Monday, 14 April 2008

Cross and resurrection

This morning I’ve been writing a review of Michael Korthaus’ new book on Kreuzestheologie for Reviews in Religion and Theology. It’s a fascinating work of historical theology, with chapters on all the usual suspects (Barth, Käsemann, Ebeling, Moltmann, Jüngel, et al.). And it also features an impressive constructive sketch of a contemporary theology of the cross.

Korthaus’ cast of characters consists exclusively of German-language writers – which got me wondering whether any Anglo-American writers have contributed anything noteworthy to a theologia crucis. The only person who comes to mind is Rowan Williams – most strikingly in his writings on spirituality (such as the astonishing book, The Wound of Knowledge), but also in his broader work on theological method. I suspect Williams’ frustratingly piecemeal and open-ended writing on doctrine is itself a kind of methodologia crucis, an attempt to come to terms with the shattering significance of the cross for all our speech about God. This resonates with one of Korthaus’ central arguments as well: “The word of cross cannot be translated into a hermetic theological theory…. The word of the cross does not generate a system of cross-theology” (p. 21).

Anyway, here are a few more quotes from Korthaus’ excellent book:

“We define the relationship of cross and resurrection as follows: the resurrection is to be understood as the act of God’s identification with the crucified Jesus Christ, in which the event of the cross is publicly revealed as the unsurpassable salvation-event…. This understanding of resurrection as the act by which God identifies himself with the Crucified is first of all directed negatively against every tendency to understand the cross as a temporary pathway to a salvation which was surpassed and nullified in the resurrection” (pp. 374-75).

A quote from Gerhard Ebeling: “The substance of Easter faith is not that the meaning of the crucifixion is cancelled or nullified or disproved by the resurrection...” (p. 375).

A quote from Ingolf Dalferth: “The cross is mute and makes mute. God was silent. Jesus was separated. The disciples fled. It is not ours to understand the cross in the context of human life-experience. The cross is soteriologically mute” (p. 373).


saint egregious said...

I am glad you mentioned Rowan Williams here and agree with your assessment. I am especially intrigued by how Williams reads Ignatius's 'my eros is crucified' in such a way that the cross figures, not the extinguishing of desire, but its intensification. That is a remarkable reading which seems to me to be one of Williams' unique contributions to a contemporary theologia crucis.

a. steward said...

Alan Lewis' Between Cross and Resurrection: a Theology of Holy Saturday is absolutely outstanding. One of the most beautiful works of theology I've ever read. I'm out of the house or else I'd post a quote.

As far as the methodological implications of the cross, John Yoder, of course, has done more than any English writer I can think of to model this, which he calls "methodological non-constantinianism." Chris Huebner shows this well in A Precarious Peace.

kim fabricius said...

Yes, Ben, that is a canny assessement of Williams' "methodologia crucis", and you are right to point to the way the cross functions in Williams' spiritual theology.

In his chapter on Luther in The Wound of Knowledge, Williams finds two themes from the Reformer's theologia crucis which he deploys in his own theology. First, taking up Luther's notion of the hidden God, he insists "that any speech about God is speech about an absence," such that "all conceptual neatness and controlledness fall away"; "God himself is the great negative theologian." Here you can see why Williams is such an admirer of the poetry of R. S. Thomas.

And, second, Williams sees that Luther's experience of Anfechtung is of more than merely psychological, let alone pathological, interest, relating it to Christ crucified. "The most extreme Anfechtung," he writes: "the fact of Christ's perfect oneness with the Father is not touched by his experienced agony. Christ's cross is ... the supreme demonstration that holiness is nothing to do with mere states of mind." Follow the trajectory to Tokens of Trust and you find Williams accenting von Balthasar's (and Calvin's) take the descensus ad inferos as "Jesus on the cross ... enduring hell itself."

Finally, in Resurrection, again, it is the spirituality of the cross that interests Williams, with his emphasis on the dangers of misusing he cross "to serve an ideological purpose" - including my own. "Holy Week," he asserts, "may invite us to a certain identification with the crucified, Easter firmly takes away the familiar 'fellow-sufferer'.... We have to begin by seeing the cross as the cross of our victim, not of ourselves as victims."

saint egregious said...

Kim, I wonder what you think of this passage from Bernard McGinn comparing Luther and the great 13th century women mystics (from Silence and the Word).

“Luther seems to have reversed the polarities of the mystical relationship between the believer and the Deus absconditus experienced as the God who consigns to suffering and even hell. The mystics embraced the God who absents himself and condemns to hell, seeking ever-deeper contact with his absent presence. Luther fled from the God who hides himself in the mystery of predestination in order to take refuge in the God hidden sub contrario on the cross...Luther felt as if he were damned—an experience that drove him almost to despair. Many of the mystics we have looked at speak in similar ways about God’s absence, about estrangement from God, and about a damnation so painful that we do not do it justice by speaking of it as a ‘resignatio’ ad infernum. Nevertheless, the mystics did something rather different with this despair than Luther did, They do not flee from the God whose hiddenness so tortured them; they seek it out in confidence that it is only through the full embrace of God’s absence, even in hell itself, that God can be attained. True consolation is in desolation-‘Welcome, very blessed Estrangement’, as Mechthild of Magdeburg put it.”

If McGinn is right, (and I think he is) then is Williams closer to Balthasar and Von Speyr on this point than he is to Luther?

halden said...

I second Adam's comment about Alan Lewis' book on Holy Saturday. It is theologia crucis of the highest order.

kim fabricius said...

Hi Saint Egregious,

What an interesting passage. But is the contrast between Luther and the women mystics as black-and-white as McGinn suggests? I don't have the knowledge of the women mystics to comment, but I am surprised to hear that Luther fled the hidden God who so tortured him. Williams doesn't mention the women mystics in The Wound of Knowledge, but he does mention Eckhart and his followers Suso and Tauler, and reads Luther in continuity with them, not contrast to them: "it is clear," he concludes his discussion, "that the reformer cannot simply be interpreted as an enemy to contemplative theology and practice; he is, rather, an uncompromising champion of the innate iconoclasm of contemplation."

Great last quote from Mechthild, btw. It reminds me of the "Keep your mind in hell and fear not" of the Russian mystics.

And I'll add a third "Amen" to Lewis' masterpiece. Covering biblical narrative, doctrine (the commentary on Barth, Moltmann, and Jüngel alone is worth the price of entry), as well as prayer, ecclesiology, and ethics, it constitutes a mini-summa on the cross that oils the brain and touches the heart - deeply.

saint egregious said...

Sorry, Kim, that quote pulled out of context is perhaps not clear. McGinn's point, one he is getting from Brian Gerrish's essay on the hiddenness of God in Luther and Calvin, is that Luther has operating within his thought at least two kinds of hiddenness. One is the classic sub contrario of the cross, where in faith we see God's strength in weakness, his salvation in crucifixion, etc. But the other is the hiddenness of God's decrees apart from Christ, the decrees of predestination. This latter hiddenness, that one does not see nor comprehend the eternal decree of God regarding the damnation of souls, is one Luther flees from in faith. Rather than enter into the hell of estrangement, as Mechthild, Angela of Foligno, or Marguerite Porete did, willingly and boldly (Hadewijch calls this path to God the "way of hell'), Luther experiences this Anfechtung only to flee from it to the mercy of the crucified Christ.
None of this is to say that Luther should be seen as simply opposed to the mystical tradition here. As you say, Tauler is particularly important, as McGinn notes, and, as Gerrish suggests, both Luther and Calvin do focus on the hell of Christ's own estrangement. But still I wonder whether, given the reintroduction of the 'way of hell' by von Speyr and rehearsed in Balthasar, where Williams' theologia crucis might fall.

kim fabricius said...

Thanks for the clarification, St. Egregious. I suspected that was the case.

Where would Williams' theologia crucis fall? I suspect where Karl Barth's does, with his Christological concentration. That is, Williams would deny that there is a hidden predestinarian divine will, there is only the one divine will disclosed in Jesus, and he would treat it dialectically: that is, the resurrection of Christ reveals the will of God hidden in the death of Christ (though the resurrection itself, to use Barth's idiom, is not a straightforward unveiling, not least because meeting the mysterious risen stranger, as Williams says, "is disturbingly like meeting any human being").

Weekend Fisher said...

Gerhard Forde's _On Being a Theologian of the Cross_ is worth a read -- it's designed less as a systematic theology and more as the way in which he introduced his theology students to the difference between the Theology of the Cross and, say, PSA and/or Arminian "accept it" views of the cross.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

P.S. his book _Where God Meets Man_ also covers some of the same material but the Contents are more structured to address current concerns than following the old Heidelberg outline as the other book does.

Anonymous said...

Douglas John Hall's Lighten our Darkness, The Cross in Our Context, and his trilogy: Thinking the Faith, Confessing the Faith, and Professing the Faith, are in the theologia crucis tradition.


a. steward said...

Alan Lewis' Between Cross and Resurrection: a Theology of Holy Saturday is absolutely outstanding. One of the most beautiful works of theology I've ever read. I'm out of the house or else I'd post a quote.

As far as the methodological implications of the cross, John Yoder, of course, has done more than any English writer I can think of to model this, which he calls "methodological non-constantinianism." Chris Huebner shows this well in A Precarious Peace.

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