First thought inspired by the Christ Church Ministerial Conference--"Against Christianity: The Church as Politics":
In the typical story we get about Herod at Christ's birth, we tend to hear that Herod wanted to kill Christ because he was afraid Christ, as a King of the Jews, would dethrone him, the king. He was foolishly confused and didn't realize that Christ was a different sort of king. Christ was not, we are old, challenging the kingship of Herod.
Of course this is rubbish. Christ was coming as a new king, to dethrone all earthly kings, to strip them of their power and set the Church to reign in their place. Not metaphorically, but really. Herod, it seems, was wiser than we give him credit for.
Labels: political theology
So I've been meaning to put up a bunch of Kant and Kierkegaard posts...maybe tomorrow I'll do that and just lump them all together, since I don't know that anyone's gonna read all through them anyway. For now, an alarming quote from the mouth of raving-lunatic-uber-Presbyterian Darryl Hart (and I say that with all due respect and civility--I've carried on a couple nice conversations with the guy):
"In other words, as anti-ecumenical as it sounds, a Reformed Christian’s first identity is Reformed and then Christian."
That's from the fascinating official discussion on the Federal Vision over on DeRegnoChristi.org
So, I'm finally back on this blog, and hopefully will be posting a steady stream of the fruits of Leithart's class, The Task and Context of Christian Scholarship. Here's a paper I wrote on Augustine's Confessions as a paradigm for theology.
Augustine’s Confessions as a Work of Theology
Is Augustine’s Confessions a Work of Theology? Though often seen as a personal memoir, private meditation, or spiritual autobiography of sorts, Augustine’s Confessions should also be seen for what it most essentially is—a work of theology. Not only† does it qualify as a work of theology, but, in many ways, shows us how theology ought to be done, and should serve as a model for our theological study and writing. I will explore three ways in which the Confessions functions as a theological work and should inform our approach: it is anthropological, doxological, and, to invent another term to fit the pattern, donological.
Augustine’s Confessions do indeed serve as a personal confession, a confession of his sins and errors, his foibles and missteps on the road to God. However, Augustine intends it as far more than that—it is a confession on behalf of mankind, a meditation on fallen man’s plight. Throughout the Confessions, Augustine is composing a theology of man, or what would fall under the heading “Anthropology” in a work of Systematic Theology. The entire autobiography functions as a sort of cross-examination of man, as Augustine holds himself up to the light of God’s Word as specimen defiled by sin, to learn from his own life how all men ought to relate to God and in what ways they fail.
We see this pattern from the very beginning, where Augustine discusses his infancy. He confesses the total depravity of man, declaring “For there is none that is free from sin in your sight, not even a baby whose life upon earth has lasted but one day.” (1.7.11) He analyzes the behaviour of infants, and shows how their habits, which may be amusing at that age, are really manifestations of greed and sin that would be repulsive later in life. “Children are innocent only because they do not yet have any physical strength; their minds are not innocent,” he concludes.†
The famous episode of the pears affords Augustine another opportunity for reflection on the human condition.† Since, despite the Fall, we all still preserve some semblance of the image of God, Augustine believes that all our actions, however evil, must still be motivated by the aim toward some positive end.† There must be some intrinsic good, no matter how distorted, that we are seeking to attain by our sinful action.† But Augustine struggles to fit the pear-stealing episode into this pattern?† What beautiful motivation was there for his theft?† Ultimately Augustine concludes that just as there should be a social dimension to righteousness, just as a community aids in performing the deeds of faith, so sin is social, and a bad community can aid in the performance of evil acts.† Individually taken, neither Augustine nor his friends would have had a motive for stealing the pears, but, as a social unit, they were enticed to do it merely for the sake of camaraderie.† This social dimension to sin, Augustine suggests, underlies much of human evil.
Augustine's reflections on human nature continue throughout the Confessions, leading him to discuss why it is that we love (3.1.1), why it is that we take pleasure in suffering (3.2.3), why it is that we grieve (4.5.10), and, at some length, what it is that we find beautiful (in Book IV).† "What, then, is "beautiful"?† And what is beauty?† What is there in the things we love that charms and attracts us?" (4.13.20)† After recounting some of his meditations on this subject, he admits, "What I did not yet see was that this great question turned upon your craftsmanship, O Almighty, who alone work wonders." (4.15.24)† In all his discussions of human nature, he is led to confess the supremacy and perfection of God.† This lead us to our second point.
So many theologians today write theology as they might write a physics textbook--a detached, summary presentation of the facts.† Of course, even the author of a physics textbook should occasionally stop and marvel at the glory of his subject-matter; how much more so for theologians, who are discussing the beauty of the infinite God?!† Augustine clearly realizes this, and his reflection on God, man, and the pattern of God's interactions with man (using his own life as an illustration) is punctuated, indeed, completely interwoven with ecstatic expressions of praise to God for his goodness and glory.† It is not so much a work of theology handed down to readers as it is a conversation between Augustine and his God.† A few quotations will suffice to illustrate this point:
"Great are you, O Lord, and worthy of high praise.† Great is your strength, and of your wisdom there is no counting. . . . You stir us up to take delight in your praise; for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless till it finds its rest in you." (1.1.1)† So Augustine opens the book, and so he continues throughout.
After confessing his vanity regarding education: "You, O Lord, see all these things, and are silent, for you are long-suffering and full of mercy and truth . . . Your face, O Lord, have I sought; your face will I seek again." (1.18.28)
After discussing his studies in philosophy, "How ardently, my God, I burned to fly from earthly things back to you, though I did not know how you were dealing with me!† For with you is wisdom." (3.4.8)
After his friend's death, "Blessed is he who loves you, who loves his friend in you and his enemy for your sake. . . . None can lose you, unless he so chooses, and if he so chooses, where will he go or flee, but from your tranquility to your anger?† Where will he not find your Law to punish him?† For your law is truth, and the Truth is you." (4.9.14)
He begins and ends many of the books with extended declarations of praise to God, such as his opening to Book V: "Accept the sacrifice of my confessions from the hand of my tongue, the tongue you have fashioned and stirred up to confess your name.† heal all my bones, and let them say, 'Lord, who is like unto you?' " (5.1.1)† Augustine is so fervent and frequent in his praise because he always sees occasion to give thanks to God for His gifts, since Augustine understands that all reality is
Yes, I invented this term to refer to the "giftedness" of reality, to the idea that there is no divide between the realms of nature and grace, but that God's gracious action is present in all the spheres and events of creation.† From one perspective, this is just a radical way of stating the sovereignty of God, making clear that there is nothing that happens that is not in some way the result of his gracious providence.† Many Reformed theologians, while confessing this, still treat large areas of human life and endeavour as outside the scope of theology.† Not so for Augustine--in the Confessions we find that Augustine constantly refers the experiences of his life, however separated they may seem to be from spiritual realities, as God's gracious governance.† He perceives God's lordship over every area that he had studied and God's use of it, whether rhetoric, philosophy, or literature, to guide him to the Church.†
Augustine recognizes that, even as an infant in the womb, long before he was able to clearly communicate with God, he was dependent on God: "For even at that age, I existed; I was alive; and, as my infancy drew to its close, I tried to find signs in which to convey my feelings to others.† From where could such a living creature come, if not from you, O Lord?† For who could be the craftsman of his own creation?" (1.6.10)
One of the fullest expressions of the giftedness of Creation and its relation to the Creator comes in Book IV:
If you take pleasure in corporeal objects, use them to praise God, and turn your love back towards their Artificer, so that you do not, in the things that give you pleasure, incur his displeasure.† If you take pleasure in souls, love them in God, for they too suffer change, and stand fast only when fixed in him; otherwise, they pass on and perish.† Love them in him, therefore, and take such as you can to him without delay.† Tell them: 'This is he whom we should love; it is he that has made all these things, and he is not far off.† For he did not make them and depart; they are from him and in him.† And where is he?† Where you taste truth.† He is within the depths of the heart, but the heart has strayed from him.† Return, sinners, to your heart, and cleave to him who made you.† Stand with him, and you will stand fast.† Rest in him and you will be rested.† Why do you go off on to the rough paths?† Where will you go?† The good that you love is from him, but it is good and pleasing only so far as it is considered in relation to him.† But if you abandon him, the love you direct towards anything that is from him will be unrighteous, and the object of your love will righteously be bitter to the taste. (4.12.18)
So then, Augustine shows us a method of doing theology that starts man’s sinful condition, his need for God, and his experience of God, that constantly stops to praise God for the glory he has revealed, and that recognizes throughout his Lordship over every arena and experience of life.
Sorry, but I feel compelled to continue the onslaught of Ratzinger. I've finished the book now finally, so it can't continue forever. This, in keeping with my typical laziness, will essentially be a copy-and-paste from something I already typed up for someone:
Why is Christ the perfect self-revelation of God? How do we know that in Christ, we're getting the real
thing, the authentic revelation of God? How can we be sure that the Christ about whom we learn is really how
Christ was? In other words, how can we be sure that "Jesus" and "Christ" are completely equatable?
Ratzinger says it is because, for Christ, being and word, being and action, are merged, in a way that they
are for ordinary fallen men:
"with Jesus, it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, the differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office; the office is the person. . . . there is no private area reserved for an 'I' that remains in the background
behind the deeds and actions."
"To understand him as the Christ means to be convinced that he has put himself into his word. Here there is no 'I' (as there is with all of us) that utters words; he has identified himself so closely with his word that 'I' and word are indistinguishable: he is word."
I shall attempt to unpack the significance of all this. See, the dilemma is that for any of us, who we are as a person always eludes grasp to some degree; it cannot be defined or confined in what our various positions in life are, what our actions are, what our words are. It can be glimpsed, but discovering the true authentic person is so very difficult. When people seek to get to know each other, how do they do it? Well, largely through words--through conversation. But how authentic is this? I can be deceptive in what I choose to say, and you can't always tell the difference. I may not be intentionally deceptive, but I may be selective in what I choose to say, so that my words are not always an accurate representation of my thoughts. People have habitual ways of expressing themselves (known as social skills) that put somewhat of a disconnect between the way they come across to others and the way they really are. How authentic then, are words? With humans, we can never really be sure we know who someone really is merely by their words. So we have the benefit of actions, right? You know someone partly by the things they do. But again, how can one be sure these are not just part of a self-scripted drama? Or, again, if not deceptive, selective...my actions only make public a small sliver of me. Or, again, my actions could be tailored to fit certain circumstances, so that they come to represent more what I am expected to do than who I really am. There is again a disconnect--how do we get at the authentic person behind the mask of words and deeds? To some degree, we never can, in this life, at least.
But Jesus Christ transcends that disconnect--for him, his words, his teachings, are inseparable from his being; he is incarnate Word. At the same time, his deeds are inseparable from his being; his role as prophet, priest, and king, is the authentic full revelation of his being from all eternity. He is the divine essence in pure, unimpeded action. At the same time, he is the perfection of humanity, because, as the first human who is fully, authentically himself, he satisfies at last the human thirst to truly know one another, to commune with one another, and he prefigures for us the perfect transparency we will
enjoy in our glorified state.
A couple long quotes showing how Ratzinger starts to apply this:
"His crucifixion is his coronation; his kingship is his surrender of himself to men, the identification of word, mission, and existence in the yielding up of this very existence. His existence is thus his word. he is word because he is love. From the Cross faith understands in increasing measure that this Jesus did not just do and say something; that in him message and
person are identical, that he is all along what he says. John needed only to draw the final straightforward inference: if that is so--and this is the Christological basis of his Gospel--then this Jesus Christ is 'word'; but a person who not only has
words but is his word and his work, who is the logos ('the Word', meaning, mind) itself; that person has always existed and will always exist; he is the ground on which the world stands--if we ever meet such a person, then he is the meaning that comprises us all and by which we are all sustained."
"For anyone who recognizes the Christ in Jesus, and only in him, and who recognizes Jesus as the Christ, anyone who grasps the total oneness of person and work as the decisive factor, has abandoned the exclusiveness of faith and its antithesis to love; he has combined both in one and made their mutual separation unthinkable. The hyphen between Jesus and Christ, the inseparability of person and work, the identity of one man with the act of sacrifice--these also signify the hyphen between love and faith. For the peculiarity of Jesus's 'I', of his person, which now certainly moves right into the center of the stage, lies in the fact that this 'I' is not at all something exclusive and independent but rather is Being completely derived from the 'Thou' of the Father and lived for the 'You' of men. It is identity of logos (truth) and thus makes love into the logos, the
truth of human existence. The essnence of the faith demanded by a Christology so understood is consequently entry into the universal openness of unconditional love. For to believe in a Christ so understood means simply to make love the content of faith, so that from this angle one can perfectly well say, love is faith."
So Father Newman, the vicar of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, said in his sermon yesterday, "We are justified, that is, made right with God, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone."
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Ok, so, as an intermission between barrages of Cavanaugh, I have another Catholic to bring to you--namely, the Pope.
In his Introduction to Christianity, he has a positively amazing section on the Trinity. I have here a whole bunch of quotes from it, selected mainly because I've already typed them up for other arenas--though you can be sure they represent some of the best selections:
"We can only speak rightly about Him if we renounce the attempt to comprehend and let him be the uncomprehended. Any doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, cannot aim at being a perfect comprehension of God. It is a frontier notice, a discouraging gesture pointing over to unchartable territory. It is not a definition that confines a thing to the pigeonholes of human knowledge, nor is it a concept that would put the thing within the grasp of the human mind."
"In other words, all these statements [of heresy] are not so much gravestones as the bricks of a cathedral, which are, of course, only useful when they do not remain alone but are inserted into something bigger, just as even the positively accepted formulas are valid only if they are at the same time aware of their own inadequacy."
"Faith consists of a series of contradictions held together by grace."
"He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Even the reality 'God' can only impinge on the vision of him who enters into the experiment with God--the experiment that we call faith. Only by entering does one experience; only by cooperating in the experiment does one ask at all; and only he who asks receives an answer. . . . Indeed, we must go a step farther: that we put any questions or make any experiments at all is due to the fact that God for his part has agreed to the experiment, has entered into it himself as man. Through the human refraction of this one man we can thus come to know more than the mere man; in him who is both man and God, God has demonstrated his humanity and in the man has let himself be experienced."
“God as substance, as ‘being’, is absolutely one. If we nevertheless have to speak of him in the category of triplicity, this does not imply any multiplication of substances but means that in the one and indivisible God there exists the phenomenon of dialogue, the reciprocal exchange of word and love in their attachment to each other.
They are not substances, personalities in the modern sense, but the relatedness whose pure actuality (‘parcels of waves’!) does not impair the unity of the highest being but fills it out. St. Augustine once enshrined this idea in the following formula: ‘He is not called Father with reference to himself but only in relation to the Son; seen by himself he is simply God.’
Here the decisive point comes beautifully to light. ‘Father’ is purely a concept of relationship. Only in being for the other is he Father; in his own being in himself he is simply God. Person is the pure relation of being related, nothing else. Relationship is not something extra added to the person, as it is with us; it only exists at all as relatedness.
“Expressed in the imagery of Christian tradition, this means that the first Person does not beget the Son as if the act of begetting were subsequent to the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of self-giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving.
In this idea of relatedness in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents’, Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the ‘individual.’ Let us listen once again to St. Augustine:
‘In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.’ Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the sole dominion of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today ‘objectifying thought’; a new plane of being comes into view.
It is probably true to say that the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from being completed—so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, without which it would be inconceivable.”
Relational ontology, man!
Ok, so, I'm finally posting some Cavanaugh. This is going to be a monumental task, so I'm starting with the most important chapter, Chapter 5. This is just the first installment, of what will hopefully be many such posts, just from chapter five.
This is basically a walking through the chapter, mostly by means of key quotes (the bold headings are Cavanaugh's). (Note: I'm going to have to go back through here soon and italicize all the italicized words)
Eucharist is the church’s “counter-politics” to the politics of torture
The Eucharist makes real the presence of Christ in the Church; resists the disappearance of the Body.
“Where torture is an anti-liturgy for the realization of the state’s power on the bodies of others, Eucharist is the liturgical realization of Christ’s suffering and redemptive body in the bodies of His followers. Torture creates fearful and isolated bodies, bodies docile to the purposes of the regime; the Eucharist effects the body of Christ, a body marked by resistance to worldly power. Torture creates victims; Eucharist creates witnesses, martyrs. Isolation is overcome in the Eucharist by the building of a communal body which resists the state’s attempts to disappear it.”
“Whereas New Christendom ecclesiology would cordon off the Kingdom of God into a space outside of time, in the Eucharist the Kingdom irrupts into time and ‘confuses’ the spiritual and the temporal. The Eucharist thus realizes a body which is neither purely ‘mystical’ nor simply analogous to the modern state: the true body of Christ.”
“In the Eucharist the church is always called to become what it eschatologically is. The Eucharist does make the church ex opere operato, but the effects are not always visible due to human sin. Christians are called to conform their parctic to the Eucharistic imagination. . . . the Eucharistic imagination is a vision of what is really real, the Kingdom of God, as it disrupts the imagination of violence.”
1: The Mystical and the True
The Church, with the coming of modernity, can no longer be seen as political institution of its own, but as consisting more in the invisible communion with believers.
Henri de Lubac pointed out that a dichotomy was created between the external institutional church and the invisible interior church. “In the term ‘mystical body,’ the adjective had swamped the noun.”
For this dichotomy,
“The church does not constitute a social body. Its visibility and unity rather consists in the external bonds of sharing the same profession of faith, the same rites, the same church laws, and above all the same allegiance to the Pope’s guidance.”
Beginning in the twelfth century, there begins to be an inversion of corpus mysticum and corpus verum. Corpus mysticum is now applied to the Church, corpus verum to the elements of the Eucharist.
“In the older understanding, according to de Lubac, the sacramental body and the church body are closely linked, and there is a ‘gap’ between this pair and the history body. The Eucharist and the church, both of which are understood by the term communio, are together the contemporary performance of the historical body, the unique historical event of Jesus. Christians are the real body of Christ, and the Eucharist is where the church mystically comes to be. The church and the Eucharist form the liturgical pair of visible community (corpus verum) and invisible action or mystery (corpus mysticum) which together re-present and re-member Christ’s historical body. The gap is a temporal one. The link between past event and the present church is formed by the invisible action of the sacrament. The ‘mystical,’ then, is that which ‘insures the unity between two times’ and brings the Christ event into present historical time in the church body, the corpus verum.”
In the inversion, “The Eucharistic host has become corpus verum, and has now taken on a ‘thingly realism,’ a visible and available sign in the here and now which produces reverence and awe. Eucharist is increasingly described in terms not of action but of object, such that the scholastic concentration is on the miracle produced in the elements, and not on the edification of the church by the presence of Christ in the sacrament. At the same time, the church is identified as corpus mysticum, whose essence is hidden. The visibility of the church in the communal performance of the sacrament is replaced by the visibility of the Eucharistic object. Signified and signifier have exhanged places, such that the sacramental body is the visible signifier of the hidden signified, which is the social body of Christ. . . . The real life of the church is relegated to the ‘mystical,’ the hidden, that which will only be realized outside of time in the eschaton. Rather than linking the present with Jesus’ first – and, we should add, second –coming, the mystical is now cordoned off from historical space and time. At this point in Christian history the temporal is beginning to be construed not as the time between the times, but as an increasingly autonomous space which is distinct from a spiritual space.”
Cavanaugh pauses here to clarify that this is not intended to undermine the doctrine of transubstantiation, only to guard against misguided emphases. He clarifies that de Lubac “thought that the best way to emphasize ‘eucharistic realism’ was precisely through an ‘ecclesial realism’ which sees Christ’s real presence in the elements as dynamic, working toward the edification of the church. What concerned de Lubac about the inversion of verum and mysticum was its tendency to reduce the Eucharist to a mere spectacle for the laity. The growth of the cult of the host itself in the later medieval period…was not necessarily an advance for Eucharistic practice. As Sarah Beckwith puts it, ‘the emphasis was increasingly on watching Christ’s body rather than being incorporated in it.’ ”
This discussion is of particular relevance for Protestants. And indeed, Cavanaugh goes on to critique the late medieval practice of the Eucharist (which Protestantism was a reaction to) in terms that are no less applicable to the modern Protestant practice:
“Laypeople were increasingly left to silent contemplation of the awesome spectacle, and this corresponded with a diminishing of the communal nature of the Eucharist and an individualizing of Eucharistic piety. Dom Gregory Dix describes this period in these terms: ‘The old corporate worship of the eucharist is declining into a mere focus for the subjective devotion of each separate worshipper in the isolation of his own mind. And it is the latter which is beginning to seem to him more important than the corporate act.’ . . . The individual Christian relates not to other Christians but directly to Christ as to the center of the circle, instead of incorporation with one’s fellow Christians into the body of Christ, which has a head, but no center.”
The following is an essay by G.K. Chesterton, which was introduced to me this past weekend by the inimitable Father Brian Foos at the Anglican conference in Dallas. He read it during one of the workshops, and although you'd have to hear him read it to get the full effect, it remains one of the finest pieces of prose in English on any reading. Enjoy.
A Piece of Chalk
by G.K. Chesterton
(from an essay in TREMENDOUS TRIFLES. The original essay appeared in the DAILY NEWS, November 4, 1905)
I remember one splendid morning, all blue and silver, in the summer holidays when I reluctantly tore myself away from the task of doing nothing in particular, and put on a hat of some sort and picked up a walking-stick, and put six very bright-coloured chalks in my pocket. I then went into the kitchen (which, along with the rest of the house, belonged to a very square and sensible old woman in a Sussex village), and asked the owner and occupant of the kitchen if she had any brown paper. She had a great deal; in fact, she had too much; and she mistook the purpose and the rationale of the existence of brown paper. She seemed to have an idea that if a person wanted brown paper he must be wanting to tie up parcels; which was the last thing I wanted to do; indeed, it is a thing which I have found to be beyond my mental capacity. Hence she dwelt very much on the varying qualities of toughness and endurance in the material. I explained to her that I only wanted to draw pictures on it, and that I did not want them to endure in the least; and that from my point of view, therefore, it was a question, not of tough consistency, but of responsive surface, a thing comparatively irrelevant in a parcel. When she understood that I wanted to draw she offered to overwhelm me with note-paper.
I then tried to explain the rather delicate logical shade, that I not only liked brown paper, but liked the quality of brownness in paper, just as I like the quality of brownness in October woods, or in beer. Brown paper represents the primal twilight of the first toil of creation, and with a bright-coloured chalk or two you can pick out points of fire in it, sparks of gold, and blood-red, and sea-green, like the first fierce stars that sprang out of divine darkness. All this I said (in an off-hand way) to the old woman; and I put the brown paper in my pocket along with the chalks, and possibly other things. I suppose every one must have reflected how primeval and how poetical are the things that one carries in one's pocket; the pocket-knife, for instance, the type of all human tools, the infant of the sword. Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about things in my pockets. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.
With my stick and my knife, my chalks and my brown paper, I went out on to the great downs. . .
I crossed one swell of living turf after another, looking for a place to sit down and draw. Do not, for heaven's sake, imagine I was going to sketch from Nature. I was going to draw devils and seraphim, and blind old gods that men worshipped before the dawn of right, and saints in robes of angry crimson, and seas of strange green, and all the sacred or monstrous symbols that look so well in bright colours on brown paper. They are much better worth drawing than Nature; also they are much easier to draw. When a cow came slouching by in the field next to me, a mere artist might have drawn it; but I always get wrong in the hind legs of quadrupeds. So I drew the soul of a cow; which I saw there plainly walking before me in the sunlight; and the soul was all purple and silver, and had seven horns and the mystery that belongs to all beasts. But though I could not with a crayon get the best out of the landscape, it does not follow that the landscape was not getting the best out of me. And this, I think, is the mistake that people make about the old poets who lived before Wordsworth, and were supposed not to care very much about Nature because they did not describe it much.
They preferred writing about great men to writing about great hills; but they sat on the great hills to write it. The gave out much less about Nature, but they drank in, perhaps, much more. They painted the white robes of their holy virgins with the blinding snow, at which they had stared all day. . . The greenness of a thousand green leaves clustered into the live green figure of Robin Hood. The blueness of a score of forgotten skies became the blue robes of the Virgin. The inspiration went in like sunbeams and came out like Apollo.
But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on the brown paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, that I had left one chalk, and that a most exquisite and essential chalk, behind. I searched all my pockets, but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who are acquainted with all the philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here upon a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a colour. It is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When, so to speak, your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.
Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colours; but he never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white. In a sense our age has realised this fact, and expressed it in our sullen costume. For if it were really true that white was a blank and colourless thing, negative and non-committal, then white would be used instead of black and grey for the funereal dress of this pessimistic period. Which is not the case.
Meanwhile I could not find my chalk.
I sat on the hill in a sort of despair. There was no town near at which it was even remotely probable there would be such a thing as an artist's colourman. And yet, without any white, my absurd little pictures would be as pointless as the world would be if there were no good people in it. I stared stupidly round, racking my brain for expedients. Then I suddenly stood up and roared with laughter, again and again, so that the cows stared at me and called a committee. Imagine a man in the Sahara regretting that he had no sand for his hour-glass. Imagine a gentleman in mid-ocean wishing that he had brought some salt water with him for his chemical experiments. I was sitting on an immense warehouse of white chalk. The landscape was made entirely of white chalk. White chalk was piled more miles until it met the sky. I stooped and broke a piece of the rock I sat on: it did not mark so well as the shop chalks do, but it gave the effect. And I stood there in a trance of pleasure, realising that this Southern England is not only a grand peninsula, and a tradition and a civilisation; it is something even more admirable. It is a piece of chalk.
I just posted this on my Xanga, but it needs to be posted here too:
I exhort anyone reading this to check out Dr. Leithart's blog. Since General Assembly last Wednesday, he has unleashed a Gatling gun of polemic brilliance, including no less than 17 posts in the last 3 days. You can't get much better than this: go douse your brain in the torrent of genius at www.leithart.com.
In one of his posts, he critiques sloganizing "bicovenantalism" and "monocovenantalism," which made me a little sheepish. I think he's absolutely right, of course, but I still sometimes use the terms as convenient shorthand.
In response to Davey's comment below, I know, I know...I want to post more Cavanaugh. All this PCA mess has sidetracked me. But I brought the book with me to Dallas, and I'll try to do that this weekend.
So, I hadn't realized how much I disliked the traditional Southern Presbyterian theology, or how far beyond it I'd gone, until I heard a textbook exposition of its covenant and sacramental theology this morning from the mouth of Dr. Morton Smith in our church pulpit (just filling in this morning--not our normal preacher). I finally understood bicovenantalism, in all its gloomy glory, and it seems that perhaps the reason I didn't understand before exactly what the anti-Covenant of Works people were so insistent about was that I never quite realized what the Covenant of Works people actually believed...or never really believed that they believed that. (none of this, by the way, to diss Dr. Smith, he is a good and godly man, and well-learned in his tradition; it's just his tradition I'm bashing)
What am I on about, anyway? Well, good question. I'm going to try to see how much I can clarify.
Let's see if I can synopsize their paradigm.
In the beginning, God created Man, and entered into a covenant with him ("covenant of works") as His creature. Man was a creature bound to obedience to God, upon fulfilment of which, a status of sonship might be earned. Now, man failed to obey this standard, to fulfill his side of the covenant. So God enters into a new covenant ("covenant of grace"), one which he will fulfill both sides of, so that this mess won't happen again. The purpose of this covenant is to atone for, that is, undo, the sin which destroyed the original covenant. Such atonement is found at last in the sacrifice of Christ, who, at the same time, by his perfect obedience, fulfills the original covenant, thus earning the sonship status. Both this atonement (passive obedience) and the active obedience are then imputed to believers, thus removing the barrier of their sin, and allowing them to partake in the status of sonship, just as if they had fulfilled the covenant of works. Now what? Well, they rest in this status, receiving it on no other ground than their faith in Christ to save them, and receive the additional benefits of grace which God bestows in this covenant--primarily, sanctification and glorification.
Nifty little system, isn't it? Surprisingly neat. Quite simple, actually. I don't know now if I ever held to this, or understood it really...or if I just progressed on to its contrary without ever holding and relinquishing it. Point is, that now, even as I typed it up, I saw problem after problem with it. Just riddled with problems. Problems oozing out of its dried-up pores. Of course, I also realized that all those problems, other smarter people had already pointed out, people like the inimitable Rich Lusk. So there's no point in going into them. But, since that's what I set out to do in this post, I will go into the two that hit me in the middle of the church service--like, gesticulate-violently-for-a-pencil-and-grab-it-and-scribble-down-in-all-caps-on-the-nearest-sheet-of-paper hit me.
The first is--did you notice what it says--the covenant of works is only with man as a creature, not as a son. The covenant of works is a state of pure nature. How is man special, then, distinct from the rest of creation...well, he has the image of God (of course, I would contend that this means he is ipso facto not in a state of pure nature). But, basically, this sets up the notion of a nature/grace dichotomy, which would otherwise be impossible. I mean, to me, the notion of man relating to God in a state of pure nature, not in the context of covenantal sonship, is unthinkable. But then, to some people, it might make perfectly good sense...I don't know. However, it's not just a toss-up--doesn't Scripture after all say, "and Adam was the son of God" (Luke 3:38)? Not, of course, that prooftexting is really the way to go. But I'm not going to attempt here to establish the case for why Adam be seen as in a covenant of sonship, only point out the implications of what's being set forth.
Because, here's another problem. Christ fulfills the covenant of works for us, but he does so in a relationship of sonship--Christ does not take the position of a natural man. So what's up here?
And, here's the worst part: all that Christ does, then, is gets us up to the point where Adam would've been anyway, if he hadn't sinned. Pretty much. That's all. That's nice, and all...but that's an awful lot of history that doesn't really go anywhere.
And this brings me to the next point...over-atonementism. Notice that, in this model, the main thing the covenant has to do is to undo the effects of sin, to atone for the sin so that it's no longer a barrier. That is the covenant's raison d'etre--atonement. Dr. Smith traced this throughout the Old Covenant, emphasizing throughout its key purpose as that of atonement, and particularly emphasizing the Day of Atonement. To which I respond: if that was the only point, why other sacrifices, like thank-offerings and fellowship-offerings? Why other festival days, like the Feast of Weeks or Feast of Booths?
If atonement is all that there is, all that God is concerned with, then the Bible has been sucked dry--the gospel has been spread thin. Of course, atonement is necessary, of course, it is glorious, of course, even if this were all that there was, it would be Good News of infinite proportions. But God gives us even more in Scripture, so much more. He is interested in doing more than covering our sins--he is interested in adorning our lives with beauty and holiness, of bringing us into Trinitarian fellowship with him, of making us partake of life, life in abundance. I always had trouble seeing growing up why exactly the Resurrection was _necessary_. If the Atonement's the whole point, then...well, Christ's death was sufficient, by itself (note that during the sermon, which was ostensibly on Communion, Dr. Smith represented the significance of communion as exclusively pertaining to the Atonement). Yet, "if Christ were not raised from the dead, we are of all men most miserable," says Paul. Yea, we are still in our sins, he says. Why? Because Christ did not merely fulfill the Covenant of Works on our behalf. He acted as God's son, living as the son that Adam was to be, and, in his resurrection, was justified, and glorified, and exalted to the right hand of God, so that in Him, we too might be justified, glorified, and exalted to the right hand of God, that the powers of the world to come might come down and transform history, which now, in this understanding, has a clear telos, the fulfillment of one covenant of grace, one covenant of sonship, one narrative of the glorification of the world.
Almighty and everlasting God, who by thy Holy Spirit didst preside in the Council of the blessed Apostles, and hast promised, through thy Son Jesus Christ, to be with thy Church to the end of the world; we beseech thee to be with the Council of thy Church, assembled in thy Name and Presence. Save us from all error, ignorance, pride, and prejudice; and of thy great mercy vouchsafe, we beseech thee, so to direct, sanctify, and govern us in our work, by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, that the comfortable Gospel of Christ may be truly preached, truly received, and truly followed, in all places, to the breaking down the kingdom of sin, Satan, and death; till at length the whole of thy dispersed sheep, being gathered into one fold, shall become partakers of everlasting life; through the merits and death of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
O Gracious Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church; that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Seems that "departed glory" is too kind to describe some Reformed people nowadays--seems like "Ham" might be more accurate, the mocker, or "Shimei," who cursed and mocked King David.
Read it if you must. But only if you have a strong stomach.
One is reminded of the boys who mocked Elisha in the book of Kings, and were then devoured by bears...or of the fates of any who mocked God's prophets, for that matter.
May God have mercy on their souls.
I know not what to say about the late PCA General Assembly...or rather, I know what I want to say, but I'm not sure of anything I could say right now that would not be guilty of the same divisiveness and disrespect to the body of Christ that I am afraid so many leaders in the PCA have made themselves guilty of.
For now, I recommend a couple links:
Video of the debate (long): http://www.pcaga.com/schedule.asp
R. Scott Clark's blow-by-blow (warning, don't read the rest of the blog unless you want to get so angry you smash your computer screen): http://www.oceansideurc.org/display/ShowJournal?moduleId=993496¤tPage=2
Leithart the Magnificent: http://www.leithart.com/
All that's happening brings vividly to mind the impassioned laments of John Henry Newman in Apologia Pro Vita Sua,, which I've been reading this week.
Pro Christi Ecclesia Testamentoque,
So, on my Xanga I advertised Cavanaugh's book Torture and Eucharist, which I just finished, as flat-out UNBELIEVABLE, and on my Facebook as one of the greatest books I ever read. I'm hoping to say a lot more about it here, as I meditate on it and let it all gestate. I'm thinking that, at the moment, I ought to put up some kind of paragraph-long excerpt, but 'tis hard to choose. I would love to post a quote from Chapter 5, which I think is hands-down the greatest chapter in any book I've ever read, but, I probably wouldn't stop until I'd typed up the whole chapter.
So here's a quote from Chapter 1:
"The body of the martyr is thus the battleground for a larger contest of rival imaginations, that of the state and that of the church. A crucial difference in these imaginations is that the imagination of the church is essentially eschatological; the church is not a rival polis but points to an alternative time and space, a mingling of heaven and earth. A strong apocalyptic element is associated with martyrdom from early on in Christian history, at least by the time Acts and Revelation were written. About to be stoned to death, Stephen, the first martyr, raised his eyes and declared 'Look, I see the heavens opened!' This was more than a vision of his final resting place; it was instead the outpouring of heaven upon the earth, a foretste of the final consummation of the Kingdom of God. Martyrdom is a bridge between heaven and earth not becuase the martyr is soon to travel one way to her eternal reward, but because heaven has been brought to earth in the form of one who, in imitating Jesus the Christ, has cheated earthly death of its sting. A martyr is one who lives imaginatively as if death does not exist. The eschatological imagination of martyrdom is not a vertical ascension to another place and time, a distant heaven; the movement instead brings a foretaste of heavenly space-time to earth.
"...The church is thus a vision of things unseen, but the church is never wholly visible, either in the sense of being entirely subjectively holy or being an institutional rival to the state. In its eschatological imagination, the church waits on Christ's second coming, straining forward toward full consummation of the Kingdom. Its task on earth is a hope-filled witness to the opening of heaven, the revelation of things which the earthly eye now sees only dimly."
So, here's a not-entirely-unbiased-and-sometimes-probably-less-than-entirely-accurate introduction to the life and thought of Kierkegaard that I typed up for a couple friends.
I think this is a must-read for all Christians**.
First of all, I will try to outline a few of Kierkegaard’s major targets and opponents—only by properly understanding his historical context and what he was endeavoring to critique can we form any clear notion of what his arguments were.
First of all, above all, his opponent was Hegelianism, or what he calls “The System” in the Preface to Fear and Trembling. This was the prevailing philosophy of the day, the product of Georg W.F. Hegel's philosophy developed in the first years of the 1800s.
Hegel's philosophy was semi-pantheistic, as well as strongly rationalistic. The Divine, for Hegel, was the Absolute Mind, which was manifested in the world throughout history. The supernatural, for Hegel, could be reduced to and analyzed in the natural. Furthermore, history, as an unfolding of the divine, could be viewed as a predictable process, following a necessary development, and more importantly, Christianity could be fit into this scheme, so as to give the Church a sense of complacency and a rational justification for its faith. Moreover, in the Hegelian system, pantheist as it was, the individual was reduced to merely a cipher in the great stream of history. The individual became unimportant--the unified mass was what was important. (Note that Marx was a prominent Hegelian thinker) Kierkegaard, as a young student, was thoroughly
The orthodox Christianity of the day did not of course accept this unbiblical system whole-hog, however, like any very prominent intellectual movement, the Church assimilated many of its major teachings into its theological outlook. So there was an increasing tendency to naturalize Christianity--it was simply the natural outworking of history, it embodied universal principles of ethics, it was thoroughly rational and sensible... The Hegelian scheme of history was adopted to suit Christian purposes, and the Hegelian de-emphasis on the individual undermined the importance of individual faith.
Moreover, the Church in that time in Denmark was the Lutheran Establishment Church dating back to the Reformation. It was complacent, lukewarm, and pervasive. Everyone was a Christian, which meant, in many important ways, no one was. I insert the following parable from Kierkegaard's journals to illustrate:
The Domestic Goose
A Moral Tale
“Try to imagine for a moment that geese could talk—that they had so arranged things that they too had their divine worship and their church-going.
“Every Sunday they would meet together and a gander would preach.
“The sermon was essentially the same each time—it told of the glorious destiny of geese, of the noble end for which their maker had created them—and every time his name was mentioned all the geese curtsied and all the ganders bowed their heads. They were to use their wings to fly away to the distant pastures to which they really belonged; for they were only pilgrims on this earth.
“The same thing happened each Sunday. Thereupon the meeting broke up and they all waddled home, only to meet again next Sunday for divine worship and waddle off home again—but that was as far as they ever got. They throve and grew fat, plump and delicious—and at Michaelmas they were eaten—and that was as far as they ever got. It never came to anything. For while their conversation on Sundays was high-sounding, on Mondays they would tell each other what had happened to the goose who had taken the end set before them quite seriously, and in spite of many tribulations had tried to use the wings its creator had bestowed upon it.
“All that was indeed common knowledge among the geese, but of course no one mentioned the subject on Sundays, for as they observed, it would then have been obvious that to attend divine service would have been to fool both God and themselves.
“Among the geese were several who looked ill and wan, and all the other geese said—there, you see what comes of taking flying seriously. It is all because they go about meditating on flying that they get thin and wan and are not blessed by the grace of God as we are; for that is why we grow fat, plump and delicious.
“And so next Sunday off they went to divine service, and the old gander preached of the glorious end for which their Maker (and at that point all the geese curtsied and the ganders bowed their heads) had created them, and of why they were given wings.
“And the same is true of divine worship in Christianity.”
Notice that part of the problem was an imbalance of natural and supernatural, or, as Kierkegaard would phrase it throughout his works, finite and infinite. Full-blown Hegelians tended toward a complete naturalization of religion; for the orthodox churches, the supernatural was not done away with, it was just comfortably transported to another realm. Most of life was to be lived in the natural world, and the Christian could comfortably carry on there without his Christianity being too heavily involved--his faith related only to the hereafter. With Christian distinctives thus made wholly otherworldly, the average Christian life was free to be lived without passion or any particular distinction.
Many of the bishops, with their Hegelianized postmillenialism, were just making the problem worse, Kierkegaard thought. So he set out to shake the Danish church out of its complacency. As he wrote in one place in his journals, “It is high time that Christianity was taken away from men in order to teach them to appreciate it a little.”
It is also important to understand just a bit of Kierkegaard's life to understand his works. He was born into a wealthy and important Danish family in 1813. His father was a significant and highly respected personage, and educated Soren thoroughly. Unfortunately, his father was a somewhat messed-up individual. While outwardly he had everything together, inwardly he struggled with guilt and depression. His wife was not Soren's actual mother--that wife had died right after Soren and his brother were born, and the father had then quickly married a maidservant with whom he'd been having an affair. The father had struggled with the guilt of this all his life, and when Soren learned of it, in his early 20s, he was devastated and disillusioned. The Christian faith he had been raised on no longer seemed as firm a foundation, and Soren began to struggle with guilt of his own. He was tormented over his purpose in life, at times feeling that he was cursed, or that he was chosen by God for some high and lonely calling...or some combination of both. A normal existence he knew he could never lead...his mind and soul were too uniquely constituted.
For these reasons, he broke off his engagement with the woman he madly loved (and who madly loved him), Regine Olsen. He wanted to spare her from sharing his fate in life, which did not, he think, admit of sharing with another. So he pretended not to love her, leaving a scar on his own soul which never fully healed, and allusions to her of various sorts appear in his writings. All this time, he was a student of philosophy at the University of Copenhagen. Shortly afterward, though, he went to Berlin to study under the great Hegelians there. Soon, he'd had all he could take, though, and returned to Denmark. There, between 1843 and 1845, he embarked on his first great barrage of writing. At this time, he was still a very tormented individual, sure he was a Christian but uncertain of how to relate to God. His profoundest philosophical works, in which he attacked Hegelianism and its crippling effects on Christianity head-on, date from this period: Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, etc. He stirred up a fair amount of controversy in Denmark with these works (all written pseudonymously), but nothing compared to what was to come later. In 1848, Kierkegaard underwent a sort of second conversion experience, in which he finally felt clearly God's grace upon him and was filled with much greater peace and confidence than ever before. The next few years saw him put out more writings in the form of psychological, spiritual, or ethical expositions, or more pastoral sorts of works (though he was not himself a pastor, being convinced that the Established Church would never accept him nor could he accept it). Important works of this second period are The Sickness Unto Death, Works of Love, and Training in Christianity. In them, many of the same themes as before show up, but oriented for a somewhat different purpose.
During all this time, though, the chasm between him and the Established Church was continuing to grow, though he tried to remain as peacable as possible as long as Bishop Mynster, a close family friend, remained head of the Danish Church. When he died and was succeeded in 1854, though, by Martensen, Kierkegaard launched a full-scale attack on the evils of the Church in Denmark (later published as the Attack on Christendom) until his sudden death in 1855. When he died, he was at last at peace with God, but not, in general, with the world around him.
So what did Kierkegaard argue for?
One of his greatest concerns was that Christians strive for an intensely personal faith. Christians had learn to put their trust in forms and externals so much that faith seemed effortless--your Christian faith just leaned on a whole bunch of external helps and other people, that you didn't have to work for it at all. In Fear and Trembling, as in a number of other works, Kierkegaard sought to portray faith as something which, in its truest form, was extremely rare and precious. This faith was an intensely personal faith, based on a close relationship with God himself, rather than a rather abstract and vague allegiance to a religion. To have it required that one first recognize that God could take everything away from you, everything that you relied upon for your faith, and you would still be called upon to trust in Him completely, to trust in Him for his sake alone and not because of any of the crutches upon which you ordinarily rely. Moreover, this faith, as Kierkegaard emphasized in his knight of faith analogy in Fear and Trembling, could not merely be a resignation to God's will--natural religion could go that far. The supernatural element came when one took the next step and said, "No, I trust that God is with me and he will be gracious to me, not merely in the life to come, but in the here and now." (Note, it was this kind of faith which Kierkegaard struggled so hard for himself, and had not perhaps yet attained to when he wrote Fear and Trembling.) Note also another factor here--Kierkegaard was an opponent of a very otherworldly Christianity. Christians should not be content to put their faith only in a reward to come in the afterlife; Christianity had to be lived, with passion, every day, in this world, in this life. The true man of faith had his feet firmly on the ground, had faith in God for this life, lived every day in His presence.
This sort of living with passion, this absolute relation to God, characterized Kierkegaard's existentialism. He is often considered the founder of existentialism, and grouped together with folks like Nietzsche and Sartre. While this is fair to an extent, such comparisons usually neglect the radical difference that Kierkegaard's Christianity. While Kierkegaard too insists that the individual must learn to live authentically, in a true relation to himself, and that he must find meaning for himself and live passionately for it, this is all found in the individual's relationship with God. For a secular existentialist like Sartre, ultimate meaning and authenticity is impossible and reduces to subjectivism. Kierkegaard's notion of authenticity is well-exhibited in this quote from his journals: “Everyone would like to have lived at the same time as great men and great events: God knows how many really live at the same time as themselves. To do that (and so neither in hope or fear of the future, nor in the past) is to understand oneself and be at peace, and that is only possible through one’s relation to God, or it is one’s relation to God.”
One of the corollaries to this notion of faith was a redefinition of the Christian's relation to other areas of life, such as ethics. Hegelianism had taught Christians to naturalize and universalize ethics. Ethical codes were the universal rational manifestation of how man should live. Religion, ethics, faith…all of it was universalized, naturalized, depersonalized. Kierkegaard wanted to bring it back to the source--God himself. What defines right? Not some abstract ethical code. What God commands. The believer is not to see himself as preeminently loyal to some standard, but as loyal to God personally. God himself requires of us a full dependence on him, an absolute relationship with him (hence the "absolute relation to the absolute" in Fear and Trembling); the commands he gives us are in the context of that loyalty, that relationship, and they should not be abstracted from it. For that reason, God can sometimes, as with Abraham, ask us to act in ways contrary to what we normally ought to, to show us that what is most important is our faith in Him, our relationship with Him. This is what is meant by "teleological suspension of the ethical." It is not relativism. It is not the assertion that we can dispense with the Bible's commandments whenever we think we have a special mission from God. I doubt Kierkegaard would think that the average person should ever expect such an exception to actually apply to him; however, this doctrine is nevertheless important and necessary in order that we rightly understand the nature of our ethical obligations, and do not abstract them from our relationship to God.
Kierkegaard was also concerned with Hegelianism's insistence on explaining and understanding everything, including Christianity. Supposedly, it sought to defend Christianity--providing scientific and rational proof for it. But by rationalizing it thus, it killed it. It made something supernatural into something merely natural. Kierkegaard insisted on protecting Christianity from such "defense"--it was beyond "defense," beyond "understanding." Modernity, he felt, was obsessed with understanding everything, and that simply couldn't be done.
Again, from his journals: “Until now, people have always expressed themselves in the following way: the knowledge that one cannot understand this or the other thing does not satisfy science, the aim of which is to understand. Here is the mistake; people ought to say the very opposite: if human science refuses to understand that there is something which it cannot understand, or better still, that there is something about which it clearly understands that it cannot understand it—then all is confusion. For it is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand, and what those things are.”
He said, famously, in Fear and Trembling, that "faith begins at the very point where understanding leaves off." As long as we believe in something on the basis of certain arguments or proofs, our beliefs can only be as strong as those arguments or proofs, and none of these are ultimately strong enough to justify the kind of belief that God requires of us. Or, as Kierkegaard puts it in Philosophical Fragments, no finite proof can serve as a sufficient condition for an infinite belief--some kind of leap must be made. This is the famous Kierkegaard "leap of faith"--you follow understanding to the point where it can go no further, and then by faith you commitment yourself to a belief that defies reason and understanding--on the strength of the absurd.
Kierkegaard puts the problem this way:
“A man says to himself: here is an historical fact which teaches me that in regard to my eternal happiness I must have recourse to Jesus Christ. Now I must certainly preserve myself from taking the wrong turning into scientific enquiry and research, as to whether it is quite certainly historical; for it is historical right enough: and if it were ten times as certain in all its details it would still be no help: for directly I cannot be helped.
“and so I say to myself: I choose; that historical fact means so much to me that I decide to stake my whole life upon that if. Then he lives; lives entirely full of the idea, risking his life for it: and his life is the proof that he believes. He did not have a few proofs, and so believed and then began to life. No, the very reverse.
“That is called risking; and without risk faith is an impossibility.”
A final issue, related to this, which appears over and over in Training in Christianity, as well as other places, is the issue of Christianity and history. Christians, partly on account of Hegelianism, partly based just on a blind trust in their traditions, allowed history to make them comfortable in their faith and soften the offense of the gospel. In Training in Christianity, Kierkegaard over and over comes back to the declaration, "Blessed is he who is not offended in me." All throughout the gospels, he says, is this possibility of offense, and the fact that most did take offense at Jesus. We, by viewing Christ through the lens of history, and with the benefit of hindsight and the success of Christianity, and resting comfortably upon the declarations of the Church, wouldn't dream of taking offense. We have removed the offense! Of course Christ is God and man. Of course he taught that the only way to the Father was through Him. Yes, yes, we know it all. And of course it's all true--history has vindicated it. But Kierkegaard challenges his readers not to take all this for granted, but to imagine Christ as he might have appeared to a first-century Jew, to see the magnitude of the offense, the ridiculousness of Christ's message, and still believe--not because it was obvious, but because it was absurd. Kierkegaard challenged the Christians of his day to encounter Christ as he came in all his lowliness, in all his paradoxical shockingness, in the 1st century, not as he appeared rich, comfortable, and well-dressed in the churches of Christendom.
These are a few of the key points in Kierkegaard's thought. Obviously I have left out much, and obviously I have slanted a great deal to fit my particular perception. There are many more philosophical concerns in Kierkegaard's thought that I have not touched on, that most scholars would consider preeminent. While these are important, however, I believe from my reading that almost all of Kierkegaard's animating beliefs were preeminently theological--who is God and how do we relate to Him? How are we to live in the light of His existence, and His presence in our lives?
Of course, it is also important to remember that Kierkegaard was very individualistic, and opposed to many things about the Church and Sacraments that we value very highly. However, I do not think this is reason to neglect the truth of so much of what he had to say, or to fail to let his admonitions challenge us when we become too comfortable.
**With the exception of those who have less than 168 hours a week in leisure time.
Ok, so this isn't actually an argument for prelacy per se--more a comment on an advantage the Episcopal churches seem to have over us Reformed folks--that is, the issue of names.
We Reformed folk seem to have a very narrow stock of possible church names--basically, some combination of Christ, Trinity, Covenant, and Reformed (or Reformation). That's really about all there is to work with, it seems. Now, allowing for up to two names per church, this allows us only 16 options to choose from (of which not all would really work well), plus a couple odds and ends. This kind of redundancy can lead to a great deal of confusion, even within the narrow Reformed world--"Wait, did you say you were from Covenant Reformed or Reformation Covenant? Oh, that explains the confusion--Covenant Reformed is in Maine, not Iowa!)
In my experience, though, the Episcopal churches prefer to draw from the riches of Church history and name their churches after any number of saints. St. Luke's, St. Mark's, St. John's, St. Bartholomew's, St. Stephen's, St. Thomas's, maybe even St. Bede's.
Why are we Reformed folk so averse to using saints' names in our churches? I assure you that if I ever start a church, it will not have the words "covenant" or "reformed" in it. *ducks and runs*
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart"--
Lord God, set our hearts aflame with Thy love, that we may burn with the desire to be near Thee, to please Thee, to rest in Thee. Help us to to so order our passions that we may love all others only insofar as they enable us to love Thee more; let no creature lead us away from the love of Thee.
"With all thy soul"--
God Almighty, fill us with the fear and awe of Thy holiness and the joy of Thy beauty, that we may bow before Thee in humility and praise and delight in Thee, that we may soar heavenward and let the light of Thy presence shine on us. Help us learn to feel Thy presence in every hour and to rest in Thee, rather than being tossed and turned by the turmoils of this world.
"And with all thy mind"'--
Father of Lights, inspire our minds with the knowledge that is from above, that we may ever meditate on Thee and see and judge all else in the light of Thy ineffable splendour. Teach us to use our minds in Thy service, not in the vain pursuit of the knowledge which puffs up, and keep us ever mindful of our limitations; train our understanding in Thy ways, which surpass all understanding.
"This is the first and great commandment."
For my Traditio final, we were asked to bring a short presentation on some topic relating to the term, and I used the opportunity to jump into another can of worms, to see what I can fish out of it over the next few months. Specifically, I'm getting fascinating with Wittgenstein, his enigmatic approach to philosophy, and the resemblance it bears to Kierkegaard's approach. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to think and write more about this soon, but for now, here is the presentation I gave:
Wittgenstein is usually understood as having had two distinct periods, with very different approaches to philosophy. The traditional interpretation goes as follows:
In his earlier work, The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, he advocated an ideal language philosophy, in which he carefully circumscribed the areas of meaningful discourse along rigorously logical lines, and insisted that our understanding of reality must conform to these formulas. Therefore, many statements, such as those concerning religion and metaphysics, are actually nonsense statements, and philosophy must stick to what is logical and avoid such nonsense. In this sense he is considered to have prefigured and influenced the Logical Positivist philosophers of the Vienna Circle.
In his later work, however, the Philosophical Investigations, he repented of his rigidly logical system and admitted that language was actually much more complex and meaning was far less fixed. All we have is “language games”—sets of artificial rules that bear some “family resemblance” to one another.
However, this view tends to neglect the strange and cryptic remarks that close the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, as well as Wittgenstein’s reaction to the logical positivists’ use of his work. In the final sections of the Tractatus, he argues that according to the principles developed, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, religion—in short everything of real meaning—transcends the logical limits of language, so that the traditional discussions of philosophy become nonsense and philosophy is rendered meaningless. His own argument, indeed, by its own principles, is nonsense—“through the philosophy of the book one must come to see the utter meaninglessness of philosophy.”
That he was not intending the same thing as the logical positivists seems clear from his subsequent interactions with them:
“The Tractatus also caught the attention of the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, especially Rudolf Carnap and Moritz Schlick. The group spent many months working through the text out loud, line-by line. Schlick eventually convinced Wittgenstein to meet with members of the circle to discuss the Tractatus when he returned to Vienna (he was then working as an architect). Although the Vienna Circle's logical positivists appreciated the Tractatus, they argued that the last few passages, including Proposition 7, are confused. Carnap hailed the book as containing important insights, but encouraged people to ignore the concluding sentences. Wittgenstein responded to Schlick commenting, ‘I cannot imagine that Carnap should have so completely misunderstood the last sentences of the book and hence the fundamental conception of the entire book.’ “
This revealing statement—that the final sentences of the book contained the key to understanding the whole—suggest that Wittgenstein’s goal in the Tractatus was actually something much more along the lines of Kierkegaard—using philosophy to show the futility of traditional philosophical endeavors, and its inability to discuss all of the highest truths, which lie outside its domain. The role of philosophy, then, in this conception, is therapeutic—philosophy serves to show us the limitations of our traditional methods of analysis, and to lead us to a more honest conception of realitywhich does justice to its mystery and complexity. If this is true, then the Tractatus need no longer be interpreted in contrast to the Philosophical Investigations, but can be seen as saying indirectly what he later decided to say directly.
The penultimate proposition says “My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: Anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them - as steps - to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)” Scholar Cora Diamond emphasizes Wittgenstein’s careful word choice “anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them” not “anyone who understands them eventually recognizes them…” The reader is to understand Wittgenstein himself, not what he is saying in the propositions, because the propositions are actually saying something quite to the contrary. They are drawing a limit to thought in order that that limit might then be transcended. As he wrote to his editor,
“the book’s point is ethical. I once meant to include in the preface a sentence which is not in fact there now, but which I will write out for you here, because it will perhaps be a key for you. What I meant to write then was this: my work consists of two parts: the one presented here plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part that is the important one. For the ethical gets its limit drawn from the inside, as it were, by my book; and I am convinced that this is the ONLY rigorous way of drawing that limit. In short, I believe that where many others today are just gassing, I have managed in my book to put everything firmly into place by being silent about it… For now I would recommend you to read the preface and the conclusion, because they contain the most direct expression of the point.”
This indirect methodology is, as some scholars have pointed out, a hallmark of Kierkegaard’s, who never sets forth a systematic expression of his philosophical thought but relies on irony and literary techniques to make his point. In several works, he argues from a perspective that is not really his own in order to reveal the weaknesses of that perspective.
Charles Creegan describes it:
“Kierkegaard's and Wittgenstein's concern with methodology is an expression of the fundamental difference in their conception of philosophy. The idea of philosophy against which they are reacting is that of the search for foundations and the construction of a unified understanding of the world. Metaphysical concerns are central to such a philosophical system.
The philosopher's use of multiple methods, masks and metamorphoses is the last step in the breakdown of monolithic 'Philosophy' which begins with the transition from factual investigation to conceptual investigation.”
And it is not merely in method that they agree. Kierkegaard, like Wittgenstein, is concerned to “discover what thought itself cannot think” in order to make way for the weightier matters, which traditional philosophy has been unable to address.
An interesting additional point of reflection would be to use both of these thinkers as a foil for understanding Kant; because really this debate in Wittgenstein interpretation is very similar to a debate in Kantian interpretation: namely, how honest was Kant being when he said, “I am destroying reason to make way for faith.” When Kant set rigid limits to the province of human reason, was he saying: all beyond this transcends reason and thus is not fit material for men to think or discuss—it is only for foolish faith”; or, was he saying, “Reason can only go so far, and is thus radically limited—to be fulfilled, to discover the important truths, we must go beyond the realm of pure reason by faith”? I’m not going to try to answer that question here, but, as far as Wittgenstein goes, I believe he takes the latter route, not, as traditionally understood, the former.
I also posted this on my Xanga, but it seems appropriate as an inaugural post here.
I woke up this morning to the first day of the rest of my life—life post-NSA, post-Moscow, post-late-night chats with my fellow nerds about Eastern Orthodoxy, the Eucharist, or nominalism, post-1,000+ pages of reading a week, post-Appel, post-Schlect, post-Leithart, and the list goes on. Some of these, granted, may not apply if I come back here for graduate school, but, nevertheless, so much will be new.
I feel that NSA was not merely a phase in my life, but another life altogether. All before it is so different and distant that it seems like part of another existence—or that I was only half-alive then. NSA has taught me how to live, or begun to at any rate. No doubt, what is beginning now shall be a very new life, perhaps as different as NSA was from what went before. But may I never forget all that I have learned here and all those whom I have known here, the wisest and most godly teachers and friends I have ever known. May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I forget you, oh New Saint Andrews!
Perhaps God has grand and marvelous adventures in store for me, but for now, I must focus on working diligently, studying with joy, loving my neighbor—seeking not a poetic life, but to make the prosaic in life poetic.
I woke up this morning to the first day of the rest of my life…at 6:15, and went to breakfast with my dad, and helped my roommate study, and ran a few errands. I wanted it to begin so, for, if I can be faithful in little things, perhaps one day I will be faithful in greater things.
It may be relevant here to post the poem I read at Graduation yesterday, the conclusion of “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio,” by W.H. Auden.
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.