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.