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.  

Basil on the Holy Spirit

The Neo-Aetian challenge on prepositions:

Basil said ‘Glory be to the Father with the Son together with the Holy Spirit’ (instead of the usual formula: ‘Glory be to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit’).  Did Basil’s use of different prepositions suggest different natures?

The Hellenistic mindset, especially in its hardened Arian form, said that a given style of language indicates a specific metaphysical reality.  As Basil used different prepositions, he must have meant different natures.  Therefore,

Of whom = Creator

Through whom = Demiurge (think the god of Freemasony)

In whom = Holy Spirit in Place and Time.

Basil has several lines of response:

a) The different prepositions indicate not different natures, but Economy and Theology.  Basil also says that the Aetian construction derives from heathen (read: Hellenistic) sources (III.6).

b) second refutation:  The different prepositions indicate distinct hypostases.   Therefore, hypostasis doesn’t mean what later writers would call nature.  Again, he has broken with Hellenism.   Further, by distinguishing the hypostases, yet maintaining the co-equality, Basil has negated the Hellenic principle that distinction = opposition or declension of nature.

c) third refutation: St Paul applies different prepositions to the same hypostasis (p.7).

Key point:  Different names represent different energies, not different natures (8.17). Names do not define the essence, but reveal it.  Persons who exhibit common operations (energies) share the same essence.

Simplicity of essence.  For Basil it functions like homoousion.  It is a theological symbol, not a philosophical construct.

The numbers used in the Trinity are qualitative, not quantitative.  We do not “count” in God, since that implies addition and partition (18.44).  “We do not count by way of addition” (45).  What does Basil mean by “monarchy?”  We speak of a king, and a king’s image, but not two kings. We do not divide the glory.  “Honor paid to the image passes to the prototype.”

Positive Description of the Spirit

He distributes his energy according to the proportion of faith (9.22). His essence is simple, yet he is impassively divided.  Psalm 33.6: “The Lord gives the order, the Word creates, and the Spirit confirms” (16.38).

Nonfallen angels receive a grace from the Holy Spirit that confirms the perfection of their essence (16.38).

The Spirit’s operations were present before the ages: “What were his operations before that creation whereof we can conceive” (19.49). Therefore, God’s energies are eternal.

Hard Sayings of Basil

“We were regenerate through the grace given to us in baptism” (10.26).

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).

On Fasting and Feasting (Basil the Great)

Basil the Great.  On Fasting and Feasting. Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2013.

This is not the name of a book Basil wrote. It is a collection of sermons delivered on various feast days.  It is nothing like a systematic treatise on fasting, but it can be a good spur for the Christian life.  We really don’t know how to feast because we don’t know how to fast. We consider McDonald’s to be a good meal.

Birth of Christ

This sermon establishes the pattern that as Christ’s flesh participates in divinity, so our own flesh must be prepared.  The incarnation is the foundation for fasting. Basil repeats the standard line that the mode of eternal generation is ineffable (Basil 27). The closest analogy is fire to iron.  He does seem to anticipate something like the extra-calvinisticum when he notes “Heaven was not deprived of what it contained, and the earth received the heavenly one within its own embraces” (30).  As Christ’s flesh shares in divinity, “it does not impart its own weaknesses to the divinity.”

The body of the Holy Virgin is “the workshop for this divine economy.”  Nice turn of phrase.

On Baptism

Any time is an acceptable time for baptism (41). Basil uses the language of baptism saving.  We shouldn’t try to weaken that.  What we should not miss, however, is that baptism allows us to participate in redemptive history.

We also see hints of a baptismal service in the ancient church: “You may find yourself (as unbaptized) able neither to lift your hands to heaven, stand upright, give proper bodily worship for the ritual, learn properly, confess clearly, join with God, nor renounce the devil” (49).

Learn good habits: “prayer as a night-watchman, fasting as the servant at the door, psalmody as your soul-guide” (52).

First Homily on Fasting

True fasting should loose the bonds of iniquity (injustice). One of the reasons we shouldn’t look sad during a fast is because we shouldn’t “look gloomy while [we] are being healed” (55). Fasting, when done properly, can kill (or at least expose) the root of a sin in the soul. Basil takes the command to “anoint your head” as a reference to the chrismic mysteries and oil. This allows us, he suggests, to “share in Christ” (56).

In terms of physical and temporal health, Basil notes that “eating lightly” is healthier for the body (57), Of course, they would have been eating actual food and not today’s food-like products.

The saints received fasting as a paternal inheritance.

Basil gives Noah the benefit of the doubt on the wine incident.  Noah didn’t know how to partake moderately.  Developing this point, fasting allows us to view food (and wine) properly. To the degree that we moderns do fast, we break our fast, not by small amounts of lean meat and a little wine, but by McDonalds.

“Fasting begets prophets and strengthens mighty men” (61). It is quite simply a training regimen.

A man who truly fasts will not lend money at interest (64).

A man who does not heed “the life-giving doctrines will have his mind waste away” (67).

Passions disturb the mind, but fasting weakens the passions.

Second Homily on Fasting

Thesis: “The more you deny the flesh, the more you render your soul radiant” (73-74).

The church uses the feast days to train the body to rhythms of fasting and feasting.  These rhythms keep the soul ready to fight spiritual warfare.  Indeed, “going without food to eliminate intemperance, they foster a kind of receptivity, re-education, and fresh start of the redevelopment of the nutritive faculty [perhaps we don’t need to adopt this aspect of ancient medicine]” (79).

There are aspects of Basil’s counsel that we probably couldn’t adopt today: church feast calendar, etc.  Much of what he says, though, is worth considering and neatly unites both body and soul.

The Cappadocians (Anthony Meredith)

thaumaturge

A good, succinct intro to Cappadocian theology.  Anthony Meredith spends most of the book on Gregory of Nyssa. While Cappadocian studies have come far since he has written, he handles the primary texts well and points the student in the right direction.

While Gregory Thaumaturgos (“The Wonderworker,” A.D. 275) was not the first great Cappadocian Christians, he was the most important before the “Three.”  He was a disciple of Origen.

The Roots of Cappadocian Theology

The Cappadocians received Platonism mediated through Origen (Meredith 10).  We participate in the Good through askesis, or training.

Basil of Caesarea

While monasticism had been going strong since the days of St Anthony, with Basil it became a full-powered social force (at least outside of Egypt).  Anchoring Basil’s monachism is his theology of the Spirit, so Meredith argues (24). One of the ways the Christian tradition broke with Hellenism, especially in Basil, was the emphasis on and goodness of hard work, manual labor.

For Basil becoming like God and knowing God are strongly connected (like is known by like).  He highlights two roles of the Holy Spirit: Perfecting and life-giving. He primarily perfects rational agents by forming virtue in them (30).

Gregory of Nazianzus

“Light” is the most characteristic term Gregory uses for God (43).  This structures Gregory’s soteriology as one of enlightenment. Meredith suggests you can trace the argument from Plato’s Republic 7 and Origen’s Peri Archon 2.11 through Orations 9.2 and 27.3.

Gregory’s reliance on Origen’s view that the human soul of Christ is where the union of the divine and human natures take place is seen in Letter 101.

Gregory of Nyssa

Akoulouthia: an underlying coherent pattern.

Eros: With Gregory it becomes the human craving for God.

Unlike Arius, who didn’t want to define the divine nature, the Eunomians defined it as ingeneracy.  Different names of God = different natures.

In answering Eunomius, Gregory outlines a brilliant metaphysics. Among other things, the Good cannot be defined by its opposite (CE 1.68). From here Gregory concludes to God’s infinity.

Shoring up their achievements

The Trinity is the divine life.  The divine nature does not have an independent reality apart from the persons (105).  Meredith explains: “In the Basilian scheme each person of the Trinity can be thought of as a union of the general divine nature and an individual characteristic, sometimes referred to as a tropos hyparxeos or way of existing.  So the Father is as it were a compound of divinity + Fatherhood, and so on for the Son and Spirit” (105).

For Gregory of Nazianzus the monarchia is the key term.  Yet, it is a flexible term as he seems to mean both the Father and the unity of the Godhead (contrast Oration 42.15 with 5th Theological Oration.14).  Which is right? Probably the first. It makes more sense of Gregory’s larger project that the monarchia is the source of order and being (Meredith 107).  The only difficulty is that if pressed too hard, it would have the Father as the source of his own being!

Gregory of Nyssa: We infer the unity of being with the unity of action (109).  Interestingly, Meredith acknowledges that Gregory does not teach the filioque (110), since Gregory’s Trinity is asymmetrical.

Basil, On Christian Doctrine and Practice

Basil, On Christian Doctrine and Practice.  Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Image result for basil on christian doctrine and practice

Despite the title, this really isn’t a systematic treatise on ethics and theology. It is a collection of Basil’s sermons.  But even then, there are numerous insights that are worth considering.

 

Homily on the Beginning of Proverbs

 

Wisdom:  “systematic knowledge of divine and human things and their causes” (Basil 55).

 

Justice: “the state of mind that distributes according to merit” (63).  Yet Basil takes it even deeper: “true justice is Christ” (65).

 

Wisdom must proceed from a just soul.

 

First Homily on Psalm 14 (MT: 15)

 

Tent: our body, this earthly life.  Basil sees a movement from “tent” to mountain.

 

Df. human being = “a mind united to a suitable and fitting body” (170).

 

Two Homilies on the Trinity

 

Both Father and Son share same Lordship.  Basil sees a movement in the Ephesian formula “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”   Yet, he argues, these aren’t three “ones.”

Hellenism as Dialectic

Earlier models of theology did theology “by century,” or a list of pithy sayings on a topic.  I doubt I will get to a hundred, but it is a good guideline.  When I attack Hellenism, in this context I mean the matrix in which the church found itself.  I do not deny that the Fathers and NT used “substance” language.  I think it is good that they did.  I simply deny that reading the Greek philosophers as if they are the next best thing is a good idea. Unless I note otherwise, the following are theses that define dialectical Hellenism. D = Dialectic.

  1. Basil notes, contra Hellenism, that terms referring to the divine essence aren’t de facto conferring material limitations to it (McGuckin 2017: 318).
  2. D: The One and the Many are mutually correlative.
  3. D: Deity is defined by self-origination
  4. D: Distinction is opposition: two contrary attributes cannot coinhere in the same subject at the same time.  This rules out the Incarnation.  It also rules out dyotheletism.
  5. D: Definition = limit.
  6. Contra Hellenism, God has no opposite (St Maximus, Cap. Char. 3.28) . If he had an opposite, then that opposite would define him.
  7. D: Things are distinguished by their opposites (Plato, Phaedo103d; same logic is use in Thomist Trinitarianism).
  8. D: The “infinite” implies “boundary markers” (Barnes, Early Greek  Philosophy 216).
  9. St Paul said we are no longer under the stoichea of the age (Galatians 3-4).
  10. D: Democritus says it’s stupid to want children (Barnes 280) and sex is irrational.
  11. “When Socrates was seized by a problem, he remained immobile for an interminable period of time in deep thought; when Holy Scripture is read aloud the Hebrew moves his whole body ceaselessly in deep devotion and adoration.”
  12. The hero for the Greek was Hercules.  The hero for the Hebrew is David, who served the covenant people.

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.

St Basil: On Social Justice

The book is a collection of homilies St Basil wrote during the famine that hit Cappadocia.  The book exhibits his sheer rhetorical power.  One almost wept with pity in his homily on those who lend at interest.  One problem, though:  The book is titled “On Social Justice,” which connotes blue-haired Antifa warriors on Tumblr.  And the editor never really defines justice except pointing to a term St Basil used a lot:  epanison.  Normally translated “distribution,” it actually means “restore the balance.”  I suppose that’s as good a definition as any.

To the Rich

What is the use of wealth?  “When wealth is scattered as the Lord intends, it naturally returns; but when it is gathered, it naturally dispurses” (Basil 44).

I will tear down my barns

Main idea: sow righteousness (63). “Do not make common need a means of private gain.” “If you want storehouses, you have them in the stomachs of the poor” (68).  “You are guilty of injustice to as many as you could have aided but did not” (70).

In Time of Famine and Drought

Main idea: Our needs are not provided for (per the drought) because we do not share with others (76).

Lessons for today

One of the difficulties in applying this is the contrast between Basil’s time and ours. The editor glowingly says “These could have been written yesterday.”  Well, only superficially.  Here is why I think that.  There was no middle class during Basil’s time.  The agrarian world was the norm and if there were drought and famine, it was a crisis. Things have changed somewhat to mitigate those disasters.

Secondly, his powerful prose targets the rich–those who l live like the Kardashians.  It doesn’t target the plumber today who is struggling to pay his bills. Yes, he is absolutely right that those who squander their wealth on crap deserve scorn and we shouldn’t live beyond what is necessary.  Ah, but 1600 years later how does one determine what is necessary?  I think there are answers, to be sure, but they are far more difficult.

But fear not:  this is a process. This is where the hard questions of ethics begin, not end.  For starters, just don’t spend money like a thot and you will be okay. Basil always gives brilliant psychological insights on the tentacles of wealth.  Sanctification is a process.

A Patristics Primer

I spent the past few days on Facebook debating soon-to-be-Socinians in the CBMW on why you shouldn’t tinker with the Trinity.  Some friends have asked me for a primer on basic Patristics texts.  This is more or less an impossible request but I can start to lay the groundwork.  If you devote at least a good six months to working through these issues, you will begin to see why tinkering with the Trinity must end badly.

Primary Sources

Hilary of Poitiers, “De Synodis.”  St Hilary explains how the early Fathers had to break the back of certain categories before they became acceptable.

Athanasius.  Contra Arianos.  This work is very difficult to read but it is his best work.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ: Five Theological Orations.  The best thing ever written on Trinitarianism.

Gregory of Nyssa.  “Great Catechism” and “On Not Three Gods.”  Advances the argument that the Trinity is one mind, will, power, and energy of operation.  This is why Gospel Coalition types won’t engage me when I ask them how many minds are in the Trinity.

Basil.  On The Holy Spirit.

Pseudo-Dionysius.  The Divine Names.

Basic Trinitarianism

Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity.  Letham has a number of blind-spots but he covers the material better than any.

Lacugna, Catherine.  God for Us.  She is a liberal Jesuit and that comes out in her writing, but she does a fine job on the Cappadocians.

Torrance, Thomas.  The Trinitarian Faith and One Being: Three persons.  The two best texts by a modern on the Trinity.  Torrance has few equals.  And no, his so-called “neo-orthodoxy” does not come out in this.

Intermediate Issues

McGuckin, John.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  Excellent survey of Cyril’s thought and he makes the argument that Chalcedon, far from being a Western council, specifically made Cyril the standard for Christology.

———–.  St Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography.  Just fun.

Beeley, Christopher.  The Unity of Christ and In Your Light We See Light.

Advanced Issues

Barnes, Michel.  The Power of God.  Explores Gregory of Nyssa’s use of “dynamis” in Christology.

Farrell, Joseph.  God, History, and Dialectic.  Be careful but some good analysis.

Photios.  Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps the Filioque can be salvaged, but not by positing the Father-Son as a single cause.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology, vol. 1.

Philosophical Foundations.

Perl, Eric.  Theophany: Dionysius’s Philosophy.

Gould and Davis (eds).  Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of JP Moreland.   Some outstanding essays on what it means for universals to be exemplified.

Maximus the Confessor.  The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.

Moreland, J. P. Universals.

Cooper, John. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting.

Morris, Thomas.  The Logic of God Incarnate.  This is tough and I am not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, but it is an important study nonetheless.

Plantinga, Alvin.  Does God have a Nature?  Yeah, yeah, classical theism and all.  Plantinga’s arguments can’t simply be brushed aside.