Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sen. Conroy's Censorship Plan

In the last week, Sen. Conroy, the Minister for Broadband and Communications, has released a report on his proposed mandatory internet filter, and aims to introduce legislation during 2010 to bring it into effect.

Having read the report, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Mandatory internet Filter is technically, financially, and morally a failure, but Conroy seems determined to go ahead with it anyway.

Technically, the report shows '100%' success in blocking the ACMA list of sites, around 1100 at the moment. That was a requirement for the 9 ISPs participating in the trials. Blocking 1100 URLs is trivial though, and the ACMA list generally only grows by people complaining about sites. Some participants in the trial used more dynamic filters to block web sites, which were then checked against two blind lists, one compiled of material that would generally fit the 'RC' classification, and one containing innocuous material.

When measured against those standards, success fell to between 78.8% and 84.6%, while the over-blocking rate (erroneous blocking of materials that should not be), was between 2.44-3.37%, which is quite high by industry standards, and against the 3 trillion and more web sites, a staggering percentage. There is in general a correlation between blocking and over-blocking, so the more effective a filter is, the more over-blocking it will incur.

Add to this the abject failure of anti-circumvention measures, up to only 16% in the case of the ACMA list, compounded by the fact that the ISPs themselves recognise that any 'technically competent user' can byspass filtering of this kind, and the internet filter begins to seem less and less 'feasible'. (The ACMA+others filtering tested circumvention blocking between 37.8-94.5%, though again the increased circumvention blocking generally correlates to over-blocking and increased speed degredation).

In addition, the standards used by Enex to determine what speed loss was 'negligible' are open to query. Anything up to 10% was deemed negligible, and even 10-20% speed losses were considered 'minimal'. Given that the testing was done with (a) opt-in by an unknown customer base, (b) speeds only up to 8Mbps, and (c) on IPv4 protocols only, the impact of large-scale filtering is yet to be tested.

Lastly, the filter does nothing to address the fact that most of the material it claims to be filtering is transferred not over web sites, but by peer-to-peer traffic and other internet means, against which the filter is powerless.

In conclusion, the technical aspects of the Internet Filter are a failure: ineffective, circumventable, detrimental to internet speeds, and likely to erroneously censor legitimate material.

The Real issues in this debate should be moral and political ones. ACMA's own reports reveal that when given the opportunity to obtain free PC-based filtering software, most parents, 2/3 and above, did not do so and felt no need to do so. If parents of Australian children do not think filtering is the right option, why does Conroy think filtering it for all of us is the answer? Is he a more morally just and wise person than the rest of us?

Labor's own "Plan for Cyber-Safety" outlines a number of threats to children online, which include bullying, identity theft, online predators, all of which this plan does nothing to address. In contrast, the threat of accidental exposure to adult material is relatively low. (In case you think the Filter is not designed to address such threats, it is listed in this document, by Sen. Conroy, as the first option in addressing Child Safety online).

Despite Conroy and other's continual rhetoric that it is all about child porn and other explicit illegal material, the Refused Classification category remains both broad and vague. The ACMA list leaked earlier this year (despite Government denials, it was admitted to be fairly close), contained sites including a dentist, as well as political sites relating to euthanasia and anti-abortion.

Since the ACMA's list is maintained by ACMA employees and officials, and not open to public scrutiny or review, and since Conroy proposes to increase the number of filtered URLs in consultation with foreign governments and software filter providers, there is nothing open and transparent about this process. Furthermore, the secret nature of the lists ensures review and appeal is not available. In effect, the term 'censorship' is entirely appropriate to such a scheme. There is no guarantee, beyond Conroy's repeated word, that the prohibited materials will not expand to include political content, anti-censorship information, and legal materials deemed 'inappropriate' (as tragically the Australian Christian Lobby has already said it would campaign for).

While it runs the risk of hysteria to say this, Sen. Conroy's proposal is unique among Western democracies, and uniquely flawed. Comparisons with Iran and China are not misplaced in this instance. It is indeed a censorship regime, one that will ultimately affect the technologically naive rather than the savvy. It will be a huge waste of money, ineffective in its goals, damaging to democratic ideals and debate, and do little to address the victims or perpetrators of child porn and other illegal activity. I call on all Australians to make their voices heard on this issue.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Reasons why Logos is great

(Sorry Mikey).

Reasons why Logos is awesome:

1) Commentary sets.

They're not cheap in print, are incredibly bulky, and you rarely want to read one end to end. (Jobes on 1 Peter is an exception). You do want to have an electronic version, on a laptop, for overseas mission, at a much reduced price.

2) Searchable Lexica:

Having LSJ, granddaddy of all Greek lexicons, has probably cut into 4 the time it takes me to work on patristic translation. There are few real advantages to turning the pages of a hard-copy lexicon to find the entry you want.

3) Importable Greek sermons.

Add 2 to this one, and Chrysostom translation got a lot easier. Suddenly some high-end work got a lot less labour-intensive.

I think that's the answer to Mikey's and others' criticisms. Sure, Logos always want to bundle a bunch of stuff no one wants, and sure there's a bunch of public-domain stuff there, and sure you can cripple your language skills (but that's usually one's own fault), but pick what is gold, and use it well, and bible software is for the win.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not quite a book review: Michael Bird

I recently read Michael Bird's Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question as well as his A Bird's-eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message, and though I'd offer up a few thoughts. I read them over too long a period and without taking enough notes to call this a review though.

Bird's Pauline introduction book was pitched at just the right level for what I wanted to read. Pauline studies were never my strong suit, but over my 10+ years as a believer, I've grown more and more endeared to Paul. Yet sometimes it's hard to keep a big picture in one's head of Paul, his life and letters. Bird's book does an excellent job at doing that, dealing with some particularly difficult contemporary issues in a clear, summative yet not dismissive manner. Bird offers up his position, a short account of why he holds that position, and a few timely footnotes to the broader debate.

The Messianic book was pitched at a more academic level, and I confess I don't have the background in Historical Jesus research to fully appreciate it. What I did appreciate was the strong historical defence for a messianic Jesus who presented himself in messianic terms that match at least a range of messianic hopes from the 1st century period. The notion of performative messianism resonated with me also. Finally, I managed to take enough away from this book to crop up in at least a couple of recent sermons/talks and fuel my ongoing interest in biblical theology (in the sense of Old/New Testament unity and convergence).

Bird's work is solid, reformed without being narrowly confessional, and worth your time.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

4 distinctives that leave me without a denominational fit

1. I'm convinced believer's baptism is a more biblical practice than infant baptism.

As I read the NT, the silence on the issue is one of the first things that strikes me. But as you read about baptism in the NT, its presentation as a sign of repentance and faith which follows repentance and faith in response to the gospel is clear. I remember what pushed me over the line on this issue, it was reading Piper's "Brothers, We are not professionals". The difference between Old Covenant and New Covenant membership is definitive for me on this issue.

More pragmatically though, I'm a bit of a wheneverist on the issue. I don't believe in rebaptism of those baptised as infants, because baptism is once for all, and if someone was baptised as a child, is living a life of faith and repentance, we don't need to get them baptised 'properly', as if the sacrament was ineffectual. I think we need to be more biblical in encouraging believers to get baptised, and less caught up in debates that often involve an ontology we're not otherwise committed to.

2. The 3-fold order is biblically unconvincing.

At least from the NT. The terms for bishop and presbyter clearly overlap in usage, and deacons are not what they are now. I'm not opposed to the 3-fold order, especially given its historical emergence in the early church, which I have no problem with, I just can't insist on it as a distinctive.

3. Normative, not Regulative, principle.

The Presbyterian/reformed tradition is totally unconvincing to me on this issue. I think this is shifting in a lot of those circles though. A good Missiology should disabuse us of the Regulative principle straight up, and if not, we need to think a lot harder about culture & gospel.

4. Pacifism & Community

Are the two key things the Anabaptists got really right (well, not all the historic Anabaptists got Pacifism right). I recognise the idiosyncrasy and minority theological position of pacifism within contemporary Christianity, but I find the ethical conclusion from reading the scriptures inescapable on that issue. (Yoder was right!)

As for community, the corporate emphasis of life in Christ is often underplayed and under-resourced in other traditions, which plays to individualism and self-worship. Anabaptists on this score get high marks.

Friday, November 06, 2009

November update

I realise I haven't blogged in a while. I make no particular promises on when I will resume posting content of value.

We had a lovely holiday in Victoria, visited some old friends, and some more recent ones; saw some spectacular parts of the world. While we were there we also met up with Pioneers at their head office, and have kicked off an official application process with them, in line with our plans to teach in Mongolia.

My wife's grandfather died and we cut our holiday short to attend the funeral. Now we are back, but I have been thrust straight into preparing talks for a youth camp, as well as interviewing for a number of jobs for next year.

Hoping life will settle a little next week and I will get back to the studies in full force.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two fine posts to distract you while I go on holidays

Firstly, it's always worth reading things by Mike Aubrey, and this little post on translation is a sample of the goodness to be found on his site.

Secondly, my wife has written a very fine piece (and more balanced than I am inclined to be) about why Christians might be vegetarians.

It's semi-official that I have no job next year.

I'm thinking of writing some posts on 1 Peter while I'm away. We'll see.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

FAQs for theological topics

Something I've been milling over, is that there are some topics I know my answers to, and I know that I have reasons for those conclusions, but my head is particularly porous when it comes to trying to hold onto those reasons, let alone have some bible passages in mind to exegete from.

Hence, I've decided to write some fact-sheet style answers, 1-2 pages, that clearly and succinctly deal with such topics. Then I'll be able to say, "I know I think this, and I have something that might help". Here is my working short-list of topics that come up every now and again:

1 Tim 2:8-15
Complementarianism and ministry
Trinity (I have a terrible time holding passages in my head to walk someone through this)
1 Peter 3:8-22

(Feel free to comment on your own such topics, perhaps they are ones that I should have on my list but have forgotten to add)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A recent sermon and other news

I recently preached at Wahroonga Presbyterian on A Kingdom of Priests (1 Peter 2). I've done a few other sermons here and there, but they haven't made their way to mp3 yet.

The week just gone I have been on an HSC Study Camp. The HSC is our state's set of final secondary school exams, and Anglican Youthworks runs camps for final year students to help them study. And then each day they have some activities including a talk from the Bible (that's my main bit) and discussion groups. It's a pretty good idea, and I had a really good week.

I'm currently looking for some work for next year. Something for those who pray to pray for.

2 weeks holiday is coming up in another week, so I will be even more absent than lately. Look forward to resuming some blogging on Chrysostom, the series on violence, and other miscellaneous topics on my return.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Towards a theology of violence, IV (Genesis 12-50)

The Patriarchs, Gen 12-50

Beginning in Genesis 12:1-3, God calls Abram graciously and without precedent. This is the new beginning of God's redemptive plan. I want to especially highlight two factors that should guide our reading. Firstly, Abram is called 'as is'. God doesn't do any reconstructive work on Abram before his call. In line with this, the Pentateuch is at times oddly silent about what we might consider moral failures. It has little overt criticism for polygamy, for instance. This helps us understand the situation of violence in the Pentateuch, especially Genesis, which largely takes it as a 'given'. It's a part of the ANE setting that passes largely without comment.

Secondly, Gen 12:3, “and him who dishonours you I will curse”, God takes sides. He shows favour to and through Abram, and brings curse against those who dishonour Abram and his descendants. This seems to be the start of a long line of thought that God fights for his people, one that will come into greater prominence down the track.

In Genesis 14 Abram takes a band of trained fighters out to rescue Lot. The account of the war of the kings is fairly matter-of-fact. What is of note is Gen 14:17-24, where Abram disavows his portion of plunder, and Gen 14:23 makes it plain why: Abram is concerned to defend the glory of God in provision of his success. The relevance of this emerges further down the biblical track also.

Gen 15:16 is vital for understanding the conquest narratives. Essentially, the conquest of the book of Joshua is predicated on the full measure of the sin of the Amorites. So, hold that thought.

The incident of Sodom and Gomorrah is very much cast as the judgement of God upon sin and wickedness. Though to the modern mind God's judgement of anybody is offensive, I feel no particular need to defend God at this point. Destruction as Judgement is certainly in line with the argument so far developed, and shouldn't surprise us. Abram's question in Gen 18:25 should ring clearly though, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”. The answer to this rhetorical question is a resounding “Yes!”.

Genesis 22, the Aqedah, is both a difficult, yet densely theological, passage. I only wish to make a few points in passing though. 1. Abraham demonstrates his absolute faith in obedience, even beyond what we find morally reprehensible (it is unclear whether Abraham would find child sacrifice morally 'improper', though his tender affection for the child of the promise is undoubted); 2. Genesis 22 must be read Christocentrically. Gen 22:8, 12 are key in this instance. God provides the lamb for sacrifice, not withholding his only Son, Jesus. 3. Isaac is of an age, and is a willing party to this event. In this he is the type of Christ, who voluntarily lays down his life.

I make these points in passing because I believe it is a robust doctrine of atonement that helps us integrate OT and NT teaching on violence, and emerge with a distinctly Christian ethic.

Genesis 32 contains an interesting series of events. Confronted with the news in Gen 32:6 that Esau comes with 400 men, likely a sign of intended conflict, Jacob divides his forces, and prays in Gen 32:9-12 essentially calling on God's promise (Gen 32:12) as the basis for deliverance. He then seeks to appease Esau, before the very odd encounter at night (Gen 32:22-32) in which he wrestles with God. Jacob has been wrestling with God all his life, but only now in this intimate encounter where God meets him “face to face” (Gen 32:30), in weakness, is his life transformed, and God strives with him rather than he against God.

Lastly, the blessing of Jacob on his sons in Genesis 49 gives a wisdom-like disapproval to violence, as in Gen 49:5-7, which recollects Gen 34. Simeon and Levi are cursed for wilful, indulgent, deceitful, and vengeful violence. This is in marked contrast to Judah, who is prophesied power over his enemies (Gen 49:8), without attaching to him a savage and violent nature.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Towards a theology of violence, III (Genesis 5-9)

In this post I want to take a look at Genesis 5-9. I realise we are not proceeding at a rapid pace through the Scriptures, but don't worry, things will pick up a little. It's important to spend this time in Genesis to get a grasp of some foundational passages. For my own part, I'd really like to skip ahead and talk about how the New Testament interacts with all this, but we'll get there.

Genesis 6 commences the account of the Flood. In Gen 6:5 we are told that God looks upon the wickedness of humanity, and in Gen 6:6 (the difficult verse) expresses regret at his having created humanity. Gen 6:9-10 then seems to recommence the account, with Gen 6:9 and Noah's line. Gen 6:11, 13 explicitly links the corruption of the earth with violence. Against the emerging narrative threads of Genesis 1-6, Cain's lineage through Enoch and to Lamech has become a self-exaltant violent race of men. Noah alone is marked out against the wickedness and violence of the rest of humanity.

The Flood then, comes as an act of definitive judgement upon humanity and their violence. God's violence (in bringing death) is here very much a response to human violence, which is being condemned.

Come forward then to Gen 9:4-7. Post-Flood, God deals with Noah and establishes a covenant agreement that will shape human life in the new world. Dogmatically speaking, God has delivered Noah and his family, but nothing has changed in their nature or their circumstance, to prevent the world continuing as it had been. The permission of carnivorous diet is conditioned by the remembrance that life is God's gift (Gen 9:4), which leads into a consideration of the value of human life. The principle is this: a human life is worth a human life. The application means that violence is restrained by judicial execution. Whether Gen 9:6 is read as a legislative enactment, or a divine regulative principle, God is going to answer the taking of human life with the taking of another human life. This both emphasises the extreme value of human life (Gen 9:6, “for God made man in his own image”), and limits the cycle of violent retribution (it is a life for a life, not Lamech's seventy-seven (Gen 4:24); it is not life, for life, for life. The death of one ends the chain of retribution.

I certainly take Gen 9:6 as granting a principal of capital punishment to duly constituted authorities. The rest of the Pentateuch will work that out in Israelite practice. Interesting things happen in the NT. Let me suggest three points on this by way of aside:
1.Christians do well to recognise legitimate state authority (Rom 13), and submit to capital punishment.
2.The mercy of the cross should move Christians to political action to remove capital punishments. That means that capital punishment is permitted to civil authorities, but not required of them.
3.Insofar as the people of God are the new covenant community, the ultimate penalty for Christian communities is excommunication, the symbolic act of 'spiritual death', which is all the power permitted us, and yet far more dire than the killing of the body.

It should be becoming apparent how judgement is my primary category for understanding violence so far. Of God, it is thus a righteous judgement. Of humanity, it is a derivative judgement which, throughout the Old Testament, is measured against God's character and precepts; where it deviates from the same, human violence is liable to be judged itself, as the outworking of humanity's sinful inclination to arrogate the determination of right and wrong to ourselves.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Chrysostom on why there is inequality in the world

Let us not then despise one another, so that we do not over-look ourselves. “For no one ever hated his one flesh”, he says, “but nourishes and fosters it.” On this account God has given one house to us, this world, has distributed all things equally, has kindled one sun for all, stretched out one roof, the heaven, has set up one table, the earth. He gave also another table greater that this one by far, but that also is one (my fellow-initiates know the meaning); one manner of being-begotten he has graced to all, the spiritual; one homeland to all, that in the heavens; from the same cup we all drink.

He did not gift something greater and more honourable to the rich man, and something cheaper and lesser to the poor man, but called all equally; he gave fleshly things with-equal-regard, and spiritual things likewise. Therefore whence the great disparity of life? From the greed and boastfulness of the rich. But let not these things be any longer [so], brothers, nor with things universal and more necessary bringing us together let us be divided by things earthly and cheap, by wealth I mean, and poverty, and bodily relations, and hostility and friendship. For all these are shadows, and cheaper than a shadow, to those having the bond of love from above. Let us therefore guard this in unbroken manner, and none of those evil spirits will be able to enter in, even those dividing such unity; which [unity] may we all obtain, by the grace and benevolence of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom and with whom to the Father be Glory, together with the Holy Spirit, now and always, and for eternity. Amen.

- Chrysostom, In Iohannem, XV (own translation)

Help my Greek (1)

So, let's take a sentence like this:

Οὐκ εὔδηλον ὅτι οὐδὲν ἕτερον ἢ ἵνα μὴ ὑπολάβωμεν δι' αὐτοῦ, ἀλλ' ἢ τὸ γνήσιον τοῦ Μονογενοῦς, καὶ τὸ συναΐδιον τῷ Πατρί;

Now, I well understand the meaning, but I'm not really sure why ἢ keeps popping up all over the place.

Chrysostom on why Literalism is bad

The words and expressions that lie in the Scriptures, God does not wish us to hear superficially, but with much comprehension. For this reason the blessed David in many places prefaces his Psalms with “for comprehension”, and said, “Open my eyes, and I will perceive the marvels from thy Law.” And after him, also his son [Solomon], subjoining, shows that “it is necessary to seek Wisdom as if silver; to traffic her rather than gold.” And the Lord exhorting the Jews to "search the Scriptures", all the more leads us to the investigation. For he would not have spoken thus, if it were indeed possible to grasp them at once and from the first reading. For that which lies in the midst, and at hand, no one would ever search out, but rather that which is enigmatic, and is found with much investigation. On this account also he says they are “hidden treasure” , arousing us to the investigation. These things are said to us, so that neither superficially, nor as it ‘happens’, we might attend to the phrases of the Scriptures, but with much precision. For if someone should listen without inquiry to the things spoken in them, and should receive all things as so spoken according to the letter, many unfitting things they will conjecture concerning God. Indeed even that he is a human-being, and is composed from bronze, and quick-tempered, and fierce, and many opinions worse than these he will lay hold of concerning him. But if he should fully learn the understanding that lies in the depth, he will be released from all this unfittingness. For even the reading now laying before us says that God has a bosom, which is a thing proper to bodies. But none has so gone mad, so that he conjectures the bodiless to be a body. Therefore, so that we might worthily take the whole [passage] with spiritual conception, let us examine the passage from the top.

- Chrysostom, In Iohannem, XV (own translation)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Towards a theology of violence, II (Genesis 4)

How swiftly violence comes.

Does anyone think it's accidental that Genesis 4, so soon after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, is dominated by the rapid moral descent of humanity unto the murder of one man by another? In the story of Cain and Abel it is the power of sin (Gen 4:7) quickly at work in the world, leading humanity towards death. And so in Gen 4:8 Cain becomes the first murderer, and in Gen 4:11 God's answer comes again as judgement and curse.

And yet, as is so curiously woven through Gen 1-11, judgement is always paired with mercy and grace, so that the wandered Cain is not in turn slain, in fact God provides provision (Gen 4:15) that if anyone takes vengeance upon Cain, they also shall come under judgement. It is, in this story, God who judges and he does not seem willing to allow others to usurp the right.

That is why the boasting of Lamech is part of this rapidly spiralling descent of humanity into sin. Lamech boasts in Gen 4:23 that he has slain a man in retaliation for striking him, that he has enacted his own judgement. Gen 4:24 reveals how badly Lamech has read the history of his family. For it was God who would avenge Cain seven-fold, but Lamech seems almost to have assumed to himself the vengeance seventy-sevenfold. Here there is no hint of the remorse of Gen 4:13-14, but a self-exaltation in the glory of his own power.

I think it is worth reflecting, even as Genesis 4 becomes a prototype of the violence to come, on John 8 and 1 John 3. In John 8:44 Jesus says that the devil was a murdered, a slayer-of-man, from the beginning. For the one opposed to God, the accuser, there is no greater victory than the slaying of humanity, for he is not ultimately on the side of human beings, but against the side of God. The death of sinners is his great joy, and his first act in biblical chronology is to lead humanity in Adam and Eve by lies into rebellion and unto death. 1 Jn 3:12 sees John bringing Cain back in, as a paradigm of the murderer. That John couples “he was of the evil one and murdered his brother” should not be surprising. Death is the victory of Satan, it is why he is the accuser, for death is also the punishment of God.

In my next post I will consider the sweep of Genesis more broadly.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Towards a theology of violence, I (Genesis 1-3)

I'm beginning a series that I hope will become a biblical-theological reflection on the theme of violence, moving through the scriptures, and ending in reflection on the contemporary world.

In this post I treat Genesis 1-3.

Note first how the Garden is absent even the violence of meat-consumption, and is depicted in idyllic terms. Within the grand sweep of the Bible, Eden represents a real paradise, where humanity dwells at peace with itself and with God. The prohibition of Gen 2:17 introduces a note of discord, only explicable from a post-Fall perspective: how can Adam understand 'death' in a world at peace?

Death, indeed, is the alternative in Genesis 3, as the serpent pits a kind of theopoeisis against death as the result of eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and of evil. According to the serpent, to disobey God will in fact make one like God. This is over and against Gen 1:26-27 that humanity already is made in God's image, and that the eating of this fruit will lead to death.

God's response to the Fall is instructive, in that it is judgement (Gen 3:14-24). Death is rightly understood as judgement, and so our understanding of it must be similarly informed. Death is not natural, it is not merely a transition to the next world, it is not part of the circle of life. It is the judgement of God on rebellion. It is exile from paradise, of peace under God's reign in God's presence.

Looking forward, we diminish the significance of Christ's victory over death when we rate death too lightly. The death spoken of in Gen 1-3 should not merely be read as the temporary slumber of the physical body, but a holistic end of life. Its gravity cannot be under-stressed.

How does this relate to the theme of violence? I think it goes to the heart of what violence is: acts of harm that have a telos in death. We might speak about restrained violence, but the pulling of punches is still holding back a force aimed at death. The one who has embraced the practice of violence has already determined that the death of the other is preferable to the death of the self, or even some far lesser advantage. But peace, not violence, is the original state. Thus, Gen 1-3 should put paid to those theories of masculinity that seek to embed primal concepts of 'warrior' or 'hunter' into the nature of men. Human beings, and men in particular, were not created for violence, it is not an essentialist part of our existence, it is absent in the Garden.

I will have some more to say on death as judgement in posts to come.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Those crazy ideas

I had one of those crazy ideas yesterday. It went like this, "What if I just started borrowing and reading sequential volumes of Studia Patristica? That would give me an insight into the development of Patristic studies over the last 60 years!"

So I borrowed vol.1, see how long this lasts.

In other news, I've made my way through Chrysostom's first homily on John. As homilies go, these are short, but it took me maybe 8-14 man-hours. I'm hoping to speed up! I'm becoming good friends with my Logos software, Perseus look-up, LSJ and Lampe. My current plan is to fully translate about 10 to 15 of the homilies. I've been pleasantly surprised with how often I agreed with the NPNF translation. Anyway, once I tidy it up a little I'll post it under a creative-commons licence.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Road Ahead

[I know some of my congregation members drop by occasionally. I don't mean to alarm them, if that's you]

For some time now the plan has been to head to Mongolia in 2011, with the intention of working in theological education. That process is moving forward, and my wife and I are making some formal applications with a mission organisation to that end. I'm on-track to complete my MTh in 2010, and she should be studying theology for the year.

At this stage it's unclear what our employment and living situation will be. The past two years I've been employed part-time by our current church. Things like the GFC have put the funding for my position in jeopardy, and the decision for Rachel to study means I will be looking to move to full time to support us both. At present the prospects are uncertain.

- The church may find further external funding enabling me to take up a full-time position here
- At this stage we would consider taking a ministry position elsewhere, though this is complicated by our time-frame
- I will be considering part- or full- time non-ministry positions

That's where we are at. I'd appreciate your prayers in this matter (and some discretion) (I know this is the internet)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Study Progress

Just a short note to update on my study progress.
I've been informed that I passed my 3rd and final exam. Not quite as good as the 1st and 2nd exams, but still quite good.
Also, my thesis topic has been approved, and my supervisor is relatively happy with how things are shaping up.

This means it's full-steam ahead. I've started doing some translating of Chrysostom, you can expect a few pieces to turn up here in the near future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Patristics Carnival XXVI

Patristics Carnival XXVI

Here it is! Slightly overdue, but done nonetheless. I made a special effort to get around the blogosphere and find things that hadn't come through my inbox. I haven't made a real effort to sort things either (a reflection of my mental processes no doubt).

Over at Sitz im Leben we have a review of Gerald Bray's We Believe in One God (Ancient Christian Doctrine Series)

Catholic Champion Blog considers St Cyril of Jerusalem on the Eucharist, Athanasius' appeal to Rome, and Porphyry vs. Jerome on the Eucharist

Deidre Richardson, blogging on the Men and Women in the Church blog, considers Patristic comments on Phoebe, 1 Tim 3:8-11, and 1 Tim 5:3-13

David Waltz at Articuli Fidei tackles Irenaeus view of Scripture and Tradition

The Church of Jesus Christ blog offers some thoughts on Eusebius of Nicomedia's letter to Paulinus of Tyre, and the Letter of Alexander of Alexandria to all bishops.

Christian Cadre defends the reliance of 1 Clement on 1 Corinthians

Scriptorium Daily gives a heads-up on the two new IVP series Ancient Christian Doctrine and Ancient Christian Texts

Chad Brooks offers up a book review of God Knows There's Need: Christian Response to Poverty by Susan Holman

Triablogue considers Allen Brent's arguments regarding the authenticity of the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp

Doug Chaplin at clayboy considers impassibility of God

The irrepressible Roger Pearse continues to offer a banquet: Euthymius Zigabenus and the Pericope Adulterae (and its Patristic attestation), the fate of Judas, a bio of Latinus Latinius (1513-1593) A patristic scholar almost vanished to history, and many, many more.

Josh McManaway at Son of the Fathers reflects on The hermeneutical practices of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and their implication for Christology

Mike Aquilina of The Way of the Fathers contemplates Thomas Robinson's new book, Ignatius of Antioch and the Parting of the Ways: Early Jewish-Christian Relations, as well as a number of book-notices.

Dave Armstrong at Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, speaks on Augustine's acceptance of seven sacraments, Biblical evidence for the Patristic Analogy of Mary and the Ark.

James Pate of James' Thoughts and Musings compares Chrysostom to Jimmy Swaggart, as well as offering thoughts his relation to contemporary NT Scholarship, Athanasius and Calvin on Nocturnal emissions, Lactantius as a proto-Pelagian>, and whether Tertullian is (Semi-)Arian?

Edit, Not to be forgotten (though how I overlooked escapes my own self-reflection), Nick Norelli gives a review of Healing in the Early Church, as well as points us to the availability of Craig Blaising's thesis on Athanasius of Alexandria.

If I've made any dreadful omissions, please let me know and I will pop them up pronto. I believe Carnival XXVII will be back at hyperekperissou.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Recent Occurrences

It's been over 2 weeks since a post! I feel neglectful. Here is a short summary of recent goings-on.

I enjoyed a fabulous week at Macquarie Uni being introduced to papyrology, as well as reading through Euripides' Helen.

I put together and presented a short paper outlining my thesis proposal on John Chrysostom. The crux of my work is to examine his homilies on John for evidences of common pro-Nicene strategies, building on Lewis Ayres' work, and to consider what, if any, are the implications of that. I haven't got a lot of focus in my study habits since I finished the last exam. I really need to spend some time and plan out my work and get to it.

I've concluded a preaching series on John, after 5 months. I'm still trying to get the audio available, but will upload 14-21 when I can.

The wife and I enjoyed a lovely production of Shakespeare's Pericles at the Opera House.

I've been playing inordinate amounts of Mount and Blade. I started playing Total War: Empire, which is great. But then I played a demo of M&B and was hooked, and the modding community for it is excellent, so it is very addictive.

Lastly, this week my church is doing some visitation and handing out free copies of Luke.

I hope to sort through the Patristics Carnival data in a few days, still waiting for a second batch of material, and then it should be up.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Call for submissions - Patristics Carnival XXVI

Welcome to Patristic Carnival XXVI! I saw Phil's plaintive cry for someone to help and thought, "I'm such a lazy blogger and I could definitely host one", so Carnival XXVI will appear right here.

If you would like to host, let Phil know through the dedicated e-mail given below.

The guidelines remain the same as the Modest Proposal entry back in November, 2006 and the additions in August, 2007.

The last day of submission will be July 31 and the postings will be up in the week of August 3rd.

Submit either on the carnival site or via the dedicated e-mail (patristics-carnival@hotmail.com)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Getting into some Euripides

Next week I'm off doing an intensive, actually two (morning and afternoon). The morning course is advanced classical Greek, reading Euripides' Helen. It's the most difficult Greek I've ever worked with. Koine is fine, always fine. I've read a little classical stuff, but mainly prose, a little oratory. Drama is a whole new ball game. So, this week I'm working away trying to prepare notes and translations and the like.

The afternoon intensive is some work on reading NT papyri, which will be something new again. Looking forward to both, but it will be a jam-packed week.

Have begun working with Rico's Πόλις course, will write some thoughts on it a few weeks down the track. Just trying to ease back into my 'normal' language-study routine (how quickly they get rusty!).

Carnival is up

Patristics Carnival XXV is up. They are always worth reading, so do yourself a favour and go along for the goodies.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

MTh Progress

Well, yesterday I sat my third and final MTh exam on 4th Century Trinitarian theology. I still have a few more posts that I'd like to wrap up in my PTT series, but they may take a little while longer to come out. The exam was fairly good I think, it's hard to judge these things sometimes. The questions weren't quite the kind of questions where one thinks, "Yes! This is what I'm looking for", but they were reasonable and decent questions. Here's the 4 I answered:

- To what extent was the Arian controversy about reading the Bible as much as the being of God?
- How much do Augustine's Ep.11 and Quest.69 provide support against claims that his doctrine of God was effectively modalist?
- How might the Western tradition have been different if we only had Hilary of Poitiers' De Trinitate?
- "They indeed use also the word hypostasis; but they intend to put a difference, I know not what, between ousia and hypostasis: so that most of ourselves who treat these things in the Greek language are accustomed to say, μιαν οὐσιαν, τρεις ὐποστασεις, or in Latin, one essence, three substances." (Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, V.10). To what extent might such a comment actually mark a turning point between the development of Greek and Latin descriptions of God's Triune Nature?

I think my not-quite-joyousness at the questions was that I didn't feel the freedom to shine in terms of bringing enough of my knowledge to bear on them. Anyway, now I have to wait for the marker to do their work.

The next stage is a 30,000 word thesis, looking at Chrysostom's Homilies on John. I feel like all this 4th century reading has put me on solid foundations for coming to that, as I now have a much more nuanced historical context to read them against.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

T.F. Torrance and the construction of Nicene Orthodoxy (PTT)

Developed originally for the Warfield lecture in 1981, T.F. Torrance's The Trinitarian Faith is a sustained engagement with the thought of the Fathers, shaped by the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed, as a basis for the ancient evangelical faith. Although Torrance claims to be seeking to let the Fathers speak for themselves (p2), there are obvious points where Torrance is beholden to a metanarrative of historical theology which Ayres would probably critique. Further, there is a certain Athanasius-centric thread running through the whole work. Nonetheless, of modern appropriations Torrance's remains vital and significant.

Torrance situates the development of Nicaea, which he views as a critical and decisive moment in theological-ecclesial history, in the dual commitments of faith (in the objective reality of the incarnate Son and the apostolic gospel that follows) and godliness (for doctrine is never divorced from praxis in the Fathers). His characterisation of Graeco-Roman thought as dualistic, and the challenge of Hebraic and Christian thought into that world in Chapter 2 is open to question, but his definitive point about access to the Father is Alexandrian: only God can make God known. Our epistemological foundation is God in Christ. This knowledge is true and accurate as it is according to the nature of the thing known, according to the nature of God as God in Christ. Mt 11:27 is key, as we are given access to the closed circle of interior relations of the Triune God, by the revelation in the incarnation of the Son.

In approaching the creatorship of God, Torrance follows Athanasius in prioritising Father over Creator, but then radically inverts Pr 8:22, by reading the incarnate Christ as the arche of God's economic and soteriological work in time-space (p83). God was not always creator, but always had the capacity of creation, and willed not to exist for himself alone. Torrance makes some specious Hebrew arguments about creation ex nihilo (p95f), but his basic point stands: God alone creates absolutely. More refined, Torrance helpfully points to the distinct yet dependent conception of creation emerging in Athanasius and his heirs. That the creation was distinct secured the gulf between Creator and creation, that it was dependent secured God as absolute being. Between necessity and accidence, the creation is instead contingent. Not only this, it had a rational order and a real freedom.

In chapter 4, he turns explicitly to the Son, though his earlier reflections have shown the centrality of the Son for knowledge of the Father. While Torrance's approach is credo-centric and probably beholden to much to Athanasius' enshrinement of the creed's terminology in his rhetorical polemic, the conceptual framework holds. That Arius' theology threatened the gospel was clear in 325, that the Eusebians' did also had to be worked out (even if Athanasius sneakily called the Ariomaniacs from then on). Torrance correctly identifies the intensely exegetical nature of the controversy, and that homoousios, expressed or not, became a hermeneutical principle that guided Nicene theological endeavours. In Torrance's construal, Nicaea was not about metaphysics, so much as soteriology, not so much a capitulation to Hellenism, but a safeguarding against Hellenistic concepts by reshaping Hellenistic terminology. Torrance shows this by considering the opposite: what is lost without homoousios? The externality of the Son to the Father's being destroys the epistemological ground for knowing God, as well as the soteriological ground for redemption.

In treating of the humanity of Jesus in chapter 5, Torrance focuses again on the soteriological and economic pivot: God became Man in Christ for our sakes. There is an historical necessity to the incarnation. Torrance points in Athanasius to the order: God first, who assumes humanity. Not God in man, but God as man. This means that Christ's humanity is thoroughly personal and vicarious (p151). This further means the Atonement is essentially interior to the life of the Godhead (see Atonement post). It is internal, not external, to God; Christ united himself to our actual existence; and it is about both representation and substitution. Torrance does some work on the biblical language of “ransom, sacrifice, propitiation, expiation, reconciliation” (p168).

Chapter 6 turns to the Holy Spirit, and remains one of the most confusing pieces of theology. In part, the Holy Spirit's functional pointing to the Son tends to obscure theologising about the Spirit. Following Athanasius, the Spirit is image of the Son, and so is imageless himself (p194). The triadic formulae of the NT, along with the baptismal faith of the early church, provided much of the raw material for a faith and a doxological appreciation of the Spirit long before explicit theologising. Torrance's main point of departure in treating the Spirit is Athanasius' Ad Serapion, but also Didymus the Blind. The arguments for the Spirit's divinity follow the basic pattern of those applied for the Son.

Torrance criticises the Cappadocians for locating the cause and source of the Spirit's, and the Son's, being in the person of the Father. This runs the risk of ontologising the persons, and diminishing the commonality of the ousia. Rather, Torrance sees Son and Spirit “ deriv[ing] their distinctive modes of existence and their distinctive properties from the Person of the Father”, not their being (p243). Their being is the being of the Father himself.

Leaving aside The Trinitarian Faith, we can note a few other things about Torrance's appropriation of the Fathers, drawn from Letham's analysis.

Torrance follows Barth in seeing the doctrine of the Trinity as distinctively Christian, so much so that it must characterise and shape all other doctrines. He has an 'onto-relational' concept of the divine persons: the three persons are the one being. This is, from what we have considered elsewhere, a fair reading of the Fathers (against several misreadings we have encountered). Torrance foregrounds homoousion and perichoresis in his trinitarian formulations. In this he is misreading the historical debate though not necessarily its theological content. However, his use of perichoresis with monarchia, that monarchia is not limited to the Father, is shifting from the Cappadocians at the least. How fine a distinction can we make between 'priority' and 'order' in the persons?

Index to Patristic Trinitarian Thought posts

Here is an index to all the posts in the (PTT) series. I have divided them into categories for reference. They represent the summaries of a reading course in 4th century trinitarian theology that I am about to complete (exam on 1st July, 9am AEST). There are a couple more posts to come, which I will update this post with, and later I will compile them and offer a single file for download. Hope you enjoy!

Backgrounds to Nicaea
Starting with but not at Nicaea
The late 320s and 330s
The 340s
The 350s
The 360s
The 370s
381 and Beyond

Key Figures
Athanasius I
Basil of Caesarea I
Basil of Caesarea II
Gregory of Nazianzus I
Gregory of Nyssa I
Augustine I
Augustine IV (Gunton, Ormerod, Barnes)
Hilary of Poitiers

Athanasius II (Orationes Contra Arianos)
Basil of Caesarea III (De Spiritu Sancto, Epistles)
Novatian (De Trinitate)
Tertullian (Adversus Praxean)
Gregory of Nazianzus II (Theological Orations)
Gregory of Nyssa II (Ad Ablabium)
Augustine II (Answer to Maximinus)
Augustine III (De Trinitate)

Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy I
Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy II
Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy III
Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy IV
Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy V
Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy IV
T.F. Torrance and the construction of Nicene Orthodoxy
T.F. Torrance and the Ignorance of Christ
T.F. Torrance on Atonement and the Greek Fathers

Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy, VI

The next 2 chapters of Ayres are offered as case studies, as he tries to bring out the elements of his 3 strategies in reading Gregory of Nyssa (Ad Ablabium) and Augustine. As I have integrated my understanding of his arguments into the treatment of those two authors already in the PTT series, I will not summarise the same here.

Chapter 16 is perhaps one of the most provocative and controversial contributions to the modern debate. Entitled “In spite of Hegel , Fire, and Sword”, Ayres conducts a broad brush-stroke appraisal of the history of theological reading of historical theology and the 4th century, laying much blame at the feet of Hegel and the Enlightenment for constructing the paradigms of modern systematics. At the heart of Ayres' criticism is the idea that the very structure of modern systematics is a way of doing theology that makes real engagement with pro-Nicene theology impossible. It is not only that modern systematicians have failed to engage 4th century authors fairly and deeply, but they have not done so at all and their very categories may not even allow them. In the end, Ayres offers up some kind of neo-pro-Nicene theological culture as one to seek after. I confess, I did not have the analytical tools and background to grasp all of this chapter.

All in all, Ayres' book is a bombshell, but a welcome one. It's impossible to read the 4th century in the modern debate without engaging with this book. It's changed my whole reading of patristic trinitarian thought, and I give it 5 stars.

Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy, V

We now come to Part III of Ayres' work, in which he begins to synthesise and present his take on pro-Nicene theology. In chapters 11-13 he presents 3 shared 'strategies' used by pro-Nicenes. His presentation tends to be continually dichotomous (he loves to bring out 2s of everything).

So, Chapter 11 focuses on “Speaking of unity and diversity in the Trinity”, and treats topics such as the irreducible simplicity of God, the unity of God without any developed account of the quiddity of divine personhood, the doctrine of inseparable operations, the incomprehensibility of God in his essence, the propriety and limits of analogies.

Ayres has some blunt statements contra modern systematicians:
“ All pro-Nicenes show, however, remarkably little interest in developing a detailed account of what it means to be a divine hypostasis in any generic sense. To be a little more precise, one does not find in pro-Nicenes extended attempts to develop an ontology of divine personhood” (p280)
“we can say that we never find descriptions of the divine unity that take as their point of departure the psychological inter-communion of three distinct people.” (p292)

Chapter 12 deals with Strategy 2: “Christology and Cosmology” (see the dichotomisation process?). Ayres begins with a mention of the misuse of De Régnon in recent years, but then takes as his own starting point answer De Régnon's answer that an image both imitates and reveals, and that the 4th century writers present the Fathers goodness giving rise to the image which “reveals the Father's essential nature as Goodness. This revealing image is part of the perfection of the Father's existence. The ontological unity of the two secures the revelatory image as an eternal expression of the perfect divine existence.”(p304)

He then offers a reading of Nyssa and Augustine on salvation and sanctification focused on 4 themes:
1.“Sanctification and redemption are understood as participation in the body of Christ, as union with the person of Christ.”(p307)
2.“The theme of being one with Christ is shaped by growing pro-Nicene clarity about the distinction between God and creation.”(p307)
3.“Nyssa's account of what it means to be taken up into the divine life revolves around an account of the purified soul reflecting the Word in who image it is made and exhibiting its own mysterious 'union' with the divine life present in it.” (p308)
4.“Insistence on the mysterious, incomprehensible nature of God shapes a particular set of intellectual and contemplative practices.”(p308)

He moves from this to consider how the pro-Nicenes appropriate their contemporary philosophical and theological traditions, noting particularly their interweaving “understandings of the created order's structure with questions of Trinitarian and soteriological doctrine.” and “increasing attention to the semiotics of the created order...the ways in which the created order leads human minds to contemplation of the Creator.” (p314)

Chapter 13 treats Strategy 3: “Anthropology, Epistemology, and the reading of Scripture” (How one can even call this a single strategy is now beginning to strain my numeracy).

This centres on the dual-focused account of sanctification: “All pro-Nicene authors believe that at the heart of the purification necessary for Christians lies a reordering of human knowing and desiring.” as well as the reading practices of the pro-Nicenes. He makes some notes towards the importance and emergence of asceticism, as well as to an 'aesthetics of faith'.

Of this section of Ayres, I found Chapter 11 the most persuasive, and can clearly see elements of this strategy throughout the pro-Nicenes. I think he is unhelpfully multiplying categories in Chapters 12 and 13, and perhaps doesn't offer us either enough clarity or enough illustration of his motifs. Nonetheless, I have left Ayres reading the pro-Nicenes with a new sensitivity for the common techniques and traits. In the next post we will consider chapters 14-15.

Augustine of Hippo, IV (PTT)

The assault on Augustine:
Gunton, Barnes, Ormerod, Zizioulas, Turcescu

In this post I want to turn to the modern debate over Augustine. We begin with Colin Gunton, who in Chapter 3 of his The promise of trinitarian theology launches a sustained and hostile attack on Augustine and his legacy. Gunton situates Augustine as making God unknowable, beholden to Platonism, suspicious of materialism, and responsible for Western theology and philosophy's failure to be truly trinitarian and instead deeply individualistic.

So, Gunton thinks Augustine fails to treat the humanity and the materiality of the humanity of Christ with enough gravity; that Augustine's reading of OT theophanies (unlike Tertullian and Irenaeus), makes God more remote, since he appears through the mediation of angels or ephimeral matter; that his account of the baptism of Christ treats the Spirit as substance, not relationally.

In contrasting Augustine and the Cappadocians, Gunton claims that Augustine radically fails to understand Eastern thought and the ousia/hypostasis distinction. Further, Gunton says that Augustine defines persons as relations. Gunton draws the distinction thus:
The Cappadocians: “the three persons are what they are in their relations...therefore the relations qualify them ontologically” (p41)
Augustine: “continues to use relation as a logical rather than an ontological predicate” and thus cannot “make claims about the being of the particular persons” (ibid.)
Gunton now raises Wolfson's critique, that Augustine thinks “the true being of God underlies the threeness”.

Gunton then goes on the attack against Augustine's psychological analogies. For Gunton, this is evidence of Augustine's anti-materialist, intellectualist approach. He writes that Augustine tends to “ illustrate the nature of the Trinity by comparing it not to persons in relation...but to the individual human mind”. This, despite the fact that Augustine denies the identification of the 3 constituent parts of his psychological image with the 3 persons of the Trinity, and the fact that the analogy of 3 persons in the Cappadocians is specifically denied to be adequate (see Gregory of Nyssa, Ad Ablabium!).

Gunton continues, seeing Augustine's treatment of the Spirit as pre-conditioned by his need to find a third party to correspond to his pre-existent psychological analogy, in the will.

I confess, reading Gunton made me angry. His is an essentially uncharitable reading of Augustine, specifically refusing Augustine's own statements about what he is doing, and misreading terribly both Augustine and the Cappadocians.

Michel René Barnes offers a serious critique of Gunton's, et al., reading of Augustine. He insists that neoplatonism is not the primary background for reading Augustine. He points to the tendency to abstract and decontextualise elements of Augustine, and highlights for instance how the debate between Joachim of Fiore and Peter Lombard in the context of the 4th Lateran council seized upon a single phrase in Augustine's On Christian Doctrine as a point of dispute and the basis for theological development. Augustine can hardly be responsible for traditions that build of a single phrase.

Barnes also notes the influence of de Régnon's schema of east/west unity/diversity as the backdrop for many readings of Augustine, a paradigm that is both inaccurate for the 4th century, and on careful reading de Régnon himself, probably inaccurate for him too. Barnes then engages in a close reading of Epistle 11 and Question 69 (see earlier post), to lay bare three motifs found in early Augustine:

(1)the doctrine of inseparable activity as the fundamental expression of divine unity
(2)the epistemic character of the Incarnation as the decisive revelation of divine unity
(3)the 'hermeutical' circle of faith by which true doctrine leads to the process of personal imagining, which deepens doctrinal insight, etc..
These certainly ground the Incarnation as the center of Augustine's epistemology of God (contra Gunton), and the doctrine of inseparable operations as the expression of divine unity (the unity of God is never the starting point in a materialist sense).

Neil Ormerod also offers a critique of Gunton's reading of Augustine. He begins by noting the essential uncharitability of Gunton's reading, for instance Gunton's claim “that Augustine's theology always borders on modalism, which he avoids 'by the mere assertion that he does not wish to be a Modalist'” (Ormerod p35, quoting Gunton from Scottish Journal Theology, 1990, also p35).

Ormerod argues that “personhood cannot be a 'principle of being', because Father and Son (and Spirit) have an identical principle of being.” (p41) If personhood becomes a ground for ontology, which seems to be the shift Gunton and Zizioulas are arguing for, and trying to support from the Cappadocians, then the implication seems to be that the persons are ontologically distinct, which is certainly tritheism (Ormerod seems to think Volf is tritheistic, see footnote p43).

Turcescu makes a similar critique, focusing on Zizioulas' account of persons vs. individuals, in '"Person" versus "Individual", and other modern misreadings of Gregory of Nyssa'(Modem Theology 18:4 October 2002), which see.


Barnes, Michel René (1999) ‘Rereading Augustine’s Theology of the Trinity’ in The Trinity: An interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity Edited by Stephen Davis. Oxford: OUP. p145-176.

Gunton, Colin (1993) The promise of trinitarian theology Edinburgh : T&T Clark. p30-55.

Ormerod, Neil (2005) The Trinity : retrieving the Western tradition Milwaukee, Wis. : Marquette University Press. p33-77.

Augustine of Hippo, III (PTT)

De Trinitate
All quotes from Edmund Hill's translation (New York: New City Press, 1991).

We now come to one of Augustine's longest and most difficult works, On the Trinity. I would say it is hard enough to read, let alone understand, Augustine's work here. Nonetheless, let us make some attempt, and I will deal with a few other key issues and readings in a post to come.

There is a certain delicious yet tragic irony in 1.6, where Augustine disavows responsibility for those who will misread his work and misunderstand his thought. We will return to that in our next post. To focus at hand, De Trinitate is Augustine's attempt to develop a treatment of the doctrine of Trinity (1.4), yet the work once read is peculiarly lacking in what one might expect.

In 1.7 we see Augustine's pro-Nicene presuppositions, “Father and Son and Holy Spirit in the inseparable equality of one substance present a divine unity”. This is a starting point for Augustine, and his grasp on the inseparability of operations will guide the whole project (1.7-8).

He then turns in Bk 1 to treat scriptural texts, and employs throughout the basic principle of partitive exegesis, distinguishing that things said of Christ refer to Christ being “equal by nature, by condition his inferior” (1.14). While Augustine has some distinctive takes on a few passages, there is nothing methodologically radical here.

In Bk 2 he states that various statements need to be read, contextually, as some indicate unity and equality of substance (Jn 10:30, Phil 2:6), others mark his inferiority as a servant (Jn 14:28, Jn 5:22, 27), while Others “which mark him neither as less nor as equal, but only intimate that he is from the Father.”

Augustine then treats of the sending of Son and Spirit. He notes that the Son shares all works with the Father, including acts done 'upon' the Son (eg. The Son is said to sanctify himself). Also, that the Father is not said to be greater than the Spirit, which he refers to the fact that the Spirit does not assume the form of a servant, which the Son does. Then the rest of Bk 2 is taken up with an investigation of OT theophanies, inquiring into the first of 3 questions: which member of the Trinity appears? In each case, Augustine says the evidence is indecisive whether it is one of the Three or all Three as One.

In Bk 3 Augustine considers whether such theophanies occur by angelic means or by purely God-created momentary things. Augustine develops an argument for primary and secondary causes, and sees God at work in both(3.1-11). As for the problem of Pharaoh and his magicians, Augustine asserts that fallen angels can likewise manipulate fine or spiritual reality (3.12f). So his argument develops until in 3.19 he says that thus there are things that occur naturally and regularly, things that occur naturally, regularly, but infrequently, and there are things “that occur equally in the physical realm, but are presented to our senses to tell us something from god. These are properly called miracles and signs.” This is coupled with 3.22, “whatever it was that the OT Fathers saw whenever God showed himself to them... it is clear that it was always achieved through created objects.” how it was done is unclear, that it occurred is certain.

Bk 4 then begins to develop an account of the Son's sending, by depicting the redemptive and mediatorial work of Christ. This is central to Augustine's account of the 'inferiority' of the Son. His account of the fall involves a two-fold fall of body and soul, ignorance and sin. Since Augustine's vision of salvation and eschatology is shaped around direct contemplation and beatific vision, his depiction of atonement is shaped around the same, “to contemplate God, which by nature we are not, we would have to be cleansed by him who became what by nature we are and what by sin we are not” (4.4). From 4.7f Augustine engages in what seems to us some bizarre numerology, but it is entirely historical-contextual, so we should not be too hard on him, so let us move on.
Augustine's account of death and redemption is that Christ dies a single (fleshly) death for our double (body/soul) death, and applies his single (fleshly) resurrection for our double resurrection (body and soul). This account is summed up in 4.25, “There you have what the Son of God has been sent for; indeed there you have what it is for the Son of God to have been sent.” This provides Augustine the basis to deny that 'sending' implies inferiority, but rather has the economic purpose of bringing us home to God, the source and origin of all Deity (4.32).

Books 5-7 form a unit (so Hill), in which Augustine considers the problem raised by 1 Cor 1:24, and whether God is Wise, or Christ, or both, and in what that Wisdom consists. The argument is logical more than metaphysical, and Augustine's thought goes something like this:
Words can be used as predicates, or substantially. Due to God's simplicity (notice that it is foundational), words used as predicates of God become substantives: that God is Wise means that God is Wisdom. Yet, 1 Cor 1:24 seems to use a Substantive relationally, so that God's Wisdom is Christ. One solution (Bk 6), would be to treat all such words relationally, but this collapses, and so Bk 7 provides a more permanent solution, distinguishing a proper and improper use of substantial and relational terms. It is this distinction that allows us to use Father/Son/Spirit relationally within the Godhead, without destroying the Substantial unity.

This is important in the debate between Father and Unbegotten. Augustine's point is that Unbegotten is not a substance term, but a relational term, defined as 'Not-Begotten'. It tells us of the absence of a relation, not of a substance. It is in these chapters that Augustine works towards a relational distinction of the Holy Spirit as Gift and Love (since unlike Father/Son, the name 'Holy Spirit' does not indicate the particulars of his relation).

To reframe the discussion, here is how Ayres gives an account:

Augustine offers an alternative account of the Son being Wisdom of God while the Father is still wise in himself, in three steps:
1.Every essence which is spoken of relatively is something apart from that relative predication. Eg, for X to be in relation, X must be something (logically) prior, in order to be in relation. Thus the individual reality of the Persons is affirmed.
2.The Father generates the Son. More specifically, the Son's essence. The Son is essentia de essentia, light from light, wisdom from wisdom. If the Son is Wisdom (1 Cor 1:24, and the Son Is God (Jn 1:3), then the Son is wise in himself, and is Wisdom itself, because God is simple. The grammar of simplicity carries from 1 to 2, everything said of the Father applies in like manner to the Son. “we see that a simple being may generate another who is also coequal and simple.” (379)
3.If the Father is Wisdom itself, and the Son is wisdom itself, then “the Son's essence must be identical with the Father's essence”(379). There are neither two instances of wisdom, not does the unity result from an underlying substance (as many material analogies); the grammar of simplicity gives “very different linguistic resources for us to speak of the unity of the three.” (379)

“Because the principles of his Trinitarian faith tell him that the Spirit is also God and is a distinct person, the same arguments apply to all three persons.”(379) “We do not find the unity by focusing on something different from the persons” and “there is nothing but the persons.” (380)

In Ayres' account, there is no hint that Augustine believes in a prior substratum of God's essence. Rather, Augustine employs Neo-Platonic techniques to articulate the grammar of the pro-Nicenes. It is pro-Nicene theology, not Neo-platonism, that is the driving engine of his theology.

I am going to break off my account of De Trinitate here, for now. Bks 8 onward begin to delve inwards, and consider psychological images and analogies for the Trinity. Perhaps I will return to them a little later. Suffice to make one decisive point though: Augustine recognises, as all the pro-Nicenes do, the limitations of analogy. Bks 14-15 bring that out clearly. Augustine thinks that the Triune pattern of the Godhead almost certainly must be reflected in the creation, and that is why he spends so much time on the psychological analogies, but the further away from God these are, the more imperfect they are as analogies. One of the great misreadings of Augustine is to think that these are offered as analogies for the Trinity per se. This is the Augustinian equivalent to the misreading of the Cappadocians as offering a social analogy. More on this shortly.

Augustine of Hippo, II (PTT)

Answer to Maximinus

This text is the theological equivalent to a 'rejoinder on the stairs'. Augustine, seemingly bested in a debate with Maximinus, writes this tract in order to continue the debate, and show the points in which he is correct, as well as to highlight arguments Maximinus had no answer for and simply avoided.

The text comes in two books, the first concerns points that Maximinus could not refute, the second refutations of Maximinus by Augustine.

Maximinus shows himself firmly in a Latin tradition deriving from Tertullian and Novatian, in that he reads OT theophanies as Christophanies, but then extends this to insist that the Son is visible, the Father alone invisible, and to drive a wedge between their common nature. Augustine employs several arguments to force admittance that the Son is invisible in his nature, though he does appear, and that it is not a characteristic of the Greater to be unable to be seen by the lesser. Augustine denies there are any texts that show the Holy Spirit adoring the Father as if a creature. He also employs a sophisticated exegesis of Jn 17 and like passages, to show that the unity of disciples in Christ is as not identical the union of Father and Son. Augustine's primary tactic in that point is to distinguish unity asserted absolutely, and unity asserted in respect to something. To Maximinus' argument that: if the Son is the same as Father, then the Son is unborn as the Father, Augustine simply responds with the example of Adam: unbegotten, as made by God, yet begets a son of his own nature.

In Book 2, Augustine moves to Maximinus' arguments. The key question is “whether the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have a different substance, as your say, or rather, as we say, have one and the same substance and whether the one God is the Trinity”; Sabellianism is not in view.

Augustine demonstrates his commitment to partitive exegesis, as for instance in dealing with Phil 2:6-9, which he understands economically where Maximinus understands absolutely. Augustine lays down some clear statements in 2.10 where he writes, “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three persons, and because these three have one substance, they are supremely one without any difference of natures or of wills” and “Christ is one person with a twofold substance, because he is both God and man.”

There is an interesting point in 2.22, as they debate 1 Cor 3:16, then 6:19-20. Maximinus wants to use the Spirit's cleansing as sign that he prepares the way for God, and so is not God. Augustine brings in other texts such as 1 Cor 6, to argue that the Spirit is himself the indweller of this temple, and thus God.

In 2.26 onwards, they return to debating the Old Testament. Augustine shows that he is not willing to read this simply as Christophanies, but as Theophanies without a clear distinction of person, using creaturely or corporeal forms to effect a manifestation of presence. If the Father is invisible and spirit, so too the Son. The visibility of the Son is inadequate to support OT Christophanies.

Hilary of Poitiers (PTT)

b.ca. 310-320, d. ca. 367-8. We know little of Hilary's early life, though we can probably date his consecration as bishop between 350 and 355. He shows knowledge of both Latin and Greek, a familiarity with Tertullian, Cyprian, and Novatian, and during his exile with emerging Greek theology. Beckwith dates his exile to the synod of Bézier 356, whence he was exiled to Phrygia 357-60 (Hilary was not present at Milan 355, but did receive correspondence of its events; he then did appear at Bézier, where he claims to oppose Saturninus of Arles and the anti-Nicenes). During this time Hilary associates with Basil of Ancyra and Eleusius of Cyzicus, among others, and is present at Seleucia 359. After an unsuccessful request for audience with Constantius, and Constantinople 360's Homoian declaration, Hilary returned from exile unauthorised, and became probably the pro-Nicene's most articulate defender in the West throughout the 360s.

Hilary's most significant works, for this study, are De Synodis, which is Hilary's attempt to make contemporary Eastern theological debate and thought accessible to the West, and De Trinitate, his extensive anti-Homoian/anti-Arian treatise on the Trinity. It is the latter which will occupy us below.

It seems almost certain that De Trinitate is a composite work. Beckwith's recent monograph analyses the constituent parts as De Fide (Bks 2-3), Adversus Arianos (Bks 4-6), with Bk 1 added later, Bks 2-3 substantially revised, to form De Fide, and a major shift in vision from Bk 7 onwards, whence Hilary has decided to turn Adversus Arianos into the magnum opus De Trinitate. Beckwith dates the change of vision to 357-8, the Blasphemy of Sirmium and the anti-Homoian influence of Basil of Ancyra. Notably, Bks 4-6 contain reflection on Arius letter to Alexander of Alexandria, a document no one at the time was engaged with or adhering to.

Turning then to the text of De Trinitate:
Bk 1 offers an introduction, including personal spiritual biography, the need to defend against errors, and an outline of the contents of the book. In 1.19 we get a glimpse of the latter concern with analogies, “we must therefore regard any comparison as helpful to man rather than as descriptive of God, since it suggests, rather than exhausts, the sense we seek.”.

Bks 2-3, the revised De Fide, were originally presented as a defense of Hilary's baptismal faith. Key changes appear to be a move towards a more polemical and apologetic engagement. Though he still speaks of a simple faith in the eternal generation, Hilary now realises that such simplicity of faith leaves believers open to deception. He casts his opponents polemically to the left and right, and is clear to offer his faith against both Homoians, by defending likeness of image and essence, as well as to clearly demarcate his position from Marcellus and Photinus. In particular, he does this by extensive scriptural work, the gospel of John is worked heavily.

When we come to Bks 4-6, we see clearly how Hilary has prefaced his work here with respect to Bks 1-3. This section is, oddly for his historical context, concerned with a detailed refutation of Arius' letter to Alexandria, which Hilary quotes in 4.12-13. No contemporary group is holding this position, and while anti-Arian rhetoric has been employed in both East and West (Athanasian and Marcellan circles), this is really something for the 350s! Nonetheless, although his arguments in this section lack the sophistication to deal with later moderate Eusebian positions, we see the fine grain detail of Hilary's exegesis, especially in dealing with the OT theophanies in a Latin tradition.

Bk 7 begins with a declaration of its excellence, and the situating of Hilary's work between Sabellians, Photinians, Arians, the whole lot. Now we see Hilary begin to deploy a more refined exegesis, particularly of John. So at 7.15, reflecting on Jn 5:18 he writes“equality cannot dwell with difference, nor yet in solitude”, showing his medial path between modalism and ditheism. In 7.28-29 we see Hilary cautiously deploying analogies, and in 7.30 speaking about the limits of analogy. This is due, I think, to the excessive deployment of untenable analogies by Basil of Ancyra, among others.

In Bk 8 onwards, Hilary speaks at more length concerning the Spirit. Ayres (p185) sees Hilary's pneumatology as “entirely economic” and that “in the case of Hilary we find a pneumatology that is clear about the function of the Spirit, proceeds polemically by applying to the Spirit arguments developed in the case of the Son, and deeply austere about the place of the Spirit in the Trinity itself.” Certainly Hilary's writing on the Spirit reads confusingly to myself.

In 9.3 Hilary gives us a clear statement of the dual natures, Christ “being of two natures united for that mediatorship, is the full reality of each nature; while abiding in each, he is wanting in neither; he does not cease to be God because he becomes man, nor fail to be man because he remains for ever God”, and this is followed in 9.5 by a statement of the principle of partitive exegesis, over against the univocalisation of his opponents. 9.58-74 treats of the problem of the ignorance of Christ, in economic terms. 9.68 has this statement, “manifestly, therefore, the ignorance of God is not ignorance but a mystery: in the economy of his actions and words and manifestations, he does not know and at the same time He knows, or knows and at the same time does not know.”

Bk 10 advances the curious (and I think erroneous argument) that Christ experienced the physical cause of pain but not the feeling of pain (Christus pati non dolere potest). I will pass over that subject. In Bk 11 he treats at length 1 Cor 15:21-28, specifically the troublesome Marcellan passage about the subjection of the Son and the Kingdom. 11.40 reveals the kind of confused thought Hilary has:

according to the Dispensation He becomes by His Godhead and His manhood the Mediator between men and God, and so by the Dispensation He acquires the nature of flesh, and by the subjection shall obtain the nature of God in all things, so as to be God not in part, but wholly and entirely. The end of the subjection is then simply that God may be all in all, that no trace of the nature of His earthly body may remain in Him. Although before this time the two were combined within Him, He must now become God only; not, however, by casting off the body, but by translating it through subjection; not by losing it through dissolutions, but by transfiguring it in glory: adding humanity to His divinity, not divesting Himself of divinity by His humanity.

Hilary's view, so far as I can make it out, is that the humanity of Christ will be transfigured into divinity, and caught up in this is our deification, but exactly what Hilary means by this I am unsure.

Bk 12 deals with Pr 8:22f at length, and shows clear traces of the partitive exegetical principle in practice, advancing the basically pro-Nicene treatment of the verse.

Augustine of Hippo, I (PTT)

Introduction, Epistle 11, Question 69 of Diverse Questions

Augustine. Even to pronounce the name is to evoke the echoes of his significance for Western thought. Considered by many the greatest theologian since Paul, foundational for the Western theological tradition, it is almost impossible not to have an opinion about him (despite not having read him, as Barnes quips).

The details of his life (354-430) are easily read elsewhere. Moreover, the vast scope of his theological output is well beyond our attention here. Rather, as a slightly later contemporary to the controversies of the 4th century, Augustine provides an important, if not the important, Western theological witness to the victory of pro-Nicene thought.

Ayres treats of Augustine (364-383) as part of his attempt to show the consistency of his analysis of pro-Nicene strategies and grammar. Ayres notes that early Augustine certainly shows engagement with Platonist thought (Confessions 7), but that the influence of such texts and philosophies is more difficult to demonstrate than assume. Confessions 7.10 speaks of Augustine's conception of God as an extended material substance being challenged and reformulated as immaterial Being itself, and simple in Himself. Pointing to Confessions 7.9, Ayres further argues that Augustine came to those Platonist texts with a pre-existing pro-Nicene understanding. The dominant background of Neoplatonism in Augustine is open to significant challenge (see also post on Gunton/Barnes to follow).

Ayres looks to Letter 11, dated ca 389, for evidence of Augustine's early thinking. Here Augustine is responding to a question from Nebridius about why we say only the Son became incarnate. Augustine responds with a statement of the doctrine of inseparable operations (2), a pro-Nicene principle, and one that could be said to generate the very problem. While Augustine's answer leaves much wanting, as he treats of the interrelatedness of existence, particularity, and endurance of things that exist, and the need for epistemological condescension in our knowledge of the Father and Spirit through the Son, his clear commitment to some elements of pro-Nicene thought is evident. Ayres points further to De fide et symbolo (On the Faith and the Creed), 393 where Augustine shows himself aware of the key Latin anti-Homoian tradition, showing the equality of Father and Son, referring to 1 Cor 1:24, as well as an awareness of Pr 8:22 and other key texts in the debate.

The issue of the incarnation as particular to the Son is again dealt with in Sermon 52, ca 410, on Mt 3:13ff, where Augustine begins again with the inseparability of operations, but then writes, “ The Son indeed and not the Father was born of the Virgin Mary; but this very birth of the Son, not of the Father, was the work both of the Father and the Son. The Father indeed suffered not, but the Son, yet the suffering of the Son was the work of the Father and the Son.” (52.8). Augustine has found a manner of attributing commonality of works with distinction within those works.

Further evidence of Augustine's pro-Nicene strategies are seen in Question 69, from De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus (Responses to Miscellaneous Questions), in which he is tackling 1 Cor 15:28. In response to 'Arian' univocalisation, Augustine writes, “those things that were written about the distinction between the Father and the Son were written partly with reference to the properties of the persons [eg, begetter and begotten] and partly with reference to the assumption of humanity” (69.2). Augustine interprets the text with reference to the assumption of humanity (1 Cor 15:20, understands 'until' to not mean 'end' (as Lk 1:33 would contradict), and in relation as Christ is head of his body, the church (69.10).

381 and Beyond (PTT)

Ayres (251-260), Behr (117-122)

We have already treated briefly the arrival of Gregory of Nazianzus in Constantinople in 380. The edict of Theodosius, Feb 28, 380, and his treatment of Demophilus of Constantinople, clearly marked the new Imperial agenda. Jan 10th, 381 Theodosius forbade the use of churches and worship within city walls to various 'heretics'; Ayres notes that in this, and subsequent decrees, Theodosius describes a basic formulation of pro-Nicene Trinitarian theology, without any dependence upon a technical terminology.

Subsequently, he summoned the council of Constantinople, which opened May 31st, presided over by Meletius. There was no western representation at the council. 36 'Macedonians' came, but after conciliation failed, withdrew. An Egyptian delegation turned up late (Peter having died in February). Meletius died mid-council, and Gregory took over. He pushed for Paulinus in Antioch, but the council consecrated Flavian (a member of Paulinus' community, backed by the Syrians) instead. The Egyptian delegation, on arrival, raised objections to Gregory's legitimacy, not least in the transferral of see from Nazianzus to Constantinople; this was certainly connected to Peter of Alexandria's earlier persuasions to Maximus the Cynic to usurp Gregory's place in the capital. Gregory, losing support and patience with the council, resigned from both presidency and episcopacy, and retired to his country home; Nectarius, an unbaptised civil official was elected bishop, and presided until its conclusion in July. 4 canons were issued:

1. Endorsing Nicaea and anthematising Eunomians, Eudoxians, Pneumatomachians, Sabellians, Marcellians, Photinians, and Apollinarians (and all stripes of 'Arianism');
2. concerning episcopal sees and boundaries;
3. placing the honour of Constaninople after Rome, curtailing Alexandria's influence,
4. voiding Maximus the Cynic's bishopric and all his ordinations.

Lastly, it produced the creed, and issued a Tome. The creed is undocumented from the council itself, but is known from Chalcedon. Among significant changes are the extended statement on the Spirit, the omission of 'from the ousia of the Father' (Ayres suggests the precise wording of the creed was not as intensely formulated as we might think, and that Basil-Meletius and their circles were less attached to the phrase, cf. the significance in Athanasius' thought), and the omission of Nicaea's anathemas (probably explicable by the fact that the Council did not meet to condemn someone present at the council, cf. Arius at Nicaea).

July 30, 381, Theodosius issues a further edict, confirming the council. Behr writes, “ This edict is the imperial stamp on the pro-Nicene position settled upon at the Council of Constantinople, making it the official religion of the Roman Empire”. Western councils, while generally pro-Nicene in theology, met at Aquileia 381 and Rome 382, complaining and protesting the proceedings of Constantinople (not least re-ordering the prestige of metropolitan sees).

Constantinople is certainly not 'the end', though it is the triumph, not of a creed, but of a way of doing theology and speaking of God. In 383 Theodosius held a council and called for submissions of a statement of faith from all major sects; only pro-Nicenes and Novatianists were found acceptable. From 383-4 onwards Theodosius began to crack down on 'Eunomians', 'Macedonians', and 'Arians', though such communities persisted for quite some time.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The 370s (PTT)

Behr (104-119), Ayres (222-243, 260-267)

In 372 Valens travelled to Caesarea and met with Basil. This meeting turned out relatively favourable for Basil, and as a consequence he gained ecclesiastical responsibility for Armenia. Nonetheless, the split of Cappadocia into two provinces threatened his episcopal influence, and he responded by appointing numerous relatives and supporters to newly created sees. During the 370s Basil spends considerable effort in trying to build alliances in the East, deal with the triple-division in Antioch, and approach Rome and the west.

During the 370s, Damasus holds power in Rome, and the correspondence between Basil and Damasus figures significantly in East-West relations. The relationship was strained due to support for differing bishops in Antioch. Nonetheless, Damasus is basically pro-Nicene in his theology.

In 374 Ambrose is elected bishop of Milan. He succeeded the Homoian Auxentius, and seems to be largely unpressured in the early years of his episcopacy.

Valentinian dies in the West, campaigning in Germania, and Gratian succeeds him.

Among other events (infra), Ambrose comes under increasing pressure in Milan, and so writes De Fide, and in a few years adds 3 more books to it, as well as by 381De Spiritu (influence from Didymus, or plagiarism according to Jerome). Ambrose shows familiarity with Eastern pro-Nicene theology, as well as Hilary, and includes elements such as the doctrine of inseparable operations, a sophisticated account of 'generation', and anti-Homoian exegesis.

In 378 the 5th decisive extra-ecclesial event for the 4th century occurs: the battle of Adrianople (the other 4 are: Constantine's unification of Empire, the sole rule of Constantius from 351, the death of Constantius in 361, and the reign of Julian the Apostate). Goth incursions across the Danube led to the defeat of Valens and his army, and Gratian close at hand, in consultation, appointed Theodosius to rule the East. He came out of retirement in Hispania, and was declared Augustus Jan 379. In the same year, Meletius held a small council in Antioch. Ayres sees this as a Basil-Meletius power-bloc become pro-active in moving towards a Nicene settlement, and the council produces a pro-Nicaea statement which it then addresses to Theodosius. This council also sent Gregory of Nazianzus to Constantinople, to pastor the 'Nicene' Christians, a role in which he excelled and gave him the scope for some of the most important oratory of his career.

Behr draws attention to edicts of Theodosius, such as Feb 28, 380, endorsing Nicaea, and the faith of Damasus of Rome and Peter of Alexandria, as a standard for trinitarian orthodoxy. On Nov 24 380, he enters Constantinople, and demands a Nicene confession from Demophilus, who declines and is exiled, this paves the way for Gregory of Nazianzus installation Nov 27.

Gregory of Nyssa, II (PTT)

Ad Ablabium

To Ablabius: On not three Gods, has long been held up as a distinctive and paradigmatic text for both Gregory, and for the approach of the Cappadocians. A careful reading of the text shows that to a large extent it simply doesn't do what many think it does. In this summary, I follow aspects of both Behr (427-434) and Ayres (345-364).

The confronting problem for the text is how the Cappadocians can avoid being tritheists. The argument is put in terms of speaking of a singular human nature, yet three individual persons. This is, we may recall, the grammatical distinction that Gregory employs in his Epistle to Peter. It is, also, commonly taken as a starting point for discussion of Social Trinitarianism and the Eastern tendency to start with the Persons.

Yet, in Ad Abl., Gregory's argument is that such an analogy fails at exactly this point. In defending against the charge of tritheism, Gregory advances two arguments, or in Ayres' schematic, two lines of argument with two sections (A1-B1-A2-B2).

The first of these is to exclude polytheism by definition, and to understand that to speak of a 'nature' is at once to be speaking of something singular and simple. Gregory elaborates to say that in common usage we speak of 'men', but properly speaking we should speak of 'man'. This is negligible when talking about human beings, but more particular care must be taken in speaking about God, for more is at stake.

Gregory's second line of argument is about what names describe. He is insistent, as Basil before him, that names do not define essences, and so begins with an argument for 'Godhead', θεότης, denoting the activity of God. He writes, “ nature is unnameable and unspeakable, and we say that every term either invented by the custom of men, or handed down to us by the Scriptures, is indeed explanatory of our conceptions of the Divine Nature, but does not include the signification of that nature itself”. Names signify operations.

Yet, the objection that might be raised is that common operations signify common operators co-working, as 3 farmers farming, of 3 orators orating. Gregory raises this objection to more clearly argue his case. For Gregory, the operations of the Divine Persons are not individuated, but they share the same and singular operation. He writes, “every operation which extends from God to Creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit” (notice how this echoes Basil in De Spiritu Sancto. It is right at this point we should note how divergent this is from the Social Analogy. The distinction of the divine persons is not the same as that observed in human persons.

The core elements to take away from Ad Ablabium is this: simplicity of nature, common operation and common power of the common divine essence; the incomprehensibility of 'what' God is, and 'what' a divine person is; that the persons are not psychological entities unto themselves; that persons can be distinguished causally and in relation but not in essence nor in operation.