Review: Medieval Exegesis, volume 2

Henri de Lubac’s writing style is similar to M Night Shamalyan’s film success: in some works he was wildly successful, in others he just got lucky, and some just failed to deliver.  Volume 2 of Medieval Exegesis is in the last group. (Though to be fair volume 1 was fairly good).

A book of end notes

De Lubac killed the forest for the sake of the trees. The book did explain medieval exegesis, so I give him credit on that. And many of his quotations were quite interesting, even stirring–so that’s good. But he drowned his argument for the sake of piling on citations. Within 226 pages of text, I counted a total of 2,563 citations, leaving 208 pages of end notes.

So what’s his argument? I’m not sure. (I’m kidding). On de Lubac’s reading, allegory isn’t the wax nose that it would later become. Rather, Allegory is when one thing is being accomplished and another pre-figured (de Lubac 7). Sounds a lot like modern typology. The “mystic sense”of Scripture refers to a reality ‘hidden in God’ and then revealed to mankind in Christ (20). And the movement from history to eschatology (anagogy) isn’t completely arbitrary. It unfolds within the prior historical moment of the Incarnate Word. The object of allegory is a reality of things to come (94). It is an opposition of sign and thing signified within a single duration (95). History, in short, can never fully contain that which it foretells. Allegory, then, is an irruption from the historia into the allegoria, what de Lubac calls “another dimension” (95). Interiority: not necessarily the inner life, but the interiority of the mystery (97). These “hidden facts have an inside,” which is salvific (98).


I’m not sure if I recommend this book. It is very expensive and crowded with citations that don’t always add to his argument, leaving the actual argument in fog. And I say this as someone who loves de Lubac’s work. Read Boersma instead.


Review: Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa

Continuing in the line of Boersma’s larger “Platonic-Synthesis” project, he explores Gregory of Nyssa’s use of the body in his theology of sanctification. Gregory of Nyssa’s prism of sanctification is the concept of “anagogy,” which anticipates later Medieval hermeneuticsHans-Boersma-Gregory-of-Nyssa

Anagogy refers to the eschatological sense of meaning.  Boersma: “ For Gregory, “anagogical” exegesis refers not just to the end of history; rather, it speaks about the spiritual level of meaning in general” (Boersma 2).

Gregory’s theology is anagogical: “That is to say, for Gregory the purpose of life itself is anagogical in character. We are meant to go “upward” and “forward,” both at the same time, so as to participate ever more thoroughly in the life of God. Anagogy, then, is not just an exegetical practice or hermeneutical approach for St. Gregory. Rather, anagogy is our own increasing participation in divine virtue and thus our own ascent into the life of God” (3).

Boersma’s goal is to demonstrate how Gregory “goes beyond” the body in such a way that neither postmodernists nor those “overly-eager creation theologians” can claim Nyssen for one of their own.  Gregory believes in the goodness of the body, but only as the body serves as a training ground for the eschatological life.

Key to Gregory’s ontology is the Creator-creature distinction.  So far that is standard Christian metaphysics, but Gregory makes several unexpected moves.  For him, all of created reality, time included, is marked by diastesis–interval and division. This is crucial for his anti-Eunomian polemic:  There is no diastesis between Father, Son, and Spirit.

Everything in creation, then, is marked by diastesis. Will the saints’ life in heaven be marked as well? Boersma argues that Gregory would say no.  Key point: “does Gregory unequivocally affirm the measurements of created time and space—the extension of created life—or does he insist that in some ways they are obstacles to be overcome” (19)?

Scholars generally think that since diastema distinguishes Creator from creature, and since there will be progress in the eschaton, that diastema continues to the Eschaton.  Boersma demurs.  Rather, he argues that Gregory makes use of time and space (diastema) in the pilgrim’s ascent, but time and space is not the goal. We will have bodily existence in the eschaton, to be sure, but our bodies, being no longer marked by interval and distance, will be anagogically transpositioned.

How can Gregory say this? He can make this move because he defines matter as “the confluence of intellectual properties.” The general idea is this: If you abstract qualities from a person, the more you abstract, the less there is.  Matter is fluid.  Perhaps this is how the glorified can walk through doors.

The other chapters deal with exegesis (Textual Bodies), gender, death, virginity, and virtue.  A few comments: Nyssen believes gender is unstable.  By this he isn’t endorsing CNN or postmodernism’s anti-essentialism.  He is trying to make sense of the angelic life of believers in heaven in light of Galatians 3:28.

The chapter on social oppression reveals Gregory’s attacks on slavery and usury.


Boersma demonstrates himself to be one of the leading Protestant scholars on the church fathers.  Not only is the book high class scholarship, but the passages on Gregory’s use of the psalms are edifying and beautiful.

Review: Nouvelle Theologie (Boersma)

Genealogical critiques are always dangerous, but it seems they are necessary. Hans Boersma examines the ideas that undercut late medieval Catholicism and also provided for the rise of “nouvelle theologie” in the 20th century.  This book is the scholarly version of Heavenly Participation.


Thesis: “I have made the case that the historical embodiment of theological truth expressed a sacramental ontology that would enable the reintegration of nature and the supernatural—of history and theology” (202).

There are several villains in this narrative. One, obviously, is modernity. The other is early 20th century Neo-Thomism. Boersma notes, “The theological manuals of the neo-Thomist scholastic theologians tried to be faithful to the theology of Thomas Aquinas (1224/5–74), and they believed that this could be done only by maintaining a strict separation between the natural and supernatural realms” (4). In other words, nature is a hermetically sealed realm.

By contrast, as Boersma reads them, Nouvelle Theologie theologians wanted to argue for an “interpenetration of sign (signum) and reality (res) [that] meant, according to the nouvelle theologians, that external, temporal appearances contained the spiritual, eternal realities which they represented and to which they dynamically pointed forward. For nouvelle theologie, theology had as its task the dynamic exploration of the reality of the divine mystery: (292).

There were several ways to do this, not all of them equally successful. To shorten the review: while de Lubac had promising insights on nature and grace, his medieval-style exegesis was simply too unwieldy to be an effective tool.

Von Balthasar’s concepts of analogy and participation not only served as a critique of Karl Barth, but allowed him to appropriate Henri de Lubac’s Neo-Platonic project without the latter’s tendency to downplay physical creation. Boersma: “Contra Barth: “According to Balthasar, analogia entis did not assume a neutral concept of being; it merely implied that God’s salvation in Christ was the saving of his created order:… For Balthasar, the doctrine of analogy simply served to defend that there was a natural stability to the created order that God had redeemed in Christ (132).

Boersma realizes, however, that the rise of Nouvelle Theologie was not a complete victory. In some ways, one could argue that it was partly responsible for the horror that is Vatican II–though to be fair, some of the Nouvelle theologians saw that as well. Boersma mentions it in passing but probably doesn’t see the significance of it. In de Lubac’s short book on Nature and Grace, de Lubac mentions an “underground council” that worked at cross-purposes to his own work in Vatican II. He is right. That is the council that was probably responsible for the occultic practices documented by Fr Malachi Martin in Windswept House.

This is a good summary of a facet of 20th century Roman Catholicism, though many will get bogged down in the long lists of French names

End of a year, shoring up conclusions

My theology doesn’t “change” much anymore, although I do explore different emphases and distinctives.  I consider myself in the Reformation tradition, even if I don’t “truck” with current TR distinctives.  The following is a list of what I found that works and what is a dead end.

Dead Ends

  1. Pop level presuppositionalism.  The thing is, we can’t all be Bahnsens.  Further, name a big league (bigly) debater of Bahnsen’s caliber.  Sye doesn’t count.  Really, you can only say “Yeah, well how do you know that?” enough before it’s evident that you are clueless.
    1. So what’s my alternative?  I don’t know.  Present a coherent case for Christianity and offer defeaters.  That’s the best I can do.
    2. The thing is, modern presup has no clue about the current moves and discussions in philosophical theology.
  2. Internet Covenanter thought.  If you are a godly member in an RP type church, bless you.  Stay there and be fed.  My beef isn’t with you.  But at the same time, the type of Covenanter thought one finds on Facebook is intellectual cancer.  There is no depth of thought nor constructive engagement with the past, nor could there be.
    1. RP Covenanter thought is Donatism. Which splinter group is pure enough?  You see this with Steelites.
      1. We can take this a step further: on one covenanter page the question came up, “Can one read Dabney, given his terrible views on race?”  On a pastoral level that’s a fair question.  I’m not a Dabney fan by any stretch and the average person shouldn’t read Dabney.  But the question is deeper: can we read anyone who isn’t “pure enough?”
      2. And once you start asking that question, you end up with being the only pure group (think Steelites, Greg Price, Dodson, etc)
    2. Necessarily, this means that much of church history is off-limits.  Think about it: if anyone who isn’t using psalms only and no instruments is a Baal worshiper.
      1. Don’t try to point to quotes from Aquinas on using the Psalms.  True, the medieval church and early church didn’t rely on instruments, but these guys also had icons, incense, and sang Gregorian and Ambrosian hymns.   So they aren’t you.
      2. I’ve dealt with Covenanters before in the past, so I won’t say more here.

Let’s go to a happier note.  Here are some valuable moves I’ve learned (okay, that sounded like a karate movie).

  1. Hans Boersma.  I read Heavenly Participation a few years ago and it had a big impact on me. I don’t accept his Radical Orthodoxy reading of philosophy, but his Platonic worldview did cash out in several ways:
    1. Heaven is more important than politics.
    2. The emphasis on “heaven” keeps one from following all of the “redeeming the body” fads.
    3. Dear Reformed people: do you want a good response to NT Wright?  Don’t try to rebut him on Paul.  Just show him Boersma’s view on heaven.
    4. However, I don’t hold with his emphasis on the Nouvelle Theologie.  De Lubac had a few good books but most of the time he just cited sources.  Further, Nouvelle Theologie was incapable of dealing with the modernism that followed Vatican II.
  2. Analytic Theology.  It’s simply too powerful a tool to ignore.  Yes, some of them go off the deep end and do nothing but quote truth tables all day.

Analogia Entis

As Hans Boersma notes, the analogia entis is first and foremost a “sacramental link” between God and creation (Boersma 71).  It is “hinged” or “suspended” by God.  Yet, and here is where an analogia entis cannot be equated with chain of being, it “also insists on the infinite difference between Creator and creature.  In fact, dissimilarity is the main point of the doctrine of analogy.”
last judgment

The following is from David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite.  “The analogy of being does not analogize God and creatures under the more general category of being, but is the analogizing of being in the difference between God and creatures” (241-242).  It rejects both the univocity of Apollos and the equivocity of Dionysius, “neither of which provide a vantage point on transcendence.”

Further safeguarding the Creator/creature distinction, Hart notes, “if the primary analogy is one of being, then an infinite analogical interval has been introduced between God and creatures.”

Hart suggests that without the analogia entis, revelation is impossible.  If there is no analogy or connection between God and man, then either man cannot understand God’s words (equivocity; difference) or man is God’s words (univocity; identity; the problem of Cratylus).


  1. If analogia entis implies a sacramental link between God and creation, and if Barth rejected this as the invention of Antichrist, is it no surprise that Barth (and his followers) have such an anemic view of the sacraments?
  2. There is a connection between God and the world. It is a sacramental one.  The “sign” is filled with deep meaning.  It is “thick.”
  3. Yet, the connection is not an essentialist one, which is the case with chain of being.
  4. This means human “faith,” human “reason,” and human “discourse,” all participate in God
  5. Contrary to chain of being, creation isn’t a diminution; rather, the “most high principle…is present in the very act of each moment of the particular” (247).  In other words, the “lowest” particular reflects the highest transcendence


Boersma, Hans. Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry. Baker Academic.

Hart, David Bentley.

Heavenly Participation (Boersma)

Thesis: Until the late middle ages people looked at the world as a mystery (Boersma 21). By mystery Boersma means a sacramental link between creation and God, that creation participates in God. In other words, the connection, though not identical, is real. Mystery, so Boersma reads the “Platonist-Christian synthesis” (hereafter PCs) refers to the “reality behind the appearances.”


Boersma structures his book around the (neo)Platonic movement of exitus and reditus (the departure from and return to), except exitus now refers to how the church lost the PCs and the reditus on possible steps for regaining it.

It is not Boersma’s goal to defend Platonism as such. Rather, he seeks to combat the “antiheaven rhetoric among Evangelicals” (187).

For Boersma–and for the earlier Tradition–Created realities point beyond themselves (carry extra dimension to them). A Sacramental world not only points to God but participates in him. The signum points to and participates in the res. The end of created being lies beyond itself (30).

The Fathers were able to weave a sacramental tapestry around Christ: Christ contains the heavenly and creaturely universals in which we participate. Our particular humanity depends on the participation of humanity in Christ (51).

Sadly, this garment came unwound in the late middle ages with an increasing extrincisim of the Church. Scripture and Tradition, Eucharist res and Eucharistic signum, were now be defined in opposition to one another. With Occam and Scotus the unwinding became a cutting. No longer was there a higher realm of being in which created being participated. Rather, God and man were subsumed under the generic category of being.  In practical church life it would look like this:


  • Juridicizing the Church


    • Gregorian reform
      • For earlier fathers, sacred actions are performed in the church, but everyone is subject to God. God was directly working in the sacred actions.
    • earlier theology regarded sacramental power as within the life of the church.  Now it is causally top down.
  • Discovery of Nature
    • earlier sacramental thought held a link between heaven and earth. There was the unity of the church (res) and the sacrament to which it pointed.
    • The Berengar Dialectic
      • Berengar said we spiritually participate in the res.
      • His opponents said we physically participate in the sacramentum.
      • Both sides widened the gap between heaven and earth.
  • Scripture, Church, Tradition
    • The earlier fathers said church and Scripture coinhere. They are not two separate sources of authority.
    • Dialectic of Wyclif: Catholics responded to him by pitting Church against Scripture.
  • Nature and the Supernatural
    • The Counter-Reformation introduced the notion of “pure nature,” which meant human nature before any prior movement of grace.  Human nature is walled-off.

How do we return (reditus)? Boersma examines the implications of Henri de Lubac and the Nouvelle Theologie. In their works we see a real transubstantiation, but it is when the congregation is changed into the body of Christ. This leads de Lubac to posit a threefold body: the bread, the congregation, Christ. Further, we see that sacramental time is when past, present, and future coincide (124). Chronological time thus opens up to eschatological time. Thus, “eschatological realities are able to enter into time” (125). God inserts mystery into time. Earthly events become sacraments of eschatological mysteries. Time participates in God’s eternity.


The painting, or tapestry rather, was awe-inspiring. Boersma gives a convincing picture of how Platonism can be modified to serve Christianity. One can question, of course, the finer points of his readings on Scotist, but it seems more or less accurate.