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Philippians 2:5-11 is used by Christian historians, philosophers, and theologians alike. By surveying the writings of three Christian thinkers, I hope to underscore the different ways each author uses the same text but for different reasons. In my conclusion, I will offer several distinctions toward understand the relationships between exegesis and theology. Our inquiry will expose (among other things) the value and limitations of historical inquiry for authentic Christian theology, the relationship between Christian faith and historical-critical inquiry, the influence of social location on a Christian’s exegesis, and different Christian approaches toward reviving authentic theology in the postmodern period.
Sergius Bulgakov’s Treatment: Kenosis as a Model for Divine-Creaturely Relations
References in this section come from: Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2008). 472. pp.
Sergius Bulgakov was an Eastern Orthodox Russian Priest (1871-1944) writing systematic theology in Paris as a dean at Saint Sergius Theological Institute, occupying the chair of dogmatic theology from 1925 until his death in 1944. Thus, his social location created a open environment for doing distinctively Christian theology. Bulgakov’s Lamb of God ambitiously attempts to explain what few have thought explainable: How could divine nature be united to human nature? While the Chalcedonian creed affirms such a union, Bulgakov argues that this creed unnaturally juxtaposes these two natures in one hypostasis in a way that seems like dogmatic “abracadabra” (63). How can the infinite be finite and the immutable become mutable? Taking Chalcedonian Christology as the starting point for constructive Christology, he hopes to address this Christological problematic. His work presumes a need to “clarify precisely what occurred in the Incarnation” (221) rather than simply affirming the Incarnation as an inexplicable mystery, for the latter would be an “inappropriate” way of proceeding “for a theologian who [makes] this the main subject of his investigation” (30).
The usefulness of Philippians 2 to Bulgakov’s proposal in this context can be viewed from several angles. It allows him to force upon his readers the weight of the problem to which his book is addressed: “the Creator became a creature” (213). He admits that Philippians 2 is the subject of a number of disputes among interpreters, but insists that at least “one thing is indisputable”: that God became a creature “must be understood and received with all responsible realism, that is, without any docetic interpretations” (214). This plays an important role in Bulgakov’s attempt to persuade his readers that his controversial ideas are necessary to make sense of the incarnation. Emphasizing the humanity of Christ so forcibly functions to give a subsequent attractiveness to his claims of 1) the dual modality of God: that God’s divine being exists in two modes—God’s being “in himself” (infinite, uncreated, immutable) and God’s being “for Himself” or “outside Himself” (finite, created, mutable) and 2) the theo-anthropology of man: part of man is “eternal” (93) and has “God’s essence” (94).
By claiming that creation is a mode of God’s existence (God for Himself) and that man is part God (so to speak), Bulgakov hopes to make the union between God and man less like opposite poles of existence coming together in an ontologically awkward train wreck. If part of God is Sophia (creaturely existence) and part of man is God (Sprit), their union can be conceived more naturally. In short, Philippians 2 is a convenient text for giving credibility to Bulgakov’s paradigm for understanding God’s relation to the world (his doctrine of Sophia) because “the kenosis [described in Philippians] expresses the general relation of God to the world” (223). All of creation is but “a kenotic act of God” (223).
Larry Hurtado’s Treatment: Christological Ode as Evidence of Early Devotion
References in this section come from: Hurtado, W. Larry. How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. pp. vii + 234.
Larry Hurtado’s social location is the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. His research grants depend on the approval of a community that values “history” according to modern standards (i.e. as excluding supernatural explanations for historical phenomenon). Hurtado’s aim in How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God? is to dignify Christian origins from the stigma of having been corrupted over time by later pagan religious influence and to locate a shocking explosion of Jesus devotion that, as far as the evidence shows, must be dated long before our first Christian sources from Paul and Pliny the Younger (in fact, as far as we can tell, it may have begun soon after Jesus’ execution—about the time Christians think Jesus Resurrected!).
For this kind of agenda, Hurtado finds Philippians useful in at least two ways. First, since Philippians is regarded by scholarly consensus to be genuinely Pauline and dated around 60 C.E., it is of vital importance as evidence of early Christian thought. Thus, by making a case against the Adamic interpretation of Jesus’ being in the “form of God” before his self-emptying, Hurtado finds within the text a “high Christology,” for he argues that the syntax of the Greek “practically requires” that Jesus’ being “equal with God” as the parallel to being “in the form of God” (100). Second, since such “high Christology” is located in a Christological ode and therefore does not originate with Paul, “well before this epistle the idea of Jesus’ ‘pre-existence’ had become a part of Christian belief” (101). Third, this text works for Hutrado as evidence against the “evolutionary proposal” that sees Christianity’s belief in the deity of Jesus as the inevitable influence of pagan religion rather than an outgrowth (or “mutation”) of Jewish monotheism (15). Since “Philippians 2:9-11 is adapted from, and makes deliberate allusion to, biblical and Jewish tradition” (being something like a Christological midrash with ubiquitous allusions to OT passages), the readers are expected to “bring to the passage” a “biblical/Jewish” framework “not some putatively pre-Christian Gnostic redeemer-myth, or some other scheme such as Roman emperor-enthronement or the apotheosis of heroes” (95).
Tilley’s Treatment: Kenosis as “Not the Point”
References in this section come from: Terrence Tilley. The Disciples’ Jesus: Christology as Reconciling Practice. Maryknoll, New York, 2008. 302 pp.
Terrence W. Tilley is a Professor of Catholic Theology and Chair of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York. His agenda in The Disciples’ Jesus is to completely redefine Christology in the hopes of making it more “practical.” His book is thoroughly colored with linguistic dualisms: practice vs. theory (1), practical vs. theoretical (2), doctrine vs. practical theology (3), spectators vs. disciples (15). Tilley’s book is an “essay” but not a “system” (xii). His project displaces the sacred scriptures as “a theological locus” in favor of the scriptures as a “theological form” for traversing practices (xi). He attempts to redefine all the terms in order to relativize theory, doctrine, and “systems” (i.e. classical Christology). For example, he redefines Christology as “reconciling practices” so that even if one of the practices might be considered believing, it is seen as one practice among many in a complex nexus of “patterns of actions” (13). He also redefines the foundational language of theology in general by distinguishing between beliefs and doctrines. Beliefs have truth-value and qualify as one of the practices; doctrines govern the practice of beliefs but surprisingly have zero truth-value (203-205)! With these two amazing moves of redefinition, Tilley manages to create an entirely new discipline: the discipline of Christology! (If we follow Tilley’s definition, we will have to find a new word for referring to what everybody else calls Christology: the study of the person and work of Christ). Also important for his exegesis is this: doctrines are “shorthand guides derived from good practice” (208, italics mine).
There is a certain shock value to Tilley’s approach in his treatment of the famous Philippians hymn traditionally believed to contain a high Christology. Philippians 2 is the classic proof text for Jesus’ pre-existence before his kenosis into manhood. One might think this would be a poor choice of text on Tilley’s part after having claimed that Christian practice (Christology) is not dependent upon doctrine but vice versa, for Paul seems to base his injunction to the Philippians on a notion of kenosis that presupposes Jesus’ pre-existence. First, Tilley claims that we cannot “be sure that the hymns [in Scripture] were preserved because they expressed the people’s faith” (109). Then, he asserts that “Paul’s point was not to assert preexistence”; rather, Paul is simply using rhetoric to make a point about having the right phroneõ (a term that means “mind” or “attitude” but Tilley translates as “ways,” 110-111). Ironically, although Tilley affirms that Paul is reminding the Philippians to act the way Jesus did, he tries his best to explain this imperative in a way that excludes the description of what Jesus did (relinquish the mode of being he had in his pre-existence) from qualifying as part of Paul’s “point,” since he cannot allow doctrine (in this case pre-existence) to be the grounds for practice (in this case the way of humble servitude).
Conclusions: Theology & Exegesis
Theology is related to biblical exegesis in many ways. First, the texts that are the focus of exegesis presume all sorts of theological realities. Second, the social location of the Christian exegete often determines the way they exegete and therefore whether they are card-carrying theologians or undercover theologians. For example, some Christian commentators presume or focus on the divine realities (the res) to which the texts refer (Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis, 65). Here Bulgakov is our only good example. When Christian commentators focus on such realities, their posture toward the historical documents of Scripture is one of faith and trust. Their exegesis is thematically theological. Other Christians, however, thematically suspend such realities in the interest of focusing on the human dynamics of the text and making contributions to a broader discussions taking place in a broader discourse largely outside the Christian community. Here Hurtado is our example. When Christian commentators aim their work at such broader secular discussions, they must present their work in ways that are persuasive to the presumptions that govern such discourse. In the case of secular history, this requires excluding appeals to divine realities (the res). Thus, such exegetes are considered historians and their commentaries on biblical texts are categorized as historical. Often, as in the case of Hurtado, their agenda is apologetic. Here we have two spheres of discourse: theological exegesis (Bulgakov) and historical exegesis (Hurtado).
Third, the object of biblical exegesis (the texts) appears to play a major role in the justification of one’s theology. Both Bulgakov and Tilley feel the need to ground their arguments using Scripture. Alas! Scripture still carries weight in the church (even if there is a wide ranging continuum on which we might place each theologian). Bulgakov, in his treatment of Philippians 2, brings in a number of other dogmatic sources—the gospel of John, the “divinely inspired” Chalcedonian creed, other Pauline letters (e.g. 2 Corinthians 8:9), patristic exegesis, contemporary exegetical consensus, etc. (213-17). He accepts traditional Christian dogma as represented in the Creed of Chalcedon as his starting point. The intention of his historical survey of patristic theology and his own exegetical endeavors is not to suspend his creedal convictions to “prove” them from Scripture. He wants rather to develop the Chalcedonian dogma or explain it more precisely, not prove it. Unlike Bulgakov, some Christians who believe the Bible to be inspired (particularly Protestants) thematically suspend the dogmas of Creeds (dogmatic tradition) under the conviction that Scripture itself should be the norm of all norms, and thus (at least in principle) be capable of reforming Creedal dogmatics. Yet even the Creeds themselves were formulated as resolutions to competing ways of interpreting Scripture, demonstrating that even those who rely on the Creeds are (consciously or unconsciously) indirectly allowing the biblical witness to “norm” their theology. The ethos of patristic theologians (who wrote the Creeds) was to stay faithful to Scripture (which involves exegesis) in their theology.
Fourth, the theology of Christian historians often appears to set their agenda for historical research. Hurtado, for example, does his best to clean up the mess historians have made with the Bible. He points the evidence in a direction that fits comfortably with what the texts themselves say (devotion to Jesus happened very early—maybe even right after the execution, it was not started by the influence of pagan religion, etc.). Yet Hurtado’s work is a great example of what is called “the impasse between exegesis and theology.” It should be obvious that any theological claims about the res are hermetically sealed off from his work. His agenda requires it, for he wishes to force the secular discourse to face the historical evidence, but to keep his case from easy dismissal by larger secular discourse he must forgo theology. It appears to me that Christians need people like Hurtado to bring sobriety to the secular discourse and not let historians so easily get away with distorting the evidence to undermine Christian faith.
But is there a necessary, insurmountable chasm between exegesis and theology? Not necessarily. For as we have seen, both Bulgakov and Tilley need exegesis to do theology persuasively. Therefore, they can often fit like hand-in-glove. If Christians are concerned with doing theology within the ecclesial context, they need not worry about suspending their attempts to explore the possible realities to which the biblical texts refer (realities that disclose revelation from God). The insurmountable impasse is between anti-supernaturalism and theological exegesis. Inasmuch as one methodologically rules out their theological convictions from a secular discourse in order to draw attention to one’s arguments and evidence, such methodology can never finally result in authentic theology—even if it can make that “leap” more historically credible for those willing to go beyond secular (read: anti-supernatural) historical-critical methodology.
Here we have stumbled upon another distinction: historical critical methodology and anti-supernatural presuppositions. So long as the historical-critical method is in the hands of mostly secular anti-supernaturalists, historical inquiry will seem almost inseparably wed to anti-supernatural presuppositions. But the question we must ask over and over again when considering whether historical-critical methodology is at an impasse with theology is this: In whose hands? If complemented by Christian presuppositions, historical inquiry might not only make Christian faith historically credible, but reveal the Word made flesh in real history (e.g. taking the biblical narratives seriously with an attitude of trust, looking to the lives of the apostles and the continuity of their teaching, looking more carefully at linguistic norms of ancient Greek to illumine New Testament Greek, etc.). In secular hands, historical inquiry “shows” all sorts of embarrassing things about Christianity that discredit Christian faith (Jesus never existed; belief in his divinity was the inevitable influence of pagan religion; the New Testament is unrealiable, etc.) In Levering’s hands, history becomes participatory and original historical meanings of the biblical text reveal realities beyond the text. So the question we must ask is: In whose hands?
The question of what qualifies as “fair play” in exegesis, however, is a much more complicated question. The question is so complex that it stands as a good candidate for qualifying as one of the great “mysteries” of the faith. What complicates the issue is this: limiting the message of God to the best discernable human intensions in the words would contradict the way the Apostles appear to use the Old Testament, but opening the possibilities of meaning beyond the original human intensions in the words makes Scripture vulnerable to abuse, semantic abracadabra, and eisegesis. A middle ground is hard to tread.
Positioning the Historical-critical Method
References in this section come from: 1) Robert Barron, The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2007. 2) Joseph Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth: From The Baptism In the Jordan To the Transfiguration. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2007.
Barron does not have a developed paradigm for the role of the historical critical method in the work of Christian theology. His book virtually equates the historical critical method with the historical-critical science of Classical Liberalism (35-47). Thus, his alternative is “not to look under, around, or over [the text] in order to get the point. Rather, the story itself, the narrative of Jesus as the Christ, in all of its peculiarity, surprise, and novelty is the point” (49). He wants to be drawn into the narrative of the gospels so as to take on “its assumptions, characters, perspectives, typical questions, modes of behavior, theology” and thereby come to a new way of “thinking, moving, and deciding” (50). He positions biblical interpretation (he does not describe such interpretation as historical-critical) as subordinate to doctrine. Doctrines rule out certain possibilities from biblical interpretation and “resolve certain puzzlements” (52-53).
After laying down certain doctrinal guides, Barron just jumps right into exegesis without tiptoeing around the sensitivities of modern historical-critical methods or even Christian hermeneutic textbooks. A quick glance at the sources used in his first chapter of exegesis, “The Gatherer,” will reveal that he borrows only sparsely from historical critical sources. He takes a common sense approach combined with his doctrinal guidelines and peppered with interesting tidbits (e.g. Aristotle insights on friendship, 76). He comes close to allowing for historical-critical insight when he analyzes certain Greek words or phrases (e.g. the “Greek formula” ego eimi, 88; the Greek term ousia that “undergirds” the word “property,” 77), but he does not belabor any of his interpretations as though he were up to the challenges of tedious scholarship.
Ratzinger, on the other hand, has an explicitly developed method that incorporates the historical critical method. If we are to take history seriously, we must take methods that examine history seriously (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, xv). But the historical-critical method cannot speak to us in the present and excludes the possibility of supernatural phenomenon. We must, therefore, go beyond this method to a “Christological hermeneutic” (Ratzinger, xix). Once he has laid bare his twofold method, he allows for the “Christological hermeneutic” to so dominate that he goes into all sorts of spiritual meditations that seem completely unrelated to the authors historical intension (the authors who were inspired by God to write what they wrote). His historical work and spiritual insights often seem to be joined by duck tape rather than flowing from an organic union (see last sentence of previous section).
Without a doubt, Ratzinger has a better approach than Barron when it comes to salvaging the insights of the historical-critical method. He has a clearly defined twofold method, and although I have seen other writers work with a similar method in a more satisfying way, his method (as explained in the beginning of his book) is more promising than Barron’s more polemic approach. It proves most fruitful in his hands when he grounds his main point in The God of Jesus Christ in themes widely attested as themes in the text he exegetes. Personally, however, among those who have attempted to contribute to overcoming the pitfalls between historical-critical methods and theology, Levering has helped me the most.
It is better to think of the methodologies of Hurtado and Bauckham as complementary to the more theological/philosophical approaches of Ratzinger and Barron than as “the” alternative. (Here I am thinking of their methods as excluding recourse to the supernatural, i.e. thematically secular-historical-critical.) As a means for apologetics, such an approach may be an alternative vocation for a particular Christian, but it can never be an alternative theology for that Christian because it rules out theological conclusions.
Matthew Levering. Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation. Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press, 2008.
Francis Beckwith gives a quick lesson on hermeneutical discrepancies (in the context of ecumenical dialogue) that I found concise and worth posting. The comment comes from conversation about Ligon Duncan’s interpretation of the Fathers.
Joey Henry asks Bryan: “What makes your interpretation better than Dr. Duncan then?”
What sort of answer do you expect to this question? It really can’t be answered at the high level of abstraction at which you ask it. These sorts of issues–whether or not one is interpreting an author better than another reader–can only be resolved by getting your hands dirty. Pick the author, the relevant texts, and each make his case.
Suppose I were arguing with Mr. X over whether the Bible is discussing tennis when it states in Genesis that Joseph served in Pharoah’s Court. If I say “no” and Mr. X says “yes,” it’s just strange to then ask me, “What makes your interpretation better than Mr. X’s then?” The only thing that “makes” it better is that it explains and accounts for more than Mr. X’s and is consistent with everything else we know about ancient Hebrew and Egyptian practices. Bryan is making such a case contra Dr. Duncan’s case. After he makes the case you don’t ask “What makes your interpretation better than Dr. Duncan then?” since, for Bryan, it’s his case that does it. So, if you think he’s wrong, get your hands dirty. But short of that, asking conversation-stopping non-questions at levels of abstraction not appropriate to the inquiry is a complete waste of time.
I apologize if that sounds snitty, but if I roll my eyes one more time I’m not sure I will be unable to remove them from underneath my forehead. 🙂
Reformed Bias Exposed
Is the Doctrine of Imputation Found in The Epistle to Diognetus?
NOTE: For the catalyst for this post, see Bryan Cross’s post about Ligon Duncan’s lecture: Did the Fathers Know the Gospel?, which contains (in the thread) Duncan’s response.
Statement of Purpose – The following is an attempt to demonstrate what would have been obvious to me if I were inclined to consciously and aggressively counter my Reformed bias by limiting my interpretation to what is actually within the text. The analysis below does not aim at exploring every grammatical/textual observation which could be expounded, but rather aims at exposing the flow of thought in the passage relevant to our question as proposed in the subtitle. Without such analysis of thought-flow one cannot perform safe exegesis (the process by which one pulls meaning out of the text itself), but ever risks her interpretation to that infamous activity known as eisegesis (the process by which one reads into the text what she wants to see). It is not my intent to claim the doctrine of imputation is false but only that it is not to found in “The Epistle to Diognetus,” and that reading into this text the doctrine of imputation is therefore a vulnerable example of Protestant hermeneutical bias.
It is necessary that the reader have in front of her a copy of this letter in order to truly follow the logic of the exegesis: “The Epistle to Diognetus and the Fragment of Quadratus,” The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd ed., ed. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007), 686-721.
The Epistle to Diognetus, IX
1. The “former time” is characterized by unrighteousness in nobis (inside of us), that is, unrighteousness which consist in internal “impulses,” “pleasures and lusts.”
2. This “unrighteousness” of the former time is intended to be contrasted with the “season of righteousness which is now,” the latter being the solution, or answer, as it were, to the former.
3. This comparison between the “former time” and the present season is paralleled in the text by a comparison between the “past time” in which “from our own deeds” (in nobis) we were “convicted as unworthy of life,” and the “now” in which “by the goodness of God” we are “deemed worthy.”
4. In both of the temporal comparisons mentioned above (1-3) the unrighteousness is in nobis or inherent to the persons to which the “righteousness” is intended to be the cure. It is most natural, therefore, to take the author to understand the “righteousness” which is characteristic of the “season of righteousness” to also be in nobis—the opposite of unrighteousness in nobis.
5. The above interpretation (4) is confirmed by the text itself as the author speaks of the contrast again in just this sense. The former time is characterized by an inherent inability “of ourselves … to enter into the kingdom of God,” as opposed to the present time in which, by the “power” of God we are “able.” Both the former and present states are described in terms of a quality which is inside of us (inherent powerlessness vs. ability)—albeit worked through the divine “power” which is extra nos (outside of us).
6. The “goodness” and “power” of God (by which it is said that we are “deemed worthy” and made able) is contextually described with words which function as virtual synonyms, namely, His “exceeding kindness and love,” not Christ’s active and passive obedience (the grounds by which we are deemed worthy according to the Reformed tradition).
7. Beginning with the phrase “Himself in mercy took on Him our sins,” the latter half of verse 2 is grammatically subordinate to, and explicatory of, the first part of the sentence in which the main idea is seen in the main verb, “bore.” All that follows in verse 2 explains in what sense God “bore with us” patiently. One must not miss the penal tension—”our iniquity … its reward of punishment and death was awaited”—which is explicitly understood as the dilemma to which this bearing is the answer.
8. Although we might understand that Christ “bore with us” patiently in seven different ways, it is more rhetorically sensitive to see our author explaining this one same act with several expressions. In other words, it is overwhelmingly likely that the seven phrases which follow this main verb (and are explicatory of it) are listed in typical parallelism fashion, and therefore mean virtually the same thing.
9. These parallel phrases mentioned above are the following:
Himself in mercy took on Him our sins
Himself gave up His own Son as a ransom for us
the holy One for the wicked
the innocent for the guilty
“the just for the unjust”
the incorruptible for the corruptible
the immortal for mortals
10. The above parallel phrases, being seven different ways of referring to Christ’s taking on our sins as a ransom, each refer to the idea of penal substitution on the basis of the death of Christ, not the idea of positive forensic status substitution on the basis of the active and passive obedience of Christ.
11. Verses 3-4 combined compose a ground (“for”) in support of the necessity of such penal substitution heralded by the author in verse 2.
12. The grounding in verses 3 and 4 is based on the following argument—”what else could cover our sins but his righteousness?” Contextually therefore, the “righteousness” which “covers our sins” is the death of Christ, since the phrase “what else” most naturally and necessarily (if it is to ground the previous phrases) refers to the main idea in the preceding sentence, explained by the parallelisms which follow (9).
13. Likewise verse 4 bears the same idea of necessity as does verse 3. The question is—”In whom was it possible for us, wicked and impious as we were, to be justified”? The answer is, “in the Son of God alone.” Contextually, that the wicked and impious are able “to be justified “in the Son of God alone,” means that they are able to be justified by the penal substitution of Christ only.
14. The “sweet exchange” of verse 5 need not bear any more meaning than what has gone before it (and what comes after it, as we will see in 16)—namely the penal exchange in which Christ exchanged himself in our place to bear the punishment for our sins. This is the “exchange” our author has gloried over in the previous verse and wished to ground in verses 3 and 4.
15. The phrases which follow the first phrase of verse 5 (“O the sweet exchange”) are another example of parallelism in which the phrases which follow refer to virtually the same thing:
O the sweet exchange
O work of God beyond all searching out,
O blessings past our expectation
16. The author gives us an explicatory clause, or content clause if you will, which perfectly accounts for all the previous language of exchange—”that the wickedness of many should be hidden in the one righteous Man and the righteousness of the One should justify many wicked!”
17. Unless we take this last clause completely out of the logical and grammatical range of the context, our author is most naturally understood to be reiterating his main idea (as he has been doing since the latter half of verse two)—not introducing some brand new idea at the end of the section. That is, the wickedness of the many as hidden in the one righteous Man refers again to the penal substitution in which Christ “bore our sins” as it were, taking on the punishment for them even though he did not deserve it, but was perfectly “righteous.” And the next phrase reiterates the result of this penal substitution—the act of penal substation is “the righteousness of the One” which “should justify the many wicked.”
18. Verse six revisits the theme of temporal contrast in which the “former time” is characterized by the “powerlessness” of our “nature to gain life,” to the “now” time of the Savior in which we are “save[d]” in spite of our powerlessness. This “life” which is spoken of is not something wholly extra nos which is imputed to us, but a “salvation” in nobis which is to be the opposite of our state of “powerlessness” (cf. 5).
19. “His goodness” is once again clarified for us, reinforcing our previous interpretation (6) by which we have concluded that “His goodness” does not refer to the active and passive obedience of Christ by which we obtain forensic status before God, bur rather the “goodness” which God illustrates in sending His son to provide redemption for us—namely, his nature as “guardian, father, teacher, counselor, healer, mind, light, honour, glory, strength,” and “life.” Note: This would have been the perfect place for our author to identify this “goodness” by which we are “deemed worthy” in verse 1 as the active and passive obedience of Christ, but our author does not even go as far as to call it “righteousness” or “obedience” here.
20. As a result of our being confident in God’s good will and love toward us, demonstrated in sending his Son to die for our sins, we are to be freed in nobis from “anxiety about clothing and food.”
Exegetical Conclusion – The assumption of the reader who sees the doctrine of imputation in this text is plain—that wherever the “righteousness” of Christ is spoken of as that which justifies, or by which we are deemed worthy, it refers to the active and passive obedience of Christ rather than the more obvious contextual and grammatical referent—namely, the righteous act of substitution which Christ performed on our behalf. Similarly, when the author reminds us that Christ is “righteous” (as the spotless lamb of a sacrifice), the Protestant reader tends to read into the word “righteous” the active and passive obedience of Christ which is imputed to us for our formal basis of justification. The idea of substitution, to be sure, is in the text quite clearly (i.e. “exchange”), and therefore easily misread by those who are of a Protestant/Reformed perspective (such as myself) as referring to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness spoken of by Luther as “the sweet exchange.” However, the substitution in which the author glories is nowhere spelled out as the active and passive obedience of Christ extra nos by which we are counted as righteous before God. Such concepts are simply absent from the text. The language and logic nowhere imply such a reading, much less demand it. The section is sufficiently understood in terms of penal substitution. Thus I conclude that Protestant bias has won the day in the interpretation of this text to the negligence of diagrammatical analysis.
My good brothers, if I have been in consequential error in my interpretation due to my own ignorance or blind spots, I have conveniently left you my step-by-step analysis by which you could demonstrate which is the weak link in my exegetical development. Please make use of my numbered propositions for reference if you choose to interact. I welcome all who would wish to correct me on this one condition—show me in which step(s) my exegesis breaks down, and how it effects my other propositions. Otherwise, I would not be confident you have followed my argument. Your Reformed, Protestant, and Evangelical brother,
–Bradley R. Cochran
At the recent T4G Conference, Ligon Duncan offered six pieces of evidence that supposedly prove that the early Fathers held the Protestant “gospel” (i.e. for Duncan this means the Calvinistic doctrine of justification). Bryan Cross, who has posted many helpful articles about justification from a Catholic perspective, correctly points out that Duncan’s presentation is flawed on multiple levels and very misleading in light of the evidence and Catholic perspectives on justification. I have posted his conclusion below, but for his arguments and critique you will have to visit their ecumenical website full of scholarly research: Called to Communion: Reformation meets Rome.
All six pieces of evidence he offers are fully Catholic, completely compatible with the doctrine of justification taught by the Council of Trent. And therefore it is misleading to claim that these patristic quotations are evidence that the Fathers in some nascent way “knew” or affirmed or would have affirmed, the Reformed conception of the gospel over that of the Catholic Church. Such a claim amounts to a proof-texting that attempts to read into the patristic writers a theology that is in no way there. If the reason Protestants cannot return to the Catholic Church is that the Catholic gospel is incompatible with the Reformed conception of the gospel, and if present-day orthodox Catholics can without contradiction fully affirm the very best patristic evidence Dr. Duncan can find that the Church Fathers knew of the Reformed conception of the gospel, it follows that the Church Fathers did not know the Reformed gospel. My hope and prayer is that Dr. Duncan and other Protestants will see and acknowledge that the Church Fathers did not know or teach the Reformed conception of the gospel. Recognizing that the Reformed conception of the gospel is a theologicalnovum (i.e. novelty) of the sixteenth century is a necessary step, in my opinion, for Reformed Protestants and Catholics to be reconciled in full communion.
UPDATE :: Duncan has responded to Cross’s article, and Cross has also replied.
Here is the snipet from the thread penned by Bryan Cross:
This morning Dr. Duncan responded to my post, writing: “For instance, recently a Roman Catholic apologetics site has published a blog post that purports to refute my address, but which, in fact, completely misses its point. My little talk at T4G was not a polemic against Roman Catholicism, but a commendation of the Church Fathers to Bible-believing evangelicals. Had I wanted to polemicize against Rome from the Church Fathers, I could have, easily.”
Apparently, the point of his talk was not to show that the Church Fathers knew the [Reformed] gospel. He only wanted to commend the Church Fathers to Bible-believing evangelicals. Apparently, if he had wanted to show that the Church Fathers held a Reformed (and not Catholic) conception of the gospel, he could have easily done so, but just chose not to do it at this conference of 7,000+ young Reformed men. He didn’t want to bore them at 8 AM, so apparently he gave them six weaker points of evidence, even though he could have easily given them much stronger evidence. It seems to me that if he didn’t want to bore his audience, he would have given them the strongest evidence he could find. It seems to me that when these 7,000+ find out that the Church Fathers didn’t hold a Reformed conception of the gospel, they will feel deceived by this talk. It used to be that denominations could get away with this sort of thing, because this sort of communication mostly stayed in-house. But now, because of the new media, you just can’t get away with this sort of thing anymore.
In the peace of Christ,
Russell and Duenes :: Duenes talks about Christopher Hitchens’s brother Peter Hitchens, focusing on Peter’s critique of the “war of aggression” and Peter’s preference for the role of art rather than the role of argument. Click Here to Read It.
Preterism audio files ::: Preterism Podcasts :: Dee Dee Warren has put together a podcast series devoted entirely to preterism. You can also find numerous articles on her site preteristsite.com. Dee Dee began to doubt the Christian faith when she studied the eschatology of the NT and found a compelling answer in the preterist position to her doubts.
A Lecture on Counseling People on Medications :: Charles Hodges MD is a Christian Counselor who also has a medical degree. He has an interesting lecture that begins to play as soon as you open his website. The lecture is about how to counsel people who are taking medications. In the course of this lecture (30-40 min?) Hodges talks about studies done on chemical imbalances with monkeys; whether women are culpable for their behavior when on PMS; a woman who had anorexia nervosa who was cured through counseling; etc. If you have never heard critical critiques of modern medication protocol or chemical imbalance theories, Hodges is fun to listen to for an introduction.
Some will be surprised to note that Aquinas believes that justification is by grace alone (sola gratia) and also articulates something very akin to a doctrine of irresistible grace, although he does not call it that (of course). He prefers the term “infallible” (see below).
I have here summarized articles 1 through 3 of question 112 in the prima secunda of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica: ”Of the Cause of Grace.” All quotations from the Summa are taken from the English Translation, Summa Theologica, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols., rev. ed. 1948; repr., Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981.
112.1: God Alone is the Cause of Grace
IN SUM: “The cause must always be more powerful than its effect.” Therefore, “nothing can act beyond its species” (I-II.112.1). The gift of grace exceeds all natural created capabilities, “since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace” (I-II.112.1).
Christ’s human nature per se is also not the cause of grace, for Christ’s humanity is “an organ of His Godhead,” as Damascene says in De Fide Orthod. 3:19. “Now an instrument does not bring forth the action of the principal agent by its own power, but in virtue of the principal agent.” In the case of Christ, the principal agent was the Divine Nature joined to his humanity. Thus, while we might say Christ’s humanity caused grace, this must be understood to have taken place by virtue of his Divine Nature. (I-II.112.1.ad.1)
Now created things can be said to cause grace in a certain sense—as we have seen in the case of Christ’s humanity. Likewise, the sacraments of the New Law also cause grace “instrumentally,” but “principally by the power of the Holy Ghost working in the sacraments.” (I-II.112.1.ad.2).
112.2: Some Preparations and Dispositions Are Required for Grace
IN SUM: No preparation for God’s grace moving the sinner to the good is necessary. Grace can be considered to need a preparation only in the case of the bestowal of a habitual gift. Even then, however, the preparation is simultaneous with the infusion of grace, and both are a part of the same operation of God.
Grace considered as God’s moving the soul to good needs no preparation on man’s part to “anticipate” the Divine help. “Rather, every preparation in man must be by the help of God moving the soul to good. And thus even the good movement of the free-will, whereby anyone is prepared for receiving the gift of grace is an act of the free-will moved by God.” In this sense people are sometimes said to prepare themselves for grace even though they are moved “principally from God, Who moves the free-will” (I-II.112.2). Thus, it must be remembered that the free-will only prepares inasmuch as it is moved by God.
Grace considered as a habitual gift of God (the gift of a new disposition in the heart) requires a “certain preparation of grace … since a form can only be in disposed matter” (I-II.112.2). This certain preparation, however, “is simultaneous with the infusion of grace” (I-II.112.2.ad.1). “When God infuses grace into a soul, no preparation is required which He Himself does not bring about” (I-II.112.2.ad.3).
Sometimes people even receive an imperfect preparation that “precedes the gift of sanctifying grace, and yet it is from God’s motion” even thought it precedes justification. (I-II.112.2.ad.1). In other words, God sometimes moves people to the good instantaneously and perfectly (as with the apostle Paul), and sometimes through a process that culminates in perfect preparation. Whether a person is moved instantly or step by step is “of no account” because a person is incapable of preparing herself unless God move her to the good.
No preparation of a person for grace is meritorious of grace. However, perfect preparation and the infusion of grace are both part of the same operation of divine help, and this operation is meritorious of glory. (I-II.112.2.ad.1). Again, “no preparation is required which He Himself does not bring about” (I-II.112.2.ad.1) and “merit can only arise from grace.” (I-II.112.2.ad.2).
“Merit can only arise from grace.” (I-II.112.2.ad.3).
112.3: The Movement of Free-will Does not Necessitate Grace, but God’s Intention Does
IN SUM: No movement of the free will necessarily obtains grace because such movement is the result of grace. However, if God intends to move a person’s free will to obtain grace, it will necessarily happen, since God’s intentions cannot fail.
As already stated, a person’s preparation for grace is wholly from God “as Mover, and from the free-will, as moved.” (I-II.112.3).
No movement of free will necessarily obtains grace, but is rather the result grace. In this sense, there is no necessity about free will obtaining grace. On the other hand, inasmuch as the preparation of a person is wholly worked by God as Mover, it does have a kind of necessity—“not indeed of coercion, but of infallibility—as regards what it is ordained to by God, since God’s intention cannot fail” (I-II.112.3). “Hence if God intends, while moving, that the one whose heart He moves should attain to grace, he will infallibly attain to it” (I-II.112.3).
Any act of the free-will the towards the good is “already informed with grace” (I-II.112.3.ad.1).
If there is any defect in grace in a person, the person is it’s “first cause,” but if there is any bestowal of grace on a person, God is it’s “first cause” (I-II.112.3.ad.2).
I have summarized all four articles of question 110 in the prima secunda of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica: “Of the Grace of God As Regards Its Essence.” All quotations from the Summa are taken from the English Translation, Summa Theologica, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols., rev. ed. 1948; repr., Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981.
110.1 Grace Implies Something in the Soul
IN SUM: Grace is not limited to the forgiveness of sins, but signifies various gifts bestowed on man by God including God’s causing good in the soul of the creature. Thus, grace implies something in the soul, which is God’s love effecting new goodness in the soul of the creature.
Grace can mean three things.
- anyone’s love (e.g. the “good graces” of someone)
- any gift freely bestowed (i.e. given gratis) (e.g. someone’s “act of grace”)
- a grateful recompense of a gift given gratis (someone’s gratitude)
Any gift freely given depends on the love, and likewise any gratitude for a gift freely given depends on the gift freely given. Therefore, each subsequent definition after the first depends on the previous notion (#2 presupposes #1, #3 presupposes #2).
With regard to #1, a distinction must be made. Whereas a creature’s love presupposes a perceived good without wholly causing that good, God’s love is always the cause of any creaturely good. “Therefore it is clear that every love of God is followed at some time by a good caused in the creature but not co-eternal with the eternal love” (I-II.110.1).
Now God’s common love causes the good of any creature’s existence and “natural being,” but God’s special love “draws the rational creature above the condition of its nature to a participation of the Divine good” and “it is by this love that God simply wishes the eternal good, which is Himself, for the creature” (I-II.110.1).
Thus, on the one hand, the grace of God implies a gift freely given to a rational creature and his special love even signifies something bestowed on the soul of a created person. On the other hand, the “something” in the soul is simply God’s eternal love.
The word “grace” has been especially applied to the forgiveness of sins, but as Augustine said, we must not limit the word “grace” merely to forgiveness of sins. Yet even “the remission of sins does not take place without some effect divinely caused in us, as will appear later (Q. 113, A. 2)” (I-II.110.1.ad.3).
110.2 Grace Refers to Qualities of the Soul
IN SUM: God not only moves natural creatures to natural good but also bestows upon them certain forms and powers that are principles of acts in order that they be inclined to these movements in an easy and natural way, so also God not only moves the soul in grace, but freely bestows upon the soul new qualities in order that it might be moved easily and sweetly to the supernatural good.
Whoever has God’s grace should be understood to have also some effect of this grace within them, as stated previously. People are helped by God’s gratuitous will in two ways. First, God moves the soul of a person to know, will, and do something, and in these ways the grace of God is not considered a quality per se, but a movement of the soul. “Motion is the act of the mover in the moved” (I-II.110.2). Second, God infuses a habitual gift into the soul so that they are enabled to acquire the supernatural good with ease [and pleasure?]. In this second way, grace can be considered a quality or as consisting in qualities.
Grace acts upon the soul after the manner of a formal cause, “as whiteness makes a thing white, and justice, just” (I-II.110.2.ad.1).
Grace is not considered a “substance” of the soul because it is not part of the soul’s nature but the soul obtains it through a participation in the Divine goodness. Thus, what is substantial in God becomes accidental in the soul by participation. Grace can be considered as simply a participation in this divine goodness. This participation, however, is imperfect. While grace is nobler than the substance of the soul, the soul “has its being” more perfectly in its own substance than in grace, since grace is accidental to the soul by participation. (I-II.110.2.ad.2).
“The being of an accident is to inhere,” thus accidents are said to have being inasmuch as “by them something is.” Thus accidents belong to beings, but are not called “beings” proper. Properly speaking, then, no accident comes into being or is corrupted. However, the subject of an accident can begin or cease to be in act while having this accident. “And thus grace is said to be created inasmuch as men are created [anew] with reference to it, i.e., are given a new being out of nothing, i.e. not from merits, according to Eph. Ii. 10, created in Jesus Christ in good works.” (I-II.110.2.ad.3).
110.3 Grace is Not the Same as Virtue
IN SUM: Because grace precedes charity and the virtues, it is not itself a virtue. However, the infused virtues are oriented to grace (i.e. participation in the Divine nature) as acquired virtues are oriented to human nature. Faith is the first manifestation of grace, but grace cannot be reduced to faith or any of the virtues because it is the root of all infused virtues. Grace is a certain disposition presupposed by the infused virtues [i.e. the disposition of God himself?].
Grace is neither faith nor hope, and as Augustine says “grace foreruns charity.” Therefore it is not a virtue. (I-II.110.3)
Aristotle defined virtue as “a disposition of what is perfect—and I call perfect what is disposed according to its nature” (I-II.110.3). But infused virtues are disposed according to a higher end than human nature—namely, our participation in the nature of God (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4). “And it is in respect of receiving this nature that we are said to be born again sons of God” (I-II.110.3).
Just as “the acquired virtues enable a man to walk, in accordance with the natural light of reason, so do the infused virtues enable a man to walk as befits the light of grace” (I-II.110.3).
“Augustine calls faith that worketh by charity grace, since the act of faith of him that worketh by charity is the first act by which sanctifying grace is manifested.” (I-II.110.3.ad.1).
Grace is “the root of goodness in man” (I-II.110.3.ad2).
Grace can be reduced to a habit or disposition, yet is not the same as virtue because grace “is a certain disposition which is presupposed to the infused virtues, as their principle and root” (I-II.110.3.ad.3).
110.4 Grace Presides Principally In the Essence of the Soul
IN SUM: Since grace is prior to virtue, it must be in the essence of the soul rather than in the powers of the soul. Grace is the principle of meritorious works through the virtues.
“By grace we are born again sons of God. But generation terminates at the essence prior to the [exercise of?] powers. Therefore grace is in the soul’s essence prior to being in the powers.” (I-II.110.4)
If grace were virtue, grace would necessarily reside in the powers of the soul. But since, as we have seen, grace is prior to virtue, it must have a subject prior to the powers of the soul. Therefore, it must be in the essence of the soul. Just as a person’s will participates in the Divine love through the virtue of charity, so does the nature of her soul participate in the Divine Nature (and become more like that Divine Nature) through regeneration or re-creation.
The powers of the soul flow from the essence of the soul. It is through the powers of the soul that the essence of the soul is the principle of vital deeds. Likewise, it is through the medium of the virtues that grace is the principle of meritorious works. (I-II.110.4.ad.1)