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Pro Ecclesia Vol 23-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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The Apocalyptic Body of Christ?

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The Apocalyptic Body of Christ?

Reflections on Yoder and Apocalyptic Theology by Way of David Foster Wallace

Chris K. Huebner

I have been asked to speak about John Howard Yoder and apocalyptic theology. I will do so by reflecting on Yoder’s understanding of the body and its capacity for speech or articulacy—in particular as these themes are reflected in his understanding of the body of Christ. These questions play out somewhat differently in Yoder’s work than they do in what we might call apocalyptic theology more generally (whatever that means—and I will admit here, as an aside, that one of my struggles in undertaking this assignment is to figure out just what counts as being representative of the so-called apocalyptic turn in recent theology). This difference would mean that any attempt to enlist Yoder as an ally in support of a program or movement called apocalyptic theology will be awkward at best. If it is appropriate to draw on Yoder in support of apocalyptic theology, it must equally be acknowledged that his work also pushes back against it in some significant ways. To draw attention to Yoder’s posture of ambivalence toward academic movements should hardly be necessary, for it has received plenty of attention in recent engagement with his work. I don’t want to rehash that ground here. So let us get one thing out of the way at the beginning. Yes, we can find texts in which Yoder emphasizes the category of apocalyptic. But it is also worth noting that he typically qualifies these references by insisting that the category of apocalyptic is only one among many and should not be elevated to become a sort of governing principle. As Yoder himself puts it, “Apocalypse is only one of many modes of discourse in the believing community. We should not prefer it; we should use them all.”1 Call it methodological non-Constantinianism or perhaps something more elegant. But that is not what I want to dwell on today. I am more interested in exploring how the question of apocalyptic theology relates to some of Yoder’s more substantive commitments about the body of Christ and its capacity for speech.

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Catholic and Reformed: Rediscovering a Tradition

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Catholic and Reformed: Rediscovering a Tradition

J. Todd Billings

The dominant theology in Christian churches in the modern West today is not Protestant, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic. Instead, as sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have argued, “Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.”1 In many ways, the religious consumer has become king; in the operative theology of many Christians in the West, confession of the God of Israel, made known in Jesus Christ, must be adjusted to our own sovereign plans for what a deity can and cannot be. If the Bible, or the historic Christian tradition, holds a teaching that leaves the religious consumer with a sour taste, it can be jettisoned because our lives—especially our “religious lives—are our own private affairs to manage.

In this essay, I seek to sketch a theological and ecclesial response to this state of affairs—a response that is both Catholic and Reformed. It is not the only possible response. This proposal is directed primarily to Protestants—giving a call to recover a catholicity that is both biblical and Christ-centered. For a wide range of evangelical and mainline Protestants in the broadly Reformed tradition, I think that this would be a step toward theological and ecclesial renewal that is much more promising than the common alternatives. For Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, the renewal of Protestants on a Catholic and Reformed path could deepen common partnerships; it could fortify mutual learning among followers of Jesus Christ as we seek to recover alternatives to the reductionistic theologies that currently colonize contemporary churches in the West. For ultimately, what is at stake is the renewal of the church’s true identity as a people who belong to Christ and are shaped by the Spirit to follow in his ways rather than the ways of a consumerist, privatized faith that bows to the self as king rather than to the God of Israel made known in Jesus Christ.

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The Absolute and the Trinity

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The Absolute and the Trinity

Bruce D. Marshall

I

For nearly two centuries Christian thought about the Trinity has been deeply shaped by modernity’s great philosopher of the absolute, G. W. F. Hegel. To be sure, even those theologians who have engaged Hegel explicitly, and sometimes at length, have rarely developed their own Trinitarian theologies by way of an exegesis of his texts. Still less have theologians proceeded by a laborious and perhaps fruitless quest for the ipsissima verba of Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, though that task has recently absorbed considerable scholarly energy. More often than not, Hegel’s influence on modern Trinitarian theology has been implicit and indirect rather than openly acknowledged.

Indeed for the most part Hegel’s impact on Christian theology has been not merely indirect, but subterranean. His philosophy is notoriously susceptible of quite divergent interpretations, but few Christian theologians have thought it was possible to be a full-blown Hegelian, even when Hegel was read in a way favorable to Christianity. In the end his celebrated equation of the real with the rational leaves no room, Christian readers have usually objected, for the element of mystery so essential to Christianity, or for the faith needed to embrace the Christian mysteries. His lust for a philosophical conquest of the gospel, the urge to subject the Christian revelation, like everything else, to the mastery of his dialectical scheme of spirit’s logic and history, has seemed equally unappealing to Christian theologians. These overarching features of the way Hegel understands Christianity affect, naturally, his treatment of those central doctrinal topics, such as the Trinity and the incarnation, to which he devotes extended attention. As a result Hegel has deeply influenced modern Trinitarian theology, a bit paradoxically, as the chief originator of crucial ideas embraced by thinkers who were almost always openly critical of him.

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A Response: Beyond Hegel with Karl Barth and T. F. Torrance

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A Response: Beyond Hegel with Karl Barth and T. F. Torrance

Paul D. Molnar

Over against the bluster of modern Trinitarian theology’s implementation of a view of creation and reconciliation that posits a God who is somehow constituted by his relations with us in history, we have here a very substantial and thought-provoking analysis and rejection of such thinking based on the eternal unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity of God affirmed at the Council of Nicaea with its stress on the homoousion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While some today consider the question of whether or not God could have been the Triune God without the world to be a mere abstraction, a question without any discernible content, Bruce Marshall demonstrates why this important question has been marginalized by those who consciously or implicitly embrace the logic of Hegelian thinking. But more importantly, he shows exactly why it is imperative to ask and answer that question by pointing to the reality of the immanent Trinity and not to some abstraction that needs to be reconceived in terms of a divine unity that is seen to be the result of certain developments within the historical process. The question of whether or not God could have been God without the world is and remains a crucial question today. And how one answers this question will determine the way one conceptualizes the divine acts of reconciliation and redemption. If God needs the world in any sense to be God, as he would if he were in any way constituted by his relations with us in history, then such a God will also be depicted as one who needs to suffer in order to love and ultimately needs to be redeemed from division, conflict, godlessness, and death in order for our salvation to be a reality. Put succinctly, if suffering, alienation, and death are thought to be part of God’s nature, then God becomes powerless to overcome these indications of sin for us.

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Theology and the Limits of Ethics

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Theology and the Limits of Ethics

Matthew Rose

In 1580 Michel de Montaigne published an odd, digressive tract on a fifteenth-century Spanish theologian entitled An Apology for Raymond Sebond. Ostensibly a defense of Sebond’s natural theology, the book has long confounded readers, owing to intentions that are ambiguous at best. Montaigne claimed to have found in Sebond an account of the limits of human reason that could provide grounds for moving from doubt to faith. The arguments marshaled in support of this claim have proven less interesting than Montaigne’s reasons for expounding them at all. Did Montaigne wish to lead readers to faith or subtly guide them toward skepticism? As fascinating as the question is, the true importance of Montaigne’s work lies not in its answer, but in the fact that it heralded a new way of seeing the relation between faith and doubt. Montaigne in effect argued that because he was skeptical about the reach of unaided human reason, he could make room for faith. A good deal of modern philosophy from Descartes to Kant followed suit.1

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Theandric Humanism: Constantinople III in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas

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Theandric Humanism: Constantinople III in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas

Aaron Riches

Thomas Aquinas was the first Scholastic of the high Middle Ages to quote directly from the conciliar texts of Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), and Constantinople III (680–681).1 While the most dramatic result of this conciliar ressourcement lies in Aquinas’s reception of Constantinople II, which determined his mature rejection of homo assumptus Christology and confirmed his doctrine of Christ’s single divine esse, recent work by Corey L. Barnes and Thomas Joseph White, O.P., has served to highlight the importance of Aquinas’s recovery of the doctrine of Constantinople III.2

This article is a work in dogmatic Christology that takes Aquinas’s use and recovery of Constantinople III as its starting point. It offers a delineation of Aquinas’s dyoenergist-dyothelite theology as key to how a doctrine of the theandric synergy in Christ can be understood to ground a Christological understanding of the human person.

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Apocalypse, Enlightenment, and the Beginnings of Salvation History

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Apocalypse, Enlightenment, and the Beginnings of Salvation History

The Ecumenical Friendship of J. J. Hess and A. Sandbichler

Ulrich L. Lehner

Reading and interpreting the book of Revelation has been one of the most controversial tasks in Catholic exegesis since the Council of Trent. While most followed the preterist interpretation of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) and saw in the biblical book predominantly a history of ancient times—in particular of the persecution and the final victory of the church—some remained convinced that it contained mostly information about the future state of the church.1 This future could, argued the futurists, be deduced from the text and a timetable of events constructed.2

In the eighteenth century, interpretations changed dramatically. Futurism receded almost entirely and only made a comeback after the reign of terror during the French Revolution. Preterist interpretations were now preferred, and many exegetes attempted to build on the insights of Bossuet and improve his historical commentary. Yet some Catholic thinkers, who due to the increased quality of biblical scholarship during the eighteenth century became wary of simplistic preterist or futurist readings of Revelation, began to wonder whether a sound middle way between futurism and preterism existed, one that did justice to the theology of the book. In the German-speaking lands, the most prominent theologian of such a new approach that led to the introduction of “salvation history” into Catholic theology was the Salzburg Augustinian Alois Sandbichler (1751–1820). In this article I want to discuss how Sandbichler developed this new view through the mediation of his Reformed friend Johann Jakob Hess (1741–1828). Compared to other enlightened Catholics, many of whom have garnered fame for their exegesis (like Hug, Feilmoser, and so on), Sandbichler emerges as the only theologian who developed a systematic salvation history in order to prevent a rationalist flattening of the book of Revelation.

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