Patristics


A few days ago I quoted a great summary passage from Irenaeus, and the last part of the paragraph was especially striking:

He [God] it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: through His Word, who is His Son, through Him He is revealed and manifested to all to whom He is revealed; for those [only] know Him to whom the Son has revealed Him. But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed. (Against Heresies 2.30.9 [ANF])

Irenaeus is very clear on the deity of Christ. He is not a creation; he is “eternally co-existing with the Father”. Thus, the Council of Nicea did not invent the idea of the Trinity as some like to affirm. Irenaeus is very clear about the topic some 150 years before Nicea. As God himself he is able to reveal God to others, not just to humans but other cosmic beings. Of course, scripture is revelation from God, but Irenaeus gives us a good word that we should look first to Christ as the true revelation of God. Barth would be proud.

Here’s a great passage I came across in Irenaeus today that summarizes one of his main themes:

Justly, therefore, do we convict them of having departed far and wide from the truth. For if the Saviour formed the things which have been made, by means of him (the Demiurge), he is proved in that case not to be inferior but superior to them, since he is found to have been the former even of themselves; for they, too, have a place among created things. How, then, can it be argued that these men indeed are spiritual, but that he by whom they were created is of an animal nature? Or, again, if (which is indeed the only true supposition, as I have shown by numerous arguments of the very clearest nature) He (the Creator) made all things freely, and by His own power, and arranged and finished them, and His will is the substance of all things, then He is discovered to be the one only God who created all things, who alone is Omnipotent, and who is the only Father rounding and forming all things, visible and invisible, such as may be perceived by our senses and such as cannot, heavenly and earthly, “by the word of His power;” and He has fitted and arranged all things by His wisdom, while He contains all things, but He Himself can be contained by no one: He is the Former, He the Builder, He the Discoverer, He the Creator, He the Lord of all; and there is no one besides Him, or above Him, neither has He any mother, as they falsely ascribe to Him; nor is there a second God, as Marcion has imagined; nor is there a Pleroma of thirty Aeons, which has been shown a vain supposition; nor is there any such being as Bythus or Proarche; nor are there a series of heavens; nor is there a virginal light, nor an unnameable Aeon, nor, in fact, any one of those things which are madly dreamt of by these, and by all the heretics.

But there is one only God, the Creator–He who is above every Principality, and Power, and Dominion, and Virtue: He is Father, He is God, He the Founder, He the Maker, He the Creator, who made those things by Himself, that is, through His Word and His Wisdom–heaven and earth, and the seas, and all things that are in them: He is just; He is good; He it is who formed man, who planted paradise, who made the world, who gave rise to the flood, who saved Noah; He is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of the living: He it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: through His Word, who is His Son, through Him He is revealed and manifested to all to whom He is revealed; for those [only] know Him to whom the Son has revealed Him. But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed.

Against Heresies 2.30.9 (ANF)

I noted this at the Texts and Traditions in the Second Century

For those of you in the North Texas area, TCU has a regular gathering to discuss the second century called the Second Century Seminar. The next meeting will be April 3rd and features a paper by David Moessner on the Papias fragments in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical Histories. For more details and to RSVP (please RSVP by March 24th) send an email to Lindsey Trozzo at secondcenturyseminar@gmail.com.

The following is an extended quote from Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 30.5 (one of his Five Theological Orations), written near the time of the Council of Constantinople (AD 381).  The work is a refutation of the Eunomians/Anomeans/Neo-Arians, who thought that the Son did not eternally share the same nature as the Father.  As part of his argument he discusses the relationship of the Father to the Son when he is hanging on the cross.

If the Father and Son share the same essence/nature, how can they be separated at the cross? What could Jesus have meant when he exclaimed (quoting Ps 22.1), “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Gregory answers:

Why? You will say.  Is [the Son] not subordinate now?  If he is God, does he need at all to be made subordinate to God?  You are talking as if he were a bandit or an opponent of God!

No–look at this fact: the one who releases me from the curse was called “curse” because of me; “the one who takes away the sin of the world” was called “sin” and is made a new Adam to replace the old.  In just this way too, as head of the whole body, he appropriates my want of submission.  So long as I am an insubordinate rebel with passions which deny God, my lack of submission will be referred to Christ.  But when all things are put in submission under him, when transformed they obediently acknowledge him, then will Christ bring me forward, me who have been saved, and makes his subjection complete.  In my view Christ’s submission is the fulfillment of the Father’s will.  As we said before, the Son actively produces submission to the Father, while the Father wills and approves submission to the Son.  Thus it is that he effects our submission, makes it his own and presents it to God. “My God, my God, look upon me, why have you forsaken me?” seems to me to have been the same kind of meaning.  He is not forsaken either by the Father or, as some think, by his own Godhead, which shrank in fear from suffering, abandoning the suffer.  Who applies that argument either to his birth in this world in the first place or to his ascent of the cross? No in himself, as I have said, he expresses our condition.  We had once been forsaken and disregarded; then we are accepted and now are saved by the sufferings of the impassible.  He made our thoughtlessness and waywardness his own, just as the psalm, in its subsequent course says–since the Twenty-First Psalm [LXX, English = 22nd], clearly refers to Christ.

When representing humanity on the cross, Christ does not cease to be divine.  He subordinates himself on our behalf, but he can only humble himself if he were exalted in the first place.  The Father and the Son did not have separate intentions because sharing the same nature entails sharing the same will.  Miroslav Volf captures this idea when he recently tweeted: “Christ is not a third party inserted between an angry God and sinful humanity; he is the God who was wronged embracing humanity on the cross.”

There’s a conference in Edinburgh this summer that you might be interested in:

Peter in Earliest Christianity
July 4-6, 2013

Speakers include: Timothy Barnes, Markus Bockmuehl, Sean Freyne, Larry Hurtado, Peter Lampe, Tobias Nicklas, Margaret Williams

Topics include: The Historical Peter, Peter in Galilean and Roman Archaeology, Peter in the First Three Centuries

Sounds like a good mix of NT, Greco-Roman, and Patristic scholarship.  Those of you headed to St. Andrews for ISBL (July 7-11) should come to Edinburgh for this event first.

Looks like new Greek homilies of Origen have been discovered: Spektakulärer Fund: Griechische Originalpredigten des Origenes von Alexandria entdeckt

I’ll leave it to Google Translate to give you more details. : )

Several days ago HBU’s growing philosophy department hosted a conference on divine and human agency.  It was a really good event.  There was an eclectic group of scholars in attendance and an eclectic group of papers, which were widely stimulating.  I reconnected with some old friends and made several more.  William (“Billy”) J. Abraham came down from SMU and was the keynote speaker.  He’s an engaging speaker, and I had the pleasure of grabbing lunch with him and a couple of other friends on Saturday.  I’ve not read widely in the areas in which he writes, but he mentioned that one of his favorite writers is St Symeon the New Theologian, a byzantine writer whom I’ve recently been reading, which brings me to the paper I gave.

I finally took the opportunity to write a paper that’s been rattling around in my head for a couple of years now: “Situating God and Humanity: Theosis and the Creator-Created Distinction”.  My abstract:

The recent interest of westerners in the patristic and Eastern Orthodox idea of theosis, or deification, has forced theologians to reconsider the divine-human relationship. While many are positively inclined towards this model, when discussing the idea of believers being ‘gods’ from a western perspective, two questions repeatedly arise: does this break down the Creator-created distinction and does it entail absorption. Even those sanguine about the idea of deification are often unsure about these issues. For example, one recent theologian who argued for a form of deification in Calvin spoke of Christians who understood deification to be ‘literal’ rather than ‘hyperbolic’. In response to this lack of clarity, I argue that several key aspects of patristic and Byzantine deification theology reinforce the Creator-created distinction and make the issue of absorption unthinkable. Among these are Creationism, Trinitarianism, the essence/energies distinction, the hypostatic union, contemplation, participation/image language, and synergism. Orthodox Christianity follows a model of ‘attributive deification’ rather than ‘essential deification’. Both entail an ontological transformation, but the former is a transformation of attributes (hyperbolic), and the latter, a transformation of essence or nature (literal). As a result, the loss of human identity in the divine-human relationship has no place in orthodox discussions of deification. Other non-Trinitarian theological systems did/do not maintain these distinctions and therefore reflect ‘essential’ instead of ‘attributive’ forms of deification and are open to the charges that western theologians are concerned about.

For this paper I moved a little further on in history–moving on from early patristic writers to later patristic and byzantine writers–to substantiate my case, so I returned to Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas.  I expect to send it to a theological journal like Modern Theology or Scottish Journal of Theology later this summer.

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