Trinitarian Thought: Tertullian

Overview

While the exact date and place of Tertullian’s birth and death are unknown, he lived roughly from the middle of the second century through to the middle of the third century, and he grew up and spent most of his life in Carthage, North Africa. He is therefore an ante-Nicene church father.

Tradition holds that he was a lawyer and a priest, but the scholarly consensus today leans towards this being mere legend, proposing that there was perhaps a contemporary figure who practised law that was also named Tertullian, who came to be fused with Tertullian the church father in the historical record.

Tertullian was a highly influential church father, who planted some crucial theological seeds that would eventually sprout and continue growing into the Roman Catholic tradition. The main theological and ecclesial opponents he had to confront were Gnostics and Modalists, while simultaneously coping with physical persecution from the secular authorities. In the course of these confrontations, he laid down the foundational technical terminology that came to be used to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity in the Latin tradition, and also kick-started the theology itself. Terms such as persona, substantia, esse, ratio, sermo, and trinitas were first deployed and coordinated by Tertullian.

Tertullian was never canonised due to a variety of factors. The common explanation given for this is that he left the Catholic faith and died in communion with an extra-ecclesial heretical movement called “Montanism,” but the actual story is more nuanced. Firstly, Montanism was a movement within the Catholic church of the day; it was not an external phenomenon in the way that Gnosticism was. Secondly, Tertullian’s adherence to Montanism was inseparable from his Trinitarianism. Thirdly, Tertullian had a bad reputation among the orthodox believers of the day not because he was a heretic, but arguably because he was ahead of his time in his doctrine and asceticism, and the simplices in the pews simply couldn’t keep up with him. As a result, despite being quite orthodox and an influential father in the Latin tradition, he died while being suspected of heresy, and his name has never really been cleared since.1

Tertullian produced a lot of writings, and many of them survive to this day. Some of the most recognisable quotes in Christian history were penned by Tertullian. For example:

The more you mow us down, the more we multiply. The blood of Christians is the seed of the church.2

This is the violence God delights in . . . It is chiefly the quality of our love in action that brands a distinguishing mark upon us in some people’s eyes. ‘See how they love one another’, they say – for they themselves hate one another. ‘See how ready they are to die for each other’– for they are more ready to kill each other . . .3

The two most important texts expressing his Trinitarian theology are “Against Praxeas” and the “Apology.” In the “Apology” Tertullian’s Trinitarianism is not fully explicit, and often he appears to be more Binitarian, by sometimes conflating the spirit with the father, other times conflating the spirit with the Son. This was because Modalism was a rampant heresy in Carthage among the Catholics, so Tertullian had to spend most of his energy defending the distinct identities of Father and Son, and the Spirit was seen as a separate issue. He did not ignore the Spirit however, and in “Against Praxeas” there are early hints of the theology of the filioque:

For the Spirit is a third from God and the Son, just as the fruit is a third from the root out of the new growth, and the canal is a third from the spring out of the river, and the point of light is a third from the sun out of the beam: nothing, however, is cut off from the source from which it derives its properties.4

The one God has also a Son . . . who … sent from the Father the Holy Spirit … as the sanctifier … of those who believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.5

In Tertullian’s thought, the Spirit guaranteed the infallibility of the “New Prophets”, analogously to what later developed into the theology dogmatised at Vatican I concerning the Spirit’s guarantee of Papal infallibility.6 In Tertullian’s understanding the Spirit also guaranteed the transmission and interpretation of the rule of faith (ie, the liturgy and scripture), while simultaneously being a key part of that rule of faith. In this way Tertullian simultaneously sowed the seeds of what would later develop into magisterial Catholicism (in that he strongly affirmed the traditions of the church), and anti-magisterial Protestantism (in that he emphasised the necessity of an individual possessing and being led by the Spirit if they are to comprehend the faith correctly).

While Tertullian did not explicitly coin the phrase, his theology was very much an elucidation of the principle of lex orandi lex credendi: he intimately ties disciplina and doctrina together and points to the Spirit as the power lying behind both. In terms of theological method, his Montanism was crucial: He understood the witness of the Holy Spirit to be key for learning, properly comprehending, interpreting, understanding and living out the rule of faith. Tertullian was adamant that simply participating in the liturgy and learning doctrine are not enough, and that theology cannot be properly done without the guidance and influence of the Paraclete.

Tertullian’s place in history means that he was doing theology without the magisterial resources that Catholics would draw on to today, such as the Catechism, Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Dogma, the Enchiridion, the Pope and council of bishops. Tertullian instead worked with a minimalist rule of faith and a primitive liturgy which hadn’t had as much time to evolve as the liturgies of today. However as long as Tertullian had the witness of the Paraclete, he was confident that his theological conclusions were orthodox. Unlike his contemporaries in the Eastern Christian world, he was resistant to allegorical hermeneutics.

Specific Contributions to Trinitarianism

Tertullian was an ante-Nicene Christian which meant that he was not dogmatically obliged to affirm that the Father, Son and Spirit were consubstantial (“homoousios”). His theology is therefore a fascinating glimpse into the fluidity of Trinitarian theology between the actual historical event of Christ and the later concilliar dogmatic definitions. Tertullian represents an expression of the transitional period between “Christian Platonism” and “Nicene Orthodoxy”. He wasn’t explicitly concerned with whether or not the three persons were consubstantial and as such, his writings could be interpreted in support of both Subordinationism and Consubstantiality.

In Tertullian’s context, it was actually the “heretics” (ie, the Montanists) that were the ones most firmly insisting on the divinity of the Spirit, because their understanding of “the New prophecy” depended on it. Whereas the “Orthodox” of the day were not so firm on the divinity of the Holy spirit and often opted for either simple Modalism, Subordinationism, or some fusion of the two. Tertullian and the Montanists were presenting their Trinitarian theology together with extreme ascetical demands as a complete package, and so the lay rejection of these ascetical demands coincided with a rejection of Trinitarianism that went with it.

Tertullian is the first father known to have identified the Angelic doxology of “Holy holy holy” as a Trinitarian prayer; he points out that the triple repetition of the word corresponds to the Triune nature of God.

Tertullian arguably lays the foundation for a equivocal understanding of the relationship between the immanent and economic Trinities, and by the same stroke expresses what could be taken as a “Latin Nestorianism.” This is shown in that he affirms the eternal pre-existence of the Logos, but not of an eternal pre-existence of the Son. Tertullian understands that the logos becomes the Son when Jesus becomes Son.7 This could perhaps be read as nothing more than an orthodox account of the logos asarkos, but there is definitely room for it to be taken in heretical directions too.

Bibliography

McGowan, Andrew and Joan F. W. Munro. “Tertullian and the “Heretical” Origins of the “Orthodox” Trinity.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 14, no. 4 (Winter, 2006): 437-457. http://ipacez.nd.edu.au/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ipacez.nd.edu.au/docview/215200946?accountid=41561.

McGowan, Andrew B., Daley, Brian E., and Gaden, Timothy J., eds. God in Early Christian Thought : Essays in Memory of Lloyd G. Patterson. Leiden: BRILL, 2009. Accessed August 16, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.

1Origen was the Greek contemporary of Tertullian in the Eastern church, and he makes for a close analogy in terms of both his substantial impact on later Greek theology, and a tarnished reputation which ultimately prevented canonisation.

2Apology 50:13

3Apology 39:2,7,11

4Contra Praxeas 8:4

5Contra Praxeas 2:1

6Despite the surface level similarities, a direct link between the doctrine of Papal infallibility and Tertullian’s understanding of Prophetic infallibility has not (to my knowledge) been demonstrated.

7It isn’t clear to me whether Tertullian locates the event of the logos becoming the Son at Christmas, or at the baptism of Christ, or at some other point.

Babette’s Feast: Reflection

There are two Christ-figures in this movie: Firstly, the Pietist minister who is also the father of Martine and Phillippa, and secondly, Babette herself.

Christ Figure: The Minister

In the early scenes of the movie – set during Martine and Phillippa’s youth – all seems to be well in the Jutland village, as their father the respected minister holds together the community. This idyllic atmosphere juxtaposes dissonantly with the scenes set chronologically later, when the minister has been dead for quite some time and the community has become old and bitter, with the townsfolk holding deep grudges against each other and constantly quarrelling, despite the efforts of Martine and Phillippa to maintain peace and faith. This juxtaposition evokes a similar situation in the history of the Church: While Christ was present, there was an explosion of faith and unity among the apostles and disciples, however ever since Christ ascended to heaven time has marched on, and over the subsequent two millennia the history of Christianity has been a slow and vicious descent into toxic schisms and brutal antagonisms between all of the various Christian communions and denominations. So the minister is similar to Christ in the sense that he was a tangible focal point of unity for his community, and in his absence things slowly fall apart.

Another way in which the minister comes across as “Christlike” is when – during the feast itself – one of the ladies remembers and shares a story with the dinner guests about a time when the minister “walked on water,” evoking the biblical episode where Jesus does the same in Matthew 14. Admittedly, in this case the miracle is different: the minister promises to walk on water, and then right on schedule there is a flash storm and the water freezes, making the feat possible. In this case the miracle is the conveniently timed freezing of the water, rather than the “walking” itself, however the analogy between the minister and Christ is still pointed.

During the feast itself, the villagers remember and share many more stories about the minister. One gets the impression they haven’t engaged in such remembering and sharing for quite some time, and this act of “remembering” has the obvious effect of injecting some joy and mirth into the feast, as well as healing the sin and brokenness that has come to divide the villagers. There is an analogy here with the eucharist; just as the villagers remember their departed master and this breathes life into their community, so too the mass is a memorial where the faithful recall the person and miraculous exploits of Jesus.1

John Paul II in his encyclical “Ecclesia De Eucharistia” says the following:

19. The eschatological tension kindled by the Eucharist expresses and reinforces our communion with the Church in heaven.

This can be applied to the feast, because during the feast the minister who had long been departed was made present again. It is similar to how during the mass all of the angels and saints are truly present in a spiritual sense even if physically absent.

Christ Figure: Babette

The obvious parallel between Christ and Babette is their respective “total gifts of self;” Christ lays down his life and suffers on behalf of the entire world, for the sake of winning salvation for humanity and the cosmos; and Babette spends literally all of her material wealth on preparing a lavish feast to give thanks to the villagers who have received her into their community and the sisters who have received her into their home.

John Paul II in his encyclical “Ecclesia De Eucharistia” says the following:

47. Reading the account of the institution of the Eucharist in the Synoptic Gospels, we are struck by the simplicity and the “solemnity” with which Jesus, on the evening of the Last Supper, instituted this great sacrament. There is an episode which in some way serves as its prelude: the anointing at Bethany. A woman, whom John identifies as Mary the sister of Lazarus, pours a flask of costly ointment over Jesus’ head, which provokes from the disciples – and from Judas in particular (cf. Mt 26:8; Mk 14:4; Jn 12:4) – an indignant response, as if this act, in light of the needs of the poor, represented an intolerable “waste”. But Jesus’ own reaction is completely different. While in no way detracting from the duty of charity towards the needy, for whom the disciples must always show special care – “the poor you will always have with you” (Mt 26, 11; Mk 14:7; cf. Jn 12:8) – he looks towards his imminent death and burial, and sees this act of anointing as an anticipation of the honour which his body will continue to merit even after his death, indissolubly bound as it is to the mystery of his person.

There is a parallel to be drawn between the episode of Christ being lavished with perfume and oil, and the fact that Babette spends literally all of her money on the sisters. The sisters are shocked and worry that Babette has spent all of her wealth of them in an extravagant waste. However just as Jesus praises Mary for her devoted spoiling of the king of the universe, Babette explains to Phillippa and Martina that “An artist is never poor,” and that she finds more joy in bringing happiness to the village with her money, rather than spending it on herself.

There are however further – less obvious – parallels. For example, Babette does not only bless the villagers through her special feast, but in other ways too. At one point Martine exclaims “Since Babette came, we have more money than before!” There is an analogy here with Christ’s many miracles, particularly the miraculous catch of fish2 and also his many miracles of healing: such miracles are tangible blessings which Christ brought to those around him during his time on earth, and there is an analogy with how Babette’s presence in the community brings material blessings to the sisters.

There are also interesting parallels between Babette and Christ in terms of kenosis. Babette does not broadcast her past achievements and status to the villagers, and they are unaware that they have the most prestigious and famous chef in Europe living amongst them. Similarly, Christ is the king of the universe and God in the flesh, but during his earthly life he was very careful in how he revealed this fact, and many understood him to be nothing more than “the carpenters son.” Babette’s kenosis is made particularly obvious in the scene with the ale bread, where the sisters teach Babette how to cook the local cuisine (which is particularly penitential and unappetising – basically bread dipped in some sort of edible sludge). The sisters are clearly completely unaware who they are talking to. This is similar to the kenosis of Christ: Christ is the omniscient God himself, but he humbled himself such that he lived the stages of human life from newborn to toddler to child to adolescent to adult. Christ had to study the Torah just like everyone else, even though -unknown to his teachers – Jesus was literally the author of the very same scriptures he was being made to study. There is a moment where Babette herself eats the village gruel, which is a humiliation analogous to the humiliation Christ had to endure in his passion, or even in the fact that he lived a human life like everyone else, complete with tiredness and trips to the toilet. The kenosis of Babette concludes with her final revelation of her true identity at the end of the film, which is a particularly powerful moment. There are analogies with Christ, for example the revelation of his identity in Mark 8, or his resurrection appearances.

At one point during the dinner, Lorenz reminisces about the time he dined at the Cafe Anglais: This head chef, this woman, had the ability to turn a dinner into a kind of love affair. A love affair that made no distinction between bodily appetite and spiritual appetite,” which is a good segue to the feast itself.

The Feast

At one point in the movie Phillippa and Martine are trying to lead the villagers in song, but during the singing the villagers keep quarrelling and squabbling with each other, to the dismay of the sisters. Curiously, during the feast, there is a moment where two of the male villagers repeat their prior angry exchange with each other more or less verbatim, but this time with smiles and laughter rather than angst and condemnation: the strife which had been a point of contention earlier has become a joke to laugh about. There is an analogy here with the healing grace of God: God can change our minds3 such that we see things in a different and more positive light. Babette’s feast and the remembering of the minister is a means for such a change of perspective, just as the Eucharist and the memorial liturgy are means by which God’s grace can touch our hearts and imbue us with a more loving disposition towards each other.

It is interesting to note that all of the village folk choose to wear black to the feast. This could be interpreted as symbolic of their being in a state of spiritual death; entirely lacking love for each other. This in turn hints at the “resurrection” that is to come during the feast. After Phillippa has a nightmare about the sinfulness of the feast to come, the village folk agree that they will all refuse to enjoy the feast; merely eating it but refusing to taste it and take pleasure in it. There is an analogy here with damnation, where a soul wilfully rejects God’s delightful gift of grace. But as it turns out, the food Babette prepares is so amazing and tasty that the villagers will to resist is overpowered. This is clearly a commentary on the irresistible nature of Grace: God forces no one to love him, but he is so infinitely beautiful and so entirely desirable that ultimately his grace shatters all the defences we dare to throw up against him: we can’t help but love the Christ revealed in us, and we can’t help but love ourselves revealed in Christ.

One interesting analogy between the meal and the mass is that they both are able to unite all sorts of people from all quarters of society around the same table. Babette’s dinner brings someone with the royal dignity of General Lorenz, and sits him among the common folk of the village, where they all share in the same wonderful meal. There is an analogy here with how the Eucharist unites kings, presidents and prime ministers with the poor and the middle class; with all standing as equals before the sacrificial altar of Christ.4

John Paul II in his encyclical “Ecclesia De Eucharistia” says the following:

43. In considering the Eucharist as the sacrament of ecclesial communion, there is one subject which, due to its importance, must not be overlooked: I am referring to the relationship of the Eucharist to ecumenical activity. We should all give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the many members of the faithful throughout the world who in recent decades have felt an ardent desire for unity among all Christians. The Second Vatican Council, at the beginning of its Decree on Ecumenism, sees this as a special gift of God. It was an efficacious grace which inspired us, the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church and our brothers and sisters from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, to set forth on the path of ecumenism.

There are fundamental links here with the ecumenism of Babette’s feast. Firstly, despite being about a Protestant community, it is the Catholic Pope Francis’ favourite film. Secondly, Babette herself is assumed to be Catholic, but she is the servant of the protestant village community. Finally, Achille Papin explicitly identifies himself as Catholic to the – protestant – minister, however the minister charitably welcomes him despite the difference of cult. The movie therefore has subtle but important ecumenical themes.

Lorenz

General Lorenz makes many soliloquies and speeches throughout the story which provides most of the theological substance of the film. There is a pointed juxtaposition between the conclusion of young Lorenz’ stay in the village early in the film, with the conclusion of his visit for the feast. The first time, Lorenz delivers the following pessimistic speech:

I am going away forever and I shall never never see you again. For I have learned here that life is hard and cruel and that in this world there are things that are … impossible. I will forget what happened on the Jutland coast. From now I shall look forward not backward. I will think of nothing but my career, and some day… I will cut a brilliant figure in the world of prestige.

Immediately prior to the feast, we are introduced to a much older Lorenz who has succeeded in his mission to chase worldly fame and fortune. He is depressed and spiritually empty, imagining his younger, more idealistic self sitting in a chair before him, and saying the following:

Vanity. Vanity. All… is vanity. I have found everything you dreamed of and satisfied your ambition. But to what purpose? Tonight we two shall settle our scores. You must prove to me that the choice I made was the right one.

After the feast concludes and he is departing the village, the old Lorenz has finally “seen the light,” and delivers a speech to Phillippa more or less exactly opposite to the one he delivered earlier in the film:

I have been with you every day of my life. Tell me you know that. Yes, I know it. You must also know that I shall be with you every day that is granted to me from now on. Every evening I shall sit down to dine with you. Not with my body which is of no importance, but with my soul. Because this evening I have learned, my dear, that in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible.

Lorenz could be taken as a reflection of the rich young man who approaches Jesus asking how to be saved. Lorenz renounces the simple joys of love and romance with a soulmate in order to pursue secular success and material wealth. He comes to learn that he made the wrong choice, but nevertheless leaves the feast feeling restored and happy.5

1This occurs most particularly during the gospel reading, but also in a sense during the other readings and the entire liturgy.

2Luke 5:1-11

3The literal meaning of “repentance.”

4Depending on your theological temperament, you might even admit that “both sinners and saints stand equal before the altar”

5Perhaps there is a point to be made here about how the free-will defence of Hell is utter nonsense: God does not – with negligent abandon – “respect” our self-destructive choices to reject him. Instead, God’s grace is able to overcome our refusal to love and lift us up into salvation regardless of what choices we make in life. The theological moral of the story is the classic evangelical principle that salvation depends on God, not on us (or our choices). The general chased riches rather than love, and it is explicitly pointed out many times that he “made the wrong choice,” yet by the end of the movie he had been saved by the feast regardless.

Universalism and Predestinarianism: Article Review

Summary

Brotherton opens with a summary: Universalism implies predestination. Throughout the paper he meditates on the relationship between divine freedom and created freedom, and puts them in competition with each other. God wills everyone to be saved, but individuals will themselves to be damned; Rather than God “overriding” this individual will to be saved, he “respects” it and allows the creature to go off into eternal torment. Brotherton claims that human freedom, correctly understood, forbids anyone from confidently claiming that all will be saved. The ending of the story of creation has not been revealed to us and it is entirely possible (and highly likely) that many will be damned. God permits souls to be damned so as to manifest his divine glory more fully. It would be “improper” for mercy to defeat justice, and therefore in the final outcome of history there must be a balance between mercy and justice in the form of a plurality of souls in both heaven and hell. It would be more glorious for numerous souls to freely damn themselves than it would be for God to save everyone. The “reality of moral evil” should be the determining fact that undergirds all of our theological reflections, and it should lead us to think that “universal salvation appears to be an especially doubtful proposal.”

Academic Comment

The doctrine of Universalism is so obviously wrong and so completely heretical that I am shocked Brotherton felt the need to refute it with a paper of this length. The issue is quite simple: the God whom we Catholics worship is first and foremost a God of Justice1 and Wrath.2 He hates sin and must punish it.3 Every sin is an offence against God, and because the gravity of the sin is measured by the dignity of the one offended4, every sin – even something as ‘small’ as a white lie – merits infinite, endless, irrevocable, everlasting, inescapable, irredeemable, eternal torture in the flames of Hell.5 Furthermore God made humans free to either accept his love or reject it,6 and all who reject it are doomed to the aforementioned punishment of damnation. Finally, it is absolutely impossible for a person to know that they will ultimately be saved.7 All of this is the essence of the Gospel and Universalism denies all of it in every particular. Universalism claims that God is going to force us to go to heaven – even if we don’t want to – and is thus a heretical denial of human freedom. Universalism purports to permit people to be certain of their salvation, which is nothing but the sin of blasphemous presumption as identified and condemned at Trent. Universalism also claims that God doesn’t care about sin at all and is just going to ignore it and let everyone be saved regardless of whether they lived a good life or not; Universalism is thus an egregious denial of God’s Justice and Wrath against sin. Universalism also denies that there is a Hell; this is a blunt slander against the dogmas of the church and is therefore essentially a claim that the church is fallible. Universalism was once and for all condemned at the fifth ecumenical council:

If anyone advocates the mythical pre-existence of souls and the monstrous restoration that follows from this, let him be anathema.8

How can anyone continue to hold to a position of Universalism after reading such a clear and unambiguous condemnation of all possible formulations of Universalist theology?

All universalists without exception base their views purely on emotion and sentimentalism, and they all ignore the dogmas of the church and the countless clear scriptural verses which contradict their views. There is not a trace of logic or reasonable argument in any of their explanations. Universalism is a lazy theology which does not bother to notice all the many threats of eternal punishment found in the bible. Universalists construct a vision of God that appeals to a completely and utterly warped idea of love and mercy, rather than submitting themselves to the one true God of Justice who will righteously damn them to Hell if they do not repent and if they do not cease stubbornly spreading these ghastly heresies. This is no cause for alarm on the part of the saved, as it is a venerable Catholic opinion that witnessing the righteous torment of heretics is a crucial component of the beatific vision,9 and thus the damnation of Balthasar and other universalists like him has the providential purpose of contributing to the delight of the elect.

To hold to any variety of universalist theology today is to commit formal heresy and therefore to stand condemned along with Satan, Judas, Hitler, Arius, Pelagius, Luther and all of the heretics. Von Balthasar is therefore not only wrong, but a heretic doomed to hellfire, and it would be advisable to completely renounce his theology in all of its parts and it would be prudent to burn all of his writings, so as to prevent him from infecting the faithful with his heresies and dragging more souls into Hell. My only criticism of this paper is that it doesn’t go far enough: Brotherton should be calling for the blood of Von Balthasar and his followers, and the fact that he does not is incredibly suspicious, making one wonder whether he too is harbouring dangerous and satanic heresies which would merit his execution by fire.

Glossary

Freedom / Free Will

The great gift that God gives everyone so that they can damn themselves to everlasting damnation

Hell

The final destination of those who are Universalists, and other formal heretics like them. Infinitely painful, inescapable. God will harden a soul’s heart so that the souls stuck there have no possibility of escape

Grace

A gift that God gives us so that we can reject it and go to Hell

Heaven

A happy place where Mothers delight as they watch their children burn in Hell

Von Balthasar

A dangerous heretic. The Holy spirit providentially struck him down shortly before he was to become a cardinal and infect the entire church with his errors.

Salvation

Consists of enjoying a vision of the damned gnashing their teeth for all eternity (ie, the beatific vision)

1Isaiah 61:8, Isaiah 30:18, Job 34:12, Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 99:4, Psalm 9:7-8, Revelation 20:12-13, Isaiah 66:24, Romans 12:19

2Romans 12:19, Jeremiah 6:11, Colossians 3:6, Romans 4:15, Psalm 59:13, Romans 1:18, Micah 5:15, Proverbs 27:4, Romans 5:9, Jeremiah 10:10, Ephesians 5:6, Romans 2:5, Ephesians 2:3, Psalm 37:8, Proverbs 11:4, Lamentations 3:66, Revelation 6:16, Proverbs 19:12, Romans 9:22, Nahum 1:6

32 Thessalonians 1:8-9, Colossians 3:25, Romans 6:23, Psalm 145:20, Matthew 25:46, Galatians 6:7, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 2:6-10, Matthew 12:32

4St. Anselm “Cur Deus Homo”

52 Thessalonians 1:9, Matthew 25:46, Revelation 21:8, Matthew 25:41

6Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 4; Council of Orange Canons 1-4

7Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 16

8Second Council of Constantinople, Canon 1

9Summa Theologiae, Question 94

De Praeultramontanissimo – Assessing the Threat of Papal Totalitarianism

Introduction

From the ten questions proposed for the subject of this essay I have decided to answer the following: “The Petrine Office is more like a constitutional monarchy than an absolute monarchy. Discuss.” In short, my response is that the Petrine Office should be more like a constitutional monarchy than an absolute monarchy, but – according to the current state of Catholic Dogma – it is not. It is true that recent Popes (roughly from the 1900s on) have acted as if the Petrine Office is a constitutional monarchy – with Pope Francis in particular administering his office in a very collegial manner – but in this paper I will propose that there is nothing in current Catholic dogma and canon law which would prevent a rogue Pope from governing the church in the way of a totalitarian dictator or despot, at least in the realm of doctrinal and dogmatic pronouncements. There appear to be loopholes in existing canon law and dogma which – while no Pope has yet exploited them – make room for a megalomaniacal Pope to define doctrine according to his whim and fancy. I argue that these loopholes are one of the key stumbling blocks (although there are undoubtedly others) that are preventing a grand ecumenical reunification between the Catholic church and the various other ancient Christian communions, in particular the Eastern Orthodox Church. Finally, I propose some steps that could be taken to secure the loophole.

The Problem of Papal Infallibility

The fourth chapter of the Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Pastor aeternus) makes the following dogmatic definition:

We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable.

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.1

Note that there is nothing in this dogmatic definition which explicitly requires the Pope to consult the bishops first, even if that is what tends to happen and many Catholics believe that it is necessary. Rather, the dogma here even goes so far as to explicitly state that an infallible definition of the Pope is irreformable “of itself” and that the “consent of the church” is irrelevant. Slightly earlier in pastor aeternus there can be found this section:

For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.

This paragraph of the document is often cited and understood as a sort of “safeguard” against the possibility of Papal Infallibility being abused by an ambitious and nefarious Pope, however it seems clear to me that it does nothing of the sort. Firstly, the paragraph is very vague and subjective: How exactly in this context are we supposed to understand “new doctrine,” “the Revelation” and “the Deposit of Faith?” For example a Pope could feasibly define any doctrine and then defend it as being a crucial part of the Holy Tradition, so long as he is able to anchor his definition loosely in something that some church father or church doctor said long ago. Theologians may argue and dispute the definition and its theological foundations, but this would be paradoxical because Papal definitions are supposed to end debate over an issue rather than fan the flames.

Secondly, there is nothing in this supposed safeguard paragraph which clearly and precisely puts limits and boundaries on the exercise of infallibility. Catholics tend to assume that the Pope must first consult the college of bishops before promulgating a definition (and this has in fact been the historical precedent), however there is nothing in this safeguard passage, the actual dogmatic definition, or anywhere else in the encyclical which reveals this to be the case. As it stands, so long as the Pope claims that his new definition is in line with the tradition – no doubt marshalling some proof texts from scripture and the fathers in the process – there are no hard and fast checks and balances to stop him. If a Pope were to go ahead and define something really controversial – for example the doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις – he would be well within his dogmatic and canonical rights to do so, and the inevitable result would be massive schisms, furious theological debates, and relentless proliferation of anti-popes and sedevacantist splinter groups.

In short there is nothing in the dogma as stated in pastor aeternus which requires the Pope to consult the bishops before exercising his infallibility, contrary to the common understanding among Catholics. This is a big loophole in the Catholic system which I advise would be wise to plug sooner rather than later.2

There is also a problem of hermeneutics. Protestants often convert to Catholicism in order to escape the doctrinal chaos of Protestantism,3 where everyone agrees that the scriptures are the highest authority but no one is able to agree on the correct interpretation of those same scriptures. Catholicism often is presented as an attractive solution to the conundrum, in that the magisterium is a living authority which is able to provide definitive interpretation of the scriptures and traditions of the church. Some (but not all) of these Protestant converts eventually go on to discover that the problem of interpretation has not actually been solved by their conversion, and has in fact been pushed back a step; rather than debating the meaning of scriptural verses, now theologians have to debate the meaning of Papal pronouncements and canons of councils. If anything, their life has been made more difficult: Where before the Christian only had to confront a 66 book bible, now she has to wrangle with two millennia of Church documents, liturgies, councils and papal pronouncements, and all the while there still is no official hermeneutical key available by which all theologians are able to come to agreement. In practice the solution adopted by many Catholics is simply to obey and submit to whatever the leaders of the church are saying, which is why it is important that the Catholic system is able to effectively maintain consensus, consistency and cohesion among those leaders. An official hermeneutic which is simple enough for anyone to apply would arguably solve the problem – more on this below.

All of these concerns apply particularly to the papal pronouncements made under the conditions of infallibility; even once the pronouncement has been made, there is no official hermeneutic specified for interpreting the statement; as such, the statement is open to many various interpretations and these may even change, multiply or fade away as time goes by. A contemporary example of this phenomenon would be the hermeneutical controversy and chaos in the church over the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia: Some Catholic authorities have interpreted the document as if it permits communion to be given to divorced and remarried couples, while other Catholic authorities have interpreted it in such a way that they arrive at the opposite conclusion. This shows how even when a Pope promulgates a teaching, the problem of hermeneutics is not automatically solved and the Pope’s statements can always be interpreted in a variety of ways, with some of these ways being mutually exclusive. I suggest that it might be helpful to take action to clamp down on these hermeneutical ambiguities.

A Proposed Solution

I propose four action points to solve the problem:

  1. The infallibility of both Papal pronouncements and the canons of ecumenical councils should be re-framed as divine clarification: an open canon of inspired statements serving as an interpretive complement to the closed canon of scripture.

  2. The role of the papacy should be canonically and dogmatically reshaped such that it does indeed look more like a constitutional monarchy, rather than an absolute one. Specifically, the Church should officially ratify the common Catholic understanding that the Pope must consult his bishops (via ecumenical council) prior to promulgating a dogma.

  3. An official fundamental theology should be established and adopted, along with a simple and elegant hermeneutic for interpreting it.

  4. A new ecumenical council should promptly be held in order to canonically ratify and dogmatically implement points 1, 2 and 3.

Divine Clarification

In one sense this point is something of a “branding” issue. I would argue that the Catholic church already has a system of divine clarification in place, but without explicitly referring to it as such. I suggest that recognising this element of the Catholic doctrinal and dogmatic framework for what it is will gift Catholics with a more definite and perspicuous faith.

As it stands, the canon of divine clarification is open – which is desirable – but it is also fuzzy and ill-defined, which is problematic and – I argue – leads to an economic problem: the misuse of theological human resources. By this I mean that much time, effort and energy is spent among lay Catholics disputing what is and what is not the official church stance on various doctrinal and practical issues, and – more worrying still – this same debate is raging in the higher theological echelons of the Catholic church, with bishops and theologians disputing amongst each other over which church statements are and are not infallible. To take one example, some theologians consider the question of female ordination to be closed once and for all by what they take to be an infallible definition in the writings of Pope Saint John Paul II, and yet other theologians dispute this and so the debate and politics over the matter continues to this day.

Divine clarification in this context of interpretive chaos and confusion could be analogously understood as a form of continuing revelation. I propose that it would be helpful to collate and identify another official inspired text to which statements can be added as time goes by and from which no statement can be abrogated once included. The text would essentially be an infallible collection of infallible dogmas. It would be similar to Denzinger’s “Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum,” but less messy and haphazard (The Enchiridion strikes one as a dumping ground of clippings and creeds from various church documents that have been composed during the course of Christian history, rather than a clear and concise dictionary of infallible doctrines). Likewise, it would be similar to Ludwig Ott’s Fundamental Theology – which includes simple, precise dogmatic formulas – but stripped of all commentary. The purpose of the text would simply be to concisely and perspicuously present a list of infallible and inspired dogmatic statements, which would be a hermeneutical key that any Catholic can use to interpret the deposit of faith, and can themselves also be interpreted by the faithful.

If this recommendation were followed, it would provide an agreed focal point for theological discussion and debate amongst Catholics, whether they be lay, clerical or academic. Rather than having to sift through 2000 years of church documents and argue for or against the dogmatic status of various statements; Catholics would instead focus their attention on this single canonical text of divine clarification which presents a complete and up to date compilation of all statements thus far considered to be infallible, inspired and of the highest (De Fide) authority.

I have dwelt on this matter of fundamental theology and dogmatics because below I will be frequently referring to this proposed canon of divine clarification. I will suggest a framework for governing the relationship between the Pope, the college of bishops, and this proposed new and inspired canonical text.

Comparison with Mormonism

It is relevant to quickly note a comparison between this proposal and the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints operates. The Mormons have an open canon of scripture and revelation which includes the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon, and a book very similar to the one I have proposed here called “The Doctrine and Covenants.” Unlike the Bible and the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants is an open canon of “sections,” with new sections added to the book slowly over time. Unlike the inspired text I have proposed here, the majority of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants read like private mystical experiences as recounted by saints; in comparison the text I am proposing would be a concise and perspicuous collection of dogmatic statements, more akin to Ludwig Ott’s text of Fundamental theology, but stripped of all commentary.

Papal Monarchy and Ecumenical Collegiality

The role of the papacy should be canonically and dogmatically reshaped such that it does indeed look more like a constitutional monarchy, rather than an absolute one. Taking the Australian political system as a model, the role of the Catholic Pope would be akin to the role of the Australian Governor General: His doctrinal infallibility would be restricted to either approving or denying the dogmatic canons of ecumenical councils. This would officially ratify the common Catholic understanding that the Pope must consult his bishops prior to promulgating a dogma, and make it explicit in canon law and church dogma what most Catholics seem to think is already the case: that the pope can only exercise his infallibility after consulting his bishops. This would hopefully be a big gesture towards the Eastern Orthodox, who would presumably appreciate some official bounds and limits being applied to the Papacy.

To be more precise, I propose that papal infallibility should be somehow limited such that the Pope’s only role in the dogmatic system is to ratify a council as being ecumenical. When a Pope identifies a council as being ecumenical, all of the dogmatic canons of that council are then inserted into the previously discussed canonical text of divine clarification. To state the point more clearly: the Pope would not be able pick and choose statements from councils to ratify; he must instead accept all of them at once. In this way, the bishops together in council would deliberate and decide on the dogmas, while the Pope would merely approve the decisions of the bishops as to what statements should be added to the canon of divine clarification. The Pope would also not be able to just construct infallible statements and promulgate them at his whim and pleasure: he would instead have to call a council and have the bishops of the council approve the statement first.

An important aside: Justice would be done to the first Vatican councils insistence that the Pope has universal jurisdiction, in that the Pope can anywhere and at any time exercise his infallibility as I have just defined it. In other words, the Pope could point to any council of bishops throughout Christian history and declare it to be an ecumenical council. The Pope could also call a new council at any time and propose statements to the bishops for approval. This would open up room for the Pope to accept Eastern Orthodox councils as ecumenical, or retroactively convey ecumenical status on a regional council that happened long ago. I should note that there is still the problem of working out which canons of a council should be added to the canon of divine clarification, even after that council has been identified by the Pope as ecumenical. I will comment on this further below.

Comparison with the Australian System of Government

There are parallels between the system I have described and the way that the Australian Government operates. The Pope would be akin to the governor general of Australia. A new law is not officially ratified in the Australian system until it has been approved by the governor general, and the governor general cannot just invent and implement laws out of the blue. One difference is that the Pope would be able to at least propose new dogmas to the college of bishops, which is something not often seen in the Australian system.

Perhaps there would also be a similarity to the Australian interplay between the upper and lower houses of parliament. Bills often pass back and forth between the upper and lower houses of parliament, accruing revisions along the way before being finally passed or rejected. In a similar fashion, both the Pope and the bishops could veto each other’s statements and argue for changes and revisions to any proposed dogmatic statements before they are finally ratified into the canon of divine clarification. The Pope would have the final say on what dogmatic statements are in and out, but the bishops would have crucial input and possess a degree of collegial veto power.

An Official Fundamental Theology

Under my proposals, the discipline of fundamental theology would still be required, but its importance would be much less than it is today. This is because the canon of divine clarification would no longer be fuzzy and ill-defined. The inspired text containing the canon of divine clarification would be a focal point that Catholics could refer to. Fundamental theology would still be a relevant discipline because there would still be two millennia of church documents and creeds to analyse, but there would no longer be ambiguity about which statements are inspired, infallible and possess the highest authority, because all such statements would be easily accessible in the new canonical text of divine clarification.

There are however certain questions that need to be answered. Firstly, if a Pope decides to identify a council from long ago as ecumenical, which statements of that council are to be included in the inspired canon of divine clarification and which are not? This is a question which needs to be rigorously worked out and definitively answered, and it is beyond my competence at this time to propose a concrete solution. However as a tentative example of the form a solution might take, if a canonical statement from a council is concluded with the phrase “anathema sit,” perhaps this would be taken as an indication that the fathers of that council meant to proclaim a dogma. Another simple solution to the problem would be to revisit old councils under the new system: the canons and anathemas of previous councils could be submitted to the bishops of today in a modern council for revision and discussion, before being finally ratified into the canon of divine clarification.

A second question is the more direct issue of hermeneutics and language. Do translations of the canon of divine clarification possess equal authority to the original text? This question is again outside my area of competency at this time, but my proposal would be that statements should only be considered authoritative in the original language that they were promulgated. However, it would be possible for the bishops in council to also promulgate official translations, and these translations would be considered equal in inspiration and authority to the originals. In this way, dogmatic statements may be promulgated in any language, or even multiple languages simultaneously, and each version of the statement would be understood to stand on its own and possess equal authority and inspiration.

Case Study: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

Even after taking all of this into account, the fundamental hermeneutic problem remains: Once a statement has been included in the canonical text of divine clarification, how is it to be understood? A hermeneutic needs to be specified. It needs to be a hermeneutic which does full justice to the original intent of the canons, but is also flexible enough to avoid “shackling the spirit:” The Holy Spirit can say many different things to many different people through a single statement of scripture, and this would also apply to the statements of the canon of divine clarification.

To take one example, when it was originally promulgated the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla sallus (“outside the church there is no salvation”) arguably meant that anyone who dies without converting to Catholicism is certainly damned. However since the time of the second Vatican council this dogmatic formula has been creatively reinterpreted to give a more inclusive meaning. This phenomenon of reinterpretation may be desirable or undesirable, and so it would be helpful if the Church could officially decide on a hermeneutic which either removes or enables these ambiguities.

Vatican III: A New Council

My final proposal is that another ecumenical council should promptly be called, purely for the purpose of implementing the previous suggestions. At this council the bishops would sift through the history of councils gone before and select any creeds and canons which they would like to add to the canon of divine clarification. This would explicitly and definitively clarify which parts of the Christian tradition are infallible and inspired, and would put an end to speculations and arguments about whether or not a statement from a pope or council is infallible. During this new ecumenical council, all the many statements that fundamental theologians tend to argue over can be considered and a firm decision finally made, with a new canon perhaps being produced in response.

When sifting through the list of councils, the Catholic bishops would also examine councils that took place in eastern Christendom after the great schism. There are some councils which are considered to be ecumenical in the east, at least at a popular level. Any such councils which are generally held by the Eastern Orthodox to be ecumenical could be adopted by Catholics at their new ecumenical council. This notion might sound strange to Catholic ears, and a faithful Catholic might respond with confusion: “How could we adopt a council as ecumenical if there wasn’t a single Catholic bishop present!” But it is important to consider the matter charitably: this sentiment is exactly how many Eastern Orthodox Christians feel towards the purely “Latin” councils of Catholicism. Eastern Orthodox Christians may be more likely to accept Catholic ecumenical councils as ecumenical if Catholics are willing to at least consider Orthodox ecumenical councils in return.

In adopting the councils of the Eastern Orthodox, there will of course be some theological tension. To take just one example, many Eastern Orthodox councils have in the past been heavily influenced by the Eastern theological and mystical traditions of Palamism and Hesychasm, whereas western councils have tended to lean strongly towards Thomistic theology. I suggest that the council fathers of the proposed new council should be fearless in adopting canons from both East and West, even if they appear contradictory at first glance. This will force future theologians to respect both theological camps and construct a robust theological synthesis, rather than prejudicing only one side of the argument.

Conclusion

When examining the historical record, one could be forgiven for assuming that the Papacy is a constitutional monarchy: Popes have thus far governed the church with much assistance from the college of bishops. However canonically and dogmatically speaking, there does not seem to be any official safeguards built into the Catholic system to prevent a Pope from becoming an absolute dictator in the realm of doctrine, dogma, faith and morals. I have argued that this threat is real and serious, and if left unchecked it could quite easily lead to chaos and schism in the church. I have proposed four points of action which – if implemented – might help to prevent any such crisis from ever occurring.

Bibliography

Madrid, Patrick. Surprised by Truth. Manchester, New Hampshire. Sophia Institute Press, 1994

Madrid, Patrick. Surprised by Truth 2. Manchester, New Hampshire. Sophia Institute Press, 2000

Madrid, Patrick. Surprised by Truth 3. Manchester, New Hampshire. Sophia Institute Press, 2002

1Vatican Council, Sess. IV, Const. de Ecclesiâ Christi, Chapter iv

2Due to time constraints on this assignment, I was not able to do an exhaustive survey of canon law and tradition so as to discover if there are any other checks and balances available to the Catholic system. I have based this paper purely on the dogmatic definition in pastor aeternus. This would be an interesting area for further research.

3There are many testimonies of people converting to Catholicism for this reason in the Surprised by Truth and Coming Home series of books.

Understanding Mary as Mediatrix

Introduction

In this paper I will offer a theological meditation on the Marian title Mediatrix of all Graces. My interpretation and explanation of this title will be somewhat speculative, and I will make theological connections and draw out implications which others may not have noticed before. This assignment asked us to pick a Marian title from the Litany of Loreto and as it happens “Mediatrix of all Graces” does not feature in this litany. However the litany includes various titles which are intimately connected with the notion of Mediatrix of all Graces, specifically Mother of divine grace, Help of Christians, Mother of the Church. This meditation can therefore also be taken as a reflection on these three related titles.

Theosis as the Basis of Mediation

Salvation in the eastern churches is conceptualised in terms of theosis. In the western churches this concept is often referred to by the term “divinization,” but it is not a commonly known doctrine in the west, and it is eastern Christendom which has most fully developed the idea. Theosis is neatly summed up by a couplet attributed to various of the church fathers: “God became man so that man might become God.” There is a sense in which salvation consists of becoming God. However theologians are careful to emphasise that we become God by participation in the life of the Trinity; we do not become God by alteration of our nature. In an analogous way to how Christ had a totally divine nature and a totally human nature, it can be argued that we too will have both divine and human natures once we are saved.1

There are different levels of theosis, just as there are different levels of participation in the life of the Trinity. What does it mean to share in the life of the Trinity? I propose that this is simply to experience a finite share in the infinite attributes of God. A saint shares in God’s power, knowledge, presence, benevolence and so on, but to a finite degree.2 I would like to propose that this sheds some light on the phenomenon of patron saints. Different saints are mediators of different graces, and they do this by virtue of their unique (and finite) participation in the divine attributes. For example, St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost items; but another way of understanding this is that St. Anthony is a mediator of the grace of finding lost items, and he achieves this by means of his finite participation in the omniscience of God (ie, he has God’s supernatural and divine knowledge of the location of lost items). Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint of – among other things – students and academics. So another way of understanding this is that St. Thomas mediates graces that are relevant to academics and students, by means of the divine knowledge and power.

So when a Catholic prays to Saint Anthony to help them find something they have lost, they are literally praying to Saint Anthony; they are not merely asking St. Anthony to intercede for them (although that is happening too) but rather requesting that St. Anthony take an active role in the fulfilment of the prayer by means of the heavenly power and knowledge which he has obtained via theosis.

Mary Has Maximum Theosis

So how does all of this apply to Mary? Well, Mary was the perfect creature; she never sinned and she experienced a complete and total theosis.3 So Mary does not merely participate in divinity in a finite and imperfect manner like the other saints; rather, she participates in divinity in a perfect and infinite mode. She does not merely have a finite share in God’s power, knowledge, presence and benevolence; she actually participates in these things so completely and perfectly that she could be said to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent, just like Christ!4 Mary’s will is so completely and perfectly aligned with the divine will and in submission to it that it is as if she does not possess a unique will of her own.

All of this can help to explain the doctrine of Mary as “Mediatrix of all graces.” Mary is a perfect mediator, because she perfectly shares in the mediation of Christ by virtue of her perfect theosis. What does this look like? It has two aspects: perfect intercession and distribution of grace. In terms of intercession, because Mary’s will is perfectly in accordance with the will of God, she also prays in perfect accordance with the will of God. This implies that every grace that we receive has a prayer from Mary attached to it. Even something as simple as the sun rising day after day is associated with a prayer from Mary. Her prayer life is profound, exhaustive and ineffable. Mary prays for literally everything.

The other aspect of Mary as Mediatrix is that she is a distributor of all grace by virtue of her participation in omnipotence. Mary shares perfectly in the power of God, and so wields his omnipotence simultaneously to God’s wielding of his own omnipotence. An analogical way of conceiving the situation is that Christ and Mary are both agents who work together to send forth grace to us. The saints also have this honour, however their participation in theosis is finite – and so they are only mediators of some graces – whereas Mary’s participation in Christ’s mediation is infinite and therefore encompasses all graces. It is therefore appropriate to refer to Mary as the Mediatrix of all Graces.

Another way of understanding this title is to think of Mary as the patron saint of everything. The church has identified certain patron saints as being mediators with respect to certain specific problems and issues. These saints share in God’s power in a real and unique way, and most perfectly with respect to the issues that they are patrons for. Whereas Mary is the patron saint of all things, because she has been so perfectly divinized and as such she perfectly shares in Christ’s knowledge and power.

Christ the Head, Mary the Neck

Pope St. Pius X referred to Mary as the “neck” which connects Christ the head to the rest of the church body.5 There is much value in this description, as it pictures all Grace flowing through both Christ and Mary. However there is a subtle danger in this image which may pose an ecumenical obstacle; it seems to imply that Mary stands as “another mediator” between the Church and Christ, and this would fall foul of a major Protestant objection. However, any Protestant worries would be misplaced; the doctrine does not put Mary in between us and Christ as a “gatekeeper” who Christians have to placate before being allowed access to Jesus; Mary is not acting as a second head of the Church. Rather, Mary stands between the church and Christ in almost exactly the same way that a neck stands between a head and its body.

Consider a neck: all it can do is faithfully serve the head; it is not a second brain – another locus of thought and decision – which has veto power over the commands emanating from the head to its body, or which has the power of censorship over the communications rising from the body to the head. Rather, a neck simply “does as it’s told” and serves as a conduit allowing communication between brain and body. So if Mary is a mediator between us and Christ this is not to be understood in a competitive way, as if we have to placate Mary first before we can get to Christ. Mary’s mediation is completely passive in the same way that a neck passively mediates between brain and body. She poses no obstacle between the Church and Christ, but rather enables healthy communication between the Church and Christ, just as a neck enables healthy communication between body and head.

Mary’s Fiat is relevant here: The Fiat reveals Mary’s total obedience to the will of God, just as a neck is totally obedient to the promptings of its’ head. Mary’s famous Fiat can therefore be understood to reveal one of her holy offices: Mary the neck of the Church.

Conclusion

The doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix is quite beautiful and it is unfortunate that the church seems to be backing away from it in recent times. Rather than sweeping it under the rug to appease Protestants, I propose that it would be better to offer more robust explanations and apologetics to present the doctrine to them in ways which they can understand. Mary can be considered to perfectly share in the omnipotence and omniscience of Christ, and this is the basis of her being the Mediatrix of all Graces. Mary does indeed mediate between the Church and Christ, but in a passive and enabling way, rather than a competitive way which would require Christians to appease Mary before being granted access to Christ. The relationship between Church, Mary and Christ is analogous to the relationship between body, neck and head. To conclude with words of wisdom affirmed by many of the saints; you cannot have Christ as brother if you will not have Mary as Mother.

1Important to note that Christ is essentially divine and only secondarily human, whereas we would be essentially human and only secondarily divine. The common ablative tossed around is that we will be divine by participation.

2This could be taken as a tentative justification for why Catholics sometimes literally “Pray to the saints,” rather than merely asking the saints to “intercede.” This is appropriate, because the saints have a direct participation in the power of God. The saints could be called “little gods” by virtue of their direct participation in the attributes of the one true God and so Catholics sometimes petition them as such.

3Her theosis was so perfect that a third category of worship – hyperdulia – had to be identified to differentiate between veneration of saints, adoration of God, and worship of Mary.

4Again, Mary would only be omnipotent and etc by participation, not by nature. I am here simply speculating that her theosis is infinite; I’m not trying to make her a fourth member of the Trinity.

5St. Pius X, Encyclical, Ad diem illum, Feb. 2, 1904, AAS 36, 1904. 453-54.

Recapitulation as Theosis

Defining Terms Carefully

At an initial glance, the statement “Jesus is God” would appear to convey the same message as the sentence “Jesus is Divine,” however whether or not this is the case depends entirely on how one understands the words “God” and “Divine.” In this paper I want to argue for a distinction in definition between these words which turns the two statements into radically different claims, and then reflect on the history of Christology in light of this distinction. The distinction to be proposed is not a new or novel distinction, but one that often goes unnoticed and is not often talked about. The distinction will be shown to be a fundamental and non-trivial distinction with immediate and profound impact and implications for us.

Let’s start with the first statement, “Jesus is God”. There are two possible ways that a listener will understand this sentence when it is spoken to them: On the one hand, they may define “Jesus” according to a pre-conceived understanding of what “God” refers to. On the other hand, they may define “God” according to what they know about the life story of this person “Jesus”.

To elaborate on the first possibility: the one put in a position where they must make sense of the statement “Jesus is God” may already have some pre-suppositional understanding of what the word “God” refers to. They may for example believe that God is invisible, unembodied, immaterial, spiritual, eternal, non-composite, timeless, all powerful, pure actuality, infinite and all-encompassing consciousness, omniscient and so on. In this case, the statement “Jesus is God” will cause such a person quite some cognitive dissonance, as they struggle to make sense of how it could possibly be the case that a first century Jewish man could be God according to their pre-existing definition of what something identified as “God” must refer to.

The second way that one might understand the sentence is to come to it with a tabula rasa understanding of the word “God”, and then construct a definition of “God” on the basis of what is known about the story of Jesus of Nazareth. In this second way, there is not some other definition of God which Jesus must conform to; instead, Jesus himself is the definition of God.

The first approach is a basic summary of how Christology tended to operate as the Gospel encountered Jewish, Greek and Latin culture. The evangelists and missionaries would proclaim “Jesus is God”, and their listeners would attempt to understand this statement with reference to their traditional philosophical and religious ideas of what the word “God” refers to. This, as is well known, led to much heated controversy from day one of the church. Sophisticated thinkers and religious experts in the ancient world encountered the proclamation of Jesus as God and in many cases dismissed it as nonsensical and entirely incompatible with their existing understanding of God. As Paul says:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.1

The simple early believers tended to understand “Jesus is God” more in the second way: They simply took Jesus himself to be the definition of God, rather than requiring him to conform to some other, external theological, religious or philosophical definition. The early believers were content with the second approach, however no one who converted to Christianity in the ancient world was coming to faith without a prior cultural and religious context; Jews, Greeks, Arabs, Latins were all becoming Christian, but they never ceased to occupy the cultural and religious context which they started in. To become Christian did not mean abandoning one religion so as to join another: A Jewish Christian was still a Jew, with all that being a Jew implied, and a Greek Christian was still a Greek, with all that being Greek implied.

Given such a situation, an account was needed to explain the relationship of the simple proclamation that “Jesus is God” with the philosophical and religious frameworks that were current. As time went on, the converts to the Gospel started to include rigorous thinkers with fantastic intellects who were able to do just this. Rather than understanding “Jesus is God” in the second way where “Jesus” defines “God”, they took the definitions of the word “God” from the surrounding philosophies and showed how “Jesus is God” was compatible with those definitions.

The two most important instances of this phenomenon are with respect to Judaism and Hellenism. From day one of the church, “Jesus is God” was preached to the Jews. The Jewish definition of God at the time was based on the narratives and prophecies of the Jewish scriptures. “God” according to this definition was “The one who created the world; the one who created mankind and placed them in the garden of Eden; the one who rescued his people from slavery in Egypt.” and so on. The God of the Jews was the God who identifies himself as “Lord” and “Yahweh”, and was defined primarily by the narrative of scripture. As such, to preach “Jesus is God” to the Jews was understood to be a claim that the man Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and crucified at Calvary, is the very same “Yahweh” who created the universe, gave the law to Moses, and sent the prophets to Israel. Some Jews signed up, but many found the claim shocking and incomprehensible.

In comparison, when “Jesus is God” was preached to those immersed in Greek culture, it was understood to mean “Jesus is timeless, immutable, disembodied, pure actuality.” The proclamation was therefore received as no less shocking and incomprehensible to the Greeks than it was received by the Jews.

The subsequent history of Christology has generally been a shift from understanding “Jesus is God” in the sense that “God is defined by Jesus” to understanding it as “Jesus conforms to the Greek/Hebrew/Latin definition of God”. Christology has thus been approached as the discipline which explains the relationship between the historical narrative of Jesus life and various pre-formed notions of Divinity which have been inherited and imported from the surrounding cultural and religious landscape.

Stephen John Wright, referring to the first way as “metaphysical theology” and referring to the second way as “non-metaphysical theology” summarised the difference thus:

Metaphysical theology thinks that we must discover God; non-metaphysical theology believes that this method will only result in the construction of idols. Any deity that lies at the end of the metaphysical path will be nothing more than our own projection of the god we set out to find.2

And so now, to return to the two sentences that started this paper, I would like to propose a way of understanding the two statements “Jesus is God” and “Jesus is Divine.” “Jesus is God” should always be taken in the second sense identified. That is to say, God is strictly and simply defined by the life story and person of Jesus, and nothing more. Whereas “Jesus is Divine” should be understood as a statement that Jesus conforms to external definitions of what it means to be divine, such as that of Catholic theology, Islamic theology, Indian Philosophy, Greek Philosophy and so on.

This has direct implications on what can and cannot be said. Firstly, the statement “Jesus is God” is a statement of unchanging fact. Jesus always was, always is, and always will be God. There is no other God than Jesus. Whereas the statement “Jesus is divine” does not necessarily always hold. If someone says “Jesus is divine”, the first question to be asked is “Which Jesus?” Because there are clearly real distinctions between Jesus as he was at Christmas, the Jesus of Good Friday, and Jesus when he emerged from the grave at Easter. Perhaps the Jesus of Easter may rightly be spoken of as “Divine” while it may be inappropriate to apply the adjective to the Jesus of Christmas. Which leads us to the second question that should be raised: “Jesus is Divine according to which definition of Divinity?”

To take just one historical example, according to classical Greek thought the crucial feature of divinity was impassibility. Therefore to say “Jesus is Divine” is to say “Jesus is impassible”. This immediately leads to theological conundrum: if Jesus was impassible, then what are we to make of his suffering on the cross? Paradoxes such as this multiply dramatically as we move further from the Jesus-event in time, and the different positions theologians have taken to understand and explain the issues have led to ever-deepening schism.

Static and Dynamic Christology

In almost every case, any given Christian tradition one might encounter today can be located under one of the following ecclesial and theological categories: Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Nestorianism, Arianism, mainline Protestantism and Restorationism. In every one of these theological camps Christology is generally understood to be the study of and reflection on something which is fundamentally static. Which is to say that rather than being a study of the significance of the actual dynamic life that Jesus lived, Christology instead tends to be the study of how philosophical categories such as nature, essence, being and person are to be applied and related to Jesus. However, what tends to happen is that Jesus is treated as a static object for philosophical analysis under these categories, rather than as a living, breathing subject possessing a dynamic history and revealing a life story with many surprising twists and turns. As such, the official Christologies which have been received in the various traditions are themselves static and immutable, whereas a more accurate Christology should be dynamic; twisting and turning, growing and deepening just as the living Christ which it describes does.

The result of the proliferation of these static Christologies among the various traditions has been scandalous and constantly deepening schism. Those who affirm the council of Chalcedon insist that Jesus always and at all times is “one person with two natures”, both during his life and after his resurrection. Whereas those who follow Nestorianism are adamant that Jesus always and at all times was “two persons”, both before his resurrection and after. And those who follow Miaphysite theology insist that Jesus is a single person with a single nature and a single essence, and this is the case now, and always has been the case.

Adherents to each of these Christologies regularly find that their position often appears to run up against paradox and contradiction in areas where an alternate Christology simply has no issue. For example, if Jesus was the same person (ὑποστασις) as God (the λογος), then the temptation in the wilderness seems somewhat farcical because Jesus couldn’t have given in to the temptation even if he wanted to, and if he had, this would have meant that God would have sinned, which is nonsensical. Whereas none of this is a problem in a Nestorian Christology: under Nestorianism the human person of Jesus really could have sinned and if he did, it would have only been the man Jesus sinning, and not the divine person of God.

As another example, if Jesus has only a single nature which is both human and divine (the position of the miaphysite churches), then doesn’t that mean he is some sort of tertia quid which is neither human in the same way that we are human nor fully divine in the same way that God is divine? If that is the case, then how can he stand in the place of mankind and represent us to God as our great high priest? But none of this is a problem for a Chalcedonean, or even an Arian Christology: Under Arianism, Jesus is fully human and not divine in any sense which would make him a fundamentally different thing to other humans.

So each Christology has greater explanatory power at some points of the Gospel narrative while running into problems at other points; where one Christology might do a better job of making sense of Christmas but stumble when it comes to Good Friday, another Christology might perfectly explain Good Friday while struggling to understand the Ascension. These many and various Christological positions appear fundamentally irreconcilable, and so the various Christian traditions stand in a relationship of schism with each other on the basis of their Chistological commitments.

This paper proposes that actually all of these Chistologies can be reconciled. The fundamental problem is that all of these Christologies are static and unchanging, just as they treat Jesus as being something entirely static; they do not allow for Christology to flow and develop dynamically just as the Jesus they aim to understand grew and developed in the course of living out his life, ministry, passion and resurrection.

The solution in this paper is to proposes a dynamic Christology; one that fluidly integrates the different Christologies such that each holds at different points of the Gospel narrative, and in such a way that each Christology naturally flows from one to the next just as each episode in the developing life of Christ dynamically flows from one to another. Such a Christological synthesis would have greater explanatory power than any of the Christologies taken in isolation.

Atonement, Theosis and Recapitulation

Insofar as Jesus Christ is the one who “makes atonement,” accounts of Christology and theories of atonement are intimately related. All theories of atonement cover the same ground, but give different emphasis to different aspects of the story. For example in the early church, “Ransom” theory was quite popular. Whereas in the second millennium the focus shifted to a more “Substitutionary” account. There has also always been a thread in the tradition called “Recapitulation”, which is the idea that Jesus made atonement by living a perfect and sinless life. This last emphasis is one which I would like to focus on.

When the word “atonement” is spoken, it often conjures up thoughts and images of blood being spilt and sacrifice being performed. This is in large part due to how the word is used in the old testament to describe the sacrifice performed by the High Priest on the festival of “Yom Kippur.” When thought of this way, the idea that “Jesus atones for us” tends to be primarily associated with his bloody passion and death on the cross. However the English word “Atonement” etymologically just means “to be at one,” and I would like to propose that this is a better angle from which to approach the issue. What is being made “at one” with what? The answer: Humanity is being made at-one with divinity, in the person of Jesus. Furthermore this is not something which happens at any particular point of the story of Jesus, but rather something which happens progressively and deepens as the story moves to its conclusion. At the beginning of the story, Jesus is a man in every way that I am a man; By the end of the story, after he has lived his perfect and obedient life, Jesus is still a man in every way that I am a man, but he is also fully divinised.

Just as Irenaeus illustrated his theory of recapitulation using the analogy of tying and untying a knot, I would like to illustrate my Christology and theory of Atonement by the analogy of a zipper. The slider of the zipper represents Jesus, while the two rows of teeth represent divinity and humanity. Each tooth corresponds to a metaphysical or ontological category such as “nature”, “essence”, “person”, “will”, “body” and so on. As the slider moves along the zip, it progressively “makes one” the two rows of teeth. This corresponds to Jesus living out his life story, and progressively “making one” humanity and divinity, one category at a time. By the time the slider has reached the end of the zip, all the human teeth have been joined to their corresponding divine teeth. Similarly, by the time that Jesus has been resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the father, all dimensions of his humanity have been united to the corresponding aspects of divinity.

What this would mean is that at the annunciation, Christology looks incredibly Nestorian/Antiochian. Jesus would have only a human nature, human essence, human prosopon, human will: He would not be divine in any sense which other men are not also divine. Perhaps it would be accurate to say that at this stage of the story, Jesus is “homoiousion” with the father3, rather than “homoousion” as per the Nicene creed. But then perhaps by the time we arrive at Christmas, the slider has moved a couple of teeth along the zipper, and it has become appropriate to speak of Jesus as having a divine essence, rather than merely a human one.4 Similarly, by the time we arrive at his baptism, perhaps we should understand the event as somehow the moment when Jesus’ “human” personality became one with the “divine” personality of the logos. This would do justice to the historical (and heretical) convictions surrounding Jesus being “adopted” as the son of God at his baptism in some sense. And one more hypothetical example: maybe the garden of Gethsemene was the episode where his human will “became one” with the divine will: before the garden he had two wills, as per Chalcedeon and Constantinople III, but after the garden he had a single divine/human will, as per Miaphysitism.

I put forward these ideas loosely, as I haven’t had enough time to rigorously assign philosophical categories to different episodes in the story of Christ. However my guiding conviction is that each episode in the story corresponds to the “atonement” and “divinisation” of some aspect of humanity. So to just list off a couple of theories about how this potentially could work: Christmas may perhaps be the divinisation of the human essence, whilst his baptism may correspond to the atonement and divinisation of human personhood; The transfiguration may have been the moment of atonement and divinisation of the human soul and form; Good Friday might have been the divinisation of his nature while Gethsemene was the divinisation and atonement of mind and will.

A few implications of this progressive and theosis-based understanding of atonement are worth pointing out. Firstly, there are certain points of the story where the Islamic conviction that “Jesus was just a prophet” actually holds true, while there are other points of the story where the Christian conviction that “Jesus was divine” are also true. At no point does Jesus cease to be human in this understanding, which reflects an understanding of “divinity” which inherently includes everything that falls under “humanity.” In other words, a divine nature just is a miaphysis of what are traditionally understood to be divine and human attributes. Time and space prevent me, but this is an idea worth exploring further, as it has implications for the reconciliation of Chalcedonean, Nestorian, Coptic Miaphysite and Eutychian Monophysite Christologies.

Liturgical and Eucharistic Christology

I include this section as a suggestion for further thought and development of the previously outlined ideas. Our theories of what happen during the mass are actually intimately related to our understanding of the person of Jesus. There is therefore an intimate link between Christological understandings and Eucharistic theology. Different moments in the liturgy correspond to different moments in the Jesus narrative. For this reason, it is possible to learn about Christology by studying what happens during the liturgy, and looking at how the bread and the wine are understood to be the body and blood of Christ. The liturgy progressively makes the bread and the wine become the body of blood of Christ, with certain key moments in the liturgy corresponding to certain key moments in this change. But so too, Christs entire life was a liturgy in which he as a simple man (just as the bread of the mass begins as simple bread) progressively becomes divinised (just as the bread becomes divinised). There are certain moments of the mass which are understood to be decisive for this change to occur, just as there are certain episodes in the life of Christ which are understood to be decisive in his journey of theosis and recapitulation.

Furthermore, the way in which the Eucharist is said to be truly the body and blood of Jesus corresponds to various Christological convictions about the way that Jesus was fully man and fully God.

Luther’s theology of real presence has to do with the Chalcedonian doctrine of the two natures of Christ. That is, just as Christ is completely human and completely divine in his personal (hypostatic) union, so is the Eucharist completely the body and blood of Christ and completely bread and wine at the same time.5

As a preliminary example, the Catholic insistence that the bread and wine only appear to be bread and wine but are actually/substantially purely divine would correspond to the heretical christology of Docetism. Similarly, the eastern understanding of when the relevant change takes place is that it takes place at the Epiclesis, whereas the western understanding is that the change takes place at the words of institution. Perhaps both positions are correct but with respect to different categories, for example the Epiclesis may perhaps change the bread into Christ with respect to essence while the words of institution may change the bread into Christ with respect to nature. This would accord well with the progressive, theosis-based recapitulation account of the atonement I have proposed.

Here to propose a loose and unrefined interpretation: The Gloria is the moment when the bread essentially becomes God, as it corresponds to Christmas, when Jesus becomes homoousion with the father. The Epiclesis corresponds to Christs baptism in the Jordan when he becomes one in person with the divine Logos, and therefore is the moment when the bread and wine become identifiable as Christ himself. And then the words of institution perhaps correspond to the death on the cross, and are thus the moment where the bread and the wine take on a divine nature, just as this is the moment when Jesus nature becomes divine. Finally the last Gospel corresponds to Jesus’ teaching ministry after his resurrection, which perhaps corresponds to the work of the spirit to divinise us. Again, I fire all of this haphazardly from the waist merely as a suggestion which most certainly requires further refinement.6

Conclusion

Jesus Christ is understood to be simultaneously fully man and fully God, therefore Christology is simply an account of how it is that theology and anthropology are in actual fact exactly the same discipline approached on the one hand “from above” and on the other hand “from below”; Theology is nothing but perfected, purified and glorified anthropology, and conversely anthropology is nothing but theology filtered through the kenosis of divine emptying and self-limitation. They are both the study of exactly the same subject, namely, the perichoretic simplicity that is the ground and essence of all realities and which unifies all being, as it has coalesced into the singular pantheistic unity of the creator and his creation. In turn this perfect oneness of cosmos and God which just is the ontology of all things both created and divine, has been progressively revealed, manifested, and realised in the historical narrative of Jesus Christ, and continues to be revealed, manifested and realised today via the many and various Eucharistic liturgies celebrated throughout the Christian world. It is by means of the movements of both the Jesus narrative and the liturgical reenactments of this narrative that Christology is able to construct its account of how God has become man and how that same man has become God.

Therefore Christology is a comprehensive summary of the story of Jesus as well as the dynamic atonement between creation and creator which is revealed in this story. The story begins with a protology that is entirely anthropological, and then progressively ascends towards a climactic eschatology which is purely theological. It is the story of how Jesus, who at the beginning of his worldly existence was just like every other man in all respects but imperfection, made atonement for all mankind, by means of a synergistic theosis which progressively enveloped him more and more completely, and gradually encompassed him more and more totally, to the point where come the conclusion of the story, Jesus was truly and fully at-one with divinity in all possible respects; by the conclusion of the tale there was no longer any distinction or separation remaining between Jesus and God; they are at-one in person, in essence, in substance, in nature, in will, in body, in spirit, in mind, in intellect, in being, and in any other ontological category which theologians and philosophers may care to deploy in their analysis. So Jesus begins the narrative being one with man in every possible way but sin; and by the end of the narrative, he has achieved at-one-ment with God in every possible way.

Appendix

Christological Position

Corresponding Eucharistic Position

Nestorianism and Chalcedon

(Christ as two distinct substances or natures)

Lutheran Consubstantiation

(The Eucharist is two distinct substances or natures)

Docetism and Monophysitism

(Christ only “appeared” to be man)

Catholic Transubstantiation

(The Eucharist only “appears” to be bread)

Miaphysitism

(Christ is fully God and fully Man)

Eastern Orthodox Consubstantiation

(The bread is fully Christ)

Adoptionism (at Baptism)

0

Adoptionism (at the Crucifixion)

0

Adoptionism (at Incarnation)

Eucharistic change at the presentation of the gifts

Islamic

(Christ was “Just a man/Prophet”)

Zwinglism

(The Eucharist is “just a symbol”)

Relativism

(Christ is only God for those who believe)

Calvinism

(Christ is only really present to those who have faith)

Bibliography

Bradshaw, Paul F., and Johnson, Maxwell E.. The Eucharistic Liturgies : Their Evolution and Interpretation. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012. Accessed June 12, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Jenson, Robert W.. Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics : Essays on God and Creation. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014. Accessed June 14, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Murphy, Francesca Aran and Troy A. Stefano. The Oxford Handbook of Christology. First ed. Oxford, United Kingdom;New York, NY;: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Pugh, Ben. Atonement Theories: A Way through the Maze. Eugene, Oregon: CASCADE Books, 2014;2015;.

Spence, Alan. Christology: A Guide for the Perplexed. London;New York;: T & T Clark, 2008;2009;2015;.

11 Cor 1:22-25 (RSVCE)

2Jenson, Robert W.. Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics : Essays on God and Creation, edited by Stephen John Wright, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/unda/detail.action?docID=4534559.
Created from unda on 2020-06-14 11:09:55.

3As per Arianism

4In other words, to say that Jesus is homoousion with the father.

5Bradshaw, Paul F., and Maxwell E. Johnson. The Eucharistic Liturgies : Their Evolution and Interpretation, Liturgical Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/unda/detail.action?docID=4659051.
Created from unda on 2020-06-12 04:58:44.

6See Appendix for a proposed table of correspondences between different Christological positions and Eucharistic theologies

Article Review – The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians

Summary of Article

Kereszty opens by describing Pope Benedict’s book as an expression of the pontiffs personal opinion, rather than an exercise of the magisterium.1 He goes on to describe the intellectual climate in which the book has been written and released, namely, the prevailing view which has infiltrated the ranks of both academics and laypeople that “the Jesus of history” is a different person to “the Christ of faith”.2

Kereszty describes Pope Benedict in his book as being comparable to Augustine in his writings: The book is more of an expression of his personal devotion rather than a strict exegesis or theological treatise.3 Kereszty goes on to make the point that earlier in the history of the church, theologians were equally as much pastors and ascetics/mystics as they were trained theologians, whereas today people tend to specialise into only one of these domains at a time, resulting in segregation and isolation of the theologians of the church from the pastors of the church.4

Kereszty mentions how Pope Benedict aims to show through his book that, contrary to popular opinion, the historical Jesus is the same person as “the Christ of Faith” portrayed in the New Testament scriptures.5

Kereszty goes on to comment on how the scientific method of historical criticism is often approached as if it is an infallible key to penetrating to the truth of the scriptures, and yet in practice it always leads to “a continual discussion of tradition and redaction history that never comes to rest”.6

In his book Pope Benedict avoids reducing Jesus merely to simple human archetypes – for example prophet, preacher and teacher – but he also avoids getting completely bogged down in an abstract theological account of Christ.7 As an example, instead of talking about Jesus in light of the theological doctrine of the Chalcedonean Hypostatic union, he emphasises the personal relationship between Jesus the man and God the father, stating that communion with the Father was the true center of his personality”.8

Academic Comment

Kereszty’s article, and the book about Jesus written by Pope Benedict which Kereszty is reviewing, are the product of a fundamental tension that has arisen in the modern era between two different epistemologies, where an epistemology is defined asA theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity”.9

On the one hand there is the classical Christian understanding which is most fully developed in Catholicism and described using the analogy of a three legged stool. The three legs represent the written scriptures, the lived tradition(s), and the interpretive authority exercised by the institutional hierarchy of the Church. Scripture, tradition and magisterium are together presented as a complete solution which can be used to determine one’s beliefs about what is true and establish what are the most important aspects of reality.10

On the other hand, there is the modern scientific method, which is an epistemological approach developed during the enlightenment in direct response to the traditional dogmatically-based Christian understanding.11 At it’s most extreme, this approach becomes a sort of radical scepticism which completely denies that personal testimony carries any epistemological weight, and proposes that nothing should be accounted worthy of belief by someone unless they have directly observed it for themselves.12

In practice, most people hold to some combination of these two alternatives. Atheists who lean more towards the scientific approach nevertheless still depend on the testimony and authority of professional scientists when choosing what to believe, and Christians who submit to a more dogmatic framework nevertheless still think for themselves and shape their beliefs by examining evidence and argument.

When the dogmatic approach is taken to the extreme, it results in a sort of fundamentalism in which a person has entirely forfeited their right and responsibility to exercise critical thinking and make independent judgements. When the scientific approach is taken to the extreme, it leads to epistemological paralysis wherein a person is unable to trust any testimony whatsoever (including their own) and they get bogged down in a radical scepticism in which they can’t be certain of anything.

The true epistemology must lie somewhere between these two extremes, respecting scientific evidence and historical analysis, but also simultaneously taking into account the testimony of tradition, scripture and institutional authority. This is what Pope Benedict aims to do in his book: he aims to demonstrate that the Christ of the classical Catholic epistemology is the same Christ as the Jesus that we discover through scientific and historical analysis.13 In other words, Pope Benedict aims to show that the depiction of Christ that we have received via tradition in the New Testament is the real Christ, miracles and all, and that there is not another “historical Jesus” hiding behind the Jesus that we discover in the pages of scripture.14 Pope Benedict does an excellent job at this, but whether he ultimately succeeds is something that must necessarily be left up to the judgement of the individual.

One particularly interesting way Pope Benedict shows that the “historical” Christ and the “traditional” Christ are the same is when he discusses why there is such a drastic difference in the presentation of Jesus between the synoptic gospels and the Johannine literature. The usual explanation is that the synoptic gospels were written earlier, and therefore represent a more accurate and humanised picture of Jesus, with less miracles and a “lower” Christology, whereas the Johannine literature was written later after myths and legends had accrued and developed, and thus is less “historical” and more “theological”:

John’s Gospel is different: Instead of parables, we hear extended discourses built around images, and the main theater of Jesus’ activity shifts from Galilee to Jerusalem. These differences caused modern critical scholarship to deny the historicity of the text—with the exception of the Passion narrative and a few details—and to regard it as a later theological reconstruction. It was said to express a highly developed Christology, but not to constitute a reliable source for knowledge of the historical Jesus. The radically late datings of John’s Gospel to which this view gave rise have had to be abandoned because papyri from Egypt dating back to the beginning of the second century have been discovered; this made it clear that the Gospel must have been written in the first century, if only during the closing years. Denial of the Gospel’s historical character, however, continued unabated.15

Pope Benedict instead proposes the radical idea that the higher Christology presented in Johns gospel can be accounted for by the fact that the author of this gospel was closer to the historical Jesus, and therefore Johns gospel is equally as historical as the synoptic gospels but represents an “insiders perspective” into who Jesus “really was”, whereas the synoptic gospels are written more from the perspective of an outsider who doesn’t immediately know what to make of Jesus, and has to judge on the basis of his external life and teaching:

… there are grounds for the conjecture “that the Johannine school carried on the style of thinking and teaching that before Easter set the tone of Jesus’ internal didactic discourses with Peter, James, and John (as well as with the whole group of the Twelve)…While the Synoptic tradition reflects the way in which the apostles and their disciples spoke about Jesus as they were teaching on Church missions or in Church communities, the Johannine circle took this instruction as the basis and premise for further thinking about, and discussion of, the mystery of revelation, of God’s self-disclosure in ‘the Son’”.16

Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” trilogy is a brilliant contribution to the dialogue over who Jesus really was and a wonderful example of intellectual humility and charity. As he discusses the figure and significance of Christ, rather than dismissing the scientific approach or distancing himself from the traditional approach, Pope Benedict successfully does justice to both. His trilogy should be taken into consideration by all future commentators on the issue.

Bibliography

Kereszty, Roch. “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians” Communio 34, (Fall 2007): 454-474. http://www.communio-icr.com/files/kereszty34-3.pdf

Second Vatican Council. “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, 18 November, 1965,” in Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, edited by Austin Flannery. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1975.

Bristow, William. “Enlightenment.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, Fall 2017. Article published August 20, 2010; last modified August 29, 2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/enlightenment/.

Comesaña, Juan and Klein, Peter. "Skepticism." In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, Winter 2019. Article published December 8, 2001; last modified December 5, 2019. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/Skepticism/.
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. 1st ed. United States: Doubleday, 2007.
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. 1st ed. United States: Doubleday, 2011.
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. 1st ed. United States: Doubleday, 2012.

1Roch Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians” Communio 34, (Fall 2007): 454. http://www.communio-icr.com/files/kereszty34-3.pdf

2Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians” 455

3Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians” 456

4Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians” 457

5Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians” 458-459

6Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians” 459

7Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians” 472

8Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth For Theologians” 473

9Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “epistemology,” accessed May 4, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epistemology.

10Second Vatican Council, “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, 21 November, 1964,” in Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1975), sec. 10 (hereafter cited as DV).

11William Bristow,Enlightenment.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Stanford University, Fall 2017), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/enlightenment/.

12Juan Comesaña and Peter Klein, “Skepticism,” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Stanford University, Winter 2019), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism/.

13Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (United States: Doubleday, 2007), xxi

14Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, xxi.

15Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 218

16Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 227

Mary as Priest, Prophet, and King: Article Review

Summary

McGregor opens by pointing out that Mary is a member of the church. As Mary is a member of the church, she must then therefore participate in Christ’s kingship, prophet-hood and priesthood, just like all the other members of the church participate in these things. McGregor in his article goes on to examine how and in what special senses Mary participates in these three offices.

McGregor identifies some relevant difficulties and ambiguities in the magisterial source texts Lumen Gentium and the Catechism, and he then goes on to survey what these church documents have to say concerning the notion that disciples of Christ are also prophets, priests and kings. He establishes that priesthood is the primary one of the three roles with respect to Christ, and it is therefore also the primary role which Christ’s disciples participate in. From this, McGregor argues that the offices of prophet and king are subordinate (or subsequent) to the office of priest.

McGregor goes on to discuss how Mary is also anointed, in a similar way to Christ himself.1 He points to Mary’s immaculate conception as the moment when she was anointed by the Holy Spirit. Immediately following this, McGregor discusses with scriptural examples how Mary is a Prophet, Priest and King. In a footnote he makes it clear that he is truly speaking here of Mary as a king, not a queen, as the latter title carries all sorts of deep traditional and theological connotations which he does not want to evoke. McGregor devotes the rest of the paper to examining some episodes in Mary’s life as case studies of Mary as priest, prophet and king: The Annunciation, The Visitation, The “Pondering” of Mary in Her Heart, and the Wedding at Cana.

Comment

I found the most interesting and radical part of this paper to be McGregor’s meditations under the heading “The “Pondering” of Mary in Her Heart.” Due to the influence of secularism, atheism and materialism on our culture and education, I have often understood the mind and intellect to be nothing more than the brain, and in a similar way I have often understood the heart to simply be “that which pumps blood around the body.” Whereas in this paper, McGregor succinctly and powerfully explains the full theological force of the term “heart;” he theologically defines it to be far more than the physiological blood pump located in a persons torso:

As the affective center of the human person it is the locus of the passions. As the intellectual center of the human person it is the locus of thought, understanding, doubt and questioning, deception and belief. As the volitional center of the human person it is the locus of intention and decision. The heart is also the locus of imagination and memory. As the moral center of the human person it is the locus of virtue, including theological virtue. It is the locus of conscience. It is the locus of that holiness which is normally called singleness or purity of heart. It is the locus of relation with other human persons. According to Sacred Scripture, the heart thinks, chooses, feels, imagines, and remembers. If it does all these things it cannot simply be any one of these things, but must be the union of all these things.2

Such a rich description of the heart is compelling, and a powerful antidote to any materialistic leanings. How could a simple blood pump also be responsible for all of these important theological functions? McGregor also quotes Ratzinger on this theme:

The organ for seeing God is the heart. The intellect alone is not enough. In order for man to become capable of perceiving God, the energies of his existence have to work in harmony. His will must be pure and so too must the underlying affective dimension of his soul, which gives intelligence and will their direction. Speaking of the heart in this way means precisely that man’s perceptive powers play in concert, which also requires the proper interplay of body and soul, since this is essential for the totality of the creature we call “man.” Man’s fundamental affective disposition actually depends on just this unity of body and soul and on man’s acceptance of being both body and spirit. This means he places the body under the discipline of the spirit, yet does not isolate intellect or will. Rather, he accepts himself as coming from God, and thereby also acknowledges and lives out the bodiliness of his existence as an enrichment for the spirit. The heart—the wholeness of man—must be pure, interiorly open and free, in order for man to be able to see God.3

One part of this which jumps out at me is “The organ for seeing God is the heart. The intellect alone is not enough.” This would be an interesting area for further research, seeing as the western tradition (particularly in Aquinas) seems to place lots of emphasis on the intellectual beatific vision of God. It would be curious to mine the Christian traditions both east and west in order to examine the relative emphases on the heart and the mind in different quarters of the Christian world. As one example, the eastern saint Isaac of Nineveh (who was a member of the far eastern Syriac church) has this to say:

And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart burning for the sake of all creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and every created thing; and by the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears. By the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and by his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason he offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner he even prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in his heart in the likeness of God.4

Personally, I find the idea of Mary as Priest, Prophet and King to be quite strange, even if – as the paper demonstrates – it is a valid way of thinking. I would tend to prefer to emphasise Mary’s distinct roles and feminine offices, rather than try and shoehorn her character into the more masculine offices and roles of Christ. Irenaeus’s developed theory of recapitulation is helpful here, as it emphasises the distinct ways that Adam and Eve each contributed to original sin, and the correspondingly distinct ways that Jesus and Mary contribute to the salvation on human kind. Both Mary and Christ participate in salvation and recapitulation, but in their own distinct ways;5 Mary recapitulates through her life of virginal motherhood,6 whereas Christ recapitulates through his life of sinless priesthood. This observation is relevant to the “female priests” debate; arguably, women ontologically cannot be priests in an analogous way to how it is ontologically impossible for men to be mothers. Arguably, the analogue of Christian priesthood for men is Christian motherhood for women. Understood in this way, the sacrament of marriage could be understood as a sort of “female ordination,” where the bride is “ordained” to the “Holy order” of motherhood.7 In this sense, Christian men are called to participate in the priesthood, prophet-hood and kingship of Christ, while Christian women are called to participate in the purity and motherhood of Mary.8

Conclusion

I don’t actually dispute or disagree with any of the ideas McGregor puts forward in his paper, but I just find the question of “How is Mary a priest, prophet and king?” to itself be somewhat of an “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” enquiry. I propose that it is far more important to focus on Mary’s virginity, motherhood and her being a faithful spouse to Saint Joseph. While it is true that all members of the Church participate in Christ and his mission (McGregors article is a good demonstration of this point), I propose that it is more appropriate for female members of the church to take Mary as their role model, while male members of the church should instead look to emulate Christ. Just as Mary and Christ had different and distinct roles in the story of humankind’s salvation and recapitulation, so too Christian men and women have different roles to play in the mission of the church. Mary – and Christian women in general – do indeed participate in Christ’s priesthood, prophet-hood and kingship; however I think it is more important to focus on Mary’s unique role and her feminine offices (Mother, Virgin, Wife, etc), rather than trying to shoehorn her into the masculine offices (Prophet, Priest, King) of Christ.

1Recall that the title “Christ” literally means “anointed one”

2McGregor, in Mariology at the Beginning of the Third Millennium, page 177.

3Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism, 92–93.

4St Isaac of Ninevah, Ascetical Homily 71

5Recall the Marian titles “Co-redemptrix” and “Mediatrix of all graces”

6Cf 1 Timothy 2:15

7In saying this, I am assuming the theology of marriage which holds that marriage, sexual consummation and children are all three sides of the same coin.

8This idea is not developed here, but tentatively outlined. I would like to do further research on this theme one day.

Tawḥīd Trīnitās

Introduction

I will propose a new formulation of the traditional Catholic/Orthodox Trinitarian theology, firstly, as expressed in the venerable dogmatic definitions of the first seven councils; secondly, as anciently interpreted by St. Augustine and the Cappodocian fathers; and thirdly, with reference to the fresh and contemporary expositions of Trinitarianism in the literary corpus of Dr. David Bentley Hart. The proposal is made in precise terminology which carefully expresses the doctrine of divinity found in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, as well as coining some more precise terminology so as to carefully make the proposal in such a way that certain Islamic criticisms of ‘Trinitarianism’ (considered broadly) do not pose any problem to it. Importantly, the proposal will elucidate the actual doctrine of the Trinity: ie. the doctrine of the Trinity as it has continuously developed in the Catholic/Orthodox tradition from the time of Christ all the way up to the present.1

A Dogmatic Requirement of Islam

In Āyah 4:1712 the angel Gabriel commands the Prophet Muhammad to proclaim a prophetical rebuke to the Christian world:

O People of the Bible! Do not exceed the limits of your religion; Do not say anything about God except the Truth; that the Messiah, Jesus, was the son of Mary; that He was a Prophet of God; that He was the Word of God; that He was born of the holy and immaculate virgin mother; and that His spirit proceeds from God. So believe in God and his prophets, and never say “Three” – Cease from such blasphemy for your own benefit, because God is One. Glory be to God that he should have a son, to whom belongs all that is in heaven and all that is in the earth. And behold: He is entirely worthy of our faith.3

While admittedly here the Āyah has been ripped out of its context in Surah An-Nisa, when taken in isolation there is arguably nothing in it which actually conflicts with Orthodox Christian belief. The angel Gabriel is not here admonishing Christians to abandon Christianity and become Muslims, but rather to stay within the limits of Christianity. He then lists these limits in the form of a simple creed which would be acceptable to Muslims and Christians alike. So rather than Christians interpreting this Āyah as an attack on their faith (as they usually do), I propose that it would be better if they instead humbly accepted it as a prophetic gift from the Ummah, which can then serve as a help to keep the community of the Church steadfast in the truth and purity of Monotheism. When read in this way, it just so happens that for Christians the most relevant part of the Āyah today is the prohibition against saying ‘three;’ The Āyah does not deny the divinity of the Father, of the Son, or of the Spirit, and in fact is perfectly consistent with a “high Trinitariantheology.4 It would seem that the single thing forbidden is the attribution of the number “three” to God.

If Christians are to take this Āyah to heart, they must cease from saying things such as “One God in Three Persons,” and indeed refrain from talking about “One ουσία in three ὑποστάσεσῐν,and even stop speaking of “One substantia in three persōnīs.” According to Gabriel – however else Christians might talk about God, “threeness” should never be attributed to him (Incidentally, this renders the Athanasian creed unspeakable on account of it containing a single unfortunate clause which explicitly mentions “three persons”).5

As it turns out, this is all something of a felix condicio; none of these stringent limitations on the boundaries of Christian speech pose any actual problem for traditional Trinitarian thinking, nor does anything in Āyah 4:171 require Christians to modify their doctrine of God in any way. Rather, the Āyah is itself a concise statement of various key moments in the Christian narrative and a perspicuous affirmation of divine oneness. In essence, it merely requires that Christians be more scrupulous with the phraseology they employ to explain the occultus opes hidden within the mysterium fidei sui. While it is true that many Christian theologians have employed the number three to construct analogical imagery for the purpose of helping the faithful to develop an intuition for the divine; and while it may be conceded that certain theologians – the vast majority necessarily being schizmatic, if not always heretical6 have explicitly imported ontological triplicity into their doctrine of divinity; nevertheless the traditional Christian explanations and dogmas concerning God do indeed refrain from attributing “threeness” to God in any real or ontological sense,7 thus obeying Gabriel’s imperative in the Āyah.8

Christians are not forbidden by Āyah 4:171 to confess that Jesus is fully divine, nor are they prevented from claiming the Son and the Spirit to be ὁμοούσιον and co-eternal with the Father. But they are commanded – on pain of the sin of blasphemyto refrain from developing such a confession into any ‘tripling’ description of God. As such, the ubiquitous “three divine persons,” a speculative “three beings,” the tenured language of “three substances,” and ancient formulas of “three hypostases” are forbidden. According to Āyah 4:171, the only number that can ever be applied to God is “One.”9 Taking this seriously requires Christians to think very carefully about what the word “person” really means, because the implication is that while the Father, Son and Spirit are equally divine, equally personal, and truly different from each other, there can only be one person in God.10 This will be explained below, whereupon it will be made completely clear that I am not merely proposing a nouvelle résurrection of the venerable and charming heresies of Sabbelius, nor a plein d’entrain répétition of the modalism embraced by St. Tertullian’s beloved simplicēs.

Aesthetic Epistemology: Divine Truth as Infinite Beauty

Hart systematically sings the glories of the Triune God in his published PhD thesis – The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth – which is a profound and stimulating distillation of the entire Orthodox/Catholic tradition concerning the Trinitarian nature of God, and a bringing into dialogue of this tradition with the promiscuously multiple and nefariously protean existentialisms, absurdisms and nihilisms of modernity. Importantly for the purpose of this paper, during his confrontations with the heathen philosophers he manages to pull off a lucid explanation of the Christian God without ever insinuating – neither explicitly nor implicitly – that divinity encompasses any sort of ontological triplicity.11

It is hard to summarise all of the surprising reflections that Hart communicates to us in his magnum opus, however for the purposes of this essay the essential theological point I will extract from his delightful prose and attempt to rephrase in my own inadequate words is the following: To be a Person – whether Human or Divine – necessarily implies the ontological relationship of this Person with an “Other”a Different Person – who shares his or her nature, by way of communion with a “Yet Another” a further Distinct Person – who also shares his or her nature.12 In other words, the key to understanding the Trinity according to Hart is to first straighten out our Anthropology: The prevalent modern notion of a Person as a self-sufficient, self-defining, isolated single subject is unmasked by Hart as nothing but unequivocal heresy, and he then explains how Christianity reveals the true nature of Personhood: Persons cannot be Persons apart from multiple other Persons. Rather, Persons are only truly Persons when they are in the intimacy of loving community, each with the other. When this relationship of loving community is rejected by a human individual, that individual is rejecting their essential – and personal – nature; they are depersonalising and even dehumanising themselves.13

To put it another way, rather than speaking of God as “three persons,” Hart instead speaks of God as one single personality which – in a way necessary to the nature of personality just is the strictly essential yet entirely uncoerced embrace of both univocal identity (or sameness – the Father) and equivocal dissimilarity (or otherness – the Son) in the peaceful traversal of the infinite analogical interval between them (the communion – the Spirit).

A Proposal of a Refined Creedal Formula

In light of all that has been said thus far, I now propose a new and precise dogmatic formula which concisely sounds all the essential notes of the Immanent Trinity without in the process falling into any of the theological discord which is firmly forbidden by Āyah 4:171 insofar as it is understood to prohibit any language which implies an ontological attribution of “threeness” to the divine. To wit, rather than speaking about God as “three persons,” I should instead say that The One God is One Divine Person in relationship to himself in The One Divine Other through The One Divine Yet-Another. Or, to moot it as a precise Latin dogmatic formula, solus dīvīnus simplicitas in ūnō dīvīnō persōnā patris ad sēsē in ūno dīvīnō alterapersōnā fīliī per sēsē in ūno dīvīnō redalterapersōnā sānctī spīritūs Deus est.14

The first thing to observe – and in light of the analysis of Āyah 4:171 above, the most important – is that the formula does not “say three;” rather, all of the words in the formula are grammatically singular (ie, none of them are semantically or morphologically plural), and the adjective ūnus is pointedly and reiteratively affirmed of all the nouns in the formula. The formula also carefully avoids deploying the word persona thrice;15 rather, the father is identified as the divine person, while the son is named as the divine other-person and the Spirit is referred to as the divine yet-another-person; this linguistic tactic makes clear the important fact that God is only one person, while simultaneously affirming that the personality of the Father necessarily requires an essential and ontological relationship of divine communion with the Son and the Spirit, which therefore implies that the Son and Spirit are truly and fully personal as well, yet their personalities subsist as precisely distinct modes of relation and thus are truly different ways of being and analogically related moments in divine personhood. Secondly, this formula captures the orthodox notion of the monarchy of the father,16 in that ūnus dīvīnus simplicitas in ūnō dīvīnō persōnā patris is syntactically the sole predicate of Deus est. However it also captures the consubstantiality of the Son and the Spirit with the Father by applying the adjective dīvīnus to them.

Thirdly, it is necessary that dīvīnus be understood to imply strict divine simplicity, hence the clarifying inclusion of ūnus dīvīnus simplicitas immediately at the beginning of the formula. If simplicity were not explicitly stated, it would be possible to read the formula as a straightforward confession of Subordinationism or Arianism. Simplicity ensures that the alterperson of the Son and the realterperson of the Spirit are fully divine in all the same ways that the person of the Father is divine, sine exceptione (aka, the Father, Son and Spirit are consubstantial), while yet remaining personally distinct from each other and from the Father. To wit, saying that the Father is “The Unbegotten God who is not Begotten” and that the Son is “The Begotten God who is not Unbegotten” is simply to say that – on account of divine simplicity – the alterpersona of the Son is fully divine and fully personal in all the same ways as the persona of the Father; but it is also simultaneously to say that the divine person of the Father is analogically distinct from the divine alterperson of the Son while always remaining ontologically equivalent to him.17

Applying this formula rigorously leads to further clarifying limitations on Christian theological language. For one, just as in scripture and the Nicene Creed Jesus is never called “God” and – when he and the Father are referred to in the same breath – is instead always called “Lord,” so too it is inappropriate to refer to the Son as “a person” except when talking about the Λόγος in isolation. When referring to both the Father and the Son in the same sentence, the person must always be the Father while the alterperson must always be the Son. On the other hand, there are also times in scripture when the Son is referred to without any immediate referential connection to the Father, and in these situations the Son is quite often called “God.” Therefore in a similar fashion, if a Muslim were to interrogate us with “Do you say that Jesus is the Divine Person of God?” we are still permitted by Christian orthodoxy (and even Āyah 4:171) to joyfully respond with a confession of unconditional affirmation. However if the interrogation were to flow on from this sublime μᾰρτῠρῐ́ᾱ to a querying of how, if both the person of Jesus and the person of his Father are equally God, this does not imply a form of polytheism, we would respond by disputing the very terms in which the question has been phrased: If the Father is the divine person, then Jesus – while always remaining fully personal is nevertheless not the divine person; rather, Jesus in relation to the Father is the divine alterperson. And this way of speaking theological truth lines up directly with how Jesus must be referred to by the title “Lord” whenever the Father has already been spoken of as “God.”

Another implication is that it becomes permissible to call Jesus “The Father” by analogy, in much the same way Christians call Jesus “God;” a title which – strictly speaking – belongs to the Father Alone. To devout Trinitarians who find this unnerving, I draw attention to the famous scriptural precedent of Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”18

One more implication of the formula is that it can be reformulated into the style of the Athanasian creed (in order to redeem said creed from its sins against Āyah 4:171) and substituted over the offending section like so:

So God is one Person, not three Persons; one Other, not three Others; one Yet-Another, not three Yet-Anothers. And in this communion none is before, and none is after; none is greater, and none is lesser. But the Person, his Other and his Yet-Another are coeternal, consubstantial, and coequal.

Conclusion

If – against all expectation – Christians were to unanimously agree to cease using the word “trinity,” perhaps a more orthodox replacement which better conveys the underlying theology – and might perhaps be more satisfactory for Muslims – would be “community.” David Bentley Hart demonstrates in The Beauty of the Infinite that it is possible to construct a robust trinitarian theology, without ever “saying three.” This is a great boon for interfaith dialogue with Muslims, and can help Christians to more precisely refine their theological language. God is indeed Father, Son and Spirit, but we need never attribute ontological threeness to God in order to hold on to traditional Christian theology and Doctrine.

Bibliography

Hart, David B. The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. Grand Rapids Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003.

Pavao, Paul. Decoding Nicaea. Selmer Tennesse: Greatest Stories Ever Told, 2014.

Br Reginald Mary Chua OP, Masters Thesis (Unpublished).

1As opposed to modern and contemporary innovative accounts of Trinitarianism which tend to either completely jettison the traditional understanding or merely pay lip-service to it without actual comprehension.

2لنِّسَاء – Surah An-Nisa – “The Woman”

3Intentionally interpreted here to line up with Christian doctrine as closely as I believe is permissible by the underlying al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā: يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ ۚ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ ۖ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ ۖ وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ ۚ انتَهُوا خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا اللَّهُ إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ ۘ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۗ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا – 4:171

4ie, divine consubstantiality. While Āyah 4:171 is the most relevant to Trinitarianism, this paper is not an exhaustive survey of the Quranic canon, and so there are almost certainly other Āyat which require exegesis if one aims to show that the entire Qu’ran is consistent with Catholic tradition.

5Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales. However the creed can arguably be salvaged with some creative contextual hermeneutics, by proposing that the personae being described in this clause with the adjective tres are something recursively located on the purely syntactic/lexical level (ie, as a reference to the words “Father, Son and Spirit” as they have been used prior to this clause in the creed), rather than importing any semantic onto-triplicity into the underlying res referred to by the signum ‘God.’ This would therefore allow us to understand the clause to be saying something roughly similar to, for example, “The seven theological categories of essence, fatherhood, nature, filiation, being, spirit and existence are coeternal and coequal with each other in God (while yet remaining analogically distinct in their perichoretic simplicity);” thus, it can be seen how on the lexical level God is just as much “seven” as he is “three.” Orthodox Sunnī Muslims would be unfair to make a controversy out of this interpretive move, considering that in their expositions of the doctrine of Tawḥīd (according to both Al-ʾAšāʿirah and Al-Maturidiyya schools), they are entirely content to attribute a numerical plurality of equivocal attributes to Allah. In any case, divine personality must be ontologically consistent with the demands of Tawḥīd, and therefore the phrase tres personae cannot in any real sense attribute “threeness” to God’s unique essence, simple nature, one reality and singular being.

6They are most often protestant, evangelical or analytical philosophers, fond of ‘explaining’ the Trinity with simplistic aphorisms such as “God is one ‘what’ and three ‘who’s.” This is unacceptable and it would be more accurate to say something along the lines of “God is one ‘I,’ one ‘thou,’ and one ‘him.’ (and for that matter, one ‘我們 (Wǒmen – exclusive 1ps, pl),’ one ‘咱們 (Zánmen – inclusive 1ps, pl)’ too)” Describing God as “three ‘who’s” is unrefined and – according to Āyah 4:171 – a heretical way of speaking.

7As mentioned above, in theological discourse, numerical adjectives can only be used in descriptive analyses of sentences concerning God, but they cannot be used in descriptions of God per se. So while it is valid to note the “threeness” in, for example, the baptismal formula, it would not be valid to infer from this lexical triplicity in the liturgical language to any sort of ontological triplicity in the divine per se.

8Whenever a classically-leaning theologian in the course of their theologizing happens to “slip up” or “throw in the towel” by “saying three,” this is always in the context of an analogical illustration, and to their scandalously tantric trinitarian imagery will invariably and immediately be appended extensive apologies, repentant obeisances and precise qualifications to explain how the theologian is in no way claiming to deny the oneness, singularity, uniqueness, simplicity and unity of divinity. A skilful theologian such as Hart – who is deeply read in both classical Trinitarian literature and Islamic writings on Tawḥīd – is able to explain the Trinity in a completely orthodox manner without even once falling into the trap of “saying three.”

9As well as according to Islamic Tawḥīd more broadly, which holds that God is One (الْأَحَد – Al-ʾAḥad) and Single (الْوَاحِد‎ – Al-Wāḥid), and therefore neither Three nor Triple. Whether Āyah 4:171 permits Christians to speak of God as Triune or a Tri-unity is an unresolved question, seeing as these terms both include the morpheme “tri-” which semantically involves a loose concept of “threeness.” Whether or not “saying three” on the morphological level of language is considered to fail the injunction of Āyah 4:171 is something to be explored via further interfaith dialogue, but in this author’s opinion it will be a hurdle extremely tough to clear: Requiring Christians to refrain from saying “three” is reasonable enough, but asking them to renounce their natively developed terminological heritage of “Trinity/Triune/Tri-unity” will invariably continue to be an exceedingly tough sell (And further, Āyah 4:171 in the Abdul Haleem interpretation aggravatingly adds more polemical fuel to the theological fire by directly translating ثَلَاثَةٌ ۚ as “Trinity”).

10It is important to clarify here that I am not arguing for the position that traditional Christian theology of the Trinity which uses ‘tripling’ language is inherently contradictory or incoherent. For example Aquinas presents an extremely orthodox, compelling, consistent and coherent doctrine of divinity which permits him to – for example – describe God as “one being” and as “three beings” simultaneously. I’m simply proposing a manner of accurately articulating the traditional Christian doctrine of divinity which conforms to the restrictions on theological language mandated by Āyah 4:171. The challenge a theologian confronts in attempting to accurately explain the Trinity according to the requirements of Christian orthodoxy while also refusing to “say three,” is analogously akin to the challenge which a vegan embraces when she searches for creative ways to maintain her health and vitality while refusing to ever eat meat or drink milk; both are incredibly difficult, yet both are also entirely possible.

11I make this claim on the basis of my impressions immediately after having read through the entire tremendous tome in one sitting. I concede that a more rigorous, slow and scientific reading may perhaps reveal this judgement to be technically inaccurate.

12Successfully grasping this point elegantly leads one’s intellect to a beatific theoria in which it logically comprehends the notion that – while the definition of personhood is univocal between Humans and God – the fact that personhood requires relationship “within” persons of a mutually shared nature leads to there being a single person in God – on account of his simple nature – and a plurality of persons in Humanity – on account of our non-simple nature.

13All of which is to say they are rejecting God and experiencing damnation.

14Literally “God is the singular divine simplicity, in the one divine person of the Father, towards himself in the one divine other of the Son, through himself in the one divine yet-another of the Holy Spirit.” While this formulation and the Latin terms alterapersōna and redalterapersōna are terms of my own coinage, I believe they accurately capture the theology expressed by Hart in his minor dogmatics.

15This safeguards against any subtle leaning towards an intuition that there is some sort of triplicity or tritheism in God, which inevitably happens when the father, son, and spirit are spoken of as “three persons” rather than “one person in relation to himself-in-the-other by means of yet-another”

16This being important so as to keep the formula in accord with scriptural and creedal language: All of Paul’s letters open with some variation on the first lines of the Nicene creed: One God: The Father; and One Lord: his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.”

17This can be understood in more or less exactly the same way that Catholics claim the divine justice to be analogically distinct from the divine mercy while also understanding both to be ontologically equivalent to each other and equivalent to divinity per se. A soteriological aside: All of this means that just as it is appropriate to say that in God the Father has complete precedence over the Son, so too it is possible to say – following St. Isaac of Nineveh – that in God, restorative mercy has total priority over retributive justice, and that therefore God’s graceful willing towards ἀποκατάστασις entirely trumps the massa damnata merited via the total depravity (cf. Romans 1-3) of mankind.

18Is 9:6 (RSV:CE)

The Eternal Son: Review

Summary and Commentary

Weinandy opens his discussion of the second person of the Trinity with an analysis of some relevant moments in the Nicene creed. He draws particular attention to the innovative theological term made famous at the council: “homoousion.” This word is meant to convey that both the Father Almighty and his Son our Lord Jesus Christ are fully divine, each individually being “the one God,” while also remaining distinct from each other. This is a fundamental doctrine and mystery of Christianity, there are no easy explanations for it and it is difficult to gain an intuition for it’s coherence and logical consistency.

Weinandy points out that the names “Father” and “Son” are the correct and superior way of referring to the two persons, rather than, say, “Creator” and “Redeemer.” He notes that the creed says “for us men and for our salvation Christ came down and became incarnate,” and he thus draws attention to the fact that there is an intimate link between christology and soteriology.

Weinandy mentions that the Father is only the Father in relation to the Son and that the Son is only the Son in relation to the Father. I sympathise with the thrust of this argument, but I think that when considered at face value this particular way of articulating the theology leads to a sort of Binitarianism” because the Spirit is not mentioned and it is therefore fair to conclude that the Spirit is either subordinate to the Son and Father, or completely irrelevant. I suspect it would be more accurate to articulate the point with reference to the Spirit included, for example “The Father is only the Father in relation to the Son and the Spirit.” In the following discussion Weinandy does however bring in the spirit in as an essential factor in his outline of Trinitarian theology.

Weinandy introduces a curious theological term as a sort of complement to the filioque: Spirituque. He doesn’t develop the idea very deeply, but I think it holds promise and potential. The idea seems to be that just as the Spirit is said to proceed from the Father and the Son, perhaps it is also accurate to say that the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit. This would be an interesting area for further research, and no doubt would take into account the different senses of “procession,” especially with reference to the underlying Greek and Latin technical terminology.1

Weinandy touches on the Augustinian idea of the Spirit as the “bond of love” between Father and Son. The idea is that the Father is the subject, the Spirit is the (ditransitive) verb, and the Son is the object. Or to put it in a formula The Father loves/begets the Son and the Spirit is the act of loving/begetting. The Son also returns the love to the Father, which makes the “grammar” of the Trinity more interesting, but Weinandy does not touch deeply on this linguistic dimension in his article.

Weinandy heavily underlines the idea that the Son is referred to as “Word” because he exhaustively expresses the full truth about who the Father is. The Son is perfect the image of the Father, while individual humans are images of the Son.

Weinandy then draws attention to Aquinas’ opinion that the image of God in man is restricted to the human intellect. Weinandy disagrees: To be created in the image and likeness of God is to be created in the image and likeness of the Son. It is not merely the human intellect and soul that images God, but rather “the whole human being.” Weinandy notes how Aquinas argues that any of the three divine persons could have potentially incarnated, but that it was most fitting and “right and proper” for only the Son to incarnate. My comment on this theme would be as follows: The question of “Could the Father possibly have incarnated” is deeper than we might at first think. In one sense, God is completely unconstrained, totally and fully free from any necessity or coercion, and he can therefore do anything and nothing can prevent him from doing what he desires.2 But from another angle, God is who he is. God is pure actuality and has no potency, therefore who he actually is in this reality exhausts all possibilities and does not allow for alternatives: there are no other possibilities or potentials for who and how God is: God simply is as he is and he couldn’t be otherwise. When approaching the question of “could the Father have incarnated” from this angle, it is clear that in fact only the Son actually incarnated, and therefore it is more or less meaningless to speak of the other divine persons incarnating, actually or potentially. The fact that only the Son is incarnate is simply how it is and because God has no potential then it couldn’t be otherwise.3

When Weinandy meditates on these themes, his essential conviction seems to be that it had to be the Son who became man, because the entire Christian ordo salutis depends on it being this way. The explanation he offers is that the Son is the image of the father, and we are saved as humans by being brought into conformity with that image.

Weinandy moves on to consider the mechanisms and inner workings of the salvific work of Christ: Jesus interacts with us and saves us as man but the entire time he does this he remains as the second – divine – person of the trinity; Jesus is always the divine Son of the Father.4 So it was and is the divine person of the Son of God who offered and continues to offer the sacrifice which infallibly and efficaciously achieves universal salvation, but the divine Son does this as man. Weinandy sums up this obedience and recapitulation theology succinctly: “The Son humanly achieved humankind’s salvation.

Weinandy finishes by talking about how human beings appropriate the saving work of Jesus and become recreated in his divine image. Curiously, he doesn’t outline any ordo salutis or propose an answer to the question “what must man do to be saved?” Rather, Weinandy outlines a very christo-centric narrative account of what Christ, the Spirit and the Father have already achieved on our behalf, as well as how the Trinity incorporates us into the divine life.

Concluding comment

Most of my comments are mingled in with the summary, but I would just like to take this opportunity to raise an objection to one particular claim of Weinandy. He suggests that Christ assumed a fallen human nature. I just want to flag that my reading of St. Maximus the Confessor’s Neo-Chalcedonean Christology would seem to indicate that this is inaccurate. In brief, according to Maximus there is no ontological difference between a fallen and unfallen human nature: Both are simply one and the same human nature, however existing in different states. The difference is that a fallen nature is one that is enslaved to passions, sin, ignorance and so on, whereas an unfallen nature is exactly the same, but without suffering these negative and evil limitations. Finally, there is a divinized human nature, which is a human nature for which there is indeed an ontological distinction in that it enjoys a “communication of idioms/attributes” with the divine nature. My understanding of Maximus’s Christology is that Christ was born with an unfallen human nature, and then by his recapitulatory life of perfect sinless obedience, he managed to undergo theosis and divinize the human nature. I offer all of this without references and the disclaimer that I may be wrong in my understanding of Maximus, but look forward to investigating further in the future.

1I am here thinking particularly of “ekpouresis” and “poeinei”

2Therefore universal salvation is true. QED.

3The key thing to remember is that this is in no way a limitation on God. It is simply how God has chosen to be, and because God is pure actuality, it doesn’t make sense to speculate about God being “some other way” than he is.

4While the common sense claim “Jesus is/was a human person” is obviously orthodox, Weinandy’s reflections here point to the deeper reality that Jesus is first and foremost (and always) a divine person. He saves us through his humanity, and it is fair to say that Jesus is a human person, but he is essentially (and according to some, “only”) a divine person, not a human one.