Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus believed in “the idea that all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos.” Few words are as loaded in the Christian world as logos, but before Christianity, the Stoics understood the logos to be “the account which governs everything.” Heraclitus taught that everything is essentially an idea before it is ever manifest in any other form, and that ideas are the force governing all of existence, motivating all human action.
Anyone that’s ever tried to motivate or lead people will appreciate this seemingly simple notion that power lies in ideas, but where there are ideas there is need for understanding, and that’s where simplicity gives way to complications which I think are what put a self-existent, self-revelatory God in the paradox (conundrum? dilemma?) which binds Him to mankind.
How do you expose people to an idea, have them understand it, accept it, and conceive it to the point that it becomes their reality? I’m tempted to go as far as making a sweeping generalisation by saying all of philosophy is concerned with this question. The interesting thing to me as a Christian, of course, is logos as used in John 1:1. The trouble with ideas is, the minute an idea is expressed, it ceases to be pure in itself; because context comes into play both when it is expressed and how it is perceived.
Unless the expression can somehow be a perfection of that idea, somehow overcome all the particularities of perception to maintain all it’s substance, and not only it’s essence. If this happens, the identifiable event when it is expressed becomes the single indication of an idea’s true nature.
For example if when I said the word “apple,” that word wasn’t just an arbitrary sound linking to some abstract concept in your mind to produce meaning (because we can talk about apples all day without ever having an actual apple in either of our hands, “apple” remaining just an idea). But what if by saying “apple,” the taste, smell, weight and sight of the organic form could be present in that one word, so it ceased to be just an idea?
Is this the logos of John 1:1, a Being and an Event at the same time; concept and communication in the same context? If so, is John 1:1 (and consequently the whole chapter) the definitive Gospel basis for a Christian philosophy? Is it then either implied or evident that there is something in the nature of the Being that demands such an Event? Something like Love can not exist if there is nothing to love, and neither can Knowledge if there is no one to know it?
Contemporary philosopher (and mathematician) Alain Badiou coined the term “Truth-Event” to refer to such an event, describing it as the insistence when an unequivocal Truth becomes known. More specifically;
“The Truth-Event is simply a radically New Beginning; it designates the violent, traumatic and contingent intrusion of another dimension not ‘mediated’ by the domain of terrestrial finititude and corruption.” (S. Zizkek’s The Ticklish Subject)
I have been pondering Badiou’s statements on the issue for days now, especially what this means in light of the John 1:1 logos, and I’m interested in hearing what the readers of this blog think of this;
“As Badiou puts it, Christ’s death is not in itself the Truth-Event, it simply prepares the sight for the Event (Resurrection) by asserting the identity of God and Man – the fact that the infinite dimension of immortal Truth is also accessible to a human finite mortal; what ultimately matters is only the Resurrection of the dead (i.e. human-mortal) Christ, signalling that each human being can be redeemed and can enter the domain of Eternal Life, that is, participate in the Truth-Event. … Christian Revelation is thus an example (although probably the example) of how we, human beings, are not constrained to the positivity of Being; of how, from time to time, in a contingent and unpredictable way, a Truth-Event can occur that opens up to us the possibility of participating in Another Life by remaining faithful to the Truth-Event.” (from The Ticklish Subject by S. Zizek: pg.147)
Ishta, way to go light and easy on one of your first posts… 😉
I think one other important aspect of the ancient idea of logos is that it was heavily viewed it as an impersonal force or idea. Incarnating the logos as humanity is a very foreign concept, and no doubt one that deserves as much attention in philosophy and Christian theology as it gets!
Ishta, you noted that the John’s logos was a “Being and an Event”. I think you are the Trinitarian persuasion and if so this doesn’t bode well IMHO. For example, if the logos is a Being, in Trinitarian theology it is also distinct and in some cases separate from God. Is there one being distinct from another being? Also, if the logos is the “second person” how is an “event” also personal or a person?
@Ishta: I tend to see the western philosophical possibilities as interesting but secondary to the Jewish concepts inherit within this statement. The Logos of the Fourth Gospel may be influenced by Greek usage (e.g. Philo seems to have been one example), but I tend to see the evangelist as seeing Christ in Genesis (“In the beginning…”) where God “speaks” into existence. We have the Word as sharing in the being of God while being distinct (though never separate).
What Jon notes above is important. This Jewish rendering of the Word would have likely hit Greek readers in the face. The Logos is personal. But I concede the floor. We should hear from our local Johannine scholar, JohnDave Medina!
John or Brian, just curious. I am doing a debate in January with a “Trinitarian”. I place quotes because he is not truly Orthodox Trinity. He is affirming three divine beings. I think three bodies as well. I clearly realize he is not orthodox but are there any ways that you, being Trinitarian, would counter this? I have several things in mind but would welcome any ideas.
@James: I can think of many ways to counter it. I wonder where he is grounding his argument. Did he say?
It seems like such a leap away from biblical monotheism. That would essentially be Tritheism.
He uses the language of the Incarnation. Not sure exactly how yet. He also cites Melchizdek and possibly the man in the fire with the three Hebrew slaves of Daniel. I have ways to reply to those arguments IMHO. I realize he is taking a large step away from orthodox Trinity. I plan to clearly distinguish the two and emphasize Biblical monotheism. But, I have never heard anyone use this type of explanation–beings and bodies.
@James: Gregory of Nyssa’s little work On Not Three Gods is a good example of an orthodox engagement with the threat of Tritheism. You should be able to find a version free online. Even if the Melchizedek and “extra man in the fire” arguments did hold, this doesn’t make Tritheism a better option than a theophany. I’m kind of baffled that any non-Mormon “Christian” would argue from this position.
@Ishta: Also, as regards Bidiou’s Truth-Event, when he says we are not “constrained to being” is he in some sense indicating we lose ourselves in the infinite Christ by becoming one with him? I may be missing the nuance.
“(for as we do not call those whose operation gives one life three Givers of life, neither do we call those who are contemplated in one goodness three Good beings, nor speak of them in the plural by any of their other attributes)”
On “Not Three Gods”
Thanks for the recommend.
Ishta, great comment: “where there are ideas there is need for understanding, and that’s where simplicity gives way to complications.” In our zeal for “objective truth”, evangelicals often forget to comment on the complexity of understanding. But, the two are inseparable if God’s purpose is to engage human persons in meaningful interaction.
Brian, while I agree that the primary background for John would have been the OT connotations of “logos,” I don’t think there’s any way that he could use this word in his cultural context without being aware of its philosophical connotations (though, like you, I’d be happy to defer to someone who knows the Johanine literature better than I do). So, rather than seeing this as an either/or, I think it would be more appropriate to consider the ways that John transformed a hellenistic philosophical concept by bringing into the orbit of the OT’s concept of the Word of God.
Ishta, it is immediately evident to me that you are far too smart for this blog! 😉
Mark, good point. Why is she hanging out with this crowd?
Hey! You two are forgetting Robert. He is smart too.
James: I would take a look at James White’s “Brief Description of the Trinity.” His distinction between “being” and “person” is helpful here.
Jon and Brian: Certainly in John’s time the term logos would have been important for philosophy. The debate about whether John is using the Hebrew or Greek understanding is huge! In my estimation, John’s use of Logos is wrapped up with his Jewish understanding. However, John’s use of such a term loaded with Greek philosophical connotations indicates that he was inviting the Greek audience to experience “reason which holds all things together” in the person of Jesus Christ. The Prologue serves as an invitation to further explore the Logos in the narrative of the Fourth Gospel.
I would agree with James that to make the Logos an Event would have its problems in Trinitarian theology. The Logos is “big bang” of all events, so to speak, and so it seems that there is a distinction between the Logos and events. Yet, the Logos enters into the events of mortals so that Truth and Event will coincide most clearly in the Resurrection.
Marc: Great thought about John’s transforming of a Hellenistic concept. It sounds much like what Origen did for Christian intellectualism of his time by taking Middle Platonic concepts and redefining them with what he knew of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Marc and Mark: It’s because they like us. 🙂
@JohnDave: Well said, I knew you’d come through!
JohnDave, I agree completely. Origen is a great example of someone who tried to (successfully or not) baptize Hellenistic concepts in a biblical framework. I think we need to recognize the OT background of these authors, but we cannot forget that they were every bit as steeped in their Hellenistic context as we are in our modern American context.
And, aren’t you blessed by having such intelligent people like you! I mostly just get mocked.
@Marc: I will compliment you since you have not returned my term paper. You’re brilliant (and that stands as long as I see a nice letter grade). 🙂
Brian, I can handle that. You’re grade will be turned in by late Wed afternoon. Feel free to compliment me profusely until then.
Hmmmm, I don’t like the final two words: “…until then”.
Since it’s the Advent season, I figured that waiting in anxious expectation would be good for you.
Ishta used the language of “concept and communication”. I think better language (and coordinate) is “revelation and reconciliation.” This is how truth and event can be united in the “Word,” viz. when the Truth is event; and the event is “reconciliation” (or resurrection) by the Spirit. I think that’s what’s great about Christian theology, it readily has the capacity to deal with modern and even pre-modern queries that seem to place a divide between the “object/subject” (false dualisms) since in Christian Theology the object is the subject.
Btw, Leon Morris has a good discussion on the Logos in his Expository Reflections on The Gospel of John.
@Marc: Thanks! Along with the Xmas tree in my living room I think I have all I need to enjoy Advent. 🙂
JohnDave: Great insight, I was eager to look to the Resurrection as that Event coinciding with Being. Especially because I’m interested in philosophizing how this will play out in Events like the Rapture, the Resurrection of the dead, or Judgement.
Bobby: I actually like your terminology better than mine (“revelation and reconciliation”). Also, I’ve struggled for a while now with how my subjection to the Lordship of Christ can be reconciled with the idea of individual objectivity. Therefore, I thank you for “the object is the subject.” In my quest for understanding, nothing I found to read on the Cartesian subject was by a theologian, so a more truthful statement than yours has hardly been uttered in regards to the issue.
I’m glad something I said was fruitful here 🙂 . I am almost sheepish to admit it at the blog here (since some here don’t quite appreciate this brother), but what I said on object “is” subject certainly is not original to me; but is something that Karl Barth highlights over and again (as does TF Torrance). Anyway, I thought your post was a good and “deep” probing line of inquiry; keep up the good work! And we’ll have to make you a flaming Trinitarian sooner than later 😉 .
Ah, this is one of the areas where I feel Christian philosophy can be of great use. Are my (puny) theological persuasions not limitations if we take the New Birth to also be such a Truth-Event? I mean, when I am born again, then the “revelation and reconciliation” of that Event defines my own objective, identifiable, unique Being and not God’s (Eph2:8). How then, can Trinitarian-ism, or any of its alternatives, be problematic to this Truth-Event or visa-versa? 🙂
Basically, if my understanding of God is based on my experience with Him (going beyond natural revelation and human conscience as these are not identifiable experiences/Events), then such Truth can become definitive of who I am (my Being). Hence its distinction as my “birth.” But does this mean God is subject to any Truth I ascribe to His Being outside of this Event? Now I agree that knowledge of the Trinity (specifically; the Incarnation) is imperative to how I understand what happens at salvation, but my question is, does this mean it is my understanding which is salvific? That my understanding (and not reconciliation) is the purpose of this Event, and without my understanding of it, there would be no Truth-Event (rebirth)? 😉
@Ishta/@Bobby: I find it encouraging that Ishta understood what was meant by the object is the subject. Maybe Ishta can unpack how she understood it. I am pretty convinced that there is a lot that goes into that saying that I do not understand and likely some redefining as well. Any help?
Ishta: I am also curious how you will explore those areas. You have a great foundation work from with this post and all the helpful comments to it, particularly Bobby’s comment. As with Brian, I’m wondering how you would unpack this, as I don’t completely understand the way you’re using “Truth-Event.”
Marc: Stay strong—I will mock your mocker(s) for you! 🙂
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