward through the implications of Barth's thought -- something that Barth did not live long enough to do completely himself.

The implications are where the rubber meets the road, where the hard work is done, and frankly where I find myself most exasperated with Barth as a dialogue partner. The Catholic reader of Barth discovers very quickly that for all of his erudition and clarity concerning the center of Christian theology Barth turns out to be just a man, and just as conditioned by his time and context as we are by our own. Simply put, Barth and I do not always agree, and certainly not about many things that I as a Catholic thinker hold dear. Nevertheless it is at the center of Barth's theology that one finds the pearl of great price, quite literally, for that center is Christ. And that is where we will begin.

There are two terms from Hunsinger's How to Read Karl Barth (cf. pp. 105-107) that I find quite helpful in my own dialogue with Barth. They are:

(1) "Soteriological objectivism," which refers to the idea that what took place in Jesus Christ avails for all without any exception, and is subject to no human condition or contingency whatsoever. Whatever takes place salvifically in us (e.g., faith etc.) is thoroughly and radically subordinated to what has already taken place for us in Christ.

(2) "Soteriological existentialism," which refers to the idea that though Christ and his work avails for all, no one actively participates in him and his righteousness apart from faith.

As Hunsinger explains: "The real efficacy of the saving work of Christ for all, the absolutely unconditioned and therefore gratuitous character of divine grace in him, the impossibility of actively participating in Christ and his righteousness apart from faith, the absolutely receptive and therefore nonconstitutive character of human faith with respect to salvation -- all these were axiomatic and nonnegotiable for Barth, because he took them to be the assured results of exegesis when the Bible was read christocentrically as a unified and differentiated whole" (p. 106-107).

In this quote we see soteriological objectivism and soteriological existentialism held in tension in Barth's thought. Christ's saving work is for all, not merely as a potentiality but as an ACTUALITY in Christ. There is no human condition that must be met in us to actualize our salvation that has not already taken place for us in Christ. The universality of Christ's work of atonement is upheld more so and more consistently in Barth than in any other thinker that I've come across; and yes, it would be fair to see this as a kind of "universalism." Yet it is a biblical universalism that we see in Barth as he adamently insists that the universal actuality of salvation in Christ be held in tension with the existential moment of salvation in the individual. To be faithful to the Bible is to acknowledge that Scripture clearly teaches that one's active participation in Christ is impossible without faith, and it is obvious that not all do or will come to faith.

When I first understood what Barth was saying, it was like understanding for the first time that the earth revolved around the sun not the sun around the earth. The theological applications of Barth's christocentrism are manifold, and we could hardly do justice to them in one blog entry. Nevertheless, let me just list a couple to get the juices flowing for future discussion:

(1) What implications might there be for the perennial Catholic/Protestant debates on Justification if our justification/sanctification are viewed as actualized realities in Christ?

(2) How does it change our understanding of predestination if election and reprobation are both understood as actualized in Christ?

(3) What do we make of sacramental efficacy in light of soteriological objectivism? Is there any place left for instrumentalism?
And finally...

(4) How might soteriological objectivism help us better understand the Church's unicity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity (i.e., the Nicene notes) in the context of division, heresy, and schism?

Until next time.

Egeria's Diary: Holy Saturday in 4th century Jerusalem

Vigil of Easter.
XXXVIII Now, on the next day, the Sabbath, everything that is customary is done at the third hour and also at the sixth; the service at the ninth hour, however, is not held on the Sabbath, but the Paschal vigils are prepared in the great church, the martyrium. The Paschal vigils are kept as with us, with this one addition, that the children when they have been baptised and clothed, and when they issue from the font, are led with the bishop first to the Anastasis.

2. The bishop enters the rails of the Anastasis, and one hymn is said, then the bishop says a prayer for them, and then he goes with them to the greater church, where, according to custom, all the people are keeping watch. Everything is done there that is customary with us also, and after the oblation has been made, the dismissal takes place. After the dismissal of the vigils has been made in the greater church, they go at once with hymns to the Anastasis, where the passage from the Gospel about the Resurrection is read. Prayer is made, and the bishop again makes the oblation. But everything is done quickly on account of the people, that they should not be delayed any longer, and so the people are dismissed. The dismissal of the vigils takes place on that day at the same hour as with us.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Egeria: Good Friday in fourth century Jerusalem



Good Friday: Service at Daybreak.
4. And when they arrive before the Cross the daylight is already growing bright. There the passage from the Gospel is read where the Lord is brought before Pilate, with everything that is written concerning that which Pilate spake to the Lord or to the Jews; the whole is read.

5. And afterwards the bishop addresses the people, comforting them for that they have toiled all night and are about to toil during that same day, (bidding) them not be weary, but to have hope in God, Who will for that toil give them a greater reward. And encouraging them as he is able, he addresses them thus: "Go now, each one of you, to your houses, and sit down awhile, and all of you be ready here just before the second hour of the day, that from that hour to the sixth you may be able to behold the holy wood of the Cross, each one of us believing that it will be profitable to his salvation; then from the sixth hour we must all assemble again in this place, that is, before the Cross, that we may apply ourselves to lections and to prayers until night."

The Column of the Flagellation.
XXXVII After this, when the dismissal at the Cross has been made, that is, before the sun rises, they all go at once with fervour to Sion, to pray at the column at which the Lord was scourged. And returning thence they sit for awhile in their houses, and presently all are ready.

Veneration of the Cross.
Then a chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha behind the Cross, which is now standing; the bishop duly takes his seat in the chair, and a table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the deacons stand round the table, and a silver-gilt casket is brought in which is the holy wood of the Cross. The casket is opened and (the wood) is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title are placed upon the table.

2. Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through. And because, I know not when, some one is said to have bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons who stand around, lest any one approaching should venture to do so again.

3. And as all the people pass by one by one, all bowing themselves, they touch the Cross and the title, first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the Cross and pass through, but none lays his hand upon it to touch it. When they have kissed the Cross and have passed through, a deacon stands holding the ring of Solomon and the horn from which the kings were anointed; they kiss the horn also and gaze at the ring . . . all the people are passing through up to the sixth hour, entering by one door and going out by another; for this is done in the same place where, on the preceding day, that is, on the fifth weekday, the oblation was offered.

Station before the Cross. The Three Hours.
4. And when the sixth hour has come, they go before the Cross, whether it be in rain or in heat, the place being open to the air, as it were, a court of great size and of some beauty between the Cross and the Anastasis; here all the people assemble in such great numbers that there is no thoroughfare.

5. The chair is placed for the bishop before the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hour nothing else is done, but the reading of lessons, which are read thus: first from the psalms wherever the Passion is spoken of, then from the Apostle, either from the epistles of the Apostles or from their Acts, wherever they have spoken of the Lord's Passion; then the passages from the Gospels, where He suffered, are read. Then the readings from the prophets where they foretold that the Lord should suffer, then from the Gospels where He mentions His Passion.

6. Thus from the sixth to the ninth hours the lessons are so read and the hymns said, that it may be shown to all the people that whatsoever the prophets foretold of the Lord's Passion is proved from the Gospels and from the writings of the Apostles to have been fulfilled. And so through all those three hours the people are taught that nothing was done which had not been foretold, and that nothing was foretold which was not wholly fulfilled. Prayers also suitable to the day are interspersed throughout.

7. The emotion shown and the mourning by all the people at every lesson and prayer is wonderful; for there is none, either great or small, who, on that day during those three hours, does not lament more than can be conceived, that the Lord had suffered those things for us. Afterwards, at the beginning of the ninth hour, there is read that passage from the Gospel according to John where He gave up the ghost. This read, prayer and the dismissal follow.

Evening Offices.
8. And when the dismissal before the Cross has been made, all things are done in the greater church, at the martyrium, which are customary during this week from the ninth hour --when the assembly takes place in the martyrium--until late. And after the dismissal at the martyrium, they go to the Anastasis, where, when they arrive, the passage from the Gospel is read where Joseph begged the Body of the Lord from Pilate and laid it in a new sepulchre. And this reading ended, a prayer is said, the catechumens are blessed, and the dismissal is made.

9. But on that day no announcement is made of a vigil at the Anastasis, because it is known that the people are tired; nevertheless, it is the custom to watch there. So all of the people who are willing, or rather, who are able, keep watch, and they who are unable do not watch there until the morning. Those of the clergy, however, who are strong or young keep vigil there, and hymns and antiphons are said throughout the whole night until morning; a very great crowd also keep night-long watch, some from the late hour and some from midnight.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Egeria's Diary: Maundy Thursday in 4th century Jerusalem



XXXV. On the fifth weekday everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow until morning at the Anastasis, and also at the third and at the sixth hours. But at the eighth hour all the people gather together at the martyrium according to custom, only earlier than on other days, because the dismissal must be made sooner. Then, when the people are gathered together, all that should be done is done, and the oblation is made on that day at the martyrium, the dismissal taking place about the tenth hour. But before the dismissal is made there, the archdeacon raises his voice and says: "Let us all assemble at the first hour of the night in the church which is in Eleona, for great toil awaits us to-day, in this very night."

2. Then, after the dismissal at the martyrium, they arrive behind the Cross, where only one hymn is said and prayer is made, and the bishop offers the oblation there, and all communicate. Nor is the oblation ever offered behind the Cross on any day throughout the year, except on this one day. And after the dismissal there they go to the Anastasis, where prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed according to custom, and the dismissal is made.

Night Station on the Mount of Olives.
And so every one hastens back to his house to eat, because immediately after they have eaten, all go to Eleona to the church wherein is the cave where the Lord was with His Apostles on this very day.

3. There then, until about the fifth hour of the night, hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, lessons, too, are read in like manner, with prayers interspersed, and the passages from the Gospel are read where the Lord addressed His disciples on that same day as He sat in the same cave which is in that church.

4. And they go thence at about the sixth hour of the night with hymns up to the Imbomon, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, where again lessons are read, hymns and antiphons suitable to the day are said, and all the prayers which are made by the bishop are also suitable both to the day and to the place.

Stations at Gethsemane.
XXXVI. And at the first cockcrow they come down from the Imbomon with hymns, and arrive at the place where the Lord prayed, as it is written in the Gospel: and He was withdrawn (from them) about a stone's cast, and prayed, and the rest. There is in that place a graceful church The bishop and all the people enter, a prayer suitable to the place and to the day is said, with one suitable hymn, and the passage from the Gospel is read where He said to His disciples: Watch, that ye enter not into temptation; the whole passage is read through and prayer is made.

2. And then all, even to the smallest child, go down with the Bishop, on foot, with hymns to Gethsemane; where, on account of the great number of people in the crowd, who are wearied owing to the vigils and weak through the daily fasts, and because they have so great a hill to descend, they come very slowly with hymns to Gethsemane. And over two hundred church candles are made ready to give light to all the people.

3. On their arrival at Gethsemane, first a suitable prayer is made, then a hymn is said, then the passage of the Gospel is read where the Lord was taken. And when this passage has been read there is so great a moaning and groaning of all the people, together with weeping, that their lamentation may be heard perhaps as far as the city.

Return to Jerusalem.
From that hour they go with hymns to the city on foot, reaching the gate about the time when one man begins to be able to recognise another, and thence right on through the midst of the city; all, to a man, both great and small, rich and poor, all are ready there, for on that special day not a soul withdraws from the vigils until morning. Thus the bishop is escorted from Gethsemane to the gate, and thence through the whole of the city to the Cross.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Paul Tillich on Estrangement and Sin


The state of existence is the state of estrangement. Man is estranged from the ground of being, from other beings, and from himself. The transition from essence to existence results in personal guilt and universal tragedy....

Nevertheless, the word "sin" cannot be overlooked. It expresses what is not implied in the term "estrangement," namely, the personal act of turning away from that to which one belongs. Sin expresses most sharply the personal character of estrangement over against its tragic side. It expresses personal freedom and guilt in contrast to tragic guilt and the universal destiny of estrangement. The word "sin" can and must be saved, not only because classical literature and liturgy continuously employ it but more particularly because the word has a sharpness which accusingly points to the element of personal responsibility in one's estrangement. Man's predicament is estrangement, but his estrangement is sin. It is not a state of things, like laws of nature, but a matter of both personal freedom and universal destiny. For this reason the term "sin" must be used after it has been reinterpreted religiously. An important tool for this reinterpretation is the term "estrangement."

Reinterpretation is also needed for the terms "original" or "hereditary" with respect to sin. But in this case reinterpretation may demand the rejection of the terms. Both point to the universal character of estrangement, expressing the element of destiny in estrangement. But both words are so much burdened with literalistic absurdities that it is practically impossible to use them any longer.

(From The Essential Tillich, edited by F.F. Church, p. 165, 166-167)

Egeria's Diary: Wednesday of Holy Week in 4th century Jerusalem



XXXIV. On the fourth weekday everything is done as on the second and third weekdays throughout the whole day from the first cockcrow onwards, but after the dismissal has taken place at the Martyrium by night, and the bishop has been escorted with hymns to the Anastasis, he at once enters the cave which is in the Anastasis, and stands within the rails; but the priest stands before the rails and receives the Gospel, and reads the passage where Judas Iscariot went to the Jews and stated what they should give him that he should betray the Lord. And when the passage has been read, there is such a moaning and groaning of all the people that no one can help being moved to tears at that hour. Afterwards prayer follows, then the blessing, first of the catechumens, and then of the faithful, and the dismissal is made.

Monday, April 10, 2006

What was accomplished at the Cross?


(1) Considered from a Teleological Perspective: Christ the second Adam is the fountainhead of a new humanity and the true manifestation and realization of the Imago Dei.

The event of the Incarnation -- considered comprehensively as the paschal mystery of Christ’s assumption of human nature, his perfect life of obedience, his death by crucifixion, his resurrection and ascension -- constitutes both the reparation and the realization in Christ of the intended purpose of humankind. At the Cross and Resurrection, Christ defeats our mortality (manifested in sin and death) by putting to death the “old Adam,” and by raising it anew on the third day, and then ascending as the second Adam to the Right Hand of the Father. Humanity now reigns in heaven with God in Christ.

(2) Considered from a Legal Perspective: Christ our representative removes the liability of the flesh by fulfilling the creation covenant, thus restoring rectitude (i.e., righteousness) to our nature in his Person.

Just as through rebellion and disobedience our Adamic nature is implicated in and made liable to sin and mortality, so through Christ's obedience the liability of our mortal nature is removed and humanity is restored to a right standing and given the gift of life. This righteousness, however, is no mere declaration of a legal standing rooted in the fiction of imputation. Rather it is a righteousness truly effected in humanity in the Person of Christ. Those who are in Christ are made participants in his new humanity.

(3) Considered from a Juridical Perspective: Christ our vicar assumes our place in judgment, and thus exacts the propitiation and expiation of our sins.

All sinners merit wrath, judgment, and rejection (eternal separation from God), but Jesus the Lamb of God is chosen from the foundation of the world to bear this judgment in his Divine Person. However, this propitiation is not to be considered in terms of “third-party substitution,” where it is supposed that God (the first party) is victim, Humankind (the second party) is the guilty criminal, and Christ (the innocent third party) is the recipient of the judgment justly due to the criminal. Rather, the legal basis upon which this substitution takes place is that the Divine Victim (God in Christ) assumes all costs of reparation for the crime, rendering the atonement an act of pure mercy and grace rather than the exacting of a “just” punishment.

(4) Considered from a Moral-Influence Perspective: Christ our exemplar demonstates God's disposition towards humankind.

The Cross of Christ demonstates the depths of human sin and the judgment due to sin while at the same time demonstrating to humankind the depths of God’s mercy by forming a radical contrast between judgment and God’s disposition to humankind realized in the forgiveness of sinners. This demonstration is rooted in the love of God for humankind, and is thus a potent force to move our hearts, touch our consciences, and reform our lives.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Egeria's Diary: Palm Sunday in 4th century Jerusalem


Palm Sunday: Services in the Churches.
XXX. On the next day, that is, the Lord's Day, which begins the Paschal week, and which they call here the Great Week, when all the customary services from cockcrow until morning have taken place in the Anastasis and at the Cross, they proceed on the morning of the Lord's Day according to custom to the greater church, which is called the martyrium. It is called the martyrium because it is in Golgotha behind the Cross, where the Lord suffered.

2. When all that is customary has been observed in the great church, and before the dismissal is made, the archdeacon lifts his voice and says first: " Throughout the whole week, beginning from to-morrow, let us all assemble in the martyrium, that is, in the great church, at the ninth hour." Then he lifts his voice again, saying: " Let us all be ready today in Eleona at the seventh hour."

3. So when the dismissal has been made in the great church; that is, the martyrium, the bishop is escorted with hymns to the Anastasis, and after all things that are customary on the Lord's Day have been done there, after the dismissal from the martyrium, every one hastens home to eat, that all may be ready at the beginning of the seventh hour in the church in Eleona, on the Mount of Olives, where is the cave in which the Lord was wont to teach.

Procession with Palms on the Mount of Olives.
XXXI. Accordingly at the seventh hour all the people go up to the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, and the bishop with them, to the church, where hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, and lessons in like manner. And when the ninth hour approaches they go up with hymns to the Imbomon, that is, to the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and there they sit down, for all the people are always bidden to sit when the bishop is present; the deacons alone always stand. Hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, interspersed with lections and prayers.

2. And as the eleventh hour approaches, the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.

3. And all the children in the neighborhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old.

4. For all, even those of rank, both matrons and men, accompany the bishop all the way on foot in this manner, making these responses, from the top of the mount to the city, and thence through the whole city to the Anastasis, going very slowly lest the people should be wearied; and thus they arrive at the Anastasis at a late hour. And on arriving, although it is late, lucernare takes place, with prayer at the Cross; after which the people are dismissed.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Cruciform Forgiveness


I am currently reading a surprising little book entitled The Death of Christ by Fisher Humphreys, formerly of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Humphreys sets forth a view of the atonement that he calls "Cruciform Forgiveness." Incidentally, Humphreys was kicked out of New Orleans Baptist Seminary by the SBC in part for such views.

It is a surprising read because what I am finding here resonates with some of my own reflections on atonement theory. It is also quite refreshing to see some of the ideas floating in my head articulated from a different angle. Many of my friends and students will know already that over the years I have grown more and more disenchanted with the so-called penal-substitution theory of the Reformers and Anselm's Satisfaction Theory as well. As we head into Holy Week, in anticipation of Good Friday, I will share some of my thoughts on this matter. For now, enjoy this intriguing tidbit from Humphreys:

If the objectivity of the cross is located in God's experience, then it is even more objective than the theories of Anselm, Calvin, and Aulen. For the life of God is a more fundamental reality than his honor or his justice or even the demonic forces. (Fisher Humphreys, The Death of Christ, p. 126)
Until next time.

P.S. My friend and future colleague Jeff Steel's blog - http://meam-commemorationem.blogspot.com - deals quite a bit with the nature of Eucharistic Sacrifice. I think that there is little doubt that most of the Reformation controversies (i.e. Protestant hang-ups) over this aspect of the Eucharist stem from faulty thinking on the atonement in the West. After all, the Eastern churches don't have these hang ups!

Karl Rahner on the Future of Christianity in the Post-Vatican II Era


The Church is always in the flux of history, not on the motionless bank, but in this movement God's eternity is present with it, his life, his truth, his fidelity. Consequently the Church has less reason than any other historical reality to fear its historical character. For the current of history does not carry it to the shore of death but to eternal life. The Church can and must, therefore, have the courage to change by adapting the eternal which it possesses ever anew and more and more to its needs. (Karl Rahner, The Christian of the Future, p. 35)

I post this quote because it captures what I envision to be the humble enterprise of this blog, and to give my friends and other readers a glimpse of the very personal journey that I have been on now for quite some time.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Food for thought from Barth


If by the concept of a "true religion" we mean truth which belongs to
religion in itself and as such, it is just as unattainable as a "good man,"
if by goodness we mean something which man can achieve on his own
initiative. No religion is true. It can only become true. ...And it can
become true only in a way in which man is justified, from without...Like justified man, religion is a creature of grace.

(Church Dogmatics, I, 2, p. 325-326)

There are tremendous implications here for how we understand the Nicene confession of "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church," don't you think?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Mary and the Dogmatic Destruction of Sacred Metaphor


Titusonenine recently featured an interesting discussion on the topic of the Marian dogmas in light of the recent ARCIC joint statement on Mary (see "Few Agree with Assumptions about Mary" http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/?p=12178#comments). After skimming through the 148 comments or so I couldn't help but feel disappointed that the arguments for and against the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Mary's Assumption haven't changed much over the years since I began to take interest in these topics.

Let me just say at the outset, I for one greatly applauded the publication of the ARCIC statement, "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ" (http://www.prounione.urbe.it/dia-int/arcic/doc/e_arcic_mary02.html). But then I am also of the opinion that Anglican theology and devotion as a whole has suffered greatly over the centuries for the lack of a rich Marian theology. It is for good reason that the Eastern churches honor the blessed Theotokos with the title "The Scepter of Orthodoxy." (But that's another subject for another time.)

This is not to say that there weren't valiant attempts by Anglicans down through history to tap into the Marian treasury of the pre-Reformation past (e.g. the Caroline Divines). As well, the 19th century Tractarians and their heirs explored and developed a rich Marian piety. But while much of the Anglo-Catholic liturgical agenda eventually found its way into the mainstream of Anglican faith and practice, Marian piety never really took off in the same way. Why not? I suggest that Rome's dogmatization of the Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception, and later the Assumption of Mary, had a stultifying effect on Marian devotion within Anglicanism.

As is well known, Anglicans, like the Eastern Orthodox, have considerable difficulty accepting Rome's claim to speak dogmatically on these issues, or on any issue for that matter. But while Eastern Orthodoxy's Mariology was much older than the papal definitions, and thus already well-established, post-Reformation Anglican Mariology was still, at best, in its infancy when the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Given Anglican reticence over papal claims, Anglican Mariology in the post-Ineffabilis Deus era was surely destined to remain an almost exclusively Anglo-Catholic enterprise.

But it's more than just the Anglican difficulty with papal claims. Rome's dogmatizing of the Marian doctrines changed for all time the very nature of the doctrines themselves by "historicizing" them. Marian theology, at least in the West, shifted from celebrating the Marian doctrines as mysteries within the doxological life of the Church at Prayer toward the constructing of various apologetic approaches either for or against the claims of Rome that these "events" (i.e., the Immaculate Conception and Assumption) actually took place in history. This is what I refer to in my title as the "dogmatic destruction of sacred metaphor."

Now, please don't misunderstand me here. Certainly Mary was conceived in time (i.e. history) and "fell asleep" at the end of her earthly life. But there is a sense in which the "soteriological moment" of these events (the "eschatological moment" in the case of the Assumption) lies outside of time and history. Should it surprise us then that the Church's first expression of these mysteries comes down to us NOT by way of eyewitness account, let alone biblical witness (as Protestants are wont to point out), but rather through story and legend? It is from the medium of sacred legend, not historical account, that these mysteries first crossed over into the Church's liturgical imagination as sacred metaphors, and from the Church's liturgy that these sacred metaphors became authentic loci for theological reflection (lex orandi, lex credendi).

My contention is that the dogmatization of these moments of divine encounter between God and his Maidservant serves to undermine their sacred metaphoric value by re-casting them in the guise of "brute facts" of history that the faithful Christian must believe "happened" in order to be saved. It's not hard to understand why typical Christians outside of the yoke of Roman obedience find this difficult to accept in the absence of historical verification. But more tragically something is lost of the metaphoric role that these mysteries play in the life and devotion of the Church, the People of God, who should see in Mary the iconic representation of their own corporate moment of divine encounter with the living God.

Until next time.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Karl Barth and the Pope



It is said that Pope Pius XII once described Karl Barth as the most important theologian since St. Thomas Aquinas. I have no idea in what context he made this remark, or even if he ever really said it. The Pope's description of Barth is referred to so often in print that there must be some element of truth in it. I like to believe it is true, whatever the case, and not just because I'm a great admirer of Barth, which of course I am. Rather it is because Barth not only set the bar extremely high for later theologians (no serious theologian can avoid dealing with Barth), but because his theology is at heart and source eminently Catholic. Of course I don't mean "Roman," though Barth has had many admirers in that camp, among them Hans K√ľng and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

My first exposure to Barth was in seminary, where my instructors encouraged my classmates and I mostly to avoid him for fear of our souls. That wasn't a hard sell at the time, because Barth makes for notoriously tedious reading. So it's not surprising that I would come to know him more intimately much later on, towards the end of my formal education (I'm ashamed to admit), and at first through his interpreters. Scholars like T.F. Torrance, G.C. Berkouwer, and G. Bromiley come primarily to mind. I sat up and first took notice at Bromiley. I wondered to myself, "Why would an Anglican like Bromiley be interested in Barth?" And then there was Balthasar, a Roman Catholic theologian. A critic? Yes, but more an admirer than a critic.

More recently I have become familiar with the work of George Hunsinger of Princeton University, no doubt the leading Barth scholar today. Hunsinger's How to Read Karl Barth is one of those rare books that I've actually read cover-to-cover not once, not twice, but three times. While I would describe Bromiley's work with terms such as "objective," "accurate" and "concise," the only term that comes close to a fair description of Hunsinger's Barth studies is "empathetic."

Reading Barth with understanding, nay, rather, reading him with empathy for the first time is to theology what looking through Galileo's telescope at the moons of Jupiter must have been for those who first dared do so in the 17th century: revolutionary (no pun intended, though certainly appropriate).

The most important theologian since Aquinas? No question about it.

I will continue my thoughts later. For now, good night!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

What This Blog is About


This is a new experience for me, one that I enter with some reluctance, the Luddite that I am. I'll try this out and see how it goes.

The name - Catholic in the Third Millennium - may confuse some visitors. I apologize at the outset for that. This is not a Roman Catholic blog. Nor am I about to engage in a debate or discussion over which tribe "owns" the term "Catholic," apart from saying that it is the common inheritance of all explicitly Nicene Christians. If it proves to be too confusing we may have to re-consider revising the name of the blog. For now it stays.

Readers may wonder to what "tribe" I belong. I am an Anglican; an Episcopalian actually. I describe myself as both Anglican and Catholic, or "Anglican Catholic," though have never owned the term "Anglo-Catholic," nor desired to lug around much of the cultural baggage that goes along with it. That being said, my seminal catholic formation has taken place in Anglo-Catholic contexts. My favorite place in the whole world, my sanctuary during my years in research, is Pusey House, Oxford. Matins and Mass in early morning, breakfast with the chapter, all day in the library, ending the day with evensong. You see, I can pine for the past with the best of them!

But this blog is not about the past, it is about what lies ahead for Catholics in the future, by reflecting on the bridges we and others attempt to build between our Catholic past and our Catholic future in the Catholic present.

I can't promise anything more than the occasional musing on this blog. There was a time when I dreamed of being a powerhouse theologian, devoted to a cloistered life of research and writing. I know that I had and have the right gifts for that life, but alas this was not to be my calling. God called me to a different vocation; and, of course, our life circumstances and choices have to be factored into this equation as well. I have no regrets. The one gift I do think I possess is that of seminal thinking. Interaction with students, both past and present, has confirmed this. And, who knows? A forum like this may be a way of disseminating such thinking to a wider audience. A teacher is always looking for disciples. I am a teacher.