Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hippolytus and the Trinity Doctrine (A Dialogue)

Here is another dialogue between me and a Trinitarian friend and interlocutor:

Greetings [Sam],

Hippolytus died circa 236 C.E. While his writings may
have been "unsystematic," as you say, there is almost
no doubt (historically) that he was accused of being
a "ditheist" by Bishop Callistus. W.H.C. Frend thinks
that the bishop may have been justified in labeling
Hippolytus thus. He also thinks that Hippolytus
thought of the Logos as a created being, deified for
a time. The Catholic writer Edmund Fortman in his book
_The Triune God_ also informs us that Hippolytus
"rather deliberately seems to avoid putting the Holy
Spirit on the same personal plane with the Father and
the Son, and to regard Him more as a divine force
than a divine person" (page 119). Granted, as Fortman
writes, Hippolytus may not have highlighted the
"personality" of the Spirit because he was not
dealing with a heated issue that arose prior to 381 C.E.,
namely, the Pneumatomachi Controversy. Nevertheless,
he does not seem to ascribe personhood to the Spirit
of God and he appears to subordinate the Son
(ontologically) to the Father.

I have no serious quarrells here, as far as I
can tell. Muslims regularly accuse Christians of
tri-theism, and Christians aren't always cautious to
avoid being thus misunderstood. If you ask nearly
any rank-and-file Christian to explain "God," he will
almost always, if he ventures the least bit beyond
the confessional formulations, end up saying things
that could be understood either in the direction of
modalism or tri-theism. Beyond that, it's an
empirical fact that trinitarian concepts are refractory to
facile understanding and that many people-- even theologians
otherwise known for reasonably careful thought-- have
expressed themselves incautiously or misunderstandingly
on the Trinity.

The primary point I want to make about Hippolytus,
however, is that his views do not stem from lack of
precision or conceptual clarity. Nor do they originate
from his being less than circumspect when it comes to
articulating his theological concepts. Hippolytus
expresses himself the way he does, I contend, because
he believes that Christ is a deified creature, one who
has gradually progressed from LOGOS ENDIAQETOS to

[Foster Previously]
The problem, as Swete notes, is that the language of
Hippolytus does not allow for the Holy Spirit being
an eternal divine relation or Person--he also believes
that the Son as such is not eternal--and his thought
evidently contains elements of subordinationism. That
is, Hippolytus is not just maintaining that the Son
or Spirit are subordinate to the Father as respects
function; they are subordinate PER ESSENTIAM. Such
claims are utterly at odds with Nicene Christianity.

I find it difficult to be surprised by any of
this. Until controversy compels the Church to
publicly clarify her mind on a doctrinal issue such as this and
define it (as at Nicea), one expects to find a great
deal of latitude in what is believed and asserted
about the question. This is the case at present with
questions such as those eschatological questions
concerning the anti-Christ, the meaning of the
'millenial' reign of Christ, the tribulation, the
'binding of Satan', etc., etc. And it was the case
with other doctrines before they were defined.

I don't think the Church allows that much latitude.
Bishop Callistus (who was evidently a modalist or
Monarchian) accused Hippolytus of being a ditheist.
Frend thinks Callistus was quite justified in
appending this descriptive term to the Roman
theologian. Moreover, if Hippolytus really did believe
that Christ was a deified or apotheosized creature as
suggested by _Refutation of all Heresies 10_, this
would put him outside the bounds of orthodoxy. We are
not just talking about imprecise God-talk: the
Christological ideas contained in the writings of
Hippolytus are at odds with basic Trinitarian thought.

Hence, if Hippolytus held a form of subordinationism
of the Holy Spirit or Son, this should not surprise
us. Further, as mentioned before, there is a legitimate
respect in which these two Persons of the Trinity ARE
subordinate to the Father and proceed from Him, even
if this isn't clearly articulated in the possibly
deficient formulations of Hippolytus.

According to orthodox Trinitarian thought, the Son and
Spirit may be subordinate to the Father in a
functional sense--though Kevin Giles disputes this
point--but no orthodox Trinitarian is going to openly
or knowingly concede the second and third Persons of
the Trinity are inferior in essence, which (as you
know) is what subordinationism entails.

[SNIP for editorial purposes]

[Prior Foster]
The problem with God willing the Son into existence,
even if He did so by means of His own essence or
substance, have been detailed by Jesuit Edmund
Fortman (quoted earlier). Fortman lists what he calls two
"grave defects" with Hippolytus' "theory" of the
Father metaphysically (!) willing the Son into
existence: (1) The Logos was not a person or the Son
eternally, but only precreationally [if the Father willed him intro existence];
(2) "The generation of the Son was not essential to God but
only the result of a free decision of God.
Hence God might have remained without a Son and thus might have
remained only one Person" (Fortman, page 118). In
other words, the generation of the Son, according to
Hippolytus as interpreted by Fortman, was something
that may or may not have transpired.
It was a contingent divine act [if the Father willed the Son into existence].

Yes, indeed. I don't dispute this [what has been said hitherto about Hippolytus]. What I dispute is the notion that he can be taken for a
careful trinitarian theologian. He's the theological
equivalent of an Empedocles, and the notion that his
writings can meaningfully be adduced against Nicea
seem not more plausible to me than that Empedocles
metaphysic should be proposed as counting against
the Periodic Table of Elements developed in the 19th
Century. At most, it seems to me, Hippolytus gives
us one snapshot of the kinds of inchoate Trinitarian
opinions that existed in the ante-Nicene period.

I wonder if Hippolytus can be taken for a "trinitarian
theologian" at all. At what point does a person become
a non-Trinitarian theologian? The problem I see with
the paragraph above is that you appear to assume that
Hippolytus is expressing an "inchoate" form of the
Trinity doctrine in a non-precise manner. But I submit
that a comparison between Ptolemy and Copernicus would
be more apt. Hippolytus does not seem to espouse an
inchoate form of Trinitarianism at all. His writings
help us to see that the famed "way to Nicea" was
filled with twists, turns and diversions. Nicea was
firm in its insistence that the Son is begotten, not
created. He is consubstantial with the Father (says
Nicea), not by promotion or progressive divinization,
but UT NATURA or PER ESSENTIAM. I don't believe that
Hippolytus' statements were even headed in this

[Foster Previously]
If the pre-Nicenes truly did not view Christ as
"fully God," then the early Christians were not simply
saying that Christ is subordinate to the Father. Augustine
of Hippo writes that each divine Person is fully God or
that the whole of the Godhead is in each Person. To say
otherwise, to deny that Christ is "fully God," is to
blatantly contradict what Augustine averred. One who
makes such a declaration is not merely insisting that
Christ is subordinate in function to the Father.
Rather, a Christian who does not affirm the full
deity of Christ is subordinating him to the Father
vis-a-vis being, essence or nature.

This is assuming that "fully God" can mean only
what you think it means. But why should we believe
that? It is also to assume that each ante-Nicene
utterance regarding a Person of the Trinity is to be
accorded the same weight you would accord it in a
theological treatise on the Holy Trinity. But why
should we think that? It seems to me that there are a
wide variety of contexts in which men made reference
to "God" ("Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit") in the
first three centuries. If I were to respond in the
affirmative to my young son's question "Daddy, did
Jesus pray to God?" would this mean that I was denying
that Jesus is "fully God"?

I use the terminology "fully God" as the Nicenes used
it and as Augustine employed the nomenclature. For
Augustine of Hippo, the whole of the divine substance
is in each Person somewhat perichoretically. For
Auggie, the Son is VERE DEUS, VERE HOMO. I understand
this to mean that Christ (in Augustine's paradigm)
exemplifies or instantiates every divine property
exemplified or instantiated by the Father and the Holy
Spirit, EX HYPOTHESI. One Catholic theologian writes:

"There are various aspects hence arising, which do not
belong to the Divine Essence as such, but are peculiar
to one of the other of the Persons and not common to
all. These are the only differences between the
Persons. They are not differences of substance or of
the essential divine attributes; so they mark, not a
multiplication of the Godhead, but of the
personalities in the one Godhead."

Hence, "fully God" (as I see it) has reference to the
divine essential attributes or necessary properties.
So, in answer to your question, I would say that you
are not necessarily denying that Jesus is God because
you answer in the affirmative. Of course, your example
has to do with Christ in his incarnate state though,
and not with intra-Trinitarian relations per se. In
any event, what I'm trying to say is that God is
supposed to instantiate or exemplify certain
properties or particular attributes. If a being does not
possess (i.e. exemplify) such attributes EX TOTO, then the said entity [in question]
cannot be "fully God." Therefore, if the Son
(according to Hippolytus) is a deified creature or not
eternal as such, how can he be fully God? Since God is eternal or everlasting.



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho Chap 125:3

Matthew13weedhacker writes:

'Can I get your opinion please?

3 καὶ τὸ οὖν Ἰσραὴλ ὄνομα τοῦτο σημαίνει· ἄνθρωπος νικῶν δύναμιν· τὸ γὰρ ἴσρα ἄνθρωπος νικῶν ἐστι, τὸ δὲ ἢλ δύναμις. ὅπερ καὶ διὰ τοῦ μυστηρίου τῆς πάλης, ἣν ἐπάλαισεν Ἰακὼβ μετὰ τοῦ φαινομένου μὲν ἐκ τοῦ τῇ τοῦ πατρὸς βουλῇ ὑπηρετεῖν, θεοῦ δὲ ἐκ τοῦ εἶναι τέκνον πρωτότοκον τῶν ὅλων κτισμάτων, ἐπεπροφήτευτο οὕτως καὶ ἄνθρωπος γενόμενος ὁ Χριστὸς ποιήσειν.

Chapter 125:[3] "...That Christ ... in that Christ ministered to the will of God, yet He is God, because He is the First-begotten of all creatures..." (KET)

CHAPTER CXXV:[III]: "...And that Christ ... in that He ministered to the will of the Father, yet nevertheless is God, in that He is the first-begotten of all creatures..." (R&DT)

θεοῦ δὲ ἐκ τοῦ εἶναι τέκνον πρωτότοκον τῶν ὅλων κτισμάτων

"(of) God but out-of (of) the to be a child first-born (of) the (of) entire/whole (of) created things"

What is your opinion?'


If I understand your question correctly, you are asking about how the bold part of the quote from Justin's Greek text has been translated. Frankly, I can see that the Greek is not rendered literally, but I don't personally believe that it has been mistranslated. At least, not the part in bold. δὲ is functioning adversatively here. It can be rendered "but," "however," or "yet" in this context.

The translations you quote above have also left out τέκνον in their renderings, but that choice does not pose a major difficulty for me. I notice that one translation has "He ministered to the will of the Father" where the other says "Christ ministered to the will of God." These renditions may be due to textual variants, although the sense of the passage remains fairly the same. Let me know if I have understood you correctly.



Monday, October 18, 2010

Conscience (Moral Intutition) and Neuroscience

In her book The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics, Nina Rosenstand discusses a study published in 2007 by Antonio Damasio (a neuroscientist) and others working in the scientific field. The study appeared in the journal Nature and I have read similar observations in Damasio's books.

The study in Nature continues Damasio's work on individuals who have suffered ventromedial frontal lobe damage. It concludes that damage to one's frontal lobes usually makes it difficult for humans to make decisions that involve the lives of others. We evidently have "an emotional reluctance" (Rosenstand, 22) to make decisions that will bring about the death of others. However, persons who have experienced damage to the ventromedial frontal lobes evidently do not hesitate to make decisions that possibly save numerous lives but also bring it about that one or at least a few humans die.

The upshot of this study is supposed to be that we have a center in the brain that is responsible for providing a "moral compass" (ibid). In the words of Rosenstand, "we do appear to have been equipped with some sort of moral intuition from birth" (ibid). Furthermore, the study by Damasio (et. al.) indicates that our moral decisions are probably based on both emotional and rational factors. Rosenstand points out that the scientific study of where moral decisions are made does not exhaust ethics. Moreover, there are admittedly other studies that balance the one undertaken by Damasio and his colleagues. But I think that Damasio, other scientists and philosophers have made a good case for viewing human conscience or moral intuition as a neurobiological phenomenon.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Ben Witherington on Exodus 3:14 and HAYAH

Hi all,

This is taken from the book The Shadow of the
Almighty: Father, Son and Spirit in Biblical
(pp. 10-11):

"Notice that we do not have in v. 14 ANI ASHER ANI but
a paranomastic use of the verb HAYAH. This suggests on
the one hand that we ought not to translate the phrase
'I am that I am' as if it were an ontological
statement, a statement about God's being, but rather
we seem to be being told something about God's
activity or self-revelation in his activity. The focus
then is not on God's being a self-contained,
self-existent being . . . God then is not speaking
about what God is in the divine essence, but rather
what Yahweh is or will be in relationship to his
people--in his self-revelation."

Best wishes,

Friday, October 08, 2010

Exodus 3:14, Being, and Reading Texts as Discourse

I once had a conversation with a colleague and friend who suggested that Exodus 3:14 teaches us that God is Being. Here is my response to this claim:

I'm not sure how a metaphysician goes about
concluding that God IS being from Exod 3:14 or any
other sacred passage, for that matter.

As you well know, reading is a complicated affair. One
key to reading a text closely is taking note of the
multifaceted discourse levels that constitute a
particular text. As J.P. Louw argues in the essay,
"Reading a Text as Discourse," discourse
considerations are linguistic, para-linguistic and
extra-linguistic. In order to avoid going beyond a
text, one needs to be mindful of the discourse
constraints that govern conclusions derived from the

Linguistic features refers to things like syntax,
style, nominalization and embedding; some
para-linguistic features are punctuation, intonation,
speech acts and genre, whereas extra-linguistic
features include spatio-temporal context, the medium
of presentation and textual history and background.

The point of alluding to Louw's paper is that I see
nothing in the grammar of Exod 3:14 that would lead
one to conclude that God IS being. Witherington points
out that Moses probably would have employed ANI ASHER
ANI, if he was calling God "I AM." Moreover, the
imperfect state is used for the verb in Exod 3:14
indicating what God will be, rather than delineating
what he is, per se (compare how HAYAH is employed in
Exod 3:12). Even one famous ancient Greek translation
of the Hebrew scriptures renders EHYEH ASHER EHYEH at
Exod 3:14 as ESOMAI hOS ESOMAI. In light of this data,
I find it difficult to accept [Etienne] Gilson's suggestion.

Pax tibi,

Friday, October 01, 2010

Gregory M. Reichberg on Beyond Evil as Privation

Reichberg contends:

in the notion of privation to dispel our
human perplexity about evil, philosophers have debated
whether this concept is adequate to the task.
The intensity and scope of evil
in the twentieth century--which has seen the horrors
of world war and genocide--have added fuel to the
debate. Can the idea of a falling away from the good,
however refined, come anywhere close to capturing the
calculation, the commitment, the energy, and the drive
that underlie the most virulent projects in
malfeasance? While the privation account might appear
a reasonable strategy for explaining passive
wrongdoing--indifference to people in grave need, or
cooperation with injustice--the more active and
dynamic forms of evil would nevertheless seem to elude
its conceptual net.

See his article Beyond Privation: Moral Evil in Aquinas's De

The Review of Metaphysics - June 1, 2002