Treasures and Trials of Eastern Orthodoxy

abraham_webInteresting and helpful reflections on Eastern Orthodoxy by Bill Abraham (by Dylan Pahman).

William J. Abraham: The Treasures and Trials of Eastern Orthodoxy
Last night I attended an engaging lecture at Calvin College by Dr. William Abraham of the Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology. Abraham, whose religious background is Irish Methodist and who is now a minister in the United Methodist Church and the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins, gave a presentation titled, “The Treasures and Trials of Eastern Orthodoxy.” As someone who…

5 comments on “Treasures and Trials of Eastern Orthodoxy

  1. Wow…. Number four really helped clarify some matters for me personally. Thanks for posting this time.


  2. Jeff says:

    I think number 4 is the root of all the “trials” Abraham sees. Once you deny so much of God that there is no concept of God left, you can’t explain anything about our experience in terms of God.I think the problem is that they fear that if you define God where God explains something about our experience intelligibly, you have to then embrace polytheism to say both the Father and the Son are fully divine.

    First, I’ve heard other negative theologians insist that God transcends number such that mono-and poly-theism are not intelligibly distinquishable. And it’s not clear how any anti- onto-theological approach can elude that problem.

    Second, it doesn’t follow that divinity per se has to imply that the Father and Son are absolutely identical in attributes unless divine attributes have to be defined VERY specifically as opposed to something as minimal as necessary beings that serve as necessary and sufficient conditions of the existence of all contingent beings. But the anti- onto-theology “theologians” seem to insist that God is not a being/substance of any kind whatsoever, rendering the divine void of all attributes unless they can once and for all explain WHAT they’re attributing anything TO other than a substance/being. Indeed, what sense does it make to say a non-being exists necessarily seeing’s how existing necessarily IS a species of existing? And to exist is to BE. And it’s beings/substances that can be said to BE.

    Third, I’ve never heard a knock-out philosophical or scriptural argument that the Son IS divine in the exact same sense as the Father is in the first place, unless of course divinity per se is merely the necessarily existing conditions of the contingent.

    Indeed, what pre-incarnation Israelite would have taken the prophecy (Isaiah 9:6) that the Messiah would be “called” Mighty God to mean that the Messiah would have the exact same attributes as the God that they had theretofore conceived of? And if not, why do we think we are compelled to? Is it not obvious that there is a reason why only the Father is called the ONE God in the New Testament? And that only the Father is referred to as “God” with the definite article? Can’t the reason be that they aren’t G-O-D in the exact same sense? If not, WHY not? Because a vote was taken in an ancient council to the contrary, with no signs and wonders to confirm it? Seriously?

    I can’t see how Abraham seriously thinks any of this has anything to do with epistemology and moral theory. Theories are understood in terms of concepts that are categorically understood to be related in ways that condition the intelligibility of the proposition and deduction/induction. The anti- onto-theology “theologians” completely sever “G-O-D” from any discernible relationships to those concepts and, hence, conventional language.


    • Jeff says:

      The other part of 4 that is confusing is this portion:

      “In theology, the Orthodox hold together a twofold emphasis on the kataphatic and apophatic methods (known as the via positiva and via negativa in the West). That is, after one has said all that can be said about God, the proper response is a silence in which “language will not work” anymore to describe the indescribable being of God.”

      Now, there’s two senses in which God can be said to be describable. First, God may be so beyond human prehension that we can’t accurately attribute any humanly-conceivable property to God at all. If this is the case, we might as well scratch “G-O-D” from the human vocabulary since it has zero meaning. And, therefore, “G-O-D” has no relevance to philosophy whatsoever, if indeed it’s possible to account for warranted belief without the divine in the first place such that even philosophy can be known to exist.

      Second, it may be impossible for humans to accurately describe God exhaustively. I think this is not only obviously true, but I think it’s obviously true of every being that exists. So I don’t see what relevance it has to anything worth talking about. Indeed, who DOES claim God can accurately be exhaustively defined? I’ve never met such a person.


      • Jeff says:

        Correction: ” …there’s two senses in which God can be said to be describable” should have been “… there’s two senses in which God can be said to be INdescribable.”

        There’s one other point that is worth noting in this context. Multiple anti- onto-theology “theologians” have made the claim to the effect that if God is a being, then God is merely a “bigger” version of other beings. But that doesn’t follow at all. You would need another premise to get that conclusion. Beings are what we attribute properties TO. But I’ve never met even ONE person who thinks all beings have the same set of properties with only differences in degrees of those properties. As, e.g., more perfect in a property, greater quantitatively in a given property, etc.

        Indeed, show me a substance dualist who can even make sense of “how big” a spirit is or how great its volume is. Show me a substance dualist who can explain how a spirit can even have the attribute of 3-D extension and be distinguishable from matter by that property alone. Show me the theist who can account for human knowledge and divine knowledge by a similar, but varied in degree, MODE of prehension.

        These claims by the anti- onto-theology “theologians” are denials of our obvious ability to make the very distinctions that they claim can’t be made by humans.


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