Monday, November 30, 2009

Northern Michigan Theology

As I perused the Chicago Consultation website, I came across this from the Diocese of Northern Michigan circa 2007. Certain parts of the statement are of course fine, but I offer the following bits which I find troublesome theologically -- and which remind me very much of the theological views of their recent bishop-elect, for whom consents were not forthcoming. The statement presents what many would identify as an 'incarnational theology' -- but I'm not sure it's quite right. It seems to have weakness in its vision of Creation -- one in which there appears to be no Fall, no evil, no sin -- other than the sin of 'blindness'. I'm reminded of the theological narrative which purports to be "truly" Pelagian, anti-Augustinian, truly Celtic, truly affirming, etc. Having read a bit of Pelagius' work my self (in the BB Rees edition), I'm not sure that even Pelagius would agree with all of this.

Anyhow, what do you all think about these statements?

Here they are:

-- Baptism confirms this most basic truth which is at once, the Good News: all is of God, without condition and without restriction.

-- We seek and serve Christ in all persons because all persons are the living Christ. Each and every human being, as a human being, is knit together in God’s Spirit, and thus an anointed one – Christ.

-- We do harmful and evil things to ourselves and one another, not because we are bad, but because we are blind to the beauty of creation and ourselves. In other words, we are ignorant of who we truly are: "there is no Greek or Hebrew; no Jew or Gentile; no barbarian or Scythian; no slave or citizen. There is only Christ, who is all in all." (Colossians 3:11).

-- Everyone is the sacred word of God, in whom Christ lives.

-- Because each and every one of us is an only begotten child of God; because we, as the church, are invited by God to see all of creation as having life only insofar as it is in God; because everything, without exception, is the living presence, or incarnation, of God...


  1. I'll respond in terms close to Karl Rahner's theology, because I think that Fr. Forrester's theology often is a distortion of Rahner (and Eckhart). At the same time, there are certain tendencies in Rahner that I would not want to endorse, because they might plausibly lead in KTF's direction.

    With regard to 1, I could affirm it provided that "all is of God" were glossed "every creature as such is of God." Human creatures of course can turn away from their own true being in sin, and sin is not of God. As privatio boni, sin doesn't properly speaking exist, but a clearer subject is needed for the sentence than "all."

    With regard to 2, I would want to insist with Rahner that the human creature as such is the possibility of incarnation and that the Holy Spirit is always, already present as prevenient grace and charity. Nevertheless, even the most radical permissible doctrine of the totus Christus better preserves the distinction between head and members. Moreover, whatever the merits of the theory of anonymous Christianity, the strong identification of someone as a member of Christ in the NT, depends upon his or her Christianity taking on a tangible, categorial ecclesial form.

    With regard to 3, every creature as such is certainly a reflection of the uncreated Word and hence related to Christ, the incarnate Word, who sums up in his person all that is good in the created order. It is also true that the Holy Spirit is present in every human creature as actual grace (gratia gratis data) and therefore, in a sense, that Christ is present. But to have Christ living in oneself (as wrt #2) in the Pauline sense implies specific commitment to visible, tangible ecclesial communion through baptism and Eucharist, confession of articles of faith, and acceptance of the discipline of life in Christ.

    With respect to 4, this is the root of the problem, ignoring the distinction between the only begotten Son, the second person of the Trinity, who becomes incarnate in our Lord Jesus Christ, and God's adopted children by grace, on the one hand, and between the vestiges of the Creator in every creature and the human being as God's image and likeness, on the other. A pet peeve of mine is that you don't get to call someone a child of God until they are a brother or sister in Christ. It doesn't mean that other people aren't in the image of God and therefore of infinite dignity. The grammar of the NT requires that child of God be restricted to an ecclesial sense.

  2. It is number four that is most troublesome for me, and as Fr Bill, notes, affects the other three. The Patristic terminology, "only-begotten" is reserved for the Second Person of the Trinity alone. By claiming we too are "only-begotten" the uniqueness of Jesus Christ is denied and we are "upgraded". This has serious christological problems, suggesting as it does a Christ nature. There is no such thing in classic christology. There is the divine and human natures in the one unique Person, the Second Person, Jesus Christ. What we are left with by this statement is that Christ is not unique, and thus, a divinized human person rather than a Divine Person with two natures. And that we too can be divinized human persons just like Jesus. It is a perversion then of christology proper and of anthropology, of thinking on soteriology (specifically sanctification or theosis) as well. It is true, we are meant to grow in God's goodness and love, becoming more and more a reflection of God as revealed in Christ. This is possible because the Second Person has redeemed and divinized human nature in Himself, not because of something we ourselves do.

    At the heart of classic Patristic as well as Reformation christologies, each in their own way, is this affirmation--God saves. The Holy Name of Jesus is fitting in this regard. The former emphasize God become flesh and the latter Christ's forgiveness of sin and sins. They are not necessarily opposed to one another--the cross supremely bears forth the Incarnation--this God truly became one of us, a creature of flesh, a human being.

    Anglicans have tended to hold together the Anselmian and the Athanasian, the Augustinian and the Cappadocian, letting the wisdom of each bubble near one another in our prayers without letting any one sense dominate. Our prayers reflect not a synthesis but a willingness to let our practices rather than one theory dominate. None of these, however, would suggest, as this tends to do, that we humans are without sin. St John of Damascus could go so far as to say all of Creation is an icon of God. St Bonaventure writes of God's wisdom showing forth in each creature. Creature is a supreme word of dignity--we are God's creations and thus related to God by being God's creations. As Maurice noted, God comes to God's own. And yet, clearly, we humans can turn away. Our hope is that God's Word is the final word on the matter.