Semantics, Pt. II. Implications

I just received in the mail the new CTCR document 'Christian Faith and Human Beings: Christian Care and Pre-Implantation Human Life' (more to come on the document itself). In it they quote at several points a Christian ethicist by the name Oliver O'Donovan. One quote in particular serves as a fantastic follow up to the previous Kaas quote on semantics. It demonstrates not only the changed in the words we use but some of the freight and implications of those words.
When we start making human beings we necessarily stop loving them; that which is made rather than begotten becomes something that we have at our disposal, not someone with whom we can engage in brotherly fellowship.

Oliver O'Donovan, Begotten or Made? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 65. Found in the new CTCR document (named above) on pg. 28.


Caspar said...

This is a crucial distinction which shows the difference between God's part in our making a souffle and our cooperation in God's creation of an immortal soul.

I think the primary semanic difference from a biblical perspective is clearest in the original Hebrew language. Only God can "bara" whereas man can only "asah."

Man does not create life. Life has already been created. It proceeds through generations according to God's creation ordinance, except when we successfully prevent it.


"Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but created them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice." [LW 45, p. 18]

We only cooperate in procreation by not interfering with the intended purpose of marital relations. Indeed, our "cooperation" in anything good is quite a qualified cooperation:

"...through the power of the Holy Ghost we can and should cooperate, although still in great weakness. But this [that we cooperate] does not occur from our carnal natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts which the Holy Ghost has begun in us in conversion, as St. Paul expressly and earnestly exhorts that as workers together with Him we receive not the grace of God in vain, 2 Cor. 6, 1. But this is to be understood in no other way than that the converted man does good to such an extent and so long as God by His Holy Spirit rules, guides, and leads him, and that as soon as God would withdraw His gracious hand from him, he could not for a moment persevere in obedience to God. But if this were understood thus [if any one would take the expression of St. Paul in this sense], that the converted man cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the manner as when two horses together draw a wagon, this could in no way be conceded without prejudice to the divine truth." [BoC, SD II 65-66]

The idea espoused by Mr. Phillips in a previous post that God's participation in the creation of a human soul is no greater than his participation in our making a souffle is simply ludicrous, yet it is sadly the postmodern view of the majority of Christians.


Eric Phillips said...


You keep using the word "postmodern." I don't think that word means what you think it means.

Caspar said...


This is another wild goose chase of yours, but I'll play this round.

Please tell me what YOU think postmodern means and what YOU think I think postmodern means.

It is, indeed, a difficult term to pin down. I certainly don't mean it in the artsy sense of appropriating of popular media.

I mean it pejoratively against the prevailing zeitgeist which denies absolute (divine) truth in favor of relative values defined by the individual. This is the common usage in my social circles.

We are all polluted by this poison, and have been since the fall. Wasn't original sin a denial of divine truth and a desire to decide what is right on one's own terms? What is new is the fact that it is becoming the prevailing philosophy of the world and is rarely questioned anymore.

I expect in your liberal academic environment you might define postmodernism more as "post-structuralism" or some other deviation from "positivism."

Oh well, that was fun.


Eric Phillips said...

Caspar's definition of "postmodernism":

"I mean it pejoratively against the prevailing zeitgeist which denies absolute (divine) truth in favor of relative values defined by the individual."

Okay, that's fine. You have now explained, in your own words, why the charge is nonsensical when leveled against me. When I say, "God controls EVERYTHING equally, not just procreation," I am on the other side of the UNIVERSE from people who say there is no absolute truth. You're not making the slightest amount of sense here.

Caspar said...

Let me show you the sense of it.

All I have done is to identify specific viewpoints you hold as postmodern. One can easily be against postmodernism, yet mistakenly espouse positions which spring from it.

As I said, we are all polluted by this poison, and have been since the fall. I am forever discovering thought processes of my own which are polluted by postmodernism.

Are we done with this red herring?