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.