Five themes in Christian humanism (I)


Detail of Adoration of the Trinity, Albrecht Dürer [public domain]

Here’s a new way I’m thinking of for developing the faculty seminar on Christian humanism I’m doing for my friend the Think Tank Director. I like this one better than the more chronological one shared earlier. I’ll share this in a couple of chunks because I went a little crazy with editorializing on it.

This reworking suggests that we use the seminar to explore the hypothesis that Christian humanism has found ways to keep together key dyads: divine-human, faith-reason, virtue-grace, heavenly-earthly, reason-imagination (or truth-beauty). And that the REASON the tradition has been able to do that is its strong grounding in the Incarnation.* We could look at each of those dyads through readings across the different periods, in a way that could attend to historic development without bogging down in the chronology/history.

* Arguably it’s not just the Incarnation but the almost shocking organic unity of the God-human relationship in early soteriology that grounds this whole thing: that is, the theosis understanding of salvation. But interestingly, both Luther and Calvin were similarly quite mystical and organic about the human-God relationship – there are great readings from both that show this.

NOTE: Stupid WordPress has no idea how to deal with the automatic numbering in MS Word, and I don’t have time to go in and change it. So please ignore the plethora of “1s” in the following!

  1. The divine and the human (or “God and humans”)
    1. The Incarnation
      1. As the ultimate union (and basis for all further union) between God and humanity
      1. As the basis for the Christological anthropology at the heart of Christian humanism
      1. As the basis for the union between the other dyads studied in this seminar (a hint, an intro to this thought)
    1. Theosis in early Christianity
      1. Full salvation as our reunion with God
      1. God’s image and likeness restored in us – we “become gods,” though not in essence
      1. Re-attaining the perfect humanity-joined-to-divinity of Christ
    1. Theosis in Western and later Christianity
      1. Theosis in Augustine
      1. Protestant interactions with theosis
    1. Other “close-union” traditions
      1. The Song of Songs interpretive tradition
        The closeness of the divine-human relationship in early Christian anthropology and soteriology seemed to require analogy in human sexuality – not just in the patristic authors but as far back as the book of Hosea. On this, see Warren Smith of Duke University. E.g.: https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/too-racy-for-bible-study. Reformed pastor and author David Harrell reflects on Bernard’s use of this analogy here.
        1. Origen
        1. Bernard of Clairvaux
      1. Mystical union in the Reformation
        1. Luther’s image of the “wedding ring of faith”
        1. Calvin’s intensely mystical account of the believer’s relationship with Christ in his Institutes
    1. Christian humanism’s “theo-anthropocentricity”

Miroslav Volf argued in his recent For the Life of the World (with Matthew Croasmun) that human flourishing is at the center of historic Christian theology; Jens Zimmermann similarly argues for a “theo-anthropocentricity” baked into Christian scriptures and tradition: God himself is in a way “anthropocentric.” What primary sources could be adduced to support these claims?

  1. The argument for theo-anthropocentricity
    1. What might follow from this argument? (E.g. What theological understandings and approaches to seeking human flourishing or eudaemonia? What Christ-and-culture stance(s)? What ways of organizing human life?) [this heading could also anticipate future topics and readings in the seminar; see the syllabi from the two Yale “life worth living” courses for ideas for readings]
      1. Lewis on the difference between Christian and naturalist visions of humanity and human flourishing (excerpt)
      1. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory” sermon
      1. Note Lewis’s close reading of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation as he prepared to write the preface to his friend Sister Penelope’s translation – Lewis’s “Weight of Glory” sermon may be suspected to have emerged fairly directly from his close reading of Athanasius and other Fathers – in other words, his humanism may be significantly patristic

  2. The heavenly and the earthly (or “the spiritual and the creaturely”)
    1. Christian views of the natural world
      1. The “Creation mandate”
      1. The human body as a locus of God’s care
        1. Jesus the healer
        1. Healthcare in the early church (e.g. Amundsen, Stark, Christian healing activities in times of plague, the Basilead, the rise of the hospital)
        1. The growth of “natural history” in the Christian Middle Ages (e.g. astronomy, optics, early bestiaries) leading to the full-fledged medieval development of an Aristotelian-Christian scientific synthesis, setting the stage for the scientific revolution of the 1600s and 1700s; to be explored more fully in the “faith and science” unit
        1. CS Lewis, “Some Thoughts”; I think this includes the line about those who love another world, loving this world more
      1. Christian views of the relationship between “heavenly” and “earthly” dimensions in eschatology (recently: NT Wright, Hans Boersma, Edith Humphrey)
        1. Continuities from the old to the New Creation
        1. Discontinuities: the “beatific vision”
      1. Gnostic tendencies and Christian anti-gnostic reactions
        1. Early anti-gnostic writings
        1. CS Lewis, That Hideous Strength
      1. World-sacramentalism
        1. Platonism, neo-Platonism, and Christianity (following clues from Hans Boersma)
        1. In Gregory the Great (following Carole Straw)
        1. Sacramentalism affirmed via its grounding in the Incarnation, in the iconoclastic controversies and the work of John of Damascus and Maximus the Confessor
        1. Sacramentalism in the Christian history of science
      1. Christian spirituality and vocation and work
        1. The “active and contemplative life” traditions and theologies of work and vocation
          1. Augustine
          1. Gregory the Great
          1. Beyond
        1. The Cistercians and economic work
        1. The late medieval lay mystics (e.g. Tauler, Eckhardt)
        1. Luther
        1. Calvin

Continued in part II.

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