Theology


I am a devout traditionalist Roman Catholic Christian, embracing classical theism (vs neotheism or theistic personalism), neo-scholastic Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics, natural law theory, and covenantal theology with a patristic interpretation of scripture.

 

Classical theism:

God is the metaphysically ultimate, greatest possible "being" (which no greater can be conceived), uncreated and uncaused, necessarily existing (metaphysical not logical necessity), timeless (eternal), changeless (immutable and impassible), immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent (not in the sense of being spatially extended or limited by space), omnibenevolent (Goodness itself),  endowed with freedom of the will, and worthy of worship. God is pure actuality (actus purus) without any passive potency (but infinite active potency or power) or any accidents (except for accidental Cambridge properties). God is not a species of any genus, thus not A being among other beings but is subsistent Being itself (his essence is existence). God is one and is not composed of parts or different attributes in any way (divine simplicity). God is the first cause and unmoved mover, not depending on anything outside of himself (aseity), who created out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) everything that exists apart from himself, and sustains it in being from moment to moment (creatio continua). God does not lack or need anything and therefore creates solely for the benefit of the beings created by him.

 

Provided that it is really compatible with classical theism and AT metaphysics, I consider the possibility that Palamite panentheism might be on to something. It should not be confused with the heretical views of Whiteheadian panentheism, because it still maintains the crucial distinction between transcendent creator and immanent creation, but allows for a distinction of God (his essence) and his energies (his active potentiality or power). Such a distinction does not imply composition, just like the trinitarian doctrine of the distinct relations as divine persons.

 

God specially creates the soul of every human being as moral agent with rational faculties and free will (in the image of God). Man has an inclination to sin and a sinful desire to become his own God and/or to pursue and whorship created goods rather than the Creator. To those sinners, who refuse to repent and who reject God in favor of their own autonomy, God will say "thy will be done" and they will spend eternity separated from God (hell) as the source of all Good and Being, while those who repent from sin and have a loving faith in God, are invited into an everlasting fellowship with God (heaven), where they will enjoy an infinite Good ("beatific vision").

 

God's necessary existence is best established by Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics and classical theism, which is why I am somewhat skeptical of Anselmian "perfect being theology" and the Ontological Argument, because they are based on an anthropomorphic concept of God and an incorrect view of the relation between actuality and modality. God's necessary existence implies that he cannot fail to exist, he cannot not exist. Therefore, God does not need an explanation outside of his own nature. Also God does not need a cause, because he was not created and did not begin to exist. Therefore, the common but naive objection "Who created God?" by Richard Dawkins and his internet infidel followership completely fails. If God would have a cause he would not be ultimate and thus not be God. God is by definition the uncaused first cause. Also God is by definition eternal and therefore never came into being. Asking how God came to be is to fail to understand who God is.

 

Omnipotence does not imply the ability to do the logical impossible. Thus, God cannot commit suicide, God cannot create a squared circle, he cannot create a stone he cannot lift, he cannot make 2+2=5 true, and he cannot act against his nature, e.g. sin or lie.

 

God and abstract objects:

Concerning the relation of God to abstract objects I subscribe to scholastic realism (divine conceptualism) in combination with the notion of unified non-propositional knowledge that is required by divine simplicity. God knows the truth values of all propositions in one simple act of knowing that is not distinct from his will and power. He is the first cause of everything and thus knows everything because he knows himself.

 

Divine providence vs free will:

I consider genuine free will as crucial foundation for a satisfying theodicy (free will defense) and for human moral accountability. I think that the only coherent metaphysical explanation for God's foreknowledge and human free will is found in (Bañezian) Thomism. I reject Molinism (e.g., endorsed by William Lane Craig), which not only violates divine sovereignty, but indeed conflicts with divine simplicity and aseity, because a part of divine knowledge would depend on human choices and thus on creation.

 

God is free in the sense of not being restricted or determined by anything outside of himself, not even by his own nature, because he strictly speaking does not have a nature since he is not composed of essence and existence but his essence is existence.

 

Trinitarianism and Christology:

The doctrine of the Trinity does neither contradict monotheism nor divine simplicity. God is one in nature / essence (one what) but three in persons (three whos). He is not three Gods. The three divine persons do not represent three different centers of consciousness and will (that would indeed be Tritheism), but represent subsistent relations within the Godhead. They do not represent parts of the Godhead, so that each divine person would be 1/3 of God. Each person is fully God.

 

The number of three and only three persons is not only a revealed mystery, but can also be established with philosophical arguments that are based on perfect being theology and the great-making property of love. These imply that God is lover (Father), beloved (Son) and the bond of love (Holy Spirit) between the two as suggested by John Duns Scotus, Richard Swinburne and the Catholic doctrine of filioque.

 

The second person of the Trinity assumed a human nature, so that it represents a single person with two natures in hypostatic union (fully divine and fully human). Since consciousness and will are faculties of the nature and not of the person, Jesus' human nature has a distinct and separate center of consciousness and will from the divine nature (dyotheletism).

 

Since only persons and not natures are born and die, the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth (but not existence) to a divine person and thus indeed is the Mother of God (Theotokos). Likewise, it was not Jesus' human nature that died on the cross, but God himself (the second person of the Trinity).

 

Justification and Sanctification:

I reject the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide), unless faith is properly understood as not only including a "belief that" and "belief in " (trust) but also "obedience to". Justification is not a instantaneous act of forensic imputation of alien righteousness (nothing that is not really righteous could be allowed in the presence of a perfectly holy God), followed by a different process of sanctification, but is a lifelong process of infusion of real righteousness that begins with baptism and goes on till the last breath (and beyond in purgatory). Justification and sanctification cannot be separated.

 

Atonement:

I reject the Protestant "penal substitution theory" of the atonement as an abhorrent false doctrine. God the Father definitely did not pour out his wrath on Jesus, who was without sin and perfectly righteous. I instead subscribe to the satisfaction theory of atonement, according to which Christ paid a dept that he did not owe, because we owe a dept that we cannot pay.

 

However, I am convinced that the other patristic interpretations of the atonement (recapitulation theory, ransom theory, Christus Victor theory), as well as René Girard's scapegoat theory, also represent parts of the full truth of this complex issue. The recapitulation theory correctly emphasizes that Jesus is the second Adam, who reconciled man with God through an self-sacrificial act of perfect love and obedience. The Christ Victor theory highlights Christ's victory over the forces of evil and death.

 

I agree with N.T. Wright's "new perspective on Paul" that Paul does not teach imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement in his epistles. These modern notions are Protestant anachronisms read into the ancient text.

 

Eschatology:

I subscribe to a patristic covenantal interpretation of scripture and Biblical prophecy, with partial preterism and amillenialism. Alternatively, I consider historic premillenialism, but reject unbiblical modern doctrines like dispensationalism, millenarianism, and the rapture.

 

I agree with N.T. Wright that the afterlife is not about the temporally disembodied life immediately after death, but about the embodied eternal "life after life after death" when Jesus returns and brings an end to mundane history with the general resurrection, final judgement, and the renovation and redemption of all of creation in the New Heaven and New Earth.

 

I reject the modern liberal heresies of universalism and annihilationism, and affirm the reality and eternal nature of heaven and hell, as well as the reality of Satan and other fallen angels (demonic forces). I also affirm purgatory as well supported scripturally and philosophically, as a state of cleansing (compare C.S. Lewis), because nothing unrighteous can be allowed in the presence of a perfect God, and as a place of temporal punishment of finite sins that is required by God's infinite justness, even though the eternal consequences of sin are forgiven by God's infinite mercy and grace for those who freely come to love God, repent from sin, and accept his undeserved grace through Jesus' atoning self-sacrifice.

 

What about Natural Science and Secular History?

I am convinced that religion and science are not conflicting but complementary disciplines. I concur with St. Augustine's famous dictum that God authored two books that cannot contradict each other: the book of scripture (special revelation of God's word) and the book of nature (which is not the same as general revelation).

 

I agree with methodological naturalism only in experimental science (studying how the world works), but deny naturalism and allow for supernaturalist explanations in historical science (how things came to be), where we should follow the evidence wherever it leads (compare my blog post on The Lamoureux-Delusion).

 

What about scripture?

I affirm prima scriptura but reject the crucial Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura as incoherent, because it is itself unbiblical and contradicted by scripture's teaching of the importance of tradition. It also suffers from the fatal problem of the canon, because there is no divinely inspired table of contents, so that Protestantism has a fallible canon of infallible books (as admitted by the famous reformed theologian R.C. Sproul). Also, in the first decades and centuries of early Christianity there simply was no Bible. Finally, sola scriptura represented a practical impossibility in the first 1500 years of Christianity without widespread literacy and without printing press.

 

The fact that the numerous different denominations of Protestantism disagree on many key issues also refutes the Protestant doctrine of the perspecuity of scripture. God would not have left his Church without an infallible guide to proper interpretation of his word.

 

In agreement with Catholic tradition I endorse a patristic covenantal interpretation of scripture, in which the Old Testament is read in the light of the New Testament (Christocentric), with a strong emphasis on typology and different layers of meaning (four senses or quadriga) as already done by Jesus, Paul, and the apostles. As St. Augustine famously said: The OT is the NT concealed, and the NT is the OT revealed. There are two basic senses of scripture related to the human and divine dual authorship of scripture: the literal (historical) sense and the spiritual sense, which is founded on the literal sense. The literal sense teaches what happened, but is not to be understood as naively literalistic but in terms of the mythopoetic intent of the original human author and considering the literary genre. The grammatical-historical method, and with some reservation the historical-critical method, are useful but restricted to this purpose of recovering the literal sense and original intent of the human authors. The spiritual sense includes three different layers of meaning intended by the divine author:

  • The allegorical (typological) sense: teaches what you should believe.
  • The tropological (moral) sense: teaches what you should do.
  • The anagogical (eschatological/salvational) sense: teaches what you should aim.

 

Interpretation of Genesis 1-11:

I recognize that Genesis 1-11 does not represent ancient Hebrew poetry but the literary genre of prose narrative, and that the Hebrew word 'yom' is used in the sense of a 24h-day in Genesis 1. I also recognize that many important Christian doctrines are rooted in Genesis. This could suggest that the natural reading of Genesis 1-11 as literal history should be the preferred interpretation. However, several problems within scripture preclude such a literalistic interpretation: the undeniable fact that Genesis 1 describes a typical ancient Near East cosmology with a disk-shaped Earth and a solid sky-dome (compare Paul Seely, John Walton, Peter Enns, Michael Heiser); the unresolvable contradictions between the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2; the problem of the function of the tree of life if there was no death before the Fall; and obvious allegorical elements (e.g., God walking in the Garden of Eden, a tree of knowledge, a talking snake).

 

I also reject concordist interpretations that anachronistically try to read the results of modern science (e.g., Big Bang inflationary cosmology and Darwinian evolution) into the text of Genesis 1.

 

Therefore, I support a non-literal and non-concordist interpretation of Genesis 1 in terms of the framework hypothesis and the temple inauguration view (sensu John Walton and N.T. Wright).

 

In agreement with Catholic doctrine I affirm a literal Adam and Eve as first humans specially created by God by infusing a rational soul in a chosen pair within an ancient Homo sapiens population, who thereby became moral agents in the image of God. This first human pair was endowed with preternatural gifts and placed in a special environment (Garden of Eden). Original sin caused the four wounds of the Fall:

  • Original Sin (lack of sanctifying grace, and thus lack of righteousness, causing spiritual death)
  • Ignorance (lack of infused knowledge)
  • Concupiscence (passions no longer integrated under reason, inclination to sin)
  • Mortality and sickness (loss of immortality, the body no longer strengthened, because further access to the "Tree of Life" was denied).

Concerning the other events in Genesis 1-11 (and most of the Old Testament) I recognize that they rather refer to the local history of God's chosen people than to the global history of planet Earth. They are rooted in Babylonian and ANE motives that were adapted to Hebrew mythopoetic history when the OT was written by different authors during the Babylonian exile. This is strongly suggested by the numerous Babylonian motives in Genesis 1-11 (Babylonian cosmology in Genesis 1 similar to Enuma Elish, rivers locate Eden in Mesopotamia, Flood story parallel to the older Gilgamesh epic, tower of Babel as Mesopotamian ziggurat, Abraham coming from Ur in Mesopotamia, exile parallels in the banishing from Eden and the Exodus, etc.). I thus do neither assume Mosaic authorship nor historicity for most of the OT. I agree with Peter Enns' incarnational view of scripture as fully human and fully divine, and think that this aligns very well with Catholic exegesis according to the literal and spiritual senses of scripture (see above). This view also solves apparent problems with divinely commanded  atrocities in OT, or other alleged Bible problems.

 

I affirm the inerrancy of scripture for the spiritual sense intended by the divine author (matters of faith, morals, and salvation), but reject inerrancy for the literal sense intended by the human authors. The Bible is not a textbook for science and history. I agree with Galileo Galilei that the Bible does not teach how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven.

 

Divine inspiration of the Bible is proven by the intricate pattern of typological correspondences between NT and OT, fulfilled messianic prophecy (e.g., Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 53, Psalms 22, Daniel 9) as well as historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

Traditionalism:

I sympathize with moderate strands of Catholic traditionalism (e.g. FSSP, but not FSSPX), who reject heretical sedevacantism and accept all of the 21 Catholic Church's ecumenical councils (incl. Vatican II), all Roman Pontiffs, and both forms of the Roman Rite. I advocate a more frequent offer of the traditional Tridentine Mass (Latin Rite) as extraordinary alternative to the modern ordinary form of the Roman Rite. I fear that in the wake of Vatican II there were flawed interpretations of this council in terms of liberal modernism. To stop the exodus from the Church we do not need a further surrender of the Church to the zeitgeist, but a firm defense of traditional Catholic doctrines and values as alternative to the emptiness of modern secular culture, as well as a large scale New Evangelization with good Catholic apologetics.

 

My approach to apologetics:

I embrace a classical (evidential) approach to apologetics, which I consider as essential in todays secular world that is more and more hostile to supernaturalism, theism, and religion, and therefore requires good evidence and rational arguments to convince unbelievers and doubters, as powerfully confirmed by my own conversion history. I also strongly sympathize with the purely philosophical approach of Thomism (Aquinas' Five ways), which is independent of any empirical data. I even find some valuable truth in the approach of presuppositional apologetics, because without God and a Biblical world view there would be no coherent foundation for moral obligations or laws of logic and thus no firm base for any civil and rational discourse.