cjbanning: (Bowed Head)
Yes, I'm still working on my Wittgenstein and metatheics series. (And my atonement theology series, too, for that matter, although at present the metaethics one has the precedence.) I promise.

Fred Clark wrote about patripassianism recently, and got an "Amen!" from Tony Jones. I share their instinct that God the Parent can known, and more importantly has known, suffering, but am uncomfortable with Clark's description of Trinitarian theological reasoning:
one is “allowed” to recite the lawyerly formulations of the Athanasian Creed, but if you stray at all from that narrow path or attempt to say anything more — any positive statements, clarifications, analogies, applications — you’re screwed. [. . . T]his doctrine creates so many different ways in which you can be screwed that it’s hard not to suspect this was the intention — a doctrine more useful for generating and then condemning heresies than for avoiding error.
A lot of this comes down to Clark being much more Protestant than I am, so traditional notions of heresy and orthodoxy don't hold the same authority for him as for me. But I do think the best articulation of the pure theology of the Trinity is found in the Athanasian articulation (although admittedly it's light on the practical implications), and that it's important to be mindful of the ancient heresies precisely because God defies the categories we are liable to try to place God in if we're not eternally vigilant.

Insofar as patripassianism is by definition a form of modalism, confusing or conflating in some sense the distinction in persons between God the Parent and God the Begotten, then it represents a damaging heresy and should be denounced. That strikes me as pretty straight forward. But does it?

I think it's possible to meaningfully still speak about God the Parent being present with and sharing the suffering of God the Begotten upon the Cross (or, if our theology requires God the Parent to forsake God the Begotten in order for God to experience the absence of God, then surely the Parent suffers in the act of forsaking the beloved Child!) without falling into modalism, without confusing the distinction in persons between the Parent and the Begotten. The question then becomes a defitional one, whether a suffering Parent still constitutes heretical patripassianism even when it isn't modalist. I suspect the answer should be no, but the trail goes pretty much cold at the Wikipedia article, and without reading the primary texts in which member (or better yet, ecumenical councils) of the early Church denounce the heresy it's impossible to say.

In a talk on theodicy, Roger Olson says, "Well, theology has four criteria: revelation, including Jesus Christ and Scripture, tradition, reason and experience." Now, Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to the world. That's central to my faith. But I don't know how much sense it makes to talk about Jesus Christ as a subcategory of revelation when we are talking about criteria of theology. The revelation which was the historical Jesus is mediated to us through scripture and tradition. And the revelation of the Risen Christ is mediated to us through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience--the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, a variation of the Anglican three-legged stool. So I'm not sure what sense it makes to talk of Jesus as a separate revelation when we're talking about our work as a theologians. In a sense, what Christian theology does is precisely try to arrive at the revelation of Jesus Christ through the tools of scripture, tradition, reason, experience, etc.

Furthermore, the way Olson formulates the Quadrilateral implies that tradition, reason, and experience are not also forms of revelation. I suppose I can understood why a non-liberal ("post-conservative") evangelical Protestant wouldn't classify them as such, but as a post-liberal Anglo-Catholic I absolutely would. Again, scripture, tradition, reason, and experience are the means we have by which we come to terms with the revelation of God to the world: the person of Jesus Christ.

My twitter feed seemed to be, well, a-twitter with comments about Christological and/or Messianic themes in Man of Steel, the Superman mythos in general, and the superhero genre even more in general. I'll put forth Five Reasons Why Superman Isn't Jesus and Five Reasons Why Jesus Isn't Superman, both from Pop Theology at Patheos, as semi-representative. I tend to think the question is mostly silly (although the theology is usually right-on). No, Jesus isn't a superhero. He certainly isn't the "first superhero"; Gilgamesh and Herakles not only fit the "superhero" mold much better than Jesus, but they pre-date the birth of Jesus by several centuries.

At the same time, it's silly to think that how we tell superhero stories isn't influenced by the story of Jesus. I haven't seen Man of Steel yet, but the fact that there will be parallels, both in terms of imagery and of plot, between Superman and Christ, is pretty much inevitable. That doesn't make Jesus a superhero. It doesn't mean Snyder was somehow blaspheming in creating the movie, or that we are in seeing such parallels. It does mean that the great secular myths of the postmodern era do--as arguably all myths do--have a complicated, messy relationship with what Lewis famously called the "true myth": the Christian narrative.

On Ineffability

Monday, 8 November 2010 08:05 pm
cjbanning: (Bowed Head)
"It's true that I can't directly tell you what it is that can't be said." -- André Kukla
The ineffability thesis, when construed as a thesis, is of course self-refuting: it contends to possess knowledge about the ineffable which under its own rules is impossible. Of course, the natural thing for the ineffabilist is to deny that she is asserting a thesis; the so-called ineffability thesis is simply a bastard sentence, leading to a throwing-away of the ladder, and that claim about the ineffability thesis is also a bastard sentence, and so on unto infinite regress.

At this point the pure philosopher is liable to, understandably, throw up her hands. The ineffabilist has admitted to speaking nonsense, and while she may claim that nonsense may somehow point the way to a higher truth, she has admitted also that even that claim is nonsense! Why should the philosopher take her at all seriously?

At this point, the ineffabilist puts forth both a positive and a negative claim: no one has put forth a claim about truth that does make sense (she would argue), and furthermore by the logic of the pure philosopher, they cannot.

The pure philosopher will no doubt fear that the ineffabilist has introduced an irrational element which threatens to undermine philosophy. The ineffabilist has abandoned any requirement for intellectual rigor, the pure philosopher will argue, by referring everything to an ineffable standard.

This is, of course, true, at least in a sense. But the truth is also that the ineffabilist can assume the standards of intellectual rigor proposed by the pure philosopher, if only deconstructively. She can demonstrate that the philosopher's claims to intellectual rigor are themselves exaggerated. This motivates a deflationaryism towards metaphysics, but this is nothing new.

What separates the ineffabilist from the pragmatist (or more specifically, the neopragmatist) is that the pragmatist, to some degree or other, is a quietist and the ineffabilist is not. By the pragmatist's account, there should be no such thing as pragmatism, or at least no such thing as an overarching thesis of pragmatism. To be sure, she can be involved in specific deconstructive attempts to show a certain way of talking about X has fallen into error by the standards of those doing the talking, but she cannot make the claim that we should stop talking about X. Any coordinated effort to stop talking about X represents a betrayal of pragmatist principles.

But insofar as the extrarationalism of the ineffabilist frees her to speek, it may seem to provide her what might look like an overbroad freedom: there is nothing she cannot say. Again, the pure philosopher finds it hard to take her seriously, to care what she has to say. But the ineffabilist does not expect to be taken seriously, except when she is deconstructively engaging in the language games of her peers. Otherwise, she simply wants to be able to be left to her extrarational appreciation and engagement in peace.

And that's where (transcendental) religion enters the picture. Ineffability, of course, lies at the center of the Christian faith. The Athanasian Creed lays out the Trinitarian doctrine of the Church thusly: "the Parent-God incomprehensible, the Child-God incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible, and yet they are not three incomprehensibles, but one incomprehensible."

Yet transcendental religion is not irrational in the sense of requiring the religionist to hold propositions as true which reason requires her to reject as false. (Or vice versa.) In Christianity, after all, reason is traditionally regarded as one of the primary sources of authority, a leg not only of Anglican's three-legged stool but also of the Wesleyan quadrilateral. Instead, it is extrarational in that transcendental religion steps in with something to say at precisely those moments when reason's limits are themselves met.
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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