Thanks to all you excellent commenters! I can’t always keep up.
I see my friend philosophy professor Harriet Baber has been on there asking some provocative questions like some kind of Socratic gadfly. I thought they deserved a post. The quotes here are from her comments.
WHAT pre-existed: the 2nd Person of the Trinity or Christ?
Orthodox / catholic-kosher answer: both. The 2nd person of the Trinity is assumed to be personally identical to (and so, identical to) the man Jesus.
What if I hold that the Trinitarian Person was pre-existent but became a human at some time in the late 1st century BC so that, in effect, Christ is a proper temporal part of the 2nd Person of the Trinity. Does this make me an adoptionist?
To all the non-philosophers out there; she is applying the recent metphysical doctrine of temporal parts here, thinking of, e.g. a self as extended across or spread out over time, rather than lasting (entire) though time. In current day metaphysicians’ lingo, people perdure rather than endure. So in this case the one Christ would be that whole four-dimensional, event-like thing, with the early part being the pre-human logos and the latter part being the human Jesus – but as I’m using the terms here (this is tricky – there are no standard terms here) the logos and Jesus would be temporal parts of the one Christ.
I don’t know, Harriet, whether or not this makes you an adoptionist; I suggest we lay aside the lamentable habit of theologians to immediately cram any theological theory into some old patristic category. I think it makes you non-catholic, though, because on this theory it is false that the logos is personally identical to the man Jesus. You may think it is good enough if both are temporal parts of one divine (and temporally extended) Christ, but you would have to argue that. And I think it is pretty clear that on catholic/creedal theology the man Jesus is supposed to be the same person as the pre-human, eternal logos. (Never mind that they have no coherent account of how that is so.)
Or what if I hold that Christ is an image of God, a representation such that I can point at him and say, “That’s God” in the way that I can point to a picture of Obama and say “that’s the President.”
This is indeed a theme in the NT – John 14:
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
That’s pretty thin, but it does I think license orthodox religious talk because there’s an ambiguity: talking about Jesus we can say that he didn’t exist before his conception or birth or somewhere in between; using Jesus as a referential device to pick out the 2nd Person of the Trinity we can say “this was begotten of the Father before all worlds,” so pre-existed.
I don’t follow you… are you suggesting that “Jesus” is ambiguous between the man and the logos? That would need arguing; I think “Jesus” is perfectly unambiguous in the NT, at it always refers to a certain man.
I have a metatheological worry behind this. It seems to me that this account makes the talk come out right: we can affirm that Christ (referring to the 2nd Person of the Trinity) was “begotten of his Father before all worlds” whereas Jesus wasn’t. Does it make the talk come out right? Even if so, do we want more than something that will make the talk come out right? If so what and why?
I’m not sure why merely getting the talk right – licensing normal catholic-speak should be considered a sufficient or important aim… I guess it could be useful for not getting kicked out of church. A little taqiyya?
On to another comment:
…However, at this point I’m interested in the metatheological issue: what is a Christological doctrine, or account of the Trinity, supposed to do?
It is supposed to be true, reasonably believed by Christians, and best explain the data of divine revelation.
And I’m not convinced that either of these accounts, or theology in general, is supposed to spell out what’s in the Bible. Because, there really isn’t much theology in the Bible. According to my metatheology, as I understand it now and would be interested in discussion, the purpose of theology is to provide a rationale and explanation for church practice: for the religious noises we make, our gestures and our rituals.
I’m not sure what you mean by saying there’s not a lot of theology in the Bible. Not a lot of theories or theoretical explanations, no. But quite a lot of claims about God, directly and indirectly from people who claim divine revelation from God. If this isn’t “theology” then at least it’s the raw material for such – at least, that’s the rather traditional view I hold.
We make religious noises about “Father, Son and Holy Ghost”; we sing hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “I Bind unto Myself This Day”; we cross ourselves to the name of the Trinity, etc. The aim of theology as I see it is to explain and justify these churchy practices in order to promote the interests of the institutional church, in particular liturgical churches.
So, why not?
“A rationale”? Any old rationale? Here’s one: the words of the Nicene Creed are a magic spell, and if you say them in just the right way, candy will fall from the sky. But I guess that wouldn’t promote the interests of the institutional church… Harriet, in all seriousness, it sounds like you think theology should be understood as Church propaganda. Is that right? But then, neither truth nor rationality would be among its aims. It would be a rhetorical art, with the aim of obtaining… I suppose, money, land, fame, butts-in-pews for the Church?
One question, I guess, would be: which church? Another would be: why would this (theology understood this way) be interesting?
Thanks for your comments, Harriet. Hopefully they won’t be, like, #37 on this post!