Friday, January 8, 2016

Quirky Christology: The Son's Non-Anthropomorphic Preincarnate Christophanies

I wanted to continue to think about some of the stranger aspects of ancient Christian Christology, especially as it pertains to the Son's preincarnate existence in Ancient Israel.  The story begins really with Justin Martyr who in his 1st Apology and especially in the Dialogue with Trypho seeks to establish that every time anyone ever claimed to see God in Israel's scriptures, they saw the Son, the Logos.  While on the one hand, this helps to relieve some of the more embarrassing anthropomorphisms of the Bible by attributing them to God's manifest aspect - the Son (the image of the invisible God in Colossians 1) - on the other hand, Justin's blanket identification of the Son with all theophanies has further consequences since not all of the theophanies of the Bible are anthropomorphic. 

In his First Apology 62-63, Justin uses Moses as the prototypical prophet, often called the “first prophet” throughout, both chronologically and in importance.  He argues that one cannot maintain that Moses saw God the Father, but only God the Son, playing Exodus 3:6 – where God appears to Moses in the bush – and Matthew 11:27 – where none can know the Father but the Son – off one another.  The Son is called Word (λόγος), Angel (ἄγγελος) which he uses interchangeably with “in the image of the bodiless” “in bodiless image” (ἐν εἰκόνι ἀσωμάτῳ; 63.10, 16), and Apostle (άπόστολος) (62.9-10; cf. Hebrews 3).  The preincarnate Christ does not just appear in the fire, however, but as the fire, or literally “in the image of fire” (ἐν ἰδέᾳ πυρὸς ἐκ βάτου; 62.3; 63.10) or “the form of fire” (διὰ τῆς τοῦ πυρὸς μορφῆς); he is polymorphic, appearing here as fire, elsewhere as an angel, and finally through the incarnation as human (ἄνθρωπος).  Justin summarizes:
Καὶ πρότερον <δὴ> διὰ τῆς τοῦ πυρὸς μορφῆς καὶ είκόνος άσωμάτου τῷ Μωσεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἑτέροις προφήταις ἐφάνη. νῦν δ’ ἐν χρόνοις τῆς ὑμετέρας άρχῆς, ὡς προείπομεν, διὰ παρθένου ἄνθρωπος γενόμενος κατὰ τὴν τοῦ πατρὸς βουλὴν ὑπὲρ σωτερίας τῶν πιστευόντςν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐξουθενηθῆναι καὶ παθεῖν ὑμέμεινεν, ἵνα ἀποθανὼν καὶ ἀναστὰς νικήσῃ τὸν θάνατον. (63.16) 
And he formerly appeared through the form of fire and a bodiless image to Moses and the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign, as, we have said, having become a human by a virgin according to the counsel of the father on behalf of the salvation of those who believe in him and he endured to be made nothing and to suffer so that, dying and rising, he would defeat death.

In order to tighten the connection between old and new covenants by making Christ the proclaimer of both, it at first seems that Justin is diluting the singularity of the incarnation, yet the frequent usage of “bodiless image” when these appearances are at their most anthropomorphic (e.g., in the appearance as an “angel”) emphasizes the contrast of previous bodiless theophanies, which have a strangely docetic feel to them, to Moses and the prophets and the decidedly bodily emphasis on the incarnation, which leads to salvation through death and resurrection.  But perhaps that is why he also emphasizes the Son's pyromorphism - he appears in the past as fire and later as human.

Justin is more programmatic in the Dialogue with Trypho 127.   
Οὔτε οὖν Ἀβραὰμ οὔτε Ἰσαὰκ οὔτε Ἰακὼβ οὔτε ἄλλος ἀνθρώπων εἶδε τὸν πατέρα καὶ ἄρρητον κύριον τῶν πάντων ἁπλῶς αὐτοῦ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἀλλ’ ἐκεῖνον τὸν κατὰ βουλὴν τὴν ἐκείνου καὶ θεόν, υἱὸν ὄντα αὐτου, καὶ ἄγγελον ἐκ τοῦ ὑπερτεῖν τῇ γνώμῃ αὐτοῦ· ὃν καὶ ἄνθρωπον γεννηθῆναι διὰ τῆς παρθένου βεβούληται, ὃς καὶ πῦρ ποτε γ´γεονε τῇ πρὸς μωσέα ὁμιλία τῇ ἀπὸ τῆς βάτου 
Therefore neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor any other man, saw the Father and ineffable Lord of all, and also of Christ, but saw Him who was according to his will his son, being God, and the Angel because he ministered to his will; whom also it pleased him to be born man by the virgin; and also was fire when he conversed with Moses from the bush.
Not just individual theophanies, therefore, were the preincarnate Son, but all were.  He appears as angel, human, fire, and cloud.  He is more straightforward here - it is no longer the "image of fire" or the "form of fire"; but the Son was fire.  If no one can see the Father except the Son (Matt 11:27; John 1:17-18), if the Son is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), then the Lord, the angel of the Lord, God’s visible – yet intense – Glory, etc., in the Old Testament was none other than Christ.  With this simple maneuver, Justin transformed the Jewish scriptures into a Christian revelation, in which Christ reveals to Moses and the prophets coded messages about Christ.

In Justin's wake, the second and third century apologists can just assume his argument that all theophany is really Christophany, and so the Son, whose greatest significance is God made human will be occasionally non-anthropomorphic - that is, pyromorphic and nebulomorphic (?) - in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.7.4; 4.10.1; cf. 4.33.11; see further Clement of Alexandria, Prot. 1.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Quirky Christology: Theophilus of Antioch and the Logos' Preincarnate Peformance

For my current project, which focuses on how early Christians understood Moses' visions, I have been delving much into Second and Third Century Christian sources.  During the past week, I have been playing a lot with Theophilus of Antioch with his treatise/letter/apology to Autolycus.  Theophilus, let's say, has a fairly unique Christology in many ways.  Much of this was explicitly rejected by his rough contemporary Irenaeus and has been discussed at length by modern scholars.  But there is one aspect of his Christology that has been largely ignored and is, well, quirky.  

ὁ μὲν θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τῶν ὅλων ἀχώρητὸς ἐστιν καὶ ἐν τόπῳ οὐχ εὑρίσκεται· οὐ γὰρ ἐστιν τόπος καταπαύσεως αὐτοῦ. ὁ δὲ Λόγος αὐτοῦ, δι᾽οὗ τὰ πάντα πεποίκηκεν, δύναμισ ὤν καὶ σοφία αὐτοῦ, ἀναλαμβάνων τὀ πρόσωπον τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ κυρίου τῶν ὅλων, οὗτος παρεγίνετο εἰς τὸν παράδεισον ἐν προσώπῳ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ὁμίλει τῷ Ἀδάμ. Καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ ἡ θεία γραφὴ διδάσκει ἡμᾶς τὸν Ἀδὰμ λέγοντα τῆς φωνῆς ἀκηκοέναι.  Φωνὴ δὲ τί ἄλλο ἐστὶν ἀλλ᾽ἢ ὁ Λόγος ὁ τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅς ἐστιν και υἱὸς αὐτοῦ; 
The God and Father, indeed, of all cannot be contained, and is not found in a place, for there is no place of His rest; but his Word, through whom he made all things, being his power and his wisdom, assuming the person of the Father and Lord of all, went to the garden in the person of God, and conversed with Adam. For the divine writing itself teaches us that Adam said that he had heard the voice. But what else is this voice but the Word of God, who is also his Son? (2.22.2-3)
Theophilus is clearly trying to explain away those embarrassing anthropomorphisms in the Bible.  Like nearly everyone else in the Greco-Roman world, he assumes the primal God, the first principle of the universe is completely invisible.  So, all those places in the Bible where God walks, comes down, or even speaks are awkward for a second-century apologist of Christianity (and Judaism). While nearly every second and third century apologist in the wake of Justin Martyr (especially Dialogue with Trypho) will assume that all of the anthropomorphisms in the Bible refer to the pre-incarnate Logos in order to resolve this problem, Theophilus is rather unique in his language surrounding this exegetical solution.  “Person” in “the person of the Father” (τὀ πρόσωπον τοῦ πατρὸς) appears in its more ancient sense, as a "mask," (and here I am following standard translations which mask the mask); its meaning is much like we think of putting on a “persona.”  We could translate the phrase "taking up the persona of the Father."  It is an acting term.  While in the fourth century, such language of "person" will become standard thinking of the relationship between the divine essence and the three persons of the Trinity, here it operates differently.  The Son does not appear to Adam as Son; the Son pretends to be the Father.  It is all on the level of performance.  For figures like Justin or Irenaeus, all theophany in the scriptures is also Christophany - the appearance of the preincarnate Logos to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses (and anyone else who claims to see God and live).  But for other early Christian thinkers, the Logos appears as himself; he appears as Son and not Father.  For Theophilus, one is left to presume that any other anthropomorphism in scripture, including any place where God is seen, moves, or speaks, must also be the Word’s masquerade.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

So...I guess I should post more often

I just noticed that I had a total of 12 blog posts for all of 2015 - the number that James McGrath posts per hour.  I hereby resolve to at least have 13 posts for 2016.

My Spring 2016 Courses at Illinois College

If anyone in the Jacksonville, IL, area stumbles upon this and is interested, here are my courses for the Spring 2016 semester:

RE 112: Introduction to the New Testament:
Course Description:  The Bible has been one of the most influential collections of literature on religion, other literature, politics, society, and culture.  Jesus and Paul are immediately recognizable figures, popularly invoked in daily life and even public policy.  From the Gospels to Revelation, the books of the New Testament saturate our culture from popular films and novels to shaping people’s behavior and national politics.  Despite the New Testament’s seeming familiarity in religious institutions and public life, however, it can be very strange and disorienting.  In this class we will recover the strangeness of the New Testament in order to read it anew in their ancient Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern contexts.  To do this we will critically examine their transmission, development, historical contexts, and literary aspects.  

RE 189: Abrahamic Faiths:
Course Description: The category of “Abrahamic Faiths/Religions/Traditions” has recently been on the rise to describe and analyze the relationships between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  What does this designation mean?  Why can we categorize these religions together?  What do they have in common that other religions do not also share, if anything?  In this course, we will investigate the commonalities and differences of these three religions on a wide variety of beliefs, practices, and lived experiences with a strong emphasis on primary sources and experiential learning.

RE 216: Religion and Film:
Description: Many people's ideas about religion are shaped by how it is presented in film. This class will introduce the vocabulary of film analysis to students and then use it to study a variety of films. We will see that films often reflect the concerns of the time in which they were made, even if they claim to represent the life of Jesus or other biblical figures. Films to be studied include several Bible films (that is, films adapting stories from Bible), films that represent Jewish and/or Christian ideas, and films representing other religions.  Films are one of the most complex art forms, but most people watch them passively.  In this class we will learn to “read” them carefully, analyze them, and reflect upon them.   While the content of the films will be biblical and religious, the skills learned in this class are applicable to any film-based medium.

I am also offering two independent studies: on on Hebrew language and one on Life after Death.  The latter will likely appear as a full-fledged course in the next two years.