“The Grammar of Baptism”

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7 Responses to “The Grammar of Baptism”

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    This article was published in First Things in December 1991.

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  2. A mother is a lover is a friend at times…this makes as much sense as creator, sanctifier, redeemer.

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  3. Michael says:

    Excellent essay Father Kimel. On a few occasions throughout the reading of it though, I was reminded of the deeply personal nature of God’s essential being, as it is revealed to us, as well as the way in which we engage with the Divine Persons, and this raised the question for me of how we reconcile these points with His radical transcendence (a topic you have covered in quite a few recent posts).

    I’m not sure if you take requests (as if were), but it would be really interesting to see a post that shows how we can still make some of the commitments that biblical personalists do (as I believe we must if we are to remain true to the biblical witness of God’s historical engagement with us, and what the Church has, on that basis, discerned to be His essential nature) as well as maintaining (as I believe we also must) that God is radically transcendent of His creation, never to be treated as a being amongst beings, and thus in some way beyond personality.

    Apologies if you’ve already covered this in a previous post btw!

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, Michael. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to return to the good questions you have asked. My counter-question for you is, Why should the radical transcendence of God intimate impersonality? Why should it create the kinds of problems that you fear?

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      • Michael says:

        Hmm, a very good question. Let me say first of all though that I don’t actually think that the two things are irreconcilable – I firmly believe in both God’s radical transcendence and His personal nature. The reason I raised the question is that, having found your series on radical transcendence very helpful, I thought it would also be helpful (for me anyway!) to see how this ‘fits’ with what we know of God’s personal nature, instead of in contradistinction to the position of biblical personalists (who I presume do see the two ideas as irreconcilable).

        As for why the two ideas may appear in conflict, I would say that it can seem, when speaking of radical transcendence, particularly that God can in no sense be spoken of as a being, it becomes, at least imaginatively speaking, difficult to understand how a.) this marries up with the very ‘being-like’ way we read of Him in Scripture, and b.) how we, as those who only ever engage personally with other beings, can have a personal relationship with One who defies those categories.

        An answer to a.) would of course have to include the fact that the Church does not and never has read the Bible in a flatly literal fashion, and that the way we understand God’s language about Himself has to be viewed in the light of His whole self-revelation. But, as your article ‘The Grammar of Baptism’ makes clear, that language is not negotiable, and does communicate something very real about God, which we cannot just write off – it may use familiar language in order to communicate His personality and relationality, but the core of what is being communicated still sits a little uneasily with the picture we get from the doctrine of radical transcendence.

        As for b.) this is certainly more of an experiential thing, and there are of course many things about God that defy our daily experience. But again, God has revealed Himself to be a certain way not only to make it easier for us to understand and know Him, but to communicate the abiding truth of Himself. That it is hard for us to imagine what it is to engage personally with Someone who is not a being is one thing; but if we are to reconcile the two truths, there must be a way for us to so engage, and without doing mental gymnastics to get there.

        Ultimately though, I do agree that there is not a conflict here – I would just be interested to see how it is we can bring these two ideas together in a way that helps them both make sense of the way we pray and worship.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Been thinking a lot about what is theologically at stake in the debate between “Being” Christians and “Supreme being” Christians. Perhaps not a lot, given that the latter traditionally advance sufficient qualifications (God is eternal, impassible, immutable, etc.) to ensure that God is not to be understood as a finite being. On the other hand, with the increasing popularity of temporal, mutable, and passible construals of divinity, the difference between the two camps becomes accentuated and important.

        What is at issue? I suggest the following: a non-contrastive, non-competitive understanding of divine transcendence. Only such an understanding supports the kinds of things Christians need to say about divine immanence, divine agency, and mystical union.

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        • Michael says:

          What is at issue? I suggest the following: a non-contrastive, non-competitive understanding of divine transcendence. Only such an understanding supports the kinds of things Christians need to say about divine immanence, divine agency, and mystical union.

          I agree. But how do we, in a way that helps the average worshipper to make sense of their prayer life, marry this insight up with the biblical revelation that God is not only personal, but three Persons in whom, through Christ, we enter into the eternal relations of?

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