Upcoming Conference Presentations

I’m looking forward to giving a productive series of conference presentations this year, including three in Boston this November:

“Family, Church, Nation, Humanity: Social Identity and Inclusion in the Christian Doctrine of Resurrection.” Eastern-International Region of the American Academy of Religion 2017 Annual Meeting. University of Waterloo. April 28-29, 2017.

“Will I Be Canadian in the Resurrection? Nationality, Identity and Christian Eschatology.” Canadian Theological Society 2017 Annual Meeting. Ryerson University, Toronto, ON. May 28-30, 2017.

“Hebrews and Historical Theology—The Contours.” Scripture and Doctrine Seminar, Institute for Biblical Research 2017 Annual Meeting. Boston, MA. November 17, 2017.

“The Prophet and the Lord: Elijah, Jesus and the Resurrection of the Dead.” Christian Theology and the Bible Unit, Society of Biblical Literature 2017 Annual Meeting. Boston, MA. November 18-21, 2017.

“Christ the One Teacher of All: Toward an Ecumenical Theology of the Magisterium.” Christian Systematic Theology Unit, American Academy of Religion 2017 Annual Meeting. Boston, MA. November 18-21, 2017.

Aquinas on Theologians and the Spirit

In one of his relatively late Quodlibetal Questions, from Advent 1270,1 Thomas Aquinas addresses the question whether all that holy teachers have said has been spoken by the Holy Spirit (XII, q. 17). This is a tremendously important question, since it bears on the authority of theologians and the work of the Spirit in the divine economy. If theologians also speak by the Holy Spirit, how are their words to be distinguished from Scripture? or prophecy?

Questions are then asked regarding four offices: first, the office of expositors of Holy Scripture [q. 17]; second, the office of preachers [q. 18]; third, the office of confessors [q. 19]; fourth, the office of vicars [q. 20].

[a. 1] To the first, it is asked whether everything the holy teachers have said, has been from the Holy Spirit.

It seems the answer is no.

This is because in their statements there are certain false things, for they sometimes disagree in their expositions. Now it is not possible for dissimilar or dissonant things to be true, since both sides of a contradiction cannot be true.

Against this, it pertains to one and the same thing to do something toward an end and to lead to that end. Now the end of Scripture, which is from the Holy Spirit, is human learning. But this human learning cannot come from the Scriptures except through the expositions of the saints. Therefore, the expositions of the saints are from the Holy Spirit.

I respond, it is to be said that the Scriptures are both declared and expounded from the Holy Spirit. This is why 1 Cor 2:14 says, “The natural person does not perceive the things that are of God, but the spiritual person judges all things,” especially those that relate to faith, since faith is a gift of God; and, therefore, the interpretation of words is listed among the other gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:10).

To the first [objection] is it to be said that charisms (gratiae gratis datae) are not habits (habitus), but are particular movements from the Holy Spirit–otherwise, if they were habits, the prophet would have revelation through the gift of prophecy whenever he wished, which is not the case. And so, in regard to the revealing of hidden matters, the mind is sometimes touched by the Holy Spirit and sometimes not, but certain things are hidden from it. This is why Elisha says, “the Lord has hidden it from me” (2 Kgs 4:27). They also sometimes say certain things from themselves; this is clear with Nathan, who counseled David to build the temple, but was later caught and, as it were, led back by God to prohibit David from doing this very thing on the part of God. But this, however, is to be maintained: that whatever is contained in Scripture is true; whoever thinks in opposition to this is a heretic. But expositors, in other matters that do not regard faith, have said many things from their own understanding, and so they could have erred in these matters. Nevertheless, the necessity of the statements of expositors does not imply that it is necessary to believe in them, but only in the canonical Scripture, which is in the Old and New Testament.

Aquinas’ response (which begins with “I respond. . .,” everything before that being arguments pro and con), emphasizes the unity of Scripture and the work of theologians, here characterized as the exposition of Scripture, in the activity of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is “declared” by the Holy Spirit; it is also “expounded” by the Holy Spirit in the work of theologians.

It is the “spiritual” person of 1 Cor 2:14, that is, the person with the Spirit, who is able to correctly understand the Spirit-given Scriptures. Interpreting these Scriptures is also a gift of the Spirit, as Aquinas reads 1 Cor 12:10. Again, Scripture and theology are tied together in the divine economy as objects of the Spirit’s work.

What is the difference then? In his response to the one objection, regarding contradictions in the writings of theologians, Aquinas argues that the ability to interpret Scripture is not a habitus, something we come to possess, but an interruptive gift, a charism, which the Spirit only sometimes allows us to exercise. The comparison with prophecy is suggestive: a prophet like Elisha cannot always see hidden matters, but only when the Spirit of God gives them this ability. This only happens “sometimes” (aliquando), not always. It also happens “sometimes” (aliquando) that instead of relying on the Spirit, prophets speak their own mind, such as in Nathan’s case before David.

This uncertainty in regard to the source of a theologian’s statements–themselves or the Spirit–requires discernment on the part of the student. But Aquinas circles back to the sure source: it is to be held that all that Scripture contains is true; to believe otherwise is heresy. Those who expound Scripture, insofar as what they say relates to faith, speak from the Holy Spirit as part of the Spirit’s twofold work of “declaring” and “expounding” Scripture in the divine economy, to the end of human learning for salvation.

Thus, the work of theologians is “necessary” in the economy, contributing to the end of educating human beings for their salvation, just as Scripture was given to this end. But this necessity does not imply that their words must be believed; faith is to be placed in canonical Scripture alone, contained in the Old and New Testaments.

1 Sandra Edwards, “Introduction,” in St Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibetal Questions 1 and 2, trans. Sandra Edwards (Toronto: PIMS, 1983), 6, citing Mandonnet, van Steenberghen and Weisheipl.

Lombard on the Necessity of Believing in Resurrection

At the very beginning of his treatment of resurrection, the final judgment, and heaven and hell in the Sentences (book IV, dist. 43-50), which will run to the end of his work, Peter Lombard (c.1096-1160) emphasizes the necessity, for Christians, of believing in the future resurrection. He begins:

Finally, we must briefly discuss the condition of resurrection, and the mode of those who will rise, and also the day of judgment and the quality of mercy. “I am unable to satisfy all the questions that are usually raised about this subject, but no Christian should in any way doubt that the flesh of all those who have been born and will be born, and have died and will die, will be resurrected” (Augustine, Enchiridion 23.84). For Isaiah says, “The dead will rise, and those who will be in the tombs will rise” (cf. 26:19).

To a quotation from Augustine’s famous treatment of resurrection in the Enchiridion, he adds biblical confirmation from Isaiah. Lombard then quotes 1 Thess 4:13-17, which gives him the framework for some of distinction 43 on the events surrounding the resurrection (the sound of the trumpet; the middle of the night; then, whether the elect will remember their past sins; those who will be found alive at Christ’s return; in what sense Christ is judge of “the living and the dead”; and that all will rise incorruptible). His first little chapter of the distinction thus concludes: “The truth of resurrection, and the cause and order of those who will rise, is very clearly insinuated in these words.”

The way Lombard begins his treatment of eschatology, quoting Augustine on the necessity of believing in the resurrection–“no Christian should in any way doubt” (nullatenus ambigere debet christianus; Augustine reads, nullo modo dubitare)–is highly instructive. In Christian theology from the Fathers through the Reformation, the resurrection was an indubitable article of faith. Yet it was–and is–also attended by numerous intellectual difficulties: What about those with physical deformities or scars? What about those who are stillborn? What age will one be in the resurrection? Lombard’s dist. 44, which deals with these questions, opens this way: “But some tend to hesitate and ask, at what age and in what bodily state will everyone be resurrected?”

These questions, arising from this “hesitation,” can only be asked on the basis of accepting that there will be a future resurrection–what Lombard calls the veritas resurrectionis, quite clearly insinuated in Is 26 and 1 Thess 4, for instance. How this resurrection will take place is the mystery, and the subject of many scholastic disputations. In modern theology, this intellectual difficulty and mystery begins to creep forward, into faith in the resurrection itself. The seemingly irresolvable difficulties attending the thought of the long dead rising in new bodies, the how, has been thought to challenge the that.

But this distinction is crucial to the New Testament witness about resurrection itself. That Jesus rose from the dead is the central confession of the entire New Testament; how he rises or the “mode” of his rising, why, that is, he sometimes goes unrecognized (Luke 24:16; John 20:14; 21:4) or can pass through closed doors (John 20:19) or disappear (Luke 24:31), is not explained to us. Because Jesus’ resurrection is the “firstfruits” and therefore model of our own (1 Cor 15:20), this is mirrored directly in the theology of our own, future resurrection.

The very layout of Lombard’s treatment of resurrection in book IV is, then, a reflection of the shape of the biblical witness: he begins with the necessity of believing in the resurrection on the basis of Scripture (dist. 43) before moving onto the difficulties implied by this belief, the questions for which Scripture offers no answer (dist. 44). Both of those are, further, encapsulated in the brief, opening quotation from Augustine. That we will rise is a basic Christian confession–“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died” (1 Thess 4:14)–but how, the “mode” as Lombard calls it, is the mystery.

Gilbert Narcisse on the Reader of Scripture

One of my current projects is the translation of Gilbert Narcisse’s introduction to fundamental theology, Premiers pas en théologie (Paris: Parole et Silence, 2005), from French into English. Even in an introductory text, one finds a number of fascinating and creative thoughts. Here is Narcisse at the beginning of his section on Scripture:

The exegetical experience of the disciples of Emmaus implies that God becomes the reader of Scripture in Christ [Luke 24:27]. To explain Scripture, Jesus does not draw first of all on his divine knowledge but actually on his apprenticeship in the reading of the Torah, first as a child, then before the teachers at twelve years old, and finally in his adulthood. If Christ is fullness, then for the first time in the economy of salvation, Scripture is understood in this same fullness of the incarnate Word. In Christ there resides a fullness of the author and reader of Scripture. Christ is therefore the definitive measure of every understanding of Scripture. Jesus explains Scripture and bears it in this way into his fullness. Of course, Jesus did not read the New Testament. But it is in his act of reading the Old Testament that he realized the fullness expressed in the New Testament. This is why Jesus himself did not write: Scripture always has reference to a fullness which both passes through the letter and surpasses it. This power of the letter can be understood only as one enters into the trinitarian mystery.

Albert the Great on Asking for Resurrection

In his comments on the raising of Lazarus in John 11, Albert the Great states that it is perfect faith which asks God for the dead to be raised. This perfect faith is faith in Jesus Christ, the cause of our resurrection by virtue of his own. Jesus instructs Martha in such faith by his divine instruction, drawing out her consent. To such faith, nothing, not even the raising of the dead, is impossible.

Here Albert comments on Jesus’ conversation with Martha in vv.25-27: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’”

Here [Jesus] touches upon a faith perfect in obtaining that for which one asks. An encouragement to such faith is first given, and then perfect faith is described.

Therefore, in the first place he says four things: in the first of these, the perfect cause of the resurrection and life is said to be in Christ; in the second, this to the believer, the possibility to obtaining the resurrection of the dead by asking is shown; in the third, the reward of such faith is signified; in the fourth, the consent of Martha to such faith is sought.

Therefore, Jesus says, “I am,” by way of cause, “the resurrection and the life,” that is, I am the cause of resurrection and life. 1 Thess 4:[14],1 “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” For he is therefore called “the firstborn from the dead,” since his resurrection is believed in faith, he is the cause of the resurrection of the dead, as Augustine states.2 Rev 1:5, “the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

“And everyone who lives,” etc.

Here he touches on the reward of her faith: for since it is now perfect, she lives. Hab 2:4, “My righteous will live by their faith.”

“And believes in me,” that is, by believing draws toward me [tendit in me], “will not die in eternity [or “forever,” in aeternum, here and following],” for although one dies bodily in time [or “for a time,” ad tempus], nevertheless they do not die so as to die in eternity. For the damned die in this way in eternity, as to always die. John 8:52, “Whoever keeps my word will not taste death in eternity.” John 3:[16],3 “that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Hos 8:14 [Vulg.], “From the hand of death I will free him, from death I will redeem them.”

“Do you believe this?”

He elicits consent to this perfect faith, to whose asking nothing is impossible. Mark 9:[23],4 “All things can be done for the one who believes.” Matt 17:[20],5 “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

“She said to him, ‘Yes,’” etc.

Here she now sufficiently presents consent in perfect faith by means of an elevated instruction.

“Yes, Lord.” Matt 15:28, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

And she explains this faith, saying, “I believe,” firmly believing and simply confessing, “that you are,” because you hide in human nature, “Christ,” anointed with the anointing of deity, “the Son of God,” born of the Father before all ages, “who,” born from a woman, the Virgin, came under the law, “came” through the assumption of flesh “into this” visible “world.” And this is perfect faith in relation to this article; so, he does not further instruct her in the faith. Matt 16:16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And therefore, as to Peter the keys were given upon this confession, against which the gates of hell will not prevail, so the doors of death, which held the dead, could do nothing about this faith, but gave up the dead which it had taken in. Ps 107:16-17 [Vulg. 106:15-16], “For he shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron. He brought them out from their sinful ways.”

D. Alberti Magni Opera Omnia, vol. 24, In evangelium secundum Joannem, ed. Borgnet (Paris: Vivès, 1899), 447-48

1 The Borgnet edition reads I Thessal. IV, 13. We still await a critical edition of Super Iohannem.

2 I have not yet been able to identify the precise text of Augustine to which Albert might be referring.

3 The Borgnet edition reads Joan. III, 13.

4 The Borgnet edition reads Marc. IX, 22.

5 The Borgnet edition reads Matth. XVII, 19.

All Divine Scripture is One Book

I was reminded of this quote from Hugh of St. Victor (1096-1141) reading Ephraim Radner recently:

. . .for all divine Scripture is one book, and this one book is Christ, for all divine Scripture speaks of Christ and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ. . .

. . .quia omnis Scriptura divina unus liber est, et ille unus liber Christus est, quia omnis Scriptura divina de Christo loquitur, et omnis Scriptura divina in Christo impletur. . . (De arca Noe morali 2.8, PL176: 642)

Why Does Theology Matter? According to Aquinas

I’ve been reading up on educational theory and practice in order to strengthen my understanding of teaching and learning as I prepare to start a career in higher education. Along the way, one of the most important themes has been helping students to become interested in the subject or find intrinsic value in it. Self-motivated students are much better learners. Authors often suggest connecting the subject to something students already care about or showing how it relates to real-world situations. Asking how this relates to theology got me thinking about Thomas Aquinas.

At the very beginning of his own theology textbook, the Summary of Theology (Summa theologiae)–meant as an alternative to the popular theology textbook, Peter Lombard’s Sentences (see Bernard McGinn, Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa theologiae”)–Aquinas asks, Do we need theology at all? Videtur quod non sit necessarium: It seems that it is unnecessary (1a.1.1 arg. 1). This is a classroom question–not in the sense that Aquinas encountered it in his own classroom, though he may have. Rather, this is the kind of question a teacher in the classroom might be asked, and this right at the beginning of a course. Why do we need to study theology at all? Isn’t it irrelevant? Isn’t there something better we could be doing with our time?

Aquinas’ answer is very different to those commonly proposed today. He doesn’t say that theology helps us understand belief systems in a multi-faith world or that mutual religious understanding helps promote peace and justice–as true as those statements may be. Rather, his answer as a teacher (his “magisterial response”) argues for the utmost importance for the subject. Theology is needed, Aquinas says, because “it was necessary for human salvation” (1a.1.1 resp.). This subject is more interesting and valuable than any other, he claims, because it tells us how we can be saved. This is a much stronger claim for the value of theology as a discipline than any put forward today, but is any theologian willing and bold enough to say it?

(As an aside, it is notable to me, having studied the theology of divine pedagogy–i.e., God’s teaching–that Aquinas frames the subject of theology in this very first article strongly in pedagogical terms. Human beings need to know about God, who is the destiny (finem) of human life, so that they can then live their lives accordingly. “Thus, it was necessary to a human being for salvation, that certain things become known to him or her by divine revelation.” Even in those matters that can be known about God by human reason, it is “necessary” for human beings to be “instructed by divine revelation.” Because the salvation of humanity is found in God, that salvation comes “more comfortably and certainly to human beings” if they are “instructed by divine revelation about divine realities” than if they struggle along without the divine teacher.)