Friday, December 29, 2006

The Calm Before the Storm

Prejean has responded to some questions I posed to him in the comments section at Triablogue. His most recent post is much calmer than his last one (to which I have not yet responded). I still plan to post a response to that one, but this one will take priority.
This is the longest I have ever seen Svendsen stick to a point (which wasn't my point, but at least it is *A* point), so I'll have to give him credit for that. The benefit of him sticking to this point is that he has asked some questions that might actually help to illustrate why he is missing my position.
Then Prejean must have forgotten about the entire series of dialogue I have on Historical Theology posted under the “Notable Series” section of this blog.
As I said on Triablogue, if anything is true, it is that I am anti-Docetistic. I do not imagine the Apostles somehow intending to speak to me, except insofar as they accept that God will use their words through the interpretation of the faithful. With respect to their original intent, I construe it in a very narrowly and historically-bound way, without any expectation that it was meant to be viewed as directed to anything but the bare historical circumstances in front of them. That Scripture written by 1st century Jews still speaks to 21st century Christians is a matter of miracle, not design of the authors.
Prejean has engaged in doublespeak here. He begins by asserting that the apostles do not speak to him or to anyone else outside of their narrow first-century Jewish context. He ends up asserting that they do indeed speak to 21st-century Christians via a miracle. Do they speak to us or not? Which is it? And if they speak to us, even via a miracle, then (contrary to Prejean’s original statement about this in another thread) they can indeed function as a rule of faith.

However, as Steve Hays has cogently pointed out here, Prejean routinely confuses exegesis with the establishment of “dogmatic authority” and then with application (“the apostles don’t speak to me; therefore whatever they might say is irrelevant to dogmatic authority of revelation”). This confusion in turn is based on Prejean’s odd notion that if the Bible is written in the context of a different time and culture, then it has no meaning for us today (by which he apparently means it has no application today). Yet the content of Scripture is focused mostly on universal truths that transcend time and culture. The idea that man has rebelled against God, that man is desperately sinful, and that he stands in need of redemption is not something confined to the first century or to the Jewish world. The idea that Christ’s death on the cross is sacrificial and propitiatory stands universally true regardless of whether a 21-century culture recognizes that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” Hence, the consequential statement “whoever believes is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already” is just as true and just as applicable for someone in the 21st-century Western world as it was for someone in first-century Judea. Exegesis is the method for determining what all that means in its original setting so that we can make sure we first get the meaning right and then the application right. But Prejean thinks we can bypass not only the message and the meaning, but consequently the application as well.

Prejean’s confusion on these things stems from his lumping all historical documents in the same category of intent. If we’re talking about the writings of Euripides, then, yes, we can limit the application and assume Euripides was writing to those in his own day. We can view it as a mere historical document that helps us to understand the development of Greek tragedy. We don’t have to go beyond that and posit some sort of application today (unless you are a theater major) because there is no inherent authority in the writer or the writings to justify doing so.

But Scripture is categorically different. It is revelation given by God. It is therefore not only inherently authoritative, but universally applicable. It is forward-looking by design. It is filled with prophecies and progressive revelation that culminates in God’s self-disclosure in Christ. But even when revelation ceases, it is not thereby finished speaking. It focuses its reader on the coming capitulation of all things at the eschaton; the summing up of all things in Christ and the final recompense in which all wrongs will be righted. It admonishes its reader to believe, act and think in a way that is commensurate with that event. It commends the Scriptures as fully capable of equipping the man of God for the work of the ministry, according to which that work is to “teach,” to “reprove,” to “correct,” and to “train in righteousness.” But most importantly, it expressly warns its readers that a day will come when men like Prejean will reject the “sound doctrine” of Scripture for fables and myths and “doctrines of demons.” Hence, (contra Prejean) the Scriptures themselves testify to their own eminent relevance for everyone, particularly those who are closest to the eschaton.

Yes, there are some things that no longer apply to us, such animal sacrifices. But that’s not due to a different culture or time; it’s due solely to the prophetic fulfillment of such things in the work of Christ. Yet, even in that case, general principles still apply. Paul can cite the episodes of the children of Israel in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt and exhort the (mostly Gentile) Corinthians of the first century (several centuries removed from the Exodus), “Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved”; and he can go on to make specific applications against the Corinthians participation in pagan sacrifices. Paul makes a similar point in Rom 15:4, and specifically connects it with the timeless application of the Scriptures: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Prejean has written his explanation in the hope of escaping the charge of docetism. Yet, in the process he has placed himself in an even worse position. The atoning sacrifice of Christ recorded in Scripture has no relevance to Prejean because, after all, the concept of atoning sacrifices is something that's confined to the 1st-century Jewish world and has no relevance to us in a 21st-century Western culture. Man’s desperate condition is not a universal truth to Prejean, but rather something confined to a specific place and specific time. Scripture has no relevance to him, and in fact (according to his own words) is no more authoritative or applicable than the Quran or the Book of Mormon. There’s no sense in trying to understand the meaning of what God has told us in his revelation because none of that was written to us. The result of Prejean’s reasoning is that we’re exempt from sin, from the need for a sacrifice, and from the command to believe in Christ; and we are immune to the consequences of ignoring these things. Not only is Prejean therefore docetic (the apostles aren’t real people who can speak to us today), but he is (by virtue of that doecetic viewpoint) Gnostic in his doctrine of sin by John’s standards (1 John 1:8-10).

And remember, according to Prejean himself, it doesn’t matter that you happen to deny such charges and actively affirm beliefs contrary to the charge (Protestants, according to Prejean, deny the Incarnation and the divinity of Christ by virtue of the their understanding of theotokos, even though they actively affirm those things). Hence, according to his own rationale, even if Prejean actively affirms the apostles are real people, he’s still a docetist by virtue of his understanding of Scripture; and even if he actively affirms the principle of sin, he’s still a gnostic denier of sin by virtue of his understanding of Scripture.
First, if your response isn't directed to dual-subject versus single-subject Christology, then you are already misconstruing the Catholic claim, because "Mother of God" is a term used to show single-subject Christology. If that's not the debate, then you aren't debating with me.
No, rather because Prejean is incapable of objective analysis he has always merely assumed I hold to his understanding of Nestorianism; namely, that Christ is two persons rather than one. I don’t hold that, and never have held it. I have always affirmed the singularity and unity of the union of man and God in Christ. I’m sorry if that doesn’t fit into Prejean’s limited paradigm, but it is a fact nevertheless. The debate, as far as I have been involved, has always been about the exact way that union occurs; not about a single subject vs. a dual subject. But this is par for the course with Prejean. When he can’t understand a view, he simply lumps it into the view that seems to him to be close to it, and then issues sweeping judgments that do not apply.
But I think you ARE debating with single-subject Christology.
You say that nous (which is incidentally of Platonic origin as Apollinaris used it, not Aristotelian)
Notice the pettiness. I label nous an Aristotelian category, and Prejean responds that it is of Platonic origin, as though this is some great correction. Aristotle was a disciple of Plato, and regularly employed the term nous—and I doubt there is a great distinction in how each man uses it. I’m using “Aristotelian” as a category of terms. I have used “Platonic” interchangeably in past dialogue for these same categories.
[you say that nous] means the same thing as "person" (which isn't true of either Platonic, Aristotelian, or Neoplatonic uses of the term, but accepting your usage for the sake of argument).
That’s simply not true. I have stated that that is the Apollinarian use of the word (which Prejean may want to dispute), but that’s not thereby my definition. As I have stated elsewhere, my use of “nous,” “person,” or any other such term employed by the fifth-century debate is mere accommodation. I do not put any stock in their accuracy or authority. Biblically, nous refers to the "mind" or "intellect," and I have stated that clearly even in my earliest articles on this subject.
That would mean that two persons (the divine person and the human person) combine to form a divino-human person with both divine and human properties. That's Nestorianism.
See again? Here’s how Prejean reasons: Svendsen’s view appears to be close to Nestorianism, therefore it is Nestorianism. Aside from the fact that Nestorius used prosopon ("face") to properly describe his view (there was already a language difference between Cyril and Nestorius), whatever Prejean thinks Nestorius believed is far from my view. Once again, I have gone on record stating I reject the philosophical categories and distinctions employed in the fifth-century. They are not authoritative for me. I view them as artificial categories. They are nothing more than unbiblical (and unhelpful) categories that further confuse the simplicity of Scripture. I am coming from a biblical perspective on this issue, not a fifth-century one. I refuse to speculate on just how the union between God and man takes place because to speculate beyond what is revealed invariably results in idolatry.
I have no idea what you mean by "mere accommodation" or what "categories" you have in mind. It seems that you have no concept that could sustain any sort of coherent doctrine of the Trinity. If my concepts are inadequate, then what are your alternatives?
Biblical ones.

I wrote: Biblically speaking, the separation of these categories simply does not exist. A “person” and his “nature” are biblically inseparable, perhaps even to the point of being indistinguishable. God as a “person” cannot cease to be God in “nature” and still be God. Man as a “person” cannot cease to be man in “nature” and still be man. biblically, no “person” can have a “nature” that does not reflect his “person.”

Prejean responded:
Your position would then be that the Bible makes the Trinity impossible. Either there aren't three persons (because they all have the same nature, and nature is identical to person) or there are three gods, just as three men with the same nature are not one but three.
That’s absurd. That would be like arguing since Prejean and I both share a human nature, we must be identical in person to each other. But that’s not at all the point I was making. The members of the Godhead are distinct from one another, yet they share the same divine nature. The point I made was that a person is inseparable from his nature—that remains true of the Godhead as well. The Father is inseparable from deity; the Son is inseparable from deity; the Holy Spirit is inseparable from deity. None of the members of the Godhead can be separated from their nature—else they cease to be God. Prejean’s objection has much more to do with person and being than it does with person and nature, biblically defined. Biblically, God is God by virtue of his attributes and nature. God regularly defines himself by his abilities, his attributes, and his nature: by his immutability (“I am God; I do not change”); by his self-existence (“I am that I am”), by his eternality (“I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”), by his love (“God is love”), etc. Jesus is the Word who was with “God” (i.e., the Father; distinguishable from him), but was himself “God” (i.e., deity).
Fortunately, this isn't true, because your logical argument for equating nature and person is nonsense.
Notice Prejean’s straw man. I did not say person and nature are to be “equated” biblically; I said they are biblically “inseparable,” perhaps to the point of “indistinguishable.” That remains a biblical fact whether Prejean recognizes it or not. As an analogy, identical twins may be “indistinguishable,” but that fact does not “equate” them or make them truly “identical.” Once we identify a specific instance of an entity that has all the attributes of a man, what is left to define that entity as a person? More on this later.
Natures don't reflect persons; persons instantiate natures. Your statements are tautologous; you are simply saying that a person that does not instantiate a nature is not a person with that nature. This is both necessarily and obviously true and has nothing to do with the point.
That’s not my point at all. I recognize that nature is the broader category and person is one instance of that category. But there’s no need for sophistry here. When I say that a man’s nature reflects his person, or that God’s nature reflects his person, I’m referring to the specific instance of that nature in the person. Hence, no “person” can have a “nature” that does not reflect his “person.” If we have all the attributes of deity bundled into a specific instance, how is that not a divine person? By the same reasoning, if we have all the attributes of humanity bundled into a specific instance, how is that not a human person? Yet there are not two persons but one.

I wrote: These texts affirm that Jesus was “a man.” Further, they affirm he was *fully* a man “in all things,” not a *partial* man, not *almost* a complete man, and not mere “flesh and blood.” Indeed, the full “manhood” of Jesus as the “last Adam” is assumed in texts such as Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Further, they assert that if he did not assume *full* humanity, then he could not have redeemed us fully—to which even the fathers testify: “What is not assumed is not redeemed” (Gregory of Nazianzus). Atonement requires that Jesus is fully man--flesh, intellect, spirit, and whatever else one may care to specify regarding that which makes a man a “man”--not simply God with a "human nature.”

Prejean responded:
Feel free to clarify if I am misinterpreting, because I am not exactly sure what you have a mind, and I don't want to misunderstand you. It appears that you are saying that Jesus was human not only in the sense of having flesh and blood, but also in the sense of having emotions and reason (although with the caveat of Hebr. 4:15, without sin). What is confusing is your conclusion "not simply God with a 'human nature.'" The definition of human nature "whatever one may care to specify regarding that which makes a man a man, including flesh, intellect, spirit, etc." To say that He has all of these things is nothing other than saying that He has a human nature. Perhaps the subsequent questions will clarify.
Here is why Prejean's distinction between “person” and “nature” confuses the issue. If he has a human body, human emotions, a human intellect, a human mind (the biblical “nous”), a human, spirit, a human soul, a human will, human understanding, human wisdom, etc., what, pray tell, is lacking for this to be a “human person”?

I wrote: It is not "human nature" that mediates for us before God, but "the man, Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5).

Prejean responded:
"The man" only requires a person with a human nature.
Prejean will later define "person" as a concrete instantiation of rational nature (an instance or gathering of the essential attributes of nature into a single entity, for which see below). Yet here he neatly sidesteps that definition by distancing the person from the nature so as to suggest that the instantiation of human nature does not require a human person. More on this in my closing remarks.
It doesn't require that there be a man, Christ Jesus, separate from the Word of God.
Except the text specifies that he is not only “man,” but "the man." Can a man be a man without being a human person? If so, how? I am not saying that the man is separate from the Word. I’m saying that Christ Jesus is the singular union of man and God. I do not purport to know how that union took place or what the exact makeup is--and I doubt anyone else can adequately explain it either. But I must affirm with Scripture that he is 100% man and 100% God.
I entirely agree with you that natures don't mediate; persons do.
And yet in this case, the “person” is “the man” Christ Jesus. If person is a concrete instantiation of nature, then how does Prejean avoid ascribing personhood to “the man” (a concrete instantiation of human nature)?
Also, I'd question your exegesis of the term "mediator" here. In context, it appears to have a "physical" meaning (in the sense of pertaining to physis, nature), affirming that there is a single person acting as a physical mediator between the two natures.
Question it all you like; but you'd be in error to do so. I affirm there is a single person acting as mediator; but “nature” is not what is in mind here so much as the need for man in his whole being to have a mediator before God.
You seem to be thinking in terms of Christ talking to Himself ("for us"), and that seems logically implausible. I don't see this passage as pertaining to his intercessory (human) role as high priest.
What? Why would you assume that on my view Christ must be talking to himself in this passage? By mere virtue of his humanity? Christ is obviously exempt from the need for mediation because he is the mediator. And he is the mediator precisely because he is both man and God. Paul is obviously referring to the rest of mankind, of which Christ became the “source of eternal life to all who obey” by virtue of that suffering and sacrifice (Heb 5:7-9), which actions make him our “high priest” by definition (Heb 5:10). If “mediator” in this passage does not refer to his intercessory work, what can it mean? Even the context makes intercession clear. Vv. 1-2, “I urge that prayers, requests, and intercessions be made for kings and all in authority”; v. 3, “God our Savior”; v. 4, “who wants all men to be saved”; v. 6, “gave Himself as a ransom for all men.”

I wrote: Atonement is possible only if one who is fully man, through perfect obedience to God, can reverse the sin brought into the world by the “man” (viz., Adam) who, using his human soul, spirit, will, intellect, etc., rebelled against God.

Prejean responded:
The idea that perfect obedience can save is Pelagian. Not even perfect obedience can earn union with God; that is beyond the capability of human nature, even for Adam, even for Christ.
Try reading Romans and Hebrews a few times and you will be quickly cured of your biblical illiteracy on this point:

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (Heb 2:10) . . . In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:7-10)

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. . . . For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:12-21)

I suggest you put down your Catholic Theology book and immerse yourself in Scripture.

I asked: Do you believe Jesus was fully human; that is to say, fully a man? Was he 100% man?

Prejean responded:
Yes, He was a person possessing the full human nature.
That’s not what I asked. What I asked is whether a concrete instantiation of rational human nature (using Prejean's conceded definition of "person") can be a “man” apart from being a human person? Prejean's answers to my later questions reveal that he believes the phrase “human person” legitimately describes an instantiation of human nature. If that’s the case, then he's dancing on this point—and I think he knows it.

I asked: Was there any part of humanity that was not “shared” by Jesus via the incarnation? In other words, if one attribute of humanity is “personhood” (and whatever that entails on your view), did Jesus assume humanity on that level?

Prejean responded:
"Personhood" is not an attribute of humanity by definition.”
Says who? Plato or Yahweh? But even by his own definition, an instantiation of rational nature is a person; and so, by that definition, the instantiation of rational human nature must be considered a human person. Yet here Prejean is arguing that I can be an instantiation of humanity without being a person? How?
"Personhood" refers to concrete individual existence of any rational nature.
I will ask the question again: Did Christ have a rational human nous (mind, intellect)? Was it a concrete individual instance of it? If so, how does Prejean avoid the notion of “human person”?
Existence is not an attribute of nature for any nature except the divine nature. The divine nature necessarily exists; nothing else does.
I agree with this point. But we’ll see whether Prejean can maintain it in light of his view.

I wrote: If the answer #2a is yes (and/or 2b no), what is included in your definition of “person” that was unimpacted by sin and does not therefore need to be redeemed in the atonement?

Prejean responded:
This is what I mean by confusing "nature" with "person." Persons are only impacted by personal sin; the "except sin" qualification in Hebr. 4 means that Christ has no personal contact with sin. "Original sin" refers to being born in a condition of privation, absent God's grace, which is solely situational and accidental, not an effect of sin on the nature per se, so Christ does not have this property either.
Prejean has not only missed the point entirely, he has also misunderstood Scripture’s teaching regarding the effects of Adam’s sin to his progeny. He would be well advised not to confuse the error-filled, semi-Pelagian Roman theology of original sin with the Scriptural teaching about the sin nature. I’ll let this point slide here (though will take it up later) since he's already conceded that everything required for the existence of a "person" is part of his definition of "nature."
Based on my answer to #3, these questions involve a category error. Person isn't an attribute of nature, so personal redemption is not a matter of the nature being redeemed. All faculties of nature are redeemed, but person is not a faculty of nature.
I will grant Prejean this point based on his definition of person.
Sin is an act of the will (and particularly, the gnomic mode of exercising the will).
Biblically, that’s the definition of rebellion, but sin comprises much more than that. A person can sin in his actions, his plans, or merely in his unacted-upon thoughts and desires. Indeed, sin resides in us because we have a sin nature. Our sin nature is such that, according to Paul, “nothing good dwells in me” and “I am in bondage to sin.” That sin, according to Paul “dwells in me” to the point of exclaiming “wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death!” That’s why Prejean’s notion of original sin is anemic. We are radically impacted by sin in our entire beings, such that even the “heart is desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” That’s why it’s important to account for these things when speaking of the redemption provided by Christ. Again, whatever was not assumed by Christ was not redeemed. That includes the entire person of a man, not merely his attributes of nature considered separately.

Having said all that, if Prejean's definition of "person" is simply the bundling together of the attributes of rational nature, then I can understand why he might exempt this from the consequences of sin. But in that case, since it is enough to say that if all the attributes of nature are impacted by sin and must be assumed to be redeemed, then it adds nothing to the equation to say that the person is also impacted by sin.
Divine nature is absolutely simple, meaning there is no existence/essence composition (to use Augustine's term, "To be ... is to be a person"). Divine nature is necessarily existent, and we know by revelation that this necessary existence involves existing tri-personally. Divine persons, therefore, necessarily exist.
Via their nature, no disagreement there. But this does not help Prejean’s case. He’s awfully vague on this point, but as near as I can tell, Prejean defines “person” as a concrete instantiation of rational nature. In other words, “human nature” is a “pool” of related attributes—including things like intellect, wisdom, spirit—and “person” is a single metaphysical “embodiment” or “clothing,” as it were, of those attributes. “Person,” therefore, acts as a sort of invisible layer that combines and contains all these attributes in a single entity.

Yet Prejean ends up abandoning this definition when he insists on referring to Christ as a “divine person with a human nature.” In every other case, instantiation of rational human nature, according to Prejean, is the very definition of "human person"; but in the case of Christ, Prejean conceives of "person" as something in addition to the instantiation of a rational human nature--indeed, the instantiation of rational human nature in the case of Christ is left hanging in the air! That instantiation of rational human nature ends up being nothing more than . . . human nature; whereas in every other case it is a person! He has already conceded that existence is part of “nature” (at least for the divine), not part of “person.” Hence, even if this “person” has “life in himself,” that is only by virtue of his divine nature, not by virtue of his person per se. It makes no sense to refer to someone as a “divine person” who also happens to instantiate humanity. If “person” is the “wrapping” around nature, then it is evident that the person of Christ wraps around two natures—divine and human. And if person is defined as an instantiation of nature, and the human nature has been instantiated in Christ, then how can a reference to “human person” be avoided? That is not to say there are two persons in Christ—only that the single person of Christ is both human and divine. And in that case the most we can affirm is that Jesus Christ instantiates both a divine nature and a human nature; that is to say, he is a person who is both human and divine—which is what I have been affirming all along. To say that he is a “divine person with a human nature” is gratuitously to change the definition of “person” midstream for the sake of salvaging a position.

I wrote: Poppycock! You were the one who raised the issue that my training included nothing in patristics, and used that as some sort of reason not to take my views seriously. I simply responded to something you wrote not only recently but dozens of times in the past on various boards. You either have a very short memory, or you are a liar.

Prejean responded:
which is a tu quoque response of the fallacious sort. I challenged your qualifications; I did not present my qualifications as any part of my basis for challenging your qualifications. You switched the issue from your qualifications to my qualifications, which was completely irrelevant to your own. It was only in response to the irrelevant question of my qualifications that I raised my own.
That’s absurd. Prejean states this as though the tu quoque fallacy is specially designed for those who happen to get in their ad hominem first, in a sort of “na, na, na, na, na . . . I beat you to the punch with an ad hominem and you are now disallowed to make the same point back.” See here for a fuller explanation of why Prejean’s appeal to tu quoque is illegitimate. The reason it is illegitimate in this case is that I did not concede I am unqualified to write on these issues. Far from it; what I said was that I have training in related disciples, and Prejean does not. That is not tu quoque. Moreover, Prejean states “I did not present my qualifications as any part of my basis for challenging your qualifications,” but that is not what I objected to. My objection was rather that Prejean runs around the internet asserting that all who disagree with him are unqualified to speak on the issue precisely because they have no training in patristics. It is not fallacious to point out the obvious; namely, that Prejean himself is even less qualified by virtue of the fact that he not only has no training in patristics, but not even in a related field. But I did not raise this as something that I believe is necessary—I raised it as something that Prejean apparently thinks is necessary. I don’t believe one must possess formal training in patristics to read historical documents. But Prejean clearly believes that is necessary for everyone else but him. I was merely pointing out Prejean’s inconsistency with his own (not my) stated standard. He clearly does not like it that his inconsistency has been exposed, so he illegitimately resorts to tu quoque.