cGuckin, John. ed. We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ Ancient Christian Doctrines, volume 2. Downers Grove, IL: IntervarsityPress, 2009.
John McGuckin gives us an outstanding, yea even world-class compendium of Patristic Christology. It nicely succeeds the first volume in the series. McGuckin notes a set of “ciphers” that explain the theology behind the Nicene Creed:
“‘Christ’ becomes a cipher by which the Fathers consider the corpus of Scripture as a proleptic description of the Incarnation” (McGuckin 10).
“The image of Light from Light inspired whole generations of patristic theologians across many centuries, who saw it as a vivid cipher of the divine unity and harmony of action” (49).
The ‘coming down’ (katabasis) was a cipher for the great theophanic epiphanies of God in the Old Testament, notably at Sinai and in the pillar of fire that God used to symbolize his presence in the desert” (96). It is God’s self-revelation and his compassionate stooping down to mankind.
“The Logos is not merely ultimate Truth but also the perfect beauty of God” (xxi).
We Believe in One Lord
Gregory of Nazianzus: “…the Father who experiences through the Son nothing corporeal, since he is Mind” (Poema Arcana 1.25-34).
Gregory of Nyssa: “that while we confess the invariable character of the [divine] nature, we do not deny the difference in respect of cause (to aition) and that which is caused (aitiaton), by which alone we apprehend that one person is distinguished from another” (On Not Three Gods).
Ephrem the Syrian: “The letter yodh of Jesus, our King, is queen of all the numbers” (Hymns on the Nativity 27.13-16).
The Only Son of God
A key element in this treatment is St Basil’s Letter 236, where he outlines how to gloss ousia and hypostasis. Thus, Basil:
The distinction between οὐσία and ὑ πόστασις is the same as that between the general and the particular; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give a variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear….Hence it results that there is a satisfactory preservation of the unity by the confession of the one Godhead, while in the distinction of the individual properties regarded in each there is the confession of the peculiar properties of the Persons.
Gregory of Nazianzus: The Son is related to the Father as Word is to Mind….This follows from his passionless generation and from the union, and is part of his revelatory function” (Oration 30.20).
Eternally Begotten of the Father
Gregory of Nyssa: [as] the existence of the Son is not marked by intervals of time and the infinitude of his life flows back from before the ages and onward beyond them in an all-pervading tide, he is properly addressed with the title of eternal” (Against Eunomius 1.42).
Origen: [The Son is generated from the Father] as an act of will proceeds from the mind without cutting off a part of the mind” (On First Principles 1.2.6).
Gregory of Nyssa: “The idea of cause differentiates the persons of the Holy Trinity, declaring that one exists without cause and another is of the Cause….but in speaking of cause and of the cause, we do not by these words denote nature….but we indicate difference in the manner of existence” (On Not Three Gods).
Gregory of Nyssa: The Characteristics of the Father’s person (hypostasis) cannot be transferred to the Son or the Spirit, no, on the other hand, can that of the Son be accommodated to one of the others” (On The Lord’s Prayer 3).
True God from True God
Clement of Alexandria alludes to “Cthonic daimons” against whom the Christian faith wars (58 n. 40).
Begotten not Made
Athanasius: He is the proper Word of the Father, and we cannot, therefore, suppose any will existing before him, since he is the Father’s living counsel and power….By the act of will by which the Son is willed by the Father, the Son himself loves and wills and honors the Father” (Against the Arians 3.63, 66).
Of One Being With the Father
Basil: community of ousia is taken to mean an identical principle of being (Against Eunomius 1.19).
Gregory of Nazianzus: “….in order that I too might be made God so far as he is made man” (Oration 29.19).
And for our salvation
Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a living, human being” (Adv. Haer. 4.20.6).
He came down
Ephrem the Syrian: “The scattered symbols you have gathered from the Torah towards your beauty, and you set forth the prototypes in your gospel as well as powers and signs from nature….The types have come to an end, but the allusions persist. The flash of the symbols has been swallowed up by your rays” (Hymns on Virginity 28.2-5).
By the Power of the Holy Spirit
Cyril of Alexandria: For though the Holy Spirit has a personal existence (hypostasis) of his own and is conceived of by himself, he he is not therefore alien from the Son. For he is called the Spirit of Truth, and Christ is the truth, and he is poured forth from him just as he is also from God the father” (3rd Letter to Nestorius).
Cyril of Alexandria: “For the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father but also belongs to the Son” (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 11).
He Became Incarnate
Cyril of Jerusalem: “Let us never be ashamed of the Cross of Christ. Others may want to hide it, but you should mark it on your forehead, so that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away” (Catechetical Lectures 4.14)
From the Virgin Mary
Gregory of Nazianzus: “Anyone who does not admit that holy Mary is the mother of God is out of touch with the Godhead” (Letter 101.5)
And was made man
Athanasius: “He became man, and did not come into a man” (Against the Arians 3.30; here Athanasius rebuts the Aristotelian container notion of space).
Theodoret of Cyr: “For even though souls are immortal, they are not immutable but constantly undergo many changes” (Letter 146).
Ousia: nature or being
Cause: the proprium of being the uncaused Cause is the unique attribute of the Father (3 n7).
Idiomata: personal characteristics (25 n7).