Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology by Lewis Ayres

Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology

12        “Pro-Nicene theologies combined both doctrinal propositions and a complex of intellectual theological strategies. Together these doctrines and the strategies within which those doctrines were intended to be read constitute a theological culture.”

20        “The greater one’s ability to place theologies within the traditions that nurtured them, the better one understands their dynamics.”

36        “Understanding this moral aspect of education helps to clarify the ambiguous feelings of many intellectual Christians toward Roman education. Roman educators wanted students to learn the right lessons from the right texts. Education in reading technique, therefore, became a contested cultural area and Christians eventually if slowly sought to adapt these teaching techniques by focusing them on Scripture.”

39        “The better we understand the process of adapting (and transforming) technical terminologies and persuasive non-Christian ideas to read the resource of the plain sense [of Scripture], the better we understand early Christian ‘theology’.”

84        One of the things that had to be overcome was that individual terminology and creeds were being used to mean different things, even though the terms were the same or similar. What was needed was a consensus of assumptions and practices within which the specific terminology and formulations could function: a theological culture.

94        “A standard connotation of the term homoousios was membership in a class” –so that it coordinated two beings, rather than identifying them. Same species.

162      “We also see here the very fluidity of credal formulation in the early fourth century becoming an open point of appeal.”

236      3 central principles for pro-Nicene theology: (1) “a clear version of the person and nature distinction, entailing the principle that whatever is predicated of the divine nature is predicated of the three persons equally and understood to be one”; (2) “clear expression that the eternal generation of the Son occurs within the unitary and incomprehensible divine being;” (3) “clear expression that the persons work inseparably.”

237      “There is no one original Nicene theology that continues unchanged through the century. Extensive influence of Athanasius’ theology on the Cappadocians is difficult to prove. Western accounts are not simply dependent on eastern translations and there was a significant and persistent non-Nicene presence in parts of the west. The theologies that constitute pro-Nicene orthodoxy are not reducible to one point of origin or to one form of expression.”

246      “Oration 29’s use of the language of ‘convergence’ (. . .) deserves further comment. Gregory’s [Nazianzen] source is probably Plotinus.” En 2.2.1 and 3.8.11

256      About Constantinople (381) “Nobody intended this creed as a replacement for Nicea, merely as a statement of Nicea’s faith. Thus, part of the reason for the lack of reference to this creed until the council of Chalcedon in 451 is the lack of intention of its framers that the Constantinople creed serve as a precise marker of orthodoxy.”

275      Nicene theology was not just the development of disconnected ideas, but of interrelated conceptions: “the Christian imaginative universe—and of a collection of intellectual practices . . .”

281      “Pro-Nicenes assume the impossibility of there being degrees of divine existence, and they assume God to be the only truly simple reality. The generation of the Son and the breathing of the Spirit thus occur within the bounds of the divine simplicity.”

287      “The language of simplicity is inseparable from the language of divine incomprehensibility and gives rise to ‘formal features’ of divine being that should govern all our speech about God.”

330      “Gregory Nazianzen also understands the basic task involved in moving towards the vision of God as involving both not thinking of God in material terms and refocusing the gaze of the mind away from its obsession with the material world.”

335      “Like almost all early Christian writers, pro-Nicenes read Scripture as a providentially ordained resource for the Christian imagination.”

353      “Indeed, Gregory [of Nyssa] again seems to be following Plotinus’ lead: both writers not only talk of a power as being intrinsic to a nature, but also metaphorically present a power as being ‘around’ a nature.” En 5.1.6

356      “In other words, articulating the pro-Nicene grammar of divinity necessarily involves articulating an account of the relationship between Creator and creation.”

366      “Ultimately, however, we will best understand this mature account when we see that it is also an articulation of the very epistemological and anthropological dynamics that we have seen shared between pro-Nicene theologians and present so clearly in Gregory of Nyssa.”

382      “The grammar of God’s simplicity, partially stemming from those Platonist engagements serves not to make God a unitary essence or to replace biblical exegesis with discussion of the three Neoplatonic hypostases. Rather, that grammar serves to enhance the explanatory power of a fully Nicene Trinitarianism in which the order of Trinitarian generation is preserved . . . Augustine’s Platonism serves the cause of good exegesis.”

389      “Claims about the metaphysical bondage of Christian thought are not simply part of modernity’s dislike of metaphysics per se: they are also closely related to post-Enlightenment thought’s suspicion of the idea that contemplation of the divine might be the goal and root of theology, wanting instead to focus Christian attention on the ‘practical’ and on the narrative of Christ’s ministry as transformative of human possibility.”

387-391           Three strategies used to dismiss historical inquiry and understanding of ancient theology.

387      1 – reading pre-modernity as a gradual anticipation of modernity (progress toward . . . us).

388      2 – classical theology unsustainable because indebted to Greek thought . . .

390      3 – presenting philosophies as self-enclosed systems. You can’t really take from them without succumbing to their assumptions.

392      “For example, both Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine adapt themes from Plotinus: neither, however, makes any extensive use of the complex discussions concerning the interrelationships between the three primary hypostases that so fascinated the latter. Rather, discussions that Plotinus would have assumed to be pertinent only to the One or Nous are drawn on and melded together to discuss the Christian Trinity.”

414      “By now it should be clear that the challenge to modern Trinitarian theologies from pro-Nicene theologies stems from a difference in theological culture: the principles of classical Trinitarian theology were sustained by a culture taken to be essential to the appropriate use and belief of them, but a theological culture very different from that shaped by the broad field of modern systematic theology.”

428      “questions about the persuasiveness of pro-Nicene theology are also questions about the nature of theology itself.”



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