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Tilted in the Direction of Duns Scotus: Sonderegger’s “Formal Distinction” and the Theologia Crucis

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Tilted in the Direction of Duns Scotus: Sonderegger’s “Formal Distinction” and the Theologia Crucis

Paul R. Hinlicky

In the summer semester of 1921, the young and still unknown philosopher Martin Heidegger undertook the “deconstruction” of Augustine’s synthesis of Paul and Neo-Platonism. He wrote about the mishandling of Romans 1:20, where Paul seemingly asserted knowledge of the invisible God through His created works. This claim was “fundamental,” according to Heidegger, for the “orientation of Christian doctrine in Greek philosophy.” Romans 1:20 was grasped as a “confirmation of Platonism, taken from Paul.” The “Platonic ascent from the sensible world to the supersensible world” was consequently “structured into the basic patterns of Christian thought.” But, Heidegger continues, “this is a misunderstanding of the passage from Paul. Only Luther really understood this passage for the first time”—even though Luther too later “fell victim to the burden of tradition.”

Heidegger cites as evidence for his claim about the early Luther’s exposition of Romans 1:20 the latter’s (at the time recently rediscovered) Heidelberg Disputation, where, he says, Luther asserts that the one who “sees what is invisible of God in what has been created is no theologian.” Luther’s denial means that “the object of theology is not attained by way of metaphysical consideration of the world.”1 Whatever is so captured, as Heidegger would later put it, is “ontotheology,” deity idolatrously constructed as highest good of the appropriating creature who asserts self in the epistemic titanism of claiming knowledge of God.

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Scripture and Metaphysics: A Response to the Reviewers

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Scripture and Metaphysics: A Response to the Reviewers

Katherine Sonderegger

Esse Deum dare; God’s Being is to give: so Paul Hinlicky writes in his splendid review (and his own systematic volume), and this truth, we may thankfully say, is one of the “deep things of God.” The ever-rich Generosity of God is echoed, in a creaturely voice, by these reviews in front of me. They are gifts, lavish ones. I am deeply grateful to these reviewers for such incisive and generative comments on my first volume of Systematics; deeply grateful for their generous words of encouragement, of support, and of challenge. They read me so very well, in the strengths of the book and in the weak parts, too, the insights I have been given, but the unfinished analysis and exegeses as well. Always there is more to learn, more to understand in the Tradition, in the Doctors of the Church, and above all, in Holy Scripture; these reviewers help me see further. They represent the Church catholic—Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Roman Catholic—and in just this way live out with particular grace the hope of ecumenism in the world made by Faith and Order and the aggiornamento of Vatican II. I wrote this book for that Church, the One Universal Church, Holy and Apostolic, and I am deeply moved to have this first volume so generously received by living members of that catholic communion. Gratitude is the mark of a life, given and forgiven, Barth said; and I have received this gift, many times over, by these reviewers and their work. So I am eager to honor their work by responding to their comments and queries. I cannot hope to address all their points; these remarks are really just the beginning of a conversation on these central matters.

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Martin Luther after 500 Years

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Martin Luther after 500 Years

Bruce D. Marshall

Five hundred years ago this past October, on the eve of All Saints—what we call Halloween—a young theology professor at a provincial German university posted a set of theses for academic debate.1 The university was in the northeast German town of Wittenberg, and the professor was Martin Luther, a monk and priest two weeks shy of his thirty-fourth birthday. His aim was a standard academic exercise, a public disputation on a series of contested points, so his theses were written in Latin, the universal academic language of Europe at the time. The subject of his theses was the theology and practice of indulgences. Indulgences had been a standard part of Western medieval religious life for several centuries, one part of a much larger picture about sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God and one’s community. Luther was moved to post his “Disputation to Clarify the Power of Indulgences,” to recall its formal title, by his lively irritation over the way a particular indulgence tied to the building of the new St. Peter’s basilica in Rome was, with papal approval, being preached and sold in north Germany at the time. But the proper understanding of indulgences, of what they could and could not do, was already a topic of running controversy, and a good deal of what Luther had to say in his ninety-five theses had already been said by others.

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The Demise of Visible Unity: Challenges in the Implementation of the Anglican-Lutheran Porvoo Statement

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The Demise of Visible Unity: Challenges in the Implementation of the Anglican-Lutheran Porvoo Statement

Ola Tjørhom

The main title of this piece may sound a bit exaggerated. But I still dare to claim that it is largely justifiable. Visible unity—or, more precisely, visible structured unity—is grounded in the original vision of the modern ecumenical movement. It had its peak in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. During the last few decades, however, it has become gradually marginalized at the ecumenical scene—even among some who used to defend it. One reason for this shift is that the concern for visible communion has been overshadowed by our attraction to diversity.

Openness to and active embracing of diversity is indispensable—in the church as well as the world. All proclivities to reject this precious gift must be counteracted. Yet, the crucial dialectics between unity and diversity should never be forgotten. In the life of the church, this gift is always linked to and aimed at a visible, structured, and committed fellowship.

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Grace and Gratitude: A Reply to Bruce Marshall

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Grace and Gratitude: A Reply to Bruce Marshall

Michael Allen

“The spirits divide in manifold ways, and the division reaches even to the description of Protestantism’s iconic founding incident.” These words of Professor Bruce Marshall not only help us realize the challenge as we assess the events of October 1517, but, more broadly, as we consider the persona and witness of Martin Luther. Some take Luther’s significance to be political, and Marshall alludes to the significance of his support by “the Elector of Saxony Frederick the Wise” for turning him from a mere reformer to a founder of German Protestantism. Others highlight the ways in which Luther confronted the economic exploitation of German peasants for the aristocrats and the foreign powers of Rome, to which Marshall also nods in his comments on the popular awareness of the ways in which indulgences could fleece the least of these. While treating the political and the economic aspects of reform as bearing significance, however, Marshall reminds us of the abiding theological character of his witness and the specifically pastoral shape of his reforms.

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What Has Prussia to Do with Tübingen?

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What Has Prussia to Do with Tübingen?

The Political-Ecclesial Context of Möhler’s Symbolik

Grant Kaplan

I. Introduction

In the first volume of her new systematic theology, Sarah Coakley proposes a théologie totale—a riff on the French Annales School’s l’histoire totale—as her method.1 For Coakley, this means a work of retrieval that reads the Trinitarian theology of the Church fathers through their ascetical and mystical writing, while incorporating discussions of sexuality, personal prayer, and even fieldwork done in charismatic communities, to reach her constructive theological conclusions about the Trinity. Her work has inspired me to apply a similar, albeit more constrained, methodological ambition to an abiding problem in the work of nineteenth-century Germany’s greatest Catholic theologian: Johann Adam Möhler (1796–1838). First the problem, then the method. I apply this method not just by reading Möhler’s major works, but also by employing less obvious techniques, including: (1) reading the minor works, including anonymous book reviews; (2) placing his authorship against the backdrop of the ecclesial-political climate, in particular the creation of the Prussian Union Church (Unionskirche), and the new liturgy for that Church (Agende); (3) taking seriously Möhler’s vocation as a Church historian by retrieving his posthumous Church history, with special attention to his treatment of church-state conflict; and (4) attending to the genre of “symbolics” as manifested in earlier (and also contemporary), Lutheran efforts at the genre. This approach leads to a renewed understanding of Möhler. Armed with this understanding, the article concludes by rereading Symbolik, generally regarded as Möhler’s greatest work, as an instance of both political and ecumenical theology. The version of Möhler arrived at through this method is both more prophetic and more traditional than previous images: more prophetic in terms of his understanding the need for a distinctly political theology to combat the challenges of the age and more traditional in underscoring his reading of Church history as formative for developing his ecclesial-political judgments.

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Ecclesial Plurality

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Ecclesial Plurality

Alan Jacobs1

Recently, some of the strongest divisions within the Christian world in the West, and particular in North America, have arisen from disagreements about human sexuality. These disagreements may be described and accounted for in various ways. Those who hold to the traditional view that sexuality is properly expressed only in marriage between one man and one woman may speak of heresies and disobediences that demand the invocation of the strict disciplines and separations of 1 Corinthians 5; conversely, those who accept the validity of same-sex unions may see in the traditionalists the dangers of a renewed Donatism. Although all such charges have occasional validity, they tend to promote diagnostic crudity.

Such crudity has also been promoted by how both sides use the Bible. A great deal of energy has been expended, throughout the history of Christianity, in trying to resolve the apparent contradictions in the biblical witness, by choosing (often in ways that seem arbitrary) some passages to govern the interpretation of other passages. That’s how we get the Calvinist/Arminian divide, among many others. But then, seeing how interminable and fruitless these controversies are, some people decide that the Bible is incoherent and self-contradictory and stop relying on its witness to determine their theology.

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Properly Preoccupied with God: Katherine Sonderegger’s Systematic Theology I

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Properly Preoccupied with God: Katherine Sonderegger’s Systematic Theology I

Philip G. Ziegler

There is much to welcome, learn, and indeed, to treasure in this first volume of Kate Sonderegger’s Systematic Theology. I begin with two initial observations on the form of the work.

First, this is a work of striking intelligence internal and proper to faith itself. As such, despite its sustained concentration on the quiddity of God and its unashamedly metaphysical mode, the book is remote from the dispassionate coolness of an analytic style of theology whose first moves are hypothetical—“if P, then . . . .” The origins of Sonderegger’s theology lie not in the hypothetical, but in the vocational, that is, in “the call to the One God, the One Lord of Israel” (3). Accordingly, the tone of her work is joyfully urgent, and the voice always simultaneously academic and ecclesial, critical and edifying, metaphysical and biblical, argued and prayerful. The work is stylistically unapologetic, offering no argument for its own possibility and propriety beyond that divine call to which is a reasoned response. The performance itself must vindicate and justify its form. The truth and winsomeness of Sonderegger’s claim that in a biblical and ecclesial theology such as this “doctrine governs and generates method” (xx)—and within method we must include tone, style and discursive form—is demonstrated on stage, as it were, rather than defended in the program notes.

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Honoring Scripture’s Living Lord: Katherine Sonderegger on the Divine Attributes

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Honoring Scripture’s Living Lord: Katherine Sonderegger on the Divine Attributes

Christopher R. J. Holmes

I have been blessed by Katherine Sonderegger’s text. It is a work of truly spiritual theology. In reading it, one is reminded, forcefully reminded, that theology, if it is to be truly theology, has to do with God, the what and who of God. Writing about God as she does, involves the mortification of so much of what many of us understand theology to be. Let me use my own theological thinking as an example. For many years I hankered after a Trinitarian and Christological account of God’s attributes, following in Karl Barth’s great lead. I learned from him that Christology is the foundational doctrine through which all other doctrines must pass and by which they must gain their bearings. Sonderegger, following St. Thomas Aquinas, has instructed me otherwise. “Not all is Christology!” Christology, as with all other doctrines, derives from the doctrine of God, God’s names. As she states, “it will be the aim of this dogmatics to honor Christ throughout a Doctrine of God that is nevertheless not grounded nor derived from His Incarnate Life.” Over and against those who would embrace the Crucified One into the heart of the Doctrine of God, she argues that what God is, must govern what is said of God in relation to us. In this brief review essay, I present not only the heart of Sonderegger’s text but also the architectural implications of her proposals and what they imply for our understanding of the Creator–creature relationship.

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Tilting a Little More in the Direction of Thomas Aquinas

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Tilting a Little More in the Direction of Thomas Aquinas

Matthew Levering

Katherine Sonderegger’s first volume of her projected Systematic Theology is a masterpiece, a theological and rhetorical tour-de-force that enriches the life of the Church in profound ways. All Christians should joyfully welcome this book into the world, and it should have a long future of stimulating faith in the God of Jesus Christ. Sonderegger brilliantly balances between Barth and Aquinas, and—like the work of Barth and Aquinas—her work is deeply informed by Scripture. My task in this all-too-brief essay will be to focus attention on the book’s debt to Aquinas and especially on its critique of Aquinas. I think that the tremendous strengths of Sonderegger’s book would only become stronger by tilting just a little more in the direction of Aquinas’s doctrine of God.

With Aquinas, Sonderegger insists on undertaking an “ontological analysis of Divine Oneness” and thus a “metaphysical reading of Scripture’s subject matter” (15). She notes that although things in this world have likeness and commonality to each other, “common properties and concepts,” this does not hold for God and creatures: “There is no likeness—no relation—of this kind between the One God and creatures” (26). With Aquinas, she insists that “God is not a universal, nor a member of a class, even the only member” (27). She agrees with Aquinas on “God’s Nature as ‘beyond definition’” (30). She emphasizes how radical is Aquinas’s denial that God is contained in any genus. As she puts it, Aquinas brings “all speech to stunned silence, all thought to its own annihilation, before the God of Horeb, the One God in His Mystery. The True God must be affirmed as beyond genus” (32–33). She affirms, as Aquinas does, that “God is fundamentally, utterly God—in scholastic idiom, fully actual. Nothing is ‘potential’ in God, waiting for completion or satisfaction or unfolding. . . . God rather is simply, wholly and inexhaustibly God, uniquely God” (33). She notes that against the temptation to make God the biggest or perfect being among beings, “[w]e must not think that God belongs to all that exists—that He is—in such a way that His particular form of existence, unique, self-subsisting Being could pick him out from this larger club of all that is. Rather, God is His existence” (33). Hammering home the significance of Aquinas’s reflections, which echo Scripture’s campaign against idolatry, she states: “To say that God is ‘beyond being’ or ‘is his own existence’—these are really convertible claims—is to affirm that God cannot be defined. . . . Not God’s ‘absence’ or ‘hiddenness’ or ‘transcendence’ makes God ineffable, unique, beyond definition. Rather, God’s sheer Reality does this” (35).

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The Preexistence and Transcendence of the Risen One in Robert Jenson’s Theology

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The Preexistence and Transcendence of the Risen One in Robert Jenson’s Theology

Sang Hoon Lee

Introduction

Does the Son of God preexist creation? Does the Son transcend time? Is he risen now? How does time unfold? How does the future relate to the past and the present? And, finally, how are these questions related?

Ever since Robert W. Jenson offered an audacious and idiosyncratic account of the preexistence of the Son, it has often been the object of specious criticism. Its underlying logic and conviction have gone unnoticed, and his insightful understanding of the transcendence of the Son, which is closely related to his account of the preexistence of the Son, has been lost in most critics’ expositions. Such readings have not been properly disputed but still remained dominant. So, Jenson’s account of the preexistence of the Son is now due for a fresh and careful reading and a more legitimate evaluation, uncovering its subterranean logic and conviction.

The purpose of this article, then, is twofold: to attempt a more legitimate exposition of Jenson’s doctrine of the preexistence of the Son and to reflect on the transcendence of the risen Jesus, which is covertly operative in Jenson’s account. In the course of this article, I will argue that even though Jenson’s blatant rejection of the pretemporal and preincarnate state of the Son is problematic, his insight into the transcendence of the risen one should not be dismissed and that it deserves more careful constructive engagements. To achieve this, the essay will unfold in three stages: (1) identification of misleading expositions, conducted by such major critics as George Hunsinger, Simon Gathercole, and Oliver Crisp; (2) an attempt for a more adequate exposition of Jenson’s account; and (3) reflection on the transcendence of the risen Jesus and its metaphysical implications.

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Facticity and Faithfulness

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Facticity and Faithfulness

Divine Simplicity in Barth’s Christology

Tyler R. Wittman

Introduction

This essay explores critically Karl Barth’s Christological distribution of God’s unity of singularity and simplicity, with a focus on the latter. There are narrow reasons for undertaking such an analysis, like illuminating the connections between Barth’s doctrine of God’s perfections and his late Christology, or probing more deeply into the doctrinal underpinnings of his Christology. But more important is the broader task of dogmatic reflection on the unity of God’s essence, which is among the more neglected loci over the course of the last century, particularly in Protestant divinity.1 As the history of the doctrine of divine simplicity alone testifies, the exegetical and metaphysical intelligibility, conceptual articulation, and systematic distribution of the divine attributes accommodate a wide variety of interpretations throughout the tradition. Doctrinal retrieval stands to gain from patient yet critical attention to this variety. How, then, if at all, does divine unity in its aspects of singularity and simplicity intersect with Barth’s Christology? To what effect?

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Anglican Saint, Anglican Poet

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Anglican Saint, Anglican Poet

Nicholas Ferrar and T. S. Eliot at Little Gidding

Timothy Fuller

I

It was through my encounter with T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, which I first read when I was about fourteen, and which I have continued to read and to study, that I learned of Little Gidding. Later, I learned about Nicholas Ferrar, who lodged his family and household of approximately thirty to forty members at Little Gidding as a religious community early in seventeenth-century England. It is fair to say that Ferrar is an Anglican saint; Eliot is an Anglican poet, in the tradition of Anglican poets such as George Herbert, who was a contemporary and friend of Ferrar. Herbert and Ferrar were at Cambridge together and brilliant men of affairs, who retired from public life in pursuit of spiritual fulfillment. Herbert became a country priest and poet, and at his death, Ferrar became his executor.

Little Gidding is famous now because the name is the title of the fourth of Eliot’s Four Quartets. Eliot of course knew about Ferrar and visited Little Gidding himself, which was the occasion for his writing the fourth quartet. I want to say something about Ferrar and his community at Little Gidding, and then something about Eliot’s poetic evocation of Little Gidding, in the context of tracing one theme, among the many themes, which run through Four Quartets as a whole. Ferrar and Eliot both instantiate great achievements of the Anglican spirit.

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Ivan Illich, Catholic Theologian (Part II):

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Ivan Illich, Catholic Theologian (Part II):

Illich And Catholic Social Teaching

Colin Miller

In a previous essay in these pages,1 I argued that for Ivan Illich the modern world is at its heart the doxological betrayal of Catholicism, an idolatrous technocratic liturgy prohibiting the true cultus from which it is ultimately derived. Like all cults, modern tools seek to subsume all of life into their rites, and yet, perhaps as never before, these rites mask their character as foreign with a new set of fundamental certainties feigning Christian truth. So the trusting, hopeful, fleshy, useless eucharistic liturgy is replaced by various systems expected to deliver a terrestrial salvation in the cathedrals of medicine, education, transport, and cybernetics. The Church’s irreducible personalism—the contingent particularity of embodied existence in space and time—is abstracted into possibilities and risk management and explained by behaviorism as the way things have to be. Persons become manipulatable concepts. The body becomes a chartable system in need of upkeep, its once salutary suffering first taxonomized and then reduced to a minimum. The pursuit of truth is separated from a tradition-bound way of life and replaced with bare, un-situated nominalist “information,” and a moral order reducible to the play of power. In this world, subsistence work or gendered practice dissolves under economic analysis into interchangeable units of “activity” always vulnerable to being unmasked as inequitable instances of the will to power and the violation of rights. This, for Illich, is the corruption of the best, which is the worst.

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The Catholic Spirit of Protestantism

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The Catholic Spirit of Protestantism

A Very Methodist Take on the Third Article, Visible Unity, and Ecumenism

Tom Greggs

Protestants have a reputation for being schismatic. Were it not enough that they broke with Rome in the sixteenth century, Protestants, from the very off, have been divided among themselves: Luther and Zwingli could not find agreement over the nature of Holy Communion at the Marburg Colloquy; more profoundly, Radical and Magisterial Reform divided; and ever since the Reformation, there has been division upon division of churches who have all protested against their parent church that it has not proclaimed Scripture or performed church practice or celebrated the sacraments or ordered itself or articulated its doctrine correctly. Moving to Scotland in recent years, I have been particularly aware of this propensity to divide. Reading Scottish church history can feel a little similar to reading a script from an episode of Dallas: unending fall outs, divisions, and divorces, followed by the odd makeup and ostentatiously glamorous wedding. Diagrams of Protestant church history can bear an unhealthy similarity to complex plumbing maps, with lines dividing off and coming back together in almost inscrutable ways. It is rumoured indeed that one particularly narrow and exclusive Protestant sect even has a hymn that goes:

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