Wednesday 14 February 2007

The non-existence of the spirit world

The Aussie writer Peter Sellick has posted an excellent polemical piece on the non-existence of the spirit world. He discusses the Arian heresy as an example of rationalist biblical literalism, and he remarks:

“I can’t help thinking that attempts to make Jesus subordinate to the Father are produced by a refusal to accept that the man on the cross, on the stinking dunghill of Golgotha, outside of the city walls and abandoned by all, is God. This is the offence at the centre of the Christian story.”


Anonymous said...

It is interesting, isn't it, that both Arius' personal disposition and his theological project were fundamentally conservative (Origenist); and that, as a teacher of biblical exegesis, hermeneutically he was a literalist - and in Alexandria no less! (In his magisterial Arius:Heresy and Tradition [sec. ed. 2001], Rowan Williams agrees with those who insist that the Arian controversy was substantially a fight about hermeneutics.)

But perhaps we should be careful about using the word "rationalist" for Arius, if that implies that he was driven more by logical than theological considerations. Rather his views grew out of deeply felt and passionately held soteriological concerns.

There is no doubt a lesson to be draw here, and Williams draws it: "The loyal and uncritical repetition of formulae is seen to be inadequate as a means of securing continuity at anything more than a formal level; Scripture and tradition require to be read in ways that bring out their strangeness, their non-obvious ... qualities." And I can't resist adding that Williams then suggests "a certain irresistible parallel between Athanasius and Barth."

By the way, for what it's worth, the way I'd put the bottom line of the Arian controversy is whether or not God really loves. Arius' god is devoid of self-giving love.

Oh - one other by the way - about "the spirit world": Is the contemporary obsession with Near Death Experiences a postmodern version?

Anonymous said...

The Origenist tendency towards Platonism would certainly make the material less worthy of divine presence. In terms of hermeneutics it would not be inconsistent to deny the material world the ability to act as a medium of meaning. Arius certainly seemed uncomfortable with talk of a union between heaven and earth, especially one that involves the cross.

Anonymous said...

Further to Kim's post:
Would Williams consider the (only) formal level continuity rendered by formulae to be in any way necessary to developing other levels of continuity that would bring out strangeness and non-obviousness? And, if so, how would these levels relate?
It seems to me that formulae over time become increasingly strange and non-obvious to succeeding generations and recovering their meaning is the real source of developmental continuity.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous,

Good point, and the last thing on Williams' mind is to play fast and loose with formulae. His theology is profoundly orthodox. but its description is "thick". What Williams would say (I think) is that it is precisely through acknowledging the contextual/occasional nature of theology, and treating tradition as living rather than idling, such that its very continuity is actually always under renegotiation, that the strangeness of the gospel is allowed to become an authentic strangeness, a strangeness demanding, not a sacrificium intellectus but the conversio intellectus.

As Williams says in his conclusion: "the theology of Arius does not come from nowhere; and part of my aim was to show how a theological tradition that is not responsive in some ways to wider intellectual currents can become stuck, its fruitful paradoxes turning into simple aporiai."

Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Theological tradition must come under the current of the Spirit (living water). That is why the Spirit must quicken the intellect not streams of thoughts or philosophy. Only Spirit can give life and light to theology.

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