Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hegel, Anachronism, and Critique

Yesterday was our second and final week of covering Hegel in Hector's class; we focused on the second and third parts of the Lectures on Philosophy of Religion where he discusses the determinate religions and the consummate religion (Christianity).

The discussion was good, but also frustrating for me. Much of it was caught up in criticism of Hegel's "ethnocentrism". Other students were rather turned off by his second section and discussion of various world religions, finding it disturbing how he would test them and find them wanting based on a (supposedly) "Christian" standard. To a certain extent, that's fair enough. Certainly Hegel does not allow the religions to speak for themselves or present a picture of them true to their lived reality. But it was just mind-boggling to me that people would get so caught up on this fact. Some thoughts that were running through my head; some voiced during discussion and some not:

1. Hegel is a 19th century scholar. He will certainly not have the scientific precision of a 21st century religion scholar, because he doesn't have the benefit of almost 200 more years of scholastic discussion. However, Hegel is careful to cite the scientific literature of his time. He will also engage the classical histories in a way that we just wouldn't today, but what else would you expect from someone of his era?

2. Any centrism that Hegel betrays is entirely his own. The Christianity that he presents is often just as unrecognizable as the Buddhism or the Hinduism that he presents. That Hegel works in the Christian tradition and is attempting to offer a philosophical defense of the primacy of the Christian religion should not blind us to the fact that his constructive work does just as much to re-standardize his own religion as it does for any other.

3. Aren't we missing the point?! Reading Hegel today as a religious studies scholar is simply an anachronism. That scientific undertaking has long passed him by. Where Hegel is important, in questions of philosophy and philosophical theology, he can still be read even in his outdated presentation of determinate religion, simply for the sake of the wider project that he assumes rather than for the historical accuracy of anything that he says within his ideal system. No scholar of Buddhism is going to quote Hegel, and no scholar of Hegel is going to quote his thoughts on Buddhism as thoughts on Buddhism; rather they will examine these thoughts as part of a wider Hegelian system, or on an historical level as Hegel's understanding of a particular religion.

4. Hegel's discussion of Spirit is tied to his Christianity, but its consummation in Christianity is not for Hegel its entirety. Realized Spirit is realized in a positive religion but does not thus mean a triumph of any particular positive religion (Christianity) over others. It is rather just what he says it is; a consummation of the whole process of the realization of Spirit. Hegel's apology for the Christian religion is thus not a Christian or ethnocentric critique of other religions; Christianity, like every other religion, is subsumed by the entire process of the realization of Spirit. Whether Hegel's system is or isn't true, it is certainly coherent in its appropriation of particular determinate religions within the wider life of the Spirit and not in any ethnic or religious privileging. Christianity's consummate status does not make it the one true religion- this is trying to fit a square peg into Hegel's round hole. Consummate religion is dependent upon the realization through determination of Spirit, just as determinate religion is dependent for its truth upon its consummation.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hegel on Baptism

Our daughter Sophia is getting baptized this coming Sunday as the Church celebrates All Souls Day.  Conveniently, my reading from Hegel for this week's class included some discussion of baptism; this if from section 3 of his 1827 lectures on the philosophy of religion, where he discusses the Spirit in the community of consummate religion (Berkley: Univ. California, 1988, pp. 476-7):

The church is essentially a teaching church, by virtue of which there is a teaching office whose function is to expound doctrine.

Human beings are already born into this doctrine; thy have their beginnings in this context of valid truth, already present, and in the consciousness of it.  The relationship of single members to this presupposed truth that subsists in and for itself has yet a second aspect.  Since individuals are born into the church, they are destined straightaway, while they are still unconscious, to participate in this truth, to become partakers of it; their vocation is for 
the truth.  The church expresses this too, in the sacrament of baptism, which says that the human being, the individual, is in the fellowship of the church, where evil has been overcome, implicitly and explicitly, and God is reconciled, implicitly and explicitly.  

...and then Hegel starts to sound like Hegel...

Initially, doctrine is related to this individual as something external.  The child is at first spirit only implicitly, it is not yet realized spirit, is not yet actual as spirit; it has only the capability, the potentiality, to be spirit, to become actual as spirit.  Thus the truth is something external to it, and comes to the subject initially as something presupposed, acknowledged, and valid.  This means that the truth necessarily comes to humanity at first as authority.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

School Dogmatics in the Church Dogmatics

"Nothing that can claim to be truly of the Church need shrink from the sober light of 'scholasticism.' No matter how free and individual it may be in its first expression, if it seeks universal acceptance, it will be under constraint to set up a school and therefore to become the teaching of a school. Fear of scholasticism is the mark of a false prophet. The true prophet will be ready to submit his message to this test too."

Barth goes on to criticize Luther's "irregular dogmatics," though he does recognize that "it is a sign of its significance for the Church that it could survive being put in the school theology of Melanchthon and Calvin and their successors..."

And further, "Anyone who wants to pursue regular dogmatics will have, of course, special cause to remember that this way of doing the task cannot claim a monopoly, even of especially as regards scientific character. It is certainly as well to reflect that at any moment it is possible that the question of dogma may be put and answered much more seriously and fruitfully in the unassuming Bible class of an unknown country parson than in the most exact academic discussion imaginable. School dogmatics should not try to regard itself as better dogmatics, only as a necessary second form of dogmatics."

(CD I/1, §7)

Barth's thoughts on doing theology are always interestingly held up one against the other. At times he sounds as if the dogmatic task isn't so very different from the task of preaching, while at other times he will distinguish school theology more sharply in order to clarify its role alongside the prophetic and preached Word, or alongside "irregular" dogmatics. That's not to say such differing emphases are contradictory; they are in fact necessary. The play back and forth between them is what keeps dogmatics from becoming a totalizing force that squelches the Spirit, and what keeps the spirited speaker of God's Word from falling into an equally totalizing rejection of scientific order.

Gesammelten Werke Joseph Ratzingers - Joseph Ratzinger's Complete Works

Joseph Ratzinger's complete works are set to be published by Herder and the Pope Benedict XVI Institute of Regensburg. The German series is projected to be 16 volumes, and talks are under way with Ignatius Press for an English version (no big surprise there). The pope insisted that his birth name be used for the series in order to distinguish it as an individual theologian's werke rather than any sort of magisterial teaching.

The linked CNS article goes into some interesting detail about Ratzinger's own understanding of his work and how this will be reflected in the Herder series:

"When, after some hesitation, I decided to take on the project of the publication of my collected works, it was clear to me that the priorities of the (Second Vatican) Council were the most important, which is why liturgy had to be first," the pope wrote.

The first volume, containing his work on the liturgy, was apparently presented yesterday in Regensburg. The second volume will be out in March 2009, and will feature Ratzinger's postdoctoral dissertation on Bonaventure's theology of history (I recently blogged about its reprinting in English translation through Ignatius). I'm not sure whether this volume will include the original manuscript of the dissertation that was eventually dropped by Ratzinger, but in general the series will make available a number of lectures and sermons not previously published.

This will be a welcome set for any theological library. With the enormous amount of secondary literature being generated on Ratzinger over the last few years, he is quickly moving towards being recognized with Balthasar, De Lubac, Rahner, and others as one of the truly great thinkers of 20th century Catholicism, and in particular a guiding light of postconciliar thought.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Lambeth Commentary

The Covenant Design Group of the Anglican Communion has released the Lambeth Commentary. From ACNS:

The Covenant Design Group publish [sic] today the Lambeth Commentary, which sets out the responses of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference in their discussions of the St Andrew's Draft for an Anglican Covenant.
The Commentary was complied [sic] by the Covenant Design Group at their recent meeting in Singapore and also sets out some of the initial thinking of the CDG in response to the comments of the bishops.

Hopefully the link will stay put. Whoever does the Communion's online work seems to like to reshuffle their web materials periodically- a fact that was enormously frustrating for me as I worked on and edited my canon law article. One would think that accessibility of important ecclesiastical documents would be a priority for these people, but that doesn't always seem to be the case!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friedman's legacy, and Chicago's.

The University of Chicago is a difficult culture to figure out. I was advised about the uniqueness of the Divinity School before deciding to go, and since then it's been interesting getting to know what Chicago is all about. It is telling that a significant portion of the Chicago religion faculty earned their doctorates at Chicago; while warning signals of intellectual inbreeding may be worth heeding, this also simply points to the fact that the University of Chicago, while being a standard bearer in the field of religious studies, is also somewhat of an island unto itself.

More prominent (though perhaps less interesting) than the Chicago school of religion, however, is the Chicago school of economics. And here we find the most recent rumblings of the school's multi-faceted cultural identity. Front page news on campus (and I am only on-campus once a week, so I encounter this as an outsider) lately has been the controversial new Milton Friedman Institute. The whole story begs for the academic microscope to be turned back on the scholarly community itself, on its quirks and behavioral subtleties.

At issue is the very identity of the Institute. A significant number of faculty and students (co-led by the Divinity School's own Bruce Lincoln) have protested that the devastating effect of Friedman's influence around the world during the later half of the 20th century is something the University should not advance, especially with such a large amount of its resources, in this institute. The Committee for Open Research on Economy & Society (CORES) has offered a petition detailing the main objections to the MFI. Recently Naomi Klein has also come to campus for a talk on "Disaster Capitalism: Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys". More recently still, a Faculty Senate meeting has been called to discuss the future of the MFI; as I understand it this was the first time that a full senate meeting has been held in ten years.

It is difficult for me to understand exactly what is being protested here, and I don't think this is entirely the fault of CORES but rather simply the way that these things unfold and are reported in unevenly developmental fashion. Some people seem to be saying that the big problem is with the name- that this is problematic on a symbolic level more than anything else. Others suggest a real threat to free inquiry at the university because of the Institute (then again, the original letter from the faculty says quite clearly, "This is not a question of academic freedom, to be sure.")

My initial response to the vehement opposition was that they are overreacting. One needn't be a card-carrying neoliberal to wish the MFI well out of a realization that institutes will be named and even devoted to all manner of unsavory individuals and schools of thought, and that such grounding, while not everyone's cup of tea, is as much a strength of the academic institute as it is a weakness. Somewhat like the George W. Bush Library at Southern Methodist University, it seems silly to me to protest a prestigious research presence on campus simply because one dislikes from whence (or whom) the prestige originally came.

The petition does make some good points with regard to this, however. Paragraph 7 states:

"The proposal makes clear that the MFI will engage issues of policy and not limit itself to matters of academic theory. We are troubled by the prospect that it could come to play a role similar to that of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, or think tanks that lack the legitimating imprimatur of great universities."

Such an objection is worth considering, even though its full scope is more than we can address here. What exactly is the "legitimating imprimatur of great universities" that the petition speaks of? This seems, after all, to be the very ground of contention and so an odd point upon which to base one's argument. Especially in the modern university, legitimation seems quite up in the air, dependent upon a vacillating symbolic capital that may (for good and bad reasons) privilege the academies, institutes, and think tanks (from 19th century Germany to the present)... ecclesiastical approval (think Ex Cordae Ecclesia and its aftermath in the US)... state sanction (public universities or the military academies)... and a whole host of other "imprimaturs". The opposition to the MFI make a coherent case and they're worth listening to, but against the rather variegated patchwork that is contemporary academic life I don't believe that their arguments have any self-evident grounding. They may end up being victims of their own commitment to rigorous criticism, that is, and I don't think they would have any higher moral ground from which to contest this outcome- it would simply be a loss chalked up to them and a win to the MFI rather than an intellectual travesty.

While the controversy seems a little bit over-hyped to me, this is also what I enjoy immensely about the University of Chicago. The community is one where you don't know quite what to expect. It is a home to all manner of orthodoxies that don't for a minute allow one another a platform devoid of its vocal critics. As such I may not be able to develop any binding loyalty to the University during my years there, quite simply because ultimate loyalties are internally coherently normative rather than dialogically critical (even though they may actively participate in critical dialogue). I do, however, look forward to a few years of Chicago-as-proving-ground. The current controversy over Friedman's legacy and institute is a prominant example of this culture.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Necropolis uncovered in Rome

A large necropolis has been discovered in Rome underneath a rugby stadium:

"Culture Ministry officials said that medieval pottery shards in the city of the dead, or necropolis, show the area may have been inhabited by the living during the Dark Ages after being used for centuries for burials during the Roman period."

The same AP report discusses some other digs in the area, including the mausoleum of an important aide to Marcus Aurelius and the imperial residences on Palatine Hill.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Significant theology acquisitions

Stephen Spencer joined us this past summer, moving from his previous position as professor of theology to being our head of collection development at the library. He has brought with him an enormous bibliographic knowledge and we've been grateful for his presence up the hill.

Wheaton College presents a unique situation for its library's mission. While we're a small liberal arts college, we have advanced degrees in psychology and biblical studies/theology. As a result, our collection is somewhat of a hybrid between the typical liberal arts undergad library and the research library model. It is thus an ongoing job to provide adequate resources for our (relatively new) doctoral program in theology and biblical studies. Our biblical studies collection is a little farther along, having been pushed for a number of years now by faculty in associated disciplines. Theology, on the other hand, suffers in places from a lack of original sources and standard references- a lack we are working hard to fulfill.

Steve has jumped on this from the moment he arrived, and I've enjoyed chatting with him about what would be good to order, making suggestions, and learning about all that's out there. In particular we've acquired a lot of original sources, especially for work with German theology. This means a lot of fun work ahead for me, as I've taken over the cataloging of German monographs as a new job responsibility (I may try my hand at some Dutch stuff too... I can't imagine anyone else jumping at the opportunity).

A critical mass of new sets has come in, so I thought I'd make a blog entry of it. If you are connected with Wheaton or nearby, be aware that all of this great stuff is now living at Buswell! Please be patient, though. I have about a year of backlogged German books that I'm working through right now, so the resources listed here may not be out on the stacks for a little while yet.

Apologies if all of the information isn’t correct; this is a quick bibliography I’m throwing together of some of the most interesting sets. We're also filling in holes in the standard patristics sets, Melanchton's and Bucer's werke/opera, a number of medieval sources in translation (from the Dallas Medieval Texts series and St. Bonaventure's works), and I've seen a good number of secondary works and bibliographies for post-Reformation figures come by my desk. More important single volume works are coming in as well, but listing all of them here would get rather unwieldy, so I've restricted myself to the multivolume original language and reference sources.

Gerhard Ebeling, Dogmatik des Christlchen Glaubens, 3 vol. (Tübingen: Mohr, 1987-1993).

Daniel Wyttenbach, Lexicon Plutarcheum, 2 vol. (Lipsiae, 1843)

Lexicon Gregorianum, 7 vol. (Leiden: Brill, 1999-2008)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke, 16 vol. (München: Chr. Kaiser, 1988-)

Abraham Kuyper, De Gemeene Gratie, 3 vol. (Leiden: D. Donner, 1902)

Herman Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 4 vol. (J.H. Kok, 1928)

Herman Bavinck, Magnalia Dei, (J.H. Kok, 1909)

Jacob Boehme Samtliche Schriften, 9 vol. (Stuttgart: Fr. Frommanns, 1955)

…and the big one that just came in today:

Corpus Reformatorum: Ioannis Calvini Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia, 57 vol. (Schmidt Periodicals, 1990 reprint)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A few items...

  • Theommentary has a wonderful post on "the dangers of theological prognostication," relating an assessment of Karl Barth that now seems woefully misled and reminding us through it to not be so quick in judging what might be a passing fad or a lasting imprint on theological work.
  • Marquette's Aquinas and the Arabs Project is worth exploring. I wasn't aware of this until running across their most recent conference only days too late; Dr. Adriano Oliva O.P., president of the Leonine Commission, was a keynote speaker. It looks like they might be putting up videos of the lectures in the near future, so be sure to check back on this.
  • As I'm presently reading through some key figures on the transformation of traditional metaphysics in modernity, these two pieces have struck me as especially worthwhile. Brian Hamilton discusses the metaphysical language of the trinitarian controversies and couldn't have stated better the philosophical import of dogmatic statements in early Christianity, while Disruptive Grace offers some insight from Bruce McCormack on postmodernity and romanticism.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hegel against the positivists

We are into Hegel for the next two weeks of Kevin Hector's course on modern theology, reading through his preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit and his Lectures on the philosophy of religion. I've found Yirmiyahu Yovel's introduction, translation, and commentary of the former quite helpful for working through Hegel's system (here's the book, here's a criticism I ran across). In his section on the Hegelian principle of truth as subject rather than simply substance, Yovel compares the resulting difference of understanding between Hegel and the positivists, who would understand the truth of things as found in a strictly substantive reality:

"It is ironic that both Hegel and the positivists make the same criticisms of each other. The positivist believes the concrete world to be constructed from allegedly "simple" units (sensible and logical), and will see a dogmatic metaphysician in any philosopher who, like Hegel, regards the empirical particulars as expressing an inner conceptual "essence." For Hegel, however, the dogmatic metaphysician is the positivist, because he takes such abstractions and imaginary entities ("the simple") to be actual beings."*

*Y. Yovel, Hegel's Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), p. 30.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ratzinger's habilitationschrift reprinted...

While over at the Ignatius Press site today, I inadvertently stumbled upon a most welcome title. Joseph Ratzinger's Die Geschichtstheologie des heiligen Bonatventura is being reprinted in English translation.

The story behind Ratzinger's habilitationschrift is rather interesting. As a new professor in Freising, he began work on his thesis under the guidance of Gottlieb Söhngen. The figure of Bonaventure made sense as a medieval continuation of the work on Augustine that Ratzinger had completed for his doctoral dissertation; the theme of revelation and salvation history had of late become important amongst dogmatic theologians who were exploring beyond the more restrictive boundaries of neoscholasticism.

Upon completing the manuscript, however, Ratzinger met with a stark rejection from Michael Schmaus. The work was marked up severely with objections, though the other reviewing professors were able to soften Schmaus' rejection with a call for the thesis to be revised and resubmitted rather than turned down outright.

The extent of corrections to be made was daunting for Ratzinger, especially given the fact that many were (in his opinion) rather unjustified. While Söhngen offered strong support for his work, it would be difficult to meet Schmaus' expectations. It turned out, however, that Schmaus had largely restricted his criticisms to the first two parts of the thesis, leaving the final section (on Bonaventure's theology of history) in much better shape. Ratzinger recounts his bold solution to the problem in his memoirs,

"An idea then came to the rescue. What I had said about Bonaventure's theology of history was certainly interwoven with the whole of my book, and yet it could largely stand on its own. Without much difficulty, it could be detached from the work and reshaped to form a whole. In a volume of some two hundred pages, such a book would indeed be shorter than had become customery for habilitation theses, and yet it would be long enough to demonstrate the author's ability to do independent theological research, which was the whole point of the undertaking."*

This final section became Ratzinger's habilitationschrift of 1957, published in English translation as The Theology of History in Saint Bonaventure. Franciscan Herald Press first published the translation, but this has been out of print and used copies are literally selling for $800 or more. Ignatius has now provided us with an affordable reprint- I don't know how long it's been out, but I only just found it today.

*Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998), p. 111. I draw the rest of this biographical information from chapter 8 of the book; it is worth the read and will go into some much more detail about the actual content of the thesis.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Great Chicago Book Sale

My apologies for not posting recently, I've been busy with starting at the University of Chicago. I'm currently taking Kevin Hector's course on the history of modern Christian thought, from Kant to Barth (only going as a part-time student for the moment as I'm commuting in and keeping up a full-time schedule cataloging at Wheaton). I'm sure I'll post further on the course in the future, but I thought I'd throw out something quickly now about a book sale from Chicago University Press:

"The University of Chicago Press announces its first public book sale in over twenty years. For two days only—Tuesday, October 7 and Wednesday, October 8—the University of Chicago Press will sell hundreds of different titles at incredibly deep discounts."

Hardbacks and paperbacks are selling for as low as $5, so this is a good chance to fill in your collection if you're in the area.

While I'm pushing the University of Chicago, I'll also mention that Ben Meyers has noted an important translation coming out; Carl Schmitt's 1936 The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes will be available on the 15th of this month.