St Cyril and the Christological Controversy (McGuckin)

McGuckin, John. Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

From the movie Agora

St Cyril of Alexandria is the sphragidis of the Fathers, the seal of the Fathers. While he is not the last word in Christology, he was an able summarizer of Christological thought and was remarkably consistent. He’s also disliked among academics today. St Cyril played hardball and it seemed like he used unsavory means to keep heretics from being represented at Council.

Prof McGuckin dismantles these myths. McGuckin a) exposes the postmodern and elitist presuppositions of the university professors and b) offers a different angle on the Nestorian Controversy—and he does it with dash, flair, and humor.

To be fair, though, it is difficult to know exactly what Nestorius actually believed. Nestorius was accused of maintaining there were two persons in Christ, a position he seemed to deny. Yet McGuckin makes clear that Nestorius believed in two prosopon in Christ. This word can mean “person” but doesn’t always, and that appeared to give Nestorius an out. Yet as McGuckin and St Cyril make clear, Nestorius nonetheless held to two operating principles in Christ. (At this point McGuckin gives a long summary of Nestorius’s Christology. In short, it reads:

• Extreme divine impassibility: the Logos cannot suffer (131).

• Christ’s two natures remain ontologically apart, existing side by side (135).

• The Church’s confession of Christ should always begin with his double reality (156).

On pp. 138ff McGuckin gives a helpful summary of the meanings of ousia, physis, hypostasis, and prosopon.

Ousia: Essence, substance, being, genus, or nature.

Physis: Nature, make up of a thing. (In earlier Christian thought the concrete reality or existent.)

Hypostasis: The actual concrete reality of a thing, the underlying essence, (in earlier Christian thought the synonym of physis.)

Prosopon: The observable character, defining properties, manifestation of a reality.

Even at first sight it is clear that the words bear a range of meanings that overlap in some areas so as to be synonymous.  This is particularly so with the terms Physis and Hypostasis which in the fifth century simultaneously bore ancient Christian meanings and more modern applications.. In relation to Physis, Cyril tended to use the antique meaning, Nestorius the modern. In relation to Hypostasis the opposite was the case.”

McGuckin, 138-139.

7. “Ousia is the genus of a thing.  Once can think, for example of the genus ‘unicorn.’  Such a genus exists, but only theoretically, not practically or concretely.  It does not exist, that is, ‘in reality’ as we would say today.  Nonetheless, it makes sense to talk of the necessary characteristics of a unicorn such as its magical horn, its horse like appearance, its whiteness, its beard and lion’s tail, and so on. Thus the genus of unicorn is the ousia, that which makes up the essential being of a thing.. The notion of the physis of our unicorn is intimately related to this.  It connotes what we might call the palpable and ‘physical’ characteristics of a unicorn such as outlined above-but always understanding that his possession of a physis-nature still does not necessarily imply that such a creature is real…In some circles, especially those represented by the Christian thinkers of Alexandria following Athanasius, the word physis signified something slightly different from this sense of ’physical attributes’ and had been used to connote the physical existent-in the sense of a concrete individual reality.  

In the hands of Cyril the word is used in two senses, one in what might be called the standard ‘physical usage where it connotes the constituent elements of a thing, and the other in which it serves to delineate the notion of individual existent-or in other words individual subject.  This variability in the use of a key term on Cyril’s part goes some way to explaining Nestorius’ difficulties in following his argument over the single Physis of the Incarnate Word (Mia Physis tou Theou Logou Sesarkoene).  By this Cyril meant the one concrete individual subject of the Incarnated Word. Whereas Nestorius heard him to mean the one physical composite of the Word (in the sense of an Apollinarist mixture of fusion of the respective attributes of the natures of man and God.)

McGuckin, 139-140.

The prospon is the external aspect or form of a physis as it can be manifested to external observation and scrutiny.  It is a very concrete, empirical word, connoting what appears to outside observation.  Each essence (ousia) is characterized by its proper nature (physis), everything that is, which makes it up, and in turn every nature that is hypostatically real presents itself to the scrutiny of the senses in its own prosopon-that list of detailed characteristics or ‘propria’ that constitute this thing individually and signal to the observer what nature (physis) it has and thus to what genus (ousia) it belongs.  In the system Nestorius is following, every nature has its own prosopon, that such of proper characteristics (idiomata) by which it is characterized in its unique  individuality and made known to others as such.  The word carried with it an intrinsic sense of ‘making known’ and appeared to Nestorius particularly apt in the revelatory context of discussing the incarnation.”

McGuckin, 144.

Cyril’s Christology

Before examining St Cyril’s Christology, McGuckin surveys Apolloniarius’s Christology. While denounced as a heretic (and rightly so), Apollonaris put his finger on many important points. To put it another way, while Apollonaris’s heresy was bad, it set the stage for Cyril’s triumph. Apollonaris saw the important point that had to be maintained: the single subject of the Logos (179).

Redemptive Deification

St Cyril’s Christology was tied to his soteriology: “The incarnation was a restorative act designed for the ontological reconstruction of a human nature that had fallen into existential decay as a result of its alienation from God” (184). The Logos appropriates human nature—and this human nature becomes that of one who is God—the human nature is lifted up to extraordinary glory.

St Cyril also offers us a way to think about divine impassibility: we should see the intimacy of the connection between the two realities of Christ…In the incarnation the power of the one transforms and heals the fallibility of the other.

“The human nature is conceived as the manner of action of an independent and omnipotent power—that of the Logos; and to the Logos alone can be attributed the authorship of, and responsibility for, all its actions” (186). The subject is unchanged, but that subject now expresses the characteristics of his divinely powerful condition in and through the medium of a passible and fragile condition.

Of course, St Cyril ties this in with the holy mysteries (188). The believer is deified because the encounter brings him into life-giving proximity with the Logos—and this proximity was the metaphysical root of all being.

St Cyril’s vision was the transformation of the human race according to the paradigm of divine appropriation of a human nature in the incarnation (188).

The Ecumenical Reception of St Cyril

Cyril preferred to say that Christ was of two natures, placing the stress on the Incarnation (231).

McGuckin scores major points in noting that St Leo’s Tome actually had to pass muster before it was excepted. The Church didn’t merely receive it and note, “Leo has spoken. The end.” They said this, but only after it passed a Cyrillene test. Why did they praise Leo? Because his Tome agreed with Cyril and the Fathers, not merely because he was “pope.”

Conclusion

This was a fantastic book. It is truly one of the great books written on Christology. Because of the timeline it does not deal with later concerns about the energies and wills of Christ. However, it wonderfully ties in ecclesiology, Christology, soteriology, and the Eucharist into one prism which then sheds multi-perspectival light on the Church.

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).

A Patristic Linkstorm

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This is a database (or will be) of my references to the church fathers.  People ask me, “So what should I read?”  This might help.

Getting the Trinity Right

Barrett, Matthew.  Simply Trinity.  The best book on the Trinity.

Erickson, Millard.  Who’s Tampering with the Trinity.

Giles, Kevin. The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity.

Torrance, Thomas. One Being: Three Persons

Torrance, Thomas.  The Trinitarian Faith

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Set

Ephrem the Syrian.  Lyrically beautiful but hard to read without some understanding of the Syriac mindset.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies.  Bailey links to this edition. I understand that AH is hard to read through, but books III-V are just too important to condense.  However, it is very difficult to find an accessible edition, so I will go with that version.

Athanasius, Contra Arianos.  Everyone links to On the Incarnation.  I admit it is important, but it’s not that important and it is nowhere near as good as CA.  Unfortunately, you have to go to the Schaff edition to find an accessible version.

Origen.  On First Principles.  Yes, you have to be careful reading Origen, but he is just too important to dismiss.  I am aware of the 5th Council’s anathemas, but they aren’t part of the council itself (and are morally and historically suspect).  Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine a Gregory or a Maximus without an Origen.

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity.  A so-called “Western” take on the Trinity before the Augustinian revolution.  This volume is expensive, but you can find the Schaff edition online somewhere.

John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith.

Popular Patristics Paperbacks

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ. Read this before anything else.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  Festal Orations.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Man.

Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching.

Four Desert Fathers.

Hippolytus, On the Apostolic Tradition.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Lectures on the Sacraments

John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood.

Maximus the Confessor, The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.  Read this at least three times.  It is the most important book on this list.

Maximus the Confessor, Two Hundred Chapters of Theology.

Basil, On the Holy Spirit.

BasilOn Social Justice.

Basil, On Christian Doctrine and Practice.

Basil, on Fasting and Feasting.

Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

Theodore the Studite, On the Holy Icons.

John of Damascus, Three Treatises on Divine Images.

Melito of Sardis, On Pascha.

Ancient Christian Texts

Severian and Bede on Genesis 1-3.

Andrew of Caesarea on Revelation.

Ancient Christian Doctrines

We Believe in One God, ed. Bray.

And in One Lord Jesus Christ, ed. McGuckin.

Athanasius

Anatolios, Khaled.  Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought.  Probably the best text on working out the God-world relationship in Athanasius.  He tries to rescue Athanasius from the charge of of “instrumentalizing Christ’s humanity,” but I am not sure he succeeds.

Williams, Rowan.  Arius: Heresy and Tradition.  Kind of limited and scope and Williams tends to see Barth and Bonhoeffer as the Athanasiuses of our day, but his handling of ancient philosophy is masterful.

Gwynn, David.  The Eusebians: The Polemic of Athanasius of Alexandria and the Construction of the ‘Arian Controversy.’

Augustine

Ayres, Lewis.  Augustine.   Good read.  I think he downplays any neo-platonic elements, but certainly will be a standard text.

Nicea

Ayres, Lewis.  Nicea and its Legacy. Ayres has a tendency to use “simplicity” (aplosis) as a univocal term among the fathers, when it clearly isn’t.  Notwithstanding, this will end up being the standard work in the field.

Beeley, Christopher.  The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in the Patristic Tradition.  Tries to rehabilitate Origen somewhat; a fantastic read.  Limited in scope, though.  Origen and the immediate aftermath get a lot of attention.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Beeley, Christopher.  Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God: In Your Light We Shall See Light .  Hit or miss.  But outstanding discussio on Gregory’s usage of “cause” and “monarchia.”  In fact, the best treatment on that in the English language, period.  I have his essay on this if you want it.

McGuckin, John.  St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography.

Gregory of Nyssa

Boersma, Hans.  Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa.

Radde-Galwitz, Andrew.  Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity.  The best patristic book on divine simplicity.

Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius.

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses.

Barnes, Michel. The Power of God: Dynamis in Gregory of Nyssa.

Von Balthasar, Hans urs. Presence and Thought.

Origen

de Lubac, Henri.  History and Spirit.

Cyril

McGuckin, John.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  One of the best texts on Cyril.  Period.

Gavrilyuk, Paul. Suffering of the Impassible God: Dialectics of the Patristic Tradition.  Excellent discussions.  His goal is to close the gap between Cyril and modern critics of Cyril..  Not sure he succeeds.

Maximus the Confessor

Cooper, Adam.  The Body in St. Maximus the Confessor: Holy Flesh, Wholly Deified.  Great discussion of Maximus’s “Five Divisions” and their subsequent unities.

Bathrellos, Demetrios.  The Byzantine Christ.  The best discussion on Maximus the Confessor.

von Balthasar, Hans urs.  Cosmic Liturgy: Maximus.   Great section dealing with terms like hypostasis.  He tries to make Maximus a hard-line neo-Chalcedonian.  Other scholars have thoroughly attacked Balthasar on this point.

von Balthasar, Hans urs.  Presence and Thought.

Thunberg, Lars.  Microcosm and Mediator.   Encyclopedic work on Maximus.  No original ideas here, but an outstanding summary of the Nyssa-Maximus tradition.

Loudonikos, Nikolaos.  A Eucharistic Ontology.  My favorite work on Maximus.

Barnes, Michel.  Dunamis in the thought of Gregory of Nyssa. The best discussion on what Gregory means by energy and power.

Tollefsen, Torstein.  The Christocentric Cosmology of Maximus the Confessor.

Torononen, Melchisidec. Union and Distinction in Maximus the Confessor.

Survey Texts

McGuckin, John.  A History of Christianity.

Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity.

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.

Review: Prayer Book of Early Christians

prayer

The value in this text is its setting forth most of the key prayers of the early church.  McGuckin gives some commentary, such as noting that the lighting of candles symbolized the Spirit’s praying in and through us.  Most of the book, though, consists in different prayer settings of the early Christians (Matins, Vespers, etc.).

For example, a Vesper service would look something like this:

*Trisagion (Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us)

* Either Ps. 103/142 (here is where it gets tricky, since the LXX is off by a chapter, so you will have to consult 103/104 to get the feel of which is more “eveningy”).

* Prayer of Eventide
*Psalm 140/141

* Prayer over Incense

* Gladsome Light

*Litany of Intercession

Matins would look like:

Trisagion

Invatory prayers

Psalms 19-20

Song of the Cross

Morning cycle of 6 psalms

Other prayers included prayers for the sick, protection against the forces of darkness, etc., etc.  The book is somewhat pricey for its small size, but it offers a valuable service in getting the prayers together in one place.

Review: McGuckin’s The Path of Christianity

John McGuckin’s project is unique in that he starts his account in the 2nd Century, not the 1st.  This allows him to explore the different “secessionist” offshoots from the main church. This meant for the Church that the office of the bishop had to arise primarily to confront fringe and schismatic groups (Ebionites, Natsirim, Montanists, etc).

Post-Apostolic Fathers

Related imageWith Clement of Rome we see the terminology of presbytery as a group of elders but we are also beginning to see one presbyter/episkopos beginning to have administrative authority.  With Ignatius of Antioch the role of bishop is now monarchical.  Yet when Polycarp writes to the church of Philippi, he speaks not of a bishop but a council of presbyters (McGuckin 65; Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians 6.1).

Cyprian

For Cyprian there can never be schism in the church, it is always schism from the church. He isn’t just arguing for unity, but for unicity. Disobedience to the church is a crime against the unity of the church (220). If you are out of the church, you are cut off from the grace spigot.  Not surprisingly, Cyprian set himself up for failure.  His theory couldn’t answer later questions: like who is the true church when the patriarch is a slave to the Ottomans or the Soviets or to George Soros?  

Justinian Reforms

Justinian didn’t simply “shut down” the Academy in Athens.  He cut off govt funding and forced them to pay their way.  They couldn’t do that (because people didn’t want to see a mix of Plato and magic), so the magician-philosophers went to Persia (and then came back).

Early Liturgy and Prayer

It is very difficult for many people to approach the ancient fathers on prayer.  For some, it looks too much like Buddhism.  And for many activists theologians, it doesn’t make sense to do hesychasm when you can be lobbying on Capitol Hill.  Nevertheless, the “stillness” model rests upon a particularly sophisticated anthropology, one that can help us in our technological age.  Indeed, one that can counter (with God’s help) deep state monarch programming.

Now, on to McGuckin: “The heart is the inner place where the creature stood before God” (Path 865).  Heart isn’t quite the same thing as nous.

  • It is a biblical cipher for the whole spiritual personality.
  • It is sometimes expressed by the word wisdom (Prov. 19.8).
  • It is a synonym for the innermost self (Rom. 7.22).

McGuckin notes the effect of this practice, “Charging and reorienting the human  consciousness, focusing it, as it were, like a lens on the singleness of the idea of the presence of God” (871).  The ancients knew that our minds wander during prayer.  This trained us to begin the struggle of prayer.

The Bible

Very helpful section.  No matter where you fall on the tradition/scripture debate,  I am reminded of a comment from RC Sproul, “We hold to an infallible text in a fallible canon.”  How can that be possible.  McGuckin, probably not intending to carry on Sproul’s idea, points to an analogue in a “bounded infinity.”  We operate on the assumption that our universe is finite.  It is, yet it is constantly expanding.  

Christians and Magic

  • St Paul defined every magician as a son of the Devil (Acts 13:8-12)
  • All Greco-Roman rites were demonic (and thus the tie-in with daimonic, human contact with invisible world of spirits (1010)).
  • Athanasius best represented the Christian approach to cthonic forces and magic.  We have to understand how widespread this fear was in the ancient world (and pretty much everywhere that isn’t comfortable America). “At the sign of the cross all magic ceases, all witchcraft is rendered void, all idols are abandoned and denied, all superstitious longings cease, and everyone raises their eyes to heaven” (De Incarnatione 31).

Conclusion

Somewhat intermediate-advanced text, but clearly the best treatment of pre-schism church history

Bringing the nous into the heart

This is from John Mcguckin’s The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years, pp. 862-869.  It is very difficult for many people to approach the ancient fathers on prayer.  For some, it looks too much like Buddhism.  And for many activists theologians, it doesn’t make sense to do hesychasm when you can be lobbying on Capitol Hill.  Nevertheless, the “stillness” model rests upon a particularly sophisticated anthropology, one that can help us in our technological age.  Indeed, one that can counter (with God’s help) deep state monarch programming.all flame

Have you ever prayed and felt dead?  Like the prayer wasn’t real?  Maybe it’s because you carried into prayer the mindset you had when you were watching the Kardashians ten minutes ago.  The Fathers teach us how to develop a mindset for prayer.  This mindset is important because it prevents us from having a “fractured psyche.”

St Gregory of Sinai clearly states that forgetfulness of God is a disease of the soul and of the faculty of reason. It has a direct impact on human memory, which ends up divided, diffused and fragmented, a prey to tempting thoughts. If I forget God, my memory will crumble into pieces, resulting in scattered, wayward thinking: “Dia-logismos”.

Now, on to McGuckin: “The heart is the inner place where the creature stood before God” (Path 865).  Heart isn’t quite the same thing as nous.

  • It is a biblical cipher for the whole spiritual personality.
  • It is sometimes expressed by the word wisdom (Prov. 19.8).
  • It is a synonym for the innermost self (Rom. 7.22).

So how does this apply to prayer?  Where does the doctrine cash out?  The fathers practiced the monologistos prayer.  It was a short phrase from Scripture that was repeated over and over until it soaked the consciousness (870).  That sounds like it violates Jesus’s command not to pray over and over like the heathen, but several things need to be noted:

  • He probably meant pagan incantations.
  • You are going to have something soaking your mind anyway.  Your mind is never neutral.  You will either soak it with God or with Katy Perry songs.  Take your pic.  Would you rather wake up in the middle of the night singing, “Romeo save me/I can’t ever be alone” or with

McGuckin notes the effect of this practice, “Charging and reorienting the human  consciousness, focusing it, as it were, like a lens on the singleness of the idea of the presence of God” (871).  The ancients knew that our minds wonder during prayer.  This trained us to begin the struggle of prayer.

The Anthropology of Prayer

We have a body (physical impulses), soul (feelings and desires), and nous (spiritual intellect). If the body was agitated, the other two “ranges” of consciousness would be pulled down as well (871).  Therefore, the monks knew that bodily needs are controlled by redirection.

That takes care of the body.  What about the soul?  Our prayer lives are usually by default rooted in our soul (consciousness).  This is where we live habitually. The monologistos prayer quiets down our soul. McGuckin succinctly points out, “Thoughts generate thoughts.  Words make words.  Monologistos prayer kills those unnecessary words” (872).

When the soul is finally quieted, the nous descends to the heart and one reaches stillness. This is what the hesychasts knew.  You aren’t just doing funny breathing.  At this point when you slow down the breathing, your body calms even more.

Everyone wants to claim that the human person is a body-soul unity, or some kind of unity.  I think it is the genius of Palamas to see how the person is a unity.  There is a dynamic interplay between body, soul, and nous.

McGuckin on Natures

This ties in with my recent reflections on universals, natures, and metaphysics.  This is from John McGuckin’s fine work on St Cyril. I applaud Perry Robinson for doing the legwork in putting these quotes on his blog:

Ousia: Essence, substance, being, genus, or nature.

Physis: Nature, make up of a thing. (In earlier Christian thought the concrete reality or existent.)

Hypostasis: The actual concrete reality of a thing, the underlying essence, (in earlier Christian thought the synonym of physis.)

Prosopon: The observable character, defining properties, manifestation of a reality.

Even at first sight it is clear that the words bear a range of meanings that overlap in some areas so as to be synonymous.  This is particularly so with the terms Physis and Hypostasis which in the fifth century simultaneously bore ancient Christian meanings and more modern applications.. In relation to Physis, Cyril tended to use the antique meaning, Nestorius the modern. In relation to Hypostasis the opposite was the case.”

McGuckin, 138-139.

7. “Ousia is the genus of a thing.  Once can think, for example of the genus ‘unicorn.’  Such a genus exists, but only theoretically, not practically or concretely.  It does not exist, that is, ‘in reality’ as we would say today.  Nonetheless, it makes sense to talk of the necessary characteristics of a unicorn such as its magical horn, its horse like appearance, its whiteness, its beard and lion’s tail, and so on. Thus the genus of unicorn is the ousia, that which makes up the essential being of a thing.. The notion of the physis of our unicorn is intimately related to this.  It connotes what we might call the palpable and ‘physical’ characteristics of a unicorn such as outlined above-but always understanding that his possession of a physis-nature still does not necessarily imply that such a creature is real…In some circles, especially those represented by the Christian thinkers of Alexandria following Athanasius, the word physis signified something slightly different from this sense of ’physical attributes’ and had been used to connote the physical existent-in the sense of a concrete individual reality.  In the hands of Cyril the word is used in two senses, one in what might be called the standard ‘physical usage where it connotes the constituent elements of a thing, and the other in which it serves to delineate the notion of individual existent-or in other words individual subject.  This variability in the use of a key term on Cyril’s part goes some way to explaining Nestorius’ difficulties in following his argument over the single Physis of the Incarnate Word (Mia Physis tou Theou Logou Sesarkoene).  By this Cyril meant the one concrete individual subject of the Incarnated Word. Whereas Nestorius heard him to mean the one physical composite of the Word (in the sense of an Apollinarist mixture of fusion of the respective attributes of the natures of man and God.)

McGuckin, 139-140.

The prospon is the external aspect or form of a physis as it can be manifested to external observation and scrutiny.  It is a very concrete, empirical word, connoting what appears to outside observation.  Each essence (ousia) is characterized by its proper nature (physis), everything that is, which makes it up, and in turn every nature that is hypostatically real presents itself to the scrutiny of the senses in its own prosopon-that list of detailed characteristics or ‘propria’ that constitute this thing individually and signal to the observer what nature (physis) it has and thus to what genus (ousia) it belongs.  In the system Nestorius is following, every nature has its own prosopon, that such of proper characteristics (idiomata) by which it is characterized in its unique  individuality and made known to others as such.  The word carried with it an intrinsic sense of ‘making known’ and appeared to Nestorius particularly apt in the revelatory context of discussing the incarnation.”

McGuckin, 144.

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.

Unleash the theopoets

Flow and Highlights

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus [PB]

I will capture the flow of Gregory’s life along with crucial highlights. McGuckin’s thesis suggests something along the lines that Gregory “midwifed” a new Christian vision into the old imperium.

Gregory’s Post-Hellenic Vision

Gregory opted for something like a Christian Hellenism, or rather the New Byzantine vision (I understand this language is somewhat anachronistic, since Gregory would have seen himself as a Roman). This method and vision allowed him to bring order to a then inchoate biblical theology. It was a bridge between the Hellenic and Semitic worlds. He was able to hold apparent opposites in creative tensions, and he refused to collapse mystery and symbol into logical deduction (McGuckin10). In fact, in Gregory’s hands Christology is never allowed to escape its proper context of reflection: “the dynamic mystery of the economy of God’s salvation of humankind” (390).

In order to counteract Julian, Christians had to offer an inspiration for a new imperium and society (117ff). Both Gregory and Julian agreed that “a culture cannot be divorced from its religious inspiration without being fatally compromised.” In this battle Gregory forges a keen anti-Hellenic apologetics. Much of it is similar to Augustine, albeit with the promise that Christianity is able to synthesize old and new (121).

Indeed, the birth of Byzantium is the new public confession of the Spirit as homoousion. Gregory’s confession of the Spirit is the positive triumph of what was best in Origen: it is the present spiritualization of the current order and the ascent to divine vision (309). Gregory is able to do what his master could not: correlate the eschatological vision with historical unfolding. Gregory’s social program is connected with his anthropology (151). Image and archetype are reconciled in the hominisation of God as a poor man. The human condition is mixis between clay and divine image.

Theological Method

This is not merely an attack on Eunomios. It is a vision for theology (263). He attacks two theological positions: a) that the Son and Spirit are without cause (agenetos); and b) they are caused by the Father as something other (hetera) to him.

principle of causality: it is something other than what is meant by God’s causing the created order. It indicates the manner in which the Father relates his being to the other two persons.

The Theological Orations

They have a triadic structure to them.  Or. 27 and 28 deal with theologia as our perception of God.  Orations 29-30 deal with the Son’s relation to the Father.  Oration 31 deal with the Spirit.

The Monarchia of the Father

  • The Son is generated, not from the ousia, but from the Father’s person.  Otherwise, the Son, having the same essence, would generate himself!  Contra Eunomius, this means ingeneracy or generation is not constitutive of the divine essence.
  • The divine being is primarily the Father’s being, not a generic class of being (McGuckin 294 n352). The Father personally communicates this being to the hypostases of the Son and Spirit.
  • Gregory draws from the earlier church’s vision of the triad as a single coherent process of unfolding the life of the Father.  Therefore, threefoldness is just as much a principle of unity as of differentiation (296 n355).

Feasting in the Spirit

The doctrine of the Spirit is the mean between Jewish monism and Hellenic polytheism (273). Jews celebrate feasts by the letter, Greeks in the body. Christians feast in the Spirit. As McGuckin notes, this fits in with Gregory’s “matrix of liturgical discourse.”

It is through the Spirit that the Father is known and the Son glorified. The idiomata do not define the essence, but are themselves defined in relation to the essence. The three stages of revelation are progressively perfected.

Conclusion:

This is a hard read. And it is not quite the same “kind” of work as McGuckin’s masterpiece on Cyril. The latter is a theological commentary; this, as the subtitle makes clear, is an intellectual biography. Still, McGuckin’s scholarship is world-class and this is easily the best biography on Gregory.