Posts Tagged ‘Patristics’

 As many of you know I continue my studies for a Masters in Theology.  This essay was for a course called “Calvin and Accommodation.”  It principally deals wiht the Christological implications of Calvin’s doctrine of accommodation.  Don’t worry, I’m told it is far easier to understand than the last paper I posted.  Enjoy! 

Dowey writes “Calvin’s theology exalts the category of knowledge.”[1] Dowey’s assertion is easily defensible considering Calvin’s opening statement of his famous Institutes on the Christian Religion concerns the nature of true wisdom as resting upon the double knowledge of God and ourselves (Inst 1.1.1).  And though Calvin’s theology placed enormous emphasis on the category of knowledge, this category nevertheless faced profound difficulties.  Calvin was an inheritor of a medieval epistemology that having departed from the more present epistemology of the early medieval period[2] refused a natural, unmediated knowledge of God.[3]  It was crucial therefore, for the knowledge of God to be mediated to humans through the material creation as well as through the special revelation of God’s spoken word.  The later Reformed maxim finitum no capax infiniti (“the finite is not capable of the infinite) came to articulate this important principle of late medieval and Reformed epistemology.[4] Because the finite is not capable of the infinite, it was necessary for God to reduce himself in order that he might in some small way be grasped by his creation.  For Calvin, as for many of the church’s theologians before him this process of reduction was known as accommodation.[5] 

                Though accommodation was used before Calvin, many Calvin scholars note that for Calvin accommodation is less peripheral and more central to the theological development of the reformer.  For example, Battles writes “Calvin makes this principle (accommodation) a consistent basis for his handling not only of Scripture but of every avenue of relationship between God and man.”[6]  Similarly, Paul Helm regards accommodation as the “central idea” of Calvin’s religious epistemology.[7]  If accommodation is at the center of Calvin’s epistemological program, what then might be at the center of accommodation?  Battles writes that the incarnation of the eternal Word in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is for Calvin the “accommodating act par excellence of our divine father, teacher, physician, judge and king.”[8]  So too does Dowey write that the “final accommodation to human sinfulness” was in the person of Christ.[9]  Though Balserak comes to the conclusion cautiously, he nevertheless also writes “the incarnation still seems to be…the unquestioned highpoint of his (Calvin’s) sphere of accommodating activity.”[10] 

                Whether accommodation is the epistemological principle of Calvin’s theology or that Christology ought to find itself at the center of Calvin’s theology of accommodation is debatable and beyond the scope of this paper.  What is clearly evident within Calvin’s corpus is that both accommodation and Christology hold privileged positions within the theological agenda of the reformer.  The question is thus prompted, how do Calvin’s thoughts on accommodation and his Christology interact with one another?  The organizing argument of this paper is that the doctrine of accommodation as employed by Calvin has significant influence on his Christology.  Calvin’s employment of the doctrine of accommodation determines his precise and innovative articulation of the incarnation, the atonement, redemption and the offices and actions of the mediator.  It will further be shown that in the incarnation, Calvin has articulated an accommodation that threatens neither God’s essence nor man’s nature in the condescension of the Word.  A serious treatment of one of these theological categories and their relationship to accommodation could fill twenty pages (and more!) of research.  Therefore these will be treated after an introductory fashion only, hoping to relate the parts to the whole to give a bird’s eye view of the effect Calvin’s epistemological concerns in accommodation have on his Christology. (more…)

Christ’s letter to the church in Philadelphia can be found in Rev 3.7-13. My study of that letter indicates that as in much of the early Christian world, the Christians at Philadephia were worshipping in a Jewish synagogue. The context of Rev 3.7-13 clearly indicates that the Christians are suffering severe hardship under the leaders of the synagogue and have most likely been put out of the synagogue. By the time Ignatius writes his letter to Philadelphia, they seem to still be struggling with the same issues (see ch. VI). The letter is historically of great interest (not least because Ignatius clearly defines the heresy of the mysterious Nicolatains) but more importantly it is spiritually edifying. I have excerpted a quote below that did my soul well. In it, Ignatius talks about how the Gospel transcends all the other revelations of God, whether they be in the O.T. or New. God’s supreme and transcendent grace, is for Ignatius, contained in the appearing of Jesus, his death and resurrection. I hope you enjoy it.

The priests indeed and the ministers of the word are good; but the High Priest is better, to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been entrusted with the secrets of God. The ministering powers of God are good. The Comforter is holy, and the Word is holy, the Son of the Father, by whom He made all things, and exercises a providence over them all, This is the Way which leads to the Father, the Rock, the Defence, the Key, the Shepherd, the Sacrifice, the Door o fknowledge, through which have entered Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and all the company of the prophets, and these pillars of the world, the apostles, and the spouse of Christ, on whose account He poured out his own blood, as her marriage portion, that He might redeem her. All these things tend towards the unity of the one and true God. But the Gospel possesses soemthign transcendent [above the former dispensation], viz., the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, His passion, and the ressurction itself. For those things which the prophets announced, saying, “Until He come for whom it is reserved, and He shall be the expectation of the Gentiles,” have been fulfilled in teh Gospel, [our Lord saying], “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

-Ignatius, “Letter to the Philadelphians” ch. IX excerpted from The Apostolic Fathers: with Justin Martyr American Edition, vol I pg 84-85

It’s worth taking the time to real the whole chapter carefully.  Below is one of the most influential minds of Western civilization recounting his conversion to Christianity.  All of Augustine’s powerful intellect is mustered alongside some equally powerful emotions rendered by the Grace of God.  As Augustine recounted his conversion I repeatedly felt tears well up at the glorious mercies of our Lord Jesus. 

A quick breakdown of the characters involved: Augustine (narrarator and Bishop of Hippo), Simplicianus (Father of renowned Bishop Ambrose), Ambrose (Bishop of Milan), Victorinus (Famous rhetorician who shocked the Roman world by his conversion to Christianity), Nebridius and Alypius (friends and roommates of Augustine), Pontitianus (a Christian well placed in Roman government), Antony (famous Christian ascetic whose lifestyle appealed to Augustine), Mani (spawned the Manichaean heresy that posited a dark force just as powerful as God), Monica (a faithful Christian and Augustine’s mother). I hope you enjoy this excerpt as much as much as I did…

He finally describes the thirty-second year of his age, the most memorable of his whole life, in which, being instructed by Simplicianus concerning the conversion of others, and the manner of acting, he is, after a severe struggle, renewed in his whole mind, and is converted unto God.

Chapter 1. He, Now Given to Divine Things, and Yet Entangled by the Lusts of Love, Consults Simplicianus in Reference to the Renewing of His Mind.
1. O My God, let me with gratitude remember and confess unto You Your mercies bestowed upon me. Let my bones be steeped in Your love, and let them say, Who is like You, O Lord? You have loosed my bonds, I will offer unto You the sacrifice of thanksgiving. And how You have loosed them I will declare; and all who worship You when they hear these things shall say: Blessed be the Lord in heaven and earth, great and wonderful is His name. Your words had stuck fast into my breast, and I was hedged round about by You on every side. Job 1:10 Of Your eternal life I was now certain, although I had seen it through a glass darkly. 1 Corinthians 13:12 Yet I no longer doubted that there was an incorruptible substance, from which was derived all other substance; nor did I now desire to be more certain of You, but more steadfast in You. As for my temporal life, all things were uncertain, and my heart had to be purged from the old leaven. 1 Corinthians 5:7 The Way, John 14:6 the Saviour Himself, was pleasant unto me, but as yet I disliked to pass through its straightness. And Thou put into my mind, and it seemed good in my eyes, to go unto Simplicianus, who appeared to me a faithful servant of Yours, and Your grace shone in him. I had also heard that from his very youth he had lived most devoted to You. Now he had grown into years, and by reason of so great age, passed in such zealous following of Your ways, he appeared to me likely to have gained much experience; and so in truth he had. Out of which experience I desired him to tell me (setting before him my griefs) which would be the most fitting way for one afflicted as I was to walk in Your way.

2. For the Church I saw to be full, and one went this way, and another that. But it was displeasing to me that I led a secular life; yea, now that my passions had ceased to excite me as of old with hopes of honour and wealth, a very grievous burden it was to undergo so great a servitude. For, compared with Your sweetness, and the beauty of Your house, which I loved, those things delighted me no longer. But still very tenaciously was I held by the love of women; nor did the apostle forbid me to marry, although he exhorted me to something better, especially wishing that all men were as he himself was. 1 Corinthians 7:7 But I, being weak, made choice of the more agreeable place, and because of this alone was tossed up and down in all beside, faint and languishing with withering cares, because in other matters I was compelled, though unwilling, to agree to a married life, to which I was given up and enthralled. I had heard from the mouth of truth that there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but, says He, he that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Matthew 19:12 Vain, assuredly, are all men in whom the knowledge of God is not, and who could not, out of the good things which are seen, find out Him who is good. Wisdom 13:1 But I was no longer in that vanity; I had surmounted it, and by the united testimony of Your whole creation had found You, our Creator, and Your Word, God with You, and together with You and the Holy Ghost one God, by whom You created all things. There is yet another kind of impious men, who when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful. Romans 1:21 Into this also had I fallen; but Your right hand held me up, and bore me away, and You placed me where I might recover. For You have said unto man, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; Job 28:28 and desire not to seem wise, Proverbs 3:7 because, Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:22 But I had now found the goodly pearl, which, selling all that I had, Matthew 13:46 I ought to have bought; and I hesitated. (more…)