Monday, May 31, 2010

The podcast is up

Pilgrim's podcast #34. Go and check it out. And a link back to my follow-up resources post for those lazy at navigation.

Latin Winter Intensive

I am going ahead with a week-long Latin Intensive at Moore Theological College. Due to the costs of using a room for the week, it is (sadly) only open to college students. (I would have to charge double to open it up to externals).

The course will run 8:30-4:30, Mon-Fri, July, 12-16th.
The cost of the course will be $120 per student, which will include a textbook (Lingua Latina per se Illustrata; I can cut the cost if perchance you already own it).

We should cover between 1/3 and 1/2 of the book, which forms a complete course of Latin. If there is demand, I will run a follow-on course in the future.

I will need a minimum of 5 students to commit in order to cover costs of running the course. If you'd like to sign up, email me or chat to me at college (purple hair, can't be missed).

Enrolments by 11th June so that I can order some textbooks.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A few notes for the reader

I've just posted up 6 posts (sorry, perhaps they should have been one), which form a homilectic reflection on Mark 11:1-25. I was trying something new in this case. See, I was trained very much to write, and write I do quite well (if not always lucidly). Yet, as I've matured as a speaker, especially a no-notes speaker, I tend to prepare sermons without much writing at all. This, I think, has a few disadvantages: apart from recordings, the content and background research of sermon preparation has a tendency to disappear. So, being called upon to preach this sunday, I have made a special effort to write up the same thoughts that went into my sermon. I'll post up a recording of it soon enough, and for those with time you'll see something of the difference in style.

Secondly, I've begun yet another blog. It's over here. It's going to be a place for me just to try and jot down a few sentences of Latin, maybe other languages too (Greek, Gaelic), about each day, a diary of sorts. So, nothing profound going on over there, but if that's your cup of tea, feel free to read along.

Thirdly, I've almost finished up a translation project I've been working on for a number of weeks. It's taken longer than I thought, but the process has been both richly rewarding and a challenge for my skills. When it's all finalised you can have all the details and the text too.

Once that is out of the way, and I wrap up the Church History course I've been doing, I'm going to look more closely at starting on turning Gregory Nazianzus' Theological Orations into a Reader's Edition. I've had some good encouragement, and the mechanisms of doing are clearer and appear more achievable.

Progress on the thesis is slow but steady. I'm hoping June will be a good month to achieve some substantial progress on reading my primary documents and writing up some analysis. That should form the bulk of the writing material and really move things along.

Homiletics Thoughts on Mark 11, part 6

And also with the second portion of the passage from Calvin, for our faith is chiefly learnt from the promises of God in the scriptures, so that we should trust in what he firmly promises. In this I have found George Mueller to be immensely helpful, as he distinguishes the grace of faith from the gift of faith. To all Christians belongs to the grace of faith, by which work of the Spirit God leads us to trust in his promises, as we should, and that we should always trust firmly, unwaveringly, and indubitably in those promises for which there is firm scriptural warrant. Therefore, the one who prays for his daily bread, his necessities of food and clothing, should not doubt that God will provide, even as he has promised in Matthew 6. As for the healing of the sick, we have no firm promise from God in this regards. Sometimes, as Mueller would say, a believer is given a gift of faith, that is a special occasion of the Spirit’s work that we are convinced that God should answer our particular prayer. Othertimes, and most times, it is not so. Not to say, let us be clear, that we are not to pray for such things, but rather our faith is conditioned by our knowledge of God. So, when we pray for a sick person to be made well, we refer often and chiefly to God’s merciful character, and to Jesus’ compassion in healing many, and to the hope of resurrection at the end, and yet we must believe in the condition, “if it be according to God’s sovereign good will and pleasure.” For in his mysterious benevolence both sickness and death work for his glory, and we too must know it and believe it. This too safeguards us from a foolish introspection that attributes the answer of “No,” to the failure of our own faith, or else to disregard these words of God as unfaithful promises, since he is not inclined to cast mountains into the sea at our fickle behest, though that he can and would if it be according to his plan and purpose we must not doubt at all.

Let us depart now hence, for the lessons are ended. To those who stand not by faith, awaits a fearsome and dread judgment, such is fore-figured in the fig-tree. For Jesus is Lord and his judgment and anger against sin is sure and steadfast. To those who trust in Christ alone, a life of fruitfulness through prayer. And in all is God glorified. Amen and Amen.

Homiletics Thoughts on Mark 11, part 5

Now we are in a position to understand that the problem in Judaism was not works, for their were works of righteousness abounding, but that they proceeded from a dead root, and so were mere leaves, giving the appearance of life and sustenance, but only the appearance. If we have works, but no faith, then we will rest in our works and so be dead in our transgressions. If we have faith, then our works will be the grace of God working in us for his glory, and they will indeed be fruitful.

We at last come to the final portion of our passage, Mark 11:22-25. One could be forgiven for thinking that these words came somewhat disconnected to the preceding narrative. So, too, such disregard for context leads the charismatics and the pentecostals astray, into measuring faith by the power of prayer, and so the failure of prayer lies chiefly in the measure of faith. We have seen, though, that the episode of the fig tree is deeply connected to Jesus’ judgment upon Israel, and so is not primarily an example of the power of faith, as if his disciples may likewise curse trees or cast mountains, if but they had enough faith.

No, rather, Jesus responds to Peter’s exclamation with the bare call, “Have faith in God”. If we have read Romans 11 rightly, then faith is exactly the point that Jesus ought to take up here. How shall one avoid the fate of the fig-tree? Faith alone. Jesus’ whole teaching is summarised in this chapter by his words, “Have faith in God”. He then, naturally, moves from faith to faith’s expression, which is prayer. For in prayer the one who trusts in God in all his sovereign goodness and faithful promises, brings such trusting requests before him as he shall be inclined to answer. And yet Jesus’ statements are so wide open, so carte blanche, that they worry the believer and provide cause for scorn from the unbeliever. So too John 15:7 bears an equally confronting breadth of invitation in prayer.

We do well to listen to Calvin on this passage:

This passage shows also that the true test of faith lies in prayer. If it be objected, that those prayers are never heard, that mountains should be thrown into the sea, the answer is easy. Christ does not give a loose rein to the wishes of men, that they should desire any thing at their pleasure, when he places prayer after the rule of faith; for in this way the Spirit must of necessity hold all our affections by the bridle of the word of God, and bring them into obedience. Christ demands a firm and undoubting confidence of obtaining an answer; and whence does the human mind obtain that confidence but from the word of God? We now see then that Christ promises nothing to his disciples, unless they keep themselves within the limits of the good pleasure of God.
- Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol 3. commenting on Matthew 21:21f//Mark 11:22ff.

Calvin wisely notes that “way the Spirit must of necessity hold all our affections by the bridle of the word of God, and bring them into obedience.” We do not know what we ought to want, and our desires and affections are wont to run amok, both from our immaturity and our corrupted natures. For as a young child believes that a diet of candy and chocolate will be for their best, yet the parent restrains and directs them to what is the better good, lest the child through ignorance and wilful indulgence bring a certain ruin upon themselves, so too we, desiring so many things that are to our ruin, both through ignorance and sin, must have our affections reined in and bridled, chiefly by the word of God. This too is spoken of in John 15:7, where Christ tells us that we must have his words abide in us. So, our desires and affections must be trained by the Word of God so that our willing and our prayers are more and more conformed to his sovereign good will and pleasure.

Homiletics Thoughts on Mark 11, part 4

And yet, if we dig deeper in the Old Testament we find that the whole context of Jeremiah 7 is apt to the situation in Jerusalem. It is a stunning indictment of the contemporary Jewish religion, which boasts arrogantly in the favour of God, and is full on the inside of nothing but hollowed-out hypocrisy. The citation from Jeremiah agrees with Malachi 3:

3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.

The coming of Jesus to the temple is no less than the coming of God to his temple, the messenger of the covenant, and yet his coming is a coming in judgment. The chief-priests and scribes of v18 certainly understand this. “They sought how to kill him”, why? “For they feared him”, why? “For the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”
When we have understood the devastating indictment that Jesus brings upon the temple, and that he has come in no way to reform it, but to replace it in the temple of his own body (John 2), and subsequently the church, only then does the fig-tree become clear. So Mark returns our attention to the fig tree, as the disciples pass along the next day and see it “withered from the root”. That its destruction is so utter is testament not only to the power of Jesus, but to the point of the figure. For the fig tree is none other than Israel, the Old Covenant people, whose religion has proved to be a tree with leaves but not figs, appearance but no substance, dead works without living faith. Jesus, in cursing the fig tree, has declared judgment upon the old Judaism, but not so that it may be replaced by a Gentile Christianity. As Jews and Gentiles alike read this passage, we must take ourselves to John 15, where Jesus tells us that he is “the true vine”, i.e. He is the true Israel that is faithful where Israel failed, and life and true spiritual vitality is only found by remaining in him and thus bearing fruit, and to Romans 11, where Paul warns the Gentiles not to boast in their new status as grafted in to God’s people. Paul writes in Rom 11:20, “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear”, so that we perceive that there is not a hint of race nor religion about this issue, but that it is about Jesus, the root, the vine, the source, Life itself. How then do we remain in him, in the words of John’s Gospel? Rom 11:20 gives the answer: by faith. Luther, no doubt, in his Reformer’s zeal would emphasise: by faith alone. And so it is by faith, by faith alone, only by faith, entirely by faith, by faith from first to last that we stand in Christ, are united in him, are cleansed by the word he has spoken, and so remain in him and bear fruit that lasts for ever.

Homiletics Thoughts on Mark 11, part 3

The middle section of the sandwich, or chiasm, is in vv15-19. It is an episode often known as “The cleansing of the Temple”, which is an apt name. Jesus enters again into Jerusalem, and goes to the temple, where late in the previous day he had inspected all things. Here again we see the diligence of Jesus who is active and articulate in all his doings. This time, coming into the temple, he sets about driving out “the sellers and the buyers in the temple”, those who were doing trade in temple goods. For, in Jesus’ day it was far from practical that each family should keep their own animals and bring such as was needed for sacrifice, and so worshippers would come and purchase their sacrifices in the temple courts, and particularly they had taken over a portion of the outer court, known as the Court of the Gentiles, since this was as far as Gentiles were permitted to enter into the temple. Not only does he drive out such as these, he also overturns the tables of money-changers (for the temple tax had to be paid in Tyrian shekels, not the Roman currency) and the chairs of dove-sellers. Jesus drives out people and upturns furniture! There is a very similar incident in all 4 gospels, though John’s record is far earlier in gospel and chronology, and I am persuaded it is a separate though similar event. Jesus’ actions are extended in v16 where he disrupts the normal thoroughfares of the temple, whether “vessel” be understood as merchandise or temple-vessels or simply using the temple area as a short-cut. What is the meaning of Jesus’ strange actions? For this we turn to Jesus’ own teaching, in v17. For Jesus teaches them, and quotes Isaiah 56:7

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”

Though several times the scriptures speak of the temple of God as a ‘house of prayer’, it is only in this verse that the scripture speaks specifically of “for all peoples”. So, while Jesus’ actions may not necessarily clear a proper space for prayer, as if the market had taken over the whole Gentile court, certainly his words give this meaning. The temple is meant to be a place for true worship, and even the nations are meant to come and worship here, and Jesus’ action declares, most symbolically, that the temple has been perverted from this purpose by their abuse of it. This is then the second half of his statement, “but you have made it a den of robbers”, which alludes quite directly to Jeremiah 7:11, “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD.” which Jesus applies as well-fitting to the present situation also.

Homiletics Thoughts on Mark 11, part 2

As Jesus enters the city (v8-11) there are many who lay garments and palm-branches upon the road, and both precede and follow him. It is the festival procession, and Jesus is in the midst of it. No doubt many of these are Jesus-associates, people who have heard Jesus’ teaching, witnessed some of the wonders, and are come with him and others from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Others, perhaps, have little clue as to Jesus and his identity and celebrity, but are caught up in the festival celebrations. They cry of vv9-10 is drawn from Psalm 118, one of the Hallel psalms, to be sung at festivals and when going up to the temple. How fitting that here it is used to proclaim, perhaps even unwittingly, the coming Kingdom of David, which is not a line from the Psalm but an expression of the people’s hope for the restoration of the Kingdom. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” refers originally to the worshipper coming up to the temple, but in light of Jesus’ mission takes on new significance, as the Lord himself comes to his people. The passage closes with Jesus entering Jerusalem, and the temple specifically, and “looking around at all things”. Truly the King has come to his own, to inspect and call to account. And yet it is not his time to act, and he withdraws again to Bethany, his base of operations for the Passover week.

When we come into the second half of chapter 11, ranging from v12 onwards, we encounter one of those famous Markan-sandwiches, a simplified chiastic structure of A-B-A, where the central content of B is reflected in the incident of A-A’. So, in this sandwich, A runs vv12-14. It is “the next day”, and Jesus and his disciples are returning from Bethany, their base camp, into Jerusalem for the day, and we are told that Jesus “was hungry”. Note here two things, firstly that the gospels never shrink from plain and unassuming declarations of Jesus’ humanity. And, as a man, he hungers, just as elsewhere he thirsts, is ignorant, he weeps, and all the other things that properly belong to a human being in the created world. Secondly, Jesus turns the occasion of his hunger into a teaching instrument for much greater things. For, not only being hungry, but seeing a fig-tree from afar, having leaves, he approached to discover whether it had also fruit. Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History 16.49, tells us “The fig tree is also the only tree whose leaf forms later than its fruit.” So this helps us understand that the fig tree that had leaves should have had fruit, and if it had leaves but no fruit, it was not going to produce fruit. Mark also draws us to this kind of fact, perhaps with less precision, in 13d, introduced by the γὰρ conjunction, that “it was not the season for figs.” A fact, likewise, probably well-known to Jesus.

Some have wondered, and questioned, why then Jesus is so vehement in his cursing of the fig tree, that no one shall eat of it again? First, it should not be denied that as the Son he is Lord of all Creation, and shares equally and fully in the one work of the Triune Godhead to give life and to take it from all things, so that it is no overstepping of his bounds to bring to an end the life of this fig tree, as anything else. Second, this fig tree is barren and so its failure to bring life is also the occasion of its failure to live. Third, then, Jesus takes this occasion presented, that of his hunger and the fig tree’s being there and so, by which to instruct both his disciples then and since. As to the lesson of that teaching, it is better explored when we return to the fig tree after the intervening episode.

Homiletics Thoughts on Mark 11, part 1

As we come then to this passage of scripture, Mark 11, we find that a weighty matter is laid before us. For the main theme of this chapter rests in the exceedingly grave judgment that the Son brings upon the Jews of his day, expressing the words of John 1:11 “He came to his own and his own did not receive him.”

For at the first, in verses 1-11, Mark treats of the incident most commonly known as the “Triumphal Entry”. In v1, he notes for us the time of this occurrence, as they, being Jesus and the disciples, drew near to Jerusalem, which he then further specifies, as Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount of olives. Our whole setting then, is governed by the approach to Jerusalem, which has been spoken of several times by Jesus, and in the middle act of the Gospel, from the confession of Peter in Mark 8:27-30 onwards, Jesus has thrice distinctly declare to them concerning his passion and subsequent resurrection in Jerusalem no less, though the disciples have been slow to hear it.

As then Jesus approaches, he gives instructions to two of the disciples, unnamed, whom he sends and tells. The instructions are quite specific, and should certainly be understood in that Jesus has made arrangements beforehand, so that the whole scene is stage-managed by Jesus. They are to go into the village, and they will find there a colt, tied up, unridden and unbroken, which they are to loose and bring. Furthermore, if anyone (quite understandably) should enquire as to their seeming theft, they shall speak as their master has taught, “The Lord has need of it” and will return it. Such a statement implies nothing especial of Christ’s divinity, but only of his greatness and his arrangements, such that he requisitions such supplies as are necessary. Indeed, perhaps the specific village is that of Bethany, where Jesus is well-known, as it is the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, but recently raised from the dead. The moral is this: when the Lord has need of things, we are to render them up to his service without question.

In vv4-7a, the disciples do as Jesus has commanded, and things turn out according to his precise declaration: they go and find the colt, tied up, and loose it, and are interrogated, and answer as instructed, and then they bring it to Jesus.

Now, what is the significance of the donkey, and why does Mark labour over the point so much? It is this, Zechariah 9:9 speaks clearly of it:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey

So it is a prophecy of the coming messianic king. The context of Zechariah 9 has much more to say on the matter, but I will leave that for another time. Most specifically, Jesus is making a bold, declarative statement as to his true identity: the King of Israel and Judah, the King of Jerusalem. Yet, he is not a King like Herod was, nor like the Caesars. He comes not riding a warhorse, with prisoners in his train, leading a triumph of victory, but lowly, on a donkey. There is, perhaps, a more obscure reference here to Gen 49:11. In Genesis 49 Jacob is prophesying oracles for the 12 tribes and their futures, and the Oracle of Judah points forward to the Davidic King,

8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
9 Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.

Verse 10 points clearly to the enduring kingship in Judah that will not rest until it comes to Jesus, the everlasting king, whom the nations will obey; v11 then is a reference, somewhat darkly, to the colt that Jesus rides here, and to garments drenched in wine, perhaps a hint of Jesus’ coming death.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Follow-up to the Podcast

Recently I was interviewed for the very excellent Pilgrim's Podcast, which episode you can find here. I said in the podcast that I'd post some resources, and these are they

For those wanting to get a good grasp on the thought of the early church about the Trinity, Tarmo Toom's Classical Trinitarian Theology: A Textbook is great for beginners and the advanced alike. He begins very simply, and is careful to explain technical terms and details in a clear manner, and takes you through the controversies and periods of the early church to see how the traditional understanding of the Trinity emerged.

For those coming from an evangelical background, there are two fine introductions to the Church Fathers. One is by Bryan Litfin, Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction, and is readily accessible. The other is a number of books by Christopher Hall, Reading Scripture With the Church Fathers, Learning Theology With the Church Fathers, a third more recent book Worshiping With the Church Fathers, and a fourth is envisaged. I would try and pick up one of the first two books by Hall if that was something you wanted to pursue. Both authors write with a view to evangelicals and a popular audience.

On impassibility, the situation is more difficult. The most thorough-going defence of impassiblity in a modern context is by Fr. Weinandy, Does God Suffer? It's not a light book, but it is excellent.

A good companion to this is the book by Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God, which investigates specifically the doctrine of impassibility in the Fathers. Gavrilyuk is significant for his refutation of the common conception that impassibility is an unbiblical idea that is imported by Greek philosophy.

More accessibly, Kevin DeYoung did a recent presentation at Together for the Gospel conference: his notes are available from this blog post, while the audio is can be found on this page.

Hope this is of help to some.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Athanasius on the Extra Calvinisticum

He was not enclosed in the body, nor was he in the body but nowhere else. Nor did he move the latter while the universe was deprived of his action and providence. But was is most wonderful is that, being the Word, he was not contained by anyone, but rather himself contained everything. And as he is in all creation, he is in essence outside the universe but in everything by his power, ordering everything and extending his providence over everything. And giving life to all, separately and together, he contains the universe and is not contained, but in his Father only he is complete in everything. So also being in a human body and giving it life himself, he accordingly gives life to everything, and was both in all and outside all. And although he was known by his body through his works, yet he was not invisible by his action on the universe.

- de Incarnatione, 17. Athanasius of Alexandria. translation by R.W. Thomson.

The link between Hyper-Calvinism and Pelagianism

Today I was struck that the same logic undergirds both Hyper-Calvinism and Pelagianism. And by Hyper-Calvinism, be clear that I mean the technical and historical sense of the word, not the populist rhetorical polemic.

So, for the Hyper-Calvinist:
1. No one can believe unless they are first regenerate
2. God cannot require from us what we are unable to do
3. Therefore God does not require the unregenerate to believe
4. Therefore we should not tell people who might be unregenerate to believe

And for the Pelagian:
1. God cannot require from us what we are unable to do
2. God requires that we should be perfect
3. Therefore we must be able to be perfect

In both cases the premise that 'God cannot require from us what we are unable to do' is rooted in an understanding of moral obligation that considers it cruel and unethical to demand people to do what they cannot. And yet, it is no natural inability, but our very moral inability that means we cannot keep God's righteous decrees. This is but one reason why I am a Calvinist: it is our very immorality that keeps us from doing the morally right - in this is no contradiction but the penetrating insight into the human nature.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A reading list for patristic authors

Here you'll find my self-compiled and self-set reading list for the Fathers. I'm trying to focus my reading and get a good sense of the whole Patristic 'scene', and fill in some gaps in my own knowledge. There are some glaring omissions: I haven't really got anything on the Christological controversies or the lead up to Chalcedon. What would you add? Hope this might help some people.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weinandy on Impassibility, II

I've been a little slow in my reading of Weinandy. My reading list is quite long and he's not the focus of my studies. That said, I was reminded today, as I read through Chapter 7, of how breathtakingly powerful his presentation of impassibility is. In this post, I explore chapters 4 through 7, as Weinandy moves from the Biblical Data to a Theological formulation.

After having established a well-grounded concept of God's Otherness and Presence, especially from the Old Testament, Weinandy begins to treat the New Testament's extension of this. In particular, he draws attention to the way in which the NT, and Philo similarly, highlight the importance of God as Creator, over against the Creation, as a distinctive between the Biblical God and the Hellenic conception of the divine. Jesus is thus the Son and Revelator of the Creator God. In treating Philo, Weinandy defends him and his treatment of impassibility on three grounds: God's otherness is related, not opposed, to his personalism;"God is comprehensible only to himself" (p77) because he is other than the creatures; immutability is about what God is not, not about what he is. it is an apophatic qualifier. Impasssibility is therefore not a denial of 'emotions' to God, but a denial of subjection to suffering, change and sinful desires.

Weinandy's treatment of the Fathers is at once robust and yet strangely lacking. His scope focuses mainly on early Fathers, Apologists and the like, and I found this a lack in terms of dealing with later Patristic Writers, especially in the East. His major note here is to defend against the charge of Hellenistic philosophising (see Gavrilyuk on that charge), and to highlight the way the Fathers treat impassibility as a negative, apophatic qualifier, not a positive description of what God is, in conjunction with the Creator-Creation distinction.

The workhorse of Weinandy's theologising comes in the lengthy chapter 6. Here he tackles a philosophical-theological account of God, firstly as Trinity: three eternal persons subsisting in relationship; secondly an account of God as pure act, derived in large part from Aquinas.

The 3 persons are defined only by their relations, unlike us who are only partly defined by our relations. Moving on from this, Weinandy emphasises that because they are eternally in relation, there is a sense in which the Persons are 'verbs' not 'nouns', they are in pure act, not essential beings. This is part of Weinandy's contention that the Trinity is pure act, and has no potentiality, so that God is fully dynamic and active, not static. This must feed in to our account of immutability and impassibility if we are to avoid the cold, distant and unfeeling Deity. Rather, God is fully active, love perfected, etc.

"The problem is that all critics of Aquinas and the Christian tradition consistently interpret divine immutability in a positive manner, as if to say that God is immutable is to conceive him as static and inert." (p123)

I will spare you the intricacies of Thomist philosophising, but Weinandy is right: God as pure act, and as simple being, means that for God "to be" is "to love", and he is all love, perfected, dynamic, and in this manner immutable and impassible.

When you move into the seventh chapter, is when the importance of impassibility becomes deeply apparent. For Weinandy offers an account of evil that denies evil any ontological independence. This is thoroughly Patristic and Augustinian: evil is not a 'thing', rather God created a good world and evil is a corruption and perversion of good things from their natural good. On this account, "evil is contained within and confined to the created order" (p153), and so God cannot suffer: because to suffer is to be subject to evil in some sense, and God is pure good, and outside creation. A passible God must collapse into monism or panentheism or the like, destroying the Creator-Creation distinction, which is what the preceding chapters, and our Christian theological antecedents, have been vehement to defend.

Secondly, when you take into account God's eternal subsistence in three persons, "God as pure act, and thus pure goodness itself in act, can never be deprived of a good or perfection which would cause him to suffer." (p157) God cannot suffer because it would destroy the very nature of the scripturally-revealed Godhead.

Is God then a God of Love? Yes, more than we can comprehend. Weinandy pointedly notes that in relation to human love, it "is defined by and manifested in the giving of ourselves...for the good and well-being of another" and "suffering itself is not a constitutive element of love." (p160). God's love is analogous to ours, but not the same: it is God's self-giving that is not constrained or conditioned by us or by our changeable and fallen world. Thus God is free to love us, and because God is pure act, he does not become 'more loving' by loving us, since he is love itself, love perfected. So his love is all for our sake.

Nor does God change in response to us, rather his unchanging nature is the ground and basis for his unchanging character. So it is not that God is continually reacting to our good works, or our sins, or our repentance, or our faith, with favour, anger, forgiveness, etc., but rather that God's impassibility guarantees and secures for us that God's love is always expressed towards sin as divine judgment, God's love is always expressed towards our repentance as forgiveness. "God is perfectly compassionate not because he ‘suffers with’ those who suffer, but because his love fully and freely embraces those who suffer." (p164), and his mercy and compassion move not to 'suffer with us', but to dispel the cause of our suffering, and this is seen at its greatest in the Cross! The impassible God dies passibly in the incarnate Son, and so is mighty to save!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reader Editions of Patristic Texts: some thoughts

My genuine excitement about Steadman's editions of various Greek texts got me thinking about how one might do something similar for Patristic texts. I asked Geoffrey a little about his working process and he helpfully obliged with some details.

As I reflect, it seems to me that the greatest obstacle for Patristic texts is that there are a number of tools that fall just short of automating some important processes. For example The Perseus Project is a phenomenal resource, but deals primarily in Classical texts. Yet built into the Perseus project is a power word-look-up tool for Greek, that essentially parses a word and provides a definition for the root, with a link to LSJ.

What Perseus lacks is the ability to feed in another Greek text in bulk. Which is what a site like No Dictionaries does quite well and simply for Latin (though Latin is easier), built off the back of the venerable Whitaker's Words. "NoDictionaries" also includes a fairly simple correction/disambiguation tool for those words where several possibilities exist.

So, it seems to me that the digital tools fall just short of what would be needed, in order particularly to do the bulk-processing of words in a text to analyse and list vocabulary and frequency. If we could get across that hurdle, it would only be the hard work of reading and commentating on the text. I say "only" facietiously, since the process of preparing a commentary even for reading purposes is still a very considerable task (so by no means take anything away from Mr. Steadman!). If I could work out a means for that bulk-processing, I'd seriously think about working on Gregory Nazianzus' Theological Orations. That would be an excellent text to commence with.

Alternatively, perhaps some Latin Father would be an easier place to start.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Good Theology, Bad Latin

Reformed types these days like to go around saying they believe in "Sola Scriptura", not "Solo Scriptura". By this, they mean that Scripture is our sole (and final) authority, but not that we read Scripture in a vacuum, by itself, stripped off from all pretense of reason, historical study, theological tradition, and so on. This is very true, and good theology. Unfortunately, it's terrible Latin.

Scriptura is a singular noun, feminine, meaning "writing", or more appropriately "Scripture", in the sense that we use the word to refer to the collection of Holy Writings in the Bible.

As a noun, it requires any modifying adjective to match its case, number, and gender.
Sola is a singular, feminine adjective, which matches Scriptura. Whether we take them as nominatives, ie. Scripture-alone as a concept, or as ablatives, ie. "by scripture alone", it works.

solo doesn't work. It could be a Latin word, but it doesn't fit scriptura. At best it's an English import, as we use the word 'solo'. Perhaps I've missed something, it's quite possible, but the Latin just seems bad to me. And there's no excuse for that.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How to demotivate research students

Our late capitalist society is geared to monetise everything. How do we determine the social value of things? We pay for it. Follow this logic through: unless someone pays for your studies, your work is considered worthless. Unless you produce something sell-able. Then you've commodified your research. I suspect my work will resist efforts at commodification.

Thesis: Chrysostom’s Life

From the introductory/background section of the thesis. Feel free to comment on these posts in a critical way, feedback would be helpful! I've left footnotes out of this one.

On one level it seems almost redundant to talk about John Chrysostom’s life. A preacher who by his preaching won the title ‘Golden-mouth’, and has retained it without peer through the history of the church almost needs no introduction. Sadly, many people’s acquaintance with Chrysostom goes little beyond the meaning of his moniker.

Born ca. 349 in Antioch, John forms a later contemporary to the Cappadocian Fathers by some 15-20 years. Decisively, this age gap meant that much of his prime was in the aftermath and triumph of the Council of Constantinople 381. His family was well-off, his father a civil-servant, his mother a devout Christian who declined to remarry after her husband’s death. John undertook the standard education for someone of his class and time, and probably entered Libanios’ tuition aged 14 or 15.
The ecclesiastical situation in Antioch was complicated by divisions that harkened back to 331 when anti-Nicene proponents ousted Eustathios. The complicated politicking of 360 lead to 3 rival claimaints for the see, Euzoios, a moderate anti-Nicene; Meletios, Homoean in language but pro-Nicene in sympathies; and Paulinos, a staunch pro-Nicene.

Completing rhetorical studies in 367, John seemed headed for a top-class career in the imperial civil service, but in conversation with his friend Basil, they decided rather to devote themselves to the study of the scriptures. Around this time John became a close associate of Meletios, was baptised at Easter 368 , and went on to become the bishop’s aide. He adopted an ascetic lifestyle, and encouraged Maximus (later of Seleukis) as well as Theodore (of Mopsuestia) to join his endeavours, while studying under Diodore, who with Flavian had emerged much earlier as prominent lay leaders of the pro-Eustathios faction in the fall-out from 331.

After 3 years in this ‘role’, John was appointed a Reader, ca. 371; shortly thereafter he duped his friend Basil, fleeing an attempt at forced ordination and leaving his friend to it, while he retired to Mt. Silpios and pursued a stricter ascetic regime, firstly in the vicinity of others, then around 376 withdrawing further. This must have been an especially formative time for John, in terms of both his own ascetic practices and later sympathies, as well as study and reflection upon the scriptures. In late 378 he returned to Antioch, forced largely by his deteriorating health which never fully recovered from some of the ill-advised rigours he had put it through. His return coincided with the accession of Gratian, the installation of Theodosius, and the general triumph of Nicene orthodoxy. He was soon ordained Deacon, probably early 381, and then Presbyter in early 386, by Flavian (Meletios’ successor). It is from his time as Presbyter and major assistant to Flavian’s work that much of John’s sermon output belongs. Formative events in this period include his own anti-Anomoean sermons, and the Riot of the Statues during Lent 387.

The particular focus of this study is Chrysostom’s Homilies on the Gospel of John. These are dated to 391. It is thus not my intention to provide an extensive resume of John’s life beyond the Antioch period. In late October 397 John was removed discreetly under imperial guidance to Constantinople, to take up that see. John was an active, vigorous bishop, which garnered him many successes, but equally many enemies. He was not always known for tact either, and some of his downfall may certainly be attributed to both his personal failings and failure to succeed in political maneouvres. The arrival of the Long Brothers in 401 set in motion a chain of events that led to his first, albeit brief, exile in 403, largely orchestrated by Theophilos of Alexandria, and then the second, more definitive punishment and exile from June 20th, 404. This saw John removed temporarily to Nicaea, then more permanently to Cucusos, before a final journey commencing mid-June 407, resulting in the aged and weakened John’s death, September 14th. Though he died in exile and official disgrace, John’s supporters were persistent, and over a number of years his reputation (in the East) was rehabilitated and restored, with the triumphal return of his remains to Constantinople in 438.

Creative Commons License
This work by Seumas Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Temptations to Shortcut

During my week I feel constant temptations to shortcut, because I feel the constant pressures of time. Only so many hours in a day, and so many things to get done, and only so much time in the office, and the need to finish this masters sooner rather than later.

I need to remind myself that giving in to temporal pressures for the short term, equals long-term loss.
- When I neglect language study, I make all future study more difficult and less rich.
- When I neglect exercise, I shorten my life, detract from my health, and sabotage my work
- When I neglect the scriptures and prayer, I render everything futile

I feel like my thesis is going very slowly. But that might just be something I must come to terms with.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Things aren't that bad

Lately I've just been feeling the grind of life and study. 4 degree mornings on the way to the train station don't give me much joy either. But today I spent time reading Luke, 2 Corinthians, Augustine, Cicero, the Didache, Justin Martyr, Chrysostom, some analysis of Judges, and some Discourse Grammar. What's not to like about that for a day!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Classical Greek Texts designed for reading

Today arrived in the mail a copy of Herodotus' Histories Book 1: Greek Text with Facing Vocabulary and Commentary by Geoffrey Steadman. This is one of a number of texts that Steadman has already released, including Plato's Symposium and Homer's Odyssey 6-8, with more on the way. Let me now tell you the genius and advantage of Steadman's texts.

1) Steadman has taken an out-of-copyright text, in this case from 1908, and used this as the basis for his text. It is very good to have these texts available

2) Steadman next has analysed the text through Perseus for vocabulary frequency, and listed everything occurring 15 times or more in a core vocabulary at the start. This provides a frequency-based approach to learning vocabulary which is excellent for someone studying the text.

3) On each facing page, there is provided in alphabetical order the rest of the vocabulary for that page, each in lexical form (thus providing the reader both with (a) a little bit of work, (b) the right form to further consult a lexicon), with its frequency listed.

4) At the bottom of each facing page is also provided some brief commentary notes to aid the reader with difficult parsing, syntax, or contextual matter.

5) These texts are produced via a Print-on-Demand method, retail online, and a Creative Commons licensed electronic version of each is also easily available.

Summing up these features, these books are designed for the 'intermediate' Greek student, to have access to a text that makes reading, without endless cross-referencing and consulting of other books, a streamlined process. I'm all in favour of this approach. The more we can get students (myself included!) reading as much Greek as possible, and staying with the Greek as possible, all the better, and reading-editions are a real step forward for this goal. Of course we'd all love students of Greek literature to be reading unaided from plain texts, but we should by no means eliminate these most helpful pedagogical steps.

Secondly, Steadman's approach makes excellent use of existing tools, in a process that wouldn't be Herculean to reproduce, along with a commitment to Creative Commons licensing that frees up these resources for 'freer' usage. This also is to be applauded.

Do yourself a favour, if you're looking to read some Greek, buy one or more of Steadman's texts. (I have no connection to him, by the way). My mind is already trying to figure out how this approach might be applied to Patristic texts in Latin and Greek. One would need to (a) obtain a processible electronic text, (b) run that through some analysis (Perseus doesn't hold much patristics, it seems; Logos software could do some of the heavy lifting I suspect, but it's not really designed for that), (c) procure a base (critical or otherwise) text that is out of copyright, (d) work through the text oneself working out what needs commentating (the hardest part of the procedure). Imagine, though, that we had some key patristic texts in this format: Theological Orations by Gregory the Theologian, for example, would be an ideal work.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Fewer Things, Better

One of the blogs I enjoy reading is Study Hacks. Cal has some good insights, and the background and research to back it. So I've rearranged my week slightly to focus on a few things, at a time, and just do them. Here's my life as a grad student.

8am get into the study room. My computer is set to block most distracting sites from 8:15 onwards, so I have a brief chance to check in on a few internet things, if I'm not running late.
Then, I hit the languages for about 2 hrs. I spend time working on Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Gaelic. The first 3 are core languages in decreasing importance for my study areas. Gaelic I pursue just for interest, but I find I need to slot it in here otherwise I neglect it entirely. I try and wrap up language stuff around 10-10:30.

The rest of my day is dictated by what day it is:

Monday I need to get a lecture outline done for Wednesday night, so I spend some time getting that out of the way first. Then I spend the day reading. I was reading slices of books, and swapping between books, but I've reconsidered and decided just to read straight through the same work until I've finished whatever I need to.
Tuesday is writing day. It's also the day the post-grads have prayer, then lunch, then coffee together. So that takes some time out of the day. Besides that I just try and write something that should go in the final product.
Wednesday I have to spend about 4 hrs preparing for giving 2 Church History lectures in the evening, so that's my major focus, and I don't worry about getting anything else done, but if I get a chance I will.
Thursday is translation day. I spend a bit of time on a Chrysostom text unrelated to my thesis, and other time on bits of the homilies. The aim is to spend as much time in the Greek as possible.
Friday is primary analysis day. I work on the primary texts for my thesis, marking down comments and analysis that will form the major section of my thesis.

6 hrs or so is so obviously too long to sit at a desk, if one wants to maintain anything like a good level of retention and focus. So I go over to the gym for an hour/hour and a half, as well as have a lunch break of 30-60mins (I prefer the shorter side, but sometimes things take longer. This allows me to break my focus, get some exercise, and work more efficiently. I try and wrap it up at 4:45 and get to the train station by 5.

The other thing I'm trying to do, is read less, and older. I have a tendency to want to read lots of books, but I need to keep in mind C.S. Lewis's words from his introduction to Athanasius' De Incarnatione, "It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones." Especially since my field is Patristics! So, in my languages work, I'm reading slowly through Ignatius of Antioch's Epistles, and Augustine's Confessions. Apart from that I've set up a reading list to get through a list of major patristic works, things to read on the train in particular. I've started in on Justin Martyr's First Apology.

Anti-Rhetoric Rhetoric

I was re-listening to John Piper's excellent conference message from the 2008 Desiring God National Conference (Audio here), on the topic Is There Christian Eloquence? Clear Words and the Wonder of the Cross. Piper is very sharp on this one, exploring the problem of eloquence and rhetoric that 1 Corinthians raises in particular, in the life and work of those whose business is proclaiming the gospel in words for persuasion. Essentially, Piper's answer is that there is a distinction between the Sophists, whose aim is to draw attention and praise to themselves by their arrangement of words for persuasive and pleasing effect, and the eloquence of both the Scriptures and (ideally) the preacher, whose aim is rather to draw attention and praise to Christ. Do yourself a favour and listen to the talk.

I wonder if this ever occurred to the Ancient Fathers? Many, especially from the 3rd century on, were deeply trained in a rhetorical tradition that formed the backbone of classical education and drew on the traditions of the Second Sophistic. Almost all major Latin Fathers were rhetorically trained, practised as rhetors or lawyers, or were even professors of rhetoric. And yet, when you read their writings they consistently distance themselves from rhetoric, sometimes explicitly, all the while employing pervasive rhetorical techniques in their writing and speaking. How to account for such apparent hypocrisy? While in some cases the tension is acute (Jerome, for instance), it seems that for many of them it had become warp and woof of their discourse. Almost certainly part of their distancing was to distance themselves from the bastion of Late Antique paganism that was resident and buttressed by the rhetorical tradition. Some writers start to give a more positive evaluation of rhetoric (Basil I think, and definitely Augustine in De Doctrina Christiana), which with the ongoing Christianisation of the Empire eventually gives way entirely, as rhetoric is thoroughly integrated into a Christianised education process, as the pagan alternative begins to disappear, and so the polemical distance is less necessary. Perhaps, too, the orators' annoyance at applause reveals something of their anti-rhetoric rhetoric - a sense of the holy things they were discussing, and a desire not to be applauded, but rather God to be magnified. Even if they didn't grasp this lesson, we must.


Fellowship is a word we need to jettison. It doesn't mean anything. We don't talk about fellows, or use fellow- as a semantic component in any sharing/communal context or word, outside of church-talk. We only use fellowship to express the vague concept of christians being physically present to each other and nominally sharing in something, usually international roast. We have perfectly serviceable English words to express what fellowship used to express: words from union and communion roots. So let's drop this whole charade.

Weinandy on Impassibility, I

Thomas Weinandy has an excellent book entitled Does God Suffer? thoroughly defending the doctrine of Impassibility. I'm going to offer some thoughts from it and on it over a couple of posts.

In Chapter 1 he covers some of the background and terrain of the debate, including the desire for a passible God (ie, a sympathetic one), the thought of people such as Moltmann, the biblical picture of God as passionate, emotional, and involved, and the overwhelming tendency to attribute impassibility to Hellenic philosophical thought in the Early Church Fathers. Nothing too new here.

Chapter 2 offers some great insights though. Firstly, Weinandy helpfully distinguishes theological problems from theological mysteries (p30-31, drawing on Gabriel Marcel). A problem can be clinically analysed, systematised, and 'solved'. A mystery on the other hand, cannot be exhausted. We can say much about the Trinity, for example, and some things wrongly so, and many things wondrously and truthfully so, but we cannot exhaust the Trinity. So too with Christology, and as Weinandy would have us, so too as we approach the doctrine of impassibility.

His second majorly helpful contribution here, is simply to quote from the The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and give us 3 elements of impassibility:

external passibility or the capacity to be acted upon from without, (2) internal passibility or the capacity for changing the emotions from within, and (3) sensational passiblity or the liability to feelings of pleasure and pain caused by the action of another being. (p38)

So, when we talk about impassibility, we are talking about God not being able to be acted upon from without, not being changeable by internal emotion, and not being subject to external sensation.

Chapter 3 is also very helpful. In it Weinandy covers the biblical terrain, with particular attention to the Old Testament. He notes the seemingly overwhelming evidence for a passible God (p58 for example), but proceeds in a different manner. He talks first about how God is known in the OT, through his saving and covenanting Presence. And yet this present God is known as the Creator of all, and so is wholly Other. Weinandy's point is that we cannot begin with abstract notions of transcendence/immanence (presence/otherness), because the Scriptures intertwine these two from the start: God's saving presence is precisely because of his Otherness, and his Otherness is known only through his Presence.

While God, in his complete otherness, is ontologically distinct from the created order, and thus from all other beings, yet he is able to bring into existence, be present to, and act within the created order as one who is ontologically distinct from the created order, and he is able to do so only because he is ontologically distinct. Moreover, he is able to do so, in his wholly otherness, without forfeiting his wholly in otherness in so doing. (p53)

When we come to the question of the rich emotional language of God we ask, 'What is this anthropomorphic language saying about God?' It is the wholly Other God who is so filled with passion. He already transcends the merely human. God’s otherness must guide our interpretation of the depths of God’s passionate passions. (p59) And likewise when we consider God changing his mind. We need a hermeneutical tool to bring consistency, otherwise we interpret statements of God's changing and unchangingness on the same flat level and they are contradictory. Rather, God’s changing of his mind is predicated/conditioned upon a change in the people involved.
The reaction of God expresses "his unchanging and unalterable love for his people and of his demand for moral rectitude" (p61);

the statement that God does change his mind expresses this unchangeable mind of God under circumstances which, under ordinary human conditions (if God were man), would demand that a change of mind take place, but in actual fact need not, because God, as the Wholly Other, is constant in his love, forgiveness, righteousness and justice. (p61)

The great strength of Weinandy's work, to begin with, is his ability to work with what is so often seen as a contradiction, and dichotomies, and carefully present a biblical vision that not only holds the two in tension, but draws them into each other and reveals to us that God's Passion and Impassibility are deeply intertwined and cannot be separated.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Around the Interwebs

Sorry if that last post on impassibility was a little obtruse. I promise a few more, and at least one truly accessible one!

Things I've been reading include:
Seth Godin on The coming meltdown in higher education. Part of my critical nature is always to be engaged in meta-analysis. So, learning languages, I'm driven to study and read about the process of learning languages. Involved in higher-ed, I'm always interested in understanding the phenomenon of higher ed. Godin has some interesting insights.

Kevin Kelly on Get a job as a piracy snitch. KK is always good for a read, has very useful insights on technology and society. His portrayal of copyright enforcement as protection racket in this post gave me a new way of seeing it.