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).

 

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Review: Hilary of Poitiers

Taken from NPNF (Second Series) vol 9.

In reviewing St Hilary’s thought, I will be relying primarily on Geofrey Bromiley’s Historical Theology for clarification on more difficult points.    In no way can Hilary’s work be considered a literary masterpiece.  It is about one hundred pages too long, repetitive, and wordy.  To be fair, he wrote much of it in exile and like Augustine, was not always privy to the more mature Eastern thinking (though Hilary rectified this in some ways).http___1.bp_.blogspot.com_-4kLDqWIpyOM_T0y85bH3ESI_AAAAAAAAIE0_L_9l7cPwjow_s400_inp153

Further, Hilary shouldn’t be read in isolation from his very important text, De Synodis. There Hilary explains how homoousion should function in theology.  He writes (De Synodis 67-69)

There is also a third error, which takes ‘Father and Son of one substance’ to indicate a prior substance, which the two share equally.  The orthodox will assert ‘one substance of Father and son’; but he must not start from that: nor must he hold this as the chief truth, as if there could be no true faith without it.

We do not begin with the essence in abstract for the very simple reason that such essence is incomprehensible and/or undefinable.

Hilary begins his theology with God’s revelation.  We know God as he reveals himself to us.  However, our theologizing about God will always be opaque.  God is invisible, ineffable, etc., and the mind grows weary trying to comprehend him (ii.6).  Language itself fails us as words are powerless (ii.7).   Analogies offer some help but they only hint at the meaning (i.19).

Trinitarian theology for the church begins with the baptismal formula in St Matthew’s gospel.  The Father is the origin of all; the Son is the only-begotten, and the Spirit is the gift (ii.1).    As the source of all the Father has being in himself.   The fullness of the Father is in the Son.   Because the Son is of the Father’s nature, the Son has the Father’s nature.  Hilary’s point is that like nature begats like nature.

In a break with pagan thought, Hilary distinguishes between person and nature:  “nor are there two Gods but one from one” (ii.11).

Hilary and the Spirit

Did Hilary teach the Filioque?  It’s hard to tell, and neither camp should draw hard conclusions.  The facts are these:  1) in ii.29 the Schaff edition reads “we are bound to confess him, proceeding as He does, from Father and Son.”  However, the foonote points out that there are alternative, more probable readings.  It is acknowledged that throughout Hilary’s work the text has been corrupted at parts.   Even assuming the present reading to be the correct one, one must ask if by procession Hilary would mean the same thing as later Filioquist writers?  The Latin word for proceed (procedere) does not have the same range as the multiple Greek words for “proceed.”  Roman Catholic scholar Jean Miguel Garrigues notes that one simply can’t read English translations of the Latin semantic domains of “proceed” and from that infer, quite simplisticly, that Hilary believed in the Filioque (L’Esprit qui dit «Père!» (Paris 1981), pp. 65-75.; [no, I don’t read French).

2) Hilary goes on elsewhere to affirm that the Spirit is from the Father alone (viii.20) and the Father through the Son (xii.57); neither of these texts, obviously, are hard Filioquist reads, and in any case, this wasn’t Hilary’s point.

Evaluation

As an anti-Arian text, there is a reason why the Church spends more time with St Athanasius, Ambrose, and the Cappadocians.  The Cappadocians and St Ambrose would later refine Hilary’s argument.

The Eucharist: St Hilary draws an analogy between the “of one nature” with Father and Son and the utter reality of the Son in the Eucharist.  We receive the very Word make flesh in the Eucharist, not due to an agreement of will but because the Son took man’s nature to himself.

We know God by his operations or powers (later theologians would say energies):  God’s self-revelation displays his Name (Person).  This reveals his nature (i.27).

Rejects philosophical nominalism:  names correspond to realities (ix.69).

On the Rock of Matthew 16.19ff:  “This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her” (vi. 37).  The faith of the apostles, not the see of Peter, is the foundation of the Church.

Conclusion

It is not a literary masterpiece, nor is it really an outstanding apologia against Arianism.  However, it is a faithful reflection of the Tradition passed down, and it does give many remarkable “snapshots” of the Church’s belief which can inform, challenge, and hopefully change the minds of folk today.

A patristic ordo theologiae

The following summary comes from years of studying and interacting with Joseph Farrell’s theological works.  I had a breakthrough yesterday on the nature of the soul. Many substance dualists see the soul as the person, yet Christologically this is impermissible, as Christ has two souls yet is one person. Farrell’s definition of the person, as seen below, shows that the person is more than the soul.  This is why animals have souls but they aren’t persons.ghd

Def. Person = an absolutely undefinable concrete uniqueness without analogy to any other person, save in that very uniqueness.  It is important to remember that we are not defining person in terms of the functions of soul or nature.

Leontius refined it to mean “being-for-oneself.”  It is what distinguishes a concrete being from others of the same genus (HuvB 223). It is the ontological subject of the ascription of an essence, not the consciousness of such a subject.

Some terms:

  1. soul: the animating principle.  Not to be confused with the idea of “person.”
  2. nature: the whatness of a thing. Nature exists in a “mode of existence,” which is the hypostasis (Loudonikos 93ff). Essence, substance, being, genus, or nature.  The actual concrete reality of a thing, the underlying essence, (in earlier Christian thought the synonym of physis.)
  3. attribute: the static quality which something possesses (I prefer the term property).
  4. operations: the dynamic quality which something does by virtue of being what it is.
  5. Agency: surprisingly, a nature can function as an agent, in that natures have operations.  This doesn’t confuse person and nature, though, since the doing of a nature is seen more in the category of capacity.
    1. If an individual person acts, then it is the mode of his operation and such mode is exclusively personal.

The ordo:

Persons –> operations –> essence

Who is doing it? What are they doing? What are they that are doing these things? Heresies in the early church arose by confusing the essence with some operation (Eunomianism–seeing the nature in terms of the operation of unbegottenness).

 

 

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. Irenaeus’ Church Spoke in Tongues

From Eusebiusirenaeus-of-lyons

As also we hear that many brethren in the Church possess prophetic gifts, and speak, through the Spirit, with all kinds of tongues, and bring to light the secret things of men for their good, and declare the mysteries of God.”

So when people make the claim, “Our church has remained unchanged in its practice and liturgy from the earliest days,” ask them if they speak in tongues.  Then ask which churches today speak in tongues. Worshiping_the_Lord_Southern_Baptists

 Adv. Hær. V. 6. 1.

Review: Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa

Continuing in the line of Boersma’s larger “Platonic-Synthesis” project, he explores Gregory of Nyssa’s use of the body in his theology of sanctification. Gregory of Nyssa’s prism of sanctification is the concept of “anagogy,” which anticipates later Medieval hermeneuticsHans-Boersma-Gregory-of-Nyssa

Anagogy refers to the eschatological sense of meaning.  Boersma: “ For Gregory, “anagogical” exegesis refers not just to the end of history; rather, it speaks about the spiritual level of meaning in general” (Boersma 2).

Gregory’s theology is anagogical: “That is to say, for Gregory the purpose of life itself is anagogical in character. We are meant to go “upward” and “forward,” both at the same time, so as to participate ever more thoroughly in the life of God. Anagogy, then, is not just an exegetical practice or hermeneutical approach for St. Gregory. Rather, anagogy is our own increasing participation in divine virtue and thus our own ascent into the life of God” (3).

Boersma’s goal is to demonstrate how Gregory “goes beyond” the body in such a way that neither postmodernists nor those “overly-eager creation theologians” can claim Nyssen for one of their own.  Gregory believes in the goodness of the body, but only as the body serves as a training ground for the eschatological life.

Key to Gregory’s ontology is the Creator-creature distinction.  So far that is standard Christian metaphysics, but Gregory makes several unexpected moves.  For him, all of created reality, time included, is marked by diastesis–interval and division. This is crucial for his anti-Eunomian polemic:  There is no diastesis between Father, Son, and Spirit.

Everything in creation, then, is marked by diastesis. Will the saints’ life in heaven be marked as well? Boersma argues that Gregory would say no.  Key point: “does Gregory unequivocally affirm the measurements of created time and space—the extension of created life—or does he insist that in some ways they are obstacles to be overcome” (19)?

Scholars generally think that since diastema distinguishes Creator from creature, and since there will be progress in the eschaton, that diastema continues to the Eschaton.  Boersma demurs.  Rather, he argues that Gregory makes use of time and space (diastema) in the pilgrim’s ascent, but time and space is not the goal. We will have bodily existence in the eschaton, to be sure, but our bodies, being no longer marked by interval and distance, will be anagogically transpositioned.

How can Gregory say this? He can make this move because he defines matter as “the confluence of intellectual properties.” The general idea is this: If you abstract qualities from a person, the more you abstract, the less there is.  Matter is fluid.  Perhaps this is how the glorified can walk through doors.

The other chapters deal with exegesis (Textual Bodies), gender, death, virginity, and virtue.  A few comments: Nyssen believes gender is unstable.  By this he isn’t endorsing CNN or postmodernism’s anti-essentialism.  He is trying to make sense of the angelic life of believers in heaven in light of Galatians 3:28.

The chapter on social oppression reveals Gregory’s attacks on slavery and usury.

Conclusion

Boersma demonstrates himself to be one of the leading Protestant scholars on the church fathers.  Not only is the book high class scholarship, but the passages on Gregory’s use of the psalms are edifying and beautiful.

Review: The Scandal of the Incarnation

by Hans urs von Balthalsar.

This is the most accessible treatment of Irenaeus’s works. Hans urs von Balthasar provides a fine introduction, discussion, and brief critique of Gnosticism–showing how Irenaeus’s theology is relevant today. Further, von Balthasar provides a matrix for interpreting St Irenaeus (von Balthasar 9ff):

saint_irenaeus_oflyons
(1) Unity of Old and New Testament: God’s Logos.
(2) The crossbeams are the world’s true center–it is here where creation is renewed (13). The four points of the cross match the “four corners/dimensions” of the world (Irenaeus 16).

Doctrine of God

By God’s simplicity, Irenaeus means he is non-composite. God is “wholly mind, wholly thought, wholly reason, wholly hearing, wholly seeing” (Irenaeus 19, quoting AH II 13, 3). Since God is rational, he produces things by his Logos and orders them through his Spirit. The Spirit manifests the Word (Defense of Apostolic Preaching, 4-10). God’s thinking is His Word and the Word is Mind (AH II.28.5).

God is not a Groundless Void, for where there is a Void and Silence, there cannot be a Word (II.12.5). Irenaeus offers several reductios: can a void fill all things? How can he be a spiritual being if he does not fill all things? (II.13.7)

Irenaeus affirms the analogia entis

“He is rightly called the all -comprehending intellect, but he is not like the intellect of man. He is most aptly called light, but he is nothing like the light we know” (AH II 13, 3). God confers proportion and harmony on what he has made (II.25.2).

Incarnation as Recapitulation

“The second Adam is the repetition, in divine truth, of the first Adam…The second Adam repeats the whole natural development of man at the higher level of divine reality” (von Balthasar 53). Indeed, “what was bound could not be untied without a reversal of the process of entanglement” (AH III.22.4).

Anthropology

(Redeemed) Man is body, soul, and spirit (AH V.6.1). Without the spirit man may have the image of God but not his likeness. The Spirit saves and forms the flesh and the soul finds itself mid-point between the two. The breath of life (ruach) is not the same as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). The former makes man a psychic being; the latter makes him spiritual (V.12.2).

Conclusion:

I think this is the best entry point for Irenaeus. True, the complete text of Against Heresies (such as it is) is too important to ignore, but most beginning readers will get lost in the Gnostic genealogies. Until, of course, one sees their modern counterparts, listed below:

Gnosticism today:
(a) Hegelianism
(b) Marxism
(c) Idealism
(d) Romanticism
(e) Freemasonry
(e) The American University System
(f) Hollywood (the symbolism is there, if you know where to look)