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Pro Ecclesia Vol 26-N3: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology

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Pro Ecclesia is a quarterly journal of theology published by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. It seeks to give contemporary expression to the one apostolic faith and its classic traditions, working for and manifesting the church's unity by research, theological construction, and free exchange of opinion. Members of its advisory council represent communities committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, ecumenical dogmatic teaching and the structural continuity of the church, and are themselves dedicated to maintaining and invigorating these commitments. The journal publishes biblical, liturgical, historical and doctrinal articles that promote or illumine its purposes.

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5 Articles

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Theology and Moral Reflection and Practice

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Theology and Moral Reflection and Practice

Karl Barth, David Haddorff, and Christian Ethics

Arne Rasmusson1

In recent years we have seen an abundance of books and articles (some very impressive) on Karl Barth’s understanding of ethics. But the role of Barth’s theology in understanding Christian ethics is puzzling. On the one hand, his account of a distinctly theological ethics has been broadly influential far outside strictly Barthian circles. But this has been a selective reception, in which Barth’s thinking has been integrated with broader Christian traditions and theological approaches in quite different ways. Furthermore, some central parts of his thinking have often been left out, because people either don’t understand them, don’t agree with them, or don’t know what to do with them. What many find most problematic is Barth’s actualistic account of God’s command. This is, of course, not a peripheral issue. So, on the other hand, we find among Barthian scholars different, often ingenious, attempts to explain what he means and to develop a “complete” account of ethics on Barthian grounds, often together with attacks on approaches to theological ethics sympathetic to Barth for failing to account for, say, the priority and freedom of God’s Word. I belong to the former group. After having read many impressive defenses of, for example, Barth’s understanding of God’s command, I am still puzzled. For one thing, the specialists don’t agree with each other. Moreover, it is not clear to me that they have shown the fruitfulness of Barth’s account, when understood in the latter exclusivist way, for understanding Christian life. Mostly they don’t even try. Most seem preoccupied with describing the right way of understanding ethics; only a few (in contrast to Barth himself) consider the content of Christian practice itself. Barth’s account cannot, by definition, be formulated as a theory, but should it not help us, at least in retrospect, to describe Christian practice? Most of this more narrow Barthian scholarship simply does not help us much to think about actual Christian practice.

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Dialectic and Analogy in Balthasar’s “The Metaphysics of the Saints”

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Dialectic and Analogy in Balthasar’s “The Metaphysics of the Saints”

Andrew L. Prevot

There is an ongoing ecumenical conversation about the most appropriate Christian “thought-form” (Denkform), whether dialectic or analogy—or, more precisely, about how best to understand and relate these two options, since only the most extreme partisan would wish to exclude one or the other entirely. A number of recent publications have reexamined the “enigmatic rift” between Erich Pryzwara and Karl Barth, two twentieth-century theological friends and sparring partners who continue to be interpreted as figures representing the distinct transcendental commitments of Catholicism and Protestantism respectively.1 Hans Urs von Balthasar’s The Theology of Karl Barth (1951) is widely acknowledged to be a key entry in this discussion, even by scholars who dispute his reading of Barth. I do not attempt to summarize or, for that matter, to settle this debate in this brief article. More particularly, I do not wish to make any historical or exegetical arguments concerning when, or if, any decisive shifts occurred in Barth’s or Przywara’s careers and how this may or may not challenge Balthasar’s narrative in his Barth book. At least for the span of this paper, I would like to encourage a step back from this controversial interpretive terrain in order to focus on the more essential, constructive question about what Christian theologians are to do now with the ideas of dialectic and analogy. Having turned in this forward-looking direction, I do not promise anything like a comprehensive solution. My modest aim is merely to point the discussion toward a neglected text that may help us think through this question and to consider new—and yet perhaps very ancient, forgotten—possibilities for rapprochement.

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A Presbyterian Bishop

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A Presbyterian Bishop

Lesslie Newbigin and Reformed Ecumenism

Andrew C. Stout

Lesslie Newbigin’s insights into and example of the missional and ecumenical nature of the Church have exerted influence on Christian churches and communities across the ecumenical spectrum. While Newbigin’s ideas about the shaping effect of cultural pluralism on the Church’s mission have become common currency for many Christians in our post-Christendom context, the Reformed roots of much of his thought and ministry are not a prominent part of his legacy. Yet, the better part of Newbigin’s ecclesial life was spent ministering in confessionally Reformed churches. In addition, his missional thinking in strongly evangelical, in terms of not only its broad vision but also its doctrinal foundations. As confessionally Reformed evangelicals seek ways to give greater expression to the catholicity of their tradition and pursue ecumenical endeavors, Newbigin has the potential to be an invaluable resource. I will attempt to establish Newbigin’s credentials as a theologian in the Reformed tradition. I will then turn to his views on episcopacy and the potential role of bishops in the Reformed tradition. Finally, I will propose that confessionally Reformed evangelicals look to Newbigin as a model for how episcopal structures can be consistently appropriated by Reformed churches in the interest of more visible expressions of catholicity.

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God in His Processions

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God in His Processions

Aquinas, Palamas, and Dionysius on God’s Relation to Creation

Christopher Iacovetti

It has become an unfortunately typical Orthodox strategy, following the surge of “neo-Palamite” theology in the twentieth century, to pit Aquinas and Palamas polemically against each other as opposed archetypes of Western and Eastern theology.1 Many Orthodox commentators, in adopting this strategy, have singled out Palamas’s distinction between the divine essence and energy (οὐσία and ἐνέργεια) as a point of central incompatibility between his theology and that of Aquinas, and have argued that the latter’s failure to draw such a distinction ultimately leads him to construe God’s relation to creation in a manner anathema to Eastern theology.

Although this charge of incompatibility between Palamas and Aquinas perhaps possesses a prima facie plausibility, it deserves critical reexamination for two major reasons. First, as Marcus Plested has recently demonstrated, several of Palamas’s earliest Byzantine followers openly admired and drew from Aquinas in their own “Palamite” writings, and apparently perceived no insurmountable conflict between Aquinas’s theology and that of their teacher.2 It is only in the modern era, Plested argues, that Orthodox commentators have begun to vilify Aquinas with such vehemence and regularity.3 Second, those commentators who have insisted upon an inherent conflict between Aquinas and Palamas have, as a general rule, devoted insufficient attention to the key differences in language and terminology between the theologians’ writings. This has been especially true where Palamas’s οὐσία/ἐνέργειαι distinction is concerned: Orthodox critics have routinely cited this distinction as a direct affront to Thomas’s account of divine simplicity, but have almost invariably failed to unpack its meaning from within the Latin conceptual vocabulary of Thomas’s system.4

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Ambrose’s De Isaac as a Baptismal Anthropology

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Ambrose’s De Isaac as a Baptismal Anthropology1

Gerald P. Boersma

De Isaac is a notoriously challenging text.2 It is a rhapsodic and seemingly haphazard commentary on two diverse texts: the title and opening gamut of the treatise relate the initial encounter of Isaac and Rebecca at the well in Genesis 24; however, Ambrose summarily abandons this course of exegesis (to which he never fully returns). What the reader expects will be a close textual analysis of Genesis instead evolves into a spiritual exposition of the Canticle (Song of Songs). Even if we are able to trace the unifying thread that Ambrose intends between these two texts—that the relation between Isaac and Rebecca is a typological expression of the union of Christ and the soul given voice in the passionate idiom of the Canticle—the treatise still seems utterly bereft of structural cohesion.3

In this essay, I propose that Ambrose’s De Isaac provides an integrated, unified answer to the question the bishop poses at the outset of his treatise: “What is man?” I argue that Ambrose’s treatise uses this initial question to articulate a baptismal anthropology. My argument is predicated on the common (and I think plausible) assumption that—despite the challenges that De Isaac poses for the interpreter4—De Isaac was first delivered as a catechetical oration5 that Ambrose preached in (perhaps) 3876 to his catechumens (including, possibly, Augustine), either preparing for or recently having received baptism. While scholarship is nearly unanimously agreed upon a baptismal context for the treatise, it has not treated a baptismally grounded anthropology as the overall focus.7 If, however, a baptismal anthropology is indeed the cement that holds the treatise together, this gives a heretofore-unperceived coherence to the treatise as a whole.8 I will suggest that Ambrose begins outlining his baptismal anthropology by offering an account of the human person as a composite of body and soul. Building upon this overall anthropology, Ambrose then explains to the catechumens how, through God’s grace in baptism and growth in virtue, the human person comes to fulfill his baptismal identity in mystical union with God.

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