24 May 2002

Movie agenda for holiday weekend: [1] Spider-man, [2] Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones, [3] Ultimate X. Will report back later.

There's been some discussion going on among Catholic bloggers (that wonderful and growing parish of St. Blog) regarding the ordination of women and the teaching of the church as represented by the apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis." I thought I might weigh in on the topic a bit.

First, it might be instructive to note that there are still large sectors of Protestantism--entire denominations, including some sizeable ones--that do not allow the ordination of women to the office of presbyter. Even within those denominations that do allow for the ordination of women, there is often significant resistance and disagreement over the practice.

Second, I do believe, however, that a number of the Catholic commentators are right that certain notions about the nature of the church and worship that are characteristic of much of Protestantism do tend to make the prohibiting the ordination of women seem absurd. If worship is just people gathering to praise God together, then why must a male lead? If the church is just an assembly of individual Christians, then why is the ordained ministry so important?

Third, there are, nonetheless, biblical arguments that many traditional Protestants find decisive with regard to the ordination of women, whatever they may otherwise think about the nature of worship. Those arguments proceed from both wider biblical patterns about male/female relationships and from specific texts in 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, Ephesians, and elsewhere where Paul and others delineate how male and female are related and ordered, even in Christ. Attempts to deconstruct those texts to eliminate any permanent teaching regarding the relationship between male and female are, to my mind, unconvincing, even if some overly traditionalist readings of those passages must be abandoned.

Fourth, there is, of course, the text that is appealed to on the other side, Galatians 3:28 ("no male and female" in Christ). This text, along with its parallels in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:9-11, are at the very center of Paul's Gospel. Yet, apparently Paul saw no incompatibility with his teaching here and elsewhere regarding the ordering of male/female relationships within the family and church. This observation, it seems, provides some prima facie evidence that Galatians 3:28 does not immediately entail women's ordination, not at least without some further argumentation (and there may be weighty arguments to be made). Nonetheless, Paul's teaching here does have profound religious, social, political, and economic implications.

Fifth, it is my view that Paul's shift from "or" ("slave or free") to "and" ("male and female") in Galatians 3:28 establishes the verse as an allusion back to Genesis 1 as well as indicating a recognition that the male/female relationship is not precisely analogous to that of Jew/Greek or slave/free. With regard to Genesis 1, it is the ties of marriage and kinship that are in view and Paul's primary point seems to be that, in baptism into Christ, our mutual relationships are no longer founded upon natural marriage and fleshly kinship and the kinds of social regulations that are tied to them. So for instance, Paul can make the startling statement elsewhere, that a husband does not have authority over his body, but his wife does (1 Cor 7:4). Moreover, he does seem to allow for a significant role for women within the life and worship of the church (e.g., 1 Cor 11:2-16). Still, Paul never uses these great freedoms in Christ to destroy all ordering between the sexes, but sees that ordering as meaningfully transformed within the paradigm of Christ and his Bride, the church (Eph 5:21-33), a relationship in the Spirit within the church that supercedes those based merely upon the flesh in the world.

Sixth, it seems to me that any discussion of women's ordination needs to be placed within a larger context regarding gender, God, creation, and the church. While it is true that God is not biologically male in himself, God is masculine in relationship to the creation, as a whole, which is feminine. Biological sexual differences are one specific symbolic manifestation of more basic relations of masculinity and femininity that suffuse all relationships between God and the creation. In this light it is not a matter of indifference that God the Son was incarnate as a male rather than as a female.

Finally, it should be remembered that the ordained Minister of the Word and Sacraments fulfills a dual role as he functions in persona Christi within the liturgy (and the notion of the minister acting in this way is common to classical Protestant traditions even if it absent from most of contemporary evangelicalism). The Minister functions, in Christ, both from God towards us and from us towards God--a dual role. Thus he speaks the Word of Christ to the congregation, in absolution and Gospel proclamation, so that the Word of the Minister is the Word of Christ himself. And he also ministers the Sacraments of Christ to the congregation, so that it is Christ himself who baptizes and Christ himself who offers himself to us in the eucharist. In these capacities, it is appropriate that the Minister be male as our Lord himself was.

It is sometimes objected, however, that the Minister is also the one who lifts up the church before God, gathering and offering up the prayers and response of the church to him. And since the church is the Bride of Christ, would it not then be appropriate for a woman to minster in this capacity? Is this bridal action not also the minister's role acting in persona Christi, where "Christ" refers to the gathered (feminine) Body? But this is a mistake, I think. When the minister acts on behalf of the gathered church in this capacity, he is still acting in persona Christi as Christ himself as (male) Head of that Body and not as the Bride herself. Christ is not only the one through whom God meets and serves his people, but also the one who offers up that people to God as Christ's Bride.

While, as a Protestant, I have little to say on the "infallibility" of the Pope's teaching, I can agree with him that, so far as I can see, the church doesn't have the authority to ordain women to the presbyterate and that this has been the constant and universal understanding of Scripture by the church. This, at least, is where my thinking currently remains.

22 May 2002

I don't usually post news items, but I'm happy to report that Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, won the Democratic primary race against his opponent, Bob Casey, Jr., in his bid for the governorship of Pennsylvania. Now, perhaps, my mother won't feel so bad about re-registering as a Democrat in order to vote for him.

20 May 2002

My niece Moriah and nephew Ian made the Fredericksburg, VA newspaper:


(click on picture to link to full story)


They helped paint a mural as part of a service project. The mural is in the auditorium for the local Head Start program. It depicts various kinds of vocations to which children might aspire.

19 May 2002

I picked some books last week that look like they should be interesting.

The first is Trinity and Truth by Bruce D. Marshall (Cambridge, 2000), which is part of the series Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine. In this study Marshall deals with two fundamental questions: what is truth? and how can we tell whether what we have said is true? The first question is primarily a metaphysical one, while the second is epistemological. In answer to both questions, Marshall suggests that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity provides an answer, particularly as God is identified as Trinity within the context of the Christian church, particularly through liturgy, narrative, and community. Thus, God is Truth and the God who is truth is the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ.

The book is obviously an ambitious one, drawing upon a range of Christian theologians from Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas to Barth, Rahner, and von Balthasar. It is also a book that constantly dialogues with figures in recent philosophy (particularly in the Anglo-american analytic tradition) such as Quine, Tarski, Dummett, Plantinga, Davidson, and others. I haven't read the book yet, but look forward to what looks like a challanging argument and one that takes the claims of Christian theism seriously as profoundly shaping epistemology and metaphysics.

The other book I purchased was Protestant Scholasticism: Essay in Reassessment, edited by Carl Trueman and R.S. Clark (Paternoster, 1999). It is a historical work, collecting together a variety of essays each examining some aspect of how scholastic methods and categories came be appopriated and transformed within Protestant theology. The books ranges over a significant time period, from continuities with the medieval tradition, through 17th century High Orthodoxy, into the Enlightenment. Figures examined include Luther and Calvin, Beza, Vermigli, Melanchton, Zanchi, Ursinus, Olevian, Perkins, Voetius, the Turretins, and Gerhard, among others.

I wanted to read this book in part because I'm told that it answers many of the typical objections and accusations that are lodged against Protestant scholasticism: discontinuity with the original Reformers, rationalism, unnecessary proliferation of theological distinctions, etc. I am also particularly interested in the continuity with the medieval traditions. In recent years I've become increasingly convinced that the scholastic theology of Aquinas and others came to be skewed in light of later developments, particularly those of Duns Scotus and Ockham and their heirs, so that by the time one comes to Renaissance theologians such as Saurez, the whole Thomistic tradition is beginning to be seriously misread through decidedly scotistic and nominalist lenses.

I have also become suspicious that this is equally true of Protestant theology, which, in reaction against nominalisms such as that of Gabriel Biel, still retained many the categories of those whom they were opposing and thus became complicit in some of the very trends they were attempting to correct.

Thus much of post-tridentine Catholicism and Protestant scholasticism were, in many respects, the mirror images of one another, both caught within the same nominalistically threaded web, constructing theological systems that were reflective of the very same assumptions that formed the basis for the modernist and Enlightenment philosophies they both opposed and paralleled. Thus neither Catholicism nor Protestantism were able to fully draw upon the Fathers or the great medievals in a manner that was authentic and genuinely counter-modern, though certain isolated figures did so with some success, particularly when we come to the 20th century nouvelle theologie within Catholic thought (de Lubac, von Balthasar, et al).

I'm hoping Protestant Scholasticism will assist me in substantiating and, where necessary correcting, my suspicions. If so, that might serve an important role in helping tell the story of Protestant theology and finding a better way forward.

16 May 2002

Chris over at veritas has been thinking about predestination and reprobation. I've been having a similar conversation with Josh over on his blog. These are indeed difficult and thorny doctrines.

And these doctrines are not the sole property of Calvinists (though we Reformed folk tend to emphasize them in a unique way, I suppose), but have their place within most confessional traditions, whether Lutheran, Roman Catholic, or otherwise.

In the case of Catholicism, the range of permissible doctrinal stances is probably somewhat wider than many other traditions, embracing varying views ranging from certain kinds of Thomism (that verge on Jansenism) to Molinism, to...well, I'm not entirely sure how wide the range of views is. In any case, Chris quotes the teaching of the Catholic Catechism that, "To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination,' he includes in it each person's free response to his grace" (600). How precisely that "free response" is "included" within God's plan is left an open matter.

From the perspective of St. Thomas Aquinas, God's will is the cause of our free choices in some manner, even our sinful choices, though God is not the cause of sin (Summa Theologiae I-II.79.2). How all of that fits together is mysterious. I would note, however, that Calvinists are equally insistent that, in whatever manner we conceive of God's providence (including predestination and reprobation), God is not to be seen as the author of sin. At the same time, various forms of secondary causation, including free choices of the creature, are included within God's plan so that the will of God is the ultimate cause of those choices, yet without violating the freedom of the creature. Moreover, since the free choice to sin is the cause of the reprobation of some, the responsibility for reprobation falls upon the lost themselves. As Calvin says, their "perdition depends upon the predestination of God in such a way that the cause and occasion of it are found in themselves" (Institutes 3.23.8).

That much is clear, from a Reformed perspective, and I think Catholics and Lutherans could probably agree with most of it. The difficulties with Reformed views begin to arise when we consider whether or not God genuinely offers his grace in Christ to those who never come to a finally saving faith and what exactly that means. Setting aside the ways in which the grace of God may be at work in places where the name of Christ is not yet known, consider a situation in which the Gospel is proclaimed to two persons, where one person embraces that Gospel and is baptized and the other person ultimately rejects Christ. In both cases Christ has been truly made present by the Spirit through the Word and has genuinely offered himself to the hearer. Why, then, the difference in response?

The Reformed difficulty runs something like this. If salvation is truly by grace alone and if no one would turn to God except by grace, then the difference in response has to somehow rest in how God's grace is operative in the situation. The positive response of some, embracing the promises of the Gospel, cannot be attributed to some innate ability they possess in distinction from those who reject it since, whatever positive response to grace and co-operation with that grace is present, it is itself ultimately a gift of grace.

Nor, on the other hand, does Reformed thought want to attribute the unbelief of others, their rejection of God's grace, to any innate ability in them, in distinction from those who accept the Gospel, to render the gracious work of God's Spirit ineffective. Reformed people reject the idea that God, for some reason, just cannot get through to certain people, try as he may, since, after all, with regard to the innate ability to respond to God's grace, none of us are any worse off than another. The Reformed rejection of these ideas (that are seen as errors), is clear.

Thus, Reformed theology usually attributes the difference in response to the fact that some, by the grace of God, are elect in Christ and others God passes over in his inscrutable plan. If things were simply left at that point, however, I would find that a somewhat unsatisfactory answer. But more can be said.

Part of my dissatisfaction is that such a Reformed view, considered in itself, does not seem to take adequate account of what is called "the free offer of the Gospel"--that God, in some real sense, desires the salvation of all without distinction and truly and genuinely offers the grace of the Gospel broadly. Even if Christ's redemptive work was always already seen by God as being finally effectual for the salvation of only some (and thus, in some special sense, intended for their salvation), Reformed teaching has always maintained that Christ's work is infinitely sufficient for the salvation of all and thus is genuinely offered to all without discrimination. That has to be factored into any formulation of election and reprobation.

A second dissatisfaction I have is with the kinds of theological conclusions that are drawn from the varying responses to God's grace in light of election and reprobation, positing some kind of substantial difference in the quality of the of grace received by the elect as opposed to the non-elect or some different operation of the Spirit in the Gospel as it is offered to the elect as opposed to the non-elect. Thus certain theologians speak of some kind of "incorruptible seed" of regeneration that is granted to the elect but withheld from the non-elect and insist that the difference between the work of the Spirit in those that persevere and those who only believe for a time is not merely one of duration (these phrases come from the Synod of Dort). I think we begin to move into doctrinally dangerous waters when we pour too much positive theological content into dogmatic boundaries that were originally intended to function negatively by rejecting particular errors.

An area I would want to explore more is the idea that there is a difference between [a] the inability of any person to respond to God's grace in terms of their innate dispositions apart from that grace and [b] a persistent rejection of that grace on the part of some in the face of God's continual offer, especially if we see that offer as genuine, making Christ present by the Spirit in the Gospel, and insist that unbelief does not make the offered grace any less effective (Calvin writes along these lines in his letters to the ministers in Montbéliard). Now, I suppose, we would have to place such a persistent rejection of offered grace in the context of God's providence and state that God permits such a rejection. In any case, this is an area that requires further thought on my part and I certainly don't have it all worked neatly in my own mind.

One advantage to thinking along these lines is that, it seems to me, more closely to map onto how the Scriptures speak of election and reprobation. The Bible does not use the term "elect" to refer to those who finally persevere so much as it does to all those who respond to the Gospel, who are among the baptized community of believers who, by the Word and the Table, constitute the Body of Christ who is himself the Elect One of God. That is the special focus of election, biblically speaking (leaving open the question of how might God save those who, for whatever reason, respond to his grace but are unable to be baptized into that community; at the very least their election is countenanced in some relation to elect people of God qua church).

Reprobation, on the other hand, is not a notion that is used in Scripture to refer to those who have never heard the Gospel or have never responded to it, but rather it is used especially to refer to those elect members of God's people who, nonetheless, persistently reject whatever measure of God's grace was shown to them and turn against God and his people. That is to say, biblically speaking, the "reprobate" are apostates. That would suggest to me that reprobation needs to be considered, in the first instance, primarily in terms of persistent rejection of God's continually offered grace rather than God's merely "passing over" some. The notion of "passing over" is too theologically "thin" in light of the biblical picture.

Calvin himself writes, that he sees no reason why God "should not grant the reprobate also some taste of His grace, why He should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of His light, why He should not give them some perception of His goodness, and in some sort engrave His Word on their hearts." Yet, he says, some of these fall away from that grace, "not in some one thing, but entirely renounc[ing] His grace...For he falls away who forsakes the Word of God, who extinguishes its light, who deprives himself of the taste of the heavenly gift, who relinquishes the participation of the Spirit. Now this is wholly to renounce God" (Commentary on Hebrews). Thus, Calvin warns, "They indeed who have been illuminated by the Lord ought always to think of perseverance; for they continue not in the goodness of God, who having for a time responded to the call of God, do at length begin to loathe the kingdom of heaven, and thus by their ingratitude justly deserve to be blinded again" (Commentary on Romans).

My Reformed commitments are deep enough that I would want to protect our formulations here by rejecting certain views (i.e., that the reprobate somehow usurp God's plan or that they render God's grace ineffective). In any case, these things have been on my mind as of late and some recents conversations have forced me to think them through further. Don't take anything I've said as some kind of final formulation, but simply as my thinking out loud.

15 May 2002

I've added some more links. The first is to Ellen Hampton's blog, which comes to us from an Episcopalian living in Sarajevo. Very cool.

The second is to First Things, which I've been meaning to add for some time. A great journal.

Finally, I've added one to the Mars Hill Review since I'm sure no other Christian blogger has ever heard of them and they sent me a very special personal e-mail requesting that I add a link to them and I just couldn't refuse given the keen interest they've obviously taken in my blog.

I noticed that Chris Burgwald over at his blog, veritas, has linked to me. Chris, it seems, is a doctoral student working on his dissertation for a degree in dogmatic theology from the Angelicum in Rome. I believe he may be working in the area of justification. At the very least, he asks if anyone has any thoughts on concupiscence and the Protestant notion of "simul iustus et peccator."

The background here is the doctrine of original sin which, in traditional Catholic theology, as I understand it, involves the loss of original justice, the incurring of guilt, and the presence of concupiscence ("the flesh," an inclination toward actual sin). In justification, sins are forgiven and the sinner is restored to a right-standing before God by the righteousness of Christ (how ever that is understood, and differences persist here between Protestants and Catholics).

Nonetheless, both Catholics and Protestants admit that after justification, concupiscence remains. The issue, I believe, is whether "concupiscence" is, in itself, truly sin. Protestants generally affirm that it is and thus the justified remain both righteous (in Christ) and sinful (in themselves), worthy of condemnation under God's law, even if reckoned righteous in the sight of God in Christ by faith. Catholics maintain that concupiscence in itself is not truly sin, not sin "in the proper sense" as something that is "worthy of damnation," cutting the person off from God (since, in Christ, that remaining concupiscence is no longer under condemnation).

In any case, if you have any well-informed thoughts on this, Chris would like your input.

14 May 2002

Final grades are in (as of yesterday). Now I turn in full force to the major project for this week: re-modeling a third floor room that was serving as a storage space. We're turning it into a guest bedroom so that the current guest bedroom can become a nursery. The room, however, is in terrible shape.

A dropped ceiling had been added along with extremely ugly paneling sometime during the 1960's or 70's. In the process all the lovely original trim (baseboards, moldings around the windows and doors) had been removed and a transom covered up. I've already removed the ceiling and paneling. The walls underneath are not in great shape, with layers of the past 85 years of wallpaper peeling and chunks of plaster loose and falling out. I did, however, uncover a closet, explaining the mysterious couple of feet between the inside and outside walls of the room.

Today I'll begin peeling off the old wallpaper and repairing the plaster. Baseboards and moldings will be added to reproduce the originals. I'm giving up on the original ceiling, but will be adding embossed tiles to cover it, thus retaining most of the original 9 foot height of the room (much of which had been lost with the dropped ceiling). I'm still trying to figure out precisely what to do with the closet, which is too shallow for modern use. We have some friends coming on Saturday (with power tools) to help in bumping out the closet a bit for extra storage as well as anything else that remains to be done.

11 May 2002

Final grades are due in Monday. That means today will be my last effort to plow through the remaining papers and final exams I have to grade, and then input the numbers and let Excel do the rest. The weather outside would have to be beautiful today...

09 May 2002

I got my latest copy of the Blackwell Publishing philosophy book catalogue. It seems that the publication of Fergus Kerr's book on Aquinas has been postponed (it was supposed to have been published late last year). The book is now entitled After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism and is due out in August.

Two other books I've been expecting and waiting to be published but, to my knowledge, have not yet appeared are Peter Leithart's dissertation on baptism, The Priesthood of the Plebs: The Baptismal Transformation of Antique Order and N.T. Wright's commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.

Cool. A couple of Catholic blogs have linked to me in recent days it seems: Fool's Folly and Nota Bene.

Oddly, they both list me under "Catholic Blogs." I guess that's not too surprising with my blog's Latin title and the recent lengthy posts on Aquinas and Catholic philosophy. In any case, I do try to be catholic, even if I'm not Catholic.

08 May 2002

David P. Scaer, a professor of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary (Ft. Wayne, IN), wrote an article a couple of years ago called, "Reformed Exegesis and Lutheran Sacraments: Worlds in Conflict" (the link is to a pdf file). In it he looks at how (neo-)evangelical scholars (who are largely heirs of the Reformed tradition) routinely eliminate sacramental references in their exegesis of Scripture and how such a methodology is inimical to Lutheran hermeneutics. It seems to me he scores quite a few points.

Of course, I would also suggest that the Reformed tradition is wider than Scaer admits, though he certainly characterizes the mainstream of Reformed and evangelical exegesis accurately enough. Still, there have been a number of figures within the Reformed tradition (Calvin, various French Reformed, certain Anglicans, the Mercersburg theologians, etc.) who would not as easily fall prey to Scaer's criticisms. Such figures do emphasize the true instrumentality and efficacy of sacramental means. Moreover, they read the Scriptures typologically, often exegeting Old Testament texts sacramentally. Calvin's sermons on Deuteronomy are a good example here.

My interest, I suppose, lies in revitalizing this thread of the Reformed tradition, which seems to me central both for ecumenical purposes and in for renewing the worship and life of today's church.

Apparently Calvin (or someone in Geneva) also wrote another short (28 question) catechism for young children that was published in 1553 (it may actually have been written earlier). Its (abbreviated) title was "The Manner of Questioning Children..." ("La maniere d'interrogues les enfans..."). This document likely took the place of the earlier catechism that I mentioned below. Like the other catechism, it seems that it has not been translated into English (a future project perhaps).

According to Calvin's "Ecclesiastical Ordinances" the Sunday before a child's first communion, one of these catechisms would have been used to examine the child for admittance to the Supper, as a means by which the child would make public profession before the church.

Wow. I've had 270 hits on Calvin's catechism for young children in the past week.

06 May 2002

Fergus Kerr, the Scottish Dominican theologian, had an interesting article at the end of last year called "Theology in Philosophy: Revisiting the Five Ways" (International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 50:115-130, Dec 2001). The bulk of the article is a consideration of St. Thomas Aquinas' "five ways," not to re-examine the arguments (which has been done ad nauseam), but to attend to how they function within their original context. I don't entirely agree with everything Kerr says (or, rather, I don't think he took his considerations far enough), but several of his observations are quite helpful and on target.

Kerr begins by noting the way in which Aquinas' five arguments for the existence of God are routinely lifted from the text, isolated, and evaluated as a set of five distinct, a posteriori cosmological proofs that function to demonstrate the existence of God in an almost evidentialist or foundationalist manner. Aquinas' arguments are thereby turned into proofs that depend entirely upon "non-religious, non-human, and non-supernatural features of the world" that should neutrally show that God exists to any rational subject, bracketing out issues of faith, morality, revelation, and the like. And that, of course--as almost all Aquinas scholars today emphasize--is clearly a gross misreading of Aquinas.

So, how do we avoid such a misreading? By paying attention what Aquinas actually says elsewhere in the Summa Theologiae, particular in the Questions leading up to the Five Ways.

One thing we can note is that Aquinas feels he must argue for the conclusion that the existence of God is something that needs a rational defense. After all, he lived in a world that found, as Kerr says, "the sacred or the divine unmediatedly visible in the face of things," in which "the presence of God was transparently displayed in the world."

Whatever Aquinas is doing in his five ways, he is not providing proofs that are intended to make up for the lack of evidence. He raises several objections to arguing for God's existence: that a knowledge of God is implanted in each of us, that the existence of God is self-evident in the very term "God" (alluding to Anselm's ontological argument), and that God is truth and it's obvious that truth exists.

Aquinas rejects none of these objections outright. He allows that there is a natural awareness of God's existence, a true knowledge, though he suggests that such an awareness is somewhat vague and general, especially compared to revelation and in virtue of human sinfulness. In particular, God is the blessedness (beatitudo) of human existence and all people naturally desire this blessedness, but in our finitude and sin we are easily mistaken and deceived about where true blessedness is to be found. Even if we all know that there must be a creator God, we do not understand precisely what God is.

He further allows that the existence of God is self-evident in itself since God's essence is identical with his existence (and thus "necessarily existing" is part of the meaning of "God"), but not everything that is self-evident in itself is necessarily self-evident to human subjects (e.g., that the square root of 5,041 is 71 is self-evident in itself--true by definition--but it is not self-evident to me).

Yet God's self-evidence means that God in himself is intelligible to human reason precisely because he necessarily exists, a corollary to the doctrine of divine simplicity. God's simplicity, however, is also why God cannot be known to us by a direct perception of his essence, but only through his effects (including divine revelation). That our knowledge of God always proceeds from created effects is, in part, why God's existence can be argued for, one indication that the five ways actually presuppose a doctrine of creation. Thus a theological exposition of the nature of God, based largely on revelation, is presupposed as the basis upon which arguments for God's existence can even be made.

Moreover, Aquinas allows that it is obvious that there is truth and certainly agrees that God is the first truth (prima veritas). But this first truth is not "known in itself to us" since, as he has already argued, God's essence is not directly known by us and, furthermore, as he will argue later, the first truth is the object of faith and arouses faith. And as the object and source of faith, the first truth is primarily a matter of revelation through created effects.

Why, then, are arguments for the existence of God at all necessary, given that Aquinas maintains that God is intelligible, that he can be known through his effects and by revelation, and that God grants all people a certain awareness of himself? The rationale that Aquinas gives is, again, one that he draws from Scripture: "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 52:1). The real possibility of atheism is not something that Aquinas establishes from experience (indeed, it is unlikely he ever actually met an atheist), but from revelation.

But the existence of atheism (even as a possibility) shows that even though the existence of God is self-evident in itself, it is not necessarily self-evident to us since it is impossible to even think the opposite of something that we perceive as self-evident. Moreover, whatever natural awareness of God is given in the world, that awareness is not of a sort that compels belief, let alone faith (as Aquinas will later say, paradoxically, though unbelievers can be said to believe in a God, they really do not believe in a God at all, though they are aware of God, since defective belief in a simple being is to not know that being at all).

This is not to leave the atheist off the hook, however. Note that Aquinas' concept of atheism is a theological conception: atheism is a sin, for it is the fool that says, "There is no God" (and Aquinas will take considerable space explicating the sinfulness of unbelief later in the Summa).

The explanation of why such unbelief is possible, however, is the theological one we encountered above: that God cannot be known by us in his essence, but only by his effects, thereby allowing for the suppression of a proper understanding of those effects. Still, for Aquinas, it is an unquestioned assumption that these effects, these "things of which we do have knowledge" and by which God is known are, indeed, effects. Thus Aquinas, from the very beginning, presupposes a doctrine of creation and the doctrine of divine simplicity, even before getting to his five ways.

Before getting to the five ways, however, Aquinas will go on to argue that not only does God's existence need to be argued for in the face of atheism, but also that God's existence can be argued for. While I will not explicate Aquinas' argument here, we can again note that this is, for him, a theological conclusion based upon his understanding of Romans 1:20, a doctrine a creation, and a belief that God is analogically disclosed in and through the created world.

Kerr explains these various facets of Aquinas' approach reasonably well (though I have a few quibbles here and there). It is mistaken to take the five ways as neutral, non-theological arguments. What he leaves out, I think, is the interesting question of the larger theological and philosophical underpinnings of Aquinas' thought, for instance, Aquinas' belief that in every act of knowledge, God is already implicitly known, that the awareness of the divine presence is the horizon against which anything is knowable at all (see his De Veritate). Still, it is good to see Aquinas continuing to be extricated from the ways of reading and appropriating him that have held sway for far too long.

04 May 2002

I've grown somewhat tired of on-line personality tests, but the "What Blogging Archetype Are You Most Like?" test did catch my attention.

Out of the 9 possible archetypes, oddly enough I turned out to be AKMA. Not really all that surprising I suppose.






You are an AKMA.

You stand out from the crowd because of
deeply held beliefs in the unknown.

You ponder endlessly and
treat everyone with respect.

WWAD (what would AKMA do) guides your actions.

Take the What Blogging Archetype Are You test at GAZM.org






Other archetypes include Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Rebecca Blood, Christopher Locke (aka "rageboy"), Metafilter, Megnut, Andrew Sullivan, and Evan Williams (aka "evhead").

The blogworld is a pretty freaky place sometimes...

I've just spent way too much time updating the list of blogs to the left.

In part this is Martin Roth's fault for blogging about Christian bloggers and providing quite a long list of them (a lot of you fellow-bloggers are on his list). So, I had to go and look at them all.

In general I read and link to blogs that talk about stuff I enjoy--intelligent theological relfections, critical and constructive philosophy, cultural commentary--or are written by people I know. I'm usually more attracted to those who construct their philosophical and theological perspectives within some kind of definite tradition--thus most of the bloggers I've added turn out to be Roman Catholic. Like most Reformed bloggers, Catholics are functioning within a particular confessional tradition with it's own intellectual heritage and that is something I can relate to, grasp, and interact with in a way that is interesting and useful to me. I wish there were more Lutherans, Anglicans, and Orthodox blogging about their own faith traditions, but there don't seem to be many of them.

I've tended to leave out bloggers who simply emote or give personal reflections on how their day went--not to imply a value judgment or anything. Such blogging may be personally quite helpful to them and interesting to those who know them. I also have not included those blogs that simply compile links to other pages of news and the like. Nor have I included those blogs solely devoted to political commentary, which I quickly find very tiresome. I also left out the couple of blogs that had mastheads juxtaposing the flags of the US and the state of Israel since I find that a bit scary.

In any case, blogs galore. Enjoy.

03 May 2002

For those who are interested, I've added a translation of the third part of the catechism to what I already posted of Calvin's catechism for young children. So, it is now complete. I'll probably go back and tweak the translation a bit here and there, but it's essentially done.

02 May 2002

Since John and Mark have already blogged about this, I thought I might as well say something myself.

When John Calvin was in Strasbourg from 1538-1541, he composed a catechism in the form of a dialogue intended for use with young children. It was entitled "Institution Puerile de la Doctrine Chrestienne" and was probably first used around 1538 or 1539. It was later included in the French Evangelical Psalter of 1542. When Calvin returned to Geneva it is thought that he continued to use this catechism with younger children (the longer Geneva Catechism was not intended for memorization, nor was it intended for use with young children). Only in 1553 did he publish a new shorter catechism, with only 28 questions.

The likely purpose of the catechism for young children was as a post-baptismal catechesis, leading up the time when the children would receive their first communion (as Hughes Oliphant Old argues in his book The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the 16th Century, particularly chapter 8). As such it would serve as a child's first public profession of faith within the church, the conscious manifestation of what had already been given to the child in baptism (as the catechism makes clear).

As far as I know, the catechism has never been translated in its entirety, though a few snippets have appeared in various works of Calvin scholarship (e.g., Old's book on baptism). The text is divided into three parts: the first concerning the Creed and Sacraments, the second the Lord's Prayer, and the third the Ten Commandments. I have translated the first two parts so far and have put them up on the web under the title, "Instruction in Christian Doctrine for Young Children."

I hope to have the third part added by tomorrow at the latest. Translating this text can be a bit tricky since spellings are not always consistent and Calvin's French is to modern French approximately what Edmund Spenser's English is to modern English.

It seems to me that these kinds of historical documents are important for the church at large and so, while I retain the copyright for the translation, I grant free permission for people to make use of the text as they wish for their own edification and the building up of the church.

As a final note, the catechism can be accessed through a webpage of historical documents that I have added to my website, to which I hope to add further texts that are otherwise not easily available (and which already includes a link to the 1615 Irish Articles of Religion).