The bridge to nowhere?

bridge-to-nowhereYes, to nowhere – but just for three days. What?

“If without the Son no one can see the Father (John 1.18), nor anyone come to the Father (John 14.6), and if, without him, the Father is revealed to nobody (Matthew 11.27), then when the Son, the Word of the Father, is dead, no one can see God, hear of him or attain him. And this day exists, when the Son is dead, and the Father accordingly inaccessible… While the grain of corn is dying, there is nothing to harvest.”

(Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ch 2 “The Hiatus,” in Mysterium Paschale).

Mary quite contrary?

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I just finished a wonderful book, Ecce Homo: On the Divine Unity of Christ, by Aaron Riches. It’s as informed and clear an exposition of Conciliar Christology as you’ll find. I read it on the heels of having finished Timothy Pawl’s equally excellent (but very different in its approach) In Defense of Conciliar Christology. I was with Riches all the way through his project until he expounded a Mariology of co-redemption that caught me by surprise and about which I have grave reservations. I’ll leave the reservations for now and just relay the relevant portions from Riches. Too much of the standard Protestant/Evangelical response to such claims about Mary are knee-jerk reactions that don’t engage the best, most serious attempts to express Mary’s unique status and role. It’s no surprise that Evangelicals are uncomfortable appreciating Mary. They do well talking about Abraham as the “Father” of the faith. They’re not so keen on owning Mary as the “Mother” of the faith.

There are foundational agreements I have with Riches’ treatment of Mary – that the Son has “two nativities,” that Christ’s concrete, human nature is ex Maria (of/from Mary), that her God-given role extends beyond that of being merely a receptacle to incubate and deliver Jesus). Evangelicals could do with some prolonged reflection upon the humanity of Christ ex Maria. And Riches got me reflecting upon the matter, which I appreciate. My reservations have to do with conclusions Riches draws (for example, that Mary not only is the source of Jesus’ human nature, but that she is “constitutive within the experience of mystical encounter with Jesus”) which are neither explicitly conciliar nor follow obviously from conciliar claims. Let me just share the relevant portions of Riches book at this point (from chs 10, “Son of Mary,” and 11 “The Weight of the Cross”) and leave you to reflect on them.

…[Th]e Logos did not assume a human person or the ontological infrastructure of a fully individuated human being, but rather assumed human nature so as to himself constitute the existence of this human being.

Whence this human nature? Whence its concrete inheritance? Here Riches maintains (rightly) that the Logos…

…truly receives his particular human nature ex Maria; indeed he allows his human particularity to be constituted in its specificity by her flesh, by her humanity, by her concrete genealogy and by the history of her people. The Son, in his incarnate nature, is truly a persona composita [a compound personal existence]; he is irreducibly both ex Patre and ex Maria. This is not to say that the Incarnate Son possesses an individuated mode of being discrete from his divine individuality…rather, it is to say that the particularity of Jesus’ human nature is concretely inherited in a way that it cannot be understood solely in reference to his eternal filiation…Just as the divinity of Christ is only knowable in terms of his concrete filiation from the Father…so analogously the Incarnation [Tom: or better, “humanity”] is only specified by the filiation of Jesus from Mary.

Riches describes the derivation of humanity from Mary as occurring within…

…a field of concrete relationality [that is] enabled by the fluid exchange of the Jesus-Mary relation; it begins at the Annunciation, continues through the Incarnation and is re-incarnated in every mystical encounter with Christ, which can only take place within concrete history as an unrepeatable event of the recognition of a genuine ‘other’, a historical figure with a genealogy who cannot be reduced to an abstraction. Thus the “unceasing, fluid exchange with the Theotokos”…is rooted, not only in the fact that Jesus in the Incarnation proceeds ex Maria, but also in the fact that she is constitutive within the experience of mystical encounter with Jesus. The particularity of the human Jesus cannot be thought of or accounted for outside the Jesus-Mary relation because the esse personale [personal nature] of the divine Son is human only to the extent that he receives himself ex Maria.

…the ex Maria procession cannot simply be subsumed within the ex Patre fact of who the Incarnate Son is. The Incarnate Son is persona composite, as Constantinople II designated. This means that the “enhypostatization” of the Son’s Incarnate nature cannot be upheld without a Mariological consequence. There can be no indifference in Christology to the carnal womb and personal being that gives the Logos his humanity.

If the ex Maria filiation of the Incarnate Son so constitutes his secundarium esse [his second, human nature] that she should be understood as playing a metaphysically permanent role in his incarnate persona composita, then Mary, in a sense, supplies not only the fleshly substance that makes Jesus “human,” but also the human infrastructure (education, culture, family, etc.) that forms and essential component of the personality of his human being. Recognizing this helps us to see how Mary, as a figure of the mystical body and its personal guarantor, supplies in herself at the origin a human suppositum and persona that uniquely corresponds with the homo verus of her divine Son. And so Mary is in herself the mystica persona of humanity united to Christ.

Mary thus constitutes…an order of grace that is singular: Jesus is God “by nature,” the saints are gods “by adoptive participation,” while Mary alone is a god “by affinity…[since] the venerable bonds which render her Christ’s Mother touch the very threshold of the divinity.” May is neither deiform by nature nor merely by adoptive participation; she is the Theotokos who encompasses God in her womb…and therefore she is the prototype of adoptive filiation. This means that, on account of her unique relation to the Son at his incarnate source, she is the first and exemplary member of his mystical body and therefore the personal representative of mystical union. In her…mode of being the first and perfect receptacle of the divine grace of her Son, the Church is fully present as co-belonging to the Incarnation. Adoptive participation in Christ is in this way made possible by the adopted daughter of God, since the grace of adoptive filiation dwells in its original plentitude in Mary in order that she may conceive the Son in whom we are predestined to be adopted filii in Filio [‘sons’ in the ‘Son’].

In the following chapter, Riches takes this Mariological metaphysics of Incarnation to the Cross and draws further conclusions:

If the incarnate filiation of ex Maria entails that the Theotokos “plays a permanent role in Christ’s metaphysical constitution qua ‘compound hypostasis’,” it is also the case that as the first and exemplar embodiment of receptivity to the grace of adoptive filiation, she plays a permanent role of co-belonging to the Cross, and so to the concrete content of the Son’s glorification. If Mary is truly the vera persona humana [the truly personal human] correspondent to the verus homo [true humanity] of her divine Son, then we would indeed expect a direct association to exist between her personal being as Theotokos and the personal act of synergistic love she presents at Golgotha. To the same extent that the Incarnation is determined by the Son’s pro nobis [the ‘for us’ orientation of the Incarnation], a “weight” that binds him from the moment of his incarnation in the womb of Mary to the Cross that is the goal of his mission, the union of Mary and Jesus must be realized within this “weight,” and must be perfected in the Pietà of the Virgin of Anguish, bearing in her arms the Crucified Lord. The Virgin is truly the exemplar of adoptive filiation, the first in the order of grace of the Spirit’s adoption of human beings into the communion of adoptive filiation, because her being too is centered on the sacrifice of Calvary.

Because Jesus must divest himself of the forma divina, the Mother must divest herself of the divine maternity in order to remain united with her Son. When the Son empties himself unto death, Mary becomes deprived of her child and of the God to whom she gave flesh. Giving her Son and her God to the Cross, Mary becomes dispossessed of the unique privilege of being “Theotokos.”

For the Mary-Jesus unio to be perfected, the distancing must be every greater…Mary must be stripped of her Son not only by physical death but also by a state of divine abandonment in which she can no longer claim to be the “Mother of God.”

The abandonment of Jesus by the Father on the Cross is…a true dilation of the Trinity insofar as the Crucifixion is understood primarily as an abandonment of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, the vinculum amoris of Father and Son.

Mary’s personal co-being with Jesus exerts, through the Spirit, a via curcis that ensures that the Sacrifice of Calvary will be established in terms of an unceasing, fluid exchange of theandric maior dissimilitudo between the original martyrdom of the Church and the unique Sacrifice of the Son. To this extent, there can be no argument about co-redemption. As a descriptive term of what actually happened on Calvary, it is a fact. The verus homo is the Redeemer, and the Virgin of Nazareth is with him in his unique act of Redemption. The Mother is in communio with her Son at the foot of the Cross: she suffers and sorrows with him; she is united with him in mutual abandonment. All of this entails from her exemplary status, her perfect co-being with the Son in the Spirit and her perfect docility to that same Spirit by which her perfect act of sequela Christi proceeds.

…[Mary] is irreducibly with the Crucified in his solitary act of redemption. But just as his persona does not “add” to his verus homo, so Mary’s co-redemptive role is not a contribution of something otherwise lacking in the Son’s redemptive sacrifice.

Mary’s suffering, then, is both a true participation in the Cross and a contribution of nothing but “adequate response” of the ecclesia immaculata, a response in the Holy Spirit that is itself a grace given in Christ. By the grace that flows backwards from the Cross, Mary gives her own consent, fiat mihi [“Let it be to me”], to that on which God himself waits: the immolation of the sacred victim.

Beata Virgo

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Virgin birth. Orthodox belief. Still held to by conservative Protestants, but abandoned as mythology by many. Even among those who hold to it as a matter of tradition, it’s an artifact of that tradition that may not animate and sustain a living faith. I’ve been recently mulling over this with some friends and thought I would express here my own sense of the importance and necessity of the Virgin Birth.

Two preliminary comments. I don’t view the virgin birth as a means of avoiding original sin. I could be convinced otherwise I suppose, but I don’t think there’s any original sin to avoid. So I don’t go there to explain the need or necessity of the virgin birth. Secondly, Dwayne and I have elsewhere argued the importance of virgin birth to Jesus’ self-understanding and sense of mission. That’s very important, but I’m not addressing that here. But do not underestimate the formative power of Jesus knowing that in an absolutely unprecedented and mysterious manner, his birth and existence are not the result of natural procreative acts. Very literally, his human existence is explainable only as willed by God uniquely and specially. The power of such a belief to shape Jesus’ self-understanding (and his parents’ understanding of who Jesus is) is incalculable, but I’ll not explore it here. Instead I want to try to explain why we think the virgin birth is metaphysically necessary to divine Incarnation. I don’t mean explaining metaphysically ‘how’ the Incarnation occurred. Fat chance. All I want to show is that a natural birth through normal human procreation is in fact incompatible with divine Incarnation.

Why do I suppose the necessity of virgin birth to divine Incarnation? I do so because it’s the only way I see to make sense of a one-subject/two-natures (Chalcedonian) understanding of the God-Man. If we suppose natural procreation (Joseph impregnates Mary), we then have to concede the existence of Jesus’ human nature independent of divine activity or intention, and this is precisely what we want to deny, namely, that the ‘human nature’ of Jesus has any existence independent of the Logos. Conciliar Christology maintains that the human nature of Jesus has existence only insofar as it subsists in the person of the Logos. Jesus’ human nature was thus “enhypostatic,” that is, made concrete only in the Logos. But if we suppose natural procreation, we cannot say Jesus’ human nature exists only by virtue of this unique divine action. On the contrary, if Mary conceives after the natural order of things, Jesus’ birth and life follow as a matter of natural law and the Incarnation is a ‘conjunction’ of two naturally independent realities. But we say the concrete human nature, the human life of Jesus from beginning to end (conception, gestation, birth, life) exists only as it subsists in the Son. It has no explanation for its existence outside God’s personal, intentional willing.  It’s ontologically constituted, made possible at all, in and through the Logos. But if Mary conceives naturally, we have a full and created account of Jesus’ human nature and existence as not uniquely enhypostatized in the Son.

The virgin birth – not mythology.

Memory lane

lib3-3a1I apologize for my absence. New job. Learning curve has me pretty busy. I’ve been reflecting on some previous thoughts regarding the ‘will’, ‘freedom’, issues related to ‘libertarian’ choice, and – no surprise – Incarnation. If such questions interest you, here are a few previous  posts (teasers included) you might enjoy

Creation ex nihilo
“In classical theism, the wonderful truth of ‘divine aseity’ (understood as the fullness of God’s triune life sans creation) thus reduces to mere abstraction. There’s no ‘actual’ God who is ever free ‘in his actuality’ from the determination to create. God doesn’t know what it’s like to be God apart from having determined to create. We think this is bad news precisely because it offers us a God who has no experience of being actually free and infinitely full apart from us.”

God’s creative options
“God either creates to bring all he creates to fulfillment in/through Incarnation, or he doesn’t create at all. All other varieties and created distinctions don’t constitute a range of options God chooses between. They are all potentialities inherent in the capacities and dispositions God breathes into his one determination to create for Incarnation. It should then be impossible not just to speak of this creation apart from Incarnation/Christology, but to speak of God’s creating at all apart from the intention to incarnate. Indeed, I’m suggesting that all possibilities for creation derive from and return to the one possibility of Incarnation.”

God wills our improvisation
“God’s will in sustaining creation as such embraces created improvisation on our part, which means—I’m afraid to utter it—the divine will (viz., logoi) is given to us to improvise upon. I mean, if you want to retain mystery, there you are. The endless possibilities are God’s, their final arrangement is ours. But if this is his will, then it seems to me that the mode of God’s knowing creation would reflect the mode of his willing; that is, God would know the improvisational form which divine logoi finally take in us as a knowledge of form ‘apprehended’ or ‘received’ and not only a knowledge of created being as ‘given’. What the world gives to God is what it gives back to God in improvisation upon and within the grace of being.”

God at the improv
“…so God gives himself (as divine logoi) without reservation to the free determination of created others — viz., God gives himself to be improvised upon. And there’s really no way the trajectories which the world actually ends up taking (this route as opposed to that route) can be eternally known even if the scope of all possible trajectories derives from and is known to God. That actual trajectory is the creature’s discrimination among possibilities, something over and above the possibilities themselves.”

Freedom as creative liberty among loving options
“Would spontaneity in this situation be a violation of freedom if the motivation remains love throughout? What else would a perfected creative liberty be but a certain species of playful spontaneity if God’s will for us terminates in a scope of beautiful possibilities and our truest freedom amounts to a creative choice among them? It seems to me that if our perfected wills can creatively express themselves in this sense, then spontaneity per se would be a fulfillment, not a violation, of our truest freedom.”

Incarnation or nothing at all
“…theologians feel themselves forced to give an account of the faith in terms of innumerable ‘logically’ possible worlds, worlds the possibility of which have to be accounted for theologically so long as they generate no logical contradiction (strictly speaking) but which are unthinkable Christologically.”

Get thee behind me Satan, I think.

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Back in the early 2000s, Greg Boyd and some friends (myself included) discussed the peccability/impeccability of Jesus, that is, whether Jesus was genuinely capable of sin (peccable = vulnerable to or capable of choosing sinfully; impeccable = not capable of choosing sinfully). It’s a question all Christians get around to eventually. Greg argued for the impeccability of the God-Man. His reasons were pretty straightforward:

Jesus is God.
God can’t sin.
Therefore Jesus can’t sin.

Years later in response to Dwayne and me, Greg clarified his Christology regarding Chalcedon (ReKnew, Jan/2014) and said that in becoming flesh, God sets aside the exercise of any divine attribute that contradicts what it means to be ‘human’ (‘omnipresence’, ‘omniscience’, and ‘omnipotence’ didn’t make the cut). But Greg argued passionately that God cannot set aside his perfect, loving, character; thus the impeccability of Jesus. Indeed, for Greg the one thing (actually the only thing) that makes Jesus divine is his perfectly loving character. For Greg, there’s no divinity apart from this essential benevolence and full divinity wherever you have it (whatever else you might not have).

However, to take the human journey does entail, Greg agreed, being capable of experiencing temptation. Greg leaned on the familiar passages in Hebrews which make it clear that Jesus suffered temptation. So in the end Greg’s position was the Jesus was not peccable, i.e., he could not sin, but he could and did genuinely suffer temptation to sin. To clarify, I’m just narrating the flow of an old conversation here. I’m not engaging Greg’s Christology at this point. Maybe I’ll weigh in on the question later. But for now I just want to reflect on Greg’s logic.

Greg was pressed to explain his commitment to Jesus’ impeccable character and goodness, and thus his inability to choose sinfully, on the one hand, and the reality of his temptations, on the other. After all, James 1 makes it clear that God’s impeccability precludes the capacity to be tempted. And if God cannot be tempted to do evil, he cannot do evil. And yet Hebrews makes it clear that the God-Man was tempted.

Greg eventually offered the following solution: Jesus was in fact incapable of choosing sin (impeccable), but he didn’t know this. Jesus was ignorant of his impeccability. He mistakenly believed himself capable of sinning. And being unaware of his impeccability was enough, Greg argued, to produce the required feeling of being drawn toward sin or, as temptationwe say, tempted. Even if Jesus could not in fact have followed through in choosing to sin, his ignorance of this fact permitted in him all the psychological aspects of temptation required to (a) fulfill an essential aspect of human being, and so (b) provide us the comfort, encouragement and inspiration we require as Hebrews 4 describes.

I’m not interested in agreeing or disagreeing at this point. I only want to show how Greg’s Christological move here is inconsistent with his kenotic view of the Incarnation and, more specifically, his objection to Chalcedonian Christology on the basis that it essentially makes Jesus’ suffering on the Cross a charade.

First, if it’s true that Jesus only thinks he’s capable of sinning when he’s not, as Greg holds, then clearly Greg doesn’t think Jesus’ false belief in his own peccability disqualifies his experience as genuine temptation. His temptations are no charade given his impeccability. This is similar to how an Orthodox person might make sense of a Chalcedonian view of Jesus’ sufferings on the Cross.

With respect to Christ’s suffering on the Cross as the God-Man, Greg argues that it is not enough for Jesus’ human subjectivity to suffer while the divine nature suffers not. With respect to Christ’s suffering temptations as the God-Man, however, Greg holds to the imperturbability of the divine nature with respect to its essential goodness. Jesus is impeccable and cannot sin, so his experience of temptation is grounded in his ignorance regarding his divine nature.

So in relating Christ’s humanity and divinity to each other relative to his genuine temptations, on the one hand, and his actual impeccability, on the other, Greg stands in the same challenging place that an Orthodox believer stands in relating Christ’s humanity and divinity to each other relative to God’s essential, unbroken triune beatitude, on the one hand, and the integrity of his being tempted, on the other.

Second, if a human nature can be created impeccable, incapable of sinning (as was Jesus on Greg’s account) without sacrificing the reality of temptation required to qualify Jesus as a true and representative champion of the human journey, then why wouldn’t God have created us all like that? If God can give a human nature perfect benevolence without jeopardizing the genuineness of those struggles and temptations necessary to human spiritual development and personal becoming, why would a benevolent God not give us all this immunity? If one can be truly tempted and develop as a human being without risking sinful choosing, why aren’t we all impeccable from the get-go? (I have my own answers to these questions. I’m asking them of Greg’s position.)

Third, if Greg’s argument against Chalcedon stands, namely, if it’s not enough for Jesus to suffer in his human nature on the Cross but not in his divine nature since that would make his suffering a charade, then the same logic should apply to Greg’s construal of Jesus’ suffering temptation while being impeccable. Jesus’ temptations then would be a charade if in fact he was incapable of sin given his divine nature (to say nothing of the fact that James 1 not only makes ‘willing sinfully’ an impossibility for the divine nature, but also ‘being tempted’ at all). And if the charade Greg thinks is involved in Chalcedonian Christology empties Jesus’ life of its existential import for us, then so would his account of Jesus’ temptations fail for the same reason. If Greg’s claim is true that the integrity of Jesus’ temptations is not jeopardized by Jesus’ being nevertheless incapable of sin, then why cannot other types of human suffering (not just suffering temptation) be attributed to the God-Man without effecting change in the divine nature?

Incarnation or nothing at all

godman“What could possibly be the point of a created universe entirely plunged in the darkness of unconsciousness, unable to know or appreciate that it is there at all?…The person is ultimately the key to why there is anything and not rather nothing.”
(W. Norris Clarke)

Clarke was a Catholic. Great mind. Loved engaging Hartshorne. Good banter back and forth. Here Clarke sees clearly that hypostatic-personal existence is the only consistently (Christian) theistic way to conceive of God’s purpose in any possible created order. The idea that God could have created any number of created orders, even some with no sentient beings at all, is complete, theological nonsense in light of Christology.

I wonder if ‘logic’ has been so divorced from theological conviction that theologians feel themselves forced to give an account of the faith in terms of innumerable ‘logically’ possible worlds, worlds the possibility of which have to be accounted for theologically so long as they generate no logical contradiction (strictly speaking) but which are unthinkable Christologically. This commits the Church to having to accommodate and understand herself in terms of possibilities which, Christologically speaking, are no possibilities at all, which can only undermine the Church’s vision of her identity and mission. My point is, the purpose of any creation, Christianly conceived, is “God all in all.” No creation could be intended for any other end, and that end is inconceivable apart from Incarnation.

Moore misunderstanding

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I need to follow up on my previous clarification of Chalcedon. In that post I responded to TC Moore’s use of a 2012 blog post by Robin Phillips in which Robin expressed his reasons for leaving Calvinism in terms of problems he believed Calvinists have affirming the synergy of divine and human wills (entailed in the Sixth Ecumenical Council). Robin unpacks this in relationship to comments of Calvinist R. C. Sproul. But none of Robin’s criticisms of Sproul apply to Dwayne and me. TC remains unconvinced however, and insists that Dwayne and I are every bit as guilty as Robin believed R. C. Sproul was of denying the Sixth Ecumenical Council’s conclusion regarding Christ’s ‘two wills’, and more importantly (and very strangely), of denying the—hold on folks—passibilism of the divine nature which TC believes is established by the Sixth Ecumenical Council as well as by other Orthodox Fathers (like Maximus and Cyril of Alexandria).

In his latest post on this, TC returns to accusing Dwayne and me of Nestorianism because we limit the sufferings of the person of the Son to his human nature. He supposes this to be a resurrected version of Nestorius’ heresy. In addition, Dwayne and I “lust for the exotic faith of the Eastern church,” a lust which has “degenerated into self-righteous doctrinal certitude” and an “arrogance that has left [us] blind to [our] radically unfaithful views of Jesus’s life and work.” In the end, the God we worship is no longer “God” but merely “[our] god.” Previously, TC has described us as “returning to the classical theism of tradition the way a dog returns to its vomit,” having been “re-infected by the virus” (of classical theism) and of “attempting to infect others.”

We’ve addressed all this before and the ridiculous nature of TC’s accusations are on record. If you doubt our Christology on these points, ask any Orthodox. TC simply is not interested in understanding what we believe or why we believe it and how we distinguish ourselves from “classical” theism. He just knows that Dwayne and I don’t agree that God is ad intra rent asunder and reduced to agony by the sufferings of the Cross and that this must mean (a) we are no longer admissibly ‘open theists’ and (b) we are Nestorian heretics because holds the Son to have suffered only in his humanity and not in his divinity. (Hint: Even Cyril and the entire assembly of bishops at 431 AD who condemned Nestorius all agreed Christ suffered in his humane nature and not in his divine nature.)

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I wish I was making this up. TC understands Orthodox Christology so poorly he’s essentially written himself out of the conversation. In believing in God’s essential abiding, undiminished beatitude we have abandoned “open theism” and embraced “classical theism.” But if he thinks Dwayne and I are classical theists, then he doesn’t understand classical theism. In the end, I don’t think TC can be taken seriously in this conversation at all. For conscientious thinkers who are interested, Dwayne and I have never suggested that Jesus’ sufferings are merely his human nature suffering independently of his person. Of course the ‘person’ of the eternal Logos suffers on the Cross. I can only guess that for TC that this ‘person’ suffers must mean both ‘natures’ suffer since both ‘natures’ are united in the one ‘person’, i.e., whatever the ‘person’ suffers, both ‘natures’ suffer. But while it’s true that no ‘person’ suffers apart from ‘nature’, and no ‘nature’ suffers apart from its ‘person’, it doesn’t follow that a person with two natures cannot have experiences unique to a single of his natures.

As for the Sixth Ecumenical Council and Maximus (which Robin draws on), does TC really believe that the Orthodox gathered at these councils were passibilists with respect to the divine nature? Does TC think Maximus believed the divine ‘nature’ suffers? One can disagree with the Orthodox positions, sure. But at least state them accurately. Synergy of wills? Of course, yes. But attributing to the divine nature the sufferings of the human nature because both natures are the natures of a single person? Neither the Sixth Ecumenical Council nor Maximus, nor any Orthodox Father does that.

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NB This will be our final response of any kind to TC on any subject. We have a history with TC and have been friends. For that reason, as well as wanting to clarify for interested readers the orthodoxy of our position on this, I’ve posted these comments. But this will bring our engagement with TC here to an end.