The Song of the Eschaton Incarnate

RSV-CE John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the λογος, and the λογος was with God, and the λογος was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the λογος became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”) And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

The Swedenborg Heresy – Notes on the Canon

I was reading the blog of the lovely Lee Woofenden, where he describes the incredibly offensive and extremely heretical beliefs of Emanuel Swedenborg; an ex-Lutheran apostate who is currently roasting in Hell at this very moment. Lee is destined for the very same hellfire on account of his prideful rejection of the Gospel promise. I look forward to watching them both roast. Jokes aside, I took some notes while reading his latest post and figured I’d neaten them up and wack them on the blog.

Response

Lee opens with the following:

Most Christians don’t think too much about where the Bible came from. They just hold a book in their hands, maybe read it, and believe that this book was given by God.

It’s very interesting that he raises this question of where the bible came from. This was one of the key things that drove me back to Catholicism in 2014. The Catholic church had an actual answer as to why the bible has authority and inspiration, whereas the protestants did not.

Lee goes on to claim that the Orthodox biblical canon includes 79 books. This is news to me. I was under the impression that the Orthodox bible had 76 books. I wonder what books Lee is referring to here, and where he got this statistic.

Lee says the following:

You see, there was no pronouncement from God as to which books should be in the Bible.

This point is absolutely key. Under Protestant schemas, it is completely true. This is why Protestants sometimes talk about “A fallible collection of infallible books”, which I personally find to be epistemologically laughable, but I am open to hearing more; the fact that I disagree with it probably just means that I don’t understand it.

In any case, under the Catholic understanding, God actually did tell us which books belong in the bible. He did this through the dogmas and canons of the Catholic church (in this particular case, the divine and infallible magisterial pronouncements of the Council of Trent).

And the church councils of the different branches of Christianity didn’t agree with one another about which books should be included in the Bible.

This is also true. There has never been a single universally agreed upon scriptural canon. This scandalised me during my early days as a Christian. As an evangelical my community was telling me to base my entire life and all of my beliefs on what “the bible” says. But what even is “the bible”? There were a thousand different translations and canons to chose from. For such an important question, evangelicals don’t tend to be forthcoming with robust answers and apologetics. They often say things like “It’s the message that matters, not the actual words”, but then they staunchly deny that the books of the deuterocanon have any authority or inspiration, even when they are saying the same thing as the other canonical books. The irrationality of it all bugged me to no end.

Lee continues to discuss Swedenborg’s interesting and fanciful canon of scripture (Which reduces the New Testament to simply the four gospels and the book of the apocalypse). He then makes the following interesting statement:

Protestants commonly believe that Paul’s writings are all about establishing faith alone as the key doctrine of Christianity. But the simple fact of the matter is Paul never even used the term “faith alone,” let alone taught it.

I find this amusing. Lee is himself a staunch protestant, even though he firmly denies this obvious fact. But considering that he does not identify as a protestant, it is amusing for him to make such a sweeping statement as “Protestants commonly believe …”. What would he know? He’s supposedly not a protestant, so he doesn’t have the authority to speak on their behalf.

In any case, while it is true that Paul never said “Faith alone”, the original Lutheran “Sola Fide” doctrine is nevertheless definitely embedded in all of his letters. I don’t think Lee actually understands what “Faith alone” implies. Then again this is entirely forgivable as most evangelicals don’t understand it either. Most evangelicals take “Faith alone” to mean “All I have to do to be saved is believe and I don’t have to do any good works”, which is a Satanic perversion of the original doctrine. Lee has unquestioningly adopted this understanding of the doctrine. The original Sola Fide is Gospel, good news. It says that we don’t need to do anything in order to be saved; we don’t even need to believe! Yet despite that, when you are living your life under faith, you can’t help but overflow with love and good works. Hear these beautiful words from Luther:

Faith is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.

Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them. He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures. And this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace. And thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools.

Therefore, pray to God to work faith in you. Else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do. (Preface to Commentary on Romans; cf. “On the Freedom of the Christian“)

Whereas Lee seems to be saying on his blog that we earn our salvation by good works. I don’t mean to put words in his mouth, but this is honestly the vibe that I get when I read his writings.

Now we can finally begin to rehabilitate the letters of Paul. Now we can rescue them from the hands of those “Christian” theologians who have twisted and distorted them for so long. Now we can begin to understand that Paul’s main argument when he was asserting that we are saved or justified by faith without the works of the Law was that Christians no longer need to be observant Jews in order to be saved by their faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

In my reading, Paul’s thrust doesn’t seem to be merely that gentile believers don’t have to convert to Judaism (although this is definitely true). The key point of Paul seems to be that we don’t have to “do” anything in order to be saved. Paul is powerfully preaching a message of Sola Gratia, grace alone. He is preaching a message of antinomianism. As Luther mentioned in the earlier quote, this doesn’t make good works unnecessary or superfluous, but instead is the way in which we receive the strength and power to perform the works.

Conclusion

It’s interesting to read through Lee’s blog and learn more about Swedenborgian Christianity. I look forward to reading some of Swedenborg’s writings in the future. It still seems clear to me that Lee has entirely missed the point of the Gospel, however I look forward to reading more of his “spiritual insights” in future.

The Great Apostasy – When Exactly did it Happen?

Only One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church?

I have been meeting with Later Day Saint (LDS) Mormon missionaries on and off since December 2017. As I learn more and more about their faith and beliefs, I find myself affirming much of what they tell me. It has actually got to the point where I feel comfortable officially converting via re-baptism, and I am planning to do this after the exam period (I won’t say too much about my motivations, except that 1. I sincerely believe in most/all LDS doctrines, and 2. I am following Saint Paul’s example in becoming all things to all people, so as to save all people. Mormons need to hear the Gospel promise too!) Of course because I have a strong classical theistic grounding, and have been shaped by the liturgical life of Apostolic Catholic Christianity, as well as the theologies and philosophies of the east (Hinduism, Buddhism); So I interpret Latter Day Saint doctrines through a very unique and eclectic lens.

In any case, one thing that has always bugged me is this doctrine of “The Great Apostasy”. On one level, I completely affirm that all churches, religions, institutions and organisations have been commandeered by Satan and no longer clearly preach the Gospel. However on another level, I understand the Catholic and Orthodox argument that the apostolic succession of Bishops has never been broken, and it is possible to trace a line all the way back to Jesus through the Sacramental laying on of hands. According to this understanding, the church that Jesus founded has been around since day one, and the divine authority of Christ never left the earth.

Now, I intend at some point to blog about the doctrine of emergency. The short version is that in an emergency, anyone can perform any of the sacraments. I argue that this is exactly what happened in the case of the visions of Joseph Smith (And I likewise argue that the very same thing has happened to me). I might get the details a little wrong here, but supposedly the story goes that Joseph Smith retreated into the forest to pray to God and ask for guidance as to which church he should join. As he was praying, he was told by God that all of the churches have apostatised, and he should restore the true church himself. In a subsequent vision, Jesus, Peter, Paul and John descended from heaven and directly ordained Joseph Smith as a Prophet and Apostle.

According to the doctrine of emergency, I have no issues with this story. Joseph Smith was not ordained in the standard line of apostolic succession, but that’s fine – he was ordained directly by Christ in a vision. This gives credibility to the line of apostolic succession that exists in the churches that can trace their origins to Joseph Smith (primarily the Fundamentalist church (FLDS), the Restored Church (RLDS), and the mainstream LDS church, but there are also other groups).

So this would imply that the traditional Apostolic churches and the new restored churches are in actual fact the same church. There is only one true church, and it is both Mormon and Catholic. This represents my current understanding.

The Great Apostasy

However the missionaries who I speak to naturally understand the great apostasy to imply that at some point, the traditional apostolic succession was broken. My question has always been, “When?” – because the historical record is really working against the LDS account of events on this score. Today my question was answered in the form of the following lecture by Hyrum Smith:

In this video, Hyrum Smith proposes a timeline of events which state exactly when the apostolic succession was broken, and exactly when it was restored. He starts by verbalising the following relevant questions: “Why was the church restored when it was? If a restoration was necessary, why did God wait till 1820 to do it?” (I was thinking to myself, mainstream Christians face a similar problem. Why did God wait to send Jesus when he did? Why couldn’t Jesus have just come and sorted everything out straight away, rather than leaving us to suffer the pains and sufferings of history?) Hyrum then declares that he’s going to tell us exactly why 1820 was the only time that the church could have been restored. He then whips up a long timeline that goes like this:

  • 0AD – A saviour is born – Jesus of Nazareth
  • 30AD – Jesus is all grown up and begins his ministry
  • 33AD – Jesus establishes his church, is rejected by the world and crucified.
  • 42AD – Peter goes to Rome and establishes a church there. He ordains a bloke called Linus as a bishop.
  • 43AD – Paul goes to Rome, susses out the scene and discovers that the entire church had apostatised. Paul establishes a new leader – Deacon Linus.

Let’s pause here for a moment. Allegedly the apostasy that Paul discovered upon visiting Rome is recorded in Romans chapter 1, but I’m not sure which part of this chapter Hyrum is referring to. For one thing, the letter to the Romans strongly implies that Paul had not actually visited the Roman Christians at the time the letter was written. It is also somewhat convenient and confusing that the deacon that Paul ordains has the same name as the existing bishop of Rome. I’m wondering what the sources are for this claim, as it’s the first that I’ve heard of it. I suspect that it allows LDS apologists to read the historical record in their favour, by splitting references to Pope Linus into “Good Linus” and “Bad Linus”. But I’m open to further information and inquiry.

The timeline continues:

  • 64AD – The emperor Nero kills Linus the deacon. And the authorised church completely disappears from Rome
  • 70AD – The Roman army destroys Jerusalem. From this point until 1948, Jews have no homeland to call their own.
  • 78AD approximately – Bishop Linus, the Pope of Rome receives a letter from a mate. This letter claims that the Roman church is incredibly universal. Pope Linus is like “Heck yeah, let’s call ourselves the universal (Catholic) church.” The Roman Catholic Church is born.

So apparently the moment Linus the deacon was killed, the “true” church disappeared from Rome, and the one that was left behind was apostate. This is also a rather creative retelling of the origins of the Roman Catholic church, but I’m guessing there is a hint of truth to it. Only a hint though.

  • 96AD – All of the other apostles have been murdered except for the Apostle John. John is banished to the island of Patmos.
  • 101AD – The Apostle John passes away and the great apostasy is complete. There was no longer anyone on earth with the authority to say “Thus sayeth the Lord”

So according to this understanding of events, the apostolic succession of Rome is invalid because the “real” leader was murdered, and presumably failed to ordain a successor. Mysteriously, the other apostles didn’t ordain anyone either. As such, once the apostle John died, no one was left to carry on the torch.

I find this incredibly problematic and implausible. For one thing, even if the apostolic succession in the church of Rome was invalid, that doesn’t deal with the apostolic successions in the churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and the rest of the world. When and how did those successions die?

Hyrum continues with a sweeping survey of mainstream church history:

  • 320AD – The Early Christians – despite technically being apostates – had a very rough time. Emperor Constantine calls the Council of Nicaea with the purpose of establishing an ecumenical understanding of God. The Nicene creed is produced and the Roman Catholic church becomes formal church of the state. The “Reign of the Popes” begins
  • 785AD – The Empress Irene is in charge. She calls another council of Nicaea. Saints become canonised. Idol worship begins in the Catholic church.
  • 900AD approximately – We have a female pope! Pope Joanna. The Catholic church denies this fact but the Lutheran church supposedly has detailed documentation.
  • 1100AD – There are three popes simultaneously. They all excommunicate each other and go to war.
  • 1200AD – The printing press is invented. Pope innocent the Third is fighting a lot of wars and runs out of money. He invents “the sale of indulgences.” Apparently this meant “you could pay to have your sins remitted”. And you could even pre-pay for your future sins.
  • 1300AD – There is an intellectual revolution in Europe: The Renaissance.
  • 1492AD – Columbus discovers the new world.
  • 1515AD – Martin Luther emerges. With his access to ancient documents he begins to have a problem with indulgences. “Jesus didn’t say anything about it.”
  • 1523AD – Luther is excommunicated. The Church declares that to kill Luther would not be murder. Luther goes into hiding. German princes shelter him and he becomes head of the Lutheran church.
  • 1534AD – Henry VIII has problems with the wife. He wants a divorce. The Pope refuses to agree and grant him one. The Anglican church is born.
  • 1540AD – John Calvin starts up the Huegenots.
  • 1560AD – John Knox founds the Puritan movement.
  • 1575AD – Bartholemew day. The Catholics in Paris round up and slaughter all of the Protestants.
  • 1620AD – The Puritans migrate to America, because they are fed up with the lack of freedom in the continent. The nation of America has its formal beginnings.
  • 1776AD – America gets sick of King George and his bullshit; they tell him to fuck off and that they aren’t gonna pay taxes to him any more. Independence is declared. War begins. There is no way that this war could have been won apart from the direct intervention of God.
  • 1787AD – The constitution is established. For the first time in history, a nation has freedom of religion firmly baked in to it’s most fundamental laws and principles of governance.
  • 1805AD – God raises up a leader: Joseph smith is born in upstate New York
  • 1812AD – The war of 1812. Britain is defeated. USA establishes its’ own navy.
  • 1817AD – Satan also raises up a leader: Karl Marx is born. There are 700,000,000 communists today, so there’s still lots of work to do to save the world.
  • 1820AD – Joseph Smith wants to know what church to join. He goes into the forest to pray. Jesus Christ appears to him and the Restoration begins.
  • 1830AD – The Church is formally re-established on earth. More progress is made in this year than in all 5000 years past.
  • 1860AD – “Family trouble.” – The Civil War

During his presentation Hyrum makes the point that 1820 is the only time the church could have been re-established and survived, because religious freedom was necessary and it was only at that time in America that religious freedom had been established. This is an interesting point.

Conclusion

In the end I find the account of the great apostasy proposed by Hyrum Smith to be wanting. There are simply too many holes in it. Instead I’m happy to affirm that 1. All churches are apostate, including the Catholic church and LDS church, and 2. Both the LDS church and Catholic church have valid apostolic successions.

I look forward to learning more about the LDS faith, but I am as yet unconvinced of the great apostasy narrative as they understand it.

 

 

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.

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.

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

Beautiful Heresy 101 – Jesus Was a Heretic

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Remember, Jesus himself was considered a Heretic by the religious authorities of the day.

Heretics are the ones we should listen to most closely, for they are prophets that have seen God in ways that explode our dogmatic categories.

Do you really expect that saying “Agree with me or go to Hell!” will convert your opponents heart? No! This is why every anathema is always just another schism.

If the church ever says “anathema sit“, you know that it is Satan speaking, not God. In God everything is affirmation, and nothing is denial. When the church condemns, it is always just Satan trying to crush the prophets of the age by ecclesiastical fiat.

So listen closely to the Origens, Ariuses, Pelagiuses, Nestoriuses, Luthers, Calvins and Robertses of the day: They have discovered something important and profound, and it is only by listening to them that we will avoid further schism and maintain the unity of the church.

Notes on a Mitch Pacwa Debate Concerning Justification

Initial Thoughts

I’m uncomfortable with the way he frames the catholic position. The way he talks, it sounds as if God does 99% of the work of our salvation and then leaves the final 1% up to us. He says something like “we have to say ‘yes’ to God”, as if the saying yes is spontaneously produced by an individual and God just steps back and has nothing to do with it. This can’t be right. The understanding that I’ve inherited over the years is articulated by British Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop Kalistos Ware as “The work of our salvation is completely and entirely an act of Grace, but in that act of grace we remain completely and entirely free”.

This would probably sit will with Aquinas, who had a strong and robust doctrine of efficacious grace. A summary of my understanding of efficacious grace is “God can guarantee that a sinner will be saved without in anyway violating that sinners freedom”. Compare this with the current popular catholic understanding of “sufficient” grace, which I understand to be something more like “God gives us everything we need to be saved, but then steps back and leaves it up to us”. In my opinion this popular understanding has fatal implications for Christian Hope, Faith and Joy; it turns the work of salvation back on the sinners own efforts, which of course will never be enough. This leads to despair and angst of the sort that Luther experienced.

What makes most sense to me is that all of the following propositions are true, even if at face value they may appear to some to be irreconcilable:

Salvation is an offer that we may or may not accept: We have free will and no one can coerce us to do anything – not even God. (The standard Catholic understanding)
Salvation is also an unconditional promise: God is able to guarantee that we will be saved (ie, that we will at some point accept his offer), without in any way violating our freedom (The Catholic doctrine of predestination and election and the Thomistic doctrine of efficacious grace)

The idea of unconditional promise is interesting, because it raises the question “To whom is the promise spoken and how/when/where?” According to Lutheran sacramental theology, the promise is primarily spoken via the seven sacraments, with particular emphasis on Baptism and Confession. At the moment when you are baptised, God has sacramentally spoken his promise of salvation to you and you are counted among the elect; you have passed from death to life and there is no possibility of going back. The sacrament of Confession and words of absolution are simply a reminder of this new reality and basically are a shorthand way of saying “Remember that you have been baptised and are not guilty, so stop feeling like it and stop acting like it!”

This is incidentally where the idea of “Sola Fide” actually makes sense. It’s not possible to respond to an unconditional promise with works, but only with either trust or apathy. If salvation is an unconditional promise, you either trust that promise or you don’t, but regardless of whether you trust it or not it’s going to come true because God is the one making the promise and God’s promises do not fail. However if you do trust the promise, life comes alive in ways that you never thought possible before, and the lyrics of the popular protestant hymn “Amazing Grace” cease to seem so heretical. “I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see”.

Most Catholics in my experience tend to disagree with this whole understanding by completely denying that salvation is a promise and doubling down on it’s nature as an offer instead, thus rendering the “unconditional” dimension of salvation null. Such people tend to be hyper-attached to a particular understanding of libertarian human free will and get triggered by anything that even slightly appears to contradict it. The fact that we humans have the power and right to deny God becomes the most crucial issue of our day and if anyone dares to question this they are dismissed and ignored as a heretic. And so “Freedom” becomes the central and decisive dogma of the faith, rather than the love of Christ for sinners and his glorious and total defeat of sin, suffering, Hell and death. I don’t find the supposed fact that I have the ‘freedom’ to damn myself inspires much faith, hope and love in my life; instead it tends to just produce scrupulosity and a judgemental pharisee/tribal attitude in which I’m trying super hard to save myself but it’s never enough and I look down on others who aren’t trying as hard as me. Whereas the idea that Christ has already saved me and everyone who I love, and that I need not fear being ultimately lost, is incredibly inspiring. Rather than being crippled with fear of hell and focusing on saving myself, I’m empowered to carry the light of christ out into the world and focus on saving everyone else.

This is arguably why Justification is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. A church that sees salvation as a mere offer, to be responded to primarily with effort, is going to be completely crippled as it’s members turn inwards and focus on trying to save themselves. Whereas a church that sees salvation as the unconditional promise which can only be responded to with faith (which is exactly what it is), has been liberated to get out there and announce to the world its own salvation, which is the original meaning of evangelism: to announce the good news of Christ’s victory over all the pains and problems that confront us in our lives.

Around the 10 Minute Mark

Pacwa gives a great and passionate description of the catholic position on assurance and perseverance. He seems to be saying that you can be sure that you are in the state of grace in any given moment, but you cannot be sure that you will persevere in this state of grace all the way until the end of your life.

I think it really depends whether you take “state of Grace” and “justification” in a subjective or objective sense (which is another popular Lutheran distinction). In an objective sense, the entire world was justified by the cross and resurrection. The job is done; The entire world is objectively saved and in the state of grace and will be forever. However subjectively speaking not all of us experience this salvation that has been won for us. In a subjective sense, many of us remain in our sins and feel guilty and scrupulous. So in the subjective sense, Pacwa is completely correct to follow Trent and say that no one can know that they will persevere to the end of their life in the (subjective) state of grace. However in an objective sense (which is what most protestants are more concerned with), you can definitely be assured of your ultimate salvation: this is the essence of the gospel and exactly what makes it “good news” for me, for you, and for all of our relatives who are currently dying from coronavirus. “Christ died for you: You have been saved” is the kerygma that we must announce. Mitch Pacwa and the council of Trent didn’t get any of it’s theology wrong, but it simply is missing the evangelical point of the whole affair.

“Declaration of Righteousness” and “Reality of Righteousness”.

Justification is indeed a declaration, as per Luther, but this does not make it a “legal fiction”, as Catholics commonly caricature the protestant understanding.

Consider: If I look at a desk and see a book, but Jesus looks at the same desk and doesn’t see the book, Then is the book really there? Are you delusional or is Jesus delusional? Who’s perspective has epistemological primacy in this situation? Who should you trust?

In case the answer isn’t obvious: God’s perspective always trumps the sinners perspective.

With this in mind, consider what it means for God to “declare” that a certain state of affairs holds. If God declares that I am righteous, then despite all evidence to the contrary I am righteous. Because if that is how God sees me then that is how it is, even if I can’t understand how this may be.

The idea is somewhat platonic. God has a perspective of reality “with all the lights on” as it were, whereas we are wandering through reality as a child wanders in the dark. In other words, we are not omniscient and don’t have access to all the data, whereas God is omniscient and therefore his perspective is fully informed in a way that ours isn’t. The implication of this is that when God declares you to be righteous, you are really righteous, even despite all evidence to the contrary.

This is again where faith comes in. Do you trust your own perspective, under which you are condemned as a dirty filthy sinner? Or do you trust God’s perspective, which he reveals to you via his unconditional promise and declaration that in the reality which he is perceiving, you are ok and he accepts you? It’s a question of where you place your faith: in yourself or in God? In your own perspective, or in the divine perspective of God which he reveals to you through the announcing of the gospel and the proclamation of the promise in word and sacrament?

Faith and Works

The inevitable faith versus works debate pops up in the video towards the end. The conflict isn’t so hard to resolve in my view. The protestant fella is insistent that the fact of our election (which he refers to as “salvation”) does not depend in any way on the works and efforts that we perform, and he is completely correct to insist on this. Whereas Pacwa is insisting that works of love and a purified, perfected soul are necessary components of salvation, not optional, and he is also correct to dig his heels in and insist on this.

The resolution comes by recognising that salvation is both an event and a journey: The entire cosmos and everyone and everything in it was justified/elected/saved/predestined at the cross and resurrection. For this reason we as Christians should sing praises and rejoice. However there’s also a journey involved: we still remain here in this life, and our mission is to be little Christs and announce the Gospel to the world, as well as stamp out any sins and imperfections that appear to remain in the world. We’re all on this journey together and until we are all fully saved and made perfect, none of us are.

In this way you do justice to the Catholic insistence that works of love are essential to the process towards and state of salvation, but you also do justice to the deep protestant conviction that there is literally nothing we can do to secure our election.

A helpful thing to remember is that when a protestant says “I am saved”, often what they really mean (even if they don’t realise it) is “I am elect and chosen”. They are fully confident that in the end, they are going to make it, because they know that Jesus died for their sins and rose again for their salvation.

In this way, works are an essential part of salvation, but they have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with predestination or election.

A helpful point to drive this home is the fact that under both a lutheran and calvinist analysis, not even faith contributes anything to our election. We are chosen because God loves us, not because we have faith or try really hard to fulfill the commandment to love; not even if we succeed at fufilling the commandment to love (but who does?). The reason for this is that this simply turns faith into a work. If election depends on our faith, then no one can be saved, because no one has perfect faith, no matter how hard they try. Whereas if election depends on God’s love and what he did for us on the cross, then it doesn’t depend on us at all, not even on our faith, and therefore we can have peace and assurance knowing that everything is going to be ok, which frees our wills and liberates us to go and do the good works that are necessary to make the journey to heaven. But without this faith and assurance, we will be utterly paralyzed,

In summary, the cross unconditionally secured election for the whole world and everyone in it, but our love and good works are how we “make the journey” to heaven both individually and as a church community.

Pacwa also raises the issue of mortal sin, and how it is possible to lose justification. Again, understanding the difference between election/predestination and salvation/justification is helpful. Of course it is possible to lose your salvation and justification by apostasy and mortal sin, however your election is still secure and there is nothing you can do to escape your election; ultimately no matter how far the lost sheep runs into the outer darkness, Christ the good shepherd will leave his Church, descend to Hell and rescue that sinner.

In other words, not even Hell and everlasting damnation can or will prevent Christ from saving us, which is incidentally what the whole point of Holy Saturday and the harrowing of Hades is about.

So yes, you can compromise your current salvation by mortal sin, but there is nothing you can do to jeopardize your election

The Grammar of the Trinity and the East/West Divide

In Christian theology, there are two fundamental perspectives from which one can analyse the trinity: the immanent (or ontological) trinity and the economic trinity. The immanent trinity is concerned with the essence of God as he is in himself, apart from creation, whereas the economic trinity is all about describing the trinity as it relates to creation. Catholic theologian Karl Rahner codified what has come to be called “Rahner’s Rule”, namely, “The immanent trinity is the economic trinity”. We don’t have two distinct trinities here: they are simply different perspectives on the same divine reality.

When approaching the trinity in Christian theology, there are also – broadly speaking – two broad perspectives that appear to contradict each other. The eastern church holds to one while the western church holds to the other. The eastern perspective tends more towards monarchism of the father and subordinationism of the son and spirit, whereas the western perspective is saturated with commitment to a strict divine simplicity which dissolves almost all distinctions between the divine persons.

This post aims to argue that both positions are true, and the key to understanding how they are compatible is to take the eastern view as a description of the economic trinity and the western view as a description of the immanent trinity.

The Western/Immanent Trinity

The immanent trinity is a transcendent and abstract thing to think about, and it is best described using the rules of grammar and linguistics. Our starting point is the statement in the first epistle of John that “God is love”.

Love is a verb – a transitive one – and as such it stands in need of a subject and an object. How is it possible that God can be love? Is he the person doing the loving? Is he the one being loved? Is he the love itself?

The mysterious answer is actually “all three”. If God is love, then God must be simultaneously Subject, Verb and Object. However, in order for this love to truly be love, the Subject and the Object must be distinct from each other, otherwise it would not really be love, and would instead reduce to masturbatory narcissism.

So we have three hypostases: The lover (who is the subject), The one being loved (who is the object), and the love itself (who is the verb). We can use all of this to go ahead and lay down a Trinitarian formula:

  1. The Lover is Divine
  2. The Loved is Divine
  3. The Love is Divine
  4. The Divine Lover is not the Divine Loved
  5. The Divine Loved is not the Divine Love
  6. The Divine Love is not the Divine Lover
  7. There is only one Divinity

However, these three hypostases sound quite different from to the “Father”, “Son” and “Spirit” of traditional Christian theology. What is the relationship? The answer is that “Father”, “Son” and “Spirit” are the three persons of God, whereas “Lover”, “Loved”, and “Love” are the three hypostases of God. There is a difference between a hypostases and a persona, and if this difference has not been explicitly recognised by the tradition up to now, it is definitely implicit in the writings of the fathers.

The most fitting way to map the above formula onto the traditional scriptural and theological terminology is to assign the Father to the Lover, the Son to the Loved, and the Spirit to the Love. However with respect to the immanent trinity, due to divine simplicity and perichoresis the three hypostases are completely interchangeable. So it becomes possible, for example, to assign the Father to the Love, the Son to the Lover, and the Spirit to the Loved. In other words it doesn’t particularly matter which particular divine person occupies the role of which particular divine hypostasis: due to simplicity and perichoresis all of the divine persons can and do occupy all of the divine hypostases simultaneously.

There is some nuance however: When we speak of the person of the Son occupying the “Lover” hypostasis and the person of the Spirit occupying the “Loved” hypostasis, it necessarily follows that we must speak of the person of the Father occupying the “Love” hypostasis. This is necessary because while it is true that, for example, the person of the Father is simultaneously all three of the Lover, the Love, and the Loved hypostases; whenever we speak of him occupying one hypostasis it can only be in relationship to the other two. In this way, when speaking of the person of the Father as the Lover hypostasis, we must necessarily speak of the person of the Son as either the Loved hypostasis or the Love hypostasis. We must follow this grammatical rule when speaking about any of the divine persons.

A Higher Abstraction

It is possible to go deeper. The trinity when analysed in terms of hypostases is – in it’s most pure and abstract sense – fundamentally and simply a pure “Subject, Object, Verb” relationship. The verb need not necessarily be “love”, for we do not only speak of God as a lover, but also as a creator, a redeemer, a sanctifier, and so on. The trinity is – to borrow terms beloved by computer scientists – polymorphic and generic. With this in mind, the Trinitarian formula can be abstracted to the following:

  1. The Subject is Divine
  2. The Object is Divine
  3. The Verb is Divine
  4. The Divine Subject is not the Divine Object
  5. The Divine Object is not the Divine Verb
  6. The Divine Verb is not the Divine Subject
  7. There is only one Divinity

We need only supply one of many relevant divine verbs, and we will have a formula which provides a deep insight into the immanent trinity. For example, God is a creator, a lover, a saviour, a sanctifier, a judge and so on. In such a way, all of the following ways of understanding the trinity are valid:

  1. The Uncreated (Subject or Father), Begets/Creates (Verb or Spirit) the Word/λογος (Object or Son).
  2. The Essence (Subject or Father), Emanates (Verb or Spirit) the Energies (Object or Son).
  3. The Saviour (Subject or Father), Saves (Verb or Spirit), the Lost (Object or Son)

There is rich theology in these formulas: For example according to this analysis the Son is the damned reprobate who suffers death, Hell and the full punishment for sin, and the Father is the one who saves him from Hell, death and damnation.

Furthermore, an implication of divine simplicity is that all of these different verbs and ways of understanding God are in actual fact univocally equivalent. In this way, God’s act of creation just is his act of love and both of these just are his act of salvation. When God begets the son, he simultaneously judges him, saves him, loves him, sanctifies him and so on.

The general rule is that the Father is the Subject, the Son is the Object, and the Spirit is the Verb, but this rule only becomes strictly enforced when we move to the economic trinity, as we will see shortly. When speaking of the immanent trinity, it makes just as much sense to call the Spirit the Saviour of the Father and the Son the act of Salvation itself. As mentioned, any of the divine persons can occupy any of the divine hypostases when it comes to the immanent trinity. The relationship between person and hypostasis only becomes locked down when we move to the economic trinity.

The Eastern/Economic Trinity

In the East, the theologians are adamant that the Father enjoys a monarchy which the son and spirit simply do not share. This is encapsulated in their firm rejection of the western Filioque clause added to the creed of the Latin church. According to this view of the trinity, the three divine persons cannot just bounce back and forth between the three divine hypostases willy nilly: instead they each have their rightful place and position in relationship to each other.

This is all quite intuitive. For example consider the following: Would it make sense for the Son – who is begotten – to beget the father – who is uncreated? Things start to sound contradictory and silly very quickly at this point.

In the western analysis, It makes sense that the spirit proceeds from both the father and the son because any of the divine persons can occupy any of the divine hypostases. There is 1. the one who sends, 2. the act of procession, and 3. the one who proceeds. The father could be any of those three hypostases, the son could be any of those three hypostases, and the spirit could be any of those three hypostases. According to the divine simplicity and perichoresis of the immanent trinity, it would be just as true to claim that the father proceeds from the spirit, or the son proceeds from the father. Any of the persons could proceed from any of the other persons, as the three persons are interchangeable in the immanent trinity.

But this is not so in the eastern analysis. Once we start pondering the economic trinity, perichoresis and simplicity no longer apply with the same force. When it comes to the economic trinity, the trinity is still a Subject, Verb, Object relationship, however in the eastern analysis the Father is always the Subject, the Spirit is always the Verb, and the Son is always the Object. In the economic trinity, there isn’t any distinction between a divine hypostasis and a divine person.

The reason this is important is because the economic trinity is the point where the creation comes into play, and if these strict distinctions are not observed, the Trinitarian grammar devolves to the point where one encounters crazy and triggering statements such as “The creation created the creator”.

Christ and Creation

Now, in order to proceed further and demonstrate how the economic trinity links up with the immanent trinity we need to introduce a little Christology.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; 16 for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

According to Paul, there is an intimate relationship between Christ and Creation. Christ is not merely one man, Jesus of Nazareth, but seems to have much more cosmic significance. In fact, Christ seems to be the summary of the entire cosmos. There appears to be some sort of equivalence between Christ and the creation. In this post I don’t aim to tease out all of the nuances of this passage, but for the sake of continuing the argument lets assume a very strict correspondence between the second person of the trinity and the creation.

In this way, saying that the Father begets the Son is basically the same as saying that God created the cosmos, and so the cosmos becomes one way of thinking about or referring to the second person of the trinity.

It is a fundamental principle that there is a distinction between creator and creation, so if all this is true, then it makes sense that the Father alone should be referred to as God, and not the Son or the Spirit. If you examine the early creeds, the writings of the earliest church fathers, and the letters of Paul; you will see this theology reflected in the way that they never straight up refer to Jesus as “God”. Instead, they always say “One God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ”.

The surprising (and contentious) conclusion here is that only the Father is God in the economic trinity, and not the Son and the Spirit. It is helpful to deploy some metaphysical categories to tease out exactly what is going on here. Many of the church fathers speak of “the three persons/hypostases and the one being/essence”. One detail of the discussion that tends to be forgotten these days is that the first hypostasis just is the being and essence of God. The Father is the being of God, while the Spirit is the nature of God – where a nature is simply a summary of the attributes and associated actions of a being – and the Son is the effect of God. Now, in the immanent trinity, obviously both the Father and the Son are divine, because the effect of God (the Word) shares in the being of God (the Father) by divine simplicity and perichoresis. However in the economic trinity, the being of God (the Father) is completely distinct from the effect of God which in this case is the creation (cosmos).

We end up with a situation where the Father is the one God, and the son is the creation, and there is a strict distinction between them. The Spirit is the nature of God, and a summary of all the attributes of the Father. The actions of God are mediated through this nature and the effect is the cosmos and everything in it. There is a pious Islamic theological opinion that God has infinite attributes: this makes sense under the preceding analysis, because every observable effect in the creation must correspond to a unique attribute-with-action in the nature of God (the Spirit). Infinite effects implies infinite actions implies infinite attributes.

So in the economic trinity, you have one God (the Father) and his nature (the Spirit) and the creation (the Son). The persons are not free to roam from hypostasis to hypostasis in the economic trinity. Furthermore the grammar requires us to speak of the Father alone as God, and refrain from attributing that label to the creation (the Son) or the divine attributes and actions (the Spirit).

Conclusion

And yet Rahner’s Rule states that the economic trinity and the immanent trinity are the same trinity. The implication is that the perichoresis and simplicity of the immanent trinity “bleed in” to the economic trinity, and that the entire creation is therefore  permeated with the divinity of God, at which point “theology of creation”
becomes Christology, and we have to analyse the relationship between λογος and κοσμος in the same way that theologians analyse the relationship between God and Jesus of Nazareth. The cosmos is simultaneously created and divine, and this needs to be construed in the theological language of dyophysis and miaphysis, just as in the Christological debates of centuries past.

I will hazard a stab at a formula to summarise the situation in closing: The creation is the λογος in complexity, and the λογος is the creation in it’s simplicity, and both of them may be referred to as the Son of God, or the second person of the trinity.