Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Lactantius and Apophaticism

Lactantius was a theologian of revelation as opposed to reason. He was thus primarily apophatic in his theological orientation, contending that humans cannot apprehend God through the senses. Moreover, neither thought nor intellection can bridge the chasm between infinite and finite being: the divine one must reveal himself to those with pious leanings.[1] Otherwise, divine supremacy and otherness would be compromised. The secret counsel of the Most High God, who created all things, in short, cannot be attained by human ability. If human thought could attain to the eternal counsel of God and his heavenly decrees, there would be no objective difference between God and man.

[1] DI 1.1.5. Compare Cyprian Idol 9: “He cannot be seen-He is too bright for vision; nor comprehended-He is too pure for our discernment; nor estimated-He is too great for our perception; and therefore we are only worthily estimating Him when we say that He is inconceivable.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

God Is Neither Masculine Nor Feminine

Scholars have made a number of arguments against predicating masculinity of God. Gender may be inextricably associated with a sexed body or it is possibly a creaturely phenomenon vouchsafed to animals and humans for the purpose of procreation. Let one suppose that God is a Father, however, who is ontologically masculine according to the divine essence. Would such data be humanly cognoscible? Since there is a nexus between gender and a sexed body in the phenomenal realm, gender not associated with maleness or femaleness (= sexuality) would appear to constitute noumena (in the Kantian sense) for spatial and temporal bound percipient subjects. Therefore, even if God were ontologically masculine without being a male, it would exceed human experience and palpably remain incognoscible for those existing in the sensible world of appearances. Both the ancient Cappadocians and Miroslav Volf have also issued admonitions regarding projectionist theology. The former argue that the path of circumspection dictates eschewing the introduction of sensible images into the supersensible Godhead, whereas the latter modern-day writer contends that gender is rooted in a sexed body, something God evidently does not possess.[1] In the final analysis, this investigation submits that either God is genderless or one cannot know that he is masculine based on scriptural terminology. At any rate, divine gender certainly does not appear to be a salient preoccupation of the early church writers.

[1] See Orations and Exploration and Otherness.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Thomas Weinandy on Tertullian

Thomas G. Weinandy is critical, to an extent, of Tertullian’s doctrinal formulation for three major reasons. While Weinandy believes that the Son and Spirit “are fully divine for Tertullian,” he argues that his utilization of emanation theory evidently “has a weakening and blemishing effect on the unity and equality of the persons within the Trinity.”[1] Weinandy is persuaded that the diminishing effect Tertullian’s model of the Trinity evidently has on the oneness and consubstantiality of the three divine persons results from three factors: (1) The Father is the fons totius divinitatis for the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the Father is the unoriginated source of their divinity;[2] (2) Tertullian thinks the three persons are arranged in a hierarchy. The Son and Spirit are thus subordinate to the one from whom they emanate in an ordered under manner; (3) Divine emanation suggests that God the Father undergoes some type of change when he prolates the Son and spirit. Tertullian’s teaching apparently “implies that God has become a trinity [sic], that the divine unity has been distributed into a trio in the course of putting into effect the economies of creation and redemption.”[3]

[1] T.G. Weinandy, Does God Change? (Still River: St Bede’s, 1985), xxvi. See also E. Hill, Mystery of the Trinity, 52; Charles Bigg. The Origins of Christianity (Oxford: Clarendon, 1909), 392.

[2] L. Hodgson, Doctrine of the Trinity. See Wolfson, Philosophy of the Church Fathers, 200ff for info on Origen and the generation of the Son.

[3] E. Hill, Mystery of the Trinity, 52. See Jean Daniélou (3:364) who is also critical of Tertullian’s so-called doctrine of probolh.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Pre-Nicenes and Divine Innominability

The pre-Nicenes argue that divine names are only human vehicles (PROSRHSEIS) for addressing God.[1] However, PROSRHSEIS do not say anything significative concerning the Father’s essence (quidditas); spatio-temporal bound language (la langue) is not capable of defining the Christian object of worship per essentiam. The names that rational creatures utilize to invoke deity are nomina misericordiae rather than nomina substantiae. Strictly speaking, the early church writers conceive divine ONOMATA as manifestations of God’s undeserved mercy.[2]

[1] Apology 2.6; Octavius 18-19; Novatian's De Trinitate 4.11.

[2] See Runia and Augustine.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Philo Judaeus and Divine Innominability

Besides being anonymous, Philo thinks that God (YHWH) is the Creator and Father of all, a phrase manifestly culled from Plato’s Timaeus 28C.[1] As Father, God profoundly cares for that which he has made.[2] Philo accordingly links the paternitas dei with God’s construction and governing of the world in De Mutatione Nominum 29-30. There, we read that God “is in truth the father, and creator, and governor of all things in heaven and in the whole world.” William Lane Craig thinks that the deity mentioned in the Philonic corpus possibly engenders intelligible abstracta before he creates the sensible realm of appearances. It seems certain that Philo thinks the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob engenders the Logos: “His Father is God, who is likewise Father of all, and his mother is Wisdom, through whom the universe came into existence” (De Fuga et Inventione 109).[3] In any event, his portrayal of God as Father clearly illustrates the tropic nature of God’s paternity.[4] Moreover, the writings of Philo Judaeus serve as evidence that the notion of a supreme paternal being of whom one cannot predicate literal attributes or speak univocally was an essential part of the established cultural milieu in first century Alexandria. Early Christian writings demonstrate that the notion of God the anonymous was by no means restricted to a first century Hellenistic-Judaic intellectual, however.[5]

[1] On the Creation of the World 2.7.

[2] Ibid, 2.7-12.

[3] See Gregory J. Riley, The River of God, 57.

[4] De Opificio Mundi 16, 20.

[5] Pedagogus 1.8 (Clement of Alexandria): “God is One and beyond the One, and superior to the monad itself.” See Lossky, Image and Likeness 20; Emil Brunner on Clement of Alexandria in Dogmatics 1 and Michael Brown, Lord’s Prayer.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Philo and God the Anonymous

Philo of Alexandria (50 BCE-20 CE) was a preeminent Jewish advocate of divine innominability. A number of passages in the Philonic corpus illuminate his thought concerning God’s namelessness, which he bases partly on Scripture and partly on philosophical abstractions. On the side of Holy Writ, Philo recapitulates the significance of the thorn bush account in Exodus, writing: “First tell them that I am He Who Is, that they may learn the difference between what is and what is not, and also the further lesson that no name at all can properly be used of me, to Whom existence belongs.”[1] Philo appeals to Exodus 3:14 in order to show that God is both anonymous and ineffable.[2]

[1] Vita Moisis 1.75.

[2] In the OT, one’s name is directly associated with an indivdual's personality or quiddity (Borchert, John 1-11, 117). Isaiah 62:2 speaks about Israel acquiring a new name. The apocalyptic NT book of Revelation also contains references to Christians being given a new name by God or Christ. Ben Witherington (Revelation, 104) suggests that the “new name” which the exalted Christ mentions in Revelation 2:17 “implies a new identity and being someone special in the kingdom.” Significantly, the Platonic One purportedly transcends “all being, names and knowledge” (McLelland, God the Anonymous, 10). In the renowned Athenian’s grand political dialogue, we read: “The good therefore may be said to be the source not only of the intelligibility of the objects of knowledge, but also of their being and reality; yet it is not itself that reality, but is beyond it, and superior to it in dignity and power” (Republic 509b). Nevertheless, compare Symposium 211a-b.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Novatian and the Trinity

The word “Trinity” actually does not appear in Novatian. In fact, he appears to be unaware of God’s putative triunity even on the conceptual level. Kelly thinks that those who argue that the presbyter’s theology presaged post-Nicene orthodoxy may have misconstrued his concepts in some way.[1] Then, again, perhaps the difficulty lies with Novatian’s theologically imprecise statements. For instance, Edmund Fortman suggests that what Novatian holds concerning the Son’s generation “is not so clear.”[2] Fortman inclines toward the view that Novatian believed the Son was an eternal hypostatic distinction generated by the Father, but he points out that “It is difficult to escape the impression that Novatian is not clear about his own thought on this matter.”[3] One thing does appear to be unambiguous, however. Novatian borders on ditheism and subordinationism in order to make sense of the Father and Son’s purported ontological relationship and he virtually ignores the holy spirit in his treatise. For instance, one text that shapes his thought regarding the Son is the apostle Paul’s account of Christ’s self-emptying kenotic act (De Trinitate 22.5-6). Novatian construes Philippians 2:6 as a passage that delineates the Son’s inequality in comparison with the Father. This is why Edmund Hill notes:

For Novatian, to argue the divinity of Christ, which he does with great vigor, actually involves arguing his inequality to the Father. The assumption is that Christ can only be both divine and other than the Father if he is divine in a different and lesser degree. Novatian interprets the famous text of Phil 2:6, ‘who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,’ as meaning that though Christ was divine, in the form of God, he never dreamt of claiming equality with God.[4]

But if Novatian believes that the Son is divine “in a different and lesser degree” than the Father, it makes one wonder how he can simultaneously posit an eternal generation for the Son and remain coherent in his thought. Furthermore, in what sense could the Son be “fully God” for the Roman presbyter, if his divinity is inferior to his Father’s mode of being God? Of course, there are rival interpretations of Novatian’s De Trinitate that merit attention. These interpretations will be considered at some future point.

[1] Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 126.

[2] Fortman, Triune God, 121.

[3] Fortman, Triune God, 121.

[4] Mystery of the Trinity, 52.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Is God Impredicable?

Ancient Greek thinkers such as Anaximander and Xenophanes believed one must view the Absolute as ineffable or impredicable.[1] Anaximander seemingly referred to the Absolute as to apeiron (”the boundless” or “indeterminate”).[2] Of course, he apparently had in mind the primordial cosmic substrate and not the supreme deity per se. Nevertheless, Anaximander’s ambiguous description of that which grounds being simpliciter is quite applicable to some formulations of the “wholly other” approach for the Christian God. The deity, as Absolute and wholly other, is supposedly impredicable, ineffable and uncircumscribable. One problem with the to apeiron approach, however, is that it assumes human language (la langue) or speech (la parole) can define, circumscribe or delimit God. But John Sanders asks: “Does language have the capacity to limit the object, or is it merely our understanding that is limited?”[3]

Does human speech actually limit God? Is it even possible for creaturely essences such as ants or dogs to be limited by human categorizing? Donald Bloesch concedes that a finite creature cannot have genuine rapport with an (absolutely) infinite or unbounded God. Moreover, Ludwig Feuerbach argues that a thing about which one cannot speak—the ineffable—exemplifies no predicates. However, that which does not exemplify or instantiate any predicates evidently does not exist. Therefore, a God about whom one cannot speak or predicate possibly might not exist.

[1] John Sanders, The God Who Risks, 27.

[2] See Barry Sandwell, Presocratic Reflexivity, 138-140.

[3] The God Who Risks, 29.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Cyprian of Carthage and God the Father

Cyprian thinks the pater noster is a compendium of spiritual virtue and heavenly teaching.[1] He explains that the opening words of the dominical invocation suggest that God is Father for the regenerated, those who have experienced a new spiritual birth from above. Such individuals have received the Son and, in turn, he has granted them authority to address God as “Father.”[2] Christians thus, in some sense, renounce their carnal fathers and strictly acknowledge one Father in heaven. Cyprian makes a stark contrast between earthly fathers and the authentic pater invoked in the Lord’s Prayer: “And to the disciple who had made mention of his dead father, He replied, ‘Let the dead bury their dead,’ for he had said that his father was dead, while the Father of believers is living.”[3] These sentiments emphasize the Gospel exhortation in Matthew 23:9. Rather than applying the Lord’s directive to religious authorities, however, Cyprian directs attention toward men who are fathers according to the flesh. That is to say, he exhorts Christians to disavow their biological progenitors (in a sense) and exclusively submit to God as Father.

[1] On the Lord’s Prayer 9. Tertullian makes similar remarks in De Oratione 1.36-37: “Ut re vera in oratione breviarium totius evangelii comprehendatur.”

[2] Ibid. Cf. John 1:11-12.

[3] LP 9.