Sunday, December 25, 2005

Lactantius on the Ira Dei

Lactantius points out that God will destroy the wicked during the day of anger, wherein “torrents of blood shall flow,” and “the prince also of the demons himself, the author and contriver of evils, being bound with fiery chains, shall be imprisoned, that the world may receive peace, and the earth, harassed through so many years, may rest.”[1] Lactantius follows John’s Apocalypse closely here as he relates: “Therefore peace being made, and every evil suppressed, that righteous King and Conqueror will institute a great judgment on the earth respecting the living and the dead, and will deliver all the nations into subjection to the righteous who are alive, and will raise the righteous dead to eternal life, and will Himself reign with them on the earth, and will build the holy city, and this kingdom of the righteous shall be for a thousand years.”[2]

Moreover, Lactantius bases his apocalyptic vision, in part, on the OT prophets, who describe an age in which beasts will coexist peacefully with one another and humans (Epitome 72). We read: “The beasts shall lay aside their ferocity and become mild, the wolf shall roam among the flocks without doing harm, the calf shall feed with the lion, the dove shall be united with the hawk, the serpent shall have no poison; no animal shall live by bloodshed” (ibid).

Nevertheless, as foretold in the Apocalypse of John, “the prince of the demons” will be loosed when the thousand years terminate.[3] He will cause multitudes of the nations to revolt against the people of God, “to storm the city of the saints” (ibid). However, they will not prevail since God “will shake the earth froth its foundations, and the cities shall be overthrown, and He Shall rain upon the wicked fire with brimstone and hail, and they shall be on fire, and slay each other. But the righteous shall for a little space be concealed under the earth, until the destruction of the nations is accomplished, and after the third day they shall come forth, and see the plains covered with carcasses” (ibid).

[1] Epitome 72.

[2] Epitome 72.

[3] Lactantius contrasts Satan, “the prince of demons” with Christ “the prince of the angels” (DI 4.14.17). Here again, one discerns the influence of Jewish apocalyptic literature in the Divinae institutiones. The Testament of Simeon 2.7 designates ha Satan “the prince of deceit,” who was responsible for provoking Simeon to ruin his brother, Joseph. The Testament of Solomon 6.7 also uses the expression “prince of all the demons” when describing ha Satan.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Novatian and the Eternal Generation

For Novatian, God the Father is the unbegotten, ingenerate, unlimited and atemporal deity. Therefore, he accordingly suggests that the ingenerate and incomparable God has always been Father, even before he produced a Son.[1] God did not have a Son until he willed “the sacred and divine nativity” of the Logos, a Stoic-informed doctrine familiar to readers of Justin, Tertullian and Lactantius, among others (inter alios). Here one again witnesses the philosophical distinction between the logov endiaqetov ("the immanent word”) and the logov proforikov (“the expressed word”).[2] With customary rhetorical flourish, Novatian writes:

Thus God the Father, the Founder and Creator of all things, who only knows no beginning, invisible, infinite, immortal, eternal, is one God; to whose greatness, or majesty, or power, I would not say nothing can be preferred, but nothing can be compared; of whom, when He willed it, the Son, the Word, was born, who is not received in the sound of the stricken air, or in the tone of voice forced from the lungs, but is acknowledged in the substance of the power put forth by God, the mysteries of whose sacred and divine nativity neither an apostle has learnt, nor prophet has discovered, nor angel has known, nor creature has apprehended.[3]

The problem with this Novatian text stems from its explicit mention of the Father willing the Son’s mysterious preternatural nativity. The mention of divine willing implies that the Son’s generation is both non-eternal (infected with temporality) and contingent: Novatian does not appear to believe that the logov is eternally a hypostatic entity known as the Son. God could have elected to generate the Son, on this reading of the text, or he could have elected not to generate him; thus the contingent nature of the Word’s nativity.

Novatian evidently implies that Son’s generation is an act of God the Father’s supreme voluntas, “something he chose to do but need not have done.”[4] Yet, one would expect the Son’s generation to be non-contingent, if he is fully God and eternally generated by the Father.[5] Novatian, however, evidently posits a contingent nativitas for the Son that emanates from the preeminent will of God.[6]

Besides intimating that the Son’s generation is contingent, a mysterious generation of the Son by means of divine volition further seems to entail that the Father’s decision to bring forth the Son of God (in tempo or ab aeternitate) was somewhat arbitrary and undeniably voluntaristic. Does Novatian possibly avoid such problematics in his formulation of the Son’s prima nativitas, however? Maybe he does circumvent making the Son’s generation conditional or non-necessary. The following paragraphs will explore this issue in the light of De Trinitate 31.

2. Novatian on the Son’s Contingent Generation from the Father

While Kelly claims that Novatian believed God was always Father with a personal (i.e. substantial) Son, he admonishes his readers that the Roman theologian is nonetheless “far from envisaging the idea of eternal generation” and generally thinks of the Father and Son’s relationship in terms of a moral, rather than an essential unity.[7] Novatian himself contends that the divine perfections “in the true sense”[8] belong solely to God the Father:

And still, nevertheless, the Father is proved to be one God; while by degrees in reciprocal transfer that majesty and divinity are again returned and reflected as sent by the Son Himself to the Father, who had given them; so that reasonably God the Father is God of all, and the source also of His Son Himself whom He begot as Lord.[9]

Consequently, Kelly argues that the presbyter only avoids ditheism “by strongly subordinating” the Son to the Father or by positing filiation as “a passing moment in the divine life of the Father.”[10]

[1] Kelly writes: “Further, in his reasoning about time, Novatian would have it that the Father was always Father; but he would also have it that he who had no origin or source should come before him who had” (Early Christian Doctrines, 125. Cf. Lonergan, The Way to Nicea.

[2] See M. Colish, Stoic Tradition.

[3] De Trinitate 31.

[4] Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 125.

[5] If the Son’s generation is non-contingent, this means that given the fact of the Son’s generation, it is not possible that the Son’s generation not obtain. Employing the tools of modal logic, one could say that the eternal generation would thus obtain in all possible worlds, if it were non-contingent. It would therefore be necessary, rather than contingent.

[6] Hans von Balthasar tries to avoid this conclusion by postulating an ontological identity of divine freedom and necessity deitas ad intra. In this case, the Father’s generative act vis-à-vis the Son is both free and necessary. It is thus neither constrained per se nor arbitrary since it “coincides” with the “act-quality” of God’s essence (Margaret M. Turek, Towards a Theology of God the Father, 96-99). Even if this move adequately accounts for what supposedly transpires in the triune Godhead simpliciter, it is not so certain that Balthasar accounts for the problems in Novatian’s thought.

[7] Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 126.

[8] Ibid.

[9] De Trinitate 31.

[10] Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 126. Theologians normally distinguish between functional, ontological and theanthropic subordination where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are concerned. Kelly apparently alludes to ontological subordination in his comments pertaining to Novatian, though he does not make his meaning explicit.

Addressing Robert Bowman's Incomplete Picture of Clement's Christology


Robert M. Bowman (Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, page 30) once again criticizes the brochure Should You Believe in the Trinity? by noting that on page 7 of the Witness publication, we are told Clement of Alexandria argued that Christ is a creature and inferior to God. But Bowman contends that "In fact, Clement held the opposite." He then proceeds to cite various portions of Clement's Exhortation to the Heathen 10, The Instructor 1.8, 1.11 and the Stromata 5.1 which are fine references, but actually incomplete portrayals of what Clement believed.

Admittedly, one could make the same charge against the Society's publication. Yet I think the brochure rightly states that Clement believed the Son was/is a creature and inferior to God. At the very least, the pre-Nicene writer was a subordinationist, although it is difficult to ascertain the degree of subordinationist thought. Was Clement of Alexandria an ontological or functional subordinationist with respect to his Christology? In any event, it is wrong-headed to maintain that the Greek father believed the opposite of what the Trinity brochure states. That simply is not the whole truth.

Before showing why Bowman's portrait of Clement's doctrine of Christ is incomplete, let us examine some of his assertions. First, the modern-day apologist (Bowman) does not quote Clement, but avers that the Alexandrian taught Christ is "one and the same God as the Father." What Clement actually says, in context, is "Nothing, then, is hated by God, nor yet by the Word. For both are one-that is, God. For He has said, 'In the beginning the Word was in God, and the Word was God'" (_The Instructor_ 1.8).

Read in context, the passage does not exactly say what Bowman wants it to say. It is obvious that Clement has been influenced by Platonism's triadic hEN/NOUS/YUXH and Stoicism's distinction between the LOGOS ENDIAQETOS and the LOGOS PROFORIKOS. Note how these philosophical suppositions are reflected in Clement's understanding of John 1:1b-c. He professes that the LOGOS was "in" God rather than PROS TON QEON. Turning back to Bowman's interpretation of Clement, however, it quickly becomes evident that he is construing the texts ahistorically or devoid of context without considering Platonism's or Stoicism's influence. I also encourage members of this list to read _Stromata_ 5.1 in context as well. One cannot overlook the possibility that Clement's theology may border on being on modalistic.

Getting back to Bowman's inaccurate assessment of Clement and the _Trinity_ publication he tries to critique, I will now show why his evaluation is incomplete. For there are places in Clement where he does speak of the Son being a creature and being inferior to the Father:

"But the nature of the Son, which is nearest to Him who is alone the Almighty One, is the most perfect, and most holy, and most potent, and most princely, and most kingly, and most beneficent" (_Stromata_ 7.2).

Notice that the Son's "nature" is nearest to God's, not numerically identical with the Almighty deity's nature.

"To Him [i.e. the Son] is placed in subjection all the host of angels and gods; He, the paternal Word, exhibiting the holy administration for Him who put [all] in subjection to Him" (ibid).

"Now the energy of the Lord has a reference to the Almighty; and the Son is, so to speak, an energy of the Father" (ibid).

"Now the Stoics say that God, like the soul, is essentially body and spirit. You will find all this explicitly in their writings. Do not consider at present their allegories as the gnostic truth presents them; whether they show one thing and mean another, like the dexterous athletes, Well, they say that God pervades all being; while we call Him solely Maker, and Maker by the Word. They were misled by what is said in the book of Wisdom: 'He pervades and passes through all by reason of His purity;' since they did not understand that this was said of Wisdom, which was the first of the creation of God (SOFIAS THS PRWTOKTISTOU TWi QEWi)" (_Stromata_ 5.14).

Compare _Stromata_ 6.7, where Clement also uses the Greek term "first-begotten" for Wisdom or LOGOS.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Reply to Robert Bowman's Comments on the Fathers


In _Why You Should Believe in the Trinity: An Answer
to Jehovah's Witnesses_ (pp. 27-29), Robert Bowman
makes some comments pertaining to Justin Martyr's
Christology or his belief respecting the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit. Bowman ultimately claims that
Jehovah's Witnesses (in their "Trinity" brochure) have
"misrepresented" what Justin and other early Fathers
say regarding the Son. However, do Bowman's
asseverations hold true when examined in the light of
pre-Nicene history? We shall address this question

First, Bowman endeavors to discount the theological
value of the pre-Nicene testimony. The fathers, he
states, are not completely orthodox in matters
relating to God-talk (Why You Should, 27-28).
Moreover, he writes that some "Christian theologians"
have supposedly criticized Justin for commingling
pagan thinking and Christian beliefs. Bowman does not
see fit to tell us who these anonymous theologians

Second, one reads that the documents produced by
Clement of Alexandria have not been taken seriously
since the fourth century and Origen of Alexandria was
labeled a heretic "for some of his views" (Ibid., 28).
Bowman caps his argument in this portion of his book
by asserting that the pre-Nicene citations found in
the Trinity brochure, for the most part, "reflect not
the general theological beliefs of common Christians
in their day," but wrongheaded and brilliant
speculations of intellectuals attempting to seriously
interact with their new faith (Ibid). What should one
think concerning these claims? Let us now dissect them
in the next few paragraphs.

(1) The standard view of Justin Martyr is that he is a
subordinationist who nonetheless pioneered the
ontological dogma of the Trinity: he did not teach the
Trinity doctrine per se. Hence, from Bowman's
vantage-point, Justin might be unorthodox
theologically. His objection to Wiutnesses using
Justin hardly makes any sense, however, in light of
the Trinity brochure's stated purpose. It is a fact
that Trinitarians have tried to employ Justin Martyr
to prove that early Christian writers did affirm God's
triunity or the deity of the Son (See _A Dictionary of
Early Christian Biography, page 625). One cannot have
it both ways. Either Justin was orthodox respecting
his Christology or he was unorthodox. The Trinity
brochure is merely replying to what Trinitarians
themselves have said about Justin and it does a fair
job of addressing those who argue for a proto-form of
the Trinity in Justin. The brochure's treatment of
Justin is not perfect. Yet, there are good and
legitimate reasons why the Trinity brochure invokes
Justin Martyr as a witness. Gerald O'Collins writes:

"Justin made an invaluable, initial contribution to
trinitarian teaching . . . His sense of the ineffable
transcendence of the Father and Creator of all things
led to a certain subordination of the Son--and of the
Holy Spirit, to the extent that the Spirit was thought
of. At the same time, Justin held that the Son,
sharing in the essence (OUSIA) and mind of God was/is
truly divine" (_The Tripersonal God: Understanding and
Interpreting the Trinity__. New York/Mahwah, NJ:
Paulist Press, 1999), 95-96.

O'Collins adds: "Justin's trinitarian faith was
literally a matter of life and death" (Ibid., 96).

With scholarly estimations like these, is it any
wonder that the Trinity brochure invoked Justin
Martyr? Supposedly, his trinitarian faith is markedly
apparent in his writings.

(2) I would be interested in knowing where Bowman
learned that Clement of Alexandria was considered
irrelevant from the fourth century onwards. Charles
Thomas Cruttwell relates that "The great reputation
achieved by Clement, combined with his gentle and
peaceable character, raised him high in the estimation
of the Church" (_A Literary History of Early
Christianity Including the Fathers and the Chief
Heretical Writers of the Ante-Nicene Period_ . New
York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1893), 461. Compare
_Historia Ecclesiastica_ 5.11. Vide _A Dictionary of
Early Christian Biography_, p. 176-182.

(3) Bowman maintains that Origen of Alexandria was
considered a heretic for some of his teachings.
However, the fact is that Origen never was deemed a
heretic by any church council, not even the second
council of Constantinople. Rather, some of his views
were condemned, but many today still think of Origen
Studer. Trinity and Incarnation: The Faith of the
Early Church_. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993. Page 78.)
While Frank Sadowski (S.S.P.) does report that the
anti-Origenists thought of Origen as a heretic because
he erred in some things, he nonetheless contends:
"Origen was not a heretic. He taught some things as
speculations and he always made it clear that if he
erred, he would welcome correction of the Church"
(_The Church Fathers on the Bible: Selected Readings_.
New York: Alba House, 1987), 267.

(4) It is of interest that Tertullian believes the
SIMPLICES failed to apprehend theology aright
(Adversus Praxean 3). History informs us that modalism
(i.e. the belief that there exists three
hypostatically identical divine persons) held sway in
the West prior to Nicea. Therefore, according to
Tertullian, Bowman may have his analysis reversed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Origen and the Eternal Generation

Origen of Alexandria evidently believed: “God was however always Father; he could not change from one condition (not-Father) to another (Father). So the Son exists in God’s timeless eternity.”[1] Therefore, in Origen's writings, the term Father “does not as for Justin imply an act or event. For Origen the Father constantly begets the Son by what modern theologians call ‘eternal generation’” (ibid. 105).[2]

In harmony with the dominical proclamation of John’s Gospel, the ancient Alexandrian insists that the Father and Son are one (John 10:30). Origen also illustrates the oneness of Father and Son with analogies involving wife-husband and church-Christ.

The Son is not intrinsically God, but God by derivation. That is, he is not “self-sufficiently” God (Hall 106). Only the Father is autotheos (ibid). The Son is God in a predicative manner (ibid). “In this and other respects the Son is less than the Father” (106). Hall, however, indicates that Origen’s “subordinationism” may have been balanced by his doctrine of the eternal generation (106). See Contra Celsum 8.15.

Nevertheless, one must qualify talk of eternal generation in Origen. For instance, Hill observes: “Still, eternal generation does not of itself give divine status because Origen views all spiritual beings, both what he calls theoi and human souls, as eternal” (W. J. Hill, Three-Personed God, 39). If what Hill states is valid, however, in what sense does Origen view the Son as divine? Evidently, the "immediacy of the generation" and the fact that God wills that unity obtain between the Son and Father make the Son divine (ibid).

As readers of Origen also know, Origen refers to the Son as a creature. He evidently derives this use of ktisma from Prov 8:22.[3] This particular application of the Greek signifier may also be Neoplatonic in nature (Frend, Rise of Christianity).

[1] Hall, Doctrine and Practice, 105.

[2] See Hom in Her 9.4; Prin 1.2.2 and 4.4.28.

[3] Hill, Three-Personed, 39.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

God the Father and the Council of Toledo

The Eleventh Council of Toledo (675 C.E.) states: “We must believe that the Son is begotten or born not from nothing or from any other substance, but from the womb of the Father, that is from his substance.” Leonardo Boff thinks that when the Council of Toledo speaks of the Son being “begotten or born” (genitus vel natus), it intends to ascribe maternal characteristics to the Father tropically: “The Father is here given maternal attributes. We need both the figures of earthly father and mother to express the riches of divine fatherhood” (Boff, Trinity and Society, 170).

Ambrose (397 CE
) writes: “For this reason also the evangelist says, 'No one has at any time seen God, except the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.' 'The bosom of the Father,' then, is to be understood in a spiritual sense, as a kind of innermost dwelling of the Father's love and of His nature, in which the Son always dwells. Even so, the Father's womb is the spiritual womb of an inner sanctuary, from which the Son has proceeded just as from a generative womb.” (The Patrarches, 11:51).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Justin Martyr and the Trinity Doctrine

<>The writings of Justin Martyr indicate that the pre-Nicenes almost universally thought the Son was subordinate to the Father in an immanent sense. That is, the Son was subordinated to the Father ontologically as well as economically: “What has provided historians of doctrine for more than a century with an occasion for discussion has been the fact that Justin could conceive in one category the Logos-Son together with the ‘host of the other good angels, of like being to him’, and that he set this angel-host, together with the Logos-Christ, before the (prophetic) Spirit” (Werner 135). Additionally, when commenting on the writings of Justin Martyr and his Christologically significant statements, Demetrius C. Trakatellis observes: “The differentiation in divinity between the Father and the Son is so pronounced that one wonders what exactly Justin meant when he used the term theos for both of them” (52). Justin himself highlights the chasm between the Father and the Son that Trakatellis mentions, when he writes:

These and other such sayings are recorded by the lawgiver and by the prophets; and I suppose that I have stated sufficiently, that wherever God says, 'God went up from Abraham,' or, 'The Lord spake to Moses,' and 'The Lord came down to behold the tower which the sons of men had built,' or when 'God shut Noah into the ark,' you must not imagine that the unbegotten God Himself came down or went up from any place. For the ineffable Father and Lord of all neither has come to any place, nor walks, nor sleeps, nor rises up, but remains in His own place, wherever that is, quick to behold and quick to hear, having neither eyes nor ears, but being of indescribable might; and He sees all things, and knows all things, and none of us escapes His observation; and He is not moved or confined to a spot in the whole world, for He existed before the world was made. (Dialogue with Trypho 127)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Lactantius and Functional Christology

Lactantius appears to be working with the metaphysical categories of Stoic philosophy (i.e. relative dispositions) when he attempts to explain the ontological relationship between the Father and the Son. Father and Son are correlative concepts. That is, one cannot be deemed a father without a son nor can a fetus experience birth as a son unless a father “creates” him.[1] On the other hand, there is a sense in which both father and son create one another, according to Lactantius.[2] The result of this relational creative process is that father and son come to have “one and the same mind in each, one and the same spirit and one and the same substance.”[3] Nevertheless, the difference between the two dispositional relations is that the Father is comparable to a spring “in full flow,” whereas the Son is analogous to a flowing stream that originates from the primordial source of divinity. Furthermore, the Father is akin to the Sun; Christ, on the other hand, is comparable to “a ray projected from it.”[4] Lactantius seems to emphasize a moral union that obtains between the Father and Son: the Son is one with his Father in that he is loyal and highly esteemed by the Father (Divinae institutiones 4.29.5).[5]

Lactantius not only appeals to illustrations concerning the river and sun, however, but he also invokes such examples as the relationship between a voice and mouth or virtue and the body: “Equally, a voice cannot be divorced from a mouth, nor can virtue or an act of virtue be detached from a body.”[6] A more “immediate example” that explains the unity of the Son and Father is that of a compassionate father appointing his son over his household.[7] Technically, ancient civil law in Rome only allowed for one master of the household; Roman law specified that fathers were the sole masters of their individual households. Nevertheless, the law did allow fathers to grant sons “the name and power of master,” under the authority of the father.[8] Hence, while an ancient Roman father might permit his son to be dominus domūs, according to civil law, there was only “one house and one master of it.”[9] A father and son were thus one from a legal standpoint. It is clear that Lactantius relies on principles from civil law obtaining in antiquity to illustrate the Father and Son’s moral oneness and their putative ontological relationship.[10] He also draws a parallel between the Godhead represented in two persons and Roman law, whereby a father could enable his son “to assume in a legal sense his father’s personality.”[11] Lactantius is probably thinking of the Roman paterfamilias when he argues that God is master and father of the universal household that he allows the Son to govern (Divinae institutiones 4.29.8).[12] Figuratively speaking, the Son only becomes sui juris following a legal ceremony of emancipation.[13]

[1] DI 4.29.3.

[2] DI 4.29.4.

[3] Ibid.

[4] DI 4.29.4.

[5] McGuckin appeals to DI 4.29.4 to substantiate his belief that there is development in Lactantian thought regarding the Father and Son. However, it does not seem prudent to read post-Nicene senses into the Lactantian formula, “una mens, una spiritus, una substantia.” While attempting to make an argument for catechetical development in the writings of Lactantius, McGuckin nevertheless concedes that the language of DI 4.29.4 “should not be pressed.” See “Christology of Lactantius,” 817.

[6] DI 4.29.5.

[7] DI 4.29.6-7.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 10. Compare Augustine’s use of dominus domūs in Confessiones 8.8.19.

[10] Lactantius is far from the Trinity, appearing to be more of a ditheist (Hagenbach, Textbook, 244). Hagenbach believes that the thought of Lactantius (Christologically speaking) is “wholly Arian” since the apologist compares Christ to an earthly son who shares all things with his father while dwelling in the father’s house (Textbook, 244). See Campenhausen, Fathers of the Church, 75-77 for information on a first and second God.

[11] Cruttwell, Literary History, 649.

[12] Cruttwell, 649.

[13] Ibid.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Lactantian Angelomorphic Christology

Lactantius contends that before God produced the world and other angels, he “created a holy and incorruptible spirit whom he called his son,” since this spirit was firstborn and distinguished by “a name of divine significance” in that God granted the Son possession of God the Father’s authority and supremacy.[1] Bowen and Garnsey believe that Lactantian thinking here “smacks of Arianism.”[2] Conversely, others like Mary McDonald exhibit sympathy toward the Lactantian writings, presuming that they are a reflection of the cultural situation in which he articulated them.[3] Moreover, history shows that there were angels postulated in ancient Judaism who seemingly possessed the holy name of God ex officio (Exodus 23:20-22).[4] Lactantius may observe a correlation between the status of angels in Judaism and the position of the Logos in Christian circles when he argues that God the Father vouchsafed the divine name to the Son. In fact, he appears to believe that the Son is an angel whom God promotes to the status of Son and God. His concepts, as in other instances, also find their provenance in Hermes Trimegistus and the ancient Hebrew prophets.

[1] DI 4.6.1-4.

[2] Divine Institutes, 232.

[3] Document.

[4] See Bock, Blasphemy and Exaltation; S. Olyan, A Thousand Thousands Served Him: Exegesis and the Naming of Angels in Ancient Judaism. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1993.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Lactantius, Demons and Evil

The modern-day logician Alvin Plantinga skillfully has demonstrated the logical possibility that demons (i.e. unclean spirits or impious angels) are the explanatory causes for both moral and natural evil. The intricacies of his argument for the logical possibility that unclean spirits possessing free will bring about evil have been rehearsed elsewhere in sufficient detail.[1] For now, it will suffice to note that Lactantius most likely would have concurred with Plantinga respecting the possible malevolent activity of impious angels. For he affirms that demons evidently rouse the irreligious to persecute Christians since these deviant angels abhor God’s truth.[2] God the Father admittedly tolerates persecution, leading the unjust to conclude that worshiping the Father is vain.[3] But Lactantius is persuaded that those persons who esteem hallowed service to God valueless are unwittingly overlooking the ultimate depth of human existence. The viewpoint espoused in Divinae institutiones is that the raison d’etre of human subsistence is spiritual; immediate goods on earth matter little as respects one’s soul (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Lactantius consequently argues that the soul God has bequeathed to mortals, for this reason, is unobserved by human eyes. Moreover, so are its eternal goods.[4] A quote that Lactantius dubiously attributes to Euripides sums up his evaluative view of the physical over against the spiritual: “What here are thought ills are in heaven goods.”[5] These sentiments hearken back to the Pauline exhortation: “Keep your minds fixed on the things above, not on the things upon the earth” (Colossians 3:2).[6] All such views anticipate the Thomist insistence that no created good qualifies as the utmost good (summum bonum).

[1] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 58-62.

[2] DI 5.21.3-6.

[3] DI 5.21.7.

[4] DI 5.21.8-11. Lactantius contends that virtue is the soul’s chief good.

[5] See Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 312. They point out that Lactantius gives the (Euripidean) verse in Latin trimeter, namely,.

[6] ta anw froneite mj ta epi tjv gjv.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Social Implications of Acknowledging God’s Paternity

Social Implications of Acknowledging God’s Paternity

Lactantius believes that the acknowledgement of God’s paternity radically affects social behavior. When a group recognizes that God is the Father of all and that all humans are spiritual brothers and sisters based on God’s imputation of soul and breath to every rational entity, then it becomes possible for shalom to prevail. Moreover, authentic equality obtains where the children of God live in harmony. Lactantius appears to be an egalitarian, in some ways. He professes that Christians are equals (i.e. spiritual brothers and sisters).[1] Hence, even if a believer’s social position is that of slave or one’s socio-economic status is marked by poverty and destitution, God’s adopted children still treat the poor and enslaved as spiritual brothers or sisters.[2] Only virtue brings it about that one Christian is more preeminent in God’s eyes than another follower of Christ is.[3] Spiritual equality (aequitas) exists because Christians worship God as Father: “Though we are therefore all equal in humility of spirit, free and slave, rich and poor, yet in God’s eyes we are distinguishable for virtue: the more just we are, the higher we stand with him.”[4]

[1] DI 5.15.2.

[2] DI 5.15.3.

[3] DI 5.14.4-5.

[4] DI 5.15.5.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Lactantius on God the Father and Evil

Therefore, God discharged the office of a true father. He Himself formed the body; He Himself infused the soul with which we breathe. Whatever we are, it is altogether His work. (Divine Institutes 2.11.19-20).[1]

Lactantius believes that the utmost good (summum bonum) of created rational beings is to contemplate and worship God. Humanity’s creator discharges the office of an authentic father by shaping the human body and infusing the human soul with breath. The germane point for the present study is how Lactantius delineates divine fatherhood. Father appears to be a functional, not an ontological term for Lactantius so far as God’s paternitas relates to humankind. Masculinity certainly does not seem a concern for the apologist. God is humankind’s Father in that he creates sentient rational existents body and soul: “And so of man alone the right reason, the upright position, and countenance, in close likeness to that of God the Father, bespeak his origin and his Maker” (De ira Dei 8). Even the human body testifies to the workmanship of God since it bears a likeness to its Maker.[2] Lactantius in this way suggests that Christians should not denigrate human flesh. It is not the body of flesh, per se, that is at odds with the human endeavor to seek and honor God the Father. Rather, the problem lies in the sinful nature of infralapsarian humanity. The principle of evil that resides in human flesh is what brings about enmity between intelligent corporeal existents and God. However, the body proper, as Lactantius notes, bespeaks the vouchsafed splendor of its illimitable Fashioner. It is a testament to God’s benevolence or solicitude for his crowning glory, humans. If God deeply loves the creature that he has invested with reason, namely, the finite entity made in his image, then why does God allow evil to obtain? Why does the one who has discharged the office of a true Father permit rational creaturely essences to undergo suffering, cruelties and death?

One of the most critical questions to ever preoccupy the human mind is “whence evil?” Where does evil come from and why does God allow it to persist? Let us define evil as that which brings about harm, distress or pain (physical or mental). In turn, one can make an epistemic distinction between natural and moral evil. The former refers to phenomena such as earthquakes, hurricanes or floods while the latter entails behavior that causes harm or pain to sentient or non-sentient beings. While evil is not necessarily immoral, it does analytically entail suffering and pain. Why, however, does God allow suffering and grief to befall his esteemed creation? Lactantius essays a retort to the ancient query “whence evil" (unde malum) by appealing to the notions of virtue, vice and God’s paternity. In answer to the question, “Then why does God let these [evil] things happen and not come to the rescue of such awful mistakes,” the apologist replies that God lets unjust acts occur in order that “evil may fight with good, so that vice may be set against virtue, so that he may have some to punish and some to honour.”[3] Lactantius accordingly provides three answers to his hypothetical interlocutor:

(1) God allows evil so that it may struggle vigorously with good.

(2) God permits atrocities so that vice may be manifestly contrasted with virtue: “God is like a most indulgent parent, however: when the latter days were approaching, he sent a messenger to restore that time long gone and to bring back judgment from exile” in order that humankind might be delivered from error. Nevertheless, God allows evil to exist in order that vice and virtue may clearly be contrasted (DI 5.7.4-6).

(3) God wills that certain rational agents suffer punishment, but others experience divine honor. There is a divinely appointed time for the living and the dead to receive judgment from God.[4] On some God will bestow honor, on others he will bestow everlasting punishment. The deity will reveal his unmitigated wrath at the “end of time” when the “dread forewarnings of the prophets of old” come to fruition.[5] Lactantius thus maintains that God’s permission of evil is not purposeless or in vain. The Father will rectify all wrongs committed in the here and now (hic et nunc); he has stored up his wrath for the eschaton. For now, Christians must adamantly struggle with evil; virtue must stand in stark contrast to vice and vessels of mercy perforce must be demarcated clearly from vessels of wrath (Romans 9:22-23).

[1] DI 2.11.19-20.

[2] McDonald, Minor Works, 25.

[3] DI 2.17.1.

[4] DI 2.17.1.

[5] DI 2.17.2.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Paul Tillich's Inexpressible Unconditioned Absolute

Paul Tillich has offered an innovative critique pertaining to transcendent reality and the human experience of that which rational agents determine to exceed the finite stream of relativities.[1] The German Protestant theologian initially analyzes the word origin of the signifier “absolute” in terms of the cognitive realm (i.e. thinking). He subsequently demonstrates that one may ascertain the historical derivation of “absolute” by contemplating the Latin infinitive absolvere that potentially bears the signification, “to loosen.”[2] From this starting point, Tillich reasons that being-itself is absolute in that no relation can delimit or condition being-itself (=undifferentiated reality). His argument suggests that discourse agents cannot legitimately invoke the absolute as a subject or conceive it as an object: being transcends the stream of conditioned relativities tout court.[3] Since being-itself surpasses the subject-object distinction, it does not seem possible for members of a particular speech community to designate being-itself “an absolute being.” Conversely, the absolute is “being-itself” or undifferentiated reality, not one being alongside other beings.[4] To avoid conditioning that which is wholly other and ipso facto unconditioned, Tillich christens the ultimate Ground of Being, “the God above God” (Der Gott über Gott).[5] By this expression, he indicates that the Unconditioned supersedes the deity of conventional theism. The power of Being (Des Macht des Seins) thus remains incognoscible or ineffable.[6] Not even mysticism can infiltrate Tillich’s self-postulated “cloud of unknowing.” Des Macht des Seins remains wholly other without much relevance for humankind.[7]

[1] Tillich’s corpus includes: My Search for Absolutes (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967); The Courage to Be (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971); Der Mut zum Sein (Furche-Verlag: 1968); Systematic Theology. 3 volumes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967).

[2] Tillich, My Search for Absolutes, 66.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. 127.

[5] Tillich, The Courage to Be, 186-190.

[6] The Courage to Be, 182-187.

[7] Ibid.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Lactantius on God's Paternitas in Relation to Humanity

There are a number of senses in which Latantius views God as a Father. First, he argues that God is a Father to humanity, his principal creation: “When our one and only father was making man as an intelligent being capable of reason, he raised him up from the ground and elevated him to contemplation of his maker” (DI 2.1.15). The Stoics taught that humans especially are “fragments of God” or qeoi since the Maker of all things invested humanity with the capacity to reason, engage in discursive thinking or ratiocinate. Humanity also enjoys preeminence for the reason that the divine one fashioned anthropoids in an upright position so that homo sapiens could behold the starry heavens above.[1] Ovid, whom Lactantius describes as a “gifted poet,” attests to humanity’s rationale for looking up at heaven: a theist seeks faith in the celestial realm.[2] The heavens declare God’s glory or relate details concerning the work of his hands (Psalms 19:1-2). Scripture even refers to the heavens as God’s abode (1 Kings 8:27, 43). Therefore, Lactantius reasons that humans contemplate God when they peer into the heavens, the deity's figurative inner sanctum.[3] Once again, the North African apologist illustrates the manner in which his life situation (Sitz-im-Leben) along with the sacred writings functions as a vital crucible of ideas. Marcus Tullius Cicero and the prodigious bard Ovid definitively inform Lactantian concepts of God the Father and the human relation to God.[4]

[1] DI 2.1.16-19.

[2] DI 2.1.15-17.

[3] DI 2.1.17.

[4] Metamorphoses 1.84-86. See M. Perrin, L’homme antique et chrétien. L’anthropologie de Lactance-250-325 (Paris: 1981), 73ff.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Primordial Roots of Divine Innominability in Lactantius

The Christian predecessors of Lactantius chiefly taught him that God is anonymous. Although these believers more than likely participated in refining the Lactantian tendency to envision God as nameless, however, it appears prudent to essay the suggestion that Lactantius discovered evidential backing for his innominability doctrine in the quasi-theopneustic writings of Hermes: "And that no one might inquire His name, he said that He was without name, and that on account of His very unity He does not require the peculiarity of a name. These are Trismegistus' words: 'God is one, and what is one needs no name. He that is is nameless' " (Divine Institutes 1.6.4).

The corpus attributed to the divine messenger of Zeus asserts that since God is unique and self-existent, he does not need a proper designation. The Hermetica contends that one does not have to distinguish a sui generis existent from other lesser existents. The Most High deity is not a genus or class, early pagan and Christian writers contend, because he is singular (exclusively a se esse), whereas other conditioned beings are ab alio. Early Christians routinely affirmed that the Most High being is limitless or unconditioned, in some sense: he qualitatively transcends the finite created order of sensory phenomena. Moreover, ancient theologians write that no finite existent or socially constructed lexis is able to define God. Lactantius maintains in like manner that God the Father has no peculiar name, nor is he obliged to possess one. He professes belief in God the anonymous, a supernatural being who is the innominable Father and Maker of all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Conceptual Links Between Hermes and Thoth

One can readily understand the Greek rationale for linking Hermes with Thoth. Both gods were messenger divinities and both personae dramatis had a close affinity with the moon and realm of the dead.[1] Moreover, devotees of Thoth were convinced that Trismegistus originated the Hermetic doctrines.[2] For purposes of this study, at any rate, one vital consideration is that elysian “Hermes” uses symbolic terms such as Father, Son or Grandson, which correspond to God, the cosmos and humanity.[3] Trismegistus believes God the Creator is “the supreme Father” in that he produced the universe and its metaphysical trappings.[4] Invoking euhemerism once again, Lactantius explains the socio-religious developments of Hermetic veneration:

And although he [Hermes] was a man, yet he was of great antiquity, and most fully imbued with every kind of learning, so that the knowledge of many subjects and arts acquired for him the name of Trismegistus. He wrote books, and those in great numbers, relating to the knowledge of divine things, in which he asserts the majesty of the supreme and only God, and makes mention of Him by the same names which we do, ‘lord and father.' [5]

Lactantius was not the first writer to posit a terrestrial origin for the Olympian messenger Hermes. Cicero suggested there were at least five mundane individuals who claimed to possess the moniker Hermes.[6] In this way, De natura Deorum illustrates the tendency some Greeks exhibited to conceptually dissociate Trismegistus from Hermes (Thoth).[7] Nevertheless, the accretion concerning a god establishing the Egyptian city of Hermopolis ostensibly commenced with Lactantius; he was its originator.[8]

[1] Johnson, Civilization of Ancient Egypt, 140.

[2] Carabine, Unknown God, 66.

[3] Carabine, Unknown God, 66.

[4] Carabine, The Unknown God, 66-67.

[5] DI 1.6.3-4.

[6] De natura Deorum 3.22.

[7] Fowden, Egyptian Hermes, 25.

[8] Fowden, Egyptian Hermes, 24.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Lactantius, Thoth and Hermes

As demonstrated earlier, the pre-Nicenes universally espoused belief in divine innominability based on certain metaphysical assumptions and the thornbush account in Exodus. Lactantius undoubtedly familiarized himself with select pre-Nicene writings and certain portions of Scripture.[1] Furthermore, the apologist also intimately knew and deeply respected the Corpus Hermetica.[2] The Lactantian reliance on the quasi-inspired work of Hermes in all probability accounts for the strand of Egyptian notions found throughout the Divinae institutiones and his insistence on divine anonymity. For instance, Lactantius notes that Thoth (Hermes) eponymously bequeathed Egyptians the name of their first month, September.[3] According to legend, Thoth additionally built the town of Mercury (the Greek Hermopolis) and thus received honor and reverence there.[4] Religion associated with Hermes Trismegistus (“thrice greatest Hermes”) consequently had its inception in Hellenized Egypt.[5] In that geographical region, worshipers forged a conceptual link between Hermes and Thoth, the preeminent well-received deity of Egypt’s pantheon.[6] Johnson demonstrates that some Egyptians viewed Thoth as the god of wisdom and the scribes. As a result, devotees of the god believed that he invented both languages and alien culture in conjunction with its diverse mores.[7] Not only did certain Egyptians regard Thoth as a divine copyist, however, but some members of the Egyptian clergy ultimately attributed to Thoth, the role of demiurge in creation. This god therefore assumed the role of creator, the entity who brought the universe into existence by means of verbalized articulations.[8] Here one clearly witnesses eastern antiquity’s stress on verbal communication and magic.[9] More importantly, motifs indigenous to the aforementioned eastern narratives appear to find their way into the Lactantian corpus.[10] The data from Divinae institutiones supports the proposal that the writings of Hermes formally influenced Lactantius’ treatises.

[1] See Library of Lactantius; Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 14-17; Monat, Lactance et la Bible, 20.

[2] Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 16-17.

[3] DI 1.6.3.

[4] DI 1.6.3.

[5] Carabine, The Unknown God, 66.

[6] Fowden, Egyptian Hermes, 22.

[7] Johnson, Civilization of Ancient Egypt, 86.

[8] Thorleif Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, 59.

[9] Fowden, Egyptian Hermes, 23.

[10] DI 1.6.3-4.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

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Duns Scotus and Univocity of Being Theory

Another thinker, who believed that speaking of God non-metaphorically is a linguistic possibility, was Duns Scotus (1266-1308 CE). While apophatic or negative theology (via negativa) has a protracted and venerable history in the Christian tradition,[1] Scotus nonetheless argues that denials concerning the divine essence are only intelligible “in terms of some affirmation.”[2] He contends that if rational creaturely essences deny God is X, Y or Z, “it is because we wish to do away with something inconsistent with what we have already affirmed.”[3] Via negativa thus presupposes via positiva. Moreover, Scotus maintains: “a purely negative knowledge is no knowledge at all.”[4] This, of course, calls to mind his univocity of being theory––Scotus’ contention that univocal predication with reference to God is, under certain circumstances, possible. But what does the Subtle Doctor mean by the term “univocity”?

The univocity of being notion concerns what humans can know about God by means of reason (i.e. natural theology).[5] Scotus believes “that concept [is] univocal which possesses sufficient unity in itself, so that to affirm and deny it of one and the same thing would be a contradiction.”[6] Due to its monosemic nature, a univocal term can additionally function as the middle term in a logical syllogism since it obviates equivocation.[7] For instance, Scotus argues that humans can predicate the concept “being”[8]of necessary and contingent beings, of both God and creatures because the term is univocal in the sense that it does not allow for equivocation. The term "being" has the same denotation in both instances. For this reason, “being” is also a disjunctive predicate, distinguishing A from B and C from D, vel cetera. Its signification depends on the content of predicates, not the subject of the sentence in which it is contained.[9]

[1] See Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 2:32, 258.

[2] Gunton, Act and Being, 68.

[3] Quoted in Gunton, Act and Being, 68. See Gregory of Nazianzius also, who does not think that we can only take the via negativa or the via remotionis without employing the via positiva. Scotus has his own version of the via eminentiae (Gunton, ibid).

[4] Bonansea, Approach to God, 100.

[5] See Copleston, Medieval Philosophy, 111-112; Peter King, “Duns Scotus on Metaphysics” in the Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus (Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 15-68. Scotus thinks that univocity only applies to natural and general concepts of God: “Univocatio enim non est nisi in generalibus rationibus” (Wolter, Duns Scotus, 116).

[6] Gunton, Act and Being, 69.

[7] “Sufficit etiam pro medio syllogistico, ut extrema unita in medio sic uno sine fallacia aequivocationis concludantur inter se uniri” (Wolter, Duns Scotus, 109). See Bonansea, Approach to God, 102.

[8] The term “being” here refers to an undetermined abstraction that is the proper object of the intellect. See Wolter, Duns Scotus, 121; Gilson, History of Philosophy, 455.

[9] Kenny, A Brief History of Western Philosophy, 153-154.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Lactantius, Reason and Revelation

Lactantius considers divine revelation immeasurably superior to human reason: “Even when he refers to the nature and reason of man, it is always God who must make accessible the way to real cognition.”[1] Therefore, Lactantius is primarily apophatic in his theological orientation, fervently contending that humans cannot mediately apprehend God through the senses or the mind.[2] Once again, we encounter another Christian apologist who argues that it is easier to say what God is not (quod deus non est) than to predicate what God essentially is.

[1] Van Campenhausen, Latin Church Fathers, 70.

[2] DI 1.1.5.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Novatian and Causal Priority

Is it possible that Novatian employs the Aristotelian category of causal priority to outline the generative relationship evidently obtaining between the Father and the Son? Is he asserting that the Father precedes the Son with respect to causality and only causality? Maybe this explanatory move does resolve certain supposed inconsistencies found in De Trinitate. After all, it is conceptually possible that the presbyter does have causal priority in mind when he places the Father before the Son in some sense and to some degree.[1] While possible, however, even this view does not fail to be unproblematic for at least two reasons.

First, Lossky points out that the language of causality with respect to the Godhead is inadequate and somewhat defective. Nomenclature that posits causality of God conatively attempts to articulate the monarchy of the Father and his alleged relation of origin with the Son and holy spirit. Lossky argues that causality is an unsatisfactory expression of the Father’s relationship with the Son since there is evidently neither posteriority nor priority of any form in the Trinity.[2] The Father, strictly speaking, does not cause the Son and the Son is not an “effect” of the Father, contends Lossky. Bulgakov affirms that the Son and Holy Spirit essentially are: they do not come to be or originate by means of the Father.[3] While Novatian had not developed his thought on the Father and Son to the same extent as post-Nicene theologians such as the Cappadocians had, he must have known at least some of the philosophical conclusions that appear to follow from the premises of Aristotelian causal priority. Novatian certainly knew that if God is timeless, eternal or atemporal, then there is neither before nor after, neither causality nor effect subsisting between the Father and the Son. Since the presbyter does seem to affirm the immanent atemporality of God, it does not appear that he simultaneously acknowledges (in any univocal sense) the causal priority of the Father in relation to the Son.

Second, certain passages from De Trinitate lead one to believe that causal priority does not satisfactorily account for Novatian’s delineation of the Father-Son relationship. We have already scrutinized his claim: “And He [the Son] is always in the Father, unless the Father be not always Father, only that the Father also precedes Him, in a certain sense, since it is necessary, in some degree, that He should be before He is Father.”[4] According to this portion of De Trinitate, the Father precedes the Son in that he existed as Father qua Father “before” he generated the Son. Furthermore, God the Father has no beginning, whereas the Son does originate from the paternal figure of the Godhead. Moreover, Novatian is somewhat vague when it comes to delineating the Father’s priority with respect to the Son, using the qualifying expressions “in some degree” and “in some sense.”[5]

Alternatively, other sections from the document that became a vade mecum in the West lead one to believe that Novatian may indeed consider Aristotelian causal priority a factor in the mysterious generation of the Son: “And reasonably, He is before all things, but after the Father, since all things were made by Him, and He proceeded from Him of whose will all things were made. Assuredly God proceeding from God, causing [constituting] a person second to the Father as being the Son, but not taking from the Father that characteristic that He is one God.”[6] In the final analysis, therefore, one may justifiably conclude with Fortman that much of what Novatian writes about the “eternal generation” of the Son is not all that clear. Nonetheless, there seems to be sufficient evidence that the presbyter undoubtedly did not believe that the Son was a distinct eternal hypostasis, but rather an entity resembling the anhypostatic logov endiaqetov that God makes the logov proforikov. Nonetheless, the presbyter affirms that God is inherently paternal before the Son’s nativity occurs. Therefore, he probably thinks of God as a Father properly or non-metaphorically, unlike Lactantius and Tertullian. This existential priority of the Father in relation to the Son is coherent when one tries to understand the concept through the metaphysical lens of Stoicism, which conceives of relata in terms of corresponding accidental dispositions.

[1] De Trinitate 31.

[2] See Vladimir Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God, 82-83; Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, 140-147.

[3] Sergius Bulgakov writes that the hypostases “do not originate. They exist eternally. The interrelation of the hypostases, as the interrelation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, should be understood not on the basis of their origination but on the basis of their concrete self-definition” (The Comforter, 136. Italics in original)

[4] De Trinitate 31.3-4.

[5] De Trinitate 31.

[6] De Trinitate 31.3-4.