Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nominalism and Justification

I have been interested in the thinking of Ockham around nominalism and how it sowed the seeds of the reformation (for a short introduction to nominalism try this). That their nominalist philosophy caused the reformers to read the bible in a different way. That is why they not only came to different conclusions but could not possibly fathom how anyone could come to any other conclusion. That is their assumptions were so deeply ingrained in their thinking they did not recognize them as assumptions and therefore didn't question them. But I have had trouble understanding the connections in it all. Guys like Louis Bouyer assert in The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism that this is so. But how does the logic flow? Well it is starting to make more sense. Looking at this article about how our thinking about the essence of God influences how we understand scriptures talking about God's judgment. Then connecting it with this video:

that I found on Mark Shea's blog. It is beginning to make more sense.

What Scott Hahn talks about is the arbitrariness of God's actions in the nominalist view. Ockham said Jesus could have come down as a donkey instead of a man. That the logic saying He needed to be man was somehow binding God and making Him less. But God allowing us to understand some things about His essence does not diminish Him. It just makes us more amazed.

Still, if you start with the idea that God could judge the way humans judge. That is starting with no opinion and examining evidence and arriving at a conclusion. Then the Lutheran idea that the examining phase might only involve an examination of a person's faith makes some sense. But God is all-knowing and unchanging. So he cannot actually start out not knowing and arrive at a state of knowing though some process. That can only be understood as an analogy.

The same goes for the doctrine of penal substitution and the idea of reprobation. They don't line up with what we know about the essence of God. So they need to be limited to analogy and we need to be careful not to push the analogy too far. But if you start with the idea that the essence of God is unknowable then you can easily see some passages as absolute rather than analogy.

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