Archive for the Biblical Studies Category

Henry of Ghent – Trinitarian Theology

Posted in Biblical Studies, Philosophy with tags , on April 23, 2013 by taylorvincentroche

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrine that has sparked debate from its very conception. Disagreements over the constitution of the Trinity and the distinct composition of the three Trinitarian persons are quite familiar in the Church from the centuries directly following its birth all the way to contemporary times. There have been no shortage of theories, models, and analogies attempting to describe this uniquely Christian doctrine. Always existing along side of these models and theories is, Reason, the Creeds of the Church, and Holy Scripture itself. Each model or view of the Trinity must take each into account, weighing how much authority to grant to each and then begin the quest to give an account of such curious arithmetic as three equals one. Some have chosen Scripture alone. Others have included Reason along with Holy Scripture. Perhaps the most admirable attempts have taken all three, Reason, the Creeds (or orthodoxy), and Scripture, and though perhaps not assigning each category equal status, have sought a description of the Trinity that satisfies all three. In this paper I seek to describe one of those models. It is the model of Henry of Ghent, a thirteenth century scholastic. I hope to not only describe Henry’s position, but also to offer some analysis of it, in the end defending it as sufficiently satisfying all three “categories”, Reason, the Creeds, and Scripture. The best way to do this, I believe, is to start with a bit of history.

Throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries there are roughly speaking two conceptions of how the Trinity is constituted. These two can be referred to generally as the ‘Dominican’ way (relation) and the ‘Franciscan’ way (emanation).  Dominican theologians follow the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, while Franciscan theologians draw from St. Bonaventure.

Late thirteenth century scholastic Henry of Ghent also contributed significantly to the Franciscan ‘emanation’ account of the Trinity, and it his developments that will be considered here. However before this can be done it is necessary to give some background on specifically the similarities and differences of the two views, in order to better understand the moves that Henry makes. I will begin with a brief survey of the Dominican conception of the Trinity, and after that an introduction into the Franciscan understanding as a segue into Henry’s own position.

I cannot however summarize both views without first pointing out the similarities between each view. Remember the primary concept in question is how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are unified as one, and yet distinct as three persons. Both the Dominican and Franciscan views agreed that each divine person was constituted.

This is to say that each person of the Trinity is made up of both a communicable essence and an incommunicable personal property or characteristic.

The debate arises however, over the nature of this ‘personal property’ (proprietas personalis). It is of course necessary that whatever this personal property be, it result in a real distinction between the persons, as described in the creeds of orthodox Christianity. So according to Richard Friedman in “Medieval Trinitarian Thought from Aquinas to Ockham”, “The three divine persons, then, according to both the relation and emanation account, are essentially identical (i.e., they share completely the same divine essence) apart from one difference, which is the unique personal property that makes each of the persons distinct from the other two persons.”

As I have previously said, the personal characteristic must bring about a real distinction, but not “an essential distinction.”

Both sides make special use of Aristotle’s categories, specifically the category of relation. The relational, or Dominican account focuses in on what they term ‘opposed relations’, holding that the relation between Father and the Son is a real distinction capable of providing the kind of distinction necessary in the persons of the Trinity.

The relation account of personal distinction claims that the Father and the

Son are personally distinct in God since the Father is the Father only because

he has the Son. If the Father did not have the Son, then he would not be the Father.

If the relations between them are real and not mere mental constructs, then the

Father and the Son must be distinct in some way – not distinct essentially, but

distinct in persons.



So the relation account holds that the personal properties spoken of earlier, are in fact the relations between the members of the Trinity. However, those defending an emanation view of the Trinity proposed a different nuanced understanding of relations, again built firmly upon Aristotle’s categories.

Among the different types of relations Aristotle describes, there is the relation of producer to product.

Here Aristotle describes the relationship between a father and a son. However, Aristotle points out that logically prior to any discussion of a relation, the product must have been produced. That is to say, there is no point in talking about a father’s relationship to his son before he actually has a son. This led emanation theologians to reason that “divine relations are logically posterior to (and dependent upon) the divine productions.”

So the emanation theologians sought the incommunicable or personal property somewhere else, specifically that from which they get their name, the way the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit originate. According to Friedman, “On the emanation account of the distinction or constitution of the persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the very same divine essence in three irreducibly distinct ways, the way that each one emanates or originates (proceeds).”

So as Friedman clearly states, it is not the opposed relations that grant distinction to the persons of the Trinity, but rather it is in how each originates or gets their being. So according the emanation view, the Father’s personal property is innascibility, because he is self-existent. The Son’s personal property is generation, because he is begotten, getting the divine essence from the Father. Lastly the Holy Spirit’s personal property is spiration, receiving the divine essence from both the Father and the Son.

By way of summary, one more concluding thought from Friedman,

The opposition of relations that was a key part of the relation account does

indeed exist between Father and generated Son, as well as between Father

and Son (as one spirator) and spirated Holy Spirit. Just as Aristotle’s example

of a father’s production of his son, in the emanation account the relations are

indeed opposed. Nevertheless, in contrast to the relation account, this opposition

does not play a central role; the stress in the later medieval emanation account

is on the three irreducibly distinct ways in which the persons originate: unemanated, emanated by way of nature, and emanated by way of will.

As Friedman acknowledges, relations do exist and play a role in the emanation account, but this role is of a different sort that in the opposed relation account. I will now turn my attention to the true topic of this paper, Henry of Ghent and his model of the Trinity. Henry fits in the emanation account but contributes significant nuances to the model. I will begin by summarizing Henry’s model in whole, and then work back to elaborating in more detail upon the necessary points. In order to do this, it is necessary to begin with St. Augustine’s psychological model of the Trinity which Henry incorporates into the emanation account.

The opening verse of the fourth Gospel have long played a significant part in the discussion of Trinitarian theology. “In the beginning was the Word (Logos, λογοσ) and the Word with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 NRSV) This passage along with many others that refer to Jesus as the “Word” led St. Augustine to conceptualize the Trinity by using the analogy of human psychology. In Book XV of St. Augustine’s De Trinitate, St. Augustine distinguishes between a memory and a “begotten” word.

In order to do this he posited two nearly identical concepts, a mental word and knowledge in memory. This “mental word” could be thought of as the concept human beings form from memory of knowledge that is not explicitly being thought of prior to the this concept’s formation. Here the “dispositional knowledge”, as Friedman calls it, is identical to the “mental word” in every way save that the mental word is formed.

To make this more clear, consider one’s own intellectual memory. This “intellectual memory” carries with it many bits and pieces of knowledge that are yet unformed, indeed one could almost say that they lurk deep in the recesses of one’s mind and are rarely thought of or brought to the forefront of the mind. Yet when one is recalled or focused upon, it immediately becomes “formed” in such a way as to be identical to the once dispositional knowledge, yet distinct by nature of its formation. By way of this analogy St. Augustine came to describe the Son as the mental word that is identical to the knowledge that produced it, yet different in that it is formed or begotten.

This was St. Augustine’s attempt to answer that most central Trinitarian question, how the persons of the Trinity are both identical and yet distinct. With this model in mind, Henry sought to further explain both the constitutive properties of the persons and the divine production of the persons.

As I have already said, on the emanation account, the persons of the Trinity are distinct on the basis of how each persons originates or gets their being. More specifically, the Franciscan’s held that the Son “emanates by way of nature (a natural emanation like a child is born), and the Holy Spirit by way of will (a voluntary emanation like the way a gift is voluntarily given).”

Henry accepts this and seeks to combine this understanding with St. Augustine’s psychological model of the Trinity.

Henry would use St. Augustine’s work as well as the contemporary understanding of “intellect” to conclude that the Son’s production is an intellectual production. During Henry’s time the intellect was considered a “natural faculty.”

This is in contradiction to a voluntary or willful action. So Henry summarized, that since the Son emanates by nature, this must be an intellectual production. Again following suite with the Franciscan conception while nuancing it slightly, Henry further concluded that the Holy Spirit emanates by way of will or “zeal”.


Thus, for Henry, the Father is unemanated, the Son is emanated by way of

the divine intellect as a Word or Concept, and the Holy Spirit is emanated

by way of the divine will as “Zeal” (zelus). Indeed, Henry claimed that it is

the very fact that the Son’s emanation is an intellectual emanation that explained

why the Son is distinct from both the Father and the Holy Spirit.



As Russell Friedman explains in this excerpt, Henry understood the Son’s emanation as a literal Word. Consequently the distinction between the Son and the Holy Spirit is clear, though they both have their being from the Father, the Son’s production is intellectual and the Holy Spirit’s production is voluntary. Now by this point it should be somewhat clear how Henry sought to distinguish between the persons of the Trinity. However what should not yet be clear is how the beings are one. In order to examine this it becomes necessary to look more closely at Henry’s understanding of divine production and then subsequently the constitution of the divine persons.

Again, think back to what I said much earlier about the similarities between the Dominican and Franciscan conceptions of the Trinity, namely that each side believed the persons of the Trinity to be constituted. That is made up of both the divine essence and an incommunicable personal property. I will start with Henry’s thoughts on the divine essence and from there move to his writings on the personal properties of the persons. For Henry, the divine essence is something similar to “quasi matter”.

What motivates Henry to conceive to the divine essence as quasi matter is an attempt to avoid the view that the Son is created.

By making this moving it allows Henry to say that the Son is made from this divine substance, as opposed to the Son being created from nothing. Again referring to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, which affirms that through the Son all things were created, clearly something can not be its own creator, so Henry is motivated to avoid the view that the Son is created. So Henry turned to the divine essence to function as this substance from which the Son was made. According to Richard Cross, Henry thought of the divine essence as a kind of “substrate of the persons”, and in greater detail, “The essence is like a material constituent of an object that is non-identical with is constituent, and the non-identity is ground in a difference of form…between the constituent and the object constituted.”

This is to say that the divine essence functions something like an underlying substance in each of the persons, each person constituted both by this underlying substance and what Cross calls a “relevant form” or personal property. This bears true for each of the Trinitarian persons. So Henry affirms that a single and same essence (which is his understanding of the divine essence) can “constitute three distinct persons.”


So to summarize what I have up to this point, Henry believes that the Son is generated by means of intellectual production from the Father. By this the Son is distinguished from the Holy Spirit, who emanates voluntarily, from the Father and the Son. All three of these divine persons are constituted by a single essence, the divine essence, and a particular property. Now I have already begun to speak, at least at it pertains to the Franciscan view, what the personal properties are. Yet in order to understand this more completely, it is necessary to engage them further. In his major work, Summa Quaestionum Ordinarium, under Article 56 and 57, Henry addresses the properties of the persons specifically.

Beginning in Question two Article 56, Henry asks the question whether or not there are multiple or many properties in the same divine person. Henry answers this by saying that although there are only three constitutive personal properties in the divinity, “speaking more broadly… it is plain that two are properly in the Father, namely innascibility and generation, and one is commonly in the Father and Son, namely common active spiration.”

This leads Henry directly into his third question of Article 56, whether the properties constitute the persons? In order to answer this Henry seems to draw a distinction between two kinds of forms. Those that actually constitute a person, or in his words, “consist in giving being to a suppositum” and a second kind of form, one that comes “to what is already constituted in being.”

It is this move that allows Henry to claim that certain properties do in fact constitute the persons, while other do not. This can be seen in his following excerpt from Article 56,

Properties of the first sort are simultaneously constitutive and distinctive, and

there are three such properties which are called ‘personal properties’, namely

paternity, filiation, and passive spiration, as Richard [of St. Victor] says in De 

Trinitate book four chapter seventeen: ‘a personal property is that form which

each thing has being in that which it is, by which any one thing exists, and is

discrete from every other.’ And also in chapter eighteen” ‘And so in the divinity,

a person is nothing other than an incommunicable existing thing, having super-

substantial being from a personal property.’… A property of the second sort is

common active spiration, which is not constitutive of a person although it does distinguish two from three.



In this excerpt the first sort of property is the same as the first sort referred to earlier, namely a property that constitutes a person. The second sort is, as Henry clearly says, not constitutive of person yet nonetheless a property of that person. Now in the final question of Article 56 Henry asks whether a property with the essence constitute a person? To this Henry replies that yes, there are two things in every person, “a common nature by which something exists, and the other of which is a property by which something subsists.”

Again, this is to say that each of the divine persons is constituted by the divine essence and an incommunicable personal property. The personal property of the Father being paternity, the Son filiation, and the Holy Spirit active spiration. From here Henry turns his attention the properties themselves, and in particular the properties of the Father, which he discusses in the very next Article of his Summa, Article 57.

Henry begins with the question, whether being ungenerated is a property of the Father? To which Henry ultimately concludes that it is. Henry takes the proposition, “The Father is ungenerated,” to be a negation that can be reduced to “he has the divine essence from himself and not another.”

So, Henry concludes that this statement contains both a positive and negative claim. The positive claim is that the Father is self-sufficient, and the negative that he has nothing from another.

As I have already stated however, Henry has affirmed paternity as the constitutive property of the Father. So the question arises, is this a different property? Remember in Article 56 Henry has already concluded that it is indeed possible for there to be more than one property in the same divine person. Now having claimed that the Father has both the property of being ungenerated and also the property of paternity, Henry asks whether being ungenerated is a property other than paternity? In response to this Henry relies heavily on what he has already stated about the nature of the proposition, “The Father is ungenerated.”

It should be said, therefore, that one property of the Father is being

ungenerated, and another is paternity, since paternity is a property by

which he is Father and by which he has a positive reference to that one

who is from him, and being ungenerated is a property by which he has

a negative reference toward which he is not, according to the way it was

explained above. And so each property is the basis of dignity in the Father,

as has been said.



So it is clear that Henry affirms that in the Father there are two properties, being ungenerated and paternity. But this affirmation raises the question which is prior? Now given that the Father, along with the two other persons of the Trinity are eternal, neither property can be truly prior. Yet Henry does ask the question, whether being ungenerated is prior by reason to paternity? In regards to this question Henry thinks that there are roughly two ways to consider it. The second way, which yields the best chance of results, consists on considering the question on the basis of the subject matter which in this case is the deity.

When said of the Father, “being not from another,” Henry believes this entails the reverse. Namely that this statement posits “from whom there is another.”

So Henry says “not from another” which could be thought of as “being ungenerated” mutually posits “from another” with could be said in “paternity”.

So it appears that although, like I said previously, neither property can be said to be properly prior, the property of paternity is logically prior to being ungenerated.

So now that Henry has affirmed two properties in the Father, and granted logical priority to paternity it remains to be asked whether being ungenerated is a constitutive property of the Father? Henry takes up this question in the final section of Article 57.

Referring back to the logical priority of paternity, Henry argues that being ungenerated is not a constitutive property of the person. The reason for this being that paternity has been granted logical priority and considered “first” so Henry believes that paternity “necessarily is constitutive of the person, otherwise, then, this [paternity] would not be a property of the person but of the divine essence.”

In defense of his position Henry cites both Praepositinus and St. Augustine as being in agreement with him. This point in the paper seems like an appropriate place to momentarily return to the beginning and point out a significant place of distinction between the Dominican and Franciscan models of the Trinity. It should be clear at this point, that Henry claims “that the Father is the Father because he generates.”

This is in good keeping with the Franciscan trinitarian tradition. The significant point of difference for the Dominican tradition, who hold that the Father generates because he is the Father. So in conclusion of these two Articles in Henry’s Summa Henry examines the nature of personal properties and the personal properties of specifically the Father.

Now that a short summary of Henry’s work on the Trinity has been offered something should be said in regard to its theological orthodoxy. Indeed perhaps the most important question that could be asked of any Trinitarian model is, can it stand the weight of orthodoxy? The main point to consider here is does the model offer real distinction between the persons of the Trinity without resulting in tritheism? It is my belief that Henry’s model does this. Each one the divine persons of the Trinity is truly distinct from both others on the basis of their respective personal properties. In this paper I focused primarily on the properties of the Father, such discussion should have been sufficient to articulate how it is that the Father it truly distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit. Henry has offered a model containing real distinction, as opposed to some version of modalism and the like. But what of the unity of the Trinity? Has Henry done a sufficient job describing the unity of the members such that his model does not result in tritheism? Again, it is my belief that he has done so. Although the bulk of this paper was spent on the distinction between the persons, Henry does has sufficient grounds for Christians to continue to claim monotheism. Each of the divine persons is constituted in part by the divine essence, the Father receiving the divine essence “not from another” but having the property of being ungenerated. The Son receives the divine essence from the Father, being generated by him. Finally the Holy Spirit receives the divine essence from both the Father and the Son. Thus there is but one substance and essence shared between three persons. This seems sufficient for claiming monotheism on the grounds that there is one single communicable divine essence that which all the persons share.

In conclusion it is my opinion that Henry of Ghent a tenable model for the Christian Trinity. His model offers sufficient explanation of both the oneness of the Trinity, as well as the distinctive three persons through his usage of the divine essence and personal properties. Christians seeking to understand or study the Trinity should consider Henry a viable place to start or to include in their search for understanding. Henry’s model is able to bear the weight of Reason (though perhaps more work must be done to demonstrate this), the Creeds, and Scripture.  Consequently his model should be considered a plausible explanation of the Trinity.


John 7:53-8:11

Posted in Biblical Studies with tags on December 31, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

Part of a paper I wrote on John 7:53-8:11, one of the most disputed passages in the New Testament. This portion is from the part of the paper that deals with the authenticity of the passage.


For the purpose of examining the authenticity of John 7:53-8:11 an article written by Gary M. Burge titled “A Specific Problem In The New Testament Text And Canon: The Woman Caught In Adultery (John 7:53-8:11)” will be used to summarize the position of this paper.  First examined will be the  external evidence against the text. According to Burge, the chief problem with this passage from the Fourth Gospel is extremely weak attestation. Only one ancient manuscript contains John 7:53-8:11.

This is the Codex Brezae which is dated fifth or sixth century. Based on examination of the Greek texts Burge concludes that the story of the adulterous woman was introduced very late and was primarily known only in the west.

Considering the Church fathers, Origen in his commentary on John moves directly from 7:52 to 8:12. The earliest lectionaries, including the Constantinopolitan Lection have no mention of the passage. The earliest mention of the passage is by Euthymius Zigabenus in the twelfth century but even he considered the passage to be an insertion.

One more powerful piece of external evidence is that multiple Church fathers, including Tertullian, when discussing rules regarding adultery make no mention of this passage.

It would seem that this would not be the case if they considered it authentically John. Burge does point out however, that in the west there is more firm attestation. Those such as Jerome and Augustine both clearly have knowledge of the text. Also, Eusebius mentions a story that he claims was told to him by Papias, regarding an accused woman brought before Jesus. In the end Burge concludes that while the text is virtually absent in the Greek texts of the east, it seems that it was more known in the Latin west.

However, this does not mean the external evidence is inconclusive. The most important external witnesses remain completely silent on this passage.

In the book “The Five Gospels” the Jesus Seminar makes this passage as one that Jesus most assuredly does not represent the historical Jesus’ words.

Their reasons are as follows, Firstly because the this pericope is found in many different places throughout the four gospels, and seems to be a kind of “orphan” story. The Jesus Seminar scholars hold that while it is certainly not a part of the original Gospel of John, it is a notable tradition and they place it in a rather unique category that being the category of things “they wish Jesus had said and done.” Perhaps it is important to note that this is one of the very few places that the author of this paper actually agrees with anything the scholars of the Jesus Seminar say.

Now turning to examine internal evidence, the case for considering this passage inauthentic becomes much stronger. The language in these verses is simply not Johannine.

The syntax in John 7:53-8:11 is drastically different from the rest of John. Added to this is the very peculiar placement of such a passage. Not only does it fail to fit with the surrounding passages, it actually breaks up the flow of John. One need only read John 7 and 8 while excluding 7:53-8:11 to notice how much better the story of John reads without those twelve verses. The unique aspect to this piece of evidence is that the reader does not need to be a New Testament scholar to see its truth. Most decidedly because of the change in syntax, it seems very unlikely that this passage is even Johannine.

According to Bruce Metzger’s textual commentary on the New Testament “The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming.”

In his reasoning for this he cites numerous manuscripts that did not contain this pericope, he also points out certain manuscripts in which the leaves containing these passages were missing. However close examination of these manuscripts reveals that there is simply not enough room for this pericope to be included.

Metzger’s conclusion is that these verses are clearly a piece of oral tradition which had wider acceptance and knowledge of in the Western part of the Church which was what eventually led to its inclusion into certain manuscripts in certain places.

Metzger does however acknowledge that the panel decided that this passage was most likely historical and as such printed it, but distinguished it by placing double brackets around John 7:53-8:11.

“Faith” In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Part IV

Posted in Biblical Studies, Philosophy with tags , on December 9, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

Final section of my short series on Kierkegaard and his concept of faith. Feel free to comment, I’d always love to hear your thoughts.

As I mentioned at the very onset of my paper, despite the fact that Johannes does not desire to be a biblical exegete he is interpreting Scripture and if he does so in a faulty manner he will arrive at a faulty definition of faith. Perhaps his only mistake, which proves to be fatal, in his exegesis is that he seems to forget the greater context of the passage. This is also perhaps the strongest point in favor of my definition of faith. Consider the greater context, the story of Abraham and Isaac takes place in chapter 22 of Genesis. In chapter 12 of Genesis G-d makes a covenant with Abraham. For the next ten chapters G-d leads Abraham through foreign countries and remains faithful the promise he made to Abraham. We would do well to remember that these are not small trials that G-d protects Abraham through either. In the ten chapters G-d leads Abraham through Egypt and keeps his family safe from Pharaoh. G-d blesses the land in which Abraham entered after Lot chose what appeared to be the more fruitful land. G-d protects Abraham in his pursuit of his nephew and gives the king of Sodom into Abraham’s hand. G-d grants Abraham a son long after childbearing years for either he or his wife. G-d delivers Abraham again as he passes through foreign lands. Than, after all this G-d does the unthinkable and asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, his only son, the one through whom the promised nation was to come. Considered in this light, is Abraham’s obedience really unintelligible? Is not Abraham acting on what is an established trustworthy authority? Cease to examine the Abraham story and look instead at the broader context and Scripture and one will notice that all those who exercised faith were indeed acting on a trustworthy authority. One objection that has been raised to this statement is that Rahab did not have any past experiences with G-d and perhaps did not act on this definition of faith. But again, did not Rahab hear of the countless surprising victories racked up by the Israelites prior to their arrival outsider her city? Is it not likely that her faith was based on the witness of those bearing the stories of the Israelites victories? From their trusted witness she chose to place faith in the Israelites G-d who was clearly more powerful than the gods of her land? As earnest and honest as Johannes is, it seems that his definition of faith does not properly interpret what is actually going on in the Abraham story.

The main problem for Johannes’ definition is that it does not sufficiently emphasize that faith is based on, not identical to, trustworthy authority. His definition and account is compelling, but given his slight misinterpretation of the biblical text, his definition of faith lacks any basis in reason. My definition places a healthy emphasis on the reasonable basis for faith as well sufficiently explaining what occurs in the biblical text, particularly in light of its context. Johannes’ definition is useful but is a dangerous one to embrace, simply because it results in an irrational, unintelligible kind of faith. So in conclusion I submit my definition of faith is more sufficient because it is grounded in a certain amount of reasonability, that reasonability based in a witness or experience found to be a trustworthy authority.

“Faith” In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Part III

Posted in Biblical Studies, Philosophy with tags , on December 8, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

Here is part III of a four part series on Soren Kierkegaard’s understanding of “faith”.


There once was two small boys. The boys were at the age where they were allowed to go and play in the fields surrounding their houses all alone, although not old enough to understand entirely what responsibility such freedom required. One day the two boys were sent outside to play, and being friends they sought each other out in order to enjoy each others company and play together. Not long after they found themselves some distance from their houses in a part of the field neither had ever been before. Seeking to wade in a small river they discovered they both became horribly caught in quick sand. Their cries soon reached the attention of one of the boy’s mother. She came running to the side of the river and standing on the bank took in the scene. Calling out to her child and his friend she told them sternly not to struggle against the quick sand, but rather to stand still and not fight it. Of course adults know that this will considerably slow down the sinking process, but the small children knew nothing of the sort. Now each boy reacted considerably different. The child whose mother stood on the bank of the river stopped as soon as he heard his mother and stood still. However the other child, who did not know who this woman was, ignored her and continued to struggle with all his might. He even began to cry to his comrade not to listen but to continue to struggle. The very concept of giving up resistance and holding still was so contrary to his instincts that the only explanation he could imagine for his friend’s actions was that his friend had simply gone mad. But what had really happened? His friend had displayed faith. To the child standing by, ignorant of who this woman was, his friend’s faith undoubtedly seemed like an irrational leap into the absurd. And perhaps if his friend was rescued and the boy never learned the identity of the woman he might live on and become convinced that an irrational leap of faith saved his friend’s life. But the one boy’s faith could not be anything farther from some unintelligible act. Simply and only because the boy knew the woman. It was his mother, she wished him no harm. He had spent years in her care. She had time and time again proved herself worthy of his trust. So his faith was not irrational or absurd, even though neither child understood. Rather his faith was an action and a belief based on trusting of good authority, and in this particular event, there was nothing more rational or reasonable that he could have done.

Granted there are obvious differences in my analogy and the actual Abraham story. It is crafted as such to prompt one to think about the nature of faith. Although faith does not at times seem reasonable, it might be. Notice I am not saying that faith is simply trust. Faith is a belief, and action, based on a reasonable authority. Reasonable authority will not mean the same thing to everyone, what seems trustworthy to one will not seem trustworthy to another. But nonetheless so long as faith is based on this reasonability, true dialogue is possible. The “knight of faith”, to borrow Johannes’ words, need no longer be unintelligible. Not only this, but those who express faith are no long free to have faith in anything they’d like. Now they must at the very least offer a defense for how the authority they are acting upon is trustworthy. My definition of faith has now been articulated and a defense of why the reader ought to accept it has been provided. It now arises to compare this definition to Johannes’ and highlight crucial differences. This entire conversation takes place against the backdrop of Scripture because after all that is where one finds the story of Abraham. What this means though is that whatever definition  of faith either myself or Johannes arrives at, our definition must hold consistent with the story of Abraham as well as the larger narrative of Scripture. Both Johannes and myself subject ourselves to this standard when we take up the task of interpreting the story of Abraham, the father of faith. My attention shall turn to Scripture after I have highlighted important differences between Johannes’ definition of faith and my own.

At this point in the paper, the differences should actually be quite clear. For Johannes, faith is performing an unintelligible action for the sake of G-d. It cannot be understood or justified to anyone else because it places the individual above the universal which is the ethical. My own definition of faith states that faith is an action performed on the basis of trustworthy authorities. Although it may at times be unintelligible to spectators it need not always be so. Because faith is at its core based on a reasonable trust, it could be explained and if not explained at least defended as reasonable and explainable. Now let us turn to Scripture and see why I believe my definition better fits the biblical narrative than Johannes’ definition.

“Faith” In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Part II

Posted in Biblical Studies, Philosophy with tags , on December 6, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

This is Part II of my paper on “Faith” in Kierkegaard, which is probably best to read after you have at least glanced over Part I.

When Johannes undertakes this question of faith, he acknowledges that often philosophy has despised faith and considered it something lesser, particularly in light of the Hegelian notion of Reason. He hints at this as he begins to unpack what he considers faith,

“Faith in such a case keeps fairly ordinary company, it belongs with feeling, mood, idiosyncrasy, hysteria and the rest. So far philosophy is right to say one should not stop at that. But there is nothing to warrant philosophy’s speaking in this manner. Prior to faith there is a movement of infinity, and only then enters faith, unexpectedly, on the strength of the absurd. This I am very well able to understand, without claiming thereby to have faith… Faith’s paradox is his, that the single individual is higher than the universal, that the single individual determines his relation to the universal through his relation to the absolute, not his relation to the absolute through his relation to the universal.”

Now focusing on this particular, and at least to me most confusing line, “Faith’s paradox is this, that the single individual is higher than the universal.” What does Johannes mean? He picks up this topic again soon after,

“Thus when we see someone do something that doesn’t conform with the universal, we say, ‘He can hardly be doing that for the sake of G-d,’ meaning by this that he did it for his own sake. The paradox of faith has lost its intermediate term, i.e. the universal. On the one hand it contains the expression of extreme egoism (doing this dreadful deed for his own sake) and on the other the expression of the most absolute devotion (doing it for G-d’s sake). Faith itself cannot be mediated into the universal, for in that case it would be cancelled. Faith is this paradox, and the single individual is quite unable to make himself intelligible to anyone.”

It begins to be made clear what Johannes takes to be faith. For Johannes, faith is that which can only confront individuals and never the universal. Specifically that faith is what makes the individual unable to be understood by anyone else. It is the individual’s duty to the Absolute. Or as Johannes puts it above, doing it for G-d’s sake. Johannes seems convinced that faith cannot be understood by anyone other than the one acting on faith in this particular instance. So if faith for Johannes can be understood as an unintelligible leap, positing the individual higher than the universal, acting upon the strength of the absurd for G-d’s sake, than how does this interpretation fit into the Abraham and Isaac story?

Now knowing his definition of faith, it begins to become clear how Johannes’ draws from and relates this definition to the story of Abraham and Isaac. In short Abraham has a duty to the Absolute, a duty to G-d. This duty contradicts the ethical which is the universal and consequently renders Abraham unintelligible to any who inspect his actions. Abraham knows only his duty to the Absolute and choose to leap into the absurd for G-d’s sake alone. This is precisely why Abraham’s act of sacrificing Isaac is so difficult to understand and interpret. Because faith renders the individual, in this case Abraham, unintelligible! Johannes feels it is useless to speculate on how to rationally explain what Abraham did because what he did is not part of the universal. It cannot be understood by any, not even those who feel they are in a similar situation. Any attempt using reason to explain Abraham’s actions would be futile and would indeed be misunderstanding faith so far as Johannes is concerned.

Johannes’ definition of faith and his interpretation of the Abraham and Isaac story are both well articulated and satisfactory. His position is very understandable and obviously holds great appeal to many people. The question now becomes, whether or not this is a responsible definition of faith, and whether or not this is a biblical definition of faith. These questions are more closely related than one might think. As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, although I respect and whole heartedly understand what would lead Johannes to this kind of definition of faith and interpretation of the Abraham story, I must disagree with what he has arrived at. Namely for the reasons stated earlier, that this promotes an intellectually irresponsible notion of faith. I will now attempt to provide a different definition of faith and defend why is it more sufficient than Johannes’ definition.

Let me begin by clearly stating what I am arguing. This being that faith must be grounded  in some amount of reasonability. To more clearly define what I mean by reasonability let me say that reasonability is the witness or experience of those we have found to be trustworthy authorities. To make this even more clear, I will be arguing that Abraham does not act irrationally , or in a way that cannot be explained universally, by obeying G-d and going to sacrifice Isaac but that he was acting on the witness of a trustworthy authority. My definition of faith therefore is a belief that is based on trusting good authority. Now why should the reader accept this definition of faith? Firstly because it is grounded in a sufficient amount of reasonability. Although it most likely was not Johannes’ intention, the definition of faith he has given us is one that leaves reason quite out of the picture. The danger here is that some might be tempted to turn to faith as a kind of epistemic thing, claiming that they have faith in a certain being’s existence and they need not explain themselves to anyone. Or that a particular action of their’s need not be explainable or rational to anyone else. Faith must necessarily be reasonable and explainable to at least some small degree. Consider the following analogy which is not perfectly applicable to the Abraham and Isaac story but will help further explain my definition of faith and set up its application to the Abraham story.

“Faith” In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Part I

Posted in Biblical Studies, Philosophy with tags , on December 5, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

This is the first of a short series of posts regarding Soren Kierkegaard’s well known work titled, “Fear and Trembling.” All together, these posts will form a critique of Kierkegaard’s concept and understanding of faith. The goal is to prompt reflection on the nature of faith and what it means to have faith “in” something. Of course, it will be laden with some of my own opinion. Enjoy!


Although Soren Kierkegaard would probably be considered both a philosopher and a theologian, when he speaks directly to biblical interpretation as he does in Fear and Trembling, he sets aside the role of philosopher and enters the arena of biblical hermeneutics. Some might be tempted to point out that Kierkegaard writes under the pseudonym Johannes, and Fear and Trembling cannot even be taken as Kierkegaard’s views but only Johannes‘ views. This is very true. So perhaps it is not Kierkegaard that sets aside his philosophy and takes up the role of Biblical exegete, but rather Johannes who is admittedly neither philosopher or exegete that takes up the task of biblical interpretation. In this paper Johannes’ definition and understanding of faith will be examined and critiqued. It is the position of this paper that although Johannes argues he is not a biblical exegete, he practices methods of biblical interpretation and therefore must be held to some standard as a Biblical exegete. Along with that and more importantly, it is the thesis of this paper is that Johannes’ definition of faith promotes an intellectually irresponsible notion of faith. By intellectually irresponsible I mean that this text presents faith as if it does not need to be grounded in any amount of reasonability, and by reasonability I mean, the witness or experience of those we have found to be trustworthy authorities. I will begin by addressing Johannes’ belief that he is not a Biblical exegete which can be found in the very beginning of the chapter titled “Attunement”.

It is true that Johannes from the very onset of his work proclaims himself no philosopher or exegete and in doing so tries to free himself from the constraints that are sometimes placed on such kinds of thinkers. “This man was no learned exegete, he knew no Hebrew; had he known Hebrew then perhaps it might have been easy for him to understand the story of Abraham.”

Earlier in his Preface, Johannes remarks that neither is he a philosopher, “The present author is no philosopher, he has not understood the System, nor does he know if there really is one, or if it has been completed.”

What Johannes wishes to do here is free himself from being held accountable as an exegete. This is all well and good except for that Johannes is insistent on playing the part of an exegete while claiming not to be one. Johannes remarks similarly that he does not feel the need to go beyond faith, as if this is what exegetes and philosophers often do. Despite Johannes’ statements it is necessary to consider what Kierkegaard does through Johannes as biblical exegesis. This is necessary only insofar as biblical exegesis is attempting to read a biblical passage and through understanding that passage gain insight into the text and the Christian life. This is clearly what Johannes is doing. By turning to the story of Abraham and Isaac when contemplating true faith, Johannes is doing at best exegesis and at worst isogesis. So as I proceed with my critique of Johannes’ definition of faith, I intend to treat Johannes as performing exegesis. I do not intend to do this harshly, but rather to acknowledge that so long as one in interpreting Scripture they are at least playing the part of an exegete and may be critiqued to see if their exegesis is accurate by the text they are exegeting.

Faith, and how to understand it is central to Kierkegaard’s work Fear and Trembling. In his work Johannes’ definition of faith is largely, if not entirely, built upon the story of Abraham and Isaac. Most Christians are familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac. The problem arises when Abraham obeys G-d and goes up to the place designated specifically to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, as G-d has commanded. In at least preliminary work on this passage, Johannes’ exegesis is perfectly accurate. He begins by trying to shake off the ease and comfort we have come to discuss this passage. “One speaks of Abraham’s honor, but how? By making it common place: ‘his greatness was that he loved G-d so much that he was willing to offer him the best he had.’ That is very true but ‘best’ is a very vague expression.”

Johannes points out very well that far too often this story is simply hurried over and explained away in a manner that saves one from having to actually encounter the text. So admirably determined not to fall into this trap Johannes sets out to explain the kind of faith that would compel Abraham to attempt the murder of his own son. In this manner the question “What is faith?” shall dominate the remainder of this paper. I will begin by examining the definition of faith that Johannes arrives at after his exegesis of  the Abraham and Isaac story.

Limited Atonement- J. Calvin (Part II)

Posted in Biblical Studies with tags , on November 26, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

Continuing on the conversation from my previous post:

John Calvin penned his book, Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536.The Synod of Dort was composed in 1619 and the Westminster Confession was completed in 1647.By beginning with The Institutes of Christian Religion, and working forward, examining in detail what each work says about the doctrine of predestination and in particular Limited Atonement, it will be possible to see exactly how the doctrine of Calvin have evolved.  Because of the controversy surrounding the doctrine of Limited Atonement, the purpose of examining these works will be to directly learn what they say about the scope of Christ’s work on the cross.  The other four points of Calvinism are less debated, and for the sake of time and space the focus of this paper is directed at Limited Atonement.  As just previously mentioned, this paper will begin with the Institutes and work forwards to the Westminster Confession.

Calvin devotes a mere four chapters to the topic of predestination in his Institutes.  It is important to understand the John Calvin never specifically addresses Limited Atonement.  So in some regard it is impossible to prove that he believed in Limited Atonement.  What can be proven is that Calvin believed in the two principles that lead directly to Limited Atonement.  This paper makes no claims that Limited Atonement was a doctrine that John Calvin taught.  However this paper does claim that Calvin’s theology is clearly described and accurately developed in Calvinism. The two points that Calvin held which lead to Limited Atonement are as follows, first Calvin clearly understands Jesus’ death to bring about actual remission of sin and actually obtain salvation.

Secondly, Calvin also believes that salvation is for the elect alone. These points will be elaborated on in detail.In book three chapter XXII, titled “This Doctrine Confirmed by Proofs from Scripture” Calvin specifically addresses the discussion on Christ’s atonement. According to Calvin, salvation is for solely the elect. Quoting directly from him,

“But it is by Isaiah he more clearly demonstrates how he destines the promises

of salvation especially to the elect (Isa 8:16); for he declares that his disciples

would consist of them only, not indiscriminately of the whole human race.”

This illustrates that Calvin understood salvation for the elect alone.  This alone does not prove that the doctrine of Limited Atonement even entered into Calvin’s head. It simply proves that Calvin believed that salvation was only attained by the elect. This is the first point of two. Earlier in his same work, Calvin affirms what has already been stated, that Jesus’ death obtains the actual remission of sin.  Quoting directly from book two chapter XVII, “Christ Rightly and Properly Said to Have Merited Grace and Salvation for Us”,

“That is Christ, by his obedience, truly purchased and merited grace for us

with the Father, is accurately inferred from several passages of Scripture. I

take it for granted, that if Christ satisfied our sins, if he paid the penalty due

by us, if he appeased G-d by his obedience; in fine, if he suffered the just for the

unjust, salvation was obtained for us by his righteousness; which is just equivalent

to meriting.”

This quote along with others that cannot be quoted verbatim illustrate the second point about Calvin’s theology. That Jesus’ death is complete, final, all that is necessary for sins, and obtains real removal of sin. For Calvin, Jesus’ death on the cross does not simply provide the possibility of remission of sins but the actual remission of sins.

This statement along with numerous other statements that can be found in John Calvin’s Institutes prove that Calvin firmly believed Jesus’ death to in no ways be in vain.  Calvin firmly held to the fact that Christ’s work on the cross was final and complete.

From these two points it shows that for Calvin, all whom Christ died for are saved.  It is reasonable then that since Calvin also affirmed that not everyone is saved, he did not believe in Universal Atonement.

Therefore it is not inaccurate or misleading for later Calvinists to affirm Limited Atonement in response to Arminian writings.  John Calvin’s theology clearly affirmed the two principles that lead directly and inescapably to the doctrine of Limited Atonement. Eighty-three years after the Institutes was completed the Synod of Dort was written in response to the Five Articles of Remonstrance.The Five Articles of Remonstrance was a work composed by Dutch theologians who were disciples of Jacobus Arminius, the founder of Arminianism.  It is generally considered that here, in 1619, those composing the Synod of Dort made Calvin’s doctrine of predestination more rigid than he had ever intended.  Because the Synod of Dort was composed in response to the doctrine found in the Five Articles of Remonstrance, it is not a complete exposition of Calvinist theology but merely disagrees with the Five Articles.  Almost every article’s function is a refutation an Arminian view of predestination and affirmation Calvinist position. This format makes it very simple to discern exactly what the composers meant.  In Section 02: “Of the Death of Christ and the Redemption of Men Thereby” under the “Rejection of Errors” heading the Synod states that the claim that Christ died for all (Universal Atonement) is “injurious to the wisdom of G-d, the merit of Christ, is contrary to Scripture.”

The Synod of Dort goes on to claim what will later become known as Limited Atonement. In regard to the other five points of Calvinism, although they were not discussed in relation to the Westminster Confession, the Synod of Dort clearly affirms Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.  The Synod of Dort seems to be much harsher in its language than the Westminster Confession. It is clearly obvious that the composers of the Synod of Dort are attempting to draw clear and distinct lines between their own beliefs and Arminian theology. Because the authors of the Synod of Dort are responding to the Five Articles of Remonstrance, they seem to be affirming what is exactly contrary to the Five Articles.

The Westminster Confession is generally regarded as the best expression of Calvinist theology during its time. Quite obviously it addresses many doctrines other than the theology in question.  However this paper will limit itself to only to those articles pertaining to predestination and particularly Limited Atonement.  Both sides of this debate agree that the Westminster Confession claims Limited Atonement.  In Chapter XIII section V the Confession agrees that Christ’s sacrifice is only for those who were given to him by the Father. Just earlier in Chapter X section I the Confession states again that the elect alone are the purpose of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. Again in the next Chapter, XI, section IV the Confession concludes that the justifying work of Christ fulfilled an eternal decree promised by G-d to those whom He had elected.

This is sufficient evidence that the Westminster Confession asserts Limited Atonement.  Using this as a reference point it is possible to track the evolution, or lack thereof, of Calvin’s doctrine backwards in time.  In regard to other points of predestination, the Westminster Confession seems to hold fairly clearly to Calvin’s theology.  It is also clear though, that the atonement found in the articles of the Confession is Limited Atonement.