Monday, January 30, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Origen

Next we examine Origen who was probably the greatest theologian the church saw in the first few centuries, if not all of the way to Aquinas. Christology was one of a few areas where Origen came under fire after his death. The criticism leveled against him was unfair in many ways. We will attempt to sketch out the main contours of his understanding of the Son in what follows covering pre-existence, the relationship of Son to Father, and the nature and purposes of the incarnation.

For Origen, the Son is the eternal image of God, which entailed a preservation of the ‘unity of nature and substance.’[1] There never was a time when he was not with the Father and their unity did not override their individuality.[2] But, while Origen did see distinctions, and even a degree of subordination in the Son,[3] he did not see subordination ever entailing that there were cross purposes between Son and Father. Their wills were a unity, but they were not the same.[4] For example, Origen clearly sees the Father as the embodiment of goodness, but he is at least willing to discuss whether or not that is true of the Son.[5] As the image, he makes the Father known. His role is revelatory.[6] He exists in the intermediate space between the uncreated God and created humanity.[7] Origen interprets Phil. 2:6 to mean that in the incarnation, the incorporeal, pre-existent Son emptied himself of his equality with God. In his role as the Christ he was subordinate to the Father.[8] It resulted in no loss of divinity. In human flesh, the fullness of the Word and wisdom of God resided.[9]

The most fascinating aspect of Origen’s Christology is his speculative suggestion that even in his pre-existence, the Son had a dual nature. Origen believed that all souls pre-existed and the soul of the human Jesus, pre-existed in union with the divine Word.[10] This soul remained unsullied when all other souls fell prior to creation, which made it the “…ideal meeting-point between the infinite Word and finite human nature.[11] The comingling resulted in the deification of Jesus’ humanity and his participation in the life of God.[12] It served as the pattern for our own participation.[13] Like Justin, the divine Son forms the necessary link between God and creation. The Son must occupy some sort of intermediate space to make mediation possible, that is to say there must be real distinction between Father and Son.[14]

More specifically, Origen sees the Son as the divine Word, or rational principle which is rooted in God’s wisdom.[15] Here, again, in some ways, his views are similar to Justin’s, though there is a stronger emphasis on the Son’s role as revealing God and his wisdom.[16] The incarnation itself, its emptying, for Origen, was the epitome of God’s wisdom and showed us the fullness of the Son’s deity.[17] “…the Word became man in order to translate his message into a human person, into human acts and deeds: it is in fact the whole life of the incarnate Logos that is the Word.”[18] Through the life of Jesus we see God’s wisdom on display.

Interestingly, Origen believes that in his second coming that the Son will return in his divine nature alone.[19] Presumably this is due to the way he downplays the corporeality of the resurrection. Origen, thus sees the Son as the Messiah as a purely divine king after his resurrection and in his return.[20] This is probably rooted in the fact that his kingship is rooted in his status as firstborn of all creation.[21] Origen was not a millenarian, so Christ as king focuses mainly on the judicial image and thus plays a more focused role in his eschatology than Justin or Irenaeus. That in no way implies Origen did not see the resurrected Son as king now, he clearly did,[22] but it isn’t made to bear much weight and seems more of a traditional affirmation than a central conviction.

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[1] First Principles I.ii.6, trans. Butterworth. See also IV.iv.1 for a clear statement on the relationship of Father and Son.
[2] Ramelli 2011 pp. 26-43.
[3] On subordination, see e.g., First Principles I.iii.5 in a Greek fragment from Justinian, which is corroborated by Jerome. It is difficult to determine the precisely how much of a subordinationist Origen was. Neither Rufinus or Jerome represented him completely accurately. My method is to follow Rufinus, unless there is corroboration of Jerome’s reading from another source. See comments in Balthasar 1984, p. 14 on the necessity of not-overemphasizing Origen’s subordinationism. Trigg 1998 pp. 23-24, too, emphasizes Origen did not anticipate Arianism as does Crouzel 1989 pp. 174-75, 186-88 and Heine 2010 p. 97. Ramelli 2011 passim­ argues that Origen was in no way a subordinationist which I think goes too far. Hildebrand 2011 pp.104-05 sees tension in Origen’s thought that could lead to Arianism or Nicean orthodoxy. That seems probably right, though I think the balance tilts more toward orthodoxy.
[4] Lyman 2010 p. 120. See Heine 2010 p. 99 for a discussion of how Origen differentiates himself from other contemporary views of the Trinity.
[5] First Principles I.ii.13 again from a Greek fragment in Justinian, corroborated by Jerome.
[6] Ibid. I.ii.8. His being the image coalesces with his identity as Word and wisdom.
[7] Contra Celsum III.34.
[8]First Principles I.ii.8.
[9] Trigg 1998 pp. 25-26.
[10] Crouzel 1989 pp. 192-93
[11] Kelly 1978 p. 155.
[12] Ibid. 156-57.
[13] Ibid. pp. 156-157 and Grillmeier 1975 p. 141.
[14] Young 2006 p. 464-65. As we will see later on, this is where Augustine’s views run into difficulty.
[15] Heine 2010 p. 93.
[16] See, e.g., Contra Celsum VI.69-71. Trigg 1998, p. 23.
[17] Jer J 8, 8 and First Principles I.ii.8 from Balthasar 1984, p. 122.
[18] Crouzel 1989 p. 69.
[19] Contra Celsum I.56.
[20] Kelly 1978 p. 157-58.
[21] Grillmeier 1975 p. 144.
[22] See e.g., First Principles I.ii.10.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Irenaeus

Starting from Irenaeus, Christology, in some respects, moves on. A big part of this would have been due to the “gnostic” controversies. It became increasingly important to clarify the relationship between Father and Son and to minimize their distinctiveness, while still maintaining Jesus’ full humanity. From this point on, clashes over heresy about the nature of Christ and discussions related to Trinitarian theology dominate Christological discussion to the point that the original emphasis on Jesus’ Messianic identity fades to the background.[1] Maintaining the affirmation that Jesus was both human and divine was critical for Irenaeus and those after him because they saw that as the necessary grounds of salvation.[2]

Of particular interest to Irenaeus was the baptism of Jesus. What happened when he received the Spirit?[3] It was not the means by which the Word entered Jesus. He was not merely human before that point.[4] Rather it was a divinization of the human nature of Jesus, a nature that was already connected to the divine Word, and in line with the divinization of the king pictured in some of the Psalms as we discussed in our first paper. It empowered the human Jesus for Messianic ministry, presumably by unifying the wills of the human and divine natures of Jesus more fully and culminated in the resurrection. The reception of the Spirit in Jesus also is what paves the way for our own divinization and hence our salvation.

What was Jesus status in the Trinity? In a passage like Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 7, Irenaeus can sound like he was a subordinationist. However Irenaeus makes crystal clear statements on the matter in Against Heresies III.VI, referring to the Father and the Son, “Therefore neither would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named as God, definitely and absolutely, him who was not God, unless he were truly God…”[5] Thus, what we find in Irenaeus is only functional subordination, not ontological subordination like what Justin argued for.[6] The increased focus on Jesus’ unity with the Father in Irenaeus is not solely driven by his clashes with the “gnostics.” If God is to be made known, or seen, through Jesus then there must be the utmost unity.[7]

Jesus still maintains Messianic identity and is presented in kingly terms by Irenaeus. The focus of his kingship has expended as, “…the Christ is called Son of God and King of the Gentiles, that is, of all mankind…”[8] which is part of the core of a lengthy exposition on Jesus’ identity.[9] It was God’s plan to install Jesus as king forever on David’s throne, and “…he awaits the time appointed by the Father for the judgment when all enemies shall be put under him.”[10] All of this is very traditional Christological belief. Given its position of prominence in the Demonstration, I take it to be the most central of his beliefs about Jesus.[11] Jesus’ status as divine king remained central for Irenaeus. This kingdom also remained very much an earthly kingdom, as he expected Jesus to reign on earth for 1000 years after the resurrection.[12] This is in contrast to Justin who understood the kingdom spiritually, even while continuing to claim a physical resurrection. For Irenaeus, Jesus was the king who restores and heals his creation at great cost to himself and in revelation of his divinity.[13]

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[1] The fact that we can discuss Christology apart from Messianic identity, given what the root word for Christ in the Greek meant to the earliest followers of Jesus, is amazing.
[2] Smith 1997 p. 622. For a discussion on the nature of the union of the two natures in Irenaeus’ thought see Briggman 2013 passim.
[3] For this entire paragraph I am deeply indebted to Smith 1997.
[4] See e.g., Against Heresies 3.IX.3
[5] Translation from Ante-Nicean Fathers Vol. 1. This passage is emphasized helpfully by Presley 2012 p. 169.
[6] Minns 2010 pp. 60-62 argues persuasively that if anything Irenaeus was a modalist.
[7] See Slusser 2012 passim for an exposition on the centrality of Christ as revealer for Irenaeus. The argument here seems to be anticipating the fuller elaboration we find in Barth.
[8] Dem. 49. All translations from the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching are from Robinson as printed in Mackenzie 2002.
[9] It roughly covers Dem 31-88. Though see the arguments that 42b-97 is focused more on the Holy Spirit in Wiegel 2014,pp. 122-26, 129-30. Even if granting that, I would simply say that the focus on the Holy Spirit is on his role as witness to Christ, which Wiegel does grant, “the reader should expect the section on the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the work and person of Christ” p. 130. See also MacKenzie 2002,p. 177.
[10] Dem. 85.
[11] In my opinion, a positive pedagogical work is more likely to emphasize his core or central beliefs rather than a negative work like Against Heresies.
[12] See e.g., Against Heresies 5.XXXIII-XXXVI, esp 5.XXXVI.3. See Minns 2010 pp.140-47 for an extended discussion of Irenaeus’ eschatology.
[13] In addition to the just cited texts of Against Heresies, Dem. 67-69, also with a focus on judgment of the wicked.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Justin Martyr

Justin expounded his Messianic Christology most extensively in his Dialogue with Trypho, so that is the natural place for us to focus our discussion. In the middle of the second century there apparently was still Jewish-Christian dialogue[1] concerning the beliefs of Christians, though they clearly are two separate groups appearing to have separate identities. Much of the discussion continued to focus on Jesus, and who exactly he was.

For Justin, the divinity of the Messiah and his identity as Jesus was something that one should be able to gather from a straight forward reading of the Old Testament. The Old Testament theophanies require the existence of another divine being other than God the Father. The Father was transcendent and did not appear in space and time (e.g, Dialogue 60.2).[2] He acted through divine agents on earth, chiefly his Son, whom he had begotten before as a rational, revelatory power, though clearly lacking transcendence. His role was to reveal the Father’s will.[3] For a transcendent God to be known he required a divine mediator. The pre-existent Son was the God who acts in both the Old Testament and the New, tying the two together. In the Old Testament, “He acts in a way which is considered as an anticipation of his incarnation.”[4] Any distinction between Father and Son did not extend to difference in will.[5]

The scope of the Son’s revelatory activity extends beyond his mission to the Jewish people. Justin applies a variety of philosophical understandings of the logos to the Son.[6] All who lived rationally, that is to say morally, knew the Son to some extent.[7] However, their knowledge was incomplete.[8]

He also argues extensively for the Messianic status of Jesus and the divinity of the Messiah. When this is all put together you get a divine, pre-existent Jesus. While affirming the divinity and pre-existence of Jesus, Justin never approaches later Trinitarian thought that fuses Father and Son into such a close relationship as to be nearly indistinct. Dialogue 128-129 is one of two particularly clear passages on that point. For example, his statement in 128.4 that “…this power which the prophetic Word also calls God and Angel not only is numbered as different by its name (as is the light of the sun), but is something distinct in real number.”[9] In fact one could even claim that Justin understands Jesus as, “…another God next to the Father of all, begotten by him as a distinct person.”[10] This seems to be a very natural conclusion from the basis of both the Old Testament theophanies which Justin discussed at length as well as some of the New Testament texts that we examined in our last paper. In 2 Apology 13 we get a statement of similar effect, “For next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God…”.[11] Again we have a clear statement of distinction, and even subordination but also an emphasis on unity based on God being the source of the Son.[12]

For Justin, then, the gospel centered on the Son’s saving begun in the Old Testament and brought to a head in the Messiah Jesus. This is the overarching argument in the Dialogue with Trypho.[13] Jesus’s death put himself in a place of authority over evil powers; a subduing that will be completed when he returns in a great act of judgment.[14] Jesus return was something that was looked forward to by the church.[15] It was through him that they would become the people of God awaiting the return of their heavenly king.[16]

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[1] Otherwise why write the Dialogue?
[2] This is a key point for Justin. Any other view is ridiculous to him. See Bucur 2014 p.37, and the rest of the article for a discussion as to the degree to which Justin is innovative.
[3] See especially Dialogue 60.5 and 61.1 and Trakatellis 1976 pp. 86-88, to whom I am greatly indebted in my entire reading of Justin’s Christology, even if I have slightly different concerns at times. See also Barnard 1967, pp. 89-91.
[4] Ibid., p. 91.
[5] Osborn 1973 p. 32.
[6] Hurtado 2003 pp. 643-48.
[7] First Apology 46, Second Apology 13. Bucur 2014 p. 36.
[8] Precisely how incomplete is unclear. See Kelly 1978 p. 146.
[9]All translations of the Dialogue come from Falls 2003
[10] Trakatellis 1976 p. 180. See also Barnard 1967 p. 89-90.
[11] Translation from Ante-Nicean Fathers Vol. 1.
[12] Osborn 1973 p. 29.
[13] See ibid. p. 100-105.
[14] Dialogue with Trypho 121.3 as pointed out by Osborn 1973, p. 63.
[15] Dialogue with Trypho 52.1,2 again ibid. p. 192. Bates 2009 passim drives home that Justin has inverted the expectation of Isaiah with the church in the role and dominant status of Israel and Israel in the role of the nations and Jewish individuals incorporated into the church if they believe in Jesus.
[16] First Apology 11. Justin sees the battle as being on the spiritual plane, though his willingness to be martyred shows that he does not see the battle as only spiritual, but at the intersection of spiritual and physical (whether the duality is appropriate or not is irrelevant as that is how Justin saw things).

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Introduction and 2 Clement

As we noted at the end of our last paper, we start to see Christology develop in a different direction in the Gospel of John. The gospel is roughly contemporary with Revelation, which still seems to have a clear Messianic Christology. Towards the end of the first century, we are clearly seeing divergent Christologies.[1] There probably was diversity in belief even earlier, but no documentation of it has survived. Certainly in the second century, the diversity of beliefs increased and is better documented. Our goal in this paper is not to track down each variant belief and understand how it came to be. Instead we will focus on key figures and documents in the history of the church. We want to wrestle with the great minds of the church as they wrestled with the identity of Jesus. Specifically, we want to focus on how they developed what we found to be the key New Testament insight, that Jesus is the divine king. This will be our general methodological approach, to hear from our experts. Our path will be chronological, with our early focal points being 2 Clement, the works of Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus. From there we will move into Origen, Nicea, and Augustine. Then we will conclude with the Lombard and Aquinas before engaging reformation and post-reformation theologians (Calvin, Wesley, Schleiermacher, Newman, Barth, and von Balthasar) in our next paper.

The dating of Second Clement is an open question, but our best guess is that it probably dates to somewhere around the early-mid second century.[2] We bring it up not because of its importance to the growth of Christianity, but because it will serve as corroboration for the reading we laid out in our previous two papers. Christology is not something argued for in 2 Clement, rather it is argued from, it is conventional to its auditors,[3] which makes it all the more valuable as a witness to what was likely the dominant Christology of the early church. 2 Clement opens in 1:1 with an exhortation to “think of Jesus Christ as we do of God, as judge of the living and the dead.”[4] This is a simple statement of functional equality, where Jesus is pictured as the eschatological judge.[5] The rest of 2 Clement assumes this fact and develops a series of ethical appeals on its basis.[6] Jesus’ status is morally foundational.[7]

Chapters 3-5 expand on this basic point. 3:1 plainly contrasts the Father with the dead gods that pagans sacrifice to. Jesus is then identified in verses 2 and following as God’s agent of salvation. Christians are to confess Jesus by doing what he says.[8] This all sounds very much like a king/subject relationship. This is made clear at the end of chapter 5; what Christ promises is, “rest in the coming kingdom and eternal life!” (5:5c). Again, it is important to note that Jesus’ role as divine king is fundamental for the unknown author of 2 Clement, and the whole thing still sounds very Jewish, or at least anchored to Jewish concepts and understandings of the Messiah and his kingdom. Justin Martyr holds a similar theology, and spells it out in more detail which will be good confirmation, again, of our thesis from the last paper.[9] We will see, though, some ways in which Justin is starting to innovate, and elements of his thought which may have begun the drift away from a Jewish Christology.

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[1] If von Wahlde’s reconstruction of the Gospel of John is correct, we can probably even push it back into the 60s, into the second edition of the Gospel, See von Wahlde 2010 pp. 397-430 for a full discussion of Christology in the Gospel and Epistles of John.
[2] This is the well-reasoned opinion of Tuckett 2012. See his discussion on pp. 62-64. C.f., Holmes 2007 pp. 133-35.
[3] 2 Clement was likely a sermon of some sort. See Holmes 2007 p. 133 and Tuckett 2012 pp. 19-23.
[4] All quotations of 2 Clement will utilize the translation of Holmes 2007.
[5] Tuckett 2012 ad loc.
[6] Ibid.
[7] A point which will be developed fully in a series of papers further down the road.
[8] Ibid. 
[9] In fact, according to Hurtado 2003 p. 647, all proto-orthodox texts from the second century portray Jesus as a subordinate divine figure.