Updated exhaustion

This is a stream of consciousness post, sort of.  I do have several projects on continental philosophy I would like to do.  Work is too stressful and I fear my health came close to breaking several times this year (all courtesy of the Dept of Justice).  I do plan to keep updating my blog.  If I don’t respond to a comment right away, I haven’t ignored it.  I’m just too tired at the moment.

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On Wilson’s faux-repentance

Doug Wilson says he dropped the label of Federal Vision.  What those giddy for church unity fail to see is he maintains he is keeping the content.  I suggested he should resign from the ministry and join a church body that holds him accountable.  Repentance in the abstract isn’t real.

The problem is that the CREC can’t hold people accountable.  As Butler and Harris note,

The McPresbytery may

by two-thirds majority vote and pending judicial process, censure a member church or a CREC officer. A censure under this provision does not affect a member church’s voting rights or appeal rights in the broader assemblies. (IV.A.2.n)

I thought the two-thirds majority vote would be the result of judicial process, not “pending” on it (and what pray tell is the judicial process that it pends upon?).

Worse yet, the “Presiding Minister” of a McPresbytery or a McGeneral Assembly can censure another minister without process, provided only he get approval from “two other Ministers”!

Additionally, prior to a Minister censuring a CREC church or officer he must receive approval from two other Ministers. (IV.C.9.c)

If the bulk of the constitution is congregational, this provision is episcopalian on steroids. In a true presbyterian constitution, censures are the result of a trial, in which the cognizant court sits as judges.

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You are what you love (review)

What we love and desire forms the space for what we know. And so James K. A. Smith reads Augustine’s key phrases in the Confessions. Smith writes: ““In some sense, love is a condition for knowledge” (Smith 7). I love in order to know. As humans we are oriented towards something.

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

Thus, a teleological existence. Smith and Augustine call attention to Man’s “heart.” It is our subconscious orientation to the world (8). Our heart is always “longing” for something, some ultimate end.

Before he can clinch his argument, Smith calls attention to the virtues. “They are character traits that become woven into who you are so that you are the kind of person who is inclined to be” x, y, z (16), “a disposition that inclines us to achieve the good for which we are made” (89). They are “thick realities tethered to particular communities governed by a particular Story” (159-160).

And if our habits are often formed pre-consciously, then they need radical re-training, hence liturgy. Liturgy for Smith isn’t necessarily smells and bells (or even church-related at all). Rather, “a shorthand term for those rituals that are loaded with an ultimate Story about who we are and what we’re for” (46). A liturgy could be the Book of Common Prayer or it could be a trip to the shopping mall.

Smith ends with a wonderful analysis of the megachurch movement and reasonable proposals to end it without necessarily taking a side in the “worship wars.”


Smith rarely misses an opportunity to attack “intellectualism,” but with the exception of Descartes, we aren’t sure exactly who is guilty of this. He says “new information doesn’t change a deformation” (83), but do we not see the converse in American universities, where the professor speaks of Marxism, Darwinism, and gender fluidity?

In fact, it’s almost as if he attacks “the life of the mind” and disciplines like Scripture memorization are brushed aside (see p.139, 142). And while I heartily agree with his critique of the “seeker-sensitive movement,” no one would ever criticize seeker-sensitive churches for being overly intellectual (or intellectual at all). And I can only conclude by quoting Colossians 3:10 in that we are “restored unto knowledge.”

The Good

Smith is a talented writer and it shows. While there is a lot of repetition from his earlier works, his argument is focused. His take on virtue is quite good and his model for pedagogy bears promise. In fact, as a teacher I had been using his take on pedagogy (in short, we are in loco parentis).

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Wyclif: Dominion by Grace

This was an old seminary paper I wrote.  I was young and idealistic.  I stand by most of what I wrote, though I wish I had spent more time with John Wyclif (and I wish RTS Jackson was an institution that took scholarship seriously and sought to develop it).

Scholarship has advanced a good bit on Wyclif since I wrote this (though many of his most important writings are still in Latin).   My main problem in this essay is that I tried to read Wyclif through the lens of post-theonomy debates, rather than letting him set his own views.

What are one’s ethical duties between church and state? How does one’s citizenship affect his witness against the world? Augustine wrote his monumental tome City of God in response to the Fall of Rome. It was the result of a lifetime of scriptural wisdom in reflection on the current ethical and political crisis. Western culture, however, never had a consistent interpretation and application of Augustine’s vision. Did the worldview of The City of God necessarily lead to “triumphalism” or did it encourage Christians to political inactivism? [Modern Day Reflection:  This is mostly true, and scholars are divided on Augustine on this point, but this really wasn’t Wyclif’s main point]

Even then, the answer seemed none too clear. While one could consistently choose either triumphalism or monasticism, ethical problems would soon follow. The ethical duties seemed clear when Augustine wrote The City of God. Barbarians sacked the cultural center of the world and fingers were pointed at the Christians. “The world seemed to at its foundations, and the pagans knew the answer! In their eyes, the catastrophe was the recompsense for abandoning the old guardian divinities and the traditional religion; the new Christian God of the empire had obviously proved impotent, and had failed” (von Campenhausen, p.241). Although Augustine convincingly refuted his critics, and a consistent political theology was established, Christendom was troubled with new tensions between politics and theology.

Medieval thought saw society as an indissoluble unit under the suzerainty of God’s visible and manifest authority. According to the ruling ecclesiastical interpretation of the later Middle Ages, the church was not only the continuation and extension of Christ’s authority upon earth, but the bearer of His authority and kingship over all things in the universe. According to the familiar words of Boniface’s Bull “Unam Sanctam,” 1302:

We learn from the words of the Gospel that in this Church and in her power are two swords, the spiritual and the temporal…Both are in the power of the Church,’ the spiritual sword and the material. But the latter is to be used for the Church, the former by her; the former by the priest, the latter by kings and captains but at the will and by the permission of the priest…The one sword, then, should be under the other, and temporal authority subject to spiritual…Thus, concerning the Church and her power, is the prophecy of Jeremiah fulfilled, ‘See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms,’ etc. (Jer. 1:19). If, therefore, the earthly power err, it shall be judged by the spiritual power; and if a lesser power err, it shall be judged by a greater. But if the supreme power err, it can only be judged by God, not by man; for the testimony of the apostle is ‘The spiritual man judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man’ (I Cor. 2:15)” (Bettenson, p. 159ff).

 Some of Christendom’s doctrines were an offense to plain interpretations of the Bible and to a rational mind. John Wycliffe’s teaching called into question the doctrine of transubstantiation. But worldviews do not exist in a vacuum. If Christendom’s doctrines fall, does not that suggest a defect in the social order itself? Whether he was conscious of it or not, John Wycliffe brought to the forefront what Augustine had raised: the relation of church to state. Wycliffe’s work would focus around several issues in which appeal to a king is possible. Should Wycliffe (and his followers) appeal to the State to solve ecclesiastical turmoil, particularly the Eucharist? [That is true regarding Christendom, and yes, Wyclif did address those points, but he did so in the theme of “Evangelical Lordship,” without which his argument doesn’t make any sense]


John Wycliffe was born in the early 1320s in Wyclif, Yorkshire, in England. He emerged from relative obscurity after 1366 in response to Urban V’s demand for payment of tribute promised previously by King John. John Wycliffe began his career supporting the Crown’ right to tax the church, including entering sanctuaries to ferret out crown debtors. Wycliffe’s metaphysic stood in the realist tradition and was a response to the nominalism of William of Occam. This most likely led to his denial of transubstantiation. 

William of Occam (1285-1347) was a proponent of the via moderna school of nominalism. Nominalism denied universals in favor of particulars (McGrath, 35). Occam also held to the voluntarist position, asserting the primacy of the will over the intellect. Thomas Bradwardine, the Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1349) set the intellectual and theological groundwork for John Wycliffe. Urban V (1362-1370) was the pope for the beginning of Wycliffe’s ministry. He was the sixth of the Avingon popes. [Bradwardine himself was unique.  Something of a voluntarist yet not an Occamist and yet still, a precursor to Wyclif]

There were other incidents that affected the relationship between church and state. The Donation of Constantine was a document forged in the 8th century in defense of papal interests. As Jaroslav Pelikan notes, “The Donation did not prove that what the emperor had was originally the property of the Pope; it did prove that the temporal possessions did not eo ipso corrupt the holiness of the church, and that the Pope should share his wealth with the church” (Pelikan, p. 91).


There were people in England who were deeply concerned with the corruption of the church. Many scholars were declaring that the seat of corruption lay in Rome. There was an externalism in religion. Man could live the most dissolute life yet participate regularly in the sacraments, and this man was considered a good Christian. As long as one did not break the rules, what one believed, and what one’s moral character was made no difference. England was emerging from the Middle Ages as a distinctive nation. Wycliffe labored in England in the midst of religious and political turmoil, not to mention the “Black Plague.”

The University system became a medieval novelty wherein the power of the church was again compromised. One of the persistent problems of medieval life was the relationship of church and state. It was seen that it was the claim of the Roman see that the Church was beyond the reach of secular law and subject only to its own authority. The medieval university, from which Wycliffe came, made a similar claim, positing autonomy from both church and state.

John Wycliffe was born around 1330. He began his education at Oxford while still young. Between 1356 and 1360 Wycliffe was elected Master of Balliol. Minor details of scholarship would occupy him in the next decade. He received a commission in service to the crown in the 1370s. It was in this time period that he wrote his works on Divine and Civil Dominion. He landed himself into some minor political troubles in the late 1370s, including an in-house arrest. He remained quiet until 1381.

While any number of incidents in Wycliffe’s life or in the lives of those who ministered with him highlight the tension between the church and the larger world, Wycliffe’s attack on the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation is an example of crack’s in the papacy’s armor. Wycliffe set forth 12 theses demonstrating the inadequacy of the medieval doctrine. The result from the church was understandable. Historian Phillip Schaff writes,

For the first time since the promulgation of the doctrine of transubstantiation by the Fourth Lateran council was it seriously called into question by a theological expert. It was a case of Athanasius standing alone. The mendicants waxed violent…Without mentioning Wyclif by name the judges condemned as pestiferous the assertions that the bread and wine remain after consecration, and that Christ’s body is present only figuratively or tropically in the Eucharist” (Schaff, p. 320).

Wycliffe was unimpressed with the rebuttals and went on preaching and teaching similar doctrines. The head of the university summoned a council to condemn Wycliffe and threatened any who supported him. Wycliffe held other views on church matters that were no less controversial. He believed, for one, that good government is seen when a king rules in accordance with God’s commands. This requires, controversially, the renunciation of political dominion by the church. Moral philosopher Oliver O’Donovan notes on Wycliffe’s political theology,

Inasmuch as the de facto ecclesiastical authorities, enjoying both civil wealth and jurisdiction, live in manifest contravention of God’s will, it belongs to the righteous king, ruling by grace, to promulgate and enforce God’s law by depriving corrupt and avaricious clergy of their property and forcing the whole estate to live on freely donated tithes and offerings” (O’Donovan, 484).

Such was the ideal, but the sword cuts both ways. This would be a sign of true justice in the hands of a righteous king. It would be something quite different in the hands of a tyrant or a Roman puppet.

Soon after this episode an event happened that on first glance seemed to support the rights and interests of the common man over the wealthy church. It would seem at the outset Wycliffe would be sympathetic to the movement. The peasants of the land revolted due to the strain of living placed on them. Wycliffe, however, appeared uninterested in the struggle, except that church lands should be given to the wealthy. While Wycliffe did not support the rebels, he was blamed for their actions. The charges cannot be substantiated, given Wycliffe’s earlier strong royalism.

One tempest seemed to follow another. Wycliffe’s enemy Courtenay, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called an assembly of ecclesiastical nobles. He was backed by Pope Gregory XI. Gregory called for the condemnation and investigation of Wycliffe’s teachings and threatened the University if they did not comply (Kelly, p. 226). Wycliffe’s challenge to transubstantiation and his silence in the Peasant’s Revolt provided ammunition for his enemies. On 21 May an earthquake occurred and Courtenay interpreted it as a sign that God was purging the land of false doctrines. Of the 24 propositions attributed to Wycliffe without mentioning his name, ten were declared heretical and fourteen erroneous. What exactly did Wycliffe teach?

What was in the Eucharist was ‘the body of Christ in the nature of the bread, since what is there is the nature of the bread and not the nature of the body of Christ, as it is in heaven…’ As long as Wycliffe did not insist on any specific theory of the presence, but spoke of it being ‘in some manner or other (quodammodo).’ He did insist that the words of consecration, though figurative, were unique, not merely one blessing among others. Thus the body and the blood were in the Sacrament ‘truly and really, but figuratively’ or ‘spiritually and really’ or ‘in a sign but not without being there really and truly’” (Pelikan, p. 58).

There had been recent debate on whether metaphysics or biblicism gave the first impetus to this opinion, the issue that led to his final breach with the status quo.

To fully prosecute Wycliffe, Courtenay needed the help of the State. He needed the King’s approval. Here a disjunct appears with the reality of Wycliffe’s views on the State’s authority over a corrupt church and Wycliffe himself being persecuted by a corrupt church via the arm of the State. Should Wycliffe remain consistent with his principles even when they are being wrongly applied?

Wycliffe’s quarrel with the Papacy centered on the nature of obedience to higher powers and the morality of those to whom the Christian/citizen is to obey. Wycliffe challenged the Pope’s authority on the grounds that the Pope represented Christ, and Christ was poor; therefore the Pope ought to be poor. Secondly, when church and the Bible conflict, we must obey the Bible. Thirdly, when conscience and human authority conflict, one ought to follow conscience.

Wycliffe predicated his attack on the Papacy from his doctrine of the church. The Pope’s power of excommunication and threat faded in the light of God determining who is in the church. Wycliffe modified Augustine’s ecclesiology. The church was the congregation of the predestined by God and not an institution governed by the Pope (p. 32). The church and its members are called to be witnesses to the supernatural Lord, God incarnate, and to His redemption, power, victory and life. The church is a convocation, a group called together by a higher power—God. When Wycliffe wrote of his English Bible that “This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” his statement attracted no attention insofar as his emphasis on the centrality of Biblical law was concerned. That law should be God’s law was held by all; Wycliffe’s departure from accepted opinion was that the people themselves should not only read and know that law but also should in some sense govern as well as be governed by it. The infrastructure for a Christian re-orientation of society was already established-the just rule of a King under God. Ideally this was the case. In practice, as Wycliffe’s life demonstrates, this was not necessarily the case. Still, the question remained, “Can a King, even one who is not a Christian, protect the church from a corrupt hierarchy of the Church?”

Wycliffe spent the last two years of his life in the parish ministry unhindered by ecclesiastical or political squabbles. In 1382 he suffered his first stroke and was partly paralyzed. It was for this reason he was unable to answer a citation to Rome. He died soon after on December 31, 1384. Having never been excommunicated he was buried in consecrated ground but his bones were dug up in 1482 by order of the Council of Constance, burnt, and thrown into the river.


How should man live with the knowledge of the Bible’s claims on one hand, and respect for the social order on the other hand? It seemed too simple to simply build the Kingdom of God on earth. That had been fraught with problems in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, “Christendom” did further the Church and protect the those who sought to worship God. Constantine established the “Christian magistrate,” so it would seem. New preachers on the scene–John Wycliffe and others–suggested the renewing of the office of the magistrate even further: if the magistrate would heed the claims of Christ he could do much to renew the church. But this raises problems: true, if the magistrate is a devout Christian he could thoroughly pursue justice in the land. But if he were Christian in name only, then he could use his office as a club to bludgeon the church. In other words, such a move—a Christian renewal of the state for the sake of the church—while having beneficent effects in the short run, could nominalise Christianity in the realm. Wycliffe’s challenging of the church later to be backed by the state set a dangerous precedent, but one that had to be taken seriously.


The issue that John Wycliffe faced goes beyond Augustine to Constantine. What are the ramifications of a “Christian state?” Dangers appear in either direction. While persecution did in some cases allow the church to flourish, is persecution necessarily the norm? Does not persecution eradicate some communities? Indeed, if a godly ruler passed just laws, would not this further the temporal prosperity of a nation while simultaneously allowing the church to preach the gospel unhindered? On the other hand, would a Christian ruler nominalise Chrisitanity and make it acceptable while robbing it of its prophetic force? Was not the Medieval Church in large measure an example of this?

But many in the early church were witnessing to the Lordship of Christ. They went to their deaths for saying that Christ, not Caesar is Lord. And to draw an ethical implication from this: those who held power became subject to the rule of Christ. The martyr church had as its goal the renewal and reorientation of the Empire under now Christ. As O’Donovan said, Christendom meant not “the church seizing alien power, but alien power becoming attentive to the Church” (Oliver O’Donovan, p. 195)

Bettenson, Henry. Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1943.

Fountain, David. John Wycliffe: The Dawn of the Reformation. Southampton, UK: Mayflower Christian Books, 1984.

Kelly, J.N.D. The Oxford Dictionary of the Popes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology: An Introduction. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Books, 1994.

O’Donovan, Oliver. Desire of Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

O’Donovan, Oliver and Joan. From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: The Reformation of the Church and Dogma vol 4. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Schaff, Phillip. History of the Christian Church vol 6. . Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980


Szarmach, Paul. ed. “John Wyclif,” Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1998, 821-822.

von Campenhausen, Hans. The Fathers of the Church. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.


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Notes on Wyclif from O’Donovan.

A running series of notes I’ve made on John Wyclif over the past decade, with help from Oliver O’Donovan.

From his talk “The Human Person, Economics, and Catholic Social Thought”

On the term “communication.”

His view of lordship does not depend on property.  Wyclif sees property as “lordship on unequal terms.”  

God exercises his Lordship by “communication,” lending (not giving away, since God cannot alienate himself), by giving fellowship (communication) to human beings. God shares creation as a whole with mankind as a whole.

What is man’s response to this communication?  For Wyclif, every righteous man is lord of the whole world, and in receiving anything we receive the whole world with it.  Communicating the good of creation with each other, we discover a radical equality in our creaturely relation to God’s communication.

Summed up in this formula:  This mine is ours.

From Irenaeus to Grotius (with Joan Lockwood O’Donovan)

Evangelical lordship is the “natural, nonproprietary use of necessary things universally open to human beings” (484).  Following Augustine, Wyclif will argue that a just lordship of earthly goods involves a rightly-ordered love towards them, which depends on a true knowledge of them available only in Christ (485; cf. Augustine City of God, BK 19).  

Does this mean that we can overthrow tyrants since they don’t have a Christological understanding of rightly ordered loves, and hence no just lordship?  Not so fast, Wyclif would say, it is true they do not have just lordship, but we as those having true dominion in Christ bear witness that they have a “defective use of these goods” (Wyclif, 494). Tyrants posses “an unformed power” (Wyclif 510) but not true lordship.  Rather, it is the believer who has the epistemological authority to judge the failures of church and state  (O’Donovan 483ff).  

Communication and Sharing

“God communicates them (spiritual gifts) to mankind with no alienation or impoverishment to himself the giver” (Divine Lordship, bk. 3 ch. 1. 70c).  

Outline from Bonds of Imperfection eds O’Donovan and O’Donovan (Eerdmans).

The Proprietary Subject and the Crisis of Liberal Rights

Key point:  The possession of rights is always proprietorship; all natural rights (for the West) originate in property rights (Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, 75).   This originated with Pope John XXIII (1329 AD).  He saw man as created with full lordship and ownership as possession (dominum).  His point was to discredit Fransiscan theologians who insisted on radical poverty.

This is the rights culture that would spring full-bloom in the modern world.  The problem it created was how to have community if the above take on rights is true.

Patristic Foundations of Non-Proprietary Community

The fathers thought men should share as an imitation of God’s sharing his goodness with us.

Augustine’s Achievement
Augustine distinguished between two objective rights:  (a) divine right, by which all things belong to the righteous, and (b) human right, in which is the jurisdiction of earthly kings (79, quoting Epistle 93).


  • Justice for Augustine is a rightly-ordered love seen in the body politic, which would mean men loving the highest and truest good, God, for God’s sake.
  • Therefore, the bonum commune is a sharing in a rightly-ordered love (City of God, BK 19.21).
  • Because this sharing is spiritual, it is common and inclusive.  Thus we have a republic in the truest sense of the word:  res publica, public things.
  • Conversely, a disordered love in the soul is the privatization of the good.
  • Therefore, a disordered love will see the destruction of community.
O’Donovan comments,
It is the regulated interaction of private spheres of degenerate freedom, secured by the protection of property and enhanced by the provision of material benefits at the hands of unscrupulous tyrants (80).
Fransiscan Poverty: The Evangelical Theology of Non-Possession
  • Renouncing property right means that the viator is not a self-possessor, but rather is possessed by Christ and receives his powers (85).
Wyclif’s Ecclesiological Revolution
Irony: Wyclif’s reform program actually owed a great deal to Pope John XXIII’s reflections.
  • Non-proprietary posession belonged not only to Adam’s original state, but all the way forward to the episcopolate today: this should be seen in the church militant (88).
  • Divine lordship (dominum):  per Wyclif’s predecessor, Fitzralph, God is the primary possessor and enjoyer of creation.  Therefore, his giving of creation to Adam is a communication and sharing of himself, rather than a transfer of Lordship (89).
  • For the church, for Wyclif, this is God’s gift of himself as the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13).
  • Therefore, all of the “justified,” who coexist with Christ’s love, share (communicant) in this lordship directly from Christ.
  • Therefore, just dominion involves rightly-ordered love towards these communicable goods, which in turn depends on true knowledge of them available in Christ.
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Review: Saeculum

Markus, R. A. Saeculum.

Markus offers a reading of Augustine’s deconstruction of previous metanarratives. Markus gives a particularly lucid account of key terminology and moves Augustine made. And I think he is generally correct in his conclusions, though his reading has been challenged by recent Augustinian scholars.

Problem to be faced: Did the “fading night” of the Roman Empire necessarily mean a golden time for Christians? Augustine oscillated on this point. By the end of his life he held a more realistic, sober view. Not only did he make a distinction between pre-Christian time and tempora Christiana, against the Donatists he could distinguish the apostles’ time and the current age (which allowed for the use of the sword in religious matters).

Two Cities (and the time between)

“The two cities are formally defined either in terms of the ultimate loyalties of their members, or of their members’ standing in the sight of God” (59). But Markus hints at a perhaps more radical division: a division of two loves (de Civ. Dei. 14.28). This is a more accurate division and, as Markus notes, forbids any strict identification of a city with an institution (60). This has to be the conclusion if we hold that “membership of the cities is mutually exclusive.” city = citizens, allegiances to values they set before themselves (concors hominem multitudo; Ep. 155.3.9). A city is a “multitude of men linked by a social bond” (Civ. Dei. 15.8).

“Peace” is the realm where the two cities overlap. Yet it is divided into earthly and heavenly peace. The earthly peace is of common concern to all (Markus 69). Augustine’s definition of a res publica allows for this overlap. “The people in the earthly city agree in valuing certain things. They need not agree on the scale of value.”

Ordinata est Res Publica

Markus’s running thesis is that Augustine modified his view on “order” as the years went on. He became disenchanted with the possibility of a good Christian state. The early Augustine held to a cosmic hierarchy and this would be seen in the state. But this was in tension with the biblical view that man was a peregrinus on earth.

saeculum: the historical and empirical interweaving of the two cities (100ff).
a) The two cities can agree in their intermediate principles.
b) This is his sharpest break with the Platonic traditon. The true polis is not a city, but the society of saints and angels.


Markus repeatedly refers to the “ills” of Constantinianism, but it isn’t always clear what he means by it. About the most specific he gets is the “Christianisiation of the empire” (35), but what does that actually mean? And why is it bad? I think he means by “Constantinian” something like Eusebius’s interpretation of Constantine (48ff). But this still begs several questions.

a) Does this mean that church history has undergone a total and official reversal because of Eusebius? That is quite a stretch.

b) Does it mean simply that the Empire is pro-Christian and anti-pagan? But this can’t be that bad. Should we rather hope for lions and stakes?

c) What I think Markus means is that the Empire (and it isn’t always clear whether he means the medieval Latin Church or the Greek East) now sees itself as a focal point of God’s history. If that’s what he means, then sure, Constantinianism is probably bad and points to Augustine for opposing it. But few pro-Constantinian scholars hold that position today.

On another front, it seems rather odd that by the end of Markus’s account, Augustine looks and sounds like a radical Barthian and anabaptist opposing the power structures (177-178)!

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Notes on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on grace

Obviously, this is not a full endorsement.

Can we know God without grace?

The act of the intellect depends upon God in two ways: it has its form by which it acts from God

Preparing the human will

The preparation of the will cannot take place without habitual grace.

Man incurs a triple loss by sinning: stain, corruption of natural good, and debt of punishment (ST 1-2, q. 109, art7).

Christ restores us in the mind but not entirely in the flesh (Thomas is working upon a faulty spirit-flesh dichotomy).

Grace is located in the essence of the soul (q. 110).

Cooperating with God (q. 111)

There is a twofold act in us: interior act of the will, which is moved by God, and the exterior act which is moved by us.

Miracles: q. 111 art. 4.  They happen today.  Thomas is most certainly (and rightly) a continuationist.


Right order in man’s act (ST 1-2, q. 113 art.1)

Infusion of grace: the logic is that God must change something in our soul for us to be right with him, since sin is a disordering of the soul.  “In the infusion of grace there is a certain transmutation of the soul” (ST 1-2, q. 113 art. 3).


It is the effect of cooperating grace (q. 114).

Merit exists on the grounds of God’s ordination (art 1).  

Man merits everlasting life condignly (art. 3).

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Outline Thomas Aquinas Treatise on Law

Question 90: Of the essence of law

  1. law is a rule and measure of acts
  2. The principal and object in practical matters is the last end, beatitude.

Question 91: Of the various kinds of law

  1. There is an eternal law. It is the divine Reason.
  2. Natural law, as a rule and measure, partakes in a greater rule and measure, the Eternal Law.
  3. Human law is practical reason.  Man has natural law by creation, but he does not have the particular determinations of individual cases
  4. The divine law is twofold, Old Law and New Law.

Question 92: Of the effects of Law

  1. Law does not make men good absolutely, but relatively.

Question 93: Of the eternal law

  1. The eternal law is the type of Divine wisdom.
  2. All laws, insofar as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law.

Question 94: Of the natural law

  1. There is an analogy between the precepts of natural law and the first principles of demonstrations of speculative reason.
  2. The natural law is unchangeable in its first principles, but changeable in its secondary principles, which are proximate conclusions.
  3. Sin blots out the law of nature in particular cases, but not universally.

Question 95: Of Human Law

  1. A thing is said to be just from being right according to the rule of reason.

Question 96: Of the power of human law:

  1. human laws should be proportionate to the common good.
  2. Human law isn’t intened to represes all vices.
  3. On unjust laws
    1. a law is unjust when it is contrary to the human good
      1. with respect to an end
      2. with respect to an author of the law
    2. contrary to the divine good.

Question 97: Of change in laws

  1. Even though human law participates in natural law (which is unchangeing), human law is still subject to change, because the mind of man is imperfect.
  2. Can custom be as strong as law? Well….kind of.  When a thing is done again and again, it proceeds from rational deliberation.
    1. Further, custom can act as a temporary check when human law fails.

Question 98: The Old Law

  1. The Old Law was good because it was in accordance with Divine reason
    1. It repressed concupiscience
    2. And other sins that were contrary to reason.
  2. The Old Law was given by angels
    1. All good things were given by angels.
    2. The Old Law represents an order, and angels mediate in that hierarchy.

Question 99: Of the precepts of the Old Law

  1. A precept implies a relation to an end. The OT law is one in respect of relation to the End, but many in respect in how things are ordered to that end.

Question 100: Of the precepts of the Moral Law

  1. all moral precepts belong to the law of nature.
  2. all moral precepts of the old law are reducible to the Decalogue.
    1. knowledge of which man has immediately from God.
    2. Aquinas is excluding general principles that are self-evident.
  3. No man can act virtuously unless he has the habit of virtue, thus the mode of virtue does not fall among the precepts.
  4. Aquinas allows for other moral precepts besides those in the Decalogue.
    1. Moral precepts derive their efficacy from reason.
    2. In this section Aquinas also explains the reasons why Catholics enumerate the Decalogue differently.
  5. Justification is the causing of justice (ST I-II, q.100. art.12)
    1. It exists in the habit and/or the act.
    2. Man is made just by becoming possessed of the habit of justice
      1. This is both acquired virtue and infused virtue.
      2. The latter is caused by God through his grace.  

Question 101–103: Of the Ceremonial Precepts in themselves

  1. Thomas spends an inordinate amount of time on ceremonial ordinances, showing once again that his Treatise on Law has little to do with natural law.
  2. Ceremonial precepts were instituted with a dual purpose: the proper worship of God and the foreshadowing of Christ.

Question 104: The Judicial Precepts

  1. In every law some precept derives its binding force from the dictate of reason itself.
  2. Judicial precepts do not merely concern actions at law, but also are directed towards the ordering of actions of one man to another.
  3. Aquinas approaches profound and even “modern” exegesis at points, noting that the “entire state of that people had to be prophetic and figurative” (ST I-II, q. 104. Art. 2)

Question 105: The reason for the judicial precepts (Thomas is addressing the charge that the OT law is faulty because it didn’t prescribe a monarchy).

  1. The best form of government is one where one is given power to preside over all, while others under him have governing power.
  2. Right ordering of a state: all should take some share in the government.
  3. Loans: the difference between is that a loan is in respect of goods transferred for the use of the person to whom they are transferred, while a deposit is for the benefit of the depositor (art. 2).

Question 106: Of the New Law, the Gospel

  1. The New Law is both written and unwritten.
  2. It contains things to dispose us to receive grace, and things actually pertaining to the use of that grace.

Question 107: The New Law Compared with the Old

  1. It is different from the Old in that it is ordered towards a different end.

Question 108: Of the things contained in the New Law

  1. Some things in the New Law prompt us to receive grace
  2. The grace of the Holy Ghost is an interior habit.  It inclines us to do rightly and those we do freely those things in keeping with that grace.
  3. Difference between commands and counsels
    1. Commands are word of God status
    2. Counsels is left open to us.


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I didn’t do the 10k kettlebell swings

I had known of T-Nation’s 10k kettlebell swings challenge for a few years now.  I decided to give it a try.  In short, you do 500 swings a day for 20 workouts over a one month period. I’m using a 24kg/53lb weight. The sets look like this

10 swings
15 Swings
25 swings
50 swings

That is one set.  Repeat 4 more times.

I’m a strong guy but I found out how weak I was on the first round of 50.  But I kept with it that day.

We won’t even talk about the soreness.  Day 2 I failed at 300 reps.  I had to ask myself, “What am I trying to accomplish with this regimen?”  Sure, you will get stronger (any proper use of kettlebells will make you qualitatively stronger.  Period.  Not Planet Fitness, not Zumba, but kettlebells and strength training).

How would I use this skill set, if it is such?  I couldn’t think of a good reason.  I am not a young athlete, nor do I play “explosive sports.”  On the flip side, I had been “strength training” for about 4 years.  This meant doing lots of chin ups, kettlebell regimens, deadlifts, presses, bent press (not bench press!), and the like.

I need strength to pick up trailers, flip John Deere riding mowers uphill, and the like.  That’s it.


(Though to be honest, I am not sure how the above is “functional” either).

Here is my doing a chin up with 100lbs strapped to my waist.


So instead of continuing with the 10k swings, I went back to my old regimen.  Those who are truly great in any field are the ones who routinely perfect the basics.

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McCormack on Thomas on Justification

From Bruce McCormack’s essay “What’s at Stake in the Current Debate?”

I do not intend this as a “refutation” of Thomas, nor is this McCormack’s larger goal in his essay.  Thomas is simply too powerful a thinker to be refuted in a 600 word blog post. But McCormack nicely highlights conceptual difficulties in Thomas’s account in particular, and various evangelical-catholic paradigms of “ontological healing” in general.

And to be fair, if one were given the option of choosing between a strong Thomism or the evangelical-catholic goofiness today, Thomas is the obvious choice.  But there are more choices.

(1) For Thomas grace is two things: the work of God upon the soul and the effect of that action.

Two things are considered in the soul: the essence of the soul and the work of its powers.  The form of the soul is intellectual in orientation

The Subsistence of the Soul

Thomas: Nothing acts so far as it is in act, and nothing acts except that whereby it is in act. The soul is the form of the thing.  The soul’s powers are its mind and will.

(2) Form is the act in which a thing has its being and subsistence.

For Aquinas justification, in short, will consist of reorienting the intellect back to God’s proper order.  It is important to keep in mind that the soul is a spiritual substance that is intellectual in character (and this isn’t unique to Aquinas.  This is roughly the historic Christian position).

(3) Grace finds its seat in the essence of the soul, not in the powers.

What metaphor does Aquinas use to explain the nature of this grace infused into the soul?  Light.  Light, however, suggests an intellectual range.  This would place grace somewhere else than the essence of the soul–some place like the intellectual powers of mind and will (87).

This doesn’t mean Thomas is wrong, of course, but it does highlight a conceptual confusion.


(4) Justification, for Thomas, is a movement from a state of injustice to a state of justice.

And for those who know their Thomas and Aristotle, this means

(4*) There must be a mover (God), which sets things in motion: the movement itself and the object of the movement.

In short, God moves all things (in justification) according to the proper mode of each.  It looks like this:

Infusion of justifying grace → a movement of free choice → forgiveness of sin

There is one big problem:  infant baptism (89). Infants are not capable of movements of free choice towards justifying grace, and it won’t work, pace Thomas, to speak of this as an exception, since Roman Catholicism practices infant baptism as the norm.

For most of Thomas’s account, justifying grace finds its “point of entry” on the level of the intellectual powers of the soul.  McCormack writes,

“In other words: there would be no need to locate the infusion of grace in the essence of the soul if it were not for the fact that the Church’s accepted practice was to baptize infants.  And that also means that Thomas’s tendency to understand justification as rooted in an ‘ontological healing’ of the soul, rather than in a more personal understanding of the operations of grace, is a function of the fact that the regeneration of the infant is the truly paradigmatic case where that infusion of grace which initiates justification is concerned (89).

Thomas’s project would be largely free from this confusion if, say, he were a Baptist and baptismal justification worked only with adults–but that isn’t the case.  And here is where Thomas will switch metaphors from “light” (which suggests intellectual illumination) to seeing grace as a quasi-substantial “thing.”

Thesis: The work of God in us was being made the basis of God’s forgiveness (90).

And this is what the Reformers rejected and what is at stake.  If imputation holds, then the hierarchical mediations of Rome are unnecessary.  And this is precisely what is glossed over in many “ecumenical” discussions.


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