Review: The Scandal of the Incarnation

by Hans urs von Balthalsar.

This is the most accessible treatment of Irenaeus’s works. Hans urs von Balthasar provides a fine introduction, discussion, and brief critique of Gnosticism–showing how Irenaeus’s theology is relevant today. Further, von Balthasar provides a matrix for interpreting St Irenaeus (von Balthasar 9ff):

saint_irenaeus_oflyons
(1) Unity of Old and New Testament: God’s Logos.
(2) The crossbeams are the world’s true center–it is here where creation is renewed (13). The four points of the cross match the “four corners/dimensions” of the world (Irenaeus 16).

Doctrine of God

By God’s simplicity, Irenaeus means he is non-composite. God is “wholly mind, wholly thought, wholly reason, wholly hearing, wholly seeing” (Irenaeus 19, quoting AH II 13, 3). Since God is rational, he produces things by his Logos and orders them through his Spirit. The Spirit manifests the Word (Defense of Apostolic Preaching, 4-10). God’s thinking is His Word and the Word is Mind (AH II.28.5).

God is not a Groundless Void, for where there is a Void and Silence, there cannot be a Word (II.12.5). Irenaeus offers several reductios: can a void fill all things? How can he be a spiritual being if he does not fill all things? (II.13.7)

Irenaeus affirms the analogia entis

“He is rightly called the all -comprehending intellect, but he is not like the intellect of man. He is most aptly called light, but he is nothing like the light we know” (AH II 13, 3). God confers proportion and harmony on what he has made (II.25.2).

Incarnation as Recapitulation

“The second Adam is the repetition, in divine truth, of the first Adam…The second Adam repeats the whole natural development of man at the higher level of divine reality” (von Balthasar 53). Indeed, “what was bound could not be untied without a reversal of the process of entanglement” (AH III.22.4).

Anthropology

(Redeemed) Man is body, soul, and spirit (AH V.6.1). Without the spirit man may have the image of God but not his likeness. The Spirit saves and forms the flesh and the soul finds itself mid-point between the two. The breath of life (ruach) is not the same as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). The former makes man a psychic being; the latter makes him spiritual (V.12.2).

Conclusion:

I think this is the best entry point for Irenaeus. True, the complete text of Against Heresies (such as it is) is too important to ignore, but most beginning readers will get lost in the Gnostic genealogies. Until, of course, one sees their modern counterparts, listed below:

Gnosticism today:
(a) Hegelianism
(b) Marxism
(c) Idealism
(d) Romanticism
(e) Freemasonry
(e) The American University System
(f) Hollywood (the symbolism is there, if you know where to look)

 

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You might be a gnostic, if…

You might be Gnostic if you think that full time Christian ministry is superior to Artists who paint landscapes.

You might be a Gnostic if you allegorize the parts of Scripture you find embarrassing.

You might be Gnostic if you think that the reason you make money is so that you can give most of it to really important things like Missionaries and the Church.

You might be Gnostic if you think that the most holy things you do during the day is pray, read your bible and share the 4 spiritual laws with somebody.

You might be Gnostic if you think the pastor shouldn’t Preach on anything that isn’t “Spiritual.”

You might be Gnostic if you think the New Testament is a more “Spiritual” section of the Scripture then the Old Testament.

You might be Gnostic if you think that the Church in the NT is more “Spiritual” than the Church in the OT.

You might be Gnostic if you think that theonomists are heretics.

You might be Gnostic if you think that there is no such thing as Biblical culture.

You might be Gnostic if you think that Water, Wine, and Bread are only effective as you think the right thoughts about them.

You might be Gnostic if you watch closely for the arrival of an Israelite Red Heifer.

You might be Gnostic if you have read more than one of the Left Behind series.

You might be Gnostic if you think communion isn’t one of God’s means of Grace whereby He nurtures His people with Grace.

You might be Gnostic if you think that the essence of the Christian faith is only complete with the proper propositions.

You might be Gnostic if you think that inside of you are two men, named Mr. Spiritual and Mr. Carnal that are fighting for control.

You might be a Gnostic if you think Plato, and not Paul, was correct on time.

You might be a gnostic if you don’t think we will drink wine on Yahweh’s mountain.

You might be a Gnostic if you would rather think about right triangles in heaven.

You might be Gnostic if you don’t find this amusing.

The Scandal of the Incarnation

This is the most accessible treatment of Irenaeus’s works. Hans urs von Balthasar provides a fine introduction, discussion, and brief critique of Gnosticism–showing how Irenaeus’s theology is relevant today. Further, von Balthasar provides a matrix for interpreting St Irenaeus (von Balthasar 9ff):

 

The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus Against the Heresies
(1) Unity of Old and New Testament: God’s Logos.
(2) The crossbeams are the world’s true center–it is here where creation is renewed (13). The four points of the cross match the “four corners/dimensions” of the world (Irenaeus 16).

Doctrine of God

By God’s simplicity, Irenaeus means he is non-composite. God is “wholly mind, wholly thought, wholly reason, wholly hearing, wholly seeing” (Irenaeus 19, quoting AH II 13, 3). Since God is rational, he produces things by his Logos and orders them through his Spirit. The Spirit manifests the Word (Defense of Apostolic Preaching, 4-10). God’s thinking is His Word and the Word is Mind (AH II.28.5).

God is not a Groundless Void, for where there is a Void and Silence, there cannot be a Word (II.12.5). Irenaeus offers several reductios: can a void fill all things? How can he be a spiritual being if he does not fill all things? (II.13.7)

Irenaeus affirms the analogia entis

“He is rightly called the all -comprehending intellect, but he is not like the intellect of man. He is most aptly called light, but he is nothing like the light we know” (AH II 13, 3). God confers proportion and harmony on what he has made (II.25.2).

saint_irenaeus_oflyons

Incarnation as Recapitulation

“The second Adam is the repetition, in divine truth, of the first Adam…The second Adam repeats the whole natural development of man at the higher level of divine reality” (von Balthasar 53). Indeed, “what was bound could not be untied without a reversal of the process of entanglement” (AH III.22.4).

Anthropology

(Redeemed) Man is body, soul, and spirit (AH V.6.1). Without the spirit man may have the image of God but not his likeness. The Spirit saves and forms the flesh and the soul finds itself mid-point between the two. The breath of life (ruach) is not the same as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). The former makes man a psychic being; the latter makes him spiritual (V.12.2).

Conclusion:

I think this is the best entry point for Irenaeus. True, the complete text of Against Heresies (such as it is) is too important to ignore, but most beginning readers will get lost in the Gnostic genealogies. Until, of course, one sees their modern counterparts, listed below:

Gnosticism today:
(a) Hegelianism
(b) Marxism
(c) Idealism
(d) Romanticism
(e) Freemasonry
(e) The American University System
(f) Hollywood (the symbolism is there, if you know where to look)

Origen and the Life of the Stars

Alan Scott sheds light on key problems in Hellenism by focusing on Origen’s view of the stars’ souls.  Ancient Greece certainly discussed the possibility that the stars are alive (and we will use the phrase” alive,” “intelligence,” and “souls” interchangeably in this review) but there was no consensus.

Plato

The presence of intelligence is the presence of a soul (Scott 9, cf. Soph. 249a4) and a mind must exist in the soul.  The universe, accordingly, must be ensouled since “mind was present in it.” aether: the body in which the soul operates.  The astral soul and aether co-operate.

A problem for later Platonists: if the “divine” is incorporeal, and if stars are divine, how can we see them in the heavens?  Jewish and Christian thinkers exploited this weak point.  The only way to respond to this criticism was to weaken the “divine claim” and see them rather as intermediate beings.

Origen

Scott argues against reading too much of any single school into Origen’s thought.  While he is close to Middle Platonism, for example, he was also very familiar with Jewish Apocalypticism and Gnosticism (54).

Philo

Philo’s sometimes wooden borrowing of philosophy allows us a “snapshot” of the Hellenistic classroom (63-64).

  • Earth is centre of cosmos
  • Yet Philo rejects the somewhat Stoic claim that the mind is material. The mind is neither pneuma nor matter.  
  • Stars are definitely living beings.
    • Ontologically superior to angels.
    • Not surprisingly, Philo was tolerant of those who worshipped heaven (something no biblical writer could say!), but elsewhere says it is wrong to do so (74).

“Philo is too good a Jew and too good a Platonist to take these arguments to their logical conclusions” (74).  Origen advances beyond Philo in seeing the possibility of evil in heaven.  

Heavenly Powers

Problem: how does the soul enter into the generative powers of the world?  Phaedrus said because of evil, whereas Timeaus said because of a good demiurge.  “The belief began to slowly evolve that the soul was joined to the body through the medium of an ‘astral body’” (77).  This became a major theme in Platonism after Iamblichus (79).

At this time Oriental sources entered Hellenistic thought, notably Mithraism, which taught that a gate corresponded to a planet (82).

However, once the idea of fate was firmly attached to the stars, and given that people have “bad luck,” many began to question whether the stars were truly benign.  This meant, among other things, that the neutral “daimons” in the heavenly realms could now be seen as demons in the traditional understanding (90-93).

Toll Houses (!)

A common theme in later Platonic and Gnostic thought is the soul’s traveling through planets after death.  The Apocalypse of Paul (Nag Hammadi Library) has Paul passing through toll collectors (98).  Granted, there are huge differences between this and the later Russian Orthodox teaching of toll houses.

Clement

Clement believes there are angels who oversee the souls’ ascent (106). Clement holds that stars are governed by their appointed angels (55.1; cf. p. 108).

Origen and the Stars

Origen divides the soul with a highest sense–mind (nous).  This is fallen and capable of sin.  There is an unfallen portion called “spirit” (pneuma).  Origen is aware that many of his views are speculative, and he is not setting them forth as doctrine (122). He is “thinking out loud” in the face of very difficult problems.  And compared to the current Alexandrian cosmology, Origen’s is quite restrained (124).

Are the stars alive?

Origen tentatively answered “maybe.”  But before we judge him, we must see that his answers are based on terminology that both Christians and pagans accepted.  For example, only rational agents are self-moving.  This would appear that the stars are in some sense rational agents.  But Origen was also aware of Jewish Apocalyptic and he would have been on better ground had he said that “angels move the stars.”

This really isn’t that problematic.  Scientifically wrong, to be sure, but that’s all.  The problem came when Origen had to account for why some stars are greater than others.  And is answer, of course, was of some pre-temporal fall.  And that is problematic.

The Stars and the resurrection body

Origen is actually very careful on this point.  He affirms the resurrection body, but he knows, as does Paul in 1 Cor. 15, that it isn’t the same type of body we have today.  But perhaps he gets in trouble with his discussions of the “astral body.”  All Christians have to believe in the post-mortem existence of the soul.  This is a mode of existence that isn’t bodily yet which the soul is in one place at one time.  

Given both Scriptural teachings, logic, and the experiences of wise saints, we posit that the soul has an existence after death.  But how does it exist?  Does it recognize other souls?  Surely it does.  Is it omnipresent in the spiritual world?  Certainly not, for not even angels (who are bodiless) are omnipresent.  Therefore, there must be some sort of identifiable mode of existing that is bodiless.  Origen called this an “astral body.”  

Conclusion

Does Scott fully vindicate Origen?  Not quite, but he does alleviate a lot of problems.  Origen was very reticent about using philosophy.  He didn’t innovate but rather held to established, conservative opinions in the intellectual world (even if they were wrong in hindsight).

You might be a gnostic, if…

Somebody made up a joke like this ten years.  I decided to give it my own spin.  I’ve tried to make it funny and not just mean-spirited.

  1. You might be a gnostic if…you think demons only exist in the Bible and not in real life.
  2. You might be a gnostic if…someone quotes Isaiah without citing it and you accuse them of carnal eschatology.
  3. You might be a gnostic if…you think that connecting bodily habits with spiritual disciplines denies the gospel.
  4. You might be a gnostic if…you think liturgy denies the gospel, even though the Holy Spirit uses that word in Acts 13.
  5. You might be a gnostic if…you deny the free offer of the gospel.
  6. You might be a gnostic if…you are a hyper-Calvinist.
  7. You might be a gnostic if…you don’t realize (5) and (6) are the same thing.
  8. You might be a gnostic if…you have the same view of angels as Immanuel Kant but you know your presbytery will never call you on it.
  9. You might be a gnostic if…when I ask that singing the doxology literally invokes angels in worship but you respond by saying, “That’s just words.  We don’t really mean it.”
  10. That means you are also a nominalist.
  11. You might be a gnostic if…you confuse the intermediate state, which is necessarily dis-embodied and rightly in the presence of God, with the eternal state which is resurrected and drinking wine on Yahweh’s mountain.

You better do more than just agree

I told some on Puritanboard that I was not necessarily committed to premillennialism and I was ready to deal with other systems.  In short, I was going to give amillennialism (nota bene: that may be the ugliest term in all of systematic theology) a chance.

So, if amillennialism were true, the following conditions had to obtain:

a) Revelation still had to be anchored in history.  A denial of history is gnosticism and must be violently hated and resisted by Christians at all times.

b) Antichrist is real.  Frankly, I don’t think this is up for debate.  In any case, it doesn’t make any sense to speak of a darkening of culture (which the NT does) without an antichrist figure.  Yes, I know it doesn’t actually say that, but you get the idea. Further, I am not committed to whether it is an individual or a system.

c) There must be a flooding of history and creation with God’s glory.  On earth.  Doesn’t have to be a millennial reign. But it must happen on earth.  If you disagree, you are closer to Valentinius.

And I was told I was closer to Left Behind.  I said “No, the church fathers.”  You see, for the past seven years I have been steeped in the church fathers. Particularly the Eastern ones.  Mainly Irenaeus (yeah, he ministered in France but he was still Eastern).  TRs just don’t know anything about the church fathers beyond a few snippets from Augustine, so they really can’t contribute to this discussion (which is probably a summary of TRs in general).

And then to top it off, a magus then told me that “carnal views of the millennium” are not acceptable.  Whenever this guy comments the discussion always reaches Monte Python levels.

So what did we learn on the internet today? You can’t just agree in general with TRs. You need to line up on the specifics.  It’s a hyper-overreaction to Roman Catholicism.  Medieval Catholicism said you had to have an “implicit faith” to be saved.  That was because Rome had a million small doctrines that no one could keep count of, so they covered it by saying “just implicitly believe that.”  I’m not attacking Rome at the moment, but hyper-Reformed have a microscopic doctrines that you better line up on.

Reading Torrance and not being postmodern

In my recent debate with a Gnostic Magus on a Reformed facebook forum, I was accused of being “postmodern.”  First, what does postmodern even mean?  The well-informed reader knows this is a trick question.  Even if you give the correct answer, you will still be wrong.  There are at least 3 correct answers.

Presumably the magus meant something like “fresh and edgy.”  I don’t know.  I saw no argument to the effect.  My guess is that these internet theologian-warriors mean something like “relativist.”  But what do we mean by relativist?  Probably something along the lines of “not holding to classical reformed dogmatics.”

I guess.  Shucks, I don’t know.  As is usual with debating TRs, there was no argumentation whatsoever.  But let’s go with the (incorrect) definition that postmodern = relativistic = no objective truth.  How does Torrance and my reading of Torrance fare?  Torrance writes (this is my outline of his argument in The Trinitarian Faith):

    1. Radical shift in the pious’s understanding.
      1. Moved from in-turned human reason (epinoia) to a centre in god’s revealing activity in the incarnation of the Logos (19).
      2. view of faith: not subjectively grounded, (BOOM!) but objectively grounded (again, BOOM!) persuasion of mind, supported by the hypostasis of God’s being  (SNAP).   Hilary: in faith a person takes his stand on the ground of God’s own being (De Trin. 1.18).
    2. scientific knowledge: episteme–standing or establishment of the mind upon objective reality (I am just running up the score at this point).
      1. It is through faith that our minds are put in touch with a reality independent of themselves (thus, the death-knell to Kant and Hegel.   Puritanboard is shown to be false)..
      2. It is through faith our minds assent to the inherent intelligibility of things, yield to their self-evidencing (shades of Descartes!) and are adapted to know them in their own nature (kata phusin).
    3. Faith is not non-cognitive.
      1. it involves the mind’s responsible assent to the self-revelation of God in Christ.
      2. it arises under the creative impact of God’s word (21).
      3. it is listening obedience (upakoe tes pisteos).

Conclusion: we must learn from God himself what we are to think of him (Hilary, De Trin. 5.20).