Picking Cherries

June 12, 2010

In the history of Christianity, there has never been a century or so where there has not been some kind of theological controversy. In any given controversy it is usually the case that there is a spectrum of positions that occupy some place on the argumentative field. Caution is therefore required in data selection to establish points about who taught what and how widespread a given view in fact was.

Such is the case with the Iconoclastic controversy. Iconoclasm came in a variety of forms and varied over time. Initially iconoclasm in the East identified images of persons and biblical figures as idols while preserving the use of decorative images such as the Cross. Representational (though not necessarily figurative) images of Christ and images of the saints were prohibited. Due to their material composition they could not convey the resurrected glory of the saints. Such was the position around the 750’s. 

By the early ninth century in the East iconoclasm became more moderate even under the favorable impetus of imperial backing. Gone were the arguments by and large that icons were equivalent to idols, along with the Christological arguments that to make an image of Christ implied a major Christological error.

The situation in the West was different for a variety of reasons. The West was a hodgepodge of various kingdoms, with certain parts of the old empire still under the control or influence of Constantinople. The most salient party is that of the Franks, who had forged an alliance with Rome. Politically this had its advantages but also presented problems. With an alliance with the Franks, Rome was far more free and autonomous than under imperial rule. The Franks gained the political and religious legitimacy that they so eagerly coveted.

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Irenaeus and Icons

March 31, 2010

“By the Hand of Nicholas Papas” http://www.facebook.com/Nick.Papas.Studio

Irenaeus is an important father of the church for a number of reasons. His extensive writing and fairly impeccable theology situated in the period which saw the end of the apostolic fathers and apologists. Even though Irenaeus was bishop of Lyon, he was from Asia Minor. He also had direct contact with Polycarp, the disciple of John the Apostle.

Often in discussions concerning the making and veneration of images with Protestants, there is a passage that is adduced to prove that the early church was either iconoclastic or the weaker claim of being iconophobic. The passage is as follows,

“They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.”

Against Heresies, 1.25.6

This passage is situated at the end of Irenaeus discussion of the Gnostic sect of the Carpocrates and I will give them their due attention in a moment. But first we need to just look at the text itself and see what it bears.

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Divine Passivity and Simplicity in Eunomius

December 15, 2009

“It is interesting, however, that though the Neo-Arians made a clear distinction between God’s ungenerated essence and God’s activity (ένεργεία) as Father, Eunomius treated Jn. 14:28 as if it said, ‘The ungenerated essence who sent me is greater than I.”

Kopecek, A History of Neo-Arianism vo. 2, 320.

“From his introductory remarks it is clear that Eunomius intended to base a number of Part III’s arguments upon a refinement of the Middle Platonic theory of language Neo-Arianism had inherited. Like Albinus, Eunomius assumed that there is a ‘natural conformity of names with things’ and that ‘a name is a tool meant for teaching and differentiating the essence of each thing.’ Because it follows that a difference of names indicates a differences of essence, God who is ‘ungenerated’ and the Son who is ‘generate’ must be different in essence.’

Ibid., 321.

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An Impermissible god

November 8, 2009

“From other passages, in which God is said to draw or bend Satan himself, and all the reprobate, to his will, a more difficult question arises. For the carnal mind can scarcely comprehend how, when acting by their means, he contracts no taint from their impurity, nay, how, in a common operation, he is exempt from all guilt, and can justly condemn his own ministers. Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his Judgments. The modesty of those who are thus alarmed at the appearance of absurdity might perhaps be excused, did they not endeavour to vindicate the justice of God from every semblance of stigma by defending an untruth. It seems absurd that man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will of God. He himself, however, openly declaring that he does this, repudiates the evasion. That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture. What we formerly quoted from the Psalms, to the effect that he does whatever pleases him, certainly extends to all the actions of men. If God is the arbiter of peace and war, as is there said, and that without any exception, who will venture to say that men are borne along at random with a blind impulse, while He is unconscious or quiescent?…And hence it appears that they are impelled by the sure appointment of God. I admit, indeed, that God often acts in the reprobate by interposing the agency of Satan; but in such a manner, that Satan himself performs his part, just as he is impelled, and succeeds only in so far as he is permitted…The sum of the whole is this,—since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religon 1.18. 1-2

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Divine Simplicity in Aetius’ Neo-Arianism

October 1, 2009

 “4.  If God remains endlessly in ungenerated essence and the generate is endlessly generate, then the perverse doctrine of the homoousion and the homoiousion will be destroyed. And incomparability in essence is established when each of the two natures remains unceasingly in its proper rank of nature.

5. If God is ungenerated with respect to essence, what was generated was not generated by partition of essence, but he has made it to exist as a hypostasis by his power. For no pious reasoning permits the same essence to be generated and ungenerated.

6.  If the ungenerated has been generated, what prevents the genrerated from having become generated? For every nature shuns what is improper to it for what is proper to it.

7. If God is not entirely ungenerated, nothing hinders him from having generated essentially. But if he is entirely ungenerated, he was not partioned essentially in generation, but he made the generate to exist as a hypostasis by his power.

8. If the ungenerated God is entirely generative, what was generated was not generated essentially, since his entire essence is able to generate but not to be generated.  If the essence of God, having been transformed, is said to be generate, his essence is not unchangeable, since the change effected the formation of the Son. If the essence of God be unchangeableand superior to generation, relationship with the Son will be confessed to be a mere mode of address.”

10. If the generate was complete within the ungenerated,it is generate as a result of the things from which the ungenerrated generated it. This is false, for it is not possible that a generated nature be within an ungenerated essence.  For the same thing is not able both to be an not to be. For a generate thing is not able to be ungenerated, and being ungenerated could not have been a generate thing, since to say that God consists of unlike parts presents to him the height of blasphemy of hybris.

The Syntagmation

“We have seen from our discussion of syllogisms #5 and #6 that Aetius based at least part of his argument against homoousion on the expectation that his opponents would agree to the axiom of God’s essential unity or simplicity. Certainly syllogisms #7 and #8 depend on this axiom.  If God is admitted to be essentially compound, argued #7, then part of God’s essence could remin ungenerated while the other part  would be able to become generated-or, as syllogism #8b put it ‘transformed’ into that which is generated. But since God is admitted not to be compound, if he is ungenerated, he must be entirely ungenerated (#7).  On the other hand, the Christian tradiiton was unanimous in believing that he in some way caused the Son to exist as a separate entity. With partition ruled out, the only alternative left, reiterated Aetius, is that God’s essence created the Son, that ‘he made the generate to exist as a hypostasis by his power.’ (#7). Moreover, given God’s simplicity, the entire essence of God must have been involved in the creation of the son and, in that sense, to have been ‘entirely generative” (#8). The implicaiton was that God’s essence could have been generated in no sense whatsoever. Homoousion of the entirely generative one with the generated one is impossible. We see how crucial the assumption of God’s unity or simplicity was to Aetius arguments; this will become apparent once again when we consider syllogism #10.”

Thomas A. Kopecek, A History of Neo-Arianism, vol. 1, 231-232, 236.


Pattern Recognition

August 28, 2009

“Alexander was quite right in emphasizing that Arius taught the mutability of the Son, for Arius wrote in the Thalia, ‘[The Son] is not unchangeable like the Father, but he is by nature changeable like created things.’  This is so because he is by nature a created thing. Furthermore, since the Son is not  a created thing like a stone or wood but rather a reaosnable being who possesses free will, he can change his own choice. But, Arius asserted, though the Son is capable of either virtue or vice, he always in actuality has remained virtuous, felt justified in rewarding with the gift of glory even before any virtuous deeds were done :

‘Like all others, the Logos himself by nature is changeable, but by his own free will, while he wishes, he remains good. But when, however, he wills, he himself, like us, is able to change, since he is of changeable nature. For on account of this, having foreknown that he will be good, having anticipated it, he gave this glory to him which as man he later came to have from his virtue, so that by his deeds, whih God foreknew, he has made him come to be now such a one [that is, a glorious being]. ‘

“The gift of glory must surely be identified with adoption as God’s Son, an adoption which was unforuntately only mentioned in passing in the extant fragments of Arius’ Thalia, ‘The Father advanced him as Son to himself by adoption.’ Presumably Arius could claim the Son to be unchangeable, as he stated in his latter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, yet still to be changeable, because he maintained that the Son has the capability of virtue and vice. Arius appears to have been most concerned to preserve the Son as an ethical model for manwhich certainly means that his soteriology was based on the notion of reward for ethical activity, as Professors Groh and Gregg have argued. Such a soteriology was nowhere developed in Arius extant writings, but it seems implied by his adoptionist Christology. That man was at the center of Arius’ thought is substantiated by his subserving even the Son to him. He wrote, ‘For [the Son] has been made for our sake, in order that God might create us through him as through an instrument; and he would not subsist unless God willed to make us.”

Kopececk, A History of Neo-Arianism, Vol. 1, 23-24

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Round and Round the Mulberry Bush

August 22, 2009

If you read enough in a given area you learn to recognize patterns, or at least you should. You begin to see the same issues come up or the same solutions more or less, but just in different dress. Once you get the pattern of problems in Origen, it is amazing how pervasive and long lasting they are. People go ground and round for centuries. This is one reason why the theology of Maximus the Confessor is so important and so liberating. Maxmus freed me from these problems. By the grace of God, he can free you too.

Here in John Piper’s remarks, you can see the implicit Origenism. In order for God to be God he must be God over something or more properly a cause of something.

It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all.…

Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it.

There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired.…

So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect. (Concerning the Divine Decrees, 528, emphasis added. On page 350 of Desiring God) HT to Inhabitatio Dei

I suppose the appropriate set of questions for Piper would be the following. Is creation necessary in order for God to be Lord? Is the Son subodinate in essence in order for the Father to be Father and Lord over someone, lest God’s attribute of being Lord go unrealized? Is it any wonder that modern Arianism (Unitarianism) came out of theology like this? It doesn’t seem to dawn on Piper that he is now advocating a kind of daulism with the good dependent on the evil. What relation has God with the devil? Piper seems to think plenty.  He has fully imbibed it seems the Hellenistic view that morality is dialetically conditioned, good has an opposite. (And people charge that Orthodoxy is baptized Platonism! Where Mr. Piper is this stuff stated in Scripture? So much for Sola Scriptura! ) I suppose the devil must be eternal now in order for God to be God too?! (I must confess I’d pay real money to see an exchange between James White and Piper on White’s claim that God fulfills the conditions on libertarian free will and Piper’s claim that evil is necessary for God to be fully God-Ah, the monkey and the weasel!)

As an aside, Piper’s view is also in principle reemniscient of Open Theism or Process Theism-God is incomplete without the world. Please, someone call Bruce Ware, quick! Who would have thought that Calvinism and Open Theism had so much in common?

Heaven deliver us from such madness. St. Maximus, pray for us!


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