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.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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1 Response to We Believe in One God (Ancient Christian Doctrines)

  1. Pingback: We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (ed. McGuckin) | Theological Geometry

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