My students and I were reading Athanasius and Hilary of Poitiers today on the topic of God’s self-disclosure. On one hand, the teaching that God is in some sense unknowable has always been a part of orthodox Christian belief. But on the other hand so has the claim that God has made himself known in Jesus Christ; ‘Emmanual,’ God is with us. To feel the tension you can go any number of places in the Christian tradition, but Athanasius and Hilary open this up really well.
This excerpt from Athanasius is on the Trinity and only indirectly about revelation (for Athanasius to talk about revelation is to talk about the Trinity), but it is just marvelous, so I had to post it:
As the Son is an only-begotten offspring, so also the Spirit, being given and sent from the Son, is himself one and not many, nor one from among many, but Only Spirit. As the Son, the living Word, is one, so must the vital activity and gift whereby he sanctifies and enlightens be one perfect and complete; which is said to proceed from the Father, that it shines forth and is sent and is given. The Son is sent from the Father; for he says, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’ The Son sends the Spirit; ‘If I go away,’ he says, ‘I will send the Paraclete.’ The Son glorifies the Father, saying: ‘Father, I have glorified thee.’ The Spirit glorifies the Son: for he says, ‘He shall glorify me.’ The Son says: ‘the things I heard from the Father speak I unto the world.’ The Spirit takes of the Son; ‘He shall take of mine,’ he says, ‘and shall declare unto you.’ The Son came in the name of the Father. ‘The Holy Spirit,’ says the Son, ‘whom the Father will send in my name’ (Letters to Serapion, on the Holy Spirit)
I cannot think of another time since we started this blog when I have been more absent. The end of the spring semester was a blur, and I typically go into hiding once grades are submitted. I want to push my kids on the swing, tend the garden, read fiction, and do little else. And I have done little else for the past couple weeks.
Now, with summer projects clambering for attention (a chapter on Radical Orthodoxy must be written by August), I hope to be more consistently present on TF. Let me wade back in by posting part of a brief presentation I made for our University’s student awards night. The student and I had worked together on a research project on Gregory of Nyssa, so I geared my comments on divine revelation in his direction:
In the book of Job, chapters 38-41, God interrogates Job with a series of questions:” “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? . . . Who marked off its dimensions? . . . Who stretched a measuring line across it?” (38:4, 5); “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? (38:12-13); “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?” (38:16); “Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.” (38:18)
God shows Job that he has attempted to reach beyond the limits of his grasp, beyond what his knowledge is able to attain. How does Job respond? “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things to wonderful for me to know.”
Gregory of Nyssa tried to evoke a similar response from his readers in his book The Second Book Against Eunomius. Continue reading
A number of the essays brought together in B. B. Warfield’s The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture contain meticulous analyses of different items pertinent to the Bible’s take on the Bible (in one of them he spends a fair amount of time on what to make of verbs without a named subject [e.g. legei] in the New Testament introducing a reference to the Old Testament, for example). In ‘The Biblical Idea of Inspiration’, he canvasses some of the Old Testament texts which were not records of divine speech but are in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 1:16; Heb. 3:7) introduced with a ‘God says’ or the like as well as some of the Old Testament texts which were records of divine speech but are in the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 9:17; Gal. 3:8) introduced with a ‘Scripture says’ or the like. He comments,
They indicate a certain confusion in current speech between ‘Scripture’ and ‘God’, the outgrowth of a deep-seated conviction that the word of Scripture is the word of God. It was not ‘Scripture’ that spoke to Pharaoh or gave this promise to Abraham, but God. But ‘Scripture’ and ‘God’ lay so close together in the minds of the writers of the New Testament that they could naturally speak of ‘Scripture’ doing what Scripture records God as doing. It was, however, even more natural to them to speak casually of God saying what the Scriptures say….The words put into God’s mouth in each case are not words of God recorded in the Scriptures, but just the Scripture words themselves. When we take the two classes of passages together…we may perceive how close the identification of the two was in the minds of the writers of the New Testament (‘The Biblical Idea of Inspiration’, in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 148).
If Warfield is in the right, then it seems certain accusations of bibliolatry should give way to affirmations of the presence of biblical theology vis-a-vis the Bible itself. Is this argument too simplistic post-Barth? Does the bibliology of Barth and staunch Barthians in hesitating straightforwardly to identify Scripture as the word of God run aground on the Bible’s (explicit and implicit) testimony concerning itself? Thoughts?
A couple weeks ago Joseph Mangina gave the T.F. Torrance Lectures here in Aberdeen (details here). Mangina is both an accomplished scholar and – gratefully – an engaging presenter. The main purpose of his lectures was to pursue the following question: What would it mean to view the church in light of the Apocalypse? In keeping with the apocalyptic angle, his lectures took the form of ‘notes on scripture’ and followed the text of revelation as a form of theological interpretation of scripture (he has a revelation commentary in the Brazos series coming out in 2009).
While our remarks certainly won’t be comprehensive of Mangina’s lectures, a couple things stood out to us:
Divine Agency – Related to his reflections on the theological interpretation of Scripture and to the nature of the book of Revelation – as the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ – Mangina’s lectures consistently registered the importance of divine agency for a theological account of the church. Mangina contended that the genitive related to Jesus in Revelation 1:1 (‘the revelation of Jesus Christ’) must be read here both as subjective and objective – Jesus is the author and the content of revelation. In turn, this impacts the way the church should read the later ‘scary bits’ in the book of Revelation related to judgment and tribulation. In reading the Revelation, then, ‘It means first’ Mangina explained, ‘that we are dealing with and beholding Jesus and secondarily (only) are we dealing with the prophetic contents of the book.’ Specifically concerning the political implications that could be drawn from Revelation, when Jesus is properly seen as the object and subject of the Revelation, ‘it provokes a horizon of divine action that does not take human politics seriously.’
Concerning the former (theological interpretation of Scripture) he said,
To read scripture theologically is to read it ecclesially, which is to read it typologically. This starts with the assumption that God is the primary author of scripture and most specifically the Spirit and that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ.
Michael Buesking, “Adventus”, Oil on Linen (2005)
Reactions? Buesking’s own comments about this piece might get us started: “My intention is to suggest the presence of the Spirit and His gifts, and present them as something impossible to contain or hold. Implying a tenuous quality to God’s presence is not meant to be a bad reflection on God’s nature or to demean his promises and gifts. Instead, it has more to do with our interaction with Him and our own human tendency to claim ownership – presumptuously – of something given to us.”
How does this speak to our theology of the spiritual gifts? Our doctrine of the Spirit? Or, our understanding of God’s “haveability”, to use Bonhoeffer’s turn of phrase (Act and Being)?
How do you discern the movements of God’s presence?
In a recent essay, Ben Quash draws on Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St. Matthew” (1599-1600) to probe the various ways in which theology makes reference to God’s presence. In “The Calling” (below), Jesus stands at the head of the tax collector’s table pointing to Levi and the rest. The only hint of the divine here is the shaft of light intersecting with Jesus’ outstretched finger and this, Quash contends, is precisely the point. In making God’s activity ‘less obvious’ Caravaggio provokes us to think about how grace appears in human situations and how it’s presence is discerned.
[H]ere, as elsewhere, Caravaggio proves himself notably reluctant to depict grace or divine agency in obvious ways, unlike many of his artistic predecessors and a good number of his contemporaries. Divine agency in his paintings does not normally arrive in a well sign-posted manner by being somehow ‘extra’ to what the world already contains; we do not usually encounter it in the form of a ‘supernatural’ agent like an angel, or a celestial window onto heaven, or the visible transfiguration or ascent of saints.
The discernment of the divine is thus not made an easy business in Caravaggio’s hands. There is no paean of the unmistakability of divine action in human life. God’s self-disclosure – his saving power and action – does not take a form that can clearly be differentiated from other objects and actions and pointed to in straightforward distinction from them. It has to be discerned in the irreducible interactions of people with each other and with their material environment.
…What he honors in his approach is something of which Christian theologians down the ages have been acutely aware…God is not just one more thing in the universe. He cannot be described in relation to and distinction from other creaturely realities as if he were one such reality himself ... Continue reading