Thursday, May 21, 2009

Clarkian monophysitism

Some pages back a person was defined as a complex of propositions. A man is what he thinks, for as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. G. Clark, The Incarnation, 64.

Accordingly the proposal is that a man is a congeries, a system, sometimes an agglomeration or miscellany, but at any rate a collection of thoughts. A man is what he thinks: and no two men are precisely the same combination. G. Clark, The Trinity, 106.

Several romantically inclined students, and a few professors as well, have complained that “this makes your wife merely a set of propositions.” Well, so it does. This suits me, for I am a set of propositions too. And those who complain are as they think. Is a person to be considered unconscious, mute substance? Why is he not conscious thoughts? Of course, one may just say “thoughts,” for thoughts cannot be unconscious. Ibid. 106.

i) Let us pause for a moment to consider the implications of this. If a man is a collection of thoughts, a set of propositions; if a man is identical with his thoughts, then a man is a purely mental entity.

At a minimum, this commits Gordon Clark to anthropological idealism. Now, perhaps Clark limits his idealistic ontology to God, angels, and men, while switching to dualism or physicalism for the subhuman order. But for man and above, metaphysical idealism is the reigning ontology.

ii) Clark’s idealistic anthropology in turn entails an idealistic Christology. According to his idealistic anthropology, men don’t have physical bodies. Their “bodies” are, at best, mental projections.

In that event, the Son never became incarnate, was never crucified, or resurrected.

At most, the hypostatic union would involve a union between the Son and a human soul. But on Clark’s idealistic anthropology, Jesus never had a physical body. You can’t square that with Clark’s proposition definition of a human being. On his view, a man is constituted by his thoughts.

Hence, the Gospels are reduced to allegories. Berkeleyan allegories.

iii) Another odd consequence of his claim is that no man can be asleep or be in a coma. For we are what we think, and thoughts are conscious. How he accounts for the illusion of unconscious states I can’t say.

iv) If you combine Clark’s idealism with his doctrine of creation, this would logically lead to pantheistic idealism. If God is the Creator, and man is a collection of thoughts, then man is a collection of divine thoughts.

v) For folks who pride themselves on their orthodoxy and rationality, it’s striking how readily the Clarkians succumb to the most glaring heresies and absurdities.

For all their affectations of rationality, they are blinded by the personality cult of Gordon Clark.


  1. Having not really read much of Clark, and not being overly familiar with what he says about these things:

    I am not so sure about the exegesis on that proverb. I doubt the verse is talking about ontology. But I am not sure. The way I am used to viewing it is basically saying ... well, I cannot seem to think of a way to verbalize what I mean very well. Maybe Clark is right. Anyway, if you think he is not, would you let me know what you think about the verse?

    Moving on from that -

    Bear with me, I may be making some silly mistake, I am not familiar with some of the terms you use or with various forms of dualism, idealism, and the like. But do you not also believe that humans, mankind, has an incorporeal aspect? And that our mind is incorporeal? The disembodied saints in Heaven awaiting the resurrection do not have bodies, yet I do not see what they would be called apart from "men" - redeemed, cleansed from the sin nature, and not yet given a resurrection body, but still men.

    If this is the case, then I do not see how exactly you can augment physical matter, i.e. the human physical body, to this definition and then make THIS the essential definition of man is. For if it is, then the disembodied saints in Heaven cannot be thought of as men until their bodies are resurrected. You would have to say that they cease being men in the intermediate state. The same goes for those in hell.

    I do not see how this sort of thinking leads one into Christological heresy. I do not necessarily hold to Clark's theory of personhood - I definitely think we have to at least say there is a "mind" involved - but given that minds, souls are immaterial and yet somehow paired to physical bodies when God creates men or is incarnated Himself thereby ... I just do not see how the logical leaps take place to say this is some sort of Gnostic heresy denying that Christ came in the flesh.

  2. I already offered a corrective interpretation of Proverbs in response to Gerety.

    Clark isn't defending dualism. Where nature is concerned, Clark's position is a form of idealism.

    Possession physical body is a sine qua non for the mission of Christ.

    Affirming an incorporeal element to the human constitution is irrelevant to the necessity of a physical body for the Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection.

    Above and beyond Christology, Biblical anthropology regards man as incomplete without his body. That's why Scripture has a doctrine of the general resurrection as well as the resurrection of Christ.

  3. thanks for the reply - I thought I might have simply missed your reply to Gerety on the proverb - I have been following this but have not read every word. Agreed w/ your last three paragraphs.

  4. "Where nature is concerned, Clark's position is a form of idealism."

    That should read: "where human nature is concerned..."

  5. Thank you posting all this material on Clark, Tommy