A Review of “Dominus Mortis: Martin Luther on the Incorruptibility of God in Christ” Part 1 | theologia vera

Here’s a more in depth review which interacts and engages with the main poonts of the book – definitely worth reading:

http://theologiavera.com/2015/01/31/a-review-of-dominus-mortis-martin-luther-on-the-incorruptibility-of-god-in-christ-part-1/

More Notes on Augustine’s Ethics

– Nicholas Wolterstorff charts a transition in Augstine’s though – a movement from roughly Platonic/neo-Platonic ideas of ascent and hatred towards this-worldly goods and relationships to an moral vision much more informed by Biblical ideas.

Reading Wolterstorff’s treatment of Augustine in Justice: Rights and Wrongs, I’m struck by how much Augustine modifies and breaks the ancient eudaimonism – while God alone will fail to disappoint love, our mutable neighbours are, in fact, love and disturbance-worthy, while locating the much sought after tranquility in the life of the world to come. To quote Wolterstorff, in this life, love trumps tranquility.

An example:

Augustine never loses the idea of tranquility or happiness being that which we should strive for – he holds that along with the various pagan schools quite firmly. What he does, however, is to modify and in some cases break away from the eudaimonism of those schools. His idea of tranquility becomes grounded not in an ascent to the heavens but in the eschatology of the life to come – we are not to seek tranquility among the evils and miseries of the world but to acknowledge these evils, and, in his most dramatic break with the eudaimonistic traditions, be compassionate towards others, feel sorrow, joy, and anger for people and events. To do otherwise is to deny our created nature.

– Augustine’s emphasis on compassion is probably the most non-eudaimonistic aspect of his ethical and moral thought – compassion being a profoundly kenotic kind of thing, opposed to eudaimonism and certainly opposed to (explicitly so) the Stoic conception of ethics:

‘Unlike such emotions as fear and grief, it (compassion) does not have a eudaimonistic basis. Because it does not presuppose any investment in the well-being of the other, it cannot have as its basis the perceived or threatened impairment of one’s investment. On being moved to compassion, the (Good) Samaritan proceeded to care for the man in the ditch; he invested himself in his recovery. The compassion evoked the care, the investment, not the other way around.’ (Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘Justice: Rights and Wrongs’, p. 218)

Quick Notes on Augustine’s Critique of Pagan Ethics

– Reading on Augustine’s ethics in the ‘Cambridge Companion to Augustine’ has been very enjoyable – it certainly has put to rest any idea that Augustine was a dualist of any stripe. Augustine firmly believes that this-worldly goods are, in fact, good – and that sometimes, the delight we get from them exceed any kind of practical or instrumental value. Some things, for Augustine, are just delightful because they’re delightful.

– His engagement with Epicurean/Stoic ethics is interesting. He essentially takes the view of the Stoics to be absurd – he simply cannot see how anyone can truly be happy while, say, being tortured on the rack. If anyone says or thinks they are, Augustine simply declares that they are simply wrong or in thrall to an ideology. When it comes to Epicurean ethics, it’s a bit more detailed – he argues that on the Epicurean conception of happiness (as he understands it) that immortality is required to be ultimately happy, on the grounds that, since we have to be alive to be happy, more life = more happiness. But, as Martha Nussbaum notes, true pleasure for the Epicureans is not additive – i.e. having it for longer or having more of it does not make it better.

‘Epicurus insists on this: when once ataraxia (tranquility) and aponia (absence of pain, trouble, etc) are attained, the agent is at the top of his life, and nothing – not even prolongnation or repition of the same – can add to the sum of her pleasures.’ (Martha Nussbaum, ‘The Therapy of Desire’, p. 212)

– So it seems that he somewhat misunderstands the Epicurean conception of happiness

The Protestant Theory of Religion

Let’s define the Protestant Theory of Religion (PTOR) in a broadly Augustinian way: the idea that man by nature worships (perhaps we could call this the Worship Faculty), and if he doesn’t worship God, he worships something else, with worship being (broadly, of course) defined as a fixation upon that which we love ultimately. Examples abound in the Protestant world: one can worship money, fame, power, sex, whatever. Thus, it’s not our activity as such that is wrong but the object of it, or what our desires (on the broadly Augustinian conception, man is primarily an animal of ‘desire’) and faculties are aligned to. There is always something man is worshiping, always that to which man is fixated upon. We can then lay out the PTOR as such:

‘Man is by nature a creature of desire, who worships.’

(note: this fits in with Tillich’s ‘ultimate concern’ as well)

On this theory, it is a universal condition of humanity that they are worshipping creatures, and thus religious creatures – if their religion is not that of God, it is of something else, fame, fortune, etc – but every man has a religion. This, as Nicholas Wolterstorff puts it, is part of the ‘standard Protestant apologetic’. (Art in Action, p. 85). Is it, however, an accurate description of the human condition? Can we paint every man as someone who worships something?

A first difficulty has to do with confirmation of this theory: upon close inspection, it’s a theory which can be confirmed by anything. Search deep enough, and you’ll find something you worship, even if you’re a modern Western secularist. We’re all worshippers. We all fixate upon some ultimate concern.

A second difficulty is anthropological. Wolterstorff points out that, contrary to the PTOR, many people may not have one ultimate concern but many concerns:

‘Is it not rather the case that many live their lives with a multiplicity of conerns, shifting about from time to time, with no one concern ever being ultimate? Such people care a bit for their families, a bit for their material possessions, a bit for country, a bit for personal esteem, and so forth…if some situation would arise forcing them to choose, then one or more of those conflicting concerns would, for the time being at any rate, be subordinated. But for many, no such agonizing, clarifying conflict ever arises. Their life remains a fractured multiplicty concerns.’ (Art in Action, p. 86)

In a nutshell, some people just aren’t ultimately concerned. Some people just may never have an existential crisis. Sure, you could still say that such people are ultimately concerned and just don’t know it, but this seems like a case of trying to convince someone who isn’t sick that not only are they sick, they need your medicine. That’s the peril of existential apologetics – many people simply don’t have dark nights of the soul.

A third difficulty is biblical: is it in fact the biblical teaching that all men are religious in this way? Is this a universal statement made by the biblical writers? Again, Wolterstorff disagrees:

‘The Bible speaks about the true worshippers of the true God, and describes their unity-in-variety. But it never attempts to locate some ineradicable religious tendency which, though it can be turned in different directions, can never be resisted. It never tries to pinpoint some tendency such that what ultimately differentiates the true worshipper of the true God from all other men is that the former turns that universally shared tendency in a different direction than all the others – namely, in the right direction. It never contends that all those who are not true worshippers of the true God nevertheless have a Religion. It simply regards them as falling away in a vast multiplicity of different ways.’ (Art in Action, p. 87)

Wolterstorff then gives a brief exegesis of Romans 1, which for brevity’s sake I will not reproduce here. He concludes, however, that Paul is not teaching that all men have a religious tendency which cannot be resisted but only directed.

This raises some a few questions: If Wolterstorff is right, and I think he (of course) broadly is, what are the implications? Perhaps one implication is that instead thinking of man as primarily a creature of worship (note: man still certainly is a worshiping creature, only not primarily so) perhaps man should be thought of as creature of action. This, of course, is not a novel insight – the Christian idea of vocation has been around for a good long time.

Another question that’s best perhaps phrased in the form of an answer: God is not found at the limit of human life but at the center. This is a huge theme in Bonhoeffer, especially his Ethics and Letters and Papers From Prison. Instead of attempting to identify an existential crisis or God-shaped hole, which may or may not be there or may or may not be viewed as significant, the Christian should simply act in the world. It is in the real world, in the concrete actions of the Christian in the real world, in the center of our existence, not in the deep dark existential moments, where God is. When God is found in the gaps, even deep existential gaps, He disappears when they close.

Nature, Grace and Predestination in the 9th Century

A preliminary to any discussion of predestination in the 9th century has to be the concepts of nature and grace. As I mentioned in a previous post, the distinction between nature and grace basically ran like this (the references here will all come from Pelikans’s ‘The Growth of Medieval Theology’):

Augustine: nature = supported by grace, after the fall, grace is taken away. Nature without grace can only do evil.
Pelagius = nature is grace – righteousness is part of the original nature of man. Grace is immutable in the person.

It was the Augustinian viewpoint that dominated the medieval tradition – free will, for example, was seen to only be free in any meaningful sense if it was supported by grace. Bear this in mind as the background and underlying presuppositions of this entire debate, even though it’s not directly referenced.

Now, generally, there are two main ways of thinking about predestination: either God picks by means of decree some to be saved, or God picks based on His foreknowledge of what people would freely do. A key point in Augustine, who was basically the ender of disputes in the medieval period, was this, that God acted…

‘…for the damnation of those whom he had justly predestined to punishment and for the salvation of those whom he had kindly predestined to grace.’ (p. 81

The latter originated with a guy named Hincmar, who turns out to be another guy named Gottschalks arch enemy. Hincmar said that God foreknew that…

‘…some, through the freedom of the will assisted by grace, would be good…’ (86)

…and these were the people he predestined to salvation. This is single predestination. God predestines based on foreknowledge who goes to heaven, passing over the reprobate.

Gottschalk based his double predestination heavily on his idea of God’s impassibility:

‘”I believe and confess that God, omnipotent and unchangeable, has foreknown and predestined”: so Gottschalk opened a confession of his faith. The conclusion of another statement of faith was an apostrophe extolling the transcendence of God beyond time and beyond change. If God had not foreordained the damnation of the devils and the wicked, they could not be damned; for “if he does something which he has not done by predestination, he will simply have to change,” which was blasphemous.’ (p. 85)

An area of dispute was the distinction between God’s foreknowledge and predestination – did the one impose necessity on the other? Did it even make sense to talk of ‘fore’ knowledge in God? This was an area of intense discussion – but for the sake of brevity I’ll pass over it, noting the two obvious answers: either (a) it did impose necessity, or (b) it didn’t, for one reason or another.

To breeze through a pretty lengthy and subtle debate: both sides believed that they were teaching the correct doctrine, and each believed the other to be a heretic. Both were able to find support in Augustine, and both had patristic support as well as contemporary followers. The most pertinent for modern discussions is the emergence of this viewpoint:

‘This statement of Paul’s, (that God desired all men to be saved), the predestinarians had to admit, was “extremely perplexing and  much discussed in the writings of the holy fathers and explained in many different ways”. Therefore its interpretation was “not to be settled precipitately, but very cautiously”. They rehearsed Augustine’s various attempts to circumvent the text’s affirmation of the universal salvific will of God. From the use of the identical word ‘desires’ in 1 Timothy 2:4. “who desires all to be saved”, and in Romans 9:18, “He has mercy upon whoever he desires,” Gottschalk strove to demonstrate that “truly God has not in way desired to save with eternal salvation those whom, as Scripture testifies, he hardens.” The “all men” in the text must mean “all men who are saved” rather than “all men” in general.’ (p. 90)

This viewpoint opened up all kinds of other questions: how effective was the death of Christ in securing redemption? We have as responses some now classic answers: on the one side, God could be accused of injustice if his son died for only for some and not others. On the other side, the blood of Christ would be seen as being wasted if it was shed for those who were not saved. Both of these were developed in intricate detail by their supporters.

To sum up: the contemporary debate, usually had between Calvinists and Arminians, over the scope of redemption, predestination and God’s foreknowledge, can be seen reaching all the way back to the 9th century – and, oddly enough, it seems that the answers have basically remained the same ever since.

As a postscript: the real issue here is the idea of externalism in regards to salvation, which Barth/Torrance subjected to pretty withering criticism in their writings.

Pelikan on Maximus and Augustine

‘It is instructive at this point to contrast the Augustinian system with that of Maximus. For example, Maximus said that “we were freed by holy baptism from ancestral sin,” which sounds very much like the Augustinian doctrine of a sinfulness passed on from Adam to his descendants for all generations. Human nature lost “the grace of impassibility and became sin.” In other passages, too, Maximus spoke of sin and the fall in an apparently Augustinian fashion. But Maximus’s doctrine, while referring of course to the sin of Adam, did not have in it the idea of the transmission of sin through physical conception and birth. Rather, Maximus saw Adam not as the individual from whom all subsequent human beings sprang by lineal descent, but as the entire human race embodied in once concrete but universal person. In spite of the superficial parallels between the two, therefore, Augustine’s doctrine of man and Maximus’s doctrine were really quite different. Photius recognized that the church fathers had a twofold anthropology, one praising and the other reviling human nature. In the Eastern tradition this did not lead to the Western view of sin through the fall of Adam, but to a view of death through the fall of Adam, a death that each man merited through his own sin. Thus the hardening of Pharaoh, which Augustine had interpreted as at one and the same time a result of the secret predestination of God and an act of Pharaoh’s own free will, was to Photius a proof that “God, who never does violence to the power of free will, permitted [Pharaoh] to be carried away by his own will when he refused to change his behavior on the basis of better counsel.’ (Jaroslav Pelikan, ‘The Spirit of Eastern Christendom 600-1700,’ p. 182)

Augustine on Memory

‘I will soar, then, beyond this power of my nature also, still rising by degrees toward him who made me. And I enter the fields and spacious halls of memory, where are stored as treasures the countless images that have been brought into them from all manner of things by the senses. There, in the memory, is likewise stored what we cogitate, either by enlarging or reducing our perceptions, or by altering one way or another those things which the senses have made contact with; and everything else that has been entrusted to it and stored up in it, which oblivion has not yet swallowed up and buried.

When I go into this storehouse, I ask that what I want should be brought forth. Some things appear immediately, but others require to be searched for longer, and then dragged out, as it were, from some hidden recess. Other things hurry forth in crowds, on the other hand, and while something else is sought and inquired for, they leap into view as if to say, “Is it not we, perhaps?” These I brush away with the hand of my heart from the face of my memory, until finally the thing I want makes its appearance out of its secret cell. Some things suggest themselves without effort, and in continuous order, just as they are called for–the things that come first give place to those that follow, and in so doing are treasured up again to be forthcoming when I want them. All of this happens when I repeat a thing from memory.

13. All these things, each one of which came into memory in its own particular way, are stored up separately and under the general categories of understanding. For example, light and all colors and forms of bodies came in through the eyes; sounds of all kinds by the ears; all smells by the passages of the nostrils; all flavors by the gate of the mouth; by the sensation of the whole body, there is brought in what is hard or soft, hot or cold, smooth or rough, heavy or light, whether external or internal to the body. The vast cave of memory, with its numerous and mysterious recesses, receives all these things and stores them up, to be recalled and brought forth when required. Each experience enters by its own door, and is stored up in the memory. And yet the things themselves do not enter it, but only the images of the things perceived are there for thought to remember. And who can tell how these images are formed, even if it is evident which of the senses brought which perception in and stored it up? For even when I am in darkness and silence I can bring out colors in my memory if I wish, and discern between black and white and the other shades as I wish; and at the same time, sounds do not break in and disturb what is drawn in by my eyes, and which I am considering, because the sounds which are also there are stored up, as it were, apart. And these too I can summon if I please and they are immediately present in memory. And though my tongue is at rest and my throat silent, yet I can sing as I will; and those images of color, which are as truly present as before, do not interpose themselves or interrupt while another treasure which had flowed in through the ears is being thought about. Similarly all the other things that were brought in and heaped up by all the other senses, I can recall at my pleasure. And I distinguish the scent of lilies from that of violets while actually smelling nothing; and I prefer honey to mead, a smooth thing to a rough, even though I am neither tasting nor handling them, but only remembering them.

14. All this I do within myself, in that huge hall of my memory. For in it, heaven, earth, and sea are present to me, and whatever I can cogitate about them–except what I have forgotten. There also I meet myself and recall myself[337]–what, when, or where I did a thing, and how I felt when I did it. There are all the things that I remember, either having experienced them myself or been told about them by others. Out of the same storehouse, with these past impressions, I can construct now this, now that, image of things that I either have experienced or have believed on the basis of experience–and from these I can further construct future actions, events, and hopes; and I can meditate on all these things as if they were present. “I will do this or that”–I say to myself in that vast recess of my mind, with its full store of so many and such great images–“and this or that will follow upon it.” “O that this or that could happen!” “God prevent this or that.” I speak to myself in this way; and when I speak, the images of what I am speaking about are present out of the same store of memory; and if the images were absent I could say nothing at all about them.

15. Great is this power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God–a large and boundless inner hall! Who has plumbed the depths of it? Yet it is a power of my mind, and it belongs to my nature. But I do not myself grasp all that I am. Thus the mind is far too narrow to contain itself. But where can that part of it be which it does not contain? Is it outside and not in itself? How can it be, then, that the mind cannot grasp itself? A great marvel rises in me; astonishment seizes me. Men go forth to marvel at the heights of mountains and the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the orbits of the stars, and yet they neglect to marvel at themselves. Nor do they wonder how it is that, when I spoke of all these things, I was not looking at them with my eyes–and yet I could not have spoken about them had it not been that I was actually seeing within, in my memory, those mountains and waves and rivers and stars which I have seen, and that ocean which I believe in–and with the same vast spaces between them as when I saw them outside me. But when I saw them outside me, I did not take them into me by seeing them; and the things themselves are not inside me, but only their images. And yet I knew through which physical sense each experience had made an impression on me.’ (St. Augustine, ‘Confessions,’ Book Ten, Chapter 8, cited from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/confessions-bod.asp)