Miscellaneous Trinitarian Reflections from Nicholas Lash

  • Christianity’s First Doctrine (logically, not historically)

the doctrine of God’s Trinity is not some further teaching, additional to a teaching which would count as a ‘doctrine of God,’ but simply is the Christian doctrine of God, the Christian account of how the word ‘God’ is to be used.

from Easter In Ordinary (1988), 267, n21; cf. “the doctrine of the Trinity simply is the Christian doctrine of God,” from “Considering the Trinity,” Modern Theology 2, no. 3 (1986): 183.

  • Against Misproportioned Deployments of the Creeds’ Articles 

on the basis of experiential differences, now this, now that aspect of the mystery gets presented as the norm or centre of the whole. It is as if the history of Christianity were a struggle for supremacy between the three articles of its Creed; a struggle tempting the participants to polemicise into opposition mutually indispensable distinctions lying at the very heart of Christian (which is to say Trinitarian) apprehension of the mystery of God.

from Theology for Pilgrims (2008), 37.

Comment: I find this a suggestive gloss on the pendulum swings of theological history. I take Lash to be insinuating some of us are so over-determined theologically by apophaticism that our christologies and pneumatologies are underformed and underfunctioning; others of us are so over-determined by Christology that our patrologies and pneumatologies are comparatively anemic; and others of us are so over-determined by pneumatology that our patrologies and christologies are left idling. For a balanced, non-reactionary doctrine of God, theologians will need a sense of proportion so all three loci have room to make their needed contributions. Which is your temptation? Not only will the theologian need to be mindful of their theological scene’s excesses and deficiencies, but, so as not to over-correct, the theologian will also need to be mindful of their personal excesses and deficiencies.

  • where the Trinity went after theologians lost interest

According to Walter Kasper, ‘The history of modern thought’ is, at one level, ‘a history of the many attempts made to reconstruct the doctrine of the Trinity.’ ‘Admittedly,’ he goes on, ‘the credit for having kept alive the idea of the Trinity belongs less to theology than to philosophy.’ Now that is an interesting suggestion. It is, not surprisingly, German philosophy that Kasper has in mind. …

What, then, of the other side of the story? While the philosophers were attempting to revitalize, after their fashion, the elements of a doctrine which the theologians had discarded as a dead letter, what was it to which the theologians, for their part, devoted their attention? The answer, ironically, seems to be that those theologians who discarded the Christian doctrine of God selected for their subject-matter that most unchristian entity that came to be know as ‘the God of the philosophers.’

from “Considering the Trinity,” Modern Theology 2, no. 3 (1986): 184-5.

Liturgical Reflections from Robert Jenson

Miscellaneous Liturgical Reflections from Robert Jenson

A. The Liturgy and Embodiment

The disappearance of ritual and art and physical expression from our ordinary communal life is the heart of our practical atheism.

from Visible Words (Fortress, 1978), 28.

Why has the church always said we should absolve by putting hands on the head of the person being absolved? That sounds like a rather silly procedure, as if some kind of fluid flowed from one to the other — so now in Protestant churches we do not do it that way. Instead we confess everyone once just before the service and absolve them in a mass. And nobody feels forgiven: that this absolution is directed to me was the point of the hands of the priest on the penitent. Or why at a football game do we not sit down to cheer? Because you cannot cheer sitting down: the motion of the body is part of the act.

Liturgy, with its sitting, standing, parading, gesturing, and so forth, is the most comprehensive example of the way in which the body belongs to our communication with each other. Those who have been so misguided as to try to make the liturgy more personal and intense by eliminating the standings, sittings, paradings, crossings, and kneelings achieved, of course, the opposite result. It is exactly in these motionless liturgies, where we just sit for an hour and fifteen minutes, that it becomes impossible to experience rhetoric about “God” as in any way true about us. [43]

B. The Liturgy as Art

The liturgy is the church’s specific art form. Let me in this connection draw only one conclusion from this essay’s positions: the reality of the Spirit in worship, the spiritedness of the church’s praise and petition, is not another thing than the beauty of the church’s worship. Labor on the liturgy’s beauty is not accidental to labor on its authenticity, and what may be called liturgical aesthetics is a vital part of the doctrine of the Spirit.  [155]

from Essays in Theology of Culture (Eerdmans, 1995).

George Steiner on hermeneutics and classics

George Steiner on …

1. Hermeneutics

A master-reader (or viewer or listener) equipped, in the case of literature, with linguist-historical knowledge, ideally sensitive to the polysemic, metamorphic lives of language, inspiredly intuitive in his or her empathy – a Coleridge reading Wordsworth, a Karl Barth glossing Romans, a Mandelstam responding to Dante – will come only ‘so near.’ The ultimate life-force of the poem or prose being elucidated, its power against time, will remain integral. No hermeneutic is equivalent to its object. No restatement, via analytic ‘dissection,’ paraphrase or emotive description, can replace the original (in the ephemeral, in the functional, such substitution lies to hand).

The proof is with music. The sum of understanding resides in further performance. Thus interpretation and criticism are, at their most honest, more or less suggestive, enriching narrations of personal, always provisional encounters. It is this provisional subjectivity, this persistent need for reconsideration and amendment, which does give a certain legitimacy to the deconstructionalist project. […]

I repeat: all understanding falls short. It is as if the poem, the painting, the sonata drew around itself a last circle, a space for inviolate autonomy. I define the classic as that around which this space is perennially fruitful. It questions us. It demands that we try again. It makes of our misprisions, of our partialities and disagreements not a relativistic chaos, an ‘anything goes,’ but a deepening. Worthwhile interpretations, criticism to be taken seriously, are those which make their limitations, their defeats visible. In turn, this visibility helps make manifest the inexhaustibility of the object. The Bush burned brighter because its interpreter was not allowed too near.

from Errata: An Examined Life, (Phoenix, 1998),21-22.

2. Classics

I define a ‘classic,’ in literature, in music, in the arts, in philosophic argument, as a signifying form which ‘reads’ us. It reads us more than we read (listen to, perceive) it. There is nothing paradoxical, let alone mystical, in this definition. Each time we engage with it, the classic will question us. It will challenge our resources of consciousness and intellect, of mind and body (so much of primary aesthetic and even intellectual response is bodily). The classic will ask of us: ‘have you understood?’; ‘have you re-imagined responsibly?’; ‘are you prepared to act upon the questions, upon the potentialities of transformed, enriched being which I have posed?’ […]

The major text, work of art, musical composition, the ‘news that stays new’ (Ezra Pound), asks not only for understanding reception. It demands reaction. We are meant to act ‘anew,’ to translate echoing response and interpretation into conduct. Hermeneutics share a common border with ethics. To read Plato or Pascal or Tolstoy ‘classically’ is to attempt a new and different life. It is, as Dante postulates explicitly, to enter on a vita nuova. In most art and literature, this summons is non-systematic. […] The play, the fiction, the Cezanne still-life so complicates, so dislocates from banality, so quickens our movements inwards […] and our turn to the world, that we differ from before.

Such dislocation can be unsettling, even painful. Hence the exasperated resistance to much of modern art, music, poetry; to the atonal and the non-representational. Or it can prove exultant […]. Normally, the process is gradual. […]

The bidding of the archaic torso of Apollo in Rilke’s famous poem, ‘Change your life,’ has been for me at the heart of meaning.

from Errata: An Examined Life, (Phoenix, 1998), 18, 24-25.

Variations on a theme in theological anthropology

Variations on a theme in theological anthropology

A. Ernest Becker

Men aren’t built to be gods, to take in the whole world; they are built like other creatures, to take in the piece of ground in front of their noses.

from The Denial of Death, (Free Press, 1997), 178.

B. Rowan Williams

Theology must rediscover itself as a language that assists us in being mortal, living in the constraints of a finite and material world without resentment. […]

What we are are our limits, that we are here not there, now not then, took this decision, not that, to bring us here and now. And if this is true, understanding a person is understanding their limits, their materiality. […]

My unity as a person is always out of my field of vision (I can’t see my own face), just as the divine condition for there being fields of vision at all, for there being a world or worlds, is out of my field of vision (I can’t see my own origin).

from “The Suspicion of Suspicion: Wittgenstein and Bonhoeffer,” in Wrestling with Angels, (Eerdmans, 2007), 186, 193.

C. Nicholas Lash

My body is not simply this lump of matter by means of which I communicate with other people. My body is also the world constituted by the personal, social and economic relationships in which I share. These all form part of me. My language, my family, my city, are parts of my body. When I die, it is not merely this lump of matter that dies: the whole network of personal, family and social communications which I formed a part, dies a little too.

from Theology on Dover Beach, (Wipf and Stock, 2005), 174-5. Cf. Theology on the Way to Emmaus, 175; Seeing in the Dark, 112-3.

A Pascal Miscellany

A Pascal Miscellany

136 I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.

924 It is true that there is something painful in beginning to practice piety, but this pain does not arise from the beginnings of piety within us, but from the impiety that is still there.

110 We know that we are not dreaming. Yet however unable we may be to prove this by reason, this inability demonstrates nothing but the weakness of our reason, and not the uncertainty of all our knowledge, as they assert. […] Our inability must therefore do nothing except humble reason –which would like to be the judge of everything – while not confuting our certainty. As if reason could be the only way in which we can learn!”

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, (1669).