Augustine’s Confessions

For the most part I will try to avoid some of the more memorable scenes. You probably already know them.

Augustine begins by lamenting his learning of Virgil. Why should he weep over Dido when his teachers did not know enough for him to weep over his own soul? This might seem that Augustine is condemning classical learning, and he probably thought he was, but Augustine’s own life mirrors Aeneas’s, so there is that.

Like Aeneas, Augustine arrives in Carthage. And like Aeneas, Augustine succumbs to its pleasures. He failed to understand that true love was a calm “communion of minds” (2.2). Rather, he sought only to be in love with love.

We also get a profound meditation on the proper ordering of goods. There isn’t just one “flat” good thing in our lives. There is a gradation of goods. We sin by desiring lower goods at the expense of higher. This anticipates his later claim that evil is a lack and/or a perversion of the good.

In books three and four he meets a number of important people. He meets Cicero in a book, and Cicero teaches him to seek after higher things. Unfortunately, he also becomes a Manichee. From the Manichees he learned wrong ideas of God and evil. He thought substances must be physical, and so he could not imagine an immaterial substance (3.7).

He also met Faustus, the leader of the Manichees. Ironically, this would lead him out of Manicheanism. He was underwhelmed. Most importantly, he meets Ambrose in Italy, and in Ambrose’s rhetoric he sees that form = substance.

Although in book seven he was still struggling with Manicheanism, he found the Platonists’ books. This reoriented him to the possibility of immaterial substances. He now saw reality as a chain of being. Things are good, and the lower a good is, the more susceptible to corruption it is. This was a breakthrough. Evil couldn’t exist unless there was already a good for it to corrupt. Evil, therefore, is a lack.

Book 8 contains his famous conversion scene. It is dramatic psychology. You’ll have to read it. It also takes place in a garden. That is typology and very important.

Book 9 contains the baptisms of him, his son, Nebredius (I think), and Alypius.

Books 10-13 are extended meditations on memory, time, and creation.

In terms of reading and appreciating the Great Christian Tradition, this is the classic text with which to start.

Outline of City of God, Book 11

Key ideas: God creates the world AND time. He does not create in time.

Propositions:

  1. God speaks by truth in the mind (11.2).
  2. Time was created with the world. This one idea is crucial in the history of doctrine. This is one of those “moments of no return” (but in a good sense). Time is finite, limited.

    Augustine is not dogmatic on the nature of the days in creation. He notes, “What kind of days they were, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible to say” (11.6).
  3. Begetting is not the same as creating. Divine persons are begotten, not created: “For that which is begotten of the simple Good is simple itself” (11.10).
  4. Vice is contrary to nature and cannot but damage it. This will be important in the next book as Augustine explores the roots of evil.
  5. Image of the Trinity: “For we are, and we know that we are and delight in our being and the knowledge of it” (11.26). Vestigia trinitatis.

    Corollary on virtue: “Because in men who are justly loved, it is rather the love itself that is loved” (11.28).

The Eusebians (David Gwynn)

Gwynn, David M. The Eusebians: The Polemic of Athanasius of Alexandria and the Construction of the ‘Arian Controversy’. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

This book is everything you expected a dissertation to be. It is a historical reconstruction of Athanasius’s writings that seeks to show when he began to speak of a “Eusebian party” that was the driving force behind the Arian controversy.  (The Eusebians refer to Eusebius of Nicomedia and not to the church historian of the same name). As such, it is somewhat light on theology but it advances an interesting idea. Given that Arius was the heresiarch, Athanasius may have seen deeper forces involved.  It isn’t simply that Arian-friendly emperors opposed Athanasius.  It’s doubtful how committed to metaphysical Arianism they really were.  There must have been something else, a network of bishops and clergy who promoted Athanasius and stood in his way.

The best way to approach this volume is to open the volume of Athanasius in the Schaff series.  Look at the table of contents.  Gwynn then analyses the possible dates when each was written and how that would determine whether Athanasius was operating with a Eusebian network in mind.

It is in the Epistula Encyclica “that we are able to identify all the essential elements of Athanasius’ construction of his opponents as ‘hoi peri Eusebion.’ Here, as throughout Athanasius’ works, the ‘Eusebians’ inspire persecution and violence, and are patrons of both secular power (Philagrius) and episcopal office (Gregory)” (Gwynn 53).

This book is about politics, not theology.  True, in the ancient world the two couldn’t be separated.  Notwithstanding, you won’t get detailed analyses of what Arians and Athanasians believed. The last chapter, however, does give a somewhat detailed account of what “the Eusebians” believed.

While Gwynn gives the impression that Athanasius routinely misinterpreted his opponents, Gwynn grudgingly admits that section 15 of De Synodis is an accurate account of Arius’s theology, which is: The Father was not always a Father, which means the Son is a creature (190ff). Moreover, Christ is God by participation and does not know the Father exactly, as only someone who has the essence can know that essence. The Son is called Word by name and not because he is the true word.

Gwynn says that pro-Athanasian scholars like Gregg and Groh ignore Arius’s distinction between seeing the Son as a creature vs. the Son as one of the creatures (Gwynn 197).  I can’t understand how that distinction is relevant or even coherent.

Notwithstanding some of Gwynn’s nitpicking, he does highlight key distinctions that more moderate Arians made.  Arians like Asterius or Eusebius could in fact say that the Son was ek tes ousias tou Patros.  They simply said he was a product of the Father’s will.  This is why Athanasius countered by saying the Son was the Father’s Will. The union “is not ontological and great emphasis is placed on the distinct identities of the individual hypostases of the Trinity” (226).

Gwynn makes a good point that Athanasius does not use homoousios as a construct in his early writings.  This is important because some popular accounts of Nicea have Athanasius heroically championing the homoousion at the council.  Nothing of the kind happened.  Athanasius started consistently using it as a construct in De Decretis and De Synodis (230-231).  It only appears once in three of the “authentic orations against the Arians. 

In what could be confusing to the initial reader, Gwynn correctly notes, citing Torrance (1995, 206-212), that the terms ousia, physis, and hypostasis were initially synonymous. Using Torrance’s reading, hypostasis is ousia with an outward direction, whereas ousia refers to the internal relations.

It’s not that Gwynn rejects Athanasius’s account of the history.  He sees it as a polemic and while it might be true, it can’t be trusted.  That conclusion appears more than once.  It makes for ironically somewhat tendentious reading.  The book’s prohibitive price means that it will not replace more standard accounts of Nicea in the near future.

Presence and Thought (Balthasar)

Von Balthasar’s Argument: our being is rooted in time and is a “becoming in infinity,” or creaturely infinity. This doesn’t mean the creature is infinite, but has the capacity for endless growth. Since we can never fully “grasp” God, “there arises Being itself” (von Balthasar 22). Out failure to grasp it conceptually brings “a feeling of presence” (Gregory In Cant. II; 1, 1001 B).

There are two infinities for Gregory. One is the infinity proper of God, which can never be applied to the creature. The other is the “infinity of growth in man.” In heaven, the soul is always moving towards God, yet because God will always be “beyond” the soul in heaven, the soul will always be growing. The self “perpetually surpasses the self” (Balthasar 45).

Spirit and Matter

This section is hard. Throughout this chapter von Balthasar will say things like “sensory knowledge is the foundation of spiritual knowledge.” As it stands, besides the statement being laughably false; no early Christian (or pagan) thinker would have said something like that. So he must mean something else. What I think he means is that the divisions between spirit and matter become so porous that they can be switched. We can almost speak of a materialization of the soul (which Balthasar says explains ghosts in cemeteries–those people who had given themselves over to matter).

Our knowledge is rooted in time and “the creature can never go outside itself by means of a comprehensive knowledge” (Gregory, Contra Eunomius 12; II, 1064 CD). We know the logos of a thing by an ascensional movement towards the logos (Balthasar 93). It is ana-logical (upward-to-the-logos).

Every limit involves an essence beyond it (98). This means the soul can only rest in the infinite. Knowledge by representation takes us right to the limit. One can never be face-to-face with God because that would place the knower “opposite” to God, and anything opposite to the good is evil (102). Therefore, in order to see God we must see “the back parts of God.”

Gregory sees our knowing God as imaging God and he sometimes sees the image as an active mirror, “whose interior activity is entirely ‘surface’” (115). Indeed, “image-mirror-life” are the three terms that “designate the whole created medium that allows the soul to see God” (116).

Balthasar has the interesting suggestion that Gregory rejected the distinction between image and likeness, since image for Gregory was dynamic (117-118).

The Incarnation reconciles the opposites and contraries of human nature. Becoming, to be sure, is contrary to Being, but it is not negatively so anymore. Now, notes Balthasar, we can summarize this book in three points:

1) The immediate communication between God and man is now rendered accessible (147).
2) This fact is a social fact; our nature is “common.”
3) This dynamism requires a free response on man’s part.

This is a rich and learned work. Von Balthasar captures the nuances of Gregory’s thought. Some passages are exquisite in their beauty.

Key Terms

Spacing: the exterior limit–finite being’s being “enveloped” by the infinite. It is the receptacle of the material being (29ff). Spacing is the mode of creaturely being. It is the same thing as diastesis/diastema.

Time: a progress by alteration (31). It is a tension directed towards its end but always within “the bounding limit” of spacing.

Concrete universal: priority of genus over individual (65).

Epinoia: subjective representation which does not reach the essence of a thing (91). It is an “inventive approach to the unknown.” It is the middle term between dominance and ignorance.

Dianoia: human intelligence in its entirety; no distinction between inferior and superior reason.

Ontological kinship: the middle term and link between representation and motion (115

Lectures on the Sacraments (Cyril of Jerusalem)


This book presented to me a hermeneutical and aesthetic challenge. I began reading it due to my interest in liturgy and sacramental theology. I finished it realizing how much of the Enlightenment air I breathe.

Part of the difficulty in reading this work is that St Cyril simply does not think like we do. He sees pictures and symbols and has no problems making connections. This can make the work frustrating to the reader.

These six lectures deal with the symbolism behind eastern Patristic sacramental thinking. It is not so much a theology of the sacraments but a demonstration of the sacramental life of his church.

In preparing for baptism and the Eucharist, the catechumen will face the West, publically renounce Satan and his works, have her head and lips anointed with oil, etc.

St Cyril then gives exegetical reasoning behind these actions. While we will not find his reasoning persuasive, it is interesting that he appeals to Scripture for his arguments.

A few interesting highlights: St Cyril notes that the gates of Paradise are opened to the initiate following baptism. He places paradisal living within the current lifetime. Also, for those who participate in covenant renewal services, much of our liturgy has ancient roots in the 4th century (e.g., “Life up your hearts…we lift them to the Lord.”).

One Being, Three Persons (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas.

The homoousion is a decisive step in the life of the church.  It guarantees how we understand the internal relations in the Trinity.  Not only are the persons homoousion, but so are the relations.

“Only in Christ is God’s self-revelation identical with himself” (Torrance 1).  In Christ God has communicated his Word to us and imparted his Spirit.  

God’s three-fold revelation and self-communication to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (7).

The mutual relationship between knowing and being between God and the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-12) has been embodied in Jesus.

Since the proof of an unknown reality is its own evidence, and the conceptual mode of relating to it there must be a breaking through to a new realm of truth, and this calls for faith (19).

Knowledge of new realities calls for new ways of thinking–new concepts and new thought patterns (Contra Arianos, 1:23; 4:27; De Synodis 42).

The difficulty the early church overcame was in acquiring knowledge of something yet unknown (20).

Being and Act

God reveals himself out of himself.

God gives himself as a whole. In knowing God we do not know God as a part, but we apprehend the Whole.  But in apprehending the whole, we know that full comprehension eludes us (26). We know God as Totum, but not en toto.

In the Communion of the Spirit our own way of knowing is lifted up into the transcendent life (33).  By our indwelling the Scriptures our minds form a structural kinship.

Personal Knowledge

We interiorize what we seek to know and rely not just on external evidence (38).  The object naturally integrates into us and we let it disclose its depths of meaning to us.

Knowledge of the father, Son, and HS are locked into each other.

The Trinitarian Mind

The mystery of Godliness means thinking about God in a  Trinitarian way.

“The Son is the knowledge of the Father, but the knowledge of the Son is in the father and has been revealed through the Son” (Irenaeus 4.14.5).  

Homoousion: God’s revelation of himself as Father, Son, and HS in the economy of salvation is grounded in and derived from the eternal being of God” (80).

P1: Our conceptual statements must be open-ended and point beyond themselves.

Top Level: More refined scientific theory/Trinitarian relations in God

——————————————————–

Middle Level: Theory/ Economy of Christ
——————————————————–

Ground level: day to day experience/ Evangelical apprehension and experience

Each level is open to the others.  When we move from one level to another, we seek to order the basic concepts from the lower level to the higher.

The intuitive mind takes its first principle at once and as a whole, naturally and tacitly (84).

Since the Act and Word of God are internal to his being, we may know God through the Act and Word in the inner reality of his being (Contra Ar. 1:9ff).

Since the Spirit is not embodied in space and time, we cannot know him in the concrete modalities.  Our knowledge of him rests directly on the objectivity of God, unmediated.  

One Being/Three Persons

Ousia–not a static being but the living and speaking being (116). Athanasius preferred to use verbs when speaking of God (De Synodis 34).  Ousia is to be understood in terms of the divine “I am.” Being-in-Act and Act-in-Being.

God’s being is a being-for-others. 

Monarchy and Taxis

The monarchy means there is a specific order to the divine Persons.  It is the order manifested in the history and revealing of God’s saving acts (176). The Son is begotten of the Father, not the other way around.

Cappadocian Developments

If one presses the cappadocian distinctions too far, then we are left with the claim that the person of the Father causes, deifies, and personalizes the Being of the Son, Spirit, and even Godhead!

We can say, however, that the monarchia of the Father is cause not of their being, but of their mode of enhypostatic differentiation (179).

Torrance wants to see the monarchia referring to the Being of the Father, rather than strictly the Person.  For him this points back to the intrinsic relations of the Being: The Being of the Father as Father means the Being of the Son of the Father.

Perichoresis reinforces that the Holy Trinity may be known only as a whole.

The Unity of Christ (Beeley)

THE GREAT MASTER: ORIGEN

Alexandria Egypt was the crossroads of the world (Dio Chrysostom).  Alexandrian Christianity had rather diverse beginnings.

First Principles: “Origen’s presentation of his doctrinal system here is arguably the most influential single theological project in all of Christian tradition outside of the canonical Scriptures” (Beeley 11).

Christ and Cosmology

words of Christ include “the whole of Scripture” (13).  

“Origen encourages readers to move beyond the human Christ.”

  • dualist view of the cosmos: the physical and sensible world seen as radically impermanent compared to the intellectual sphere. God and the saints inhabit a spiritual world in contrast to the physical world (15).  

Origen’s dualist cosmology came at a certain cost:  it determined how he spoke about Christ.

  • he notes that Christ has two natures, but places these two natures within a Platonic, dualist cosmology.

Divinity and Distinctness

  • our source of knowledge: epinoiai; conceptions.  
  • For Origen a hypostasis is a distinctly existing thing; a concrete entity or being (Cm. John. 10.212).  
  • On the Son’s being:  ousia meant something different for Origen than it did for Nicea.  For Origen this suggested a diminution from the Father’s being.  “Being” suggests the actual existence of a thing, so for two things to share the same being is to be the same thing.

The Image of God

  • The Son has many epinoiai in contrast with the Father’s simplicity.  The Father cannot be directly describable because of his simplicity. Only the Christ, who becomes many things, can image the Father’s simplicity.  The Son is mediator between God and creation, not as an intermediary of being, but in the Son’s way of being divine.

Incarnation: Image Revealed

  • The human soul of Jesus bridges the gap between God’s divinity and Christ’s humanity. In fact, Origen must hold to trichotomy as the only way to bridge the gap. 

FOURTH CENTURY AUTHORITIES

Eusebius of Caesarea

Origen was regarded by some as an accurate transmitter of the rule of faith (51).  ++

Economia

  • God’s ordered dealings with creation, which culminate in the Incarnation.
    • Eus. wants to maintain that Christ is “divine” and older than creation.  Therefore, the Christian faith is really ancient.
  • “theology:” confession of the divinity of Christ.  It is the interpretation of economia (64).
    • Christ’s manner of existence is two-fold
      • He is known to be God by those who believe.
      • Yet he put on human existence capable of suffering.
    • Beeley maintains that Eus. does not see Christ’s generation in any temporal sense (67).  
      • Christ is divine not as an independent deity (one god among others), but as the direct result of his specific relatinship with God the Father.

Does Eusebius hold to a hierarchy of being ala Middle Platonism?

  • To be sure he does say the Son is the bond between creation and God.  But this may be an overly literal reading of his texts. 

Is Eusebius a Semi-Arian??

  • Beeley argues that Eusebius uses temporal prepositions devoid of temporal meaning (91).  He is concerned to use “biblical, rather than philosophical” terms to stress the Son’s transcendence over creation.
  • Eusebius uses a sequential language to underscore our theological epistemology:  we must remember the “causal ordering of the divine generation…Eusebius’s language preserves the economic basis of theological knowing with respect to the inner structure of the Trinity, resisting the leap to an artififical, abstract conceptuality of pure eternity” (92).  

Christology:  Martyrdom leads to political triumph.

  • Eusebius’s understanding of matyrdom “is far from an abstract concern.  It is initially tied up with the surrounding Greco-Roman society in wys that call on Christians to witness to Christ with their bodies as much as with their minds” (96).

NICEA AND ATHANASIUS

Both Arius and Alexander departed from Origen:

  • Arius in denying the Son’s consubstantiality
  • Alexander in denying that the Son was generated from the Father’s will (116).

Alexander’s modifications:

  • Son always exists from the Father..  The Greek term aei denotes nonsequentiality (116);  

Athanasius I

  • Christ’s identity as the eternal Word of God. 
    • Logos idea: Word is truly of or from the Father (128).  
    • Principle of existence or means of God’s providence (C. Gent. 29, 42, 46). 
  • Salvation Through Incarnation
    • Our need to overcome death and mortality (Inc. 10).  Overcome this by participating in the Word (Inc. 4-5, 11).  
    • Our natural state is “corruption towards non-being” (Inc. 4, 7).  
    • Christ’s death reverses all of this
  • The Word versus its Flesh
    • highly dualist conception of Christ (Beeley 133).   Distingishes between the human body and the Word. 
    • Divine word did not suffer at all when it was born/died (Inc. 17).  
    • The Word used the body as an instrument (Inc. 20).  
  • Dualist Cosmology and Anthropology
    • strong distinction between intelligible and sensible realms (C. Gent 10).  
    • Radical division between being and nonbeing. 
    • God is known by works, but we can’t know his essence.  This raises a tension:  how can the Word reveal itself through his bodily acts yet deny any knowledge of God’s essence (136)?  
  • Conclusions:
    • Logos Christology is dualist.
    • Absolute impassibility of the Word.

Athanasius II: The Orations Against the Arians

Per Marcellus of Ancyra, the human Christ will eventually cease to be in the eternal kingdom; this is probably why the Creed says “His kingdom will have no end” (144).  

  • Rhetorical strategy:  mean
  • The Image of God
    • This is a new development in his works.  
    • Christ is the image and form of divinity.
      • He reveals the divinity of the Father, the brightness of the Father’s light.
      • The Father sees himself in this image (Prov. 8:30; C. Ar. 1.20; 2.82).
    • If Image, then fully divine
    • Language of mediation:  
      • denies the “Word” is a mediator of divinity to creatures, except in Incarnate form (C. Ar. 1.59: 2.31).  
      • If God requires a mediator, then wouldn’t the mediator require a mediator, and so on ad infinitum? (C. Ar. 2.26). 
    • Is God’s will distinct from his being?
      • C. Ar. 1.29; 3.62
  • The Incarnation
    • Christ’s human experiences were not the experiences of the WOrd, but of his human flesh alone (C. Ar. 1.41).  
    • Beeley argues Athanasius’s debt to Marcellus (154). 
    • The communicatio idiomatum is strictly verbal (155; cf. C. Ar. 3.32; 41).
    • It is hard for Athanasius to say that Jesus developed (Luke 2:52).  
  • Technical terminology
    • emphasis on strict oneness between Word and Father (follows Origen).  
    • metaphysics:  real problem with Arian term “originate” is that it means the Word was created in time and ex nihilo (Decr. 16).  
    • homousion as generic: relationship b/t father and son–common nature shared by derivation; relationship b/t all humans of one class (Ep. Serap. 2.8-9).

Athanasius III: The Late WOrks 

CAPPADOCIANS

  • Homoian debate
  • Apollinarius
    • Despite his problems in truncating Jesus’s soul, he raises a valid point: what is Christ’s “acting principle?”  Traditional ontology and psychology would have said “the soul.”  If Jesus had two souls, per Apollinarius, then which one is the “acting” one?
  • Gregory of Nazianzus
    • Views Christ’s identity in dynamic, narrative terms (Beeley 185)
    • the very nature of human existence is a dynamic movement towards God rooted in our creation and oriented towards consummation (185).  By anchoring theosis in the goodness of human creation, Gregory avoids most of the pitfalls associated with this doctrine.
      • Christ is the means of our restoration.
      • Xp effects our divinization in and through himself.
      • He uses language of “mixture” (mixis), “union” (henosis), and “blending” (krasis). in regards to the divinity and humanity in Christ.  
        • Not a crass mixture, though.  Gregory isn’t too clear on this point.
    • Biblical interpretation:  Gregory’s understanding of perichoresis is to emphasize the difference b/t intra-Trinitarian relations and the union of God with humanity (Beeley 189, cf. Ep. 101.20-21).  
      • communicatio is true at the level of Christ’s being.  Christ did not merely operate (energein) by grace, but was and is joined together with human existence in his being (Ep. 101.22).  Here is a huge advance over Athanasius’s dualism. 
      • His method preserves the unity of Christ and, pace Athanasius, does not see the humanity as a separate existence.
    • The suffering of God.  incorporation of human suffering into the divine life (not simply divine being;  he is not abandoning impassibility, but seeing God’s being as life).  
    • Through the knowledge of Christ as “God made visible,” Christians are divinized and elevated through faith (Beeley 194; cf. Or. 29.18-19).
  • Gregory of Nyssa
    • he embraced Greek philosophy more than did Basil or Nazianzus.
    • Against Eunomius
      • Nyssa focuses on the language of creation.
      • For the most part Gregory does not represent an advance on the Nazianzen.   Per the communicatio he repeats both Ath. and Naz., “the lowly statements apply to the Servant; the honors to the master’ (Beeley 208; cf. C. Eun. 3.3.65-66).  
        • the divinity participated in Christ’s passion by serving as the active principle against the passivity of the flesh (210).  
    • Against Apollinaris
      • Here Gregory’s dualist Christology almost comes apart (see his references to a drop of wine in the sea; Christ not coming again bodily, but in the Father’s glory–Antirrh. 230).

THE CONSTRUCTION OF ORTHODOXY

Augustine and the West

  • Hilary of Poitiers
    • Transition point between East and West.
    • “carries forward a revitalized Eusebian tradition…Origen” (226).  
    • “The Trinity”
      • The Son’s generation is closely tied with role as unique revealer of the Father.
      • Distinction between Father-Son relationship and Creator-creature relationship.
      • The Son is image of the Father’s substance; distinct but not dissimilar.
      • One God because one principle (Trin. 5.10; 7.32).
    • Hilary’s weak points:
      • Jesus did not have the same kind of humanity as us (10.23), 
      • Did not believe Jesus possessed a corruptible human substance.
      • This “froze his Christology in a particular dualist position” (Beeley 230).
  • Ambrose of Milan
    • He indirectly corrected Hilary’s project.
    • echoes Nazianzus that Christ’s divine identity need not conflict with his human.
    • The Word died a human death, not a divine one (Inc. 5.36).
    • Divine mediation:  not only reconciles us to God but positively convey’s divine nature to us (Inc. 4.23).
  • Augustine’s early Christology
    • Consciously adopted the “one persona, duabas naturas” (concept).
    • Strongly unitive Christology
    • Christ is the crucial link between the divine love and the love we show others.
    • Totus Christus
    • Augustine’s use of “two personae” is not meant to be dualist: “he uses the term to mean something like a literary persona or voice” (Beeley 240).
  • Augustine’s Mature Christology
    • Christ’s humanity is humanity of the divine Son; he is divinely human.
    • Augustine’s project, while deficient in many respects, does constitute an advance in one key area:  he ties in the juridical aspect. (Trin. 4.19).
  • Augustine’s Late Christology
    • Christ’s introduces “healing into the death of the flesh” by the hidden and mysterious power of the divine decree.
    • Christ’s mediation is his divine-human identity.  
      • The nature of divine mediation is not to wield absolute power but to extend oneself in love and justice (Civ Dei. 9.16-17).

CYRIL, LEO, and CHALCEDON

  • Cyril of Alexandria
    • His major influence, argues Beeley (258), was not Athanasius but Gregory Nazianzen.
      • His use of “Hypostatic union” at this point is not strictly technical.
      • The Word is united with human flesh as a single hypostasis.  Union is “the concurrence into one reality (en) of the things united” (Un. Chr. 3.62/ Ep. Eulog. 64).  
      • “The one nature”
  • Leo of Rome
    • we see the language of “both natures acting.”  This is a very definite–though often unnoticed–move away from Cyril.   Natures do not act.  Persons do.
    • Beeley openly states that “Leo’s position is essentially the same as Nestorius” (Beeley 276).
    • Chalcedon bypasses the earlier narrative dynamics of Gregory and Cyril (economy of salvation) and moves into technical language (282).

POST-CHALCEDONIAN CHRISTOLOGY

  • Leontius of Byzantium
    • all natures are hypostasized but need not have multiple hypostases. 
    • the hypostatic characteristic of every nature is not the same as the nature itself.
      • a nature is a general category; hypostasis a specific one. A hypostasis exists in itself, whereas a nature can only exist in a hypostasis.
      • The problem is that this leads to a generic definition of the Trinity
      • The hypostasis is seen as a principle of individuation.  
      • His connection of the two natures suggest they exist within a kind of netrual space, rather than in the Son of God (291). 
  • Constantinople II
  • Maximus the Confessor
    • Did he misunderstand Gregory?  Gregory sees the Trinity as a monad moving to a dyad and ending in a triad (Or. 23.8).  Maximus resists this meaning and says Gregory is speaking of creation (Quaest. 105; Ambig. 1).
    • Places himself in a narrative understanding of Christology.
    • The wills work together in this way: The divine Son wills all that Christ does.  He is the ultimate subject of all of Christ’s works.   But Jesus also had a natural human will–whether or not to follow and obey the divine will.
    • Jesus’s will is not gnomic (300ff). It does not wander or subject itself to wavering human condition.
  • John of Damascus
    • He differs with Maximus’s approach in several respects:  he does not begin with Nazianzen but as a committed Chalcedonian he filters the fathers through that standpoint.
    • He relies heavily on Leontius.
    • Even though Jesus’s humanity is divinized, Damascene emphasizes that it was God who became man, not man becoming God.

Observations

Beeley shows how the old Antiochene/Alexandrian divide breaks down at key moments (272).

Augustine (Lewis Ayres)

Ayres, Lewis.  Augustine and the Trinity

Continuing the argument in his Nicea and its Legacy, Ayres wants to posit Augustine as a faithful exponent of the “pro-Nicene” tradition.  In order to do so, he must rescue Augustine from the charge that Augustine simply framed Trinitarian theology around explicitly neo-Platonic categories.    Thus, Ayres argues that Augustine used a number of non-Christian sources ranging from Platonic to neo-Platonism; therefore, a 1:1 parallel between Augustine and Plotinus is unwarranted, or so Ayres argues.  Ayres continues with a Latin context for Augustine, and here we are treated to some excellent expositions of Hilary and Ambrose.  

Pro-Nicene, but…

I grant Ayres’ argument that Augustine was not a full-orbed neo-Platonist.  Further, I can even agree with him that Augustine did not use the idea of “hypostases” in the Plotinian sense (he may well have, but I lack the ability to judge that topic).  Notwithstanding, though, Augustine did say he was heavily influenced by Platonists and did admit he framed his doctrine of simplicity around Platonic categories (City of God, books 8 and 11).  Elsewhere in the book, Ayres routinely says that Augustine’s models often follow Platonic categories (Ayres: 209, 314, 316).  So, do we see Augustine as a neo-Platonist or not?  Why not?  Ayres has certainly advanced the scholarship on Augustine and neo-Platonism, but he has come nowhere close to overturning the earlier scholarly consensus.  Earlier scholars, therefore, are not off-base for seeing Augustine within at least some category of neo-Platonism.  

Ayres also wants to argue that Augustine held to a robust view of the irreducibility of the divine persons:  in other words, an emphasis on the “three-ness” of the Trinity.  A few questions arise, though:  if the persons are irreducible, how can they subsist in the essence relatively?  It seems the concepts of “relative subsistence” and “irreducibility” are mutually exclusive, especially given the fact that Augustine didn’t even like the term “persons!”  Secondly, if the Holy Spirit is the love between Father and Son, or the love of the Father and Son, then one must immediately ask, “Is the Holy Spirit now an attribute of the other persons, or is he an irreducibly divine person?”  

The book ends with a thorough discussion of how Augustine used the Trinitarian analogies.  This book is quite fine in many ways.   Ayres gives us careful arguments and advances much recent scholarship.  I do not think his “pro-Nicene” thesis is as strong as he presents it, nor do I think he successfully disengages Augustine from the neo-Platonic model.  

Nicea and its Legacy (Ayres)

Ayres, Lewis.  Nicea and its Legacy.

For the most part Ayres gives us a magisterial survey and exposition of the Nicene era.  His goal is to identify and commend what he terms a “pro-Nicene” theology.  His second goal is to combat a problematic understanding of Trinitarian theology:  Eastern personalism vs. Western monism, also known as the “De Regnon” Thesis.  

He begins his narrative as most do—with a discussion of Origen.   Ayres helpfully notes that early Christian thinkers were reticent to use the term “homousios” since it implied a material division in God.   Also, “hypostasis” was seen as connoting a reality; therefore, thinkers were reluctant to confess multiple realities in God.  

Ayres then continues with a long discussion of Athanasios.  While he gives us much useful information and helpfully establishes the context, he really isn’t breaking any new ground.   Ayres’ key sections deal with explicating his “pro-Nicene” theology, particularly as the Cappadocians relate to Augustine.  He gives us very helpful analyses of the two Gregories and Hilary.

Of his erudition and scholarship there can be no doubt.  This will likely serve as a standard reference for doctoral students, and rightly so.  I do not think his analyses are wrong, just incomplete. I agree with Ayres that simplistic readings of “Greek vs. West” are wrong.  

De Regnon did not make up this “persons vs. essence” historiography.  St Hilary of Poitiers was acutely aware of it.  No one is claiming that the Evil Latins begin with the one essence while the Trinitarian Greeks begin with the Persons.  Rather, one is making the argument that formulating theology within a specific philosophical framework reduces the persons to the one essence (shades of Aquinas!).  St Hilary specifically identifies this problem in De Synodis 67-69.  He said if you start with the one essence (homousion) as a template for theology, you will end up with modalism.   

While I can agree with his arguments on what constitutes a pro-Nicene theology, I don’t see how this category is any more logically tight than de Regnon’s.  I suspect that Ayres commits the “Word = concept” fallacy in his chapter on divine simplicity.  He appears to work under the assumption that the “pro-Nicene” guys used the term “simplicity” (aplosis) univocally, notably Augustine.  I think one example will suffice.  In de Trinitate Book VII (and numerous other places) Augustine identifies person and essence, along with identifying within God all of God’s attributes.  If all of the attributes are identifiable with the divine essence, and the divine essence admits of no distinctions, then all of the attributes are identifiable (synonymous) with each other.  Interestingly, this is what Ayres’ student Andrew Radde-Galwitz calls the “Identity Thesis.” 

In Letter 234 St Basil specifically identifies the Identity Thesis and rejects it (along similar lines as recent analytical philosophers did).  Therefore, I don’t see how Ayres can claim that Augustine and the Cappadocians taught the same thing on simplicity.   

Conclusion

This book is outstanding on so many levels.  The student gets much information on key passages in Athanasios and the Cappadocians.   The book occasionally borders on overkill and Ayres’ constant raising and rebutting the “De Regnon” Thesis gets old very quickly.  

Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought

Anatolios, Khaled.

Broader thesis: “My position is that Athanasius’s theological vision is Irenaean” (Anatolios 4; loc. 126). The distance and (convergence) between God and man: “The theme of the immediate presence of God to creation implies an anthropology that conceives human being in terms of receptivity to this presence of God (23; loc. 477). Further, “to say that creatures are “external” to God means in fact that they participate in God” (107; loc. 2230) This is interesting because his gloss of Irenaeus begins to sound a lot like the Sophiological project of Sergei Bulgakov.

On various Platonisms: He notes on a Scriptural view “there arises no need to set up a kind of buffer zone of mediation to protect divine transcendence” (15; loc. 314). This is a great statement that will eventually run counter to later Ps. Dionysian tendencies to see a hierarchy of mediation. “Athanasius wants to reiterate that the original purpose of creation included the overcoming, from the divine side, of the ontological chasm that separates God and creatures” (42; loc. 880). See Michael Horton’s essays on overcoming estrangement; foreign to a covenant ontology. Anatolios is careful to say that Athanasius doesn’t hold to the neo-Platonic chain of being ontology, otherwise he couldn’t maintain the thesis of continuity between Irenaeus and Athanasius. But on the other hand, Ath. certainly comes close: “For immediately after establishing that the Son’s participation of the Father constitutes an identity of essence, he goes on to establish a kind of chain of participation in which our participation of the Son amounts to a participation of the Father” (111; loc. 2318)

Indeed, while Athanasius rightly rejects the “chain of being” ontology explicitly, he seems to default back to some form of it at times. Anatolios notes, “Thus while it is intrinsic to the definition of created nature to relapse into the nothingness whence it came….” (167; loc. 3463). This is fully in line with the Eastern view’s seeing the problem as ontological, not ethical. Our problem on this gloss is finitude and the perpetual slide into non-being.

The Logos and the Body

Anatolios will take his thesis and apply it to the inter-relation of the Logos and the body. Broadly speaking, and Anatolios does not ultimately challenges this, the Alexandrian tradition saw the Logos as instrumentalizing the human nature. This is beyond dispute. (See Bruce McCormack’s various essays for a lucid discussion). Anatolios, however, cautions interpreters against interpreting this thesis in too literal and crude a fashion, pace Grillmeier. Rather, Anatolios argues that we should see such instrumentalization in an “active-passive” paradigm. Perhaps he is correct but I don’t see how this is really any different materially than the other theses.

Later on in the monograph, though, Anatolios does admit that “the interaction of passibility and impassibility in Christ is conceived not so much in terms of feeling and non-feeling, but of activity and passivity” (157; loc. 3292). If that’s true, and I think it is, then it is hard to see the material difference between his view and other interpreters’ (Grillmeier, Hanson).

Extra-calvinisticum: “in relation to both the world and the body, the Word is both in all and outside all…the Word is outside the cosmos and his human body insofar as his relation to it, while quite intrinsic, is one of activity, not passivity” (80; loc. 1684ff).

Logos as Subject

Anatolios suggests that we see the relation of Word to “body” as one of a grammatical subject rather than an organic model. In a move that sounds almost word-for-word in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith, Anatolios notes that the “characteristics of both humanity and divinity, in Christ, are predicated of a single grammatical subject” (81; loc. 1708). He is not saying (although perhaps not ultimately denying, either) that the characteristics of one nature are predicated to the other nature.

I don’t think that Anatolios fully solves all the problems, and his quite lucid discussion merely highlights a tension in Christologies that operate off of classical metaphysics. On one hand he wants to show that the Word really did take on human suffering as “his own,” even as “His body’s own,” but does this really advance the discussion? There is still a “0” acting as a metaphysical placeholder between the two natures. I am not faulting either Anatolios of Athanasius for that. Impassibility must be maintained, but Anatolios’s reading isn’t as novel as he makes it to be. If he says suffering is “predicated” to the Word (147; loc 3074, and I agree), then one must ask if since there is a unity between the two natures, how does this “perturbation” not flow to the divine nature? To be fair, this wasn’t Athanasius’ main point so one can’t fault him too hard for not really answering it. However, it would be one of the main points in later Alexandrian and Cyrillene debates and it fully impacts the analogy of a fire and iron (in fact, it shows the analogy to be quite flawed).

Anatolios expands on this meaning by saying that the human attributes are “transformed” by the Word (151; loc. 3162). That’s fully in line with later Eastern theology but it does seem to jeopardize the humanity of Christ.

Athanasius and Barth

It is popular among recent interpreters of Athanasius to compare him favorably as the “proto-Barth” (pace Williams). Anatolios puts a stop to this, but he is not critiquing Barth on the lines where Reformed thinkers would. Anatolios notes that Athanasius held to a form of the analogia entis (211; loc. 4409). Barth did not; indeed, he called it an invention of the Antichrist. Anatolios then proceeds to give a fairly accurate exposition of Barth’s theology in contrast with Athanasius. Problematically, we cannot follow Athanasius on this particular point. Whatever Barth’s faults may be, he emphasized preaching, proclamation, and salvation as an “extra-nos” announcement. On Barth’s (and the Protestant’s) gloss, good news is first of all a proclamation. It is in fact, news. For Athanasius (and the later Orthodox) it is something God begins to do in us. True, Anatolios does affirm that God alone bridges the gap between created and Creator, but he doesn’t do it by a proclamation, but by a process of transformation.

Analysis and Conclusion

As a monograph of Athanasius, this is superb. It is well-written and interacts with the best scholarship. I do not think Anatolios’s reading of Athanasius, for whatever merits it may have, is really all that different from Hanson’s and Grillmeier’s. True, he does correct some of the cruder readings, but the fundamental point remains the same: Athanasius saw the Logos as instrumentalizing the human nature. He had to if he wanted to maintain deification soteriology. Further, this places a strain on just how much “activity” Athanasius could logically place on the human side (and eventually this paradigm would “snap” at the 6th Ecumenical Council). For he had earlier written, “The power of free choice (he proairesis) thus conditions the active-passive paradigm model, insofar as it is meant to lead humanity into an active clinging to the prior beneficent activity of the Word” (61; loc. 1287). This may very well be so, but one wonders how it could have been with regard to Christ’s human nature.