The Case of Iconoclasm

By Dr. Natalie Carnes, Associate Professor of Theology at Baylor University, currently visiting St. Andrews under the “Baylor at St. Andrews” program. She is the author of Image and Presence and Beauty

Though the term iconoclasm has expanded its meanings and associations over time, it still evokes a more Protestant than Catholic approach to church life. Not only are Protestants on the whole warier about the dangers of images, but Protestantism was birthed in the pangs of Reformation iconoclasm. Even Anglican and Episcopal churches, many of which today commission and display powerful art, refused for a time to tolerate anything image-like, including crosses. Queen Elizabeth was rebuked for the silver ones she kept in her chapel.

In my own Protestant upbringing, I attended a church that did tolerate crosses, but little else. A floor-to-ceiling wooden cross positioned directly behind the preacher was the sanctuary’s lone adornment. There were no paintings, no sculptures, not even any windows. The carpet and chairs were dark brownish-orange, as if anything pleasing to the eye might prevent worship of the invisible God.

Like all official determinations, these aesthetic decisions were made by the elder and deacon boards, comprised entirely of men. Sometimes the women rebelled against the bleak setting by arranging flowers for the front or sewing Advent banners. I remember my own mother on more than one occasion trying to brighten the pulpit by wrangling greenery around it. It was fake, of course, because there were no windows.

And yet despite the possibility that aesthetic anxiety can lead to such dreariness, I want to commend an iconoclastic impulse as salutary to image-loving traditions like Catholicism, even like much of twenty-first century Protestantism. I believe the iconoclastic impulse need not lead to visual austerity, for it can actually help Christians love images better—and might even help Protestants and Catholics find more common ground on images. Attempts to maintain a stark contrast between iconoclasm and iconophilia break down in a way that leaves room for ecumenical hope. Certain forms of iconoclasm, like many images, can be modes of fidelity to Christ.

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Martin Heidegger and Catholicism: The Unexpected Enemy in the Black Notebooks

by Judith Wolfe, Professor of Philosophical Theology and the Deputy Head of the School of Divinity, St. Mary’s College

In the autumn of 1931, Martin Heidegger began to record his private thoughts and intellectual struggles in small black oilcloth diaries that he called the schwarze Hefte, or “Black Notebooks.” Even before the first tranche of the Notebooks were finally published in 2014, there were rumours about what they would reveal. It had long been acknowledged that Heidegger – one of the most influential philosophers of the modern era – had been a supporter of Hitler and the Nazi Party in the early 1930s. To what extent, and for how long, has long been one of the hot issues of Heidegger scholarship. One of the most striking lessons of the Notebooks is the extent to which Heidegger’s attraction to Nazism – and his later rejection of it – was animated by a quarrel with the Catholic Church. “Contemporary Catholicism”, Heidegger wrote to a friend in 1929, “must remain to us a horror”. The history of that quarrel is, to a large extent, the history of Heidegger’s philosophical life.

Heidegger was born in 1889 into a devout Catholic family in Messkirch, southwest Germany, the first child of the sexton of the local church. It was the height of the “Modernist crisis”, when a movement to introduce modern critical methods into theology and biblical studies was meeting ferocious opposition in the Vatican. The pugnacious counter-cultural perfectionism of the Vatican line impressed Heidegger. He tried to join the Jesuits, but was quickly dismissed because of an early manifestation of his chronic heart problems. Nevertheless, he remained intent on becoming a priest, and enrolled at Freiburg University to study theology.

In Freiburg, Heidegger came under the influence of Protestant critical scholarship, and when Pope Pius X’s anti-Modernist oath of 1910 forbade Catholic scholars to use such methods of enquiry, Heidegger was deeply conflicted. His health collapsed and he had to break off his studies for almost a year.

When he returned to Freiburg in late 1911, it was as a student of philosophy, not theology. His plan now was to work theologically within the philosophy faculty, developing a Catholic theology through a dialogue of medieval and modern Kantian thought. The anti-modern neo-Scholasticism championed in seminaries and Catholic theology departments now seemed to him a debased and mechanised system, straitjacketing the potential especially of medieval mysticism. Heidegger acerbically wrote to his doctoral supervisor: “The motu proprio about philosophy was really the cherry on the cake. Perhaps you as an ‘academic’ could apply for an even better procedure for gutting the brain of anyone who dares to have an independent thought, and replacing it with ‘Italian salad’.”

In March 1917, Heidegger married Elfride Petri, a Lutheran, in Freiburg’s Catholic cathedral. Elfride had indicated a willingness to convert to Catholicism; instead, by 1919, both had turned away from Catholicism. Many factors contributed to Martin’s estrangement: the break-down of his earlier engagement to a Roman Catholic; the failure of his ambition for the Catholic Chair in Freiburg, towards which he had been steering his career. But above all, it was his growing conviction that what theology needed was not a supposed God’s-eye view on the world as a grand, orderly system, but a theological language capable of expressing lived spiritual experience, particularly the persistent human feeling of inadequacy, affliction, and what he called “beginner-dom”.

At the age of 30, he declared that he had converted to an “undogmatic Protestantism”. He spent some years trying to develop an anti-metaphysical theology inspired by Luther, but, by 1924, he felt he had reached a dead end: a theology of grace and faith, which for Luther held out the solution to human affliction and inadequacy, seemed to Heidegger an intellectual cop-out. Not everyone was capable of experiencing grace and faith, he thought; and because they were completely gratuitous, bestowed by God seemingly out of nowhere, he felt they invalidated, rather than genuinely redeemed or made sense of, human experience. In other words, Heidegger came to reject as unrealistic the Christian idea that what had led to our estrangement from ourselves was sin, and that what was needed to fix it was grace. Estrangement from ourselves, he concluded, was instead an essential part of being human, arising from the stark and inescapable fact of our mortality. We are never fully “there”; we are always still on the way – and the end of that path, he insisted, is not fulfilment but death. We can only live truthfully by accepting, not by trying to overcome, this predicament. To be fully human means bearing the tension between our inalienable wish for fulfilment and our inability ever to reach it, without collapsing into fantasy or apathy.

This call to heroic finitude was the bracing centre of the epoch-making book that catapulted Heidegger to fame in 1927, Being and Time. But within the bubbling national crisis of late Weimar, he soon became dissatisfied with its narrowly individual focus. For years, he brooded over the question how to bring not merely philosophers but a whole nation to live authentically.

What excites me about the Black Notebooks is seeing this brooding at work for the first time. But it is disturbing just how much Heidegger found the great enemy of his search for an authentic national life in Christianity. Partly this had to do with university politics. But the substance of his quarrel with Christianity was his old criticism of Catholic theology imposing false structures and meaning on human experience.

Heidegger had by now reached his diagnosis of the contemporary malaise.  Modernity was unable to resist constantly grinding down the rich inner life of the world into a single homogenous mass of “useful” material: power stations, industrial farming, and factory towns were all signs of this trend. And the root of this problem, he concluded, was Christianity. By imagining a God who had created a world of fixed natures that could be defined and therefore utilized, humans had authorized themselves to know, measure, master, and use up that world. This, he thought, was where the mechanical and unreal theology of neo-Scholasticism had led. Heidegger resolved that something radically different was needed: a communal vision which, like his earlier calls to authenticity, would enable Germany to face suffering and struggle in the crucible of national identity.

Heidegger had no natural appetite for politics: he mocked the “fake vivacity of politics, whose intellectual-spiritual paralysis cries to heaven” in the same breath as he scoffed at the “cheap superiority of faith”. But in Autumn 1932, Adolf Hitler’s calls to self-sacrifice and a new history stirred his imagination. Heidegger wrote excitedly to his friend, the influential Protestant biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann, that National Socialism might be a movement with enough driving force to rouse Germany as a whole to the kind of “conscious life” he envisioned. Heidegger was no outlier. Many leading German philosophers rallied around Hitler in the early 1930s. Philosophers had accepted as theirs the task of re-formulating a vision of Germany after the trauma of World War I, and largely looked to the great nationalists of the nineteenth century – Fichte and Hegel – as models. Those thinkers had seen Germany as a quintessentially spiritual  nation, called to lead the world to enlightenment by education. It was this vision which had fuelled the long German dominance of scholarship. When Hitler swept away the timid and sluggish bureaucrats of Weimar, Heidegger was not the only intellectual who hoped he would renew the spiritual visions of these great German thinkers.

In April 1933, Heidegger took on the rectorship of Freiburg University, and joined the Nazi Party with great public fanfare the following month. He supported a political revolution which, he believed, by teaching the Germans discipline and an “instinct for the ultimate”, would prepare the way for a “deeper … spiritual”  revolution. What this was really about, he insisted, was that “exposed to the most extreme questionableness of its own existence, this people [should] will … to be a spiritual people”. If the Party did not “sacrifice itself as a transitional phenomenon”, he grandly declared, but instead pretended to be “complete, eternal truth dropped from heaven”, it was “an aberration and a folly”.

The Notebooks document Heidegger’s increasingly bitter realization that Hitler and his chief ideologue Rosenberg wanted nothing to do with this idealism: Germanness, to them, was a matter of race and territory, not of spiritual destiny.

He resigned as head of the university in April 1934. Within a few years, he came to see Nazism as merely another totalitarian technopoly, a sort of flip-side of the neo-Scholastic theology that dominated Catholicism. By 1936, Heidegger had turned to a mystical quietism, which he described mysteriously as the anticipation of an unknown “last god’’ who would both end and save us. After the war, he mellowed towards his Catholic past, noting cryptically in 1953 that one’s “origins always remain one’s future”. On his death in May 1976, at the age of 86, Heidegger had a Catholic funeral.

Neo-Scholasticism has been in retreat in Catholic theology since the 1950s, not least due to Heidegger’s influence on luminaries such as Rahner. The Black Notebooks remind us that although he could be a formidable critic whose questions must be taken seriously, his hatred was also myopic. Most importantly, unlike the Confessing Church with its unambiguous truth claims, Heidegger’s spiritual vision was not ultimately strong enough to provide counter-directives to the Nazi regime. When it came to the test, for all his talk of suffering, Heidegger’s religion of questioning did not produce any martyrs.

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Publication originally printed by The Tablet in 2017, re-published here with permission.

For more of Professor Wolfe’s work on Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, see “Caught in the Trap of His Own Metaphysics” in Standpoint.

 

Oliver Crisp Appointed as Professor of Analytic Theology

The School of Divinity has announced the appointment of Professor Oliver Crisp to its newly established Chair in Analytic Theology. Prof. Crisp will take up his appointment on 1 September 2019. He will be a key member of the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology, as well as contributing to the School’s work in Systematic and Historical Theology and in Theology and the Arts.

Prof. Crisp played a role in founding the growing movement called “Analytic Theology”, and is one of its leading figures. With Michael Rea (Notre Dame and St Andrews), he is a senior editor of the Journal of Analytic Theology, and a series editor for Oxford Studies in Analytic Theology. He has written or edited twenty-five academic books, and is currently working towards publishing a systematic theology.

For the last eight years, Prof. Crisp has been professor of systematic theology at Fuller Seminary. There, he co-founded the annual Los Angeles Theology Conference, which has generated a series of important volumes published by Zondervan Academic, and led a major project entitled ‘Prayer, Love, and Human Nature: Analytic Theology for Theological Formation’, funded by a $2 million grant by the John Templeton Foundation. Since 2016, he has been involved in the Logos Institute as a part-time professor. As a collaborator and consultant he, along with Prof. Michael Rea, made a profound contribution to the conception and establishment of the Institute.

For more on Professor Crisp’s appointment, click here

An Interview with Professor Christoph Schwöbel

Professor Christoph Schwöbel, the 1643 Chair of Divinity, joined St. Mary’s this fall from the University of Tübingen. Below he offers thorough answers to questions pertaining to his position at St. Andrews, his plans with the MLitt program, and his academic interests. 

Considering your career at the University of Tubingen and elsewhere, when have you felt most excited about engaging in theological scholarship?

I can still remember the excitement with which I started studying theology and philosophy at the Kirchliche Hochschule Bethel, a church college that has the status of a Faculty of Theology in Germany. Now I could really focus on the questions that had fascinated me during the last years in grammar school without any distraction. This excitement has never left me and has accompanied me to the University of Marburg where I got my theological doctorate and later my Habilitation, from Marburg to King’s College London, and from there to chairs in the Universities of Kiel, Heidelberg, and Tübingen. However, this excitement changed over the years and was shaped by conversations with fellow theologians who became friends.

My teacher at Marburg, Carl Heinz Ratschow, was an incredible scholar, specialist in 17th century Lutheran orthodoxy, but equally competent in Aristotle, Nicolas of Cusa or Charles Hartshorne. Since Ratschow had started his academic studies as Egyptologist and had moved to theology through the influence of the Old Testament scholar Albrecht Alt, he had a lively interest for the world of religions. He could study the Qur’an in Arabic, the Buddhist traditions in Pali and Sanskrit and predicted much against the secular spirit of the time, that the theological dialogue with the religions would be the big theological task in the future. All this scholarship notwithstanding, Ratschow regularly conducted services and preached at the local church in the part of Marburg where he lived. He took me under his wing when I arrived in Marburg in my second year and made me study one philosopher each semester. At the end of the semester I had to submit an essay and discuss it with him. On such occasions the excitement came close to fear, and I certainly entered his study every time with a lot of trembling. After a relatively short time Ratschow was keen to get me started on my doctoral thesis. Much to my disappointment, he suggested a topic in historical theology and not in the philosophical theology. The reason was quite simple: “You will do enough philosophy of religion later on. You should do something respectable first.” So I spent many days in the bowels of the university library in Marburg sifting through the papers of the “liberal” theologian, journalist and politician Martin Rade (1857-1940), trying to decipher his handwriting and his idiosyncratic system of shorthand. Nevertheless, this also became very exciting when I stumbled on his correspondence with Karl Barth who had been the editorial assistant at Martin Rade’s journal Die Christliche Welt. Continue reading

The Season of Advent: Bonaventure on the Prophetess Anna in the Lukan Infancy Narrative

By Dr. William Hyland, Lecturer in Church History, St Mary’s College

Currently in one aspect of my research, I am engaged in exploring the interplay between exegesis, theology and devotion in the writings of the thirteenth century Franciscan theologian and spiritual writer St. Bonaventure, known as “the Seraphic Doctor”. As we approach the season of Advent and Christmastide, I would like to share some of his reflections on a specific aspect of the season. In his academic Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Bonaventure treats in detail the literal and spiritual meaning of the evangelist’s detailed discussion of the birth of John the Baptist, as well as the events surrounding and following the nativity and epiphany of Jesus.   His discussion of the meaning of the details of the narrative includes the figure of the prophetess Anna who was present at the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Franciscan friar makes clear that all of creation plays an important role in the revelation and implementation of God’s will for the whole cosmos.

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Judith Wolfe on BBC4 program ‘In Our Time’

Hope (G.F. Watts, 1886, Tate Britain)

Judith Wolfe, St. Mary’s Professor of Philosophical Theology, spoke on Melvyn Bragg’s program In Our Time on the philosophy of hope.

To the ancient Greeks, hope was closer to self-deception, one of the evils left in Pandora’s box or jar, in Hesiod’s story. In Christian tradition, hope became one of the theological virtues, the desire for divine union and the expectation of receiving it, an action of the will rather than the intellect. To Kant, ‘what may I hope’ was one of the three basic questions which human reason asks, while Nietzsche echoed Hesiod, arguing that leaving hope in the box was a deception by the gods, reflecting human inability to face the demands of existence. Yet even those critical of hope, like Camus, conceded that life was nearly impossible without it.

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.

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

By Jared Mickelson, PhD Candidate in Systematic Theology

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.

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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.