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.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Three Phases of Logos Development in Hippolytus

The Logos is an emergent, dynamic entity in Hippolytus’ system. He posits three progressive stages for the Logos that eventually becomes the perfect Son of God.[1] Initially, God exclusively subsists as one person in solitariness.[2] Nevertheless, the deity is not alone in the strictest sense because within his eternal being resides the logov endiaqetov, which is analogous to human ratiocination: “In the first phase, then, the Logos (endiaqetov) was eternally in the Father, but impersonally as divine intelligence and wisdom.”[3] Wisdom, power and counsel reside in God alongside the Logos.[4]

In the second stage, in the context of creating the world, God generates the Logos from his own substance (ousia) and becomes a Father by making the Word his Son (logov proforikov).[5] Hippolytus, as does Tertullian, in this manner associates his doctrine of Christ with cosmology and soteriology.[6] Although God becomes a Father to the Son in the second phase, Hippolytus maintains, the Son’s gradual development is not complete until he assumes human flesh.

In the third phase, the Word comes to be enfleshed, at that point he emerges the perfect Son of God.[7] Moreover, the generation of the Son is a consequence of God’s free decision to produce the Son in Heilsgeschichte.[8] Yet, Fortman and Lonergan hold that the temporal and volitional generation of the Son does not impugn his deity since a norm of divinity is supposedly exemplification of the divine substance and not eternal existence per se.

[1] See Bethune Baker.

[2] Refutatio 10.29; Contra Noetum 10.

[3] Fortman, Triune God, 118. Cf. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 111.

[4] Contra Noetum 10.

[5] Contra Noetum 10; Refutatio X.33 De Chr. Et Antichr. 26 Hom. In theoph. 2.7). Seeberg, History of Doctrines, 127. See Bethune Baker, Studer 71, Grillmeier, Daniélou. O’Collins, Tripersonal God. See also Frend. He “shares the nature (ousia) of God” in contrast to all creatures (Seeberg, History, 1.128). See Contra Noet 14.

[6] John A. McGuckin, Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology, 164.

[7] Hubert Cunliffe-Jones, History of Christian Doctrine, 58.

[8] Fortman, Triune God, 118, Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 71.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Cleanthes and Anaximenes

Cleanthes of Assos (342-232 BC) was a philosopher and poet, who headed the Stoa from 262 BC onwards, after Zeno (its founder) died.[1] He introduced a theological motif to Stoicism by articulating the cosmology of his predecessors with passionate, but contemplative, religiosity.[2] Cleanthes encapsulated his awe of the universal law in Hymn to Zeus. For instance, he reverentially intones Zeus, “the First Cause of Nature, who rules all things with Law, Hail!”[3] This work was so influential that antiquity felt a deep responsibility to preserve it. Although Cleanthes was an innovative philosopher, however, contemporaries deemed him an obtuse learner, who lacked the mental adroitness required for adjudicating intricate logical problemata.[4]

Anaximenes of Miletus (fl. c. 546-525 BC), on the other hand, was a Presocratic thinker best known for postulating air as the primordial cosmic substrate.[5] He was both a noted physiologist (= natural philosopher) and monist, who along with Cleanthes averred that air “is the chief deity.” Referring to Cleanthes’ and Anaximenes' respective theories of air, Lactantius relates: “to this opinion our poet [Virgil] has assented: ‘Then almighty father Aether descends in fertile showers into the bosom of his joyous wife, mingling his greatness in her great body and nourishing all her children.’”[6]

[1] See Copleston, History of Philosophy, 385.

[2] Colish, The Stoic Tradition, 1:10.

[3] Hymn to Zeus, M.A.C. Ellery translation. Quoted in Manson 91.

[4] See Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Eerdmans: 2003), 355.

[5] See Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 67.

[6] DI 1.5.19. See Virgil’s Georgics 2.325-327. In the same work, the poet calls Bacchus, the “Father of the winepress.” The actual lines from Virgil read: “In Spring earth swells and claims the fruitful seed. The Aether, Sire [Father] omnipotent, leaps down with quickening showers to his glad wife’s embrace, And might with might commingling, rears to life all germs that teem within her.” Other passages where the poet mentions divine fathers are Aeneid 1.50: “In fear of this, the Father of the gods, Confin’d their fury to those dark abodes . . .” and 1.142ff: “the Father of the flood.” See 1.223: “To whom the Father of the human race, Smiling with that serene indulgent face . . .” (1.254) Cf. Aeneid 8: “Arose the father of the Roman flood.” Finally, in Aeneid 8, Virgil alludes to “Father Tiber.”

Friday, September 02, 2005

Cyprian, God the Father, and the Ecclesia

Cyprian argues that there is no salvation outside the church (extra ecclesiam non salus): “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church.”[1] The bishop reasons that just as the ark functioned as a vessel of salvation in Noah's day, so the church now eternally delivers those who actively participate in the liturgy and sacraments. Unless one recognizes the church as mother through the sacraments, corporate worship and the bishop, he or she cannot have God as a Father, Cyprian insists.[2] It seems that both “mother” and “Father” are metaphors for here. The church is not ontologically a mother, but functionally serves in that capacity. Similarly, it seems reasonable to believe that for Cyprian, “Father” does not speak to God’s essence. Other portions of Cyprian’s work indicate that paternal speech for God in this pre-Nicene’s writings is a linguistic, not a metaphysical assertion. For instance, we read: “God, in proportion as with the affection of a Father is always indulgent and good, in the same proportion is to be dreaded with the majesty of a judge.”[3] Cyprian speaks of God as if he were a father or a judge.[4] He argues that Christians can identify the divine paternitas through the manifestation of qualities such as indulgence or goodness. However, the bishop does not believe that God is permissive. One must honor, reverence and fear him “in the same proportion” as one honors the majesty of a human judge or father. Cyprian thus preserves the requisite tension between the indulgence and severity of God.

[1] On the Unity of the Church (De Unica) 6; Epistula 73.7.

[2] See Campenhausen, Fathers of the Church, 48.

[3] On the Lapsed (De Lapsis) 35.

[4] See Adversus Hermogenem 3.