Sunday, March 15, 2015

Augustine's friend



Hippo Rhegum. St. Augustine's Basilica Floor Inscription
St Augustine was Bishop of Hippo 395/7 - 430 


In Book IV of the Confessions Augustine gives us an account of the consequences of the death of a friend.

I was surprised that any other mortals were alive, since him whom I had loved as if he would never die was dead. I was even more surprised that when he was dead I was still alive, for he was my ‘other self’. Someone has well said of his friend ‘he was half of my soul’. I had felt that my soul and his soul were ‘one soul on two bodies’. So my life was to me a horror. I did not wish to live with only half of myself, and perhaps the reason why I so feared death was that then the whole of my much loved friend would have died.

In his excellent translation of the Confessions Henry Chadwick, finds learned allusions to Cicero, and Horace, and Ovid and Aristotle, in the expressions in inverted commas. No doubt. But in a moment I wish to notice two biblical expressions as well. Could these have been in Augustine’s mind, at even this early stage in his life? (57)

Augustine goes on to discuss the folly of investing eternal value in what is mortal, immutability in what is mutable.

What madness not to understand how to human beings with awareness of the human condition! How stupid man is to be unable to restrain feelings in suffering that human lot! That was my state at that time.(59)

Such reflections were an early venture in what for Augustine became an important theme in the many-themed Confessions: human mortality, and the folly of placing one’s trust in what was mortal and hence mutable rather than in the immutable God, whom Augustine did not know the truth of at this stage in his life. Such words as those that follow are not merely those of the time of the loss but the are peppered by Augustine's later Christian self;  

When I thought of you, my mental image was not of anything solid and firm; it was not you but a vain phantom. My error was my god. If I attempted to find rest there for my soul, it slipped through a void and again came falling back upon me. (60)

But a little later

Though left alone [by bereavement] he loses none dear to him; for  all are dear in the one who cannot be lost. Who is that but our God, the God who made heaven and earth and filled them?( 61)….If physical objects give you pleasure, praise God for them and return love to their Maker lest, in the things that please you, you displease him. If souls please you, they are being loved in God; for they also are mutable and acquire stability by being established in him.

There is another theme here, besides human immortality and divine immutability, the wrestling with the relation and conflict between uti, the use of things, and frui, their enjoyment, a matter which seems to have bothered Augustine throughout life.  If we enjoy mutable things, things for their own sake,  does this take away from our love for God who is the only immutable good? He did not seem to be satisfied by the thought that love for a mortal creature for themselves was contributing to the longer term end of love to God. Love for a creature for themselves seems always, in his thinking, to be in competition with love to God for himself. Here, in the Confessions, he seems to have found some reconciliation in the thought that a love for the creature is to be reconciled with our love for God in the thought that ‘In him therefore they are loved’. (63)

We do not know the name of the friend who died. But then, as Frederick J. Crosson has pointed out, for some reason in the early parts of the Confessions, until Augustine reaches Italy he 

does not tell us the name of any of the people he encounters (with one single exception): not his mother or father or brother, nor the friend shoes death overshadows his life, none of his students (though Alypius is one), not his common-law wife, or son, none of the Manichees he lives with for nine years – until Faustus, the Manichean bishop he has waited so long to meet.

When he reaches Italy, the names flood out. Why this change? 

Among other factors, Crosson thinks that he names only those who have been instrumental (whether knowingly or not) in his path of ascent to God.  He might have added, ‘during the time of this ascent’. If you figure in his descent, in his estrangement from God and man, as Crosson puts it, you remain anonymous, except for Faustus; if you figure in his ascent, you get named. Faustus gets his name (Crosson thinks) because it as a result of Augustine’s unsatisfactory encounter with him, that the snare of Manicheeism begins to be loosed. ('Structure and Meaning in St. Augustine’s Confessions', (in The Augustinian Tradition, ed. Gareth B. Matthews, University of California Press, 1999,) p.30)

But back to friendship. There are two sentences in the Old Testament that provide a similar conceptuality to that which Augustine used of himself and his anonymous friend, and to which Chadwick links various similar expressions from classical writings. In Deuteronomy, amidst laws against idolatry, we find

‘If…..your friend who is as your soul entices you secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods…you shall not listen to him or listen to him’. (13.6-7) Not all friends are as souls but if you have one who is, don't be tempted when he attempts to lure you away to idolatry,

And the other passage is better known, the story of David’s friendship with Jonathan, son of Saul.

‘The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul’. (I Samuel, 18.1) ‘…for he loved him as he loved his own soul.’ (20.17)

In the first instance, the friendship must be transcended by the person’s non-idolatrous allegiance to Jehovah. The second focusses on the depth of the relationship between David and Jonathan, and especially on Prince Jonathan.

This biblical language seems very similar to that of Augustine, doesn't it? Perhaps Augustine picked it up at his mother Monnica's knee. Moral: do not be too quick to think that an unusual expression must be borrowed by a Christian writer from a Classical author. It may be found in Scripture.

Given current cultural interests, it is worth pointing out that Scripture has a different expression for the union in marriage of a man and a woman. ‘They shall become one flesh’. (Gen.2.24; Matt. 19.6)






Sunday, March 01, 2015

John Davenant and 'hypothetical universalism'



Salisbury Cathedral
John Davenant was Bishop of Salisbury from  1621 to his death in 1641


In previous posts we have looked at the ‘hypothetical universalism’ of John Davenant, and Amyraldianism.  In this post I wish to make some general assessments of Davenant’s views. These will mostly be concerned in with the suitability of the term ‘hypothetical universalism’ as a description for the positions it’s currently being used for. And in a further post (!) on an estimate of Amyraldianism. (Page references are to Davenant's writing on the death of Christ, appended to the Josiah Allport's translation of Davenant's Commentary on Colossians. (Omitted from the Banner reprint of the Commentary.))

Davenant, who appears to be as good a person to be labelled a hypothetical universalist as anyone I have read, nevertheless seems difficult to understand consistently. Insofar as the death the Father in the light of Christ’s offering of himself, which is of universal value, which Davenant characterizes in these terms: ‘A universal remedy appointed by God and applicable for salvation to the whole human race’ (340). And there is a particular remedy, operative alongside it), the special decree of God to be efficaciously and infallibly applied to the salvation of particular persons’. (340) (Davenant sometimes uses the word ‘decree’ but not routinely). But as far as I can see this second arrangement is not grounded in the failure or foreseen failure of the first arrangement, but the first facilitates the implementation of the second, notably in the way that it frees the preacher to preach the gospel indiscriminately. And so in this weak sense the second depends on the first. The two arrangements continue side by side, the one facilitating the progress of the other.

According to Davenant the value of Christ’s work and especially of his death for the world, as in John 3.16, warrants the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel, and the language of ‘Christ died for you because he died for everyone.’  (And as far as I can see without it, no indiscriminate preaching of the gospel would be warranted in the bishop's view). Not only is the universal scope of the death of Christ true, but people ought to believe it has this scope, preachers and those in the pew alike. In its universal aspect he says that its effects are the expression of God’s philanthropy.

I…..affirm that God in sending the Redeemer was willing to manifest to the world both these kinds of love; namely, that common love of the human race, which we call philanthropy, and that special and secret love, which we call good pleasure. The argument of common love is, that he would so far regard the human race, that is, all men individually, that they should have a Redeemer through whose satisfaction, apprehended by faith, they might have remission of sins. (388)

Whereas in its particular aspect God’s love is that of his good pleasure (388). So the Son is thought of as having decreed two distinct matters, to die for the world, and also in another sense, to redeem the elect. It seems that Davenant does not believe there is any discrepancy here. In any case it is surely possible to think of the Son’s dying for the world in the sense of his death having an infinite value,  as a means, a necessary means, to his redeeming the elect. This is one understanding of post-redemptionism. So is Davenant a hypothetical universalist? Is the phrase applicable to him?

It seems to me that his position might better be called a counterfactual universalist. Why do I say this? Because he holds that if every person were to be or were to have been the object of what he calls the ‘special determination of God (which Davenant knows they are not) then they would have been or would be regenerated. have the grace of perseverance, and so on.  Christ has died for them, and his death is sufficient for all. But, until the gospel takes hold, we don’t know who the objects of this special determination are. So it may be that we are to think of the universal love of God as seen in the death of Christ for everyone as the revealed will of God, the ‘special determination’ as the secret will. Though I don’t know any place where Davenant says as much.

As far as the ‘special determination’ of Davenant is concerned, he is a regular particularist of the Owen kind. As Owen’s Death of Christ (written again Baxter’s negative remarks against Owen’s Death of Death) was going through the press Davenant’s dissertation on the death of Christ appeared. Owen has some rather waspish remarks about it in the Introduction, to be found after the Death of Death in volume X of the Goold edition of his Works.

Yea, through the patience and goodness of God, I undertake to demonstrate that the main foundation of his [Davenant’s] whole dissertation about the death of Christ, with many inferences from thence, are neither found in, nor founded upon the word; but that the several parts thereof are mutually conflicting and destructive of each other, to the great prejudice to the truth therein contained. (X.432)

What Davenant saw as the support that the first arrangement gave to the second Owen found  the two arrangements to be ‘mutually conflicting and destructive’.

‘Universalism’ is capable of different strengths; principally and classically it is used in respect of the salvation of everyone, but it can refer more weakly to the provision of non-saving benefits to all humanity. Davenant says ‘That death which brings some spiritual advantages even to those which are not saved, is not applicable to the elect alone: but the death of Christ brings advantages to some who will not be saved’. (352) He does not specify what these are, apart from the advantages of having the gospel preached to them. It is ‘a supernatural benefit granted even to those who abuse it’. (353) But Davenant seems not to be a hypothetical universalist in respect of the  ‘special arrangement’ considered on its own, but a particularist. And not a hypothetical universalist in respect of the general arranement but an actual universalist, though not in respect of the distribution of the saving effects of Christ’s death, but of its non-saving benefits.

However that question is answered, the idea that this warrants the preacher in saying indiscriminately 'Christ died for you' as Davenant alleged, (349, 373) insofar as I understand it, is a rather Jesuitical point. For if Davenant’s view is as I have been describing it, the preacher, looking his congregation in the eye and informing them that Christ died for them if they have faith in him, and knowing full well that Christ’s death insofar as its saving (as distinct from its common) benefits are concerned is governed in its application of the Father’s eternal election. Of course he may have a warrant to preach indiscriminately, but that need not be grounded in a universal efficacy of Christ’s death. Nor does the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel require a universal scope to the death of Christ to legitimise it.

In his remarks on the salvific effects of Christ’s death Davenant is very clear in his Augustinianism as far as the benefits to the elect are concerned, and presumably because of this he is considered to be within the Reformed mainstream.

To contrast with Owen for a moment. Owen in The Death of Death does not give much attention to these common benefits. Perhaps because he takes that side of things for granted. Nevertheless though he does recognise a universal element in the work of Christ in that it is of universal indeed of infinite  value. But then maybe particular redemptionists such as John Owen are also hypothetical universalists. For an Owenian and those who later refer to ‘limited atonement', (this is not an original phrase in the 17th century discussion any more than is ‘hypothetical universalism’), using the sufficient - efficient terminology or conceptuality to do so. But as a consequence Owen also must be an 'hypothetical universalist' holding that the divine intention in making this indivisible infinite offering/atonement for sin to be distinct from the divine intention in making that necessarily infinite atonement universal in its scope. And if the latter had been the case then universalism would follow. And had the divine intention been universal in scope then it would have been communicated to everyone.


It is only in such as John Gill that the universal scope of Christ’s work is particularistic through and through, particular both in its sufficiency and in its efficacy, though even Gill would no doubt say that if it had been the Father’s will that all should be saved by atonement, then Christ’s death (Heb 9.14) would suffice for the salvation of a universe of sinners. (See the comments on Gill by Richard Muller in ‘How Many Points?’ (Calvin Theological Journal, Nov.1993, 428). So is Gill a hypothetical universalist as well? Sometimes the elastic can be stretched so far as to be useless.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Three Recommendations



Three books have recently come my way, as books do. No particular order.

The first is by Bradley G. Green, Covenant and Commandment (IVP) . This is a study regarding the place of ‘works’, of obedience, in the Christian life. The treatment is broad, taking in themes both in biblical and systematic theology, and discussing the fundamental question of the relation between the
Old and New Testament teaching on the covenants, or covenant, particularly the question of the degree of continuity and development (of difference) between the testaments. His discussion shows wide reading and to calls various modern authors, such as Frame, Blocher, Kline, Gaffin into the witness stand whom Brad interrogates in a pertinent and intelligent way. There is no discussion of John Owen's 'minority view'. 
Chapter 4 has to do with the place of faith and works in the New Testament key, Gospel and obedience, justification and sanctification. The author summons key New Testament passages. Charles Hodge, Owen (again) on mortification, and Tom Schreiner are discussed. The next chapter is devoted to a topic much discussed at present, union with Christ. I wondered if (in general) theological discussion of such passages and themes suffers from a lack of thinking of things from the believers’ standpoint.

The final chapters have to do with ‘Justification, judgment and the future’ and ‘The reality and necessity of works, obedience and faithfulness’. I wish that he had said how the prominent NT language on the virtues or gifts or graces of the Holy fits into the ‘application’ side of things, and even explain to us why the language of virtue is not heard so much in the modern church. Nevertheless Brad has written about pretty fundamental questions, giving us a book suitable for use in a variety of contexts.



Annette G. Aubert’s The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century American Theology  (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014) is a learned account of just that, from the pen of someone who is thoroughly conversant with the German side of things. The earlier chapters provide a clear account of German ‘mediating theology’. The names will resonate with some, if only because they appear on the spines of those usually black-bound, dusty volumes of Clark’s Theological Library. Names such as Pfleiderer, Kattenbush, Lange, Müller, Tholuck, Kähler. And many others, especially Schleiermacher. Such theologians contribute, one way and another, to the creation and development ‘mediating theology’. The impetus of such theology was to provide a Protestant response to the skeptical attitude of the Enlightenment that would uphold evangelical religion while having an unreservedly positive attitude to modern science and history. This approach stresses religion, not dogmatic theology – Schleiermacher is the key influence, but there are a number of sub-developments all with a concern to have Christianity studied ‘scientifically’ rather than confessionally. Christianity is the proclamation of the personality of Christ rather than of a Creed. ‘No creed but Christ’. Where theology was defended it was as an account of the dominant religious ideas of Christianity,  clustered around this christological  ‘central dogma’.

These ideas were imported into the United States and Canada both via emigration from Europe and visits to Germany by American theologians who sought to perfect their education by sampling the latest uropean theological ideas.

Dr Aubert then applies some of this movement in ideas to two Presbyterians, Emanuel Gerhart, a student of Rauch and Nevil at Mercersburg Semijnary and later in life Professor Systematic Theology there. The second figure is Charles Hodge of Princeton. She shows how the first was consciously influenced by ‘mediating’ ideas, in the group of thinkers such as….Hodge, however, was much more negative about Schleiermacher’s method and all that flowed from it. Nonetheless, he was personally friendly towards Tholuck and Hengstenberg, and Dr Aubert maintains that their continuing influence is to be seen in Hodge’s method in his systematic writings. On each of Gerhart and Hodge there are chapters on their theological method and on their understanding of the atonement, illustrating their attitudes to a central Christian doctrine. 

I imagine that the extent of the German influence on Hodge will be of interest to students of old Princeton. Perhaps more attention will be given to Hodge’s commentaries as evidence for influences on his theology than hitherto. Dr Aubert has pointed the way.

The book is a rewarding read for anyone interested in the history of Reformed theology in North America. Indeed, indispensable. The book arises from Dr Aubert’s Ph.D dissertation at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, where she is now a part-time lecturer in Church History.

The third book I touch on is a little gem, a short book on the person of Christ, both dogmatic and devotional, Mark Jones’s Jesus Christ, one in a series of pocketbooks being published by Christian Focus. Dr Jones finds neither difficulty nor embarrassment in framing his exposition from a ‘Christ from above’ perspective. That is, he starts from a full commitment to and unabashed consideration of Christ’s full deity, his godhead, his being one with the Father. Not for him an approach that builds up our understanding of  Christ’s person from his humanity. So for Mark our thought needs to be disciplined by the logical order of the Incarnation. God in the person of the Logos takes on human nature. Then follows a chapter on Christ’s manhood, and one on his redeeming work. Mark brings us to the heart of the Incarnation, and so his book is not easy reading in places. It may be that Mark is occasionally speculative in some of his suggestions. Is this a devotional book, or doctrinal? I would say that it is both. A book on the glory and mystery of Christ leading to mediation and worship.