Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lessons in Historical Theology for Jonathan Prejean

Jonathan Prejean has responded again, and, as expected, continues to betray his unfamiliarity with anything other than romantic pop-apologetic notions about the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries of the church. He claims for himself, that he "pretty much restrict[s] [him]self to being an epologist for historical fact, not Catholicism in particular," yet all of his "historical fact" conclusions are (not surprisingly) in favor of the Roman Catholic view of things. He has claimed during this exchange that in advancing his views (and his consequent criticism of mine) he's merely repeating the "overwhelming majority" view of patristic scholarship. He has also called into question my ability to understand historical theology simply because he disagrees with my assessment of the arguments of modern-day RC apologists. So what will he say when someone who is eminently qualified to speak on these issues says the same things? Let's find out.

I thought I might treat the readers of this blog, and Jonathan Prejean as well, to a series in real historical theology--one that doesn't romanticize the people involved, the events that occurred, or the conclusions that were reached the way Prejean' s unsophisticated pop-apologetics does. My prediction is that Prejean still won't be convinced, but that he will simply change his tune. So far that tune has been "Svendsen isn't qualified to speak on these things because his Ph.D. is in New Testament." So what will be his excuse when he reads someone whose Ph.D. is in Historical Theology and who disagrees with almost everything Prejean is concluding about these matters?

Over the course of at least the next few days, I will be posting excerpts from Harold O. J. Brown's book, Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present. I think the reader will find them highly instructive vis-a-vis Jonathan Prejean's recent comments. Also, to help the reader make the necessary connections to the present discussion, I will be adding my own observations (in black text) along with the excepts (in blue text). Here's the first installment:

The Alexandrian school [of which Cyril, the spearhead for Ephesus and the "mother of God" clause, was part] tried to explain what it means to say that God became man and what happens to the human being God becomes. It soon began to invert its formulation and teach, in effect, that man becomes God. . . . It contend[ed] that the preexisting Son, always fully God, transformed the humanity of Jesus in assuming it, so that it, a humanness, was divinized. . . . The Logos, in becoming human, took upon himself a human nature and exalted it to deity.

The reader will not fully appreciate this statement from Brown until he returns to it later (which will be included in a later blog entry). For now, keep in mind that Cyril of Alexandria is the veritable "hero" of the Roman Catholic view that Mary is the "mother of God."

In contrast to the Cappadocian-Alexandrian tendency, the school of Antioch [i.e., the school of Nestorius] held firmly to the clear biblical picture of Jesus Christ as a historic, human, individual person. God became incarnate in this person and took him on, not it (a mere human nature). . . . Like the Arian controversy, the Christological controversy sparked by Apollinaris began and ended in the East, but was decisively influenced by a clear stand taken by the Western church, particularly by Rome. Apollinaris, unlike Arius, had a firmly established Christological dogma to which he could appeal, that of Nicaea; the Antiochenes, who stressed—correctly, as we believe—the full and complete humanity of Jesus Christ, had no leader of the caliber of Athanasius around whom they could rally. Although Apollinaris was defeated, the Antiochene position was not fully vindicated; its clearest proponent, Nestorius, will ultimately be branded a heretic.

Brown will go on (as we will see in this series) to vindicate Nestorius and call into question the sometimes muddled view of Cyril, which was Apollinarian-Monophysite at heart. Remember, Cyril is the champion of RC apologists, including Prejean.

Apollinaris rejected the proposition that Jesus possessed a human personality, the idea of Christ as a man united with God; he proposed instead the concept of an incarnate God, of God made flesh. The root of the following developments include[ed] the ultimate monophysite contention that the humanity of Jesus is now divinized. . . . Apollinaris would not hear of a distinction between the divine and human in Christ, not tolerate the suggestion—later to be affirmed by Calvin and Reformed theology generallythat only the human body and soul of Christ were born and suffered. . . . Jesus [in Apollinaris' view] is “the God borne by a woman.” . . . Apollinaris argued that Christ himself, in order to be wholly God, had to be immutable (atrepos) and thus could not have a human soul, for if so he would have been mutable.

Modern RC apologists, including Prejean, likewise reject the proposition that Jesus possessed a human personality. In their view, Jesus is a divine person who assumed flesh, not humanity--"the God borne by a woman." Flesh is not to be equated with humanity. Flesh is merely a nature; humanity consists of the whole man--body, soul, spirit, intellect, will, etc. Although there are not two persons in Christ there is a unity of personhood in him. But RC apologists deny Christ had a human soul--that's Apollinarianism to the core.

Apollinaris resorted to the biblical definition of God as spirit: human flesh needs a spirit to direct and energize it; in Christ, this spirit is not that of the human nous, or “intellect,” but the Logos himself

It is this way that Apollinaris equated nous with person--something about which Prejean erroneously thinks I am in error. The error is all his; for although Apollinaris did not equate nous with person in any other human being, he in essence substituted nous for person in the case of Jesus by positing that in the case of Christ, the Logos Himself, not a nous, animates the flesh. If Prejean were as interested in historical accuracy and understanding my words in that context as he is in criticizing positions he doesn't even understand, then he might have seen this himself.

Apollinaris equated the biblical concept of flesh with the Aristotelian view of matter, and the biblical concept of spirit with the Aristotelian view of form. It is the spiritual form that animates and gives true character to inert, undifferentiated matter; this is done in all men by the human intellect, or nous, with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, in which the function is performed by the Logos himself.

Hence, once again, Prejean stands corrected on his "correction" of me. Apollinaris did indeed substitute the nous (the normal principle that animates flesh) with the Logos Himself (his person, not his nous).

[According to Apollinaris] the Logos become flesh, but not a man like ourselves, in that he neither took on nor became a human intellect. . . . [Apollinaris believed that] Christ, like all other humans, was a body of flesh animated and formed by a nous, but with the significant difference that the nous of Christ was not a human spirit but the divine Logos. (160-164 passim).

That is to say, the nous (what normally animates a man) in the case of Christ is replaced by the person of the Logos Himself. That is exactly what RC pop-apologists claim today when they insist that Jesus was a divine person with a human nature, but was not a real, human person.

Here's how Brown summarizes the situation as it applies today:

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 implies—not a divine being who reveals himself in human form.

This is exactly what I have said in my past articles. Brown is a conservative evangelical and reformed historian. Moreover, he is a reputable and well respected historian. He is here making the identical observation I have made regarding RC pop-apologists; namely, that they have unwittingly fallen into the Apollinarian error by so emphasizing the deity of Christ they make him out to be God dressed up in a human suit. Will Prejean now have the courage to state that Brown is "unqualified" and "out of his league" on this issue? If not, then his prevous comment to that effect regarding me is a complete canard. We're far from finished, so I expect Prejean to abstain from responding until he sees all the evidence, as a good lawyer should. At the end of this I will also expect him to retract many of the highly uninformed statements he has carelessly made about this issue. Something tells me not to hold my breath, though.