Book Notes: Theological Territories, chapters 4 and 5

Theological TerritoriesTheological Territories:
A David Bentley Hart Digest

by David Bentley Hart
Release date 4/15/2020
by University of Notre Dame Press

I’m posting here notes on each the 26 essays comprising this book.

1. The Gospel According to Melpomene
2. Remarks made to Jean-Luc Marion regarding Revelation and Givenness
3. What is Postmodern Theology?

4. Martin and Gallaher on Bulgakov

I am a bit familiar with Russian philosophers and theologians, for instance through the superb book by Paul ValliereModern Russian Theology: Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov: Orthodox Theology in a New Key, but not with Jennifer Newsome Martin nor with Brandon Gallaher.

I am intrigued by Martin’s essay on “Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought”.
“Balthasar’s most consequential engagement with modern Russian theology lay in his encounter with Bulgakov”, highlights DBH.
By the way, for those of you who are more into novels than theology, we are of course talking here about Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944), not Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) the author of The Master and Margarita.
It seems to make sense that at one point, I really enjoyed delving into von Balthasar’s writings, way before discovering these same Russian theologians and joining Orthodoxy. It might be interesting to revisit von Balthasar now.

I like DBH’s more dynamic view of tradition:

For some–usually those who fancy themselves ‘traditionalists’…a doctrine is not a door that has been opened, inviting ever deeper explorations of the faith, but a door that has been closed and sealed against every trespass of the questioning mind. For them, tradition is not a living thing, animated by the Spirit, but a splendid and imposing ossuary, filled with brightly polished bones.

And his presentation of deification, which will makes total sense with his view on God-ness in the following essays:

Deification is the “natural” end of all we are, and therefore the eternal foundation of our nature.

5. Remarks to Bruce McCormack regarding the Relation between Trinitarian Theology and Christology

I know absolutely nothing about McCormack, but according to DBH, he shares many themes and concerns with Bulgakov‘s thought.

Now I think we are getting closer to DBH’s core theological thought:

The death of Christ on the cross is a contingent consequence of creation’s fallenness, and its end is to fulfill a purpose that would have come to pass even in an unfallen world: the divinization of the creature through union with God.

The economy of creation and salvation is not something accidental or additional to the eternal taxis of the Trinity.

Then DBH has a whole reflection on impassibility, which “is simply a modal statement regarding how God knows”.
And how Bukgakov really got it right:

Before all else, I have to commend the sheer genius of Bulgakov’s attempt to unite, without the least logical caesura, what Christian tradition asserts regarding the immanent Trinity and what it says about the pure gratuity of creation and salvation. I honestly believe that no other theologian of the twentieth century addressed all the theological and metaphysical difficulties posed by such a project with comparable clarity or comprehensiveness.

He highlights

the extreme clarity of [Bulgakov’s][ understanding of the ontology of divine transcendence.

He never abandoned the ore classical and logically coherent model of freedom as consisting essential in the full realization of a nature in its own true end.

For Bulgakov, creation and salvation are a single divine act: the way whereby the eternal divine Wisdom, “repeated” in the mode of the created, brings all things into being by drawing them to their divine source and end.

I simply do not believe, for instance, that the brutal legal murder of an innocent man on a cross is a part of the eternal divine identity, or even simply that the sufferings of this life constitute a necessary dimension of God’s eternity. Rather, the perfect faithfulness of the Son to the Father, even in circumstances that make it contingently inevitable that that faithfulness will lead to the cross, is the perfect expression of who God is in his eternal life of perfect love.

There will be much more about the problem of evil, and God’s plan, and how creation, salvation, deification are a single divine act, in next chapter.


How would you understand postmodern theology?


  1. I continue to find this interesting and stimulating, given that Orthodoxy, as DBH and Bulgakov present it, place a different emphasis on the many shared realities of Christian faith. For example, Divinization as a concept is present in both East and West, but spoken of more prominently in the East, wheras the West tends to emphasize union with God, being with God eternally, and final purification/sanctification. Does that seem accurate? In any case, the words you share clarify the truth that God’s will is eternal and cannot be diverted or thwarted in its purposes by “accidents” (in the philosophical sense) of his creatures; God has infinite creativity to bring about his Divine Will, for our good. I am thinking of the Exsultet climax, “O happy fault that won for us so great a Redeemer.” Thanks again for your wonderful reading and dedication.


    • Yes, divinization is somewhat present in the West, in the way you say it. For me, divinization/deification makes actually more sense than union with God. It goes back to our creation, in our image and likeness of God.
      Now, as for “O happy fault that won for us so great a Redeemer”. I have more problems with that. Fathers show that the Incarnation of Christ would have happened even without sins by humankind. DBH has a lot on that in the following chapter. It’s part of the broader picture, not like a fix that God HAD to set up after we missed the mark.
      When you talk about different emphasis, remember that Orthodoxy is actually the faith of the first Christians. The different perspective came later on, from Rome and the West in a more general sense.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do agree, good points. The Word became Incarnate according to God’s eternal will from the beginning and He would have come to dwell with us even without the transgression of our First Parents. God’s outpouring of love, in all its many aspects, is not any necessity we bring about but a generous, immeasurable gift. Blessings and thanks always, Emma.


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