Sunday, December 18, 2011

The "Theologism" of Bonaventure


This project began with an examination of the "archaic ontology" described in the works of Mircea Eliade--the ontology of the man of "archaic" or traditional cultures.  It is our thesis that the basic outlook of the archaic ontology served as the basis for most later developments in the intellectual history of mankind, and therefore only by coming to an understanding of archaic ontology are we able to understand the intellectual history of mankind, including the ideologies of the modern world.  It may be well to recapitulate some of these ideas before we proceed further, in order to recall the connection between archaic ontology and such seemingly unrelated phenomena as the theology of a 13th century Christian theologian, such as Bonanventure.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chesterton's Thomist View of Myth

G. K. Chesterton's magnum opus, The Everlasting Man, amounts to a theory of man in history from a Christian apologetic perspective. The overarching theme is that what could be called the "methodology" of the Christian revelation--God's self revelation in Jesus rather than in a book--is remarkably "in tune with" human nature as we see it in history. While it would be unwise to seek a complete theory of man in a book of apologetics--we cannot expect to find anything quite like Eliade's theory of archaic ontology--The Everlasting Man is, like so many of Chesterton's works, shot through with keen insights that repay careful study. This is particularly true of Chesterton's reflections on the nature of mythology and its relation to Christianity, a topic that is central to his overall argument. For Chesterton, to understand myth is to understand man, and in important respects this approach leads him to address these issues in ways that are both original and also shed greater light than other more familiar approaches.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

PDF Version

I'm in the process of constructing a PDF document containing most of these posts to date.  I'm also editing the documents to varying degrees--some very little, some to a greater extent.  The PDF document is somewhat differently ordered.  While it remains basically in historical order, there have been a few changes.  So far I've completed work up to Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The 1988 Erasmus Lecture, which is a rather heavily edited document.  In addition, some document titles have been changed.  Here's the Table of Contents for the PDF document:

Part 1: Toward a Theory of History

Eliade: Cosmos and History
Eliade: The Regeneration of Time
The Terror of History
Misfortune and History
Religion and the Origins of Civilization (Dawson)
Misfortune and History - Continued
The Rise of the World Religions
Islam and Christianity--Modernity v. Tradition

Part 2: The Religion of Israel

The Religion of Israel I: Issues, Canaanite Origins
The Religion of Israel II: Archeology and the Exodus and Conquest
The Religion of Israel III: Origins of Ancient Israel
The Religion of Israel IV: Historical Overview of Ancient Israel
The Religion of Israel V: Frank Moore Cross on Israelite Religion
Mark Smith: History and the Israelite Scriptures
Mark Smith: Challenges to Israel During the Biblical Period
Mark Smith: Monotheism and the Structures of Divinity
Mark Smith: Collective Memory and Amnesia in the Israelite Scriptures
Mark Smith: From Scriptures to Bible
Death and Immortality
Frank Moore Cross: Theogony, Cosmogony and Philosophy

Part 3: Early Greek Thought

The Early Development of Greek Thought
Eliade: From Theogony to Philosophy

Part 4: Toward a Theory of Revelation

Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The 1988 Erasmus Lecture
Israel and Revelation
Messy Revelation
The One Who Is To Come
According to the Scriptures
According to the Scriptures - N. T. Wright
Scripture as Tradition
Jesus and the Israelite Scriptures
A New Counter-Reformation?
Benedict XVI and the State of Israel

Part 5: Early Christianity 

The Identity of God: Creator
Creation Ex Nihilo In Early Christian Thought
The Identity of God: Trinity
Trinity and Revelation
Paul and the Yetzer Ha-Ra
Early Christian Thought on Original Sin
Original Sin: The Later Fathers

Part 6: Christianity in the West

Benedict at Regensburg
Augustine and the West

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reason and Revelation: The Islamic Case and Western Parallels

Both Etienne Gilson, in his classic study The Unity of Philosophical Experience (UPE, 1937), and Benedict XVI in his 2006 address at the University of Regensburg (Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization)--previously discussed in Benedict at Regensburg--have found it useful in discussing the crisis of the West to compare the Western crisis to the earlier crisis of Islamic thought.  As we continue our consideration of the development of Western thought, we will do likewise.

Gnosticism and Ideology

In what follows I’ll be using words like gnosticism and ideology in quite specific senses.  Gnosticism and ideology represent human responses to reality in which a programmatic vision of reality is developed in a highly conceptualized structure. Unlike the experiences of faith and reasoned inquiry--which seek insight into the nature and meaning of existence--gnosticism and ideology, while highly conceptualized and thus highly rationalistic in a certain sense, have as their motivating core, desire: desire for deliverance, for certitude, for power. Thus, while gnosticism and ideology often draw freely on the symbols and terminology of faith and reasoned inquiry, their motivation sets them apart and marks them as deformations of those experiences. Gnosticism and ideology present reality in terms of a conceptual construct that, while purporting to offer a comprehensive understanding of reality, is in fact oriented toward the fulfillment of human desires rather than the understanding of reality as it really is. As I use these terms, broadly speaking, “gnostic” refers generally to movements that seek deliverance or salvation, while “ideology” is seen to have a strongly practical, this worldly orientation toward attaining power.

This usage derives, of course, from the work of Eric Voegelin. One of Voegelin’s most compelling explications of the nature of gnosticism and ideology can be found in his seminal essay, “On Hegel: A Study in Sorcery,” in which Voegelin quite deliberately characterized Hegel’s gnostic/ideological speculation as “sorcery.” (The essay is unfortunately unavailable on the internet. Cf., Eric Voegelin, “On Hegel: A Study in Sorcery,” Collected Works Vol. 12, or Eric Voegelin, “On Hegel: A Study in Sorcery,” Studium Generale 24 (1971), pp. 335-68. Cf. also Voegelin’s shorter book length expositions, The New Science of Politics and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism.) The following short summary of the basic ideas Voegelin was working with, taken from the essay on Hegel, is helpful:

Sorcery, or magic, is a conceptual system that asserts the human ability to control the natural world (including events, objects, people, and physical phenomena) through mystical, paranormal, or supernatural means — through, for example, magic words, or an ability to present compelling appearances of fictitious reality.
A Second Reality is such an ersatz reality. The term was coined by Robert Musil to denote a fictitious world imagined to be true by the person creating it, who will then use his construction to mask and thereby “eclipse” genuine, or First Reality.
(From Hegel as Sorcerer: The “Science” of Second Realities and the “Death” of God, by Jean F. Drew)

As is apparent from Drew’s definitions, Voegelin’s focus was on the gnostic nature of Hegel’s speculation, but Voegelin deliberately used the provocative term “sorcery" to draw attention to the ways in which Hegel’s speculation differs from true “philosophy," despite Hegel’s use of language and presentation that are usually associated with philosophy. This ambiguity of Hegel’s presentation was noted by David Walsh who pointed out (Reflections on the Nature of Modernity) that Hegel deliberately maintained this ambiguity in his thought--the ambiguity as to whether it was “religious” or secular in nature. This ambiguity as well as the interplay between gnosticism and ideology, their conceptual fluidity and ability to masquerade as faith or reasoned inquiry, has its practical uses: successors of Hegel such as Marx had no difficulty transforming gnostic speculation into ideologies focused on raw power under the guise of intellectual respectability.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Augustine and the West

David Knowles begins his chapter on St. Augustine in The Evolution of Medieval Thought by noting Augustine's almost overwhelming influence not only on Medieval thought but on all Western Christendom. In fact, Knowles' judgment could, and should, be extended to Western thought as a whole in many important respects:

St Augustine, it would be generally agreed, has had a greater influence upon the history of dogma and upon religious thought and sentiment in Western Christendom than any other writer outside the canon of Scripture. (29)

Even in this day, Augustine's influence remains paramount in the West. For example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is Augustine and not Thomas Aquinas who is--with the exception of Scripture--the most frequently cited authority. Nor is Augustine's influence confined to religion, for the roots of most of our political and philosophical ideas in the West can be found in the various attempts to resolve the problems that Augustine bequeathed us and the implications of his thought.

Thus, almost immediately after he notes Augustine's great influence, Knowles goes on to point out what may appear at first to be a paradoxical "dark side" to Augustine's influence:

Yet, strangely enough, there is an obverse to this brilliant medallion. If Augustine was a second Bible to the dark and middle ages, he was all but the gospel of the three great heresies, Lutheranism, Calvinism and Jansenism, that absorbed so much of the mental activity of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries... Not only has his teaching on grace, free-will and predestination been pressed into service against orthodox belief, but his teaching on the Eucharist has been interpreted in a non-Catholic sense. (30)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jesus and the Israelite Scriptures

Over two years ago we concluded Messy Revelation by stating:

The old models of exegesis--coded messages that are uncovered and interpreted by exegetes using grammar, allegory, typology, etc.,--are attempts to house train God, to make his self revelation in Jesus conform to a pattern that is comfortable for men. But is it reasonable that we should expect this of God? Enns' answer, if I may extend his logic somewhat, is or should be, No. We should expect, rather, that revelation should be "somewhat messy." For the reason that reality, and above all human life, is "somewhat messy." Enns, of course, is following his Protestant (Judaizing--h/t Spengler) model of revelation, by which God "speaks to man through Scripture," but he realizes that that is not the whole story. Not by half. For, "in much the same way: he enters into our world and uses our own cultural patterns to reveal himself." Here, unfortunately, Enns is still trapped within the notion of God's self revelation in Jesus having been accomplished through a collection of books that we call the New Testament, rather than in the very personal reality of Jesus of Nazareth. For the Christian, Jesus IS revelation, and all else, including Scripture, can only be "revelation" in a secondary sense. This must be the beginning of exegesis. And as a start we must seek to determine Jesus' own understanding of how to deal with "scripture."

We are now in a position to follow up on the project we defined as central to development of a theory of revelation: What was Jesus' own understanding of “scripture?” To answer that question we will look at how Jesus made use of the Israelite scriptures. That is, we will examine how the Gospels portray Jesus' use of those scriptures when speaking in his own voice, as opposed to how the evangelists use the Israelite scriptures when reflecting on the meaning of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

It has become something of a truism to state that the early Christian writings we now know as the New Testament reflect the “theologies” of their authors. Some would, in fact, argue that that is all we have--that it is impossible to separate out a “theology of Jesus” as distinct from that of the early Christian authors or to distinguish the original words that Jesus spoke from the theologizing of the evangelists. While we do not minimize the difficulties involved and do not claim that a completely definitive account can be given, our reading of the Gospels convinces us that the distinction between the “theologies” of Jesus and of the evangelists is both valid and significant. Moreover, we are convinced that differing approaches to the use of the Israelite scriptures lies at the heart of that distinction. Thus, this undertaking will shed light on the "original voice" of Jesus.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Israel and Revelation

What follows is the text of an email I sent some years ago.  Since it constitutes in many respects the outline of a theory of revelation it seemed appropriate to post a lightly edited version of it.

Sometimes I recommend books more for the ideas and issues that they raise than for the actual solutions that they offer. With regard to Mircea Eliade's work, I see his importance as due to his formulation of what he calls the "ontology" of archaic man (the man of "traditional" cultures), the ontology of archetypes and repetition. Of particular importance, in my view, is that he recognizes that the strand of Western thought known by the Greek term "philosophy" is, in fact, derived from this archaic ontology--as of course is the advanced thought of other cultures as well. This, I believe, provides the indispensable framework for any theoretical understanding of man in history.

Original Sin: The Later Fathers

J. N. D. Kelly resumes his discussion of original sin in Chapter XIII of Early Christian Doctrines, “Fallen Man and God's Grace.” Having dealt with the earlier Fathers, up to the 3rd Century, he now turns to the later Fathers. He once again contrasts the relative optimism of the Greek Fathers with the decidedly pessimistic Western view of man, especially the Augustinian tradition that was passed on to the Western Middle Ages. He then notes the unsettled state of opinion regarding the origin of the soul. Early Christians were in general agreement that man is composed of body and soul, but there was some disagreement on the specifics. The opinion of most of the Greek Fathers--that the soul for each individual is created by God at the moment that the body is ensouled--ultimately won the day.

That, however, was not at the time a universal opinion. We have seen that Origen—an influential figure—held that the soul pre-existed the body and was attached to a body as punishment for sins that were committed by the soul in its pre-existing state, i.e., before being “assigned” to a body. This was definitely a minority opinion, but was not formally condemned until the 6th Century. Hilary, Ambrose (d. 397) and Jerome all accepted the dominant Greek view, which was to become the orthodox view in both East and West. Pelagius (d. 420), of course, also held that view.

There was also a third view, the traducian view of Tertullian, which held that the soul of the offspring is somehow generated from the souls of the parents. Tertullian, as we have seen, held a materialist view of human nature. In the East, Kelly notes (345) that Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394) seemed to share something like Tertullian's view, for he argued (against Origen) to the effect that the soul comes into being simultaneously with the body but that “the power of God work[ed] mysteriously on the human sperm to change it into a precious living being.”

However, by far the most important figure who tended toward Tertullian's views was Augustine (d. 430). While Augustine never fully made his mind up on the matter, and while he was critical of Tertullian's materialist views, he also realized that “a spiritual version of the same theory [traducianism] fitted in best with his teaching about original sin.” (345)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Early Christian Thought on Original Sin

We have seen (in Paul and the Yetzer Ha-Ra) that in Second Temple Judaism—the period during which the Genesis Adam and Eve narrative was written—there was no sense that this narrative had to do with a “Fall” of man based on an “original" sin. Rather, the narrative was intended to express the experience of the human condition in all its frailty and imperfection. The Judaic concept of the origin of human sin was instead expressed through the metaphor of the evil and good impulses in man, the yetzer ha-ra and the yetzer ha tov. By this view man is subject to both good impulses as well as purely natural impulses that, if embraced in a turning away from God, constituted a type of self worship that defined sinfulness. Habitual yielding to this impulse involved mankind in a downward spiral of sin, as described graphically by Paul in his Letter to the Romans.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Paul and the Yetzer Ha-Ra

W. D. Davies devotes Chapter 2 (“The Old Enemy: The Flesh And Sin,” 17-35) of his classic Paul and Rabbinic Judaism to an examination of the role in Pauline thought of the rabbinic doctrine of good and bad “tendencies” (Heb. yetzer) in human nature. (We should note that Davies uses the term “rabbinic” in a somewhat anachronistic sense since, at the time of Paul, Judaism was still in the Second Temple period and had not yet entered the Rabbinic period. Properly speaking, Rabbinic Judaism become dominant over the period from the 2nd to the 6th centuries AD. Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that the roots of Rabbinic Judaism are to be found in the earlier Second Temple period.)

Davies begins his inquiry from the assertion of some earlier scholars that the Pauline opposition of “flesh” and “spirit” (sarx/pneuma) reflects a Hellenistic, dualist influence that is foreign to Israelite thought. Davies dismisses this argument, noting that in Hellenist thought the body/soul dichotomy is never expressed in terms of “flesh/spirit,” whereas Paul's use of such key concepts as psyche, kardia and pneuma (soul, heart, spirit) closely tracks the usage of the Israelite scriptures: nephesh, leb, ruach. In contrast, in later Israelite writings the Hebrew word for sarx/flesh, basar, is used to express:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Trinity and Revelation

Chapter Nine, “The Church and the Kingdom of God,” in Charles Norris Cochrane's classic study, Christianity and Classical Culture, contains a discussion of issues that hold great interest for us and that we have already touched upon..

Cochrane begins by observing that, for the fourth century Church, the vision of the Kingdom was of “a society regenerated by the acceptance of Christian truth.” (359) As we have seen—and this is a point that we will return to in greater detail--the articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity was seen to solve many of the theoretical problems inherent not only in the more traditional expressions of the archaic ontology but also those problems that were raised by the Platonic elaboration of that ontology: “philosophy,” especially in its Neoplatonic form. (As we have already seen, the Arian heresy can be viewed as a Neoplatonizing version of Christianity, and so involves the same issues.) That being the case, the Christians considered that their faith held the key to all truth, and that those aspects of truth which they found in pagan thought could be “baptized,” subsumed under the superior theoretical insight of Trinitarian thought. It was thus true to say, from this standpoint, that “all truth is Christian truth” and that Christian truth is human truth--the truth of and for all men. As Cochrane states, the function of this Christian universalism was “to heal the wounds inflicted by man on himself in classical times and, by transcending while still doing justice to the elements of truth contained in philosophical paganism, to revive and give direction to the expiring spiritual ideals of classical antiquity.” (360)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Identity of God: Trinity

The Christian embrace of monotheism and creation ex nihilo was not an entirely straightforward development. While the overall direction was clear enough from the start, there were indications that the end was not a foregone conclusion. For example, Origen, whom Gilson credits in his monumental History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages with the clearest presentation of creation ex nihilo, in fact held that the cosmos is eternal. A god who creates an eternal world on a Neoplatonic model is problematic at best, from a Christian perspective, since the entire conception has its origin in the Greek view of the gods and man as parts of one organic whole. And Charles Norris Cochrane, in his classic study, Christianity and Classical Culture, notes that both Clement of Alexandria and Origen exhibit a fundamental Neoplatonic influence:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creation Ex Nihilo In Early Christian Thought

Our position is that creation ex nihilo is a fundamental insight into the structure of reality and that it is essentially unique to Israelite religion.  This insight stands as opposed to the conception of origins in traditional thought (Eliade's "archaic ontology"), which portrayed the origins as a shaping of preexisting matter by a god or gods. This insight did not develop from Israel's roots in archaic ontology until relatively late in the pre-Christian history of Israelite thought—shortly before the time of Jesus. Further, we will contend that creation ex nihilo became absolutely fundamental to Christian thought from its earliest times.

In reviewing the New Testament evidence, we pointed out that these early writers were primarily concerned with the person of Jesus and the significance of his life and message. Nevertheless, we concluded that the Christian view of God's basic identity--from Apostolic times--focused on God as Creator and that this view had turned decisively toward an explicit doctrine of creation ex nihilo. We will now survey the evidence from the early Christian writers of the first three centuries, in support of our contention that the idea of creation ex nihilo had a fundamental, formative influence on the early development of Christian thought, setting it on a course which it has followed ever since.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Identity of God: Creator

We have followed Mark Smith's study of the development of monotheism in Israelite religion and have seen that monotheism eventually developed under the pressure of historical challenges to the continued survival of Israelite political entities. In the face of the overwhelming might of the Mesopotamian and, later, Hellenistic World Empires, Israelite thinkers engaged in a type of ideological warfare in which Yahweh—previously a national god, one of many in the West Semitic pantheon under the fatherhood of El—developed into the supreme god and eventually the only god. However, this ideological victory of Yahweh did not save the Israelite kingdoms in historical existence and it therefore became necessary to articulate the ultimate vindication of Yahweh's people as a future event. We summarized Smith's account as follows: