Moore Christology

TC1Fellow open theist blogger TC Moore is a couple of posts into a series in which he explores a Christology that proposes to be “open, unitive and liberative.” Open in that it is compatible with open theism. Unitive in that it does not divide the person of the Son in Nestorian fashion. Liberative in that it “honor[s] the alienated, the dispossessed and the oppressed.” Exciting stuff. There are several topics mentioned in the course of his presentation which one could profitably follow up on, each interesting in its own right—the eucharist, the identity of a ‘Christo-centric hermeneutic’, the early Christian belief in divine apatheia (including whether and how early Christians retooled philosophical concepts of the day in expressing their faith), and of course Nestorius. We’re particularly interested in these last two, i.e., (a) how TC understands apatheia as it relates to the controversy that shapes up between Cyril and Nestorius and (b) what TC thinks qualifies a Christology as “unitive” or “disjunctive,” because we’re still unsure on this.

Protecting open theism from apatheia
If we’re following him correctly, TC sets out to construct his Christology by exposing, among other things, Christological heresies, particularly to “confront the re-emergence of a very old heresy called Nestorianism,” whose modern expression he labels “Neo-Nestorianism” and which emerges today, he explains, as “a renewed effort to disjoin the divinity and humanity of Christ by well-meaning but nevertheless confused believers.” TC doesn’t identify these Neo-Nestorians or reference any of their published claims or arguments.

TC is also concerned to protect open theists against “some who have at one time identified with Open theism” but who “are now returning to the classical theism of tradition the way a dog returns to its vomit.” These same persons are also “re-infected by the virus” (of classical theism) and are “attempting to infect others.” He hopes “to prevent any further recapitulation [sic] from other Open theists.” What remains missing here is any mention of the explicit claims or arguments made by these Neo-Nestorians. What have they actually said that ‘disjoins’ the divinity and humanity of Christ? May the rest of us investigate their arguments as well?

What’s behind Neo-Nestorianism? The same thing, TC says, that motivated Nestorius to “concoct his disjunctive Christology” in the first place — belief in the impassibility (apatheia) of God. Here we have our culprit, the virus incarnate, the vomit to which the dogs are returning.

Without any reference to the identity or actual claims of these Neo-Nestorians, though, we can only engage generally. Careful readers here will know the lengths to which we have gone, in attempting to bring open theism and Orthodoxy into conversation, to state our disagreements with classical theism (over things like understanding God as actus purus and divine temporality among other things) and to express our understanding of apatheia not in terms of an absolute and unqualified immutability, but in terms of Boyd’s Trinity & Process as God’s “unsurpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction.”

seeminglyChristNestorius & Nestorianism
On to Nestorius. Just what was his error (to whatever degree Nestorius actually was ‘Nestorian’)? Perry Robinson has a great summation of the main points of McGuckin’s book here. Briefer summaries of complex debates are risky, but Young has a nice brief overview as well. She writes:

“[Nestorius] was certainly not very adept at making [his] point clearly. He inherited the Antiochene terminology and he was not altogether able to discard their very concrete ways of thinking. Thus he found it impossible to reserve the term ‘prosopon’ [‘person’] for the union; he could not avoid talk of a human ‘prosopon’ and a divine ‘prosopon’. Thus each nature had its own ‘prosopon’ and the two natures remain personalized to the extent that his opponents were not altogether unfair in accusing him of teaching a ‘double Christ’, two persons acting independently. Nestorius himself speaks of them as ‘self-sustaining’….”

The difficulty in establishing Nestorius’ actual views is of course the destruction of his works ordered upon his condemnation in Ephesus (AD 431). Only fragments of his writings survived. In his exile however, Nestorius composed an apology of his beliefs under a pseudonym (Heracleides of Damas) and published what has survived to today as The Bazaar of Heracleides, translations of which appeared a century ago. Some scholars interpret the work as a vindication not of the view we’ve come to know as ‘Nestorianism’ per se, but of Nestorius himself on the grounds that the views expressed in this work are orthodox. Others disagree. You can find the work (with introduction) online in English here. It’s very repetitious, but nine denials and assertions are at the heart of his apology, all of which seem perfectly orthodox with the exception of No. 8 which asserts that “the principle of the union is to be found in the prosopa of the godhead and the manhood; these two prosopa coalesce in one prosopon of Christ incarnate.” If the work is genuine and it reflects views Nestorius held throughout the controversy and not adjustments he made after Ephesus, then one can agree that Nestorius’ Christology ends up with a single subject though it begins with two, which is still a problem. Christ is the union of the prosopon of the Logos and the prosopon of the Son of Mary, the prosopon of each being taken by the other so that the two prosopa unite as a single prosopon.

Transfiguration_by_Feofan_Grek_from_Spaso-Preobrazhensky_Cathedral_in_Pereslavl-Zalessky_(15th_c,_Tretyakov_gallery)Cyril’s Unitive Christology
The Bazaar aside, if we understand “Nestorianism” in light of that Christology (Cyrilline) the Church affirmed in condemning Nestorius, then what is condemned are two-subject Christologies. Nestorius could not make the Logos directly the subject of incarnation, suffering and death, and this was exactly what Cyril did (cf. Cyril’s twelfth anathema). That said, an encouraging point of agreement with TC is that he grants that Cyril’s Christology is ‘unitive’:

“Cyril’s view (the view which the Church went with over Nestorius—whose view they condemned btw) was *UNITIVE* as opposed to Nestorius’s *DISJUNCTIVE* Christology. That is why Cyril’s view cannot be rightly considered ‘Neo-Nestorianism’. Only a Disjunctive Christology can be considered Nestorian.”

We couldn’t agree more. Dwayne and I, after all, are Cyrilline. What’s puzzling about TC’s agreement on Cyril (as far as his claim that belief in divine impassibility was behind Nestorius’ Christology being ‘disjunctive’) is the fact that Cyril was as uncompromising as Nestorius in believing in the impassibility of the divine nature. (And, incidentally, though Kenoticism wouldn’t exist for another fourteen centuries, neither Cyril nor Nestorius was a kenoticist either.) One is left wondering how belief in the impassibility of the divine nature renders Nestorius’ Christology ‘disjunctive’ but leaves Cyril’s ‘unitive’.

Regarding Cyril’s Christology, Young summarizes:

“Certain phrases and arguments keep on recurring: the appeal to the title ‘Emmanuel’—God with us; to the Nicene Creed; to Paul’s account of the incarnation in Philippians 2. Mary must be called Theotokos, since she gave birth to ‘God made man and enfleshed’. There is one Son, one Lord Jesus Christ, both before and after the ‘enfleshment’. There is not one Son who is the Logos of God the Father and another who is from the holy virgin. The Logos who is before the ages is said to be born from her according to the flesh. The flesh is his own, just as each one of us has his own body. Cyril insists on an ‘exact union’. These phrase come from the First Letter to Succensus…Anticipating the usual criticisms, he goes on to say in this letter that this doctrine does not imply ‘confusion’ or ‘mixture’ of the Word, nor transformation of the body into the nature of the Godhead; what he intends to say is that ‘inconceivably and in a way that is inexpressible, he united to himself a body ensouled with a rational soul’. He bore the likeness of a servant while remaining what he was.”

Let’s allow Cyril to speak for himself. From his Third Letter to Nestorius:

“This means that he [the Word] took flesh from the holy virgin and made it his own, undergoing a birth like ours from her womb and coming forth a man from a woman; [and] he did not cast aside what he was, but although he assumed flesh and blood, he remained what he was, God in nature and truth. And we do not say that his flesh was turned into the nature of the godhead nor that the unspeakable Word of God was changed into the nature of the flesh. For he, the Word, is unalterable and absolutely unchangeable and remains always the same as the Scriptures say. For although visible as a child and in swaddling clothes, even while he was in the bosom of the virgin that bore him, as God he filled the whole of creation and was fellow ruler with him who begot him. For the divine [nature] is without quantity and dimension and cannot be subject to circumscription….”

The Son, the Father’s own image and Logos, both fills and sustains creation unceasingly and takes the human journey from conception in Mary’s womb onward—one and the same subject of a fully divine experience and a fully human experience. The subject is the same. The experiences or natures are not, however, co-extensive.

What we’re interested in understanding from TC is (a) If belief in divine apatheia renders Nestorius’ Christology disjunctive, how does it leave Cyril’s unitive since Cyril also affirmed apatheia? and (b) What are the relevant actual claims of these Neo-Nestorians that inform TC’s concern? Might the rest of us know? In deference to standard academic integrity, would TC share his sources?

(Pictures here, here, and here.)

Being Young in God’s presence

9781107642782_p0_v1_s260x420Frances Young is Emeritus Professor of University of Birmingham and a Methodist Minister.

Once in a while you pick up a book and know from its first pages you’re entering a conversation destined to change you in deep ways. From Nicaea to Chalcedon (2nd ed. 2010) was my first (apart from a few articles here and there) exposure to Frances Young’s scholarship and thinking. Loved it. Her Face to Face: A Narrative Essay in the Theology of Suffering (1986), in which she shares her journey of faith in caring for a severely disabled son (whose care has continued for some 40 years now). Neither of these works is the book I mean when I talk about knowing you’re picked up one of those ‘game changing’ books. The book I mean is her most recent God’s Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity (which is a much expanded version of her 2011 Bampton Lectures) in which she takes “a stab at a systematic theology which has contemporary coherence but is informed not by the usual dialogue with contemporary philosophers or theologians but rather by engagement with the theology of the early church fathers,” a “conversation in which the interests and anxieties of [her]self and [her] contemporaries influence the selection and reading of past texts, yet allow sometimes strange ideas to contribute to shaping our own understanding.” Sounds a bit dry. But nothing Young writes could be dry.

Reviewing it is some time in the future, but I did want to share a few paragraphs from her introduction—

“Each of the eight chapters might stand alone as an essay on a particular theological topic, yet together they provide a consistent overview of the subject. Recurring motifs shape the over-arching theological perspective.

  • a reading of the Bible as essentially a transformative text, the Creator God being presented in scripture as constantly at work to bring order out of chaos, good out of evil, and inviting human actors into this activity
  • the inadequacy of the ‘Craftsman’ or Demiurge analogy for God’s creativity (with attendant consequences for ‘intelligent design’)
  • the sense of ‘creatureliness’ as a fundamental constituent in theological reasoning in the Christian tradition, as well as in liturgical and ethical responses to life’s giftedness
  • the wisdom of intellectual humility: the limitations of created intelligence, human language and conceptuality — the potential for idolatrous language and conceptuality — the hybris of attempts at theodicy — the privilege of ‘liminal’ experiences and utter weakness as access to the deepest theological insights
  • the apparent will of the transcendent God to accommodate the divine self to the human level, to work through particularities and the constraints of history, paradoxically exercising power through weakness
  • the sacramental perspective which seems to shape and unite the incarnation, the scriptures as Word of God, the eucharist, the church, enabling the discernment of the Creator through the creation, of the Spirit in ordinary, physical dailiness, of God in God’s human image and the human community of the Body of Christ
  • corruption optima pessima — fall and redemption as an over-arching narrative that rings true to the way the world is, with all its ambiguities, and the way human persons experience their innermost selves and actions
  • the inseparability of truth, beauty and goodness
  • true love as without power or possessiveness — apatheia/detachment as essential to love, and the fundamental significance of that for understanding God’s oikonomia, as well as human response to the love commandments in contemplation and action
  • the significance of facing the ‘other’ for theological, ethical and spiritual transformation
  • the ‘otherness’ of God — we know something of God through the divine activities, but not the divine essence — God’s utter transcendence yet universal episcopē — the paradox of God’s concurrent absence and presence
  • the mystery of the Trinity as the all-embracing, overflowing wisdom of divine love.”

Can’t wait.

A forward from the Hart

Our immediately preceding post mentions Encounter Between Eastern Orthodoxy and Radical Orthodoxy. I thought the forward insightful commentary (from one Orthodox theologian) on the relationship between Eastern Orthodox and Radical Orthodoxy. Here’s that forward by David Bentley Hart.

David Bentley Hart

Apart from an obvious and largely accidental homonymy, and perhaps something of a shared tendency towards combativeness, there seems little uniting Eastern Orthodoxy and the Radical Orthodoxy movement. The former is chiefly marked — or so it often seems — by its historically fated conservatism, its broad indifference to any but the Eastern Church Fathers, its diffidence in regard to philosophical schools and debates outside its own tradition, and its at times admirable and at times deplorable insularity; the latter by its frissons of theological and political radicalism, its militantly ‘Latin’ and ‘Augustinian’ approaches to theology, its fascination with everything au courant in the world of continental thought, and its cheerful openness to an endless variety of influences (the unwholesome on some occasions along with the wholesome). More to the point, perhaps, the former is an ancient Church, comprising (at least, on optimistic traditions and memories, while the latter is a theological movement of recent vintage, the adherents of which can be number (at most) in the hundreds and the purpose of which is to influence the development of speculative theology in all Christian communions. It is, needless to say, difficult fruitfully to compare creatures of such disparate species.
     That said, there is — it seems to me — a natural affinity between the two, and a sphere of interests common to them. Both are, if nothing else, expressions of a single metaphysical and theological traditions. One is a more organic, continuous, ramifying, and floriferous expression, with all the strengths and weaknesses of any purely natural phenomenon, and the other a more reflective and critical expression, nurtured under the conservatory conditions of the academy, with all the security and fragility that entails. But both subsist in an element of what should be described — honestly and proudly — as the Christian Platonist tradition. (Some among the Orthodox take exception to this designation, principally because it is so obviously correct, but it is a fact that Orthodoxy is never more Platonist than when denouncing ‘Platonism’). Everything the Orthodox treasure in the eastern patristic tradition — its emphasis upon the metaphysics of participation, the deification of the creature in Christ, the ascent of the soul to the vision of God, the spiritual reality of the divine image in the soul, the mystical co-inherence of the Body of Christ, and the real will of God to save all human beings, as well as its salutary ignorance of any real partition, conceptual or ontological, between nature and grace — constitutes the native atmosphere in which Radical Orthodoxy has evolved. Even the latter’s ‘Augustinianism’ is devoid of any of those special features of the late Augustine’s catastrophic misreading of Paul that are so profoundly distasteful to Eastern Christians: the doctrine of predilective predestination ante praevisa merita, the morbidly forensic understanding of original sin, the thrashing legions of unbaptized babies descending to their perpetual and condign combustion, and so on. The radically orthodox Augustine is the saner, more Platonist soul of the earlier theology, rather than the author of De correptione, the Retractiones, and the Enchiridion.
     All of that, however, amounts to little more than saying that Eastern Orthodox tradition and the theology of Radical Orthodoxy reflect many of the same broad currents of Catholic tradition. The more crucial rationale, though, for the sort of serious engagement between the two parties this volume represents is that they are already involved in a sort of tacit alliance against a single enemy. Each is, in its distinctive way, a kind of evasion of or rebellion against modernity. Granted, in the case of the Orthodox Church, the ‘evasion’ has been more a matter of omission and of historical circumstance than of a conscious resistance to the pathologies of modern thought and culture, and so the ‘rebellion’ sometimes degenerates into a depressingly imprecise hostility towards ‘the West’ as a whole. And granted, also, in the case of Radical Orthodoxy, both the evasion and the rebellion at times seem almost utopian in their abstraction from the concrete particularities of communities and nations and ecclesial traditions. But, in both cases, one encounters an ethos naturally antagonistic to post-Christian understandings of the self, of freedom, and of society, and to the dehumanizing and ultimately nihilistic consequences towards which they lead. And, in both cases also, one encounters an awareness that the most destructive forces within modernity were in some sense incubated within theology (though again, in the case of some Eastern Christians, this awareness is sometimes diffused into a more general, and somewhat vacuous, distrust of ‘Latin’ theology as a whole.
     It is a commonplace (though, happily, a sound one) to observe that much of the modern vision of reality — the ‘mechanical philosophy’, the reduction of the concept of freedom to that of pure spontaneity of will, the politics of the absolutist state, and so on — was to some extent obscurely born in the late mediaeval collapse of the Christian metaphysical tradition as it had developed over more than a millennium and especially in the rise of nominalism and voluntarism. The original impulse guiding these developments, of course, was a desire upon the part of certain theologians to affirm as radically as possible the sovereign transcendence of God; but the image of God thus produced — as hardly needs to be said — was ultimately of a super-rational and even super-moral God, whose divinity consisted entirely in the omnipotence and arbitrariness of his will, and who was not truly transcendent of his creation, but merely the supreme power within it. In detaching God’s freedom from God’s nature as Goodness, Truth, and Charity — as this theology necessarily, if not always intentionally did — Christian thought laid the foundations for many of those later revolutions in philosophy and morality that would help to produce the post-Christian order. It was inevitable after all, that the object of the voluntarist model of freedom would migrate from the divine to the human will, and that a world evacuated of its ontological continuity with God’s goodness would ultimately find no place for God within itself. And, in early modernity, when the new God of infinite and absolute will had to a very great degree displaced the true God from men’s minds, the new technology of print assured that all Christians would make the acquaintance of this impostor, and through him come to understand true liberty as a personal sovereignty transcending even the dictates and constraints of nature.
     Moreover — more crucially — the God thus produced was monstrous: an abyss of pure, predestining omnipotence, whose majesty was revealed at once in his unmerited mercy towards the elect and his righteous wrath against the derelict. And he was to be found in the theologies of almost every school: not only Jansenism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism, but also the theology of the Dominican Thomists, such as Bañez and Alvarez (though the Dominicans, through their superior faculty for specious reasoning, did a better job of convincing themselves that their God as a good God). That modern Western humanity came in large measure to refuse to believe in or worship such a God was ineluctable, and in some sense extremely commendable (no one, after all, can be faulted for preferring atheism to Calvinism or the old ‘two-tiered’ Thomism).
     In any event, these are old arguments and there is no need to rehearse them here. All I wish to point out is that Eastern Orthodoxy — and Radical Orthodoxy — through its rejection and abhorrence of them — are already in some way bound together in a single destiny; and, as the community of believing European Christians continues to dwindle away (as it certainly will, far into the foreseeable future), then should not hesitate to lend their strengths each to the other, and to mend their own infirmities thereby. What such an interaction might produce is difficult to say, but one might venture a few guesses. Perhaps certain Eastern Orthodox theologians might be moved to reconsider the Eastern hostility towards Augustine that has become such a vogue among the Orthodox in the past five decades, and that has made many of them insensible to the brilliance even of works such as De Trinitate, and that continues to produce offensively silly caricatures of Augustine’s theology in Orthodox scholarship. Perhaps, by the same token, certain of the radically orthodox could be weaned from their preposterous refusal to acknowledge that Augustine’s late theology of nature and grace, sin and election, must be accounted the chief cause within the Latin tradition of that tradition’s susceptibility to the appeal of voluntarism. Some Eastern theologians might be emboldened partly to abandon the Neo-Palamite theology that has become so dominant in their Church since the middle of the last century, and frankly acknowledge its incoherence, and come to recognize that in many ways Augustine or Thomas was closer to the Greek Fathers in his understanding of divine transcendence than was Palamas (at least, Palamas as he has come to be understood); these theologians might even feel freer to avail themselves of many of the riches of their own traditions that have been forgotten as a result of the triumph of the Neo-Palamite synthesis. And perhaps some of the radically orthodox, taking the example of modern Eastern theology more to heart, might learn better to integrate the mystical and spiritual dimensions of the faith into their expositions of doctrine and into their theological speculations. Most importantly, perhaps, the Eastern Orthodox might be reminded by their encounters with Radical Orthodoxy that a true defiance of the more nihilistic currents of modernity should take the form not simply of a retreat into liturgical and spiritual traditions, but of a social and political philosophy as well. And perhaps the radically orthodox might profit from an exposure to the sheer obduracy of Eastern Christianity — the effect of decades and centuries of misfortune and oppression — and learn to fortify themselves against the almost certain failure of their project as a social and political force.
     One could go on, of course, but the endless addition of one ‘perhaps’ to another leads nowhere, except in the direction of an ever more random association of ideas. Suffice it to say that the time is ripe for a collection of this sort and–both for the conversation it comprises and for the further conversations it portends — this book is a worthy object of celebration.