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.

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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).

Proverbs 8 as Test-Case (and other chapters)

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).

Hans Boersma: The Metaphysics of Music

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.

Is the Holy Spirit a product?

I don’t want to get into Filioquist metaphysics.  Confessionally, I am a Protestant and that means I am in the Filioque tradition.  So let’s get this out of the way up front:  do I hold to the Filioque?  I think later Protestant thinkers, in terms of seeing it in Speech-Act format, perhaps have the resources to constructively engage this debate.  But if we are asking do I hold to the Filioque in terms of Augustine, Thomas, and the 4th Lateran Council, the answer is absolutely not.  It is dialectics.

I want to thank Jay Dyer for doing the leg work on this.  Here is the problem: if you say that the Holy Spirit is from the Father’s (and Son’s) will, you are an Arian. Or so St Athanasius says:

Hence the Son, not being (for He existed at the will of the Father), is God Only-begotten , and He is alien from either. Wisdom existed as Wisdom by the will of the Wise God. (De Synodis).

That’s straightfoward enough.  Arian theology says that the Son is a product of the Father’s will (and presumably, the Holy Spirit is a product of the Son’s).    But here is what Western theology states:

Ludwig Ott: “The Holy Ghost proceeds from the will or the mutual love of the Father and Son.” (Sent. certa.). 

Augustine:  “But if any person in the Trinity is also to be specially called the will of God, this name, like love, is better suited to the Holy Spirit; for what else is love, except will?” (De Trinitate, Schaff edition, p.234).

Here a person of the Trinity is identified with the operation or attribute of God.  The Filioquist can get out of this by saying Augustine is saying that the Holy Spirit *is* (=?) the will of the Father, not a product of the will of the Father.   True, that is a different claim.  But if will is a faculty (or operation or function) of essence, then the Holy Spirit is an operation of the essence–and now we are right back at saying he is a product of the essence.

Review: Orthodoxy and Esotericism (Kelley)

My friend James Kelley gave me a complimentary copy.kelley

It is common parlance to say, “We should apply our faith to culture.”  In such slogans the words “faith” and “culture” are never defined and always used in the most abstract categories.   Kelley does us a service by bringing an advanced level of Patristic theology to such wide-ranging topics as history and esoterism.  One can go a step further: Kelley’s insights regarding (Joseph Farrell’s usage) of Sts Maximus the Confessor and Athanasius can provide us a useful compass in witnessing to those trapped in the occult.  I don’t know if Kelley himself holds that view, but it is something that came to my mind.

Ordo Theologiae

The first part deals with rather esoteric thinkers like Paul Virilio, Joseph P. Farrell, and Phillip Sherrard.  Special interest goes to Farrell.  

Here is the problem: In order for the Plotinian one to account for creation, it must already contain within himself all plurality.  Therefore, epistemology and ontology had to proceed by dialectics.  We know something by defining it by its opposite.

How was the Church to respond to this?  The best way was by simply breaking its back.  Kelley shows this by examining Athanasius’s response to Arius and Maximus’s response to monotheletism.  

For Athanasius there are three primary categories that should not be confused: nature, will, and person (Kelley 35).  The person of the Father generates the Son according to essence (since the hypostasis of the Father is the font of essence).  Creation, by contrast, is according to the will.  This leads later fathers (such as Basil) to identify three categories:

(1) Who is doing it?

(2) What is it they are doing? (energies)

(3) What are they? (essence)

The key point, however, is that Person, Nature, and Energy are not to be identified, or we have something like Plotinianism or Arianism.  

Maximus is even more interesting:  the human will cannot be passive nor defined by its contrary, the divine will.  That would mean because the divine nature/will is good, then the human nature must be evil (41). If we define something by its opposite, then we are also saying that said something (God) needs its opposite.  

I must stop the analysis at this point.  But know that the section on Joseph Farrell is a crash course in advanced theology.

Esoteric Studies

Kelley places the Nation of Islam’s cosmogony within the earlier Gnostic myths (89).  He has a fascinating section on Jim Jones.  It almost reads like a novel or a news article.  His larger point is that in these cults (NOI, Scientology, etc) there is a dialectic of a “life-force creating (or self-creating) within a primordial darkness.”

His chapter on Anaximander’s apeiron is worth the price of the book.  But what makes it interesting is Kelley’s tying Anaximander’s apeiron with Tillich’s Ungrund and Barth’s unknowable God.  The problem:  How can this “god” have any contact with creation?  Anaximander gives us a dialectically unstable answer:  this apeiron already contains within it the coincidence of opposites.

Conclusions and Analysis

Like all of Kelley’s works, this cannot help but be interesting.  How often do you read a theology book and you ask yourself, “I can’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next”?  But normally that level of excitement is for fluff.  This it most certainly is not.  Some chapters are very advanced theology, while others, like the one on Paul Virilio, are probably out of my league.

My only quibble is he set up a great dismantling of Karl Barth’s theology and then didn’t do it.  I understand that could be for space reasons.  Is Barth’s Unknowable God the same as Anaximander’s apeiron?  Maybe.  If they are, then one has at his fingertips a very destructive critique.

Aside from that, this book is most highly recommended.

Note: I received this as a complimentary copy and was under no obligation to post a positive review.

Review: Arius: Heresy and Tradition

by Rowan Williams

Date: January 2014

Being faithful to church teachings does not mean merely chanting former slogans, but critically receiving the church’s witness and faithfully putting it into a new context in response to a new crisis.  Rowan Williams has cogently suggested that we saw such a handling of philosophical issues in the Nicene crisis (Williams 2002). According to Williams’ reading, Arius conservatively employed a number of respected (if pagan) philosophical traditions which compromised the biblical narrative of the Son‟s being with the Father.

Williams begins his narrative with a review of earlier treatments of Arius, most notably that of John Henry Cardinal Newman.  Newman plays off the Alexandria vs. Antioch thesis, putting Arius in the latter camp (along with anyone who champions secular power and literalistic exegesis).  Newman’s move, Williams tell us, is actually a parable of his own day in the Oxford controversy.  While Newman’s own conclusions were painfully mistaken, he does illustrate a tendency in all church historians of this controversy:   reading Nicea as a template for our times.  Williams himself acknowledges that he will do the same thing (Barth/Bonhoeffer = Athanasius; Hitler = Arius, LOL)..

Williams has a very interesting suggestion that there were two models of “communal theology” (my phrase) in Alexandria and Egypt around the time of Arius.  There was the model of students gathering around a venerated teacher (Origen is a good example; Williams calls this the Academic model) and the rising church-centered episcopacy model.  Williams places Arius in the former, and notes that part of Arius’ failure is that he tried to maintain the former model when both his friends and enemies had switched to the latter model.

From this Williams has a number of illuminating suggestions about church unity, boundaries, and identity.  After surveying history, he notes that the “church around Alexander in 313 was not a harmonious body” (41). He notes elsewhere concerning such a pluralism that “the church before Constantine was simply not in an institutional position to make binding pronouncements” (90). While we may certainly say that there was a proto-Nicene theology in embryonic form in the early church, it’s harder to make the claim that “the boundaries of Catholic identity were firmly and clearly drawn in advance…[T]he whole history of Arius and Arianism reminds us that this is not so” (83).

Alexandrian Theology

It is tempting to conclude since Athanasius was an Alexandrian, that Alexandrian theology was always pro-Nicene, and, conversely, that Antiochean theology is Arian.  Williams provides a brilliant summary of Philo, Clement, and Origen to demonstrate that both Nicene and Arian conclusions were found in earlier Nicene models.  We first see this in Philo.  As Williams notes, “Philo is clearly concerned to deny that there is anything outside God that has a part in creation, and so it is necessary for him to insist upon the dependence of the world of ideas on God” (118).  This leads us to the discussion of the Logos.  Is the Logos God, part of God, Demiurge, or creature?   Philo is surprisingly conservative on this (from our standpoint).   He sees the Logos as the arche of existing things…”God himself turned towards what is not God” (119).  Indeed, this sounds a lot like Justin Martyr’s teaching.  

Yet Philo’s theology is inadequate from a Christian perspective.   The Logos functions more like  a mediator between Creator/creation, neither begotten or unbegotten. Williams anticipates later discussion with the insightful comment that “What is metaphor for Philo is literal for Arius” (122).  Philo’s importance, however, and Williams demonstrates this clearly, is he “mapped out the ground for the Alexandrian tradition to build on,” and Arius is firmly in that tradition (123).  

As Christianity became more prominent in Alexandria, Christian thinkers began to take up Philo’s mantle.  Foremost of these is Clement.  Clement adopts Philo’s scheme but is bolder with his language.  While preserving the transcendence of God Clement can say that God descended to us (126).  Clement’s problematic focuses on the knowability of God:  “How can the essence of God be partly knowable as Logos and partly unknowable” (130)?  

Discussion of Clement leads us to the undisputed master of antiquity, Origen.  In Origen, among other things, we see the ambiguity of terms like ousia and hypostasis.  Origen loosely employs both as “real individual subsistence” (132).  This point is key for it illustrates why many semi-Arians and homoiosians were reluctant to embrace Nicene language:  ousia was seen as indivisible and positing another hypostasis in God seemed to divide the essence or create two gods.  

Most importantly for our discussion of Origen is his treatment of the Son’s relationship to the transcendence of the Father.  The Father is supremely transcendent because he has no “defining coordinates” (137).  He is not a member of any class but above all classes.  Origen actually makes several advances in noting that the Son participates in the Father’s glory and is more than simply an instrument connecting God and the world.   However, Origen was still an Alexandrian:  God-Father is completely unknowable and the source of all. The Logos is the source of the world of ideas.  “God is simple and the Son is multiple” (139).  To put it another way, “The Father is the arche of the Logos and the Logos is the arche of everything else” (142).  

Did Origen cause Arius?  It’s hard to say.  Arius certainly took key moves from Origen but not the whole package.  Origen’s “Logos” is eternal.  Arius’s is not.  However, Origen left too many loose ends to prevent something like Arianism from happening.

The Neo-Platonist Philosophers

Understanding the philosophical worldview of Neo-Platonism is key for this discussion.  

Plato:  distinguishes between what always exists and what comes into existence.  He envisions something like a process leading up to the creation of time (183).  This problem is bound up with the issue of form and matter.  Aristotelians deny that there can be form without matter; hence, eternal creation.  Origen, Plotinus, and the Neo-Platonists did not have this problem because they posited an eternally active Form-er in the ideal world.  There is an object to the Forming, but it is an ideal object(s).  This makes sense of Origen’s positing a dual-creation:  the intelligible world precedes the material world.  

Paradoxically, this pre-temporal activity raises the strange question of whether the Father-One-The Beyond can even know anything.  The “One” (for lack of a better term) is utterly simple.  Williams captures the problem perfectly:  “Thinking and understanding, even the perfect understanding of simple nous, involves duplication and distancing” (201, emphasis added).  He goes on to say, “The paradox of understanding is that, as pure need or openness, nous is truly in contact with the One; but in its seeking to realize itself actively as understanding, it produces the multiplicity of the world of ideas, which separates itself from the One” (ibid).  

As bizarre as this sounds, it is not too far removed from some Christian formulations.   Certainly, Christianity can see “echoes” in Neo-Platonism (One-Nous/Logos-World Soul).  Another problem is raised:  as noted above in the Alexandrian milieu thinking and knowing involves duplication and distance.  Yet who is going to say that there is “distance” between Father and Son?  The only apparent alternative is to identify subject and object within the divine mind, which raises the question of how one can distinguish the persons of the Trinity.  

This perhaps allows us to view Origen in a more sympathetic manner.  As Wiliams’ remarks, “Origen’s Logos contemplates the father, and finds in that contemplation the whole world of rational beings coming into existence in its (his) own life…He sees the Father’s simplicity in the only way he can see it, as the wellspring of an infinite (or potentially infinite) variety and so gives multiple and determinate reality to the limitless life flowing into him in his contemplation” (205).  As beautiful as it is, Origen still has a huge epistemological problem:  he has a gulf between the simple Father and the multiple Logos (207).  

The above paragraphs simply put Arius’s (and his opponents’) issues into context.  Arius didn’t wake up one day and say, “I’ a-gonna hate me some God today.”  No,

Conclusion:

As relates to Williams handling of philosophical texts and their conclusions, this book is nothing short of brilliant. Further, Wiliams’ thesis is basically sound:  Arius received a number of conservative philosophical traditions which made it difficult to affirm the biblical narrative.   However, one cannot help but wonder if Williams has a deeper project.  Is this book not also a commentary upon his own reign as Archbishop of Canterbury, particularly in light of the Anglican communion’s problem with modernism? If Arius is in the “conservative” camp and Athanasius combated him by deconstructing Arius’ philosophical premises, then we cannot help but ask, “Who is the conservative in today’s controversy?”  

While Williams himself is not a liberal, one cannot help but suspect his own reign has been disastrous for the Anglican church’s continuing self-identity.  With gay bishops and female priestesses on the rise, one cannot help but ask what is Williams really trying to say?  Is he not trying to give a justification of his own ambiguous handling of the sexuality question?  

Athanasius, Orations Against the Arians

This work is a step up from Athanasius’s smaller treaty on the Incarnation.  Here we begin to see a fully worked-out theological ontology.  This review, however, will not deal with the controversies concerning Proverbs 8 in the Nicene world.  That would take up too much space.Saint-Athanasius-life-4

One needs to see Arius’s thought in context before one can appreciate how Athanasius fundamentally destroyed the Hellenistic mindset.  It’s not simply that Arius thought Jesus was created.  He did, but Arius also thought he was being faithful to the conservative philosophical tradition in Alexandria.  That tradition is best seen as the shadow of Neo-Platonism.  It’s not a pure Neo-Platonism (if such a monster even exists), but it’s close enough on issues like simplicity.

Disclosure: I relied heavily on Joseph Farrell’s (D.Phil Oxford, Patristic Theology)  analysis of the Athanasian crisis, as well as conversations with several of his students.  Any faults are entirely my own.

Establishing the Dialectic

Short answer: Arius defined the deity in terms of a specific property of the Father (unbegottenness), but behind this definition was embedded a philosophical dialectic, which, if left unchecked, would control orthodox categoreis. The Arians saw divine simplicity unicity of a nontransferable monadic state, to use John McGuckin’s fine phrase. If the Father is simple essence, and the Son is not the Father, then the Son is of a different essence.  The problem is that the Hellenistic/Arian mind identified God’s essence with a particular property (unbegottenness). It was Athanasius’s genius to break the back of this system by noting that essence isn’t the same as person or property.

Arius shows what Origenism looks like if taken to its Neo-Platonic conclusion.  The One is utterly simple and beyond.  It is beyond subject and object, yet if the One “thinks” (or makes any kind of distinction, be it the idea to create the world or the decision to beget the Son), and given that person-will-essence are identical, and that ideas/operations are now simply effluences of the essence, Arius is forced to one of several conclusions:

  1. a) The ideas produced by the one are also identical to the one
  2. b) It is completely separate from the one by means of duplication and distance.
  3. c) If the Son is eternal, then Creation, being an object of willing, is also eternal, since the act of will is equal to the eternal essence per Arian simplicity.  Simply put, for this tradition, there can’t be distinctions between operation and essence, because the essence itself does not allow for any distinctions!

Why does (c) follow? If God has the property of being-Creator as well as the property of being-Father, and the essence is eternal, and the essence is identical to the act of will/property, then he must be eternally creator, which draws out another inference

cc) Creation is eternal

Smashing the Dialectic

d) The generation of the Son is according to the essence, since the being is from the Father, while the creation of the world is according to the divine will.  

As James Kelley notes, for “Arius the category of what God is (nature) is the same as what God does (operation).”

Now for the actual text….

Discourse I

* The Father and Son were not generated from some pre-existing origin….but the Father is the Origin of the Son and begat him (I.5).

*The Difference between Work and Begetting: “The work is external to the nature, but a son is the proper offspring of the essence” (I.8.29).

Discourse II

* The Word must be the living Will of the Father, and an essential energy (enousion energia), and a real Word” (II.14.2). Athanasius’s point is that the Word can’t be a product of the Father’s will since he is the Father’s will.  

That blunts Arius on one point but it raises another problem: isn’t making the Word the Father’s will confusing person with nature, which is what Arius did?  One could say that Athanasius isn’t defining the Deity of the Son in terms of a specific divine property.  

Elsewhere Athanasius notes that the Son is in the Father and the Son’s being is proper to the Father.  And given that Athanasius follows the Patristic ordo in reasoning from Person to Operation to Essence, then the Son’s being the living will points to a unity of operation.  Hence, we now see that the Son reveals the common operation and energy, and so reveals the common essence.

Discourse III

* The Son doesn’t “participate” in God.  This is a break with Platonism (III.23.1).

* The Son is in the Father….because the whole Being of the Son is proper to the Father’s essence….For whereas the Form and Godhead of the Father is the Being of the Son, it follows that the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son” (III.23.4).

Christ’s being in the flesh deifies the flesh, and only God can properly deify (III.27.38).

Nota Bene:

Athanasius has a robust angelology

  1. Angels are not the same as the Thrones, nor the Thrones the same as the Authorities (II.16.19).

 

We Believe in One God (Ancient Christian Doctrines)

Bray, Gerald. ed. We Believe in One God (Ancient Christian Doctrines). Intervarsity Press, 2009.

I think I have found the best primary source intro to the Fathers. The only drawback is the somewhat steep price. Gerald Bray (in this volume) gives a running commentary on the Nicene Creed using only the writings of the Fathers. He examines each clause of the Creed up to “things visible and invisible.” He alerts us to the hermeneutical sensitivities of the Fathers while pointing to areas where they were either lacking or refused to pursue the logical development. For example, the Fathers, unlike moderns today, be they conservative or liberal, were very interested in the role of Angels and demons. Their cosmology, untainted by post-Kantian gnosticism, allowed for such a role. Further, the fathers did not develop the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge and predestination in any real sense. Augustine did the most.

My main problem with the book is the lack of Maximus the Confessor. In this review I will post an extended outline. I am doing that because the reader needs to see the logical and narratival development of the Fathers’ use of the Creed (or pre-creedal formulae). Finally, the reader should note that the Fathers had values that we do not necessarily pursue today, such as apostolic succession. But it should also be noted that the situation then is different than now.

Bray begins each section with a brief contextual introduction, then summarizes roughly each Father, and then gives a litany of Patristic quotations. It is truly grand.

Movement of the Creed

We believe (which covers the gamut from knowledge of God, Scripture as the basis of knowledge [Clement Strom. 7.16], to the canon of Scripture, to the interpretation of Scripture.

Apostolic Tradition:

  • “found in the Scriptures” (Irenaeus Adv. Haer. 3.5.1) and passed down by bishops.
  • “Unwritten traditions.” Some were passed down, like the sign of the cross (Basil, On The Holy Spirit, 27.66).

In One God.

  1. Who God Is.
    1. God’s unbegottenness is not the same as his essence (Basil 39).
    2. God is one in nature, not in number. My guess is that Basil says this because number implies distinction (Letter 8.2).
    3. Basil distinguishes between God’s energies and his essence (Letter 234).
    4. Yet Augustine says God’s being and his attributes are the same (“In God to be is the same as to be strong/just/wise; Trinity 6.4.6).
    5. God is not a substance but an essence. Substances subsist. This would mean God subsists in Goodness, rather than is goodness itself (7.5.10).
  2. The Unity of God’s Being
    1. God’s unity is beyond essence (Ps. Dionys. Divine Names 2.4).
  3. The Freedom of God
    1. God knows future events (Iren. Adv. Haer. 4.21.2).
  4. The Divine Will
  5. God’s Attributes
    1. God is above both space and time (Clement. Strom. 2.2
  1. Father-Son relationship
    1. Athanasius: the Son is in the Father because his whole being is proper to the Father’s essence (Contra Ar. 3.23.3).
    2. Cyril of Alexandria: Christ is eternal because the Father is not mind-less.
  2. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    1. Ephrem: affirms the Filioque (Hymn on the Dead and the Trinity). Father = Mind; Son = Word; Spirit = voice.
    2. Basil: Community of essence (Letter 38.4). Identity of operation proves they have the same nature (Letter 189.7).
    3. Basil: ousia = general; hypostasis = particular. The Godhead is common, the hypostatic characteristics are particular (Letter 236.6).
    4. Basil: True knowledge of God moves from the Spirit through the Son to the Father (Holy Spirit 18.47).
    5. Hilary: Difference between beginning and birth. A thing that begins to exist comes from nothing. A thing that is begotten comes from the same nature (De Trin. 7.14).
    6. Augustine: the substance of God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (De Trin. 3.11.21).
    7. Augustine: Person is a convenient description. We use the term “person” because we have no other way of describing them (De Trin.7.4.8).
      8. Cyril of Alexandria: the nature is modulated through the properties of the hypostases. In each person the entire nature is understood along with its hypostatic property (Dialogue on the Trinity 7).

The Almighty

  1. Augustine: “Almighty” means God can do what he wills (City of God, 5.10.1).

Maker

Heaven and earth

  1. Cyril of Alexandria: No Limits to God. “There is no place that holds divinity, yet it is absent from nothing at all, for it fills all things, goes through all things, is beyond all things and yet within all things” (Commentary on John 11.9).
  2. John of Damascus: God is the Cause of all, the essence of all that have essence (Orthodox Faith 1.12)./
  3. Space and Time:
    1. God’s works are external, unlike the begetting of His Son, which is internal to his being (Athanasius Contra Ar. 1.29).

Of all that is, Seen

  1. Ephrem the Syrian: Threefold nature of Adam’s creation.
    1. Eve took Adam’s body, but not his soul (Comm. on Genesis 1-2).
  2. Augustine’s trichotomism: body, soul, and spirit (On Faith and the Creed 10.23).
  3. Cyril of Alexandria: The soul did not exist before the body (Comm. on John 1.9).

And Unseen

  1. Angels
    1. Shepherd of Hermas: Angel of punishment belongs in the class of righteous angels.
    2. Clement of Alexandria: Spiritual people pray with angels (Strom. 7.12).
    3. Hilary of Poitiers: Angels intercede for us (Homily on the Psalms 129 (130)).
    4. Gregory the Great: Nine different orders of angels: angels, archangels, rulers, powers, principalities, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim (Forty Gospel Homilies 2.34.7).
  2. Nephilim:
    1. Athenagoras–some angels fell into sexual lust. Their offspring were the Giants (Plea Regarding Christians 24).
    2. Tertullian: sometimes angels assume corporeal form, as when the men of Sodom sought them (On the Flesh of Christ 3).
    3. Yet Chrysostom says the angels cannot have sexual relations (Homilies on Genesis 22.2).
    4. On the other hand, John Cassian says some angels have their own type of body (Conferences 7.13).
  3. Guardian Angels
    1. Shepherd of Hermas: each person has two angels, one evil and one good (Mandate 2.6.2).
    2. Origen: churches, apostles, and individuals each have angels (On First Principles 1.8.1). Nations also have their own angels (cf. Greece and Persia in Daniel; Tyre in Ezekiel; On First Principles 3.3.2).
    3. Jerome: each person has a guardian angel from the moment of birth (Commentary on Matthew 3.18.10).
    4. Theodoret of Cyr: Individuals have angels; nations have archangels (Comm. Daniel 10.13).
  4. Demons
    1. Exorcism still takes place today–Theophilus of Antioch (To Autoclys 2.8).
    2. Fallen angels invented magic and astrology (Tertullian).
    3. Demons only harm those who fear them: Lactantius, Institutes 2.16.

Athanasius was not a Covenanter

Sometimes you see claims from the Exclusive Psalmody group that the early church rejected musical instruments.  It’s always immediately clear that the people saying this have never read the Fathers (or the medievals). True, they wouldn’t have sang Fanny Crosby hymns played on the piano. But let’s pretend for a moment the claim is true.  What of it?  They certainly were not Exclusive Psalmody Covenanters.  They chanted.  They sang troparion and kontakion, which isn’t found in the Psalter.  But let’s see what St Athanasius actually said.

Saint-Athanasius-life-4

Chant the psalms as they are.  Don’t use metric psalmody

To be sure, when Athanasius mentions “being tuned” and “Music,” he also has in mind the soul’s harmony with Christ.  That’s probably foremost.  But the physical stringed references shouldn’t be discarded, either. In reading this I noticed something else–Athanasius said to chant the Psalms as they are.  Don’t change the wording.

No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments what-ever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words them-selves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the selfsame words that He inspired, may join us in them too.