Revisiting the Protestant Theory of Religion

Some time ago I wrote on what I called the Protestant Theory of Religion. I won’t reiterate that post here, but I got some pretty good feedback. In fact, in the comments, Derek Rishmawy made some interesting-ish observations and posed a couple of challenges. I want to interact with one of them here and perhaps develop a more well-rounded view of the PTOR – with the intent being to open up space more than defend a hard and fast conclusion on my part. Continue reading


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)

Gregory of Nyssa on Nature and Persons

This will hopefully be the first of many posts on the thought of Gregory – Hans urs Von Balthasar’s essay on Gregory should be arriving any day.

‘Our first point is this: To use in the plural the word for the nature of those who do not differ in nature, and to speak of “many men” is a customary misuse of language. It is like saying that there are many human natures. That this is so is clear from the following instance. WHen we address someone we do not call him by the name of his nature. Since he would have that name in common with others, confusion would result; and everyone within hearing would think that he was being addressed. For the summons was not by an individual name, but by the name of a common nature. Rather do we distinguish him from the multitude by using his proper name, that name, I mean, which signifies a particular subject. There are many who have shared in the same nature – disciples, apostles, martyrs, for instance – but the term “man” in them all is one. Hence, as we have said, the term “man” in them does not refer to the particularity of each, but to their common nature. For Luke is a man, as is Stephen. But that does not mean that if anyone is a man he is therefore Luke or Stephen. Rather does the distinction of persons arise from the individual differences we observe in each. When we see them together, we can count them. Yet the nature is one, united in itself, a unit completely indivisible, which is neither increased by addition or nor diminished by subtraction, being and remaining essentially one, inseperable even when appearing plurality, continuous and entire, and not divided by the individuals who share in it.’ (Gregory of Nyssa, ‘Theological Orations: On Not Three Gods’, ‘Christology of the early Fathers’, p. 258)