Thursday, March 17, 2005

And the Backpedaling Begins

I hadn't even finished my series on the Historical Theology lessons for Jonathan Prejean when my eye caught this "update" at Jonathan Prejean's blog:

UPDATE -- After having read Dr. Svendsen's first couple of forays into this area, I'm going to say a couple of things strictly in the interest of saving both his time and mine. Everybody with any familiarity in the relevant history knows that it is somewhat doubtful that Nestorius was Nestorian and that some scholars have made the argument (albeit pretty convincingly discredited by recent scholarship) that St. Cyril was a monophysite. While interesting as a historical matter, it has absolutely nothing to do with the heresy of Nestorianism (aka, the error attributed to Nestorius), which is the substance of my charge against Dr. Svendsen.
Now I am forced to break from my series momentarily and post a response to this update. Be warned, I’ve got eight full pages of notes on just the response to the update.

In brief, Mr. Prejean has been caught with his proverbial pants down on this issue and now he’s attempting to backpedal. Prejean’s statement above suggests he’s always known that Nestorius was wrongly charged with heresy, and that I am off-topic by focusing on this. He pretends that he knew all along that Nestorius was misunderstood by Cyril, who in turn was likely a closet Monophysite. The problem is, this explanation is completely out of step with what Prejean wrote earlier. Here’s one example:
To respond to Dr. Svendsen's query of 3/14/05, I refer to my post here, which clearly points out Svendsen's Christological errors (fundamentally based on the complete inability to make a distinction between person and nature, an error that was shared by Arius and Nestorius).
Note well that Prejean does not say, “an error that was erroneously attributed to Nestorius.” He instead says, “an error that was shared by Arius and Nestorius.” Now he’s saying, “Everybody with any familiarity in the relevant history knows that it is somewhat doubtful that Nestorius was Nestorian.” Which will it be, Mr. Prejean? Shall we proceed with the pop-apologetic understanding of the historical events that you undoubtedly possessed before I began posting my series; or with your new understanding of historical events which, forced by my citations of Brown, you quickly acquired when you scrambled to your patristic sources looking for contradictions to my position only to find it confirmed? I am not anxious to waste my time interacting with that kind of disingenuousness on your part; the kind that strongly and consistently asserts an erroneous position about the historical events, and ridicules and derides my comparatively accurate understanding of those events in the process, only to backpeddle once the evidence comes out and then pretends the issue was never about my understanding of events to begin with.

Prejean also wrote the following:

Rather than wasting time discussing historical matters on which we completely agree (or matters entirely irrelevant to the Christological discussion, such as Catholic Mariology), it would probably be more expedient to address the actual disagreement.
But this is precisely the disagreement. Prejean makes fundamental blunders in his criticism of my views precisely because his understanding of the Christological controversies goes no further than the typical Roman Catholic pop-apologetic understanding of them. That acts as the basis for his disagreement with everything else I have to say about this issue. Hence, it is completely relevant and completely to the point. If Prejeans’s understanding of the historical events weren’t so deficient, there wouldn’t be a disagreement. His entire thesis against my position was that I am ignorant of the scholarly view on these issues, that I am unqualified to address the historical Christological controversies. Here again is what he said about my understanding of the events:

For one thing, it's not a matter of simply happening to disagree on the subject. Svendsen is flat-out wrong, and it's not even debatable. He's completely out of his league here. He has zero qualifications in the field of patristics or church history (his Ph.D. is in New Testament), and his opinion conflicts with the overwhelming scholarly opinion on those subjects without the least bit of justification for doing so. Normally, when one talks about a subject in which one is entirely unqualified, one maintains a certain humility that allows one to be corrected, at least if one is behaving reasonably. Now when someone has been plainly corrected beyond doubt on such a subject (such as would be completely obvious to anyone who consults any scholarly authority on Apollinarism, monophysitism, or indeed any survey of Byzantine Christology) and that same person persists in the plain and obvious error without even a hint of acknowledgment, it is obvious that the person is ranting irrationally, having abdicated the field of reason altogether.
And . . .

he was running afoul of people who actually do have those qualifications. If I were the one running afoul of Meyendorff, Pelikan, McGrath, Kelly, Sherrard, Schatz, Jurgens, Quasten, Newman, Thunberg, and just about every other patristics or church history scholar of significant repute, then it might be relevant to raise my qualifications. But since I am relying on their arguments, it is *their* qualifications that are relevant, not mine. I'd love to see Svendsen attempt to justify his position using any reputable work, as that would clearly expose how absurd his position is.
And, in response to my description of Apollinarianism, Prejean wrote:

Oh, I see. You don't know the difference between a person (hypostasis) and a nature, which is exactly Nestorianism! Now it all makes sense! I wonder if that shows up anywhere else. Let's see, there was this accusation of Monophysitism...
And . . .

As far as my alleged attacks ad hominem, one of them I consider entirely legitimate, namely, calling into question the qualifications of someone who repeatedly asserts a position contrary to the bulk of scholarship without providing any good reason for doing so.
And . . .

Yep, you definitely do not know the difference between a person and a nature. Wow, imagine actually talking about Christological heresies without even bothering to learn that! St. Cyril would call that "stupidity." I'll be more charitable and call it blindly irrational anti-Catholicism. Either way, on behalf of all of us orthodox creedal Christians like myself and St. Cyril, I'd like to commend Dr. Svendsen for openly admitting his heresy, allowing us to expose it to the light of day and the anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Council.
And . . .

Incidentally, Svendsen failed to mention another error that he made in the same article, when he said "In short, Apollinaris' view was that Christ was a body of flesh formed and animated by a nous (spirit and intellect), but that the nous was not human, but rather divine. What Apollinaris means by nous is 'person'.” . . . Hence, the Apollinarian heresy maintained that Christ was not fully human. Again, this is evidently sheer ignorance on Svendsen's part, as the issue was nature rather than person.
And . . .

My point was exactly to defend against your erroneous charge against Catholicism based on incorrect citations of councils and church writers. That's my entire point; you are speaking in an area in which you have no competence, and you are making elementary errors in doing so.
And . . .

Perhaps Dr. Svendsen would care to explain why he ventured to write an article accusing Catholics of a heresy without substantiation. How many patristic scholars agree with your explanation of "Apollinarimonophysitism?" If I am so wrong on this subject, it should be trivial to produce some kind of evidence on this point.
And . . .

Meyendorff's Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (not to mention Byzantine Theology) and Sherrard's The Greek East and the Latin West are excellent (and short) introductions to the subject by actual scholars that will quickly expose the absurdity of your position.
And . . .

If Svendsen can show to me such a deviation from respectable scholarship that would put my own qualifications in issue, he is welcome to respond in kind.
ALL of this—every single objection—has to do with a disagreement in our respective understanding of the historical events; not my personal view of Christ. In each case, Prejean claims I contradict patristic scholarship—something that would be completely irrelevant if the “real issue” were my personal view of Christ (how could a patristic scholar speak to that issue?). Prejean has now been corrected on this, and he has tacitly (albeit disingenuously) admitted it by his backpedaling. It is he that approached this issue in an uninformed way, not I.

As for Prejean’s Apollinarian views, here is a sampling:

For the record, we have no objection to people speaking about just one of Christ's natures, as long as they aren't denying the one divine person of the Word of God. . . . However, to spell it out clearly and obviously, Jesus is no person other than the Word of God. Therefore, it is plain theological error to say that what happens to the person does not happen to God.
This is classic Apollinarianism. So, too, did Apollinaris deny that Jesus was a human person who had a human personality. Here again is Brown on this issue:

"Apollinaris rejected the proposition that Jesus possessed a human personality. . . . No one since the fourth century has called himself an Apollinarian, but the idea of Apollinaris resurfaces whenever there is a combination of orthodox dogmatism and theological naivete. . . . Firmly to assert the deity of Christ is not the same thing as to confess the New Testament faith in him, for in the New Testament he is definitely a man who is revealed to be the Son of God, with all that impliesnot a divine being who reveals himself in human form."

In contrast to Prejean's Apollinarianism, the Scriptures affirm that Christ became like us “in every way.” Chalcedon confirmed (contra Apollinarianism) that Christ was “homoousios with us in manhood, like us in all things except sin,” and (contra the common objections to Nestorianism) that Mary was theotokos “as regards his manhood.” Pelikan assesses Chalcedon this way:

“The formula . . . condemend any notion of hypostatic union that would jeopardize ‘the differences of the natures’ or would violate the rule that the union was accomplished ‘without confusion.’” (The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Vol I, 264).

As Brown has noted, Christ possessed a human personality; he wasn’t merely a divine person dressed up in a human suit as Prejean in his Apollinarianism believes. He was completely man AND completely God. I am a human person with human personality. Prejean is a human person with human personality. Mr. Prejean, Was Jesus a human person with human personality? Did he become like us in every respect except sin or didn't he?

As to the charge of Nestorianism that Prejean continues to level against me, here’s Pelikan again:

“To say that the difference of the natures was not taken away by the union could mean that the activities and properties appropriate to each nature were to be predicated ontologically only of that nature [such as the birth of Christ vis-a-vis the title theotokos, as McGrath will later point out], even though verbally it might be permissible to predicate them of ‘one and the same Christ.’ ‘Without confusion’ could likewise be interpreted in support of the thesis that, since the incarnation no less than before it, the human was the human and the divine was the divine. . . . hence, it could even be, and indeed was, taken as a vindication of the Nestorian position.” (Ibid., 265).

Now, Prejean has stated unequivocally that my position is Nestorianism. And he assumes by that charge that I am in some kind of heresy. Presuming for the moment that Prejean has actually rightly understood the Nestorian position (it’s highly doubtful given his statements regarding the Nestorian denial of the full humanity of Christ), then what Pelikan is saying is that Chalcedon agrees with me (vindicates me) against Prejean!

The real problem here is that Prejean is attempting to rationalize and “explain” the mystery of the unity of the personhood of Christ in such a way (in this case, an Apollinarian way—a divine person with a human nature rather than the orthodox view of a divine-human person, the God-man) as to go far beyond the decision of the councils. (Hence, Pelikan concludes that “the references to ‘one and the same’" in the council document "would indicate that he, in the concreteness of his total person both divine and human, was the subject,” Ibid.). By so doing Prejean is violating the prohibition in those very councils not to speculate beyond its decisions! Here is one such example of Prejean's speculations:

“If you deny that Mary is the Mother of God, then you are denying that Christ the person is the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity.”

Yet, amazingly enough, neither Ephesus nor Chalcedon adopted the phrase “mother of God” (meter theou) even though it was readily available to them and even though it was in use by Cyril, who spearheaded Ephesus. This, once again, demonstrates Prejean’s woeful misunderstanding of the history of events. He thinks theotokos means the mariologically loaded “mother of God,” with all that implies. Yet he is flatly contradicted not only by the Greek language itself, but also by patristic scholarship, including Pelikan who states: “Theotokos did not mean simply ‘Mother of God,’ as it was usually rendered in Western languages . . . , but more precisely and fully “the one who gave birth to the one who is God” (Mary Through the Centuries, 55). We’ve already seen Brown’s comments on this; namely, that theotokos was christological in intent, not mariological, and that it’s bare meaning is “God-bearer,” not “mother of God.” Yet this does not stop Prejean from speculating beyond the conclusions of the councils, and in violation of their prohibition against doing so.

Prejean’s statement above is based on the Apollinarian notion that nothing can be stated about Christ in his humanity without stating it about Christ in his deity. But this is the communication of attributes gone awry, and it is something the councils specifically warned against in their prohibition against confusing the natures and in their affirmation that each nature performs only those activities appropriate to that nature. Hence Christ the man was passible—he was weak, tired, hungry, thirsty, sorrowful, felt pain and wept. In addition he grew in wisdom and was ignorant of the day and hour of the end (Matt 24:36). Can we therefore rightly say that God is passible, that he feels pain, that he is weak, that he hungers and thirsts, that his wisdom grows or that he is ignorant of the future? Doesn’t the communication of attributes allow—indeed, demand—that we be able to make such statements with impunity? Such a notion is blasphemous. Yet, although they themselves would likely reject the application of the communication of attributes in these cases, modern-day Apollinarians like Prejean have no difficulty affirming of God what can only be true of man in other cases; or more precisely, of Christ in his deity what can only be true of Christ in his humanity.

As an aside, the Monophysites attempted to use the same comminication-of-attributes rationale they found in the litugy with theotokos, which title had escaped criticism by the majority of the fourth- and fifth-century church, who would easily reject the notion that God is passible: “If it was liturgically traditional and and dogmatically proper to call Mary Theotokos and by this title to predicate birth of the Second Person of the Trinity [the Monophysites reasoned], the sufferings of the cross could also be legitimately attributed to him” (Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Vol I, 270).

Prejean gives subtle (if not unwitting) hints that he understands this concept of the difference of natures. In answer to my question regarding Heb 7:3: “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever,” Prejean states: “Of course. The fact that you're equivocating between the sense in which ‘without father or mother’ is true and the sense in which ‘Mother of God’ is true doesn't really amount to an argument.”

No one is equivocating here except Prejean. I am using the same sense in both cases. Just as we cannot say that Christ in his humanity is “without mother,” and is “without beginning of days or end of life,” neither can we say that Christ in his deity is with mother, and does have beginning of days and end of life. There is no equivocation here at all—it is direct one-to-one correspondence, and both cases illustrate instances in which the communication of attributes does not apply.

Indeed, this is the very thing Augustine himself stated in the letter I quoted in my article and for which Prejean took me to task (as though I wrote it!):

"Since, then, Christ is God and man . . . we must take account of both these natures in Him when He speaks or when Scripture speaks of Him, and we must mark in what sense anything is said. When we say that Christ is the Son of God we do not separate His humanity from Him, nor when we say that the same Christ is the Son of man do we lose sight of His divinity. For, as man He was on earth, not in heaven where He now is . . . although in His nature as Son of God He was in heaven, but as Son of man He was still on earth and had not yet ascended into heaven. . . . and He will so come, on the testimony of the angel's voice, as He was seen going into heaven, that is, in the same form and substance of flesh to which, it is true, He gave immortality, but He did not take away its nature. According to this form, we are not to think that He is everywhere present. We must beware of so building up the divinity of the man that we destroy the reality of His body. It does not follow that what is in God is in Him so as to be everywhere as God is. . . . God and man in Him are one Person, and both are the one Jesus Christ who is everywhere as God, but in heaven as man" (Augustine, Letter 118.8-10).

If this paragraph had come from me and not from Augustine, you can be sure Prejean would have accused me of Nestorianism. Yet Augustine gets a pass. Why? Because Prejean can afford to call Svendsen a Nestorian, but he can’t afford to be consistent and call Augustine a Nestorian.

One of the reasons that the councils prohibit catholic laymen from speculating beyond its conclusions, I suppose, is aptly illustrated by Prejean’s next statement:

“Far from that being the case, Svendsen has explicitly denied that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity. I'd call that a pretty significant error for a ‘staunch defender.’ . . . That's why Svendsen's position is so inexplicable.”

The orthodox Nestorian view has always seemed “inexplicable” to Cyrilian Apollinarian-Monophysites. No doubt that’s one of the reasons the council took measures to prevent such silly speculations and prohibited its laymen from arriving at such inane theological conclusions on their own. Prejean has accused me of Nestorianism. Yet the burden of those who accused Nestorius was not that he was denying that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity, but rather that he was affirming that Christ was two persons. And they didn’t derive that so much from his view of theotokos as from a specific term he used, prosopon, which they misunderstood! Once again, Prejean has shown how incompetent and irresponsible he is in handling these issues. Stick to legal briefs, Mr. Prejean, or to something you’re good at.

As for my mention of Cyril; that was in response to Prejean’s constant appeal to Cyril’s condemnation of Nestorius. Prejean quoted Cyril approvingly in his:

So, as I said good thing that no one behaved in such an "inane fashion" as to adopt this view, and thereby partake of the Nestorian "stupidity." Errr, what was that you said there, Dr. Svendsen?
In so commenting, Prejean locks himself into my prior observation that he misunderstood the Nestorian “heresy” all along, and in so doing places himself between a rock and a hard place. Does he believe Cyril is correct in his condemnation of Nestorius? If so, he ends up contradicting the majority view of patristic scholarship who (as even Prejean himself concedes) regards Nestorius’ views as completely orthodox and as vindicated at Chalcedon. If not, then it is really Cyril who behaved in an “inane fashion” and who partook of “stupidity” in his erroneous accusations against Nestorius, now isn’t it. Errr, what was that you said there, Mr. Prejean?

Moreover, Prejean disagrees with the majority of patristic scholars (not “some scholars” as Prejean would have you believe) that Cyril was sometimes Apollinarian, sometimes Monophysite. I have already cited Brown to that effect. Here is Pelikan on it:

“Such a narrowing [of the theological gap between orthodoxy and the Monophysitism] is to be found at least as much in the Chalcedonian party itself, which, during the century between the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and the Second council of Constantinople in 553, moved steadily toward an interpretation of Chalcedon in terms of Cyril and therefore nearer (though never quite near enough to heal the schism) to the Monophysite position” (The Christian Tradition, Vol I, 274).

Granted, Pelikan does not explicitly call Cyril a Monophysite here; but he strongly hints at the conclusion others have come to; and the fact that the Monophysites appealed to Cyril as their authority does not help Cyril’s cause. However, Pelikan goes on to characterize the “valid interpretation” of Chalcedon as “the obvious (and Western and, indeed, Nestorian) interpretation” (Ibid., 277). This is over against the “neo-Chalcedonian” interpretation (the Cyrilian intrepretation) of the Monophysites which prevailed at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553.

Here is what McGrath says about Cyril:

“Cyril of Alexandria is one of the many writers within the [Alexandrian] school to emphasize the reality of the union [of the divinity and humanity of Christ] in the incarnation. The Logos existed ‘without flesh’ before its union with human nature; after that union, there is only one nature, in that the Logos united human nature to itself. This emphasis upon the one nature of Christ distinguishes the Alexandrian from the Antiochene school, which was more receptive to the idea of two natures within Christ.” (Christian Theology, 361).

Bear in mind that both Pelikan and McGrath are writers that Prejean himself appealed to as witnesses against my view. Yet both of them affirm what I have been arguing all along, and both of them contradict the claims and beliefs of Prejean.

Speaking of McGrath, here is what he says about the communication of attributes and the title “mother of God” as a test of orthodoxy (something, as we have seen, Prejean is inclined to do): “A failure to agree that Mary was ‘mother of God’ became seen as tantamount to a refusal to accept the divinity of Christ” (Ibid., 364). Now where have we seen that before? Oh yes; in Prejean’s assertion, to wit: ““If you deny that Mary is the Mother of God, then you are denying that Christ the person is the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity.”

What does McGrath have to say about that?

“But how far can this principle be pressed? For example, consider the following line of argument: Jesus suffered on the cross. Jesus is God. Therefore God suffered on the cross. The first two statements are orthodox, and commanded widespread assent within the church. But the conclusion drawn from them was widely regarded as unacceptable, as we noted in our earlier discussion of the idea of ‘a suffering God’ (pp. 273-8). It was axiomatic to most patristic writers that God could not suffer. . . . By the time of Nestorius, the title theotokos (literally, “bearer of God”) had become widely accepted within both popular piety and academic theology. Nestorius was, however, alarmed at its implications. It seemed to deny the humanity of Christ. Why not call Mary anthropotokos (“bearer of humanity”) or even Christotokos (“bearer of the Christ”)? His suggestions were met with outrage and indignation, on account of the enormous theological investment which had come to be associated with the term theotokos. Nevertheless, Nestorius may be regarded as making an entirely legitimate point (Ibid., 364-65).

Now ain’t that interesting? McGrath is a source who Prejean insisted contradicted me; yet here he is affirming exactly what I argued. Has Prejean even read McGrath? Moreover, Prejean has labeled me a Nestorian and accused me of denying the deity of Christ simply because I agree with Nestorius in his rejection of the humanity-denying, idolatry-inducing Roman Catholic Marian title “mother of God.” But McGrath says that Nestorius had “an entirely legitimate point.” Will Prejean now be consistent and accuse McGrath of denying the deity of Christ? Will he now be consistent and say that Nestorius also denied the deity of Christ since his view of this is identical to mine? If so, then he is contradicted by all patristic scholars, who take pains to show that Nestorius did nothing of the kind.

So now the question becomes, Who is out of his league on this issue? Who is the incompetent one? Who is speaking out of ignorance? I usually don’t ask these kinds of questions or make these kinds of insinuations; but these are the direct words of Prejean concerning me. Hence, I think the answer to these questions is now apparent to all—it is the same one who now finds himself backpedaling.

I will continue with my citations from Brown in tomorrow’s blog.