Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy, IV

In the second part of his work, 'The Emergence of Pro-Nicene Theology', Ayres tracks the course of the continuing debates from the 350s to the 380s. In doing so he is trying to identify the emergence of 'Pro-Nicene' theology, for which he offers an initial definition in the early chapters, and a fuller identification in chapter 9 (see below).

In chapter 6 he deals with the period 350-360, including Sirmium 351 and 357, the emergence of a 'Homoian' theology, the subsequent emergence of radical Homoians, whom he terms 'Heterousians', such as Aetius and Eunomius, followed by the reaction to them of the 'Homoiousians'. He closes the chapter with the Dated creed, and the twin councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, and the forced consensus that results.

Chapter 7 paints the picture of the 360s in terms of 'rapprochement'; with the death of Constantius in 361, and the clear subordinationist trajectory of Homoians and especially Heterousians, both Homoiousians and 'pro-Nicenes' began to look to Nicaea as a standard and rallying point. Ayres spends time on Athanasius' development, Hilary of Poitiers, and the political climate.

Chapter 8 turns to Basil of Caesarea, and spends considerable time outlining his theological contribution. Ayres closes out the chapter by noting how little he has had to speak of Athanasius in treating Basil, and suggests the 'old' view of seeing Basil as heir and developer of Athanasius' theology as simply unfounded in evidence.

Chapter 9 turns from the theology of Basil to his ecclesiastical politicking, as well as events up to the late 370s, with the accession of Theodosius in 379. In this chapter he presents a fuller definition of 'Pro-Nicene' Theology:

1.a clear version of the person and nature distinction, entailing the principle that whatever is predicated of the divine nature is predicated of the three persons equally and understood to be one (this distinction may or may not be articulated via a consistent technical terminology);
2.clear expression that the eternal generation of the Son occurs within the unitary and incomprehensible divine being;
3.clear expression of the doctrine that the persons work inseparably. (p236)

Chapter 10 closes out the historical narrative, with Gregory Nazianzus, the council of Constantinople, the edicts of Theodosius, a look at Ambrose of Milan, and a nod to the untidy ends that shouldn't be tied up. Again, Ayres shakes things up: “It seems unlikely that this meeting was intended as a universal council to rival Seleucia/Ariminum or Nicaea itself” (p253)

This section forms the bulk of Ayres' revisionist history. Reading Ayres for me is really a “the Matrix is not real” experience. Everything you are taught in Church History 1 gets turned upside down, and all the old divisions and distinctions get removed. Ayres treatment is carefully and exactingly nuanced. My only desire was for more depth, in treatment of individuals and their theologies, as well as historical events, but for that Ayres would have to have written a lot more text.

More to follow in entry V.

No comments: