Hans Boersma

Books

SEEING GOD: THE BEATIFIC VISION IN CHRISTIAN TRADITION


 

When we see God, are we looking with our physical eyes or with the mind’s eye? Both, says Hans Boersma in this sacramental and historical treatment of the beatific vision. Focusing on “vision” as a living metaphor, Boersma shows how the vision of God is accessible already today.

Seeing God is a historical study, but it also includes a dogmatic articulation of key characteristics that contribute to our understanding of the beatific vision. Theologians, philosophers, and literary authors have long maintained that the invisible God becomes visible to us. Boersma shows 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 in character, Seeing God presents life as a pilgrimage to see the face of God in the hereafter. 

 
 
 

endorsementS

Hans Boersma’s Seeing God is the most significant and theologically comprehensive treatment of this topic in English since Kenneth Kirk’s classic The Vision of God. And, far more than Kirk, Boersma provides the invaluable service of breaking down the barriers (mostly barriers of misconception) separating differing Christian traditions, East and West, Orthodox and Catholic and Protestant. This is theological reflection of the most illuminating kind.
— David Bentley Hart, Author of Atheist Delusions and The Beauty of the Infinite
Christian theology has traditionally identified the beatific vision as the ultimate end of humanity. But what does it mean to ‘see God’? How can we pursue such an end if it is beyond our understanding? Building on his exemplary ‘sacramental ontology,’ Hans Boersma here offers us a ‘sacramental teleology’ in which the end of humanity—the visio Dei—is revealed sacramentally within the created order. A profound and important work.
— Simon Oliver, Durham University
Only Hans Boersma could write this book. With a superb command of the Scriptures and of the Reformed, Protestant, and Catholic traditions, he revisits the neglected topic of beatific vision and reminds us what it is to see God in Christ. An energizing book from one of today’s best theologians.
— Janet Soskice, University of Cambridge
Seeing God is a subtle yet sustained polemic against the notion that the Christian eschaton is simply an improved version of the universe as we know it, and that Christian Platonists—Nyssen, Augustine, Dante, Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis—were all wrongheadedly otherworldly. Boersma’s breviary for sacramental ontology, advocating a more ‘vertical’ kind of theology and spirituality, deserves consideration among so-called Christian materialists and contemporary proponents of the ‘renewed cosmos’ approach to eschatology.
— Michael McClymond, Saint Louis University
Hans Boersma’s Seeing God provides a richly comprehensive historical account of theologies of the beatific vision. But it also successfully mediates between the Nyssen account of eternal progress into God and the Thomist account of an eternal finality, and it properly modifies Aquinas by insisting that the final vision will be one achieved essentially and not accidentally in the resurrected body. This is a wonderful achievement.
— John Milbank, University of Nottingham
This is a striking manifesto, in the form of a gentle, subtle, moving, and encyclopedic tour through the church’s long reflection on our final destiny of gazing upon God’s face given in
Christ. Boersma eloquently unveils the powerful truth that we are made in our bones to thirst for such a vision and that the ordering of our lives is properly geared toward this end.
— Ephraim Radner, Wycliffe College
The doctrine of the beatific vision, the final vision of God, has been sidelined in some recent theological discussions. In this rich and exciting study Hans Boersma restores the appreciation of its centrality that was common in earlier Christian traditions. He invites us to engage in the ultimate adventure of our lives—to become who God made us to be and thereby come to know God in ways that anticipate the vision of him in his fullness. A wonderful and supremely worthwhile feat.
— Lydia Schumacher, King’s College London
 
 

Contents

Introduction

Why Beatific Vision? / History and Analogy / Sacramental Ontology and the Beatific Vision / Chapter Outline

1. Plausibility and Vision: Beatific Vision in Modernity
Sacramental Teleology / Seeking the Face of God: Anselm’s Proslogion / Dynamic Communion: Hans Urs von Balthasar / No “Melting Union”: Herman Bavinck Conclusion

Part 1: Beatific Vision in Early Christian Thought

2. Philosophy and Vision: Plato, Plotinus, and the Christian Faith
Theology, Philosophy, and the Beatific Vision Plato’s Symposium: Diotima and the Sight of Beauty /The three Allegories of Plato’s Republic: From the Cave to the Sun / Gazing beyond the Rim: The Winged Soul in Plato’s Phaedrus / Plotinus on Virtue as the Way to Beauty / Toward the Vision: Upward and Inward / Another Kind of Vision / Conclusion

3. Progress and Vision: Gregory of Nyssa’s Unending Search
A Spiritual Quest / Homilies on the Beatitudes: Obstacles to Purity / The Life of Moses: Vision as Perpetual Desire / Homilies on the Song of Songs: Seeing More and More of Christ / Conclusion

4. Anticipation and Vision: Augustine on Theophanies and Ecstasy
Sign and Reality: Sacramental Entwining? / The Backdrop of Omnipresence and Participation / Trinitarian and Christological Controversies / Creature Control and Sacramental Presence / Moses’s Desire for the Substance of God / Contemplation in the Greatness of the Soul / The Firstfruits of the Spirit / Conclusion

Part 2: Beatific Vision in Medieval Thought

5. Transfiguration and Vision: Thomas Aquinas and Gregory Palamas
Transfiguration and Modernity / The Glory of God in Christ / The Glory of the Kingdom in Christ / Christian Spirituality and Beatific Vision / Conclusion

6. Mystical Union and Vision: Symeon the New Theologian and John of the Cross
Theologies of Light and Darkness / Symeon’s Visions of Light / Vision as Union with Christ / Ascending the Mount: John’s Sketch and Poem /  Dark Nights of the Soul / Imaginative Visions / Conclusion

7. Faculties and Vision: Bonaventure and Nicholas of Cusa
Joining Knowledge and Love / Bonaventure,  The Soul’s Journey into God / Nicholas of Cusa, On the Vision of God / Conclusion

8. Speech and Vision: Dante’s Transhumanizing Journey
Legomena and Phenomena // “To soar beyond the human cannot be described / in words” // “For this reason Scripture condescends” // “Who,  filled with longing, / finds satisfaction in his hope” // “Beatitude itself / is based upon the act of seeing” // “Speech, which fails at such a vision” // “I grew more bold and thus sustained my gaze” // “Sending forth Its rays / It is the source of every good” // Conclusion

Part 3: Beatific Vision in Protestant Thought

9. Accommodation and Vision: John Calvin on Face-to-Face Vision of God
Calvin and the Beatific Vision? / Pedagogical Accommodation / Christological Accommodation / Provisional Accommodation / Conclusion

10. Modernity and Vision:  John Donne’s Restoration of “Commerce twixt heauen and earth”
Donne’s Rejection of Pure Nature / The Anniversaries: “’Tis all in pieces, all cohærance gone” / Goodfriday, 1613: “To See God dye” / Sermons: “his eye . . . turnes us into himselfe” / Conclusion

11. Christ and Vision: Puritan and Dutch Reformed Articulations of the Beatific Vision
Puritanism and Neo-Calvinism / Looking unto Jesus: Isaac Ambrose / The Glorious Mystery of Christ: John Owen / “Contemplative-Mystical Piety” (1): Richard Baxter and Isaac Ambrose / “Contemplative-Mystical Piety” (2):  Thomas Watson and John Owen / Beatitude and Glory in Abraham Kuyper / Direct Knowledge of the Eternal Being / “Mysticism of the Heart”: Experiential Piety / Conclusion

12. Mediation and Vision:
An Edwardsean Modification of  Thomas Aquinas

Edwards as Neoplatonist / Beatific Vision and Embodiment / Beatific Vision and Christ / Beatific Vision and Progressive Happiness / Conclusion

Part 4: Beatific Vision: A Dogmatic Appraisal

13. Pedagogy and Vision: Beatific Vision through Apprenticeship
God as Teacher / Pedagogy and Providence in Nicholas of Cusa and Jonathan Edwards / Pedagogy and Salvation History / Pedagogy and Christology / Pedagogy and Transformation: Bodily Vision of God / Conclusion