Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Lecture 2 Study Questions

After a good three hours this weekend, I lost my responses to these questions. Here's my reprise.

Describe the categorization of the Fathers into Apostolic, Apologists, Third Century, Golden Age, and Later Fathers.

The Apostolic era includes those Fathers who lived and learned at the feet of the Apostles and their disciples. It begins in the late first century with Clement of Rome, purported to be a disciple of St. Peter. There’s some question of whether this is truly the case, as noted by William Jurgens in Vol. I of The Faith of the Early Fathers (p. 6). What is clear is that he lived while some apostles still lived and in an era within living memory of all, dying sometime between AD 92 and 101. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a hearer of St. John and predecessor to St. Peter as Bishop of Antioch, wrote numerous letters as he was transported to Rome to face martyrdom in AD 110. St. Polycarp, also a hearer of St. John’s and a recipient of several letters from St. Ignatius, was martyred in 155 or 156. Some scholars include St. Papias with the Apostolic Fathers because he is mentioned as a friend of St. Polycarp and a hearer of St. John. However, Eusebius notes that Papias himself denied having heard St. John (Jurgens, Vol. I, p. 38).

Following the Apostolic Fathers were the Apologists. These Fathers mounted a defense of Christian doctrine to Jews, pagans, and Gnostics. St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaeus of Lyon are perhaps the best known of the Apologists. The New Catholic Encyclopedia also includes Athenagoras of Athens and Theophilus of Antioch as Fathers of this era (Vol. 10, p. 965). While the apologists defended the various doctrines about Christ and His life, death, and Resurrection, they also “contrasted the purity of the Christian life with the immorality of the pagan” (p. 965).

The Fathers of the third age followed the Apologists. This period brought increased sophistication in philosophical and theological thought and language of the Fathers, in part because of terminology adopted by Tertullian. St. Hippolytus of Rome, St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen (Clement’s successor) all belong to this period of tremendous theological growth for the Church. Sadly, much of Origen’s work (according to Jurgen) was lost, and he was considered by many to be a heretic (Vol. I, p. 189).

While the fourth and fifth centuries are considered the Pax Romana, it seems to have been a fairly contentious time for the Church, at least in terms of important doctrinal disputes. Two great theological questions were resolved during this time period. First, the Church affirmed at the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, consubstantial and coequal. Second, the Church affirmed at Chalcedon (451) that Jesus Christ was True God and True Man, possessing both a Divine and a human nature, with no admixture of the two. During this time, the West gave us Pope St. Leo the Great, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome. In the East, we have St. Athanasius, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. John Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth), and the Cappadocian Fathers—St. Basil the Great, his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, and his friend St. Gregory Nazianzus—who were largely responsible for developing the early Trinitarian theology of the Church.

The final age of the patristic period brings us the Later Church Fathers. St. Gregory the Great contributed to our liturgy by introducing (or at least influencing the development of) Gregorian Chant. He is often considered the first Medieval Pope and the last of the Western Fathers. However, others consider St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) or St. Bede (d. 735, also called the venerable Bede) as the last Fathers of the West. In the East, an anonymous author writing under the Dionysius (often called Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite) contributed a work on Greek spirituality. St. John Damascene (d. 749) is considered the last Patristic Father of the East.

Describe the major aspects of the Trinitarian thought of the Church Fathers.

First, the Church Fathers affirmed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not merely three names, forms, evolutions, or modes of Divine Being but are three distinct Persons. The Modalists (also known as Patripassians), Monarchians, and Sabellians each had varying doctrines that disputed three distinct persons in the Trinity but suggested three different ways of considering the Divine, or three different Divine perspectives (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, p. 780). The Fathers confirmed that the three Persons of the Trinity existed before human consideration of Its nature.

Second, the Fathers affirmed that each Person of the Trinity is consubstantial and coequal, meaning that each possesses the one Divine Essence in Its entirety without division. At the Council of Nicaea, in response to the Arian heresy (which denied Christ’s Divinity), the Fathers chose the word homo-ousios to indicate that the three were of the same substance. Later semi-Arian sects would attempt to form other creedal formulae and posit their own definitive terms to describe this relationship. The hardliners chose the word anomoios (unlike) to describe the relationship between Father and Son. The middle-of-the-road faction chose only an iota’s difference between the substance of the Father and that of the Son—homoiousios, meaning “of like substance.” (I have to give credit for that pun to Mike Aquilina, who truly has a knack pour le bon mot.) Finally came the more conservative (or perhaps less committed) heretics who claimed that the Son’s essence was homoios (similar to, like) the Father. In 381, the Fathers confirmed at the Council of Constantinople that the three were truly of one substance.

Third, the Fathers concluded that there is an order of origin among the three Divine Persons that has no priority in time and implies no superiority or inferiority of being. Various heresies concluded that the Son and Holy Spirit were inferior to the Father, and several patristic writers and Fathers reflect some Subordinationist tendencies (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, p. 566). The Church clarified that the Father has no source or principle, but is the source of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son proceeds from the Father by way of generation, while the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (or as many of our Orthodox brethren believe, from the Father through the Son) but not by way of generation. Each differs from the other by way of origin, but all are the one absolute reality of God.

Describe the problem of the Hypostatic Union.*

Much of the debate in the early Church centered around the Person of Jesus Christ, both in His relationship to the other Persons of the Trinity and the question of His own nature (or natures as would be the case). The primary Christological question had to do with Jesus Christ’s nature. How is Jesus Christ both God and man, yet still one person? Conceding that He is indeed God, did He possess only a Divine nature? If so, how was He Truly man? And if He was truly God and man, how was He one Person? The Arians and many monotheistic Jews believed he was Messiah but not God and that he was “adopted” at baptism. (This heresy actually persisted well into the late patristic era and even later, according to The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 119–120). The Gnostics suggested that He was not God but some intermediate spiritual being. The Monophysitists claimed that Christ had one nature (“Monophysites and Monophysitism,” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10489b.htm), while the Nestorians claimed that Jesus was two persons (“Nestorius and Nestorianism,” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10755a.htm). If nothing else, the lack of consensus was a problem, second only to coming up with an explanation that could satisfy the faithful.

St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian all contributed to the Christology of the Church by stressing the Divinity of Christ in the Logos of St. John’s Gospel. This development also demonstrates how the Fathers incorporated acceptable elements of pagan philosophy into Christian theology to accommodate more the contemporaneous cultures. Finally, at the Council of Chalcedon, the Church affirmed (based on the works of earlier and current Fathers) that Jesus Christ was Truly God and Truly man, had two natures (and later, two wills, which was confirmed at the Third Council of Constantinople to condemn Monothelitism—“Monothelitism and Monothelites,” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10502a.htm), yet was only one Divine Person.

*I've been reading a series of Christian novels by Brock and Bodie Thoene lately, and all of the "Jewish" color has been affecting me. I had an impulse, as I was formatting this post, to wrote, "Oy, gevalt! What a problem!"
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