Addenda

11 Dec

Doing business: selfishly or generously?

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 12/11/15

David L. Schindler on Adam Smith’s big mistake

“Adam Smith’s classical statement focuses the issue [of self interest and profit] sharply: ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of their own necessities but of their advantages.’ Thus the baker bakes a good loaf of bread because that is the way to ensure profit, and thereby to do good business. The baker intends his own good and in the process creates a good also for the other: namely, a good loaf of bread. The good both of the product and of the other (the potential consumer) is thus instrumentalized to the baker’s own self-interest; but Smith’s point is that both the baker and his customer are better off for that self-interest. In short, it is to the baker’s self-love and not to his humanity that we should address ourselves, if we wish the good that the baker has to offer us.”

“A baker trying to live out his Christianity in his life as a business person, to imbue the reality of his economic life with the Gospel . . . [would] attempt to order profit differently from the way suggested by Smith. He would seek first to make a loaf of bread that was intrinsically good — in terms of its taste and health-producing qualities and the like — and he would seek to do this from the beginning for the sake of being of service to others in society, of enhancing their health and well-being. To be sure, he would recognize profit as a necessary condition of his continuing ability to provide this service to others. He would recognize that he was realizing his own good in the service to others. But that is just the point: his legitimate concern for profit, and his own self-interest, would be integrated from the beginning and all along the way into the intention of service.

“In contrast, say, to a Buddhist understanding, an authentic Gospel spirituality does not entail an elimination of the self and its interests, in the self’s mutual relation with others. The intention of the Gospel finally is that there be mutual enhancement in each such relation. But the Gospel requires nonetheless that a normative distinction be made with respect to primacy within that relation: a self that first (ontologically, not temporally) serves the other, and thereby finds itself, is not identical with the self that first seeks itself, and thereby serves the other. A selfishness become mutual is not yet mutual generosity.”

—from David L. Schindler, Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation (Eerdmans, 1996)

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11 Dec

Word becomes flesh, Reality becomes fact

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 12/11/15

Henri de Lubac on the Incarnational principle of history

“God acts in history and reveals himself through history. Or rather, God inserts himself in history and so bestows on it a ‘religious consecration’ which compels us to treat it with due respect. As a consequence historical realities possess a profound sense and are to be understood in a spiritual manner. . . . The Bible, which contains the revelation of salvation, contains too, in its own way, the history of the world. In order to understand it, it is not enough to take note of the factual details it recounts, but there must also be an awareness of its concern for universality, in spite of its partial, schematic and sometimes paradoxical mode of expression. It was in this way that the Bible was read by the Fathers of the Church. From Irenaeus to Augustine, by the way of Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius, they all found in it a treatise on the history of the world. Had they known all the facts now in our possession doubtless the treatise would have been of far greater complexity, but the essential form would have been the same. For they would have been faithful, as we ought to be, to that fundamental principle they learned from Scripture: that if salvation is social in its essence it follows that history is the necessary interpreter between God and man.

“This principle governs the whole of their exegesis; it divides off their method of interpretation very sharply from that of the allegorical philosophers, whose works they may have known, or even from Philo. There are two features in the allegorism of the philosophers that appear constantly whatever the text on which their work is based or the system that they deduce from it; whatever purpose guides them or the precise nature of the method they use. For on the one hand they reject as myth what appears as a historical account, and deny to its literal sense what they claim to reveal in its meaning as a mystery. . . . ‘It does not mean that these things ever happened,’ they all exclaim with Sallust, Julian the Apostate’s friend. On the other hand, if they ‘spiritualize’ in this way whatever purports to be historical, it is not for the purpose of a deeper understanding of history. They do not see mythical events as symbols of spiritual happenings; but perceive beneath the historical veil scientific, moral or metaphysical ideas: ’It is not that these things ever happened — for they are thus from all eternity.’ The idea of a spiritual Reality becoming incarnate in the realm of sense, needing time for its accomplishment, that without prejudice to its spiritual significance should be prepared, come to pass, and mature socially in history — such a notion is entirely alien to these philosophers. Confronted with it, they find it a stumbling block and foolishness. . . .

“It is quite otherwise with the Fathers. Far from diminishing the historical and social character of Jewish religion, their mysticism strengthens it by discovering its depths. . . .  They all mean [in the words of Gregory of Nyssa] ‘to understand the spirit of history without impairing historical reality.’ For ‘there is a spiritual force in history’ [Maximus the Confessor]; by reason of their finality the very facts have an inner significance; although in time, they are yet pregnant with an eternal value. The reality which is typified in the Old — and even in the New — Testament is not merely spiritual, it is incarnate; it is not merely spiritual but historical as well. For the Word was made flesh and set up his tabernacle among us. The spiritual meaning, then, is to be found on all sides, not only or more especially in a book but first and foremost in reality itself: In ipso facto, non solum in dicto, mysterium, requirere debemus [Augustine: ‘In the very fact itself and not only in what is said about the fact we ought to seek the mystery’]. Indeed what we call nowadays the Old and New Testaments is not primarily a book. It is a twofold event, a twofold ‘covenant,’ a twofold dispensation which unfolds its development through the ages, and which is fixed, one might suppose, by no written account. When the Fathers said that God was its author — the one and only author of the Old and New Testaments — they did not like aiming him merely, nor indeed primarily, to a writer, but saw in him the founder, the lawgiver, the institutor of these two instruments of salvation, these two economies, two dispensations which are described in the Scriptures and which divide between them the history of the world. . . . Convinced that all therein was full of deep and mysterious meaning, the Fathers bent over the inspired pages in which they could trace through its successive stages the covenant of God with the human race; they felt that, rather than giving a commentary on a text or solving a verbal puzzle, they were interpreting a history. History, just like nature, or to an even greater degree, was a language to them. It was the word of God. Now throughout this history they encountered a mystery which was to be fulfilled, to be accomplished historically and socially, though always in a spiritual manner: the mystery of Christ and his Church.”

— from Henri de Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man (Ignatius Press, 1938, 1988)

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4 Nov

In Him we have our being

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 11/04/15

E. L. Mascall on the meaning of creation

E. L. Mascall (1905-1993)

“[F]or Christian thought, the idea of creation is not primarily concerned with the coming of the world into being at some moment in the past, but with a never-ceasing act by which God preserves the world in existence so long as he wills that it shall exist. It is true that the great majority of Christians have interpreted the opening chapters of the Bible as describing, either literally or in a pictorial and metaphorical way, the first beginning of the finite universe, whether or not they have adopted Archbishop Ussher’s dating of the event as 4004 B.C. It is also true that scholars commonly use the term ‘creation-narratives’ to denote the passages in question, and they go on to point out how in the Bible the world is represented as coming into existence through the almighty command of the one supreme and unique Lord, and not, as in most other religions, as a result of the loves and hates of a whole set of miscellaneous deities. Christian theology, however, was not slow to understand that, in whatever manner the stories in Genesis are to be interpreted, the relation between God and the world, to which the term ‘creation’ properly applies, is not to be thought of as an act in the past by which the universe originated, but as an incessant activity by which it is conserved in existence. . . .

“Even when we describe creation as a continuous act of God, this does not mean that God is himself in time exercising a continuous activity. Time, as we have seen, is the condition of existence of creatures, not of God. God himself is ‘above’ or ‘outside’ time. The act by which God creates the universe does not occur in time, for time itself is an attribute of that which is created. The difference between the creation of a world which had a beginning and the creation of a world which has always existed is not the difference between an act which began at a certain moment and an act which has always been going on. It is the difference between two acts both of which are timeless: the act of creating a world whose time-measure has a lower boundary and the act of creating a world whose time-measure has no lower boundary. Creation is not a ‘process’; it is the timeless act of God on which all processes depend. 

“There are thus two fundamental notions in the Christian doctrine of creation. First, that creation is an act of God which operates upon a creature not only at the moment when it comes into being (if indeed there is such a moment) but at every moment of its existence. Secondly, that the act of creation does not itself take place in time, since time is an attribute of the creature and comes into existence with it.”

—from E. L. Mascall, What do we Mean by the Creation of the World? (The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1960)

4 Nov

God’s love: originating, sustaining, restoring

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 11/04/15

Jonathan R. Wilson on the inseparability of creation and redemption

“To say that humans are creatures is to say that our identity, our meaning, our life depend on our relationship to the One who created us. This assertion runs counter to most of what we are taught. On the one hand, we are told that we are our own rulers. We have been set free from all external authority and power. We are dependent on no one but ourselves. . . . We make ourselves. We determine our own destiny. . . .”

“On the other hand, we may be told (if we are not creatures) that we have no identity. There is no such thing as constructing our own selves and determining our own destinies. We are merely products of the forces to which we have been subject and other forces that determine our lives today. Our genes, our families of origin, our traumas, our failures and successes, our particular biochemical make-up, market forces, ideologies, brain chemistry, and more converge on the aggregation of molecules that constitutes our lives. These forces determine who each of us is. We have been constructed by these forces. . . .

“One of the gravest errors we can make in our witness to the good news of Jesus Christ is to separate creation and redemption from each other. The place and meaning of creation are found in its redemption. The place and meaning of redemption are its reclaiming and healing of creation. This is the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. Apart from redemption, creation has no purpose in the gospel. As we will see in detail later in this chapter, we recognize ‘creation’ as creation only in relation to God’s work of redemption. Likewise, we recognize ‘redemption’ as redemption only in its relation to God’s work of creation. When we sever the connection between creation and redemption, we lose both: we remove both creation and redemption from the gospel. In doing so, we may continue to perpetuate some version of the ‘good news of Jesus Christ’ that we live and proclaim, but it will be a pale version that often drifts into a loud proclamation of ‘good news,’ which upon close examination turns out to be bad news. . . .

“This commonplace denial of the interweaving of creation and redemption is deeply enshrined in beliefs and practices that regard this world merely as a container for God’s work of salvation, not as an actual participant in God’s work of salvation. It is as if this world were the stage set for God’s work of redemption. Once that work is done, the set is taken down and discarded because it is no longer needed. . . .

“We reduce the incarnation by regarding it only as a necessary step toward God’s act of redemption. In this reduction, the Word became flesh to bear our sins and live long enough as a human to teach and perform miracles that display and confirm his divinity before being crucified. In variations on this reductionist account of the incarnation, the Word becomes flesh as an instrumental act necessary to the work of redemption.

“But that understanding of the incarnation reduces the Word becoming flesh to a skeleton with some flesh hanging on it. In contrast to this deracinated image, we must retrieve, celebrate, and live the fulness of the incarnation as the climactic act of God’s love for God’s creation. The Word became flesh not as an instrument toward our salvation but as an embrace of the whole of creation in this one person — an embrace that redeems all creation. As it is, this ‘one person’ is the one by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were made. It is this very one who enters fully, deeply, passionately into the life of the creation. This is the action of love, love that began before the creation of the cosmos, gives life to the cosmos, holds the cosmos together, embraces and enfolds the cosmos into the life of God through Jesus Christ, and promises life eternal for the cosmos by weaving together creation and redemption in a new heavens and a new earth.”

—from Jonathan R. Wilson, God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation (BakerAcademic, 2013)

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4 Nov

A capricious god, a meaningless world

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 11/04/15

Louis Dupré on the emergence of pure nature

“In Aquinas there had been no question of a supernatural order ‘added’ to nature. For him, the term ‘supernatural’ referred to the means for attaining the one, final end for which our natural powers no longer suffice. God himself is called agens supernaturale, not to separate the order of grace from that of nature, but rather to distinguish the order of the Creator from that of creation (in which nature and grace appear together). Nature itself thereby becomes the effect of a ‘supernatural’ agent. The term supernatural would not begin to refer to an order of grace separate from the order of nature until in the sixteenth century man’s ‘natural’ end came to be conceived as distinct from his revealed destiny. Thus, St. Thomas’s sixteenth-century commentator, Sylvester of Ferrara, interprets his master’s position as if it separated the reality of nature from that of grace. If God were man’s ‘natural’ end to be acquired only in a ‘supernatural’ way, he argues, we would have a conflict that is not conveniens between nature and its goal. Yet for Aquinas nature is not an independent reality endowed with a self-sufficient finis naturalis. . . .

“The nominalist theologies which came to dominate the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries destroyed the intelligible continuity between Creator and creature. The idea of an absolute divine power unrelated to any known laws or principles definitively severed the order of nature from that of grace. A nature created by an unpredictable God loses its intrinsic intelligibility in favor of the mere observation of actual fact. Nor does creation itself teach us anything of God beyond what this divine omnipotence has revealed in Scripture. Grace itself became a matter of divine decree unmeasurable by human standards and randomly dispensed. Detached from its transcendent moorings, nature was left to chart its own course. The rise of the supernatural signaled the loss of an intrinsically transcendent dimension in nature and the emergence of a profound distrust of that nature on the part of theology. The delicate balance was permanently disturbed. The distinction between God’s potentia absoluta (what he can do, if he chooses to do it) and the potentia ordinata (what he actually does) had originated in the eleventh century and had become universally accepted to preserve the idea of God’s total freedom in creation. Nominalist theology had extended its meaning by freeing divine omnipotence from any limits other than internal contradiction. The resulting increase in opposition between an unlimited divine power and a wholly contingent world order conveyed to distinctions which previously had been no more than rational abstractions a reality status they had never possessed before. Among them was the idea of a pure nature, that is, nature conceived without any supernatural destiny to be attained in the order of grace. As the term had been used in St. Thomas and in thirteenth-century Scholasticism, ‘nature’ had been a theological concept: it referred to a concrete existing reality, either in the prelapsarian state of grace, or in the condition after the fall. As theologians commonly used it, ‘nature’ was no longer human nature in its original state, but a transformed nature that had not remained untouched by sin and grace. Hence the original state of innocence could not serve as the norm, nor were such concepts as natural law based upon it. 

“The concept of pure nature, however, that emerged between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries overruled those distinctions elevating an abstract idea derived from the theory of God’s potentia absoluta into a real entity. Though claiming to be independent of the historical stages of the fall and redemption which theology had traditionally distinguished, from a theological point of view, its very bracketing of those stages introduced yet another, albeit artificial, historical concept. When later ethical and political philosophies adopted this concept as a theologically neutral basis for speculation, they did, in fact, build upon a negative theological concept. . . .

“[O]nce the concept of pure nature became detached from its hypothetic context (within the idea of a potentia absoluta) and acquired an assumed reality in its own right, it provoked a new, wholly unprecedented attempt to establish a science of God on purely natural grounds. If ‘nature’ could be understood independently of revelation, so could the transcendent cause of that nature to the extent that it was actively operative in that nature. Natural theology came to occupy the same independent position vis-à-vis revelation which ‘nature’ took with respect to what henceforth was to be called the ‘super-natural.’”

—from Louis Dupré, “Nature and Grace: Fateful Separation and Attempted Reunion,” in David L. Schindler, editor, Catholicism and Secularization in America: Essays on Nature, Grace, and Culture (Communio Books, 1990)

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