How to Land a Full-Time Job in Academia: 8 Items of Concern

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Ah, the elusive full-time job in the academic world…. It is hard to come by these days. How do you get it?

I originally wanted to write a satire on the academic job search, but I figured that this approach would be less helpful. Instead, this post is somewhat serious. Somewhat.

I have received a great deal of advice over the past several years—some good, some bad. While I am not an expert in the academic job market, I have gleaned some wisdom about the job search itself: the do’s and the don’t’s. Of course, details will vary from person to person, and from institution to institution. I can only share what I know from my own experiences, and from the experiences of those around me. Because I have received so many direct and indirect questions concerning this matter, I decided to write a quick, informal blog about it.

I am speaking to academics; namely, I am speaking to those who are seeking a teaching position at a college level institution or higher. Because most of my experience is with the Christian world, I am specifically speaking to Christians, though anyone seeking a professorate could find some value in this. (I hope….)

Importantly, as usual, I sometimes write in a humorous tone. If something sounds snarky, it’s probably sarcasm. If you don’t like humor, please stop reading this and refrain from comments. The academic world can be a pretty cynical place, so I think the best way to convey the spirit of it is through humor.

8 things to do in no particular order…

  1. Get Teaching Experience.

Whether they explicitly convey it or not, most schools want a minimum of 2 years teaching experience at the college level. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your position), schools care less about scholarship than in the past. They want experienced teachers, first and foremost.

Consequently, teaching experience is one of the first things you should consider early in your PhD work. If a local college is hiring, apply for the job. Don’t be picky. Community colleges are excellent places to work and get experience. One of the best places I have ever worked was at a community college. Simultaneously, try to find online positions. If there are no colleges hiring, apply for positions at private high schools or the like. These positions typically count for some experience (though, honestly, my high-school level teaching experience was not considered by the hiring committees I’ve confronted).

If you don’t have any teaching experience, do something else. If no one is hiring, then publish. If you can’t publish, then pastor. Of course, not everyone is meant to be a pastor…. (I, for one, would be a lousy pastor. Just ask my wife.)

Regarding some ministry experience, Christian colleges definitely want to see it. Every school grilled me about it during interviews. Now, if you have significant teaching experience and/or publish, don’t feel like you have to overcommit here. Serve in some way and be present with people, but don’t feel like you have to be a pastor, an adjunct professor, and a writer, etc. I often observe people try too hard. It’s kind of sad. You can work without overworking, and you can still get a job.

Again, you don’t have to be everything to everyone. Work 40 hours and then stop. Don’t overcommit. It’s lame for you; it’s lame for your spouse. It just isn’t worth it. Only be present and humble enough to serve.

  1. Network well

This is perhaps the most important item on this list. Connect with people, care about them, and learn from them. This process will vary, depending upon who you are and who they are. Here are some useful tips, though, again, the exact nature will vary.

Networking does not mean that everyone must like you. They won’t. Don’t try to make everyone like you. If you try, you’re a phony. Don’t be a phony. Yes, some people will not like you. Yes, things will go wrong. But it’s okay. That’s the nature of life. Be yourself, connect and serve people, and it will go well.

I can’t say that I’m a great networker. I’m the kind of person you either love or hate, and I providentially met several influential people who happened to connect with me.

Moreover, much of what I learned about networking was from my wife, Laura. So, now, the next point…

  1. Marry well

You probably have faults. You probably stink at something. Perhaps you are even awful at something. If you can’t think of any problems you might have, you are a bit narcissistic and delusional, and that doesn’t bode well for the job search. Let’s face it: academics are rarely the center of attention at a party.

If you do have faults, marry someone who makes you look good. Take my (dreadful) example: I’m an INTJ. I am great at doing things, but I generally prefer books over people. My wife, Laura, is an extravert, business-minded, and truly cares about people. And….she doesn’t even fake it! Use your wife’s gifts. Seriously.

Also, a message to single people: marry someone who complements you. If you are lame, marry someone who is cool and likeable. (If you are reading this blog, I assure you: You’re at least a little lame.) Then, once you have a spouse that is cool and likeable, bring him/her to conferences and other professional events. Easy-shmeasy.

I realize that this might sound like you are using your wife. You are. Alternatively, who doesn’t try to marry the grooviest spouse, a person who complements your gifts/faults? Who doesn’t want to live all of life together with their spouse? Wait, don’t answer that question. Again, the world is a cynical place. Use it to your advantage.

Furthermore, I observe a lot of couples—friends—who live separate lives, at least when it comes to the job search. They express that they don’t want the search to affect their marriage. I get that. There’s good reason for it. But I would suggest that this is not the best approach. Let your spouse “in” on your job search. If possible, let your spouse assist you with your applications. Even bring him/her to networking activities. Again, your spouse is gifted differently than you. And anyway, the academic job search is difficult, to say the least. If you don’t let your spouse into your search, then he/she will never understand why you are often dejected.

Side note: this is not to say that marriage is a prerequisite for employment in academia. My wife and I have simply found it helpful to support each other career-wise. If you are not married and do not intend to marry, in many ways you have more time to dedicate to your career or job search in academia. Congrats.

  1. Write cover letters well (and send them to the right people!)

This is perhaps the most underrated item on the list. I wrote cover letters for about 40 jobs over the last couple years. I heard back from schools only after I learned how to write excellent cover letters. Yes, it is that important.

It is important that your cover letter is tailored to the school to which you are writing. If you are using a template and changing a couple paragraphs for each school, you are doing it wrong. Stop it. Writing a good cover letter takes a lot of time and energy. It requires extensive research about the school, faculty, mission, values, etc. Basically, in the letter, tell the reader—the dean, committee, etc.—why you are a special fit with the faculty and vision of the school.

Everything I know about cover letter and CV writing I learned from Freddy Cardoza: http://www.freddycardoza.com/conference/ (Click: 2014 ETS Presentation, CV Session). Freddy is the one-shop-stop for all your job pursuit needs. In fact, his advice and the resources he provided were instrumental to me obtaining a full-time teaching position in the academic world.

If you are interested in improving these skills, as well as many others, he is leading the networking/career session at the ETS annual meeting in Atlanta. I would strongly encourage you to attend. I believe that his sessions are held Tuesday afternoon. I found these to be the most important sessions I have ever attended. If you do what he says, you will get bites for a job. He is a great guy as well!

Here’s some info:

Tuesday, November 17, ACADEMIC CAREER SESSION Hilton — 208, 2:00 PM—3:30 PM Freddy Cardoza (Biola University) The Quest for an Academic Position: Best-Fit Analysis, Search Tools and Strategies; 3:40 PM—5:10 PM Freddy Cardoza (Biola University) Academic Cover Letters and References: From “Bland” to “Grand”

Lastly, and importantly(!), do not think that you are done after you attach your cover letter to the online application and press submit. Many HRs are black holes: they suck all applications away from the eyes that actually want to see them. Send personalized hardcopies of your letter and CV to the dean, department head, or whoever is the contact. If you don’t know, ask; if they won’t tell, look up your future boss on the faculty page. (See what I did there? That was cheesy.) I have never heard back from a job without sending a hardcopy application/letter. Simple as that.

  1. Keep a Good Attitude

Wow, again, that sounded cheesy. But let’s face it: the job market is pretty miserable. Still, no one likes a Negative Nancy or Cynical Sam. This lackadaisical point is more important than you realize. Maybe it’s just because I am good at reading people, but I perceive this problem all the time. I imagine it is pretty unattractive to prospective employers. Stop it. Stop being so negative.

Moreover, don’t compare yourself to others. It is easy to fall into the trap of, “Maybe if I do this, I will get a job; maybe if I do that, I will get a job.” I know. It is tempting. But hey, just do you. Forget what others are doing. There is more than one way to land a full-time job.

  1. Persevere

Getting a job can take years. It is easy to give up, lose hope, and otherwise become defeated. Don’t. If you build a teaching record, network, and learn to write cover letters, the job will eventually come. Once it does, it all happens so fast. When it rains, it pours.

Did I say network? Networking is really important.

  1. Interview well

This last step is the make it or break it. How do you interview well? Be awesome but not too awesome. Answer questions *concisely*. Be friendly. If you have humor, use it discerningly. If your spouse or a close friend tells you that you aren’t funny, stop trying. The committee wants to know that you are a good fit with the school and the faculty.

Again, don’t be a wet paper bag; don’t act like you know everything; don’t say too much. Please, stop talking once you answer the question.

8. Pray

As it turns out, it works. There were times when this job search seemed bleak and pointless. But if God has called you to a teaching ministry, he will provide a way in his own time. Pray for sustenance, for opportunities, and for sincerity. Pray to be willing to go wherever He will send you. Pray for your family while you are in limbo, and for you all to be prepared for the transition when something does go through.

Let me stress again: pray to be willing to go. There is a 99% chance that you will have to move to teach in academia. Don’t rule out opportunities that may be across the country or overseas. God may call you somewhere you would never consider on your own.

Conclusion

I am probably missing something, but, hey, I’m tired of writing this post. Again, what I said in this post worked for me. People are different. Schools are different. I hope these points help you.

God bless.

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Theology is Retrieval: Learn from the Dead

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Theology is retrieval. You read the Bible, think about God, and apply it to your life. You are retrieving something from the past. It is impossible to think outside of the context of the past, for thinking itself relies on past thoughts. Thinking ex nihilo is, humanly speaking, impossible.

Of course, theology is not merely retrieval; it also assumes construction. Nevertheless, this construction inevitably includes the historical dimension. This kind of historical fixation is by no means meant to reduce the importance of present day thinking; much the opposite, historical awareness encourages and stimulates theological discussion—not to mention, humility, discernment, open-mindedness, etc.

My only point is this: A theologian (or a scientist, humanist, philosopher, etc.) must be a historical one. Consciously or not, we borrow ideas; we adapt concepts; we use and reuse language; we think as socio-economic creatures; we use that which is familiar to us. Like a person walking, we move forward not by new thinking but by relying on the past. We all have minds of retrieval.

Indeed, as they read Scripture, think God, and apply reality, theologians are retrievers par excellence.

Theology as Retrieval

I am pleased to have read Theology as Retrieval, which argues this point well. You should buy it. W. David Buschart and Kent D. Eilers show that ressourcing is a central mode of theological construction. In order to write theology in the present day, one must retrieve theology from the past.

They begin their book by noting that we, the church, necessarily start in the middle of history. We pick up where others left off, and, God willing, will be followed by others in the future. “Like every facet of the church’s life, theology always begins already in the middle. It is caught in the middle of God’s reconciling activity, drawn along by its current, part of its history. In this sense, Christian theology is a normed practice” (11). Therefore, they continue, theology “takes shape in the middle of particular cultures, times and communities,” so that “the truth of the Gospel is timeless, but it is always known and expressed within an actual place, time and people” (11).

What do the authors mean by retrieval? They define retrieval as “a mode or style of theological discernment that looks back in order to move forward. It is a particular way of carrying out theological work—what John Webster calls ‘an attitude of mind’—in which resources from the past are found distinctly advantageous for the present situation” (12). Echoing the authors, I would say that retrieval is simply reclaiming, refurbishing, and refashioning the theology of the past ages for present purposes in light of Scripture.

With this definition of retrieval, the authors then state the purpose of the book: to uncover the “logic of retrieval” in six areas of contemporary theological reflection (Holy Scripture, doctrine, worship, spirituality, mission, and engagement with culture) to cultivate theological discernment (13-14).

Why is Retrieval Important?

As the authors variously note, there are several reasons that retrieval is a central concept in theology. I could detect four. First, theological retrieval is an “organic expression” of Christianity’s posture of reception and transmission. Christianity is, of course, founded on Scripture, which is historically and practically located at a certain place and time. Therefore, Christianity requires retrieval (15). Furthermore, Scripture is the “fundamental and archetypal Christian retrieval” (21). As they rightly and helpfully acknowledge, “Reading Scripture is a form of retrieval” (21).

Second, retrieval rightly affirms the organic unity of the church, even if this organic unity is not always clearly expressed or visible. Vincent of Lerins, for example, spoke of the church in terms of biological growth: “The understanding, knowledge, and wisdom of each and all—and of the whole Church—ought to grow and progress greatly and eagerly through the course of ages and centuries, provided the advance be within its own lines, in the same sphere of doctrine, the same feeling, the same sentiment” (18).[1] The authors conclude,

The point to be noted here is simply this: the theologies of retrieval we consider can only be undertaken and flourish because of this dynamic of reception and transmission, marked by the inherent tension between stability and development ‘Conservation” is thus part of Christianity’s DNA as it receives the deposit of faith entrusted to the apostles and delivers it to a world that God is “reconciling to himself in Christ” (2 Cor 5:19). (pg. 19).

Third, and related, the church of the past and present is one church. The authors use Alister McGrath’s argument that there is “a common factor of central importance to the reappropriation of the past: communal continuity with the past” (The Genesis of Christian Doctrine). As the authors argue, this continuity does not consist in “unthinking reiteration” of theological formulas or attempts simply to reproduce behaviors of the past.” Rather, the church of the past and present are one (32-33).

Fourth, theological retrieval opens up contemporary discussions in theology. We often obscure theology as we obscure and forget the past. “Thus the retrievals considered here seek to open contemporary theological reflection to the lines of sight that may have become obscured or clouded by the biases, blinders or prejudices of our own historical and cultural settings” (29).

Thereafter, using six chapters, the authors discuss how retrieval relates to issues such as Holy Scripture, doctrine, worship, spirituality, mission, and engagement with culture. I was especially interested in the authors’ discussion of the first two issues, though I will not summarize them here.

 Conclusion

The book is well-written, easy to follow, and even-handed. It offers clear topic sentences and conclusions. The form of the book is also cogent. The only major downside is that the authors sometimes over-quote sources throughout (for example, see 55-60), making reading slow at times. There are also many tedious descriptions of primary and secondary material (see 84-96). While helpful, the descriptions sometimes take the reader away from the important points and arguments, while bogging down the imagination.

I greatly appreciated this book. It is a welcome addition to theological studies. As evangelicals continue to grow in their knowledge of the past and of retrieving it, I believe that this book will be of great use. Its broad contours and specific illustrations reach to the core of the meaning of theological studies.

[1]’’Vincent of Lerins, Communitorium 23.54, in Creeds, Councils and Controversies: Documents Illustrating the History oj the Church, AD 337-461, ed. J. Stevemenson and W. H. C. Frend, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012 [1966]), 373.

John Webster Does it Again: A Way Better Explanation of Theology

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My friend, Tyler Wittman, pointed me in the direction of this concise article by John Webster, “What Makes Theology Theological?”. The Journal of Analytic Theology is always fantastic. This article is no exception. You can find it online here. It basically summarizes the fifth chapter of my dissertation in a much more coherent and useful manner. (By the way, you can find much of this chapter in my article for biblicalphilosophy.org.) I read Webster’s new article and thought, “Gosh, I feel great about myself right now.” Now, I have to share it.

His abstract summarizes it pretty comprehensively:

An understanding of the nature of theology comprises an account of its object, its cognitive principles, its ends and its practitioners. The object of theology is two-fold: principally God the Holy Trinity, and derivatively all things in relation to God. God is considered first absolutely, then relatively; all other things are treated relative to God, under the aspect of creatureliness. The objective cognitive principle of theology is God’s infinite knowledge, of which God communicates a fitting share to creatures; the subjective cognitive principle of theology is the regenerate human intellect. The ends of theology are scientific (acquiring the knowledge of the matter which is proper to creatures), contemplative (rapt attention to God the cause of all things) and practical (regulation of the enactment of human life). The practitioners of theology are regenerate persons in the church whose creaturely intellect is instructed by God and all of whose works are accompanied by the practices of religion.

Gazing the Essence of God: Thomas Aquinas and the Beatific Vision

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I’ve been reading through Thomas Aquinas’s take on the beatific vision for the last few weeks, especially using his Summa and commentary on 2 Corinthians 5. I have found his discussions illuminating and helpful for an understanding of contemplation. In this post, I am going to summarize his thoughts.

Summa

Thomas begins by asking the question, “Can the intellect attain to the vision of God in his essence?” (Summa, Suppl. IIIae, 92, 1). He first summarizes 16 objections to the question, namely, that the human intellect cannot perceive God in his essence. In other words, a beatific vision is impossible. Thomas, however, responds with a quick snapshot of specific Scripture references, including a succinct exegesis that explains his position against the objections (cf. Exod 33:13, 20; Ps 79:20; John 14:8, 21; 1 Cor 13:12; 15:24; 1 John 3:2). He thus maintains that the human intellect can indeed attain to the vision of God in his essence.

In his answer, Thomas further explains why the contrary position is “untenable.” He gives two reasons, one of which is more interesting than the other. The first, he says, is “because it is in contradiction to the authority of canonical scripture, as Augustine declares (De Videndo Deo: Ep. cxlvii).” The second is more interesting. Thomas argues that because humans are fundamentally intelligent, and happiness must consist in that operation being perfected in him, the human intellect must therefore attain to the vision of the divine essence. He elaborates,

Now since the perfection of an intelligent being as such is the intelligible object, if in the most perfect operation of his intellect man does not attain to the vision of the Divine essence, but to something else, we shall be forced to conclude that something other than God is the object of man’s happiness: and since the ultimate perfection of a thing consists in its being united to its principle, it follows that something other than God is the effective principle of man, which is absurd, according to us.

In other words, God must be the object of human happiness. If the highest, most proper capacity of humans (namely, the intellect) cannot attain the vision of God himself, then God cannot be the object of human happiness. Moreover, if the human intellect cannot attain the vision of God’s essence (and yet humans will be united with God), then something other than God must be the cause of such union. Either conclusion is problematic, both biblically and philosophically. Therefore, Thomas concludes, the intellect must attain to the vision of God in his essence. He states, “Consequently, according to us, it must be asserted that our intellect will at length attain to the vision of the Divine essence, and according to the philosophers, that it will attain to the vision of separate substances.”

While I would object to Thomas’s overall intellectualist account of humans here, Thomas has a strong point. To be sure, Thomas could also argue his case by suggesting that humans are most properly loving or worshiping or serving creatures (and not intellectual). Either way, his point stands: if we cannot perceive God for who he truly is, then we are not worshiping God for who he truly is. In other words, in the final beatific vision, we must somehow be gazing at God himself, in Christ, by the Spirit. If we are not gazing at the essence of God himself, then who/what are we gazing at?

Commentary

In his Summa, Thomas strongly avers that we can attain to the vision of God in his essence. He builds upon this foundational argument in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 5. Herein he explains more specifically the nature of the beatific vision. He lists at least four characteristics.

First, Thomas says that the vision will be characterized by walking by sight, not faith (Commentary on 2 Corinthians, 5:2.164). Faith deals with things that are unseen, while sight deals with things seen. Because God himself enlightens heaven, wherein the beatific vision occurs, “we shall then see him by sight, i.e., in his essence” (Ibid.).

Second, Thomas notes that grace is victorious (5:2.165). In other words, in the vision, God is victorious over all others, including death (cf. 5:2.162-63).

Third, Thomas notes that one is absent from the body and present with the Lord (5:2.165-67). He thus notes that the person upon death immediately experiences the beatific vision: “Therefore, the answer is that the saints see the essence of God immediately after death and dwell in a heavenly mansion. Thus, therefore, it is plain that the reward which the saints await is inestimable” (Ibid., 167).

Fourth, Thomas explains that we will resist sin and please God perfectly. Now, because our “whole desire” is to be present with God, we strive to resist sin and please God (Ibid., 168-69). We do this in this life, because “unless we strive to please him in this life, while we are absent, we shall not be able to please him or be present with him in the other life” (Ibid., 169). We also strive to please God “from consideration of future judgment, when we must all be manifested” (Ibid., 170).

Thomas then concludes by specifically noting five marks of the future judgment. First, it is universal. No one is exempt from judgment (Ibid., 170-71). Second, it is inevitable. While people can dodge human justice, they cannot dodge the certain justice when all is manifest (172). Third, and related, it is necessary. No one can escape it, either through intercession or contumacy (172). The fourth concerns the authority of the judge, that is, Jesus Christ. It is authorized by Christ. The fifth concerns the equity of the judge; namely, there will be rewards and punishments according to one’s merits.

Thomas provides some excellent categories to begin to think about the nature of the beatific vision. He is more than helpful. Nonetheless, like any thinker, his analysis is by no means complete, and his evaluation is not always precise and accurate. What is perhaps most disappointing is that Thomas does not discuss the beatific vision or judgment from the vantage point of God’s triune activity. It seems to me that a discussion along these lines could clarify exactly what the beatific vision is all about. I will leave this discussion for another day.

Happy Friday!

The Pilgrim, Contemplative Self: Plotinus’s Platonic Portrait of Perfection

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In the last post (found here), I discussed at length the epistemology of Plato, focusing especially on his understanding of the spiritual contemplation of beauty. This post will explore and elaborate Plotinus’s view of contemplation.[1] It will do so for two reasons: (1) I find Plotinus a fascinating read and an engaging pedagogical presence in the classroom, and (2) as Kenney notes, “it was in Plotinus that pagan monotheism achieved its clearest philosophical articulation” (16). As in the previous post, I will follow some of the course laid out in John Peter Kenney’s helpful book, Contemplation and Classical Christianity.

As Kenny notes, while Plato’s philosophy terminated in the notion of intelligible being as “first-level transcendence,” Plotinus (following Middle Platonists[2]) moved from intelligible being to the postulation of a first principle, the One. The One was deduced through a “negative or apophatic theology that served to mark off the One’s unique status in reference to the intelligibles,” and thus it “was systematically removed from any finite predication” (16). In the words of Plotinus, the One is an existence, a “presence that is beyond knowledge” (Enneads, 6.9.4, 4).

Plotinus’s Apophatic Method

Plotinus’s postulation of the One was entirely interconnected with his idea of apophatic discourse. Kenney explains, “Apophatic discourse allowed Plotinus to reject any conception that might have allowed the One to be drawn back into the structure of reality, whether that reality was transcendent of the spatio-temporal world or contained within the cosmos” (17-18). Indeed, he later elaborates,

Apophatic theology was thus about challenging the embodied soul’s own self-representation. For to predicate is both to categorize and to occupy a grammatical place as a subject. Affirmative theology is a dualistic process of representation; theological predication accentuates the contemplative soul’s distance from a divine object within the frame of its semantic appraisal. As such it is a mode of theological discourse that promises divine description at the expense of presence. Forcing a separation between the divine and the soul (32).

Apophatic theology is the only way to understand the otherness of the One and simultaneously (and ironically) hold to the monism of reality.

In this manner, Plotinus’s apophatic method forced his system into a philosophical monism, one in which there is a single transcendental principle that is the source of all. His view, Kenney explains, “was thus an inclusive understanding of monotheism; the force of his theology was centered not on establishing a single deity against a plurality of gods but on finding a final divine unity within and behind the cosmos” (18). Notice the departure from Plato at this juncture; notice also that Plotinus rightly can say that he is merely elaborating what Plato has already maintained (cf. Plato, Symposium).

The newness of Plotinus was simple: “The force of Plotinian monotheism rested on a profound paradox: that the One was entirely hidden and intensely present, transcendent of all predicates and yet the immediate ground of all finite being” (19).

Epistemological Basics

Following Plato’s influential wake, Plotinus thus developed his united epistemology. He stressed that knowledge includes the external dimension of the forms that are united in his rational postulation of the “One.” As he asserts, a person “knows” something when the soul begins its “ascent to intellect and there will know the Forms;” moreover, as these forms or ideas “are beauty,” they refer to “the nature of the Good” or “primal beauty” (Enneads, 1:6.9).[3] While Plato merely attaches the external dimension to the forms themselves, therefore, Plotinus places the forms within the mind of the One, who is simple, indivisible, and incomprehensible.[4]

Because the One itself is, as Plotinus says, “simple and without need,” it brought forth into being all things through the process of emanation. The nous (“mind”)—which contains Plato’s forms—proceeds first, and the thinking psuche (“soul”)—which is an intermediary between the celestial (nous) and sub-celestial (body)—proceeds second.[5] A fact or reality, therefore, is deemed true insofar as it reflects the fact or reality found inside the One.[6] All knowledge, therefore, is ultimately derived from and based upon the One.

Kenney articulates well the advantages of emanation:

First, emanation sharply accentuates the singularity and sufficiency of the One as the source for all other sorts of reality. No primordial stuff is needed…. Second, this ontological cascade is in no way arbitrary or based upon a divine choice among finite alternatives. It is grounded exclusively in the inner life of the One, in its mysterious and infinite existence, and is the One’s best and only finite expression (19-20).

Notice, therefore, that creation and emanation are not sharply contrasted in Plotinus. Kenney writes, “There is, as it were, more volition around than one might suspect in Plotinian monotheism, a residual commitment to the One’s inner volition from which all reality then can be said to depend” (20).

The Tolma and the Dialectic

The metaphysical necessity of emanation, based upon apophatic discourse, thus leads inevitably to the idea of the “fall” in his system. In other words, as the Nous emanates from the One, there is for the first time something other than the One. The Nous, then, contemplates and imitates the perfection of the One, resulting in lower emanations. (While this post will not elaborate the hierarchy of emanations, it is helpful to note that the Nous’s activity here is the groundwork for Plotinus’s prescription of human contemplation of the One.)

After the Nous, the Soul emanated from the One. Plotinus suggests, however, that souls were not content with returning to the One; rather, they had the audacity to desire individuality and otherness: “Now the origin of evil for them [souls] was audacity [tolma] and being born and initial otherness and the desire to be on their own”” (Enneads, 5.1.1, 4-5). While the soul desires distinctiveness and otherness, it ironically loses its understanding of the true self, the highest self, and the One itself.

Therefore, tolma affects all descended things from the One, including human souls. In particular, Kenney writes,

Soul’s procession from the Intellect [Nous] has an irreducibly self-assertive or irrational aspect to it. We harbor, in the very nature of our separateness, a desire for illegitimate distinctiveness born of our deepest, but most obscure, desires. At the core of our embodied nature is self-assertion, a demand for difference and independence. That desire fuels the soul’s descent from Intellect, driving the soul out of the table life of eternity into the rude sequence of time, psychic dispersal, and embodied consciousness (22).

Notably, the soul, according to Plotinus, is not entirely descended in the material world but rather has a higher self in contact with the One. Kenney explains again: “Plotinus maintained that the soul is here in the world at least in part because it chose to decline into materiality. And that act of audacity, of tolma, is an irrational one” (21; cf. Enneads, 5.1.1; 3.7.11). In other words, the soul is not a static thing but may move away from or towards the One. Plotinus summarizes, “So one might say that time is the living nature of the soul in transitional movement from one point of life to another” (3.7.11, 43-5).

This idea leads us to Plotinus’s theory of the dialectic. Tolma requires reunion with the One. As Plotinus suggests, we are able to overcome our tolma through our soul’s discrete powers. In other words, we can tap into powers of our soul. Kenney explains, “The soul had only to turn within itself, to the One present there, and secure access in a higher level of transcendence through theoria” (21). As embodied people, this higher intellectualization is imperfectly available to us as we are imperfectly related to the One.

Therefore, there are two options. The soul may return to its lower, animal-like sense experience, or it may move upwards in its rationality and spirituality. As Plotinus says, “We are this ruling part of the soul between two powers, one better and the other worse; the worse is sense perception, the better is intellect” (5:3.3, 37-40). The intellect is better than the senses, for it has as its telos knowledge and union with the One. Kenney explains, “That intellectual perception is the province of nous. Distinct from our everyday consciousness, it is nonetheless accessible to us through interior contemplation” (25). One can either move further away from the One, deeper into bodily pleasure and individual glory; or, one can move towards the one in contemplation and final metaphysical union. The choice is ours. Wherever we end up is exactly what our soul chose (Enneads, 5:3.9).

The ascent to the One is no easy task. Plotinus describes the ascent in detail in Enneads, 6.9.3, 1-11. Kenney paraphrases Plotinus well:

Here we find an unusual expression of the self’s fears at ascending to the unfamiliar level of the One, lacking as the One does any finite specification of its nature. Since the One is formless (aneideon), the soul is unable to comprehend it and so it becomes afraid that is has encountered nothing at all. It slips back down to the level of perceptible things, where it rejoices at things that seem solid. That suggests once again that the self has a menu of epistemic and ontological options at its disposal. Here the slide of the soul down from the formlessness of the One to the solid earth of perception seems understandable, although behind that description there lurks a host of questions of the moral aspects of this declension, in particular the specific source of the soul’s fright before its infinite source. Thus there is a deep spiritual poignancy in this passage, indicative of the anxiety that the self has with efforts to return to its original source. (27).

Because contemplation is best seen in the context of tolma and ascent, we will now turn to his theory of contemplation.

Contemplation through Ascent

Two things should be noted. First, as discussed before, contemplation is ultimately based upon the primordial activity of the One. As the One emanates, it produces its highest product, the Nous, or intellect. The Nous is the understanding of the One, seeking to contemplate and imitate perfection. As such, the Nous is naturally turned inwards, focusing its vision and imitation on the One itself. Through this contemplation, ironically, it also secures its own independent, secondary existence by an act of self-assertion. Kenney summarizes, “This attention by the first product of the One [that is, Nous] back upon the infinite is the primordial act of contemplation. Contemplation is thus an ontological principle of sorts, holding together the first instance of finite reality and its infinite foundation” (28).[7]

Second, the soul ascends by its own native, latent capacity within itself, that is, its relation to its higher nature. This higher nature can be found through the philosophical dialectic, which achieves understanding the intelligibles (cf. Plato), moderate asceticism, and the practice of virtue. He also prescribed somatic training and meditation. However, as Kenney rightly holds, “Negative theology was the primary method by which the soul could shift its focus from the incarnated self towards the divine and raise itself beyond finite materiality. Apophasis was integral to contemplation” (31).

As discussed before, apophatic theology is the only way to understand the otherness of the One and simultaneously (and ironically) hold to the monism of reality. “Plotinus maintains that when pursued with the proper philosophical guidance, apophatic contemplation offers a deep communion with the One as the boundaries of embodied consciousness dissolve. In order to discover the infinite ne, the soul must seek “a presence beyond knowledge’ (6:9.4,3). It must practice descriptive diffidence, and submit to a frameless cognition that rejects epistemic intentionality” (32).

Now to discuss what the ascent ‘looks like’, so to speak…. Echoing Plato, Plotinus maintains an internal principle to knowledge wherein the person is part of the recollective process or, as he prefers, the ascent unto knowledge.[8] But Plotinus went beyond his intellectual teacher by positing a mystical stage, a “dance,” wherein the person is “transfigured to the godhead, nay, being in essence God;” therefore, the “Divine” is “not distinct but one with his own consciousness” (Enneads, 6:9.9, 10).[9] In other words, the ascent is not so much an escape from reality through intellectual cleansing (Plato) as a return to the One in mystical union.[10] The ascent is thus a vigorous enterprise, requiring ethical purification, knowledge, and intellectual and mystical union with the One.[11] It is not surprising, therefore, that Plotinus and his followers held that only an enlightened person could achieve participation.[12] Steven Strange summarizes well: “The participant is to be thought of as somehow active in participation: it ‘approaches’ the Idea in ‘striving’ to be like it, while the Idea remains unmoved and impassive.”[13]

There are consequently two elements within Plotinus’ epistemology: (1) the passive nature of the object of knowledge itself and (2) the active nature of a person’s knowledge that culminates in the ecstatic union with the One.[14] Plotinus’s integration of both elements allows him, like Plato before him, to maintain an external and internal basis for knowledge and thus achieve (at least partially) a unified epistemology.

Contemplation, then, is a rational necessity in Plotinus’s system. It allows him to explain what we ought to do and from what reality is ultimately produced.

[1]For a provocative biographical discussion of Plotinus, see M. J. Edwards, “A Portrait of Plotinus,” The Classical Quarterly 43:2 (1993): 480-490.

[2]Plotinus moves beyond Plato and Middle Platonism by his exultation of the first principle, the One. However, Middle Platonism did generally speak of a transcendent nous, a divine mind, that is over the world, but it did not speak of a primary, apophatic principle, like the One of Plotinus.

[3]Plotinus, Enneads, 7 vols., trans. A. H. Armstrong, LCL (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1989, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1984, 1988, 1988).

[4]As he argues, the One is best identified with the concepts or principles of Good and Beauty (Plotinus, Enneads, 1:6.9, cf. 1:6.6). In other words, he follows Plato by suggesting that the highest conception of the forms is the Beauty/Good, and he thereafter goes beyond Plato by suggesting that this highest conception is best understood as the One. This One, it must be added, cannot be explained or reasoned; it simply is and is without deficiency (Ibid., 3:8.11; 5:6.6). It is purely dynamis or potentiality without which nothing could exist (3:8.10).

[5]Ibid., 5:6.4, cf. 1:6.6, 9; 4:8.7. Namely, Plotinus argues that that Good itself, the One, “will not need thinking” (Ibid.), for thinking itself is a product of the ineffable One. Intellect or thinking is thus an expression of the One as it is “thinking the Good” (Ibid.). The soul, then, is an expression of the intellect as it thinks itself. He concludes on the relation of the One, nous, and soul: “The First should be compared to light, the next, to the sun, and the third, to the celestial body of the moon” (Ibid.). The One, therefore, is the ultimate divine light from and to which all other things emanate. For an excellent yet simple discussion, see Gerson, God and Greek Philosophy, 201-211, 221-226; cf. John N. Deck, Nature, Contemplation, and the One: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967).

[6]He expresses this idea in Ibid., 5:6.4: “For Soul [psuche] has intellect as an external addition which colours it when it is intellectual, but Intellect has it in itself as its own, and is not only light but that which is enlightened in its own being; and that which gives it light is nothing else but is simple light giving Intellect the power to be what it is. Why then would it have need of anything?” In other words, the One does not think; the One simply is. The nous, which emanates from the One, is thinking Intellect, that which thinks the highest possible thoughts (i.e., the One). The psuche, which emanates from the nous, thinks only at it participates in the one. And such participation takes place via the nous, via the One. Knowledge or truth is thus ultimately only knowledge or truth as it derives from the One.

[7]Interestingly, Kenney notes, “In this way the primordial act of self-assertion is woven into the ontological self-expression of the One, and the fall becomes, as it were, both a culpable act and a moment of divine self-expression. For Plotinus, these two values are never wholly distinct. And so the finite reality that emerges from the One is thus both the best that can have emerged from the Good and also a fall Tom its perfection, never free from the tincture of that primordial choice and yet longing always for redress and return” (28).

[8]Plotinus, Enneads, 4:8.6-8; cf. Ibid., 1:6.9; Copleston, History of Philosophy, 1:470; Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder, 27-28. He begins, “If, then, there must not be just one alone—for then all things would have been hidden, shapeless within that one, and not a single real being would have existed” (Ibid., 4:8.6). In other words, the process of recollection and ascent necessarily presume the fact of one principle, that is, the One. The process of knowledge thus assumes an ascent, or growth, as a “seed”: “from a partless beginning” to a “final stage” (Ibid.). This ascent thus entails participation in the One, for anyone could share in knowledge “as far as each thing was able to participate in it” (Ibid.). Consequently, the soul “should not be annoyed with itself because . . . it occupies a middle rank among realities [between the One and matter]” (Ibid., 4:8.7). In other words, all knowledge happens only through the soul’s perception of the eternal One, for “there is always something of it in the intelligible,” whether this be something merely in sense perception or contemplation of the divine (Ibid., 4:8.8). Knowledge is had through the soul’s recollection and ascent into the divine.

[9]Plotinus, Enneads, 6:9.9, 10, cf. Copleston’s translation in idem, History of Philosophy, I:471; and Joseph Katz’s excellent discussion of Plotinus’s mysticism in idem, Plotinus’ Search for the Good (New York: King’s Crown, 1950), 15-28. Indeed, as Plotinus continues, the person can reach this mystical realm, which is the epitome of the “active actuality of the Intellect,” out of which springs all knowledge such as good, beauty, righteousness, and virtue (Ibid., 6:9.9). The person wants such knowledge because the soul “in her natural state is in love with God and wants to be united with him” (Ibid.).

[10]As Plotinus continues, this is why the mystical ascent entails, among other things, that there is ethical transformation and thus an absence of duality (Plotinus, Enneads, 6:9.9; cf. Gerson, God and Greek Philosophy, 221-226).

[11]On account of the human soul’s contamination through its union with the material body, the soul must first ethically ascend in order to be mystically transformed and purified (Plotinus, Enneads, 4:8.6-8; cf. Copleston, History of Philosophy, I:470; Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder, 27-28). The first stages of this ascent follow Plato: purification, knowledge, and union with the Nous (“mind”). Purification is the first stage whereby the person, under the impulse of eros, frees himself or herself from the dominion of the body and its senses and instead practices virtue. As Plotinus rhetorically asks throughout the opening section, “What could be more fitting than that we, living in this world, should become like to its ruler(?),” a question that explicitly attempts to follow Plato’s reasoning in his Symposium (Plotinus, Enneads, 1.2.1). Knowledge is the second stage whereby a person rises above his sense perception and turns towards the Nous in the study of philosophy and science (Ibid., 1.3.4; the “Nous” here corresponds to the Nous of Aristotle, which, again, is that which is uncontaminated by matter [Copleston, 1:471]). As he continues later, it is through this “ascent to intellect” that the person “will know the Forms” (Ibid., 1:6.9). The union with Nous, the third stage, is that stage whereby the person rises about discursive thought to union with the Nous (Ibid., 6:9.9-10). Plotinus characterizes this stage as “protos kalos,” that is, “first beauty.” cf. Hajime Nakamura, A Comparative History of Ideas (Jawahar Nagar, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992), 313. These three stages, then, lead to the fourth and final one, a stage beyond Plato, whereby a person is mystically united with the One.

[12]Proclus Diadochus, Commentary on the First Alcibiades of Plato, trans. L. G. Westerink (Amsterdam: North Holland, 1954), III. For example, Iamblichus also argued for the necessary value of divine illumination. As one scholar summarizes him, he says, “We must look to divine revelation in order to ascertain the means of entering upon union with God” (Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:477; cf. I:476-477). Indeed, Plotinus “regards mystical experience as the supreme attainment of the true philosopher” (Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:472). For a more recent discussion, see Edward Moore, “‘Likeness to God as Far as Possible’: Deification Doctrine in Iamblichus and Three Church Fathers,” Theandros 3:1 (2005). The assertion will also be defended implicitly in the following discussion on Augustine.

[13]Steven K. Strange, “Plotinus’ Account of Participation in Ennead VI:4-5” JHP 30:4 (1992): 495, cf. 479-496. For an excellent discussion of Plotinus’s mysticism, see Joseph Katz, Plotinus’ Search for the Good (New York: King’s Crown, 1950), 15-28.

[14]Regarding this summary, one scholar wisely perceives, “Christian theology leaned heavily on these concepts, and it was not without temptation and crucifixion that it gradually (and not entirely) transformed them” (Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder, 29).

Plato’s Spiritual Epistemology: The Nature and Result of Contemplation in the Writings of Plato

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The following post is more substantial and lengthy than usual. I may have gotten carried away. I make no apologies, however. 🙂

After reading John Peter Kenney’s Contemplation and Classical Christianity, I am on a philosophical kick again. In the next couple posts, I want to summarize Plato and Plotinus’s view of ‘contemplation,’ which they summarize variously as they discuss recollection/dialectic (Plato) and the soul’s epistemic, ethical, and mystical ascent (Plotinus). While these views are not biblical, and while they do not adhere to the Christian worldview, they are interesting and useful, profitably contributing to the broad contours of a philosophical account of spiritual epistemology.

Indeed, I find myself often defending Plato and Plotinus in the classroom. My students (especially at Ivy Tech) generally do not like these two philosophers. While I may disagree with these men’s views, I have to defend them. They purport thoughtful, relatively holistic, and constructive views. Their views are simply too profound and elegant to ignore them or shrug them off.

In this post, I want to discuss Plato and his unique position that elaborated, focusing, in the end, on his theory of contemplation. In order to accomplish this goal, this post will be a bit lengthy, discussing (1) the contours of contemplation in ancient Greece in general, (2) Plato’s view of dualism (especially body-soul), (3) his epistemology following his dualism, and finally (4) his account of contemplation.

Three preliminary notes: First, I am not being anachronistic to suggest that Plato held to a form of contemplation. As I will show throughout this post, his postulation of recollection necessarily led to an epistemic dialectic between ‘this’ world and the world of forms; this dialectic, in its final stage of gazing beauty, is itself what can rightly be called contemplation. Kenney, as far as I read him, would agree with this general assessment as well. Second, throughout my post, I am defining contemplation as that restful, transcendent gazing upon the divine, or in Plato’s case, the higher forms (especially of the Good/Beauty). Third, this post is a sketch. While it is lengthy, I am in no way attempting to be comprehensive. As always, I am open to feedback.

The Contours of Contemplation in Ancient Greece

Philosophically speaking, the need for and use of contemplation begin whenever a worldview holds to a kind of dualism, especially a dualism between a ‘material’ and ‘spiritual’ world. This kind of dualism may be loosely discerned in Heraclitus, as he postulated that the material flux of the empirical world was united by a transcendental Logos above. Dualism is also existent in Pythagoras’s conception of a spiritual and transcendent reality, even beyond that of the immaterial numbers. (While we do not have record of how he elaborates this notion, I think that it is implicit in his nod to the existence of the immaterial soul.) Even Parmenides’s more rational conception of the unchanging ‘One’ might have lent itself towards a ‘formal’ dualism, though we have no record of this. I am simply communicating that these proto-dualistic views—if I can call them this—contain the bare minimum ingredients necessary for the construction of a philosophical development of contemplation.

Plato’s Dualism

Historically speaking, the need for and use of philosophical conceptions of contemplation did not arise until the thoughtful architecture provided by Plato. Plato suggested that there is a dualism between the world as we empirically know it (the world of matter) and the world that must be (the world of forms). The latter reality is the transcendental grounding of the former. One might liken the forms to the universal blueprints of the world of matter. In the same way that a building infers the existence of an architectural blueprint, so also the reality of matter implies a design. If there is no design, if matter is all there is, then there can be no universals (such as goodness, justice, ethics, etc.). Indeed, if there is no blueprint, then there is no acceptable explanation concerning composition and form of one material thing versus another. Plato finds these suppositions problematic, rejects them, and thus avers the necessary existence of a transcendental world. In this way, Plato asserts what can be called classical transcendentalism, which, Kenney explains, is “the postulation of a level of reality that is both separate from the world of space and time and also superior to that world” (15).

For example, Plato often maintains that the body is an impediment to the soul. One cannot have true knowledge or attain full wisdom while the body is connected to the soul. Why? Plato answers on the basis that the body’s “companionship disturbs the soul and hinders it from attaining truth and wisdom” (Phaedo, 66a). The body is even “contaminated by such an evil” that “we shall never attain completely what we desire, that is, the truth” (Ibid., 66b). He reasons that the body has all sorts of needs (e.g., physical, emotional, etc.), in addition to being evil, and these issues distract the soul’s pursuit (66c). He concludes,

Because of all these things, we have no leisure for philosophy. But the worst of all is that if we do get a bit of leisure and turn to philosophy, the body is constantly breaking in upon our studies and disturbing us with noise and confusion, so that it prevents our beholding the truth, and in fact we perceive that, if we are ever to know anything absolutely, we must be free from the body and must behold the actual realities with the eye of the soul alone (66d-e).

Consequently, Plato maintains that we need to avoid, “so far as possible,” sex, communion with the body, purity, and all foolishness of the body (67a-b).[1] While embodied, in other words, the soul is affected by the material powers of the body. While reason (i.e., the soul) must drive the chariot, the reality is that embodied people necessarily fail. A person is only released from the effects of the body after physical death. Notably, Plato suggests, a person can (partially) overcome the powers of the body through the soul’s moral attempts toward perfection, that is, moral goodness (cf. 67a-b). For these reasons, Kenny also notes, Socrates himself even allows suicide (cf. 62b-c). The soul is the source of moral goodness within itself, for it—and it alone—has been eternally acquainted with the forms. A person can therefore know and do the good through cultivating the powers of the soul. (Notice how Plato’s argument runs entirely against the Christian worldview at these points—the nature and goodness of the soul, the relation between soul and body, the soul of goodness, and suicide.)

Plato’s Epistemology

In order to understand more comprehensively Plato’s notion of contemplation, it is necessary to explore his epistemology on a general basis. Plato’s thought contains a surprisingly united epistemology. In his view, knowledge is attained through a person’s intuition of the forms. The forms are the eternal and immutable basis of knowledge and objectivity in the material world. Plato argued that the forms are constants or universals, accounting for logic, justice, moral absolutes, and human dignity, among other things. Individual things (e.g., a table) are particular instances of these universals that “participate” in the universals (e.g., brownness, hardness, woodness, etc.). In other words, following Heraclitus, Plato accepts the relativity of sense knowledge and the fact that this world of matter is in flux; following Parmenides, he also accepts the existence of a transcendental world that can account for stability.[2] As he argues in the Republic, in the same way that the light of fire is derivative of the light of the sun, so also knowledge of material things is derivative of the forms.[3] Given his understanding of the forms, he continues in the Theaetetus to argue staunchly against the idea that “knowledge is perception.”[4] Under the guise of Socrates, he instead maintains that knowledge, as it corresponds to the forms, is objective and immutable, so much so that the person is an “infallible judge” of truth.[5] Using the broad language of my dissertation, knowledge for Plato includes an external dimension, that is, the unchanging forms.

Some influential scholars, such as Georg Hegel, unhelpfully terminate their description of Plato’s epistemology at this point, contending that Plato is merely an externalist or objectivist.[6] This argument, however, fails. Plato continues to suggest that knowledge includes what you might call an internal dimension, which is grounded in his conception of recollection and the dialectic process. Plato’s concept of recollection (“anamnesis”) makes the claim that the objective forms of the world exist in the person’s mind through intuition. Through this multifarious process, the person is in contact with the eternal forms so that the forms are apprehensible by the intellect.[7] Therefore, Plato’s concept of recollection is grounded on the fact that knowledge includes not only the immutable but also the mutable, not only the external forms but also the internal person.[8] The person thus knows only in so much as their immortal soul recollects (i.e., intuits) the forms. This epistemic action is the soul’s[9] ascent towards knowledge, that is, the higher ideals of beauty. (I will discuss this process more in the following section.)

Recollection, Dialectic, and Contemplation

The preceding begins to illuminate Plato’s basic conception of contemplation. Indeed, Plato’s concept of recollection itself is an upward dialectic process. As a person lives, he begins to recall or re-collect the truth of reality through his familiarity with the forms. Because all souls—before embodiment—were ‘swimming around’ the celestial pool of the forms, to put it crudely, all people have recollection of the universals.

Recollection, therefore, is an upward dialectic process. According to Plato, the dialectic process is a mental progression whereby the person is able to arrive at knowledge itself. Plato also calls this process the ascent towards knowledge—something that his follower, Plotinus, extensively elaborated (see my next post). As Plato says, by the person’s dialectic, the soul is raised “to the contemplation of that which is best in existence.” Or, more literally, this activity “has the ability to uplift the best part of the soul toward the contemplation of the best in things that are in the real world (Plato, Republic, 532c-d, cf. 531d–534d).”[10] Plato thus bridges the external and internal in knowledge as he simultaneously maintains the objectivity of truth in the world of forms and the internal subjectively of the person whose knowledge (correctly) corresponds to those forms. Copleston sums masterfully,

Man appears as the knowing and willing subject, the being who realizes, or should realize true values in his individual life and in the life of society, the being endowed with an immortal soul; and human knowledge, human nature, human conduct and human society, are made the subject of profound and penetrating analyses and considerations.[11]

Knowledge requires the immutable forms and the mutable mind, which knows the forms through the re-collective dialectic process. Knowledge, in other words, is acquired through an upward process whereby the person recollects the universal and thereby contemplates good/beauty itself, the highest, most abstract form. (Because Plato can speak of good and beauty simultaneously as the most transcendent form, I will henceforth call it ‘beauty’ for short.)

The final stage for Plato, so to speak, is gazing beauty itself, which is the result of contemplation. While the soul has no sensory experience of the “good,” “just,” or “beautiful,” it can apprehend them intellectually (Phaedo, 65d-e). This is the importance of a rational, contemplative mindset (that is, a mindset attuned to the higher transcendental realities). As Kenney notes, the soul alone, at the height of its epistemic power, may grasp these intelligibles (15).

Thus, unsurprisingly, there is a strong association between contemplation and the soul’s salvation in Plato’s writings (cf. Symposium, 210a-e).[12] Plato elaborates the association through the words of a wise Mantinean woman,

When a man has been thus far tutored in the lore of love, passing from view to view of beautiful things, in the right and regular ascent, suddenly he will have revealed to him, as he draws to the close of his dealings in love, a wondrous vision, beautiful in its nature; and this, Socrates, is the final object of all those previous toils (210e).

The lover of beauty, she continues, is characterized as such:

Beginning from obvious beauties he must for the sake of that highest beauty be ever climbing aloft, as on the rungs of a ladder, from one to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies; from personal beauty he proceeds to beautiful observances, from observance to beautiful learning, and from learning at last to that particular study which is concerned with the beautiful itself and that alone; so that in the end he comes to know the very essence of beauty. In that state of life above all others, my dear Socrates,’ said the Mantinean woman, ‘a man finds it truly worthwhile to live, as he contemplates essential beauty. This, when once beheld, will outshine your gold and your vesture, your beautiful boys and striplings, whose aspect now so astounds you and makes you and many another, at the sight and constant society of your darlings, ready to do without either food or drink if that were any way possible, and only gaze upon them and have their company (211c-d).

Summarizing Plato here, one might say that life is not about knowing or loving material things; rather it is about contemplating spiritual, transcendental things. Life is about going ever upward for the sake of beauty to the form of beauty itself. This higher, intelligible beauty exists without change. It is, as Kenney summarizes Plato, the stable paradigm in which beautiful things in this world participate (cf. 211b). As it looks within itself (by contemplation), the soul brings forth fruits “in a plenteous crop of philosophy” (210d), and herein it can perceive the transcendental nature of beauty itself (210e). By contemplating true being itself, the soul might even become immortal (211d). As Kenney well notes, this is the salvific promise of contemplation (15).

Elsewhere, in the Republic, while Plato discusses the allegory of the cave, he also hints at contemplation’s true goal, that is, what later philosophers and theologians would call the ‘beatific vision’:

My opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of the Good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual (Republic, 517b-c).

“The Good” (or “Beauty”) is the highest, most abstract form for Plato, the form in which all other forms participate. For Plato, this form is the author of all others, albeit mysteriously. As later Christian theologians would summarize (e.g., Augustine), the form is analogous to the idea of God.

I will tentatively summarize Plato’s view of knowledge as the following (though bear in mind that this post does not intend to do so comprehensively): (1) empiricism, as it corresponds with the world of matter, is a necessary but incomplete epistemology; (2) knowledge fundamentally is rationally drawn through a recollective process grounded on the world of forms; (3) this knowledge is thus directed upwards in a dialectic process of moving from concrete to abstract forms (e.g., from the ideal color “royal blue” to the ideal reality “beauty”); (4) the philosopher consequently ought to direct his mind upwards into contemplation of the truth; and (5) this temporal contemplation is experienced in perfection through the beatific vision. I realize that Plato’s writings do not consistently distinguish points 2-5. There is a huge debate in Plato studies here, but I will have to refrain. My opinion should be clear: At the very least, I believe that formal distinctions amongst 2-5 are helpful to the reader.

Conclusion

Plato has plenty to say about gazing at the immovable, that is, beauty. Contemplation (or, as he more often calls it, the dialectic or theoria) even becomes a central theme throughout his writings. Indeed, glancing at his philosophy in general, contemplation is the epistemological hinge from which his philosophy swings. As he maintains in the baldest sense, there must be a transcendental world; the only way to know this world is through something like recollection; therefore, the most attuned person, the philosopher, is the person who knows ultimate reality as it is grounded in the forms. Contemplation is thus the postulation that unites his ideological philosophy. It is the only way to know and experience the other, as later philosophers would assert.

Obviously, this post is not prescribing Plato’s view. While I do find it fascinating and insightful, it is important to remember that it is not Christian. A later post will articulate things we can learn from Plato and Plotinus, but here I can only emphasize that his view of contemplation can be devastating. Indeed, following platonic emphases, many early Christian thinkers naturally but harmfully distinguished contemplation from practice, suggesting that the most virtuous person does not “do” something (e.g., feeding the poor) so much as “gaze” at God. Sadly, as I have experienced, many Christians today implicitly hold to a similar distinction, believing that the more spiritual person is the one who “knows” the most. Anyway, I will tackle this issue at a later time.

Thank you for reading. I realize that this post is not as tight as some of my other posts. It is simply a reflection and elaboration of Plato’s understanding of contemplation and, broadly, his epistemology.

My next post will describe Plotinus’s elaboration of the theory of contemplation.

© copyright Ryan A. Brandt

[1]Translations from Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes, vol. 1, trans. Harold North Fowler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966).

[2]Cf. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:149-150; 164-165; L. P. Gerson, God and Greek Philosophy: Studies in the Early History of Natural Theology (London: Routledge, 1990), 33-39. These forms exist on their own, apart from the world of the material (Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:166ff., cf. 174-175). The forms, in fact, are analogous to numbers (Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, 4:251ff., 525; cf. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:194-196). For an excellent and comprehensive understanding of Plato’s theory of knowledge, see I. M. Crombie, An Examination of Plato’s Doctrine’s: Volume II, Plato on Knowledge and Reality (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963), 1-152. Therefore, while Plato was primarily concerned with the objectivity of knowledge of persons, as Copleston notes, “Plato’s effort was not to enrich, beautify and transmute this world by subjective evocations, but to pass beyond the sensible world to the world of thought, the Transcendental Reality” (Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:205).

[3]Plato, Republic, in vol. 6 of Plato, trans. Chris Emlyn-Jones and William Preddy, LCL [Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013], 516A-517B. Put in another way: just as the Sun is the source of the “seasons, and the years, and governs everything in the visible world,” so also the forms are the source and stability for all knowledge (Ibid., 516B). Plato suggests this analogy in the context of his allegory of the cave. In this allegory, Plato describes people living chained to the wall of a cave for all of their lives. As the fire from the cave casts shadows on the wall, people can only see and describe these shadows. The philosopher, however, is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, but that reality is rather something greater than he could have imagined (Ibid., 514A-520A).

[4]Or, he also says, “perception is knowledge,” an idea that Plato attributes especially to Protagoras, in whom Theaetetus enthusiastically places his trust (Plato, Theaetetus, Sophist, 151E).

[5]Ibid., 160D. In other words, the immutable soul of the person, as it was eternally familiar with the world of forms, may know things objectively according to its familiarity with the forms (cf. Ibid., 160-210). Indeed, continues Plato, existence and non-existence cannot be perceived by wavering perception but only by immutable reason, lest a person confuse existence with a mirage (Ibid.; cf. cf. Copleston, 1:144-146). Plato therefore moves from defining knowledge as perception, as does Protagoras (Ibid., 151E-187), to knowledge as true judgment (Ibid., 187-202), and finally to knowledge as true judgment with a logos or an account (Ibid., 202-210). He continues to suggest that the objects of knowledge must be stable and abiding, fixed, capable of being grasped in clear and scientific definition, which is of the universal (cf. Ibid., 209-210). He concludes, “Then, it seems, if asked, ‘What is knowledge?’ our leader will reply that it is right opinion with the addition of a knowledge of difference; for that would, according to him, be the addition of reason or explanation” (Ibid., 210A).

[6]As Hegel writes with regards to Plato’s Republic, “[T]he principle of subjective freedom is lacking, i.e., the principle that the individual’s substantive activity . . . shall be mediated through his particular volition” (Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox, in Great Books of the Western World, vol. 46, ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins [Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952], 100 [section 299]). Hegel goes on to show that, in Plato, the person in knowledge is completely overlooked (Ibid., 100-106 [sections 300-320]). Or, as he writes elsewhere, Plato “absolutely excluded” the “principle of self-subsistent particularity” from the state and family so that the “subjective will” or “subjective freedom” is “denied;” as he continues, he notes that “this principle dawned in an inward form in the Christian religion” (Ibid., 64 [section 185]). In other words, he suggests that Plato was only interested in the external or outward form of knowledge (as he overlooked the inward or subjective principle), and the inward form of knowledge was only expanded through later Christian writings. While Hegel is right that Plato tends to emphasize the external dimension of knowledge, at least in this particular analysis, he often overlooks the rest of Plato’s philosophy outside of the Republic.

[7]Plato, Symposium, in vol. 3 of Plato, trans. W. R. Lamb, LCL (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 175-208. The eternal forms, then, are truly known and acted upon by the person. For example, Plato (in the guise of Socrates) suggests that we know love and beauty through this process. He uses the example of Alcestis, Orpheus, Achilles and several others to make his point (Ibid., 179, 201, 206). Contact with the forms, then, simultaneously presumes the immortality of the soul (Ibid., 206). In this sense, Plato’s high view of the forms is inseparable from his high view of the subject of the person (Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, 4:389; Michael L. Morgan, “Plato and Greek Religion,” in The Cambridge Companion to Plato, ed. Richard Kraut [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992], 236-238). This idea does not entail that the forms are confined to the mind (Gerson, God and Greek Philosophy, 33-39, 52-56; Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:174-175, cf. 1:164). For an excellent discussion on recollection, especially concerning Plato’s Meno, see J. T. Bedu-Addo, “Sense-Experience and Recollection in Plato’s MenoAJP 104:3 (1983): 228-248; or Norman Gulley, “Plato’s Theory of Recollection” CQ 4:3/4 (1954): 194-213.

[8]This argument runs contra Parmenides, with whom he often dueled. In the Sophist, for example, he says that the philosopher must include both the “moveable and immoveable” in his definition or understanding of “being and the universe” (Plato, Theaetetus, Sophist, 249D). He is obviously responding to Parmenides’ conception of being here. Moreover, Plato continues, both “motion and rest” are real and not opposed to one another, and thus we must admit what changes and change itself are real things (Ibid., 250A; cf. 250B-261; cf. Copleston, 1:187-8; 1:179ff.). For Parmenides, see Parmenides, Fragments, in Plato and Parmenides: Parmenides’ ‘Way of Truth’ and Plato’s Parmenides Translated with an Introduction and a Running Commentary, ed. Francis MacDonald Cornford (London: Humanities Press, 1951); and his Fragments, in The Fragments of Parmenides, ed. A. H. Coxon (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1986).

[9]He calls the soul the motion of the body. This idea is perceived most clearly in Plato, Laws, in vol. 11 of Plato, trans. R. G. Bury, LCL (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984), 896:A-B, 775ff., wherein he defines the soul as “the motion able to move itself.” It is, therefore, “self-movement,” or the movement of the self. It is the volitional or willful capacity of (or rather, within) the body. For an excellent discussion here, see Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:207-209.

[10]Therefore, the dialectic allows one to transcend the flux of reality and to know that which is truly infallible. As Guthrie notes, the dialectic “aims directly at a knowledge of beauty and goodness” and ultimately “reaches the self-authenticating source of their existence and intelligibility: the Form of the Good” (Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, 1:524, 526; cf. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:151-160). In this sense, the ascent is primarily intellectual. It was not religious or mystical (cf. A. E. Taylor, Plato, the Man and His Work [London: Methuen, 1926], 225). Copleston suggests a possibility of the latter, but he concedes that its more likely upward, ethical or intellectual dialectic (Copleston, A History of Philosophy, I:197, 200). Namely, Plato writes in his Symposium, “Beginning from obvious beauties he must for the sake of that highest beauty be ever climbing aloft, as on the rings of a ladder . . . so that in the end he comes to know the very essence of beauty” (Plato, Symposium, 211C; cf. 179, 201, 206; cf. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:199-200; Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010], 26-27). This ascent includes a threefold ethical and intellectual process: purification, illumination, and contemplative union (Plato, Symposium, 210 A-D [Diotema’s Speech]; cf. 179, 201, 206; he explains the ascent in terms of beginning with [1] purifying beauty by being “in love with one particular body,” [2] illuminating beauty by seeing how the beauty attached to the first body is “cognate” to others, and finally, and of “higher value,” [3] “contemplating” the splendor of the soul until “he decries a certain single knowledge connected with a beauty which has yet to be told” [Ibid.].). For other excellent descriptions of the dialectic, see Ian Mueller, “Mathematical Method, Philosophical Truth,” in The Cambridge Companion to Plato, ed. Richard Kraut (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 183-194; and John Sallis, Being and Logos: The Way of Platonic Dialogue, 2nd ed. (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities, 1986). Interestingly, some argue that Plato replaced his earlier idea of recollection (i.e. anamnesis) with the dialectic (cf. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, V:174, n. 2). As Guthrie notes, however, most scholars do not take this recourse.

[11]Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 1:491. In other words, Plato, for all his emphasis on the object, also left room for the person in knowledge by his understanding of recollection and the person’s dialectic process.

[12]All references from Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes, vol. 9, trans. Harold N. Fowler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925).

Charles Hodge on the Beatific Vision

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While I was reading Charles Hodge on the consummation, I was struck by his succinct description of the beatific vision of believers. I think it is helpful. If anything, it serves as food-for-thought for contemporary Protestant theologians who have generally ignored this important doctrine.

Hodge begins by maintaining that we know very little about the vision: “As to the blessedness of this heavenly state we know that it is inconceivable: ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him’ (1 Cor 2:9).”

He then describes what we do know about the beatific vision, summarizes it according to eight elements. I will conclude this post with his words:

We know however: (1.) That this incomprehensible blessedness of heaven shall arise from the vision of God. This vision is beatific. It beatifies. It transforms the soul into the divine image; transfusing into it the divine life, so that it is filled with the fullness of God. This vision of God is in the face of Jesus Christ, in whom dwells the plenitude of the divine glory bodily. God is seen in fashion as a man; and it is this manifestation of God in the person of Christ that is inconceivably and intolerably ravishing. Peter, James, and John became as dead men when they saw his glory, for a moment, in the holy mount. (2.) The blessedness of the redeemed will flow not only from the manifestation of the glory, but also of the love of God; of that love. mysterious, unchangeable, and infinite, of which the work of redemption is the fruit. (3.) Another element of the future happiness of the saints is the indefinite enlargement of all their faculties. (4.) Another is their entire exemption from all sin and sorrow (5.) Another is their intercourse and fellowship with the high intelligences of heaven; with patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all the redeemed. (6.) Another is constant increase in knowledge and in the useful exercise of all their powers. (7.) Another is the secure and everlasting possession of all possible good. And, (8.) Doubtless the outward circumstances of their being will be such as to minister to their increasing blessedness (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology [Hendrickson, 2003], 3:860-61).

The Beatific Vision in Bonaventure’s ‘Breviloquium’

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As Thomas Aquinas long ago noted, God’s presence is the application of his knowledge, power, and being (and thus, all of his attributes) to space-time. When I teach the attributes of God, I thus discuss God’s presence at the end of the lecture. Moreover, I conclude the discussion of God’s presence with the beatific vision — the final, eschatological gazing upon God. I think that this is helpful. The beatific vision is ultimately grounded upon God; and, as it relates to us, it is the most intense and personal experience of God’s presence.

Today, I have been reading Thomas’s respective Franciscan colleague at the University of Paris, Bonaventure. In particular, I have paid attention to his view of the beatific vision throughout his noted work, Breviloquium. While I have read the book several times, I was surprised by how often he referenced it throughout, even while he did not provide an independent, substantial discourse on the doctrine. It is also notable that Bonaventure refers to the beatific vision by various names, including possession, blessedness, and fullness, and any variation therein.

Under the topic of the final judgment, Bonaventure begins by discussing the basis of the beatific vision: “The First Principle [God], by the fact of being first, exists of itself, by itself, and for itself. It is thus the efficient, formal, and final cause: creating, governing, and perfecting all things. It creates in accord with the loftiness of its power, governs in accord with the rectitude of its truth, and perfects in accord with the plenitude of its goodness” (Bonaventure, Breviloquium, 7:1.2). Always remaining Christ-centered, he elsewhere linked the final vision with Jesus Christ himself, who “was endowed with wisdom both as God and as a human being, as one in full possession [of God] and as a pilgrim [here on earth],[1] as one enlightened by grace and as one rightly formed by nature” (Ibid., 4:6.1).[2] In other words, the beatific vision is grounded in God and possessed first and foremost by Christ.

Bonaventure continues to explain who receives the beatific vision (and alternatively who are judged). His basic answer is that those in Christ receive it (cf. 4:6.2; part 5). He thereafter explains his answer more fully in part 7, connecting his discussion back to the threefold attributes of God’s power, truth, and goodness. According to God’s power, he maintains, God made some creatures in the image of God (that is, humans) who thus have the “capacity for God;” in other words, they are “capable of blessedness,” or the beatific vision (Ibid., 7:1.2). According to God’s truth, there is a law that “invites them to blessedness” (Ibid.). According to his goodness, which “works in accordance with the loftiness of power and the rectitude of truth,” “the consummation of blessedness is granted by the supreme Goodness only to those who have observed the justice which was imposed by the rectitude of truth and who have accepted instruction and have loved that highest and eternal blessedness more than transitory goods” (Ibid.). Consequently, narrowing his answer as he goes, the beatific vision is possible for rational (power), just (truth), and loving (goodness) creatures.

He concludes his densely harmonized work with a prayer, a longing for the day of revelation.

I pray, Ο God, that I may know you and love you, so that I may rejoice in you. And if I cannot do so fully in this life, at least let me go forward day by day until that point of fullness comes. Let the knowledge of you grow in me here, and there [in heaven] be made complete. Let your love grow in me here; and there be made complete, so that here my joy may be great with expectancy, and there be complete in reality. Lord, through your Son you command, or rather, counsel us to ask; and through him you promise that we shall receive, so that our joy may be complete. I ask, Lord, as you counsel through our Wonderful Counselor. May I receive what you promise through your Truth, so that my joy may be complete. Oh God of truth, I ask that I might receive, so that my joy may be complete. Until then, let my mind meditate on it, let my tongue speak of it, let my heart love it, let my mouth express it. Let my soul hunger for it; let my flesh thirst for it; my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, who is God three and one, blessed forever! Amen. (Bonaventure, Breviloquium, 7:7.9).

Notably, Bonaventure perceives all things—whether study, ethical living, thinking, or contemplation—as a preparation for and anticipation of the eventual experience. This life is but a foretaste. As Paul summarizes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). What we live now is, according to Bonaventure, an “until then,” a foretaste of the beatific vision.

I look forward to relating contemplation (i.e., the restful gaze of God as pilgrims) and the final experience of the beatific vision in a later post. Until then….

[1]The contrast between full possession and pilgrim knowledge indicates that Bonaventure refers to the beatific vision in the former instance. This is why many translations simply say, “as one in possession of the beatific vision and as living on earth as a pilgrim.”

[2]He continues elsewhere, “Since it was proper that Christ the mediator possess innocence and the bliss of enjoying [the vision of God] while still being mortal and capable of suffering, he had to be at one and the same time a pilgrim [on earth] and one possessing [the beatific vision]. Something of both states existed in him: thus, it is said that he assumed the sinlessness of the state of innocence, the mortality of the state of fallen nature, and the perfect blessedness of the state of glory” (Ibid., 4:8.3).

Word and Spirit: Paul’s Understanding of Revelation as External and Internal

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In the last post, I explained the gist of the paper that I am presenting for the upcoming EPS conference. Within the ETS portion of the conference, I am also presenting, “Word and Spirit: Paul’s Understanding of Revelation as External and Internal.”

In light of the selected theme of the upcoming meeting of the society, this paper examines the Apostle Paul’s understanding of one central element of the kingdom, that is, revelation. By tracing some of Paul’s pertinent arguments throughout his epistles, the paper asserts that, according to Paul, the idea of revelation contains both external and internal dimensions. In other words, revelation may refer to realities that occur (1) objectively to the human person in the form of a disclosure of information (the external Word of Scripture) and (2) subjectively to the human person in the form of an unveiling of perception (the internal Spirit of illumination).

This thesis is attained organically: first, by introducing Paul’s broader understanding of revelation in the natural world and human conscience; next, by explaining the relationship between revelation as the Holy Scripture (external word) and as the Holy Spirit (internal illumination); and finally, by explicitly detailing his understanding of the external and internal dimensions. At the end of the day, the paper suggests that both dimensions of revelation, Word and Spirit, ought to be held closely together. The former is necessary to have a saving knowledge of the gospel, and the latter is necessary to open our minds to perceive this saving knowledge in a personal manner.

While external revelation is extremely visible in Paul (e.g., Scripture, creation, etc.), the internal dimensions is often overlooked. However, he strongly avers that God reveals himself through his Spirit to his elect for the purposes of believing that Jesus is Lord (i.e., regeneration) and perceiving and understanding the veracity and applicability of Scripture (illumination).

In other words, internal revelation may at least refer to two realities within Paul: revealing the reality of Christ and Scripture to the believer. First, the Spirit reveals Christ to the believer. Namely, the Spirit unveils to the believer the true understanding of Jesus as Lord. As Paul carefully declares in his first letter to the Corinthians, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in [i.e., “by”] the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). While there are a plethora of possible interpretations of this verse,[1] Paul’s salient point is that no one salvifically knows the identity of Jesus (as Lord) except for those who are in the Spirit. Gordon D. Fee aptly summarizes, “[O]nly one who has the Spirit can truly make such a confession because only the Spirit can reveal its reality.”[2] Indeed, Paul elsewhere can say that the Spirit helps believers to cry “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6; cf. Rom 8:15-16). Or, he writes, if “the Spirit of God dwells in you,” then Christ belongs to you (Rom 8:9). The Holy Spirit, as he internally unveils gospel understanding, is the sole causal agent of truly acknowledging and understanding Jesus.[3] It is he who brings salvation-knowledge; it is he who unveils Jesus Christ to the person through his regenerating grace.

Second, and naturally resulting from the first, the Spirit unveils Scripture to the believer. This process refers to illumination. In some sense, one might wonder why some kind of illuminative revelation is necessary: is not Scripture readable and clear? In a large sense, the answer to this question is yes. However, Paul often notes the failure of Scriptural revelation in light of the (mis)perception of the gospel in Scripture. His answer to the lack of understanding is simple: the necessity of God’s Spirit. Namely, in the Corinthian correspondence (1 Cor 2:10-16), Paul discusses the Spirit’s special mediation of divine wisdom. Paul’s words here deserve special attention. He begins, “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (v. 11).” He then continues by claiming that God gave us his Spirit “so that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (v. 12). The Spirit, as Paul suggests, who alone knows the secrets of God, has been given to us so that we may know the secrets of God that he wills to reveal to his people. This action is clearly external revelation, as the Holy Spirit unveils the divine mysteries in scriptural words (v. 13); but such external revelation is not complete without the unveiling of understanding through the Spirit of God (i.e., internal revelation).[4]

Following his concise argument, Paul thereafter explains why the internal illuminative work of the Spirit is necessary to understand Scripture (vv. 14-16). Paul starkly suggests, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). Paul herein argues two distinct ideas: (1) the unbeliever is not able to understand (or believe) the revelation of the gospel, and (2) it is only by the Spirit that one can understand these things. Paul then continues by contrasting the natural person from the spiritual person, that is, the person illumined by the Spirit (i.e., the Christian or believer). He says, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (v. 15-16; cf. Isa 40:13). While Paul’s words here are packed, Leon Morris summarizes him concisely: “the indwelling Spirit reveals Christ” to the child of God.”[5] As Florian Wilk correctly asserts, the Spirit-filled person “is endowed with spiritual knowledge” that is only in Christ and through his Spirit.[6] In other words, believers have spiritual knowledge as the Spirit enables them to understand and to accept the realities of the gospel in Scripture.[7] Paul thus clearly refers to the illumination of Scripture by the Spirit. The Spirit internally unveils the truth of the gospel to people.

Later in the Corinthian correspondence, Paul elaborates the Spirit’s unveiling of Scripture to the believer by the contrast between the Mosaic and new covenants (2 Cor 3). While this section is not primarily aimed at an understanding of (internal) revelation, the passage contains several important implications. As Paul begins, he regards the Mosaic covenant as profoundly revelatory, but he claims that its people “were hardened” and so “when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted” (2 Cor 3:14). In other words, the Mosaic covenant lacked the unveiling power of the Holy Spirit. The new covenant, however, is a “stark antithesis,” as Ralph Martin aptly reflects, as it brings the revelation of the new covenantal realities.[8] Paul explains that in this latter covenant the “the veil is removed,” for “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (vv. 16-17). Leonhard Goppelt’s comments clarify Paul’s words: Whereas the “structure of the Old Testament and its meaning were veiled,” now “to the one who had turned in faith to Christ” through the Spirit, it is unveiled.[9] What is “unveiled,” of course, is the whole corpus of the new covenant, which includes the internal illumination of the Spirit. Whereas the people of the Mosaic covenant were veiled in misunderstanding, the people of the new covenant, through the Holy Spirit, are unveiled to understanding. Therefore, Paul describes a real and distinct form of revelation that emphasizes, not the disclosure of information (as in external revelation), but the disclosure of understanding or perception.

Paul further clarifies his understanding of internal revelation in the new covenant as he continues in the following chapter (2 Cor 4:3-6). Paul explains, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,” that is, to “the unbelievers” (v. 3, cf. v. 4). As Harris summarizes, to people who are perishing, the gospel is “hidden from their understanding.”[10] The veil is not yet lifted from every human heart (cf. 3:14-15), nor has every person turned to the Lord (cf. 3:16). Indeed, Paul continues, “In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” so that they cannot perceive “the revealed splendor of the gospel of Christ” (v. 4). Unbelievers, in other words, cannot recognize the glorious revelation of the gospel that proclaims “Jesus as Lord” (v. 5). Thereafter, Paul clarifies how this veil is removed: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Because the truth of the gospel is not naturally discerned, God supernaturally enables people to understand the gospel through his Spirit’s regenerating and illuminating action. In the words of Calvin, “His [Paul’s] meaning, therefore, is that God has, by his Spirit, opened the eyes of our understandings, so as to make them capable of receiving the light of the gospel.”[11] Indeed, the gospel is not only externally proclaimed (in Scripture) but also internally unveiled (through the Spirit). In this manner, Paul again explains the special internal work of the Spirit that internally unveils the truth of the gospel to the believer.

Paul’s argument throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians also accounts for why he, at least in one instance, prays that believers have their hearts and minds opened through the illuminative work of the Holy Spirit. Namely, he prays for the Ephesian Christians that God . . .

may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened (“pefwtisme,nouj”[12]), that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. . . . (Eph 1:17-19).

While Paul’s words here are dense, his main point is clear. Paul is not praying that the Ephesians receive further revelations beyond Jesus Christ and his Spirit. Rather, he is praying that they continue to receive, as Clinton E. Arnold reflects, “an illuminating work of the Spirit to impress already revealed truth about God into the conscious reflections and heartfelt convictions of the readers.”[13] Paul prays that these Ephesian Christians would have the eyes of their hearts enlightened, for this revelation is necessary to understand and believe the external letter of Scripture. He prays for their illumination.

To summarize Paul’s understanding of internal revelation (in the books to the Corinthians), Calvin is again quotable: “[T]he Spirit of God, from whom the doctrine of the gospel comes, is its only true interpreter, to open it up to us. Hence in judging of it, men’s mind must of necessity be in blindness until they are enlightened by the Spirit of God.”[14] The Spirit, in other words, internally reveals the reality of Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture to the believer. It is no wonder that elsewhere Paul strongly encourages people to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and warns against quenching and grieving the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19; Eph 4:30).

In the final analysis, this paper argues that Paul’s theology inherently assumes both an external and internal form of revelation. He speaks simultaneously of God being revealed externally through creation and Scripture, on the one hand; and internally through the human conscience and the Spirit, on the other. Paul begins by demonstrating that a natural or general revelation (through external creation and internal conscience) is not complete, for such revelation is culpably suppressed without the Spirit. Therefore, Paul makes it particularly clear that revelation does not end with general forms of revelation. Indeed, if it did, then all people would reject that revelation as we reject God (Rom 1:18ff.). Paul therefore continues to speak about the special revelation of God’s (external) Holy Scripture and (internal) Holy Spirit. The former is necessary to have a saving knowledge of the gospel, and the latter is necessary to open our minds to perceive this saving knowledge in a personal manner. At the end of the day, therefore Paul construes revelation both in an external and internal sense.

[1]For a list of them, see Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 918-925.

[2]Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 582; cf. Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 165.

[3]One might also think of Titus 3:5. Herein Paul claims that God saves us not because of our righteous works preformed but rather “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). The Spirit, in other words, performs an internal or spiritual cleansing through regeneration that brings new birth and new life in Christ. Calvin argues this persuasively (Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, trans. William Pringle, The Calvin Translation Society [Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996], 333-334). As Lea and Griffin assert, the Spirit performs an “internal, spiritual cleansing” (idem, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, 324). The important phrase in v. 5 is dia. loutrou/ paliggenesi,aj kai. avnakainw,sewj pneu,matoj a`gi,ou (“through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”). Due to the presence of one dia., the text “clearly indicates that the phrase” refers to a single event (Lea and Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, 323; cf. Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 479). While it is exegetically possible to understand the text to speak about a water baptism, it is best to understand the Spirit as the subject of washing and renewal (Ibid.). The words thus indicate that an internal cleansing is in view: loutro,n refers to physical washing that here takes on metaphorical import, paliggenesi,a, taking the genitive form, refers to the result of washing (i.e., “washing of regeneration”), that is, a spiritual new birth or restoration, and avnakai,nwsij is nearly synonymous with paliggenesi,a and refers to renewal (cf. Marshall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, 313-322; for an excellent discussion of the possible meanings, see Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006], 782-784). In other words, Paul asserts that the Spirit performs an internal cleansing and renewal (Lea and Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, 324; cf. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 781-782). Indeed, Philip Towner rightly argues that this text, read canonically along with the new covenant texts within Jeremiah and Ezekiel, calls into mind the vivid images in which the promised Spirit is coming to renew and restore God’s covenant people. As he concludes, “Just as the tradition promised, God’s gift of the Spirit would change the way people live” (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 784). In other words, as the Spirit re-births or regenerates a person, he also necessarily gives faith and thus unveils the salvific knowledge and truth of Christ to the person. In this sense, as the chapter has previously explored in the gospels, the Spirit’s work of regeneration entails internal revelation.

[4]Calvin elaborates this thought process most clearly: Paul “shows in what way believers are exempted from this blindness,” namely, “by a special illumination of the Spirit” (Calvin, Corinthians, 1:110). It is also noteworthy that, in this same instance, Calvin twice regards this illumination of the Spirit as “the revelation of God’s Spirit” (Ibid.; italics mine). Calvin continues, the Spirit introduces us to something “inaccessible to mankind,” and in so doing, he “makes us acquainted with those things that are otherwise hid from our view” (Ibid., 111). Therefore, the 1 Corinthians passage intends to teach that “the Gospel cannot be understood otherwise than by the testimony of the Holy Spirit” (Ibid., 111), for all spiritual knowledge “depends entirely on the revelation of the Spirit” (Ibid., 113). Calvin all throughout implicates that the work of the Spirit is here, as this dissertation terms it, an internal revelation, namely, an unfolding or unveiling of understanding or perception.

[5]Morris, 1 Corinthians, 60, italics mine; cf. Fee, 1 Corinthians, 117; Ambrosiaster, Romans and 1-2 Corinthians, 130-131.

[6]Wilk, “Isaiah in 1 and 2 Corinthians,” 140. Indeed, as Morris also comments, he says that because a natural person cannot avnakri,netai (i.e., scrutinize, examine, judge of, estimate, discern) the things of God, he or she is lacking something that must be unveiled to them by the Spirit (Morris, 1 Corinthians, 59; cf. Wilk, “Isaiah in 1 and 2 Corinthians,” 139; Peter Stuhlmacher, Biblische Theologie und Evangelium, 143-166).

[7]Therefore, it is important to understand Paul’s words correctly: he is not speaking about some deeper movement into spiritual life, as some elitist movements would hold; rather, he is speaking merely about the unveiling of the truth of the gospel to the person at hand (Fee, 1 Corinthians, 120). God illumines his words through his Spirit. As we are in Christ through the Spirit, we too can participate in this understanding or perception.

[8]Martin, 2 Corinthians, 202.

.

[9]Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament, 2:52; cf. 1 Cor 2:16.

[10]Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 327. Moreover, it is important to note that, while the gospel is veiled, “it is not on account of him [Paul] or his conduct” (Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians, 194).

[11]Calvin, Corinthians, 2:200.

[12]This verb is a perfect passive participle, which suggests that something has been done and remains in effect.

[13]Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 105. In this sense, Arnold suggests that the content of Paul’s prayer here is similar to Paul’s (formerly discussed) Corinthian correspondence (Ibid., 104). Arnold’s basic interpretation—that this prayer refers to spiritual illumination—is affirmed by Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, WBC, vol. 42 (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 55-61; and Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 129-137; among others.

[14]Calvin writes these sentences specifically in reaction to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:14 (Calvin, Corinthians, 1:117). The renowned Jesuit scholar also suggests in this context that “divine revelation and the emergence of faith are the two sides of the same event” (O’Collins, Theology and Revelation, 48). The same Spirit who wrote Scripture also interprets, opens, and enlightens it to blind eyes.

The Principia and Revelation – A Reflection of Revelation as External and Internal

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Next week I am presenting two papers at the ETS/EPS regional meeting in Lithonia, Georgia. I am also defending my dissertation two days before. It is a pretty crazy week.

As I am refocusing my thoughts on the paper presentations, I decided to lay out my major conclusions in the papers in the next two posts. This post will include my EPS paper.

My EPS paper is entitled, “The Principia and Revelation – A Reflection of Revelation as External and Internal.” The paper explores the twofold dimensionality of revelation (the topic of my dissertation) through the historic twofold principia, which are popular within Reformed theology.

While traditional formulations of the doctrine of revelation include its external dimension (e.g., Scripture), they rarely if ever include its internal dimension (e.g., illumination). My paper examines general and special revelation through the traditional delineations of the principia cognoscendi. By using the substructure of the principia, the paper argues that both the general sciences (general revelation) and theology (special revelation) include external and internal dimensions. In other words, they each include (1) an external or objective reality to be known and (2) the internal or subjective ability to know it.

The paper accomplishes this argument, first, by surveying the external and internal principia cognoscendi of the general sciences, and, second, by exploring the corresponding principia of theology. The paper then summarizes the principia cognoscendi of science and theology and parallel them to general revelation and special revelation, respectively. It shall finally conclude by discussing the unity of revelation through the principium essendi (triune God), who likewise holds the two principia cognoscendi together in his one organic act of revelation. In the course of argument, the paper appropriates resources from John Calvin, Herman Bavinck, Alvin Plantinga, and Esther Meek.

Its conclusion is simple: as the paper correlates revelation with the principia cognoscendi of the sciences (i.e., general revelation) and theology (i.e., special revelation), it thus argues that divine revelation or the principia ought to be expressed in its external and internal dimensions (see Figure 1).[i]

Figure 1.

The Principia within their Spheres

Spheres

General Sciences Theology
Principia External Creation Holy Scripture
Internal Mind Holy Spirit/Faith

On the one hand, the principia cognoscendi of science include external creation and the internal mind. These twofold principia are generalized and available to all people—to more or less degrees. Unbelievers do not share regeneration (and thus faith) as the internal principium, but they do have cognition. As the paper asserts, it is helpful to view both of these, creation and mind, as derivative of the Holy Spirit, lest one forgets that both are supernaturally given and governed.

On the other hand, the theological principia basically reduce to Scripture and illumination. By these principia, the person is enlightened, able to apprehend salvific knowledge, and thereby perceive the spiritual connections between such knowledge. In other words, after the internal principium of the Spirit regenerates and illumines, people perceive and accept the gospel (which they heretofore rejected) and thus understand and apply those gospel realities to the world around them. This new insight does not include more information than is disclosed in Scripture or the natural world; rather, the action rectifies or resurrects human cognition.

In summation, the paper avers that both science and theology include a principium cognoscenti externum and a principium cognoscenti internum, the former of which refers to the material cause and the latter of which corresponds to the instrumental cause of the subject. These two principia, forever united, Word and Spirit, are the basis of science and theology and the means of understanding the full doctrine of revelation. The Word basically corresponds to the external principium, because it is the objective source or material cause of knowledge in science (creation) and theology (Scripture). The Spirit corresponds to the internal principium, for it is the subjective source or instrumental cause of knowledge in science (reason) and theology (illumination).

In other words, following the articulations of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, the eminent Roman Catholic theologian, René Latourelle, summarizes, “There is the combined activity of the external announcing and the interior attraction.”[ii] Accordingly, Kuyper’s conclusion regarding the necessity of both dimensions in the principia is pertinent:

From the finite no conclusion can be drawn to the infinite, neither can a Divine reality be known from external or internal phenomena, unless that God reveals Himself in my consciousness to my ego; reveals Himself as God; and thereby moves and impels me to see in these finite phenomena a brightness of His glory.[iii]

The paper finally concludes by looking at the principium essendi. Indeed, the former discussions left unaided may lead to the wrong impression that the two coterminous dimensions of revelation/principia (cognoscendi) are unrelated or otherwise detached from one another. Nothing could be farther from the case. While the former section elaborated the epistemological substructures (principia cognoscendi) of revelation, it remains to discuss the ontological groundwork, that is, the principium essendi. This section will argue that the triune God is the principium essendi and likewise holds the two principia cognoscendi together in his one organic act of revelation.

The principium essendi is the fundamental source, ground, or cause from which being, existence, and knowledge proceeds. The principium thus refers to the triune God himself, the fountain of all things.[i] Therefore, as Francis Turretin reminds his readers, “The question properly is not of principles (principiis), but of things principiated (principiatis).”[ii] In other words, the purpose of the principia is not to abstract knowledge or revelation down to its most fundamental components (i.e., external or internal); rather, the purpose is to “set your mind on things above,” that is, God in Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 3:2, 2:3). Indeed, it is God who principiates (i.e., makes foundational) the rest of knowledge through his being and works. And thus, it is God who is the principium essendi.

As the principium essendi, the triune God speaks in one, united communicative act. God is Trinity and, in some sense, he is also Speaker, Speech, and its Spokenness.[iii] Borrowing terminology from Speech Act Theory, God is likewise Locution, Illocution, and Perlocution.[iv] He speaks a locution (by the Father), and his speech carries an objective, concrete meaning or illocution (by the Son as Logos), and this speech is ultimately and effectively received and appropriated as a perlocution (by the Spirit). In the same way that one cannot separate the intended meaning of a statement (illocution) from its intended result (perlocution), one cannot abstract the principium cognoscendi externum of the Word from the corresponding principium cognoscendi internum of the Spirit. The twofold principia cognoscendi consists of two sides to the one coin of the principium essendi. This idea accounts for why Irenaeus distinguishes the triune communicative act as God’s singular accomplishment by his two personified hands, the Word and Spirit.[v] It also accounts for why numerous theologians assert that revelation includes both components. The triune God organically unites his revelation. Just as there is one triune God, so also there is one triune communicative act.

Therefore, linking this discussion back to a theology of revelation, one can say that revelation, as its source is within God (essendi), corresponds to both the principium cognoscendi externum and the principium cognoscendi internum. On the one hand, the principium cognoscendi externum is the external speaking itself. God speaks locutions, and by these locutions, he intends the illocutionary force. These truly and properly reveal God in the external sense (e.g., Scripture and creation). On the other hand, the principium cognoscendi internum is the internal appropriation. Language has not yet fulfilled its intention until the listener actually internally hears and responds to the external word. This result occurs through the Word’s perlocutionary power, which is the Holy Spirit and its corresponding human result in faith. The external-internal distinction thus helps to incorporate both dimensions of revelation. As Vanhoozer writes, “The Son is the form and content of the divine discourse, the Spirit its energy and persuasive efficacy.”[vi] Revelation likewise may be understood as the external act of God’s self-disclosure and the internal perception that actually results from such divine action. Both are inexorably tied and cannot be separated. The Word without the Spirit is empty; the Spirit without the Word is blind.

When both poles of revelation are present, revelation is a powerful force. As the author of Hebrews assures, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). The Scriptures alone do not accomplish this robust result, as if mere words salvifically reveal to sinful human hearts apart from the illumination of the Spirit. As John Webster perceptively observes, “Reading Scripture is inescapably bound to regeneration.”[vii] Nor, however, does the Spirit affect this result apart from the Bible. Rather, revelation is external words with internal import. Revelation may be compared to an illumined sentence from which we move forward and backward to attain a better understanding of the whole.[viii] Extending the metaphor, revelation includes a revealed meaning (locution) through its intended (illocutionary) force that then affects the feelings, thoughts, and actions (perlocutions) of the speaker/listener. Namely, it is when the external revelation (i.e., the Bible) is read and the internal revelation (i.e., the Spirit) regenerates and illumines the reader’s mind and heart—or understanding and will—that the reader can say that the Bible is not a mere book and that the Spirit is in him or her. It is at this point that revelation fully and finally does its job in bringing the Word of God “out there” (external) to the Word of God “in here” (internal).[ix] This consequence is, in fact, merely an implication of a truly Reformed theology.

In this sense, revelation is multidimensional. It is an organic act of God whereby he personally confronts the whole individual—his or her mind, heart, and will. Revelation is internal and external communication. It entails communication of propositional truth via the revelations of Christ, the Bible, and creation, so that revelation indeed includes an external component. It also entails an internal component, where Christ encounters the individual by the Spirit. As John Webster again summarizes, “Revelation is thus not simply the bridging of a noetic divide (though it includes that), but is reconciliation, salvation, and therefore fellowship.”[x] Because revelation has both an external and internal component, it can be articulated in words and propositions but it is also a redeeming experience of divine encounter.[xi] Revelation therefore manifests itself through God’s Word—creation and Scripture—and by his Spirit—in regeneration and illumination. It thus encompasses all the self-presentation and self-communication of the triune God to humans, both externally and internally, from creation through redemption unto eternity.

[i]As Scripture says, the fear of the Lord is the principle (tyviare, i.e., beginning, foundation) of wisdom (Ps 111:10) or of knowledge (Prov 1:7); or rather, Jesus Christ is the principle (avrch,, i.e., beginning, foundation) of creation (Col 1:18; Rev 3:14). Therefore, the source or cause of all things is the triune God himself. See also Bonaventure, Breviloquium, 27: theology “deals principally with the First Principle—God, three in one. . . .” Some theologians in the early church argued that God the Father is technically the principium essendi. Augustine, for example, asserted that the Father is “the principle of the whole divinity” (lit. principium totius divinitatis, Augustine, On the Trinity, 4:20) which means, in other words, the principle of being or existence of the Godhead. However, it is more helpful, following John Calvin, to view each person of the Trinity as autotheos, and thus, the Trinity as a whole is the principium (Calvin, Institutes, 1:13.25, 29; cf. B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Augustine [Phillipsburg: P & R, 1980], 283-284).

[ii]Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:15.33.

[iii]The language here echoes Barth’s Revealer, Revelation, and Revealedness (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961], 1.1.361).

[iv]Namely, language includes a “locutionary act” (the basic meaning and reference of a statement), an “illocutionary force” (the semantic cogency that the speaker intends to accomplish in the locution), and a “perlocutionary force” (the statement considered by its effect upon its recipient). These three are delineations from J. L. Austin, the founder of this theory, who wanted technical terms to explain the content, intent, and result of language (cf. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, ed. J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà, 2nd ed. [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975], 1-164). Vanhoozer has also correlated Speech Act Theory with the three persons of the Trinity in a similar manner (cf. Vanhoozer, First Theology, 227-8).

[v]Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:22.1; 2:30.9; 5:1.3; cf. James Beaven, An Account of the Life and Writings of S. Irenaeus: Bishop of Lyons and Martyr (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1841), 88, 89; John Behr, Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 38; John Lawson, The Biblical Theology of Saint Irenaeus (London: Epworth, 1948), 125.

[vi]Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology, 366. Therefore, the internal principium corresponds to the Spirit’s interior working in the Testimonium et Illuminatio Internum Spiritus Sancti (“Testimony and Illumination of the Spirit”). Vanhoozer also acknowledges this without using the same language (Ibid.). He says, “What finally makes the call effectual is its content—the story of Jesus—as ministered by the Spirit.” (Ibid., 374). This is the difference between “externally authoritative” and “internally persuasive” discourse (Ibid., 365).

[vii]Webster, Holy Scripture, 89. This is why A. W. Tozer is so severely critical of those who believe that “if you learn the text you’ve got the truth,” for they “see no beyond and no mystic depth, no mysterious heights, nothing supernatural or divine. . . . They have the text and the code and the creed, and to them that is the truth” (A. W. Tozer, “Revelation is Not Enough,” Presbyterian Journal 28:41 [Feb 1970]: 7-8).

[viii]Cf. Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation, 61, cf. 93.

[ix]This does not mean, however, that objective revelation (i.e. the Bible) without subjective revelation is not revelation at all (cf. Barth, Brunner, Niebuhr, Bloesch, and Webster). The mistake of these proponents is that they improperly assume that the ontology of revelation necessarily includes its function, and thus when the function of the Scriptures is unfulfilled—that is, the purpose to bring people to saving faith—they wrongly assume that revelation is not present (see for example Webster, Holy Scripture, 14, 16). It is better to say that both are revelations regardless of the fulfillment of the purpose.

[x]Webster, Holy Scripture, 16.

[xi]In this sense, one may take issue when Webster declares that “revelation is not to be thought of as the communication of arcane information or hidden truths” (Ibid., 14). Depending upon what he means by “arcane” and “hidden,” one wonders how revelation can exist without information and truth. In this sense, Webster is misguided to suggest that revelation is simply “God’s own proper reality” (Ibid.).

[i]The Reformers, for instance, could not speak of knowledge or revelation accept as they correlate with both the Word (creation) and Spirit (illumination) (see Chapter 4, “Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras”).

[ii]Latourelle, Theology of Revelation, 383. He thus argues for the “twofold dimension of the Word of God” (Ibid.). Namely, “Its efficacy as external word is joined by a particular efficacy which comes from the divine activity penetrating the very heart of all of the activity of our intellect and will, predisposing us for the response of faith” (Ibid., 385).

[iii]Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology, 343. As he argues, this kind of truth would apply even if humanity had not sinned. Therefore, “neither observation nor reasoning” would be enough; rather, one needs a direct, personal revelation from God (Ibid.). See also Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:207, 497; Morris, I Believe in Revelation, 70-71, 122.