…and I realized that I truly don’t understand it, and I don’t think it’s because I don’t know the teaching — I just don’t know what it’s trying to say. If all that we observe of the host, its physico-chemical properties, is categorized under “accidents,” then what exactly is the substance? You will commonly hear a Catholic apologist say that all the observable phenomenon of the host, even if you took a microscope and determined all of its physical properties, are the accidents and that’s what remains after the consecration. But, if you take away the accidents then you have no host — you have nothing whatsoever. How can the substance of a thing have such a relation to its physical properties such that if you take away the physical properties, at least notionally, you still have a substance? So, if the substance of a thing has no real corporeality, substance must indicate some spiritual or noetic reality related to the physical object. Hence, we see the popularity of transfinalization and transignification theories where a thing’s substance or being is determined by the person’s re-conceptualization/re-identification of the physical object (albeit such is rooted in an new signification given by God through the consecration). If this is so, then it would make the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence to be quite acceptable to many Protestants. Nothing physically miraculous happens to the elements; rather, the elements become Christ’s body for us such that the host/wine act as communicative means of God’s grace. Now, Pope Paul VI recognized this as being, well, not very Catholic, so he put out an encyclical condemning the new theories as only grasping one aspect of the Eucharist but not the fundamental doctrine of a “real,” “substantial” change. Now, once again, what does this mean? What is Transubstantiation?

Eucharistic Host

About me wee self

September 26, 2007

Well, I guess I’ll actually get around to telling a little something about myself. My name is Kevin (I’ll leave the last name off for now in case I write something really stupid, and people say, yes, it was that Kevin). I’m from North Carolina and very white, anglo-saxon (as is every dogmatics student at Aberdeen, by the way).

Who do I read: Karl Barth (what a shock!), Emil Brunner (who I like better in many respects), Simone Weil (obscure French gnostic-Christian), T. F. Torrance (Greek-Reformed), people who write about Barth (Webster!), Nietzsche (sheep in wolves clothing?), von Balthasar (not human), Kierkegaard and a bunch of other existentialists that I’m trying to get over (Sartre, Camus,…), and I actually do try to read stuff before the 19th century, especially St. Thomas Aquinas and Luther. For some inexplicable reason, I find patristics largely boring apart from historical interest (E. Jüngel and I apparently are like two peas in a pod), but Thomas Torrance is starting to alleviate this deficiency. Oh, and I read Kant (because I have to as a self-proclaimed “thinker”).

Well, there’s my little intro to myself. I’m sure more will be divulged along the way.

Pannenberg, Session 1

September 24, 2007

As I noted earlier, the weekly systematics seminar is on Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology, volume 2. I will try to do a brief overview of each session on some important points from the work. This week covers Chapter 7, “The Creation of the World,” I.1-3.

Wolfhart Pannenberg

P. goes straight to his concern with the doctrine of creation in the first paragraph: “If the world has its origin in a free act of God, it does not emanate by necessity from the divine essence or belong by necessity to the deity of God.” Bye, bye Hegel and Whitehead. In other words, creation is fundamentally a free act such that God is bound in no way for his own self-fulfillment to create. This has immense importance for the doctrine of the Trinity, for God’s being as tri-personal relations must be conceived of as perfect in-himself, without relation to the world, for in-himself abides differentiation (i.e. the distinctions of Father, Son, and Spirit) in perfect relationality. Furthermore, this relationality must be considered under the category of “act” or “activity,” which P. defines in this statement: “It is part of the concept of action that one who acts leaves the self by an act of freedom, producing something different from the self or acting on it or reacting to it. This is true within the unity of the divine life as regards the relations of the trinitarian persons” (p. 5), thus affirming his earlier statement that “God does not need the world in order to be active” (4). Exactly how we can conceive of this activity in the immanent Trinity is not dealt with by P., which is understandable and perhaps not important to his task at hand, which is to ground God’s outward activity in creation in a God who is himself perfect relational activity — this is all we need to know when dealing with dogmatics proper, i.e. the economic Trinity (It should be noted, however, that P. never uses, that I recall, the language of immanent and economic in this treatment, for what reason, if not to avoid triteness, I don’t know). But what is the purpose of so strenuously affirming the freedom of God and utter contingency of the world? Seemingly in order to ground divine love in relation to creaturely reality. P. considers the act of creation in itself as an act of love: “God had only one reason to create a world, the reason that is proclaimed in the fact of creation itself, namely, that God graciously confers existence on creatures….” (20). And later, “The very existence of the world is an expression of the goodness of God” (21). In other words, existence itself (i.e. the conferral of existence on creatures) is a basic good and testament (proof?) to God’s love. However, the question for me becomes, does P. indeed make this into a proof for divine love, and, if so, how stable is such a claim in light of the existential critique of existence as absurd/meaningless? Or, does P. instead find such statements ultimately warranted only in light of God’s trinitarian revealing of his love for us in the Son? I will try to pick-up on this in a later post, especially in the intensely interesting and impossible to understand pages 22-35. 

Baptism, Baptist-style

September 24, 2007

In perusing YouTube videos, I came across this Vineyard video of some baptisms (quick history lesson: Vineyard is a denomination of Baptists who don’t like to call themselves Baptist. Insert “your nondenom church next door” for “Vineyard” and you have the same history lesson). I’m a fan of the Baptist-style baptism and not just because it’s likely the apostolic method. The symbolism is clearly stronger with full immersion — being buried and rising again to new life (Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:12), plus the cleansing of the whole body as is the whole person. Now, I don’t expect the mainline churches to adopt full immersion any time soon (too bourgeois for that), nor is it especially important, but it is worth considering. I found this video beautiful, and I’m a fan of the musical artist, Jeremy Riddle, whose song, “Sweetly Broken,” is playing.

Aberdeen, Week 1

September 22, 2007

King’s College Chapel

Well, I arrived in Aberdeen a week ago today. I’ve met with my supervisor for the MTh. in Systematic Theology and signed-up for classes. I’m quite excited about my schedule. The first half-session (i.e., fall/winter semester) will include “Systematic Theology Since the Enlightenment” and “Trinity and Christology,” plus a weekly seminar on Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology, volume 2. In the second half-session (i.e. spring semester), I’ll have “Principles of Systematic Theology” with John Webster and “Contemporary Catholic Thought” with Francesca Murphy, another class on historical biblical hermeneutics, plus my fun/tragic dissertation due at the end of the summer.

Here’s another pic of the lovely campus of Aberdeen University:

New King’s

I’ve been listening (multiple times) to the fascinating lectures by T. F. Torrance, provided by Ben Myers at his blog. In these lectures, Torrance covers a pretty wide gamut of fundamental theological concerns, arguing for his (briefly put) realist correlation between the knowing subject (man) and the God who makes himself known in Jesus Christ, whose homoousian with God, together with the Spirit (likewise homoousian with God) given to man, is the grounding for a realist epistemology, analogous to contemporary scientific theory where the objective pole of the subject-object correlation (the physical universe; or, in theology, Trinitarian revelation) is the ground and corrective to our knowledge and speech of such. Torrance does a breathtaking sweep and renunciation of Schillebeeckx’s Christology as erringly grounded in a Kantian-transcendental Thomist speculative knowing, mediated by the Church, wherein we receive a non-conceptual knowledge of God as mediated through human institutions (church, language, etc.) but not in-himself wherein God alone controls the means by which he is known. Confessional statements of the church are, according to both Schillebeeckx and Torrance, subject to error and revisable, but, according to Torrance, only a Trinitarian realist epistemology can provide a valid grounding for considering the church’s confession, as Schillebeeckx is incapable of properly delimiting the divine from the anthropological. Now, that is just a brief and incomplete (and likely incorrect in parts) presentation of Torrance’s argument, and I have a feeling that he overstates his case (a common Reformed tendency). As well, I don’t pretend to have a good grasp of his argument for conceptual v. non-conceptual knowing (and the auditive nature of God’s revealing). But I did find it fascinating to consider the grounds for which the church’s confession can be revised. In particular, Torrance uses the example of the classical Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement as an example of a heresy that must be denounced as such among the Calvinist churches. His argument for the heretical nature of Limited Atonement rests with its reading “behind the back of God” (a favorite illustration of Torrance), and apart from Christ, a doctrine of reprobation, which is negated in Torrance’s soteriology by virtue of Christ’s homoousian with man, such that his very person as the God-man is his work of atonement for all men. In other words, all humans are redeemed by virtue of sharing the same humanity that Christ took and redeemed. And, once again, Jesus’ homoousian with God grounds our trust and ability to speak of God and his work for men. Of course, we hear echoes of Barth in his presentation of Election, and what is interesting (and what prompted me to write this post) is how thoroughly this critique of Limited Atonement has been accepted in the mainline Reformed churches where the Synod of Dordt and (for the Church of Scotland and the PCUSA) the Westminster Confession still serve as church confessions (thus questioning the legitimacy of retaining such confessions unreformed on these points, but not on others, e.g. Pope is the Antichrist). Nevertheless, the full-scale acceptance of Barth, Brunner, Berkouwer, and Torrance as legitimately “Reformed” thinkers in their ecclesial bodies while they rejected, in the past, a non-negotiable fundamental of Calvinism is a great good for the wider church and an excellent example of a church reforming itself in light of legitimate dogmatic developments (of course, the PCA, OPC, Free C of S, et al. object at precisely this point among others) . I think we can find an analogous situation in the Roman Catholic Church in relation to the doctrine of Limbo. The 20th century revival in Catholic dogmatics (in both its transcendental Thomist and Ressourcement forms) and exegesis has committed the Catholic Church to a greater engagement with the sources and grounds for Church dogmas. Thanks to the work of Henri de Lubac among others, Limbo has been determined as a theological speculation, allowable within Catholic thinking but believed by most to be based upon faulty theological premises (namely, the range of God’s [extra]sacramental operation and the beatitude of man apart from God). I could go into it in more detail (and perhaps in the future) but I must finish. So, in close, granted that the methods necessarily differ between Reformed and Catholic dogmatics (including the range of reform), I find the cases of Limited Atonement and Limbo to be heartening examples of the two churches re-evaluating their teachings in light of a renewed commitment to thinking within the Trinitarian revealing of God and offering correctives to past speaking about God as determined by that Revelation.