David Bentley Hart on Trinitarian Being

In Hart’s final section on the Trinity before turning his attention to the doctine of creation (The Beauty of the Infinite), the author unfolds his trinitarian ontology proper. Along the way he takes up several significant conversation partners including Heidegger , Caputo, Scharlemann, Barth, and Jean-Luc Marion.

James’ Quote and Commentary

Against Karl Barth, Hart defends the analogia entis (analogy of being) as the only way to maintain God’s true transcendence:

To state the matter simply, the analogy of being does not analogize God and creatures under the more general category of being, but is the analogization of being in the difference between God and creatures; it is as subversive of the notion of a general and univocal category of being as of the equally “totalizing” notion of ontological equivocity, and thus belongs to neither pole of the dialectic intrinsic to metaphysical totality: the savage equivalence of univocity and equivocity, Apollo and Dionysus, pure identity and pure difference (neither of which can open a vantage upon being in its transcendence).

For precisely this reason, the analogia entis is quite incompatible with any naive “natural theology”: if being is univocal, then a direct analogy from essences to “God” (as the supreme substance) is conceivale, but if the primary analogy is one of being, then an infinite analogical interval has been introduced between God and creatures, even as it is affirmed that God is truly declared in creation (for God is, again, infinitely determinate and is himself the distance – the act of distance – of the analogical interval). Thus, the analogia entis renders any simple “essentialist” analogy impossible.

I’m just going to let this stand and invite any defenders of Barth to state their protest.

Kent’s Quote and ‘Commentary’

In light of the birth of our second child this week, I will simply leave you with a quote that points ahead to Hart’s theology of creation:

For a trinitarian theology, Continue reading

David Bentley Hart on Trinitarian Infinity

This, the third post in our series on David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite, brings us to the heart of Hart’s…proposal, the beauty of divine infinity. Again, Kent and I invite your comments and corrections.

Before we proceed, however, we should note that Halden has attempted to locate the difference between Hart and Robert Jenson: the former is protological in orientation whereas the latter, eschatological.

James’ Quote and Commentary

Hart has been developing a trinitarian and therefore dynamic ontology in dialogue with and dependence upon Gregory of Nyssa. Here, he makes the most use of the youngest Cappadocian to the point where his argument is largely an interpretation and recommendation of Gregory’s.

Hart attempts a positive account of divine infinity. It is important to note that this often results in describing divine infinity somewhat indirectly, that is, by explaining how finite creatures are sanctified and deified. Specifically, he examines the relationship between human desire for the beautiful and the infinity of God:

Creation’s “series,” its [akolouthia] (vide infra), is at an infinite distance from the “order” and “succession” of the divine taxis, but that distance is born of God’s boundlessness: the Trinity’s perfect act of difference also opens the possibility of the “ontico-ontological difference,” as the space of the gift of analogous being, imparted to contingent beings who, then, receive this gift as the movement of an ontic deferral. Continue reading

D.B. Hart on Divine Difference & Perfection

There are likely no deeper theological waters in which to swim than those of trinitarian doctrine. Here, theology in all its creaturely limitedness directs humble and careful attention to God’s being in and of himself – the divine life of Father, Son, and Spirit – and to God’s gracious self-giving in the economy of salvation. In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity inquires about how the threefold act of God in history (the Father sending the Son and the Spirit) corresponds to the being of God in eternity.

Why are the waters so deep, so dangerous? As Paul Molnar reminds us, “although we obviously have no alternative but to understand God in the categories available to us in our human experience, it is not anything within our experience or inherent in those categories that prescribes who God is in se and ad extra (Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity, ix).

So, in speaking of God’s being in se, we should caution ourselves against too carelessly reading back into God’s life our concepts and experiences of God – even though these are the only ones we have to work with. Keep this in mind as James and I (Kent) continue our reflections on David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite.

Kent’s Quote and Commentary

In the economy of salvation, one sees that the Son receives from the Father the power to impart the Spirit, and that the Spirit receives from the Father the power to communicate the Son, that the Son and the Spirit are both sent and sending Continue reading

David Bentley Hart on the Trinity

Today, we start a new series in which every Friday we will post selections from David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth for discussion. Kent and I (James) will simply provide a quotation followed by a few lines of commentary. Disagreement, correction, or affirmation are all welcome.

If you are not familiar with Hart, you should be. Why? Well consider that his first book received the following commendations: “David Hart is already the best living American systematic theologian” – John Milbank; “A remarkable work…This magnificent and demanding volume should establish David Bentley Hart, around the world no less than in North America, as one of his generation’s leading theologians” – Geoffrey Wainwright; “I can think of no more brilliant work by an American theologian in the past ten years” – William Placher.

 James’ Quote and Commentary

After a sustained critique of Robert Jenson‘s trinitarian theology, Hart arrives at his definition and defense of divine impassibility (apatheia):

God’s impassibility is the utter fullness of an intimate dynamism, the absolutely complete and replete generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit from the Father, the infinite “drama” of God’s joyous act of self-outpouring – which is his being as God.

Within the plenitude of this motion, no contrary motion can fabricate an interval of negation, because it is the infinite possibility of every creaturely motion or act; no pathos is possible for God because a pathos is, by definition, a finite instance of change visited upon a passive subject, actualizing some potential, whereas God’s love is pure positivity and pure activity.

His love is an infinite peace and so needs no violence to shape it, no death over which to triumph: if it did, it would never be ontological peace but only metaphysical armistice (p. 167).

Commentary

The great strength of this definition, apart from the fact it was penned by David Bentley Hart, of course, Continue reading

Sung Theology: Hymns & the Formation of Faith

How do hymns display and express the theology of a particular Christian community or tradition? And how does this sung theology shape and form our faith (belief, affection, and action)?

For the sake of the discussion, let’s focus on evangelical hymns. In American Evangelical Christianity, Notre Dame historian, Mark Noll, attempts to probe the message of evangelical Christianity through the medium of its hymns. In doing so, he identifies three distinct layers of hymnody that define the modern evangelical movement at its best. For our purposes we will consider just two: Christ-centered picture of redemption and social vision (the other is ecumenism). Even if you don’t identify with the evangelicalism Noll expounds, consider how the sung theology of your tradition shapes your beliefs – your credo.

The Scandal of the Cross Is the Scandal of My Forgiveness

“And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused such pain? For me? Who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be That thou my God, shouldst die for me?” (Charles Wesley)

The first thing to notice about this hymn is its characteristically evangelical focus on the individual person’s salvation. It casts the scandal of the cross primarily in terms of how the love and forgiveness therein could be for “me.” Wesley wonders over the radicality of Christ’s death and asks: “For me?” Continue reading