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Pro Ecclesia Vol 24-N1: 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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Hans Frei’s Deflation of Revelation

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Hans Frei’s Deflation of Revelation

James J. Buckley

I was honored when George Hunsinger asked me to offer some reflections on Hans Frei’s theology for this symposium.1 My own thinking has been deeply influenced by Mr. Frei—his story of modern Protestant theology in England and Germany, his work in contemporary hermeneutics, his reading of Karl Barth, and in other ways. But I also hesitated to take up George’s invitation for two reasons relevant to what I have to say.

First, although I continue to be deeply influenced by several strands of Frei’s project or projects, I have not until now dared any analysis of his development in any way near the way others have—some of whom are here this morning. I feel very much the amateur. But there is a second reason I hesitated to take up George’s invitation. As I reread Frei over the last couple of months, it struck me how much over the years I have thought about Frei’s project specifically as a Catholic theologian dissatisfied with what Frei and Barth taught me to call conservative, liberal, and mediating options in modern (Catholic or evangelical) theology. With regard to Revelation, Catholics like myself have been concerned with the sort of things one finds in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) as an ecumenically Catholic proposal or perhaps individual theologians like John Henry Newman’s work on “the grammar of assent.” These concerns will only emerge marginally (and cryptically) at the very end of my remarks. In any case, I finally decided that, even if I could not avoid making a fool of myself in what I say about Frei, this would be a perfect group to help me and perhaps others think about the role of a doctrine of revelation in theology.

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Frei’s Early Christology: The Book of Detours

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Frei’s Early Christology: The Book of Detours

George Hunsinger

When I first read Hans Frei’s book The Identity of Jesus Christ,1 shortly after it was published in 1975, I was still a graduate student. I can remember how frustrated I felt about the opening chapters that were captioned “The Problem of Presence.” Why focus so abstractly on the term presence, I wondered, and why problematize it at such length? Wasn’t this an artificial place to start? If the goal was to discuss Jesus Christ’s identity, why not just get on with it and come straight to the point? Beginning with “presence” as a way of getting to “identity” struck me as tedious and unnecessary, especially because Frei as much as conceded, for about thirty-five belabored pages, that there was in fact no viable way from the presence of Jesus Christ to his identity. Had anyone ever supposed otherwise?, I wondered. Had anyone argued that Christ’s identity could be derived from his presence? Wasn’t Frei tilting at a problem where none existed in the first place? As I reread these chapters nearly forty years later, I must confess to a remembrance of things past. My old feelings of frustration and perplexity resurfaced as I encountered Frei’s decision to fret at such length over the so-called “problem of presence.”

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Frei’s Later Christology: Radiance and Obscurity

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Frei’s Later Christology: Radiance and Obscurity

Jason A. Springs

Hans Frei died much too young, leaving behind him a body of published work as compelling in its content as it was slender in its magnitude. Even more so, he bequeathed a trove of materials at least as rich to be worked through, made sense of, and grappled with in their details and implications. The twenty-five years since Frei’s passing has inspired numerous attempts to sift and clarify, explicate and extrapolate, expand upon it, and of course, to critically assess its strengths and weaknesses. Frei’s work evokes interest from so many different directions—theological and hermeneutical, of course, but also sociological, philosophical, literary, and historical. In my judgment, this is one of the reasons that Frei’s work has remained so compelling for several generations of students in the twenty-five years since his death.

The title of my essay gestures toward both the radiance and obscurity of the role of Christology in Frei’s later work. The role of Christology in Frei’s later work has been rightly characterized as its most pivotal dimension. In an article that perhaps most precisely differentiates Frei’s later work from that of his friend and colleague, George Lindbeck, Mike Higton pinpoints the force of Frei’s Christological focus and objectives as one of the points at which Frei and Lindbeck most starkly diverge.1 As Higton has stated it, in Frei’s later work, the Church’s taking the narrative reading of the Bible as primary is not to say that “the Church mastered the Bible,” but rather, precisely by taking a narrative reading as primary rather than an allegorical or purely symbolic one, the Church allowed the Bible to stand over against it as an independent norm which it could not control.”2 Higton continues:

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Sinewes Even in Thy Milke: the Plain Sense and the Trees of Eden

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Sinewes Even in Thy Milke: the Plain Sense and the Trees of Eden1

Kathryn Greene-McCreight

1. This paper takes up some of the questions and material from my first book, Ad Litteram: How Augustine, Calvin and Barth Read the “Plain Sense” of Genesis 1–3 (New York: Peter Lang, 1999) and from my presentation to the SBL session of Theological Hermeneutics, Christ and the Old Testament, San Diego, 2008. That presentation was later published as “Sinewes Even in Thy Milk: 13 Observations regarding Plain Sense Readings of Holy Scripture,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 2, no. 1 (2007): 19–22.

My God, my God, Thou art a direct God, may I not say a literall God, a God that wouldest bee understood literally, and according to the plaine sense of all that thou saiest? But thou art also (Lord, I intend it to thy glory, and let no prophane interpreter abuse it to thy diminution) thou art a figurative, a metaphoricall God too: A God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such Curtaines of Allegories, such third Heavens of Hyperboles, so harmonious eloquutions, so retired and so reserved expressions, so commanding perswasions, so perswading commandments, such sinewes even in thy milke, and such things in thy words, as all prophane Authors, seeme of the seed of the Serpent, that creepes, thou art the Dove, that flies. O, what words but thine, can expresse the inexpressible texture, and composition of thy Word . . .

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Natural Evil, Evolution, and Scholastic Accounts of the Limits on Demonic Power

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Natural Evil, Evolution, and Scholastic Accounts of the Limits on Demonic Power

Travis Dumsday

I. Introduction

The problem of evil is standardly divided between “moral” and “natural” formulations, with the former questioning how an omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent God could possibly allow us to commit serious wrongs, and the latter questioning how God could allow such phenomena as disease, physical suffering, death, and earthquakes to impact both the human and animal realms. Theists have responded to these questions in a variety of ways, with one prominent line of reply to the moral formulation being the free-will theodicy: God allows moral wrongdoing because the possibility of such wrongdoing is entailed by His granting us freedom; He cannot preserve us from that possibility without removing or otherwise badly inhibiting our freedom. Basically, moral evil is our own fault and God refrains from stopping it because doing so would violate our moral autonomy.

Assuming that reply has some purchase on the moral problem of evil, can it help at all with the natural? Historically many Christian theologians have thought so, interpreting the opening chapters of Genesis as (at least in part) a historical account that records the fall of humanity, which fall also precipitated the fall of the natural world. As God’s images and stewards over nature fell from His grace, somehow we took the rest of nature with us,1 introducing pain, suffering, death, and also predation into the animal realm. The problem of natural evil thus becomes a subsidiary of the problem of moral evil, with natural evil taking its start from human sin.

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Revisiting the Sola Scripture Debate: Yves Congar and Joseph Ratzinger on Tradition

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Revisiting the Sola Scripture Debate: Yves Congar and Joseph Ratzinger on Tradition

Joshua Brotherton

I. Ecumenical Avoidance of Scylla and Charybdis on Tradition

Perhaps nothing else divides the Christian community in its approach to Scripture more than the issue of ecclesial tradition. All Christians accept some form or another of apostolic tradition, whether they recognize it or not, but the precise meaning of tradition and, in particular, its relationship to Scripture escapes many Catholics and Protestants alike. While the particular Protestant perspective on revelation that identifies the Word of God with the words of sacred Scripture is pegged as “fundamentalist,” many Catholics possess a similar mindset, likely in reaction to the “modernist” spirit which forcefully manifested itself in the early twentieth century. It is commonly observed that the nouvelle theologie movement played a great role in the doctrinal developments that took place in the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council, which one may call the first council to be ecumenical par excellence. Although the movement is neither monolithic nor entirely immune to criticism, it has forged inroads on the ecumenical scene, and yet one of its key contributions is habitually neglected, namely, its theology of Scripture and tradition. The influence of Yves Congar and Joseph Ratzinger at the council is well known,1 but their chief contributions appear in Dei Verbum, the one out of the four constitutions to receive the least attention since the close of the council. It is high time that this topic of most crucial significance for ecumenical progress be engaged. For an adequate ecumenical theology it is imperative that Catholic and Protestant theologians alike confront, ideally together in some fashion, the profound thought of Yves Congar and Joseph Ratzinger that are hinted at in the few numbers of this constitution that directly concern the nature of tradition, particularly, in its relationship to Scripture. Therefore, rather than engage in a detailed exegesis of the conciliar text, I would like to analyze and synthesize (not without critical questions) the theology of tradition that the Second Vatican Council has bequeathed to the Church.

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Gratia Non Tollit Naturam Sed Perficit

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Gratia Non Tollit Naturam Sed Perficit

Robert W. Jenson

I

The Thomistic maxim that provides the matter of this essay is conventionally translated in some such way as this: “[God’s] grace does not eliminate nature, but rather perfects it.” The maxim is widely accepted in the West, also among Protestants, yet is also the frequent occasion or context of theological and even ecclesial divergence. Such a situation is often a sign that something is amiss with the language of the proposition in question, or perhaps only that it is more complicated than appears at first thought, or perhaps a bit of each. Thus the matter of this essay is not Thomas Aquinas’s theology, but the possibilities and problems of the maxim taken for itself as a piece of discourse—though Thomas will be instanced along the way. The goal is a plausible exegesis of the maxim.

I will be profligate in the discovery of both opportunities and difficulties, to give a general impression of the mixed-species jungle we enter with our title and without any intent to deal with them all in one essay—or ever. I should note that my current interest in this jungle is aroused by experience with a group of Princeton Seminary graduate students who meet with me: no matter what text we start with, at some time during the discussion we find ourselves entangled in one or another of the jungle’s thickets.

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