No, Reformed Christology is not Nestorian

Normally, I don’t think it’s helpful to address the arguments of cage-stagers, preferring instead to engage with the well thought-out and well researched ideas of those who understand their positions. However, after two different cage-stage Lutherans in the span of a week called Reformed Christians Nestorians for our Christology, I decided that this is a subject worth addressing in order to present an accurate view. Understand that I do not fault Lutherans or Lutheranism for two cage-stagers. Every ideology has new converts with more zeal than knowledge.

In fact, one of my readers is a Lutheran with the full understanding of the Lutheran doctrines, and he is a college professor. I welcome him to present the Lutheran view of Christology in either a comment or in a blog post if he so chooses. However, this is the last I’ll mention of my Lutheran brothers in this post, as I will be presenting my understanding of Christology.

Chalcedonian Creed

A controversy erupted between the Eastern and Western churches over the nature of Christ. In 451, a council met at Chalcedon to settle the matter. The Western churches adopted the creed that the council produced while some of the Eastern churches did not. The Creed maintained the two distinct natures of Christ (divine and human)  teaching of as opposed to the teaching of Eutyches — that Christ had only one nature, a mixture of human and divine.

The part of the creed I would like to highlight is this: “…one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person…”

Christ is not two separate persons but one Person with two natures. His divine nature is distinct from His human nature. Though the two natures share properties, they are nonetheless distinct.

Hypostasis

Western Christology teaches that Christ’s human nature and His divine nature are distinct yet united in the one Person. He is fully God and fully man, yet these two natures are not interchangeable. Athanasius used the term “hypostatic union” to describe Christ’s two distinct natures to defend the doctrine that Christ is both fully God and fully man.

Pope Leo I also asserted that Christ has two natures in one person and that these two natures share properties, a doctrine known as communicatio idiomatum. This teaching posits that Christ in His humanity could lay claim to the glory of God before the world was made. Yet, the Bible also teaches that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Lk 2:52)

Another important passage of Scripture to support the hypostatic union is John 1:14. “The Word became flesh.” Here we see that the Son is God and took on the nature of man. It’s also important to note that He did not lose His human nature upon ascension but retained His human nature, incorporating it into His eternal being, showing that Jesus Christ is still fully God and fully man.

Two Errors

I want to pause here to discuss two opposing errors—one of which I was accused of. Nestorianism teaches that there are two persons inside of the Son. Rather than unifying, as described above, this view separates the two natures into two subsistent beings. Since I have already presented an accurate understanding of my view, I see no reason to defend myself here to show that I do not believe in Nestorianism.

The opposite error is Eutychianism. This view absorbs the human nature into the divine nature with no distinctions. For example, this view teaches that since Christ’s divine nature is omnipresent, then so is His human nature because they are one in the same.

Eucharist

The Christology taught in the Chalcedonian Creed is held by both the Roman Catholic Church and most Protestants. Since both believe that Christ’s human body is in heaven, how is His presence different in the sacramental elements?

 Aquinas says there are two ways in which something can be that it was not before: 1) local motion, 2) conversion of something into itself. For the first way, a thing cannot be moved from one place to another without ceasing to be in the original place. Aquinas, using Aristotelian metaphysics, considers the second way since Christ is physically located in heaven. It is by divine mode of a conversion of something into itself that while the accidents of bread and wine remain, it nevertheless becomes the body and blood of Christ through the second way. In conversion of the Eucharist, a subject passes over into a subject without a change in the accidents. Jesus Christ conserves the accidents while changing the substance. Just like when a substance is converted to ashes, the substance of a thing is not to be confused with its accidents. The whole of Christ is present in every crumb and drop in the same way that the whole of water is present in every drop.

Because of his adherence to the Chalcedonian Creed, Aquinas recognizes that Christ’s body is locally in heaven and therefore, the elements do not change by local motion but by conversion. Protestants reject the conversion process of the elements while most still retain the Christology adopted from Rome and from Chalcedon more specifically. The belief of real presence by means of Christ’s Spirit does not rely on Nestorianism and is compatible with the Chalcedonian Creed.

Orthodoxy and Scriptural Authority

My intention for today was to write a blog post regarding Sola Scriptura and church traditions. However, the more I’ve looked into this topic and the more I’ve become excited about it, the more I’ve realized that this is too large of a topic for a simple post. In fact, I might use this topic for my Masters’ thesis.

Instead, I’m going to reiterate a conversation I had with a Western Orthodox friend in the Orthodox Archdiocese of New York regarding Scripture and church tradition. Understand, I have not researched this topic, but I trust that my friend understands his own tradition’s doctrines, especially since he is a postulant for the priesthood. In other words, I’m not getting this from the guy in the back who shows up at Easter and Christmas but from an ardent practitioner of the Western Orthodox faith. I also want to extend the caveat that I am not advocating Orthodoxy, whether Western or Eastern. Though we do not agree on secondary doctrines, I respect my friend and recognize him as a brother in Christ and feel that it is right to be in unity with fellow Christians and understand the paradigms that shaped their beliefs.

The topic under discussion was doctrinal authority in the Orthodox church. He laid out an understanding that encompasses three points:

  1. The highest authority for the church is the Holy Ghost, who speaks by means of the Great Tradition (i.e. Apostolic teaching that has been passed on and received universally).
  2. The Scriptures were written as part of the Great Tradition, and the other traditions are the lens for how they read the Holy Scriptures and put the Scriptures into practice.
  3. For the Orthodox, Scripture and Tradition are not separate. Rather, they are parts of a cohesive whole. Other parts of the Great Tradition are the Consensus Patrium, the Creeds, and Ecumenical Councils.

My friend related the Orthodox view of authority to a pie chart. All things that make up the pie—Scripture, Creeds, Consensus Patrium, Councils—need to have a correct view of Christianity. This is different from Sola Scriptura or Prima Scriptura, which has Scripture as primary and everything else must conform to Scripture. It’s also different from Rome’s view of Scripture and Tradition as being equal.

That last part confused me as it seems that in the Orthodox pie chart, Scripture and Tradition are equal, so I asked what’s the difference with Rome’s equating Scripture and Tradition with what seemed to be the Orthodox’s equating Scripture and Tradition. My friend said, “Rome would view Scripture and Tradition as equals. In other words, Rome can create doctrines like papal infallibility, the Treasury of Merit, and Purgatory with no basis in Scripture.”

This started to make a little more sense to me. With Orthodoxy, traditions found their basis in the Holy Spirit and in Scripture, while Rome sees Scripture and Traditions as equals, but that Tradition can extend from something not found in Scripture.

Then my friend drove the point home in a way that it made more sense to my linear Western mind. He said Orthodox thought on authority is like corroborating evidence. All of it supports and validates each other.

Thank you to my friend for taking the time for this brief and informal interview. I enjoyed learning something new about this historical sect of Christianity.

Why Stoicism is not Biblical

My grandfather used to have a saying, which he passed down to my mom. “Don’t let anyone get your goat.” If one understands what this means, it’s good advice. What Grandpa and my mom were saying was don’t let anyone else control your emotions. Growing up, I was told repeatedly to control my emotions and that the show of emotions is weakness. For an emotional child growing up in the Word of Faith cult, being formed into a Vulcan did not come naturally. Frankly, going to a Pentecostal school during the week and a WOF church on Sundays made the Vulcanization of my emotions when not in worship a bit schizophrenic.

However, I’m not writing about my upbringing. Instead, my opening paragraph is merely illustrative. Grandpa’s advice was good. I still hold to it, minus the goat. We should be in control of our emotions and actions and not allow others to control us through emotional manipulation. But there is another thought in that first paragraph that I wish to unpack. Is the very fact that we as humans have emotions and display them a sign of weakness?

Stoicism

Stoics hold that emotions such as fear, envy, passionate love arose from false judgements. They teach that virtue derives from laying aside our passions, even our own human nature, including sorrow and joy. For them, one who attains moral and intellectual perfection is one who is immune to misfortune.

We read in Paul’s letter to the Philippians that he has learned the secret to living “in any and every circumstance” and “to be content in whatever circumstance.” (Phil. 4:11, 12) Other places in the Bible speaks highly of patience and endurance. Patience is even listed as a fruit of the Spirit. But is this the same as stoicism? Does the Bible offer us more when it comes to managing emotions?

Bullinger writes in his third sermon of his third decade, “If a man, once wounded with sorrow and sadness, quietly rests himself upon the spiritual consolation of his God and creator” he will be replenished with cheerfulness. The apostle Paul, who wrote of contentment in all situations also expressed sorrow and grief while maintaining patience and temperance.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

This is not a stoic, emotionless patience. What Bullinger and the apostle Paul is describing is a type of patience that is active and has its hope in One who is outside of ourselves. Stoics, in their attempts to paint the picture of patience, robs us of our humanity, as if such a thing could be done. The fact is true stoicism is impossible to achieve. Anyone who comes close is a broken shell, not a highly evolved intellectual Vulcan. Even Jesus Christ, whom we should seek to emulate for He is God and the perfection of humanity, wept and showed anger, joy, and compassion.

True Humanity

The Bible is full of passion. In both the Old Testament and New, we see those who rejoice, those who are in mourning, those who are afraid, and those who despair. Such emotions are not to be denied. They are an integral part of our humanity. However, the Bible does tell us to bridle our tongue and praises patience as a virtue. It does so without admonishing the expression of emotions. Emotions are not antithetical to Godly virtues, but loss of control is and so is impatience.

Yesterday, my priest messaged me to tell me he’s worried about me. He was able to sense through my FaceBook comments that something was not quite right with me. I didn’t realize I had telegraphed my frustrations and worries, but somehow, I did. He recorded his morning prayer for me, and during the devotional, he quoted from Luke 20: 34-36.  

Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

Fr. Aaron said that “Jesus is warning the church to not allow themselves to be weighed down by the cares and the things of this world.” Yes, we have cares in this world. We have an earthly life and emotions. As Christians, we do not deny these things. We are not stoics. However, in order to have that peace and patience Paul described, we must look toward God for our patience.

The first passage of Scripture I quoted from in this post was from Philippians 4. After Paul says that he can be content in whatever circumstance he’s in, he reveals his secret. It’s not found in stoic philosophy. Paul is not a Vulcan either. He writes, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) The Him in this verse is God. God gives us all that we need to manage this life. We just need to look to Him and not on our circumstances.

We have emotions. Emotions are a good thing. They’re human, but we can’t allow emotions to control us, and we can’t allow the circumstances of this world to control us. We bear things, not with stoicism but by embracing the God of this earth with joy and satisfaction.

Explanation of Featured Image

The featured image might seem odd in a post about stoicism. I used this picture to illustrate the difference between generating joy within us and true joy that comes from above. Legend has it that when St. Bartholomew was skinned alive for the cause of Christ, he suffered and went to his death joyfully, knowing that the sufferings of this life pale in comparison to the joy that awaits those who are faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Van Fraassen’s Approach to Epistemology

Kant famously wrote that David Hume woke him from his “dogmatic slumber.” I had my own philosophical awakening after reading Bas Van Fraassen’s “The Empirical Stance.” I found him to be a fascinating creature, though I agreed with very little of what he wrote. Nonetheless, he inspired my current trajectory, so today I’m reviewing the book that changed my academic future.

The Empirical Stance

“The Empirical Stance” is a series of lectures by philosopher Bas Van Fraassen that takes a unique approach to empiricism, particularly as it relates to the field of science. He starts by rejecting metaphysics and redefining materialism before getting to the crux of his coherentist understanding of empiricism in the third and fourth lectures. According to Van Fraassen, empiricism is a stance that involves emotions, human reasoning, and community coherence rather than a clearly defined principle.

When criticizing metaphysics, Van Fraassen throws the epistemological approach of rationalism under the metaphysical bus. This is seen clearly when he wrote, “Kant exposed the Illusions of Reason, the way in which reason over-reaches itself in traditional metaphysics … About a century later the widespread rebellions against the Idealist tradition expressed the complaint that Reason had returned to its cherished Illusions.”

Later in Lecture 2, he used the term “rationalist metaphysics” to pit rationalism against epistemology rather than offer a critique of rationalism as an epistemological theory. I will not offer a guess as to why Van Fraassen took this approach, but what is clear is that in his denial of the branch of metaphysics, he also denounced rationalism as a viable approach to epistemology.

Materialism

In setting up his foundation for his empirical argument, Van Fraassen took a more interesting direction in his discussion of materialism. Addressing the idea of “material mechanisms” for observable causes, he criticizes the classic definition of materialism, which is the belief that matter is all there is. He points out that there are things that exist that does not fit that classic definition, like gravity and other forces in nature since they are not made of any particles. He also points out that the elementary particles in quantum mechanics do not meet the criterion of physical matter.

Lastly, as a theist, Van Fraassen presupposes the existence of God and the angels, yet they are not made of atoms or anything else that we would consider to be physical. In order to save materialism from the hits that it took by physicists and theologians, Van Fraassen redefines materialism in Quinean terms. Simply stated, materialism is what there is, it is what exists. Unicorns do not exist and are not material. We know of their nonexistence through empirical means. Quarks, on the other hand, do exist and are known through the empirical means of theoretical predictions and experiments, though they have not been directly observed.

Paradigms

After laying down this foundation, Van Fraassen explains his empirical stance as a philosophical position which includes attitudes and approaches to methodologies. He recognizes that theories are often postulated within scientific paradigms. Paradigms are sets of concepts and theories that guide the standards for further research and what constitutes legitimate contributions to the field. Newtonian physics was the standard for hundreds of years until Einstein introduced his special relativity. Quantum theory replaced the old Newtonian paradigm and revolutionized physics so that all research and theories fit within this new paradigm.

Van Fraassen rejects classic empiricism, which is the belief that all knowledge is through experience, as being naïve because “if we are to listen to experience, we need to be able to identify what our experience was and hence divide what we really lived through from what we only seemed to be living through,” which is “either circular or inadmissible.”

Just as he redefined materialism, Van Fraassen adopts a newer form of empiricism that does not fall into the trap of circular reasoning and experience only. In recognizing scientific paradigms, he argues for a coherentist approach. Since experience alone can often lead to conflicts in our interpretations, he advocates for a secondary authoritative source of information.

Scientists working within the authoritative paradigm limit the possibility of error in perceptual judgements. Paradigms provide structures and blueprints which cohere with a community using the same structures, making each researcher and his experiences liable to the whole community. While this approach has the potential of discarding evidence that does not cohere to the paradigm, Van Fraassen argues that it is just as important for the paradigm to agree with experimental and observational facts.

Paradigms relating to Christianity

I’ve written about paradigms frequently on this blog, particularly as it relates to Christianity, and this is where Van Fraassen and I almost agree. He posits that the Catholics and Protestants share a similar problem, in that the foundation of understanding Scripture is built on the “determined adherence to one’s own tradition.” He argues that when we rely on certain foundations, whether they be texts or traditions, for our beliefs, we admit alternatives.

In order to understand Van Fraassen’s argument, we must know what foundationalism is. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines foundationalism as “a foundational or noninferentially justified belief is one that does not depend on any other beliefs for its justification.” This classical position of epistemology rests on non-demonstrative axioms as the basis of belief. However, with paradigms beliefs cohere with a set of propositions, yet it is not pure coherentism either since both scientific and religious paradigms rest on the foundations of certain axiomatic proofs.

For those who might point out that I am arguing for both foundationalism and coherentism, I posit that even with the epistemological framework of coherentism, beliefs have some sort of basis, whether it be background knowledge, foundation, or a shared understanding of language. Beliefs of scientists have a strong unified conformity, but the support for this coherency has its foundation in experimental evidence.

Law of Nature

By using my cat as an example Wednesday, I explained in a silly way how we cannot derive natural law from lesser beings that do not possess the imago Dei. Today I’m going to explain what natural law is and how its applied in different societies.

Defining Natural Law

In general terms, natural law states that God has inscribed His moral law on the heart of every person. This is shown in Romans 1 & 2. A more direct definition from Francis Turretin states that natural law is a “divine obligation impressed upon the conscience of man, on which the difference between right and wrong is founded and which contains practical principles of immovable truth.”

John Owen defined it as “a law given unto our nature, as a rule and measure unto our moral actions… This law, therefore, is that rule which God hath given unto human nature, in all the individual partakers of it, for all its moral actions, in the state and condition wherein it was by him created and placed, with respect unto his own government of it and judgement concerning it.”

What we see in these definitions is that natural law is itself a part of the imago Dei. We bear the image of God in our soul. It’s what gives us the capacity to reason, create, and know right from wrong. Aquinas can be helpful here in connecting natural law with the imago Dei because for him, the moral law is founded in the nature of God.

Aristotle understood that there are two sets of laws that govern humankind. In Rhetoric, he argues that aside from “particular” laws that each person or government sets up, there is a “higher law” or a “general law” which he defined as “according to nature.” Here, I take Aristotle to mean that this “higher law” is imprinted on human conscience. According to Aristotle, without this “higher law,” there would be no basis for a common ethic to hold societies together. He also makes it clear that natural law exists outside of the contractual agreement between a government and its people.

Variations in Cultures

Each of these three thinkers, among many others, posit that the moral law is implanted in the consciousness of all men. In all societies there are certain moral precepts that are common to all even though the civil laws governing the precepts vary according to society and the times in which they live. For example, the prohibition against murder is clear among all societies, yet there are variations of what is considered murder and what is considered a justified killing, whether it be self-defense, war, civil punishments, etc.

Aristotle suggests that though there are variations across cultures, there are also common fundamental sets of ethics across all societies. “Insofar as law is not ‘by nature’ but is merely human enactment, it is not the same everywhere. It is not even the case with regard to constitutions that they are everywhere the same, though there is only one constitution which is—by nature—everywhere the best.” Aristotle differentiates between laws enacted by humans and natural law by arguing the law that is by nature is best.

Rational people understand the basic principle of a right to life, even though cultures make certain exception to this ethical value. According to Philip A. Pecorino’s Introduction to Philosophy, even though there are variations within cultures, this does not mean there are no fundamental set of ethical principles common to all, which is similar to Aristotle’s point regarding “particular laws” made by humans and “higher laws,” which is by nature. Since all societies agree with the basic principle that killing is wrong, the difference is not in normative ethical relativity, but in how each society makes justifications for violating these principles, like murdering sick or lame infants in some ancient societies.

Suppressing Natural Law

This idea of knowing things to be intrinsically true while suppressing the conscience is not only found in Aristotle’s works on rhetoric and ethics, but in several other philosophers’ and other thinkers’ works as well. John Calvin taught that sin affects human reason and that while we have a natural law imprinted on our conscience, this suppression allows justification for acts deemed to be immoral. According to Augustine of Hippo, humans can choose many different options of sins or vices, but because of the corruption of the will, we are unable to choose the highest good.

Aristotle grounded virtues in human nature and taught that vices “take over” the soul and suppress other aspects of the soul, such as reason, emotions, and will. If a person believing in the intrinsic value of human life and that taking care of one’s health were an extension of that belief, then it would be a moral good to exercise and eat healthy foods. However, vices such as laziness, gluttony, and a taste for greasy cheeseburgers and brownies suppress the innate desire to value one’s health.

While Aristotle noted that the “higher law” is superior to “particular laws,” the need for “particular laws” outlined by societies and governments is valid and necessary to uphold the good and restrain evil that comes from justifications and the suppression of the moral law on our conscience.

Starting next week, I will decrease my blogging to two times a week.

Bagheera and Natural Law

Yesterday I asked for suggestions for blog topics. My best friend suggested I write about cats. I’m not certain how I can relate cats to philosophy, but I will try.

Natural Law

I’ve heard it said that we can learn natural law by looking at the animals. What is natural for animals is a reflection of standard behavior in humans. Some use animals in natural law to point out male hierarchies over the female of the species. It’s a shame no one told that to angler fish. Others use animals in natural law to support homosexuality, somehow forgetting that at its most basic function, natural law in that sense would support heterosexual coupling in order to continue the species.

I can understand to a point why atheists would use animals to bolster their understanding of natural law. But I don’t understand why Christians do so. I realize that great thinkers, like John Knox, have done so in order to prove certain points with regards to human behavior. An argument from a Christian worldview could be made that since God created both animals and humans, we are more alike in terms of created earthly beings than we are to heavenly beings. Those making that argument can also point to similar physical structures as well.

Monday, when I relayed a conversation I had with my son, I mentioned that unlike animals, humans are able to reason and that because of our reasoning capacity, we perceive that we have reason. It is also vital to note that unlike animals we are created in the image of God. That means we have a rational soul that is able to create and reason logically. While there may be a few similarities in behavior—caring for our young and providing food for the “family”—it does not logically follow that we look to the animals to cherry pick our ethics.

Bagheera

Back to my cat Bagheera. I’m going to brag about him because he’s a great cat, and I’m pretty sure he has the intelligence of a toddler—a 12-pound muscular toddler with claws. When Bagheera does something wrong, he screams loudly, protesting his innocence. When he wants to get on the table, he puts his front paws on it first and studies my husband and I for our reactions. He possesses an intuitive sense of time and knows what to expect out of me at certain times in the day. He follows me around the house with the devotion of a toddler or a dog, except when I make dinner. That’s usually when he stays in the living room and throws a fit because I’m not paying attention to him. He’s also extremely affectionate, like many other mammals that are kept as pets.

Silly Humans

From this anecdotal example, we see a few things. 1) There are similarities in behaviors between animals and humans. 2) Animals are able to give and receive something that resembles love, though on narcissistic terms. 3) This is not a creature I want to emulate in terms of morality. Sure, if you want to act like a toddler who hasn’t learned anything beyond basic needs and selfish desires instead of like an adult with a heightened sense of morality, you are free to do so. If you do, please don’t lecture the rest of us on obtaining natural law morality from the animals.

Admittedly, some of this was a little tongue-in-cheek. I don’t really believe that those who use animals in defense of natural law imitate their base behavior. But I do hope by taking their arguments to their natural conclusion, we can see the absurdity of their otherwise well-crafted arguments.

This post was light and a little flippant. Friday, I will dig more into natural law and my own philosophical beliefs on it.

Souls and Zombies! Oh, My!

A few days ago, my teenage son Ethan asked me what a soul is. This spawned a deep philosophical and religious discussion, reminding me why I like teenagers. The conversation also revealed that he’s a heretic, but we’re working on that.

Definition of a Soul

First, let’s answer my son’s question. The human soul can be defined as the divine image in man, expressed as more than neurons and synapses, but as a profoundly theological, immortal, and rational self. In struggling to understand this, Ethan pointed to our dog and asked if that’s why animals react on instinct and appear to be controlled by their neuro processes rather than by conscious choices like humans can make.

Bingo! My son gets a gold star. In De libero arbitrio libri tres Augustine notes that animals can see, touch, smell, and utilize all their senses; they additionally possess an internal sense which we call “instinct.” While they can perceive and know things through perception and can act on instinct and through training, they lack understanding. Understanding exists in humans only, even though we have brain structures similar to other mammals. We can perceive the physical world as animals are able to, but our actions are not based on instinct and training alone. We take in information through our senses and reason through this information to make choices on what actions to take.

Augustine also noted that by using reason, we perceive that we have reason. If we did not have reason, we would not be able to contemplate whether we had it or not. It is through this use of reason that we can learn of things outside of ourselves that we cannot directly perceive.

Body-Soul Dualism

So far, my smart kid is getting it. Then he asked if our body is just an empty shell that houses our soul. This is an important question, and one that trips up many people. There are those that say that our body is like a car. The person (soul) is inside the car (body), but the car is not the person. To that I want to say in my worst Irish accent, “That’s a bad analogy, Patrick.” (For those who aren’t familiar with Lutheran Satire’s Patrick videos, please finish reading my post, then go here and enjoy yourself.)

To be an alive human is to be an ensouled body or an embodied soul. Not only does man have a soul or conscience, but also that his soul is in unity with his body. It is not a mere stream of consciousness, but the consciousness of a person. The two are so tightly entwined that there is no way to separate them apart from death. The separation of the two is death. The full substance of who we are as human beings is body and soul together with each being the subsistence of the whole person. We are not made of two substances. Whatever happens to the body happens to the soul. Every experience we have shapes who we are. Babies that don’t get touched fail to thrive because the needs of the body are the needs of the soul and vice versa.  

Zombies!

I don’t think Ethan quite understood that because then he asked which part sins. After a discussion in which I reiterated what I said about body and soul as one being, he indicated the dog and rightly pointed out that animals don’t sin that they just act according to instinct and training because they don’t have a rational soul. From there, he concluded that without the soul, it is impossible to sin.

It’s at this point that I called him a heretic and a reverse-Gnostic. (Before anyone gets upset, remember I’m talking to a 16yo who grew up in PCA and OPC churches. Besides, he calls me a heretic for my Anglican leanings.) I told him without a soul, the human body ceases to live, so yes, it’s impossible for a dead man to sin. As expected with talking to any 16yo male, the conversation about separating the soul from an active body degenerated into talk of zombies.

Anglican’s Middle Way

In Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle proposed that happiness is through habitually choosing between two extremes. This is the middle way, or via media. Since Aristotle, the term via media has expanded beyond ethics and is used to describe the theology of the Anglican church. Like many of you, I have heard three different understandings of via media, so I will briefly explain each one and let you be the judge since I am still learning. Also note that because I am new to this topic, it’s possible that I got some things wrong, though I have tried to read and assess the information carefully. I might revisit this topic in a year or two after I’ve had more time to study it.

Roman Catholicism and Protestantism

According to The Episcopal Church’s website, “the via media came into religious usage when Anglicans began to refer to the Church of England as a middle way between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism.” According to this understanding, the Roman Catholic traditions were maintained while rejecting submission to papal authority.

This idea comes from John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement in the 19th century. They proposed that via media is the middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism as a result of their interpretations of the Elizabethan Settlement and writings of the Elizabethan theologian Richard Hooker. Hooker’s work repudiated extreme versions of Puritanism while upholding the episcopal form of government as being biblical.

This the view of via media is the most accepted one in modern parlance. Yet, for via media to mean the middle way between Rome and Protestantism or to say that Roman Catholic traditions were maintained while rejecting submission to papal authority, as TEC website says, then what does one make of the 5 Solae and soteriology? Well, Hooker extolled Anglicanism for retaining the best of Roman Catholic liturgy and tradition with the authority of Scripture and justification of Protestantism. But is via media a marriage of traditions and polity with the 5 Solae, or is it a true middle way in terms of doctrine? There’s a reason this position has been debunked by historians like Anthony Milton and Diarmaid MacCulloch as being a 19th century invention.

Wittenberg and Geneva

The second position is the middle way between Wittenberg and Geneva. It is as it sounds, which is that the doctrines of the Church of England developed as a middle way between Lutheranism and Calvinism. This seems to make sense as there were many Calvinists in the British Isles during the Reformation and post-Reformation.

This is also bolstered by the fact that Melanchthon and Calvin worked to develop their doctrines on law and grace. Also, Cranmer was a Calvinist while his baptismal liturgies taught baptismal regeneration. But were the official doctrines and formularies of the Church of England formed by Wittenberg and Geneva? It would seem so in part since Cranmer played a significant role in reforming the theology of the Church of England.

Wittenberg and Zurich

That brings us to the third position of via media—Wittenberg and Zurich. I admit I balked a little when I heard this one. The middle way between physical presence in the Eucharist and memorialism? Hmmm… not quite. According to my spiritual father, a priest in the UECNA, the formularies are based off Bullinger’s writings. There was a lot of excitement in the 16th century among the burgeoning Protestant reformers. Debates and collaboration worked together to hone and spread the Protestant doctrines. The first Helvetic Confession was a consensus of Lutheran and Zwinglian theology, though there was an eventual break between Bullinger and Bucer.

Zurich took in Protestant refuges from England during the rule of Mary I. When the English fugitives returned, they took Bullinger’s writings with them. Bullinger was read widely in England, and as said above, the formularies were based off Bullinger’s writings. It is from these returned fugitives that we see the influence of both Zurich and Wittenberg. Additionally, Reformed Anglicans today hold more to the Three Forms of Unity than they do to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Their understanding of the sacraments is similar to Calvin but couched in terms that show both the influence of Lutheran theologians and Bullinger. Evidence of this is seen in my ancestor’s words:

“Thus in the Lord’s Supper, the outward thing, which we see with our eyes, is bread and wine; the inward thing, which we apprehend by faith, is the body and blood of Christ. In the outward part of this mystical action, which reacheth to that which is sacramentum only, we receive this body and blood but sacramentally; in the inward, which containeth rem, the thing itself in it, we receive them really: and consequently the presence of these in the one is relative and symbolical, in the other, real and substantial.” -James Ussher

Return to Pre-Reform Roots

While I have not done enough study to know which meaning of the term is accurate, I can see valid arguments for both Geneva and for Zurich. However, it’s important to note that Anglicanism predates the Reformation.

The Church of England did not, as some think, begin with a degenerate king. The Church of England began when St. Augustine of Canterbury landed in Kent with a party of monks in the year 597 A.D. where he set up his headquarters at Canterbury. Since then, there has been no essential break between the church overseen by Augustine and the church under the current Archbishop of Canterbury. However, the roots of the Church of England go back even further to St. Alban in 250 A.D.

I have seen this in the writings of Archbishop Ussher in his discussion of apostolic succession as well as in writings of other less notable but no less faithful Anglican priests.  Fr. Roger Grist, a rector in the Fort Worth diocese of ACNA, wrote, “It has been shown that the early church appealed to the teachings of the apostles passed down to them as their source of authority for determining correct doctrine and proper interpretations of Scripture.”

Anglicanism was anti-Rome from before the Synod of Whitby (633) on penance and the Eucharist. We see evidences of hostility to Roman primacy through the Pope’s deposition of King John (13th century) and Wycliffe’s denial of papal authority and transubstantiation in the 14th century. The Church of England’s apostolic succession and many of its doctrines developed apart from Rome.

When the Church of England reformed after finally throwing off the shackles of Rome, it sought to return to its own roots and traditions while at the same time reading seriously the theologies of the continental reformers who sought to return to their doctrinal roots, which is one reason to reject the first understanding of via media and give more consideration to the other two.

Next week I return to my comfort zone of philosophy.

Importance of Liturgy

Shema yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad.

Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’alom vaed.

This declaration from Deuteronomy 6 has been imprinted on my mind for 20 years. Every Saturday at synagogue we recited the Shema in both Hebrew and in English. Because 17 years has passed (20 minus the 3 years I spent in the Messianic synagogue), there is much that I have forgotten, but I’ll never forget the Shema.

Synagogue Worship

Being a part of the synagogue wasn’t like being a part of the Charismatic church I grew up in, nor has it been like many other churches I’ve been a part of as an adult. Attending synagogue didn’t just take a Saturday morning out of my life. It became part of my life, even shaping it. There are prayers and rituals that mark the Sabbath on Friday evening and Saturday evening. The Siddur is read daily for their prayers.

During the worship in the synagogue, everything is done in a certain order for the purpose of giving God glory and for teaching the congregation. Some of this has been lost from my memory, but I remember saying certain prayers at certain times and in certain ways. I remember Rabbi Jaslow opening the Torah scroll to chant that week’s portion. I remember the feast days, their significance for Israel and their fulfillment in Christ. I loved Sukkot because it symbolized a time of God dwelling with His people, and it painted vivid pictures in our minds through the teaching and ceremony of God’s living waters flowing from His temple. On the 8th day of the seven-day feast of Sukkot was Simchat Torah when we rolled back the Torah scroll and celebrated God giving His people His Word.

Old and New Testament Worship

This became my foundation for not only understanding Christian beliefs but also the way in which God instructed His people to worship Him in the Old Testament. The New Testament gives us little about how our worship is to be structured. It instructs us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. There are first century creeds mentioned in a few places. Jesus Christ gave us a prayer to recite. Sacraments were instituted. Beyond that, there are no distinct instructions as God had given to Israel.

What we do know is that the first Christians were Jews. There is also evidence that the first century Christians met not only in church houses but also in the temple and in synagogues. The traditions that have been passed down through the Eastern and Western churches since their early days employ Hebrew words and Hebrew elements in their liturgies. Even though the Church calendar is not the same as the Hebrew calendar, there are nonetheless evidences of influence. We see this in the forty days leading up to Easter, for example, plus our celebration of Pentecost is the fulfillment of the Jewish holy day Shavuot.

The Church did not put themselves back under the types and shadows of what was to come because Christ did come. But these elements that the Church have adopted points us to the reality of Christ, his life, death, and resurrection just as the Hebrew liturgy was structured to point towards a future reality.

Liturgical Calendar

The liturgy and the calendar give glory to God, and it teaches us about our faith. Even now, during this season of no festivals is really a season of growth. Every part of the year has meaning. Good liturgy teaches that Christianity is not simply one Sunday morning a week, but that it is our life, just as I had learned in the synagogue. In the Anglican tradition, we use the Book of Common Prayer for morning and evening devotion. We read the prescribed prayers, psalms, and the creeds. And of course we incorporate Bible reading within our prayer time.

Sunday Morning Anglican Worship

The worship services on Sunday morning are structured with responsive readings, songs, creeds, and Scripture readings. The liturgy carries the service. While the minister is required to instruct rightly and present God’s truth through his sermons, he does not carry the burden of the whole worship service as is seen in many Evangelical churches. Even if a priest were to completely bomb the sermon, the congregation in an Anglican church still confess their sins, receive absolution, hear the Word of God, confess the truth of who God is through the creeds, and receive the Lord’s Supper. Good liturgy keeps the focus on the Triune God and His Gospel. No matter what the priest says during the sermon, though we hope that he speaks rightly, God’s people are still properly instructed and fed.

I’ve written more fully about the Lord’s Supper here, but the Supper is a strong element that has drawn me to Anglicanism. Word and Sacrament need to be regularly present in the service. Anglican liturgy is structured for this. The Word is brought forth, then confession and absolution. The service culminates in the sharing of the Supper in such a way that the service itself is sacramental with an anticipation of receiving this magnificent gift from our Lord through the priest.

Just like with reciting the Shema, other aspects of liturgy become part of the individuals, growing them in Christ and connecting them in Christ’s bride, His Church.

Defending Aquinas’ Theistic Proofs, Part 3

Last Friday I introduced a series on faith and reason through the lens of Thomas Aquinas. Monday and Wednesday, I pitted Aquinas’ arguments against Kant’s antinomies to show the fallacy in Kant’s reasoning and the logic in Aquinas’ theistic proofs. Today, I am wrapping up this series by showing how the law of causality refutes Kant’s 3rd antinomy.

Kant’s 3rd Antinomy

To review all of Kant’s antinomies, go here. But for the ease of this discussion, his 3rd antinomy states:

Thesis: Appearances of causes are not necessarily determined, instead free agency can will a cause. Antithesis: Every effect must have a cause.

Law of Causality

Wednesday, I mentioned two fundamental axioms. The first, law of noncontradiction, was explained in the last blog post. The second axiom, the law of causality, stands in relation to the law of noncontradiction’s formal test. Causality concerns the quality of motion we call change, and its logical sequencing points to a relationship between temporal events.

Example: event A causes event B. There are objections to this temporal sequencing, which I will address later. For now, I will focus on what causality is, how it is a first principle, and how it is supported by the law of noncontradiction. In a practical scientific way, causality can be shown in a series of events. For example, putting water on a hot stove will cause the water to boil, which will cause the water molecules to expand and vaporize into air.

For causality to be established as an axiomatic corollary of the law of noncontradiction, we must recognize it as a formal principle that is necessarily true. To do that, I will start with the definition: something that gives rise to an effect. The term effect denotes the notion of cause. This is more clearly seen when we say, “Every effect must have a cause.”

While we cannot prove the law of causality through sense perception, it is a logically prior supposition necessary to understanding the phenomena we observe. Thus, it is a self-evident principle. Like the law of noncontradiction, it must be true for the world and humanity to function. It is a universal necessity because if we could not rely on the law as valid, then the absence of the law would violate the law of noncontradiction. It is contradictory for water to boil and its molecules to expand and vaporize into air one time and then turn to ice another time. A clever person might point out A cannot be A and ~A at the same time and in the same relationship; therefore, water applied to heat could boil at one time and turn to ice at a different time. My response to that would be to point out that the law of causality cannot contradict itself.

Logical Errors with Causality

I will admit that logical errors can sometimes occur when applying the law of causality. Faulty causal generalization and post hoc are such examples. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, which translates as, “after this, therefore because of this,” concludes that since A happened before B, A must have caused B. A friend joked that buying his kids an Elf on the Shelf caused unusual occurrences in his house, even though there are more likely explanations than a sentient toy. However, logical fallacies do not negate a true causal sequence of events. Further, it is important to distinguish between necessary condition and sufficient condition. A necessary condition is a circumstance that must be present for an event to occur. A sufficient condition is a circumstance that must produce the event. The presence of oxygen is necessary but not sufficient for combustion, for example.

Aquinas’ 2nd Theistic Proof

With this understanding of causality, I will compare Kant’s third antinomy with St. Thomas’ efficient cause, which states that efficient cause is the primary source of change, like the knowledge a carpenter has when creating a table. Just like a table is unable to be its own cause, the world came into existence through a primary efficient cause.

Kant argues that the law of nature and freedom are at odds by proving on the one hand that “no absolutely first beginning of any series is possible during the course of the world” and makes a separation between temporal sequencing and change. (Odd that he did not do so with his first antinomy).

However, he comments on his antithesis that because we experience change, then we know a priori “such an unceasing sequence of being and non-being is possible.” Since these two propositions are contradictory, both cannot be correct. This is, of course, Kant’s point in that since both the thesis and antithesis can be proven, then human knowledge of such matters is unattainable.

False Contingency

Yet, only one of his premises is valid according to the two axioms of noncontradiction and causality because what Kant presents is a false contingency when he writes, “We must assume an absolute spontaneity of causes whereby they can begin on their own a series of appearances that runs according to natural laws” because spontaneity of cause is contradictory to the axioms established above. To that, Aquinas would say, “A false impossibility does not follow from a false contingency.”

Aquinas, however, recognizes that “if mover and moved be united together in some subject accidentally, and it be found that a certain thing is moved without its being a mover, it is probable that a mover is to be found that is not moved.”

What he is saying is that everything that moves must have a cause for its motion. If a pool player hit the cue ball with a pool stick, and the cue ball hits another ball which hits another ball, it would be recognized that each object that moved was caused to move by another. The movement of the stick caused the cue ball to move, but the stick also had to be moved by a primary causal agent.

Aquinas gives a few other examples with regards to a healer needing to be healed and a teacher needing to be taught. If we continue to go backwards to find the causal agent of each thing moved or healer healed, we find another agent that must be moved until we are either in infinite regress or until we reach the single primary cause of all that there is, and that the primary cause, by definition of primary, cannot have been moved by anything other than itself.

Because of the flaws, Kant’s antinomies do not do the damage to Aquinas’ theistic proofs that some claim that it does. Instead, when the two philosophical systems are exposed to the light of natural law and human reason, Aquinas’ proofs fair more favorably as it is logically consistent according to the two axioms I discussed, and it is more consistent with our natural sensual understanding of the world. I conclude, therefore, that Aquinas’ theistic proofs are logically consistent with natural human reason.