Reformation Day Special: Protestantism is Antichrist

Jason Micheli —  October 31, 2016 — 6 Comments

david_bentley_hart1David Bentley Hart was one of my first professors of theology back when I was a college student at UVA. He was just completing his PhD whilst I had about 24 months of being a Christian under my belt.

Standing in front of a huge wave that knocks you on your ass on the beach, you get up realizing the ocean is a whole hell of a lot bigger than you thought. That’s how I felt with DBH. He left me feeling for aches, knowing the Christian intellectual tradition is richer, deeper and broader, than I could imagine.

Since today is not only Halloween but also, in the Protestant Church, Reformation Day, I thought I’d offer you some DBH quotes on the ‘Protest’ that continues to sever Christ’s Church.

The first cut is the deepest. Here, DBH lays the fault of contemporary atheism and the rise of the ‘Nones’ squarely at the feet of Protestantism, in particular the Calvinist god it unleashed.

1.

“In detaching God’s freedom from God’s nature as Goodness, Truth, and Charity — as this theology necessarily, if not always intentionally did — Christian thought laid the foundations for many of those later revolutions in philosophy and morality that would help to produce the post-Christian order. It was inevitable after all, that the object of the voluntarist model of freedom would migrate from the divine to the human will, and that a world evacuated of its ontological continuity with God’s goodness would ultimately find no place for God within itself. And, in early modernity, when the new God of infinite and absolute will had to a very great degree displaced the true God from men’s minds, the new technology of print assured that all Christians would make the acquaintance of this impostor, and through him come to understand true liberty as a personal sovereignty transcending even the dictates and constraints of nature.

Moreover — more crucially — the God thus produced was monstrous: an abyss of pure, predestining omnipotence, whose majesty was revealed at once in his unmerited mercy towards the elect and his righteous wrath against the derelict.

And he was to be found in the theologies of almost every Protestant school: not only Jansenism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism.

That modern Western humanity came in large measure to refuse to believe in or worship such a God was ineluctable, and in some sense extremely commendable (no one, after all, can be faulted for preferring atheism to Calvinism.”

Here, DBH points out that in an attempt to be more biblical, respecting the 1st commandment and stripping the Medieval altars, the Reformation violated that most basic of implications of the 1st commandment: God is not a god within the universe.

2.

“The Protestant mysticism of bare and unadorned worship idolatrously mistakes God for some object within the universe that can be lost among other objects), and other tendencies to imagine the soul is purified by being extracted from the life of the senses or that God is glorified by the inanition of the world…

such thinking offends simply by being unbiblical, insufficiently chastened or inspired by the doctrine of the incarnation.

It’s unable to grasp that the trinitarian God is already full of fellowship, joy and glory, and requires no sacrifice of worldly love- the world adds nothing to God.”

And now for a definition:

Analogy of Being =

{The analogy of being presupposes that there is a similarity between God and his creatures. God of course does not exist as his creatures exist. He is infinite, eternal, and non-contingent. Nevertheless, he can be said to exist, as can his creatures even if there existence is profoundly different. Hence there is an analogy of being existing between them. Moreover, God’s attributes (wisdom, power, goodness, etc.)though infinite and eternal, can be observed as existing in analogous manner in creatures who also possess them. There is a similarity with a still greater dissimilarity between God’s reality and his creatures. Such a claim about God allowed the ancient Church Fathers to claim that their statements about God’s nature were realistically true, while at the same time allowing for divine mystery. The rejection of the analogy of being has been one of the chief tenets of Protestant Christianity.}

Let the quotes resume…

3.

“The rejection of the analogy of being has the very effect so dreaded: it reduces God to the status of a mere being, in some sense on a level with us. To state the matter simply, the analogy of being does not analogize God and creatures under the more general category of ‘being,’ but is the analogization of being in the difference between God and creatures.

Apart from the analogy of being, the very concept of revelation is a contradiction.

Only insofar as creaturely being is analogous to divine being and proper to God’s nature, can God show himself as God, rather than in alienation to himself; there would be no revelation otherwise, only legislation.”

 

Because I love Karl Barth, I love this quote. DBH, like Barth before him, is not afraid to throw some elbows.

 

4.

“If rejection of the analogy of being were in some sense the very core of Protestant theology, as Karl Barth believed, one would still be obliged to observe that it is also the invention of antichrist, and so would have to be accounted the most compelling reason for not becoming a Protestant..

All things in creation- all the words of being- speak of God because they shine within his eternal Word.

Jason Micheli

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6 responses to Reformation Day Special: Protestantism is Antichrist

  1. Having done my doctorate with the Radical Orthodoxy folks, I’m partial to much of this narrative. But, I’ve also come to see it’s dangers and limits. For one, I’m not sure how to really agree with this without converting to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Probably the one thing Orthodox and Catholic apologists agree on is that “protestantism” is laden with nominalism and voluntarism. Of course the Orthodox (DBH included) lay this at the feet of Augustine, while the Catholics blame Luther and Calvin, or maybe Scotus.

    But this is the rub: most of us who remain officially protestant after understanding this decline narrative do so because we reject the exclusivism, authoritarianism, monarchism, misogyny, and so-on inherent in EO and Roman ecclesiology, yet that exclusivism, authoritarianism, monarchism, misogyny, and so-on is directly the fruit of how those traditions historically understood the analogy of being. Take Aquinas’ treatise “On Kingship,” for example. I doubt most of us would be all in for that kind of analogia. We’d probably agree more readily with Luther’s Address to the German Nobility, or even more likely we’d agree with Thomas Munzter against both Aquinas and Luther, and with good reason.

    Milbank effectively says RC and Protestantism were each tarred by nominalism, voluntarism and univocity in the modern period and that Eastern Orthodoxy became culturally isolated and lost much of its earlier tradition of Sophiology and Platonism. That means he’s basically doing the same thing as the Reformers — back to the Fathers, back to scripture — which all seems to be conveniently encapsulated best, suitably for a Cambridge man, in high Anglo-Catholicism or academic nouvelle theologie European Roman Catholicism.

    It seems to me all of this leaves most of us homeless.

    • I have to say that if one rejects Catholicism or Orthodoxy because it has political implications beyond and against liberal democracy, then one would be better off, and much happier, being a humanist than a Christian, rather than a humanist who finds the latest version of humanism too dehumanizing.

      On the other hand, I think you are right to point out indirectly that those who on the one hand, want to accept all the metaphysics of the analogia entis, without its politics are hypocrites, and usually academics, who on the one hand, want to think in an ancient way, but never be it; because to be instead of only think would have one looking strange in a contemporary theology department, and have one rather isolated. But perhaps they are right, and all the political and moral thought of the ancient world had nothing whatever to do with their metaphysics!

      I for one am rather fond of “On Kingship” and think that perhaps that in a few decades people will get over associating all kinds of authority with concentration camps, gas chambers, and voluntarism. Metaphysically Nazism has more in common with liberal democracy than it does monarchy or any other ancient form of governance, even ancient “democracy.”

      • It’s so easy to say stuff like that, isn’t it, from the protected comfort of a society that allows freedom of expression and using a blogging platform that is “the new technology of print” on hypersteroids! We can critique modern democratic liberalism without throwing out democracy, I think.

        Nazism had nothing to do with any form of governance. It was premised on the suspension of the rule of law.

        • Your first point is not even a proper response. That is just as intelligible as saying that one, who has only been given pens, should never write in pen because he thinks pens are inhumane. It seems to me that most attempts at “modern democratic liberalism” amount to college chairs justifying their continued existence, by wanting to put in stasis an older form of democratic liberalism, because they know that as democratic liberalism does its work, it eats out from under the professor the society in which it thrives. Plato’s hierarchy of governance was fundamentally correct. There is governance which understands what it believes and is ordered toward the good. There is a society which no longer understands what it believes but still does the good. There is the democratic and sophistic spirit which critiques this society because it cannot defend itself, and then there is the violent reaction on the part of this society against this spirit. I will say it again: one would be better off, and much happier, being a humanist than a Christian, rather than a humanist who finds the latest version of humanism too dehumanizing. But this of course is silly because the tenents of humanism always lead to the worst kind of dehumanization, just as every aim of the modern age has resulted in its opposite effect, the most humorous examples being the renaissance and scientific progressivism. The modern illiberal democratic trend in academia is the worst example of having one’s cake and eating it too. “Let’s be rebellious, but not too much as to seem strange and offensive in the staff lounge!”

          I do not like this modern humanistic appropriation of Christianity. Christianity is not a solution to the problems of the modern world and God should be thanked for this. If the 20th century is an example of solutions to 20th-century problems, then woe to the man who would like to make Christianity a solution to those of the 21st. If this means being called a “misogynist” or an “authoritarian” so be it.

          • Christian, I’m sorry, I’m not really following you, and I’m not sure you’re following me. I agree that governance ought to be ordered toward the good. I don’t believe in a libertarian vision of democracy. I think we’d both agree that an extreme libertarian vision doesn’t create “democracy” at all because real democracy requires some shared notion of the good. My understanding of “society” is Augustinian: a commonwealth of people ordered around the object of their love.

            I also, however, recognize that the metaphysics of antiquity that Hart and the Radical Orthodoxy folks and so-on point to encodes a rigidly heirarchical understanding of cosmos and society. Slaves should be slaves. Women should not lead. The lower classes should cheerfully accept their lot. Gays and other outsiders should be persecuted. Working people should not do philosophy or theology. I’m pretty sure none of us here want that kind of society, but if not, then we are already well outside the bounds of ancient metaphysics. Milbank also doesn’t really want that kind of society, and his appropriation of ancient metaphysics is post-modern and post-liberal, but it’s not a novel critique to note that this may not in the end hold together very well.

            This comes back around to my comment about freedom of expression. It strikes me as exceedingly odd that the DBH quote in the OP takes a swipe at the printing press! If Hart were expressing his opinions about ecclesiology in the Christian West prior to the Reformation, he’d have been censored and perhaps arrested, tortured and executed. (Perhaps it would have been different for him in the Christian East, but that difference was the cause of schism and violence.) The same goes for us here having this discussion on this blog. Again, I’m pretty sure none of us here want a society with active censorship and criminal punishment for the expression of philosophical or theological opinions that contradict the official position of an official State Church, but such a regime is required by any uncritical adoption of the metaphysics to which Hart refers. If you appreciate and exercise your right to freedom of expression, as you must if you comment on a blog, at least some of your views and practices are modern and liberal, not ancient.

  2. I must confess that I was not familiar with the work of DBH before reading this article. However, I have heard a number of these interpretations of, and arguments against, Protestantism, before. Just a few points. 1. re: God’s freedom detached from his nature: I would like to know where in Protestant, or more specifically Reformed, theology this is asserted. Any basic account of God in traditional Reformed theology asserts that’s God’s will (ie his freedom) is exercised in accordance with his attributes of omniscience, intelligence, wisdom, mercy etc. The idea that the reformers themselves, or the Protestant scholastics of the 17th and 18th centuries, were significantly / decisively influenced by the voluntarism of Scotus or Ockham is a myth. 2: God as an abyss of pure predestinating omnipotence. This description seems to suggest that God is acting without reference to any divine attribute but power. Again, there are no classical Reformed sources which describe God in these terms. 3: Predestination: Protestantism has no monopoly on the doctrine of predestination. Thomas’s account of predestination is virtually indistinguishable from Calvin’s. Thomas differs only in speaking of preterition whereas Calvin speaks of reprobation. As John Wesley commented, this distinction is trivial. 4: “He [the God of predestination] is found in the theologies of almost every Protestant school.” Except among the enormous numbers of Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans and so on who subscribe to Arminianism (a sort of Protestant Molinism). 5: Rejection of the Analogy of Being: No Reformer that I know of, and certainly no Protestant scholastic of the 17th or 18th century, rejects the Analogy of Being. The Analogy of Being is a locus communis of the Reformed doctrine of God. In suggesting that a rejection of the Analogy of Being was central to protestantism, Barth was misinterpreting traditional Reformed theology to support his own very peculiar ideas. 6. Protestant liturgical practice “mistakes God for some object within the universe.” Show me where any reformer or reformed scholastic or any reputable Protestant theologian mistakes God for some object within the universe, or says anything that admits of this interpretation. 7. A more general point: the idea that Protestant theology “laid the foundations of the post-Christian order,” is a late-nineteenth, early twentieth-century theory that has been disproved time and time again when scholars have attempted to link particular aspects of the post-Christian world to Protestantism. In every case, the currents of thought decisive in shaping these post-Christian developments have contradicted the basic tenets of Protestant theology and piety.

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