Thinking Trinity: What if Jesus ain’t homoousios with the Father?

Originally posted on Eclectic Orthodoxy:

What would happen to the gospel if the Nicene confession of the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son were not true? Would there even be a gospel?

Consider the story of Jesus and the paralytic:

And when he returned to Caper′na-um after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were…

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Thinking Trinity: The Jigsaw Puzzle of the Homoousion

Originally posted on Eclectic Orthodoxy:

Once a believer has fully grasped the decisive significance of homoousion, there can be no returning to a more “biblical” or more “historical” Jesus; for the only Jesus that was and is is the incarnate Son eternally begotten from the substance of the Father. The homoousion represents the secret of our Lord’s personhood, a secret both intimated and implied in the New Testament, yet perhaps not so unambiguously asserted as to eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding. In the theological reflections of the first four centuries, we see theologians wrestling with the mystery of Christ and proposing various construals of his relationship with God. Some of their proposals may have initially appeared plausible, yet they were eventually deemed inadequate to the apostolic revelation. The secret kept eluding the conceptual apprehension of the Church.

I do not mean to suggest that in these early centuries Christians did not know Jesus as…

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Thinking Trinity: Homoousion as Dogma

Originally posted on Eclectic Orthodoxy:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

One often runs into the complaint that the homoousion of Nicaea is a bit of philosophy imposed upon the biblical revelation. I would argue the exact opposite. The recognition of the oneness of being and agency of the Father and the Son was nothing less than a divinely inspired and definitive insight into the identity of Jesus Christ and his eternal relationship with God. Imagine if you will a group of mathematicians struggling over a specific problem, the blackboard filled with numbers and symbols, yet unable to figure out that one piece of “code” needed to make the equation work. And then suddenly, in a…

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Thinking Trinity: The Radical Homoousion

Fr Aidan Kimel:

Reading some of Dale Tuggy’s recent postings reminded me of this series of articles that I wrote a year and a half ago. They are pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Eclectic Orthodoxy:

When in A.D. 325 the bishops of the Council of Nicaea declared that Jesus Christ is begotten “from the substance of the Father” and “of one substance” with him, they probably did not foresee the momentous dogmatic consequences of their decision. They clearly did not believe they were implementing a theological revolution. Their choice of homoousios, though controversial, was intended primarily to exclude Arius’s ontological subordination of Christ, a subordination expressed in his slogan “There was once when the Son was not.” Such a clear and unambiguous assertion of the creaturehood of the Son was just too much. The Nicene bishops probably disagreed on the precise meaning of the term homoousios. They simply knew that it was a term to which Arius could not subscribe. The strategy worked. Arius and his supporters were exiled, the bishops returned to their episcopal sees, and the homoousion was promptly forgotten. The…

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George Dragas on the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity

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“Every instance of finite becoming or thought or desire subsists in the creature’s ‘ecstasy’ out of nonbeing into the infinite splendor of God”

What then, one might well ask, is divine providence? Certainly all Christians must affirm God’s transcendent governance of everything, even fallen history and fallen nature, and must believe that by that governance he will defeat evil and bring the final good of all things out of the darkness of “this age.” It makes a considerable difference, however—nothing less than our understanding of the nature of God is at stake—whether one says that God has eternally willed the history of sin and death, and all that comes to pass therein, as the proper or necessary means of achieving his ends, or whether one says instead that God has willed his good in creatures from eternity and will bring it to pass, despite their rebellion, by so ordering all things toward his goodness that even evil (which he does not cause) becomes an occasion of the operations of grace. And it is only the latter view than can accurately be called a doctrine of “providence” in the properly theological sense; the former view is mere determinism.

God has fashioned creatures in his image so that they might be joined in a perfect union with him in the rational freedom of love. For that very reason, what God permits, rather than violate the autonomy of the created world, may be in itself contrary to what he wills. But there is no contradiction in saying that, in his omniscience, omnipotence, and transcendence of time, God can both allow created freedom its scope and yet so constitute the world that nothing can prevent him from bringing about the beatitude of his Kingdom. Indeed we must say this: as God did not will the fall, and yet always wills all things toward himself, the entire history of sin and death is in an ultimate sense a pure contingency, one that is not as such desired by God, but that is nevertheless constrained by providence to serve his transcendent purpose. God does not will evil in the sinner. Neither does he will that the sinner should perish (2 Peter 3:9; Ezek. 33:11). He does not place evil in the heart. He does not desire the convulsive reign of death in nature. But neither will he suffer defeat in these things.

Providence works at the level of what Aquinas would call primary causality: that is, it is so transcendent of the operation of secondary causes—which is to say, finite and contingent causes immanent to the realm of created things—that it can at once create freedom and also assure that no consequence of the misuse of that freedom will prevent him from accomplishing the good he intends in all things. This is the same as saying that the transcendent act of creation, though it grants existence to creatures out of the plenitude of God’s being, nonetheless brings forth beings that are genuinely other than God, without there being any “conflict” between his infinite actuality and their contingent participation in it. As God is the source and end of all being, nothing that is can be be completely alienated from him; all things exist by virtue of being called from nothingness towards his goodness; every instance of finite becoming or thought or desire subsists in the creature’s “ecstasy” out of nonbeing into the infinite splendor of God. And it is for just this reason that providence does not and cannot in any way betray the true freedom of the creature: every free movement of the will is possible only by virtue of the more primordial longing of all things for the beauty of God (to borrow the language of Maximus the Confessor, our “gnomic will” depends upon our “natural will”), and so every free act—even the act of hating God—arises from and is sustained by a more original love of God. It is impossible to desire anything without implicitly desiring the infinite source of all things; even the desire of the suicide for the peace of oblivion is born of a love of self—however tragically distorted it has become—that is itself born of a deeper love from the God from whom the self comes and to whom the self is called.

This original vocation of the creature—which is the very ground of our existence—is heaven in us, and indeed hell. As Zosima tells Alyosha (again following Isaac the Syrian and a larger Eastern Christian mystical tradition), what we call hell is nothing but the rage and remorse of the soul that will not yield itself to love. The natural will must return to God, no matter what, but if the freedom of the gnomic will refuses to open itself to the mercy and glory of God, the wrathful soul experiences the transfiguring and deifying fire of love not as bliss but as chastisement and despair. The highest freedom and happiness of the creature … is the perfection of the creature’s nature in union with God. And the highest work of providential grace is to set our deepest, “natural” will free from everything (even the abuse of our freedom) that would separate us from that end, all the time preserving the dignity of the divine image within us.

David Bentley Hart

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Jerry Walls: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

Few contemporary philosophers have thought as deeply, nor written as clearly, about the Last Things as Jerry Walls. In 1992 he published his doctoral dissertation Hell: The Logic of Damnation. Ten years later he published Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy. And three years ago he completed the trilogy with Purgatory: The Logic of Transformation. On the basis of this last volume one might infer that Dr Walls is a Roman Catholic, but he in fact is a Methodist who has been powerfully influenced by the writings of C. S. Lewis. The “logic” in the subtitles alerts us that we may expect some pretty sophisticated philosophical reflection.

And now there is Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Walls brings it all together in a treatment intended for a popular audience. I am happy to commend it to you. Accessible, clearly and energetically written, argued with logical precision, filled with anecdotes—this is a book that pastors and laypeople alike will find instructive and helpful. It has the feel of an oral presentation. I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the book had been originally presented as talks in a parochial setting. In several respects the book reminds me of Peter Kreeft’s classic Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaventhe two could be profitably read side-by-side.

I have only one general criticism. The Bible functions as a decisive authority for philosopher Walls, but he does not address the difficult question of hermeneutics. How do we properly interpret the eschatological statements of the Scriptures? At various times he demonstrates his sensitivity to genre, literary form, and figurative speech, yet this alone is insufficient. Here’s what I have in mind: Are we to believe, should we believe, that God revealed to Jesus and his Apostles details of the afterlife? This is a question that rarely seems to be get discussed, yet we all “know” an answer, and this answer controls our interpretation and application of the relevant biblical passages. Consider, for example, our Lord’s parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The parable is constantly mined by just about everyone for authoritative information on paradise and hell and the relationship between the two; but is it appropriate to do so? I imagine that Walls would reply that a discussion of hermeneutics would have been inappropriate in a book written for a popular audience, and I cannot disagree. Yet if we are going to invoke Scripture to resolve debates on the eternity of hell or the the possibility of universal reconciliation, we need to make explicit the principles that guide our reading.  Perhaps Walls does so in his academic titles. I need to take a look.

Like my previous book reviews, I will be blogging on topics that presently interest me. This means that I will be skipping over some very interesting material. Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory is a much richer book than my extended review might lead one to believe.

Are you interested in the Last Things? Then Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory is a must buy, whether you are Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or even non-Christian.  It may well be the best popular introduction to the topic now available. We are fortunate to have a guide like Walls to help us in the navigation of the difficult terrain.


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