08 Jan John Milbank’s Theology of the Gift and Calvin’s Theology of Grace: A Critical Comparison – Modern Theology
By J. Todd Billings
Modern Theology 21:1 January 2005
For about a decade, John Milbank has been developing a trinitarian theology of grace using the language of “gift” and “gift-giving”. In the ﬁrst part of this essay, I examine a series of his early articles which articulate his gift theology, as well as his account of opposing viewpoints.2 In these early works, the Reformed tradition as such is never referred to, but Reformation thinking in general is an invisible opponent which exempliﬁes a “donative” or “unilateral” view of grace. Milbank criticizes doctrines in which grace is “passively” received, along with its corollary in Anders Nygren’s “unilateral” portrait of agape.3 After presenting Milbank’s early gift theology, I give a possible response in terms of Calvin’s theology of grace.
The second part of this essay continues the same task with Milbank’s more recent book, Being Reconciled, published as the ﬁrst in a series of books where Milbank’s “gift-giving” paradigm will be used to examine the major loci of theology.4 In this work, Calvin, Luther, and “Reformation” theologies are moved from the shadows to the sideline, as Milbank makes generally negative comments about how “Reformation” theology cannot provide an adequate theology of active reception. As I continue comparing Calvin’s theology of grace with Milbank’s theology of the gift, I hope to show how Calvin’s theology is quite resilient in the face of Milbank’s criticisms of “Reformation” theologies in which grace supposedly functions as a “unilateral” gift “passively” received. Calvin’s theology of grace blends elements of divine initiative with participatory mutuality, developed through a trinitarian account of the double grace of justiﬁcation and sanctiﬁcation, and a multivalent account of the doctrinal loci. Thus, Calvin shares more of Milbank’s concern for “active” reception than one might expect. However, the comparison with Calvin also illuminates Milbank’s heavy reliance upon a narrow range of terms drawn from the anthropological gift-giving discussion. This proves to be a weakness in that Milbank’s use of these terms and concepts in a schematic way both diminishes the possible biblical complexity of his account and distances him from his own patristic and medieval sources.
In his ﬁrst series of articles on gift-giving, Milbank sets out his main constructive proposal and his central arguments against other interlocutors on the gift.5 Constructively, he wants to build upon a French anthropological discussion about “gift-giving” that emerges from the work of Marcel Mauss. For Mauss, gift-giving is a distinct sort of “economy” which serves as a transition between an economy of “total services”, with exchange from clan to clan, and a market economy.6 Mauss believes that the virtue of the gift-giving economy is that gift-giving practices can enable competing factions to make peace by ﬁnding common ground in the mutual pleasures and mutual interests created by gift-giving. Against Mauss, Jacques Derrida has written in Given Time that Mauss manages to speak “of everything but the gift”.7 For Derrida, a gift should be an interruption of an economy of exchange, whereas for Mauss gifts are necessarily involved in exchange.8 Anthropologists like Mary Douglas and David Graeber have offered a more positive assessment of Mauss, looking upon his account of the bonds and relations established through gift-giving as one of the few possible non-Marxist alternatives to capitalism.9 Milbank takes up Mauss’ discussion in seeking to think through Christian redemption in terms of the gift, such that Christianity can help lead to a gift economy that is puriﬁed from its agonistic elements.10 For Milbank, a puriﬁed gift is a gift that replicates itself in cycles of gratitude and obligation: gift-exchange involves “delay” and “non-identical repetition” of the gift in gratitude, thus extending obligation as a new gift is given.11 Milbank believes that Christian theology can point the way to these puriﬁed gift-exchanges.
As an Augustinian, Milbank is fortunate to ﬁnd that the language of the “gift” already has a place in his tradition. “Gift” is a name for the Holy Spirit in Augustine’s De Trinitate. While this language of “gift” does not provide the overarching framework for Augustine’s trinitarian theology—a point to which I will return at the end of this essay—it does play a part in the trinitarian ethic of love in Augustine, providing Milbank with a starting point.12 From there, Milbank extends Augustine’s account of the Trinity and its corresponding ethic of love in distinctively gift-giving terms, saying that through the Spirit persons are brought into the trinitarian “exchange”.13 In addition, Milbank sees the doctrine of creation in terms of “gift exchange”.14 Although from one perspective, there is an “excess” to creation such that there will be an asymmetry regarding anything the Creator receives back from the creature, the act of creation also creates receivers, creating the relationship between God and humanity. It implies “less an absolutization of the unilateral gift, than an absolutization of gift-exchange”.15 From creation through redemption, God gives, and brings humanity into a trinitarian gift-exchange. Yet, in receiving this divine gift, the human is always involved in a vital way: in “active reception”.16 That is, one gives the love one receives from God to one’s neighbor even as one is receiving it from God. It is impossible to receive God’s gift while refusing to give to one’s neighbor. The gift “is not prior to but coincident with relation” such that they are inseparable— interlinked on horizontal and vertical planes, so to speak.17 As such, “reciprocity” is inseparable from receiving a gift.18
In this initial set of articles, Milbank opposes his position to two other views. First, he argues against Kant and a long list of ethicists, including Derrida and Levinas, whom he sees as carrying on a Kantian ethical legacy. Milbank’s central claim is that these Kantian and post-Kantian ﬁgures make “disinterested” self-sacriﬁce the high point of their ethic, encouraging unilateral giving without payback, without reciprocation, even without recognition of the “gift” as such.19 While there are certain aspects of Milbank’s critique which do seem to apply to Derrida’s view of the gift, his repeated references to Kant’s ethics seem to stem from a misinterpretation of Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.20 In the Groundwork, Kant frequently contrasts the call of “duty” with “inclination” to clarify the ﬁnality of duty.21 Kant’s point is that duty cannot be constituted by inclination or a bare concern for mutual pleasure. Nevertheless, in analyzing the type of obligation incurred by “duty”, Kant is quite willing to speak of the importance of reciprocity and mutual regard.22 Thus, while Milbank’s defense of “reciprocity” has validity in itself, his corresponding interpretation of Kant is uncharitable at best. Yet, Milbank is able to make a signiﬁcant point regarding Derrida: structurally speaking, Derrida’s gift is annihilated by mutuality. Derrida openly admits this, for a “gift” which is recognized as such incurs obligation, thus ceasing to be a free gift.23 In contrast, Milbank’s “gift” is a mutual exchange, with “giver” and “receiver” becoming ﬂuid categories. Unlike Kant, Derrida’s “gift” does exhibit a radically unilateral character.
Milbank’s second repeated interlocutor in these essays is Marion, with his portrait of the “saturated phenomenon” as a model for revelation. The saturated phenomena is a “gift” which overwhelms the receiver, surpassing her concepts and expections.24 Marion describes an “excess” in the gift of revelation that cannot be comprehended; the “distance” between the gift and the receiver is irreducible, forcing one to speak in a non-predicative, apophatic mode.25 However, although Marion is “exactly half right” according to Milbank in his account of the divine donum, his portrait, too, is unilateral.26 Marion seeks to show how the intentionality of the receiver does not add to or in any way constitute the phenomena of revelation. For Milbank, Marion’s account reﬂects a view of the “will” with “an inﬁnite capacity for ‘indifference’”.27 In contrast, Milbank sees the will as caught up in ecstatic, active reception by participating in the exchange of the Trinity and of the human community.28 Milbank claims that there is an inherent danger in any account of the human reception of divine gifts in which the human is merely passive. Milbank detects a similarity between Marion and Derrida on the “unilateral” character of the gift. Yet, unlike Derrida, Marion’s account does not involve an a priori denial of the receiver and her response; rather, Marion’s focus is how the “gift” of revelation appears—a gift with irreducible “excess”. Nevertheless, however one assesses Milbank’s criticisms of Marion, it is clear that Milbank has developed a critical account of the “gift” by which he can criticize a range of theologies as cultivating “passivity” because of an underlying “unilateral” character to their notion of the gift.
How are we to think through Calvin’s theology of grace in relation to Milbank’s proposal? There might be more than one way of doing this. Certain recent account of Calvin’s theology place the language of gift at the center—for example, Brian Gerrish’s eucharistic account of Calvin’s overall theology in Grace and Gratitude. Another approach which makes gift language central is the social-historical approach of Natalie Zemon Davis in The Gift in Sixteenth Century France, analyzing the social practices in Geneva in terms of Mauss’ gift-giving paradigm, and then seeking to link it with Calvin’s theology. While each of these approaches have certain merits, I sense that there is a danger of failing to remember that “gift” and “giftgiving” are not, in fact, dominant theological terms for Calvin. Instead of focusing on “gift” terminology per se, I think that examining several relevant points about Calvin’s theology of grace can illuminate key commonalities and differences with Milbank’s “gift” theology.
First, regarding Milbank’s idea of “active reception”, Calvin would have a certain amount in common with Milbank, but would need to push him for further clariﬁcation. For Calvin, it is crucial to distinguish between justiﬁcation and sanctiﬁcation as two aspects of union with Christ—one fully realized, and the other only partially completed. They are inseparable for Calvin, being a “double grace” (duplex gratia) that is held together in the very person of Christ. It is impossible to have one without the other; they do not come in temporal stages. Furthermore, as one receives grace through the gift of faith, one will necessarily be active in outward holiness, just as Milbank says that one must be active in giving while receiving. Concerning justiﬁcation and sanctiﬁcation, Calvin writes, “As Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparable—namely, righteousness and sanctiﬁcation. Whomever, therefore, God receives into grace, on them he at the same time bestows the Spirit of adoption, by whose power he remakes them into his own image.”29 On the one hand, believers are “passive” in receiving grace, in the sense that we add nothing to God’s grace that was missing—God’s grace is completely sufﬁcient. The pardon and adoption involved in justiﬁcation is received extra nos, from outside ourselves. Yet, Calvin makes it clear that this process of receiving grace has a second part (hence the duplex gratia), activating one for a life of piety and love through the Spirit. Indeed, the ethical “ought” and the anthropological “can” are fulﬁlled, for Calvin, only through regeneration by the Spirit.30 Living “in Christ” is living a life of love, according to the third use of the law utilized by Calvin.31
Thus, if one is searching for a theology of grace in which the reception of grace in salvation will not be severed from being reborn for a life of holiness through the Spirit, Calvin’s theology is a good place to look. Rather than “active reception”, Calvin’s reception of grace might be better called “activating reception”. Yet Calvin’s clarity about issues like justiﬁcation and sanctiﬁcation leave one wondering how long Milbank can avoid using more precise terms in his own theology of the gift. For Milbank, the gift coincides with relation.32 Thus, the divine gift “is itself grounded in an intra-divine love which is relation and exchange as much as it is gift”.33 Moreover, the divine gift is impossible without the “necessary reception of Christ by Israel in the person of Mary”.34 Where exactly does this leave Milbank amidst the myriad of theological options concerning the divine priority of grace and the human “contribution” to salvation? For example, what would Milbank’s attempt to think through the divine donum and the [necessary] human response lead him to say about justiﬁcation? Calvin does have clarity on these issues—the ﬁrst grace is pardon, extra nos, while the second grace is a participatory regeneration by the Spirit.35 This occurs within a trinitarian context. God is revealed as a gracious and generous Father because of his free pardon of sin, which takes place through the believer’s union with Christ by faith, the ﬁrst grace. This same union with Christ also involves a viviﬁcation by the Spirit to grow in love and holiness, the second grace. In contrast, Milbank’s use of anthropological language—that “gift” coincides with “relation”—simply does not have this soteriological precision.
Secondly, Calvin’s theology of grace calls into question one of the assumptions inherent in Milbank’s adoption of “gift” language in relation to grace: that grace, and the divine-human relationship within that, can be adequately characterized in terms of either “unilateral” giving or reciprocal “exchange”. Calvin does not begin with such a schematic framework, turned into a trinitarian metaphysic. Rather, a central concern for Calvin is expositing the variety of soteriological language used in scripture about God’s saving work in humanity. Calvin’s exposition of certain scriptural concepts, such as election, might seem to have a unilateral gift character. In election, God chooses and secures the salvation of believers, apart from their worthiness. Yet, the concept of “unilateral” giving does not adequately account for other biblical images that Calvin draws upon to describe God’s saving relation to humankind.
For example, Calvin has a complex and nuanced theology of covenant. On the one hand, he emphasizes that in some sense, the covenant is unilateral, with God fulﬁlling both sides of the covenant because sinful humanity could not be left on its own to fulﬁll its pledge. However, as Peter Lillback has pointed out, Calvin also makes extensive use of the language of a mutual, bilateral covenant, particularly when he wants to emphasize human responsibility.36 For Calvin, it is important that believers make a voluntary pledge sincerely to seek to fulﬁll their side of the covenant. Yet, it is the Spirit that makes this voluntary pledge possible. This is not a contradiction, but a multivalent biblical teaching which is neither simply unilateral nor bilateral. In this way, Calvin refuses to see human and divine agency as two opposing powers. The polarities built into Milbank’s language of “unilateral” giving and “bilateral” giving preclude such insights.
In a similar way, Milbank frequently uses the term “reciprocity” to describe a desirable alternative to theologies of God-human relations characterized by “passivity”.37 Since Calvin does have a place for salvation coming to the believer extra nos in justiﬁcation, it may seem that Calvin would be subject to this criticism. Yet, once again, have not Milbank’s terms drawn from anthropological discussions led to an oversimplication? In Calvin, justiﬁcation never occurs by itself; it is inseparable from the active, empowering work of regeneration enabled by the Spirit. On a deeper level, there is also a sense in which the terms “reciprocity” and “passivity” imply an exteriority in divine-human relations that is foreign to Calvin. Calvin delights in speaking of how the union within the Trinity extends to include humanity, such that, “Just as he [Christ] is one with the Father, so we become one with him.”38 Calvin also speaks about the believer being united into “one life and substance” with Christ.39 In Calvin, identities are not “ﬁxed” in such a way that sharing in another makes us less like ourselves. Rather, it is by living in the Spirit, by participating in Christ, by becoming “one substance” with Christ that we ﬁnd our full identity as creatures. Commentators like Philip Butin are right to call Calvin’s trinitarian account of divine-human relations “perichoretic”.40 It is not a matter of “reciprocity” or “passivity”, but a differentiated union of identities in a trinitarian context.
In summary for part one of this essay, Milbank’s concept of “active reception” of grace has certain commonalities with what I call a notion of “activating reception” in Calvin. Yet, concerning the nature of justiﬁcation and the human contribution to salvation, Calvin articulates a clear position which differentiates yet unites justiﬁcation and sanctiﬁcation, emphasizing the priority of divine grace for salvation. In contrast, Milbank remains vague on these questions: “active reception” means that the gift of grace coincides with relation, but it does not address the ground of justiﬁcation and its relation to sanctiﬁcation. Secondly, I have argued that Milbank’s account of grace as a “unilateral” gift requiring “passive” reception or relations of mutual “reciprocity” and “exchange” set forth false alternatives. These anthropological notions assume an exteriority between agents that is inadequate for describing God’s saving relation to humanity. Calvin’s attempt to appropriate a variety of biblical imagery concerning the divine-human relationship— including that of election, covenant, and the trinitarian incorporation of humanity—complicates and moves beyond Milbank’s simpler scheme of grace as “unilateral”, “passive”, or “reciprocal”.41
In his more recent work, Milbank extends and develops the ideas of these early essays, explicitly criticizing Reformation theologies as theologies of the “unilateral” gift. Milbank offers his central exposition in Being Reconciled,42 which presents a number of concrete theological-social proposals. He extends the account of Christology which he gave in The Word Made Strange, speaks of his program of Christian Socialism, and defends a privation theory of evil. What holds these essays together? The language of “gift” serves as one unifying strand, but even more so than in his previous works on the “gift”, Milbank makes repeated reference to the notion of “participation”.
What is a theology of “participation”? The word is a surprisingly ﬂexible one in theological discussions, and it is not always clear in what senses Milbank uses the term. On one level, Milbank seems to be appropriating the notion of “participation as deiﬁcation”; this doctrine is taught by various patristic and medieval writers, and was recently re-attributed to Augustine, contra Harnack.43 However, there are many different types of doctrines of “deiﬁcation”.44 Thus, the fact that Milbank includes deiﬁcation in his account of “participation” is not in itself a signiﬁcant clariﬁcation.
In assessing the different possible senses of “participation”, it is worth noting that theologies of “participation” have a history in Milbank’s Anglican heritage. On the one hand, “participation” has been used as shorthand for a relatively loose set of Platonic metaphysical claims afﬁrming some sense of ontological “participation” of creation in the creator. Anglican theologians as far back as Richard Hooker have used the language of “participation” in this way, later given prominence by the Cambridge Platonists.45 In the nineteenth century, these early Anglican traditions are drawn upon by John Henry Newman in his Anglican years, who again revives the language of participation.46 With Newman in particular, the language of participation has implications for the theology of grace, offering a via media between Catholics and Protestants. In Newman’s hands, a theology of participation favors the Catholic side of the divide. His work on justiﬁcation was fundamentally suspicious of Protestant claims about justiﬁcation by faith alone. For Newman and other Tractarians, such a “dry” doctrine of justiﬁcation (extra nos) has lost the participatory sense of faith as formed by love. Justiﬁcation and sanctiﬁcation should be seen as inseparable, a single act.
In Being Reconciled, Milbank seems to follow Newman in his impatience with a Reformed account of grace and his preference for language of “participation”. Milbank, like Newman, rejects “all Protestant accounts of grace” that afﬁrm “mere imputation”, because “an account of the arrival of grace must for me also mean an account of sanctiﬁcation and ethics”.47 Furthermore, a theology of participation lacks the “negative” anthropology of Protestants who set nature against grace, thereby disrupting the Platonic participation of the creature in the divine. For Milbank, an essential point of theological anthropology is that humans are created for union with God, and he ﬁnds the doctrines of sin and human incapacity as framed by Reformation theology—particularly with their emphasis upon the bondage of the will—threatening to this emphasis.
Juxtaposing Calvin’s viewpoint with this distinctively [high] Anglican theological language about “participation” is a peculiar task. On the one hand, it might seem as though Calvin could provide precisely the sort of theology that Newman and Milbank are looking for: a theology of grace that is never “mere imputation”, but in which justiﬁcation and sanctiﬁcation are held together tightly in one act of grace, united in the person of Christ. Just as Milbank cannot account for the reception of grace without speaking of sanctiﬁcation, neither can Calvin—as my earlier discussion of Calvin on the duplex gratia indicated.
Yet, Milbank’s view involves a deeper objection to Calvin’s theology of grace. According to Milbank, Calvin and others who deny the freedom of the will before regeneration have a negative anthropology, emphasizing sin in such a way that the created human nature must be destroyed rather than fulﬁlled in the “new creation” of regeneration. In a particular section of Being Reconciled, Milbank gives a sympathetic account of Augustine on the freedom of the will, despite the widespread caricature of Augustine as opposing nature to grace in his account of the will.48 Yet Milbank simultaneously argues against Reformation and post-Reformation “misreadings” of Augustine, which appear to oppose grace to free will, and ultimately, grace to nature.49 I am afraid that Milbank has corrected one caricature (that of Augustine) to replace it with another (that of Reformation theologies).
Calvin’s view of the “bondage of will” is frequently misunderstood. The central reason for this is inattention to his work that directly addresses the Roman Catholic concerns about his “negative” view of humanity in redemption, Bondage and Liberation of the Will. It is also a work with great insight into Calvin’s interpretation of Augustine and other church fathers, with more patristic citations than any other work besides the Institutes. In Bondage and Liberation of the Will, Calvin responds to the criticisms that his Roman Catholic adversary, Albert Pighius, brings against the 1539 edition of the Institutes. One of Pighius’s central concerns was how human nature seemed to be diminished rather than fulﬁlled in the action of grace, giving an insufﬁcient account of the human side of redemption. Pighius was particularly disturbed when Calvin wrote: “whatever is of our own will is effaced [in regeneration]”. While this passage is later qualiﬁed by Calvin in the Institutes,50 his response in Bondage and Freedom of the Will is insightful. “By ‘whatever is ours’ I understand that which belongs to us. Moreover, I deﬁne this as what we have in ourselves apart from God’s creation.”51 What Calvin is trying to preserve is the Pauline language of the conﬂicted human will (Romans 7), torn between the “old self” (which should be “cruciﬁed”) and the “new creation” in Christ. Our own will—our fallen will—must be effaced and even cruciﬁed in regeneration. But this must not be confused with the original good will given to Adam in creation, for Adam was “united” to God before the fall.52
In Bondage and Liberation of the Will, Calvin uses Aristotelian distinctions to express this relationship.53 The substance of human nature was created good, oriented toward union with God. Indeed, as Calvin notes elsewhere, this original creation enjoyed a “participation in God”.54 Through the fall, humanity developed the accidental characteristic of sinning, which brings alienation from God. This “sinful human nature”, then, is only “human nature” in a secondary sense, for the substance of human nature is good.55 In regeneration, the substance of human nature is led toward fulﬁllment in Christ through the Spirit. Grace does not destroy this primal human nature, but fulﬁlls it. In terms of the will, the original, created orientation of the will is fulﬁlled in redemption. It is in this context that Calvin claims that human freedom must be contingent upon the work of the Spirit, afﬁrming with John’s Gospel that “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). For it is only through union with Christ by the Spirit that the alienation which destroys human freedom can be overcome. Thus, the work of God’s original creation is fulﬁlled in the believer through the free will empowered by the Spirit.56
Yet, one may object, even if Calvin’s view of the will does not entail a negative view of created nature in relation to grace, is the human left with anything beyond a “passive” role in sanctiﬁcation? Milbank continues to press his case against “passivity” in Being Reconciled, frequently associating it with Reformation theologies in which grace and pardon have a “unilateral” character rather than one of “exchange”. On the question of “passivity” in Calvin, Milbank would be correct about the “ﬁrst grace” of justiﬁcation if justiﬁcation occurred in isolation; but according to Calvin, it is impossible to isolate the ﬁrst grace from the second—justiﬁcation is distinguishable but inseparable from regeneration. Even a brief look at the pastoral aspects of Calvin’s theology conﬁrms that the human is not “passive” in receiving this duplex gratia. For example, in his lengthy chapter on prayer in the Institutes, Calvin makes a number of paradoxical claims. Initially, he asserts that humans cannot pray rightly on their own.57 Right prayer involves reverence, thanksgiving, yielding conﬁdence in oneself, and praying with hope.58 Nevertheless, even though prayer is God’s work—both in enabling and responding—it is a profoundly human work as well.59 In the opening pages of the chapter, Calvin draws repeatedly upon Romans 8, giving a trinitarian account of the Christian experience of prayer: the Spirit enables persons to “conﬁdently cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” as the Spirit also shows us Christ, through whom God is revealed.60 Yet Calvin insists that we should not take this emphasis upon the Spirit’s enabling us as license for laziness. We should not be passive in the sense that we “give over the function of prayer to the Spirit of God, and vegetate in that carelessness to which we are all too prone”.61 Believing that the Spirit helps Christians to prayer should “by no means” lead one to “hold back our own effort”.62
Thus, through the Spirit, the Christian is empowered for growth in real holiness (with real effort) in the practice of prayer. Yet, Calvin is always quick to add, the “credit” and “honor” for this improvement—for these good works—goes completely to God. Is this a negative, “passive” anthropology, as Milbank claims? I do not believe so. Rather than a negative anthropology, it is a christologically-conditioned anthropology, wherein it is only through the empowering, activating presence of God that a human can do a work that is “good”. As with the incarnation, humanity only reaches its fulﬁllment when the human is united with the divine. Calvin is insightful enough to realize that this christologically-conditioned account of grace has a negative corollary (“without me, you can do nothing,” John 15:5). Both the positive and “negative” aspects of this christological principle apply to all human-ity—through Calvin’s concept of “common grace” and the imago dei (which entails “participation in God.”)63 Yet humanity ﬁnds fullness through faith in Christ, in whom God and humanity are reconciled and fully united. Calvin’s emphasis upon the powerful effects of human sin does not lead to a “negative” anthropology. Rather, his concern for alienation from God by sin is part of a larger soteriological account that seeks to remedy what sin disrupts: the original goodness of creation, corrupted by sin, can be restored only through union with God, in Christ, by the Spirit.
Considering Calvin’s emphasis upon union with God in Christ through the Spirit, how does his theology relate to the language of “participation as deiﬁcation” that Milbank utilizes in Being Reconciled? On this point also, Calvin may have more commonality with Milbank than is generally recognized. Contemporary discussions of deiﬁcation and theosis are plagued by two opposing tendencies: on the one hand, some works use a late Byzantine standard of theosis to evaluate and polarize Western theologians such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, claiming that their distance from late Byzantine terminology leads to fundamentally deﬁcient notions of deiﬁcation.64 On the other side, certain recent works have failed to recognize the distance that genuinely exists between late Byzantine theologies and Western theologians who do not share their categories or terms.65 In the midst of this discussion, Milbank presents an account of “participation as deiﬁcation” whose strengths lie precisely in his Anglican eclecticism: he is happy to glean insights from Maximus the Confessor alongside Augustine and Thomas. Certain aspects of Milbank’s doctrine of deiﬁcation—such as his interpretation of Thomas—are questionable on historical grounds.66 Yet, the way in which Milbank creatively draws upon the traditions of East and West is nevertheless promising from the systematic perspective, for it emphasizes the genuine complementarity of theologians like Augustine and Maximus the Confessor, while not succumbing to some less plausible attempts to make Western theologians sound like Maximus or Gregory Palamas.67
Perhaps Milbank should consider adding Calvin to his eclectic list of theologians who give an account of how “the end of the gospel” is “to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us”.68 While Milbank is skeptical about claims that Luther teaches deiﬁcation,69 there is good reason to take Calvin seriously on the subject. Although Calvin has considerable distance from late Byzantine notions of theosis, he draws deeply upon the common sources for theologies of deiﬁcation: scripture and the church fathers. In particular, he makes extensive use of the Johannine language of union, indwelling, and ingrafting; the Pauline language of a participation in Christ by the Spirit; and the patristic developments of this language by Irenaeus, Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria.70 While Calvin’s account of deiﬁcation has many “Catholic” dimensions, such as the beatiﬁc vision and the afﬁrmation of union without assimilation between Creator-creature, he makes a distinctive contribution in his thoroughly Pauline notion of “gospel”. Recent research has conﬁrmed that the book of Romans is absolutely central for the development and logic of the Institutes.71 Calvin’s language of “participation” is shaped by his close reading and rereading of this book, gradually extending the language of “participation” to a wide variety of doctrinal loci, including justiﬁcation, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the resurrection, the incarnation, the Trinity, the atonement, the imago dei and “participation in God”.72 Calvin’s contribution on the issue of “participation as deiﬁcation” lies in the way in which he blends the appropriation of patristic developments with careful biblical exegesis. In particular, Calvin’s strongly Pauline understanding of the gospel—and his notion of the duplex gratia emerging from this—provides a much-needed supplement to contemporary theologies of deiﬁcation which risk forgetting Romans 1–3 in their enthusiasm for Romans 6 and 8.73
In developing his theology of participation, Milbank has the opportunity to counter the externalist tendency in the language he has drawn from the Gift discussion. Theologies of participation tend to undercut the polarities of “unilateral” versus “reciprocal”, even “passive” versus “active”. Indeed, although Calvin is among the “Reformation” theologians that Milbank frequently opposes, his theology of grace makes the union of God and humanity both the original and ﬁnal telos of creation; Calvin’s anthropology is not “negative”, but christologically conditioned, afﬁrming that the primal human nature is fulﬁlled through union with God, by partaking of Christ through the Spirit. Calvin has much in common with Milbank’s concerns in developing a theology of “participation as deiﬁcation”. Perhaps Milbank’s theological interest in the incarnation and participation will caution him about making the categories of Gift so central to his future theological work.
There are striking commonalities between the concerns of Milbank’s theology of the Gift and Calvin’s theology of grace. Perhaps this is indicative of a tendency of Anglo-Catholic theologians to show hostility to the Reformation, all the while remaining deeply dependent upon it in their sensibilities. One of these commonalities between Calvin and Anglicans like Milbank is a profound dependence upon Augustine’s theology. Indeed, in Being Reconciled, Milbank makes no secret of seeking to reclaim Augustine from Reformation interpretations.74 Furthermore, in terms of his theology of the Gift, Milbank claims that Augustine is one of his main sources.
Yet, if one views the broad theological context of Milbank’s theology of the Gift in relation to Calvin’s theology of grace, I think there is little doubt that Calvin is much closer in many ways to their common theological father.75 The difference in theological context between Milbank and Calvin emerges from different ways of doing theology and different results obtained from these methods. I see two major aspects to this difference. First, for Augustine and Calvin, a theology of grace is always developed within a broad context of scriptural exegesis, whereas for Milbank this context is thin. Second, neither Augustine nor Calvin use the notion of “gift” in a highly schematic manner, while Milbank elevates the language of “gift” to the level of an overarching metaphysics to explain the Trinity, grace, ethics, and more.
Calvin’s theological method incorporated a central cry of renaissance humanism: ad fontes, back to the sources, related both to scripture and traditional sources like the church fathers. Although there is some difference of method between his commentaries, the Institutes, and occasional treatises, Calvin is consistent in his approach that the ﬁrst task in theology is returning to the preeminent source of theology: scripture. Previous generations of Calvin scholarship have not always understood this; sometimes they claimed that a “central dogma” was the starting point for a deductive “Calvinist” system developed from that doctrinal foundation.76 But recent scholarship has shown how deeply misguided this approach to Calvin’s theology is: Calvin’s theology, particularly as seen in the Institutes, is a reading of the doctrinal loci ordered on his reading of Romans, and supplemented over decades of painstaking work in biblical exegesis.77 The result of this “method” is a theology that is complex and multivalent: the variety in Calvin’s biblical and patristic appropriations of the notions of “grace”, nature, Covenant, the Trinity, justiﬁcation and sanctiﬁcation and “participation” cannot be forced into highly schematic language. Yet, Milbank’s ambitious project seems to do just that: to read the doctrinal loci through the schematic structure provided by the “gift” discussion, functioning as a “central dogma”. In contrast to Calvin, Milbank’s theology of the gift offers rather sparse serious attention to scripture; sometimes when Milbank does claim to have reference to scripture, he simply gives another exposition of Augustine.78
Milbank’s sparse attention to scripture stands in sharp contrast to the approaches of his own theological mentors, such as Augustine and Aquinas. In Augustine’s most important work for Milbank’s Gift theology, De Trinitate, Augustine takes an expansive approach to the interpretation of scripture, carefully citing and commenting upon a vast range of scriptural language and imagery that may relate to the doctrine of the Trinity as given by Nicea.79 When Augustine uses the language of “gift”, it is in this larger scriptural context, textured and shaped by Augustine’s attention to scripture passages which seem to be supporting his constructive case, as well as those that do not. Milbank’s account of the gift lacks this basic engagement with scripture as the source for theology; because of this, it misses the “complexifying context” that scriptural engagement provides. Aidan Nichols makes a similar observation about Milbank and Pickstock’s appropriation of Thomas Aquinas: “what is missing from their work…is the awareness that, for Thomas, the truth delivered by sacra doctrina is above all a biblical truth”.80 Milbank’s shortcomings on this point not only distance him from Calvin, but from Augustine and Aquinas as well.
Secondly, and related to the ﬁrst point, Milbank has utterly transformed a rather narrow tradition of speaking of the Holy Spirit as “gift” into an overarching paradigm for his gift theology—which would have been quite foreign even to Augustine. For Augustine, “gift” is proposed as a “name” for the Spirit to distinguish it as a person of the Trinity, since both “Holy” and “Spirit” are attributes which apply to the whole Godhead.81 Augustine was alone among patristic authors in using the term “gift” with regard to the Holy Spirit in this sense. However one evaluates the success of Augustine’s attempt, he nevertheless does not make “gift” or “gift-giving” the central or paradigmatic categories for Trinitarian metaphysics—never speaking as Milbank does of “exchange” in the Trinity, both eternally and ad extra, and the relations as self-giving, gift-giving. When not only the Holy Spirit is “gift”, but also the trinitarian relations are constituted by “exchange” and gift-giving, a peculiar exteriority seems to develop among persons of the Trinity, potentially pushing Milbank toward a more “social”—and speculative—model of the Trinity than he desires.82 While Milbank’s notion of trinitarian “exchange” has precedence in Hans Urs von Balthasar’s doctrine of kenotic self-giving takes place between all three persons of the Trinity, von Balthasar’s notion itself is without patristic precedent.83 Even Thomas Aquinas, who draws upon Augustine’s “gift” language with regard to the Spirit, uses it cautiously and does not give it a central place in trinitarian metaphysics.84 Milbank has taken an important yet subordinate theme in Augustine (a theme even more subordinate in the Western tradition, not to mention its near absence in the East85), and made it into his central paradigm for thinking through the doctrines of God, creation, and ethics. In this way, he takes advantage of the utility of concepts like “gift” and “gift-giving” at the cost of the biblical complexity and speculative modesty with which Calvin—and also Augustine—approached these issues.
In sum, I have sought to show that there are important and perhaps surprising areas of commonality between Calvin’s theology of grace and Milbank’s emerging theology of the gift. These include the close connection between the receiving of grace and the active life of Christian self-giving and love; also, both seek to articulate the fulﬁllment of human nature in union with God, through the Spirit, by participation in Christ. At the same time, I have sought to contrast Calvin’s approach with Milbank’s. In comparison to Milbank’s claim that the Gift coincides with relation, Calvin’s duplex gratia has much greater clarity in relating divine and human agency in the reception of salvation. Moreover, rather than seeing grace as “unilateral” or “reciprocal” gifts, Calvin develops a nuanced variety of biblical and patristic teaching about God’s saving relation to humanity which cannot be captured by the simple contrast of “unilateral” to “reciprocal”. Ultimately, Milbank’s schematic use of “gift” categories is foreign not only to Calvin, but also to Augustine and Aquinas. Milbank’s limitations seem to come from trying to do too much with too little: he uses anthropological language from the gift-giving discussion to describe a trinitarian soteriology of the “gift”—but with insufﬁcient conditioning of these concepts through biblical exegesis, and inadequate apophatic modesty in making the gift scheme central to trinitarian metaphysics.
1 Portions of this essay were presented at Engaging Radical Orthodoxy, a conference at Calvin College on September 14, 2003. I am grateful to Sarah Coakley, Benjamin King, Michael Horton and Rachel Billings for their very helpful feedback in reﬁning this essay.
2 John Milbank, “Can a Gift Be Given? Prolegomena to a Future Trinitarian Metaphysic”, Modern Theology, Vol. 11, no. 1 (January, 1995), pp. 119–161; John Milbank, The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language, Culture (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), chapter 2; John Milbank, “Gregory of Nyssa: The Force of Identity” in Christian Origins, ed. L. Ayres and G. Jones (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 94–116; John Milbank, “The Ethics of Self-Sacriﬁce”, First Things, No. 91 (March, 1999), pp. 33–38; John Milbank, “The Soul of Reciprocity. Part One, Reciprocity Refused”, Modern Theology, Vol. 17, no. 3 (July, 2001): pp. 335–391; John Milbank, “The Soul of Reciprocity. Part Two, Reciprocity Granted”, Modern Theology, Vol. 17, no. 4 (October, 2001), pp. 485–507.
3 Milbank identiﬁes Nygren’s approach to agape as a “purism” regarding the gift, “which renders it unilateral” and is thus “over-rigorous in a self-defeating fashion”. See “Can a Gift be Given?”, p. 132, n. 31.
4 John Milbank, Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon, (London: Routledge, 2003). 5 See the articles in note 2. 6 See Marcel Mauss, The Gift: the Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W. D. Halls, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990). 7 See Jacques Derrida, Given Time, I: Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf, (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 24, emphasis added.
8 For Derrida, the gift “must remain aneconomic” and “foreign to the circle” of give and take exchange (ibid., p. 7; also see ibid., pp. 7–13, 24–27). In contrast, Mauss’ central point about giving is that from an anthropological perspective, gifts do exchange. While gifts may appear to be “free”, they always incur obligation. Thus, Mauss’ The Gift seeks to discover the logic behind this obligation. See The Gift, especially pp. 1–18.
9Mary Douglas (see Preface to the 1990 Norton edition of Mauss); David Graeber, Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin Of Our Own Dreams (New York: Palgrave, 2001).
10 While aspects of Mauss’ portrait of “gift exchange” may be romanticized, Mauss is very clear that such practices often involve violence. Milbank recognizes that a gift economy is not necessarily a peaceful economy; thus Milbank seeks to “purify” the gift economy from the violence that it frequently entails. See “Can a Gift be Given?”, pp. 131–133.
11 Ibid., p. 131.
12 This connection is developed by Milbank in the ﬁnal chapter of Theology and Social Theory and is also well articulated by Rowan Williams in “Sapientia and the Trinity: reﬂections on De trinitate” in Collectanea Augustiniana: mélanges T. J. van Bavel, T. J. van Bavel, Bernard Bruning, Mathijs Lamberigts, and Jozef van Heutem, eds. (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990), pp. 317–332.
13 “Can a Gift be Given?”, pp. 136–137, 144–154.
14 Ibid., pp. 124, 143–137.
15 Ibid., p. 137. “Soul of Reciprocity: Part Two”, p. 504.
16 Milbank coins the term “active reception” in his essay on Gregory and Nyssa and the Gift. See Milbank, “Gregory of Nyssa: The Force of Identity”, p. 95. The phrase is helpful in expressing Milbank’s constructive alternative to theologies of “passive” reception, a theme dominating his essays on the Gift.
17 “Can a Gift be Given?”, p. 137.
18 Ibid., p. 136.
19 See Milbank, “The Ethics of Self-Sacriﬁce”.
20 Although Milbank makes many brief references to Kant in his “gift” articles, he presents a sustained critique in “Soul of Reciprocity: Part One”, pp. 371–384. In the ﬁrst part of this account (pp. 371–377), Milbank makes it clear that his understanding of the notions of “interest” and “feeling” in the Groundwork is foundational for his assessment of Kant’s ethics. Milbank then extends this account of the notion of “interest” to Kant’s aesthetics in the Third Critique (pp. 377–382), reading the First Critique in light of the Third Critique (pp. 382–384). While my account only directly addresses Milbank’s criticism of Kant’s ethics, I sense that his understanding of the Third Critique and the First Critique would be quite different if he had a more nuanced understanding of the notions of “interest” and “feeling” in the Groundwork.
21 See Immanuel Kant, Grundlegung Zur Metaphysik Der Sitten, ed. Karl Vorländer, Philosophische Bibliothek, Bd. 41 (Leipzig: Dürr, 1906), especially pp. 395–401.
22 For an account of Kant’s notion of obligation which addresses the criticisms of the Groundwork related to mutual affection and regard, see Christine M. Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 55–67.
23 Derrida writes that “for there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity, return, exchange, countergift, or debt. If the other gives me back or owes me or has to give me back what I give him or her, there will not have been a gift” (Given Time, p. 12). Thus, Derrida must speak of the “forgetting and gift” as “the condition of the other” because anything recognized as a receiver as a gift necessarily incurs obligation (pp. 17–18). Yet, for Derrida the obligation is precisely what the gift seeks to overcome, for obligation always implies the nomy of law, which is inseparable from economy (p. 6).
24 See Jean-Luc Marion, “The Saturated Phenomenon” in Phenomenology and the “Theological Turn”: The French Debate (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), pp. 176–216.
25 For more on Marion’s non-predicative form of apophaticism, see his reading of Denys in Jean-Luc Marion, The Idol and Distance: Five Studies (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001).
26 Milbank, “Soul of Reciprocity: Part One”, p. 352.
27 Ibid., p. 353.
28 See especially, “Can a Gift be Given?”, pp. 132, 144–154.
29 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles; John T. McNeill ed., (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960), 3:11:6.
30 See Institutes, 2:2:26–27.
31 With Luther, Calvin afﬁrms that the ﬁrst use of the law is to reveal our sinfulness and thus lead to repentance; the second use of the law is to restrain evildoers in civil society. (Institutes, 2:7:6–11.) However, Calvin also teaches a third use of the law which he considers to be primary: guidance for Christians in living a life of holiness (Institutes, 2:7:12). In Calvin’s hands, the third use of the law makes an ethic of love, justice and equity central to sanctiﬁcation. See Guenther H. Haas, The Concept of Equity in Calvin’s Ethics (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1997).
32 “Can a Gift be Given?”, p. 137.
33 Ibid., p. 136.
35 Institutes, 3:11:4–6.
36 Calvin’s use of the bilateral covenant is particularly prominent in his sermons on Deuteronomy. See Peter A. Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin’s Role in the Development of Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), chapter 8. While Lillback does a service in calling attention to this bilateral material, he does not give an adequate account of how Calvin upholds a strong view of divine agency in the midst of this emphasis upon a bilateral covenant. For a more satisfactory account of how Calvin holds together the unilateral and bilateral covenant material, see Richard A. Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition (New York: Oxford University, 2000), pp. 154ff.
37 See especially “The Soul of Reciprocity: Part One” and “The Soul of Reciprocity: Part Two”.
38 My own translation of “et quemadmodum unus est in patre, ita nos unum in ipso ﬁamus”. Sermon on 1 Samuel, 2:27–36 found in Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia from Corpus Reformatorum, G. Baum, E. Cunitz, E. Reuss, and E. Alfred, eds., (Brunsvigae: C. A. Schwetschke, 1863–1900), 29:353.
39 Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:24 in Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. Calvin Translation Society, John King et al. eds., (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1845/1981). See also Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, 49:487.
40 “Perichoresis” is not a term that Calvin uses, but Butin uses it to describe the mutual indwelling and interpenetration between the divine and the human in Calvin’s trinitarian theology. See Philip Butin, Revelation, Redemption, and Response: Calvin’s Trinitarian Understanding of the Divine-Human Relationship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 42, 82–83.
41 While the ﬁrst part of this essay responds to the use of key terms such as “passivity”, “unilateral”, and “reciprocity” in Milbank’s early gift essays, one should note that he continues to use these terms extensively in Being Reconciled. Thus, although the second part of this essay interacts with other aspects of Being Reconciled, my critique of the earlier work applies to Being Reconciled as well.
42 Being Reconciled sets forth Milbank’s constructive project to be continued in later books expositing a theology of the gift. In a forthcoming essay, “Alternative Protestantism”, Milbank explicitly interacts with Reformed theology and Calvin. However, this essay speaks in terms of the broad aims of Radical Orthodoxy rather than the speciﬁc concerns of a theology of the “gift”. Since a general account of the relation between Radical Orthodoxy and Reformed theology is beyond this scope of this essay, I will only draw upon “Alternative Protestantism” where it clariﬁes Milbank’s defense of his Gift theology. See John Milbank, “Alternative Protestantism” in Creation, Covenant and Participation: Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition, James K. A. Smith and James H. Olthius, eds., (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005).
43 Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma, trans. James Miller, (London: Williams & Norgate, 1897), Vol. 3, p. 165. Gerald Bonner, “Augustine’s Conception of Deiﬁcation”, Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 37, no. 2 (October, 1986), pp. 369–386; Gerald Bonner, “Deiﬁcation, Divinization” in Augustine through the Ages, Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), pp. 265–266.
44 On the importance of identifying the differences between the various theologies which claim to teach “deiﬁcation”, see Gosta Hallosten “The Concept of Theosis in Recent Research—the Need for a Clariﬁcation” and J. Todd Billings, “United to God through Christ: Assessing Calvin on the Question of Deiﬁcation”. Both essays are forthcoming in Partakers of the Divine Nature: Deiﬁcation/Theosis in the Christian Tradition, James Pain, Michael Christensen, and Boris Jakim, eds.
45 See Edmund Newey, “The Form of Reason: Participation in the Work of Richard Hooker, Benjamin Whichcote, Ralph Cudworth and Jeremy Taylor”, Modern Theology, Vol.18, no. 1 (January, 2002), pp. 1–26. Unfortunately, Newey tends to caricature Calvin and “reformation” theology, so he does not see how Hooker and the Cambridge Platonists exhibit continuity with Calvin precisely in the language of participation which Newey traces.
46 See especially Newman’s Christmas Day sermon on “The Incarnation” in Parochial and Plain Sermons (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1987) pp. 242–250.
47 Milbank, Being Reconciled, p. 138.
48 Ibid., pp. 7–12.
49 Milbank repeatedly points to the “Lutherans” as the example of this distortion, but also uses language indicating that this critique applies more generally to common Reformation and post-Reformation readings of Augustine. See Being Reconciled, pp. 9–10, n. 2; p. 214.
50 The addition is lengthy, but the ﬁrst part is particularly signiﬁcant: “I say that the will is effaced; not in so far as it is will, for in man’s conversion what belongs to his primal nature remains entire.” Institutes, 2:3:6.
51 The Bondage and Liberation of the Will: A Defence of the Orthodox Doctrine of Human Choice against Pighius, trans. Graham I. Davies, A. N. S. Lane, ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), p. 212. 52 “It was the spiritual life of Adam to remain united and bound to his Maker.” Institutes, 2:1:5.
53 See Bondage and Liberation of the Will references in Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, 2:263, 264, 284, 290, 4:331, 5:361, 6:381. Also see “Calvin’s Use of Aristotle” in Lane’s introduction to Bondage and Liberation of the Will, pp. xxiv–xxvi.
54 Institutes, 2:2:1.
55 See Bondage and Liberation of the Will in Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, 2:259, 263–264.
56 In “Alternative Protestantism”, Milbank does recognize a point of commonality with Calvin on the notion that true freedom must be divinely empowered by the Spirit. See “Alternative Protestantism”, p. 7.
57 Institutes, 3:20:1.
58 Institutes, 3:20:4, 8, 11. Calvin articulates a set of “rules” to right prayer in Institutes, 3:20:4–14.
59 See especially Institutes, 3:20:4–5.
60 Institutes, 3:20:1.
61 Institutes, 3:20:3.
62 Institutes, 3:20:5, emphasis added.
63 Institutes, 2:2:1.
64 For an inﬂuential approach undergirding many East versus West accounts of deiﬁcation, see Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976), pp. 130–34, 96–216. For the use of Gregory Palamas “against” Thomas Aquinas, see Eric D. Perl, “St. Gregory Palamas and the Metaphysics of Creation”, Dionysius, Vol. 14 (December, 1990), pp. 105–130. For an evaluation of Calvin by late Byzantine standards, see the appendix of Joseph P. Farrell, Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor (South Canan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1989).
65 This is the tendency of much of the Finnish school on Luther. See Carl E. Braaten and Robert
W. Jenson, Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998); Tuomo Mannermaa, Der Im Glauben Gegenwärtige Christus: Rechtfertigung Und Vergottung Zum Ökumenischen Dialog (Hannover: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1989). However, Reinhard Flogaus does seek to differentiate Luther more carefully from Palamas while still afﬁrming that Luther teaches deiﬁcation. See Reinhard Flogaus, Theosis Bei Palamas Und Luther: Ein Beitrag Zum Ökumenischen Gespräch (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997). For an account which overestimates the commonality between Calvin and Palamas, see Joseph C. McLelland, “Sailing to Byzantium” in The New Man: An Orthodox and Reformed Dialogue, John Meyendorff and Joseph C. McLelland eds., (New Brunswick, NJ: Agora Books, 1973), pp. 10–25.
66 Milbank’s account of Aquinas on deiﬁcation, for example, is Aquinas read through a distinctly Neoplatonic lens, with contemporary constructive concerns at the forefront. As Christine Helmer notes about Truth in Aquinas, the most charitable (and helpful) way to engage this approach is frankly to admit that aspects of it are historically questionable, while nevertheless engaging the contemporary theological concerns that such a reading raises. For both historical questioning and constructive engagement with Milbank’s reading of Aquinas, see Christine Helmer’s review, “Truth in Aquinas”, International Journal of Systematic Theology, Vol. 5, no. 1 (March, 2003), pp. 93–95; Aidan Nichols’ review, “Truth in Aquinas”, Theology, Vol. 104, no. 820 (July/August, 2001), pp. 288–289.
67 Both the Finnish School (see note 41 and 65) and Anna Williams tend to overestimate the similarities between Western conceptions of deiﬁcation and late Byzantine notions of theosis. See A. N. Williams, The Ground of Union: Deiﬁcation in Aquinas and Palamas (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). See also Nonna Verna Harrison’s review, “The Ground of Union: Deiﬁcation in Aquinas and Palamas”, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 45, no. 4 (2001), pp. 418–421.
68 See Calvin’s commentary on 2 Peter 1:4 in Calvin’s Commentaries and in Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, 55:446.
69 This can be inferred from Milbank’s comments on Luther’s “Scotist” metaphysic. See Being Reconciled, p. 214, n21. In “Alternative Protestantism”, Milbank expresses uncertainty about the extent to which Calvin shares this metaphysic with Luther, but Milbank thinks Calvin is probably less of a “Scotist” than Luther. “Alternative Protestantism”, pp. 6–7.
70 For more on these biblical and patristic elements of Calvin’s teaching on deiﬁcation, see J. Todd Billings, “United to God through Christ: Assessing Calvin on the Question of Deiﬁcation”.
71 Richard A. Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin, chapter 7.
72 There are many examples of participation language applied to a variety of loci. Here are a few examples from the Institutes on the topics listed above: justiﬁcation (3:17:11), baptism (4:16:2), the Lord’s Supper (4:17:10), the resurrection (3:3:9), the incarnation (2:12:5), Trinity (4:1:3), the atonement (2:16:12), the imago dei (2:2:1), and “participation in God” (1:13:14).
73 Contemporary discussion of deiﬁcation/theosis has frequently followed Lossky in seeking to avoid the “negative” tendencies of western accounts of sin and grace. However, rather than giving an alternative, fully developed hamartology (in dialogue with Paul’s strong language of Romans 1–3), contemporary accounts frequently move quickly on to the more comfortable language of adoption, participation and indwelling (Romans 6 and 8). In contrast, Calvin combines a strong harmatology with a strong theology of participation.
74 See especially Being Reconciled, pp. 7–12.
75 Some readers may wonder whether a sola scriptura theologian like Calvin would think it is worth the effort to argue that he is closer to a father like Augustine than another theological interlocutor. Yet Calvin clearly did. Calvin’s chief burden in Bondage and Liberation of the Will is not a scriptural defense of his position, but an argument that his account is a better appropriation of Augustine and other fathers than Pighius is able to give.
76 See Muller’s account of the “central dogma theories” in Calvin scholarship in chapters 4 and 5 of After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
77 Muller chronicles this change in Calvin scholarship in The Unaccommodated Calvin and After Calvin, Part 1.
78 For example, when Milbank claims to exposit Paul in Being Reconciled, pp. 7–9, he never returns to the language or the text of Paul but keeps with the language of Augustine.
79 See especially Augustine’s extensive review of relevant passages of scripture in Books 2–4 of De Trinitate.
80 Nichols, “Truth in Aquinas”, p. 289.
81 In Book 5, chapter 3 of De Trinitate, Augustine seeks to articulate distinctive names for each person of the Trinity which express their eternal relation to the Godhead. The Son’s relationship to the Father is one of eternal relation, for the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. What are we to say about the Spirit? The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (ﬁlioque), and is called the “gift of God” (Acts 8:20). Thus, Augustine proposes “gift” as a possible name for the Spirit to express this eternal relationship of procession.
82 In The Word Made Strange, Milbank calls Moltmann’s social trinitarianism an “effectively tritheistic” approach (p. 180). Milbank does not want to advocate a “social” trinitarianism, and Milbank’s trinitarian theology of the Gift is quite distant from Moltmann; yet, the notion of “exchange” and self-giving between the persons of the Trinity posits a mode of relation with a greater externalist tendency than traditional notions of “generation” and “procession”. In addition, by adding “exchange” to the modes of relation in the inner-Triune life, Milbank’s move has a speculative character that pushes the boundaries of apophatic modesty.
83 See Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1988), Vol. 3, pp. 515–523 and Vol. 4, pp. 317–332.
84 See Summa Theologica, Vol. 1, Pt. 1., Q. 38, Art. 1 and 2. Also see Yves Cognar’s, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, trans. David Smith (New York: Seabury Press, 1983), Vol. 1, p. 90.
85 See Cognar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol. 3, pp. 84–88. An important reason for the near-absence in the East of using the name “Gift” to express the Spirit’s eternal relation to the Godhead is the Augustinian connection of the Spirit as “Gift” with the ﬁlioque clause. For Augustine, the term “Gift” is appropriate because the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.