Monday, September 10, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: Materialist Christology

Been a bit busy the last few days, but it's back to the Edinburgh Dogmatics summaries. The final paper of the first day was titled as above, and given by Oliver Crisp, University of Bristol. Here again my brief summary...

  • the starting point was that some Christian thinkers are now adopting an essentially materialist account of the human person (although they would remain global substance dualists - as all Christians would need to be). As Crisp points out, this view 'flies in the face of the entire Christian tradition'. Plantinga and others are contemporary defenders of a dualist account of the person.
  • Crisp's aim in the paper was to consider whether a materialist account of the person is compatible with catholic Christology. Chalecedon's formulation speaks of Christ's human nature, consisting of a body and 'rational soul'. Any metaphysical account of the person that is not able to reflect this cannot be creedally orthodox.
  • After much argument, the paper moves to the position that since materialist accounts of the person propose an 'irreducably mental life', and in terms of Christology this mental life is distinct from the mental life of the logos, these accounts are not Appollinarian, even though they do not propose a 'rational soul' for anyone. Obviously, this is forcing a certain interpretation of 'rational soul' on Chalcedon.
  • The paper concludes: 'there may be more to Christian materialism than some traditionalist Christologists might think' and 'there is more than one way in which metaphysics can be used to underpin that which is dogmatically non-negotiable: that Christ is the Word made flesh'.
For me, a materialist account of the person would seriously struggle with the biblical data in the first instance. For example, what are 'the spirits of the righteous made perfect' in Heb 12.

One interesting line of thought thrown up by this paper arose from the assertion that angelic beings were 'essentially immaterial entities'. Hmmm. Are they? The relationship of the partly-visible (I'm thinking here of invisible and essentially-unknown constituent dark matter) universe which we inhabit and the invisible dimension inhabited by God (heaven) is an interesting one. Interesting, since the angels are created beings (creatures) which I have always thought of as being corporeal in some sense (perhaps this is my mistake). But it must be the case that matter exists outside of our universe (a multi-verse scenario), since the risen Christ is now present in 'heaven'. Therefore the assumption that anything outside of this universe is immaterial is not tenable. Unless, of course, 'heaven' is within the universe - perhaps not in totality, but at least intersects the universe - which would be an unorthodox way, but perhaps a fruitful way, of exploring the question. I'm unaware of work that must have been done on this. Perhaps someone knows of authors who explore this territory...