Archive

Archive for August, 2015

Church History (iTunes U): Medieval Scholasticism

August 25, 2015 2 comments

Nearing the end of the RTS Church History series, the last several lectures provide interesting information about the middle and late medieval period, specifically related to Anselm, Aquinas, and the scholastic era. In this section comes consideration of the Christian faith and rationalism, an idea which began with Anselm (late 11th century). Another good basic point — which makes sense considering the variations within Protestant theology and even within overall “Covenant Theology” — is that Medieval Catholicism was not monolithic, with everyone believing and emphasizing the same doctrinal and philosophical ideas. General groups of this time included the mystics and scholastics, represented to varying degrees by several scholars including names I knew at least a little about – Anselm, and Bernard of Clairvaux – along with a few other lesser-known names.

The lectures on the scholastic period note three philosophical approaches to “universals” – ideas about reality and truth and what they are based in — developed especially in the late-Medieval era. As also described in this Wikipedia article, the three views of various Medieval scholastics:

  • Platonic realism: This world is a shadow of reality; universal ideas exist outside of this world, what is actually real; everything in our world is a “shadow” of what exists beyond our world.  (The rationalism /realism of Anselm.)
  • Nominalism takes the opposite view, of skepticism, that there are no “universals” but only what actually exists.  Names associated with this view include William of Ockham and Peter Abelard.
  • Conceptualism / Moderate or Aristotelian realism: a middle-ground position that recognizes universals, but grounds the existence of the universal in the object itself.

The lecture considers as an example the existence of two white stones, and what each of these views would say about it: 1) whiteness is a universal that exists outside of this world and seen in the two stones (platonic realism); 2) no significance whatsoever to the fact that the stones exist and are white (nominalism); and 3) there is such a thing as whiteness but that truth exists in the reality of the stones themselves, not outside. Also briefly noted, over time the nominalist view came to dominate medieval philosophy; and Martin Luther in his early education was taught the nominalist view (which he later rejected). Though all of this is rather abstract, going beyond the explicit teaching of scripture, Anderson observed that these views have implications for our theology, such that he more liberal view of nominalism was thought to be incompatible with the doctrine of the trinity, whereas the two conservative views (platonic realism and moderate realism) do not conflict with Trinitarian understanding.

The first view (Platonic realism) I recognize as basically a teaching of C.S. Lewis, as brought out in the two “Shadowlands” movies about his life, as well as in a scene from the “Chronicles of Narnia” series’ The Silver Chair. The Narnia setting involved characters who lived underground and had never seen the world above, and Lewis’ character Puddleglum philosophizing to the evil witch (who is trying to convince Puddleglum and two human children that her world is all that ever exists) about the reality of the sun, of which the underground world’s lamp is a “shadow” and “like” the sun. Interestingly enough, though the lecturer never mentioned C.S. Lewis in reference to this idea, he did mention the philosophical idea of a creature that only lived underground and had never seen anything of this world.  An overall observation at this point is that C.S. Lewis (who was not at all evangelical, with questionable theology at many points) was quite familiar with medieval theology and philosophy, to the point of including the pre-Anselm popular medieval “ransom” atonement theory (Christ’s death as a payment to Satan) in the plot of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” as well as referencing medieval scholastic philosophy about universals.

This church history series ends with a look at Aquinas for a conclusion to pre-Reformation church history. Again, I appreciate these seminary class series offered through iTunes U, as informative lessons that explore more in-depth the different topics such as church history and worldviews.

Advertisements

Andrew Bonar’s Commentary on the Psalms

August 10, 2015 4 comments

In my continuing study of the covenantal premillennial writers, comes Andrew Bonar’s “Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms,” (available in electronic format, PDF and through Google Play) which includes interesting, concise commentary on each Psalm.  I have found it works best to read through this commentary as I read along in my daily Psalm reading (part of my ongoing genre reading plan which includes two Psalms per set, and a full genre set every day or every other day), now up through Psalm 64.

The content for each Psalm includes the KJV text followed by Bonar’s comments that are part technical – with actual Hebrew words and meaning, along with reference to the views of various scholars of the day (such as Hengstenberg) and footnotes – along with some good devotional thoughts.  Throughout, Bonar relates each Psalm to how our Lord Himself could pray and “use” the particular words in His own experience as man during His First Coming, the One who was truly dependent on His father.  This style or emphasis takes some getting used to, but Bonar addresses texts that specifically mention the writer’s sins and need of forgiveness, by referencing Christ having sin imputed to Him, as well as noting the contrast in Psalm 51 (the occasion of David’s sin with Bathsheba) with the 50 psalms before it.  I also see this emphasis of Christ’s experiences as a man, relating to what I have been studying in the 1689 Exposition series, which in the study of chapter 8 of the confession, brought out this point about Christ’s two natures, the union of these natures and the human experience of Christ in full dependence on the Father, in the Spirit given to Him without measure — and what a great example this is to us in our Christian walk (though in our imperfect way) and dependence upon the Father through the Spirit indwelling us.

Each Psalm commentary also relates the text to all believers, how all believers can pray and relate to the Psalm — the “and His church” part of the title.  The devotional thoughts include the idea of meditating upon certain ideas, considering the “Selah” of some Psalms, and remembering God’s promises.  To end each commentary is a brief summary statement describing the Psalm, such as “Our Joseph and his seed foreseeing the doom of the archers that have shot at them,” for Psalm 64, or, for Psalm 61, “The Righteous One, when an outcast, looking for the day of his Restoration.”

Finally, here are a few good excerpts from Bonar’s commentary:

Psalm 61:  In this life, every member of the Church has a varied lot—now at rest, then troubled; now hopeful, then fearful; now a conqueror, then a combatant. Seated as he is on the Rock of Ages, immovably seated, he sees at one time a fair sky and a bright sun; then, the thick cloud spreads gloom over nature; soon, the beam struggles through again, but soon all is mist once more. Such being the sure complexion of our sojourning here, we rejoice to find sympathy therewith evinced by our God who knows our frame, and evinced by the fact that He so often turns in the Songs of Zion from one state of mind to another, and from one aspect of our case to another.”

Psalm 53: The state of earth ought to be deeply felt by us. The world lying in wickedness should occupy much of our thoughts. The enormous guilt, the inconceivable pollution, the ineffably provoking atheism of this fallen province of God’s dominion, might be a theme for our ceaseless meditation and mourning. To impress it the more on us, therefore, this Psalm repeats what has been already sung in Psalm xiv. It is the same Psalm, with only a few words varied; it is “line upon line, precept upon precept;” the harp’s most melancholy, most dismal notes again sounded in our ear. Not that the Lord would detain us always or disproportionably long amid scenes of sadness, for elsewhere he repeats in like manner that most triumphant melody; but it is good to return now and then to the open field on which we all were found, cast out in loathsome degradation.

Psalm 37: Instead of complaining of our burdens, and anxieties, and cares, and fears, and instead of throwing them off in stoical indifference, let us “roll them on the Lord” (as ver. 5), and then “Wait—be silent”—standing still at the Red Sea, till God opens the way. “The meek” are they who bow to God’s will; they shall as surely “inherit the earth,” as ever Israel entered into possession of Canaan. This is a promise repeated in verses 11, 22, 29, 34, as if to reiterate, “that though you have little of earth and earth’s good things now, all shall yet be yours, and the ungodly be gone for ever.”

Psalm 32: Forgiveness is so great a blessing that all else may follow. If the Lord forgive our sin, what next may we not ask? On this account, then, His people pray. Our Head intercedes, because His offering of Himself was accepted; we pray, because through Him we have already got pardon, and may get any other real blessing. Yes, we may get such blessing, that “at the time of *the floods of great waters,” whensoever that be —whether calamities personal and national, or the waves of the fiery flood, parallel to that of Noah, that shall yet sweep away the ungodly,—even then we shall be altogether safe. The forgiven man is hidden, instructed, taught, guided by God’s tender care.