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Pro Ecclesia Vol 15-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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COMMENTARY

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Thomas G. Weinandy

Ultimately, it is more important to practice charity than to write a treatise on it. This is why the second part of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, could be considered of greater significance than the first since he enunciates the practical repercussions of the Christian notion of charity that bear on civil society and governments, and especially on the church and its members. Yet, I found the first part much more interesting, for here he argues for a true and full understanding of divine and human love founded on the Christian gospel. Moreover, it is here as well that he establishes the theological foundation on which the church and its members are to practice charity. Christian charity is not equivalent to secular social work, but rather Christian charity flows from and makes present the Father’s love for all of humankind and is enacted from within the membership of the body of Christ (see paragraph 31).

The first part displays Benedict’s theological depth and the novelty of his approach, for here he ardently attempts to articulate the beauty of God and of the Christian gospel in a fresh and convincing manner. Benedict declares that the proclamation that “God is love” expresses not only “the Christian image of God” but also “the resulting image of mankind and its destiny” (1). Who human beings are and what they are to become is not founded, for Benedict, on some abstract philosophical definition or some pragmatic psychological model of human nature but rather on a reality that infinitely exceeds all that is human—God himself. Thus, to be created in the image of God is to be created with the ability to love, for God is love, and the end for which human beings were made is to live in a communion of love with God and with one another forever in heaven.

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KING DAVID AND THE PSALMS OF IMPRECATION

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Gary A. Anderson

For both Jews and Christians, the book of Psalms has been a staple for prayer. Countless persons recite them on a daily basis, and many have committed large portions of this book, if not its entirety, to memory. Yet for all its attractions to one inclined toward prayer, the book of Psalms is not without its difficulties. Chief among these difficulties are the so-called imprecatory psalms, those psalms that take a somewhat morbid delight in hurling verbal curses upon one’s enemies. In the Catholic Church, the Liturgy of the Hours has constituted the means for daily recitation of the Psalms.1 This tradition of Divine Service is as old as Christian monastic devotion itself. In our own day, the imprecatory portions of the Psalms are no longer required reading for priests and monastics who are obliged to pray this office daily. As concerns the practice of the religious life, they have been removed from the record.

And who could blame these reformers for editing out these troublesome texts? Who is it, even among the most traditionally minded, who takes delight in urging divine retribution on one’s enemies? “O God, smash their teeth in their mouths; shatter the fangs of the lions,” our Psalmist exhorts (58:7). If this is not sufficiently repellent, consider Ps 137, the rather well-known psalm about the destruction of Jerusalem. Its opening lines of lamentation—“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, as we gave thought to Zion”—have struck a sympathetic chord in the ears of many. But its closing lines have evoked no such sympathy: “a blessing on him who repays you in kind for what you have inflicted on us; a blessing on him who seizes your babies and dashes them against the rocks.” If these wishes for destruction are not a sufficient evil, consider the fact that the Psalmist will also, on occasion, implore God that he might be a witness to the desired acts of vengeance: “May the righteous rejoice when he sees revenge; may he bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked” (58:11). No shrinking violet, this fellow. Little wonder that nearly all modern commentators have found these texts a stumbling block for prayer.

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FROM FAITH TO THE TEXT AND BACK AGAIN: MARTIN LUTHER ON THE TRINITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

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Mickey L. Mattox

In the fourth volume of his study of the Christian tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan observed somewhat cryptically that the Reformation doctrine of justification should be understood as a development not only from Augustinian theological anthropology, but from the dogma of the Holy Trinity as well.1 That markedly Catholic reading of Reformation theology as a whole stands in rather sharp contrast to the judgment made by the great Adolph von Harnack just a century ago. Having drunk perhaps a bit too deeply from the wells of Ritschlian theology, Harnack labeled Martin Luther’s Trinitarian doctrine an “unspeakable confusion.” On Harnack’s account, Luther’s confusion resulted quite naturally from the fact that he did not actually believe in the Trinitarian God of the Catholic tradition. The idea had no place in Luther’s system, Harnack argued, and it fit only uncomfortably, if at all, alongside his central concerns. For Harnack, Luther’s actual conception of God, as opposed to his occasional tipping of the hat to the Trinitarian tradition, had little in common with the “speculations of the Greeks.” “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” he claimed, did not mean to Luther “three Persons existing side by side.” Instead, he believed only that the “one God and Father has opened His Fatherly heart to us in Christ and reveals Christ in our hearts by His Spirit.”2 Modalism, Harnack infamously suggested, probably best approximates Luther’s view of the “trinity.”3

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EUCHARISTIC DOCTRINE OF THE 1979 BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER

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Ralph N. McMichael Jr.

The task of presenting eucharistic doctrine drawn from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (hereafter, BCP) offers its own problems and possibilities. Problems arise when developing or explicating eucharistic doctrine while “restricted” to a particular text or source for this doctrine. It would seem that the scope and depth of this eucharistic doctrine might be limited by the exclusive use of one source rather than the full range of sources for any given theology. However, the task of this essay is not to develop a personal doctrine of the Eucharist. Rather, I will seek to express the eucharistic doctrine that resides within the BCP. Confining eucharistic doctrine to the texts and use of the BCP offers the possibility that the Episcopal Church might have an accountable theological engagement with its celebration of the Eucharist. That is, the practice of eucharistic liturgies should engender thoughtful reflection on their theological content. Therefore, my method is the theological analysis of the eucharistic liturgies of the BCP in the effort to express the doctrine of the Eucharist found within these liturgies.

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DECHRISTENDOMIZATION AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO SECULARIZATION: THEOLOGY, HISTORY, AND SOCIOLOGY IN CONVERSATION

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Timothy Larsen

“God is dead,” Steve Bruce announced in the very title of one of his recent books.1 Bruce is professor of sociology and head of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, and one of the most prominent advocates of “the secularization thesis” in Britain today. Sociology’s secularization thesis has been defined, explained, attacked, defended, and examined in a bewilderingly wide variety of ways. Therefore, it is almost impossible to engage any discussion of the subject without a proponent of the secularization thesis responding to a critic with the words, “that is not what I meant by secularization,” or without a critic replying to an advocate’s presentation, “that may be true, but it is not evidence for the secularization thesis.” On the other hand, secularization theory has been ubiquitous in reflections about Christianity in the West during the last thirty years, if not longer. Thus, like a shadow, the secularization thesis looms over much, but is nevertheless frustratingly hard to grasp or pin down. Whatever imprecision they perceive in the thesis, theologians cannot afford to ignore this area of intellectual inquiry. A movement some decades ago to strike the pose “God is dead, long live theology” notwithstanding, it hardly needs pointing out that in the eyes of most people the discipline of theology is entirely undercut to the extent that academic credibility is given to the thesis, “God is dead.” Even Bruce, of course, does not mean his words to be taken literally as a theological statement. Nevertheless, versions of secularization theory provide an intellectual challenge to Christian reflection today by asserting or implying that faith is a legacy of a more primitive intellectual culture that is destined to wither away as the light of learning spreads more widely, that Christianity will inevitably die out in the developed West, and that it is impossible for a secularized society ever to experience a serious, deeply rooted religious revival. In this article, I will offer a critique of the secularization thesis from the perspective of the discipline of history, and also reflect theologically upon the current situation in which Christianity in the West finds itself. My focus will be upon British society as a case study for secularization and British scholars as proponents of the secularization thesis, as both are more challenging on this matter than is the American context.

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THE PLURALITY OF THE ONE GOD AND THE PLURALITY OF THE GODS

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Oswald Bayer

For nearly two thousand years Christianity has been regarded and culturally accepted as a “monotheistic” religion. It seems, however, that such unquestioned cultural acceptance has come to an end. To name the most prominent example of this development, the Heidelberg Egyptologist and cultural theorist Jan Assmann recently created a stir with his thesis that the first commandment of the Decalogue introduced religious intolerance into the world, namely, by introducing the “Mosaic distinction” between the true God and false gods. What is more, so the argument goes, the exclusivity and holy zeal of the one God, which characterizes Judaism as well as Christianity and Islam, notwithstanding their different emphases, tends to legitimize violence, whereas polytheism has promoted a more peaceful balancing of claims to power.2

There is nothing very new or surprising in this thesis. In the work of Hans Blumenberg, for example, especially in his Work on Myth,3 one can already find a sharp distinction between the mythos of polytheism and the dogma of Jewish-Christian monotheism. Whereas the pantheon of polytheism, Blumenberg argues, is characterized at the end of the day by a humane distribution of powers, monotheism is characterized by the absolute and, consequently, inhumane authority of the one God. So too, whereas myth allows and even demands a poetic shaping of reality through stories, monotheism—inasmuch as it is defined by a prohibition of images—tends to simplify things into the rigid form of a propositional dogmatics. Odo Marquard takes things in a similar direction when he calls for a “departure from principles” (i.e., a departure from the “one and only”) and intones the “praise of polytheism.”4

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