The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas F. The Ground and Grammar of Theology. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1980.

Man, the Priest of Creation

Herman Weyl: “since all things, bodies in motion and space and time, are ultimately defined by reference to light, light occupies a metaphysical place in the universe” (Torrance 3-4).

Thesis: space and time are the bearers of all rational order in the universe (6). These set the boundary markers for us and represent the way “we know things in accordance with their natures” (8). These things impress themselves upon our minds. Theology works the same way, though we do not always know a thing in one field by the same rational mode in another.

The Being of God in His Acts

Science is moving beyond the old structures of determinism and mechanism towards an “open-structured order” (12).  Instead of either a flat mechanism (modernity) or Neo-Platonic emanations, we see the universe as a hierarchy of levels, “a stratified structure, so that our science takes the form of an ascending hierarchy of relations of thought that are open upward in a deeper and deeper dimension of depth” (13).  This is a huge point that Torrance expounds elsewhere in his works on the Trinity.  I wish he would have given examples.

Emerging from the Cultural Spirit

Thesis of chapter: examine the move from a dualist to a unitary outlook on the universe (15).  Torrance’s enemy in this chapter is the “old mechanistic system, or a closed continuum of cause and effect, characterized throughout by a hard determinism” (18). This is at odds with a kataphatic view of reality, where the very structures of reality impress themselves upon our minds.  The closed continuum view, by contrast, rules out possibilities before the very investigation.

Dualisms

The first dualism was from the Greeks, that of the sharp contrast of “rectilinear motion in terrestrial mechanics and circular motion in celestial mechanics” (21).  This points to a deeper dualism between “the empirical and the theoretical, the physical and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, the mortal and divine.”

Newton never fully broke with these dualisms.  He identified absolute time and space with the mind of God, thus positing an eternal, inertial frame. Kant took this absolute time and space from the mind of God to the mind of the human knower (26).

But if Einstein is correct that there is a unity of form and being, the theoretical and empirical factors in knowledge, then we can no longer follow Kant (30).  If there is indeed a unity of form and being, structure and substance, then we can be confident that “reality discloses of itself” (31). The same unity, we will see, also obtains in theology.  

Response: I like this. It echoes my thoughts. I do wonder, however, if Torrance overcooked the evidence.

Nicene Theological Geometry (my phrase)

Nicea rejects the Greek dualisms in knowledge.  As Torrance says, “If Jesus Christ is in his own being what he is as God’s revealing word and saving act towards us…then through Christ and in one Spirit we are given access to God…(40).  The enousion energia are the internal relations of God (cf. Athanasius, Discourse on the Arians, II.14.2).  The anchor of homoousion allows us to see “the meditation of knowledge of God in his intrinsic reality and intelligibility” (40).

Creation and Science

Thesis: We know the intrinsic structures of the universe “in such a way that its basic design becomes disclosed” (45). When we seek to know both God and the world in such a way that they force the structures on our minds, we have “what Cyril of Alexandria (or maybe Clement of Alexandria) called dogmatike epistime, ‘dogmatic science’” (50). We know God and the world in the way that “our minds fall under the power of what we hear and find there.”  Professor Torrance helpfully outlines what he means:

[1] There is a rational unity of the universe. If God created all things, then we cannot posit a hard and fast dichotomy in the universe.

[2] There is a contingent rationality or intelligibility of the universe (53). Indeed, we might not be able to posit eternal forms in creation.  (For all his recent lapses in theology, William Lane Craig at least saw this clearly in his rejection of Platonism.) Space and time now have a relation to God, a created relation.  This means we must reject the Aristotelian notion of space as a container and the Newtonian view of time as absolute.

[3] The freedom of the universe is a contingent freedom.

Torrance suggests that Athanasian theology and non-Aristotelian, indeed anti-Aristotelian, science meet in the person of John Philoponus.  Philoponus was condemned as a monophysite because nature, according to Western readings, was interpreted in an Aristotelian way.  Philoponus, working with relational views of space and time, saw nature as more akin to “reality,” which led him to say there was only one reality of the Logos–no schizoid Christ (61).

Theological summary of the book: “Since the act and Word of God we meet in Jesus Christ are eternally inherent in the Being of God, and since none other than the very Being of God himself is mediated to us through the incarnation of his love in Act and Word in Jesus Christ, God’s Being is revealed to be his Being in his Act and Word” (67).

The Transformation of Natural Theology

We hold to a natural theology, but not one of simply identifying various causes.  Rather with Athanasius’s De Gentes we “let our minds tune in to the rational order that pervades the universe…a way of communing with the regulative and providential activity of God in the rational order of the universe” (76).  When this work is paired with Athanasius’s more popular De Incarnatione we see a field of “God/man/world or God/world/man interconnections.”  This allows the structure of reality to “throw light upon the whole manifold of connections with which we are concerned in the knowledge of God in his interaction with creation” (77).

Unity of Form and Being

This unity finds an analogue in the Word/Act and Being of God.  The unity of form and being is the “indivisibility of the intelligible and the ontological” (96).  The patristic analogue is the inherent of logos and act in being.  This means that objects “must be known and understood objectively in their distinctive modes of being and modes of self-disclosure.”  As a result, these “things” will impress upon us objective forms of thought “correlated with the ultimate openness of being and its semantic reference beyond itself” (97).

Conclusion and Grammar of Theology

[1] There is a Trinitarian character in our knowing that corresponds to the trinity of relations in God himself.  “We grasp things in our though, and hold them in our thought, only if we can grasp them in their internal relations” (149-150).  We take our cue from Athanasius’s concepts of enousios logos and enousios energeia.

[1.1] If the Logos is inherent into the being of God, then we have access to divine intelligibility.  We are able to access intrinsic structures.

[1.2] If God’s energeia or act inheres in his being, and that Act is Jesus in the Incarnation, then we know God “in his activity in disclosing himself to us” (152). A created analogue is our relation and knowing to the dynamic structure of the universe (as opposed to a medieval model of final causes).

[2] Our first and basic level of this experience is in worship, “in which we encounter the revealing God.” The next level is the theological level where we meet up with the so-called Economic Trinity.  This throws us upon a “higher theological and scientific level,” the internal relations of God.  While we know the economic reality first, it is the ontological reality that grounds our knowing.  This is true episteme dogmatike. 

Like all of Torrance’s books, this one is exciting, explosive, and probably underdeveloped in key areas.  I think the problem is that Torrance likely memorized many of Athanasius’s passages in the original Greek and instead of translating them from memory, I think he is summarizing the Greek into English from memory.  I went back and checked some of these in Contra Arianos.  The idea is close enough, but not word-for-word.

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.

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).

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.

Divine Meaning (Thomas Torrance)

Complex Background

Athanasian thought would ultimately part with the Hellenistic separation (chorismos) between “kosmos aisthetos” and “kosmos noetos.” 

Gnosticism

Dialectic between pleroma and kenoma.  We can only know what God is not (Basilides). Thus, without a positive epistemological control, the Gnostics were thrown back upon mythology to make sense of God. 

Relatively speaking, the kenoma is a realm of non-existence. How, then, can we offer any account of the way things really are, if we can only think them in a vast vacuum or blank? (Torrance 31).  “If we seek to know God by pushing abstraction of him to the limit of an infinite discrepancy between what he is and what we can think of him, then our thoughts and statements can only be about nothing, and we are simply engaged in empty movements of speech and thought within the kenoma.”

If our knowledge of the descending realms of kenoma are merely shadows, and these realms are shadows, then the Gnostics face a problem: how can shadows cast shadows?  But if the shadows can’t cast shadows, then the idea and paradeigmata in the intelligible world are substantial bodies or essences—then have we not just lapsed back into heathen pluralism” (32).

Irenaeus and Kerygma

It is embodied truth or embodied doctrine (61).  

Hellenism had to have allegory because Hellenism posited a chorismos between the sensible world and the intelligible world, and since they could never touch, allegory allowed one to “jump” from one world to the other.  To this Irenaeus opposed typology.  There is an inseparable relation between word and event (101).  Therefore, “the distinction between aletheia and tupos is not that between intelligible and sensible…but between the preparatory action of God in history pointing forward to…his final action in the Incarnation and Atonement through which all things are changed and brought to their fulfillment” (102). 

“Recapitulation means that redemptive activity of God in Jesus Christ was not just a transcendent act that touched our existence in space and time at one point, but passed into our existence and is at work within it, penetrating back to the beginning in the original creation retracing it and reaffirming it in the divine Will, and reaching forward to the consummation in the new creation in which all things are gathered up, thus connecting the end with the beginning” (121).

Hermeneutics of Clement

“Faith itself is the basic form of understanding and its source” (130).

“Epistemology” is derived from stasis, for it is a standing of the mind upon objective realities.

Athanasius:  Foundation of Classical Theology

Torrance makes the claim that Athanasius came from the episcopal school in Alexandria, and not the catechetaical school. This means he would have absorbed the Hebraic outlook of St Mark

Two kinds of demonstration:

Athanasius came to reject the dualism of “kosmos aisthetos” and “kosmos noetos.” 

His main argument:  while God is beyond created being and all human devising (epinoia), he nevertheless remains being in his own transcendent way.  His ousia is being and activitiy. 

The Doctrine of God

Key premise: he cut the identity between the generation of the Son and the creation of the universe.  In generation there is an identity of nature, in creation there is a disparity of natures (Florovsky).

God in his internal relations: “Since the Logos is internal to the being of God, essentially and eternally enousios in God, truly to know God in and through the Logos is to know him in the inner reality of his own Being” (186).  

The doctrine of the Son

Redemption takes place within the mediatorial life of the Incarnate Son.  Salvation “takes place in the inner relations of the mediator (mesites) and not simply in Christ’s external relations with sinners” (193). 

Theological Language and Method

There is a rigorous knowledge of the inner structure of things investigated (204).  

The Logic and Analogic of Biblical and Theological Statements in the Greek Fathers

  1. The Spirit and Knowledge of God
    1. Athanasius and Paul: Only the Spirit knows the things of God.
    2. Our minds are directed away towards the proper object in God to be governed by his Word.
  2. Homoousion: basic logical economy which governs theological grammar in accordance with the pattern of God’s own self-communication in the Incarnation.
    1. it breaks up the radical disjunction between kosmos aesthetos and kosmos noetos.
    2. It keeps our thoughts from being imprisoned within themseles, but directs them dianoia in God, kata physin kai alethos.
  3. Ana-Logical Reference
    1. What God is to us in Jesus Christ he is eternally in himself.
    2. If we know via the Logos, then all true theological statements will be consistent with one another in so far as they have the Logos as their center of reference.
    3. Oikonomia
      1. Later on this was changed to mean “in reserve.” Only economical, where God is to us not quite what he appears to be.
      2. Rather, because of the Incarnation of the Logos God really imparts knowledge and himself to us.
  4. Logos as Person
    1. He is God’s self-communication
    2. If he were Word only, we “would be thrown back upon our own resources to authenticate him; if he were Person only, we would be thrown back upon our own resources to interpret him…
    3. “But because he is both Word and Person, he interprets and authenticates himself”.
    4. As self-communicating, he is self-authenticating

We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (ed. McGuckin)

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).

Jesus Christ

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).

For Us

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).

Key terminology

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).

Theology in Reconciliation (Torrance)

(image from https://growrag.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/thomas-f-torrance-reformed-theologian-par-excellence/)

Torrance, Thomas F. Theology in Reconciliation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975.

Liturgical Apollinarianism: The Mind of Christ in Worship

Torrance’s thesis is that the shift in public liturgy from Christ as our high priest, having a human mind and a vicarious humanity, who brings our worship to God the Father, to seeing Christ as the formal object of worship, represents a subtle shift to Apollinarianism. Notice that Torrance isn’t saying we can’t pray to Christ.  Of course we can.  What he means is that in the later medieval prayers, Christ is no longer the vicarious high priest but himself an object of adoration.  There is no longer any need for the human mind of Christ.

Torrance follows John Macleod Campbell in defining Christian worship as “the presentation of the mind of Christ to the Father” (139). As Christ presents himself to the Father, and as we are in Christ by the eternal Spirit, we participate in this worship.

In our prayer we rely on Christ’s praying to the Father (also) on our behalf, “for in Christ we are turned away in our praying from resting on ourselves to rest on his vicarious prayer” (141).  According to Cyril of Alexandria, from whom Torrance takes his cue, Christ “Carried up the mind of believers into the one nature of the Godhead” (175, quoting Cyril, Adv. Nestorium, PG 76, 364B, 368B-D). Even more for Cyril, we pray “with Christ” because of his self-identification with us in the economy.  

On the other hand, per late medieval piety, if Christ is the dread object of adoration, as he is in some masses, then it isn’t clear how he could in his vicarious humanity present our minds to God.  It isn’t clear how this can’t but be a functional Apollinarianism.

On the other hand, we argue with Cyril that Christ becomes the pattern of our worship. In doing so Christ heals the noetic range of our mind.  This participation in the human mind of Christ guarantees the objectivity of our worship.

This is why the prepositional phrase “with whom” is so important.  It safeguards Christ’s mediation.

Athanasius: The Foundation of Classical Theology

This might be the most important essay Torrance ever wrote.  He argues that Athanasius broke with the Gnostic and Platonic view of the world, which divided the cosmos into “sensible” and “intelligible” realms.  This lead to a “kataphysical” view of reality: we allow our minds to fall under the compelling evidence of things” (216).  More on that later.

For Greek philosophy, the rational is the limited; anything beyond rational grasp is irrational.

God and Being

God is beyond all created being, to be sure, but pace Platonism (Republic 509b), he is not beyond the concept of being.  God’s being is being and presence and activity-in-being (Athanasius, CA 2:2; 38; enousious energia).

When Athanasius says we can know God in his internal relations, he isn’t saying we can know God “in himself” (whatever that phrase might mean; not much I suppose). His argument is simple: the Logos is internal to the eternal Being of God, and if we know the Logos then we know him in the inner reality of his being” (Torrance 222).  The passages from Athanasius  don’t explicitly say what Torrance asserts they do.  However, Torrance is correct that Athanasius says that God’s energy inheres in his ousia, and so the previous claim might be true by implication.

This directly affects our epistemology. Our knowledge of the Son is correlated “with the Father in a relation of mutual knowing and being” and “grounded within the eternal Being of God himself” (223). If we separate God’s activity (energia) from his ousia, then we are left with complete agnosticism.

Conclusion

The other essays in the volume deal with the exciting opportunity to do theology in an area where older dualisms have broken down.  The two most important essays, though, are the ones dealing with Cyril and Athanasius.  They are hard reading, even for those who are used to Torrance.

Review: Scripture as Real Presence

Boersma, Hans. Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017.

Any book by Hans Boersma can function as a master’s level course in whatever subject it addresses.  That’s not to say I agree with everything he says.  That only highlights his skill as a teacher: he forces you to think through the implications of an issue.

This book isn’t simply about allegorical exegesis.  It isn’t about typology, either.  In fact, Boersma strongly resists the urge to conflate the two.  Rather, it is about seeing the mystery of Christ is already present in the Old Testament (Boersma xv).

While I certainly hold to a Patristic metaphysics, such as it is, I am uncomfortable with some of their interpretive moves.  Very few of them had any working knowledge of Hebrew. Still, the thrust of it is true.  Christ is present in the OT.  Unless we want that to be a cliche, we need to see how.

Case study: Would Paul’s exegesis in Galatians pass a seminary exam?

Metaphysics and Hermeneutics

Boersma notes that one’s metaphysics and one’s interpretation are linked.

Origen: the earthly scene contains patterns (exemplaria) of the heavenly things.  They teach us to mount up (ascendere).  “We contemplate heavenly things by means of their forms and likenesses as they appear in visible things.  It is by means of actual things and copies (rebus ipsis et exemplis) that we can move on to heaven itself” (10).

We can ascend precisely because heavenly realities are related to particulars. We always brings a metaphysics to our hermeneutics.  In this chapter Boersma contrasts the metaphysics of Origen (and most of the fathers) with those of Hobbes and Spinoza.

Some notes on Typology

Type and archetype are anchored in God’s eternal providence.  Both participate in God’s foreknowledge (24).

Chapter 2 explores how Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine interpreted Genesis with an eye towards a literal interpretation.  It’s important in the sense that those who don’t know Patristics will say the Fathers (or Boersma) shunned a literal reading.  They didn’t.  Still, some of their conclusions are….odd.  I am only going to highlight some key aspects of Gregory’s reading as they relate to his overall metaphysics.

On the Making of Man

Genesis 1:27.  The first part of the verse refers to the universal essence of man (which Boersma elsewhere argued that “man” is  God’s foreknowledge of the fullness of all human beings at the end time (Boersma 32). This culminates in the eschaton.  This lets Gregory take Galatians 3:28 in the following: since there is no male or female in Christ, and Christ is the universal, the prototype, the image of God, then the universal man is neither male or female.

Strong stuff, and we will take issue with it later. The main problem is that Genesis 1:28 implies that sexual activity will take place regardless of the fall.

Ancient readers relished verbal associations in the text (39). Phrases like “tree of Life” or “Wisdom” were “trigger-loaded.”  This is like a non-Satanic version of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (how it should have been, before it was corrupted by the Deep State).

A Harmonious Reading of the Psalms

The church fathers saw a direct, almost physical analogy between the harmony of music, which represented an almost mathematical metaphysics, and the harmony of the Psalms. As Boersma notes, “Music, therefore, has the ability to make one grow in virtue and heal the emotions; music tunes people and makes them more harmonious” (132).

Ancient man knew that music was based on objective laws. Musical pitches are related by simple mathematical ratios of whole numbers (136). Plato noted “that God created the intellectual reality of the world soul with proportions of double intervals (1, 2, 4, 8) and of triple intervals (1, 3, 9, 27)….separating a portion of the whole and then doubling and tripling it, so as to arrive at a series of seven terms (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 27)” (136). This means the cosmos was created at harmonious intervals.

Music, therefore, participates in this cosmic order. The church fathers were keen on this. The Word of God even recapitulated the great musician himself: “The Word of God introduces something altogether new; he is the New Song, whose music, like that of David, chases the demons and heals us of our wickedness” (140).

If the Psalms are true music, and if music represents a rational cosmic order, then singing (chanting) and living these psalms puts us “in line with the order of the universe” (142).

Gregory of Nyssa and the Skopos of the Psalter

The aim of the Psalter is the blessedness of the virtuous life (154).  From here Gregory traces an ascent (anabasis) to that goal.  This blessedness will imitate the harmony of the universe. Psalm 42:1 forms the second part of the Psalter and it mentions the soul that thirsts for God.  Psalm 73 describes the one who is now able to discern justice and “participate in divine judgment” (155). In Psalm 90 we approach the boundary between divine and human natures. The climax arrives on a mountain peak in Psalm 107.  It is the recapitulation of human salvation.

Boersma suggests that a sacramental reading of the text (Proverbs 8) allows us to overcome the impasse between Nicene and Arian readings of the text.  When Wisdom said “God created me at the beginning of all his works,” does this mean that Christ was created?  That seems to be what the text says, but that can’t be right.

A huge portion of the problem is the lack of Hebrew knowledge, since qana doesn’t mean creation ex nihilo.  Gregory of Nyssa was aware of this but he really didn’t utilize it (not that anyone would have cared). Of course I side with the Nicenes, but neither side did a great job in this debate.  More to the point, however, are the moves that Boersma makes that allows us to participate in a sacramental reading.

Athanasius in reading a text seeks three elements: time, person, and purpose.  This allows him to make distinctions between economy and Trinity.  Therefore, Christ’s creation is linked in the economy of salvation (172).

Song of Songs

Of course the Fathers read it in a non-literal sense, but not for the reasons you think. The material sexuality in the Song is very real.  If it weren’t, it could function as a participatory link to the spiritual realities.  You have to have both. And unlike some “spiritualizing” or “allegorizing” tendencies, the Fathers took their starting point in the nuptial passages from God’s dealing with Israel (190).

That’s a really good approach to the book.  Granted, some of the details are a bit fancy (but no less arbitrary than how we explain away the literal in biblical prophecy).