Friday, May 29, 2009

'Conversational' 'Dead' Languages, V

The conversation continues:
Mike has his own contribution with a helpful set of links to the whole ongoing dialogue so far, as well as a guest post by Daniel Street, who has kindly allowed me to post a copy of his Greek exam from Spring Semester.

I hope to come back to the conversation when I have some spare time to gather some more thoughts.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sermon, John 12

I preached on John 12 tonight. The King is Dead. Long Live the King!

A bit of a break from preaching for the next two weeks; we have a combined service next week, and then our trainee will preach Jn 13 the week after. So, back with Jn 14 in a few weeks.

John 12

'Conversational' 'Dead' Languages, IV

In this post I'm picking up some comments emailed to me privately by Daniel of Hebrew and Greek Reader. The comments were emailed privately largely because of the limitations of comment length that blogger allows. What I hope to achieve in this post is a clarification and nuance of the discussion.

Analysis vs. Reading

I admit to being a little slippery in the way I have used 'reading' in the initial posts. I take it that our goal is a close and attentive study of the ancient texts in our discipline. That's the kind of analysis we are after. However, the tendency has for a long time been for this to be quite microscopic: to deal with words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. The recent shift and rise in the popularity of Discourse Analysis seems to me to be the waking up to the idea that we read paragraphs, and longer segments. Narrative Criticism is of the same ilk, only with a certain genre and a very broad range.

In English Literature circles, we'd call that 'reading', and that's what I mean by saying that study = reading – a close and attentive study of the ancient texts at both the macro and micro levels.

Acquisition vs. 'Learning', L1 and L2

There's certainly a larger debate going on here, and one that probably hasn't been and won't be settled for some time, if either. That's whether an L2, learnt post-adolescence, can ever be considered equivalent to an L1. I'm currently convinced that L2s are never learnt in the same way that L1s are, and that probably the way the brain processes and utilises them is significantly different. Nonetheless, I would refer to someone with communicative fluency in an L2 as having acquired the language.

This I differentiate from 'learning about' an L2, by which I denote the kinds of facts taught in (for example but not limited to) Grammar-Translation classes. Such classes are taught in the native, not the target language, and tend to objectify and externalise pieces of the target language for analysis. It's perfectly possible, and I've seen this among Classics teachers at tertiary institutions, to have a vast command of the grammar of a language, and a real inability to read, hear, speak, write simple phrases and statements, without doing some English-language thinking and analysis first.

Sometimes I use the term 'meta-language' to refer to this learning-about, this grammatical knowledge of a target language in the terms of the native language. It's why 2nd year students have endless debates about what kind of Genitive Paul is using. It's why they get a little confused when you point out that Paul probably didn't sit down and select a type-of-genitive from a drop-down menu. We teach a language to talk about language, sometimes without teaching the language itself.

I agree that L2s cannot be learnt as if they are L1s. There is an unfortunate historical tendency to equate Direct methods with Natural methods. The latter are those that seek to imitate the patterns of children learning their L1, the former are those that recognise the difference that adult learners bring to the learning situation, and aim to teach, in a structured manner, the language through the medium of the language so far as possible.

It's the common concern of Grammar-Translation teachers that such communicative and/or Direct methods will leave students grammatically at-sea when it comes to analysis. That can be the case, but it doesn't have to be the case.

Goals and Limitations for Seminaries.

I think there are real and hard walls that we come up against when we come to think of Seminary Education. There's the combined pressures of time, curriculum, student expectations and demands, faculty time and ability to teach, denominational expectations, and on and on. I also recognise that I don't speak from the inside of a seminary.

Let me reflect a little on my own experiences. In an Australian university, an Arts major has a workload of 4 subjects a semester, generally 3 hours contact, a nominal further 9 private study (I'm sure no-one has ever done that). I did my Latin by correspondence, but presumably if I'd been on campus it would have been the same - ¼ of the workload.

Contrast the seminary I went to: a rigorous languages program by most standards. In the first year, 6-8 classes over the course of the year, each with 2-3 contact hours and much the same expectations as the ¼ load of a university. Greek compulsory for 3-4 year degrees. Hebrew optional. First year Greek was grammar, with 1 hr set to small-group reading through Mark. Second year Greek was all Wallace. They have recently introduced a 4th year Advanced Greek Grammar. 2nd to 4th year New Testament courses were all taught from the Greek text.

Hebrew was grammar first year, then Old Testament courses through years 2-4 were streamed Hebrew/English, with further grammar in 2nd year.

I get the impression this is far above most U.S. seminaries, but I don't have the experience to verify. It's incredibly hard with that kind of workload to convince students to do conversation, read outside the NT, and so on.

If I had the chance to restructure either a university classics program or a seminary languages program, I'd do this:
Change the 1st year program to a communicative method. I'd look at something like Hans Oerberg's Lingua Latina: Familia Romana
alongside Neumann's Lingua Latina: A College Companionfor some inspiration.

Develop a systematic graded reader built heavily upon the source texts.

Move from 'expected outside class hours' to making most of those hours class time. I realise that means virtually 12 hours contact! I don't think you need to go to that extreme, but I think you want to head that way; if science degrees can get students spending 7-8 contact hours in lectures, tutorials, and labs, I think languages should be able to do the same. I'd make some of this sustained reading. Some of it conversational. Some of it grammatical analysis. Probably I'd look to commit some of the class hours of second year Greek students to facilitating small groups of first years.

If you can do that in the first year, you can still teach something like Wallace in the second. Alternatively, one could seek to develop a Greek vocabulary and text for talking about linguistics and rhetoric. That, I confess, is very ambitious.

Of course this is all speculation. I'm not in such a position, and maybe my aims are too high. We won't know how such an approach would turn out until someone does it and commits to it for a few years. All it would take is someone committed enough to doing it, and to trial it for a few years, with the backing of their institution, and to get some good Second Language researchers in to do some fieldwork, and the proof would be there (one way or the other – I'm prepared to be proved wrong!).

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Saturday, May 23, 2009

'Conversational' 'Dead' Languages, III

But the challenges are great. And here I want to respond specifically to some of the points that D&T make:

1. There are no speakers

True. Or almost true. That is, I can't vouch for the world's population, but I at least know of a few individuals that evidence high levels of communicative fluency in Latin, and a few in Classical and/or Koine Greek.

But more importantly, it doesn't matter. We're aiming to learn a language as it was, not as it evolves, and so our practices will not be seeking to recreate a living language in the sense of the neogenesis of an evolving language. We don't want the next generation of Koine speakers to be creative in the sense of linguistic evolution.

It's possible to learn to use communicatively languages that are extinct or close to extinction. Attempts to revitalise almost-dead indigenous languages, as well as revivalist efforts in classical languages, show that this is the case. So it's not a pragmatic obstacle.

2. Lack of creativity.

D&T point to the fact that Biblical Hebrew and Greek are closed corpora of texts. There are now no new instances of Biblical languages creating new content. This is true. But I also don't think it's entirely relevant. Hebrew, one might argue, is a slightly different case, but I'll leave that aside for the moment. Greek, surely, must be read against the background of Koine/Hellenistic literature, for which an even more expansive corpus exists. And that corpus has a critical mass – it gives us a significantly large enough picture of Greek as used in literature of varying styles to form a substantive communicative language (compare with Tolkein's languages, which have not supplied a vast enough corpus so that attempts to expand the language and literature are stymied).

True, every generation of a new statement in Koine Greek isn't authentic. It is an academic fabrication. But that doesn't make it value-less. If it remains consistent with the grammar of the Koine corpus, it's Koine.

The pedagogical argument is this: focusing on one's primary corpus: canonical literature, isn't as efficient or productive as pursuing a communicative approach that includes academic fabrication. Sure, pronunciation is disputed, but we can live with that. Sure, grammatical features of the language are contested. We can live with that. Sure, maybe no 1st century Koine speaker ever uttered what I might utter. We can live with that. We can live with that because a communicative approach will better allow a student to acquire an active proficiency in the language and more efficiently equip them to read the ancient literature in its original language.

3. The appeal to modern Hebrew and Greek.

I think this is a loaded issue, and I'm prepared to cop some flak on it. There are sizeable differences between the modern and ancient versions of these languages. My opinion is that those differences are marked enough that a student should not conflate them. I'm not opposed to using modern pronunciations, but I am opposed to those, particularly regarding Greek, who want to smooth over those changes in the language and say, “Why don't you just learn modern Greek – Greek's been alive all these years!”. Historical continuity does not guarantee, and cannot be used to presuppose, linguistic similitude. What most of us are interested in is the language as it was used in its historical settings around our chosen literature. I do think there are benefits in learning the modern versions of these languages, but I consider those benefits marginal as compared to acquiring a communicative competency in a version (even an academic reconstruction) of the ancient language. Learning modern Greek or Hebrew brings one into a contemporary language community, still evolving, and evolving further away from the fixed historical literary corpora. There's nothing intrinsically wrong about that, but let's be honest about it.

4. There's no such thing (as 'conversational' Biblical Greek/Hebrew)

Again, true, but I think not persuasive. There is no such thing as 'conversational' biblical languages available to us. Yet there exists enough of a corpus for us to know and use the language conversationally. Sure, there's a distinction, but if we're not aiming for conversational classical languages, but to use classical languages conversationally (if you follow my thinking), then do we really have a problem?

To summarise my argument (and I concede it's more a position than an argument that I have put forward):

Language acquisition differs from learning about language.
Students of ancient texts are better served by acquiring their respective languages.
Students of classical languages reinforce their acquisition best by conversing about their target language in their target language.
Communicative approaches are better equipped than Grammar-Translation methods to promote acquisition rather than learning.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

'Conversational' 'Dead' Languages, II

So, what is the best methodology to follow in order to acquire a language? This is certainly a debate that continues to rage among language teachers, and linguistic researchers. I have no problem owning up to having taken a position on this issue. I'm persuaded by people like Stephen Krashen, by methods like TPRS, and concepts like Comprehensible Input, that people acquire languages best by repeated exposure to input (reading, listening), that is at a level that is entirely, or more reasonably 90% understandable. Whether it's made intelligible by context, pictures, actions, explanations in simpler terms, or even by glosses in another language, it's the exposure to the target language that reaps the most benefit. If this is the case, then the following kinds of classes and activities are ideal:

- Extensive reading at a level suitable to the learner.
- Classes in which the primary mode of communication is the target language
- Extensive listening at a level suitable to the learner

While I accept that multiple sensory usage is an important educational principle in general, I would go further in language acquisition, and say that there's something about the nature of language and brains that means attempting to acquire both a literary and spoken version of language 'works' better than focusing exclusively on the written. It's for that reason that a communicative class is preferable. I mean, we could have a communicative class that was all written, on-line chatting and the like, but engaging the oral/aural component is well worth-it.

Anecdotally, I think most learners of modern and ancient languages are able to compare their experiences. For myself, a short time spent in Guatemala and Mexico, with some language school time, left me reading Spanish literature and conversing quite competently within a space of a few months. Years of studying Latin, Greek, and Hebrew have left me able to read the first two languages fairly proficiently (I still struggle with Hebrew), but quite feeble in conversing or composing in those languages.

Of course, as soon as you suggest that we might learn to speak and utilise a classical language, most people look at you like you are crazy. And those who are accustomed to Grammar-Translation methods immediately think you are asking them to do an incredibly large amount of 'more work'. Counter-intuitively, I would suggest that changing one's method to focus on Language acquisition is more time-efficient, and has a greater pay-off.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

'Conversational' 'Dead' Languages, I

I read with interest the reaction to Mounce's vlog by Daniel and Tonya at Hebrew and Greek Reader (parts 1 & 2). I read their blog with some interest and respect. Mike Aubrey specifically asked me to post some thoughts. In this post I will explore my own thoughts on these issues, with some interaction with D&T. I would like to highlight my respect for them (so far as their blog has presented them to me), whilst you will note my disagreement with their position.

First, I want to propose a broad purpose for which classical (a term I prefer to 'dead') languages are learnt. Our purpose should guide our method in this case.

The purpose to which most students seek to learn a classical language is for the study of ancient texts. That is to say, few are interested in the linguistics of ancient languages in and for itself (though it often seems otherwise); few are interested in communicating in ancient languages for the sake of conversing with contemporary people; most are looking to read ancient texts with insight and understanding. This generally leads to carefully, methodological, studious reading of texts with precision and rigour.

Second, I want to suggest what method(s) will best achieve this purpose.

It seems axiomatic to myself that you will improve in what you practice. If you practise soccer, you will improve primarily as a soccer player. If you do a lot of work with flashcards, your memory for flashcards will improve. The mind, like the body, tends to be lazy and specific – it will accustom itself to what you accustom it too.

Therefore if reading and analysing ancient texts is the primary purpose, the main method to be used should be the reading and analysing of ancient texts. And yet it's at this point I think our analogies break down and mislead us.

There is a vast gap between language acquisition and meta-language learning. To put it another way, it's one thing to learn a language, it's another thing to learn about a language. And most time spent in a traditional Grammar-Translation language class is spent learning about a language – analysing and memorising grammatical and linguistic knowledge about the language. Now, this in itself is not a bad thing, but time spent learning about a language is not time spent learning a language, not at all. Those who only learn to analyse the grammar of a language, when they come to texts, will do what they have learnt to do: analyse the grammar. If they acquire much language ability, it will be a by-product, a kind of cross-training, much like playing a lot of soccer might help you as a runner.

This is why I advocate reversing the pedagogical assumptions above. It's far better to acquire the language you are studying, and then to learn about it. It's even more superior to acquire the language and learn about the language while using it (ie, to discuss Greek grammar in Greek, Latin rhetoric in Latin, and so on). It's superior because the time and effort reap a better outcome.

That is to say, if you can pick up and read a Greek text, for instance, without needing to parse every word, and without needing to translate it, you're actually reading Greek as Greek. Which is what you want to be doing if you want to have much hope to provide a decent account of how it would read in its original socio-historic setting. Having a grammatical meta-language is going to help you work out why it does that, but having that grammatical knowledge is not essential to knowing that it reads a certain way. The meta-language of linguistic description is a tool for analysis and for explaining to others, but it's not a necessary tool for understanding. Plenty of English-users understand English perfectly well without being able to explain the simplest grammatical structures. There's no reason a person's acquisition of a classical language need be any different (except that we may well want a student to acquire exactly that meta-language skill).

All parts of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Friday, May 22, 2009

Easy Latin Reading to brighten your day

There's been a recent flourish of excitement and activity as Latin teachers have begun using Tar Heel Reader to upload short Latin stories. The site is designed to host "a collection of free, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a wide range of topics", for beginner readers of any age, and this is particularly apt for those learning Latin. There's already a growing range of libelli in Latin, so head on over!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Doctoral possibilities

I had an initial chat with a university today about doctoral studies. They seem quiet enthusiastic about myself and my proposal, and not at all put off by the Mongolia-effect. Very promising.

A few thoughts on Augustine

This week I'm reading Augustine's De Trinitate. It's my first sustained engagement with a primary text of Augustine (I know, terrible of me). Actually, that's not quite true, I've read a few shorter pieces quite recently. The translation I'm reading from is by Edmund Hill, O.P. from the "A translation for the 21st century" series. It's a very good reminder of the need for continual re-translations of patristic texts. While I can read the ANF/NPNF texts fine enough, they are slow-going and cumbersome. Modern translations get us into the thought of the ancient writer more efficiently by far.

There's a great end(chapter-)note that reads like this:
“This is the Latin rendering of a very obscure saying in the Greek text, which, whatever it means, almost certainly does not mean this”. It's regarding the beginning which also speaks to us, referring to Jn 8:25.

I'm only 3 books in, but I'm quickly gaining a deep appreciation for Augustine's thought. It's very logical and he proceeds in sequential order. His epistemic humility is also evident, and that is quite endearing. I realise things get a lot more complicated later in the work, but I'll reflect on them when I get there.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Classics Desideratum

It's all very well to have fine volumes like the Cambridge Green and Yellow editions with one book of the Aeneid and an awful lot of notes, but I'd really like to see a line of Classical texts printed with:
- The full-text of a work (ie, all of (the surviving books of) Tacitus' Annales, not just a single book.
- A streamlined vocabulary/glossary
- Just enough notes to explain difficult constructions
- Ideally, marked long vowels (not long syllables)
- Paperback
- Reasonably priced

In effect, a reading edition for those who are past the grammar-learning stage, who would like to read a fine classical text, with the minimum of helps (but not no helps!), and the maximum of value.

I know editions like the Bristol Classics and the Duckworth are in this direction (I just ordered Aeneid I-VI and VII-XII), but I think we could do better.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sermon, John 11

It was a real pleasure to preach on the raising of Lazarus. Here's my shot at it.
John 11

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mounce on future directions for Greek teaching

I know I'm slow on this, but William Mounce has a video up at Koinonia on Where is the study of biblical languages headed?

Quite frankly, I'm very glad to hear Mounce talking about the need to involve the senses, have active participation, and teach conversational Koine. This is, I am solidly convinced, the general direction that all classical languages should be headed, to revitalise the acquistion of a language, not merely the comprehension of grammar (though that too is important in its own place). To have someone as influential in the Greek instruction market as Mounce has been to be talking this way is a great encouragement for the future.

Paul Roche on Pliny the Younger and Roman Monuments

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Paul Roche speak on Pliny the Younger's Panegyricus and its relation to the monuments of Rome. Paul highlighted the historical context of the speech, in the reign of Trajan, overshadowed by the building projects of Domitian, whose subsequent damnatio memoriae left Roman public space with a conundrum. One simply couldn't embark on similar building projects, nor could one get away with destroying Domitian's. The solution, as Pliny's speech evidences, is to co-opt Domitian monuments and re-signify them. In the case of Roche's paper, he focused on the Domus Flavia, and the Circus Maximus, in both cases the way Pliny speaks to Trajan's resignification of them through changes. The note of change that Pliny strikes is greater openness, public-access so to speak.

Of course, Pliny's work is a two-fold testimony. On the one hand it gives some insight into Trajanic imperial propaganda, but coming very early in Trajan's reign, it also gives us an insight into Senatorial aspirations for Trajan. Pliny's speech, while in the mode of flattery, definitely contains advice on what the Senate is hoping from him.

All in all some fine work.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sermon, John 10

The good shepherd is a trickier passage than it seems. I'm not sure I did the best job on the passage, and wish I'd had more time to work on it. Still, it's got some great stuff to teach us.
John 10

SSEC Conference 2009

Yesterday I went to the SSEC Conference 2009 at Macquarie University. The theme this year was “The Paradox of Paul”. Here's a short brief on each paper I attended.

Prof. Laurence Welborn
presented on the language of friendship used in Paul's discourse in 2 Corinthians with the 'injured party', how Paul's language conforms to Greaco-Roman language discourse, but Paul overturns conventions by being the injured party and seeking reconciliation

Dr. Con Campbell
argued for the connectedness of Ephesians 6:10-17 with the rest of the letter on the basis of inaugurated eschatology, .., and incorporated individualism. His argument was concise and clear, which is always a strength, but I felt it lacked a few features.

Bernard Doherty
a graduate-student, at Macquarie, presented on Socio-Religious backgrounds to the letter to Galatians. A lot of interesting material, but I don't think he was going anywhere with it (yet).

Prof Edwin Judge
always speaks with great insight and a wealth of linguistic and social science precision. He treated the topic of Paul and personal identity, speaking about terms of identification in the Pauline literary corpus.

Dr Graham Lovell
presented on the relationship between Peter and Paul, arguing for a initial private meeting, then the later Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, and that Gal was prior to that event, and further that 1 Cor 8, 10 shows evidences that Paul continued to adhere to the position developed at the Counsel. He also pointed to the background of Ez 33:23-26 for the Acts passage.

Prof Beverly Gaventa
spoke eloquently and persuasively on the topic of 'the glory of God' in Romans, arguing that the language of glory has to do with active involved presence, particularly with triumphant connotations, and that the neglect of military vocabulary in Romans should be corrected in part by reading it alongside the glory references.

Dr Michael Theophilos
addressed Paul's use of Is 28:11-12 in 1 Cor 14:21 with some finesse and insight, arguing that Paul does know and intend to deploy the contextual setting of Isa 28, while making his new application in the Corinthian situation.

Prof Judith Lieu
closed the day, speaking on the remembrances and reception of Paul in the 2nd century. She mustered an impressive amount of material to speak to the diversity of 'Pauls' in circulation. The narrated Paul, the remembered Paul, the epistolary Paul. I found J. Lieu certainly very learned, but unpersuasive in her positions.

There were a few other papers which I didn't get to as it was a split program.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Hilary of Poitiers, 5

Two notable passages today, and then some enlightenment from RPC Hanson.

And what a triumph it was, when He offered Himself to those who sought to crucify Him, and they could not endure His presence: when He stood under sentence of death, Who shortly was to sit on the right hand of power: when He prayed for His persecutors while the nails were driven through Him: when He completed the mystery as He drained the draught of vinegar; when He was numbered among the transgressors and meanwhile granted Paradise: that when He was lifted on the tree, the earth quaked: when He hung on the cross, sun and day were put to flight: that He left His own body, yet called life back to the bodies of others: was buried a corpse and rose again God: as man suffered all weaknesses for our sakes, as God triumphed in them all.
- DT 10.48

Christ prayed for His persecutors, because they knew not what they did. He promised Paradise from the cross, because He is God the King. He rejoiced upon the cross, that all was finished when He drank the vinegar, because He had fulfilled all prophecy before He died. He was born for us, suffered for us, died for us, rose again for us. This alone is necessary for our salvation, to confess the Son of God risen from the dead: why then should we die in this state of godless unbelief?
- DT 10.71

"Hilary is perhaps inevitably obscure here [IX.14]. He seems to want to say that Christ abandoned the form, that is the appearance and condition, of God without abandoning any of the powers of God and without ceasing to be God"
RPC Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 1988. p495.

Hanson I think helps grasp something of Hilary's Christology and Economics that I found really difficult. I would put it like this: Christ being in the form of God, emptied himself of the form of God and took the form of a servant, yet abided in the form of God (ie, the Godhead). Reading through Book XI is quite bewildering too, since Hilary has some form of deification-theology, in thinking that Christ's humanity is transformed and made into God, and we too participate in the glorification of our humanity and being deified. (Hilary doesn't use the language of deification, but I'm pretty sure that's what he means). He seems to go so far to say that Christ's humanity will cease because it will become God.

Hilary of Poitiers, 4

An embarrassment of riches for today's offerings. Here are three:

By the birth of the Son the Father is constituted greater: the nature that his his by birth, does not suffer the Son to be less
- DT 9.56

therefore his not knowing what he knows, and his knowing what he does not know, is nothing else than a divine economy in word and deed
- DT 9.63

He accommodated himself to the reality of his birth in the flesh in everything to which the weakness of our nature is subject, not in such wise that he became weak in his divine nature, but that God, born man, assumed the weaknesses of humanity, yet without thereby reducing his unchangeable nature to a weak nature, for the unchangeable nature was that wherein he mysteriously assumed flesh
- DT 9.66

I think Hilary has some strange ideas about Christ suffering without feeling pain (pati non dolere), which Hanson flatly states is Docetic. Also, he has some difficult to grasp (for me!) idea about what it means for the Word to empty himself - to Hilary it seems as if the incarnate Son loses 'some kind' of the unity, yet remaining fully God, and then gains some kind of unity, when the Flesh of his humanity is perfected and united in the Godhead after the Resurrection. If you've got any enlightenment for me on that part of Hilary's theology, I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hilary of Poitiers, 3

There's something refreshing about spending 5 hours with one's head in Hilary, reading about God from God, his baffling exegesis of 1 Corinthians 12, and so forth, and then spending 3 hours with juvenile offenders trying to explain the simplest biblical concepts to them, of faith, sin, forgiveness, and Jesus. Anyway, two fine quotations for today:


So then the one faith is, to confess the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father through the unity of an indivisible nature, not confused but inseparable, not intermingled but identical, not conjoined but coexisting, not incomplete but perfect. For there is birth not separation, there is a Son not an adoption; and He is God, not a creature.
- De Trinitate 8.41

...Jesus Christ, the Lord of majesty, constituted Mediator in His own person for the salvation of the Church, and being in that very mystery of Mediatorship between men and God, Himself one Person, both man and God. For He, being of two natures united for that Mediatorship, is the full reality of each nature; while abiding in each, He is wanting in neither; He does not cease to be God because He becomes man, nor fail to be man because He remains for ever God. This is the true faith for human blessedness, to preach at once the Godhead and the manhood, to confess the Word and the flesh, neither forgetting the God, because He is man, nor ignoring the flesh, because He is the Word.
- De Trinitate 9.3

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Hilary of Poitiers, 2

Here's a great little quote from Book 7, summarising some commentary on John 5 and Jn 9:3:

He is the Son, because he can do nothing of himself; he is God, because, whatever the Father does, he does the same; They Two are One, because He is equal in honour of the Father and does the very same works; He is not the Father, because He is sent.
- De Trinitate, II.21

Monday, May 04, 2009

Hilary of Poitiers, 1

This week I'm reading my way through Hilary, De Trinitate and Epistula de Synodis. My reading schedule for the next 7 weeks is quite hectic. In my note-taking he also gets abbreviated to HP, which I find mildly amusing. Anyway, he's very quotable, even in the NPNF translation! Here's a great quote (from many) for today:

For He took upon Him the flesh in which we have sinned that by wearing our flesh He might forgive sins; a flesh which He shares with us by wearing it, not by sinning in it. He blotted out through death the sentence of death, that by a new creation of our race in Himself He might sweep away the penalty appointed by the former Law. He let them nail Him to the cross that He might nail to the curse of the cross and abolish all the curses to which the world is condemned. He suffered as man to the utmost that He might put powers to shame. For Scripture had foretold that He Who is God should die; that the victory and triumph of them that trust in Him lay in the fact that He, Who is immortal and cannot be overcome by death, was to die that mortals might gain eternity.
- De Trinitate, I.13

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sermons, John 8 and John 9

John 8 features Jesus in a heated debate with religious leaders, in which he thoroughly denounces their claims to know him and grasp him, instead pointing to his faithful testimony of the truth from his Father.

John 9 follows up with the enacted parable, as Jesus heals a man blind from birth, thus commenting on his own work as the Light of the World and the only one who can remove our spiritual blindness.

John 8
John 9

Friday, May 01, 2009

Did the Father abandon the Son? (Part 3)

What then is it that Jesus' suffers on the Cross?

Death.

Our problem is that we underplay the utter horror of death. It's not 'death', it's Death. And it's because we underplay death that we want more - more from Jesus' death, more suffering in his death, more anguish and torment. Because we have such a diminished view of death, we think the punishment needs to be more than death. Yet, let me suggest, Death is Hell. One should read Genesis 2-4 with a profound sense of the tragedy and loss, as Humanity is excluded from the Tree of Life, shut out into a world now full of death, and all humanity will die. Death is not non-existence, but non-life, non-growth, non-change, non-fulfillment. It is the cessation of life in all its fulfilment. And, it is exclusion from the loving presence of God.

Presence is one of those notions I have struggled with in the Scriptures: God is omnipresent, but he is more present sometimes and someplaces than others. There's presence and there's presence. God is often present to bless, present in fellowship, present in goodness. Other times we may say God is present in judgment, when he 'visits' punishment upon sin. Death certainly involves the exclusion from the full, loving presence of God to bless. But God also reigns in Hell.

Death, according to Blocher, involves total fixity. It is the end of the possibility of repentance, and the gray reality of remorse without hope. It is the lost tormented by agreeing with God in his all-holy righteous judgment against themself. Death itself is Hell.

And it's this that Jesus suffers at the Cross. That's why the language of death is sufficient, because Death itself is sufficient. We don't need to take the metaphors of hell, the language of smoke and fire and brimstone and deep dark dank hot places of unimaginable visceral physiological and psychological torments, and somehow pour an eternity of that into Jesus' cry of forsakenness on the cross. Jesus dies.

Does the Father abandon the Son? Yes and no, I think is really the answer. Jesus, in his humanity, experiences the forsakenness of Death, of exclusion from the loving presence of God, of remorse without repentance or the hope of reconciliation. The impassable God suffers in the Humanity of Christ. But no, insofar as the Trinity cannot be divided, the Son cannot be ontologically cut off from the Father, and God is omnipresent.

Yet Death is Defeated. The Living one dies, but is resurrected. Resurrection is not the hope of 'life after death', not the 'afterlife', but death overturned, death restored to Life. This, then, is why Christians are called not to fear the death of the body. Resurrection destroys Death, and physical death for those in Christ is death stripped of power, death stripped of Hell, death stripped of the fullness of its terror.

Christus est Victor, Christus resurrexit. Alleluia!

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Part 2

Did the Father abandon the Son? (Part 2)

I spent a lot of time thinking about this question and a few related questions yesterday, and spent some of that time reading some fine books. Here's what I scratched out at my favourite cafe yesterday.

If we want to get what happens at the Cross right, we do well to remind ourselves of some Trinitarian building blocks. So, we must affirm the unity of God, while carefully preserving the distinction of the Persons. No reckoning of the Atonement will suffice which rips apart the identity of God.

So, God propitiates himself in the Son's voluntary obedient sacrifice to the Father who both sends and offers him, made in the Spirit. It is the united act of the Triune God, yet it is in some sense an inner-Trinitarian act, to which we are parties by the assumed humanity of Jesus the God-Man. The Atonment only has effect in that Jesus is the God-Man, one persons, two natures, distinct yet not divided. His human nature is our sinful humanity, which he assumes for us, heals and sanctifies for us, and offers up to the Father for us.

At the cross, the impossible occurs - 'God dies'. For God is Life, and Life in himself, and the Living God. Yet Jesus truly dies. He dies 'in his humanity', which must be in no way separated from his divinity. That is why we do best to affirm that the person of the Son dies in (or with respect to) his human nature, and not to say that the 'human nature dies'.

Since Jesus is fully God, and the fullness of God, in some way beyond my understanding and comprehension, the Living God tastes, sees, experiences, participates, indeeds suffers death in the assumed humanity of the Son.

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