Archive for the ‘Patristics’ Category

Energetic Procession post: Prayers to Saints in the Pre-Nicene Era

July 29, 2011

It is commonly claimed that the practice of praying to departed saints and to angels is a late development in Christianity, probably post-dating the Council of Nicea. In this post, I will try to argue that prayers to departed saints were relatively common in the pre-Nicene Church. There are 5 to 8 clear post-Apostolic references from at least 3 locations. Some of the references come from official Christian teachers. The earliest reference may be first or second century, and many of the second and third century writers’ beliefs probably reflect the customs of even earlier times.

Read more at Energetic Procession.

Incarnation without the Fall in St. Irenaeus

July 27, 2011

In the Third Book of his tome Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus writes,

…Luke points out that the pedigree which traces the generation of our Lord back to Adam contains seventy-two generations, connecting the end with the beginning, and implying that it is He who has summed up in Himself all nations dispersed from Adam downwards, and all languages and generations of men, together with Adam himself. Hence also was Adam himself termed by Paul “the figure of Him that was to come,” because the Word, the Maker of all things, had formed beforehand for Himself the future dispensation of the human race, connected with the Son of God; God having predestined that the first man should be of an animal nature, with this view, that he might be saved by the spiritual One. For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain.


This is a rich and mysterious passage. Below, I will speculate that this selection teaches a variety of interesting doctrines, including the eternal generation of the Son (which some scholars think the Saint did not teach) and that the Incarnation would happen without the fall.[1] I recommend Perry’s post Cur Deus Homo as pre-reading. For a short summary of my analysis below, skip to the Conclusion and Why This Matters.  (more…)

Could God save us from Annihilation without the Incarnation?

April 21, 2009

The following is a summary of a paper I wrote defending Athanasius’ view of the necessity of the incarnation. I argued that given certain definitions of God, humanity, and annihilation, it is not possible for God to save humanity from the post-mortem annihilation of the soul unless Christ becomes incarnate.

In his On the Incarnation, Saint Athanasius explains that part of the fallen human condition is the possibility that every human being will be annihilated. (more…)

Natural Consequences (5): Athanasius on the Law of Death

January 21, 2009

This post is an argument that Athanasius’ understanding of “the law of death” in his On the Incarnation is not that of God retributively punishing sinners for Adam’s transgression, and that Athanasius’ statements about how God could not “go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die” do not imply that God promised to impose capital punishment on humans.  I will also attempt to answer the question “who does Athansius think Christ pays the debt to on the cross?” (more…)

Swinburne on Interpretation of the Old Testament

January 10, 2009

The modern world… has become very conscious of the fact that some passages of the Old Testament cannot be treated [in a literal or straightly historical way]; for they state (and not merely presuppose) scientific and historical falsities, or they represent God as commanding immoral conduct (not merely conduct which might seem less than the best), or otherwise behaving immorally. It has therefore tended to say that the Old Testament contains a mixture of truth and falsity, revelation and misunderstanding; and that attitude of course leads to a fairly low view of the sacredness of Scripture. And if one reads the books of the Old Testament on their own, either straight or historically, one must certainly say that, if God was inspiring the development of Israel and its recording in the Old Testament, his inspiration got mixed with much error. But what the modern world has forgotten is that the Church, which followed Irenaeus and subsequent Fathers in proclaiming the Old Testament to be Scripture, also followed the way which he initiated in interpreting in metaphorical senses many passages of that Testament which were not edifying if taken in straight or historical senses. As noted above, Irenaeus himself tends to assume that all such passages are to be understood in straight or historical ways, even if they had also a more important metaphorical meaning. But his successors took the logical step of maintaining that these passages had only a metaphorical meaning (or more than one metaphorical meaning). This metaphorical meaning is a meaning forced on the passage, not by considerations of the need to make sense of that passage as a passage of the biblical book taken on its own, but by the need to make sense of it as part of a Christian Scripture.

Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy p 265

Romanides on Original (Ancestral) Sin

November 6, 2008

Romanides’ thesis is that the Fathers of the second and third centuries believed (contra Augustine) that the effect of Adam’s sin was to introduce death (constituted in the loss of divine grace) into the race of man. Through death Satan rules mankind and causes them to sin. Important in this is that 1. God is not the author of sin or death 2. Satan is no instrument of divine wrath 3. Death is no punishment inflicted by God but rather the natural consequence of our sin which came at the deceptive prompting of Satan, thus it actually makes sense for God to want to save us from death.

This is how:

“In the first place, the deprivation of divine grace impairs the mental powers of the newborn infant; thus, the mind of man has a tendency toward evil from the beginning. This tendency grows strong when the ruling force of corruption becomes perceptible in the body. Through the power of death and the devil, sin that reigns in man gives rise to fear and anxiety and to the general instinct of self-preservation or survival. Thus, Satan manipulates man’s fear and his desire for self-satisfaction, raising up sin in him, in other words, transgression against the divine will regarding unselfish love, and provoking man to stray from his original destiny. Since weakness is caused in the flesh by death, Satan moves man to countless passions and leads him to devious thoughts, actions, and selfish relations with God as well as with his fellow man. Sin reigns both in death and in the mortal body because ‘the sting of death is sin'”

The Ancestral Sin pg. 162

Church Authority: Reply 1

August 1, 2008

When engaging with a sophisticated and elaborate ancient worldview that has been held by thousands of brilliant minds and many a pure heart, it is important to give that tradition the benefit of the doubt. Giving someone or something the benefit of the doubt does not imply assuming it can answer all of the objections that can be leveled against it and make an airtight case for its plausibility. But it does imply assuming that the tradition one is critiquing has answers to what seem like obvious problems with its core teachings.

(Special thanks to a phantom menace for providing many of the resources and ideas for this post.)


Natural Consequences (2): Isaiah on the Fire we Light

May 8, 2008

Is hell just retributive punishment inflicted actively by God?  The language of “punishment” and the fact that God is a judge who casts people into the fires of hell seems to favor this understanding.  But is there any biblical evidence for the idea that the fires of hell (whatever they are) are self-lit?  Consider Isaiah 50:10-11: (more…)

St. Cyril of Alexandria on Justification as Deliverance

May 7, 2008

I remember me and Mark had a conversation at lunch back when he was still a Calvinist, but had rejected penal substitution. I asked him “hey, what do you think justification is, if not imputed righteousness?” and he responded with a puzzled look. He went on to say something like “I donno, but it had better be connected to Christus Victor atonement somehow.” At the time this seemed absurd. After all, justification is obviously a legal term, so how could it have anything to do with being freed from the devil’s power? Right? (more…)

Something He Got Right

January 16, 2008

“Indeed, there are in the Scriptures ten thousands of passages which with utmost clearness prove the existence of free will.”