Sunday 12 October 2008

Resurrection as God's self-determination: a note on Adam Eitel, Bruce McCormack and Rowan Williams

Earlier this year, Adam Eitel published an important IJST article on “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being”, which argued for a more Hegelian reading of the relation between Trinity and resurrection in Barth’s thought.

According to Eitel: “God’s eternal triune act of being and Christ’s resurrection from the dead are not peculiar or separate acts. Rather, Christ’s resurrection was the historical continuation of God’s eternal being-in-act…. Put another way, the resurrection was nothing less than the historicization of the intra-triune activity of God’s own being.”

To paraphrase Eitel’s argument, God’s being can thus be described as a kind of being-towards-resurrection; the resurrection of Jesus is the goal of God’s eternal self-determining action. In this historical (or better, this history-creating) event, God becomes what God eternally is – and this is just because God eternally is what he becomes in this event.

I think this is a brilliant and compelling way of interpreting the relation between resurrection and the doctrine of God, and of extending Bruce McCormack’s important thesis on triunity and divine self-determination. Interestingly, this analysis of the resurrection had already been anticipated by Rowan Williams in his stunning 1982 book, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel (2nd ed.; Pilgrim Press, 2002). Here’s what Williams has to say:

“Jesus’ life is historical, describable…. But there is a sense in which the raising of Jesus … does not and cannot belong to history: it is not an event, with a before and after, occupying a bit of time between Friday and Sunday. God’s act in uniting Jesus’ life with his eludes us: we can speak of it only as the necessary condition for our living as we live. And as a divine act it cannot be tied to place and time in any simple way. It is, indeed, an ‘eternal’ act: it is an aspect of the eternal will by which God determines how he shall be, his will to be the Father of the Son…. The event of resurrection, then, cannot but be hidden in God’s eternal act, his eternal ‘being himself’; however early we run to the tomb, God has been there ahead of us” (pp. 89-90).

The resurrection is an eternal act in which God determines the kind of God he will be. It is an act in which the trinitarian persons are differentiated: Father, Son and Spirit relate to one another in this event. The resurrection is God’s determination to be the triune God – so that God’s decision about his own being is fulfilled not in the abyss of eternity, but in this unique occurrence within human history.


Anonymous said...

Bad Ben: you used the word 'trinitarian'. Tsk, tsk.

Anonymous said...

That makes sense of something I've often considered about "eternally begotten". The verses used to support it are verses about resurrection (Ps 2:7; cf Acts 13:33; Heb 5:5). Nice.

Anonymous said...

This hegelian move seems to me to be a very bad one; one from which theologians should flee. It certainly seems to fit McCormack's interpretation of Barth via his doctrine of election. But I hope it is incorrect. . We suffered through the so-called 'hellenization' of Christianity phase. That is now over, and we realized the fathers did not fall prey to some putative static metaphysics and a so called 'classical theism.' But I fear we've not moved beyond its corollary, the contextual condition in which the so-called hellenization thesis, could flourish -- the 'hegelianiziation' of Christianity. The result is a re-paganization of God: loss of impassibility, immutability, etc, and a simplistic distinction between language and metaphysics. A further result is that God becomes a creature (and not via the hypostatic union, but in the divine nature) The barthian fear, which McCormack accentuates, that humanity not be divinized; (no genus maiestaticum) snuggles in a hominization of God (only a genus tapeinoticum). Rowan Williams, I hope, has not retreated from his earlier work to embrace this hegelianism.

Dave Belcher said...

Prof. Long,

I was just typing up a long note to a similar conclusion about my worries about the "Hegeling" going on here, and I lost it (so thanks for saying some of that for me). Let me add a few things.

I think the real significance of Hegel that seems to be obfuscated or ignored by Eitel is that the truly decisive moment for Hegel is in fact not resurrection, but crucifixion. It is the death of Christ (nay, the death of God) that "sublates" finitude, moves particularity along to universal, and to absolute freedom in the Spirit. Thus can Hegel say that "only as dead is he exalted to Heaven and sits at the right hand of God" (Philosophy of History). Christ's work of reconciliation is essentially complete in death (the sublation of what is "evil" and "alien" to God is taken up into God, and then sublated), and he is thus resurrected into the is this move (the move to ecclesiology) that is flatly ignored by Eitel, and to me seems to be most significant to a repristination of Hegel especially for the theology of Karl Barth. And another element that is lost precisely in that move -- which Doug Farrow has driven home so forcefully, and in my mind correctly -- is the way in which ascension is construed in Hegel: it is only as we glory in the Cross that Christ ascends...even stronger, it is because we glory in the Cross (through our own self-abnegation, appropriating the fact of the cross: that church and world are now reconciled, indistinct) that Christ ascends, we cause Christ's ascension. The history of God and the history of man collapse (the "finitude" of humanity must for this reason be sublated: to allow for the universal to be free, absolute [ab-solved, fred from]). Thus in Hegel's Lectures on Religion: "the idea f God has certainty for [human beings], that humanity has attained the certainty of union with God, that the human is the immediately present God. Indeed, within this history as spirit comprehends it, there is the vey presentation of he process of what humanity, what spirit is -- implicitly both God and dead" (Lectures, III:468).

And I would be surprised to learn that McCormack's reading of Barth is quite as Hegelian as Eitel would like it to be...McCormack believes that the eternal act of Self-determination on God's part in Christ is a free act and not a necessary one, which distinguishes Barth (I would presume) from Hegel. As McCormack puts it in an excellent recent article referred to on this site once before: "Have I come out at the same place as Hegel, as van Driel suggests? Not even remotely. Hegel makes God's relation to Jesus to be a function of God's relation to human beings generally, a relation (mind you) in which the ontological distinction between God and humankind is set aside. I follow Barth in making God's relation to human beigs to be a function of God's relation to Jesus, a relation in which the ontological distinction between God and the human is never set aside" (Orthodox and Modern, 269).

Nonetheless, I still want to reflect on Farrow's critique of Barth on this very point...I'll say more on that later.


dave belcher

Anonymous said...

I have a question to put forth.

Why is the Being of God revealed as Triune in the Resurrection event?

What distinguishes this event as particularly 'Triune' as opposed to the virgin birth of Christ, His baptism and subsequent ministry?

Halden said...

I would demur at Steve Long's fears of a 'hegelianization' of Christianity, at least insofar as we seek to project such a fear onto McCormack's interpretation of Barth, or the statements of Rowan Williams noted here.

The language of "re-paganization" is, I think no less unwieldy, sensationalistic, and crude than simplistic narratives of the "Hellenization" of Christianity that Long decries.

Or to put it another way, I think the rather fashionable claims being made these days that there is no such thing as "metaphysics" and that impassibility and immutability can somehow just be read off the Bible are naive. Where it was once fashionable to claim that Christianity had been corrupted by Hellenic philosophy, it is now cool to insist that Christian theology has never really gotten anything wrong ever in its appropriation of the tradition of Greek antiquity. And that I simply don't buy.

Halden said...

Also, let us be clear about what is really at stake in these debates. It is precisely not an argument about the metaphysical apparatus that should be adopted by Christian theology (either "Classical" or "Hegelian"). It is a profoundly theological issue about the nature of revelation itself.

The broadly McCormackian position is nothing more than the insistence that we cannot go "behind" God's act of revelation in the death and resurrection of Christ to some other source of knowledge about God on the basis of which we could make metaphysical statements about the divine being.

Positions that dispute with this perspective do so on the basis that there are other sources of knowledge outside of Christ on the basis of which we can know the being of God (as impassible, immutable, or whatever).

This is the linchpin of the issue: Is God's being knowable solely on the basis of the Christ event as Barth argued, or are there other sources of knowledge of God that can be known outside of, beyond, or alongside the narrative particularity of the revelation of God in Christ?

How one answers this question determines whether one will see merit or peril in the sort of perspective advanced by Barth and McCormack.

Unknown said...

I am convinced that Barth's actualist christology retains an Hegelian idealist residue from beginning to end. And I think the problem with this is both a matter of conceptual (epistemic) abstraction from the messy complexities of actual history, and of a privileged ontological determination that short-circuits eschatology and for that reason the deification of humanity. I think there are two issues to be addressed here, both of which Steve has already gestured towards:

1.) The first has to do with Barth's actualist reading of the Incarnation and of the enhypostasia. Insofar as it is about "the humanity of God," to use Barth's terminology, the Incarnation for Barth is not so much about eternity's coming into being in time (to borrow Kierkegaard's formulation), so much as the event of eternity's own temporality. By "eternalizing" temporality from the outset, Barth has afforded the Incarnation itself a transcendental metaphysical status.

2.) But this has significant implications for how we understand the "union" of humanity with divinity. For our own union with God ceases to be about the kind of singularly transformative "contemporaneity" by which particular human beings come into union in time with the eternal God that has come into being in time as this contingent human being, but the way in which this particular human being has from eternity rendered each moment in time as "universally" contemporaneous with "God." What is lost is the kind of transformation and conversion of time and humanity which occurs with the Incarnation, by which humanity, as not merely "creaturely," becomes the "bearer" of divinity, both singularly for all in Jesus and each singularly through Jesus, in the Spirit, via "repetition." In other words, I'm not sure Barth's construal of time and eternity can abide the *Theotokos*, as such.

Those are strong claims, I know. But I'll stand by them, even as I must leave them undeveloped for me. The trick, for me, is not so much a revival of Barth's Hegelian actualism, but rather the manner in which we might seek anew after that which Barth in his actualism sought but (in my mind) failed to achieve: a new imagination of the concrete union between humanity and God that is made possible in Jesus Christ. A new way of imagining participation as participation *in Christ*, irreducibly and without abstraction. I think Barth could have stood to remained in the "school" of Kierkegaard a bit longer than he found necessary.

Dave Belcher said...

Halden, I understand where you are coming from here, and I think that we are in large agreement on these issues -- particularly as to the importance of McCormack's thesis.

What is at stake for me is the implications of what Eitel sees as a "similitude" and "material correspondence" between Barth's doctrine of resurrection, and that of Hegel's (and yes, precisely for the significance of revelation actually). So, I think I am coming at this from a somewhat different angle than Prof. Long is (and Prof. Long, I wanted to ask: Are not immutability and impassibility instances of a decidedly Greek metaphysics?). This is why I included the McCormack quote -- to suggest that Eitel's reading of Hegel into Barth (which he sees as corresponding to McCormack's thesis) perhaps shouldn't be projected onto what McCormack is attempting to do (though Prof. McCormack can certainly speak for himself -- and more work needs to be done on this question still).

Something else that is significant to this discussion. It seems to me that McCormack is profoundly influenced by Jungel on this point, and Jungel certainly appropriated Hegelian elements in thinking through the freedom of God's "grounding" of God's self. Nevertheless, McCormack takes distance from Jungel (and sides with Barth) precisely on the issue of Hegelianism (though it is not a crude reduction: cf. Orthodox and Modern, 259). In my estimation, though, if Eitel's reading of Barth on resurrection is correct, and if this is indeed the lynchpin of McCormack's thesis, then I'm not so sure that McCormack wouldn't be more "Jungelian" on this point...or perhaps more to the point, wouldn't Jungel's Hegelianism then be a strictly corect reading of Barth? I hold out resolving those questions for now, simply because I don't feel confident in my answer yet. But, my own "answers" to these questions are leaning more in this latter direction, especially through Farrow's critique (which is essentially that Barth's Christology doesn't escape the "eschatological docetism" it seeks to).

Halden said...

I agree, Dave. I was actually thinking exactly the same thing abut the Jungel connection.

I'll leave it to others to explicate the connection between Barth and eschatology and whatever lacuna might be there. I don't know if I'm yet qualified to make such judgments.

Anonymous said...

This might be for another time, but I'd be interested to know how Halden's defence of McCormack isn't undermined by McCormack himself?

With Halden, I'm all for insisting "that we cannot go "behind" God's act of revelation in the death and resurrection of Christ to some other source of knowledge about God on the basis of which we could make metaphysical statements about the divine being."

But I fear that McCormack does that when he says things like:

" is precisely the primal decision of God in election which constitutes the event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being. Election thus has a certain logical priority even over the triunity of God."

I just don't recognize from Christ's revelation the "God" who is the subject of McCormack's first sentence. Isn't this "God" (who is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ) just another way of having a god behind Jesus' back?

Know it's slightly tangential but would appreciate being pointed in helpful directions.

Cheers, Glen.

Anonymous said...

I would not put myself in league with those who see themselves as expert in Barthian theology. But I will say that as one who reads the good Pastor a couple of hours a day over the past four years, this phraseology ". . . . more Hegelian reading of the relation between Trinity and resurrection in Barth’s thought" seems downright heretical. Christ is at the center of Barthian thinking in a way that is not true for Hegel and the differences between the dialectic "formula" of the two men is evidence enough to support this claimed distinction. Hegel's dialectic finds a synthetic solution that is in fact a third and defining dialectic circumstance. Barth replaces the notion of [synthetic] solution with a living and vital Christology. In Hegel, the tension of the thesis/antithesis is resolved in sythesis; in Barth, the tension remains and is mediated by Christ. Hegel is actually quite existential in his thinking while Barth is not. To imagine that Barth is in any way Hegelian is to confuse the distinct paradigms of the two men. The comparison of Hegel to Barth is disappointing.

John Smithson

Anonymous said...

Did God become "more Godlike" during and after the resurrection? I would say no. He is and has been eternally everything that He is, and self-sufficient.

I think we have to stay with the simple directness of the revelation of Scripture at a prima facie reading. No need to speculate beyond what is revealed and what we are clearly called to know and behold.


Unknown said...

I have thought some more about this stuff quite a bit since yesterday and I just wanted to add this one thing: I believe Halden is exactly right when he says that what is at stakes in these debates here is the issue of revelation. Barth's whole concern is with the way in which the person of Jesus Christ is the revelation of the God that reveals Godself, without remainder as it were. But here precisely is where I think Barth's residual Hegelianism (however different from Hegel Barth turns out to be) fails him. For I think Barth maps the Christ-event onto a privileged actualist framework whose privileged philosophy of history abstracts precisely from the ongoing lived particularity of that event. And I think that this is bound up with the lacunae of Barth's eschatology, as for example the way in which the ascension and parousia become somewhat epiphenomenal in light of the resurrection, not determinative of Christ's particular identity in any way, so much as unfolding "episodes" of what with Christ has become universal in the resurrection. In all of this, though, I remain convinced of Barth's purpose in all of this, which is why I think that Barth is precisely one of those five most important thinkers that we need to be reading and engaging for our time.

Halden said...

I think you may be onto something there Nate. At least it deserves to be explored further.

But tell me, who are the other four thinkers? I imagine Yoder is one...

Unknown said...

Ah, Halden. Of course, I just threw that number out there because I knew Barth would be in the "top 5" of pretty much every category of thinkers we should be reading today. But for the sake of these purposes, I'll say the "top 5" from the last century. In no particular order: Barth, Bonhoeffer, Yoder, Certeau and Kierkegaard. (Okay, so I cheated on the last one -- but SK is kind of a 20th century figure, really.)

Anonymous said...

Whaaa?! No, Przywara, no Lubac?! But the latter is responsible for the real theological revolution of the twentieth century!

Halden said...

Well, de Lubac was certainly a great theologian. But revolutionary? Nothing on Karl Barth. Simply no contest.

Unknown said...


Re: Lubac. I did at least include Certeau -- his "bastard son," if you will.

Halden, I know it is de Lubac and de Certeau, but a friend of mine (the very one posting as JD, I believe) was once strongly rebuked and corrected by Jean-Yves Lacoste for saying "de Lubac" throughout a presentation, when he should have just been saying "Lubac" when using the surname only. So I've followed the usage ever since -- for fear of pissing off Lacoste some day. I think JD has researched the proper usage since then, but I can't remember. Either way -- just don't ever correct my pronunciation of "Przywara" in public or for that matter question my pronunciation of "Kierkegaard"! ;-)

Unknown said...

Yeah, if de Lubac had been more heretical, perhaps we could have thrown him in to that rarified category. (I kid!)

Anonymous said...

This is copied and pasted from a previous blog discussion on the matter. It is what I have been able to track down regarding accepted French grammatic rules on the question:

" Edward D. Seeber puts it, “the particle 'de' may be used after a given name or title, but not with a surname alone: one writes, for example, ‘Alexis de Tocqueville,’ ‘Tocqueville,’ but not ‘de Tocqueville’” The exceptions are: “(1) in one-syllable names(De Retz, De Thou) or two-syllable names that end in mute e, i.e., that are pronounced as one syllable (De Gaulle, De Grasse, De Maistre); (2) in names that begin with a vowel or mute h (D’Alembert, D’Holbach)…”

(Citation and first page of article here for those that care about such things. I found it helpful.)"

Clearly, you see, neither Lubac nor Certeau fit these criteria for the addition of the "de."

Anonymous said...

And, yes, I am the same "JD."

JKnott said...

What about "von Balthasar" vs "Balthasar?" That one has me confused, as the sources seem to use both.

Anonymous said...

To Professor Long,

I have thought at some length over the last 24 hours as to whether to offer any response to your post - or to simply ignore it. I have decided not to ignore it because it falls into a pattern of criticisms of my work which I find very disturbing - not so much because of how it impacts me personally but because of what it portends for the discipline of theology.

You say that Mr. Eitel's essay seems to fit my intepretation of Barth's doctrine of election. It does - though his conclusions are not ones I would have drawn (for reasons I have explained to him). I think it would be helpful to remember - especially in the current "shoot from the hip" environment - that possible conclusions are not necessary conclusions. Just because a particular conclusion might be drawn from certain basic premises, does not mean that it has to be; that other, quite different conclusions might not also be drawn. Mr. Eitel has drawn his own conclusions and I have given him encouragement in doing so because I think it is a fundamental right of all graduate students to be free of the control of their mentors. Everyone must find his/her own way in theology. Where they are not allowed to do so, they will just bide their time - and take their revenge later. But, in any case, Eitel's views on the resurrection are not mine.

But second (and more importantly): you say that you hope my interpretation of Barth is incorrect. Such reasons as you are able to give for this hope amounts to two claims which you seem to say follow from teh current "Hegelian-ization" of Christianity. First, "the re-paganization of God" through the "loss of impassibility, immutability, etc. and a simplistic distinction between language and metaphysics." I am not sure what that last named distinction could even mean. Certainly, it is not a distinction I have ever employed. As for immutability, I doubt you would find anyone who, over the last twenty years, has argued more strenuously and consistently for divine immutability. What I will grant you, though, is that I do not think that "impassibility" is a biblical concept and, for that reason, I do not think it should be allowed to control the meaning of "immutability." Certainly, the biblical scholars I talk to (and they are many) are not willing to give the idea of impassibility the time of day. It is not just that the word "apatheia" is not used of God in the Bible; it is rather that any passage which might seem to gesture in such a direction is always qualified by others.

But such questions are surely worthy of debate, are they not? They are matters we could discuss. But how can a real discussion take place when one of the two potential parties to it slams his fist on the table and says "paganization"? I really cannot see what you have written here as an invitation to dialogue. It is a "final judgment" - nothing less. [Parenthetically, I would have thought that the burden of disproving an alleged "paganization" would fall precisely on those who defend impassibility, since that idea was common throughout the ancient (pagan) world.]

Second, you accuse me of making God a creature - by means of my appeal to the genus tapeinoticum. If I thought that were true, I would repudiate my position immediately in fear and trembling. It lies far from my intentions. But the issue is finally a Christological one, having to do with the relation of the natures to each other and of both natures to the person of the union.

In that vein, let me ask you: how can you, for your part, be so dismissive of the genus tapeinoticum? Is it reasonable to keep human attributes (and experiences) hermetically sealed off not only from the divine nature but even from the person of the union? If not, and human attributes are rightly (and realistically) to be ascribed to the person of the union, then it seems to me that you have two options before you. One is to make the person of the union a "compound person" (with Leontius and John of Damascus). One might then say that human attributes are rightly ascribed to the God-human AS HUMAN but not to the God-human AS DIVINE. To do that, however, is simply to project the distinction of natures "down" into the person in which those natures subsist. Or you can identify the person of the union with the Logos simpliciter (as Cyril did). But if you did that, a realistic ascription of human attributes to the person of the union would mean an ascription of such attributes to the divine Logos. In that case, you would not need a genus tapeinoticum (which has its home in the relation of the natures to each other); a communication of the attributes to the person of the union would be sufficent to guarantee a suffering God (and with that, the end of the concept of impassibility). And so I ask: could it be that the reason so few theologians actually engage the technical problems that arise in Christology is because they don't like the outcome? Could it be that the commitment to impassibility is more basic than any Christological commitments, so that what the impassibilist allows him/herself to say with respect to Christology has already been decided by the prior commitment? Could it be, at the end of the day, that a Nestorian lurks in the heart of every Alexandrian to the extent that the Alexandrian wants to keep human attributes and experiences isolated from BOTH the divine nature and the person of the union - with the result that the human "nature" is made to be a subject in its own right? Bottom line: how can you be dismissive of the genus tapeinoticum without winding up in the lap of Nestorius?
The Nestorians were, after all, the most strict defenders of divine impassibility. Cyril had to tinker with the concept of impassibility precisely because he was not content to isolate the human nature from the Logos.

Did you notice that I asked you questions? I did not accuse, charge, threaten those who follow you with grave consequences if they were to pay any attention to you. I just asked some questions. That, it seems to me, is how a civil conversation happens. I could wish that a few of my critics would slow down a bit in their rush to judgement and actually ask me: "do you think that this follows from your position? If not, why not? Which direction would you go?" But that is not what I get - and it is all becoming more than a little tiresome.

A final word on Hegel. I have written on more than one occasion with regard to the ways in which Barth's dogmatic theology differs from his philosophical theology. The differences are substantial. But! I do not think - any more than Barth did - that the name of Hegel should be used as a "Schimpfwort" or that Hegel himself should be set up as some kind of bogeyman (something with which one scares little children into obedience). Hegel's struggle to find a ground for the relation of subject and object in epistemology (which would overcome Kant's dualism) is but a "parable" of the God-world relation spoken of by Christians; it is not the thing itself. To his credit, Barth understood the difference between a philosophical parable and a theological question. My own view is that Cyril, too, understood this distinction. For that reason, I don't think he ever made "impassibility" a shibboleth in quite the way you seem to be doing. I would commend him as a model of restraint.

My hands are tired - and I have said all I want to say for now on these topics. I am in the process of writing three books (two on Christology and one on the doctrine of God). I would ask that both my friends and my critics exercise some patience until these works appear. That would be the proper time to render definitive judgments. Until then, the proper form of communication must remain that of questioning.



Anonymous said...

The last comment is mine. I don't know why it was posted as "anonymous." I am still figuring out how these things work.

Bruce McCormack

Anonymous said...

To Ben and Halden,

At the risk of oversimplifying matters, it seems like on this particular issue of the relationship between "being and decision" you two are on the same page, roughly speaking. That being the case, i am hoping at least one of you has the time to answer a question for me. First let me try to sketch out your position, so you can tell me if i'm understanding you two.

It seems to me that you two are arguing that God's decision/election, his "choice about the kind of God he will be" either precedes or eternally 'exists' simultaneously with God's "being." Am i right on this?

If so, my question then is this: why do we have to put priority on one or the other? I guess i'm wondering if on some level this debate has surfaced b/c of an indebtedness on both sides to a foundationalist epistemology. I'm not sure how this problem occurs otherwise. Why can't God eternally "being and doing" both?

I'm somewhat new to this debate, first hearing of it on this blog. I find it interesting, but i'm increasingly unsure if the problem exists only due to presuppositions that in my mind can be rightly questioned. I think that you are both brilliant, and i mean no disrespect. Please let me know if i'm missing something here.

Thanks, Derek

Halden said...

Re: the 'de' issue,

I was of course just having a bit of fun, mostly because I have nearly always found Henri de Lubac referred to as "de Lubac" rather than "Lubac" to the point that the latter just sounds off to me.

With respect to Lacoste and Seeber, the Chicago Manual of Style states that while the particle "de" is often dropped when used alone, it is not necessarily dropped, especially when "suggested by tradition rather than logic" as in the case of De Gaulle, for example.

In the specific case of de Lubac virtually all of the secondary literature that I have encountered (e.g. Balthasar, Milbank, McPartlan) retain the particle in the case of surname use. As such I feel on firm stylistic ground in retaining it in this case, especially given that de Lubac himself seems to adopt this usage in his own works when referring to his other works.

Though of course I haven't had to endure a scolding from Lacoste!

Re: Derek,

I will speak for myself in this, but I would agree that God's decision is utterly coterminous with God's being, such that any relation of antecedence between God's being and God's decree is suspect. Indeed I think the concept of antecedence should not be predicated of God at all, but that's another issue. I hope that helps and sorry for being so brief. These issues are, of course quite complex, as you observe.

Anonymous said...

Professor McCormack,

Thank you for your response and for its civil tone. I have made a habit not to respond to blogs, which I obviously violated in writing my brief missive warning against the turn to Hegel in the contemporary theological scene. I’m no good at blogging – can’t figure out the proper tone. The turn to hegel was my primary concern. Having set my missive out in public, I certainly owe you a public response. First let me remind you of what I said in response to claims made by theologians sympathetic to your interpretation of Barth, Mr. Eitel and Mr. Myers; the latter whom wrote of the former, “I think this is a brilliant and compelling way of interpreting the relation between resurrection and the doctrine of God, and of extending Bruce McCormack’s important thesis on triunity and divine self-determination.” In response I stated, “It certainly seems to fit McCormack's interpretation of Barth via his doctrine of election. But I hope it is incorrect.” The “it” here clearly refers to Eitel and Myer’s interpretation of your work. I stated it “seems” to fit it; that they are faithful interpreters. If they are, then I still hope it is incorrect. If you think it doesn’t fit your work then we actually agree. Thus I don’t understand why my response is uncivil, was in any sense a provocation, or an unwillingness to engage in conversation.

Note also that my reference to the “re-paganization” of God was to a ‘hegelianization’ that loses impassibility. How is this slamming my fist on a table? I’m perplexed by the response. The argument is a common one found in the work of Joseph Ratzinger et. al. that the accomplishment of a Greek metaphysics, which by the way was never ‘abstract’ or ‘static’ in my reading, was precisely to demythologize ‘god’ via philosophy. The civil religion of the Greeks allowed for the gods’ passibility because there was no ontological distinction between them and creatures. In the City of God (I believe bk 5) this is why Augustine argues what Christians are about is more akin to what the Greeks and Romans called “philosophy” than religion. Christians could use this precisely because ‘god’ had been demythologized. Of course it had to be reconfigured through the biblical witness, which I think they did. To make god passible is necessarily to assume in God an act/potency distinction that violated simplicity, unless we are using the term ‘passible’ in an equivocal sense – but then we should not critique some putative ‘abstract metaphysics’ of the ‘Greeks,’ the fathers or the medievals, when we are using terms thoroughly different than they did. That certain forms of Greek metaphysics and Jewish and Christian theology, as well as Islamic, are on the same page on this claim of God’s simplicity is something I affirm. (Clearly Arius and Nestorius took it too far and that must always be guarded against) I assume you and I disagree on the role of philosophy in theology, but I’m unsure. If God is passible, then God can be affected by that which is not God. God would not be complete in himself, not the fullness of being, not perfect. God would ‘lack’ and need something other than God for God’s own being. The Triune relations would not be the only ‘real’ relations in God, the God-creature relation would also be ‘real.’ I reject this. I think simplicity, perfection, etc are not ‘attributes’ known by reason alone, but ‘divine names’ that are logical explications of the revelation to Moses: “ehyeh asher ehyeh” which I think can be legitimately translated “ego eimi ho on.” I know von Rad and some biblical scholars disagree, but I would side with the Christian tradition of biblical interpretation of the ‘divine names’ arising from pseudo-Dionysius through Aquinas.

I could continue with disagreements over your interpretation – not so much wrt Barth, but wrt the reading of the tradition prior to the Reformation. For instance, I think you are correct and most helpful in identifying a key move in Barth’s work to be the anhypostasis/enhypostasia distinction, which Leontius of Byzantium certainly began to develop. But note that this requires the language of “hypostasis” to work. So how does Barth avoid the putative “abstract metaphysics” of the fathers if he at least assumes their work for his key move? Moreover, Aquinas assumes that esse is prior to essentia, so how does your actualism do anything more than what he had already accomplished, and why reject God as actus purus? Where is this “abstract metaphysics” of “essentialism” that must be corrected, and is not so until Barth?

Which brings me to my claim, where I agreed with your students, that Eitel “seems” to offer a correct interpretation of your reading of Barth that it is Hegelian despite your demurrals. I think beginning with the doctrine of election in the way that you do and seeing CD II/2 as a revolutionary moment in theology that undoes everything Barth said prior (as well as nearly the entirety of the Christian tradition) and must then be developed consistently in ways Barth does not, makes it difficult for you to maintain several things: the ontological distinction, eternity and time, history and metaphysics. I’m confused by the first by what I read as Barth’s failure in maintaining the ontological distincion on p. 212 of your Barth: Orthodox and Modern with your affirmation of the distinction on p. 228. I'm confused by the second with the claim that the immanent and economic Trinity are “wholly identical” on p. 191 and the need to maintain the distinction between “eternity” and time” con 102. I'm confused by the third when Barth's radical historicizing is affirmed, "nature" is repaced with " history" and yet you then note the need for placing limits on historicizing on p. 191 if we are to avoid Hegelianism? My fear is that the camel’s nose is already under the tent, especially when you seem to so thoroughly juxtapose ‘history’ and metaphyics, which is the reason for my cryptic comment about language and metaphysics. (I do not think we need to replace ‘nature’ with history. In fact, I think we don’t have to do so. The term nature was taken from nascitur by the medievals, meaning that something gave birth to something in history and could be construed as a ‘nature’ – I still find that helpful, even though the fathers and the medievals recognized that it could only analogically be applied to God and the incarnation where for the first time ‘nature’ or ‘physis’ did not assume a ‘hypostasis’ in the human nature.)

I suppose that your answer to these queries is that I haven’t taken account of the “dialectic.” You will clearly understand that does not reassure me that Eitel and Myers are incorrect in a hegelian reading of your interpretation of Barth.

One last comment – I did not deny the genus tapeinoticum. I stated that such a genus without a genus maijestaticum could lead to a hominization of God. Of course we need both.

I suppose I might suggest that when you take on nearly the entirety of the theological tradition prior to the Reformation, challenge Catholic and Orthodox theology, dismiss post-liberalism, radical orthodoxy, Hauerwas’s communitarian ethics and claim none of these folk can read Barth well, you might expect a bit of a provocation in return (I don’t know how to make those smiley faces that soften the sting of such a statement, but if I could I would here. I’m “bloggly challenged”)?

Christ’s peace,
Steve Long

Anonymous said...

I regard anyone who writes 'Balthasar' rather than 'von Balthasar' as heretical. I may be wrong about this, but what the hell, RR Reno tells us that it doesn't matter if we make a bad call there, because there's lots of heretics around there and they need to be named.


Anonymous said...

Dear Professor Long,

Thank you for your response to my post. I am glad that you regarded it as civil; it was certainly intended to be. That is why I waited 24 hours before responding. Blogging is way too immediate - and that has a decided impact on tone.

I am happy to accept your correction with respect to the antecedent of the "it" in the statement "But I hope it is incorrect." I did misunderstand you there. And that misunderstanding did impact how I was understanding your talk of "re-paganization." So thanks for that.

On the other hand, you did say that I extend Barthian fears of the genus majestaticum with the result that I have smuggled (not snuggled) in a "Hominization" of God - a trend that you describe in your closing line as "Hegelianism." So hopefully, you will understand my confusion.

Turning then to your second post: let me just reiterate one point I tried to make earlier. I regard what Myers and Eitel are up to as possible permutations on my take on the relation of Trinity and election. To be sure, my own focus lies in the theology of the cross, not in the resurrection. But I regard what they are doing as interesting and something I can learn from. I do not see it as a threat to the survival of Christianity in the West as you seem to do.

First, on impassibility: I think you are referring to Exodus 3:14 in your efforts to find a biblical root for impassibility (though your transliteration leaves out elements I find in my Hebrew text). Be that as it may, however, the Greek translation you offer "ego eimi ho on" sounds much more like Plontinus in my ears than the OT. But the real issue here is whether a logical deduction drawn from a single revealed "name" should be allowed to control not only the whole of the biblical narration of God's interactions with Israel (His acts of repentence, etc.) and, then, the NT witness to the incarnation as well. You may well be able to find a biblical scholar somewhere who would support the move you make; I just don't happen to know any. On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed that you chose not to take up the challenge implied in the fact that impassibility finds a great deal of support in pagan sources. That being the case, I would have thought that a proponent of impassibility would want to avoid the language of "paganization" so far as possible when speaking to his opponents.

Second, though I looked up the passages in my new book to which you referred me, I could not for the life of me figure out what you were talking about. Perhaps you could make this a little plainer (at a later date).

Third, then, your mistakes: a) I have never said that Barth's revision of his doctrine of election "undoes everything Barth said prior..." To the contrary, I have always said that many of the building-blocks of his later doctrine of election are to be found prior to CD II/2. Indeed, I have been able to find evidence of something like his "humanity of God" thesis in the Goettingen Dogmatics. On the other hand, I have indeed said that Barth's doctrine of election is a revolution in the history of theology - but you don't dispute that. We just value that revolution differently. b) "Static" is not a word I have ever, to my knowledge, used to describe Greek metaphysics, much less Greek theology. I am not sure why you keep bringing it up. "Abstract" is a word I use - and I define it very carefully so that readers can know what is being said and what is NOT being said. I use the word to describe any starting-point in theology that is not Christological (i.e. that does not base Christian theology on God's Self-revelation in Jesus Christ). Now you clearly don't want to be limited to basing everything you say about God to what can be said on the basis of God's Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Fair enough. But, then, the problem is not the word "abstract." Defined as I have defined it, I doubt you would hesitate for a second to agree with me that Ps.-Dionysius' doctrine of God is "abstract." The point is that you think that such abstractive reasoning is fine; I don't. c) your final paragraph really grieves me. I have never "dismissed" any person or movement out of hand. Ever. I have engaged persons and movements critically. But I have also tried, where possible, to identify the theological values that are at stake in the formulations of theologians past and present and to take those values up and preserve them in my own way. So far as I can recall, I have never written anything on "radical orthodoxy" or Stan Hauerwas. I don't know where that is coming from. And simply attributing to me the claim that I don't think post-liberals read Barth well hardly does justice to the careful arguments (and evidence) that I bring against that particular school in my lengthy essay on that theme. But the thing that really grieves me is that you seem determined to isolate me, to place me in a corner over against the whole of "Christendom." Attaching smiley faces could not have removed the sting; sorry.

We return then to the matter of tone. I read your initial post as angry; certainly as anxiety-ridden. You seem to think that if you can only defeat Hegel and those who follow in his train, then maybe evangelicals and Catholics could come together around Thomas. Such a hope seems to me to be without foundation. For one thing, Catholics take different things from Thomas (cf. John Wippel and Eleanor Stump with Gilles Emery)- and not all Catholics are Thomists. A fair number of French Catholic theologians are trying to revive the fortunes of Schelling, for goodness sake. Many Catholic theologians enjoy Schleiermacher. The Pope and my good friend Fancesca Murphy are closely aligned with Von Balthasar. And we haven't even gotten to those Protestant theologians (like my colleague, John Bowlin) who likes both Thomas and Hegel!

I would be happy to discuss the substantive issues between us in a more properly academic format. I suspect that we have exhausted what can be done on a blog site.


Bruce McCormack

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable bun fight


Anonymous said...

This is as good as theological blogging gets! Not only very high-level theological engagement over some of the most important theological issues, but also lessons on how to write (de)Lubac, and judgments on the heresy of writing Balthasar without the von. Marvellous!

Thanks, Ben, for continuing to host these discussions.

Anonymous said...

Ditto - and Danke - to Doug: he expresses my sentiments exactly. I'm not long back from New York, and while I am still trying to rouse myself from my jet-lagged sleep-walking, this thread has certainly awakened me from my dogmatic slumbers. It's not only some of de best thelogical conversation I have had the pleasure to listen in on, it's also been so much von!

Dan Morehead said...

Just finished reading Mr. Eitel's piece and the comments here. How fun to find friends here commenting on a friend's work. Ben, who runs a delightful blog; Bruce, who I remember fondly as part of my theological education; and Francesca, who never ceases to save theological conversation from boredom.

I don't find Eitel's thesis to be that powerfully or persuasively presented. There are similarities, to be sure between Barth and Hegel, but I think Bruce was right when he pointed out (in relation to Hegel) that at "the point where Barth seeks to give content to the notion of ‘Self-revelation,’ he does not begin speculatively, with an a priori construction, but rather, with an a posteriori reflection on what God has shown Himself to be in Jesus Christ" (KB'sCRDT, 359). In short, I find it too easy to spot similarities (or even material connections) when it is not followed with the much more challenging work of determining the significance of what appears to be similarities. Of course, it is further worth remembering that positing Hegelian influence without specifying and clarifying what is being alleged can be a dubious affair. There are not (for lack of a better qualifier) "pure" Hegelians in the way there might be Kantians and tracing Helegian influence leads down countless paths (which often terminate in the most unlikely of places). I think Eitel's paper could have been strengthened by also attending to the material in III.2 (p. 443ff) about Jesus' post-resurrection forty days.

"The dialectic of seeing and believing may be helpful when we try to describe the Christian life and the justification and sanctification of Christians, or the Church and its preaching and sacraments. But when we come to the resurrection it leads us nowhere. "God was in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:19) - this was the truth which dawned upon the disciples during the forty days. He was not both veiled and manifest, both manifest and veiled, in Christ. He had been veiled, but He was now wholly and unequivocally and irrevocably manifest. For the disciples this was not a self-evident truth, nor a discovery of their own, but a conviction that went utterly against the grain. This is made abundantly clear in the resurrection narratives, where the disciples begin by doubting and even disbelieving. But their doubts and disbelief are soon dispelled, never to return. They are definitively overcome and removed in the forty days."
(KB, III.2, 449)

"During this period [the disciples] came to see that He had always been present among them in His deity, though hitherto this deity had been veiled. They now recalled these preliminary manifestations of glory which they had already witnessed during His earthly life, but with unseeing eyes, and for them the particular import which they had always had in themselves, though hidden from them."
(KB, III.2, 448-449)

Yet, I'd contend that for Barth this revelation does not dispense with the fact that God is veiled in his unveiling. As Barth discusses elsewhere, that which veils God in God’s unveiling is created medium. That this veiling still exists in spite of Jesus’ divinity no longer being veiled is testified by the disciples initial doubt and disbelief during the forty days. Their disbelief was dispelled, overcome and removed, however, by Jesus’ manifestation of his deity, but was not dispensed with by simple overcoming of the ontological dialectic. "[T]he question how they came to recognize Him when they saw and heard Him is rather strangely the radical assertion that He was known as the One who had been among them before and was then crucified, dead and buried," IV.2, 144. Barth notes that "[i]t is never explained where He came from or how He came" and that "He can be perceived only as He comes...[and]...whether or not they see Him effectively is not under their own control," Ibid. In the resurrection appearances, Jesus "makes Himself accessible to the man who has no access to Him," such that this has the character of a miracle. "It is because it takes place in sacred incomprehensibility as the revelation of the Lord that it is also incomprehensible in the more usual sense," IV.2, 147.

Eitel is correct when he writes "But [the resurrection] was no arbitrary event. It did not take place without regard for humanity. On the contrary, it took place pro nobis."

As Barth says, "It may and must be said, not as a postulate but as a legitimate explanation of the facts, that if the man Jesus was the incarnate Word of this God, if as such he was the Bearer of a hidden glory, of an initially inapprehensible declaration of His nature, and if finally this hidden declaration of His nature was to be effective as well as operative, if it was not to remain hidden but to be disclosed, then everything had to happen as it actually did according to the Easter story in its simple, literal sense. There was no other way," (III.2, 451).

One could add to Eitel's account that the resurrection is the historical fulfillment of God's eternal decision to be for humanity not out of a logical order that begins ontologically or with soteriological necessity but as a covenantal noetic condescension which has ontic implications.

Regardless, I'm excited to hear more from Mr. Eitel and will be glad when Dr. McCormack's books cross my desk.


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