Dr. Bauckham kindly sent me a reply to my previous brief post about his Hellenization thesis (as I termed it, not him):
I read your piece after comments were closed. Just for information, my concept of personal identity is not Hegelian. It follows Paul Ricoeur in his book Oneself as Another.
The difference I am getting at between person and nature is between the answers to the two questions: Who am I? (Richard Bauckham, with a personal history and qualities) and What am I (human, with the attributes of human nature I share with other humans). Jewish theology was much more concerned with the answers to Who is God? as to What is divine nature? This is only comparative (of course they had some ideas about divine nature, as I said) and my “hellenization” thesis, if you want to call it that, is not critical of the Fathers for giving more attention to divine nature. In their context they needed to. But the relative emphasis matters if one is looking for the ways that NT writers talk about the deity of Christ. Most of these are missed by people who look for references to his divine nature.
I appreciate his clarifications on these matters, especially his confirmation that the Fathers had good reason to give more attention to the divine nature in their own context. It is also helpful to know the Ricoeurian background to the “personal identity” language, and that Dr. Bauckham affirms that the difference between the NT way of speaking and the Patristic way is a matter of relative emphasis, and not (if I may expand on his reply) a theological or conceptual contradiction.
That being said, I do still wonder if even this much distance can be placed between the two “methods” (NT and Patristic). My reasons are as follows:
(1) Dr. Bauckham’s example for the difference between the “who” and the “what” question correlates with the difference between an individual and the species of which it (he) is a part. However, in the eyes of the Patristics (and the NT for that matter), God is not in a genus, and certainly he is not in a genus with other individuals. There is only one in the “category” of “divine” as they use the term. So when the Patristics talk about “the divine nature”, even in their own minds, they are really just talking about the one God. The terms “God” and “the divine nature” are different, but the referent is the same.
(2) Further, the Patristics, like all Christians, regard God as personal, not as impersonal. So whenever they spoke of this one divine “what”, they were in their own understanding actually speaking about a “who”. (This may seem to contradict some understandings of Trinitarian doctrine, but it must be remembered that for classical orthodoxy, the Trinity is not a triad of three separate divine consciousnesses; it is one divine consciousness that subsists triply, wherein the divine persons are distinguished not by separate minds or contents of belief, but by their relations to each other.)
(3) As far as I understand the terms, to speak of “qualities” (as in Dr. Bauckham’s “who” question) and “attributes” (as in his “what” question) are to speak of the same thing.
(4) Dr. Bauckham puts “personal history” into the category of answer to the “who” question. This might suggest that what separates the more Jewish procedure from the Patristic one is a discussion of how a being has acted in unrepeatable, historical ways, as opposed to how they act regularly, expressing their nature. However, I think this wouldn’t distinguish the NT writers from the Patristics: both discussed how God acted regularly in creating and in sustaining the cosmos, along with what that activity implies about what God is like, and both discussed what God had done in specific, unrepeatable historical events, along with what that activity implies about what God is like.
Perhaps I have misunderstood Dr. Bauckham’s intention in the distinction, though. Regardless, I do think there is a kind of relative difference between the methods of the NT and the Patristics, as I mentioned in my previous post:
[W]hat really happened in the Patristic era is that Christians began to take the more pedestrian language of the Bible and think more precisely about it. This does not mean that they “improved” the Bible, for that would assume that it is always better to be more precise, which it isn’t. Often, in fact, such precision will not be useful. But it does mean that this isn’t fundamentally about “cross-cultural” translation; it’s about explaining in more detail the realities already discussed in the original text.
Now, while I think the categories of Aristotle’s (and partially Plato’s) metaphysics are simply careful descriptions of reality, I do acknowledge that many of the terms they devised for these categories are distinctly theirs, and further that many of these terms do not appear in the NT (though some do, like “nature”). There is a relative difference between the NT and the Patristics in use of the technical terms of philosophical art. The latter group use them more, measured quantitatively. That being said, I think the concepts do appear in the NT, at minimum implicitly, precisely because they simply reflect reality as all human beings experience it.
Andrew Fulford is currently studying for a PhD in Reformation history.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.