Rob Sturdy: Spiritual Presence in the Sacramental Theology of the Medieval Church

20 12 2011

This essay was for a course called “Pre-Reformation developments.”  The paper principally deals with the doctrine of the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist during the Medieval period.  The strange language used towards the end of the paper is “middle English.”  It’s not quite as hard to read as it looks.

How, if at all, is Christ present in the Eucharist?  The question itself was one of the most hotly contested of the Protestant Reformation.  Though the question is formally a matter of sacramental theology, the answer to the question for the Reformers often rested upon their own Christological presuppositions.  After all, how one understands the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as what limits (if any!) one believes should be placed upon the physical body of Jesus will influence how one understands the possibility of the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  One could say that Christology sets the grounds rules for sacramental theology.

For many of the Reformed, the Christology that sets the ground rules for their sacramental theology has come to be known as the extra-Calvinisticum. Oberman defines the extra-Calvinisticum as the theological conviction “that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra cernem.” [1]To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word, the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[2] The extra-Calvinisticum as a formal Christology had many advocates long before its namesake John Calvin.  The affinity of patristic and even scholastic Christology with the extra-Calvinisticum has been demonstrated by many scholars and will be briefly reviewed in this paper.  Despite the presence of theextra-Calvinisiticum in the formal Christology of Calvin’s predecessors, it is noticeably lacking in the sacramental theology of many of Calvin’s more mainstream predecessors.  This does not mean, however, that the extra-Calvinisticum as applied to sacramental theology is altogether absent.  This paper will demonstrate that the extra-Calvinisticum as applied to sacramental theology was present, albeit in a minority fashion, from the late 9th century up until the eve of the Reformation.  This will broaden the thesis that the extra-Calvinisticum should not only be regarded as a catholic doctrine in its formal Christology, but in its application to sacramental theology as well. Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: Thomas Cranmer’s Sacramental Theology and Engaging Postmodern Nihilism

20 12 2011

 This paper principally deals with Thomas Cranmer’s sacramental theology and its special benefit in engaging postmodern nihilism. Thanks to the folks at Trinity Church for letting me pursue advanced academic studies and a special thanks to Colin Burch for providing editorial review.

For several centuries now the philosophical worldview of the Enlightenment has been the dominant defining and structuring element in the West.  At its core, it can be described as essentially secular or rigidly materialistic.  Here secular, or rigidly materialistic, means “nature is all there is and all basic truths are truths of nature.”[1] Thus the secular worldview dictates that the deepest experiences of being a human such as embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience, human political community, etc., are natural phenomenon and can only be explained naturally.  It has been noted, however, that explaining such complex phenomenon purely in materialistic terms devalues and delegitimizes the phenomenon themselves.  As Douglas Wilson, in a recent debate with Christopher Hitchens, noted, if love, hate, the yearning for justice, equality etc. are purely natural phenomenon, they have no more legitimacy than a chemical reaction in a can of Coca-Cola.[2] Milbank, Ward and Pickstock argue in their introduction to Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology that it is this devaluing of complex phenomena that has created the “soulless, aggressive, nonchalant, and nihilistic” materialism of contemporary society.[3]

In an attempt to reinvest the material world with some legitimacy and meaning, theologians in the Anglo-Catholic stream of the Church of England have put forward the theological framework of participation, which essentially posits that a phenomenon has ultimate meaning to the extent that it shares some of its traits and derives them, albeit imperfectly, from God.  And though the proponents of Radical Orthodoxy argue that only transcendence expressed through participation can uphold these complex phenomenon “against the void,”[4] Radical Orthodoxy nevertheless fails on a number of points to safeguard the concreteness of such things as embodied life, gender, temporality, etc., thus leading those who share the concerns of Radical Orthodoxy to seek an alternative solution.

One alternative to Radical Orthodoxy within the Anglican Tradition can be found in the Reformed doctrine of the extra-Calvinisticum, which gives expression to Thomas Cranmer’s sacramental theology.  Cranmer’s sacramental theology is similar to Radical Orthodoxy’s doctrine of participation on a number of points; nevertheless, there is at least one significant point of departure.  That point of departure is the extra-Calvinisticum, a Christological doctrine often narrowly associated with its namesake, John Calvin.  Briefly put, the extra-Calvinisticum is the theological conviction “ that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra carnem.” [5] To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word, the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[6] This paper will argue that Cranmer’sextra-Calvinisticum gives shape to his sacramental theology in such a way that it succeeds in safeguarding the very interests of Radical Orthodoxy.  This will be demonstrated by a critique of the shortcomings of Graham Ward’s essay “Bodies,” followed up by an analysis of Thomas Cranmer’s Answer to Stephen Gardiner Concerning the Sacraments.  If Cranmer’s sacramental theology can be shown to succeed where Radical Orthodoxy has failed, the usefulness of a long dead and oft neglected theologian can be revived to engage postmodern nihilism at its most critical shortcomings. Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: The Knowledge of God in the Christological Thought of John Owen

20 12 2011

The essay below is about the knowledge of God in the Christological thought of John Owen.  Thanks again to Colin Burch for graciously reviewing this essay!   Footnotes and bibliography are at the bottom of the paper in case you want to chase anything down.

How do we know God?  Can we have an experience of God?  Can we be in relationship with him?  These questions will no doubt be familiar to the philosopher and theologian.  But perhaps that vocation most intimately familiar with such questions is the pastor, whose responsibility it is to provide adequate and honest responses to such questions.  The 17th-century Puritan, John Owen, was a man who at one point or another found himself occupying each of the roles of philosopher, theologian, and pastor.  Yet it was the last decade of his life, which he devoted to the pastoral ministry, that he engaged the above questions with the most depth and attention.  Owen concluded that knowledge of God depended upon an infinite condescension of God towards his creatures.  This condescension in the theology of John Owen took the form of a covenant, whereby man learns who God is by virtue of his covenant relationship with God.

Owen notes that two things are necessary for a proper revelation of God to a finite creature in the context of a covenant.  First, that “all the properties of the divine nature…be expressed in it, and manifested to us,” and second that “there be, therein, the nearest approach of the divine nature made unto us, whereof it is capable, andwhich we can receive (emphasis mine).”[1]  As will be shown, a simple covenant between God and man is insufficient for the type of revelation which Owen describes in the above quote.  For a full and proper revelation of God, Owen believes that God himself must draw as near as possible, so near in fact, that he must become a man himself.  This happens in the person of Christ, whereby the divine Son of God assumes the human nature unto himself.  Christ being fully God is the nearest manifestation of God imaginable.  Christ being fully man is the nearest manifestation of God which is nevertheless fit for the human capacity.  Owen believed that it was the rational, human mind of Christ which ultimately accommodated the knowledge of God to the capacity of human comprehension.  This paper will argue that it is only through the mediation of the human mind of Christ that full communion with God is possible.  This will be done by examining the transcendence of God, his condescension in entering into covenant relationship, and the full manifestation of his glory through the Triune God’s covenant with the person of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: An Introduction to Soren Kierkegaard

19 12 2011

I delivered the following introduction to Soren Kierkegaard at St. Paul’s Theological Center, hosted by St. Andrew’s Mount Pleasant on March 10th, 2010 as part of the “Great Theologians” series.  Read more about it here.

“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, excerpt insofar as knowledge must precede every act.  What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die…what use would it be to me to be able to formulate the meaning of Christianity, to be able to explain many specific points- if it had no deeper meaning for my life?…I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it men may be influenced, but then it must come alive in me, and this is what I now recognize as the most important of all.  This is what my soul thirsts for as the African deserts thirst for water.”[1]

This excerpt, taken from Kierkegaard’s journal entry dated August 1, 1835, in many ways sums up the man and his thought and is a fine argument for why it is well worth our time to spend an evening on Kierkegaard.  I would like to point out a few things from the journal entry to prepare you to listen for specific themes and styles that I will keep drawing us back to throughout our time together.

First, notice Kierkegaard’s earnestness.  It should be evident from the quote above that the search for truth and meaning is not a casual affair for Kierkegaard.  Rather than pursuing thought for thought’s sake, Kierkegaard is searching for an idea not only worth dying for, but also worth living for.

Second, notice that for Kierkegaard the aim of thought is to produce action in life.  If you understand this point you will understand his earnestness.  Kierkegaard’s question is not so much “what should we think about…,” but rather “how should we live?”  Our modern concerns will no doubt misunderstand Kierkegaard’s point on this issue.  The modern refrain is “it is not important what we believe, but how we act.”  If this is how you understand the quote then you have failed to read it properly.  Let us focus on one sentence from the excerpt to draw out this very important point.  “I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it men may be influenced…”  What is being said here?  What is being said is that knowledge, that is what you believe, is of supreme importance.  But this knowledge must translate to concrete behavior in our actual lives.  This is what Kierkegaard mean’s by “it must come alive in me.”  The thoughts of the mind must take on flesh, arms, legs, eyes, ears etc. and move and act and have consequences in the real world.

Third, notice that unlike many philosophers today, Kierkegaard takes for granted that the truth he is so desperately searching for is bound up within the will of God.  “What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do.”  Kierkegaard is not looking for universal principles that could exist without God.  In fact, as we shall see momentarily, Kierkegaard believed such universal principles could be suspended if God demanded.  Rather, for Kierkegaard “What matters” is ultimately determined by the command of God and its appropriation by the human will.

And finally, notice that Kierkegaard is a poet.  We will not be studying a dry, distant, dizzyingly complex philosopher/ theologian tonight.  We will be studying a philosophy/ theologian who wraps every thought in a beautiful parable.  “This is what my soul thirsts for as the African deserts thirst for water.” Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: Imago Dei A Worshipping Image

19 12 2011

In the essay below I make a case for a doxological reading of human nature based upon Reformed texts

“The central theological framework of radical orthodoxy is ‘participation’ as developed by Plato and reworked by Christianity because any alternative configuration perforce reserves a territory independent of God.”[1]  This excerpt from Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology demonstrates both the breadth of the agenda of Radical Orthodoxy as well as the mechanism through which RO seeks to accomplish its goals.  Briefly put, RO reads the history of Western cultural movement since the Enlightenment as an ever increasing secularization. Overtime, the abstract philosophy behind the secularization of the West worked itself out in a dangerous nihilism, systematically devaluing embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience, human political community etc.[2] A revaluing of such things, argues RO, will take a framework that both denies the secular as well as grounds the immanent upon a platform that can give it ultimate meaning and eternal stability.  This is done through RO’s theological framework of participation, which understands the material world as suspended from the transcendent in the same manner that a bridge is suspended above the nothingness beneath it.

At first glance, the Reformed tradition shares many of the same concerns of Radical Orthodoxy.  Both repudiate the isolation of the material, stepping beyond the secular in favor of a created order that derives its significance and depth from God.  However, as James Olthuis observes “whereas the intentions voiced by Radical Orthodoxy are ones that the Reformed tradition fully shares, we differ significantly on how best to make good on these intentions.”[3]  The significant difference on how best to go about stepping beyond the secular and revaluing the immanent hinges upon RO’s commitment to participation and the Reformed commitment to the notion of covenant.  “Participation for Radical Orthodoxy and covenant for Reformed theology function as the central theological frameworks or organizing principles by which these theologies understand the Christian faith,” writes Justin Holcomb in his essay ‘Being Bound to God’, yet he also notes that these two frameworks are not mutually exclusive.[4]  His conclusion that this is a false dichotomy is shared within the RO ranks.[5]

While Reformed theologians have been sweeping in their indictments of participation it is it is partly due to the perception that participation belongs exclusively in the realm of platonic philosophy rather than in the world of Biblical theology.  After all “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?  What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?  What between heretics and Christians?”[6]  Well, if we (if Tertullian himself!) were honest, Athens does and always has had much to do with the church.  As Holcomb notes, Tertullian himself could not avoid philosophical categories, nor could such modern Reformed Theologians as Karl Barth keep from building sweeping theological systems under the influence of Martin Buber and Soren Kierkegaard.[7]  The Bible itself often speaks in borrowed categories whether from a particular location in history or from philosophy.  We are after all embodied beings.  For God to communicate with us at all He must use language, practices, and signs that are already in place in culture in order to make himself understood.[8]  This does not free us from an uncritical appropriation of pagan signs, language and philosophy which subsumes Christian theology under such things reducing the significance and distinctiveness of its message.  But, and this is very important to add at this point, neither does it free us from dismissing such things outright simply because the church has become aware of them through the contributions from the pagan world.  Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: Martin Luther’s Personal Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper

19 12 2011

The essay below is about how Martin Luther conceives of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper.  Luther’s particular contribution is a Christological contribution, articulating the nature of the “personal” union between Christ’s divine and human natures.

How, if at all, is Christ present in the Eucharist?  The question itself was one of the most hotly contested of the Protestant Reformation.  Though the question is formally a matter of sacramental theology, the answer to the question for the Reformers often rested upon their own Christological presuppositions.  After all, how one understands the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as what limits (if any!) one believes should be placed upon the physical body of Jesus, will influence how one understands the possibility of the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  One could say that Christology sets the ground rules for sacramental theology.

For many of the Reformed, the Christology that sets the ground rules for their sacramental theology has come to be known as the extra-Calvinisticum. Oberman defines the extra-Calvinisticum as the theological conviction “that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra cernem.” [1]To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word and the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[2] The doctrine lends itself to a real, albeit spiritual, presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in opposition to memorialism.  Because of Christ’s physical presence in heaven, the doctrine prohibits a carnal presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in opposition to transubstantiation.  It is typically supposed that because the doctrine of the extra-Calvinisticum prohibits a true, carnal presence it must then also oppose Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation.  This paper will argue that this is not necessarily so.  Using Luther’s writings from 1520 up until the eve of the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, I will argue that the highly nuanced Christology underpinning Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation is thoroughly consistent with the extra-Calvinisticum.  It will be shown that Luther believes that the humanity of Christ is locally present at the right hand of God and that the divinity of Christ maintains a ubiquitous or extra presence in the world.  Furthermore it will be shown that by virtue of the union between the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, Christ can really and truly be said to be present in the Lord’s Supper.  This will serve to benefit a larger project of historical theology, tracing the development and significance of the extra-Calvinisticum in Christian thought and practice Read the rest of this entry »