Teleological suspension of a blog

My blogs are projects and explorations in expertise.  I start a blog to research as much on a subject as I can.  This blog dealt with Reformed Scholasticism, and I will keep the articles up.

My other blog, negatingthevoid, dealt more with worldview issues and eventually the harder edges of dutch neo-Calvinism.

Towards the end of the summer I put Negating the void on old and started researching other aspects of scholasticism.  That project is done now, at least for this year.  I will go back to blogging at

negatingthevoid.wordpress.com for the foreseeable future. I am on a Klaas Schilder kick again.

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Review: Schaff, Church History, vol 5

This is his second volume on the Middle Ages.

It is tempting to color the Middle Ages either as a period of gross or superstition or incredible beauty.  This answer is neither.  Or both. Much as we may be disgusted, and rightly so, at the abuses of the medieval papacy, some popes were truly talented individuals. Further, papal supremacy, while built on a foundation of sand, did nonetheless rein in lawless barons. For example, the most competent, if not the most scriptural, of medieval popes, Gregory VII, kept warring Europe in line.  Schaff writes, “it was a spiritual despotism, but it checked a political despotism” (Schaff 34).

The section on the Crusades read like a novel at times.  Schaff rightly deplores the indulgences and the erring piety behind the Crusades, but he notes, as we must all admit, that the military actions of the Western Europeans destroyed enough Muslim personnel to prevent a Muslim conquest of Europe (at least until the 21st century).

4th Crusade

Surprisingly, Schaff gives a relatively positive account of the 4th Crusade.  This one is tricky and requires some background. The rightful emperor was Isaac Angelus.  He was deposed and blinded by his brother Alexius III.  Long story short, the Latins intervened and deposed Alexius III and restored Isaac (for a time).  As unfortunate as later events were, this action “prolonged the successful resistance to the Turks” (273 n1). Yes, they turned Constantinople into a brothel, but one can’t help but wonder if Byzantine schemes didn’t set the stage.

Inquisition and Sacraments

Most people will find the section on the Inquisition fascinating, if only for morbid reasons.  It contains enough lurid details.  

Theologically, Schaff’s section on the sacraments is of the most value to the theology student.   All medievals follow the Augustinian definition as “a visible sign of invisible grace.”  There is a virtue inherent in the sacraments.  They confer and confirm grace (continere et conferre gratiam).  God is the original cause of grace.  The sacraments, per Thomas, are the instrumental cause (705).

The body of Christ is in the sacrament not quantitatively, but in substance.  Not in dimensions but by a power peculiar to the sacrament.  This is the doctrine of concomitance (717). They argued that the whole Christ is in each of the elements, which justifies withdrawing the cup from the laity.

Penance and Indulgences

Penance deletes mortal sins committed after baptism (729).  It has four elements (contrititon, sorrow of the soul, which negative part is attrition), confession, satisfaction, and absolution. An indulgence simply mitigates the works of satisfaction needed for an absolution (737).

Sin and Grace

The flesh is tainted, being conceived in concupiscence. It is both taint and guilt (749). Grace: man needs prevenient grace “to beget in him the disposition to holiness” (753). Justification has four elements: 1) infusion of grace; 2) movement of the free will towards God; 3) the act of the free will against sin; 4) remission of sins.

This book is magnificent.  The prose reads like a novel.

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Schaff on the Sacramental System

From History of the Christian Church, vol. 5: The Middle Ages 1049-1294.  These are my notes.  I am simply reporting what Schaff reported, though I think he is accurate.

Not all sacred rites, or sacramentalia, are the Seven Sacraments (703).  All follow the Augustinian definition as “a visible sign of invisible grace.”  There is a virtue inherent in the sacraments.  They confer and confirm grace (continere et conferre gratiam).

God is the original cause of grace.  The sacraments, per Thomas, are the instrumental cause (705).

The Eucharist

The body of Christ is in the sacrament not quantitatively, but in substance.  Not in dimensions but by a power peculiar to the sacrament.  This is the doctrine of concomitance (717).

They argued that the whole Christ is in each of the elements, which justifies withdrawing the cup from the laity.

Penance and Indulgences

Penance deletes mortal sins committed after baptism (729).  It has four elements (contrititon, sorrow of the soul, which negative part is attrition), confession, satisfaction, and absolution.

An indulgence simply mitigates the works of satisfaction needed for an absolution (737).

Sin and Grace

The flesh is tainted, being conceived in concupiscence. It is both taint and guilt (749).

Grace: man needs prevenient grace “to beget in him the disposition to holiness” (753).

Justification has four elements: 1) infusion of grace; 2) movement of the free will towards God; 3) the act of the free will against sin; 4) remission of sins.

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Mediatorial Kingdom: A Tip for subordinationists

Subordination:  talk of Christ’s subordination referred to his mediatorial kingdom, when he handed it over to the Father (115).

Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.  Triunity of God.

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Gillespie on bowing down

George Gillespie’s English Popish Ceremonies, originally published in 1637; Reprinted in 1844. (Edinburgh: Robert Ogle and Oliver& Boyd), pg. 102-105,

“Sect. 17. The sixth and last argument whereby I prove the kneeling in question to be idolatry, is taken from the nature and kind of the worship wherein it is used. For the receiving of the sacrament being a mediate worship of God, wherein the elements come between God and us, in such sort that they belong to the substance of the worship (for without the elements, the sacrament is not a sacrament), and withal are susceptive of co-adoration, forasmuch as in the act of receiving, both our minds and our external senses are, and should be, fastened upon them; hereby we evince the idolatry of kneeling in the receiving. For in every mediate worship, wherein some creature is purposely set between God and us to have state in the same, it is idolatry to kneel before such a creature, whilst both our minds and senses are fastened upon it.

This is the heart of the problem. If a created entity mediates my worship of God, then in some sense it is divine.

Gillespie now addresses the claim that the people of God bowed down in the OT to God-appointed media.

Our opposites have talked many things together to infringe this argument. First, They allege the bowing of God’s people before the ark, the temple, the holy mountain, the altar, the bush, the cloud, the fire which came from heaven. Ans. 1. Where they have read that the people bowed before the altar of God, I know not. Bishop Lindsey indeed would prove from 2 Chron. vi. 12, 13, and Mich. vi. 6, that the people bowed before the altar and the offering. But the first of those places speaks nothing of kneeling before the altar, but only of kneeling before the congregation, that is, in the sight of the congregation. And if Solomon had then kneeled before the altar, yet the altar had been but occasionally and accidentally before him in his adoration; for to what end and use could he have purposely set the altar before him, whilst he was kneeling and praying? The place of Micah cannot prove that God’s people did kneel before the offerings at all (for it speaks only of bowing before God), far less, that they kneeled before them in the very act of offering, and that with their minds and senses fixed upon them, as we kneel in the very act of receiving the sacrament, and that at that instant when our minds and senses are fastened upon the signs, that we may discern the things signified by them, for the exercising of our hearts in a thankful meditation upon the Lord’s death. 2. As for the other examples here alleged, God was immediately present, in and with the ark, the temple, the holy mountain, the bush, the cloud, and the fire which came from heaven, speaking and manifesting himself to his people by his own immediate voice, and miraculous extraordinary presence; so that worshipping before these things had the same reason which makes the twenty-four elders in heaven worship before the throne, Rev. iv. 10; for in these things God did immediately manifest his presence as well as in heaven. Though there be a difference in the degrees of the immediate manifestation of his presence in earth and in heaven, yet magis et minus non variant speciem. Now God is present in the sacrament, not extraordinarily, but in the way of an ordinary dispensation, not immediately, but mediately. They must therefore allege some commendable examples of such a kneeling as we dispute about, in a mediate and ordinary worship, else they say nothing to the point.

I think Gillespie could have simplified the argument.  Did God give a promise he would be immediately present in the sacrament or icon today?  No, he didn’t.

Sect. 18. Yet to no better purpose they tell us, that when God spake, Abraham fell on his face; and when the fire came down at Elijah’s prayer, the people fell on their faces. What is this to the purpose? And how shall kneeling in a mediate and ordinary worship be warranted by kneeling in the hearing of God’s own immediate voice, or in seeing the miraculous signs of his extraordinary presence. Howbeit it cannot be proved, neither, that the people fell on their faces in the very act of seeing the fire fall (when their eyes and their minds were fastened upon it), but that after they had seen the miracle wrought, they so considered of it as to fall down and worship God….

Ans. Though a penitentiary kneel to God purposely in the presence and sight of the congregation, that he may make known to them his repentance for the sin whereby he hath scandalised them, yet is the confessing of his sin to God, kneeling there upon his knees, an immediate worship, neither doth the congregation come betwixt him and God, as belonging to the substance of this worship, for he kneeleth to God as well, and maketh confession of his sin, when the congregation is not before him. But I suppose our kneelers themselves will confess, that the elements come so betwixt God and them when they kneel, that they belong to the essence of the worship in hand, and that they would not, nor could not, worship the flesh and blood of Christ in the sacrament, if the elements were not before them….

In the fourth place, we read that the disciples fell on their faces when they heard God’s own immediate voice out of the cloud. What maketh this for falling down to worship at the hearing of the word preached by men? How long shall our opposites not distinguish betwixt mediate and immediate worship?…Sect. 20. But tho kneelers would yet make more ado to us, and be still stirring if they can do no more. Wherefore one of our doctors objecteth,1 that we lift up our eyes and our hands to heaven, and worship God, yet we do not worship the heaven ; that a man going to bed, prayeth before his bed ; that David offered the sacrifices of thanksgiving, in the presence of all the people, sal. cxvi; that Paul, having taken bread, gave thanks before all them who were in the ship, Acts xxvii. 36; that the Israelites worshipped before Moses and Aaron, Exod. iv. 31. Hereupon another doctor, harping upon the same string, tells us,a that when we kneel in the act of receiving the sacrament, ” we kneel no more to bread than to the pulpit when we join our prayers with the minister’s.” *********Oh, unworthy instances, and reproachful to doctors ! All these things were and are accidentally present to the worshippers, and not purposely before them************, nor respected as having a religious state in the worship. What ? Do we worship before the bread in the sacrament, even as before a pulpit, a bed, &c. ? Nay, graduate men should understand better what they speak of.” (pg.105)

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Our Covenant Heritage: The Covenanters struggle for unity

Moore, Edwin Nisbet.  Mentor Publishing. 2000.

Nisbet Moore sets the stage with a brief of review of the First and Second Reformations in Scotland. Moore flies through the events of the English Civil War and the accession of the pervert Charles II. Soon the stage is set for the Ejection of 1662 and the coming bloodbath by the Prelates upon the Presbyterians.

This is how Moore segues into the story of his ancestors, John and James Nisbet, and how they didn’t submit to tyrannical government. And while that narrative is quite moving, this means Moore downplays, perhaps unintenionally, heroes like Richard Cameron. While the narrative is scanty in parts, he does outline the events quite well and the reader has a handy reference for battles like Pentland, Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge.

The next part introduces the Rise of the Society People.  Here the reader is advised to see what happens to the best of people without a stable church government.  Of course, the Presbyterians were being butchered and so they had little choice.  We will see Alexander Shields’ solving of the puzzle below. This also functions as Moore’s annotations upon the memoir of James Nisbet.

The Covenant: What is it?

Moore argues that a Covenanter isn’t immediately someone who holds to the Solemn League or the disowning of the debauchee Charles II.  Rather, a Covenanter is first of all one whose life is anchored in the Covenant of Redemption and its manifestation in the covenant of grace.  Moore relies on the sermons of John Nevay.

His treatment on the Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace is fairly standard (Moore 195ff). He notes that the parties in the Covenant of Redemption–Father and Son–are different from those in the Covenant of Grace (200). John Nevay writes, “Christ is a testator in the coveanant, [therefore] there must be a party in the covenant, to which the legacy which he does bequeath them by his death is left” (quoted in Moore 201).

The Covenanters also pointed to the conditions in the Covenant of Grace, albeit that condition is faith (205).  Nevay offers six proofs for conditionality on p. 206.  Although this faith-as-instrument is not a meritorious work, the benefits of the covenant are suspended until faith is performed (209).

Lessons for Today

The Revolution Settlement of 1690, while stopping the bloodshed and driving the papists out, brought new problems:  should the Society People join the Scottish Church or continue in (self-imposed) exile?  Alexander Shields, anticipating and rebutting proto-Steelite arguments, asserts joining quite forcefully (269-282):

(1) We should seek union unless fundamentals are at stake.  We withdraw, for example, from the Indulged Ministers, when the nature of the church is a “broken state.”  That no longer applies in the Settlement.

(2) Differences in judgment and practice are not grounds for separation, even if they guilty do not admit error.  Hannah continued to worship despite the error of Eli’s sons.

(3) Confession of Sin is essential to communion with God, but not to fellowship with believers (273).

(4) While we should withdraw from false doctrine–prelacy, popery, Arminianism, tyranny–the Settlement ministers, no matter how compromised they had been, were also against these errors (if only in principle).

Moore’s book ends with an application of modern Covenanting principles (magistrate’s upholding both tables, etc).  Moore writes warm stories of the Covenanters’ martyrdoms, and the passages by James Nisbet are especially moving.  While Moore skillfully handles issues of the covenant, he noted that he would address the Bostonian rejection of the Covenant of Redemption.  He never did.  Aside from that, a fantastic read.

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John Owen and English Spirituality (Gribben)

by Crawford Gribben.

Crawford Gribben suggests, perhaps ironically, that John Owen’s life is shaped around a series of “defeats.” The major moments and triumphs of Owen’s life appear to have been frustrated: the godly republic, the vision of a godly university, and the failure of Independency.   Although this text is part of Oxford’s series on historical theology, is weighted more towards biography than to theology, though Gribben is capable of skillfully surveying Owen’s theological developments.  

Gribben writes: ““Owen looked back on a life of ‘service and duty,’ in which religious faith had been pitted against political doubt, and in which every success had been undone in defeat” (Gribben 262). Gribben gives considerable detail to Owen’s life in the Cromwellian era, both as a chaplain for the Irish invasion and as a courtier under Cromwell’s reign.  On Gribben’s reading Owen isn’t necessarily opposed to Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland, merely grieved at some of the (inevitable?) excesses of a shock-and-awe campaign.

What is even more shocking, though, is Owen’s hostility to Presbyterianism. He fully supported Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland (Granted, the Presbyterian’s decision to back the debauched pervert Charles II is fairly high on the stupidity list). Owen’s specific criticism of Scotland should be seen in the larger context of “exporting England’s revolution” (cited in Gribben 106). 

Much of Owen’s hostility to Scottish Presbyterianism owes to the latter’s view of a “National Religion.” He minces no words. “An unjust usurper had taken possession of this house, and kept it in bondage; —Satan had seized on it, and brought it, through the wrath of God, under his power” (Owen 8:298). 

The rest of Gribben’s narrative matches conventional accounts of Owen’s life.  Now to the theology.  One of the criticisms of the Goold edition of Owen’s works is that they are arranged topically rather than chronologically.  For example, “A Display of Arminianism,” one of Owen’s earliest works, is in the same volume as Death of Death.  

This is a fine volume that deals with many nuances of Owen’s life in a judicial and sensitive manner.  Gribben, perhaps unlike his topic, writes with an easy and engaging prose style.

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Still here

I got bogged down in reading.  Books I was supposed to finish got put on hold since the Library ILL system came with my other requests, which is good, I suppose.

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Herman Witsius on King William III and the Battle of the Boyne

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Herman Witsius

The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Witsius gave the following praise to King William III for his role at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690:

Surely I shall never forget that day on which the river Boyne in Ireland had like to be distinguished by your fall, though, by the blessing of God, it was ennobled by your victory; for while, according to your wonted attention and care, you went to a nearer view of the enemy’s camp, a cannon ball, leveled at your person, happened to graze your shoulder; a wound, which gave matter of great joy to your enemies, of apprehension to your own people, than of real harm to yourself; a wound, which taught us you was a man, but a man above the common rank of mankind, a man dear to heaven; a wound, in the fine, which, however great, prevented not your performing all the…

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Review of Zwingli and Bullinger

Bromiley, G. W. ed.  Zwingli and Bullinger.

Zwingli is kind of like the definition of a classic. You think you know what he teaches, but you haven’t read him. He is remarkably clear (though not always profound). He excels at a negative critique but his positive construction is somewhat wanting. Bullinger is important because he provides a link between Continental and English Reformations.

On the Clarity of the Word of God

“Now, if we have found that the inward man is as stated, and that it delights in the law of God because it is created in the divine image in order to have fellowship with him, it follows necessarily that there is no law or word which will give greater delight to the inward man than the Word of God” (67).

He gives an interesting argument, though I think it needs to be modified. His preceding discourse sought to establish that God’s image is found more closely in man’s soul than body (and here he largely follows Augustine’s view). Zwingli does not see current, fallen man as twisted and depraved beyond rational hope. Man is a fallen sinner, to be sure, but sin has not so marred man’s constitution to make rational discourse impossible.

Why Have a Middle Man?

Zwingli gives a very penetrating and cogent response to those who say we can only know the Scriptures as the magisterium (or its like synonym) interprets them for us.   The problem, Zwingli notes, (and this is far more aggravated today with the myriad of exclusivist communions like RCC, EO, True Orthodox, Coptic, Nestorian, etc; asking which “true church” left the “true church” first is akin to asking which siamese twin left first after the surgery.  I well remember my own frustration.  I kept asking God, “Show me the true path!  Reveal which communion has the proper truth for me so I can know the truth.”  I long suspected something was wrong with that, but Zwingli exposed the irony:

“You fool, you go to God simply that he may distinguish between men, and you do not ask him to show you that way of salvation which is pleasing to him and which he himself regards  as sure and certain.  Note that you are merely asking God to confirm something which men have told you.  But why do you not say:  Oh God, they all disagree amongst themselves, but you are the only, unconcealed Good; show me the way of salvation” (84).  

Baptism and Covenant

Interesting from an historical point of view. We see the opening moves for infant baptism that later Reformed thinkers would build on. Water Baptism is given to those who do not have faith (135). Zwingli employs the language of covenant much stronger than medieval defenses of infant baptism did.

Lord’s Supper

We like Zwingli’s negative critique. However, we go with Calvin on what the Lord’s Supper actually *does.* For Zwingli a sacrament is a sign of a holy thing (188). Zwingli then gives a long linguistic account of what ‘est’ means.

Conclusion

Much of Zwingli is better than I expected, yet much remains short. Zwingli correctly links the Lord’s Supper to the Ascension and Sessional rule of Christ. That’s why Christ isn’t present in the body. Yet in some real sense isn’t Christ present with us in the Supper? Yes, but how? Zwingli says he is present by his divine nature, which is everywhere. Well, that’s true, but is it not better to say with Calvin that we are brought near to Christ by the Spirit?

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