De Regno Christ (Review, Bucer)

Bucer, Martin.

de-regno

This selection of Bucer’s *De Regno Christi* is useful, if incomplete. It omits most of his exposition of the 7th Commandment. I understand why, for space reasons. The drawback is that the reader is not engaged with Bucer’s groundbreaking work on divorce and remarriage. While such a view was originally aimed at Roman Catholicism, it would be very useful reading today as some in the “Young, Restless, and Reformed Camp” are advocating a similar Romanist view (John Piper, for one). Bucer’s discussion of the Kingdom of Christ is not as polished as later discsussions. His advocating of something similar to a theonomic socialism (yes, I said those two words!) should provide interesting discussions for social reform.

One cannot help but be stirred in reading Martin Bucer’s De Regno Christi.  He takes all the beauty of Plato’s Republic, strips it of its communism and communal marriage (which are probably the same thing) and reworks it around a rich Christian legal heritage.  One notes, however, that he give the magistrate a fairly large role in guiding religion to reform the society.  Is this Erastianism?  Maybe not, for Bucer is not saying (as far as I could read) that the magistrate should appoint ministers and determine doctrine.  He does, I think, give the magistrate free rein to reform the diaconate.  That might not be a bad idea, though.  Contrary to Baptist and congregationalist thought, deacons are not ruling elders in the church.  Further, on Bucer’s gloss, the role of the diaconate overlaps within the civil sphere, in which case it does become the magistrate’s prerogative.  Bucer doesn’t explicitly make that argument, but it does appear to be the general outline of his thought.

It helps to remember that Bucer wrote this treatise for King Edward VI, an early hero of Protestantism.   Following Wyclif’s “civil dominion” tract, Bucer’s proposal can be seen, if not as an Erastian state, then at least as a “churchly state.”  Admittedly, it’s hard not to be caught up in his narrative.  Even in his communistic and unbelieving moments, few can deny the power of Plato’s Republic.  Bucer takes all those beautiful elements and transforms them.  He gives us the vision of a truly Christian society, in which mercy and justice truly meet.

Advertisements

Review: He is there and he is not silent (Schaeffer)

Schaeffer, Francis.  He is There and He is Not Silent.  Tyndale.  1979 reprint.

Image result for he is there and he is not silent

On page 1 Schaeffer defines metaphysics as “the existence of Being.”  That’s an ambiguous statement at best. Does he mean that there is an entity called Being which itself exists?  That’s not necessarily wrong, and a good Platonist would have no problem with it, but I don’t think that’s what he means.  In normal usage metaphysics means something like “the nature of reality” or the study of being.”

“An impersonal beginning leads to some sort of reductionism” (8). Schaeffer suggests that if all is bare particularity and there is no universal (or universals) to bind the particulars together, then they can’t have any significance.  I like the idea, but I think it is under-developed. He explains the idea better with pantheism. If all is essence, or one, or whatever, then there is nothing to distinguish the particulars. They don’t have any meaning. You don’t have any meaning.

Schaeffer’s argument is quite simple: you have to begin with the infinite-personal Trinity in order to have meaning.  He means something like only the Trinity, and the propositional revelation of God-in-Christ, can allow for predication between universals and particulars.  I agree. I just think he needs more than 100 pages to make the case.

He has two long chapters on epistemology.  They were surprisingly good and the astute reader can sense the Van Til. He begins, as all must, with pointing out the failures of the Greeks. Their gods were personal, but finite.  As a result sometimes the gods controlled fate; sometimes fate controlled the gods. Knowledge and morality were iffy.

Plato rightly championed universals, but where was the universal that held everything to be located?  The gods were finite and fate was impersonal.

He makes a fascinating suggestion that the Reformation’s insistence, not merely on sola scriptura, but on propositional revelation, solved the problem of nature and grace. Verbal, propositional revelation had both an infinitely personal God (universals; upper storey) that speaks to the space-time world (62).  It’s a brilliant suggestion worthy of a doctoral dissertation.

This book is much better than The God Who is There.  Schaeffer’s argument is “tighter” and he doesn’t get sidetracked on philosophical issues that are beyond his capacity.  

 

Notes on Plato’s Dialogues

I’ve reread these several times.  I am not a pure Platonist.  I do believe in universals, but I don’t think we need to get bogged down in Plato’s specifics.  In any case, did Plato believe that relations were universals?  I’m not sure, yet take the relation “north of.”  This seems to be a universal.  That’s Bertrand Russell’s example.

Symposium

Does Love have an object?  Yes. Love has to love something (200c).  Unfortunately, this implies desire, which is a lack.  Necessarily, then, Love must love beautiful things.

“justified, true belief:”  “To have a right opinion without being able to give a reason is neither to understand nor is it ignorance” (202B).

The nature of spiritual: “for all the spiritual is between divine and mortal” 202c-204c.  Love is a great spirit which has causal power. God cannot mingle directly with man but goes through the Forms.  Beauty is simple and we partake of Beauty only by participation (209c-211c). Language of ascent in 211c.  

Republic

Book 1

Thrasymachus: Justice is whatever serves the advantage of the stronger.  However, he admits that sometimes the Stronger commands the weaker to do what is not in the stronger’s advantage (e.g., when the Stronger unwittingly makes a mistake).   Socrates then asks, “What is ‘advantage?’”

The practitioner of an art/scientia never seeks the advantage simply for the sake of the art (healing is not for the sake of healing, but for the body).

Beginning of a definition of justice: a kind of wisdom or virtue (350C-352A)

Book 2

Justice belongs to the noblest class, the soul.  Justice is a form which has causal power (358b-360c).  Socrates is rebutting the counterargument that no one is just willingly, but only under compulsion.  In responding, Socrates posits several analogues (369c):

  • Man = city
  • soul = justice

Theology

God, as good, could not be the cause of all things (i.e., he could not be the cause of evil).  

God is simple and good, so he is changeless (380a-381d).  Things in the best condition are least liable to change. If something undergoes change, then it is being changed by something else (and the lesser doesn’t change the greater).  

Book III

Educating to virtue, thus censorship. A good soul by its own virtues provides a body in the best possible condition (402d-404c). The better rulers are usually older men (408c).

There is an equivalence between concord–harmony–music–training.

  • The result of this concord is a soul that is both temperate and brave (410c. passim).
  • Remember that the individual soul is an analogue to the City.  

Plato suggests a communism in regard to the training of Guardians, but we are not yet to a full communism in society (415e).

Book IV

The guardians must guard against all extremes in wealth and poverty, for these lead to idleness (422b).   They must maintain the mean between wealth and poverty.

Temperance permeates all of society.  It “brings all the strings into concord” (432a).

Moves back to a definition of justice:

  • to do one’s business and not meddle in affairs (4323-434c).
  • justice is the presupposition (precondition?) of the other Greek virtues: temperance, courage, intelligence.
  • multiplicity makes finding justice difficult.
  • justice maintains the harmony between classes.
  • We can know justice for a city by looking at a man who maintains this harmony in his soul (435a).

Anthropology

Do we learn by one faculty, feel by another, etc.?

  • Are the faculties within man simply synonymous or are they distinct?
  • They are distinct.  There is something in the soul that moves towards Logos and another that moves towards the passions (438b-439e).
  • This is similar to Freud’s “divided mind” theory.  

Plato ends Book IV with a suggestion of the 5 faculties.  However, Book V is a detour

Book V

Book V is an intricate discussion on the particulars of a philosophical city.  Such a city must be unified. Thus,

“So that city is best managed in which the greatest number say “mine” and ‘not mine’ with the same meaning about the same things” (462a-463d)

This sounds a lot like Augustine’s Discussion in Book IXX City of God.  

Opposites and One

Since beautiful and ugly are opposites, they are two.  And since they are two, each is one. Even though each of these are one, they appear as many because each shows itself everywhere in community (476a).  This sounds like Maximus’s Logos/logoi. Collectively, the forms are one but they manifest themselves as many.

Discussions of Nominalism

Is there beauty in itself, or is beauty just a name? The knower knows something, not nothing.  If he knows something, he knows something that is. You can’t  know what is not. Further, there is a state between knowledge and ignorance

knowledge = things that are ignorance = things that are not

knowledge is a faculty (Plato calls it a power)

Opinion is between the two; it partakes of both being and non-being. This the realm of Becoming.

Book VI

The “mob mentality” probably can’t separate “The Beautiful” from beautiful things (493e).

Archetype/ectype

“perfect model of the the Good, the use of which makes all just things” (505a-c).  

Arche-writing and Trace

The ideals/forms appeal to the mind (507b).  Hearing and sound inferior to seeing because they can work if the third term is absent.   The following triad

sigh—> light ←-color

The ectype is in relation to the archetype by analogy (508).  

We have noted that the forms have causal power.  Their effects are in the mind.

Hyper-ousia (509b)

The good is the cause that knowledge exists.  The Good is not a state of knowledge but something beyond it.  

Review: Gordon Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things

This book isn’t perfect but it does exhibit all of Dr Clark’s strengths as a communicator  My main problem with the book is the chapter lengths: they are excessively long. This isn’t too much of a problem, except Clark will spend 90% of the chapter debunking erroneous views, but he only gives a few pages to the biblical position, and even then it is only a summary.

Notwithstanding, there are a few areas where Clark shines, notably epistemology.  Even then, though, it is limited. We get evaluations of empiricism, skepticism, and relativism, and Clark lists all the inadequacies of these views–but there is more to epistemology than a survey of three or four options.  The book doesn’t have much on belief-formation, justification of knowledge, etc. Nonetheless, Clark hints towards a theistic summary (which would be later fine-tuned by Carl F Henry).

The Philosophy of Politics

What is the function of government?  Clark examines numerous ethical theories (Bentham, Aristotle, Plato) and notes that the definition of good [for government] depends on one’s nature of man (113).

A problem with Rousseau: “He seems to be torn between an infallible general will that cannot express itself and an expressed majority vote that is not infallible…” (121).

Theistic view:  state has limited power (136).  God is the source of all rights.

Funny quote: “But if men are essentially good, how is it that when they pass from psychology or theology to politics only the poor remain good and the wealthy become evil?   [The demand] for more government seems to imply that not only are poor people good, but politicians are even better” (139).

“The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thought of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind.  Since, further, God’s mind is God, we may legitimately borrow the figurative language, if not the precise meaning, of the mystics and say, we have a vision of God” (321).

This is good.  And I think Clark was correct over Van Til on this point.  This also nicely sidesteps the Eastern Orthodox critique that the West relies on created grace and avoids any direct contact with God.  If Clark’s analysis holds, however, this isn’t true.

Chain of Being (Review)

Arthur Lovejoy analyzes a powerful if flawed concept’s “control” over Western mind since Plato. The chain of being is the continuum of “substance/essence/stuff” beginning with God (or Plato’s Good) and ending with either inorganic life or nothingness itself. The chain of being hinges around three concepts: plenitude, continuity, and gradation.

chain-of-being-multicolor
(photo courtesy of Christianciv.com)

Summary of the Idea

At the top of the chain is pure Being. At the bottom is pure nothingness. Further, Good is coterminous with Being. Thirdly, good is self-diffusive. So far this isn’t too bad. It becomes tricky when it becomes “ontologized.” a) the line between Creator and creature is fuzzy; b) if something is lower on the chain, is it less good? What’s the difference between less good and bad?

If there is an infinite distance between God and not-God, and all of this is placed on a “scale” or chain, then is there not an infinite distance between each link in the scale? This was Dr Samuel Johnson’s critique, and it highlighted the problem of the chain of being: reality had to be static and exist all at once. This called creation into question, since if the Good is necessarily self-diffusive, then it had to diffuse into creation. God had no freedom to do otherwise. Ironically, this Idea also called evolution into question: if there is an infinite distance between the links, then there is no changing from one link to another.

Analysis

This book’s value lies in its being a prime example of clear, penetrating thinking. In each chapter Lovejoy presents a new difficulty with the idea of a chain of being and the force is cumulative. The chain functions as a snapshot of the God-world relationship. Since God is perfect, and the chain is a diffusion of his goodness, and since God is eternally perfect, then we must see this eternal perfection. If not, we have to find “the missing link” (and is not evolution a mere temporalizing of the chain?)

Review of Reformation Scholasticism (Dooyeweerd)

Identifying this book is tricky.  I am reviewing Herman Dooyeweerd’s Reformation and Scholasticism volume 1.   Paideia Press, an otherwise outstanding publisher, has released what appears to be several volumes under similar titles.  This volume only covers up to Aristotle (but not Aristotle).  It is Works Series 5/1.

Herman Dooyeweerd identifies four religious ground-motives in Western thought. These aren’t just “worldviews.” They go much deeper than that and control the thought-formations in a pre-conscious way.

1. Form-Matter of Greeks
2. Creation-Fall-Recreation of Scripture
3. Nature-Grace of Western Medievalism
4. Nature-Freedom of Modernity

1, 3, and 4 are dialectical and are torn by an inner dualism (Dooyeweerd 3).

Greek Form-Matter

This ground-motive is torn between earlier nature-religions (pre-Homer) which posited a divine, eternally-flowing stream of life (5-6). It is a psychic fluid which technically isn’t material, yet it is bound to material life and is conceived materially.

The best way to review this book is to highlight a number of “pressure points” within the Greek ground-motive.

Pressure Point #1: What is the soul made of?

The Socratic “Idea” is the life-giving principle, so it is necessarily related to the sensible cosmos; yet it is exalted above the matter principle of flux (137). For Plato Like must be known by Like–so the thinking soul must share in the immobility of the eide, and even to the eidos of “life in itself.” Why is this a problem? This would make the soul the world of ideas.

But if the soul is furthered pursued on these lines, then it is “deprived of the anima rationalis of all vitality, rendering it completely inert” (154). But if the soul contains the principle of motion, is this not a move backwards towards the Elatic school and its ever-flowing physis?

The nous is only the origin of the pure form, not of the chaotic elements in matter, or the chaotic motions. Thus, if the soul is the source of all motion in the cosmos (or in the microcosmos), then its simplicity is under tension.

Plato alleviates this problem with a tripartite division of the soul.

Pressure Point #2: Forever Apart?

Dooyeweerd notes that the ontic realm of the Forms “can never be joined logically to matter…an eidos of hule is inherently contradictory” (192). He points out that if motion and rest can both be applied to Being, then there is nothing to distinguish it from temporal reality. We aren’t quite at Plato’s chorismos (sharp division) between the eternal and sensible worlds, but we are getting there.

Pressure Point #3: Is Weakness Evil?

In the Timeaus Plato notes that faulty conditions of the body give rise to bad decisions (Tim. 86D). In Christian terms, you sin because you are finite and created. Something just seems wrong about this. Given a Platonic anthropology, the rational part of the Soul is good but the rest of the body is subject to Ananke. Thus, man is both rational and irrational (Dooyeweerd 310).

Conclusion

There is no denying the book’s value in its giving a minute and precise analysis of pre-Aristotelian philosophy, yet that might also be its problem. Dooyeweerd’s “Ground-Motive” schema is accurate and with it we agree 100%. And I think Dooyeweerd is successful in identifying the problems in pre-Aristotelian philosophy. Nonetheless, one often loses the forest for the trees. It is easy to get lost in the analysis and it isn’t always clear when Dooyeweerd is bringing you back to the larger picture. Yet, this book is certainly valuable for its deconstruction of Greek thought and its indirect establishing the ground for the Creation-Fall-Redemption Ground motive.

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).