70% of Westminster Seminary California students (numerically 95 of our 135 enrolled students) are in the Master of Divinity (MDiv) program and preparing to enter the pastoral ministry. The remaining 30% are in one of three MA programs. One of those MA programs is the MA in Historical Theology. One of the graduates of that program is Richard Bishop, who just earned his PhD at the University of Virginia. In mid-April he defended his dissertation “Affectus hominis: The Human Psychology of Christ according to Ambrose of Milan in Fourth-Century Context.”
My dissertation is about how Ambrose of Milan (A.D. 339-397) and several of his contemporaries understood Christ’s human emotions, and what they felt the implications of Christ’s experience of emotion to be for understanding both human nature and human salvation. Although I don’t draw the connection explicitly in my dissertation, I think that the topic of Christ’s human psychology is an important part of what Reformed theologians have called Christ’s active obedience, a theological idea that I first learned about at Westminster Seminary California (WSC).
I really value my time at WSC (I attended from 1999-2002, and graduated with an M.A. in Historical Theology); it was formative both intellectually and spiritually. Having an understanding of the Reformed theological tradition helped me to navigate the more secular context at the University of Virginia, and has provided me with a coherent point of view from which to approach patristic studies. So thanks to the WSC faculty for their labor in imparting the riches of Scripture and the Reformed heritage to the next generation.
Here is abstract of the dissertation.
Richard W. Bishop
Advisor: Robert L. Wilken
This dissertation evaluates and sets in historical-theological context Ambrose of Milan’s (ca.339-97) affirmation of Christ’s human psychology by attending to fourth-century readings of Matt 26:36-46 and related scriptural texts.
While earlier generations of Christians had opposed Docetism by appealing to Christ’s anguish or defended Christ’s comportment in face of death from the charge of cowardice, fourth-century interpreters turn to the implications of Christ’s psychological experience for the question of his deity. Although Athanasius (ca.296-373) asserts the immutability of the Logos, he also holds that humanity’s redemption from pathos, by means of a real union with the Logos in the incarnation, involves Christ’s psychological experience of suffering. Didymus the Blind (ca.313-98) adopts the Stoic distinction between propatheia and pathos and, by applying that distinction to a sustained christological reading of the Psalter, offers a robust account of Christ’s psychological experience, which includes a defense of Christ’s moral ability and stature.
Hilary of Poitiers (ca.315-67/8) approaches things differently. Despite allowing Christ a human soul, Hilary’s defense of the Son’s immutability led him to initially deny that Christ was subject to bodily weakness or pain. Nevertheless Hilary’s later christological reading of the Psalter led him to affirm Christ’s psychological experience.
Ambrose considers affective experience to be created and essential to moral ability. Although he recognizes the potential instability of human affect, he rejects the Stoic ideal of apatheia. Adopting a hermeneutical approach to scriptural statements that is similar to that of Athanasius, Ambrose argues instead that Christ took on human affect, the original source of disobedience, in order to restore it. The restoration of affect enables in the Christian a virtuous disposition modeled on Christ’s own; together the disposition of Christ and Christians constitutes the subjection of the Son to the Father (1 Cor 15:28).
Ambrose’s discussion of Christ’s psychological experience thus makes an important contribution to ancient Christology and to the christologically occasioned development of ancient Christian psychology. Recognizing this contribution is at odds with older portrayals of Ambrose as a derivative thinker, but in line with reassessments of his creativity.