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Review of Brian E. Daley’s God Visible: Patristic Christology Reconsidered

By Adam Renberg, PhD Candidate in Historical Theology at the University of St. Andrews


Daley, Brian E. God Visible: Patristic Christology Reconsidered (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

Brian Daley’s recent book, God Visible: Patristic Christology Reconsidered, seeks to shift how Christology is approached by scholars studying the early church. Or, more specifically, to de-center the Council of Chalcedon as the lens in which Christology is viewed, to allow for more space for differing perspectives and motivations in this period. He seeks “to look at the development of the classical Christology of the early Church apart from the lens of the Chalcedonian definition, as well as through it: to attempt to identify what the major patristic writers themselves, from the second century on, thought most important about the person and identity of Christ, what they chose to emphasize rhetorically and conceptually.” (24) For Daley, this is primarily a critique of Aloys Grillmeier’s “Word-flesh” and “Word human-being” models, which is guided and interpreted, according to Daley, by western scholastic dogma. Thus, his survey presents a new narrative of patristic Christology, one not predicated on a specific conception of Christ, but motivated by the plurality of perspectives emphasized in works dwelling on Christ incarnate.

Daley begins his text in Ch. 1 with a brief sketch of post-WWII patristic studies, while simultaneously critiquing their underlying assumptions—thus marking out the purpose and proposal for his project. His patristic research begins in Ch. 2 with some of our earlier Christian writers: The Odes of Solomon, Ignatius of Antioch, The Ascension of Isaiah, Melito of Sardis, and Justin Martyr. He draws out various common Christological threads, including a high Christology which emphasizes the prophetic fulfillment of Christ from the OT, the centrality of the cross, and the importance of Christ in the Eucharist. In Ch. 3, Daley surveys the theology of Irenaeus and Origen, arguing they both hold to a ‘“Christology of divine epiphany’—or, put more clumsily but perhaps more clearly, a ‘Christology of the saving self- manifestation of God the Word.’ In this, Daley demonstrates their use and prioritization of the whole biblical narrative, over (but not necessarily against) philosophical and ontological reflection on Christ.

Moving into the fourth century, Daley begins evaluating the Christology of different figures within broader theological controversies. The first, in Ch. 4, is the Arian controversy, where he discusses the ‘mediatorial Christology’ of Arius, Marcellus, Eusebius, and Athanasius. Daley writes, “It is really a controversy about mediation: about the way in which the Scriptural God, as the supreme and infinite being, the source of all, is related to the world Christians confess he has created and redeemed through Christ.” Continuing to the theological debate between Apollinarius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, in Ch. 5, he identifies how these writers begin to emphasize Christ’s transformation power in becoming man. Taking a ‘break’ from figures bound in Christological controversy, Daley discusses the Christology of Augustine of Hippo—which has previously been deemed as unremarkable. Daley, in direct opposition to this assessment, argues that Augustine views Christ as the ‘way’ in which one is able to understand divine wisdom—an eschatological vision of happiness through contemplation of the divine and human (historical) Christ. Thus, Christology is not a tangential doctrine for the church doctor, but is central to Augustine’s theological vision. In Ch. 7, Daley finally makes his way to the council which has been pivotal to so many: Chalcedon. He discusses the different schools of theology, of Antioch and Alexandria, and the ‘students’ therein: Diodore, Theodore, Nestorius, Theodoret, and Cyril. The great merit to this chapter is his charitable attitude to each of the figures (as in the whole work) and his ability to parse out their respective emphases on the natures of Christ (the former being the ‘otherness’ of God, the latter being the divine ‘involvement’ in human life), which led to the Nestorian controversy and their disagreement.

In the last several chapters, Daley continues to discuss Christological controversies after Chalcedon, reaffirming his conviction that Chalcedon is not the ‘end’ of Christology. Ch. 8 parses out the ‘relationship’ Christology theology of Leontius of Byzantium, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus, who had “a new sense of the paradigmatic importance simply of the person of Christ, in its very structure, for revealing God’s way of saving and transforming humanity—for attaining the goal of creation itself.” (202-3) This included increased attention to philosophical considerations surrounding the functions and parameters for the natures of Christ. In Ch. 9, Daley surveys the iconoclastic controversy, spending less time with individual figures and allows the history of the controversy to drive his narrative. Here, he argues that Christology is the primary concern. He writes, “God, in a new way, had become visible, and that visibility engaged the heart as well as the senses.” For Daley, the nature of icons is predicated on our understanding of Christ. Finally, in his last chapter, he concludes with six general insights into patristic theology from the text and from a lifetime of research. These insights are exceptionally valuable to students and researchers alike.

God Visible: Patristic Christology Reconsidered is an insightful survey and a significant addition to the field but falls victim to the plight of many surveys: it does not dwell long enough on specific figures (or at least, on the specific aspects of these writers) and their text to support many of his claims or to add much to their fields at large, by way of analysis. This is especially clear in his second chapter, where some of his claims about the guiding threads in second century Christology are not substantiated or clear from the texts given. Further, some of the research is not up to date, such as the work on Eusebius and the Arian Controversy, and presents slightly archaic ways of categorizing figures and theological trends—such as the ‘Antiochene’ and ‘Alexandrian’ schools of theology. But, by shifting our lens off of Chalcedon, Daley allows us to better understand and assess Christology before and after the fifth century.

Brian Daley’s research has added many tremendous contributions for the field of patristics—this book is no different. In some regards, it is the culmination of a long and fruitful research career in theology and patristic studies. It is impressive in its breadth and knowledge, drawing conclusions from a lifetime of reading the Fathers. But it is perhaps better viewed as the summation of his teaching career, at Weston School of Theology and Notre Dame. No, it is not as detailed and up to date as many scholars (including this one) would hope, but it does make patristic Christology accessible to a wide audience and captures what is at stake in the field: the incarnate Christ, for the Fathers (as it should be for the modern church), is central to Christian faith. “The saving reality of Christ is God made present in our midst: ‘God with us.’ It is God visible—our brother.” (280) In this sense, Daley has done a great service to patristic scholars—he has made patristic Christology visible.


Review of Candida R. Moss’s Divine Bodies: Resurrecting Perfection in the New Testament and Early Christianity’

By Ethan Johnson, PhD candidate in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews


Moss, Candida R. Divine Bodies: Resurrecting Perfection in the New Testament and Early Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019.

Although the resurrection of the dead is a central doctrine in Christianity, there remain numerous questions about the nature of the resurrected body and how it will relate to one’s earthly body. What moment of life will be chosen as the template for the resurrected body? Do identity markers such as gender, race, or disability carry over into the resurrected body? Will the various, individual parts of the resurrected body retain their earthly functions? While Christians have generally engaged Scripture when discussing these questions, there has been less attention given to the ways in which one’s own social and cultural location affects the reading of biblical texts about the resurrection. As a result, Christians can develop images of the resurrected body that are “neither Paul’s nor Luke’s, but wholly and unmistakably our own” (14). In Divine Bodies, Candida Moss invites her readers to take a fresh look at select New Testament passages and explore the ways in which New Testament writers addressed their anxieties about identity, integrity, functionality, and aesthetics in the resurrection.

In the first chapter, Moss considers the relationship between the body and identity, with particular attention to the resurrected body of Jesus in John 20. She contends that Jesus’ wounds should be not be read as open lesions, but as partially healed scars. Her argument relies on the grammar of the Greek eis, the range of meanings available for typos, and Greco-Roman medical writings. After establishing the plausibility of reading Jesus’s wounds as scars, she notes that this reading could help us to see how John’s presentation of Jesus’s body serves to highlight his identification, his honour, and the reality of his resurrection. Moreover, John’s use of scars demonstrates how “imperfections” in the body can be transfigured without being obliterated.

In chapter 2, Moss argues that Mark 9:47–48 insists on “resurrecting deformity” (45). Many scholars have read this passage as a metaphor for the seriousness of sin and have argued that amputation served as a punishment in the ancient world. Challenging punitive readings of this text, Moss argues, based on interaction with a sizable cross-section of Greco-Roman literature, that amputation in the ancient world would more probably be viewed as heroic or therapeutic rather than punitive. Mark may have drawn on this therapeutic sense in order to subvert the notion that able bodies were virtuous bodies.

In chapter 3, Moss tackles questions of functionality in the resurrected body. She begins with Mark 12:19–23 and the assertion that there will be no marriage in heaven, and then examines the ways in which 2nd and 3rd century theologians resolved tensions related to non-functioning genitals. Her study reveals how 2nd and 3rd century philosophical concerns about the suitability of a non-functioning body part in an ideal, resurrected body, affected readings of those texts. While her points are well-taken, I did find it odd to devote so much time to the 2nd century and so little time to the social world of the New Testament writers themselves.

In the fourth chapter, Moss explores the aesthetics of the resurrected body, and highlights ways in which discussions of the idealized heavenly body can reinforce culturally conditioned views of beauty and support social hierarchies. More specifically, Moss examines the white robes of Rev 7 and notes that, while white robes can signify group membership or carry religious meanings, in the ancient world they could also display wealth and privilege. The blood of the Lamb in Rev 7:14 democratizes access to the privileged group by allowing the downtrodden to acquire white robes of status and wealth, but, at the same time, this passage continues to propagate social markers even as it makes them available to a disenfranchised group.

In her conclusion, Moss turns her attention to her modern audience and points out that we also have culturally conditioned concepts of the body, which shape our interpretation of biblical texts. Although modern, western societies have recently shifted towards a more self-consciously “diverse” view of the ideal body, Moss rightly notes how “In our clean, shiny world some forms of embodiment are pushed to the side” (116). In modern visions of resurrection, we find particularly that disability and poverty tend to be excluded. Moss does not attempt to resolve this tension, but by raising it clearly into our view, she helpfully exposes a blind spot in our own thinking.

Moss’s book raises valuable questions and provides insightful interpretations of well-known biblical passages. Her learning is clearly wide and her study is self-reflective. There were, of course, several places where I had minor quibbles with the argument. For example, while I can accept that Mark 9:47–48 presents amputation as therapeutic rather than punitive, it was never quite clear how such a reading would also necessitate it being “literal.” In chapter 4, I was sometimes unsure whether Moss was pointing out how white robes function in Revelation, or making an evaluative statement about whether the author accomplished his rhetorical goal by using that image. At the same time, I appreciated Moss’s work to read against the grain and her commitment to bringing her insights to life for her modern readers. Her warning that we too, for our all our attempts to be inclusive, have our own blind spots and prejudices related to the body, is timely and welcome.



Research Grant for “New Directions in Philosophical Theology”

Professor Judith Wolfe has received a £174,000 ($230,000) grant from the Templeton Religion Trust to lead a two-year research project entitled “New Directions in Philosophical Theology.”

The aim of the project is to lay the groundwork for a field-shaping programme of research in philosophical theology, defined as a theology resourced by methods and insights from within systematic theology and continental philosophy. It plans to do so (a) by building relationships with theological centres and outstanding individual researchers that already engage continental philosophy constructively for theological advancement, and (b) by formulating a shared understanding of the tasks and questions that should be prioritized over the subsequent c. five years in the field of philosophical theology.

The project will be based here at St Andrews, and draw on the School of Divinity’s rich expertise in systematic theology and continental philosophy, as well as its flourishing work in the neighbouring field of analytic theology.

If you are with an institution that works in the area outlined above, and would like to be involved, please reach out to Professor Wolfe.

The University of St Andrews is now hiring a two-year research fellow to work with this project from Sept 2019 to Aug 2021. Please consider or pass on the advertisement to potential candidates.



original post found here

St Andrews Encyclopaedia of Theology project: an interview with Brendan Wolfe

The Roundel caught up by e-mail with Brendan Wolfe, Principal Research Fellow at St Mary’s and the Managing Editor the St Andrews Encyclopaedia of Theology project.

The Roundel:  Thank you for your time.  Can you give us the outlines of this significant project?

Wolfe: It is a pleasure to talk with you.  The project is a year-long pump-priming endeavour, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.  We are laying the groundwork for a free-to-access, online Encyclopaedia of Theology, with comprehensive articles written by leading theologians from across the world.

The Roundel:  Who is working with you on this project?

Wolfe: Steve Holmes and I are the co-investigators, with him taking the role of Chair of the Editorial Advisory Board.  At St Mary’s, Oliver Langworthy is working with us as an administrative editor, while Christoph Schwöbel, Alan Torrance, Andrew Torrance, Judith Wolfe, and Tom Wright are all Editorial Advisory Board members.  They are joined by John Behr (St Vladimir’s), Sarah Coakley (Cambridge), Matthew Levering (Mundelein), Alister McGrath (Oxford), and Kevin Vanhoozer (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) in providing editorial advice.

The Roundel:  You have set yourselves an enormous task.  What inspired it?

Wolfe: Most academic theologians will be familiar with (and perhaps slightly envious of) the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which is one of our sister-discipline’s greatest achievements in modern times.  The comprehensiveness, influence, and prestige of the SEP represent the highest aspirations of our project.  Of course, theology differs from philosophy in our day in certain systematic ways, and so our approach will not be identical to the SEP’s.

Dr. Roy Gane from Andrews University presents on sacrifice in the Old Testament. Also present are Brendan Wolfe, graduate student Justin Duff, and St. Mary’s own Dr. Madhavi Nevader

The Roundel:   Can you tell us more about your approach?

Wolfe: In fine, while planning for compendiousness, we are putting theological topics into new conversations, by creating ‘clusters’ whose authors are encouraged to read and consider each other’s work.  For example, our first cluster is on ‘sacrifice’, and its initial articles will focus on a) the sacrificial system outlined in the Pentateuch, b) the concepts of sacrifice in the New Testament, c) the senses in which the Lord’s Supper may be seen as sacrificial, and d) the sacrificial work of Christ.  Each of these would have its place in any comprehensive treatment (in Old Testament, New Testament, sacramentology, and soteriology); our innovation has been to bring them together for mutual enrichment.

The Roundel:  Will only Christian theology be included?

Wolfe:  No.  In the full version of the Encyclopaedia, other religions will also be strongly represented.  The important thing is that they are included on their own terms, however, and not cut to the schematics of Christian theology.  To that end, we plan to establish the Encyclopaedia using Christian academic theology, before adding new, expert editors and expanding to systematic treatment of the other religions.  We’ll include some articles on Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist topics in the early stages as well, but it will be a while before that material can be developed according to its own internal logic.

The Roundel:  The potential benefits of the approaches you’ve mentioned are considerable, which leads to my next question:  for whom is the Encyclopaedia intended?

Wolfe:  Our Authors’ Guide says that articles should be written with five audiences and purposes in mind.  These are advanced undergraduates, to use as significant sources; teachers of undergraduates, especially in the developing world, to develop curricula; postgraduates and established scholars in theology to use as introductions to a subject, especially suggesting further reading; scholars in adjacent disciplines (history, philosophy, etc) to come up to speed on theological topics; and finally clergy and laypeople to gain an understanding of the state of academic theology.

The Roundel:  What more can you tell us about the relevance of the developing world?

Wolfe:  Service to the developing world has been one of the most powerful motivations for undertaking this project, both for St Mary’s and for the John Templeton Foundation.  There are hundreds of institutions providing theological education across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the rest of the developing world whose libraries are regrettably meagre and where journal subscriptions are unaffordable.  The Encyclopaedia will provide the best of modern academic theology at no cost to all those institutions at once.  Our website is being engineered with developing-world usage patterns in mind.  Furthermore, we plan to partner with exemplary institutions in different regions to work together towards maximally useful material.

The Roundel:  What are the remaining steps in getting this project off the ground?

Wolfe:  As noted above, we’re currently in the initial phase.  This July, we’ll submit a grant application to the John Templeton Foundation which would secure the project for the next five years.  Over the summer and early autumn, while we work with JTF at refining our plans and informing their decision, we’ll also keep building our network of planned subject editors, authors, and articles.  Assuming we get good news from JTF, in December we’ll begin the main phase of work, and will be off to the races.

The Roundel:  When will we see the first fruits of your work?

Wolfe:  While our URL,, currently contains only a holding page, the website is nearly complete.  We plan to post the first articles from the sacrifice cluster within the next two months.  Of course, those resident in St Andrews can attend our author presentations, of which one, by Prof. Roy Gane of Andrews University, has already taken place.  We’re scheduled to hear in the next month from two more authors; the details are circulated in the usual ways.



A Review of Rowan Williams’ Christ the Heart of Creation

By Patrick McGlinchey, PhD Candidate in Systematic Theology at St. Mary’s


Christ the Heart of Creation by Rowan Williams (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018) xvi + 304 pp.

What does it mean to be a creature in flesh and time? What does it mean for God in Christ to become a creature? The puzzle at the centre of Christ the Heart of Creation is the relationship between the finite and the infinite. If God is merely a being among others, then the finite and infinite collapse into identity. Yet, if God is purely ‘other’ to creation, how can God become incarnate? For Williams, the enigma is finally elucidated in the non-competitive (hypostatic) union of eternal Logos and human individual in Jesus Christ, in whom the finite entirely and asymmetrically depends on the infinite, while nevertheless retaining its own gifted integrity. The text itself – an expansion of Rowan Williams’s 2016 Hulsean lectures – reaches us after his extended reflections on the analogical nature of Divine communication in his 2013 Gifford lectures (later published as The Edge of Words) which climaxed in an account of the paradoxical revelation of Christ in silence.

At one level, we are given a magisterial (if deliberately abridged) history of the development of the doctrine of Christ replete with a full repertoire of technical distinctions (from tropos and logos to suppositum and aliquid), but at another more revealing level, the whole enterprise is performed with our own finitude and relation to God in mind. An evidential approach to the NT is sidestepped with Kierkegaardian reserve, not discounting the centrality of historicity, but the myth of access to the neutral un-narrated facts of Jesus’s Incarnate life. Likewise, the ‘onto-theological’ temptation of enclosing God within conceptual or essentialist categories is averted by close attention to the analogical fluidity and irony of theological language. As ever, Williams follows Wittgenstein’s maxim that ‘difficulty is a condition of truthfulness’ and Evagrius’s rule that theology is prayer, and prayer theology. Yet the urgency of metaphysical explication is embraced against the linguistic insularity of the Yale School. What emerges is a conciliatory act of remembering the diverse discourses and experiences of the Christian past that communicate the ‘mutual illumination’ of Christ and creation (xiii). The narrative begins in the Middle (Ages) with Aquinas and zig-zags back to NT origins, Conciliar grammars and Byzantine elaborations in part one; and forwards to the loss and (partial) recovery of the Medieval synthesis in Calvin and Bonhoeffer in part two. Along the road irenic affinities multiply between the thinking and imagining of the Catholic, Eastern and Reformed branches of the Church. Indeed, the inseparability of Christ and the Church is focal for Williams’s account, from the Pauline rendition of Christ’s headship to the ‘totus Christus’ of Augustine to the principle of Stellvertetung in Bonhoeffer of acting in place of Christ.

The tantalising conclusion of this act of remembering is a depth recognition, that the tensions between the history of Israel and the Church, the old and new covenants, theological discourse and pagan philosophy, faith and reason are precisely the lineaments of an analogical vision of God in and beyond creation which is at the same time an environment to inhabit, air for the Christian (communion) to breathe. As Williams indicates, this is a (re)turn to the analogia entis of Jesuit theologian Erich Przywara. But with a twist. If the analogy of being between God and creatures was perceived to be the fundamental denkform (thought form) of Catholicism in the early 20th century, and the dialectical denkform of Calvin, Luther, and Barth its antagonist, Williams’s rendition of the analogia entis places the dialectical moment within the analogical interval itself. Thus, the element of negation that underlies the analogy between God and creatures (the maior dissimilitudo of the IV Lateran Council) is interpreted as a principle of dialectic or difference (a reading recently echoed by John Betz), with vital implications for what is remembered and non-identically repeated from the Christian past. In addition to the usual suspects of Maximus the Confessor, Augustine and Aquinas, Williams draws on more dialectical and paradoxical strains of Christian thought and experience conventionally regarded as remote to the analogical mainstream in his distinctive style of ressourcement. Consider for example the retrieval of a Catholic Calvin, a Lutheran Catholic Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard in the text at hand, or, more tellingly, Williams’s prior engagements with Hegel, the Carmelites or Simone Weil.

A stark question that the corpus of Rowan Williams poses to analogical theologians operating in the wake of Erich Przywara (a recent and important text on Przywara singles out William Desmond, John Milbank, Cyril O’Regan and David Bentley Hart in this regard), is whether the idealising emphasis on iconicity, communion and plenitude neglects the apophatic, dialectical and cruciform dimension of Christian thought and prayer across the Biblical, patristic, medieval, modern and post-modern periods. The future of Christology for Williams must involve the creative encounter with the Christian past, but a past of both crucifixion and resurrection, kenosis and plerosis, seen through the hybrid denkform of dialectical analogy.



The Seventh Art: Considering Film as Theology

by Joel Mayward, PhD Candidate in St. Mary’s ITIA

In Joel and Ethan Coen’s film Hail, Caesar! (2016), a hilarious scene unfolds around a boardroom table at a fictional 1950s Hollywood film studio. Producer and “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has invited four clergy from different traditions to offer input on the studio’s upcoming biblical epic, a prestigious tale of the Christ in the vein of Ben-Hur. As Mannix declares that this “swell” adaptation might be the audience’s primary reference point for the Christ narrative, he entreats upon the clergy: “I want to know if the theological elements of the story are up to snuff,” whether this cinematic portrayal of Jesus Christ will “cut the mustard.”

The satirical scene echoes a longstanding question in theology and biblical studies: can film truly do theology, not merely depict it? As both a theologian and a film critic, I am inclined to argue in the affirmative, yet I imagine my systematic and historical theology colleagues may have some doubts as to whether there is much of a link between the history of cinema and theology (there is!) or if film theory and criticism has anything distinct to offer theology (it does!). So, I want to trace the historical origins of the question, as well as explore postures of dialogue between theology and film, ultimately suggesting a sort of cinematic theology.

A Brief History of Film and Theology

The dynamic relationship between film and theology has existed since the medium’s inception. In Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (Great Art of Shadow and Light) from 1646, Jesuit monk Athanasius Kircher describes his “magic lantern,” an apparatus utilizing mirrors and a light source to project images on a monastery wall or onto billows of smoke. This precursor to cinema, which included Kircher conjuring up visions of angels and demons, nearly got him killed as a heretic. Yet this connection between clergy and cinema continued in 1887 with American Episcopal rector Hannibal Goodwin’s patent of a celluloid roller film, later to be used in Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope; Goodwin posthumously won a huge lawsuit against the Eastman Kodak company for his patent of celluloid film. Continue reading

More Poetry and Literature, Please. A Brief Reflection on the Rilke and Eliot Symposium

Today, March 21st, is World Poetry Day, which is really just an excuse to offer a brief reflection on the Rilke and Eliot symposium held at St. Mary’s earlier this month. St. Mary’s hosted a number of scholars to discuss  Rilke’s Duino Eligies and Eliot’s Four Quartets with intentionally theological and philosophical lenses. Alongside organizers Judith Wolfe and Thomas Pfau were Malcolm Guite, Kevin Hart, David Wellbery, and Rowan Williams, as well as St. Mary’s own Christoph Schwöbel and Gavin Hopps. The discussions from these scholars were enlightening and the spirit of the poets seemed to be conjured in every session. The event was as affective as it was enlightening.

A comment was made in an early session about theology’s bad habit of conscripting poetry into a theological way of thinking without substantive references to the text; a pithy quote from the likes of Virgil, Dante, or Hopkins can easily affirm an essential point, but rarely represents a real engagement with the poem or its author. What has reverberated in my mind since the event is learning to take seriously poets and poetry as distinct modes of theological and philosophical inquiry. Our horizons are broadened by reading poetic sources; poetry should be part of the multiplicity of methods that reveals truth, especially theological truth!

Considering poetry’s place of prominence in the theological tradition and in Scripture, it’s odd that poets rarely make an appearance on a syllabus. If poetry offers its own distinctively complex mode of inquiry into theological and philosophical ideas, then scholars (and aspiring scholars) should be intentional in bringing these sources into the larger theological conversations. Thus, allow me to offer a small reading list of books that exhibit what theology looks like when its steeped in poetry and literature:

Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love , by Rowan Williams

Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination, by Malcolm Guite

Poetry and Revelation: For a Phenomenology of Religious Poetry, by Kevin Hart

Theo-Poetics: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Risk of Art and Being, by Anne M. Carpenter

Beginning with the Word, by Roger Lundin


A Theology of Literature: The Bible as Revelation in the Tradition of the Humanities, by William Franke







The theologians, You and I

By Dr. Oliver Langworthy, Associate Lecturer in Patristics, St. Mary’s


I recently published on the subject of how Gregory Nazianzus received the title of the Theologian. The article was awarded the Eusebius Essay Prize from the Journal of Ecclesiastical Theology (available here). While my interest in that article was on the historical attribution of the title of ‘the Theologian’ to a specific figure, my research made me pensive about what a theologian is and who might reasonably be called one today.

Is someone a theologian simply because they study theology? The Oxford English Dictionary does not clarify this: “A person who engages or is an expert in theology.” At what level of engagement is one reasonably identified as a theologian then? Most undergraduates who study theology in the United Kingdom don’t self-identify as such. Few enough postgraduates do so either. When one graduates from a doctoral programme studying theology or biblical studies, one is, at the very least, a doctor. Depending on the institution this might even be a ThD rather than a PhD, but is even a doctor of theology necessarily the same as a theologian? I tend to think not. It isn’t something granted by an institution but instead independent of formal training. Why not simply look to contemporary theologians and use them as a guide? A glance at Wikipedia’s “List of Christian Theologians” article yields a list populated by more than a few people who never called themselves theologians however much they engaged in theology.

Part of the problem is that ‘theologian’ is not a title of Christian invention. In Eusebius of Caesarea’s Preparation for the Gospel he identifies the figures of Orpheus, Musaeus, and Linus as the oldest Greek theologians. Eusebius elsewhere even makes mention of a figure called Seleucis the Theologian, a figure roughly dated to the first century AD who received his title for his books on the gods. If one asked Augustine, he might reject the idea of Christian theologians altogether. In his City of God, Augustine engaged with Varro’s tripartite division of theology into mythic, civil, and natural. While he permits that the natural theology of the philosophers can, in some cases, approach near the truth revealed in Christian Scripture they do not achieve it. They, Augustine argued, remain bound to the concept of sacrifice to multiple deities. This faint praise does not extend to mythic and civil theology, which he closely links and castigates for their shallowness and obeisance to the fantastic gods. Gregory of Nazianzus had plenty of his own scorn for, especially, mythic theologians. Writing against the Emperor Julian in his fourth oration he said that: ‘[F]able is the resource not of persons confident in their cause, but of those giving it up: but if these tales be fictions – in the first place let them produce us their undisguised theologians, in order that we may have to deal with them.’

This is not to say that Christians were averse to identifying their own theologians. In arguing for the divinity of the Spirit in his fifth theological oration, Gregory identified the most archetypal of Christian theologians: ‘For, tell me, what position will you assign to that which proceeds, which has started up between the two terms of your division, and is introduced by a better theologian than you, our saviour himself?’ Clement of Alexandria, in the first chapter of the Stromata, wrote that, ‘This Moses was a theologian and prophet, and as some say, an interpreter of sacred laws.’ Athanasius of Alexandria, in his Against the heathens identified the apostle John as a theologian. The company of those identified as theologians by the Fathers is therefore a fairly rarefied one: Moses, John, and Jesus. What about those of us who are not patriarchs, apostles, or the son of God, but still think to call ourselves theologians?

Evagrius of Pontus’ Chapters on Prayer provides a starting point: ‘If you are a theologian, you will pray truly and if you pray truly, you are a theologian.’ As this is very nearly a koan it benefits from some reflection.

Continue reading

Posing a Question: On Analytic Theology and the Transcendentals

By Euan Grant, Gifford Research Fellow and PhD Candidate at St. Mary’s College


At a party a couple of weeks ago, I overheard one philosopher of my acquaintance say to another, with some excitement, ‘I’ve found a continental philosopher, but he’s enlightened – he can talk analytic.’ I bustled off after these two, and the young man in question turned out not to be a philosopher at all but a student of theology, though in what one might call a cultural-critical mould. Think Charles Taylor and Alistair MacIntyre or, my suggestions to him for further reading, John Milbank and Cyril O’Regan. The conversation was spirited (in more than one sense), but tended to break down over a fundamental disagreement about what the point of ‘philosophy’ actually was. I spent a later part of the evening arguing with one of the analytic philosophers about the cogency of the convertibility of the transcendentals: the claim of the metaphysical identity of goodness, truth, and being.

This Friday, at the equally-exciting weekly Logos seminar, St Mary’s very own Kevin Nordby suggested to me, in a conversation over the suggestion that, as uncreated, God would not be directly perceptible in any created experience, that some sectors of analytic philosophy of religion tend towards a deliberate modesty in its understanding of God. This would lead to the sort of circumspection by which, before asking about perception or experience of God, one would have to ask about the possibility of there being a deity or deities at all.

Naturally analytic theology is not quite so circumspect, and we hear arguments reasonably often which concern the relatively developed idea of God called ‘classical theism’, a term which is somewhat variable in content, but would almost universally taken to imply claims that God is a perfect being; the triple-O of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence; and possibly a strong claim about divine simplicity to distinguish this as specifically classical theism, over against some suggested analytic reform.

It occurred to me, as these two conversations came together in my head, that my sense of classical theism, of the God of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, to make no grander claims, owes much more to the convertibility of the transcendentals than to the idea of ‘a deity’, or indeed, of a perfect being. God was not simply some existing thing of which some qualities might be truly predicated, even infinite or perfect qualities such as omnipotence and omniscience, but, as in Aquinas, being itself in which all other beings participate. Not simply truly infinite, but, as for Anselm, the truth itself by which all other truths are true. Not simply good, but, as for Augustine, the Good in person.

These identifications are all, of course, aspects of the theological tradition rather than, let’s say, the sort of direct assertions which one might find in the Bible and interpret by means of the methods of a New Testament scholar.  They are, furthermore, distinctly metaphysical claims, deeply embedded in the Platonic and Neoplatonic heritage of late antiquity and the Western Christian middle ages, and so we might think of them as the artifacts of a particular culture of reception, not necessary ingredients in the articulation of Christian truth. Certainly, some analytic approaches to classical theism, which sometimes seems to be made up of much less fulsome assertions than these, seems to suggest as much.

And yet, I would suggest both that these sorts of claims have obviously beneficial results for Christian theologians, and the metaphysics which underlies the convertibility of the transcendentals (and their identity with the God of the Bible, i.e., the Holy Trinity) provides a clear context of coherence and reasonability for the idea that the Bible, and the Lord, reveal the one, true God, beside whom there is no other.

To say that God is ‘the Good’, for example, that it is with reference to God that all things are good or otherwise, undermines the status of ‘Euthyphro problems’ arising from the limitation and anthropomorphism of a ‘merely personal’ God legislating by will or fiat. Equally, to say that God is not merely necessary over against possible or contingent beings, but that God founds the whole logical and ontological space of possibility closes off the suggestion that there are some things – logical possibilities, or perhaps Platonic numbers – which are neither God nor creatures. It affirms that God alone is creator and Lord, subject to no limitation but the divine being. If these obvious claims are not explicitly Christian, they at least cohere with the claim that Jesus Christ is final and definitive, the one Lord whom we cannot surpass.

Indeed, my sense is that this context of metaphysical ultimacy gives us reason for our interest in the question of God and revelation in Christ. It is because they are also questions about the good itself, about being, about truth, even about beauty, that questions about ‘whether there could be deity’ are of interest in a sense stronger than mere meta-cosmological curiosity. It provides a frame in which the ineliminable historicity of the Christian revelation, the story of God with Israel culminating in Jesus Christ, God dwelling on Earth, is of clear relevance not only to its own time, but to us and to all times past and future, founded ultimately and definitively in one and the same God.

My question, then, and my reason for writing this post in the first place, is to ask our analytic theologians what they make of this tradition. Is there a future for the convertibility of the transcendentals? Is this the sort of thing that the analytic method with its flair for specificity and problem-solving would revolt against as excessively ambitious system-building? Are the definitive metaphysical arguments ruling out the sort of place reserved, in the post-Augustinian tradition, for God both as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and also as Fount of Being? Are these questions not even of interest?

I look forward to hearing the thoughts of any of our analytically-trained colleagues on this question. I certainly wouldn’t turn down an invitation to a party convened for the purpose, but I would be more than happy to educate myself with a reading list!

The Theological Task Before Us

By Oliver D. Crisp, Professor of Analytic Theology, St. Mary’s College

 Theology is a way of life. That sounds like a platitude, or a cliché. Perhaps it is. Nevertheless, it is true. Theology is sometimes characterized as an intellectual discipline, with its own standards, canon, sensibilities, and way of working, and that is right in its own way. There are many different accounts of what theology is, and many of them maintain that this is how we should think of theology. However, it seems to me that if we reduce theology to this we are left with something that is lifeless, an empty shell. Theology is not merely an academic discipline. Theologians are not merely those who spend their time reading, thinking, and writing about God. They are also members of a community of scholars dedicated to such work. The communities of which we are a part are as vital to theology as the outputs we produce.

I was formed in important respects by theology in Scotland. I was educated in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Aberdeen, one of the four ancient universities of Scotland. I was fortunate (though at the time I didn’t fully appreciate it) in that I had teachers who made a significant mark in their respective disciplines. Scholars like David Fergusson, Iain Torrance, Trevor Hart, W. Peter Stephens, I. Howard Marshall, and Brian Rosner made an impact upon me as an undergraduate. My doctoral work was done at King’s College, London, during the halcyon days when the Research Institute for Systematic Theology (RIST) was in full swing under the leadership of Colin Gunton. To me, he was a great English theologian—there are not too many of those! He did real theology—systematic theology in a constructive vein, and in serious conversation with the tradition, and with related disciplines as well. Curiously, one of the things that I took away from my time at King’s, which in many ways was as important as the terminal degree I sought there, was something that no one taught me. It was an idea: the importance of theological community. Colin Gunton lived theology as a way of life. His whole life (aside from his gardening) was given over to theology. He was ordained, and preached regularly in the United Reformed Church that he attended. And he was passionate about theology. It was an infectious passion. He brought it with him to academic life in the College, and it inspired RIST which Gunton co-founded with St Andrews’ very own Christoph Schwöbel (who had left for the University of Kiel by the time I got to London). But more importantly, perhaps, Gunton brought it into the research seminars in RIST.

I was not a student in Systematic Theology at King’s. I was a student in Philosophy of Religion. My mentor was Paul Helm—and a great model of clarity and precision he was. But my heart was in theology. Colin Gunton invited me to come along to the research seminars in RIST, and I did. I even presented work in progress at his invitation. There I found a theological community, one where Gunton encouraged students to participate and treated them as equals not as inferiors. That simple act of intellectual generosity made a huge impact upon me. It has informed the way I try to treat my own graduate students. (Later, I discovered other exemplars of this pattern of behavior in people like Alvin Plantinga, Gavin D’Costa, and Eleonore Stump. But Colin Gunton was the one in whom I first saw this sensibility.)

Theological community makes theology vital, in the sense of living, real, concrete. Since my days at King’s I have lived among other theological communities, and have learnt a great deal from those with whom I have come into contact. The community at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame (from where I write these words), the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton where I lived in 2008-2009, the University of Bristol where I worked from 2006-2011, and most recently, Fuller Theological Seminary where I have been a professor for the past eight years (2011-2019). Each has its own intellectual “flavor.” Each has its own contribution to make. I am the beneficiary of these communities, and they have marked me as all communities mark those who have lived in them.

I have said that theology is taught. Of course that is right. But theological community, and theology as a way of life—that cannot be taught. It is “caught.” As my family and I prepare to come to St Mary’s, I am struck by the importance of this insight for the task of theology. I am moving from one theological community, that of Fuller Seminary in California, to another, in Scotland. I am coming to what Judith Wolfe has called a “theological community by the sea.” (An evocative turn of phrase if ever there was one!) I hope that as I come I may be a productive and positive member of that community. I hope to make my own modest contribution, of course. But more importantly, I hope I may learn and grow and develop through interaction with others as we live theology together.

There is much speculation about the future of theology in seminaries and in universities  today (perhaps it was ever the case). Will there still be professional schools dedicated to imparting theological knowledge in a generation? Will Divinity be chased out of the “secular” research university? I do not share such pessimism. Theology is a vital subject, more vital today than ever in this world of religious, social, and political upheavals. Far from dissipating with the inevitable advance of scientific progress, religious questions have persisted, becoming even more pressing as we face increasing uncertainty in other areas of public life. The future of theology is in theological community—in lived theology. That is why St Mary’s is such an important place for the study of theology in all its many varieties. It is a community of scholars and students—of those learning together. It has been like that ever since I have known it when I began my career teaching in St Andrews back in 2002. I hope that as I come to live in this community of theology by the sea for a second time that I may be shaped by scholars and friends as I have been formed by the other places I have lived and worked, so that together—as professors, scholars, and students—we may provide an example of how theology can be a way of life.