Reactions » The Graffito of Alexamenos

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1st-3rd century AD, etching on marble, Paletine museum in Rome

The Alexamenos Graffito is generally held to be the earliest known pictorial representation of Christ. It consists of a crudely drawn image of a crucified man with the head of an ass and a few words in Greek, ‘Alexamenos worships [his] God.’  Although the artist is unknown, it could have been the crass work of a common page mocking the faith of a fellow slave (Tertullian reported that the pagans of his day ‘foolishly imagine that our God has the head of an ass’).

Perhaps it is fitting that the earliest known visual representation of the crucifixion echoes the apostle Paul’s stark admission:  ‘we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). But is that the case any longer? Have we so packaged and marketed the Gospel that Christ’s death ceases to be the scandel that prompted the taunting of this ‘Alexamenos’?

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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