Toward Spring

We are emerging from the deep of winter here. Light and geese are flooding us now. I drive through Dublin and crossing the Scioto see birds. Geese of course, but also seabird looking birds, and many. They wheel over the broad river, over the white of snow and the upright grey of winter’s trees. The river flows under them, dark and gleaming both, like time.

* * *

I’m listening to Luke Johnson on mysticism and he is careful, factual and philosophical. After a few duds with the teaching company I’ve hit a string of pretty good ones who want to impart understanding, a correct attitude toward the subject. Good things on late antiquity especially, on the foundations of Western Civilization. They know something about the objects of knowledge, have philosophy.

Speaking of philosophy, the hard thing with the early church is not to wander too much off into studying Stoics and the great Plotinus. Time is getting short on me, however. There’s nothing as complex as the Monophysite controversy in the early centuries. Gnosticism is relatively shallow and unexciting. Things had to develop, of course, and that is where someone already pretty well developed like Plotinus seems so much more interesting. Not that it’s uninteresting. Still, what’s Justin Martyr beside, for example, Gregory of Nazianzus? The way to look at it perhaps is to note how he influences Neoplatonism, which in turn later informs Augustine.

I have a good book on Stoicism. And I have Dawson and Brown. If it weren’t for writers like Henry Chadwick and Christopher Dawson, the going would be heavy. They bring clarity, light, the Hellenistic attitude, philosophy.

* * *

There are four not altogether orthodox responses to the position of Nestorius (which I only recently myself finally understood): 1 divinity and humanity are mixed into a third single nature, 2 humanity is the principle of unity while divinity is absorbed, 3 divinity is the principle of unity while humanity is absorbed, 4 there is one united nature with a dynamic continued existence of humanity and divinity within (this according to a valuable tome named Late Antiquity). That fourth is called Miophysite, and it is still believed by what are called Oriental Orthodox churches. I ran across it studying a mosaic of the empress Theodora, an interesting personage of late antiquity who clave to the Miophysite expression. It seems to be an almost orthodox position with hererodox formulation–unless someone can demonstrate otherwise to me. The great problem with it appears to be not that it is insufficiently Calcedonian, but that it tends to tip over into option 2 above. It is unstable, in other words, more than it is, in its practical effect, bad doctrine. It is a curious thing. I have the Logos library with 1400 volumes of commentaries, dictionaries and periodicals. When I search ‘miophysite’ I get nothing. That is not a defect in that collection, it is the Western tradition.

Nestorius, as you may know, disliked the term Theotokos and seems to have formulated his position as a denial of that fact. Cyril, who resisted him, seems to have spoken in terms that lent themselves to the cause of the Miophysites. And all that is without dealing with the hot issue of Origenism (which comes back to Justinian! who could attract talent, who codified Roman law and employed great architects, but who shut down the Academy in Athens and who destroyed a good deal of Origen’s works).

I can’t wait to teach a class on the Monophysite controversy.


3 thoughts on “Toward Spring

  1. Your church is so different from mine. My Sunday School teacher was given a quarter during which he could teach whatever he wanted, so he decided to poll the class. I suggested Baptist History (our teacher is a history teacher at the school, so even though he didn’t have the knowledge at that point he had the disposition and could get the resources). It seemed agreeable to both him and much of the rest of the class, so he went ahead. A couple weeks later I overheard him speaking with a deacon who said something like “You’re really going to teach Baptist History in your Sunday School class?” The teacher had to reply that yes he was, but don’t worry, he’d get the Bible into it.

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