Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Backgrounds to Nicaea (PTT)

When we come to examine these various facets, a number of points need to be drawn out (these derive from Ayres predominantly, with some influence from Behr):

Origen and his influence
It's undeniable that Origen casts his shadow over the whole theological controversy of the 4th, but it is much harder to pin down and detail that influence. It is certainly not reducible to 'subordinationist' tendencies. Ayres' picture of Origen focuses on the Father and Son as two distinct beings, yet the Son as image of the Father. He is trapped trying to defend both the transcendence of God the Father, and the reality of revelation in the Son. His doctrine of creation has tendencies towards the eternal existence of creation, which non-Nicenes will apply against the eternal status of the Son. Overall, Origen's legacy is piecemeal, and turns up on both sides of the controversy, not least in the shaping of exegetical practices.

Alexander and Athanasius
Ayres identifies 4 theological trajectories in the approach to Nicaea, and we'll follow him here. Alexander's teaching focuses on the correlative status of Father and Son: God is eternally Father therefore he eternally has his Son, but without distance between the two. Alexander's complaint against Arius is that Arius reads texts referring to the incarnate Word and applies them to the eternal Word.

At this point it is worth mentioning that for Nicenes, neo- or pro-, partitive exegesis (distinguishing whether a passage refers to the humanity or divinity, or else the eternal or incarnate, or sometimes the eternal or the economic), however understood and practised, forms a fundamental exegetical feature of their theology, which is one of the main points of contention against their opponents, who tend, in one direction or another, to read scripture univocally concerning the Word.

Alexander holds that the Word mediates between Father and World, but not because of some logical necessity or ontological subordination. He insists that the manner of the eternal generation is unknown (unknowable even), but that it is definitely non-material.

The 'Eusebians'

It is, of course, debatable whether 'Eusebians' is much of a better term than 'Arians', semi-, neo-, or otherwise. Nonetheless Ayres identifies a group that would feel comfortable around the two major Eusebii, of Caesarea and of Nicomedia. Some of this group seem to be identified with a lineage back to Lucian of Antioch; Behr notes 3 elements that seem common to 'Lucianists', and these probably hold for the Eusebian group:
(1)an emphasis on the Son as a distinct, concrete being (hypostasis or ousia)
(2)the notion of image as relating Father and Son
(3)that the Son took a human body without a soul
certainly the 3rd point comes under a lot of pressure late in the 4th, with Apollinarius following a similar trajectory to his logical though false conclusions. Rowan Williams sees points 1 and 2 as the later divergence between Anomoians and Homoiousians, the latter being swayed by Basil et al., that only homoousios will sustain a true and real imaging of Father by Son.
In Ayres account, he looks briefly at Eusebius N., and notes the teaching that the Son is generated by will, a common non-Nicene position; also Asterius, and Arius himself.

Marcellus of Ancyra

The figure of Marcellus and those associated with him provides an interesting case. A staunch Nicene proponent (much like Apollinarius later), Marcellus' theology deviates from later pro-Nicene theology at a number of key points. Concerned above all to preserve the unity of God, Marcellus presents the eternal Word on analogy of a person and their reason (cf. Tertullian's understanding of the Logos); thus, he has no theory of generation, but asserts against the Eusebians the intrinsic nature of the Word to God's existence.
While it's Marcellus' distinctive eschatology that comes in for major censure later on (ie, that the Son's kingdom was not eternal but would be handed over to the Father, 1 Cor 15:28), the shape of his theology found strong support in Photinus of Sirmium, and Eustathius of Antioch. Part of his influence is entirely negative: non-Nicenes reacted to the Marcellan reading of homoousios. Another aspect, surely, is his interaction with Athanasius while the latter was in exile at Rome.

Western Anti-Adoptionism

Ayres offers up his fourth trajectory as the developments in the Latin West. There is, admittedly, a paucity of evidence for 3rd century Latin theology in this vein. Ayres offers up Novatian, Lactantius, and early-Hilary, as textual grounds for common themes. The major commonality he identifies is an anti-adoptionist concern. This is already shaping Novatian as we have seen. These theologians are, in turn, shaped by Tertullian's moves to defend the unity of God in an anti-monarchian, anti-modalist context. Against the characterisation of Latin trinitarian thought beginning from God's unity and thereby tending to modalism, we have a distinctly anti-modalist beginning, which is then reshaped in the late 3rd/early 4th to anti-adoptionism, using many of the same texts to assert that Christ as a distinct divine reality truly becomes incarnate. In treating Hilary, Ayres draws on D. Williams' recent work.

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