Pannenberg on Patristic Theology

These last few months I have been dabbling in and out of Pannenberg’s earlier theology to get a sense of how Moltmann is influenced by him and attempts to present an alternative to his theology of history in Theology of Hope. This morning I have been looking at some of the responses that Pannenberg offers to Moltmann’s critiques. I came across this insight on patristic theology that I would like to share:

“As a student I was deeply impressed by the unity of faith and reason in patristic theology. Since that time I have considered the age of patristic theology as a model of what Christian theology should achieve in our own time.”

Pannenberg, “A Response to My American Friends,” in Braaten and Clayton, ed., The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, 316.

I was taken by this because I still find pre-modern theologians very difficult to read. I have loved working my way through Augustine’s De Trinitate, though his exegesis is hard to appreciate after having been trained in and constantly exposed to historical-critical methods. For Pannenberg, though, the exegesis of the patristics is not something to be pitied but celebrated, something from which modern theology can learn much.

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Israel and Individualism

One of my hobby horses is emphasising the communitarian view of people in Scripture, in an attempt to throw out of balance what I have often seen to be an overly individualistic approach to faith (with some important exceptions!) in contemporary church life. But while I think this horse’s race has is not yet fully run, it is important also to make sure that we get a sense of the whole picture. I found this overview of an article to be interesting:

“Rainer Albertz argues that there is evidence for the religious life of individual persons [in ancient Israel], and that it is notably uncoordinated with the salient features of the so-called ‘national’ religion portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. Individual psalms, for example, hardly mention the great ‘acts of God’ such as the Exodus or the giving of the Land, and concentrate rather on salvation and blessing as known or sought in the personal life of the worshipper, while the wealth of theophoric names [i.e., names that have an element of a divine name in them: Isra-EL, Eli-JAH, Meri-BAAL] concentrate on the divine care for the individual being named. Personal piety was by no means always directed to Yhwh — indeed, the biblical prophets attest that people often prayed to other gods, perhaps in some cases local or household gods, seeing Yhwh as the god of the nation rather than of the individual. (Albertz points out, however, that no theophoric names occur with Asherah or any other goddess as an element — a feature Israel and Judah share with some of their neighbours …) Evidence of personal piety can also be found in wisdom collections, especially Proverbs, which also has scarcely anything to say about the ‘national’ religion. Biblical scholarship has sometimes seen the individual as merely part of a larger collectivity, and has thought it anachronistic to see him or her as having a life apart from the group; but the evidence for individual piety tends in the opposite direction, suggesting that many individuals had a distinctive kind of religious belief and practice, radically different from the national cult and focused on living a good life and trusting in divine power in times of crisis. Archaeology supports this picture, with amulets attesting to the belief in divine aid in trouble and the many figurines of nude women holding their breasts mediating prayers to the divine realm to ensure conception and safe delivery.”

From the introduction to Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah, ed. Francesca Stavrakopoulou and John Barton. Albertz’s essay appears in the same volume.

Kierkegaard on the Hegelian Triumph over the Principle of Non-Contradiction

Ok, last one I promise:

As is well-known, Hegelian philosophy has canceled the principle of contradiction, and Hegel himself has more than once emphatically held judgment day on the kind of thinkers who remained in the sphere of understanding and reflection and who have therefore insisted that there is an either/or. Since that time, it has become a popular game, so that as soon as someone hints at an aut/aut [either/or] a Hegelian comes riding trip-trap-trap on a horse … and wins a victory and rides home again.

Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, ed. and trans. Hong and Hong (1972), 304-5.

Just sharing because I guffawed aloud in my office when reading this. It reminded me of the pride I myself sometimes take in shooting down someone’s arguments over the Internet with reference to some authority, which I have often done in a patronising way. That is to say, I’ve got some work to do there.

As far as I know, Hegel could oppose the law of non-contradiction, e.g., “the two propositions “A is B” and “A is not B” are mutually exclusive,” because such the law overlooks the dialectical nature of propositions in which both a thesis (statement) and antithesis (negation of that statement) are ultimately included in a synthesis (higher unity of thesis and antithesis in which the truths of both are affirmed). Correct me if I’m wrong!

Kierkegaard on the Cartesian Approach to Missing the Point

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Today I have been searching the works of the Danish Christian philosopher-theologian Søren Kierkegaard for statements on the eternal present, something with which Moltmann takes issue. On quite a different note, I was reading the introduction to the Hong and Hong edition of The Concept of Anxiety when I found this killer insight:

Kierkegaard criticized the Cartesian principle of methodical doubt because it mistakenly gives more weight to reflection (thought) than it does to act (will).

“What skeptics should really be caught in is the ethical. Since Descartes they have all thought that during the period in which they doubted they dared not to express anything definite with regard to knowledge, but on the other hand they dared to act, because in this respect they could be satisfied with probability. What an enormous contradiction! As if it were not far more dreadful to do something about which one is doubtful (thereby incurring responsibility) than to make a statement. Or was it because the ethical is in itself certain? But then there was something which doubt could not reach!”

p.ix, citing Journals and Papers, I, 774.

In my “awakening” to philosophy and theology I went through a Kierkegaardian phase. Apparently this is quite common! He helped me to see the multivalency of symbols and was generally the beginning of my realisation of the ideological nature of truth claims (with some later help from Nietzsche). I began to depart from Kierkegaard when I thought that his philosophy was too individualist and spiritualist, overlooking the community and the concrete. You can empathise with me then when I found that Kierkegaard is a lot closer to Marx here than I had thought: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” Unfortunately I doubt that Kierkegaard’s interest in ethics much resembles that of Marx. Correct me if I’m wrong?