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Archive for the ‘Dogmatics’ Category

“Finitude includes doubt. The true is the whole (Hegel). But no finite being has the whole; therefore, it is an expression of the acceptance of his finitude that he accepts the fact that doubt belongs to his essential being.” (Tillich, ST 1, p. 10).

A text from the Epistle of Peter opened the service in the Middle Ages on the eight day after Easter. The day is therefore known by opening words of the Latin translation of the text: Quasi modo geniti infantes. Although the introitus would normally be chosen from the Psalms of the Old Testament, during Eastertide the text often came from the New Testament, like today:

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Coming out of baptism at the Easter Vigil, the words would definitely make sense. That night the newly baptised Christian would partake in the Holy Eucharist for the first time, and they would certainly taste that the Lord is good (Ps. 34).Mortensrud kirke

The day is also known as the day of the apostle Thomas (aram. twin), because he on the 8th day, according to the Gospel of John, met the risen Lord and believed. While Judas did not believe, Thomas, despite his doubts, came to believe that the Lord was risen and once again among his apostles. Paul Tillich has tried to stress the fact that somehow faith always includes doubt in some form or other. Doubt may be described as the twin of faith. Thomas is according to John 20:24 also called Dydimus (i.e. “Twin, called the twin”). What kind of doubt is it that Thomas displays? How can he be a help to the newborn Christian, barely come out of the baptism a week before? Thomas displays a curious and healthy scepticism that is required by all people of faith. It is a scepticism that is founded in trust as a basic phenomenon on one hand (the Lord is good!) and on the other hand the struggle to grow intellectually, spiritually and humanly. That is why the exhortation of Paul the apostle on leaving the childishness behind does not necessarily contradicts the word of Jesus Christ on becoming children.

To put it differently, Thomas’ doubt is not total doubt (Tillich, The Courage to Be, p. 48), which Tillich describes as existential despair. That is the way of Judas, not Thomas.

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“Doubt, and not certitude, is our human situation, whether we affirm or deny God. And perhaps the difference between them is not so great as one usually thinks. They are probably very similar in their mixture of faith and doubt. Therefore, the denial of God, if serious, should not shake us. What should trouble everyone who takes life seriously is the existence of indifference. For he who is indifferent, when hearing the name of God, and feels, at the same time, that the meaning of his life is being questioned, denies his true humanity.” (Paul J. Tillich, The Eternal Now, 2003)

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As I’m really busy these days and don’t have much time to read and study, but I’m still reading Williams book on Dostoevsky (which is really a gem). Here is another great quote:

“To settle for “the truth” in the sense of that ensamble of finished propositions we can securely defend is one of the ways of removing ourselves from the narrative continuum of our lives; to opt for Christ in the face of this is to accept that we shall not arrive within history at a stage where there are no choices and no commitments to be made. The truth of defensible propositions, a truth demanding assent as if belief were caused by facts, generates a diminished view of what is human; it educates us in ignoring aspects of human narrative that we disapprove of or find impenetrable. Meaning comes by the exercise of freedom – but not any sort of exercise of freedom. By taking the step of loving attention in the mundane requirements of live together, something is disclosed. But that step is itself enabled by a prior disclosure, the presence of gratuity in and behind the phenomena of the world: of some unconditional love. The narrative of Christ sets that before us, and the concrete historical reality of Christ is what has communicated to human nature a new capacity for reflecting and echoing that love” (p. 43f)

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I’m slowly reading through Rowan Williams latest book, on Dostoevsky. Today I found a quote that concerns desire:

“To accept Christ’s claims, or the Church’s claims for Christ (…), is to recognize an interruption that introduces a new element into the moral  world. Christ is apprehended when something not planned or foreseen in the contents of the world breaks through, is an act or event that represents the gratuity of love or joy. And such an event alters what is possible by offering the will what might be called a “truthful” or appropriate direction for desire” (p. 30).

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Søren Kierkegaard writes, as mentioned in the last post, that the reason is love. He puts it like this:

“If he [God] moves himself, not by need, what then that moves him is what else but love; because it is precisely not moved by the satisfaction of need outside itself, but in itself”.

Although there is no need in God, there is a desire to, in love, to make that which is infinitely different equal. One of my teachers at my alma mater, professor Jan-Olav Henriksen, has a forthcoming book on Eerdmanns called Desire, Gift and Recognition : Christology and Postmodern Philosophy. Although not published I’ve had a look at an abridged popularised book in Norwegian called Jesus: Gave og begjær (Jesus: Gift and Desire). The book attempts to make Jesus known and understood through new categories (like desire, and not the traditional categories of sin and guilt).
Henriksen uses a philosophical and phenomenological concept, mainly picked up from the Irish-American philosopher Richard Kearney (and Hegel), of desire to contextualise Christology in a post-modern context. Henriksen points to the ambiguous character of desire (e.g. fear of the uncontrollable), and makes several points on the concept:

  • desire (together with the concept of gift) makes possible a Christology that corresponds to human experience
  • that desire connects us to the surrounding world – it something that we uses to internalise the culture around us and aids us in our individuation
  • it is therefore pre-subjective (it forms us and moulds us already before we as subjects actively takes part in this forming), it is both nature and culture
  • in the story of Jesus we encounter both this open and closed desire, especially in his proclamation of the Kingdom of God

Henriksen often points to the ambiguous character of the Jesus story, as he moves through the narrative reading it in light of the concept of gift and desire. He makes a lot of interesting points; the main point is that the God that gives and desires in and through the story of Jesus, is a generous god. He closes the last chapter, on the resurrection, on the character of faith as gift and desire:

“Faith is not an expression of the desire for control over a closed and controllable world, but expression of the hope of something that is more than we can desire. Faith is created by facing something that is more than ourselves. In this manner, faith is also the gift that enables us to receive the gift. The resurrection is the utmost expression of the future that faith opens up; not something we can or should control. Faith is to let go of control, and resurrection is life that is fully and completely gift, uncontrolled by us and what we have earned. Thus, are faith, freedom and resurrection also interconnected, because the faith in the resurrection expresses that we can receive a gift where we are freed from the desire for control and possession. Then we can also be able to receive the Other, either the Other be God or the envoy of God, and either if this envoy are other people or the true image of God, that meets us as Jesus – He that is God, as God is when God is a human.

The incarnation and resurrection is what God desires and freely gives the humans. And the humans, in faith, surrender their desires and open up for the eschatological desire and the gift of salvation in it’s fullest sense.

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One of my favourite Kierkegaard-texts is a story from his Philosophical Fragments. It’s the story about the King and his beloved maiden from chapter II. “The God as a teacher and a saviour”, chapter II, is what he calls a poetic attempt to explain why God became man or why God had to die. And that reason is love, not the fall of man. For Kierkegaard it is divine unhappy love that motivates God, because there is an infinite differance between God and man. So how is God to reveal himself to man, so that he can win the heart of man?

The answer comes in a short story that begins like this:

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden and whose heart was unaffected by the wisdom that is so often loudly preached. (…) Let then the harp be tuned. Let the songs of the poets begin. Let everyone be festive, while love celebrates its triumph. For love is over-joyed when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes equal that which was unequal. Let the king’s love reign!

But then there arose a sadness in the king’s soul. Who would have dreamed of such a thing except a king with royal thoughts! He spoke to no one about his sadness. Had he done so, each courtier would doubtless have said, “Your Majesty, you are doing the girl a generous favor for which she could never thank you enough.” This, however, would no doubt have aroused the king’s wrath and, in turn, caused the king even more sorrow. Therefore he wrestled with the sorrow in his heart. Would the maiden really be happy? Would she be able to forget what the king wished to forget, namely, that he was the king and she a former lowly maiden? For if this happened, if the memory of her former state awoke within her, and like a favored rival, stole her thoughts away from the king, alluring her into the seclusion of a secret grief; or if this memory at times crossed her soul like death crossing over a grave – where then would the glory of their love be? She would have been happier had she remained in obscurity, loved by one of her own kind.

And even if the maiden were content to be as nothing, the king would never be satisfied, simply because he loved her so. He would much rather lose her than be her benefactor. What deep sorrow there is slumbering in this unhappy love! Who dares to rouse it?

He then sketches in subdivision A two solutions to this unhappy dilemma:

  • to elevate his beloved maiden to his own level
  • to reveal himself in all his glory for her

But he gives up these two options, as both would deceive himself and the maiden. The solution then comes in subdivision B:

Who grasps the contradiction of this sorrow: not to disclose itself is the death of love; to disclose itself is the death of the beloved. It was God’s longing to prevent this. The unity of love will have to be brought about in some other way. If not by way of elevation, of ascent, then by a descent of the lowest kind. God must become the equal of the lowliest. But the lowliest is one who serves others. God therefore must appear in the form of a servant. But this servant’s form is not merely something he puts on, like the beggar’s cloak, which, because it is only a cloak, flutters loosely and betrays the king. No, it is his true form. For this is the unfathomable nature of boundless love, that it desires to be equal with the beloved; not in jest, but in truth. And this is the omnipotence of resolving love, deciding to be equal with the beloved.

Look, then, there he stands – God! Where? There! Don’t you see him? He is the God, and yet he has no place to lay his head, and he does not dare to turn to any person lest that person be offended at him. It is sheer love and sheer sorrow to want to express the unity of love and then to not be understood.

God suffers all things, endures all things, is tried in all things, hungers in the desert, thirsts in his agonies, is forsaken in death, and became absolutely the equal of the lowliest of human beings – look, behold the man! He yields his spirit in death, on a cross, and then leaves the earth. Oh bitter cup! More bitter than wormwood is the ignominy of death for a mortal. How must it be, then, for the immortal one! Oh bitter refreshment, more sour than vinegar – to be refreshed by the beloved’s misunderstanding! Oh consolation in affliction to suffer as one who is guilty – what must it be, then, to suffer as one who is innocent!

God is not zealous for himself but out of love wants to be equal with the most lowly of the lowly. What power! When an oak seed is planted in a clay pot, the pot breaks; when new wine is poured into old wineskins, they burst. What happens, then, when God the king plants himself in the frailty of a human being? Does he not become a new person and a new vessel! Oh, this becoming – how difficult it really is, and how like birth itself! How terrifying! It is indeed less terrifying to fall upon one’s face, while the mountains tremble at God’s voice, than to sit with him in love as his equal. And yet God’s longing is precisely to sit in this way.

The incarnation reveals God’s love in his utter frailty, not his triumphant glory. God can only be known “per passiones et crucem“. But alas, that makes it a lot easier to abandon or to crucify him …

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Only God …

2008 is officially the Wergeland-year in Norway. 200 years ago the Norwegian author and poet Henrik Wergeland was born, in Kristiansand. Wergeland, the son of a minister in the Church of Norway (one of the founding fathers of Norway), was a remarkable person. He is know for many things, for his unrelenting work to end the discrimination of Jews in Norway and his efforts to establish a National Day celebration on the 17 May. Some would say that he is the greatest Norwegian lyricist and you can even check if your writing style is similar to his through a computer program that is developed.

Recently he has also featured in the media because someone claimed that he converted to Islam, but this is now refuted (although he expressed preference for Islam over Christianity).

One of my favourite hymns in the Norwegian Hymnal Book is a poem written by Wergeland, The pretty-vested butterfly (1840):

The pretty-vested butterfly Den prektig kledde sommerfugl
The pretty-vested Butterfly
From God’s own hand did fly.
He gave it purple ribbons,
And golden wings to try.
Den prektig kledde sommerfugl
er fløyet fra Guds hånd.
Han gav den gyldne ringer
og røde purpurbånd.
He trained it to soar higher than
Myself, and I need room!
It has the starlings instincts,
But lacks its feathered plume.
Han lærte den å flyve høyt,
høyere enn jeg er.
Den har nok fuglens lyster,
men ei dens dun og fjær.
All folks that on the Earth do live,
and royal heralds too,
Can never make a Butterfly,
That only God can do.
Og alle verdens mennesker
og alle kongebud
ei gjøre kan en sommerfugl.
Det kan alene Gud.

(tr. Geir Uthaug)

Creation is an artwork and the butterfly (No lit. summerbird). Although philosophy has closed the road that infers from that which is created to the creator, there is this immediate experience that suggests this conclusion. Perhaps we can conclude with Plato (in the words of Socrates) in his Symposium that beauty reorients our view of the world so that we look for more. Life is about something more, there is something greater than in our lives waiting to be discovered. It makes us question those things we take for granted. There is more to what we see than just the appearance and is therefore a realm of opportunity.

The beautiful little “summerbird” inspire wonder – and beauty show us that we should recover our enjoyment of the world.

“Meaning is not an ‘association’ or a train of images: it resides in the painting, and can be understood only through experience of it. All aesthetic meaning is like that.” (Scruton 1994, p. 446)

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