19 November 2005

milbank on sophiology

After a week of too much teaching, numerous meetings, too many appointments, and growing stacks of grading, I'm quite glad that Peter Leithart was able to save me the trouble by helpfully summarizing some of the most salient features of John Milbank's talk last night, which also served as the inaugural lecture for the Theology and Philosophy Co-op. Responses to Milbank's talk were presented by Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Tony Baker.

I must admit that I thought the talk was one of the most bizarre things I've yet to hear from Milbank, which is saying quite a bit considering what a creative and fruitful thinker he sometimes is. While I can't be sure I followed it all (I look forward to a well-rested perusal of a print version in which the words perhaps won't slip from my intellectual grasp quite so quickly), I was not particularly persuaded by his central thesis. Still, I would like to have a better sense of his argument and what was generating his thesis before launching any substantive criticisms.

As Leithart notes, Milbank's main concern was the notion of "mediation," drawing upon the thought of Russian theologians Bulgakov and Soloviev and their discussion of the biblical motif of holy wisdom or "sophia" in God and in creation. Part of what seemed to be motivating Milbank's presentation was the traditional problematic of a "third term," which has sometimes been thought to be necessary to mediate between two other terms that are evidently related (e.g., Creator-creature, Father-Son, universal-particular, one-many). But such a third term is generally recognized to cause more problems than it solves. Thus "sophia" - conceived as a hypostatizing or characterizing tendency - is offered as a way of mediating, without a middle, between terms without having to posit the third term.

Honestly, I couldn't make much sense of it, though it seems to me that the Holy Spirit himself would take up much of the role of what Milbank seemed to want to hand over to "sophia," especially if we follow theologians from Gregory of Cyprus to Thomas Weinandy in seeing the Son as eternally begotten through the Spirit, the Spirit eternally resting upon the Son, and the Spirit eternally sent back to the Father through the Son. But that's entering too far into the realm of speculation for this early on a Saturday morning.

Whatever the case, the talk was a good time to meet or connect back up with a variety of friends and acquaintances.