Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Speaking out Ouldly

Two recent articles over at Stand Firm attempt to draw a clear line between Reformed and Roman Catholic faith: one by David Ould critical of efforts to canonize JPII, and another by Matt Kennedy trying to clarify a Reformed/RC contrast. While others have helpfully pointed to flaws in these short works and engaged the authors in debate, I thought it imperative to point out the principle I see coming to the surface amidst the turbulent waters.

It is, in short, what Tillich called the Protestant Principle, "the prophetic judgment against religious pride, ecclesiastical arrogance and secular self - sufficiency and their destructive consequences" embodied in refusing to take the finite as infinite, the creature as Creator, a mere existent as Being Itself. Protestantism has this principle as necessary--though of course by itself insufficient--content in its faith, and that principle renders prophetic judgment against any human, creaturely attempt to attain or embody divinity for itself in any form: in creeds, in confessions, in writings, or in ex cathedra pronouncements. Ould, and to some extent Kennedy, seem to have recovered for the time being a genuine application of the principle, and a kind of laudable, undiluted protestantism much to the consternation and annoyance of no few of their readers.

The way Tillich wielded the principle--in my humble opinion--left little logical room for the reality of the Incarnation traditionally conceived. He is always, so far as I can tell in my limited reading, very cautious in his language regarding the divinity of Christ, but I cannot help feeling he would reject high Chalcedonian christology. Alas! I can see someone posing this dilemma:

Either the Protestant Principle or the divinity of Jesus, but not both.

But Tillich's hesitation over Chalcedonian christology seems to me a move per accidens, driven not by the Protestant Principle itself but other, outside considerations which end up getting tacitly reinforced by the principle. The principle itself seems logically consistent with Chalcedonian christology, inasmuch as the divinity of Jesus is no human attempt to embody the infinite, but the inbreaking of Being itself in union with his humanity, a unique initiative of God. We need not take history-driven criticism, for instance, of Jesus' divinity as properly basic; the results of such criticism are not demonstrative, whatever other probability they may have, and so they leave open "logical space" for contrary starting points. Thus the dilemma above is falsely posed; we may pry the Protestant Principle away from Tillich's skepticism of Chalcedon.

In effect, the principle serves to check a particularly Anglican tendency to read Incarnational theology in a sloppy way, extending hypostatic unity to cover events other than Jesus' life and ministry. At an extreme, one might try to see hypostatic union everywhere--a kind of neo-Spinozism or perhaps panentheism. Or somewhat short of the extreme, one might see a hypostatic union or some other rough equivalent merely elsewhere than with Jesus, but not everywhere: in Scripture, icons, offices, et al. The Protestant Principle says No to our claims for such extensions of the infinite. But the Protestant No extends beyond misunderstandings of the Incarnation to any human attempt to lay claim to possession of the infinite; all of our actions are always here below under the judgement of the Cross. Ould seems to have extended the Protestant Principle to apply to (a certain interpretation of) the RC tradition of canonization.

Good. I suspect where protestantism abandons its principle it loses its center, God, and drifts into various and sundry idolatries, eventually losing its reason for being and rightfully fading from view. While sudden assertions of the principle are bound to scandalize and offend, the loss entailed by forgetting the principle seems infinitely greater.


At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To tell you the truth, I am not clear if you are arguing in favor of this Protestant position or simply describing it, but either way, what About St. Athanasius: "For the Son of God became man that we might become God." Or, St. Thomas Aquinas: "The only begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, make man, might make men gods." What about the sacraments? The Prayer Book catechism teaches that the Eucharist "is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself." It seems to me that the Protestant Principle does not work if you acknowledge that tradition as well as Scripture is revelatory. Right?

At 1:31 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

The point about real presence is quite good, I think. I do not think Tillich was very sypathetic to the sacramental system at all--I think he would deny real presence while upholding instead
symbolic reality of the sacrament along with its general participation in Being. Not exactly the traditional Anglican position.

I think the Protestant principle can be pried from Tillich to make room for theIncarnation.

But unless I am to give up on it, I have to say the sacraments are a bit different; real presence is accomplished not in a law-like way, such that officiants/laity and real presence are necessarily connected via ritual. Rather, in addition to the symbolic action we can accomplish, God may or may not elect to be present in the sacraments in a way more than in mere general participation.

What I need is a criterion for telling where God will be really present apart from the Incarnation.
I do not have any such, and so my making exceptions for sacraments seems ad hoc to me. But my not having a criterion is a way of respecting the principle. Whether God is present or not is entirely up to him; Scripture and tradition should not be taken in such a way as to contradict God's sovereignty.

That is to say, while God may just happen to save those who are canonized, he may elect not to--the authority rests with Him alone. We will be unable to tell with certainty whether our salvation is assured.

At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I see it, God is present, and I would say incarnate, in the Church, the marks of which are succession from the Apostles, solidarity with the oppressed, diversity, and practice of the faith that approaches the Christianity that is practiced everywhere, always, and by all. I guess the idea that God is present in the Church and by extension the sacraments might be understood to be traditional Catholic teaching. I think Christian Liberals would also argue based on scripture (Matt 25, the Apostles before the court in Acts 4:10) that Jesus is present wherever disciples are persecuted, and I would also agree with this.

I agree that God is a free God, but in my view to say that Christ is present in these places is no different than saying he was present in Jesus of Nazareth in the first century. Both claims, I think, are based on the same authority, the witness of the Church. However, I would never say where God is not, just where I am sure God is.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Closed said...


I suggest the promise tradition of the Lutherans. God promises to be where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name and promises to be in the Supper. It's again at God's initiative, however, not under our control; understanding ex operare operato in this way shifts things. God is present not because of our determination, but because God has promised to be so in the sacraments. The Liturgy is God's own self-offering to us, Jesus Christ, made present to us by the Holy Spirit, to whom we respond in thanks and praise, responding from the grace of the Spirit in us who has called us together in the first place. In other words, just as God's presence in us does not negate our own person, God's sovereignty, whose freedom is actually love according to the Fathers, is not in contradiction to God's promises, which is reaching out to us in love.

Tillich's use of symbol is modern of course, as an Augstinian use, based in Neo-Platonism, of participation can allow for real presence.

It seems to me there is a difference with God is Incarnate in the Church versus God is present in the Church. Incarnate implies hypostatic union; we are not in hypostatic union with the Holy Spirit, who nevertheless dwells in us personally and collectively. The marks of the Church in this view are eschatological (as Volf would say), being first marks of the Spirit's own work, not our own, or as Fr. Bill Carroll pointed me to a William Temple quotes: "I believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and I've never yet seen it."

What the principle prevents is a collapse of the eschatological into the Church militant or into any political movement, which allows God to love a whole lot more than we would wish for God to love if left to our own finitude.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Closed said...

In other words, after all of that, God's sovereignty is not in contradiction to God's character--they are one. Under such an estimation assurance becomes less a concern and thanks and praise for the divine generosity becomes the focus.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Your mention of the marks of the church being eschatological might offer a way out of my impasse.

We want to say the union of Christ with the church here below in the Spirit is less than the hypostatic union of incarnation but greater than union via divine omnipresence or general participation.

In addition, I wanted to respect the spontaneity of divine freedom that follows from his sovereignty over creation and his absolute power.

It seems--to adopt your idea-- that we might read the promise of Christ's presence with the Church in the Spirit consistently with the above considerations if we think of it in terms of a tension between that which is already accomplished and that which is yet to be brought to fruition.

That is to say, the Spirit can be already present in the church in a special way even in the midst of its failure and fragmentation.

That leaves open the possibility of the church erring here below and turning away--at least in part--from the special presence of the Spirit in such a way that it is to be called into repentance and back into its proper well being.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger Prior Aelred said...

Re: panentheism -- I am not unsympathetic in many ways but am utterly repelled by the typical panentheist "degree Christology" unrepetent Athanasian that I am) -- we are divinized through participation in Christ thanks to his divine incarnation -- the end product might seem the same but the process is a polar opposite (IMHO)

Re: Tillich -- a lot of value there, I think, but in one of his works (the title escapes me & I am away from the monastery & unable to check it) he essentially rejects Anglicanism as relying on the early church which was catholic & "a Protestant cannot do that."

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Prior Aelred said...

And another thing (don't you hate when people do that?)

I see the Latin approach to the nature of the church as essentially juridical (the papacy is a juridical office) & the Eastern understanding of the church as being essentially sacramental & I think that the Anglican understanding has become increasingly sacramental rather than juridical (until this most recent Evangelical attempt to high-jack Anglicanism) -- my least favorite part of the BCP catechism is its description of the Church -- it fails (IMHO) to define the Church as a sacramental reality.

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Closed said...


You got it... Exactly. Otherwise, we end up with a realized eschatology and I'm more a Lenten person myself, meaning we're sojourning and on pilgrimage, betwixt and between the Fall and the Consumation.

At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anglican Scotist,

Unrelated to this post, but perhaps of interest to a "student of John Duns Scotus and a fellow wayfarer"...

AirMaria.com has two series (The Golden Thread & The Cornerstone) on Bl. John Duns Scotus if you're interested.

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"we're sojourning and on pilgrimage, betwixt and between the Fall and the Consumation."

The problem with this, of course, is that is just doesn't do justice to the perfection of God's work in Christ, the reality of the resurrection, the presence of a glorified humanity in the Godhead, and so much else. Drop Tillich. Run away from him. Try Barth, with the necessary modifications, and rejoice a little more. There has been a certain kind of historical finality achieved in Christ: MeditAte on this. Then move out in joy.

At 8:49 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for the comment on AirMaria and Scotus, anon.

Also, to anon#2: The reality of the resurrection is indeed reason enough to turn away from Tillich. Or at least enough reason to look seriously around at what else has been done.

Barth-modified might be of great interest; one might end up with Brunner, say (I can't mske sense of his hard turn away from natural theology). Or maybe--and in my eyes much better--Radical Orthodoxy, which is really Thomas-modified?


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