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.