Sunday, January 21, 2007

Jonathan Prejean and the Book of Hezekiah

One of the funniest aspects of the play, Fiddler on the Roof, is Tevye's (the "papa") tendency to make up statements out of whole cloth and attribute them to Scripture: "As the good book says, if you spit in the air, it lands in your face." He's finally challenged on one of these statements by Mendel, one of his friends who gather together in town along with Tevye to discuss issues:

Tevye: "As the good book says, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick."

Mendel: "Where does the book say that?"

Tevye: "Well, it doesn't say that exactly, but somewhere there is something about a chicken."

Those who are only remotely familiar with Scripture engage in similar statements even today. Attributing phrases to Scripture such as "all men are created equal," "cleanliness is next to godliness," and "God helps those who help themselves," are but a few examples of the biblical literacy common to most people who call themselves Christians. I dont know how many times I have been asked by some well meaning Christian, "Doesn't the Bible say somewhere that people who have not heard the gospel will get a second chance?" When I am asked such things, I normally smile at them slyly and respond, "Yeah, I think that's somewhere in the Book of Hezekiah." After a moment of confused expressions, I clarify that there is, of course, no such book in the Bible; but if there were, I bet it would contain all those sayings.

I can only assume the Book of Hezekiah is where Jonathan Prejean gets his Christology. My final contribution to the discussion with Prejean over his neo-Platinist tendencies follows:

“Svendsen does not appear to be distinguishing between the natural and supernatural operation of Scripture. I can explain that as follows. First, I didn't say that the Apostles do not speak to us outside of their first-century Jewish context. In some sense, all historical literature speaks to people outside of the historical context, be it the works of Euripides, the Qu'ran, the Book of Mormon, or whatever. In that mundane sense, the Bible does speak as any historical document does. But the authoritative component of Scripture, what makes it able to speak beyond its historical confines as revelatory, i.e., its inspiration, is supernatural and not natural in quality, and this is perceived by application of the rule of faith to Scripture (Scripture being its own rule of faith in this regard would be circular; the rule of faith isn't learned FROM Scripture but used to read Scripture).”

This is just gratuitous nonsense, and Prejean should just stay out of this arena altogether. He has claimed to know what exegesis is, but he keeps proving he is clueless about it. “Mundane” words do not suddenly have a different “meaning” just because they are found to be inspired. On the contrary; it is precisely because they are inspired and therefore authoritative that we must “pay even closer attention” (Heb 2) to them and take them at face value rather than play with them as “spiritual toys” to be manipulated by those who would have them say whatever they want them to say.

“I don't say that it has no meaning, only that it was not, by and large, intentionally written to have meaning for us today. It still DOES, on account of the Holy Spirit's superintendence of what was written, but that is more a product of the supernatural operation than the intent of the authors.”

Yes, Prejean did in fact say Scripture is irrelevant and meaningless as a consideration in the present debate, and it is embarrassingly obvious that he is now backpedaling on this point. All one need do is read the previous installments to this dialogue to know this is true. Prejean writes his current point as though this discussion is about whether or not the relevance of Scripture for today is tied directly to its inspiration. He’s stating a given, and he’s doing it as a smokescreen to take the pressure off for his rather moronic comments about Scripture’s irrelevance made earlier in this discussion. His statements both then and now are akin to stating “an orange has no flavor,” and then, once challenged on the utter foolishness of that statement, making the rather silly “clarification” that what he really meant to say was “apart from the citrus and the sugars and the rest of the chemical makeup that constitutes flavor, an orange has no flavor.” The backpedaling is obvious.

“Going ‘beyond that’ and ‘posit[ing] some sort of application today’ based on the ‘inherent authority in the writer or the writings’ is not treating Scripture as a purely historical document. It's confusing the divine and human aspects of Scripture, which are perceived by different methods, rather than allowing them to persist distinctly and unconfusedly.”

All very gnostic indeed. The “human” aspect of Scripture, according to Prejean, is “mundane” and “irrelevant” for us today. It is only the “divine” aspect, whose meaning not only transcends the words of the text, but ends up being a different meaning altogether (albeit not contradictory), and is discerned only by the magisterial illuminati.

“Certainly, general principles about the human nature and the divine nature continue to apply, because those things do not change. There is much moral guidance in Scripture that is simply an accurate description of human behavior, but even an atheist can recognize that. Paul's Christological hermeneutic is far from this sort of mundane analogy based on human nature; note the explicitly Christological focus in that passage (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 10:1-6, 16-17, 26). This is hardly just "they were idolaters, and bad things happened to them, so don't be idolaters either.”

If what Prejean intends to show is that Paul read some kind of mystical reading into the OT wilderness narrative, he is off base. Paul is not reinterpreting the OT narrative; he is simply making a modern-day application of its principle. Prejean wants us to believe that what Paul is saying here is that there is a deeper “hidden” meaning in Scripture that can be discerned only through the magisterium. But this is far from what Paul is doing here, and it is simply a case of eisegesis on the part of Prejean to suggest he is. Paul is not saying that the “rock” from which the Israelites drank was Christ in an exegetical sense, or even as some “fuller” sense of Scripture (as though Christ transformed into an inanimate object). It’s a figure of speech made as an application to the Corinthians in light of the Christ event. Christ, revealed as God in the NT, was by that fact the one who nourished the Israelites in the dessert. They were “baptized” into Moses, not in a “deeper” sense, but in a symbolic sense, illustrated by their passing “through the sea.” They partook of Christ’s provision of manna and water, and also partook of idols in the golden calf event. Being laid to waste for that idolatry was the consequence of such treason. In the same way, the Corinthians were partaking of Christ in the Supper, and they were partaking in idolatry at pagan feasts. Paul’s point is that they too were in danger of God’s displeasure. But there is nothing in this passage that lends itself to the Roman version of sensus plenior. And if this is what Prejean was trying to show, there are many other NT passages that would have made his point more readily (although even those would be suspect).

“There's also no sense in trying to stretch the historical meaning of Scripture into something that it can't be. To understand the meaning of what God told us in revelation requires us to know His son; there is no substitute.”

Except for that nagging little fact that a good portion of the New Testament was written expressly to convince readers that they need to come to know God’s Son, including the Gospels of Matthew and John: “these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Hence, the ability to understand revelation, even as an unbeliever, is assumed throughout. The Christological reading of the OT is something that came to light after the Christ event, and it was largely based on the new revelation received by the apostles. We have no corresponding “new” revelation that would similarly “explain” the NT, or that would suggest we ought to be looking for hidden meanings. Much less do we have mandates from the apostles that we ought to be reading and understanding their instructions and teachings in ways that “twist” the words of Scripture (2 Pet 3:16).

“I certainly have no qualms about this sort of argument. Nestorius appears to have affirmed the union of divine and human in Christ, only incoherently so. But I take issues with two statements here. First, I don't think "Protestants" as a whole agree with Svendsen's defense of Nestorius. Second, I'm not docetistic; I'm theandric. It's not docetistic to say that the theandric quality of Scripture depends on both the divine and human operations, distinct and unconfused.”

It’s implicitly docetic to say that the apostles do not speak to us today; and it’s gnostic to say that the “human” aspect of Scripture carries a different meaning of Scripture than the “divine” aspect.

“Nestorianism isn't the belief that there is no union in Christ; most Nestorians affirmed that there was a union. Nestorianism is the belief that the union between the natures is constituted by something other than the person of the Word of God, and particularly, by union of operations like will or love (i.e., Nestorian-type monoenergism, aka, monothelitism). It has nothing to do with my "limited paradigm," but rather with my belief that Christ cannot be constituted by the union of the natures.”

Again, according to what? A biblical paradigm, or a neo-Platonist paradigm?

“it's Svendsen who has ventured to say that the union in Christ consists of the union between two natures, just as Nestorius speculated. I am content to affirm that Christ IS the Word of God, the same person, and to deny the speculation that appropriating a human nature changes that.”

What? Where have I ever insinuated that the immutable Word changed? I have never stated such a thing. Yet, here we have in Prejean’s solution traces of apollinarianism—Jesus wasn’t a man; he simply appropriated “human nature.”

“absent an instantiation, there are no concrete properties to be bundled into a concrete entity.”

It is entirely meaningless to use Prejean’s categories. If, as Prejean concedes, “nature” does not exist apart from “instantiation”—that is, outside of a person—then Prejean is making a distinction without a difference. A person is a person in his whole being—nature included—and is not chopped up into “instantiation” and “nature” as Prejean argues. It is meaningless to talk about “instantiations” of a thing if that thing does not exist apart from the “instantiation.” In Prejean’s incoherent philosophical speculation, 1 x 0 = 1.

But perhaps the problem is with Prejean’s use of the word “instantiation.” In its dictionary definition, “instantiation” is nothing more than an “instance” of something that is already known to exist, and “to instantiate” is to “represent by an instance,” not “to bring into existence” (as Prejean seems to be using the word). For instance, heos hou in Matt 1:25 “instantiates” the meaning “until but not after”; that is to say, the phrase in Matt 1:25 represents an instance of that underlying meaning. It doesn’t “cause” that meaning to exist. It can instantiate that meaning only because the meaning exists apart from that instance. Prejean wants to apply this word to “nature,” claiming that “person” instantiates “nature.” But this makes sense only on the ground that person is a concrete instance of nature and not something separate from nature. To say that “person” instantiates “nature,” is to say that “person” is an “instance” of nature, and therefore that person is nothing more and nothing other than an instance of nature. If that’s the case, then an instantiation of human nature must be a human person. Prejean wants to avoid this conclusion by proposing that the Word assumed human nature, but in so doing destroys the very definition of instantiation. In other words, Prejean’s view is left incoherent because it is internally inconsistent with the terms and definitions he has adopted to promote it. In any case, we have again shown the utter inadequacy of Prejean’s approach to this issue. He wants to be able to explain the inexplicable in an attempt to have a “coherent” Christology; but at the end of the day his view is shown to be nothing less than incoherent.

“The nature is given concrete existence by the person”

Then “instantiation” is the wrong word to use in this discussion. What kind of “existence” does it have outside of the “person”? A theoretical one? These are simply nonsensical human speculations that have no basis in Scripture. And the more Prejean writes on these things, the clearer that point becomes.

“The doctrine of the Incarnation is that the divine person instantiates the human nature (really and concretely).”

Really? Did Prejean find this particular explanation of the Incarnation in the book of Hezekiah, perhaps? We have already shown that “instantiation” (in its dictionary definition) simply does not support Prejean’s view. Prejean has contended that “person” is defined as “instantiation of rational nature.” If he wants to tack onto that the statement that “divine person instantiates human nature,” then the outcome cannot be “divine person” with “human nature,” but must instead be “person” with “divine nature” and “human nature.” If there is an “instance” of “human nature” in Christ, then by Prejean’s own definition it must be a “human person.” Note well Prejean’s muddled and confused explanation—“person is an instantiation of nature” (or perhaps “category of instantiation of nature,” we‘re not exactly sure), and “absent an instantiation, there are no concrete properties to be bundled into a concrete entity,” and “the nature is given concrete existence by the person,” and concludes “The doctrine of the Incarnation is that the divine person instantiates the human nature.” Now compare this to the utter simplicity of Scripture: “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Who is the one in the discussion engaging in philosophical speculation? It is certainly not I.

“A 'person' isn't a nature; we classify persons by the instantiation from which they derive their existence.”

Here we have evidence that Prejean is teetering between two meanings of “person.” On the one hand (via his use of “instantiation,” unless he is misusing the word), he claims to maintain that “person” represents an instance of nature. This definition gives priority to nature, not person. Person is simply a concrete instance of something that is assumed to exist (that is the dictionary definition of “instantiation”), and so “person” derives its existence from “nature.” So, contrary to Prejean’s statement above, “person” IS “nature” concretely considered (or applied). On the other hand, he wants to argue that “person” somehow exists apart from nature, giving person priority. Nature in this case is the lesser thing that is considered after the fact of “person.” On this definition, “nature” derives its existence from “person.” Prejean’s view is based on an equivocation of the term “person,” and is therefore incoherent.

But regardless of which definition he really holds, we are once again compelled to ask the question, Says who? Who says “person isn't a nature” or that a person is the “instantiation from which they derive their existence”? Prejean’s neo-Platonist instructors? If “existence” is all that defines “person,” then a dog is a person, an insect is a person, and a tree is a person. But then Prejean will object, “No, what I meant is person is an instantiation of rational nature,” but that just begs the question and is nothing more than gratuitous circular reasoning. What degree of “rational” is then required? There is evidence that even apes and dolphins can respond rationally. No one can really know for certain one way or the other. Although greatly debated, even dogs have been shown to demonstrate some degree of rational behavior. Are these “persons” as well?

“The Word of God in no way depends on His human nature for His existence, so it would be wrong to say that He is a ‘human person.’”

Notice again Prejean’s biblical confusion on this point. Of course the “Word” does not require human nature for his existence. But the “Word” is Christ’s pre-incarnate designation. His post-incarnate designation is “Christ Jesus.” Contra Prejean, Christ does not and cannot “exist” apart from his humanity. His “manness,” his human existence in all its fullness, is (again, contra Prejean) absolutely required for him to be and to remain “Christ Jesus.” Prejean simply confuses pre-incarnation conditions with the incarnation itself.

“This is backward; attributes aren't gathered together into an entity; the entity instantiates them (the concrete reality is the person, not the nature).”

No; at least on the dictionary definition of “instantiation,” the concrete “instance” is the person; but the underlying “reality” is the nature.

“The instantiation of a human nature doesn't require a human person because a divine person can instantiate the human nature without depending on that nature for His existence.”

Teeter Totter, Bread and Water. Prejean would be well advised to pick a definition of “person” and go with it. He earlier argued that a person is an instance of rational nature. That is the closest Prejean comes to the actual definition of “instantiate.” Then he suggested that “instantiate” means something like “create” (“person gives concrete reality to nature”; the word does not mean that at all). From that standpoint he is now arguing that “person” is something entirely separate from “nature” and that “nature” is something entirely separate from “person,” so that there can now be an “instance” of human nature without it resulting in a “person”; that is to say, an instance of “nature” can be extracted from the very thing it is supposed to be an instance of, so that it becomes an entity in itself without consideration of “personage,” and then can be pasted onto another “person” of a completely different nature. “Person” begins as nothing more than an artifact (instance) of rational nature (in this case rational “human” nature), and ends up being something that can in fact be extracted from that instance and disposed of. This remaining “instance” of human nature (no longer a “person,” mind you, even though Person and Instance began as the very same thing) can now be repackaged and re-used by other “persons.”

This is equivocation of the worst kind. And where exactly does Prejean get this notion in the first place? Hezekiah 46:2? Reread Prejean’s statement above; the arrogance of such an assertion is staggering. On what authority does Prejean’s assertion stand outside of the word of his neo-Platonist instructors? How exactly does Prejean know things like “attributes aren't gathered together into an entity” and “the entity instantiates [the attributes]”? In Prejean’s mind, philosophy is a hard science that allows you to break down the properties of “person” and “nature” and conduct DNA analysis on them. Prejean displays a remarkable childish confidence in his position on these things—or else he has special revelation from God about them that no one else has (the book of Hezekiah, perhaps?). I’ll wager it’s the former.

“Sure. He can be a divine person instantiating the human nature. Why not?”

Why not? Because Prejean has previously defined “person” as “instantiation of rational nature,” that’s why. “Person,” therefore, is not a thing that is separate from instantiation—it is the instantiation. And if Christ instantiated human nature then it follows inextricably that Christ is a human person. Once again, Prejean begins with one definition of “person” (person is an instance of rational nature, and an instance of rational human nature is therefore a human person—what else would define us as a human person?), and then changes it to another (person can be extracted from an instance of human nature—even though “instance” and “person” were once defined as the very same thing—and the remaining “instance of human nature” can be glued onto another “person”) to suit his cause. Prejean previously denied that “person” is a thing in itself, but rather something like an artifact of “instantiation.” If that is his working definition of “person” (unless he is now going to backpedal on that as well), and if he agrees (as he has in his answers to my questionnaire regarding the proper nomenclature of a “human person” and the consequent redundancy of referring to a man as a “human person with a human nature”) that “instantiation of rational nature” = “person,” and that “instantiation of rational divine nature” = “divine person,” then it follows inextricably, by Prejean’s own reasoning, that “instantiation of rational human nature” = “human person.” To make an exception in the case of Christ is to engage in the fallacy of special pleading. Remember, it is Prejean who insisted that any view on this issue must be coherent and internally consistent. His is neither.

Further, Prejean’s insistence on making a hard and fast distinction between “person” and “nature” results in a nonsensical product. If things like “rational thought,” mind, spirit, will, knowledge, wisdom, etc.—all those things we know were “human” in Christ (“he grew in wisdom”), what is left to define “person”? This point (combined with my point about the radical natures of sin) is what has led Prejean to clarify that “person” is not a “thing” in itself but an instantiation of a thing in the first place. Now he seems to be backpedaling and re-defining "person" as a thing in itself (considered apart from the nature it instantiates) that instantiates just any nature it wants. Prejean is nothing if not slippery in his definitions; and that in itself is enough to charge his own view with incoherence.

“Is He the union or is He the Word of God? If "the man Christ Jesus" IS the Word of God, then you affirm that a divine person (the Word of God) can instantiate the human nature. I'm not asking you to say HOW a divine person can instantiate the human nature; nobody knows that. All I'm asking you to affirm is that the natures are united in the person of the Word of God. This talk of "union" is just misleading, and it's exactly the sort of wishy-washy language that Nestorius kept using. Is the union the same as the Word of God, or isn't it?"

I affirm that the man Jesus Christ is the word of God made flesh. I affirm he is one person. But that does nothing to answer the question at hand. I also have to affirm that Jesus is as much man as he is God—and if he is less than fully man, we are unredeemed and left in our sins. If Prejean wants to refer to as “nature” all the attributes that most people recognize as comprising a “person”—mind, will, intellect, soul, spirit, desire, emotion, etc.—I suppose that’s his prerogative.

“And I will say again: the adjectives put in front of "person" do not conventionally refer to the nature instantiated by that person, but to the instantiation of the nature by which that person exists.”

I maintain that if a position must degenerate to this microscopic level of distinctions, based as they are on human speculation (what Paul calls the “wisdom of this world,” 1 Cor 1), the position is typically not worth arguing.

“Of course, since I think there is no Scriptural teaching about the "sin nature" (indeed, I view it as a metaphysical absurdity) and since I have categorically denied Svendsen's assertion that person is part of nature or a category of nature, I don't think he's proved much.”

I said I would forego this point, but this is just too delicious, because it illustrates so well the sub-Christian beliefs of Jonathan Prejean. The "sin nature," according to Prejean, is a "metaphysical absurdity" (Hezekiah 46:2). Why is it, then, no one in this world can live a sinless life no matter how hard he tries? How does Prejean explain the case of Mary in his own Roman Catholic belief? How is it Mary lived a sinless life? Was it because she did not sin accidentally, or rather because she was "conceived without sin"? How is it that, once redeemed, no one in heaven will ever sin? Why do people die in this life? The sin nature that Prejean denies effects many consequences in us: it condemns us, it causes our bodies to decay and die (what Paul calls “the corruption” in Rom 8), it produces a sinful disposition (Rom 3), and it prompts us to rebel against God (Rom 1). Paul affirms that before our conversion, “we were by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2—I suppose Prejean thinks our “children of wrath” nature is a “metaphysical absurdity” as well). If we are by nature children of wrath, that speaks of a sin principle that resides within us and that results in God’s judgment (unless God just condemns us arbitrarily). Indeed, no one can read Paul’s theology of the human condition in Rom 1:10-18 apart from the principle of sin that resides in and controls every single one of us, making us “slaves to sin”:

“as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.’ ‘Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,’ ‘The poison of asps is under their lips’; ‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness’; ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace have they not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’”

Paul addresses this same condition in chapter 7 of the same letter:

“For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death (v. 5). . . But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. (8-11). . . For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin (14). . . So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me (17). . . . But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me (20). I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good (21). For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (21-23).

Here Paul clearly sees a principle of sin "at work within us"—that’s the sin nature. According to Paul, sin "indwells" us, "works in" us, is "alive" in us, is "present within" us, is a "principle" that wages war against our minds, and as a result makes us its "slave," putting us into "bondage to sin" and making us its "prisoner." According to Paul, this condition is the result of our being "sold into bondage to sin." Indeed, note well how Paul puts v. 8: "But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind." Paul does not say that coveting produced acts of sin, which is what Prejean's view requires. He says the opposite; namely, that sin produced coveting. How is that possible apart from the very "sin nature" that Prejean rejects as "metaphysically absurd" and that Paul takes pains to demonstrate is a metaphysical reality?

Prejean continues to demonstrate that he learns his "truth" from Plato, not Paul. This, as I stated above, well illustrates the sub-Christian nature of Prejean’s belief system. He denies the sin principle that Paul insists resides in us all. John himself tells us: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn 1:8). John is here referring to the same “sin principle” (or sin nature) as Paul in Romans 7. This sin principle is distinguished from personal acts of sin addressed two verses later: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (v. 10). Now Prejean, I assume, affirms the latter (personal acts of sin); but he denies the former (the inherent principle of sin) As such, according to the Apostle, “the truth is not in” Jonathan Prejean. Rather, like the incipient Gnostics John battles in this letter, he “deceives” himself (the charge of Gnosticism keeps mounting against Prejean).

“First, plans, thoughts, and desires are movements of the will too. Second, you're reifying sin. Sin isn't a thing; there is no sin nature.”

Since I have already debunked Prejean’s notion of “no sin nature,” I will assume that the additional points he makes based on this mistaken notion fall to the ground as well.

I wrote:
“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.”

Prejean responded: “Svendsen has misunderstood me pretty seriously.”

No, I have not misunderstood Prejean; I have simply shown the absurdity and incoherence of his view. There is nothing coherent about a view that equivocates on the words “person” and “instantiation,” using them as synonyms at first, and treating them as separate things in the end.

“‘Person’ is whatever instantiates a rational nature, no matter whether it takes its existence from instantiating that nature or not.”

Here Prejean views “person” as a "thing" apart from nature; whereas before “person” was defined as an instance of rational nature, more along the lines of an artifact.

“Ordinarily, no nature necessarily has an instantiation; thus, a ‘human person’ does not necessarily exist, not does an ‘angelic person.’ They are created.”

Whether it necessarily exists or not is beside the point. Prejean has defined “person” as “the instantiation of rational nature.” Once the instantiation takes place, the “person” exists, whether from itself or from an external source. And so, if an instance if rational nature exists (whether from itself or not), then we must ask the question “what kind of rational nature is it?” And if we have already agreed that an instance of rational nature is a person, then once we determine that this particular “instance of rational nature” is in fact “rational human nature,” we cannot conclude that the resulting “person” is something other than a human person; for that would be akin to saying that it wasn’t really an instantiation of human nature in the first place. In that case, we end up positing that an instantiation of human nature results in a non-human instantiation: A=non-A in Prejean’s view (confirming Prejean in his Docetism). That is why Prejean’s position is incoherent. It is self-contradictory.

“The divine nature necessarily exists, but it is wrong to say that the existence is part of the divine nature (which would break the divine nature into parts). Rather, the divine nature is necessarily instantiated tri-personally; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit necessarily exist and are necessarily God.”

Yes, they necessarily exist and they are necessarily God—but not apart from their divine nature. God, apart from his nature, ceases to be God. Hence, it is simply absurd to suggest that God’s existence is not an integral part of his divine nature. Of course it is! Prejean is apparently capitalizing on my phrase “part of,” and drawing all kinds of absurd conclusions about it. “Part of” is simply another way of saying that divine nature and divine existence are mutually dependent.

“On the other hand, if the Word of God does not merely happen to instantiate the human nature (that is, accidentially) but instead essentially does so, then we have the human nature necessarily existing and the Word of God as necessarily Incarnate, which is obviously unacceptable as well.”

The problem with Prejean’s statement is that what he denies is exactly what we have. As I mentioned before, while I can agree that human nature is not essential to the existence of the Word of God, it is indeed absolutely essential to the existence of Christ Jesus. There is no “Christ Jesus” without human nature, nor biblically could there be. The Word was not Christ Jesus pre-Incarnation. Although the Word “was,” Christ Jesus “became”; hence it is biblically necessary to say that both divine nature and human nature are essential to the existence of Christ Jesus—for absent one or the other, Christ Jesus does not exist.

“Because the person of Christ is the Word of God, and the Word of God does not derive His existence from being human.”

Not quite; rather the person of Christ is the MAN Christ Jesus and the Word of God.

“The question is whether the person of Christ is constituted by the union, or whether the person of Christ is the Word of God.”

I have no problem with either statement—and just for the record, the latter statement does not necessarily preclude the former, nor are the two statements necessarily mutually exclusive. But as a biblicist, I have consciously decided not to commit to either of them because to do so is to speculate well beyond Scripture. Yet this is the very question that militates against Prejean’s claim that he isn’t attempting to figure out the divine by sheer force of intellect. It is the question that refutes his claim that he does not concern himself about “how” this union took place, only “what kind” of union it is (as though the latter can sterilely be posited apart from attempting to explain the former). The question, as I have maintained throughout, is certainly not biblically resolved in any case. Since Christ is necessarily human (without humanity there would be no “Christ,” only “Word”), and necessarily divine (without the Word there would be no Christ, only “man”), I don’t see how it can be answered apart from divine revelation; and divine revelation simply does not tell us.

It is interesting to note that even Prejean’s Eastern Orthodox friends are now entertaining the notion that Prejean’s own view is Nestorian, and that he is indeed relying on hyper-rational speculation to figure out the nature of the Incarnation. The article is actually very much on target (in spite of an expected gaffe on the part of Perry Robinson, a sniveling third-rate philosophy student, and one of his associates, both of whom seem to be extremely ill informed about what constitutes a “degree mill,” and both of whom seem to think that it is an acceptable practice to get their information from the “research” of a third-rate catholic e-pologist who has no training in theology and who possesses no advanced degree—if that is the research method taught at their institution of higher learning, then I am certain I won’t be sending my children to “Saint Louis University”). To engage the unknown and the unrevealed using Prejean’s approach—namely, “I don’t need yer stinkin’ Bible ‘cause I can just figure it all out using my own brilliance”—results in a sub-Christian (nay, un-Christian or even anti-Christian) belief system that at best undermines the authority of Scripture and at worst promotes open idolatry. Worse for me, it wastes a great deal of my energy and time—energy and time I really don’t have anymore—to continue in such dialogues. They result in nothing useful. In the end Prejean will remain a neo-Platonist/Gnostic/Docetist, and I will remain devoted to the apostle’s teaching. I assume Prejean will be responding to this; if so, he’ll have the last word on it. Prejean’s view is incoherent and relies heavily on the equivocations of terms. I’ve adequately demonstrated the deficiencies of his views and his approach. My job here is done.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I'm Rubber, You're Glue

There’s barely anything worthy of response in Prejean’s recent post because there’s barely anything there of substance. Hence, since I won’t be descending into another 20-page “oh yeah? Well, same to you!” Prejean-style brawl, I’ll respond selectively. Suffice it to say that I hope his response to my former post has more substance. Prejean's comments are in quotation marks, followed by my response:

“But I don't accept that Scripture serves as a divine authority in the way that Svendsen does”

This statement keeps coming up as an excuse not to consider Scripture in all this. And that’s a big part of the problem. What Prejean means is not that he subscribes to something other than sola scriptura, but rather that he doesn’t subscribe to any kind of scriptural authority at all. He has already admitted that, for him, Scripture is irrelevant and on the same level as the Book of Mormon and the Quran.

“I don't know why affirming basic principles of logic is ‘humanistic.’”

It’s not principles of logic that are in question; it’s the notion that one can simply rationalize that which is unknowable that is in question since, quite obviously, it has not been divinely revealed. Aristotelian categories and Platonic concepts do not function as interpreters of the divine, at least not for the Christian.

“On the contrary, the fact that Chalcedon used the qualifier proves my point. You don't see the Chalcedonian Fathers saying ‘theotokos of the man Christ’; rather, they say ‘theotokos as regards his humanity.’”

If this doesn’t demonstrate Prejean’s implicit Apollinarianism (and consequential Docetism), I don’t know what does. Notice here Prejean admits he makes a distinction between that which is “man” and that which is “humanity.” Christ is the latter in Prejean’s view, but not the former, in direct contradiction to Scripture. When Chalcedon affirmed that Mary is theotokos “as regards his humanity,” I do not think they intended to deny that Mary is mother of “the man, Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5)—Prejean clearly does.

“Svendsen has proved a point against his own position here; he conceded that the Council used the stronger term rather than the weaker term. He appears to be relying on Brown's gaffe in this regard. I have no idea why Brown would have made the mistake of thinking that meter theou was somehow stronger than theotokos,”

Perhaps it’s because Brown recognizes that the “strength” of the term would depend entirely on the point being made in each case. After all, Brown did receive his Ph.D. from Harvard—the very school that Prejean believes immunizes you from mistakes so long as you maintain a 3.9 GPA. Are we to accept the word of an untrained mind, just because he happens to think he is well read” on the subject, over the opinion of one who has his Ph.D. in Historical Theology? Prejean’s arrogance is exceeded only by his self-delusion. Why would the simple fact that theotokos represents a “natural” connection and mater theou represents a “relational” connection mean that the former is “stronger” than the latter? If the point being promoted is not only that Jesus is God even in the womb (theotokos), but also that Mary enjoys a special status based on that biological relationship (mater theou), then of course the latter is “stronger” than the former since the latter assumes the former in the mind of Cyril. Prejean’s introduction of Arian definitions is nothing more than a smokescreen. Cyril was not using mater theou to promote Mary as mother of God absent from biological relations—he was using it as a stronger Marian title than theotokos. It is Prejean’s gaffe, not Brown’s.

“And as I said, there's a difference between the how and the what of an Incarnation. If I were trying to explain the former, that would be a problem. Trying to affirm the latter is simply coherent orthodoxy, and if Aristotelian concepts are useful for that affirmation, then there is nothing wrong with them.”

But Prejean is trying to explain the former, and is not merely content with affirming the latter. That’s the whole point of this debate. He isn’t content to say “the Word was with God and the Word was God,” and “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and the Christ is simultaneously “our great God and Savior” and “the MAN, Christ Jesus.” He’s not even content to affirm a single-subject Christology, but goes well beyond that to specify that Christ is a “divine person with a human nature,” and that he specifically is not a “human person." Scripture just does not put it that way, and Prejean’s use of Aristotelian categories to “explain” it is simply not the same thing as “affirming coherent orthodoxy.” His point here is just stupidity.

Moreover, he gratuitously assumes “Aristotelian concepts are useful for that affirmation” (didn’t he chide me earlier for not calling these “Platonic concepts”?) when the usefulness of such concepts is the very thing in question. The biblical writers did not think like Aristotle or Plato. They, for the most part, were steeped in Hebrew culture and concepts taken from Scripture. That’s just the problem with Prejean. He doesn’t think like a biblical writer and is in fact ignorant of that way of thinking because he himself is not steeped in Scripture the way the biblical writers were. He simply assumes Aristotelian categories and Platonic concepts can be superimposed on a biblical paradigm when in fact they are two exceedingly different paradigms.

“The irony of Svendsen affirming someone who argued in favor of the term "theotokos" (Ibid., Lecture X, art. 19) as "the good Cyril" is delightful”

So many errors; so little time. This is a perfect example of Prejean’s inability to discuss this rationally. I did not, by my statement, grant unqualified agreement with every point of Cyril's theology—nor to the soundness of his exegesis on every belief—but only to his approach to that which is unrevealed vis-à-vis Scripture. To the extent that Cyril was inconsistent with his own stated principle, I am happy to take issue with him. And the comment “the good Cyril” was a playful jab at the approach of Cyril of Alexandria and his uncritical disciple, Jonathan Prejean. Yes, the "good" Cyril used a passing reference to theotokos (he did not “argue in favor of the term”). So what? Does Prejean imagine one cannot recognize Mary as “God bearer” (in the simple affirmation that Jesus was God even in the womb) apart from attempting to explain that Jesus is “an instantiation of rational nature” that consists of one part divine [where instantiation is defined as “person” AND nature all rolled up in one], one part human [where instantiation is not defined as “person” but rather “human nature”], all wrapped up in a divine instantiation in which this instantiation is somehow a full-fledged “man” without being a human “person”? If Prejean cannot tell the difference between these two things, then I see little basis for rational dialogue with him.

“St. Cyril's comments in the 11th and 16th lectures say exactly what I said: we affirm the distinction between nature and person, between begetting and proceeding, without knowing the actual details of these things.”

Here’s what Cyril says in his 11th lecture: “This also believe, that God has a Son: but about the manner be not curious, for by searching you will not find. Exalt not yourself, lest you fall: think upon those things only which have been commanded you. Tell me first what He is who begat, and then learn that which He begat; but if you can not conceive the nature of Him who has begotten, search not curiously into the manner of that which is begotten. For godliness it suffices you to know, as we have said, that God has One Only Son.”

Here’s what he says in his 16th lecture: “We would now say somewhat concerning the Holy Ghost; not to declare His substance with exactness, for this were impossible

Cyril affirms the exact approach to these things that I have advanced and Prejean has denied. Indeed, I hope all Prejean’s readers will click the links he provides so that they can see for themselves the vast difference between the approach Cyril of Jerusalem takes and that of Prejean. Cyril cannot write two sentences without citing Scripture—indeed, in most cases he cannot write even one sentence apart from citing Scripture. And at every turn, Cyril directs his readers to nothing less than Scripture for proof of what he is saying. In stark contrast, Scripture, in Prejean’s view, is irrelevant and inauthoritative, not written to us, and on par with the Book of Mormon and the Quran. And yet Prejean has somehow convinced himself that he is representative of orthodoxy in this discussion. He makes the same mistake as those who errantly believe “Reformed” is defined by mindlessly advancing the idiosyncratic beliefs of Luther and Calvin rather than the principles they followed to formulate those beliefs.

Hence, my original point about Cyril of Jerusalem stands: Here again is Cyril’s approach:

“But if the Lord permit, I will set it forth, according to my powers, with demonstration from the Scriptures. For when we are dealing with the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, we must not deliver anything whatsoever, without the sacred Scriptures, nor let ourselves be misled by mere probability, or by marshalling of arguments. And do not simply credit me, when I tell you these things, unless you get proof from the Holy Scriptures of the things set forth by me. For this salvation of ours by faith is not by sophistical use of words, but by proof from the sacred Scriptures (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture IV, Art. 17). . . . For these articles of our faith were not composed out of human opinion, but are the principle points collected out of the whole of Scripture to complete a single doctrinal formulation of the faith” (Ibid., Lecture V, Art. 12). . . . Let us be content with this knowledge [taken from Scripture] and not busy ourselves with questions about the divine nature or hypostasis. I would have spoken of that had it been contained in Scripture. Let us not venture where Scripture does not lead, for it suffices for our salvation to know that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit [Ibid., Lecture XVI, Art. 24]. . . . But the Holy Spirit himself has not spoken in the Scriptures about the Son’s generation from the Father. Why then busy yourself over something that the Holy Spirit has not expressed in the Scriptures? You do not know all the Scriptures, and yet must get to know what is not in the Scriptures? (Ibid., Lecture XI, Art. 12).

Whatever “irony” Prejean thinks he has found here is a figment of his own mind. In fact, the true irony is in the closing statement of Cyril cited above: "Why then busy yourself over something that the Holy Spirit has not expressed in the Scriptures? You do not know all the Scriptures, and yet must get to know what is not in the Scriptures?" If this isn't Prejean in a nutshell, I don't know what is.

“This is so bizarre that I wonder how Svendsen could even have thought it made sense. Svendsen admits that Augustine is referring to nature in discussing humanity and divinity. But he appears to be saying that he is incapable of distinguishing between natures and union between natures (i.e., person, to which the term "Mother of God" applies).”

No, what I am saying is that Augustine does not make the fine distinctions Prejean does. He affirms Christ has a human nature and a divine nature. He does not affirm Prejean’s bizarre “divine person with a human nature,” where “person” is defined as “instantiation of rationale nature” for the divine, but where that definition is gratuitously denied for the “instantiation of rational human nature” in Christ—so that Christ is “human” (he has human nature), but is not a “man” (he has no human personality). And Prejean will never find such drivel in Augustine, which is why there is a conspicuous absence of counter examples in Prejean’s response.

I have, in fact, addressed all this already in my “Calm Before the Storm” post. In it, I pressed Prejean on his definition of “person.” Prejean defines “person” as “an instantiation of rational nature.” He seems to agree that Christ instantiates human nature (complete with a human mind, psyche, spirit, will, etc.), but then oddly contends that that this does not constitute a “human person.” Prejean has insisted I must be able to explain the inexplicable, else my view remains “incoherent.” Very well; let Prejean explain how his view is coherent; namely, how he can simultaneously hold that “person” is defined by “the instantiation of a rational nature,” but that the instantiation of rational human nature in Christ does not constitute “human person.”

“I find the idea of someone who uses the term "paradigm" in this way right before criticizing "postmodern metanarratives" amusing, but I must deny that metaphysical reality is a matter of "paradigms." Aristotelian concepts describe reality, and if the reality being described is identical in Scripture times and the present day, then there is no reason to think that an Aristotelian articulation of this reality is in any way inferior.”

Notice how gratuitously Prejean advances what he has yet to prove; namely, that the “metaphysical reality” of Plato is the same as that of the biblical writers (apparently Prejean believes in Plato’s intelligible/perceptual dualism). Can he really be so dense that he does not know that one’s preconceived notions and musings about anything—much more those things that cannot be verified (in this case the metaphysical)—constitute a paradigm? A paradigm (at least in the sense I am using it) is one’s frame of reference for the way one thinks. It is a construct for interpreting and evaluating reality. An atheist speaks and writes from a different paradigm than a theist. A Roman Catholic speaks and writes from a different paradigm than a Biblicist. Is it really beyond Prejean’s comprehension that Plato, not having been entrusted with the Divine Oracles and therefore merely “guessing” his way through these things, would have a different paradigm than one who has first-hand knowledge of God’s objective self-disclosure? It is simply absurd to think otherwise.

“No. I think it's ridiculous to think that topics not addressed explicitly by the authors of Scripture cannot be the subject of dogma . . .”

So did the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day. When you pick grain, roll it in your hands, and eat it on the Sabbath, you’re “harvesting grain” on the Sabbath, and hence you are breaking the Sabbath by doing work. When you drag a chair across the dirt floor on the Sabbath, and the legs of the chair make furrows in the ground, you are “plowing” on the Sabbath, hence breaking the Sabbath. Yep, it’s just “ridiculous” to think we can’t make dogma out of mere speculations.

“. . . or that only concepts of the 1st century authors can be used to describe the same reality that Scripture describes.”

And how would you know for sure that the concepts you adopt to describe scriptural realities accurately convey those spiritual realities, especially since you are so unfamiliar with that spiritual reality as revealed in Scripture, not to mention the limits Scripture imposes on it? The Children of Israel thought it reasonable to liken God to a calf based on the fact that God was powerful enough to rescue them from Egypt: “he must be like this calf—let’s make a golden calf in honor of Him. After all, our Egyptian upbringing has made us familiar with the concept of a ‘cow-god,’ and we’re only describing the same reality of God in terms we can understand.” The only motivation to abandon Scripture the way Prejean does is first to posit some deficiency in Scripture that forces us to use categories Scripture does not use. That is, of course, just what Prejean is suggesting; that God’s self-disclosure is deficient—a notion abhorrent to the Christian mind. Prejean’s alternative is to posit there is something magical about Platonic concepts and their ability to communicate divine realities to humanity. That is, of course, just as abhorrent to the Christian mind, and equally absurd.

“Nor does it imply that Scripture alone is adequate to do so.”

See what I mean? Says who, exactly? Yahweh? The biblical writers? Or, Jonathan Prejean’s comparable pea brain?

In response to my citation of the Scriptural warning not to “run ahead” of the apostles’ doctrine of Christ, Prejean responded:

“First, this would only prove that the method of extracting dogma from Scripture is not strictly deductive, but that is relatively obvious to anyone who rejects the formal sufficiency of Scripture, and it does not show either logical fallacy or lack of logic (induction being a form of logic as well).”

Why does Prejean think the warnings in Scripture are there? The incipient-Gnostic heretics of John’s day were making inductions of their own. They reasoned that the descending of the dove upon Christ at his baptism coupled with Christ’s statement on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me,” was proof positive that Jesus was not the “Christ come in the flesh,” but rather that Christ merely possessed Jesus for a few years on this earth and left him shortly before his death. They “extracted dogma” inductively from Scripture, and they were dead wrong in that induction. Of course those who disregard the warnings of the apostles against “running ahead” will always think those warnings apply to someone else!

“On the other hand, if I were claiming that I were inducing the conclusion from certain consistent facts (say, the presence of black canine fur around a dog bowl in Svendsen's house), then one certainly wouldn't claim that it was "sophistry of the worst kind" to arrive inductively at the conclusion that Svendsen had a black dog.”

Except that Prejean has no equivalent of “black fur” in my analogy. Or, more accurate to the situation, he may have found the black fur but missed the brown fur and the sable fur that proves my dog is black AND brown AND sable—all “dark,” mind you, but not mere “black.” Prejean thinks he has solved this, but he hasn’t. He still does not know what color my dog’s coat is—much less his eyes. At best, he has “induced” a dog by his discovery of black fur that so misrepresents my dog it must be considered a different dog altogether—not unlike his induction of the person of Christ.

“I didn't view Svendsen as a Humean skeptic, but he appears to be taking the view that nothing can be known inductively”

The very definition of an inductive argument is that the conclusion is at best “probable” based on the premises. An inductive conclusion, by definition, goes beyond the premises. How can anything be made a “dogma” that is at best “probable” and works only if the premises are accepted? That’s the primary difference between Prejean’s approach and mine. I am content with a deductive approach to divine truth, and Prejean uses an inductive approach. As an example of the former, Scripture insists there is someone called the Father who is called God; it insists there is someone called the Son/Word who is called God; it insists there is someone called the Spirit who is called God; it further places “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” in relationship to one another (“the word was with God”; “I will send the Spirit of truth from the Father”) so as to make each one distinct from the others. Yet those same Scriptures just as vehemently insist there is only one God. I cannot conclude there are three gods, since I am constrained by Scripture that there is only one God. I cannot conclude there is one “person” manifested in three “modes,” each at various times, since these “persons” are sometimes found together and in relationship with each other. And so, from all this I must conclude that there is one God who somehow subsists in three “persons.” I don’t try to explain the “makeup” of God or the relationship of his “persons” beyond what Scripture says about it because all explanations falter at some point (I place “person” in quotation marks not because I reject it as a functional term but because it’s precise definition is still in dispute in the present discussion; for the record, I concede the use of it here because it doesn’t present problems with Scripture).

The same is true of the union of God and man in the Incarnation. I can affirm with Scripture that Jesus Christ is the Word become flesh, that he is fully God and at the same time fully man, and that if either the former or the latter is deficient in any way he cannot act as our perfect sacrifice and high priest. Scripture says nothing beyond this. It doesn’t speculate that the “man” part of Christ is really just “human nature” and not a “real man” per se. In fact, it goes out of its way to condemn any such notion as heresy—and that heresy is particularly relevant because it is one the biblical writers themselves faced vis-à-vis incipient Gnosticism. Hence, it would not only be mere speculation but, in fact, a dangerous enterprise to suggest, as Prejean does, that the “man” part of Jesus is merely “human nature” and not really a “man” at all.

But this is precisely Prejean’s approach. He thinks he can figure all this out inductively. But the problem is precisely with the realm of inductive logic itself. For one to argue inductively, one needs some degree of certainty and universal acceptability about the premises, and a good understanding of the known parameters and conditions that may shape the outcome. This works fairly well for things in this life and in this plane of existence. For instance, if we can observe that every crow we have ever seen happens to be black, then we can safely conclude that, very probably, all crows are black. We cannot say this with absolute certainty, since there may be white crows that no one has seen; yet we may be reasonably assured that all crows are black. Or, in the field of technology, we might use the symptoms of a computer problem to inductively work our way through a problem-solving process to find not only a likely cause but a viable solution.

But in the case of the Incarnation, we’re not dealing with observable facts or commonly known conditions. In fact, the only conditions about which we may be certain are “revealed” conditions. Even in the case of the computer problem I mentioned, we may not have certainty. Say the symptom is such that when I open more than one application at a time I receive an “out of memory” error message. The problem is inductive because there are many things that could be causing the problem. And unless I have knowledge of all the conditions of the computer, as well as how all the components relate to each other, it’s not likely my guess as to what the solution might be will even be in the ballpark. Further, until I apply what I suspect is the solution, and observe first-hand that my solution has solved the problem, there is really no way to be certain that my proposed solution will even work—and in fact it is not uncommon in technology that my first “guess” at a solution to an unknown issue will fail, and that I will have to look elsewhere to solve it.

Of how much lesser value will my “guess” be when I am inductively working from the physical world and rational thought to explain the metaphysical world—a world of which I have no first-hand knowledge--particularly when there is no way to "test" my solution to ensure it "works"? No one has or can observe the dividing line between person and nature—Plato’s dividing line is a mere hypothesis, and one that has not been revealed. Is “person” really defined by God as an “instantiation of rational nature”? Perhaps; but it’s nothing more than a guess; certainly not something we can know in this life because we cannot dissect it. And even if we could reason it out to the point that we can safely define ourselves, it is simply absurd to think that we can somehow apply that same understanding to someone who is both man and God. The circumstances and conditions surrounding the Incarnation are unique in addition to being unknown. The fact that there were so many views on the exact relationship of the human and divine in Christ during the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries just proves my point that any view finally adopted is a mere theory that cannot be proved because its premises are not universally shared. Is Christ a divine person who possesses a human nature? Is he instead a divine person who cloaks himself with human flesh? Is he instead divinized flesh? Is he instead a singular “person” with a divine nature and a human nature? Is he instead a fusion of divinity and humanity? Granted, some of these theories are more easily dispatched than others on biblical grounds. Nevertheless, who could possibly know these things with any certainty? No one knows the mind of God, and he has not revealed it. No one observed the hypostatic union, and so no one can know what conditions apply in this case. Indeed, no one can claim to know with certainty any conditions of the metaphysical apart from divine revelation. And so, the various views on this that the “church” condemned as “heresies” are not only metaphysical unknowns, they are in fact unknowable in this life. How then can they be heresies? At the very least, it is the height of arrogance to make a dogma of any of these views, hence binding the conscience of man to it as some sort of shibboleth of orthodoxy.

“It was Nestorius who was not content with "the Word became flesh" but who felt the need to introduce a novel term, Christotokos, when Theotokos was both less confusing and more accurate”

How is theotokos (“God bearer”) “less confusing and more accurate” since it says nothing about Jesus’ humanity? How does that title “accurately” describe who Christ? How is christotokos (“Christ bearer”) “inaccurate” since it is more general and omits nothing? Did Mary not bear the Christ? How is it confusing? Is there some confusion in Prejean’s mind over whether Jesus is the Christ? What Prejean really objects to is biblical restraint. Christotokos is a perfectly acceptable title because it does not overemphasize one of the natures of Jesus to the detriment of the other.

“No, but I do believe that [Scripture] is a theandric document, a combination of nature and supernature, and I don't believe the natural component exhausts the supernatural meaning of Scripture, which is perceived only by the rule of faith”

The latter point, of course, is not demanded nor even suggested by the former point. That there would be some “mysterious meaning” of Scripture comprehensible only to the “illuminati,” just because it was authored by God, is not only an unjustified conclusion but a Gnostic ideal. Communication assumes the ability to understand. According to Jesus himself, God revealed his word to “babes,” not to the “wise.” The God who chose the “foolish things” of the world, and the ignoble people of the world—the fishermen, the carpenters, the common man—does not turn around and shroud his word in symbols intelligible only to a “Magisterium.” That’s a byproduct of Prejean’s catholicism, not of biblical truth.

“What do I care about your accomplishments outside of patristics? The issue is whether you are keeping up with patristics and the skills that would be relevant to that field of study.”

It was Prejean who claimed my formal training is 20-years out of date, that I don’t work in my field, and that I haven’t “kept up” with my training. But I have kept up with my field (New Testament) and have never claimed to have training in patristics. All I have claimed is that I at least have training in related disciplines—something that Prejean does not have.

“So what I would like to understand is why someone who is not "keeping up with that field" is writing articles about ‘Apollinarimonophysitism’ without bothering to get back up to speed on the subject?”

I was up to speed when I wrote my article on Apollinarimonophysitism. And what is ironic is that Prejean himself was writing about these things before he even knew of the existence of McGuckin. He produced McGuckin’s views only after he lost his debate with me. That means he himself was engaging in the very exercise for which he now chides me; namely, by his own admission he was writing about these things before he “got up to speed” on them. Prejean pretends he does not understand how someone can do that, but it is painfully obvious that he himself did that very thing before he knew of McGuckin’s existence. Now I don’t accept that McGuckin is the “controlling voice” on this issue, but Prejean obviously does. Hence, Prejean is a hypocrite.

“The notion that the Scripture could be read truly without the rule of faith to discern its spiritual content was not one that any of the Fathers held.”

Prejean betrays both his ignorance and his simplistic and pop-roman-apologetic understanding of the fathers. Prejean doesn’t read the fathers; he reads books about the fathers. What rule of faith? There was simply no such thing as Prejean’s rule of faith in the fifth century. No one believed in an infallible pope at that time. No one believed councils could not err at that time. No one believed councils were irreformable at that time. No one believed, as Prejean clearly does, that Scripture is irrelevant, not for us today, does not speak to us, and whatever other nonsense he has spouted. And if Prejean wants to pursue this point, I will be happy to bury him under a mountain of extended quotations from the fathers that will quickly cure him of his ignorance.

“They certainly didn't believe that the mundane historical content of Scripture exhausted its meaning.”

Again, who is “they”? The fathers collectively (as though they held a monolithic view on this)? If so, then Prejean is simply spouting his ignorance. He doesn’t know what the fathers believed on these things because he has never read the fathers.

“Indeed, "for Pete's sake," look at Cyril's statements about "the divine and holy mysteries." What Svendsen is doing is exactly what Cyril condemns: trying to justify the Christian faith by some mundane method rather than the divine inspiration of the Scriptures.”

What?! This is patently absurd! Prejean has this exactly backwards. It is he who is trying to justify his brand of “orthodoxy” by use of reason and platonic concepts rather than Scripture. I, in stark contrast, have constantly pointed to the Scriptures as the necessary restraint in our speculations. Who is the one justifying his faith by use of a “mundane method” here?! Who is the one justifying his faith by use of “the divine inspiration of the Scriptures”? Prejean is becoming delusional in this conversation.

As for Cyril, he goes out of his way to “prove from Scripture” the points he is making, and he interprets Scripture in the plain, usual, and ordinary sense that I would to accomplish that goal. He doesn’t always get it right; but neither does he engage in some ethereal and nebulous interpretation, comprehensible only on a higher plane, to prove his points. But more important is the point I originally made and which is completely lost on Prejean; namely, that he manifestly does not hold the same high view of Scripture as Cyril, particularly in what is required to “prove” a point of theology. Cyril takes pains to prove everything from Scripture, and makes it abundantly clear that if it cannot be proved from Scripture, then it cannot be upheld as binding. Prejean, on the other hand, blatantly rejects the relevance of Scripture in this discussion—worse, assigns it the same status as the Book of Mormon and the Quran in its ability to define orthodoxy!—and turns instead to Plato, Aristotle, and his own “brilliance” as his "spiritual guide" to the metaphysical world and the divine nature.

“The only teaching I have been arguing for from Ephesus and Chalcedon is a single subject, so either you were saying that Chalcedon "ran ahead" of the Apostles in teaching a single subject or you are simply so baffled about what it taught that you think it was teaching something beyond what it did teach.”

This is a patent lie. As I have already shown, Prejean is not content to know that Christ is a “single subject,” but must postulate precisely how that single subject comes together, and how exactly Christ is to be defined. Anyone who affirms that Christ is a “one person”—which I affirm—also affirms a single-subject Christology. But, in spite of this affirmation, Prejean continues to accuse Protestants of believing Christ is two persons. That proves he is not content with a simple affirmation that Christ is one person, but must in fact define how Christ is one person. That is exactly the area that I maintain is inexplicable in the same way the Godhead itself is inexplicable. And so, Prejean lies when he claims to be content with an affirmation that Christ is one person not two.

“But what you said here doesn't exonerate you from the charge that you deny the single subject, because explaining how isn't required in order to affirm what kind of union between the natures exists. Is this union constituted by the person of the Word of God, or isn't it?”

See what I mean? Through sheer sophistry he denies that more is required to be orthodox than a simple affirmation of single-subject Christology, and simultaneously maintains his insistence that we must affirm a specific idiosyncratic theory of just how that union takes place. What he refers to as an affirmation of the “kind of union” is precisely what I mean by “how it takes place.” The “kind” of union is just the thing that I have maintained is unknowable because, inasmuch Scripture does not reveal this information, the theory assumes knowledge of “how” that union must have taken place (viz., God the Son assumed a human nature but did not become a man per se). And if we don’t have affirmation in Scripture of the kind of union it is, nor just how that union took place, then we’re left to our own devices in figuring it out. And once we find ourselves outside the realm of divinely revealed truth, no one can affirm a “kind” of union apart from explaining (or at the very least assuming) just “how” that union took place—else there would be no reason to accept it. And that is just the predicament Prejean is in. He rejects Scripture and so must stand on his own reasoning faculties to figure out what “kind” of union takes place in Christ. But he cannot do that without first assuming the “hows” of that union, else why accept it? And if one does not accept Prejean’s underlying “hows,” there remains no basis for accepting his proposed “kind of union.”

“Given that I don't think God placed Biblical restraints on knowledge (indeed, it strikes me as a contradiction in terms), I don't think the fact that I had no need of them.”

He doesn’t place biblical restraints on knowledge; he places biblical restraints on knowledge of the divine: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut 29:29). "So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female” (Deut 4:15-16).

“Indeed, I think there are plenty of natural limitations on my "brilliant intellect" that more than prevent me from having God "all figured out," so I can't imagine why He would be so threatened by my mind that He would need to constrain it.”

It’s not because he is “threatened” that your mind needs to be constrained by revealed truth; it’s because your mind is foolish.

“There was no period in which Arianism held sway in all the bishoprics in both East and West. "Athanasius contra mundum" is an exaggeration, as was the world "groaning to find itself Arian." You've been reading too many Protestant conspiracy theories. None of the Arian bishops had the authority to speak for the Church as a whole, and Liberius's and Hosius's signatures to the compromise formula (which was not even heterodox, only dangerously ambiguous) was obtained under duress. I could recommend some good works on the subject, including some recent monographs, but I doubt they would help you. Timothy Barnes's Athanasius and Constantius is the must-read, though.”

Once again, Prejean is held captive by highly selective scholarship. The thing that constantly escapes Prejean in his evaluation of which scholars are right and which are mistaken is that he is not qualified to make that judgment. All he can go by is what the author by whom he has most recently become convinced happens to say about the other positions. Part of the problem is that he confines much of his reading to harlequin novels about Rome. But at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter that Liberius signed a document under duress (a true Christian dies rather than denies Christ under duress in any case—and in this case, the worse fate Liberius would have suffered was deposition). What matters is that Arianism held sway in the church, and Athanasius and his orthodox companions were effectively deposed. The Arians could claim that any voice of opposition in their day was just heterodoxy rearing its ugly head in the exact same way that the fifth-century church could say the same thing about the Nestorians, Apollinarians, and Monophysites of their own day. Prejean’s “rule of faith” is illusory, and contains so many escape hatches that it dies the death of a thousand qualifications.

“Svendsen evidently now can't even read a review reasonably. Svendsen argued that this use of phrase meant that Chalcedon was correcting Cyril; Oakes says exactly the opposite, conceding that Chalcedon considered Cyril orthodox.”

To be precise, I did not say Chalcedon corrected Cyril—although other scholars (such as Meyendorff) have said this—I specifically said Chalcedon corrected Ephesus (though, actually, I am not opposed to saying it corrected Cyril as well). And Oakes affirms this point when he states (in his correction of McGuckin) that “The decree the Eastern bishops supported dearly represented a middle passage between the extremes of Antioch and Alexandria,” and then proceeds to identify those “extremes” in terms of the dispute between the term "hypostasis" and the term "person," as well as the phrase "from two natures” and the "in two natures.” More on this momentarily.

“He merely notes that the Chalcedonian Fathers did not consider his orthodoxy exclusive of other equivalent formulations such as the ones advanced by Leo (viz., they did not see the need to correct Leo in light of Cyril). They appear to have accepted orthodox statements rather even-handedly, picking whichever one appeared most useful or clear.”

That’s not exactly what Oakes says. What he says is this: “The standard Western account of that episode claims for Rome a balance of approach lacking in the more disputatious Greek theologians, who were still too besotted by the neo-Platonic speculations common in the East.” Isn’t this exactly what I have maintained throughout this dialogue—that the fifth-century formulations were too steeped in platonic speculations to be granted the status of dogma (I seem to be more of a defender of the approach of fifth-century Rome than Prejean is on this point)? Oakes does not repudiate this account, but goes on to affirm (in correction of McGuckin) that “we know the Alexandrians themselves detected these ‘concessions’ to Antiochene theology [at Chalcedon] because Cyril's more hotheaded successors (Eutyches and Dioscorus, primarily) actively rejected the Council.” But if those who followed Cyril (who spearheaded Ephesus) rejected Chalcedon (even though they fully embraced Ephesus), then it follows necessarily that they thought Chalcedon contradicted Ephesus, and that Cyril himself was Monophysite in his Alexandrian theology. Consequently, Oakes affirms there was a difference in theology (“concessions” as he calls them); and just because the prevailing voice at Chalcedon accepted those concessions does not mean the differences aren’t real.

“That Svendsen claims support from Oakes for the proposition that Chalcedon and Ephesus conflict is objectively dishonest, although given Svendsen's rampant emotionalism, I have strong doubts as to whether he sees it.”

The reason I don’t see it is because it’s not there. Oakes affirms that Chalcedon is at least a “middle ground” or “concession” between the Alexandrians (whose view was well established at Ephesus) and the Antiochenes. And who is it that is operating on rampant emotionalism? Remember, it was Prejean who earlier chided me as being “behind the times” and too ignorant of current scholarship for mentioning that the use of the Antiochene phrase “in two natures” and the Cyrillene phrase “from two natures” was a point of dispute between the two schools. Yet Oakes affirms the very same point in his review—and Prejean just ignores it; which betrays the fact that Prejean’s true agenda in this is to apply standards of scholarship to me that he refuses to apply to patristic scholars themselves!

“It's ridiculous to think that most scholars are going to put out a statement every time that their work is refuted, and indeed, it would be obnoxious in the extreme for me to demand it of them.”

Prejean has certainly demanded it of me. I guess that makes him “obnoxious in the extreme,” but only inconsistently so.

“Indeed, the way I "do scholarship" is not to go out of the way to embarrass people I think are refuted, which would be pointless, but to allow them the dignity of silence.”

But this excuse is refuted by Prejean's actual practice many times over. Why was this courtesy of “silence” not extended to me? If Prejean came to the conclusion that I was out of touch with recent scholarship after our discussion took place (in the series posted on my blog), why did he not think it “pointless” to “go out of his way” to “embarrass” me by spamming every web board he visited about my “lack of qualifications” for nearly a two-year period after the discussion had ended? Where was the “dignity of silence” in that case? No, Mr. Prejean can’t hide behind that farce—we all know him differently. The reason he won’t write these scholars is because he knows he'll have his amateur teeth handed to him.

“Given that McGuckin gave a speech at the festschrift for Pelikan's 80th birthday, I can't imagine that Pelikan thought McGuckin had done him wrong.”

What? “Done him wrong”? Does Prejean really think all scholars must be agreed on every point of historical interpretation before one can speak at another’s festschrift? What is this point supposed to prove?

“And I repeat: your concept of Scriptual authority based solely on natural meaning lacks any perception of the supernatural meaning, meaning that it is just another document like any other uninspired document.”

Prejean clearly does not understand biblical exegesis. And he just as clearly confuses “natural reading” (communication assumes understanding of that which is communicated) with “natural meaning” (by which Prejean seems to mean “earthly understanding”), as though those things are identical. I would counsel Prejean to go and immerse himself in Scripture and learn how to do exegesis. That’s the best advice I can give him.

“Then what other person is there in Christ than the divine person? It is because you say that He is not ONLY a divine person that you err; indeed, that IS the Nestorian error. There is no way that you can say "[the divine person] is not ALL that Christ is" without also saying "there is more than one person in Christ."

Notice Prejean’s persistence in asking me to explain what I have repeatedly insisted throughout this discussion is inexplicable precisely because it is beyond human comprehension. To attempt an explanation of this is to concede a premise that I reject. It is Prejean who thinks these things can be “figured out” through reason, not I. Hence, I have no obligation to explain, only to affirm. Indeed, I have every obligation, given my premise, not to attempt an explanation! The ability to explain it is Prejean’s assumption, not mine. But since Prejean does think it can be explained, then he needs to answer the questions I posed to him in my “Calm before the Storm” post, which he has not so far done.