The Church’s Gag Order (Christian Liberty in the Reformation, Pt. 1)

At several points in his Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunen states that the Protestant doctrine of Christian liberty was foundational to the Reformed understanding of natural law and the two kingdoms, and hence to his own two-kingdoms project.  But has he rightly characterized that foundational doctrine?  Whose liberty, after all, are we talking about? 

One person’s liberty is always asserted over against another person or entity, conditioning their liberty in some way.  That I have a liberty not to be assaulted means that you do not have the liberty to assault me.  So whose liberty are we talking about when we talk about Christian liberty?  Is this liberty corporate or is it individual?  It makes rather a difference, you see, since if it’s the former, then it is the liberty of the Church body over against its individual members, but if it’s the latter, then its the liberty of the individuals over against the Church body, which has quite the opposite effect.  Which is the true Protestant doctrine? 

The dilemma is neatly illustrated by an example that VanDrunen himself examines–a rather bizarre debate in 1860 that could only have happened between two Presbyterians, and two particularly prickly ones at that: Charles Hodge and James H. Thornwell.  The question was: “Is it legitimate for the denomination to create a mission board?”  (Not, mind you, “Is it a good idea?” but “Is it even allowed?”)  Charles Hodge argued a resounding “Yes,” appealing to the doctrine of Christian liberty.  As VanDrunen tells it, “He claimed that Thornwell’s idea ‘ties down’ the government and action of the church to what is prescribed in the New Testament and, toward the end of his article, he writes: ‘There is as much difference between this extreme doctrine of divine right, this idea that everything is forbidden which is not commanded, as there is between this free, exultant Church of ours, and the mummified forms of mediaeval Christianity’” (NLTK 258).  In other words, if the Church is not free to do things neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture, then we are back to a new legalism as bad as that of the Papacy.

VanDrunen immediately lets us know what he thinks about this:

“The Reformed doctrine of Christian liberty was never about the church being freed to to things (such as create boards to which it could delegate the work of missions) about which Scripture was silent.  Instead, with direct reference to the two kingdoms doctrine, Reformed theologians and confessions spoke of Christian liberty in regard to the justified individual, who was freed in the civil kingdom from any obligation to do things contrary to the teaching of Scripture and in the spiritual kingdom from any obligation to do things beside the teaching of Scripture….Thus, when Hodge taught, as the Presbyterian’s doctrine of Christian liberty, that the church is permitted to do what is not forbidden in Scripture, he was in fact transferring the traditional Reformed standard for the civil kingdom to the spiritual kingdom and thus giving the church precisely the power (speaking and acting beyond the teaching of Scripture) that the Reformed tradition had tried to take from it” (NLTK 258-59).

This, he said, was Thornwell’s contention, who responded with, we are told “an incisive, biting, and at times humorous response” which “lamented on the one hand the lack of candor and honor in his [Hodge’s] article and, on the other hand, his ineptness in regard to ecclesiology.”  Hodge, he said, had it backward–his “principle that the church is permitted to do all that Scripture does not forbid it to do was not the Reformed principle of Christian liberty over against Rome but the principle of Rome which the Reformed doctrine of Christian liberty sought to overthrow” (NLTK 259).  In short, “Thornwell sought to limit the government and action of the church to the prescriptions of the Bible only, and did so with reference to historic Reformed convictions about the church’s ministerial authority and about Christian liberty” (260).

VanDrunen is in no doubt what the proper Protestant doctrine is–Christian liberty means the individual believer is freed from having to do anything not directly commanded in Scripture, and therefore the Church is bound not to authorize anything that is not directly commanded in Scripture.  (There is already a tension, mind you–one could understand how this construal of Christian liberty would mean that the Church could not require individual believers to serve on church boards, etc.; but it is a bit harder to see why it would mean that the Church could not authorize them in any way as an option for its members.  But more on this anon.)  Believer free, Church bound.  This dialectic is even further intensified in Thornwell’s doctrine of the spirituality of the Church, which is much more relevant to VanDrunen’s own project: the liberty of the individual Christian means that he is free from having to receive any guidance from the Church on anything not directly contained in Scripture (e.g., political issues like, say, slavery)–the Church is bound not to speak on any such matters.  

Now, Hodge’s concern seems justified here–surely this is not freedom but legalism!  Surely this cannot be the traditional Protestant doctrine.  But earlier in the book, VanDrunen has already shown that it is, hasn’t he?  Let’s follow the trail backwards.  He sprinkles the appeal to Christian liberty throughout his narrative, but a significant focus of the discussion comes near the end of chapter 5.  


Thornwell’s legalism may be understood as an application of the “regulative principle of worship” (or RPW), which, says VanDrunen, “states that the public worship of the church may consist only of those elements that the New Testament itself teaches are proper elements of worship” (191).  This comes from the doctrine of Christian liberty: “Because the church has no power to impose anything beyond the teaching of Scripture upon the consciences of believers, it has no power to demand that believers worship God in any other way than what Scripture ordains” (191-2).  This is again all wrapped up in the two kingdoms doctrine:

“In the spiritual kingdom of the church, ecclesiastical authorities, dealing only with spiritual things, have no power to bind consciences beyond the declaration of what Scripture itself teaches (a ‘ministerial’ authority) and believers have no conscientious obligation to believe or do anything that the church says otherwise.  Believers are free from anything ‘beside’ the word of God.  In the civil kingdom and with respect to civil matters, however, believers are free only from commands ‘contrary’ to Scripture, meaning that they are conscientiously bound to do all things that the magistrate commands (however disagreeable) so long as they do not contradict some biblical teaching” (191). 

In fact, this is all in Calvin, VanDrunen tells us on the previous page: “in Institutes 3.19, alongside 4.11 and 4.20, Calvin lays down the principle that while ecclesiastical authorities cannot bind the conscience of believers in anything beyond what Scripture teaches, civil authorities do in fact bind consciences when they command anything that is not contrary to biblical teaching” (190). 

Well, by Jove, there you have it.  Calvin said it, in the Institutes no less, so it must be the proper Christian doctrine.  Following the narrative back further, we come to chapter 3, where Calvin is dealt with in great detail.  So let’s look at this closely.

For Calvin, christian liberty consists in 1) “having one’s conscience assured of justification and no longer seeking justification by the law,” 2) “being obedient to the law voluntarily rather than under legal compulsion,” and 3) “being freed from obligation to do or not to do external things that are in themselves morally indifferent” (NLTK 73).

However, this last point is immediately qualified by the two kingdoms doctrine–since “Christian liberty is in all its parts a spiritual matter,” this freedom from obligation to things indifferent does not apply in the civil sphere: “By attending to this distinction, we will not erroneously transfer the doctrine of the gospel concerning spiritual liberty to civil order, as if in regard to external government Christians were less subject to human laws, because their consciences are unbound before God…” (Inst. 3.19.15).

The redemptive doctrine of Christian liberty, VanDrunen explains,“applies to life in the spiritual kingdom but not to life in the civil kingdom.  No human authority can bind the believer’s conscience in regard to participation in the spiritual kingdom of Christ.  Over against Roman Catholic claims, Calvin teaches that Scripture is the only authority in this realm.  Hence, as he explains in Institutes 4.10-11, the church can minister the word of God alone and never its own opinions, and it can prescribe for worship only those things that Scripture provides….In other words, the officers of the church have authority to do and command only those things prescribed in Scripture, and Christians in the spiritual kingdom are thus free in conscience from anything beyond this”; on the other hand, “civil magistrates have a broader discretion to promote justice and order in the civil kingdom, and Christians are bound to obey them except if their commands contradict their biblical obligations” (NLTK 74).

Was this, then, the Protestant doctrine of Christian liberty–the believer’s freedom from any command outside Scripture in the visible Church, and the Church’s corresponding gag order not to say, do, or command anything besides what is specifically laid down in Scripture?  I have already argued in a recent post that such a notion of sola Scriptura is simply impossible and incoherent–no church could function if it took VanDrunen’s rhetoric seriously.  So was Protestantism really so incoherent at such a key point?


I would suggest that the answer is a resolute “No,” and that VanDrunen has in fact distorted the teaching of the magisterial Reformers almost beyond recognition at this point.  He has done so by equivocating at the exact point where Calvin is so careful to be absolutely precise–the notion of “conscience.”  VanDrunen slides carelessly from saying “the Church cannot bind the conscience beyond Scripture” to “the Church cannot command anything beyond Scripture” to “the Church cannot do anything beyond Scripture.”  Not only are the last two quite different statements (as I already pointed out parenthetically above with regard to church boards), but for Calvin, the first two are quite different statements.  Indeed, because of this, VanDrunen has in fact gotten Calvin wrong on the other side of the duality as well–magistrates cannot bind the conscience in the civil kingdom, for Calvin, because in fact there is no one but God himself who can bind the conscience. 

In a series of posts over the coming weeks, preparatory to a chapter draft for my Ph.D., I will be exploring this question in Calvin, but also in several of his contemporaries, in the Puritans who claimed to follow him, and of course in Hooker.  VanDrunen’s construal is not, I will argue, completely alien to the Reformation–it was certainly there, and popped up from time to time in incendiary outbursts, but it was always resisted by the magisterial Reformers–Luther, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Bucer, Vermigli, Calvin.  Hooker, I hope to argue, helped resolve some of the tensions thus raised that his predecessors had not quite been able to deal with satisfactorily.  


(For some of my initial critiques of VanDrunen on some the chapters quoted above when I read them last year, see here and here–take all with a grain of salt, however.)

(For an initial sketch of my Ph.D thesis, or what I aspire to be my thesis, covering a lot of the ground discussed above, see here.)

(For an excellent review of VanDrunen that exposes the category confusion that lies at the heart of this problem, see this article by Steven Wedgworth.)

Grasshoppers in the Waves

Six days ago, I woke up and after some reading, did my standard early morning web-browsing–sports, stocks, NOAA gauges showing flood conditions on the Ohio and Susquehanna Rivers, Jeff Masters’s weather blog, etc.  I was just ending the ritual when something caught my eye in the comments section of the blog. 

An 8.9 earthquake?  No way. 
In Japan?  Too bad to be true. 
With a tsunami?  Of course, but they’re used to those. 
Ten metres?  Oh s***.  

Within a couple minutes, I was watching the videos that have been haunting our airwaves ever since–an inexorable tide of black water devouring all in its path.  I pulled up Google Earth and scanned the coastline of northeastern Japan–city after city, all under ten metres elevation.  I knew then that this was no ordinary disaster, that this time, the deaths would be measured not in the hundreds or in the thousands, but in the tens and scores of thousands.  And yet as the days have passed since, with image after image of incomprensible destruction, statistic after statistic of the incalculable human and financial cost, hysterical headline after hysterical headline forecasting nuclear doom from the stricken Fukushima reactors, it has become harder, not easier, to grasp the enormity of it.  

Sure, we’ve been here before.  Last year, anywhere from 75,000-300,000 Haitians (the absurd uncertainty of the figure testifies to the meaninglessness of human life in this most pitiful of nations) perished in the Port-au-Prince quake.  Two years before that, the sea swallowed up at least 140,000 in Burma’s Cyclone Nargis, and the earth swallowed up half that many in China’s Sichuan earthquake.  Scarcely more than six years ago, the Great Indian Ocean Tsunami claimed the lives of nearly 300,000.  But somehow, none of these had quite the same shock value.  In Haiti, for instance, the devastation unleashed seemed almost fated, the fitting capstone to decades of misery and poverty; we shook our heads and said sadly, “Yes, that would happen to Haiti…”  In the Boxing Day Tsunami, as overwhelming as it all seemed, it made sense, really, when you thought about it.  Here was an ocean ringed with poor and primitive fisher-folk, dwelling in huts by the sea-side, the source of their livelihood.  They had no warning, and no defence against the sea.  Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later–and let’s face it, how much would they really be missed?  How many people knew or cared of the existence of these villages before they became non-existent?

But this time, things are different somehow.  This time, the most technologically-advanced nation on earth, the nation that with all its resources and preparation, seemed almost impregnable against natural disasters, was brought to its knees.  Here was a country with buildings that would wobble about a bit, but ultimately stay standing, in the midst of the world’s sixth-largest recorded earthquake.  Here was a country with state-of-the-art tsunami warning systems, with seawalls twenty feet wide and hundreds of feet thick.  And yet it didn’t seem to matter.  The all-consuming wave poured over these seawalls as effortlessly as the tide washes over a sand castle.  Whole cities vanished, and the survivors were left shivering without food and water for days.  Nuclear reactors spiralled out of control, almost as if driven by some fiendish spirit gleefully thwarting every human effort to cool them.  The Japanese stock market, despite hundreds of billions of government dollars pumped in to prop it up, plunged 16% in two days, worse than in any two-day span of the 2008 financial crisis. 

There has been a moment or two each day, it seems, where I found myself seriously thinking that it must all be a dream–this couldn’t really be happening now, in 2011.  This was the stuff of a disaster movie, not a real-life disaster.  Numbed by the horror and pain of it, I have tried to pray, but with faltering lips.  What can one pray at a time like this?  With millions in need, where does one begin?  “Lord, please help the Japanese people,” is about as far as I can get.  When praying on my own account, for my own daily needs and struggles, I’ve found myself tempted to think that God couldn’t possibly be listening–with such a deafening outcry of voices lifted up to him in anger and grief on the other side of the world, he couldn’t possibly have time for us ordinary folk anymore.  

And then comes the more troubling thought: what’s the point of praying to God to fix this if he’s the one who did it?  I’ve come to think that if theodicy isn’t a problem that tears at your insides every now and again, then you aren’t really paying attention.  And now is one of those times.  Six years ago, in the wake of the Boxing Day Tsunami, David Bentley Hart wrote and eloquent and deeply moving though ultimately misguided book called The Doors of the Sea, in which he vented at heartless Calvinists who declared that it was all part of the plan and for God’s greater glory, and gestured vaguely at the free-will defence for the existence of evil.  But this just won’t do.  The free-will defence might just about manage to get God off the hook for Auschwitz, but not for depopulating Banda Aceh or Minamisanriku.  There simply was no human agent involved, and if we are going to say that God is not responsible even for the movement of the earth and the sea, then what do we say he’s responsible for?  No, there is no getting round it–God must have caused that earthquake, God must have caused that tsunami.

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?” (Job 38:4-8)

The free-will defence might still have a role to play, if we wanted to argue that all this death and distortion in the creation is God’s judgment against sin, man’s sin for which man is freely responsible.  But does that then mean that we’re saying that the tsunami was God’s judgment on sin, a judgment on the Japanese people, sort of like how Pat Robertson said the Haiti earthquake was a divine punishment for their “pact with the devil”?  I certainly don’t think we want to say that, and while some might claim Biblical predecent for making such assertions, there is at least as much Biblical precedent rebuking any such attempt (Jesus regarding the tower of Siloam, or the whole book of Job, to cite two memorable ones).  What can we say, then?  Anything?  Is there any way we can give meaning to such episodes?  It is worth remembering we are not the first to be tormented by this lack of answers, which embittered so many Europeans against the inscrutable providence of God in the wake of a similar disaster centuries ago, the Lisbon quake of 1755 that leveled the center of one of the world’s great empires, killing 100,000.


Perhaps we can learn a lesson or two, not so much about God, who remains maddeningly inscrutable, but about us.  First, before we get carried away shaking our fist at God, we ought to take a look at ourselves.  When was the last time Japan suffered a disaster of this magnitude?  1945.  Two American warplanes dropped two nuclear explosives on two Japanese cities, killing 200,000, far more than this quake, and poisoning far more with radiation than anything that happens at Fukushima is likely to do.  Someone once said, “I don’t dare to ask God why there’s all this evil and suffering in the world, because I’m afraid  he’ll ask me the same question” (that was the gist, though the original quote was more pithy and eloquent).  And that was just one small portion of the horror unleashed in that war, by “the good guys” as much as by “the bad guys.”  All of the natural disasters of the twentieth century have killed a tenth as many people as all of the disasters that humans have chosen to inflict on one another, and generally with much less cruelty.  As we grieve for the victims of the waves, let us not forget to grieve for our own victims and seek to make right all that we have made wrong.  

Second, a disaster such as this serves as a fitting, a shocking, rebuke to human pride–to the pride that imagines it can shut out the sea with walls, that it can contain the elemental force that binds together the atoms of the universe within steel rods, that it can predict and protect itself against the movements of the earth itself.  A nation that can make computer chips that can store a lifetime of memories on something the size of a pinhead, that can harness the power of superconductors to propel trains at 360 mph, suddenly can’t even get food or heat or water to hundreds of thousands of its citizens, can’t even supply itself with the electricity that is its lifeblood.  All around us today are amazing monuments of human ingenuity, in which we put our faith and pride with shocking ease, even as we are bombarded over and over with reminders of our relative impotence–snowstorms that shut down almost the whole United Kingdom, an invisible volcanic ash cloud that grounds grounds a whole continent’s air fleets, tides that drown our cities.  

As one of my favorite passages reminds us:

It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown: yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble.”  (Is. 40:22-24)

But we are not simply to grovel before a great and inscrutable God, stoically taking whatever punishment he dishes out.  This passage also reminds us that hard as it may be sometimes, he is the only one we can trust for comfort and salvation from the terrors that overwhelm us, and he will not fail of that trust:

“Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Is. 40:28-31)

“No Where Severed”: The Problem of Ubiquity (Hooker’s Christology, Pt. 4)

Having established the personal identity between the eternal Word and the man Christ Jesus, the complete distinction and unimpaired integrity of the two natures, and the sense in which Christ’s humanity is glorified by its union with the Word, Hooker turns in chapter 55 of Book V to expound much more carefully the hotly-disputed question of ubiquity, which had driven a rift between the Lutheran and Reformed churches, a very serious rift indeed, touching as it did the crucial mystery of the Christian faith.  

Hooker, while operating within a basically Reformed Christology, seeks to articulate the question of ubiquity in a way that does as much justice as possible to the things the Lutherans wanted to emphasize.  This is quite a delicate theological operation, and it’s worth looking closely at how Hooker conducts it. 


He begins by affirming the tremendous importance of the question, since our salvation depends on union with Christ, and union with Christ requires an account of how Christ could be personally present to us.  He then lays down a key foundational principle, that he touched on already in ch. 53–that no nature can be both finite and infinite, and all created natures are finite: “Out of which premises wee can conclude not only that nothinge created can possiblie be unlimited or can receave any such accident qualitie or propertie as may reallie make it infinite (for then should it cease to be a creature) but also that everie creaturs limitation is accordinge to his own kinde, and therefore as oft as wee note in them any thinge above theire kinde it argueth that the same is not properly theires but groweth in them from a cause more powerfull then they are” (V.55.2).

This principle tells us that when inquiring of the omnipresence of Christ, we must be dealing with a property of his divinity: “Wherefore Christ is essentiallie present with all thinges in that he is verie God, but not present with all thinges as man, because manhood and the partes thereof can neither be the cause nor the true subject of such presence” (V.55.4). So far so good–standard Reformed stuff.  

Hooker then turns to ask what the Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity would require: “if Christ in that he is man be everie where present, seinge this commeth not by the nature of manhood it selfe, there is no other waie how it should grow but either by the grace of union with deitie, or by the grace of unction received from deitie” (V.55.6)  You may recall that Hooker has spelled out in the previous chapter what is involved in each of these two “graces.”  Regarding the former, the grace of union, he established that the attributes of each nature are not communicated to the other nature, but the natures continue each the same nature that they were before, in unimpaired integrity–standard Chalcedonian stuff.  What about the grace of unction?

“And concerninge the grace of unction, wherein are conteined the guifes and vertues which Christ as man hath above men, they make him reallie and habituallie a man more excellent then we are, they take not from him the nature and substance that wee have, they cause not his soul nor bodie to be of an other kinde then oures is.  Supernaturall endowments are an advancement, they are no extinguishment of that nature whereto they are given” (V.55.6). 

We have already seen in the previous post how this logic works–an advancement of the human nature within the perfections proper to it, not a transcendence of that nature to another nature entirely.  Could ubiquity then be a perfection proper to the advancement of human nature?  Hooker answers a firm no:

“If his majesticall bodiie have now anie such nue propertie by force whereof it may everie where reallie even in substance present it selfe, or may at once be in many places, then hath the majesty of his estate extinguisht the veritie of his nature….To conclude, wee hold it in regard of the forealleaged proofes a most infallible truth that Christ as man is not everie where present as man” (V.55.6, 7).


Things aren’t looking very good for the Lutherans.  But then comes a crucial word–“Yeat”:

“Yeat because this [human] substance is inseparablie joyned to that personall worde which by his verie divine essence is present with all thinges, the nature which cannot have in it selfe universall presence hath it after a sorte by beinge no where severed from that which everie where is present.  For in as much as that infinite word is not divisible into partes, it could not in parte but must needes be whollie incarnate, and consequentlie wheresoever the word is it hath with it manhood.  Els should the worde be in parte or somewhere God only and not man which is impossible.  For the person of Christ is whole, perfect God and perfect man” (V.55.7).  

Now this is interesting stuff.  

Premise 1: The Word is fully and inseparably joined to human substance.  
Premise 2: The Word is indivisible.
First conclusion: Human substance must be everywhere the Word is.
Premise 3: The Word is everywhere.
Conclusion: Human substance must be everywhere.


Now, how is this going to work?  Well, in view of the limitations previously sketched,

“wee cannot say that the whole of Christ is simplie everie where, as wee may that his deitie is and that his person is by force of deitie.  For somewhat of the person of Christ is not everie where in that sorte namelie his manhood, the only conjunction whereof with deitie is extended as farre as deitie, the actual position restrained and tied to a certaine place.  Yeat preasence by waie of conjunction is in some sorte presence” (V.55.7).

So, the human nature can not be present everywhere by way of position…but it can be present by way of conjunction–it is always united to that which is present everywhere.  One has a feeling that modern quantum mechanics might be rather helpful in helping us sort out some of these metaphysical quandaries.  But although we might have difficulties articulating exactly how presence by way of conjunction works, Hooker’s next category may seem to us more fruitful, employing as it does more “actualistic” language that will please the Barthian in all of us.  


For we may also speak of the humanity’s presence by way of “cooperation with deitie”:

“that deitie of Christ which before our Lordes incarnation wrought all thinges without man doth now worke nothinge wherein the nature which it hath assumed is either absent from it or idle.  Christ as man hath all power both in heaven and earth given him.  He hath as man not as God only supreme dominion over quicke and dead.  For so much his ascension into heaven and his session at the right hand of God doe importe.  The Sonne of God which did first humble him selfe by takinge our flesh upon him, descended afterwardes much lower and became accordinge to the flesh obedient so farre as to suffer death even the death of the crosse for all men because such was his fathers will” (V.55.8).  

This humiliation of the manhood is followed by its exaltation:

“as accordinge to his manhood he had glorified God on earth, so God hath glorified in heaven that nature which yealded him obedience and hath given unto Chirst even in that he is man such fullness of power over the whole world that he which before fulfilled in the state of humilitie and patience whatsoever God did require, doth now raigne in glorie till the time that all thinges be restored” (V.55.8).  

We saw some of this already in the last section–the very exciting notion that the Incarnation means that humanity is now made a participant in all that God does, a co-worker of deity–God works nothing now that he does not work through and with a human being, Jesus Christ.  Thus, wherever the Word is at work–indwelling human souls, in the Eucharist, etc.–there is the human nature at work.  This is what we confess in the doctrine of the ascension–that the human nature has now been glorified to participate in the Son’s reigning over all things–formerly as God, now as God and man.

In short, “This government [over all creation] therefore he exerciseth both as God and as man, as God by essentiall presence with all thinges, as man by cooperation with that which essentiallie is present.”  How does this cooperation work?  “By knowledge and assent the soule of Chirst is present with all thinges which the deitie of Christ worketh” (V.55.8)

This much, though, applies only to the human soul of Christ, not his human body, which is what the Lutherans are after–after all, this is at root a dispute over his body and blood in the Eucharistic elements.  For this, Hooker returns to the earlier category of conjunction:   “For his bodie being a parte of that nature which whole nature is presentlie joyned unto deitie wheresoever deitie is, it followeth that his bodilie substance hath everie where a presence of true conjunction with deitie” (V.55.9).  

Finally, Hooker introduces, though very briefly, a third category: “And for as much as it is by vertue of that conjunction made the bodie of the Sonne of God by whome also it was made a sacrifice for the synnes of the whole world, this giveth it a presence of force and efficacie throughout all generations of men” (V.55.9).  The sacrificed body of Christ, which is a human body, is of infinite value and saving efficacy by virtue of its conjunction with deity, and therefore, it is “it selfe infinite in possibilitie of application”–the power of Christ’s body, then, even if not its actual physical substance, can be present everywhere in the Eucharist.  This last is very Calvinian language, and, one might add, closer perhaps to the original intention of “substance” language in the doctrine of transubstantiation, in which substance was to be understood as the dynamic power of something rather than its physical properties.  

Hooker thus concludes, hoping in all this to have so far extended a bridge to the Lutherans that they should have nothing more to complain about: “Which thinges indifferently everie way considered, that gratious promise of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ concerninge presence with his to the verie ende of the world, I see no cause but that wee may well and safely interpret he doth performe both as God by essentiall presence of deitie, and as man in that order sense and meaninge which hath bene shown” (V.55.9).   


All of this material, I need scarcely add, is pregnant with significance not merely for Eucharistic theology, but also for ecclesiology and political theology.  I have little doubt that as I spend the next couple years with Hooker, I shall have ample occasion to reflect on these latter connections and implications.  Suffice for now to mention just one, because it is one that Hooker makes explicit in Book VIII of the Lawes, contra Cartwright, in an argument which proves devastating not only to the Puritan political theology/ecclesiology, but also to our familiar whipping-boy VanDrunen, who shares the same Christological paradigm.  The short version is this: if it is true that by virtue of the incarnation and ascension, human nature is made a sharer in all the operations proper to the eternal Word,  that in reigning at the right hand of God over all creation the Son of God rules now as Son of Man, then the whole “two mediatorship” paradigm collapses as heterodox.  Christ does not rule over creation as Son of God and over redemption as Son of Man, because Christ is Son of God and Son of Man inseparably now, and as redeeming Son of Man, he cannot but be a co-agent with God in all of the divine reign over every aspect of creation, political life included.  

(If this last bit intrigues you, don’t worry; you can bet on my posting much more along these lines over the coming months and years.)

Reminded of our Mortality

Byron Smith has just linked to a post on Ash Wednesday and Lent which expresses, much more fully and eloquently, a lot of what I was groping towards in my post last week “Remembering that We are But Dust”.  The author admits that Lent can be an occasion for dualistic asceticism, but rightly understood, it is a rebuke to everything of that sort, a call to live in the body, not to indulge in pretensions of being anything more than we are.  

It is the occasion for an affirmation of who we are, not, ultimately, a plea to transcend our mortal condition. We can live in our bodies, in this world, seeing ourselves more compassionately and thereby are moved to perform works of love, without conditions or demands, for our fellow-sufferers. The first day of Lent is an occasion not for a form of world-denial, but loving acceptance of flawed reality, of imperfection. It is a rebuke to all separatism, escapism, and self-hatred. And of course, as it points us to the Christ-event, Lent ends, as it beings, with an affirmation of our creaturely existence: as Christ rose from the dead, so will our bodies, to live in a New Jerusalem – not an ethereal “heaven.” 

Let the ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us of our mortality; let our repentance be the occasion for a reprieve from neurosis and anxiety; and let us patiently hope for the vindication of creation of which Christ’s resurrection was the first fruits. Let us live in the world. 

A fantastic and beautiful meditation, well worth reading as we enter the second week of Lent.

Extreme Weather and Climate Change

A long-standing pet-peeve of mine is the way that, in the endless tug-of-war in the media and blogosphere over climate change, both sides try to score cheap points by pointing to isolated extreme weather events as evidence for or against the phenomenon.  “Ha, there were several big blizzards this winter!  Global warming my foot!”  “No, actually more blizzards is evidence of global warming, believe it or not!”  Extreme events like Hurricane Katrina or the Great Russian Heat Wave are waved as poster-children for the dangers of climate change, so right-wingers gleefully poke holes in the science of attempted attribution.  You may recall that I posted on this subject, with particular reference to hurricanes, a few months ago.

Ricky Rood over at Weather Underground, the source for the best weather blogs around, has posted an excellent essay on the “Perils and Pitfalls of Event Attribution.”  Although personally convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change, Rood argues that the tendency of some climate scientists and the media to focus on individual extreme events and attribute them to climate change is counterproductive, bad science, and indeed impossible by definition.  It reduces this crucial public discussion to cheap sound bytes and blaring headlines, drawing attention away from substantive verifiable claims:

“It is hard to see how playing the game of defining extreme events and then attributing that event to “climate change” can ever be won. In fact, it seems like it is a game that necessarily leads to controversy, and controversy is the fuel of talk radio, blogs propagating around the world, and the maintenance of doubt.”  

The essay is well worth reading for weather buffs or environmental ethics buffs (yep, I’m talking to you, Byron. ;-))