Welcome to the Roundel

The Roundel is the graduate blog of the School of Divinity’s Systematic & Historical Theology subject group. It is named after the Roundel, the distinctive 16th-century tower, overlooking St Andrews Cathedral, that houses the School of Divinity’s PhD workspaces.

The blog features career advice, info for incoming students, seminar recaps, research synopses, book reviews, and news from the School of Divinity. It is intended for current students, alumni, applicants, and those interested in academic theology.

Saint Bonaventure as Entrance to the Tradition

By Lance Green

When I first read St. Bonaventure for a class on the doctrine of God, I was committed to a particular brand of Lutheranism with little fondness for metaphysics or participatory language. I was especially wary of any concept of the Tradition as a theological guide. But persistently nagging questions pertaining to the relationship between scripture, the creeds, and the theological-logic behind their formulations left me open to new ideas. St. Bonaventure was the catalyst for shifting my theological paradigm.

I was not looking to abandon the tradition I was baptized into. Luther’s maxim “crux sola est nostra theologia” was chiseled into my bones. Approaches to theology that did not rigorously cling to the cross at every turn were of no interest to me. Further, because I was formed by Lutheranism’s unequivocal commitment to the real presence of Christ in the eucharist and the efficacy of the sacraments, anything that did not affirm a sacramental paradigm seemed like a dead end. In no way did I feel the need to react or respond to my Lutheran tutelage; rather, I wanted to broaden those themes that rang most true.

My first read through Itinerarium mentis in Deum and Breviloquium was all at once destabilizing and deeply comforting. Encountering a rendering of the mystical ascent that was so thoroughly christological and trinitarian resonated with my Lutheran sympathies, and challenged my assumption that participatory theologies too easily ignored the crucifixion.

In what follows, I briefly explicate the themes in St. Bonaventure’s writing that most deeply correspond to my Lutheran roots: the crucifixion and resurrection as the center of both theological reflection and the mystical ascent.

Oriented Toward the Cross

One of the most impressive pieces of St. Bonaventure’s theology is his careful structuring of themes. His theological method and key insights are often interwoven within the very structure of the work. Indeed, the structure of Breviloquium is as theologically rich as his systematic treatments of the Trinity, sin, or christology.

To be brief: Breviloquium‘s seven parts coincide with the story of creation, beginning with its very grounding in the Trinity and ending with completion and sabbath. This chiastic structure is common to St. Bonaventure’s other writing, with each individual section framing the Seraphic Doctor’s overarching commitment to a cruciform theology.

Part 1: The Trinity of God
Part 2: The creation of the world
Part 3: Corruption of sin
Part 4: The incarnation of the Word
Part 5: The grace of the Holy Spirit
Part 6: The medicine of the sacraments
Part 7: The completion of final judgment

Parts 1 and 7 correspond in that the Trinity is the ground of creaturely existence, while the final judgment offers creation its completion. Similarly, Parts 2 and 3 explore God’s creative act and the predicament of human sin, setting up the necessity of the incarnation and the cross. Parts 5 and 6 explicate the healing of humanity through Christ’s sending of the Spirit and the sacraments. Structurally and theologically, then, part 4 implies Christ is the unifying principle, the pinnacle of the Breviloquium. As Joshua Benson aptly states, for St. Bonaventure, “The incarnate Word is expansively unifying in both the text and reality. He is that through which the world comes to be, comes to fulfillment, and humanity is healed; he is that through which these actions of the Triune God are communicated in scripture and expressed theologically” (“The Christology of the Breviloquium,” in A Companion to Bonaventure, pp. 256-257).

In the same way that Part 4 serves as the pinnacle of Breviloquium‘s structural movement, so does St. Bonaventure’s treatment of Christ’s passion serve as the crescendo of Part 4. Christ is the mediating principle between extremes, which means the hypostatic union mediates the extremes of both human nature and God’s nature. Though Christ has the “righteousness and blessedness” of God and the “passions and mortality” of humanity, he does not assume sin’s “corrupting penalties” (i.e., ignorance, bodily infirmity, malice, and concupiscence). As fully human, Christ can share in humanity’s suffering and death despite his inherent innocence.

St. Bonaventure affirms that while the divine nature of Christ did not suffer, he did experience in his human nature “the most all-encompassing passion, for not only every part of his body was affected, but every power of his soul as well. He suffered a passion that was most bitter, for beside the enduring the agony of his wounds he bore the added anguish of grieving for our sins.” The suffering of Christ, however, not only fits the form of God’s chosen mode of restoring humanity, but mirrors the inherent orderliness of creation itself. Thus, “God ought to restore humanity in a way that respects not only our free choice, but also God’s own honor and the orderly function of the universe.” Christ’s painful and sacrificial death, because of his perfect innocence, exemplifies virtue for humanity. And yet, his suffering and death satisfies humanity’s disobedience since there is no “better way to restore that honor [that is God’s] than through humiliation and obedience by one who was not bound to render it.”

That redemption comes with special attention to human agency and God’s honor fits with a larger harmony rooted in St. Bonaventure’s maxim, “contraries must be healed by their contraries.” Adam’s sin took a particular shape, spreading an infection to the rest of humanity that required a mirroring medicine. Adam eats from a tree and so Christ dies from one; the infection is universal and so Christ’s passion must equal the reach: lust healed by the bitterness of the passion, pride healed by the humiliation of the cross, and “as an antidote to a death deserved but unwilled, he chose to suffer a death underserved but freely willed.” Contrasting and restoring human death, then, is Christ’s divine nature. Since the human nature and body of Christ were united in the Word, the death suffered by the human nature “perishes to life.” “Thus,” St. Bonaventure states, “humankind has been freed from death and the cause of death by the most efficacious means: the merit of the death of Christ.”

In the last chapter of Part 4, St. Bonaventure explicates of the effects of Christ’s suffering, and how the redemptive passion and resurrection of Christ has a cosmological scope. His descent, ascension, and sending of the Spirit ground the virtues of faith, hope, and love. He preaches salvation in hell and leads the faithful beyond its broken doors into paradise. Ultimately, Christ’s purpose is to root our faith in the truth that he is both God and man, and seeks our redemption through his resurrection. But this purpose is complete only after a literal 36 hours in the grave to prove that he is truly dead. His ascension 40 days after his resurrection incites hope in the faithful for their future heavenly ends. And the Spirit that inflames love is sent 10 days later. All things are done in their proper time, reflecting a certain ‘fittingness’ to the passion, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost.

Theology so beautifully structured, whose pinnacle is Christ’s death and resurrection, is compelling to nearly every form of Christianity. St. Bonaventure’s theological method not only cemented my own love for christologically-centered theology, but broadened my interpretation of how the cross functions effectively in our lives. That the mystical ascent could be interpreted through a similarly fitting cruciform logic was wholly new to me.

“Love this Death” and Mysticism

In Itinerarium mentis in Deum, St. Bonaventure carefully details the mystical ascent after meditating on St. Francis’ vision of the six-winged Seraph. Broken into three distinct meditations, the journey has six divisions, culminating in a seventh and final ecstatic union. Beginning by contemplating God through the created universe and sensual world, the journey moves to contemplating God with the rational faculties of the soul, both unredeemed and redeemed. The third division centers on contemplating God as Being and Trinity.

Christ serves as a motif throughout Itinerarium, but the resurrection intentionally bookends the whole work. St. Bonaventure explains that it is the cruciform love of God that so inspired St. Francis. And though the six-wing Seraph symbolizes the six steps of illumination leading to God, “no one rightly enters except through Christ crucified.” Readers are invited to pray “through Christ crucified, through whose blood we are cleansed from the filth of vice.” At the end of the journey, the prayerful are once again faced with the crucified Lord.

What I expected from the notion of ascent was intellectual hubris—finite humans grasping the Being of God and somehow mastering it to form a metaphysics that affirmed their presuppositions about the world. Instead I encountered the humiliation of the cross, the intellect passing over into the God, and a posture rooted solely in prayer. Citing Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bonaventure writes:

But you, my friend, concerning mystical visions, with your journey more firmly determined, leave behind your sense and intellectual activities, sensible and invisible things, all nonbeing and being; and in this state of unknowing be restored, insofar as is possible, to unity with him who is above all essence and knowledge.

I had never considered that the apophatic discourse of the mystical ascent, found only through prayer, was grounded and brought to fruition by the same thing: Christ crucified. To be united with the God beyond all things means to orient ourselves to the cross, praying with St. Bonaventure:

Whoever loves this death can see God because it is true beyond doubt that man will not see me and live. Let us, then, die and enter into the darkness; let us impose silence upon our cares, our desires and our imaginings. With Christ crucified let us pass out of this world to the Father so that when the Father is shown to us, we may say with Philip: It is enough for us.

Conclusion

My unwillingness to charitably read many of the Church Fathers, mystics, or medieval theologians made me a poorer student of theology. Ignoring robust corners of the Tradition for so long only helped to solidify the blinders I wore. That there is a mystical theologian so concerned with emphasizing the cross helped to chip away at my presupposition. Reading St. Bonaventure ended up being an invitation to more carefully engage with the broader Tradition of the Church. Years after this first encounter, having now converted to the Orthodox Church, I can say that it was reading Breviloquium and Itinerarium mentis in Deum that began the process of broadening my horizons.

My intent, of course, is not to imply that St. Bonaventure is every Protestant’s gateway to Orthodoxy or the Catholic Church; rather, deeply cruciform mysticism expands on those themes that are fundamental to the early Reformers. Theologians committed to a charitable and eclectic reading of the Tradition may find a common ally in St. Bonaventure, perhaps leading to the broadened horizons for everyone willing to read, think, and pray along with the Seraphic Doctor.

* * *

Lance Green is a PhD student in systematic theology at the University of St. Andrews. Under the supervision of Prof Judith Wolfe, his graduate work focuses on the intersection between poetics and metaphysics. More broadly, Lance’s interests include Hans Urs von Balthasar, Eastern Orthodox theology, and questions related to the analogy of being.

This pieces was originally published by Eclectic Orthodoxy 

How being a ‘Pastor-Theologian’ Convinced Me that Theology is a Contemplative, rather than Practical Discipline

By Jared Mickelson

Being a minister while pursuing a post-graduate degree in systematic theology taught me that the end of theology is contemplative (or even speculative), rather than practical.

Medieval and Protestant Scholastics debated whether the primary end of theology is speculative, practical, affective, or—more commonly—some particular combination of the three. While this might appear to signal significant doctrinal divergence, when viewed from a perspective shaped by the assumptions undergirding theology in the modern university, one is more impressed by the (relative) scholastic unity rather than diversity. This is because a scholastic’s characterising of theology’s end as either speculative or practical, usually did not concern crude calculations regarding the quantity of space devoted to esoteric ruminations on the triune relations over-against passionate appeals for humanitarian action, but whether the final state of the blessed is better glossed as an act of speculative meditation, active adoration, or affective delight.[1] We might identify a shared affirmation that theology’s end is contemplative, concerning the eternal fulfilment of creatures in God, rather than immediately practical, terminating in the exercise of practical reason in the temporal sphere. Scholasticism was thus rooted in an Augustinian vision, which evinces “A conception of paradise [that] provides a sharp corrective to modern notions of spirituality, inasmuch as eternity will apparently be spent in the reflection on issues today considered purely technical.”[2]

Thus Stephen Long: “I defend a ‘speculative’ theology whereby the doctrine of God serves no interest because God is an end in God’s self and not a means to something else. God is to be enjoyed not used.”[3] Pastors addressing parishioners and academics appealing to university administers or grant instituting bodies, share a common struggle here, to maintain that the knowledge of God is not a means to some other good, but itself constitutes the final, blessed end of human creatures.

Kant in the Conflict of the Faculties, notes that “truth (the essential and first condition of learning in general) is the main thing, whereas utility…is of secondary importance.”[4] Truth, not utility, is the main thing, yet in the same influential essay, Kant relegates theology to the status of an authority based-discipline which cannot attain to questions of truth without stepping outside its restricted domain. Thus post-Kantian academic theology is tempted to justify its existence in the university by means other than the appeal to truth,[5] by appealing instead (for example) to theology’s supposed ability to illuminate the motivations of political actors with religious faith, or to elucidate intellectual history, or to remind other university faculties of questions of ultimate value. Yet this remains a temptation. Articulating theology’s ‘usefulness’ in terms of goods less ultimate than Augustine’s summum bonum, is a perilous reduction of theology’s own historical self-understanding by appeal to mere utility.[6] Truth is ‘the main thing,’ for creatures were made to know and love—and to be known and loved—by the triune God who is truth itself. Theologians—even academic theologians—either have some small role in fitting human creatures for that unspeakably glorious possibility, or are of all people most to be pitied.

This temptation facing the academic theologian is analogous to the challenge facing the minister, particularly the ‘pastor-theologian.’ The minister too is tempted to secure theology’s usefulness by demonstrating its practical utility in securing lesser goods than the summum bonum. Ministry is pressed by the immediate, by the repeated and unceasing insistence that every sermon, address, or homily, succinctly present an immediate point of action capable of being implemented by the close of the week. This preoccupation with the immediate, corresponding to the claim that theology—if it is to be of use to the church—needs be ‘practical’ or ‘relevant,’ paradoxically results in a constriction and diminishment of human personhood. For if the end of the rational creature is blessed fulfilment in contemplation of the living God, and theology—like Christian discipleship, spirituality, and liturgy—exists to form and fit creatures for that end, then to reduce the end of the knowledge of God to the procurement of lesser, more proximate goods, is to obscure the greatest good to which I might direct my fellow congregants. It is to treat them as lesser beings, intended for a more mundane end than that suggested to us by the gospel of God become man.

Yes, theology is practical, but derivatively so: “In knowing and loving God’s name for his sake we rightly order our loves….The goal is resting in God for his own sake; in attaining this goal, practical ends are wondrously achieved.”[7] Pastors and priests most of all, must insist upon a contemplative end for theology, because standing with those we serve amidst the heartaches and tragedies of life, forbids cheap consolation, and the summoning of our congregants to ends less glorious than knowing and loving God himself, for his own sake.

[1] For a more fulsome description, cf. Ulrich Gottfried Leinsle, Introduction to Scholastic Theology, trans. Michael J. Miller (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 147-181. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), I, q.7, 1-15, p.20-23.

[2] A N Williams, “Contemplation: Knowledge of God in Augustine’s De Trinitate,” in Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church, ed. James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 131.

[3] Stephen Long, “The Perfectly Simple Triune God Symposium,” Syndicate, accessed October 22, 2018, https://syndicate.network/symposia/theology/a-perfectly-simple-triune-god.

[4] Immanuel Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, ed. Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 7:28.

[5] cf. Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 104.

[6] Two inaugural lectures issue this clarion call, though in distinct ways: John Webster, Theological Theology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). Edwin Chr. van Driel, “Gospeling: Paul, Protestant Theology, and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary,” Academia.edu, accessed October 22, 2018, https://www.academia.edu/9035282/Gospeling_Paul_Protestant_Theologians_and_Pittsburgh_Theological_Seminary.

[7] Matthew Levering, Scripture and Metaphysics: Aquinas and the Renewal of Trinitarian Theology (Malden: Blackwell Pub., 2004), 22.

***

Jared is married to Becky and serves as a minister at Cornerstone Church in St. Andrews. His PhD research concerns the doctrine of divine attributes from scholasticism to modernity in the Reformed tradition.

Report from the Symposium on Creation and the Reformation

We are grateful for Euan Grant for authoring this report on the recent Creation and the Legacy of the Reformation Symposium held in St Andrews.


The doctrine of creation provides not only a glimpse into the ways of God with the world but also a vital lens through which the broader and sometimes more diffuse theological questions raised by our contemporary situation can be brought into focus. That was, to my mind, the central affirmation of last week’s public forum (available to view online here: http://vimeo.com/275212632) and symposium on the doctrine of creation and the legacy of the Reformation. With the particular panel of eminences assembled, Professors Christoph Schwöbel, Simon Oliver, Katherine Sonderegger, Paul Nimmo, and Oliver O’Donovan, could it have claimed any less?

Interestingly for an event probing the significance of the Reformation, the focus remained more cosmological than theological: more at issue were the results of the Reformation as theological, cultural, and historical moment than the doctrine of the Reformers themselves, though the significance of Luther’s thought for Professor Schwöbel shone through at a number of points. Disenchantment appeared early as a theme in the opening questions of the public session, and meta-narratives of one sort or another were in constant attendance thereafter.

In connection with the various narratives – and attitudes to narratives – offered in the symposium, the question of the location of ‘meaning’ within creation, and of how we understand ourselves to be addressed by it, appeared as a central point canvassed, in one way or another, by each of the papers in the private session. What, for example, is the relationship of meaning to teleological thinking – and its eclipse in the scientific culture of the seventeenth century? How is it to be related to the divine economy in creation? Both a broader and a more Barthian, Christocentric trinitarianism were offered as models, while the spirit of John Webster informed the question of whether and how creation might appropriately be treated as a cardinal doctrine, in the full etymological sense of the term. Perhaps this was the most strictly doctrinal or dogmatic theme of the discussions – where, within the ordering of theological material, is what one might call, from another tradition, the relative integrity of creation to be located? How does all of this, finally, fit into the historicist paradigm not only of the modern natural sciences but of Christian doctrine itself?

As ever, different themes will appear with greater clarity or fascination to each of us. That my interests run towards the metaphysical and eschatological implication of claims of meaning and teleology in the created world I can hardly deny. On this Professor Schwöbel’s Luther-inspired stress on ‘inherent meaning’ set up a fascinating contrast with Professor Oliver’s more Aristotelian-Thomist focus on teleology. The intervention of Professor O’Donovan’s warning against an over-reliance on the category of ‘nature’ (especially in the Aristotelian sense) in Christian reflection further pressed the looming question of what sort of relationship it is to God’s creative action which guarantees the presence and discernible nature of meaning, purpose, and significance within creation. Cosmology leads back to theology, and as the majority of the scholars involved are either pressing towards, in the midst of, or coming down from large-scale constructive projects, the symposium provided a fresh impetus and context for turning to and attempting to understand their larger works.

Thanks are due to Professors Schwöbel, Oliver, Sonderegger, Nimmo, and O’Donovan for a highly stimulating discussion, and also to Dr Tim Baylor for bringing together such an impressive panel on so central a theological theme. The papers will be forthcoming, Deo volente, in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Systematic Theology. We look forward to its release with considerable anticipation.

Dr. Tim Baylor on the Upcoming Symposium on Creation and the Reformation

We are excited about the upcoming symposium entitled Creation and the Legacy of the Reformation. Join us on June 12 at 7 pm in Parliment Hall for an exciting night.

Dr. Timothy Baylor, Lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, recently sat with Jared Michelson to answer questions about the event. Jared is presently a PhD candidate in St. Mary’s College. The questions presented in bold are Jared’s; Dr. Baylor’s responses appear underneath. We appreciate the work that both of them have put into this project.


The doctrine of creation in particular seems to be an issue of increasing importance in contemporary dogmatics. Why choose the doctrine of creation as the theme of the symposium?

Some of today’s most important theological conversations circulate around the doctrine of creation in one respect or another. Pressing practical issues pertaining to matters of ecology, sexual ethics, and economics all fundamentally depend on decisions made in the theology of creation. The doctrine also proves to be decisive for a number of issues at a higher theoretical level — such as the nature of God’s freedom and perfections, the conditions of human flourishing, and the place of human action in the work of salvation. All of these are topics of fundamental and perennial theological interest, and all of them have important conceptual correlates in this doctrine.

Why frame the symposium around a discussion of Protestantism and the doctrine of Creation?

In recent years, a number of works have been published implicating Protestant theology in the widespread agnosticism and atheism of our time. The story goes something like this:

Contemporary atheism and agnosticism is the result of a disenchanted view of the natural world. Generations before us conceived of creation as being radically dependent upon God, and so as participating in God’s power. Accordingly, they were able to discern God’s presence and action within the natural order. We, by contrast, presume the natural order to be self-moving and self-sustaining — the kind of thing that requires God’s intervention only in the most exceptional circumstances. This view of the natural order stems from a theology of creation in which God’s action is always interruptive in nature — breaking in from the outside. Though this theology had its genesis in the late Medieval Nominalists, the Reformers implicitly adopted this vision of nature as a means of critiquing Catholic theologies of mediation. The Reformation thus became a vehicle for spreading this nominalistic theology of creation. Though contrary to the intentions of the Reformers themselves, they served as accelerants of the entrenched skepticism and deism of the Enlightenment because they lacked a theology capable of affirming the participation of the natural order in God.

Of course, genealogies such as these are not strictly impartial. Often they are oriented by a very definite theological vision and serve as a means of discerning the causes of that vision’s decline. To the degree that this is the case, these genealogies function to narrate the drama of our culture’s engagement with God, or, in this case, what John Webster once called the “spiritual history of [its] neglect”.[1]This, of course, is not new. In some ways, these narratives function similarly to the types of historical narratives that the Reformers often gave, in which the Reformation is depicted as an advent of God’s grace and mercy standing at the end of a long season of spiritual decline.

That indicates, I think, that what is called for here is not simply a return to the history of the early Modern or Enlightenment periods to inspect the faithfulness of this narrative, though certainly that too is warranted. I think it also calls for a properly theological reflection — one that contemplates the normative question: Is there a Protestant doctrine of creation, and if so, how should it function?

The symposium includes a fascinating line-up of theologians, who come from a variety of divergent theological perspectives. What motivated the invitation of these particular participants?

We are very fortunate to have such a gifted group of people to be part of this conversation. Each of our participants is known for his or her contributions to the study of theology. All of them have written on the doctrine of creation or topics closely adjacent to the doctrine. And it was important for us to have a variety of different voices represented as part of this conversation. This is a topic on which there are no easy answers. You expect Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, and Catholic thinkers disagree with one another, but on a topic like this one, it is just as common for them to disagree amongst themselves. In order to move the conversation forward, in other words, it is crucial that we skillfully engage a variety of different perspectives. And each of our participants have a long history of doing just that.

 


[1]“What Makes Theology Theological?”, God Without Measure, I, p. 215.

Symposium: Creation and the Legacy of the Reformation

We will be hosting a public conversation on the doctrine of creation and the legacy of the Reformation, involving an exciting group of dogmatic theologians from around the world. The doctrine of creation sits at the intersection of some of the most interesting debates in contemporary theology. This conversation will consider how varying approaches to the doctrine of creation fund distinct trajectories within contemporary Protestant thought, as well as engage contemporary critiques of modernity that depict Protestant theologies of creation as a catalyst for modern skepticism and atheism. It promises to be a fascinating evening including a public conversation followed by a wine reception. For more information, see below or contact Jared Michelson at jm282@st-andrews.ac.uk

Review of The Song of Songs and the Fashioning of Identity in Early Latin Christianity

We are grateful to Johannes J Knecht for this excellent review of Karl Shuve’s recent work. Johannes is a PhD candidate in St Mary’s College. Warm wishes to him and Stefania on their upcoming wedding. 😉


Shuve, Karl. The Song of Songs and the Fashioning of Identity in Early Latin Christianity. The Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford/New York, Oxford University Press, 2016. xx + 236 pp. Hardback: £55.-.

Karl Shuve’s monograph concerns the development of the use and exegesis of the Song of Songs in Latin traditions up until Jerome. Shuve observes that the Song grew to become “one of the most popular and influential books of the Bible in Europe during the Middle Ages.” (p. 1) The seeming oddity of this popularity has been extensively discussed by modern scholarship: why would male, monastic and ecclesiastical communities draw from an erotic love poem—which supposedly is the plain sense of the text—to defend and argue for ascetic principles? (pp. 4-5) It is with aiming to resolve this paradox that much of recent scholarship has been concerned. Shuve, by contrast, challenges this assumed plain reading of the text: “Rather than presuming that early Christians shared our presuppositions about the ‘plain’ meaning of the Song and then asking how they reconciled it with an ascetic agenda, I examine how patterns of citation and allusion can help us to understand what were the ‘automatically recognised’ meanings of the Song in the Christian communities of the Western Roman Empire and how these meanings were subsequently contested, changed, and subverted in response to cultural and theological conflict.” (p. 13) In other words, Shuve aims to describe a gradual exegetical development within the Latin tradition that would account for the very natural ascetic associations with the Song in subsequent centuries.

Shuve’s work is divided into two main parts, each containing three chapters. Part I looks at the use of the Song of Songs in North Africa and Spain (pp. 23-106), whilst the second focusses on Italy (pp. 109-208). The first chapter describes how in the work of Cyprian of Carthage and the theology of the Donatists (as found in the work of Augustine and Optatus of Milevis), the Song is used to argue for the impregnability of the church’s boundaries. The ‘enclosed garden and sealed font’ (Song 4:2) signify that only those who are actually inside the garden and close to the water have access to the vivifying power of the church’s sacraments. Any sacrament—and baptism most pertinently—administered outside the strict boundaries of the church cannot be regarded as efficacious. (p. 31) Shuve explicates that Cyprian does not aim to make the ‘erotic imagery’ acceptable, but “Cyprian quotes the Song because he presumes that it has independent probative value regarding the nature of the church’s boundaries and the efficacy of its sacraments.” (p.36) Although the underlying baptismal theology changes with the Donatists, the hermeneutical approach to the Song remains the same: The Song describes the boundaries of a separated, pure community. (p. 48)

Chapter 2, turning to the works of Pacian of Barcelona, Tyconius, and Augustine, explains how in the work of Pacian and Tyconius the Song is again used in an ecclesiastical manner, be it to argue for the plurality of the church. Pacian uses the image of the garden to further his argument that, just like a garden is made up of a myriad of plants, so too is the church made up of a variety of people. (pp. 58-60) Tyconius, in turn, uses the Song (i.e., 1:5 and 1:7) to argue for the ‘bi-partite’ nature of the church—a current offspring of Abraham both containing boni and mali, two ‘peoples.’ As Shuve summarises Tyconius’ approach: “Maintaining the boundaries of the church is a futile exercise. There will be evil and impurity within.” (p. 65) Lastly, Augustine, realising the truth residing in Tyconius’ appreciation of the pure church’s hiddenness, reallocates Song 4:12 and 6:8 in the eschaton. Again, even though the content of the ecclesiastical theology changes significantly, the Song remains a source for reflection on the nature of the church. It is in the third chapter that Shuve describes a significant development in the exegesis of the Song, found in the work of Gregory of Elvira. Whilst maintaining the tradition of using the Song to explain ecclesiology, Gregory introduces two crucial aspects: I) the separated identity of the church also implies moral purity and chastity, and II) Gregory starts using the image of a virgin and an adulterous women to describe the church in relation to the profane, outside world.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters—the second part of the book—focus on Ambrose of Milan and Jerome. Ambrose, on Shuve’s telling, “fundamentally altered the trajectory of the Song’s interpretation in the West.” (p. 109) Ambrose utilises the multivalence inherent to the image of the bride in the Song to apply the meaning of the Song to the integrity of the virgin’s body (cf. De Virginibus), her soul (cf. De Virginitate), and the church. (pp. 17, 115)  “This turn to identifying the bride with the individual Chrisian—and, more specifically, the individual virgin—is in marked contrast with the well-established Latin tradition of understanding the bride to be the corporate church.” (p. 109) For Ambrose in De Virginibus, the individual virgin stands as a physical, tangible image of the purity, holiness, and hope of God’s salvation and the church. (p. 123) Just as the virgin’s body is protected against intrusion, so too must the church be protected. (p. 125) De Virginitate, written after the De Virginibus, aims to couple more strongly the physical integritas with the integritas of the soul. (p. 132) “Ambrose, in effect, transforms the soul into a virgin.” (p. 136) This interpretation of the Song’s bride is further worked out in the fifth chapter in relation to the ‘Virgin Soul’ (pp. 139-50), the ‘Virgin Church’ (pp. 150-8), and the ‘Virgin Mary’ (pp. 158-72). Shuve ends with a chapter on the work of Jerome. Although Jerome has a distinctly different approach to the place he gives to virgins in society—critique rather than support the ecclesiastical authority in the city, as Ambrose had argued—Jerome as well has a thoroughly ascetic reading of the Song.

Shuve described how the ascetic readings of the Late Antique and Early Medieval church were thoroughly based on and grounded in the Song’s ecclesiastical interpretations of the earlier Latin traditions, exemplified by Cyprian, the Donatists, Pacian, Tyconius, and Augustine. Simply put: The Song’s garden or dove typifies the enclosed church (Cyprian and the Donatists), the enclosed and protected church, in turn, becomes the pure and chaste church, of which a virgin is the image (Tyconius). This image subsequently opens the door to connect the Song’s bride with the physical integritas of the consecrated virgin, and by extension the integritas of her soul (Ambrose and Jerome). Seen from this overarching narrative, Shuve’s suggestion that ascetic, monastic readings of the Song in the later Middle Ages follow quite naturally from the manner in which earlier traditions had read the Song, seems quite convincing indeed.

Introduction to Lectio Divina

This post from Dr. William Hyland, Lecturer in Church History at St. Mary’s College, continues our series of blog posts on monastic spirituality. This series originated from lectures Dr. Hyland delivered at All Saints Church in St. Andrews. We are grateful for the many ways in which Dr. Hyland contributes to our academic community, and we appreciate his expertise in this area.


Lectio Divina is Latin for Divine Reading. It is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation, and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. Lectio Divina does not treat Scripture merely as text to be studied but as the Living Word.

Lectio differs from the ordinary act of reading and even from spiritual reading. Lectio goes beyond the words on the page. The four basic steps given by Guigo II, the 9th prior of Grande Chartreuse monastery from 1174-80, are Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio:  Reading, Meditation, Prayer, Contemplation.

Step One

The first step is the reading of Scripture. In order to achieve a calm and tranquil state of mind, preparation before Lectio Divina. An example would be sitting quietly and in silence and reciting a prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to guide the reading of the Scripture that is to follow.

Following the preparation is the slow and gradual reading of the Scriptural passage, perhaps several times.  The attentive reading begins the process through which a higher level of understanding can be achieved. In the traditional Benedictine approach the passage is slowly read four times, each time with a slightly different focus. When the passage is read, it is generally advised not to try to assign a meaning to it at first, but to wait for the action of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the mind, as the passage is pondered upon.

Don’t invest time looking for a passage that is pleasing. Either choose the reading beforehand, perhaps the day’s liturgical readings, follow some theme, choose a consecutive reading of the whole Bible, or book of the Bible, or simply flip to a page and start.

Step Two

The second step in Lectio Divina thus involves meditating upon and pondering on the Scriptural passage. To meditate on the passage that has been read, it is held lightly and gently considered from various angles. The emphasis is not on analysis of the passage but to keep the mind open and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire a meaning for it.

Benedictine meditation is different from the styles of meditations which suggest approaches to disengage the mind; rather the focus in lectio divina is to fill the mind with thoughts related to Scriptural passages. Benedictine meditation aims to heighten our personal relationship based on the love of God, to stimulate thought, and deepen our spiritual understanding.

Step Three

In the Benedictine tradition, prayer is understood as dialogue with God.  It is a loving conversation with God who has invited us into an embrace.

Prayer during Lectio Divina can take many forms. It can be compunction, formulaic, praise, tears, petition, thanksgiving – silence can also be a response.

Step Four

Contemplation takes place in terms of silent prayer that expresses love for God.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines contemplative prayer as, “silence, the ‘symbol of the world to come’ or ‘silent love.’ Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love.  In this silence, unbearable to the “outer” man, the Father speaks to us his incarnate Word, who suffered, died, and rose; in this silence, the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus.”

As Bernard Olivera, OCSO writes, “To contemplate is to take silent delight in the Temple which is the Risen Christ.”

Final Thoughts

Gervase Holdaway in The Oblate Life has likened Lectio Divina to feasting on the Word. First, the taking of a bite (read); then chewing on it (meditate); savoring its essence (pray) and, finally, “digesting” it and making it a part of the body (contemplate).

 

Review of A Companion to Job in the Middle Ages

We are grateful to Prof. Mark Elliott for this review of a new book in Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition series. Prof. Elliott serves as Professor of Historical and Biblical Theology in St Mary’s College at the University of St Andrews. You can find his research profile here.


Franklin Harkins and Aaron Canty, A Companion to Job in the Middle Ages (Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition, 73; Leiden-Boston: Brill,2017.

This is a truly outstanding collection of essays, one of those rare cases where the word ‘Companion’ is well deserved, because it leads the reader over the ground so well, mixing information with insight. Even where there is not detailed inspection there is at least a sketch and pointers towards further research.

The second chapter (K. Steinhauser, ‘Job in Patristic Commentaries and Theological Works’) is to be singled out for the wide-range and depth and ease with scholarship. Job as ‘athlete of God’ was the Pelagian poster boy. For Julian of Eclanum (57) ‘God permits the good to suffer in order to demonstrate their devotion and increase the merit’, and Ambrose while taking sin and Job 14:4-5 seriously held that Job was not a type of Christ but rather a virtuous example for Christians. (Job and David in the Psalms complement each other in Ambrose’s treatment.)

All this helps explain the pre-history to what many assume to be the starting point: Gregory the Great’s Moralia. Carol Straw then takes this on and shows how Gregory viewed Job’s suffering as excessive, being more than his sin-virtue account deserved, such that (analogously to Christ) Job was due recompense for that amount. Yet on the other hand Job in his protesting was ignorant, due to an incomplete submission and thus in danger of pride, such that restoration required forgiveness by God of Job. The lesson was: ‘When something bad happens, blame yourself, confess, and do penance’ (100) The Glossa Ordinaria draws heavily on the Moralia and could be held to be ‘128 ‘better than Gregory himself at transmitting his blunt moral lessons.’ Yet there is an issue that Lesley Smith deftly shows us: we do not have a proper critical edition of the Gloss (apart from the late Mary Dove’s edition of The Gloss on the Song of Songs), and Rusch’s early modern printed edition cannot simply be relied upon.

Franklin Harkins then offers a masterly treatment of Job in Lombard’s Sentences and Albert and Thomas’ commentaries. Whereas Albert sees Sir 24:5-6 as framing subject matter of Sentences, ‘Thomas and Bonaventure understand Job 28:11 as determinative of the material of Book I and of the fourfold causality if the Sentences, respectively.’ (133) The one who ‘probes the depths of the rivers and has brought hidden realities out into the light’ is applied to both Christ and the theologian.
Albert liked Job 26:14 (‘since we have hear barely a drop of his word, who will be able to behold the thunder of his greatness?’) The ‘small word’ is that about creatures; much trickier to comprehend is the ‘thunder’ that is the doctrine of God. ‘It is precisely because human words are inadequate to explain fully the theological mysteries set forth in the Sentences that Albert, Bonaventure and Thomas have repeated recourse to divine discourse-the words of Job and other scriptural books-in their efforts to shed as much light as possible on these sacred truths.’ (135) So it is on hard questions such as ‘whether God enjoys himself’ that theology has to give way to biblical exegesis. This is a surprising and fascinating theme. Is the similitude to God a vestige? Well yes, in that it represents God in a ‘confused’ way. Let the mystery ‘sink in’.

A second chapter on Albert (by Ruth Meyer) traces how the great Dominican viewed the dialogue in terms of a formal disputation. Elihu claims to have received revelation such that his statements should be regarded as first principles: but that is precisely not how to practice theology, and he badly misrepresents Job’s position. However, Job himself finally receives such illumination. Eliphaz contends that one receives recompense in this life, Bildad thinks that happens only after death, while Zophar is agnostic about that. As with the previous chapter, Scripture is held by Albert to be deeper than theology in its symbolic form. Job is morally exemplary and mirrors God’s wisdom-led providential ordering of the world. Job’s testing built up his faith. Lyra too has a sympathetic view of Job who is praised for honesty and speaking truthfully about God: A. Canty is a sure guide in leading us through Nicolas’ interpretation.

The chapter by Ronald Rittgers on Job in the German Reformation is a model piece of scholarship, pointing the way to uncharted territory (e.g. Lavater on Job), while making good use of what scholarship is available (e.g. Clines on Luther’s interpretation. Luther liked the Vulgate’s (mis-) translation of Job 9:28 ‘verebar omnia opera mea’. Rittgers traces how the importance of humility receded in Luther’s interpretation. The point was that for the righteous, any suffering does not proceed from divine wrath. Testing means more something like ‘strengthening’ ‘Job felt utterly abandoned by God and yet was in fact very close to God’s heart.'(269) God even allows saints to falter in adversity in order that a deeper salvation emerge. The presentation of J. Brenz’s exegesis is disappointing, only because, in the form of a continuous commentary, it is so similar in content to the Wittenberg Reformer: one should know one’s poverty apart from God’s sustaining presence. Likewise, for Osiander, Job’s cursing the day of his birth meant ‘he learned that the vice of impatience was deeply rooted in his nature, something he would not otherwise have recognised’ (275). Tantalisingly, we only get a snippet of the Catholic Eck’s response to this: Job was actually cursing the “day” of human mortality and sin as he looked forward to the eternal day of salvation. Reinforced by the brief study of lay Lutheran theologians like Linck and Weller is the notion that Job is indeed sinful and in that risks the removal of God’s protection, a hypothetical possibility for believers. It would have been good to have had the Catholic riposte to ‘Job the sinner’ outlined, but perhaps that was not that different from Gregory the Great’s observations.

This reviewer’s lack of expertise means that Part 2 of the book (roughly one-third) is devoted to ‘Vernacular and popular perspectives’, i.e. non-theological reception of Job, will be treated cursorily. One learns about: Church architecture and Job’s relationship to purgatory, Peter of Riga’s presentation of Job as a prototype for Christ, whereas in Old English Literature ‘Job’ speaks of Christ and the Church. For Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales Job is an illustrious penitent and for Lollards one whose virtue reflected adversely on the 14th-century church as it proudly ignored God’s law.

The book is well supplied with a bibliography although it is odd to see a number of primary sources listed under ‘Johannes’.

 

How to Apply for an Academic Job in the UK

Dr. Holmes

We are grateful to the Rev. Dr. Stephen R. Holmes for composing this helpful post on UK-based job applications. Dr Holmes serves as the Head of School for St Mary’s College. You will find his research profile here.

 


I don’t, off-hand, know how many appointments I have been involved in within the UK university system—I do know that I have been doing it for about twenty years, and I have done six in 2017 alone (and I’m about to start another one). I have read, down the years, many hundreds of applications, some from hopeful newcomers who haven’t quite finished their PhD, some from famous names applying for prestigious chairs, and of course many from people in between. I have spent many evenings (it tends to end up an evening task) reading through application after application, and I can say from experience that most (75%?) of the applications are bad—and that this proportion strangely doesn’t change much up and down the seniority ladder.

I’m not saying that the candidates are bad—a few are, but in recent appointments I’ve been very struck by the general quality of people applying: faced with a stack of around a hundred applicants, you actually find yourself hoping quietly that half of them will be obviously poor and easy to reject quickly; for us, presently, it is around 10%. Perhaps 70% are various shades of ‘if he were the only applicant, we’d certainly at least talk to him’—and about 20% are ‘we’d be really lucky to get her!’ The candidates seem very strong—but the applications are depressingly weak.

The worst part of this is that we tell candidates exactly what to do to put in a good application; we work hard to make it very clear; and then three in four or so ignore what we’ve told them to do. Let me explain.

UK universities are not quite public sector bodies, but we are generally held to the same standards. This means, inter alia, that we follow received best practice in appointment processes, which means a ‘competency based’ approach. When we have a vacancy, we are required by our HR department to specify carefully what experience, skills, and knowledge—what competencies—we are looking for in a candidate, and how we will evaluate whether a given candidate has these competencies.

So, when we write a set of ‘further particulars’ for a vacant post—the document you download if you click the link in the advert—it has a list of the things you will need to prove to be considered for the post, and of where we will be looking for proof. In St Andrews, the list comes in the form of a table, with three columns. The first lists ‘essential criteria’, the second ‘desirable criteria’, and the third ‘means of assessment’, under which we typically list ‘application’, ‘presentation’, or ‘interview’.

For an academic post, probably the first essential criterion is ‘PhD in a relevant discipline’, and the ‘means of assessment’ listed is ‘application’. I get your application; I scan it for evidence that you have a relevant PhD. If I can’t find that evidence, your application goes on the reject pile, because this is an ‘essential’ criterion. (Actually I don’t use piles; I have a custom spreadsheet. If I can’t see evidence of an essential criterion, I type ’N’, and the cell automatically turns red. End of story.)

The moral? Make it easy for me to see that you have a PhD. I mean, really easy—I might be reading a hundred of these things, and I am only human; the small print on page 17 might, I confess, pass me by (and I can say from experience that anything after page 50 or so of your cv will very definitely pass me by…)

Of course, something like a PhD is a brute matter of fact—you have one, or you don’t (or, just possibly, you soon will, and we might be able to finesse that). And no-one misses their PhD off their application in my experience.

But: ‘Essential: evidence of excellence in teaching. Means of assessment: application.’ This is where wheels start to fall off. Every candidate will list their teaching experience, often in excruciating detail, but we’re not asking for experience; we’re asking for excellence. How, on your application form, are you going to give me and my fellow panel members credible evidence of excellence? There are lots of ways. A report from an external reviewer is probably the gold standard, but copies of student evaluations are pretty good; any sort of prize for teaching scores loads of points; a history of attending training courses or membership of something like the HEA will certainly get you over the line for a junior post. At worst, give us a teaching philosophy that shows you have thought a bit about what excellent teaching means. Give us something—or don’t bother applying; you’re wasting your time and ours.

Probably 50% or more of our candidates get the point about teaching excellence. I generally end up shouting at my computer screen over another issue. In St Andrews, an inevitable criterion (generally ‘desirable’ not ‘essential’) is called something like ‘credible plans for applying for external research funding’ (‘means of assessment: application’).

Look, at this point we’re placing the ball three yards out, tying up the goalkeeper, and inviting you to have a shot. And 80% or more of our applicants fail to score. ‘Credible plans’—at the lowest level you don’t need to have done anything, to have any experience, to have done anything more than noticed the point. You just need to say ‘Yup, I want to apply for some money for something’. Do ten minutes’ research on available funding sources, name a plausible scheme, and you are several steps up the ladder here. And—even at chair level in my experience—a large majority of our applicants will look at the ball, glance at the open goal, and then disdain to kick the one towards the other.

I confess that the word ‘moron’ has passed my lips on observing this, even when I know that the candidate concerned is far more academically able than I am.

So what should you do? It’s not rocket science (although the same rules would apply if it were): we’ve given you a list of things we either need or want to see in your application materials. Show us them. Re-order your c.v. to highlight what we’re asking for. Write a covering letter that goes through the points one by one and shows us the evidence. Send us a video demonstrating how you fulfil each criterion through the medium of interpretative dance (actually, don’t do that one…). Just somehow make it really easy for me to type ‘Y’ on my spreadsheet and see all my boxes turning green.

This won’t get you a job. It will (100% guarantee) get you on the longlist for a job, though, and it might well get you on the shortlist, and so to an interview. And if you get to an interview, you’ve always got a chance, because seemingly excellent candidates routinely shoot themselves in the foot, or indeed the mouth, on interview days.

But that’s a subject for another time.

Prof. Elliott on The Vocation of Scholarship

Our own Professor Mark Elliott recently offered a short article on The Lab, the academic blog of Logos Bible Software. Prof. Elliott’s post, entitled The Vocation of Scholarship, is well worth your time. I link it here: http://academic.logos.com/the-vocation-of-scholarship/


Interested readers can learn more about Prof. Elliott by visiting his staff profile or by reading this appreciative post written by one of his former students, Dr. Eric Covington.