Sacramentalizing and Secularizing

As this blog has been in something of a slump lately (not from lack of things to write, mind you, but merely from lack of time to write them), I thought I would resort to a tried and true blogger’s trick and refer you instead to a blog where the action is happening–Wedgewords.  

Steven Wedgeworth is back at his old game of identifying both sides of the political-theological spectrum–the secularizing Reformed two-kingdoms types and the sacramentalizing RO/neo-Calvinist types–as two sides of the same coin: antagonism between nature and grace.  This is a much more casual, in-a-nutshell version of some of the big posts he and Peter Escalante had going on last summer, but it has summoned forth the inevitable combative interaction from Darryl Hart, leading to some interesting discussion in the comments section.

After my Hookerian transformation, I am much more sympathetic to and persuaded by the general point Steven is making here than I would’ve been a year or even six months ago, though I still have some questions as to whether the relation between nature and grace cannot be conceived in more dynamic terms, if we cannot have a full affirmation of nature while still maintaining that “grace perfects nature.”  Steven says in the comments that he is sympathetic to the idea of “maturation,” as long as it’s “one of an heir growing up into inheritance rather than a larva becoming a butterfly.”  And if we allow for maturation, I ask whether certain RO-ish or, for lack of a better word, Leithartian paradigms need be all that far off from what Wedgeworth and Co. want.  

But, that’s a conversation for another day–this summer, Peter E and I are hoping to restart last fall’s scintillating multi-blog natural law/two kingdoms debate.  Stay tuned.

10 thoughts on “Sacramentalizing and Secularizing

  1. The trouble with grace merely restoring nature, as far as I can see, is that it trivializes the Incarnation. That is, humanity is not naturally joined to the Logos, and it is only in the Incarnation that humanity is joined to the Logos–though there is of course, some sort of union prior to the Incarnation. Whether the Incarnation was part of the original intent; the Incarnation is not just restorative. Either the Catholic, "faithful sin", or the Orthodox/James Jordan position that the Incarnation was intended from the beginning is necessary. Nature is graced, from the beginning, but it is transfigured by the Incarnation. Because of creation, nature is good, and reflects the Logos, and the Logos can be seen in nature. However, nature is not divine, and nature is only divinized by the Incarnation.So in one sense Steven is right–if we say that nature is bad and lacking without grace, we err. And clericalism is wrong. However, so is the claim that grace merely restores nature. In addition to restoring nature, grace adds the Supernatural–God Himself–to creation. You can be a good king without being Christ; but you can only be the True Transfigured King by being God Himself. You can be a good statesman without being a Christian; but you cannot be a transfigured statesman without being a Christian. not all politics are Church politics, and politics in Athens were good. But only Church politics are transfigured politics. However, Church politics are not clerical politics, for the clerical position is destined to perish with use. The true Church politician, the one who is a councilor for the King, and most concerns himself with the Church polis is the one who prays; not the Bishop.The Incarnation is not natural, and although the nature of man remains intact and unchanged, the transformation consequent on the union with the Logos is greater than any created similitude. As an obvious point, prior to the Incarnation, no human person could be praised as "rock that doth refresh those thirsting for life!" and as the one "that sustains the sustainer of all." Which both have been made literally true of the Virgin Theotokos. (For the Water of Life poured forth from her–for what is the water of life but the Logos? and who sustains all if not the Logos?)

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  2. Peter Escalante

    Brad,I'll reserve most comments for the Wedgewords thread as the original site to which you've linked, and I hope you'll participate there. But here, I wanted to note that it's not so much that Steven is primarily attacking both sides, but rather, that he is primarily holding fast the old center, and only incidentally attacking departures from it. I'd also note that although it does seem that Dr Hart is inevitably vituperative, he is not invariably so, and in this case he does seem to have been on his best behavior. And a brief reflection on your last point. We certainly admit that creation is defective by way of the Fall, and grace works to restore that defect. And it is pretty obvious that Adam and the world had growing to do, which was thrown off course by sin; but we do not think that the end result of that growth would have been unrecognizably different from the world then, or even from the world now. Does this bring us closer to RO or Leithartian views? Possibly; but one would have to be able to know with greater clarity what Leithart, for example, means by several of his leitmotif propositions. Where we would certainly part ways with at least some RO exponents is along the same lines Jonathan Chaplin draws in his critique of them. The basic question is whether grace is simply a way of speaking of God's creative and sustaining work in fallen conditions, renewing the original pattern, or whether it amounts to a second creation which supplants or displaces the previous though temporarily coexisting with it. We would as you know affirm to former and deny the latter, and this is what Steven is of course saying in his post. We would however qualify this by saying that in the realm of human art, including self-making, the grace of God, in order restore man along his originally intended lines of development, does with human cooperation effect certain changes with respect to institutions which were provisional before the rule of Christ, and aims to abolish altogether those which were and are perverse. Our concern about RO is that some of its proponents tend to share the same suppositions as DR Hart and his friends, and like them posit that the Kingdom of God is incarnate, so to speak in a political form opposed to all other political forms, and that this confuses Law and Gospel, and further, has the consequence of reinstituting the sacred/profane boundaries which Jesus abolished. In the pseudo-2K version, the politicized Kingdom is pacific and quietist (but an ecclesial Isle of Lotus-Eaters), and the extreme-RO and extreme neo-Calvinist versions are activist and transformationalist. But both assume a politicized Kingdom, and both are hostile to the traditional Christian art of politics and Christian jurisprudence (both are deep driven by a Manichaean "antithesis" mythos). The RO school is still developing, though, and I have hope that it will develop along the lines of traditional wisdom. A moderated and wiser RO, like a moderated and wiser neo-Calvinism, could imaginably approximate the more central tradition (though RO would have to grow out of its sophomore anti-Protestantism, and neo-Calvinism out of its sophomore anti-scholasticism).peace,P

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  3. Matthew N. Petersen

    Also, I have trouble understanding how if grace is merely restorative, the Song of Songs can be read as the love song of Christ or the Church–or for that matter, how the Church can be the Bride of Christ. In the Song, the Bridegroom is clearly smitten by the Bride, and makes lavish statements like "avert your eyes for they have overcome me" which claim the Bride is formidable before the husband. Similarly, every husband knows that the woman is to be an equal to the man, and will even quote the fact that Eve was taken from the side of Adam, not from the foot, or the head. But St. Paul says that the creation of man and woman is a picture of Christ and the Church. That means that the Church is Christ's equal.As far as I can tell, the three options are: 1) a form of Nestorianism, that allows the Church to be equal to Christ without being divinized, (which is only possible if the Church is equal to Christ and not the Logos). 2) A denial, or severe limitation of matrimonial language for Christ and the Church, particularly, a refusal to read the Song as about Christ and the Church. Or 3) a claim that the Incarnation has radically transfigured creation.Option 1 is clearly unacceptable, and option 2 also seems unacceptable, as it is very unPauline, and if the Song is not about Christ, why is it in the Cannon?–granted it is edifying and good, it should not be in the canon unless it is about Christ, for all the Law and Prophets point to Him. Which leaves us with option 3.This, of course, does not mean that it is impossible to find articulations of 3 that are problematic; and I believe Steven has pointed out a problem with a certain attempt to formulate option 3, an option which implicitly destroys creation, particularly through Clericalism. However, we are mistaken if we believe this has refuted option 3.The mistake seems to be two fold. First, "Church Politics" is an ambiguous term. It could refer 1) to the politics of the visible hierarchy of the Church. But 2) it could refer to politics of the One True Church. If 1, then if the most important aspect of the world, and the only one with lasting meaning is Church Politics, Clericalism follows necessarily. However, if 2, clericalism does not follow at all, for the true statesmen, the true courtesans of heaven, as it were, is those who pray. It may tend toward too much monasticism, but only if we assume that other acts besides explicit prayer cannot be acts of prayer. But they can.Second, there seems to be a false dichotomy between Sacramentalism and a Reformed understand of grace as a restoration of nature. I agree that over much Sacramentalism is very bad, if by Sacramentalism we mean that the Bread and the Wine disappear, and the supper is not really a supper (which transsubstantiation can cause), but instead that the Bread and Wine are themselves transfigured and charged with divine energies–mysteriousy–that the Bread and Wine do not leave, but become in the Eschatological banquet, the Body and Blood of Christ, as Bread and Wine.

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  4. Brad Littlejohn

    Hey Peter,Thanks for identifying some careless phrasing for me. The way I worded it sounded rather negative toward Steven, as if he was being gratuitously aggressive. But, as the rest of the post hopefully clarified, that's not what I meant. Likewise, "vituperative," it turns out, was rather stronger than how I intended to describe Darryl's interaction–my Macbook dictionary tells me that it means "bitter and abusive." Ouch. I meant something more like "combative." I've reworded both sentences accordingly.I'll come back to interact with your and Matt's substantive points soon.

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  5. Brad Littlejohn

    I think Matt makes some rather good points here about the problems with a "merely restorative" account of grace, and the Incarnation, and I am in sympathy with all that he says. By all means, let's affirm that nature is originally good and whole, and not "deficient" or useless. But I simply cannot go on to say that the revelation of Christ is merely restorative. It constitutes an advance. If someone doesn't want to call that "divinization," fine, though there are solid reasons for using that language. Just thinking aloud–The solution seems to be in some account of a maturing, developing creation–one that is created, so to speak, with all its capacities in their incipient form, but hasn't yet fully developed them. What Christ does, it seems to me, is not to give us a picture of the first Adam, the original creation in its yet-to-fully-mature state; rather, he is the last Adam, the original creation in its fully-matured state, the state which it could have reached "naturally" without the Fall, but otherwise cannot. So Christ sets us back on the path of our natural maturation, but not only that, he is himself, and we are proleptically, by participation in him, fully mature, at the endpoint. Nature, in other words, must be conceived dynamically. Is this sufficient for you, Matt, or is this still too restorative? Is this sufficient for you, Peter, or is this still too transformative?In any case, I am well aware that these categories must be used cautiously. For, one person's "maturation" is another person's "transformation" is another person's "replacement." Wedgeworth wants to make sure that the end product of this maturation is recognizably the same thing as the beginning product. No doubt he would be somewhat uncomfortable with the old acorn and oak tree analogy so favored by German romantics. However, a child vs. a fully-grown man seems an appropriate analogy. And naturally, we can guard against the kind of clericalism that Wedgeworth fears by emphasizing simul justus et peccator; no Christian man can claim to be the fully-grown man, superior in every way to his childish unbelieving neighbor; the Christian may be just as much, or more, a child, and fully-grown only in Christ. But I am at the risk of babbling on too much.Briefly to Peter–I certainly understand the concern about "a second creation which supplants or displaces the previous though temporarily coexisting with it." However, if we grant "lines of development," then doesn't a more fully-developed version of something supplant the less fully-developed version. If you don't want to say the original creation is a horse-and-buggy and the new creation is a Rolls Royce, fine. But a 2009 Corolla will generally supplant a 1999 Corolla, and perhaps what the relation of Christian politics is to non-Christian politics–not totally different, not better in every respect, but generally further along.

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  6. Peter Escalante

    Brad,I agree with you entirely here; but you seem to be saying something substantially different from Matthew, as I think you yourself suspect. Of course Christ in his humanity is the intended Adamic telos; but the hypostatic union itself is not the intended telos of man, but rather the means of its restoration. On no one's account are the righteous destined for it.Your explanation here is what Steven and myself have argued for almost to the letter, and your last paragraph expresses exactly the principle we've used to rebut Darryl Hart's school of non-politics.peace,P

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  7. Brad,I think that's still a bit too restorative. I agree that there must not be an opposition between nature and grace, but rather, that grace perfects nature–which I take to be Peter and Steven's position–but grace has added the Uncreated to nature. Therefore grace exceeds the capacity of nature in itself. However, in agreement with Steven and Peter against (at least some) forms of Catholicism, as well as the radical two-kingdom types, that there is no opposition between nature and grace. There is no opposition because there is no opposition between the created and the Uncreated–God cannot have an opposite, because opposites are logically simultaneous, and noting is simultaneous with God. So grace–the presence of the Uncreated God in creation–perfects nature, and satisfies all the natural longings; but it brings nature beyond its natural capacity–ro rather it expands creation beyond it's internal capacity by filling it with the Uncreated–that is with the Logos, and His Spirit.I suppose this is very Orthodox, but it is also, I believe, rather de Lubacian, and also, very directly from Leithart. It is also, I believe, very close to what Jenson says is the fundamental principal of the Lutheran Reformation (Lutheranism p.66) though there are significant differences.

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  8. Peter cross-posted with me, so I think a clarification is perhaps useful.When I describe Peter and Steven's position as "merely restorative" I do not mean they believe grace restores the Adamic potentialities as potentialities, but actualizes the Adamic potentialities. What Adam was in potential, Christ is in act. That is, on their understanding, nature is restored, perfected.Your position sounds like theirs to me too–indeed I almost said so, but decided I should let them speak for themselves.I, on the contrary, believe that nature was not potentially a recipient of the Incarnation and the Pentecost. The Uncreated in Nature–the Logos and the Spirit–though not opposed to nature, does not merely actualize existing potentiality, but adds new Divine Potentiality (if it can be so called) and Actuality. However, I must be clear, that I agree with them in opposing those who believe grace is a foreign addition to nature. I oppose the radical two-kingdom thinkers, and likewise (at least some forms) of traditional Catholicism–including much Catholic Marian and Eucharistic devotion. (I leave it as undecided whether the RO actually agree with this sort of Catholicism, as Milbank and the other RO theologians would critique it, and distance themselves from it. And I am too unfamiliar with neo-Calvinism to agree or disagree with an attack on it.)

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  9. Brad Littlejohn

    Heh, so I'm on the same page as Peter now. Heaven help me. That may simply be the accidental by-product of the fact that I'm more intimidated by Peter than by Matt, and so I instinctively leaned toward expressing me in a way more congenial to his position. 😉 In any case, that was merely thinking aloud, and I'm not entirely satisfied with the way I stated it, with renouncing entirely any sense of grace transcending nature. Certainly the de Lubac-Nevin-Leithart paradigm (if I may so generalize) seems to say some things that must be said. However, I am not convinced that this paradigm is all that far off from Peter and Steven's, particularly if what I said above is right on track with them. And indeed, de Lubac represents a definite shift from a Tridentine Catholic paradigm toward something much closer to Protestantism, so it makes sense that the gap would not be all that wide, narrow enough that I can perhaps keep trying to straddle it. But I suspect Peter thinks that the gap is rather wider than that, and that if I keep trying to straddle it, I will be pulled apart, or fall into a chasm or something.In any case, I intend to remain in this state of tension and take a break from such inquiries to focus in a much more concrete way on the mystery of redemption over these next three holy days. After that, we can perhaps carry the discussion further, though as I said in the original post, I hope to set aside time this summer for a proper thorough hashing out of these questions here. Have yourselves a blessed Good Friday and Easter!

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  10. Brad Littlejohn

    I thought this put it pretty well:"There are two aspects to this renewal which have to be kept in a proper balance. On the one hand we must not understand the newness of the new creation as though it implied a repudiation of the old. The old creation is brought back into a condition of newness; it recovers its lost integrity and splendour. In the resurrection appearances of Jesus the disciples were offered a glimpse of what Adam was always meant to be: lord of the elements, free from the horror of death. On the other hand, restoration is not an end in itself. Adam's 'perfect' humanity was made for a goal beyond the mere task of being human; it was made for an intimacy of communion with God. The last Adam, in restoring human nature, leads it to the goal which before it could not reach, brings it into the presence of God's rule, where only the one who shared that rule could bring it. And so it is that the moment of triumph divides into two moments, a moment of recovery and a moment of advance. The resurrection must lead on to the ascension."–Oliver O'Donovan, On the Thirty-nine Articles, p. 34Interested in both of your thoughts on this.

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