Thursday, December 01, 2016


Last time we looked at Reformed Orthodox and Puritan views of soul and body, showing that for them your body is as much you as your soul, being animated by the soul. So the soul and body may be regarded as two essential substances. This has a bearing on how the image of God in man is to be understood.

There are currently many and various ideas about in what the imago dei resides. Is man’s trinitarian structure an image of the Trinitarian God?  Augustine held such a view in de Trinitate, trying (but unsuccessfully) to see the Trinity in the interlocking of the faculties of the self. But much to the chagrin of modern hyper-trinitarians he did not think he had succeeded. Calvin said of such an attempt that

there is no solidity in Augustine’s speculation, that the soul is a mirror of the Trinity, inasmuch as it comprehends within itself,  intellect, will and memory. Nor is there probability in the opinion of those who place likeness to God in the dominion bestowed upon man, as if he only resembled God in this, that he is appointed Lord and master of all things. The likeness must be with in, in himself. It must be something which is not external to him but is properly the internal good of the soul’. (Inst, I. xv. 4)

The Trinity is used in another way as a 'model' of being human. Moderns have postulated what have always seemed to me to be extravagant ideas about the imago  as relations between Individuals in union,  mirroring the mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Godhead. A trinity-like community with others, being as the Lord of creation is tri-personal. It seems to have been forgotten that the three  trinitarian persons are one substance, God himself.

To avoid this then maybe they veer towards another modern fad, understanding the Trinity as social, as three persons sharing one divine nature, three individuals of one unique kind. But (again) the trinitarian persons are persons of the numerically one God, not members of a trio of divine persons each in some sense generically divine. In any case there is a distinction between thinking of human nature as having a Trinitarian structure, which was Augustine’s view; and it consisting in one human being as having a perichoretic relationship with others.

Such views are extravagant because they argue that a metaphysical relationship, the necessary relationship of the three hypostases of the one Trinity, is imputed, or their shadow is imputed, when distinct members of the human race are united together in mutual love. There is very little encouragement to going down this road in the New Testament. Christ teaches in an aspect of his High Priestly Prayer in John 17.11,  ’that they [his disciples] may be one, even as we are one’. But the image of God is not mentioned there, is it?  And there are the words of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount urging his people to be like God whose is gracious to the just and unjust alike in showering his goodness on them.But no reference to the image of God there either. 

More promising are passages in the New Testament signifying the renewal of men and women which are these days neglected or overlooked.

….That you put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of like and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4.22-24)
 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you give put off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col.3.9-16)

With the similarities between the two passages – ‘new self’, ‘old self’, ‘creates’, creator’, ‘the likeness of God’’, ‘image’, and with their ‘put off….put on’ structure, are we not reasonable in concluding that we have here a mode of Paul’s habitual thinking? And here are obvious references to the creation of mankind in God’s image, and language about what that image consists in – personal knowledge, renovation of character in righteousness and holiness, with their associated desires and practices. These are  properties of the human mind. Mankind has a rational soul atop the lower powers of his soul, his sensory powers. These denote man both as an ‘animal’, and  as ‘rational’, by the possession of rational and moral powers and capacities.

We use our intellect in what we are told and read and apprehend with a sense singly,  or our senses together. We can reason abstractly in logic and mathematics. We can reason inductively. But in addition, and importantly, there is the practical reason. When we identify objectives for ourselves, we use our reason to do this. We identify ends, and means to those ends, judging which is the best means, or means (plural) to an end or ends. Included in these practical reasonings are moral reasoning, for we seek to achieve moral ends or objectives. This is also a rational activity therefore. So this view of the image can take in the role of mankind in governing his environment. (Gen.1.28)

So without raising any questions about whether Paul had Aristotle’s writings among the books and parchments he asked Timothy to bring with him, (2  Tim. 4.13), or that he was influenced by Aristotle, we can nevertheless see that terms like ‘righteousness’ and ‘holiness’ and ‘practices’ are readily incorporated into an Aristotelian outlook such as the medieval scholastics had, and that the Reformed Orthodox and the Puritans took on.

It is our souls, our reason, our morals, our affections, our plans and goals, and the means to them, that are all affected by the Fall. The Fall is an adventitious change in our persons. That is, the Fall leaves our human nature intact, even though it is in all aspects disordered and weakened, and so ‘totally’ depraved. Reformed theologians referred as a consequence to imago dei  in its wider and narrower senses. A human being though fallen, retains the image of God in the wider sense, but lost the true knowledge, and righteousness and holiness - the image in the narrower sense - that Paul refers to.

However, there is another usage of ‘image’ in the NT which denotes the character of Christ. Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col.1.15), repeated in 2 Cor 4.4. He is the image of God,  being himself God, though the Spirit is never designated with this title, tho’ also  hImself God. The renewal language of Ephesians and Colossians is by this further image language made more explicit. The renewing of the image refers to Christ, the incarnate Logos, and in his perfect human nature  the image of God his Father. When the saints put on the new image, this is not a set of abstract virtues, but something of the moral character of Christ. I suppose an image of an image of A is also an image of A. So by God’s regenerating grace the  elect are to be conformed to the image of the Father’s Son, (Rom. 8.29)  and in the resurrection, they will bear the image of the man of heaven, (I Cor. 15.49) having a resurrected nature free from sin, and possessing spiritual bodies.  We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (I. Jn. 3.2).  And the earthly pilgrimage of God’s people is a progressive realization of this image, to be continued in heaven, from one degree of glory to a further degree. ’And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Cor. 3.18). Note here the recurrence of ‘image’.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The Puritans’ soul

Stanley Spencer - The Resurrection

It is not generally appreciated, I think, that the Puritans in general adopted Thomas Aquinas’s view (taken from Aristotle) that the soul is the form of the body; as such, the soul invests the body with vegetative, sensory and intellectual powers. A human being is a rational animal, therefore.  And having a rational soul, mankind are made in the image of God, unlike wasps and sheep. Man is not a soul that has a body, as modern followers of the Puritans tend to think, perhaps unwittingly following Descartes - or Plato - at this point. Rather, his soul infuses his body with life.

What's the difference? The vital difference is that for the Puritans the body was essential to the person. But what, you say, of the death of the body and the interval between death and resurrection? Well, the answer they give is a good example of the scholastics adaptation of  Aristotle in the interests of preserving Christian doctrine. Aristotle, of course, did not have a doctrine of the resurrection body. But Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotle in thinking in terms of two essential incomplete substances, each matched to the other. So at death the human being loses an essential part, only to gain it again in the provision of the ‘spiritual body’ of I Corinthians 15. In this the body and soul are not accidentally united, but essentially so, though prised apart at death.  In the meantime, in the 'interval' between death and resurrection, the person is incomplete, an incomplete essential part. As Peter Geach put it, at death what survives is a ‘mental remnant’ of the person who died. At resurrection the lost essential substance, the body, is, by the power and goodness of God, regained by the soul. The human being is once again complete.

The Dutch Reformed Scholastic Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1656) worked this out in Thomistic terms, following him faithfully. Gisbertus Voetius drew from Aquinas, that the soul and body are incomplete substances which together form a substantial unity, the human being.…..and I believe the Puritan John Flavel thought like this, too, but adopted his language to the needs of his congregation and to their pastoral care. So here he is saying much the same as Voetius, but expressed in his quaint way to their needs.

We can not trace the way of the Spirit, or tell in what manner it was united with this clod of Earth. But it is enough that he who formed it, did also unite or marry it to the Body. This is clear, it came not by way of natural resultancy from the Body, but by way of inspiration from the Lord; not from the warm bosom of the Matter, but from the breath of its Maker.

The allusion is to Genesis 2.7

And here are other expressions of the same thing -

O the Soul and Body are strongly twisted and knit together in dear bands of intimate Union and Affection, and these Bands cannot be broken without much struggling: O ‘tis a hard thing for the Soul to bid the Body farewell, ‘tis a bitter parting, a doleful separation: Nothing is heard in that hour but the  most deep and emphatical Groans; I say, emphatical groans, the deep sense and meaning of which, the living are but little acquainted with…

Its desire of Re-union continuing still with it in its state of Separation,  speaks its love to the Body. As the soul parted with it in grief and sorrow, so it still retains even in glory an inclination to re-union, and waits for a day of re-espousals….The union of Soul and Body is natural, their separation is not. Pneumatologia, a Treatise of the Soul of Man, published posthumously (2nd edn London, Printed by J.D. for Tho. Parkhust1698).

The point is that death is not simply the loss of the body, but it is unnatural, leaving gaping incompleteness in the life of the remaining soul. The disembodied soul is unnatural, incomplete at a fundamental level. And the resurrection is not simply an enjoyment of a heavenly body, but the return of my body to its natural situation, as the body working through this particular soul, this body  now in a glorified and Spirit-filled state.

Consider another Puritan passage. The author is writing of the way in which the soul, a spiritual entity, energises and animates the entire body

[A]s are all the actings and energies of the senses, and of the locomotive faculty, as also what belongs to the receiving and improving of nutriment. These are acts of life as life inseparable from it; and their end is, to preserve the union of the whole [the union of body and soul] between the quickening and quickened principles.  (2) There are such acts of life as proceed from the especial nature of this quickening principle. Such are all the elicit and imperate acts of our understandings and will; all acts that are voluntary, rational,  and peculiarly human.

There are some expressions of life emanating from the soul that are reflex and automatic, to do with eating, walking and growing, for example, which do not arise from particular volitions. But these are equally movings of the soul as are reasoning, making plans to do things, and doing them. These are expressions of ourselves that are brought about in a characteristically human way, by the operations of the understanding and the will.

And what of death? Death is or involves the separation of the soul from the body. The infusing of the body for all that it does, the whole range of actions, ceases. For it is a principle of such life only insofar as  it is united to the body.

As a consequence of these [ceasings], there is in the body an impotency for and an inaptitude unto all vital operations. Not only do all operations of life actually cease, but the body is no more able to effect them. There remains in it, indeed, “potentia obedientialis,” a “passive power” to receive life again, if communicated unto it by an external efficient cause.

He cites the resurrection of Lazarus as a case in point.

Who is this?  Certainly not a country parson. But John Owen, of course.

Owen is sometimes impatient with scholasticism, but here we see him (as an illustrative aside in his exposition of regeneration), in full cry as an unabashed scholastic, endorsing a central feature of scholastic anthropology. (Works, III 284-5)

We don’t think like that any more, like both Flavel and Owen did. The modern person who is ‘a follower of the Puritans’ (as we say)  follows them only selectively. Generalising, we think the body is one thing, and the soul another. And they are linked to form a unity, being detached at death and reattached at resurrection. So ‘I have a soul that can never die’ (as the Child’s Catechism teaches) and a body that can die, and will, for a time linked accidentally to the soul.  The typical ‘Puritan’ (the word can be used in various ways, of course), as we have seen, taught that a person is  more of a unity than this, and at death he or she is  fractured, becoming disabled and bereft in soul by the death of the body. As the bereft soul awaits the resurrection there are fewer things that it can do than it once did.  

By contrast, modern Puritan-followers if they think at all of the relation between body and soul, attribute less and less to the soul, and more and more to the body , including its brain, a kind of super-computer. The 'soul' has become a deep-down 'inner' self, a person's religious centre,  which bears a person's eternal destiny, for good or ill. The body is everything else about a person, including especially his brain and nervous system. I'm inclined to think that both Johns, Flavel and Owen, would silently shake their heads at this reconfiguration of the ancient position.  But at present, of course. neither has a head to shake.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Compatibilism and two-way contingency.

‘For no-one is known to another so intimately as he is known to himself, and yet no-one is so well known even to himself that he can be sure as to his own conduct on the morrow.’ (Augustine)  

This is a brief post on contingency, as a follow up on ‘Who’s the magician?’. ‘Contingency’ is a term that has various meanings. Here I shall disregard its most general meaning, that of being in some way dependent on someone or some thing, as in “The physical world is contingent/dependent upon the activity of God”. Of course it does not follow that what brings about the physical world,  must itself be contingent. God’s existence is not contingent, nor dependent on another, and yet God’s action may be. That’s another question, or rather, set of questions.

That leaves two other senses of contingent; first, two-way contingency or alternativity as we may call it, and epistemic contingency, as when the unexpected, the fortuitous or the surprising occurs. It is these two senses that I wish to reflect on a little. First, two-way contingency.

Two-way contingency

Here we are chiefly if not exclusively concerned with contingency and intelligent action, with human contingency. All I will say about divine agency here is that many postulate that two-way contingency is characteristic of divine activity even if human action is never a case of two-way contingency, and the converse of this is also possible.

Two-way contingency is  what free human agents possess, according to libertarians or indeterminists or incompatibilists, and that such contingency is necessary and sufficient for the possession of ‘free will’. This indeterminism entails the following: that If A freely chooses to do X then, given that the world  in all respects, the inner and outer worlds of A,  were identical to that in which X was chosen, not-X could have been chosen, or Y could have been chosen, rather than the X that was in fact chosen by A. Hence this  is two-way contingency, or alternativity. To be more precise, the two-way contingency is two way simultaneous contingency. This idea of simultaneous two-way contingency goes back to at least to the Jesuits of the 16th century. As Molina put it  ‘with all the prerequisites for acting posited, [one] is able to act and able not to act, or is able to do one thing in such a way that it is able to do some contrary thing’. The Arminians borrowed it. (Where did Molina get it from? I'll leave that question for homework.)

I shall not rehearse the arguments pro and con of this position. I am not a libertarian but a compatibilist, for theological and philosophical reasons. Though baldly stated, compatibilism may be consistent with all manner of different determinisms. Again, I do not wish to select a preferred determinism or determinisms. But whichever one selects rules out two-way contingency.

Epistemic contingency

The second view of contingency is  epistemic. It arises for the agent in cases of his ignorance; and it is a characteristic of human action.  If it is not a necessary feature of it, then it is most certainly a deeply embedded fact about it, as Augustine reminds us. Certainly it is a necessary condition of choice.  Stressing the importance of states of such contingency is significant, for it identifies a central feature of human life, and not a freak case. It underlines a kind of two-way contingency that falls short of the metaphysical contingency beloved of the libertarians.

Epistemic contingency can never be characteristic of God who has no states of ignorance, it being the case that all things are naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do. However, I shall suggest that it is a vital ingredient in human action, both from the point of the creatureliness of it, and of the freedom of it. I don’t suppose this to require much argument. At this point I do not think that the language of determinism and even of ‘compatibilism’ serves this view, the denial of the crucial feature of libertarianism mentioned earlier, vey well.  ‘Determinism’ and ‘compatibilism’ unglossed suggest to many people some relentless monocausalism, whereas our lives are full of known unknowns both trivial and weighty, and the lines of causal influence are from being monocausal, like a kettle boiling but criss cross in complex ways. Jonathan Edwards offered this against this monocausal misunderstanding:

But the dependence and connection between acts of volition or choice, and their causes, according to established laws, is not so sensible and obvious. And we observe that choice is as it were a new principle of motion and action, different from that established law and order in things which is most obvious, that is seen especially in both corporeal and sensible things; and also that choice often interposes, interrupts and alters the chain of events in these external objects, and causes ‘em to proceed otherwise than they would do, if let alone, and left to go on according to the laws of motion among themselves.
(Freedom of the Will, Yale Edn, 158-9)

Exceptionless chains of events are often invisible,  because our determined choices interrupt them, stop certain of them, changing their character,   sending them in a different direction.

So Joe has a new yellow tie. Is he going to wear it when his Aunt calls this morning? He cannot make up his mind what to do, even though it’s already 10 am. Then at 10.10 he remembers that the new tie is in fact a gift from his Aunt. That settles it. At 10.10 he decides to wear his new yellow tie. Up until 10.10am Joe has been in a state of two-way epistemic contingency with regard to what he shall wear around his neck. But he is brought out of it, made decisive, by a sudden memory. That occurrence was not chosen by Joe, it suddenly came to him. But it gives him a good reason, perhaps the best reason, to choose to wear the tie. (This business is not mechanical in any literal sense, but Joe immediately recognises in the propositional content of the memory a good reason to wear the tie.)

This is a characteristic feature of the human condition; not knowing what to do. Mercifully, not all occasions that call for action are like this,  but sufficient of them are to make this a characteristic feature of human agency. Necessarily, we choose when we don’t already know what to do. They have some additional features that are worth pointing out.

Intrinsic to Joe’s situation is the belief that he could choose to wear his new yellow tie or some other tie, or be tieless. Programmed or drugged or drilled or amnesiac individuals, or someone who has rigid rules of dress, do not – or shall we say, to avoid complications - may not. Nor do sheep or squirrels, much less bees and ants. To humans some of the future at least is open.  And this is intrinsic to living a life. To know the future would be already to have made up one’s mind, or to have had one’s mind made up. If Joe knew at 10 am that he would wear his new tie to please his Aunt, then his mind is already made up., and the future in respect of tie wearing, closed. The future is open in that with respect to some features of it his mind is not already made up until he remembers, or some other factor occurs. 

This epistemic alternativity, I repeat, is not a way of trying to smuggle in metaphysical alternativity, which I personally do not hanker after. But it nevertheless carries with it the belief that the future world is shaped for alternative decisions. The future comes to us, day by day, as calling for choices. Of course, one can adopt a policy of shutting down alternatives. We develop habits, over time, our characters develop contours which make certain kinds of indecision infrequent or impossible. Hume was impressed by such features. Such habits apart, we carry with us the belief that having done A in some situation, we could have done B instead. We have this as a well-formed belief. We could have decided thus, because we have decided thus on other similar occasions, and because there are people sufficiently like us who choose the way we have rejected  on  this occasion. Occasionally we choose knowingly against the odds, and sometimes out of pure whimsy. So though we do not face the open universe of the Open Theist, say, we face a universe that resembles it, and has features in common with it. Though not, to repeat, a future that is metaphysically open, thank God.