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)