Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fourth-Century Christianity: a valuable online resource

Last Saturday, I received in the mail Dr. Joseph T. Lienhard's, Contra Marcellum: Marcellus of Ancyra and Fourth-Century Theology. I wanted a copy of this book for sometime, but its $59.95 retail price kept me from purchasing it; that is, until recently, when I discovered that the price has been substantially reduced (now as low as $11.86).

I am about half-way through the book, and have been cross-referencing the numerous references as best I can. While engaged in this effort, I discovered a very valuable online resource:

The site has a number of resources for the student of patristics, including an English translation of the majority of the extant fragments of Marcellus of Ancyra important work, Against Asterius:

This online resource has proved to be an invaluable supplement to my reading of Dr. Lienhard's tome, which I hope to finish this week. I suspect others will benefit greatly from what the site has to offer.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Basil 'the Great' - an early critic of neo-modalism

In my threads on the Monarchy of God the Father (LINK), I have pointed out a number of 'problems' with the traditional Latin/Western view of the Trinity (i.e. the Trinity/divine essence is the 'one God', not God the Father); problems which include what boils down to a sophisticated form of neo-modalism—notwithstanding the repeated denials of modalism in its original form by those who have embraced this traditional Latin/Western view of the Trinity.

I have also noted that it was Augustine who formulated the foundational theology of what became the traditional Latin/Western view of the Trinity; concerning Augustine's view, one patristic scholar wrote:

We can see that Augustine only gets beyond Modalism by the mere assertion that he does not wish to be a modalist, and the aid of ingenious distinctions between different ideas. (Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, 1958 Eng. ed., 4. 131.)

But, one does not have to wait until the 19th century for a critical assessment of the traditional Latin/Western view of the Trinity, for a staunch, 4th century defender of both the monarchy of God the Father and Nicene Trinitarianism penned the following:

The distinction between οὐσία and ὑπόστασις is the same as that between the general and the particular ; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give a variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear. If we have no distinct perception of the separate characteristics, namely, fatherhood, sonship, and sanctification, but form our conception of God from the general idea of existence, we cannot possibly give a sound account of our faith. We must, therefore, confess the faith by adding the particular to the common. The Godhead is common; the fatherhood particular. We must therefore combine the two and say, "I believe in God the Father." The like course must be pursued in the confession of the Son; we must combine the particular with the common and say "I believe in God the Son," so in the case of the Holy Ghost we must make our utterance conform to the appellation and say "in God the Holy Ghost." Hence it results that there is a satisfactory preservation of the unity by the confession of the one Godhead, while in the distinction of the individual properties regarded in each there is the confession of the peculiar properties of the Persons. On the other hand those who identify essence or substance and hypostasis are compelled to confess only three Persons, and, in their hesitation to speak of three hypostases, are convicted of failure to avoid the error of Sabellius, for even Sabellius himself, who in many places confuses the conception, yet, by asserting that the same hypostasis changed its form to meet the needs of the moment, does endeavour to distinguish the persons. (Basil, Letter 236, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - Second Series, Volume VIII, Basil, p. 278.)

As in our own day, one can discern that the term "person" (πρόσωπον) was being used in different senses in the 4th century, such that Basil (and a number of other Greek/Eastern Church Fathers) felt the need to clear up the semantic confusion by using a much stronger term (ὑπόστασις) for the "particular" distinction/s concerning the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, using this term in conjunction with a "general" (i.e. generic) understanding of the term essence/substance (οὐσία).

Before ending this post, I would like to provide a quote from a current Eastern Orthodox scholar, whose assessment of Basil's theology of God sounds almost identical to my own:

For the Christian faith there is, unequivocally, but one God, and that is the Father: "There is one God the Father." For Basil, the one God is not the one divine substance, or a notion of "divinity" which is ascribed to each person of the Trinity, nor is it some kind of unity or communion in which they all exist; the one God is the Father. But this "monarchy" of the Father does not undermine the confession of the true divinity of the Son and the Spirit. Jesus Christ is certainly "true God from true God," as the Nicene Creed puts it, but he is such as the Son of God, the God who is thus the Father. If the term "God" (Θεός) is used of Jesus Christ, not only as a predicate, but also as a proper noun with an article (ὁ Θεός), this is only done on the prior confession of him as "Son of God, and so as other than "the one God" of whom he is the Son; it is necessary to bear in mind this order of Christian theology, lest it collapse in confusion." (John Behr, The Formation of Christian Theology - Volume 2: The Nicene Faith - Part 2, pp. 307, 308.)

Amen brother Behr, amen. Now, if only the heirs of Augustine would lend an objective ear...

Grace and peace,


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Of creeds and councils - Online Resources

Over the last few days, some dialogue on Christian creeds has been taking place here at AF. I am fortunate enough to have some substantial resources on this subject in my personal library, and thanks to the internet, a number of the more important resources that are at my disposal are now available online for free. The following list will include certain works that I have found to be very useful (some indispensable), focusing primarily on the creeds formulated at the earlier ecumenical councils (up to 787), which can be read online and/or downloaded in the pdf format; at the end, I will also list a couple of works that can be read online via Google Books preview:

The famous 14th volume of the, "A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church - Second Series", Philip Schaff and Henry Wace general editors. This is the most comprehensive single volume on the subject -

The equally famous 5 volume work by Dr. Hefele, which begins with the pre-Nicene councils, and continues up to the 7th ecumenical council of 787 AD -

The next four works are not nearly as comprehensive as those listed above, but they are still quite valuable -

The following are the links to Philip Schaff's famous 3 volume work, Bibliotheca symbolica ecclesiæ universalis. The creeds of Christendom, with a history and critical notes. In addition to an excellent introduction, the work includes creeds and confessions of faith up into the 19th century -

And finally, two very important tomes (IMHO): Dr. Kelly's famous Early Christian Creeds, and a work that I have cited numerous times before, which contains indispensable information on the pivotal period between 318-381 AD -

Early Christian Creeds - J.N.D. Kelly

Sincerely hope that these works will prove to be as valuable to you, as they have for me.

Grace and peace,


Monday, May 7, 2012

Reformed confessions and "the so-called ecumenical councils of the first several centuries"

This last Saturday, I received in the mail the latest issue (June, 2012) of R.C. Sproul's (Ligonier Ministries)  Tabletalk  magazine. Given the content of my March 2 and 27, 2012 threads, I found the following to be of interest:

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Protestant movement began, various ecclesiastical groups created confessions, creedal statements that set forth the doctrines these groups embraced. In the main, these documents reiterated that body of doctrine that had been passed down through the centuries, having been defined in the so-called ecumenical councils of the first several centuries. (R.C. Sproul, "The Church Is One", Tabletalk, June, 2012, pp. 4, 5.)

Though not explicit, I suspect, "that body of doctrine", mentioned above, pertains primarily to theology proper, and christology. With this in mind, have the Protestant confessions of "sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" truly and faithfully, "reiterated that body of doctrine that had been passed down through the centuries, having been defined in the so-called ecumenical of the first several centuries"?

Before any assessment can be made concerning the above question, one must first identify what the "the so-called ecumenical of the first several centuries" and Protestant confessions of "sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" actually taught/teach concerning God and Jesus Christ. The content of the creeds produced at Nicea in 325 and Constantinople in 381 have been examined at length in the following threads:

The Nicene Creed vs. the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed

When (and which), are councils and creeds infallible?

The original Nicene Creed and semantic confusion

In those threads, and subsequent ones that build upon them (e.g. THESE THREADS), I have placed an emphasis on what those creeds conveyed to the readers of the time in which they were composed, refusing to accommodate what those creeds actually said to subsequent developmental trajectories. I believe that the doctrine of God presented in those two creeds is accurately and faithfully summarized in the "5 propositions" that I presented in THIS THREAD.

With the above background in place, I would like to now examine whether or not the Protestant confessions of the "sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" have been faithful to the two above creeds on the first and foremost article of faith promulgated in them: who/what is the "One God"?

The Nicene and Niceno-Constantinopolitan creeds both open with:

Πιστεύομεν ες να Θεν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα - We believe in one God the Father almighty

Compare this with a few of the more esteemed Reformed creeds of the "sixteenth and seventeenth centuries":

Belgic Confession


We all believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth, that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God; and that he is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, wise, and the overflowing fountain of all good. (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3.383, 384)

Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter II - Of God and the Holy Trinity

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. (Ibid., 3.606, 607)

The Second Helvetic Confession


We believe and teach that God is one in essence or nature, subsisting by himself, all-sufficient in himself, invisible, without body, infinite, eternal, the Creator of all things both visible and invisible, the chief good, living, quickening and preserving all things, almighty and supremely wise, gentle or merciful, just and true. (Ibid., 3.835)

The Baptist Confession of 1689

Chapter 2: Of God and of the Holy Trinity

1. The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. (Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1690 Baptist Confession of Faith, 1989, p. 53)

The opening article of faith, "There is but one God the Father", found in Nicene and Niceno-Constantinopolitan creeds has been completely abandoned, and instead, replaced by an essence/nature (referred to via the singular, personal pronoun, He).

Now, yet once again, I ask my readers: has this significant change in the Reformed creeds, truthfully and faithfully, "reiterated that body of doctrine that had been passed down through the centuries, having been defined in the so-called ecumenical of the first several centuries"?

IMO the most obvious and objective answer is a resounding NO.

Grace and peace,