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Pro Ecclesia Vol 23-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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9 Articles

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A Brutal Honesty

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A Brutal Honesty

Joseph D. Small

Modern ecclesiology suffers from a disjunction between sociology and theology. Sociologists focus on the church as it appears in various social settings while theology imagines the church as it “is” in ideal exhibition. The church is either observed as “a powerful institution in our society because it encapsulates the individual in a community that becomes an essential part of the individual’s own identity” (Robert Wuthnow), or it is presented as “the messianic fellowship of service for the kingdom of God in the world” (Jürgen Moltmann). Theologians paint lovely portraits of an ideal church while sociologists—both academic and amateur—show a documentary film of the flawed church, sometimes designed merely to deconstruct but often meant to suggest strategies that can produce the church that could be.

The problem is that both are instances of what Nicholas Healy calls “blueprint ecclesiologies,” two-dimensional templates that display either normative construals in the guise of description, or description as the backdrop for normative prescription. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put the matter plainly more than eighty years ago: “There are basically two ways to misunderstand the church, one historicizing and the other religious; the former confuses the church with the religious community, the latter with the Realm of God.”1 Theology apart from the concrete reality of actual churches easily becomes irrelevant to lived faith; sociology apart from faithful attention to the one holy catholic apostolic church easily becomes irrelevant to lived faith.

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Soundings in Enemy-Love Ecclesiology

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Soundings in Enemy-Love Ecclesiology

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

Reading A Brutal Unity must be something like inhabiting Ephraim Radner’s own mind: a restless, fervent, committed, disappointed, penitent, wide-ranging, and uncompromising mind leaving no stone unturned in its pursuit of the truth about Christian division and violence. His book draws the reader with whiplash speed through an astonishing quantity of texts as it tries to tease out answers and chart out futures for the fractured body of Christ.

It is hard to imagine anyone having the breadth of knowledge, or at least sufficient command of the same sources, to do justice to his interpretations and proposals in a brief book review. I will therefore try to organize my appreciative response in a more modest way by exploring Radner’s construal of an enemy-love ecclesiology, which I find to be both the most fruitful and at the same time most problematic notion in the book.

What is the gospel? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In Johannine language, the “world” is not neutrally the creation but principally the reality of hostile rebellion against God whose destiny is to perish unless there is divine intervention of the most extreme order. Or to put the same point in Pauline language, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). The gospel is that God chased down those who were not interested in being chased down, who had long since been running in the opposite direction, who in fact did not particularly want to be saved and preferred their state of alienation from God. The cross and Resurrection crack the hard hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh, turning aside the punishment of death and hell that was otherwise so rightly and richly deserved. The gospel is simply, disturbingly, parabolically the love of enemies. Not just of weaklings who got into something over their heads, not just of those who mean well but can’t quite pull it off, not just of those who were hoping for mercy anyway, but of those who are deliberately and proudly the enemies of God.

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Apophatic Unity: On the Elusiveness of Radner’s Church

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Apophatic Unity: On the Elusiveness of Radner’s Church

Oliver O’Donovan

Any account of Ephraim Radner’s long, learned, diverse, passionate, strident, bewildering, but above all engaging book needs to begin with a clear statement of what the thrust of its main argument is taken to be. A glance at the dust jacket shows that a sample of distinguished first readers cannot agree on the question, which, given the density of its texture and rhetoric, is not wholly strange. The kind of difficulty the author poses for his readers can be illustrated from the title itself: is it really a brutal unity that Radner wants to point us to, or an elusive and demanding unity, the brutality resulting from attempts to sidestep a demand that is total and all-consuming? One may produce quotations in support of either interpretation: unity is blasphemy, according to one high-wrought passage, according to another it is unattainable, while it consists in sacrificial self-giving according to a third. In his own summary the author claims to have defended a “realistic” unity against an “ideal” one, and if we take that self-declaration seriously, we will understand Radner’s book as a moral ecclesiology with the project of depicting what it means to speak of the unity and holiness of the church in the context of stubborn division—in the wake, that is, of the failure of the hopes of that “seemingly spent force,” the ecumenical movement. A great deal of his reflection has this kind of deconstructive tone and may therefore present the appearance that its intent is skeptical. But an author is entitled to write in multiple registers, and it is up to the reader to rise to the challenge of negotiating them.

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The Way Sabbath Complements the Weekday

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The Way Sabbath Complements the Weekday

Peter Ochs

The text of this book has sanctity. For the rabbinic sages, words of Scripture as well as commentaries on them have degrees of sanctity. In the context of rabbinic law, the relative sanctity of two books might be symbolized, for example, by the order you would follow if, God forbid, you had to save the books from a fire or by the order of which one you would place on top of the other. I admit that A Brutal Unity would sit under any of the Jewish holy books I own, but it would sit on top of much of the rest of academic and world literature.

This is not because Radner’s book is doxological or liturgical, or that it is of the stuff of Sabbath. It is a book of the workdays of the week, not of the seventh day of rest. But the days of the week are also creatures and therefore words of God. And they are not days only of work. They are days of worldly toil shot through at the same time with the light of prayer, grace, love, charity, righteousness, mercy, and justice. (When I think of light shooting through, I am thinking of part of the vision of the great Kabbalist, Isaac Luria, who saw creation as also a suffering in which the great light of God’s creating was shattered at creation, filling the darkness not with the magnificent architecture of a perfect world, but with myriad sparks [nitsistot] of divine light scattered into the darkness of our world. Those are the lights of God’s word in the flesh, sparkling through the dimness of our days of work.)

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Responses to the Reviewers

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Responses to the Reviewers

Ephraim Radner

It is always humbling when intelligent people take one’s work seriously enough to read it through and comment upon it. All the more so when they are, as in the present symposium, persons of profound faith and godly insight whose comments properly clarify truths otherwise left obscure.

Joseph Small has given a wonderfully, and undeservingly, comprehensive review of my book. He provides a careful and utterly fair tracing of some of my all-too-consistent themes across several books, and so allows A Brutal Unity to appear as something with a coherent context.

I point this out because I am aware that this kind of task is a difficult one to accomplish on my behalf! Small himself notes how I can go off in “distracting” and “diverting” directions. So, right at the start, let me say something about what I grant to be an often-frustrating literary style, and one noted by many. Some of this simply comes down to my own ineptitudes as writer and editor. Why pretend? But there is something deliberate here as well, and it touches on the very topic of the book: I want to circle around things, go after this or that thread from a recondite account or buried article, find a theory that has only bounced around the edges of the field. It is, I think, useful to linger on elements that we tend to erase in the pursuit of logics whose purposes are often hidden, even from us, and so allow different elements to emerge. The ties of knowledge we apply to our studies are frequently bound according to our own knots. Ecclesiology, more than anything, is either a secret form of personal politics or a disengaged abstraction. The encyclopedic, the anacoluthic, the catalog of events and persons—Richard Burton comes to mind—are ways of tilling an intellectual soil that is meant to be wide and loose enough to mark a landscape in which we can be led rather than simply stand insisting. I am not an expert in most of the things I write about; of the books I read, many are old, encountered in used bookstores—forms of scholarly “found objects.” This doesn’t worry me because ultimately knowledge is what we are given, not what we construct; for that, the openness of the broadest terrain possible will help keep the sinful mind from burrowing into holes of fetid self-pursuit.

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Better Together: Apostolicity and Apostolic Succession in Light of an Ecumenical Ecclesiology

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Better Together: Apostolicity and Apostolic Succession in Light of an Ecumenical Ecclesiology

Ola Tjørhom

Even if few seem to notice these days, deviating views on apostolicity and the preservation of this nota ecclesiae remain a major obstacle to the realization of church unity. In several cases, the absence of convergence in this field blocks a mutual recognition of ordained ministries and, thus, Eucharistic fellowship. Here we face yet another example of being caught in the distressing quandary between “too much” and “too little.” The Catholic Church argues that the fullness of apostolicity requires not only historic continuity in the episcopal office, but also some sort of communion with the bishop of Rome. On the Protestant side, many settle with permanence in apostolic faith without visible signs. And in our present “ecumenical winter,” there seems to be little or no movement at either side of the ditch.

The Porvoo Common Statement (1992; officially signed in 1996) from the dialogue between the Anglican/Episcopal Churches in Great Britain and Ireland and Lutheran Churches in the Nordic and Baltic nations aims at bridging this gap.1 In the agreed text, a theological basis was outlined for implementing fellowship between churches that have kept the historic episcopate and churches that have lost this sign of apostolic continuity. Serving as a member of the Porvoo team, I described the results of the dialogue as “an ecumenical breakthrough.”2 I still hold this to be true. The statement did lead to communion between the involved churches. And it has had a significant impact on Anglican-Lutheran relations in general.3 In a wider ecumenical perspective, however, its implications have been modest.

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Jewish Scripture for Gentile Churches: Human Destiny and the Future of the Pauline Correspondence

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Jewish Scripture for Gentile Churches: Human Destiny and the Future of the Pauline Correspondence

Part 1: Romans

Christopher Seitz

The following is the first of two essays that originated as the Gross Lectures at Valparaiso University, dedicated to the general theme of “Human Nature and Destiny.”1 They were prepared in anticipation of the Brazos Commentary on Colossians as a way to think about Paul’s use of Scripture. A word is in order about why these two Pauline letters are the focus of my attention for a discussion of the human condition in the light of scriptural revelation.

Colossians is written to a congregation Paul does not know firsthand (Col 1:7), and its absence of scriptural citations and its internal references allow many to surmise it is a gentile church in total or in large measure.2 The letter to the Romans is written to a church we may conclude is, due to the letter’s scope and content, a mixture of different subgroups (Jewish Christians, God fearers, proselytes, gentile Christians). We also believe the scale and purpose of Romans, in a way similar to but also different from Colossians, allow us to conclude the letter was composed by Paul as a comprehensive treatise for a much wider audience than the Roman church alone.3 Whether he was intending it to serve as the introduction to a letter collection he was beginning to conceive—this is the position we take in the context of Colossians, in light of 4:16—is not possible to say. But it also cannot be ruled out. In the end, that is the location it was given in the letter collection.4

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“I Saw the LORD”: Observations on the CHRISTIAN Reception History of Isaiah 6

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“I Saw the LORD”: Observations on the CHRISTIAN Reception History of Isaiah 6

Bogdan G. Bucur

In the pages to follow I shall examine exegetical, doctrinal, hymnographic, and iconographic productions that illustrate the rich reception history of Isa 6 in early Christianity. It appears that the earliest, Christological interpretation of this text was superseded by a Trinitarian one and that the exegetical shift occurred first in doctrinal and exegetical writings, while hymnography and iconography proved more conservative. In the second part of this article, I argue that the current scholarly concepts fail to distinguish properly between the various types of exegesis involved in each of these cases and that this failure is especially obvious in the case of the earliest and most enduring Christian exegesis of Old Testament theophanies.

Isaiah 6: Christ and the Two Seraphim

The details of Isaiah’s vision correspond, quite transparently, to the furnishings of the Temple: the throne is the visionary counterpart of the ark of the covenant, the living seraphim correspond to the two cherubim on the mercy seat, and the enthroned Lord unveils to the prophetic gaze the otherwise invisible divine presence above the mercy seat. The thunderous noise causing the Temple to shake and the dense smoke (6:4) and glory (6:1) filling it recall the phenomena at Sinai, which are implicitly interpreted as caused by angelic praise and by a superabundance of (presumably luminous) “glory.” In short, to use Jon Levenson’s inspired characterization, in Isa 6 “art became the reality to which it pointed” and “the Temple mythos came alive.”1

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“In Whom I Am Well Pleased”: Hugh of St. Victor’s Trinitarian Aesthetics

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“In Whom I Am Well Pleased”: Hugh of St. Victor’s Trinitarian Aesthetics

Boyd Taylor Coolman

Relatively unknown beyond scholarly circles, Hugh of St. Victor (d. 1142) was an important medieval theologian amid a stellar generation of thinkers including Peter Abelard, Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St. Thierry, and Hildegard of Bingen, to name only the most well known.1 Regarded in his time as an alter Augustinus, a “second Augustine,”2 Hugh constructed upon an Augustinian foundation a distinctive approach to various aspects of Christian thought and practice,3 including common life,4 clerical reform,5 liturgy,6 Scholastic theology,7 scriptural exegesis,8 and contemplative spirituality.9 Due largely to his achievement, the abbey of St.-Victor in Paris—and the “Victorine school” associated with it—played an important role in the subsequent medieval Christian tradition.10 Over a century later, Bonaventure (d. 1274) paid tribute to Hugh while surveying the luminaries of the recent and remote Christian tradition. The Franciscan observed that Augustine and Anselm excelled in speculative theology, Gregory the Great and Bernard of Clairvaux in practical morality, and Dionysius and Richard of St. Victor in mystical contemplation. But Hugh, Bonaventure claimed, “excels in all three.”11 In the following century, Dante included Hugh within the poet’s pantheon of Christian theologians, along with Chrysostom, Anselm, Aquinas, and Bonaventure.12 For some even today, Victorine theology retains an enduring value.13

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