29 August 2002

So, my birthday is coming up in the next several days. I'll be 33. By this time Jesus had redeemed the world. So what have I done?

I've managed to get married, buy a house, find a full-time job, be debt-free, and father a child. That's not so bad, I suppose. I'm also groggy and still don't have my course syllabuses finished and it's almost a week into the semester.

By the way, I won't tell you the actual date of my birthday because then Jon Barlow might try to steal my identity.

27 August 2002

The mystery of sticky gecko feet....solved!

23 August 2002

Fatherhood is loads of fun, despite the 3am feedings, messy diapers, and a general feeling of disorientation that comes with a first child. But Claire is very precious and I love her dearly. She seems to be quite a serious baby thus far, very alert, taking in the world around her soberly and carefully.

Unfortunately, the school year starts on Monday, so my time with Claire will soon be more limited. Still, I am very much looking forward to this year, with greater enthusiasm than I have been able to muster the past several semesters. My role in the Core Curriculum is exciting and I look forward to working with both of the professors with whose courses my sections are linked.

As usual, I am busy these last few days putting finishing touches on syllabi, schedules of reading, and so on. Additionally, I've almost finished re-designing my main website, bringing it closer in style to this blog and making it, I hope, easier on the eyes and to navigate.

20 August 2002

Thanks to all for their well-wishes and prayers. It's great to know all the love and support that's out there. Laurel posted a more detailed story of Claire's labor and delivery over on her blog.

Both she and Claire are doing well, though Claire's having a bit a trouble feeding, largely due to excessive tummy gas that's making her uncomfortable and distracted. No more peanuts or chocolate for mommy!

17 August 2002

Update: Claire Elise Garver was born this morning at 2:16 am. She's healthy and happy, weighing 7 lbs., 5 oz. and at 20.5" long. Laurel is exhausted, especially since the pushing phase of things began at 8:50 pm yesterday. Claire was face up, but managed to turn herself around with quite a bit of pushing from mom and eventually emerged through some coaxing with the doctor's forceps. But both Laurel and Claire are doing great.

Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers!

16 August 2002

Contractions 5 minutes apart for the past 50 minutes. I guess it's time to head with Laurel to the hospital. I'll post again later.

14 August 2002

Since lots of other folks are doing this and I just don't have the mental energy at the moment to say anything philosophical or theological:

95 Theses

1) Name: Stephen Joel Garver.
2) Dad's Name: Bruce Allen Garver.
3) Mom's Name: Margaret (Peggy) Ann M. Garver.
4) Birthday: Labor Day, 1969.
5) Last time you showered: This morning at 8:45 am.
6) What color pants do you have on right now? Medium blue denim jeans shorts.
7) What song are you listening to right now? The radio just played "Under Pressure" by Bowie.
8) Last four digits in your phone: 1331 at my office, but it's going to change soon.
9) Last thing you ate: Leftover homemade Pad Thai.
10) Weirdest name you have ever heard: Of someone I've met, "Wesley Parrot."
11) Fav. radio station: NPR for news, etc.; for music it depends on mood.
12) If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Olive green.
13) Last movie you saw? We just got back from seeing Signs, which was an intriguing film. On video, the last I saw was Love's Labours Lost.
14) Where do you want to go on your honeymoon? We went to Montreal and Quebec City.
15) Have you ever been in love? Still am.
16) Who do you want to marry right now? Bigamy is illegal.
17) Last book you read? Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.
18) Do you have a pager? No.
19) Lava lamp? Never, though I think they're nifty.
20) How many bud's on your buddy list? Currently 11.
21) What's the weather? Very humid and nearly 100ºF.
22) What did you do last night? Interviewed a pediatrician, ate out at a diner, came home, e-mailed, chatted, watched "Frasier," went to bed.
23) Who are you talking to online right now? Nobody now. But I was chatting with Berek Smith earlier today (though it was about 3am in Japan--get yourself to bed, kid!).
24) Name backwards: Revrag Leoj Nehpets
25) Screen name: YIM and AIM: garvers1
26) Sexiest thing about the opposite sex? An empathetic, yet strong personality. Nice eyes and laugh. A curvy figure isn't bad either.
27) If you had a genie what wish would you make? More wishes. Duh.
28) Fav. CD: Difficult to say. I really like Afro-Celt Sound System.
29) Where ya going tomorrow? Hopefully to take a certain person to the hospital in order to meet my daughter.
30) Whom do you most admire? Personally, my folks. Historically, Francis of Assisi.
31) Are you happy? Deliriously so. Except when I'm not.
32) What are you looking forward to this summer? The summer's almost over. But I'm looking forward to meeting a particular person who will be very young when we first meet.
33) Would you pierce your nose, tongue or belly button? Eyebrow, if I weren't so pain adverse.
34) Be serious or funny? I'm fairly serious, but have my funny moments, like the time I got in line at a theology conference where Mike Horton was signing books and I had him sign Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who.
35) Boxers or briefs? Calvin Klein trunk-style briefs.
36) Whole or Skim Milk? Skim, lactose-reduced.
37) Simple or complicated? Yes.
38) Law or anarchy? False antithesis. Politically I'm a sort of Christian socialist anarchist, but in a very conservative law-abiding kind of way, I suppose.
39) Grey or Gray? Grey.
40) Night or Day? Evening.
41) Color or black and white photos? Black and white.
42) Sunrise or Sunset? Sunset. I can't remember the last time I saw the sun rise.
43) Rap or Rock? Rock.
44) Stay up late or early? Late. But not as late as I used to. Though something tells me my sleep schedule is about to be shot to hell.
45) Is it POP or SODA? Definitely soda, though I generally don't touch the stuff.
46) X or O in Tic-Tac-Toe? X.
47) Eat an apple or an orange? Apple. But I prefer bananas.
48) What came first the chicken or the egg? Egg. Scrambled. I usually don't eat meat until at least lunchtime.
49) Tall or short guys/girls? My girl is about medium.
50) Sun or moon? Moon. I sunburn in about 20 minutes.
51) Emerald or ruby? Niether. Garnet or sapphire.
52) Pants or shorts? Depends on season and context. Prefer shorts.
53) Left or right? Left-handed.
54) 10 acquaintances or 1 best friend? Both.
55) Vanilla or chocolate ice cream? I'm not a big fan of ice cream, but if I have it, it's usually chocolate, but only if I can get really, really dark, fudgy chocolate.
56) Green beans or carrots? Beans.
57) Hair in pony tail or leave it down? Short. Thinning.
58) Silver jewelry or gold jewelry? White gold and platinum.
59) Kids or no kids? Kids.
60) Dogs or cats? One of each.
61) Half-full or half-empty? Half-full.
62) Mustard or Ketchup? Ketchup on fries. Mustard only if it is country style dijon.
63) Hardcover books or soft cover books? In an ideal world with an unlimited budget, hardcover.
64) Newspaper or magazine? Internet.
65) Catsup or Ketchup? Ketchup.
66) Sandals or sneakers? Sneakers.
67) Wonder or amazement? Wonder.
68) Red car or white car? Turquoise.
69) Happy and poor or rich and sad? Happy and poor.
70) Singing or dancing? Singing.
71) Hug or kiss? Hugs.
72) Corduroy or plaid? Corduroy in pants. Plaid in a kilt.
73) Happy or sad? Content.
74) Live or die? Life, but of course true life is a continual death to self.
75) Ben Affleck or Matt Damon? For what? I'll take either if he'll clean my house and help me grade papers.
76) Fav. person online: Lone Xylophone.
77) Braces? For six miserable years.
78) Fav movies: I answered that before. Look it up.
79) Fav. Drink: Gin and tonic.
80) Fav. Musical: West Side Story.
81) Fav. Car: Mini Cooper.
82) Fav. TV show: I don't watch much TV, though I enjoying that British programme about veterinarians.
83) What color hair do you prefer for the opposite sex? Light brown.
84) Coke or Pepsi? I don't drink much soda and I prefer Birch Beer.
85.) Fav. store in the mall: Pottery Barn.
86) Fav. store anywhere: Amazon.com.
87) Siblings: Nope. Not that I know of.
88) Did this survey suck? Big time.
89) Least fav. subject in school? Math.
90) Thing you hate to admit that's true about you that's embarrassing? I tend to over-intellectualize.
91) Would you rather be single or taken? I'm already taken.
92) Do u have a b/f / g/f? I think a wife would qualify as a girlfriend.
93) Who is the last person you talked to on the phone: Sylvia Duggan.
94) How many email addresses do you have? Three.
95) Do you keep your car messy or clean? A bit messy. I'm not a neat freak about the car.

12 August 2002

Once again the summer X-Games are in Philadelphia! They feature of host of great sports: BMX, moto x, skateboarding, in-line skating, bicycle stunt, and the like.

This afternoon wakeboarding was the event, taking place on the Schuylkill River just a few miles downstream from here. So, I hopped on my old cruiser (i.e., rusty, faded 1-speed with back-pedal brakes) and coasted on down to watch. Good crowd. Lots of fun.

I've been reading The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (2000), edited by John Webster (professor of divinity and canon of Christ Church, Oxford). Contributors include Trevor Hart, Alan Torrance, Colin Gunton, George Husinger, and Graham Ward among others. It's a very helpful introduction and survey of the theological thought of one of the 20th century's most important and productive theologians.

Well, my wife Laurel is supposedly due to give birth to our child sometime this week. She's finally begun her maternity leave and it will be really very nice having her home with me during my August break. Hopefully we'll both have a brief chance to kick back together and relax a bit before our lives take a very different turn for the next 18 years or so--a turn I am very much looking forward to, mind you.

09 August 2002

Both Wayne W. and Valerie have blogged about their history of church membership over the years, both of which were interesting. Many people I've known have had quite a diverse experience of various denominations and congregations. I wonder if this kind of rampant inter-denominational cross-pollination can lead to more cooperation between churches and help break down barriers?

My own personal church background is actually quite boring. I'll start at the present and work backwards.

Currently, I'm a member of Tenth Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I've been there, more or less, since 1988 when I was in college, except for a brief hiatus when I was in graduate school in New York state at Syracuse University. While in Syracuse I was part of Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA). Before that, I grew up in and was a member of Calvary Presbyterian Church (PCA, formerly RPCES), in Willow Grove, a nearby suburb of Philadelphia, where I was baptized as an infant. That's about it.

I guess I could go into family background.

My mother was raised Presbyterian in the Presbyterian Church of Coatesville, Pennsylvania (which no longer exists, though the building is occupied by some kind of Bible church). Previous generations on my mother's side, of Scots-Irish descent, were mostly members of Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) since around 1800, shortly after her ancestors had first come to America. Prior to that, going back to the time of the Reformation, they were Presbyterians in Northern Ireland and Scotland. My mother's German ancestors were largely German Reformed, as far as we can gather.

On my father's side, things are considerably more diverse, at least in recent decades. He was raised in the United Methodist Church of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Going back further, however, his Scots-Irish and German ancestors appear to have been largely Presbyterian, German Reformed, or Episcopalian. But our family records are considerably more spotty on his side of the family.

Before the Reformation, we were all Catholics, of course. And before that we were pagan Celts and Goths. And that's about it.

08 August 2002

Back to the nominalism thread. Having explained Thomas in some detail, the rest of the story is easier since it can be described in terms of deviations from Thomas’ original schema which had been built upon the thought of earlier Christian thinkers, particularly Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius. Let us turn then to the thought of John Duns Scotus (1266-1308).

There are several important shifts that Duns Scotus (and later, nominalism) introduced into wider questions as they had been explicated by Thomas. The major Scotist shift was a denial of the analogy of being and, with it, the analogical use of language. Scotus maintained that it is possible to consider “being” or “existence” in abstraction from the question of created or uncreated being, the absolute distinction between Creator and creature. In doing this, however, Scotus established the separation of philosophy (ontology and epistemology) from theology since it, on his view, it would be possible to construct a philosophical ontology that is unconstrained by and transcendentally prior to theology itself, philosophy thereby being permitted to set the conditions for theology. Other separations and dichotomies (nature/grace, nature/supernature, faith/reason) flow from this basic shift.

Since for Scotus language functions univocally, God and creation can be set univocally within one undifferentiated chain of being. This, however, introduces serious difficulties into language and its ability to refer since “being” can now refer univocally to two different realities—created and uncreated—and thus language, and our ideas and concepts expressed in language, become a mask over reality rather than a medium by which reality is able to reveal itself to us in the context of the event of knowing. This in turn begins to shift epistemology into a direction in which the subject and object of knowledge become increasingly related extrinsically and externally, rather than maintaining the kind of interior intentional connection that was found in earlier thought.

With regard to nature and supernature (and its concomitant, nature and grace), the Scotist picture involves a twofold separation and fission between God and the creation (even if Scotus’ intent in this separation was to safeguard the gratuity of grace). First, since God and creation are both situated within one univocal extension called “being” (which simultaneously blurs the proper distinction between Creator and creature), it is possible to explain and think about the world in relation to existence in general without reference to God in particular. Thus the world becomes the self-enclosed system of “nature,” a material reality that remains complete in itself and at our disposal, not inherently opening towards and revelatory of God.

Second, God’s relation to the creation within this single extension of “being” must be theorized simply in terms of God’s degree of existence (quantity), rather than in a truly analogous possession of existence in an entirely different way (quality). For Scotus, God simply is to a greater degree than created things, rather than having an entirely different mode of existence. In this way, God becomes reduced to a being who is univocally like us, but more powerful in every respect, possessing our attributes to a maximal degree of empowerment. This thereby, in effect, identifies God’s essence with the omnipotent divine will. This provides the foundation for later divine “voluntarism” (which Luther and Calvin in some respects inherited), by which God’s absolute will is unconstrained by other aspects of his nature, raising questions such as “can God make 2 + 2 = 5 ?” and the spectre of an arbitrary divine will is raised.

Moreover, given this conceptualization of God’s relationship to the world, the operation of grace must be seen as an extrinsic operation that is super-added from outside of the creation—one self-enclosed being acting upon another within the wider realm of being, divine causality being simply a more powerful, but univocal parallel to created efficient causality. Creation is no longer, as for Thomas, in itself ordered to grace as a necessary condition for its eschatological completion and yet as something that can only be received as a sheer gift.

Since, on the Scotistic picture, grace becomes external to the order of nature, on an individual experiential level, the operation of grace becomes unknowable and undetectable except by a sheer act of faith. Moreover, grace tends to be reified into another layer of reality that must be super-added to nature as a further kind of “stuff” and which operates upon the individual soul as an external cause. Religion, thus, begins to be pushed to the margins of what is distinctively human and natural, a development that will have significant implications for the Renaissance isolation of the “secular” as a particular space of human existence, under the sole scrutiny of human reason.

In terms of faith and reason, then, for Scotus these are no longer two coordinate ways of knowing that mutually presuppose one another, but are extrinsically related, separate modes of knowledge. Reason can only know the world through ideas and language which are rendered problematic by the way in which they potentially mask reality and, therefore, they must be secured by an act of the divine will (as later happens in Descartes’ Meditations).

Faith, on the other hand, works on the level of grace and the supernatural and must only deal with discrete, revealed punctiliar entities—either revealed facts or grace-given experiences that are incommensurate with human experience as a whole. In terms of theological facts, special revelation becomes a wholly unique mode of divine disclosure, discontinuous with natural revelation, enshrined, on some models, in the revelation of individual propositional truths proposed to faith (on some views of Scripture) or through externally imposed authority (on some views of the magisterium).

In terms of human experience, the salvation becomes something that remains outside of our conscious personal life. Rather, in order to be saved (i.e. attain one's supernatural end through grace), a person must strive to receive grace by doing those things specifically revealed as granting grace (sacraments, spiritual and corporal works of mercy, etc.) and avoiding things revealed as destroying grace (mortal sin). This, in turn, easily falls into those “mechanized” or “magical” views of sacramental causality that were criticized by both the Reformers and later Catholic theologians.

Of course, most of these developments are not to be found in Scotus himself in any explicit form, but awaited their unfolding in the later thought of various theologians (e.g., Ockham, Biel) and the ways in which these trends trickled down into popular piety and, still later, even into Enlightenment philosophy (e.g., Descartes). In my next post I’ll try to set out some of these further shifts and turns.

06 August 2002

I've been having some e-mail problems. If anyone has tried to e-mail me within the past 48 hours or so, please try it again, but use my Yahoo account: garvers1@yahoo.com.

04 August 2002

Psalm 56

A Be gracious to me, O God,
for people trample on me
     All day long oppressing me.

B My enemies trample on me all day long
     For many fight against me.

C O Most High, when I am afraid
     I put my trust in you.

D Refrain:In God whose word I praise
     In God I trust, I am not afraid,
          What can flesh do to me?

E All day long they seek to twist my words
     All their thoughts are against me for evil.

F They stir up strife, they lurk
     They watch my steps, hoping to take my life.

G Because of wickedness, cast them forth
     In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

F' You have kept count of my wanderings,
put my tears in your wineskin,
     Are they not in your record?

E' Thus my enemies will turn back
in the day that I call;
     This I know because God is for me.

D' Refrain: In God whose word I praise,
     In Yahweh whose word I praise,
          In God I trust, I am not afraid,
               What can a mortal do to me?

C' My vows to you I must perform, O God,
     I will present thank offerings to you.

B' For you have delivered my soul from death,
     And my feet from falling.

A' So that I may walk before God
     In the life-giving light.

The bold-face letters at the beginning of each bit are there to highlight the overall structure, which appears to me to be chiastic. A "chiasm" is a literary structure, quite common in ancient literature, where the literary flow is inward to a turning point and then back outwards again, in a form roughly like this:

     A
          B
               C
                    D
               C'
          B'
     A'


In this example, sections A and A' would be parallel, and B and B', and so on, while D would serve as the pivot of the structure. It is called a "chiasm" after the Greek letter "chi" which is an X shape.

Psalm 56 follows such a pattern fairly evidently, though the refrain is the first clue. In sections A - C David pleads his cause and asks for deliverance, culminating in trust. In the parallel sections A' - C' David praises God for having delivered him, vindicating his cause, beginning in sacrificial worship.

The two refrains, D and D', are evidently parallel, the latter one expanding and intensifying the basic thought: that God's word can be trusted and so David has nothing to fear from mere human beings.

The middle section, between the refrains, begins by listing David's enemies' specific actions against him and ends by his recounting his own record of suffering before God, with confidence that God will vindicate his cause. The very center is the turning point of the Psalm in which David cries out to God to cast down his enemies.

With that background, here is my little homily on Psalm 56.

Judging from the superscription, the context of the Psalm is apparently 1 Samuel 21, when David, fleeing from king Saul, found himself in Gath (Goliath's hometown) and had to feign madness in order to escape. While the background is somewhat illuminating, the narrative sequence of the Psalm is still quite evident on its own.

David, the Lord's anointed, is being pursued by enemies who twist his words, stalk him, stir up strife against him, and seek to take his life. In the midst of this, David expresses absolute trust in the word of God, the promise of blessing held forth to him by God in both the Torah and in David's own status as the anointed successor to Saul. David is confident that, in the eyes of the divine court, he will find favor. God will see his righteous suffering and vindicate him, bringing him back from the very brink of the grave, into a new life in the divine presence. As an expression of his confidence in God, David has vowed that he will respond to God's certain deliverance by offering up thank offerings, a particular kind of peace offering, made in God's presence at the Tabernacle altar.

The Christian typology is clear. Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord's anointed (the Christ), the true son of David, who was trampled down by enemies on every side, whose words were twisted against him, who was followed by those who sought to kill him, and who stirred up strife against him at every turn. Yet, in the midst of all of this, Jesus turned to his Father in absolute trust. He knew not only the word of the Torah, but also the promise of God held forth in the prophets and even in this very Psalm. If God had delivered his forefather David in light of his righteous sufferings, he would surely deliver the one whom he had called his "beloved son" in the anointing of his baptism in the Jordan.

And we know that God did deliver Jesus from the grave, returning him to the light of life. Jesus was vindicated before his heavenly Father and his divine court when, after his enemies had done their worst, God raised him from the dead. And we know that, like his father David, Jesus passed through suffering, pouring out his tears into God's wineskin, as the way to that vindication. But when Jesus was raised, he kept his vow to his God, ascending before him as a thank-offering, offering himself up before God's presence as a sacrifice of peace and reconciliation.

As Christians, we too are caught up into this sacred history because we share in the very anointing of Jesus as the Christ, an anointing we receive in baptism. We know that, baptized into Christ, his deliverance is already ours for we already are raised with him, having the new life that belongs to those whose case has been vindicated before the divine throne, having Jesus himself as our thank-offering and sacrifice of peace. But the present sign of this vindication is that we too continue to wander along the way that David and Jesus walked, the way of suffering, the way of tears, the way of the cross. May God grant us the grace to enter more fully into that way, in solidarity with those who are oppressed by enemies, whose words are twisted and remain unheard.

We find we lack the strength often to continue on that way, but this Psalm can help us in our weakness.

First, it is a word to us that we can trust. We belong to the God who remembered David's wanderings and noted Jesus' tears. We belong to the God who delivered David and vindicated Jesus: the God whose word we praise. In that God we can trust, we need not be afraid, for what can any mere mortal do to us in Christ?

Second, in Christ we have an offering by which we can enter more fully into the life-giving presence of God. And that offering is called "eucharist," that is, a thank-offering. By coming to the table of the Lord, and sharing in what he offers us there, we enter into the very self-offering of Jesus Christ before his Father in heaven. And there we learn to walk in the presence of God and receive the life-giving flesh of Jesus himself to strengthen us as we complete our wanderings and as God continues to gather the tears of his people.

God grant us mercy to recall his word to us in this Psalm when we feel trampled by our enemies, both in the world and in our own flesh.

Recently I've heard a series of sermons on selected Psalms, which has led to my own reflections on those Psalms.

One thing that has impressed me is how helpful the literary structure and liturgical context of the Psalms are for understanding them. I have also been very much interested by how the Psalms can be interpreted christologically. Thus, as I am able, I plan on offering some brief summaries of my thoughts on these Psalms, along with my own translations and outlines of their poetic organization.

I'm taking a break from Thomas Aquinas and nominalism today. Instead, I'll post a few comments about the much misunderstood Calvinist doctrine of "limited atonement." This post is not designed primarily as a defense of the doctrine, but is merely an attempt to communicate precisely what that doctrine is.

The doctrine of "limited atonement" is best understood in light of several other doctrines: that Christ's work is infinitely sufficient, that God is omniscient and sovereign (including the doctrine of election), and that not all are finally saved. Together these doctrines pose a difficulty to which "limited atonement" is constructed as a resolution.

The "limit" on Christ's atoning work is not one of sufficiency. Sometimes some Calvinistic persons speak popularly as if the very quality and/or quantity of Christ's sufferings are somehow almost ecomonically limited so that, if God were to have chosen to elect more persons to salvation, the quality and/or quantity of Christ's sufferings would have to commensurately increase. But this is false and not the position any reputable Reformed theologian, who all maintain the infinite sufficiency of Christ's atoning work. As A.A. Hodge writes in his classic work, The Atonement:All Calvinists agree in maintaining earnestly that Christ's obedience and sufferings were of inifinite intrinsic value in the eye of law, and that there was no need for him to obey or suffer an iota more nor a moment longer in order to secure, if God so willed, the salvation of every man, woman, and child that ever lived...We unite with all other Christians in glorying in the infinite sufficiency of the satisfaction of Christ to reach and to save all men who have been or who will be created or creatable. (356)Christ's work is not limited in itself but in the omnisciently known and sovereignly ordained benefits that it was intended to effect. Thus the "limit" on Christ's atoning work, in Reformed thought, is one of divine intent. Christ's work, while infinitely sufficient and thereby providing a foundation for his genuinely offering grace to all, only accomplishes, in the end, precisely what God knew, ordained, and therefore intended for it to accomplish.

This does not mean, however, that Christ's atoning work accomplishes nothing within the intention of God for those who are not finally saved. In mainstream Reformed views, Christ's work accomplishes everything that God intends for it to accomplish, including a great many benefits for those who do not benefit from that work unto final and eternal salvation. Thus John Murray (formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary) writes in his essay, "The Free Offer of the Gospel," that "...all the good dispensed to this world is dispensed within the mediatorial dominion of Christ...he is given this dominion as the reward of his obedience unto death (cf. Phil. 2:8, 9), and his obedience unto death is but one way of characterizing what we mean by the atonement" (63-4).

Given this fact, there is a sense in which a Calvinist can truly affirm that Christ died for all people, even those who are not elect. Thus Murray writes, "even the non-elect are embraced in the design of atonement in respect of those blessings falling short of salvation which they enjoy in this life...it would not be improper to say that, in respect of what is entailed for the non-elect, Christ died for them" (64). This too, then, falls within what God intended Christ's atoning work to accomplish.

Given biblical texts such as Hebrews 10:29 (which speaks of a "sanctification" experienced by those who come to faith only for a time), there are even benefits of Christ's work included within the intent of the atonement that are analogous to those same benefits that the elect experience unto final salvation. Again, Murray writes:Whatever may be the particular complexion of the sanctification in view [in Hebrews 10:29], there can be no question but that it is derived from the blood of Christ and, if so, it was designed to accrue from the blood of Christ. The benefit was only temporary and greater guilt devolves upon the person from the fact that he participated in it and then came to count the blood by which it was conveyed an unholy thing. But, nevertheless, it was a benefit of the blood of Christ procured, and procured for him. We must say that, to that extent Jesus shed his blood for his benefit. (64-5)Nonetheless, Reformed theologians are reticent to describe these benefits experienced by the non-elect in terms of "salvation," at least most strictly speaking, with reference to complete and final salvation. So, Murray writes:...the fruits of the atonement enjoyed by some non-elect persons are defined in very lofty terms..In this sense, therefore, we may say that Christ died for non-elect persons. It must, however, be marked with equal emphasis that these fruits or benefits all fall short of salvation, even though in some cases the terms used to characterize them are such as could properly be used to describe a true state of salvation. These non-elect persons, however reforming may have been the influences exerted upon them and however uplifting their experiences, come short of the benefits accruing from the atonement, which the truly and finally saved enjoy. (68)This is where the "limit" in "limited atonement" emerges, in terms of the final efficacy of the atoning work of Christ for salvation. Thus Murray goes on to qualify his remarks, adding that "the non-elect do not participate in the benefits of the atonement and the elect do...non-elect enjoy many benefits that accrue from the atonement but they do not partake of the atonement" (69). The atonement, threfore, "was designed for, and for those only, who are ultimately the beneficiaries of what it is in its proper connotation..." and in that strictly defined sense Christ "did not 'die for' the non-elect" (69).

Thus, clearly "limited atonement" is a theological term of art, with the term "atonement" being used in a specialized way. But as with many systematic-theological concepts, we cannot simply assume that the way it functions within a dogmatic system exactly maps onto how the same term functions within particular biblical authors. Nonetheless, the underlying truth that the doctrine is designed to protect is clear: God is ominscient and sovereign and what he accomplishes through the infinitely sufficient work of Christ happens in accordance with his intent in election, which is not thwarted by the freedom of the creature (though that freedom is not violated either).

Though I've quoted John Murray at length, similar teaching can easily be found in A.A. Hodge, Ussher, Witsius, Turretin, and other Reformed theologians, representing, therefore, the mainstream of Reformed thinking on the topic.

03 August 2002

I’ve been expositing some of Thomas Aquinas’ theological thought in order to provide a backdrop for the shifts that were introduced by later philosophers, particularly nominalism and the effects for modern thought. In this post I will continue by explaining some of the implications of what we’ve already considered for how Thomas thinks about language, knowledge, and related matters.

In terms of epistemology and language, given Thomas' overall perspective, language itself must also obviously be analogical and thus intrinsically involves a metaphysical component, assuming analogical relations among things. Knowledge, moreover, arises in the reception of and action upon the real, mediated through language, in which what is real reveals itself to us and any illusion can be unmasked as such within such interaction. Indeed for Thomas, part of the potentiality of things is to be knowable and thus, e.g., our coming to know a chair is as much an event in the life of the chair unveiling itself to us as it is an event within us. In knowing the chair, there is a real sense in which the chair itself is within me. Therefore, for Thomas, there is no subject-object dichotomy nor the spectre of brute factuality; since all facts are interpreted, event-mediated facts.

Since the meaning of creation is its constitution as a loving gift from God directed to a further graciously given end, this same order is present within the creation, for instance, in knowledge, which requires the loving and receptive perception of the knower in order for the real to be truly known as it gives itself over to the knower. This is the very antithesis of a Cartestian model of knowledge, which presupposes a distance and rupture between subject and object that simultaneously reduces the world to a set of externally related, atomistic, and mechanized objects (contrary to Thomas’ doctrine of creation) and theorizes our knowledge of those objects primarily in terms of control. Moreover, the question of whether or not I might be massively deceived about what I think I know cannot arise for Thomas as it does for Descartes since the metaphysical foundations of their theories of knowledge are different. For Thomas, "seeing a paper on my desk" where that "seeing" is a hallucination or dream is not even univocal with actual "seeing" any more than a drawing of an eye is an actual eye, though both may be called such. Where Thomas' epistemology is supported by a basic trust borne in love, Descartes' is built upon suspicion.

It further follows that, on Thomas’ doctrine, all of created being thereby (in light of the previous paragraphs and posts) symbolically discloses the divine, pointing to transcendent reality, not just as some undifferentiated “God of the Philosophers” but as the Triune God of Scripture. This is the case, in part, because all of the perfections of God (truth, being, goodness,
beauty, etc.) are only manifest in the generation of the Logos in the Spirit. Thus our knowledge of God, ourselves, and the world is an analogous manifestation in us of God’s own Trinitarian knowledge of these things and thereby, as it were, our thinking God’s thoughts after him. Part of our participation in God, then, is our incorporation into the very inner life of the Trinity, which we have and grow in by grace.

Thus Thomas’ theories of truth and knowledge are thoroughly Trinitarian. So, for example, in De Veritate (q 4, art 4, resp) Thomas writes, “…for the divine Word to be perfect, it must express whatever is contained in that from which it had its origin…Consequently, whatever is contained in the Father’s knowledge is necessarily and entirely expressed by his only Word and in the very same manner in which all things are contained in his knowledge…Through his knowledge, moreover, the Father knowledge himself, and by knowing himself, he knows all other things. Hence his Word chiefly expresses the Father and, as a result, all other things which the Father knows by knowing himself. Therefore, because the Son is a word that perfectly expresses the Father, the Son expresses all creatures.” (Incidentally, it easily follows from this and the overall contours of Thomas’ epistemology that he would readily agree that the “presupposition of the ontological Trinity is the only basis for predication.”)

Thomas writes earlier in De Veritate (Q 1, art 4) that “...a thing is said to be true principally because of its order to the truth of the divine intellect [as that trinitarian divine intellect is explained above] rather than because of its relation to the truth of a human intellect.” Indeed Thomas goes on to insist that all knowledge ultimately comes from God, De Veritate (Q 1, art 8): “All [truth and knowledge] is entirely from God, because both [a] the very form of a thing, through which it is conformed, is from God, and [b] the truth itself insofar as it is the good of the intellect [is from God]...Hence, since every good and every form is from God, one must say, without any qualification, that every truth is from God.” This is not merely to say that “all truth is God’s truth” in some superficial sense, but that truth itself is only constituted and understood in relation to God and, indeed, as Thomas says elsewhere, “In every act of thought and will, God is also thought and willed implicitly” (De Veritate Q 12, art 2, ad 1).

Therefore, for Thomas, theology and ontology, faith and reason, grace and nature, are coordinate ways of knowing and participation in the mind of God. There can be no philosophy independent of theology, for Thomas, since we can’t even raise the most basic of philosophical question—talk about “Being,” basic ontology—without raising the question of created or uncreated being and the ratio and participation between them. Even Thomas’ famous “Five Ways” (as I noted previously in a post on Fergus Kerr), function in a thoroughly theological context, not as neutral “proofs” of God’s existence, but presupposing various theological concepts: divine simplicity, that God’s essence cannot be known in itself, the nature of divine causation, and so on. Moreover, even when Thomas comes to Trinitarian doctrine, which for him is a matter of revelation more than reason, he begins by noting various "traces" of the Trinity that are apparent even to reason within the created order.

Faith and reason, therefore, cannot be seen in Thomas as strictly distinct, but are coordinate ways of knowing that represent different degrees of intensity of participation in the single reality of divine illumination in which all rational creatures participate. They are not utterly incommensurate kinds of understaning. Reason, moreover, requires faith because the use of reason is always-already graced by God and faith needs reason as its discursive explication.

Thus, contrary to many popular presentations, Thomas is no advocate of “natural theology.” On the other hand, he is does not push the sufficiency of Scripture beyond its proper sphere in such a way so as to entirely negate the role of reason. Nevertheless, revelatio for Thomas is not radically discontinuous with other human knowing, but is simply a higher form of that same illumination that enlightens all men, intrinsically and inseparably conjoined with a created event that symbolically discloses the truth of God in a new and even unexpected and startling way, though it is also true that every created event always-already points to that truth. Thus “revelation” for Thomas (as it later became for Catholics like Suarez and much of Protestantism) is not merely some kind of depositing of propositional content into the world with certain externally imposed guarantees of infallibility. Rather a true analogy exists between the knowledge granted in revelation and all other human knowing so that the two are mutually interpretive, even if a certain priority is given to revelation due to its greater participation in and manifestation of the Spirit’s illumination.

This completes, then, my basic presentation of the contours of Thomas Aquinas’ thought. By no means should these posts be taken to provide a complete sketch of his thought (e.g., ethics is largely ignored). Rather they are an overview that focuses upon those aspects of Thomas that are most relevant to such later developments that grew into nominalism. And so, in future posts, I will finally get around to talking about nominalist thought and its (often ill) effects upon subsequent theology.

02 August 2002

Here's one of these things:

1. Saddest movie you've seen: Wit would have to be somewhere near the top of the list, though I always find Edward Scissorhands strangely touching.

2. Funniest movie you've seen: Hmm...that's difficult to say. I've always laughed at '80s John Hughes films, with Ferris Bueller's Day Off at the top of the list. But I also like Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Monty Python. So there's no accounting for taste.

3. Irrational fears you had as a child: I used to think there was a "snow monster" who lived in our basement and that he would attack me and carry me off into another dimension if I went down there after dark. I'm also still terrified of spiders to an absolutely irrational degree (i.e., involving jumping on top of furniture and screaming like a girl).

4. Was there a book you had as a child that you were scared to read because the pictures were scary? No. I like scary pictures. Except ones of spiders. They make me scream and throw the book across the room. I did always dread coming to the end of the Narnia Chronicles because everyone went further up and further in and I couldn't go with them and I would miss them terribly (and then there was poor Susan who had fallen away).

5. If you could have one talent in the world, it would be... The ability to skateboard like Tony Hawk (or do moto x like Travis Pastrana).

6. Language I'd most like to master in my lifetime: Latin. I'm partway there.

7. What is your favorite city? Philly, of course. Duh.

8. What is your favorite memory about the city in #7? The bicentenial was pretty cool. Other than that, all the times my folks took me to museums, plays, concerts, galleries, historic sites, and so on growing up.

9. Do you root for the favorite or the underdog? The underdog. I like to see the little guy kick butt.

10. Left-handed people are: The best and brightest people in the world. Right-handers have no idea how impoverished their world really is.

11. Animal you'd most like to see on the endangered species list: To protect or get rid of? To protect: lemurs. To get rid of: scorpions.

12. Milk chocolate or dark chocolate? Dark. The darker the better, though not quite to the point of make-your-mouth-seize-up and nearly pass out with the bitterness. But dark nonetheless.

13. Movie with worst casting decision: AI. Steven Spielberg should never have been cast as the director.

14. Most interesting foreign accent: I like Scottish accents from the really seedy, poor parts of urban Glasgow or Edinburgh because, even though it's English, you can't tell.

15. Rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, well, or just plain tartare? Medium rare.

16. Have you ever had fondue? Yes. Fruit with melted chocolate. Mmmmm.

17. Something interesting you've learned listening to NPR: There's so much I can't remember since I feel like a learn something new every day on NPR. I do like learning about quirky things, however, like the odd things in people's lives you hear about on "This American Life."

The following is a continuation of my reflections on Thomas Aquinas and his theology, as a means by which the later deviations of nominalism can be better undersood.

For Thomas the created order, according to the analogy of being, really, in some sense, participates in God by analogy. Now this language of “participation” can confuse some people, as if Thomas (and other theologians) were somehow saying that mere creatures can become God or share in God’s own essence or the like. But that is not at all what Thomas has in mind.

First, he means that God, in himself, always-already contains the plenitude of being, and thus every possible thing already pre-exists in God—in his reflexive self-knowledge (through the Son in the Spirit) by which he knows every kind of possible thing he could make. Thomas also suggests that God is “in things” (and they in him) in the way that a thing known by us is in us, that is, it makes itself present to us through some operation of our existence. So, God is in us in the way the tree I see outside my window is in me, in that it makes itself present to my experience, as also God does.

God is known as the cause of all things, however, only through his effects (and thus God’s “substance is present to all things as the cause of their being”). Yet, the nature of God’s causing things to be is as their formal-efficient-final cause, the cause of not only their coming to be, but their coming to be out of nothing and directed towards God as their goal. Given this kind of divine causation of things and given their pre-existence in God, God is the cause of all things in a still deeper way since God is the Truth, Goodness, Beauty and all other perfections of things.

So, for instance, God is not merely Good in himself and the cause of goodness in created things, but the very Goodness that is in God is analogically the goodness of created things which they never can, in themselves, possess except in relation to God. This is, in part, because the notion of a “good” is a set of analogically related concepts. For instance, when we ask what a pen is “good for,” we are asking its purpose: to write with. When we ask what a “good pen” is, we are asking when a pen is a good pen: when it writes well (i.e., fulfills its purpose with excellence). The good of things can be considered merely in relation to other created things within the order of the world, but the ultimate Good of all things is their life together in and with God as Goodness itself and which things enjoy in virtue of their existence from God (and so existence itself is a good), in their divinely-appointed relations with other things, and in their final goal within God’s purposes. Thomas’ doctrine of analogy comes in here when we speak of things as being “good” which, in one sense they are in themselves, but ultimately only are so in relation to God as “Good.” Similar analyses would hold true for other perfections such as truth, knowledge, beauty, and so on.

Another corollary of Thomas’ teaching on analogy is that the creation itself has its own integrity as a created whole so that creation itself explains further things within it. God effectively wills all that happens to happen as it does, but not in such a way that that the true secondary causation among creatures and free choices of intelligent beings are in any way compromised (how that precisely works out is another matter to be addressed elsewhere). Thus, while it is true that in one sense “God causes the change of seasons” it is more accurate to say that “God causes the world, with its changing seasons, to be,” allowing thereby for the full participation of all the created powers, secondary causes, and potentialities of the created order their proper role. While all things exist and continue to exist by the direct power of God, they are caused to exist with all the qualities that they exhibit and exercise in such a way that it is truly those things that do what they do and not that God makes them do what they do by a power that is extrinsic and external to them.

Moreover, in Thomas' metaphysics things share real natures, their "formal" constitution (as a discussed before), by which they stand in a real and ordered relationships with one another as part of the created whole. Thus they are analogically related to one another, for instance, that both humans, dogs, and dolphins are "animals" where the term "animal" is being used analogically with reference to real similarities between the various creatures (e.g., they all have senses and desires), despite how those commonalities are differently articulated (e.g., we do not hear in the same way as dogs or dolphins, not only in terms of the subjective experience of hearing but in the nature of the symbolic content that hearing communicates). Individuals and kinds of things are never merely isolated and atomistic objects standing in no essential relationships with other things, but are internally and intrinsically connected to them within a single ordered whole.

In the next installment, I’ll go on to consider some of the implications of this for knowledge, faith and reason, and our doctrine of revelation.