Monday, December 22, 2014

A Covenant Ontology as Chiasm

Much of my project consists in rejecting the view that there is an entity behind the entity that is the real entity.  When played out in terms of creation and soteriology, this means that deliverance is the overcoming of estrangement (Tillich/Horton) and the rescue from finitude. (I would quote some examples from Orthodox Bridge where they say precisely this, but people would then call shenannigans since it isn’t a scholarly venue.  Fair enough)   A narratival ontology by contrast is dynamic, forward-moving, and is redeemed by thespoken word whose echoes (literally, since sound is the vibration of air) redeem the cosmos.
Another interesting thought:  narrative and covenant are related.  We really can’t know the existence of a covenant pact except in the narrative from which it arises. Have we not also seen that covenant is a category that can also answer ontological questions?  Which model is more relevant to biblical life, participationist schemes or narratival schemes?  Ontologians (forgive the neologism) speak of ousias, overcoming the carapaces of embodiment (Milbank), entities behind the ousia, etc.   A covenantal narrative speaks of blood, cutting, hair, flesh, presence, and genital emissions.   Which model is relevant not only to the biblical narrative but also to real life?

Reformed theology is accused of being nominalist.  It’s hard to see how this is so.  On the other hand, it is not immediately clear why we should favor philosophical realism in its ancient or medieval forms.   The contrast between these two systems allows the Reformed to posit a more robust ontology:  verbalism.   Realism, whether Platonic or Thomist, sees the forms as extra/intra mental realities.   That’s well and good, but at the end of the day the forms are either still in my mind or in Plato’s world above the world. And that’s it.  The Covenantalist sees ultimate reality in the spoken Word.    Imaging Creator Yahweh, our words, whether good or bad, create new situations and new realities.  To be sure, we can’t create physical entities ex nihilo, but the situations are no less real because of that.   In terms of salvation, these spoken realities approach us extra nos.

(Recommended reading:)
Horton, Michael, Four Volume Series on Covenant
Leithart, Peter.  Brightest Heaven of Invention, pp. 223ff

In Practice
  • A participationist model will approach the Lord’s Feast asking how the elements change.  A covenantalist will ask is this not a manifestation of the joy of the kingdomand of Yahweh’s victory?  A covenantalist approach let’s Yahweh feed us and isn’t worried about the elements changing our ontological status.
  • A participationist model is vertical.  It is more interested in the Forms and in moving to a higher degree of finitude (which will ultimately be overcome).  A covenantalist is horizontal:  it is focused on the in-breaking of Yahweh’s kingdom in history.  I understand that the anchorites speak of Kingdom in their eucharistic services.  That may be so, but it is ultimately dwarfed by a focus on what the elements do.  Incidentally, this is the real value of what the word “rite” really meant.  When Yahweh spoke of signs, it usually meant “sit back and watch this.”  It meant Yahweh was acting mightily for his people’s deliverance.
Nota Bene:   is not the idea (oops) of Sign eschatological?  It points to the final reality but is not the final reality; yet, the final reality is in some small way present in the sign.  Never lose the tension between the sign and the thing signified, for that tension is in its essence eschatological.


  1. "A participationist model will approach the Lord's Feast asking how the elements change."

    If you are referring to Orthodox soteriology as a "participationist" model, it would be more accurate to say that "a participationist model will approach the Lord's Feast proclaiming by faith (in according with Christ's teaching in John 6, etc.) that the elements change, but not expecting to be able to explain how."

  2. My apologies. I see what I said. I am aware that EO tries to dodge the charge that their teaching is the same as Rome's, at least with respect to cash-value.

  3. "Tries to dodge the charge . . . "

    Hmmm. . . . I would say that classical Orthodoxy (that is, the Orthodox theological expression that resurfaces out from under a certain amount of Western captivity after the fall of Byzantium to the Turks and out from under the Western influences in Russia in the more modern period), has never concerned itself with the Scholastic style explaining of how of the mysteries of the Church. Rather, the focus is on the proclamation of the "what" and "why" of the faith.

    My experience of the Orthodox mindset is that it is light years away from that of Medieval or modern Roman Catholicism--it might as well be from a different universe. But, whatever interpretation floats your conceptual boat, I guess.

  4. It is different, but it shares the same ontology (per Ps. Dionysius) that Rome shares.