19 October 2005

haight: postscript

After the various presentations of each panel member regarding Haight's book there was some discussion. I didn't take notes so I can't reproduce that discussion, but I do recall some of the points that were made.

One panelist rightly noted that Haight's concerns are parallel to those of liberation theology, which begins in the real lived human experience of suffering, poverty, war, and so on. A christology "from below," he suggested, can address those issues in a way that traditional christologies do not, particularly with regard to the value of human life, the historical patterns of human suffering, and the question of the fundamental goodness or evil of humanity.

I responded to this a bit, suggesting that these are indeed important concerns and we do need to look at each of the various accounts of Jesus in the Gospels and Epistles on their own terms, proceeding often "from below." Nonetheless, I can hardly think of a more ringing affirmation of the value of human life than the idea that the Second Person of the Trinity incarnated himself as a human being, died to save us from our sins, and that his resurrected humanity remains forever united to his divinity, seated at the right hand of God. Moreover, it is the historicity of the resurrection that gives us hope to struggle against and overcome the historical patterns of human suffering, rather than retreating into a realm a transcendental subjectivity that downplays the historical character of the faith.

One might also note with regard to christology "from below" vs. "from above" that theology and philosophy have often distinguished between an ontological order and a pedagogical or gnoseological order. That is to say, even if we learn who Jesus Christ is through his lived actions, words, death, and resurrection as communicated to us in narrative form by the Gospel writers, once we proceed through those considerations from below and discern the identity of Jesus as the eternal Son, we can then construct a christology that proceeds "from above," ontologically speaking, all the while never leaving behind the particularity of the crucified man of Nazareth.

Another matter that became evident in the discussion was that Haight is clearly uncomfortable with the notion that there are eternally three "persons" within the life of the one God. While he seems to admit the notion of a pre-existent Logos and that this Logos was present and mediated by the life of Jesus, he does not want biblical reflections upon the life of Jesus to entail that the person of Jesus had somehow pre-existed eternally within the life of God or that the Logos was a "person" apart from the life of Jesus. Thus Haight seems troubled by the historic language of Nicaea and Chalcedon that posit three "hupostases" within the single "ousia" of God, so that Haight himself tends towards a kind of Sabellianism. My one colleague from the religion department seemed highly sympathetic to these concerns.

I can certainly sympathize with the idea that our modernistic concept of "person" might not be entirely suited for trinitarian doctrine (Barth raises a similar concern, as I recall). On the other hand, I suggested, the trinitarian doctrine of Nicaea and Chalcedon is perhaps the single most important contribution of Christian theology to western thought. The idea that God within himself eternally exists as "being in communion" - a communion of love, communication, mutuality, and so on, between three centers of existence or whatever you want to call them - this idea is mind-bogglingly important. It has weighty implications for what it means for human beings to exist in the image of God as persons in community, and, indeed, undergirds the development of the western, Christian sense of "personhood" as such. Thus, I can't see revising Nicaea and Chalcedon on this matter without reaping significant consequences.

Various matters were also discussed, including an conversation on the matter of the fundamental historicity of the Gospel account, though the points above are the ones that I responded to and which struck me as central issues for Haight's whole approach.