Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition

Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition


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Christianity Today 2019 Book Award for Theology/Ethics

To see God is our heart’s desire, our final purpose in life. But what does it mean to see God? And exactly how do we see God—with our physical eyes or with the mind’s eye? In this informed study of the beatific vision, Hans Boersma focuses on “vision” as a living metaphor and shows how the vision of God is not just a future but a present reality. 

Seeing God is both a historical theology and a dogmatic articulation of the beatific vision, of how the invisible God becomes visible to us. In examining what Christian thinkers throughout history have written about the beatific vision, Boersma explores how God trains us to see his character by transforming our eyes and minds, highlighting continuity from this world to the next. Christ-centered, sacramental, and ecumenical, Boersma’s work presents life as a never-ending journey toward seeing the face of God in Christ both here and in the world to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802876041
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 07/24/2018
Pages: 488
Sales rank: 1,210,919
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Hans Boersma is the J. I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College. Among his other books is Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry.

Table of Contents

Foreword Andrew Louth xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Abbreviations xvii

Introduction 1

Why Beatific Vision? 1

History and Analogy 6

Sacramental Ontology and the Beatific Vision 10

Chapter Outline 14

1 Plausibility and Vision

The Beatific Vision in Modernity 17

Sacramental Teleology 17

Seeking the Face of God: Anselm's Proslogion 22

Dynamic Communion: Hans Urs von Balthasar 27

No "Melting Union": Herman Bavinck 33

Conclusion 40

Part 1 Beatific Vision in Early Christian Thought

2 Philosophy and Vision

Plato, Plotinus, and the Christian Faith 45

Theology, Philosophy, and the Beatific Vision 45

Plato's Symposium: Diotima and the Sight of Beauty 48

The Three Allegories of Plato's Republic: From the Cave to the Sun 55

Gazing beyond the Rim: The Winged Soul in Plato's Phaedrus 59

Plotinus on Virtue as the Way to Beauty 63

Toward the Vision: Upward and Inward 68

Another Kind of Vision 70

Conclusion 74

3 Progress and Vision

Gregory of Nyssa's Unending Search 76

A Spiritual Quest 76

Homilies on the Beatitudes: Obstacles to Purity 78

The Life of Moses: Vision as Perpetual Desire 83

Homilies on the Song of Songs: Seeing More and More of Christ 88

Conclusion 94

4 Anticipation and Vision

Augustine on Theophanies and Ecstasy 96

Sign and Reality: Sacramental Entwining? 96

The Backdrop of Omnipresence and Participation 99

Trinitarian and Christological Controversies 102

Creature Control and Sacramental Presence 106

Moses's Desire for the Substance of God 112

Contemplation in The Greatness of the Soul 117

The Firstfruits of the Spirit 121

Conclusion 125

Part 2 Beatific Vision in Medieval Thought

5 Transfiguration and Vision

Thomas Aquinas and Gregory Palamas 129

Transfiguration and Modernity 129

The Glory of God in Christ 134

The Glory of the Kingdom in Christ 150

Christian Spirituality and Beatific Vision 155

Conclusion 161

6 Mystical Union and Vision

Symeon the New Theologian and John of the Cross 163

Theologies of Light and Darkness 163

Symeon's Visions of Light 165

Vision as Union with Christ 170

Ascending the Mount: John's Sketch and Poem 174

Dark Nights of the Soul 179

Imaginative Visions 184

Conclusion 188

7 Faculties and Vision 194

Bonaventure and Nicholas of Cusa 194

Joining Knowledge and Love 194

Bonaventure, The Soul's Journey into God 200

Nicholas of Cusa, On the Vision of God 208

Conclusion 216

8 Speech and Vision

Dante's Transhumanizing Journey 219

Legomena and Phenomena 219

"To soar beyond the human cannot be described / in words" 221

"For this reason Scripture condescends" 225

"Who, filled with longing, / finds satisfaction in his hope" 228

"Beatitude itself / is based upon the act of seeing" 235

"Speech, which fails at such a vision" 239

"I grew more bold and thus sustained my gaze" 244

"Sending forth Its rays / It is the source of every good" 248

Conclusion 252

Part 3 Beatific Vision in Protestant Thought

9 Accommodation and Vision

John Calvin on Face-to-Face Vision of God 257

Calvin and the Beatific Vision? 257

Pedagogical Accommodation 261

Christological Accommodation 265

Provisional Accommodation 269

Conclusion 275

10 Modernity and Vision

John Donne's Restoration of "Commerce twixt heauen and earth" 279

Donne's Rejection of Pure Nature 279

The Anniversaries: "'Tis all in pieces, all cohærance gone" 281

Goodfriday, 1613: "To See God dye" 295

Sermons: "his eye … turnes us into himselfe" 302

Conclusion 313

11 Christ and Vision

Puritan and Dutch Reformed Articulations of the Beatific Vision 315

Puritanism and Neo-Caivinism 315

Looking unto Jesus: Isaac Ambrose 317

The Glorious Mystery of Christ: John Owen 321

"Contemplative-Mystical Piety" (1): Richard Baxter and Isaac Ambrose 327

"Contemplative-Mystical Piety" (2): Thomas Watson and John Owen 334

Beatitude and Glory in Abraham Kuyper 338

Direct Knowledge of the Eternal Being 343

"Mysticism of the Heart": Experiential Piety 346

Conclusion 351

12 Mediation and Vision

An Edwardsean Modification of Thomas Aquinas 354

Edwards as Neoplatonist 354

Beatific Vision and Embodiment 355

Beatific Vision and Christ 363

Beatific Vision and Progressive Happiness 376

Conclusion 383

Part 4 Beatific Vision: A Dogmatic Appraisal

13 Pedagogy and Vision

Beatific Vision through Apprenticeship 387

God as Teacher 387

Pedagogy and Providence in Nicholas of Cusa and Jonathan Edwards 394

Pedagogy and Salvation History 401

Pedagogy and Christology 409

Pedagogy and Transformation: Bodily Vision of God 420

Conclusion 429

Bibliography 431

Index of Authors 455

Index of Subjects 458

Index of Scripture References 464

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