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Pro Ecclesia Vol 26-N2

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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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10 Articles

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Beggars All

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Beggars All

A Lutheran View of the 2017 Reformation Anniversary

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson1

One of the newest products from Playmobil, a toy company based in Nuremberg, Germany, is a little figurine of Martin Luther. Playmobil has issued historical figurines before—a series of Dutch painters was a hit, and so was Charlie Chaplin. The Luther toy was developed in conjunction with the German National Tourist Board and the Luther-Decade program of the Protestant Church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland), another fun trinket to advertise the gala events leading up to October 31, 2017.

What nobody anticipated, however, was the immense popularity of these little Luthers. Within three days of their release in February 2015, all thirty-four thousand Luthers had sold out. The factory couldn’t keep up with the demand, and new Luthers didn’t hit the market until late April.2

That’s remarkable in itself, and proof that not only the pious and the scholarly have their eyes on the 2017 anniversary. But what is even more remarkable is what this commercial Luther toy is holding. It’s not the 95 Theses—though of course the Theses are why the anniversary date is in 2017. Instead he’s holding a Bible. The left-hand page says, in German, “the end of the books of the Old Testament” (Bücher des Alten Testaments ende), and the right-hand one says, “The New Testament translated by Dr. Martin Luther” (Das Neue Testament übersetzt von Doktor Martin Luther). Our Luther, smiling blandly like nearly all Playmobil figurines, is no polemical figure, no wrecker of an intact church, no angry young man naming abuses. He’s a translator, giving the Word of God to Germans in their own language.3

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A Transfiguring God

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A Transfiguring God

Jason Byassee

I scarcely preach a sermon in which Flannery O’Connor is not part of the vision. She was a pre–Vatican II Roman Catholic, “13th century” style she liked to say, and her work is unfailingly violent and occasionally redemptive.1 I’m puzzling after a few things about O’Connor. One, she’s a southerner like me. She also went elsewhere for a while—to Iowa and New York, before coming down with lupus at age twenty-five that would kill her at age thirty-nine in 1964; me to Vancouver to teach preaching. She liked to say that there would be no biography of her because lives lived between the house and the chicken coop don’t make for good copy. Yet somehow her life exudes mystery and radiance, as Brad Gooch’s recent biography makes clear.2 She liked to say that southerners write about freaks so often because we can still recognize one.3 And she was one. And we all are. And Christ is the greatest freak of all. Her work is blessedly free of sentimentality—not a cliché in sight. When you read her fiction, you know there will be a conversion and that it will likely require death. And the whole will be uproariously funny in a macabre, guilt-inducing way. O’Connor is the perfect cure for the common confusion that says being Christian is about being nice (especially a problem in Canada—where people no longer think they need the church even to be nice).

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Creator Spiritus

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Creator Spiritus

Paul Hinlicky on Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, and the Life of Holiness

Michael Plekon

It is rare today that a theologian sets about producing a thorough systematic theology, but Paul Hinlicky is just that rare and gifted theologian. Just a few introductory remarks are necessary. I have had the privilege of knowing Paul for twenty years and more, and also his family. I had much correspondence with him years back and a memorable month of Orthodox-Lutheran dialogue he set up while teaching at the theological faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava. I revere that moment as one of profound ecumenical fellowship in which not only did we give papers, discuss, and debate, but we also traveled extensively in Slovakia to important sites of both churches. And we prayed—daily. But we also ate and drank, truly sacramental sharing, particularly of the homemade wine of the sub-Carpathian region around Svaty Jur. I also need to say that while we once were fellow pastors in the Lutheran Church in America and then the ELCA, I subsequently moved to the Orthodox Church in America where I have been a priest for twenty years. I was an external reader on his daughter Sarah’s doctoral dissertation on Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, the great theologian of the Orthodox Church in France. I was able through another friend to have Sarah and Elisabeth meet before Elisabeth’s death. Elisabeth said to me that though an Orthodox Christian most of her adult life, she never stopped being a Lutheran—she had actually served as a lay pastoral assistant in the 1920s in rural parishes. I want to say the same is true of myself. Like Elisabeth, her friend Fr. Lev Gillet, and Thomas Merton, I have tried to reunite the churches in my own persona, life, and work.

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Critical Dogmatics and the God of Easter

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Critical Dogmatics and the God of Easter

Paul Hinlicky’s Beloved Community

Mickey L. Mattox

Readers who think the wind has gone out of the sails of the Barthian-Lutheran tradition will likely be surprised by the vigor and intellectual heft of Paul Hinlicky’s massive new work Beloved Community: Critical Dogmatics After Christendom. The subtitle is noteworthy. While Hinlicky clearly intends his work to be an exercise in ecclesial theology, on the model of Barth’s Church Dogmatics, the term “critical” suggests from the outset a somewhat different perspective on the churchliness of the enterprise. As someone has said (in a phrase I learned from Hinlicky), “Lutheranism is a theology, not a church.” The Lutheran movement, in other words, was born in a moment of crisis that was focused upon problems related to grace, faith, and meritorious good works; ecclesiology was an afterthought, occasioned by the refusal of the German bishops to break with Rome and identify with the Reformation, and the consequent necessity for the movement of ordaining its own priests and bishops to serve the needs of the churches that had adopted Luther’s Reformation. This historical situation meant that the Lutheran faith tradition took as its starting point the question of the sinner’s justification before God, including the sinner’s inability to save herself and the centrality of faith as a fully reorienting event, a metanoia that defines the new life of the believer.

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“Rebirth into Ecclesia”

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“Rebirth into Ecclesia”

Hinlicky on the Spirit, Church, and Christian Mission

Cheryl Peterson

Paul Hinlicky has been a significant voice in American Lutheranism since his days as editor of Lutheran Forum. In more recent years, he has published a string of theological works, which have culminated in this major (and massive) critical dogmatics. It has been more than a generation since a major Lutheran theologian has produced a work of dogmatics; the last was the two-volume set edited by the first editors of this journal, Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Church Dogmatics [Fortress, 1984]), although several important systematic theologies have been produced in the meantime, including Robert W. Jenson’s two-volume Systematic Theology and Ted Peters’s God: The World’s Future.

Like Braaten and Jenson before him, Hinlicky believes that Lutheranism is best thought of as a movement within the wider church catholic, and although his dogmatics is clearly shaped by Lutheran concerns, he intends for this work to be “radically ecumenical.” For Hinlicky, the theological task in a divided church is not to continue perpetuating sectarianism with confessional or denominational theologies. Rather, “theology is now to be undertaken in a countercultural act of faith that anticipates the eschatological unity of the Body of the risen Lord” (viii). In addition to Martin Luther (a major interlocutor throughout), Hinlicky engages a wide breadth of theologians across traditions and time periods. As an ecumenical theologian who also writes from within the Lutheran tradition, I share his understanding of the theological task, though engaging more female and nonwhite voices in this work would have been welcome.

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Risking Simplicity for Love’s Sake

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Risking Simplicity for Love’s Sake

Paul Hinlicky’s Trinitarian Personalism

Katherine Sonderegger

In his pathbreaking essay The Trinity, Karl Rahner laid down the revolutionary claim that “there must be a connection between Trinity and humankind. The Trinity is a mystery of salvation, otherwise it would never have been revealed” (The Trinity, 21). Working out this claim remade the Doctrine of Trinity in the modern era. Though less well known than the more famous “Rahner maxim”—that the Economic Trinity is the Immanent and vice versa—these opening lines from The Trinity belong squarely to the revolutionary tradition. They wed two doctrines of the faith, Trinity and Soteriology, that have been allowed to stand independent of one another in systematic work; perhaps even in some conflict, one to the other. The Dogma of Trinity has been considered, especially in the Latin tradition, to be a sustained, conceptual reflection on the Being of God as structured by Processions, Relations, and Hypostases. For that reason alone, though there are others, the Doctrine of Trinity has been an architecture of technical vocabulary and close, reasoned arguments about these concepts in relation to the Utter Unicity of God. Soteriology, on the other hand, has been given over to considerations of sin and its remedies and the Christology, Ecclesiology, and Election that undergird them. This Doctrine has long been held to be the “self-involving,” “existential,” or pastoral element in systematic theology. Rahner made a clean break with all that: Trinity itself beats at the heart of Redemption; to taste Salvation is to confess Trinity. To speak of Christian faith was in truth to unfold the Dogma of Trinity: it is the story of our deliverance.

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Response to Contributors

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Response to Contributors

Paul Hinlicky

There are few experiences more gratifying in life, especially the life of a theologian nowadays, than being heard and understood. I am honored for just this reason at the rich, appreciative, and insightfully critical essays written by these four comrades who undertook the daunting task of reading my massive book—Pro Ecclesia board member Joe Small asked me at the last board meeting whether I do books under ten pounds! I am grateful to all four though in distinct and personally particular ways.

My old friend Michael Plekon, student of Peter Berger, Kierkegaard scholar, and ebullient writer in Orthodox theology and spirituality for the past twenty years, writes an unabashedly personal response to what he has read in Beloved Community. This is fitting. We both eschew a certain academic pretense of disinterested objectivity that would downright filter the person out of the theology. Our stories tell a lot about who we are as believers, as thinking believers, and as theologians. The modality here is testimony. The agency is the Spirit who makes quite ordinary folks over into icons of holiness—dare we say that about theologians? Yes, if the stage is God’s world, “this world” including the academy, and if the performance in it is that of a “holy secularity.” This “life as prayer” motif resonates deeply between us and with Plekon’s approbation of Pope Francis—a living icon of this worldly spirituality in our post-Christendom world!

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The Ecumenical Value and Scope of Some Hermeneutical Principles of Saint Thomas Aquinas

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The Ecumenical Value and Scope of Some Hermeneutical Principles of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Yves Congar, O.P.

Translated by Andrew Jacob Cuff and Innocent Smith, O.P.

[Translator’s note: Before embarking on his lifelong ecumenical efforts, Yves Congar (1904–1996) was deeply formed in the theology of Thomas Aquinas during his initial formation as a Dominican friar. Throughout his life, Congar continued to draw on the rich resources to be found in the Angelic Doctor, demonstrating the relevance of a historically informed study of Aquinas for a variety of contemporary theological concerns. In this article from 1973, Congar articulates the persistent value of Thomas Aquinas’s hermeneutical approaches to authoritative texts and teachings for advancing the work of ecumenism. Appearing initially in a French Dominican journal (“Valeur et portée œcuméniques de quelques principes herméneutiques de saint Thomas d’Aquin,” Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 57 [1973]: 611–26), the article was selected by Congar for inclusion in his collection of essays titled Thomas d’Aquin: sa vision de théologie et de l’Eglise (London: Variorum Reprints, 1984). This translation retains the citation style of Congar’s original, including the presentation of Latin texts of Saint Thomas in both the footnotes and the main body of the text, while offering translations into English in brackets immediately following the original text.

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Rethinking Calvin and Justification Sola Fide and Reconsidering the Unitive Dimensions of Love (and Why Catholics and Reformed Could Agree on This)

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Rethinking Calvin and Justification Sola Fide and Reconsidering the Unitive Dimensions of Love (and Why Catholics and Reformed Could Agree on This)

Charles Raith II

Justification sola fide: in its sixteenth-century context, this claim was an important limiting principle in framing God’s work of justification. The phrase was not so much a positive assertion as it was a negative one. No one in the sixteenth century would have denied a role for faith in justification. The problem in the eyes of the Reformers, however, was that the causal basis for justification was not limited to faith but instead included other causes, in particular merit, in accounting for one’s justification.1 Sola fide thus had a specific purpose, which was not to exclude a role for works from the totality of Christian salvation. Noteworthy is the fact that Calvin admits in his Romans commentary that the phrase “faith alone” is nowhere to be found in Scripture. But he reasons for it as an implication of the fact that justification rests on mercy rather than the worth of works; that is, if justification depends neither on the law nor on ourselves, it must rely on God’s mercy alone, and if mercy alone then for Calvin faith alone.2 Thus sola fide was never intended to be in competition with works per se. Instead Calvin intended it as a way of upholding the basis of our right standing with God as being in God’s work in Christ as opposed to the worth of our works. As is well known, Calvin never thought justification was with a faith that is alone because love always accompanies faith just as sanctification always accompanies justification as gifts simultaneously given when one is united to Christ.3 Given the importance of sanctification in Calvin’s soteriology,4 love is thus not excluded from the totality of his reflection on Christian salvation.

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Liberated by Doctrine

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Liberated by Doctrine

Augustine’s Approach to Scripture in De Doctrina Christiana

Philip Porter

In the opening lines of On Christian Doctrine, Saint Augustine explains the purpose of the work: to lay out “certain precepts for treating the Scriptures which I think may not inconveniently be transmitted to students, so that they may profit not only from reading the work of expositors but also in their own explanations of the sacred writings to others.”1 We encounter from the outset a vision of Christian teaching that prioritizes the role of revelation in the form of sacred Scripture and in the act of receipt, elucidation, and transmission essential to tradition. In this work, Augustine provides a handbook for encountering and examining Scripture with our eyes fixed on the love of God and neighbor. In his account of exegesis, guided by the dual commandment of love, Augustine at once gives license for a delightful freedom of thought that remains soundly rooted in orthodoxy and community. In my own reading I have come to find that an exegete who follows Augustine’s principles is nourished by the faith of the Church, which flows from the living water of Christ, and thus yields bountiful and imaginative displays of allegorical analysis. For this reason, On Christian Doctrine was extremely influential throughout the Middle Ages; it was regarded by the Carolingians as “the preeminent guide for exegetes.”2

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