Category Archives: Patristics

Salvation at Stake

Today we wrap-up a mini-series on the philosophy of doing history.


The final essay in we will look at in this series is a chapter from Brad Gregory’s Salvation at Stake. This final essay represents the strongest set of arguments against a form of historiography dominated by what have variously been called, “the new historicism,” “the linguistic turn” or most simply, post-structuralism.

In the introduction to Salvation at Stake, Gregory describes his two-fold purpose: 1)

brad_gregory_stand
Brad Gregory holds the Dorothy G. Griffin Chair in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame.

present an account of Christian martyrdom from the perspective of four traditions and 2) make a methodological contribution to how historians approach the early modern period. (2) For the purposes of comparing this essay to the others from this week, our focus will be on the section titled “On Understanding Early Modern Christianity.” Here Gregory addresses how poststructuralist theory “alleges a radical disjunction between representations and realities, rendering truth claims unverifiable.” (9) The “insights” of post-structuralism have “taught” us that the martyrs who died for their religious beliefs, in fact held views that are mere constructions. Post-structuralism has also “taught” us that these martyr’s beliefs were nothing but “strategies of domination” and that the literature which reported martyrdom was nothing but propaganda and political power-plays.

In light of these “lessons” Gregory calls us to declare a postmortem for poststructuralism “so that we may avoid its dead end.” (10) Instead we should take these martyrs and their storytellers on their own terms. (10) Instead of deconstructing early modern accounts we ought to be reconstructing these accounts. (11) When we do this we will have come up with an account which (hopefully) the subjects of study would have recognized as their own.

In order to reconstruct plausible accounts Gregory has to address two issues. First, that all claims, including religious claims, are embeded within social relationships, institutions, and other cultural expectations. Second, that people often act for covert interests and rationalize their actions. The second issue can be addressed without adopting a hermeneutic of suspicion. The hermeneutic of suspicion should be avoided because it “destroys the very possibility of understanding historical difference” and “undermines the sincerity and integrity of people whose actions fall beyond the boundaries of behavior enacted ‘in good faith.’”(14) Instead of a hermeneutic of suspicion we ought to adopt a hermeneutic of charity, taking sources at their own words unless there are reasons to believe that the source is being deceptive. In the case of martyrological sources, one can maintain a fine balance between suspicion and charity by checking martyological literature against literature produced by opponents. Surprisingly, both kinds of accounts tend to be very similar in what they report. Thus, it seems as though a hermeneutic of charity can give us adequate details of events as they are reported.

Analysis

Out of the five essays we have examined this was the essay that I resonated the most with. I find myself agreeing with much of what Gregory has to say; especially as it concerns the problems of post-structuralism or “the linguistic turn.” The method he proposes does a good job of guarding against some of the realities that post-structuralism brings up, namely subjectivity and covert motives. His method does not dismiss these realities, however he refuses to let historiography be put into bondage by these realities. Instead he leverages these two points to develop an even more objective account of historical events.

In addition to the fact that this method has some payoff regarding research I believe that it also has another strength: it displays Christian virtue. By this I mean, that this method attempts to refrain from reading false motives into its subjects. In a sense you could say that this method attempts refuses to bear false witness against its neighbor and thus keeps 9th commandment. Also, one might think that this method is in line with Paul’s description of Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13: love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. For these two simple reasons I am drawn to Brad Gregory’s method over the method of the other authors we have examined thus far.

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The Lady Vanishes: Dilemmas of a Feminist Historian after the “Linguistic Turn”

Today we continue a mini-series on the philosophy of doing history. In the next few days we will take a look at all sorts of views regarding how to do history. These views range from critical realist accounts all the way to post-structuralist accounts and even some feminist accounts.


“Has the lady vanished?” When Elizabeth Clark poses this question she means to ask, can we recover women’s voices in their pure and simple form from historical texts? (31) The simple answer is, no we cannot. However, answers to difficult questions rarely tend to be simple. This is also the case for this question, because in a sense, although the insights of the “linguistic turn” tell us that the “pure and simple” voice of women can no longer be found in texts, there are other ways to find traces of women’s voices in texts. As Clark explains, “she leaves her traces…embedded in a larger social-linguistic framework.” (31) And even though in a sense the lady has in fact vanished, “she lives on.” (31)

Clark’s essay which attempts to defend the possibility of feminist history after the

clark
Duke Historian, Elizabeth Clark

“linguistic turn,” referring to structuralism and post-structuralism, begins by explaining how these linguistically grounded schools of thought overlaps and contradicts the feminist agenda. The linguistic turn in literary criticism and even historiography has aided feminist thinkers by confirming the feminist critique of objectivity. The feminist historian can be thankful for this. Yet at the same time the various schools of the linguistic turn have so critiqued objectivity and so emphasized how we cannot escape our social-cultural-linguistic location that they “annihilated the female subject.” (3) After she explores a few potential solutions to this problem of the vanishing lady, and finding them wanting, she proposes a more temperate approach. This approach follows the work of Spiegel who suggests that texts can be treated as both consequences of extratextual development (read: cultural-linguistic frameworks) but also causes which can impose and help create new ways of thinking. With this dual concept of consequence and cause, the historian can not only approach a historical “text” as a product of the extra-textual realities which produced it but also as a “text” which also plays a role in producing new extra-textual realities.

For of how this consequence-cause concept plays out in reading ancient Christian texts we might look to how Clark understands Macrina’s voice in Gregory of Nyssa’s Vita  and On the Soul and the Resurrection. Like post-structuralists, Clark recognizes how Macrina’s voice, is written out within the framework of a particular genre: Lives of Philosophers

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An icon of St. Macrina

and within particular cultural assumptions about gender. Because of these two realities, we don’t “really” hear Macrina’s voice, but rather we hear: 1) Gregory’s voice and 2)the voice of the culture. However, in another sense Macrina has not “really” lost her voice, we can hear her voice as we examine how women and gender are constructed in the text.

Analysis

Apart from the direct application to feminist historiography, this essay provides interesting food for thought concerning the general epistemology of history. Like several of the other essays we have read this week, Clark’s essay emphasizes the large role that cultural-linguistic frameworks play in the creation and in our reading of texts. Clark is rightly worried that pushing this point to far yields a skepticism about the subjects of those texts. In other words, its not just the lady that vanishes, but the subject as well. The only thing we have left with an extreme version of he linguistic turn is languages and cultures – no individuals. This result should be concerning to the historian. Yet the historian should not be too concerned because Clark has pointed one way out of this problem: an emphasis on consequence and cause. This is an important distinction for some of the work I’m doing on Jonathan Edwards’s doctrine of hell. Edwards is in a sense bound up in his own cultural-linguistic framework when he thinks about this doctrine. Thus, everything he writes is a consequence of his social-location. However, to leave it at that would mean that he could never move beyond the ideological assumptions of that location. The concept of “cause” however opens up the possibility of examining how his work plays a role in changing the cultural-linguistic framework which makes up this doctrine. Thus, even an ideologically powerful concept, like the doctrine of hell, does not simply perpetuate a particular “oppressive” or “totalizing” agenda, that is, it does not necessarily act as a strategy for domination,” it can also challenge common agendas of the day.

Despite the significance of “consequence and cause,” I am left wondering if the hermeneutic of suspicion engendered by the linguistic turn leads us to being uncharitable to the authors of texts. It seems to me that emphasizing the “consequence” too much leads to an interpretation of texts that the authors would not recognize as their own.


Elizabeth A. Clark, “The Lady Vanishes: Dilemmas of a Feminist Historian after the ‘Linguistic Turn,’” Church History 67 (1998): 1-31.

LATC 2018 – Adam and Christ: Human Solidarity Before God

The following are notes from Frances Young’s plenary talk.


Slime Mold

  • Japanese Scientist “trained” them to make their way through a maze
  • A self-organizing organism that is greater than the sum of its parts
  • Emergence & feedback mechanisms – do we need to reimagine ourselves as constituting an organism that is greater than the sum of its parts?

 

David Kelsey

  • Shares some common themes – but today we take up a feature that lies outside of Kelsey’s definition
    • Personal living body with an unsubistitutable identity
    • Rules out participation in Christ
      • “It is human kind that is some sort of corporate whole that exhibits the image of God. However just what this means is unclear.”

 

Corporate Personality (Whole of Humanity Represented both in Adam and in Christ)

  • Central to early Christian understanding

 

Athanasius

  • He took humanity that we might share divinity
  • Does he think of Christ’s humanity as that of a particular human man or humanity in general?
  • To grasp the sweep of his story we need to take account of his apologetic concerns
    • There is an oscillation in Athanasius’ work between Humanity and Soul
  • The Death of all was fulfilled in the Lord’s body – he somehow dies the death of the whole human race – its impossible to do justice to patristic thought without taking into account the corporate whole of humanity

 

Athanasius and the Corporate Whole

  • Passages reflect Platonist intellectual background – particular cases acquire a certain property by participating in its absolute form.
  • Because he is the TRUE Son – particulars can participate in this form
  • The body of Christ – passing through death and resurrection – is absolute humanity – renewed and recreated – the humanity of Christ is some kind of coproprate whole and Athanasius’ theological schema will fall apart without it.
  • Two-fold scheme – Solidarity in Sin and Solidarity in Christ

 

Charles Taylor and The Modern Sources of the Self

  • Contrast “modern” anthropology & this participation model
  • We no longer think of ourselves collectively
  • The term community has crept in but it is a way of talking about individuals who feel they are in the same boat – they think relationships are ultimately about themselves and their own personal commitment
  • “The Hunger Angel”

 

However necessary it is to counter individualism with the emphasis on our communal nature does not actually reclaim the human corporations that we find in the patristic sources.

See the book “Think like an anthropologist” – we are all interconnected – scientific study upholds a view of a universal human nature – the intertwining of narratives is a way in which the particular and universal interact

Back to Slime Mold

  • Through feedback mechanism individuals become part of a larger whole
  • By emergence we have the capacity to reappropriate something like the corporate personality of the patristics

Origen – The Man of Steel!

I’m working on a sermon on Romans 10 this morning. I opened up Logos Bible Software – and the first thing that popped up was this little article on Origen of Alexandria.

This third century “religious fanatic” gave up his job, slept on the floor, ate no meat, drank no wine, fasted twice a week, owned no shoes, and reportedly castrated himself for the faith. He was also the most prolific scholar of his age (with hundreds of works to his credit), a first-rate Christian philosopher, and a profound student of the Bible.

Child prodigy Origen Adamantius (“man of steel”) was born near Alexandria about A.D. 185.
The oldest of seven children in a Christian home, he grew up 220px-origenlearning the Bible and the meaning of commitment. In 202 when his father, Leonidas, was beheaded for his Christian beliefs, Origen wanted to die as a martyr, too. But his mother prevented him from even leaving the house—by hiding his clothes.

To support his family, the 18-year-old Origen opened a grammar school, copied texts, and instructed catechumens (those seeking to become members of the church). He himself studied under the pagan philosopher Ammonius Saccas in order to better defend his faith against pagan arguments. When a rich convert supplied him with secretaries, he began to write.

 Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). Introduction. In 131 Christians everyone should know (pp. 332–333). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

I’m a Father!

On March 9th at 3:22pm my beautiful baby daughter was born! Her mom – my wife – started getting contractions during the YoungLife club that she serves at. But she didn’t really know what it was, just that it hurt and that she didn’t feel well. When she got home, she told me that she thought the baby was going to come soon. Of course I doubted it. I thought she was having false contractions, so I told her to relax and go to bed. Well, she knew better. She said we should pack our bags, and reluctantly I did. I didn’t even pack anything to sleep in because I figured they would send us back home due to a false alarm. (I mean common, you have to give me credit, my wife was due April 4th!) Shiloh1

We tried to go to sleep, well she tried, and I actually did sleep. And then at 3 am she woke me up saying she thinks this is it. We both shower, because you want to be fresh for labor! And she was right, when we got to the hospital they said she was in fact in labor. A few hours, and no pain med or epidural, later my wife gave birth to our baby girl!

Shiloh2

Today she is one week old, but already I’m feeling changed. I never thought I could love someone the way I love my daughter. She is so precious to me and makes my heart melt. I’ve heard people say there is nothing like the love of a parent, but I never really understood that. Now, a week later, I think I’m starting to get it. To think – I love my daughter so much, and God the Father loves the Son even more, and was willing to give him up for our sake! Having a child of my own makes me appreciate the gospel that much more.

Shiloh3
We are starting our baby on the right track by teaching her her ABC’s… of Church History! Today she learned about Augustine, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards.

Augustine and his Interpreters (Some Stuff on EFS)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post I am working on an essay on Eternal Functional Subordination – one article that has been super helpful in understanding the historical dimension of this position has been John Starke’s “Augustine and his Interpreters,” which can be found in One God in Three Persons. For those of you who are interested in what he has to say but don’t have the book – here is an outline of the paper:

Introduction

Complementarians:

  1. Eternal Generation and inseparable operation undergird and support an order of authority of submission.
  • Augustine and other figures in church history, from the early church to the modern era, affirms an order of authority and submission in the persons of the Trinity. (157)
  • Bruce Ware says “Augustine affirmed… inherent authority of the Father and inherent submission of the Son.” (157)
    • Followed by a quote from Ware

Keith E. Johnson

Keith E. Johnson offers an argument why eternal generation and inseparable operation does not allow for an order of authority and submission

  • “Augustine maintains, according to Johnson, that “being sent does not imply inferiority on the part of the Son. It simply reveals that the Son is eternally from by the Father.” (159)
  • Johnson claims Complementarians misinterpret Augustine as affirming an order of authority and submission in the “sent” language of Scripture.” (159)
  • “Complementarians read too much into Augustine’s doctrine of eternal generation in saying that Augustine is also affirming an order of authority and submission.” (160)
  • Augustine’s inseparable operation does not allow for an order of authority and submission. (160)

This essay responds to those last two claims

Eternal Generation

Calvin and Owen both argue that the Father is the beginning of deity and beginning of activity. The Father makes the authoritative designation. (164)

Even Johnson implies that if “being sent” means an order of submission and authority, then it necessitates an inferior Son. (165)

Inseparable Operations

  • Johnson – Complementarians sever his comments about the Father sending the Son from Augustine’s unequivocal affirmation that the divine person act inseparably. (167)
  • Johnson – to hold to an order of authority and submission would break the one will of the Father and Son into two
  • Johnson’s Argument (168)
    • An order of authority and submission is compatible with Augustine’s inseparable operations, since the work of “sending” the Son was inseparable work fo the Father and the Son
    • An order of authority and submission not only is incompatible with inseparable operation, but would divine the one will of the Father and the Son.
    • Incompatibility with Augustine’s inseparable operation and division of the one will of the Father and Son would lead to a position incompatible with homoousian.
  • Starke’s Replies
    • The unity of operations is harmony not unison
    • The will of the Son is not apart from the Father, it is a will that he shares from the Father
    • Johnson is correct to assume if complementarians reject inseparable operations they reject homoousioan. However they don’t reject inseparable operations

John Starke, Augustine, and Eternal Functional Subordination

So I just started working on the issue of Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS). I’m pretty convinced that it is an unorthodox position and I haven’t found too many compelling arguments in favor of it. For instance – Wayne Grudem’s chapter “Doctrinal

John Starke is pastor of preaching at Apostles Church in New York City and co-editor of One God in Three Persons (Crossway, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter.

Deviations in Evangelical-Feminist Arguments about the Trinity” in One God in Three Persons – is pure rubbish. However, that isn’t to say that the position is not defensible. I just finished reading John Starke’s argument in favor of EFS from Augustine’s De Trinitate.

In his chapter Augustine and His Interpreters he takes aim mostly at the work of Keith Johnson who argues that

  1. Complementarians read too much into Augustine’s doctrine of eternal generation in saying that Augustine is also affirming an order of authority and submission
  2. Augustine’s inseparable operation does not allow for an order of authority and submission

The majority of Starke’s chapter seeks to address these two theses.

At the end of the day it seems best to me to read Augustine’s language of “being sent” as simply saying that the son is “sent” and nothing more. It also seems best to me to read inseparable operations not just as “harmony” but rather a sort of perichoretic operation (see Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God). Nevertheless I highly recommend Starke’s essay because it makes very clear some of most important the issues that need to be addressed in the EFS debate.