Monday, August 31, 2015

Boersma Outline Sacramental Tapestry

argument:  Until the late middle ages people looked at the world as a mystery (Boersma 21).  By mystery Boersma means a sacramental link between creation and God, that creation participates in God.  In other words, the connection, though not identical, is real.  Mystery, so Boersma reads the “Platonist-Christian synthesis” (hereafter PCs) refers to the “reality behind the appearances.”

Boersma structures his book around the (neo)Platonic movement of exitus and reditus (the departure from and return to), except exitus now refers to how the church lost the PCs and the reditus on possible steps for regaining it.

It is not Boersma’s goal to defend Platonism as such.  

Created realities point beyond themselves (carry extra dimension to them)
Symbols just point to something else
Sacraments--the referents coinhere.

A Sacramental world not only points to God but participates in him.  
real connection, not just nominal.
The signum points to and participates in the res.
The end of created being lies beyond itself (30).

Creation and Goodness
Creation is hinged upon transcendence.
If unhooked, it loses its goodness (it has to rely on itself).
It must participate in a higher goodness.

The Platonic Heritage
  • Rejecting Parts:  
    • Creation is not automatic nor an emanation.
    • argued for resurrection of body
  • The Good

Weaving the tapestry

The Fathers’ Christological Anchor

  • God reveals himself publicly in Jesus Christ to all alike.
  • The wisdom of the gospel pleads for a unity that doesn’t obliterate differences.

Athanasius:  Unity in the Incarnate Logos
  • To be made in the image of God means to be rational--Christ must teach us.  The image is restored by means of teaching (Boersma 45).
  • We are not disparate, fragmented individuals but participate in a common humanity.  
  • The unity of humanity lies anchored in the Word.

Gregory of Nyssa: Universals and Particulars
  • universals refer to what is common, particulars to what is individual.
  • Universals anchor the particulars.
  • The deity in which the Father/Son/Spirit share implies a common activity.  This is why the three men analogy--James, John, Peter--breaks down, for they all have different actions.

Theme:  Our particular humanity depends on the participation of humanity in Christ (51).

Unraveling the Tapestry: The Medieval Revolt Against Nature

  • Juridicizing the Church
    • Gregorian reform
      • For earlier fathers, sacred actions are performed in the church, but everyone is subject to God. God was directly working in the sacred actions.
    • earlier theology regarded sacramental power as within the life of the church.  Now it is causally top down.
  • Discovery of Nature
    • earlier sacramental thought held a link between heaven and earth. There was the unity of the church (res) and the sacrament to which it pointed.
    • The Berengar Dialectic
      • Berengar said we spiritually participate in the res.
      • His opponents said we physically participate in the sacramentum.
      • Both sides widened the gap between heaven and earth.
  • Scripture, Church, Tradition
    • The earlier fathers said church and Scripture coinhere. They are not two separate sources of authority.
    • Dialectic of Wyclif: Catholics responded to him by pitting Church against Scripture.
  • Nature and the Supernatural
    • The Counter-Reformation introduced the notion of “pure nature,” which meant human nature before any prior movement of grace.  Human nature is walled-off.

Cutting the Tapestry: The Two Scissors of Modernity

Univocity of Being
  • Scotus said being was used in a univocal way.   Being is now “unhooked” from God.  
  • If being now applies to God and creatures in the same way, then it has become an overarching category in which both God and creation “share” (75).
  • Sacramentum no longer receives res from God’s own being.  

  • God no longer relates to creation by gift, but by will.
  • The world can only relate in an “external” way.  
  • The late medieval emphasis on divine decree cut the link between God’s will and God’s knowledge (79).

Younger Evangelicals

After Late Medievalism the Reformation struggled to reweave the tapestry.  This isn’t entirely its fault.  Most of the Reformers were philosophical realists, but it’s hard to keep together what has long since been sundered.  

The Great tradition had a Christological anchor: a vertical link between God and humanity where we receive our being by participation in the Logos (89).


Eucharist as Sacramental Meal

If our connection with God is an external or nominal one, then there is little room for sacramental participation.  

De Lubac and the Eucharist

There is a real transubstantiation, but it is when the congregation is changed into the body of Christ. This leads de Lubac to posit a threefold body: the bread, the congregation, Christ.

St Paul seems to operate off this as well.

“And is not this bread [Body¹] we break a participation in the body [Body..n..] of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16b).

“Because there is one loaf [Body¹], we, who are many, are one body [Body²], for we all partake of one loaf [Body¹]” (1 Cor. 10:17).  

The question is what does Body...n refer to in 1 Cor. 10:16b?   It could refer to Christ himself.  It could also refer to Body².  Or as de Lubac says, it is a three-fold body so there isn’t a hard and fast separation.  

sanctorum communio: can refer to either communion of saints or communion of holy things.  Communion of holy things was related to communion of saints (115).  

The Shifting Corpus

The word verum moved from the ecclesial body [Body²] to the eucharistic body [Body¹].   “Christ’s body in the Eucharist came to be seen as the true body” (de Lubac, quoted in Boersma 117).  

The Church began to focus more on the Eucharist and less on communion within the ecclesial body.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

On the leaving of a certain Reformed forum

I won't name names because I don't want this to be a "kiss-and-tell."  I decided to leave because my theology--while remaining historically Reformed on most points, and certainly Evangelical Protestant on others--was moving away from "Vanilla Reformed."

I expected them to disagree with me on issues like the charismata and premillennialism.  That didn't bother me.  Recently, however, my theology took a Patristic and Augustinian bent.  I started drawing inferences from what the Church (and yea, even Calvin) taught about the nature of the soul.  It became clear that I had "maxed out their conceptual paradigms." I am not saying they are dumb.  Quite the opposite. I am saying they do not have the conceptual paradigms to deal with, say, Augustinian themes.

This was quite evident in a lot of questions I got.   One thread dealt with whether angels are present in church, based off Hebrews 12.  I heard:  "So, you are saying you can physically see _________?"  To which the answer is, "Of course not."  It's hard to see immaterial entities.  Most fathers (and CS Lewis) hold that when one encounters an angel (or a demon), the spirit-being manipulates matter and space and mind and causes you to be aware of its existence.  This can take physical appearance (Augustine, De Trinitate, Book II) but it doesn't have to.

This is Angelogy 101.

Regarding the charismatic gifts.  Why bother arguing?  The evidence is overwhelming and it is the testimony of global Christendom (regardless of tradition).

I wish them well but in the name of charity and peace it was best I go elsewhere.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Spirit beings--spirit words

I am currently reading Jennifer Leclaire's Satan's Deadly Trio.  She is one of the more articulate charismatics.  I don't always agree with her outlook, but most of her stuff is quite good and worth reading.

Admittedly, the book isn't that theologically profound--and she isn't a trained theologian.  Still, I found myself saying, "Hmmm....that just might explain some things."  For example,

Since we are spirit beings created in the image of God, our words are not just sound vibrations--our words are spirit (John 6:63).

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Notes on the Faerie Queene, Book 2

Here is the allegory of Temperance. It follows the standard medieval warrior pilgrimage. Sumpter has done a fine job of modernizing the spelling while retaining the exalted style. However, there are a few flaws with Sumpter's approach (I am not criticizing his work. It is literally one of a kind and preciously needed). Sumpter ignores (or doesn't notice) Spenser's Neo-Platonism. Without understanding Spenser's commitment to Neo-Platonism, parts of the story are incoherent. Here are some themes that will guide the reader.

Neo-Platonic Themes

Reason masters passions: “Yet with strong reason mastered passions frail” (VI.40). But this isn’t standard Neo-Platonism of the monkish sort. Passions aren’t bad. They just need to be guided by reason.

*Mediating Spirits. Neo-Platonism of its various forms sees a chain of being connecting all of reality. The material is suspended by the spiritual. Transcendence, therefore, can be found in the lowest link of the chain. Along this chain are mediating spirits (powers, angels, fairies).

*Because of his Neo-Platonism, Spenser sees a greater role for angels than we do today (VIII:1-2). Angels actively engage and empower man and thwart the enemy.

*It seems that Spenser identifies “Temperance” as a “god” (IX.1). Granted, he isn’t using god in the crude polytheistic sense. Rather, temperance seems to be a “power” or even “Archetype.” True, this could be merely poetic license, but given Spenser’s Neo-Platonism, it fits neatly.

*In the Bower of Bliss the heroes (Guyon and Palmer) come across a “false Genius.” If we accept that these characters (Genius et al) are Archetypes, we can then add the standard (neo)Platonic insight that the Archetypes and Forms have causal power. But we have a problem. The “Genius” here is a false Genius, as Spenser clearly argues (XII.47). So clearly this Genius isn’t the real genius, but a shadow one.


Alma's Castle in Book X illustrates how thoroughly committed to Neo-Platonism (and how familiar with the occult) Spenser was.  Sumpter isn't aware of these connections.

Sumpter misses the implication that Memory has hermetic overtones (Yates 2014).  Memory mediates a society’s passing down of Absolute Spirit (Magee 87).
Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (88).  In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).

This brings us back to the Hermetic Art of Memory.  “Imagination” is to evoke from memory the Perennial Philosophy.  In other words, to echo Jung, it draws out from within the unconscious.

This is rather speculative.  Is this what Spenser really had in mind? I think so.  Dame Frances Yates argues that Spenser “inherited much more than Neo-Platonism” (Yates 2001, 112). Spenser describes the man (representing memory) as “of infinite remembrance” (IX.52). Man is finite, not infinite--unless man himself was drawing upon a universal subsconcious.  I suggest this is what Spenser had in mind.  (Interestingly, Yates comments specifically on this very Canto; 114).

Yates further argues that the structure Spenser gives suggests that Man is a Microcosm of the universe.   In Canto 22 we read of a “circle” and a “triangle” with a “quadrate” (cube) in between.  The four-sided cube represents the four elements of the world, which is proportioned equally by “seven and nine.”  Seven is the number of the planets and nine is the angelic hierarchy.  If the cube is between seven and nine, then it is an eight, or an octave.  This could also represent the Temple of Solomon.


Spenser’s work is literally the standard by which all other poetry is compared. Even though (or perhaps because of!) he is a Neo-Platonist, Spenser floods the senses (and the soul) with beauty and creates in the reader a desire not only for the good, but for the Beautiful, for the Heroic--indeed, for the Temperate.

This isn’t accidental. If what we have said about Forms/Archetypes’ having causal power, then then we can expect “pullings” upon our soul when reading Spenser.

Spenser’s most memorable creation is the Bower of Bliss (as Lewis said, no prude can read Spenser). Guyon’s actions represent a neat twist in Neo-Platonism. The most temperate action is to go into a frenzy and destroy the Bower. This isn’t what we expect from a Neo-Platonist. Spenser doesn’t negate the passions--he calls them into Reasons’s service, but all the while they remain very, very passional. Spenser may have just squared the circle: he may have just redeemed Neo-Platonism.  Guyon isn't an Anchorite who tries to transcend the realm of passions.

What about Sumpter’s annotations? They are a mixed bag. When Sumpter is explaining ethics, theology, or literary symbolism, his annotations are amazing. When he tries to be funny they are worse than awful. Remember the Ron Swanson style of humor? If you have to try hard to be funny, you aren’t. Hilarity should flow from your very being. You shouldn’t have to strain to be funny. I say that because some of the wannabe funny footnotes seriously distract from the story.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Christian Reconstruction and Radical Orthodoxy: The Difference

A common Reconstructionist refrain is "All of life is worship," usually coupled with "No square inch."  Is all of life worship?  We'll get back to that.  The underlying theme is "no neutrality" between Christian thought and non-Christian thought.  I suppose there is some truth to that.

Radical Orthodoxy will also defy a "secular reason."  They point out--with some persuasiveness--that the secular mythos is just that--a myth, a story--that is used to buttress power.  Is this another way to say that "All of life is worship?"  I think it is.

So then:  are Radical Orthodoxy and Christian Reconstructionism saying the same thing?  Even worse, has Christian Reconstructionism suddenly become intellectually respectable and morally coherent?  Fortunately, we can answer "no" to both claims.

It is true that both groups deny a secular reason and posit the centrality of the Christian story as the only true one.  However, when Christian Reconstructionists say "all of life is worship," this is implicitly done in such a way to minimize the role of the church.  Imagine a social space in which discourse inhabits.  In this social space--on the CR claim--the church has been relegated to the margin.  Why should the church be central, since all of life is holy?  Since nature supposedly abhors a vacuum, another group will arise to mediate the Christian discourse.  That's right.  You guessed it:  The Reconstructionist Parachurch Ministry (think Chalcedon or American Vision).

This is clearly not what Radical Orthodoxy is claiming.  Radical Orthodoxy, it is true, does posit a social space in which the Christian mythos is the only one.  However, Radical Orthodoxy makes one more move:

P1: The Church is social space.
P2: Therefore, instead of "all of life is worship" we have "all of life is the Church."

I think there are some problems with the RO claim, but it is certainly a healthier claim.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Redeeming the Dialectic by means of the Filioque

"I am trying to suggest how Christian Trinitarian logic has a mediating structure which is not dialectical. The key point here (simply to state things baldly for the present, without argument) is that that which lies “between” two poles is paradoxically “extra” to those two poles, an irreducibly hypostatic third. In the case of the infinite Trinity, this extra is itself indeed the procession of the love that lies between Father and Son (as Augustine put it)—yet the arriving externality of this thirdness is still guaranteed by the fact that Father and Son (according to the logic of substantive relation, perfected by Aquinas after Augustine) are in their mutually constitutive relationship only through this additional constitutive relationship to the Holy Spirit—which is not so much their “child” as the very womb of desire of truth in which the Father has originally conceived the Word of reason. If, to speak by geometrical analogy, Father and Son are points only because they are the two ends of one line, then this line is a line only because it is the base of a square whose remaining space is the Holy Spirit."
- John Milbank, The Double Glory, or Paradox Versus Dialectics, in The Monstrosity of Christ, p. 147

Jesus and Nonviolence

It struck me while reading this that "nonviolence" is not the same thing as Pacifism.  The latter includes the former, certainly, but the latter has political connotations that the former does not.

Wink suggests that "nonviolence" is a third way beyond Institutional Violence and Pacifism.  The former, argues Wink, represents the "principalities and powers" while Pacifism simply accepts the status quo, thus further strengthening the powers.   I think Wink's analysis of the situation is a bit simplistic, but he offers some unique insights on application.

Wink rebuts crass readings of Jesus and Romans 13 that urge passivity.  In its context, true nonviolence "provides a way to take on the system in a way that unmasks its essential cruelty and burlesque its pretensions to justice, law, and order" (Wink 21).  In other words, we are to deprive the oppressor of a situation where force is effective.

In short, Wink argues, quoting Ghandi, nonviolent revolution is a "program transforming relationships, ending in a peaceful transfer of power" (71).

So what do we make of it?  In today's Big Brother state whose methods of warfare are simply beyond what we can fathom, any attempt at "armed rebellion" is essentially suicide.  Jesus knew that.  The apostles knew that.  Practically speaking, it is.  These principles of nonviolence allow for a way to deconstruct social situations that affirm the humanity of the Other, thus ending at and aiming for an ontology of peace.

This sounds good on paper, as Wink is well aware of.  Most of the examples of nonviolence, while successful, were quite nervy.  Most people probably aren't up for that.

This book is a marked improvement on Wink's earlier treatments, though with some shortcomings. To be sure, Wink acknowledges that Communists and Marxists have done terrible evils (he was noticeably silent in Unmasking the Powers on this point).  On the other hand, Wink continually rails against "The Powers and Principalities," but we are never quite sure "who" these entities are.   I realize he covered that in his earlier volume, but he could have spent two more pages explaining it here.

All in all, an enjoyable read.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Angels mediate revelation

This isn't intended to sum up the biblical position on angels or the bible, but it is interesting.  Hebrews 2:2 writes,

For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast...

Jewish tradition suggests that even though the Bible came from God, it came from God through angels.    St Stephen notes in Acts 7:53,

You who received the law as ordained by angels...

Galatians 3:19 continues the same thought, albeit with one modification.  St Paul writes,

[The Law] having been ordained by angels by the agency of a mediator...

So it appears that Jesus [as Word] is the mediator, to be sure, but he sends his law to angels who send it to us.  It looks like there are multiple mediations.

Why is this important?  Conservative Evangelicalism (and the entirety of TR Reformed theology) overreacted to American inanity on angels.  In my discussion at PB on near-death-experiences, even though I was basically quoting Augustine, people were "worried about the direction" I was taking.  I was worried that they hadn't gotten their angelology from the Bible.  

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rightly Ordered Loves

This is a summary of Joan Lockwood O'Donovan's essay "Christian Platonism and Non-Proprietary Community."

Thesis: The possession of rights is always proprietorship.  In the Western tradition all natural rights originate in property right.

Pope John XXII proposed that from the moment of creation all mankind was collectively endowed with full lordship in the sense of ownership over earthly goods.

Patristic Foundations of Non-Proprietary Community

Augustine distinguished between two rights on which earthly goods are based: divine right, in which all things belong to the righteous, and human right--which is in the jusridiction of the kings of the earth (Ep. 93, NPNF (1) I:400.).

Eventually, this would be seen that in a just commonwealth, "the highest and truest common good, namely, God, is loved by all, and men love each other in Him without dissimulation" (Ep. 137.5.17).  Therefore, bonum commune is above all a sharing in rightly ordered loving--an activity that is entirely common in the sense of inclusive and participatory because entirely spiritual (JO, 80).

"By contrast, Augustine conceived of the disordered love of the soul as the privatization of good, in that it entails the soul's turning away from the universal common good to its private good, that is, to itself as privately possessed."

"In the body politic, disordered love is the destruction of community, of the bonum commune, because it involves radical loss of the shared spiritual possession of being, meaning, and value."
  • regulated interaction of private spheres of degenerate freedom.
Franciscan Poverty: The Theology of Evangelical Non-Possession

In the later middle ages the distinction between common property and common non-proprietary possession never surfaced.
  • Bonaventure moved the debate forward.  By drawing upon the Christian neo-Platonic tradition, he was able to posit the Trinity/Word as font and finis of thought and spirituality. 
  • Christ's life revealed "Evangelical Perfection."
  • This meant that Bonaventure's order saw the claiming of spiritual goods for oneself and against one another.  It disrupts the human response to divine love (84).
  • Renouncing the property right means the wayfarer is not a self-possessor, but is possessed by Christ, receiving from Him all the good that he is, has, and does (85).  
Wyclif's Ecclesiological Revolution

Fitzralph (Wyclif's intellectual predecessor) argued that God's "gift of lordship to Adam is a communication or sharing of himself and his lordship rather than an alienating transfer of lordship, which would diminish God--a communicating and communicable possession and use of things according to rational necessity" (89).
  • "Wyclif's core Augustinian insight is that just lordship over earthly goods involves rightly ordered love toward them, which in turn depends on the true knowledge of them available only in Christ"
  • Evangelical dominion, therefore, is the just communal possession and use of earthly goods that shadows God's own dominion by conserving the being of non-human creatures...

"We are not our own but Christ's" (1 Cor. 6.19).  "As we are possessed by Christ and receive ourselves from him, the central act of our willing is one of conforming to his will" (92). 

  • When we encounter other goods, we first possess them in their essential being, through knowledge illumined by the love of Christ, before answering the demand or claim that they present" (93).
  • We are "claims," not "rights-possessors." 
  • By conforming to Christ, we respond and recognize that the Other is.  We fulfill the demands of Justice, but not the demands of one another (this solves Hegel's problem.  We introduce the Other as loved).  
Righteous human lordship is communal chiefly because it is spiritual (this is where Reconstructionism in its libertarianism is so horribly wrong).
  • Righteous "human community is a sharing in or communication of spiritual goods before physical goods."
  • "Only the fellowship of the Holy Spirit entered into through the divine-human communication of Christ crucified and resurrected makes possible an inclusive communion in the use of physical goods.  No meum or teum
  • Common possession means that no one acts as if any good belongs to him/her in any excluding or even particularizing sense (94).

Monday, August 3, 2015

My summary of Near Death Experiences

I debated this on Puritanboard.  The only good thing that came out of it is I got to sharpen my own thoughts.  I don't really see any future in Reformed apologetics.

You say you weren't impressed with my arguments, but my premises were all drawn from the Christian tradition, the negation of which would be heresy.  I'll restate it.

P1: Body and Soul are not the same thing (correspondingly, neither are brain and mind, which is why I didn't put immediate stock in "physical" explanations.  Physical explanations can only explain the brain, not the mind, otherwise the truth would lie with Dawkins).

P2: The soul outlives the body.  Otherwise, Jesus's parable about Lazarus and the Rich Man would be incoherent.

P3: The Christian tradition holds to immaterial entities that do not exist spatially. We call them angels or demons (and we have a natural revelation analogue: Plato's Forms, Jung's Archetypes)

P4: These entities primary mode of existence is outside the time-space continuum.  Otherwise Belinda Carlisle would be right and heaven would be a place on earth.

P5: (4) helps us understand the soul's mode of existence after death.  Either it doesn't exist, and we have heresy.  Or it exists on earth and we just committed ourselves to the next season of Ghost Hunters, or it exists "on the other side" (call it heaven or hell or hades).

P6: The key problem is that some think I have argued for a realm of existence between Death and Life called "near death experiences."  I have argued for no such thing.  I'm fine with mystery.  But I am not going to be like the Eastern Orthodox apologists I debate and start chanting "Mystery" whenever I come across facts that don't fit my paradigm.

P7: The best explanation--and I am not arguing this as dogma--is that in those "near-death" moments the veil is pulled back or the boundary is weakened.

P8: What about the "Happy Hindus?"  Or more precisely, say there is a dissolute person who sees the proverbial "bright light."  Does that mean the wicked see "heaven?"  Not necessarily.  One of the key points I argued for--and this is Van Til 101--is that facts and interpretation of facts are not the same thing.  The person is probably seeing new phenomena for which he or she has no previous way of evaluating and opts for the next closest analogue.

Reading Plan for August 2015

I really want to get Milbank's Beyond Secular Order, but I have to read some other stuff first (and I can't afford it at the moment).  So here goes:

Plotinus, Enneads

Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.

William Morris, Wolfings and Roots of the Mountain.

Milbank and Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas (reread).

George MacDonald, Lilith.

Dostoevsky, The Idiot (more than 3/4 finished)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

On not ossifying the fathers

I am trying to take a more positive, constructive role in theology.  This post is akin to an autobiographical manifesto.  Part of it is how I came to the church fathers and ultimately my critical-appreciation of them, and the other part is how to use the Fathers to kill souls.

I left seminary disillusioned.  While I had made a lot of intellectual mistakes there, academically it was not the best (in terms of actually doing scholarship).  I didn't want to say that the Reformed faith was wrong, despite RTS's best efforts to make it so, but I knew there was something more.

For reasons I don't entirely remember, I was reading Thomas Aquinas as I left seminary.  I had one foot in the door for medieval and patristic theology.  I am not sure how I first heard of John Milbank.  I do remember reading about him in James K. A. Smith's Introducing Radical Orthodoxy.  This was late 2006, early 2007.

There is a lot wrong with Radical Orthodoxy, but there is a lot right--and a lot that is just plain fun.  So what that they over-interpreted Aquinas as a Neo-Platonist?  They got all the right people in academia angry, and that is good.  For me they introduced me not only to a wider world of theology but also to ask different--deeper--questions of church history.

I dove right in.  And made mistakes.  But I also latched on to key points: how Christology shapes everything.  (Some Eastern Orthodox guys played that card as a front to justify going to Eastern Orthodoxy when in reality they wanted smells and bells, but that is another story).  Anyway, I realized that Systematic Theology didn't have to follow the outline of Berkhof (Berkhof is useful but limited to a certain context, namely a seminary classroom).

Before continuing on the RO line, I should probably address a common criticism:  Did RO read Reformation metaphysics correctly, namely that Western theology took a nominalist turn with Scotus and the Reformation crystallized it?  Obviously, anyone who advances that reading today will be laughed at. So we can say RO was definitely wrong on that point.  Further, not all of Milbank's criticisms in "Alternative Protestantism" hold water (or at least they might attack Reformation ontology but not where Milbank thinks they do).

This was around 2008-2009.  I was able to read the Father without pretending that the Fathers were a complete deposit who taught a unified, identifiable theology across time and space.  Moreover, I was able to honestly say, "St ______ is wrong here.  That's okay.  I can still benefit from what he says elsewhere."  Side note:  Remember that stupid facebook meme that has the Nicene Fathers pictured and the caption reads, "So these guys are right about the canon but wrong about everything else?"  The epistemological howlers in that statement are too painful to mention.

Back to the Fathers.  Since I didn't (at the time) believe the Fathers taught a unified, ahistorical body of truth, that meant I didn't have to play East and West against each other.  I could say guys like Anselm, Aquinas, and Wycliff were good guys.  And I could benefit from the modern John Wycliff, Oliver O'Donovan.  While some Ecumenist Orthodox guys will speak kindly of the aforementioned gentlemen, technically speaking they are heterodox (or heretics!), so good luck with that one.  The harder-line folks will say that they (and by extension, you and me) are deprived of grace.

Towards the end of 2010 I moved into a harder, Eastward direction.  I never officially became Orthodox.  It wasn't viable for a number of reasons.  While this meant I accepted Orthodox doctrines like anti-Filoque and icons, the main problem is I had to cut off my theological past.  Another problem is I had to place the Fathers within the received tradition of the church.  This implied a number of cognitively dissonant positions:
  • The Fathers are part of Holy Tradition but I must interpret which Fathers are speaking Orthodoxically by Holy Tradition.  I couldn't square the circle.  All of the Orthodox problems with Sola Scriptura would come crashing down on Tradition.
  • This meant that the Fathers probably didn't disagree about "big stuff."  
  • So what was I supposed to do when I came to issues where the Fathers sounded "Western" or were plain wrong?  
The dissonance was building up.  Move on to the end of 2011. I was beginning to be more "Western" in terms of cultural outlook.  I just didn't feel right "negating" my Western heritage.  I know that no one was "making" me to do that, but the cultural enclave mentality among a certain denomination is just too overwhelming.  I was by no means Protestant, of course, but possibly Western.

My daughter was born in 2012.  My life was turned upside down and I really had to put theology on the side.  And life was hard--all of which made me reevaluate everything.

By May of 2012 I was firmly in the Protestant, even Reformed camp (again).  From 2012-2015 (now) I have been in the Protestant camp and plan to stay there.  There are problems with Reformed theology--some big ones actually.   But there are also key gains that outweigh the problems and the Reformed tradition can be the Reformational Tradition.

So how do we use the fathers?

  1. Protestant liturgy is about to come to a crisis-point and the Fathers offer insight.
  2. Obviously, you have to sit at the Fathers feet when it comes to triadology and Christology.
  3. Some of the early church historians are quite fun.
  4. Recent developments in Continental philosophy and phenomenology make Maximus, Pseudo-Dionysius (and stop pretending he was Paul's traveling companion) and to a lesser degree Origen quite relevant today.
How do we misuse the fathers?
  1. Pretending that they are "infallible," either individually or corporately.
  2. Pretending that they have good advice on married sexuality.
  3. Pretending they exist outside of time and space.