Lenten Reading: Aquinas on the good and necessary reasons for the Incarnation

If God is who as he is revealed in Scripture, was it really necessary for the Word of God to become incarnate to save humanity? This question is an honest one, seeing that Christians confess that God is all powerful and perfect, he could, conceivably, have restored human nature without becoming incarnate. However, Aquinas argues that according to Scripture, the mystery of the Incarnation was necessary to save humanity. To defend this Aquinas first qualifies what is meant by necessary, and then shows the benefits of Christ’s Incarnation for humanity in terms of how it helps those who believe in Christ grow in the good and withdraw from evil.

Aquinas distinguishes between two types of necessity: essential necessity and convenient necessity. The first, he argues is like the necessity of food for life. The second, is like the necessity of a horse for a long trip. “When the end is attained better and more conveniently” (III.Q1.A2). He argues that the incarnation was necessary in the second way, and not the first, because God who is all powerful could have done it differently. Yet, in light of humanity’s plight and God’s goodness, Aquinas, pointing to Augustine who says, “There was not a more fitting way of healing our misery” (III.Q1.A2).

To explain how the incarnation of the word is the most fitting way he divides his topic into two sections: How the incarnate Word draws us to the good and withdraws us from evil. Under the first section he shows how the Incarnate Word is the cause of Faith, Hope, Charity, good works and glory in the Christian. It is appropriate that Aquinas frames his understanding of Christ’s person and work in these terms, because he has just covered this path of life in Christ in the previous volume in terms of faith, hope, love, virtue, all of which leads to the end goal of “Full participation of the Divinity.” In presenting these five steps, he quotes Augustine. Let’s consider them one by one.

Christ’s incarnation furthers faith because Christ is the Truth revealed in human flesh. As Augustine says it: “In order that man might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded the faith.” Faith is established in the Truth by means of the Truth himself becoming human and revealing himself in the humility of human life. Hope is encouraged and strengthened by the revelation of God’s love for us which is most beautifully expressed in the Son of God becoming human. This same infinite divine love enkindles charity in us, according to Aquinas and Augustine, because what presents God’s love for us more than him becoming one of us and dying for us?

Having grounded Faith, Hope, and Love in the person and work of Christ, Aquinas focuses in on how Christ is our example for the perfect human life. Again, turning to Augustine, he argues that Christ makes visible the invisible God so that man could follow God’s will. For Aquinas, this is not mere imitation, but a life infused with Grace, through the Holy Spirit’s presence. (see further 1-2.Q109-114).

Faith, hope and love grounded in Christ, infused with the good works of Christ given through the Holy Spirit is the life of the Christian which leads the Christian on to end goal for which they were created: “Full participation of the Divinity, which is the true bliss of man and the end of human life; and this is bestowed upon us by Christ’s humanity; for Augustine says in a sermon: God was made man, that man might be made God.” In Christ is the whole means and ends of true human life given to all those who believe in him as John 3:16 says. It is worth nothing that Aquinas he uses the same framework of Faith, Hope and Love when he presents the reasons for Christ’s resurrection and ascension (III.Q53.a1, Q57.a2.ad3).

But the human condition is not one of neutrality, it is one of enslavement to evil. This Christ also had to free humanity form the enslavement and destitution of their fallen selves. Aquinas, explains this withdrawal from evil in five moves.

The first two moves relates to how humanity understand itself. First Christ incarnation shows us to not prefer evil and the devil over humanity itself. In other words, if God became human, then there is a certain goodness to humanity over and against the powers of evil. This is amplified by the his second point: “we are thereby taught how great is man’s dignity…” (III.Q1.A2). This has two effects in one’s Christian life, it reminds us of our God-given worth, and it exhorts us to pursue holiness.

In these first two the dignity of humanity is established, despite sin. In the third and four, Humanity is shown in Christ’s incarnation that they could not save themselves from the pride and presumption of sin. Here we see a kind of pendulum swing from one extreme to another: we either think of humanity as nothing, or as everything. Christ in his glorious humility both raises humanity up to its proper dignity, and gives humanity its properly creaturely humility. As Augustine says, quoted by Aquinas: “Because man’s pride, which is the greatest stumbling block to our clinging to God, can be convinced and cured by humility…” (III.Q1.A2).

The establishing of humanity’s proper dignity and relation to God occurs in Christ’s death, Resurrection, and Ascension, when he frees humanity from the “thraldom of sin.” Jesus, as God and man made satisfaction for humanity’s sin and death in his death and resurrection. Aquinas establishes this point by quoting Pope Leo at length:

“Weakness is assumed by strength, lowliness by majesty, mortality by eternity, in order that one and the same mediator of God and men might die in one and rise in the other – for this was our fitting remedy. Unless he was God, he would not have brought a remedy; and unless he was man, he would not have set an example.” (III.Q1.A2).

Aquinas, ends his answer by pointing his readers back to the fact that the Incarnation and ensuing saving work of the Trinity is beyond our apprehension, by positing that there are many more advantages of the incarnation given to humanity which are beyond our understanding. This is an essential reminder for Christians and Theologians, we may apprehend much about Christ and his gospel, but we will always be standing in the face of the infinite personal mystery of the Triune God and his infinite holy love.

This summary of Aquinas’s understanding of the good and necessary fittingness of the Incarnation is just a tiny taste of the deep theological and exegetical reasoning Aquinas offers in his Doctrine of Christ. I just finished reading through the 59 questions on Christ and cannot recommend them enough.

Quotes from Lenten Reading: Aquinas on the Incarnation

During Lent I am reading Aquinas’s third part, where he delves into the theology of Christ both in his person and work. I will also be taking a gander through a few sections from Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV.1, Augustine’s homilies on Lent, and George Herbert’s The Country Parson, and The Temple. I wanted to offer a few select quotes from each of these readings throughout Lent.

To begin, let’s look at the Aquinas’s understanding of the fittingness of the Incarnation of Son of God. In the first article of his first question on the Incarnation, Aquinas asks whether it was “fitting that God should become incarnate?” He answers that it is most fitting that God would become incarnate, first, as he argues in his sed contra, so that the invisible God would reveal himself through visible things, referencing Romans 1:20, and specifically, through the true, real and visible Incarnation of the Son of God. This revelation of God is grounded in his goodness and oriented towards humanity’s salvation. This is how he says it:

But the very nature of God is goodness as is clear from Dionysius (div. nom. i). Hence, what belongs to the essence of goodness befits God. But it belong to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others… Hence it belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature, and this is brought about chiefly, by ‘His so joining created nature to himself that one Person is made up of these three – the Word, a soul and flesh’ as Augustine says (De Trin. xiii). Hence it is manifest that it was fitting that God should become incarnate.

Aquinas, Summa, 3.Q1A1.

Next, in the first two replies, he clarifies that the Son of God was from eternity and became incarnate, it was the human nature that came into being, not God in the incarnation. And God’s distinct purpose in becoming incarnate was for the sake of humanity’s salvation, because of his infinite goodness, not because of some fittingness of humanity as a kind of receptacle for God. It was fitting that God the Son became incarnate because of God’s goodness, and God’s desire to save humanity and reveal who God is to humanity.

In my next post on Aquinas, I will look at the various ways Aquinas articulate how the incarnation and mission of the son restores humanity.

The Refreshing Sight of Christ: A Quote from John Owen

In Michael Reeve’s wonderful book, Rejoicing in Christ, he quotes Theologian John Owen, who speaks of the way Christians should be refreshed in their faith:

Do any of us find decays in grace prevailing in us; – deadness, coldness, lukewarmness, a kind of spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us?… Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, yea, no other way but this alone, – namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein. Constant contemplation of Christ and his glory, putting forth its transforming power unto the revival of all grace, is the only relief in this case.

Quoted in Rejoicing in Christ, by Michael Reeves, 103-104.

I found this quote encouraging in several ways:

  • He acknowledges that faith involves struggle. We all have times of complacency, deadness, spiritual senselessness. But this is not the way it has to be.
  • The way out of Spiritual deadness is looking to Christ. We do this through the various means of grace that God gives us through the economy of his grace: worship, the read Word, the preached Word, the sacraments, prayer, spiritual reading, and study. In all of these means, we are seeking a fresh vision of Christ and his glory.
  • Christ’s glory, while sounding high and mighty, is his work of salvation for us. Christ was glorified both in his incarnation, his death, and his resurrection, which were all things done for the saving benefit of humanity. Catching a glimpse of the beauty and glory of Christ enlivens our hearts to his love, his generosity, his compassion, and his continual call to life in him.
  • The language of vision and contemplation are significant. There is a kind of blending of the senses in seeking after Christ. We seek to see him, a visual metaphor, we contemplate him, both a visual and intellectual action. Psalm 34:8 exhorts us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” All this together points us to an all-encompassing pursuit of Christ, with our hearts, minds, bodies, imaginations. As we are consumed by the vision, taste, thought of Christ we are revived and renewed in him.
  • Finally, the language of vision points us to our final end. The vision of God in Christ in the new creation. By God’s grace, i.e., through the work of the Holy Spirit, we begin to enjoy this vision of Christ by faith now. The enjoyment of this vision involves both consolation and purification: as the Holy Spirit communicates the vision of Christ he makes us more like him by sanctifying us. Thus, the vision of Christ by faith enlivens us to his glory and purifies us to further reflect and enjoy him.

God is emotionless, and that is Good News for humans: Thoughts about God, humanity, and salvation

I am in a pretty busy time of ministry right now, and I have not had a lot of time to do any real serious writing. I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a while, hoping to get more coherence in my thoughts. I’m posting this now with the hopes that these thoughts will continue to percolate into something helpful. 

The desire for God to have emotions is grounded in a misunderstanding of God’s eternal and self-existent life, the purpose of emotions in human life, and of God’s work of salvation.

In the 1st of the 39 Articles a general statement about the Christian God is made:

THERE is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Here we see God considered in himself in both aspects of who he is: the Unity of the essence and the distinction of persons. In the first half of the statement, several aspects of God’s infinite being and life is established, all of which safeguard against two things: 1) imagining that we can comprehend God, 2) that God is the greatest being in a chain of being. God is not like humans or the created world. He is totally other; not distant, but definitely not a being among other beings. This is how John Webster puts it: “In his inner works, as Father, Son and Spirit, God is plentitude of life and incomparable excellence… in the perfection of his immanent triune life God ‘only’ is God, and God is ‘alone.'” (God without Measure, I.119-120).

Further, Webster argues that God in his plentitude of life and his triunity is Simple. “God has no career, no process of coming-to-be” (Webster, God without Measure, 1.120). Finally, following Aquinas, we say that all creatures are contained within a genus; God is outside and before all genera (ST. 1a.4.3.ad 2).

All this means that God is not like humans, who are created, while God is the fullness of life. Emotions, as they are experienced in human life, are related to the contingency and progression of life, something which is simply not a reality in God. God is the fullness and plentitude of life; he is perfection in all its beauty and light and beyond all measure: as Paul confesses: “he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15-16; see also James 1:17). 

This has been the standard Christian confession for much of history, however, in modern theology, and often times in pastoral care, the question arises whether God should, can or must relate to human experience and emotion. Most understandably, this question arose among theologians after the Jewish Holocaust of World War II.  If we say that God is without passion does this not mean that he is distant and uncaring?

To the contrary, It is my thesis that it is good news that God is passionless, i.e., doesn’t have emotions, especially for the doctrine of human nature and salvation. To prove this thesis, we need to consider the problem from three angles: from the doctrine of God, the doctrine of human nature, and the doctrine of salvation.

God’s infinite, eternal life: 

Building off of what we said above: God’s is infinite life, actuality, and plentitude. To say that God is passionless is to say that he is full of life and being – it is the opposite of aloof. In his infinite life, he is changeless, neither needing anything or advancing towards some goal. God is the creator who does not change; this changelessness is not a defect, but a fact of his being infinite life and goodness. Out of God’s infinite goodness, he creates and sustains the world. Because God is totally complete and full in himself is he able to creates and sustain the created world out of his plentitude and generosity not out of a need for us. If God were not complete in himself and created the world, the world and God’s being would be co-terminus. God would have made the world for his sake, not our own (See Webster, God without Measure, I.126).

God is One, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One could imagine that in the intra-trinitarian relations there is emotion. However, this would be to project some kind of temporal or metaphysical movement in the Trinity. As if God the Father at some time choose to love the Son and the Spirit and thus generate and process them respectively. This would introduce change and progress in the divine life and would collapse the Trinity into created being. Contrary to this, God is eternally the Father generating the SOn and the Father and Son spirating the Holy Spirit, in an eternal, changeless, and infinitely simple way. God’s being is the fullness of life and action; he is the Living God who chooses to create beings who are different than God.

Creatures are from God and are created out of nothing. They are completely dependent on God for their existence and sustenance; everything from God for Creatures is a gift. Further, human creatures are created for fellowship with God. God freely creates creatures and gives them being, “making them for their own sake, not for his” (Webster, God without Measure, I.126). Human existence comes from and returns to God, but God does not depend on creatures. Humans were made for communion with God; this is our end, our telos and a part of that being made by God and toward God is our emotional life.

To be human is to have emotions:

Emotions are a feature of created human nature and correlate to our teleological end – we have emotions because we were created for an end purpose, i.e., life with God in the beatific vision (Ia-IIae Q 1-5). Emotions are an aspect of being contingent creatures on the way to this end.  Emotions are not bad, they are an integral part of human nature that reflect the fact that we were to desire God and love him forever.  Aquinas divides human emotions in terms of longing (concupiscence)  and resistance (Irascible). “For the concupiscible regards as proper to it the notion of the good, as something pleasant to the senses and suitable to nature: whereas the irascible regard the notion of good as something that wards off and repels what is hurtful.”(Ia Q 82.a5). Emotions, properly ordered, draw us towards the good and repel us from what is evil. Emotions are an aspect of humanity’s journey towards God, they are innate to what it means to be human creatures.

One may object at this point and say if we are created in the image of God, doesn’t that mean that emotions are a part of God’s character? Being created in the image of God doesn’t mean that everything we have is identical to God or visa-versa. Obviously, we are not infinite, self-sufficient and eternal. Neither is God changeable, becoming or created. Whatever being made in the image of God means, it does not mean being identical with God or God with us. Because emotions are connected to our mutability, our changing nature that longs for the good, it is not an aspect of being created in the image of God. Rather, emotions draw us toward God who is our good (see Summa Ia-IIae q 22. a 1; q23  a1, a4).

Further, emotions are firmly established on the creature side of the creator-creature divide. the Human desire for God to experience emotions as we do is rooted in our idolatrous desire to see God in our image. If God had emotions as we did, he would not be mighty to save, he would be like us, and we would be lost.

In Scripture, emotional language is used to describe God in the Old and New Testament. I need to think more about the Old Testament language, though traditionally, it has been understood in terms of metaphor and analogy.

But, to properly speak of God having emotions we can only look to the person of Jesus Christ who has a fully human nature in the incarnation.

Pastorally, this is the location we talk about Jesus Christ feeling for us and with us. Further, we have to realize that Christ’s incarnation was not to identify with humanity but to save humanity from death, sin and the devil. The second person of the Trinity experienced human emotion as a correlate of his work of salvation, but it was not the primary purpose. Yet, because The Son of God incarnate has experienced human emotions, he empathizes with our struggle and gives us the Holy Spirit to properly train our emotions. So that we learn to hate evil and love God, with our whole being including our emotions.  (See Hebrews 2; John 11).

 

 

Running Theological Thoughts: Habakkuk 2:2-5

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Habakkuk 2:2-5

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor,
an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
and collects as his own all peoples.”

 

Observations:

After Habakkuk offers his second complaint to God, he stands on his watch-tower awaiting YHWH’s response, and YHWH answers. He answers Habakkuk by telling him to ‘write the vision’ in big letters on a tablet. YHWH tells Habakkuk that the vision is a future reality and that it will come to pass, though it may seem slow, the reader of the vision must wait for it (vs. 3).

In verse 4, the unrighteous and righteous person are contrasted. The unrighteous man lives in pride, which is cleverly portrayed as a puffed up soul that is crooked. Imagine a huge Thanksgiving Day parade balloon gone all upside down and blown over – that is the prideful person. In contrast, the righteous, who we’ve met twice now (1:4, 13), lives by his faith. In comparison to the prideful person, the righteous await the vision’s fulfillment in humility and trust.

In verse 5,  it seems the vision returns to the prideful person, perhaps as a personification of the Chaldeans who are about to be judged in the following verses. In this verse, the prideful man is portrayed as a ravenous consumer of the whole world, like death and Sheol itself. Unlike the Righteous who waits and trust the prideful consume in greed, frenetic arrogance, and gathers the world like death gathers his victims.

Theological Comments: 

God answers both of Habakkuk’s complaints, showing that all people, both unfaithful Israel, and the violent and arrogant Chaldeans are judged for their sins. God is just in his judgment and does not overlook sin. However, the judgment on the Chaldeans and the whole world will be coming at a future time. God tells Habakkuk to write the vision large, to signify that it will come to pass, but tells Habakkuk that the vision awaits its appointed time; it is coming, but the righteous must await it in faith.

In prophetic literature, there is often a telescoping of events, where the vision refers to something or several somethings in the future. As we read through the Woe’s on the Chaldeans, we will see three levels of telescoping: the judgment of the Chaldeans, the judgment of Sin and death in Christ on the Cross, and the final judgment that all the righteous await in faith.

The vision awaits its appointed time, the appointed time of judgment is the final day, the judgment of the world – the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is a day of final judgment, which was brought into the present in the crucifixion of Christ. The eschatological judgment of God was transposed into the center of history at the appointed time. It has come in the judgment of the World in the cross of Christ, and yet it still is to come; when the one who took the sins of the world upon himself will judge the world (Matthew 25:31-46).

So the righteous continue to wait; they wait and live by their faith, as the prideful world stumbles on in its consumption and arrogance. The righteous wait and rest in contentment; as the prideful person consumes the world filling up his soul even as he collapses in on himself. What keeps the righteous man buoyant in the midst of the City of Man? What keeps him going as a member of the Pilgrim City of God? The alien righteousness of Christ whose faith the faithful live by.

Paul famously quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Galatians 3:11, transfiguring the meaning of the text through a Christological reading. Rather than the righteous living by his faith, the righteous now live by faith in Christ. More than that, the righteous have their righteousness not through their works, or their allegiance to God, but through Christ’s righteous life and his faithfulness. The righteous wait in peace, and calm and contentment because they are united to the righteous and faithful one in trusting faith.

Because the righteous receive their righteousness from Christ, the truly righteous one they can rest. Unlike the arrogant, they can be generous and content. The righteous can live righteously because the Righteous One, who is infinite life, was consumed by the greedy jaws of death and Sheol and overcame death with his life. The righteous can rest in contentment and wait as they walk the pilgrim road to the City of God because Righteous one, Jesus Christ lived by faith in God and the righteous who are united to him in faith live in him through the Holy Spirit.

Running Theological Thoughts on Scripture: Habakkuk Chapter 1:1-4

 

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Introduction:

Good Christian theology is based on excellent and faithful exegesis. As a pastor-theologian my vocation is deeply bound up with the exegeting, interpreting and applying of Holy Scripture. My own inclination in thinking, writing, etc., is to look at the big picture of Scripture and think about how it all relates to God and his works. However, the source of theology is the divine revelation of Scripture, so to do theology well I must be a good exegete.

Being a good exegete requires that I am sensitive to two realities: the literal meaning of the text, what we will call the horizontal meaning. And what the text communicates about who God is, what he is like, and what he calls humans to do, what I will call the vertical meaning of the text (for more on this consider reading Participatory Exegesis by Matthew Levering). In this series, I will offer some theological readings of specific books of Scripture in a running commentary with an eye on the axis of the horizontal and vertical dimensions of good exegesis. To begin this series I turn to a minor prophet, Habakkuk, to discover what the book is about and how it speaks about God, Christ, and humanity.

Instead of offering a detailed introduction to the book of Habakkuk, I suggest you watch this video, made by the brilliant people over at The Bible Project.

It is important to note the time of the prophecies of Habakkuk: Around 626-586 B.C. Israel was divided into two Kingdoms, the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. In 722 BC the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria. Between 626 and 586 BC The southern Kingdom was slowly conquered and brought into exile. The final destruction of Judah and the Temple came in 586 B.C.

The structure of the book, as we saw in the video, is made up of three basic sections: section 1: A dialogue between Habakkuk and YHWH (1:1-2:1); section 2: YHWH’s 2nd response and judgment on the Chaldeans (2:2-22); and section 3: A Psalm of God’s deliverance (3:1-19).

In this first post, I discuss Habakkuk’s first complaint.

Habakkuk 1:1-4: Habakkuk’s first complaint:

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.

Verse 1:

Observations:

We know nothing about the prophet Habakkuk, expect that he is a prophet. One who the Holy Spirit has called, set apart, and ordered to hear and proclaim the Word of God. This is no lite calling, we need only look at other prophetic callings to see that (Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1-2). As a prophet,  not only does Habakkuk speak the Word of God to the people, but he speaks to God for his people; for the righteous (see 1.4;13; 2:4). As a prophet of God, he mediates between God and humanity. As a prophet, he puts to voice the complaint of the righteous and confesses the sins of those who have rebelled against God. As a prophet, he speaks of God’s judgment and deliverance. Habakkuk speaks only what he sees. Everything in the book of Habakkuk is something that the prophet “saw” (v 1). This presents to the reader the fact that Habakkuk did not simply make this stuff up, his complaints, the vision of woes, and the deliverance of God are all things he perceives and proclaims from God.

Theological Comments:

Habakkuk’s ministry as a prophet signifies several things about God and the economy of Salvation. First, the Lord God reveals God to humanity. We cannot gain access to who God is and what he does expect through God’s revealing of God.  Second, The office of prophet as one who reveals and mediates points us to Jesus Christ. He is the true prophet who is the very Word of God and the true human who reveals God to humanity and reconciles humanity to God through his infinite life in his death and resurrection. Thirdly, Habakkuk’s receptivity as a prophet, being one who sees, reminds us of the way that Jesus Christ, in the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-9), did only that which he saw the Father was doing (see John 5:18-20). As the Son of God Jesus is equal to the Father, even as he is eternally from the Father, yet, in the form of a servant, he receives and does the will of the Father (which is the will of the triune God). Finally, Habakkuk’s role as a prophet, as one who receives and speaks what he hears, points to the Christian’s vocation as one who witnesses to who God is and what God does.  Christians are called to be witnesses who hear and receive and speak only what they receive and hear from the Triune God.

Verse 2-4:

Observations:

Habakkuk’s complaint opens by calling on YHWH. In using the covenant name of God the whole of who the Lord is and what he has done for Israel is set before the reader. YHWH is the One who rescued Israel from slavery and death, brought them through the Red Sea, made a covenant with Israel. YHWH is the One God who has patiently guided Israel as a rebellious child for hundreds of years.

He is the God who Israel has cried to again and again with the same kind of cry that Habakkuk utters: “how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?” In these verses, Habakkuk asks three questions as the prophet of God about the injustice and evil in the people of Judah (v 2-3). Judah has wrought violence and iniquity, and all God has done, according to Habakkuk is the look on idly. Judah is in a state of chaos; they are in a state of continual abnegation and perversion of justice, disobedience to the law, and the persecution of the righteous (v 4).

When we consider the canon of Scripture we can see that Judah is in a state of chaos and rebellion much like the time of the Judges. Yet, there remains a righteous contingent who are being oppressed by the wicked. It is on behalf of these righteous few that Habakkuk calls out to God. There is such an overwhelming force of evil that prevents the righteous from following the law (it “is paralyzed”) and doing justice (it is perverted and does not go forth). We will have more to say about the righteous in another blog post. We can gather from this verse that the righteous are those who are persecuted and seek God in the midst of abundant evil.

The mention of the righteous in the midst of evil brings to mind people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. People who God had chosen to show forth his goodness and glory in the midst of the chaos and rebellion of the World. These righteous people are made righteous by their faith in God. In submitting to God’s goodness and plan they join in his work of redemption and salvation.

Yet, the life of the righteous is not an easy one, because they seek the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdom of the earth, in the midst of the world of chaos and evil. This chaos is found on two levels: The world and Habakkuk’s own people. Habakkuk’s cries out as one of the righteous men who deeply desires to see God bring his justice, goodness, and holiness to bear upon the evil in the world (see chapter 2). In these verses, Habakkuk also cries out on behalf of the righteous for God to deliver them from the evil surrounding them in Judah.

Theological Comments:

In these first few verses, we can see that God is patient with those who are sinful and unjust. He is not quick in his wrath towards injustice. He is patient and waits to the point where the righteous feel as if the injustice and evil have won and overwhelmed the day. God’s patience is not like our patience which quickly wanes thin; he knows his purposes and the end for which he intends his plans to go, the ultimate end and purpose being communion with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

These verses reveal that in this world the righteous suffer as they wait for God. This reminds me of Augustine’s concept of the City of Man and the City of God. Those who are of the City of God are on a long pilgrimage to the heavenly city where justice will reign, and the righteous will shine like the noon-day Sun. On this pilgrimage, the City of God and Man are mingled, and those in the City of God walk alongside the city of man. They suffer in the world, in the church, and in their own hearts.

God uses these trials, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to make us like his Son. The eternal Son of God, the truly righteous one, the true prophet and mediator between God and humanity Jesus Christ. In these verses in Habakkuk, we see Jesus Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection as the righteous one surrounded by the wicked. But he was not swallowed by it. Though justice was perverted in the death of Christ – he died as a guilty man though he was innocent – and the law used by the evil one to bring forth more injustice (see Rom. 7 and Galatians 3); God in Christ destroyed death, Sin and the Devil and brought true justice in his death and resurrection.

Those who are in Christ, though they are surrounded by the wicked and unjust, pray for God to bring about his justice just as he did in the unexpected and new-creation resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cry out to our Covenant Lord, Yahweh who, though patient, is not idle, and though quiet is always at work in bringing about his plan for the good of his people.

In our next post, we will see how God responds to Habakkuk’s complaint.

 

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Cyril of Alexandria

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“God in his love for humankind provided for us a way of salvation and of life. For in believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and making this confession before many witnesses [at baptism], we wash away all the filth of sin, and are enriched by the communication of the Holy Spirit, and ‘are made partakers of the divine nature’ and gain the grace of adoption. It was necessary, therefore, that the Word of the Father when he humbled himself to emptiness and deigned to assume our likeness, should be for our sake the pattern and way of every good work. For it follows that ‘he who in everything is first’ must in this also set the example.” Cyril of Alexandria (ACD, 2.147).

A few observations:

  1. God not only provides a way of salvation but a way of life as well. Jesus’s life is both an example and the path of the good life. Put another way, Jesus is the Means and the end of true human life. Jesus saved us for eternal life with the Triune God, and this life begins now.
  2.  Cyril narrates the order of salvation in relation to baptism: belief, confess, baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, “made partakers of the divine nature” and given adoption. This path of salvation is grounded in believing and encountering the Triune God who loves humanity, it is enacted through the sacrament of baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit who testifies to us that we are adopted children of God.
  3. “Partaking of the divine nature” is a quote from 2. Peter 1:4: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” What it means to partake of the divine nature, without transgressing the creator/creature divide has been greatly debated. From this quote, we can say that it means, at the very least, being filled with the Spirit, united to Christ and given the grace of adoption. In other words, partaking of the divine nature is being brought in to a relationship with the triune God for our salvation, and it is grounded in the triune God’s work of salvation. 
  4. Salvation, life, baptism, adoption, being filled with the Holy Spirit, all happens because the eternal Word of the Father, the equal Son of God, became human for our sake so that we can have life in him. The Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means and path by which we are united to God, receive forgiveness, are justified, sanctified and filled with the Spirit.  Thus, partaking of the divine nature is grounded in and located in Jesus Christ, who is the mediator between God and humanity.

Quotes from The Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Gregory of Nazianzus On the Economy of Salvation

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When I started reading the church fathers, one of the most refreshing aspects of their writings was the way they talked about The scope and depth of Salvation. This quote is taken from an excellent resource, the Ancient Christian Doctrine series, and exemplifies the way Gregory summarize Scripture’s witness to the magnificent work of Christ in his life, death, and resurrection.

“He who gives riches becomes poor, for he assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may assume the richness of his Godhead. He that is full empties himself for a short while, that I may have a share in his fullness. What is the riches of his goodness? What is this mystery that is around me? I had a share in the image; I did not keep it. He partakes of my flesh that he may both save the image and make the flesh immortal. He communicates a second communion far more marvelous than the first; in as much as then he imparted the better nature, whereas now he himself partakes of the worse. This is more Godlike than the former action, this is loftier in the eyes of all men of understanding.” Gregory of Nazianzus, ACD, 2.105.

This is a beautiful passage that exposes some of the most profound mysteries of our faith, in the context of Jesus Christ’s humility as the source of the salvation of the world. First, it is vital to see that Gregory reflection on Christ is an expansion of the magnificent Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This verse, for Gregory and many other church fathers, is a touchstone for reflecting on God’s work of salvation.  Christ who is equal to the Father, the same essence, became human to bring humanity into communion with God.
Significantly, Gregory does not speak of this salvation in abstract terms, he sees his own life wrapped up in this mystery: “What is the riches of his goodness? What is this mystery that is around me?” The life that Jesus lived is the life that he gives Gregory. He took Gregory’s sin and death and gave him his life and love.

To clarify the second half of the quote, let me explain what Gregory is saying. ‘The image’ which Gregory refers to is the image of God, that we read about in Genesis 1:26-28.  The salvation in Christ is much greater than when Adam and Eve were created (‘second communion far more marvelous than the first’) because in Jesus Christ humanity receives a more profound and greater union with God than Adam and Eve had. This is the mystery of the incarnation: Christ has taken our human body and life and made them his, forming what is sinful and dying into his body which is holy and immortal, through his infinite life.

The personal appropriation of Christ’s objective work on the cross for all of humanity is what continues to capture my attention in Gregory and other Church Fathers. They knew and experienced the reality of Christ’s wonderful exchange in their lives. As an Anglican priest, I am reminded that when I serve the meals of Grace of word and sacrament to the church, I am offering my congregation nourishment to continue to grow in this mystery: the mystery of our justification and sanctification and glorification in Jesus Christ through the Power of the Holy Spirit. Every week, we are invited into this great mystery of Salvation – union with God in Christ, so that we can have the same mind and be the one body of Christ in the world.

 

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Thomas Aquinas On the Image of God in Humanity

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In Christian Theological Anthropology, a fundamental question arises: what does it mean to be made in the image of God? There have been many answers proposed to answer this question. Two of the most common responses to this question is that the image of God is primarily found in the reality that humans are intelligent and relational creatures because God is intelligent and relational. Another common appraisal of the image of God in humanity is that humanity is the representative of God in the created world. When Aquinas is brought up in this discussion he is often plastered with a simplistic negative assessment: he believed that the image of God resided in the intellectual faculties of humans, that is not what Genesis 1:27-28 meant by the image of God. Therefore his assessment is incorrect. While Aquinas does focus on the intellectual facilities of humans in a way that, perhaps, is not the original meaning of Genesis 1:27-28, his view is much more nuanced than and is investigating.

In this post I want to consider a few quotes from Aquinas’s articles on the Image of God to propose the following: 1) that Aquinas’s doctrine of the image of God is not static. Instead, it has three factors: creation, redemption, and glorification. 2) In these factors, it is Christo-centric. 3) And while he does focus on the human mind as the seat of the image of God, it is the human mind directed towards God, thus revealing the relational dynamic of the image of God in humanity.

From the beginning of Aquinas’s Summa, he establishes three essential principles: 1) that the human creature is made for a particular end: to know and love God, and the only way we can know God is through revelation (1.1.a1). 2) Theology proper is the study of God: God himself in his infinite life and that which comes from God, i.e., all that is not God. This is how Aquinas says it, “But in sacred science, all things are treated of under the aspect of God; either because they are God himself; or because they refer to God as their beginning and end” (1.1.a7). Theology proper, i.e., theology ordered towards who God is and what God does start and ends with God as the beginning and end of all that exists. 3) since theology studies derivatively all that comes from the Triune God in his creative activity, the study of theology traces God’s creation, redemption, glorification, and the return of the creature to God – i.e., the mission of the Son and the Spirit for the reconciliation and restoration of the world (see 1.43-44). Taking these points together, in relation to our topic, human nature and the image of God will have a particular direction, one that is grounded in God as humanity’s creator and God as humanity’s end.

Our quotes come from Aquinas’s 93rd question in the first part of the Summa. He introduces the question as follows: “We now treat of the end or term of man’s production inasmuch as he is said to be made to the image and likeness of God” (1.93.Pro). So in treating the end goal of humanity’s creation, Aquinas establishes what the image of God in humanity is; in do8ng si the end, i.e., the beatific vision of God, or communion with God, shapes the beginning.

In the first article, Aquinas established what the image of God is in man. He argues, that humanity is an imperfect likeness of God, not imperfect because of sin, but imperfect because humanity is a creature, not the creator. This imperfection is akin to a painting of a real thing (1.93.1a). Humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, but not perfectly so because they are creatures and because there is only one perfect image of God:

The First-Born of creatures is the perfect image of God, reflecting perfectly that of which He is the Image and so he is said to be the Image, and never to the image… The image of God exists in his first-born Son; as the image of the king is in his Son who is of the same nature as himself; whereas it exists in man as in an alien nature, as the image of the king is in a silver coin. (1.93.reply 2).

The image of God in humanity is from God and is directed towards humanity’s end: perfection and union with God in Christ Jesus who is the perfect image and likeness of God. Notice, that for Aquinas, in the scope of redemption Christ, not Adam, is the first born of creation. He is the perfect image of God in the creation, and he is the one in whom our imaging of God is made perfect.

This is made evident a few articles later, where Aquinas considers whether all of humanity has the image of God or not:

Since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature. Now the intellectual nature imitates God chiefly in this, that God understands and loves Himself. Wherefore we see that the image of God is in man in three ways. First, inasmuch as man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men. Second, inasmuch as man actually and habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace. Third, inasmuch as man knows and loves God perfectly; and this image consists in the likeness of glory. Wherefore on the words, The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us (Ps 4:7), the gloss distinguishes a threefold image of creation, of re-creation, and of likeness. The first is found in all men, the second only in the just, the third only in the blessed (1.93.a4).

Setting aside the definition of the image for a second, notice how Aquinas defines the image of God in humanity via the whole of the economy of God’s work in the world: Creation, re-creation, and glorification. Mankind was created to know and love God, after the fall humanity was re-created when the perfect image of God, the Son, came and saved humanity. The image is brought to completion and perfection when humanity knows and loves God as much as is humanly possible in the beatific vision. This threefold distinction not only shows how the image of God is related to the work of Christ in creating, saving, and glorifying humanity in his own body, it also demonstrates that the image of God is in all of humanity. However, because mankind was created to be in communion with God, there are different levels of image bearing correlated to where one is in relation to the true image: Jesus Christ. Thus, the image of God is both a given reality in creation, but because we were made for God, it must also be re-created and perfected through the mission of the Son and the Spirit so that humanity can delight in and know the one for whom we were created.

This final point helps us make sense of why Aquinas, following Augustine, sees the image of God as especially located in humanity’ intellectual nature. For Aquinas, the intellect is not mere rationality, it is the location of our knowledge and love; our knowledge of God and our desire for God. our ability to know and love is what sets humanity apart from other creatures (1.93.a6). But this knowing and loving are not a general knowing and loving, but knowing and loving God. Aquinas quotes Augustine who argues that the image of God in humanity is most reflective of God when it is knowing and loving God (1.93.a8). In other words, the fullness of the image of God in humanity is directly connected to individual humans united to God in Christ through the Spirit who builds up in us the mind of Christ and fills us with the love of God.

Thus the location of the image of God is connected to the intellect not because knowing is the most God-like feature of humans, but because we were created to know and love God. When humanity is united to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, actively pursuing him in love and knowledge, that is when we are most reflecting the image of God, at least while we are still on earth. In the new creation, the image will be made perfect, and we will be like the first-born of all creation, the perfect image of God without defect: Jesus Christ the Lord.

From this discussion, we can see that Aquinas’s understanding of the image of God is about reflecting and participating in the knowledge and love of God. That for which humanity was made is grounded in Christ who is the perfect image, and it is brought to completion through the economy of salvation.

When we talk about the image of God, Aquinas’s understanding gives significant direction: 1) we must affirm that everyone has the image of God, and thus has an intrinsic value and significance. 2) At the same time, because we were created to be in a relationship with God, those who are oriented towards God in Christ have the potential to reflect the image of God more faithfully, insofar as they are orienting their lives towards the knowledge and love of God; i.e., growing in sanctification. 3) Knowledge of who God is and what God does, combined with a desire and delight in God is the path of conforming to the image of God in Christ Jesus (see John 17:3). 4) The image of God is still being brought to completion through the invisible missions of the Son and Spirit in the lives of Christians. 5) The end for which we are created was revealed at the beginning: We were made in the image of God to enjoy him forever in Christ.