Gagarin and The Seven Heavens & Follow-up Posts

This page is where I will compile all of the follow-up posts to “Gagarin and the Seven Heavens”. I will edit this page as I post the pieces on which I’m tinkering. Here, they are not listed in the order in which I published them, but are arranged in semi-chronological groups. (The Protestant section needs cleanup here.) 

Biblical & pseudepigraphal texts;
largely pre-Nicene figures & movements

The second follow-up post (on the cosmography involved in the Sinai narratives in the Hebrew Bible) is here. The fourth follow-up post (on the ascent through the eight heavens in The Apocalypse of Abraham) is here. The twenty-second follow-up post is here, and concerns the Greco-Roman mythical background for “Ouranos”.

There are (or will be) a set of posts on the human spirit and the divine Spirit, as these were cosmographically placed. The twenty-fifth follow-up post (here) is on James Dunn on the Spirit in Paul.

Nicene and post-Nicene authors & movements

The first follow-up post (on Aphrahat) is here. The fifth follow-up post on Theodoret of Cyrus was broken up into several parts; follow-up post five-one is here, post five-two is here, post five-three is here, post five-four is here, post five-five is here, post five-six is here, and post five-seven is here. Follow-up post twenty-seven (on how heaven is “up” in Cyril of Alexandria) is here.

Late antique authors

To follow.

Medieval authors

To follow.

Renaissance authors

To follow.

Protestant authors

These are in no particular logical or chronological order, and encompass evangelical and Magisterial Protestants — though I start with Reformed and Evangelical authors who take a somewhat more “high view” of the Bible and biblical authority, and then move towards those Protestant thinkers and traditions that are wrestling in a more open and public way with Christian theology in the modern world.

Protestants during the Reformations

The medieval period is the necessary backdrop to Martin Luther, and there are, currently, no entries on the medieval period (which began circa A.D. 800 with the crowning of Charlemagne; no one is entirely sure when it ended, though most agree that the Reformations were not events within the medieval period). Nonetheless, I will here start with posts on the various Protestant and Catholic reformers of the Reformations period, regarding the ascension of Jesus and related cosmo-theological things.

The posts on Martin Luther begin with follow-up post fifteen here, with Luther’s claim that Jesus’ humanity is ubiquitous together with his divinity, because of the communication of properties, so that Jesus’ humanity does not have a “location” like a creaturely body. Follow-up post sixteen, here, largely follows the work of Brett Salkeld on the connection between the debates on transubstantiation and the related question of where Jesus’ body is. That post outlines some of the general disagreements between Luther, who asserted the ubiquity of Jesus’ body, and Zwingli, who asserted that Jesus’ body was “in heaven” (which I assume meant ‘above the hard dome of the sky’) in a defined location — namely, at the right hand of the Father. In follow-up post seventeen we see Luther argue against Zwingli &c. about whether the presence of Jesus’ ascended body could possibly be present in many loaves of bread at the same time, while still being in heaven. In follow-up post eighteen, Luther argues that Christ, as God, is ubiquitous, so that he would not need to move from above the dome of the sky to the bread and wine of the Eucharist to be present, but simply needs to make himself manifest in a place; he is not everywhere to be apprehended, though, but only gives himself over in his divinely-instituted signs, such as those of the words of institution at the Eucharist (vi&., “take, eat”, &c.). In follow-up post nineteen, we saw Luther say that Jesus was not above the surface of the firmament as though a swallow in its nest, that his ascension only occurred as a sign of Jesus’ divinity, effectively.

Evangelical & Reformed authors

Evangelical and Reformed authors in the modern period tend to stand on the authority of the biblical text in a way that feels different from the combination of naivety and speculative caution that marked most of the patristic witnesses. It seems to be understood that the biblical text is bearing witness to materially concrete things, such that more abstract considerations are not terribly welcome — especially if those abstract considerations recursively engage in a critical relationship to the text. It does not seem that the text is thought to be there to facilitate any kind of religious ecstasy, but to give data, and that this data is there to be defended — positivistic peonage. There is a natural transition from “this holy book holds information-answers to the questions you’re asking” to “physics holds information-answers to the questions you’re asking”; there is a reason why fundamentalism supplies Dawkinsian atheism with so many of its converts.

My tentative suspicion is that a growing rift between, on the one hand, early modern scientific cosmologies and findings against classical and late antique cosmologies, and, on the other hand, the biblical text as it was liberated from late antique & medieval metaphysics, forced a set of choices about how to reconcile the two on the assumption that truth is coherent. If the historicalized and liberated-from-metaphysics biblical text is given over to advances in cosmological and historical disciplines, one gets liberal magisterial Protestantism or else some form of Spinozism or something; if one affirms the truth of the text, then one must decide how the text is true, and judge the world and the sciences from the text, at least at the level of narratives and valuations (this may not be terribly troublesome, for even the text only acquires unity according to an interpreter, and the interpreter is always vulnerable to correction), if not facts (this is much more trouble, as the text basically becomes a trump card against even science).

I cannot help but think that the various fundamentalist, evangelical, & Reformed positions trying to resolve this are each indicative of the idiosyncrasy of temperamental inclination and class predispositions, but, regardless of the origins of the positions of these groups, this cluster of positions holds sway with this configuration of the-Bible-gives-data-and-trumps-your-cosmology.

The sixth follow-up post (Dodds) is here, the seventh (Erickson) is here, the eighth (Grudem) is here, and the ninth (Packer) is here. (Packer, an Anglican, is something of an outlier, and I am not sure whether to place him here or in the next section. I have similar reservations about two other Anglicans, however — Angus Ritchie, a post on whom is here, claims that the ascension narrative “shows us who and what has gone, without telling us precisely where he has gone”; N.T. Wright, a post about whom can be found here, argues that “when the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two localities related to each other within the same space-time continuum”.) The twenty-fifth follow-up post about Norman Geisler’s semi-Mormon “Space Ghost Jesus” is here.

Magisterial Protestants

The magisterial Protestants tend to be aware of critical biblical studies in a way that the more authoritarian evangelical and traditional Reformed folks are not; magisterial Protestants seem, on the whole, to want all knowledge to fit together, whereas the more textual-authoritarian types seem to want to trumpet the divine word with a kind of confidence that is not coordinated with all knowledge, but trumps alternatives — and, sometimes, just simple evidence to the contrary. Magisterial Protestants are familiar with figures like Barth and Bultmann (Germans), and sometimes show a proclivity to see the world in a kind of magical realism that is very charming and winsome (especially among the English), even if it is unhelpful for historical investigations. Thus, we start with the tenth post (Polkinghorne — English), which is here. The eleventh post (Jenson, 1 — American) is here, the twelfth post (Jenson, 2) is here, and the thirteenth post (Jenson, 3) is here. The fourteenth post (C.S. Lewis — English) is here. Paul Tillich (German-American) appeared in the third follow-up post (a long excerpt on divine omnipresence in a one-story universe vs. a three-story one) here. The twenty-third follow-up post (about Rowan Williams on the ascension of Jesus) is here; there, Williams argues somewhat against taking the spatial metaphors at face value; Jesus has been taken into the life of God.


Roman Catholic Authors

The twentieth post is the first to deal with a Roman Catholic author — Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI; it can be found here. Ratzinger takes a more Lutheran approach to the ubiquity of Jesus’ humanity after the ascension (the ‘sitting at the right hand of the Father’ “signifies […] the human Jesus’ participation in the kingly power of God, and so precisely his authoritative presence in the world and among those whom he has made his own”), and explicitly denies that “heaven”, in the New Testament, is cosmological (the ascension “opens up a new and positive understanding of the reality called “heaven”, which is totally independent of any theories concerning the structure of the world”; instead, “it is the dimension of divine and human fellowship which is based upon the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus”).