Category Archives: Patristics

LATC 2018 – Adam and Christ: Human Solidarity Before God

The following are notes from Frances Young’s plenary talk.

Slime Mold

  • Japanese Scientist “trained” them to make their way through a maze
  • A self-organizing organism that is greater than the sum of its parts
  • Emergence & feedback mechanisms – do we need to reimagine ourselves as constituting an organism that is greater than the sum of its parts?


David Kelsey

  • Shares some common themes – but today we take up a feature that lies outside of Kelsey’s definition
    • Personal living body with an unsubistitutable identity
    • Rules out participation in Christ
      • “It is human kind that is some sort of corporate whole that exhibits the image of God. However just what this means is unclear.”


Corporate Personality (Whole of Humanity Represented both in Adam and in Christ)

  • Central to early Christian understanding



  • He took humanity that we might share divinity
  • Does he think of Christ’s humanity as that of a particular human man or humanity in general?
  • To grasp the sweep of his story we need to take account of his apologetic concerns
    • There is an oscillation in Athanasius’ work between Humanity and Soul
  • The Death of all was fulfilled in the Lord’s body – he somehow dies the death of the whole human race – its impossible to do justice to patristic thought without taking into account the corporate whole of humanity


Athanasius and the Corporate Whole

  • Passages reflect Platonist intellectual background – particular cases acquire a certain property by participating in its absolute form.
  • Because he is the TRUE Son – particulars can participate in this form
  • The body of Christ – passing through death and resurrection – is absolute humanity – renewed and recreated – the humanity of Christ is some kind of coproprate whole and Athanasius’ theological schema will fall apart without it.
  • Two-fold scheme – Solidarity in Sin and Solidarity in Christ


Charles Taylor and The Modern Sources of the Self

  • Contrast “modern” anthropology & this participation model
  • We no longer think of ourselves collectively
  • The term community has crept in but it is a way of talking about individuals who feel they are in the same boat – they think relationships are ultimately about themselves and their own personal commitment
  • “The Hunger Angel”


However necessary it is to counter individualism with the emphasis on our communal nature does not actually reclaim the human corporations that we find in the patristic sources.

See the book “Think like an anthropologist” – we are all interconnected – scientific study upholds a view of a universal human nature – the intertwining of narratives is a way in which the particular and universal interact

Back to Slime Mold

  • Through feedback mechanism individuals become part of a larger whole
  • By emergence we have the capacity to reappropriate something like the corporate personality of the patristics

Origen – The Man of Steel!

I’m working on a sermon on Romans 10 this morning. I opened up Logos Bible Software – and the first thing that popped up was this little article on Origen of Alexandria.

This third century “religious fanatic” gave up his job, slept on the floor, ate no meat, drank no wine, fasted twice a week, owned no shoes, and reportedly castrated himself for the faith. He was also the most prolific scholar of his age (with hundreds of works to his credit), a first-rate Christian philosopher, and a profound student of the Bible.

Child prodigy Origen Adamantius (“man of steel”) was born near Alexandria about A.D. 185.
The oldest of seven children in a Christian home, he grew up 220px-origenlearning the Bible and the meaning of commitment. In 202 when his father, Leonidas, was beheaded for his Christian beliefs, Origen wanted to die as a martyr, too. But his mother prevented him from even leaving the house—by hiding his clothes.

To support his family, the 18-year-old Origen opened a grammar school, copied texts, and instructed catechumens (those seeking to become members of the church). He himself studied under the pagan philosopher Ammonius Saccas in order to better defend his faith against pagan arguments. When a rich convert supplied him with secretaries, he began to write.

 Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). Introduction. In 131 Christians everyone should know (pp. 332–333). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

I’m a Father!

On March 9th at 3:22pm my beautiful baby daughter was born! Her mom – my wife – started getting contractions during the YoungLife club that she serves at. But she didn’t really know what it was, just that it hurt and that she didn’t feel well. When she got home, she told me that she thought the baby was going to come soon. Of course I doubted it. I thought she was having false contractions, so I told her to relax and go to bed. Well, she knew better. She said we should pack our bags, and reluctantly I did. I didn’t even pack anything to sleep in because I figured they would send us back home due to a false alarm. (I mean common, you have to give me credit, my wife was due April 4th!) Shiloh1

We tried to go to sleep, well she tried, and I actually did sleep. And then at 3 am she woke me up saying she thinks this is it. We both shower, because you want to be fresh for labor! And she was right, when we got to the hospital they said she was in fact in labor. A few hours, and no pain med or epidural, later my wife gave birth to our baby girl!


Today she is one week old, but already I’m feeling changed. I never thought I could love someone the way I love my daughter. She is so precious to me and makes my heart melt. I’ve heard people say there is nothing like the love of a parent, but I never really understood that. Now, a week later, I think I’m starting to get it. To think – I love my daughter so much, and God the Father loves the Son even more, and was willing to give him up for our sake! Having a child of my own makes me appreciate the gospel that much more.

We are starting our baby on the right track by teaching her her ABC’s… of Church History! Today she learned about Augustine, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards.

Augustine and his Interpreters (Some Stuff on EFS)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post I am working on an essay on Eternal Functional Subordination – one article that has been super helpful in understanding the historical dimension of this position has been John Starke’s “Augustine and his Interpreters,” which can be found in One God in Three Persons. For those of you who are interested in what he has to say but don’t have the book – here is an outline of the paper:



  1. Eternal Generation and inseparable operation undergird and support an order of authority of submission.
  • Augustine and other figures in church history, from the early church to the modern era, affirms an order of authority and submission in the persons of the Trinity. (157)
  • Bruce Ware says “Augustine affirmed… inherent authority of the Father and inherent submission of the Son.” (157)
    • Followed by a quote from Ware

Keith E. Johnson

Keith E. Johnson offers an argument why eternal generation and inseparable operation does not allow for an order of authority and submission

  • “Augustine maintains, according to Johnson, that “being sent does not imply inferiority on the part of the Son. It simply reveals that the Son is eternally from by the Father.” (159)
  • Johnson claims Complementarians misinterpret Augustine as affirming an order of authority and submission in the “sent” language of Scripture.” (159)
  • “Complementarians read too much into Augustine’s doctrine of eternal generation in saying that Augustine is also affirming an order of authority and submission.” (160)
  • Augustine’s inseparable operation does not allow for an order of authority and submission. (160)

This essay responds to those last two claims

Eternal Generation

Calvin and Owen both argue that the Father is the beginning of deity and beginning of activity. The Father makes the authoritative designation. (164)

Even Johnson implies that if “being sent” means an order of submission and authority, then it necessitates an inferior Son. (165)

Inseparable Operations

  • Johnson – Complementarians sever his comments about the Father sending the Son from Augustine’s unequivocal affirmation that the divine person act inseparably. (167)
  • Johnson – to hold to an order of authority and submission would break the one will of the Father and Son into two
  • Johnson’s Argument (168)
    • An order of authority and submission is compatible with Augustine’s inseparable operations, since the work of “sending” the Son was inseparable work fo the Father and the Son
    • An order of authority and submission not only is incompatible with inseparable operation, but would divine the one will of the Father and the Son.
    • Incompatibility with Augustine’s inseparable operation and division of the one will of the Father and Son would lead to a position incompatible with homoousian.
  • Starke’s Replies
    • The unity of operations is harmony not unison
    • The will of the Son is not apart from the Father, it is a will that he shares from the Father
    • Johnson is correct to assume if complementarians reject inseparable operations they reject homoousioan. However they don’t reject inseparable operations

John Starke, Augustine, and Eternal Functional Subordination

So I just started working on the issue of Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS). I’m pretty convinced that it is an unorthodox position and I haven’t found too many compelling arguments in favor of it. For instance – Wayne Grudem’s chapter “Doctrinal

John Starke is pastor of preaching at Apostles Church in New York City and co-editor of One God in Three Persons (Crossway, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter.

Deviations in Evangelical-Feminist Arguments about the Trinity” in One God in Three Persons – is pure rubbish. However, that isn’t to say that the position is not defensible. I just finished reading John Starke’s argument in favor of EFS from Augustine’s De Trinitate.

In his chapter Augustine and His Interpreters he takes aim mostly at the work of Keith Johnson who argues that

  1. Complementarians read too much into Augustine’s doctrine of eternal generation in saying that Augustine is also affirming an order of authority and submission
  2. Augustine’s inseparable operation does not allow for an order of authority and submission

The majority of Starke’s chapter seeks to address these two theses.

At the end of the day it seems best to me to read Augustine’s language of “being sent” as simply saying that the son is “sent” and nothing more. It also seems best to me to read inseparable operations not just as “harmony” but rather a sort of perichoretic operation (see Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God). Nevertheless I highly recommend Starke’s essay because it makes very clear some of most important the issues that need to be addressed in the EFS debate.

Atonement & the Image of God: The Patristic Atonement Model – Notes on Ben Myers – LATC15 Presentation

Ben Myers – well known for his Faith-Theology blog – lecturer in Systematic Theology at Charles Sturt Univsersity’s School of Theology presented a paper at LATC tonight titled – Atonement and the Image of God: The Patristic Model of Atonement.

Ben Myers – Author of Christ the Stranger, Salvation in my Pocket, and Milton’s Theology of Freedom.

Here are my notes (sort of incomplete notes) on his lecture and the Q & A time after the lecture

Atonement and the Image of God

Ben Myers

The Patristic Atonement Model

No Explanation?

  • The how of the operation remains a mystery – or so say most modern theologians. Most are content to settle for a restatement rather than an explanation.
  • Gustaf Aulen – the Patristic Model has no mechanism; it defies systematization
    • The teaching is internally contradictory
    • The Anselmian model is disreputable b/c its structure is too rational
    • Christus Victor is not a model at all….
    • Anti-Mechanism

Thesis: Christian antiquity did indeed develop a model of atonement – and it does indeed have a mechanism behind it.

The Model – 12 Steps

  1. Humanity, created in the image of God is loved by God.
    1. Assumption 1: There is one human nature. All individual human beings participate in this universal (realism).
  2. But human nature has succumbed to the power of death.
    1. Assumption 2: Death is and a positive quality but a privation of being (privation).
  3. Divine impassibility.
  4. ???
  5. What is God to do?
  6. In Christ, God becomes incarnate: the divine nature is united with human nature.
    1. Assumption 4: Exactly how this union occurs is unknowable. (Hypostatic Union)
  7. In this union each nature retains its own distinctiveness while participating in the properties of the other.
  8. In Christ’s death – death dies (the mechanism).
  9. Christ resurrection is the inevitable consequence of his death.
  10. What happens to human nature in Christ happens to humanity as a whole (because of m1) (The universal effect)
  11. Human nature is now freed from the power of death and is restored to its created position. This is a good thing. (The solution)
  12. Human nature is now united to God and receives far surpassing its created position. This is a very good thing. (The surplus)

Divine Impassability

  • Divine impassibility is the reason for the incarnation (see Athanasius)
    • For this reason he takes on a body capable of death – to snatch humanity out of the grip of death.
    • Communication of properties makes it so that God can be capable of tasting death…It was God’s body that suffered and no one elses.
    • The problem that the incarnation solves is the problem of impassibility
      • God is “touched” by suffering without being changed by it.
    • The Son’s human nature is the doorway into death – but who “steps through the word is the eternal logos.”

Death and the Devil

  • Assumption: Death is a privation of being.
    • Non-being is defeated when it comes into contact with the Divine Being.
      • e. light darkness disappears when light comes on
    • That evil & death is a privation is axiomatic w/in Patristics & early theologians
    • The atonement is not a struggle b/w God and Satan
      • The struggle w/ demons is strictly b/w us and Satan/Demons
    • The point of these metaphors is not to show that Christ defeats the devil
      • The mechanism behind these metaphors is about the possibility of the impassible nature going into death and defeating it from within.
    • Gregory of Nyssa – The Fishook Passage
      • The real problem is not Satan but Death
      • Death is not a positive power, but a privation of life
    • The Mechanism – Divinity touches death and death is no more (i.e. putting being into non-being)
      • Death is an absence that Christ fills

Realism and Human Nature

  • The view that humanity is essentially one – universal human nature that all humans participate in –
    • Use metaphors and analogies to depict this
      • Ireneaus – Single book Metaphor
      • Athanasius – A Town that a King lives in
      • Gregory – Kitchen and yeast in the dough or a curdling agent for milk
    • They assert this view – and don’t give much of an explanation for this assumption
    • See Athansius – On Incarnation, pg 9, sacrifice language is “one and the many” language.
      • Not a depiction of the mechanism but a depiction of the universal effects
      • This answers the question – not how it works – but for whom it works.
    • The Language of sacrifice is used to depict how Jesus death counts for us.

The Solution and the Surplus

  • Christ wraps himself in our falling human nature – takes us higher than we started.
  • Dying human nature is infused with Divine life.
  • The surplus factor belongs to the atonement model proper.
    • It communicates human qualities to divine nature
    • It communicates divine qualities to human nature – thus elevating it.
  • We rise up to an honor that is above our nature (when we were created).



Q1- I’m interested in this assumption that there is one human nature that all individual human beings participate in. Could you elaborate a little bit upon what you think forms the background for this philosophical assumption…

  • OT Models (Adam & Humanity, Sacrifice & One Representing Many)
  • NT Pauline Descriptions of Adam & 2nd Adam
  • Ireneus sees human nature as being instantiated throughout history, beginning with Adam, Israel, and Finally Christ. Human nature is a thing that unfolds through time.
  • Some others see human nature as a more abstract universal. (Almost in a Platonic way.)

Q2- Where does Sin fit into this Patristic Model?

  • I’m not persuaded that there is an integration with Anselmian models.
  • In Patristic theology the emphasis is on the problem brought about by Sin i.e. Death – not on sin itself.

Q3-What are the implications of the realism assumption. How can the son assume sinful human nature? Assuming that he can – why isn’t incarnation in itself enough for atonement?

  • Because there was a fall with death – there must be a death in the life of Christ or else Christ cannot lift us up from it.

Q4- Given modern discussions about anthropology – the idea that there is no one thing which we man by “human nature” i.e. the plurality of the human species – how does this idea that there is a universal nature affect your view?

  • I don’t quite see how you can hold to the gospel without having some way of talking about humanity as a whole. The NT itself has ways about talking about the whole of humanity.

Karl Barth’s Letter to Diognetus

Letter to DiognetusThe god of the philosophers. A lot of people have beef with this “god.” With good reason too – God cannot come to be known through pure rationality. With that much I agree. I do believe that philosophy has an important role in articulating our theological convictions, but I would never say that philosophical reflection can lead us to true beliefs about our Trinitarian God. Knowledge of God is rooted in God’s revelation of himself. Only God can reveal God and we can known nothing about God unless God has chosen to reveal himself to us. This is the same argument that the author of the Letter to Diognetus makes to Diognetus:

As a matter of fact, before he [Christ] came, what man had any knowledge of God at all?  2Or do you really accept the idle nonsense talked by those plausible philosophers, some of whom asserted that God was fire—the very thing that they are on the point of going to, they call God!—while others claimed that he was water, and others said that he was yet another one of the elements created by God?  3And yet, if any one Of these lines of argument is acceptable, then each and every one of the other creatures could in the same way be shown to be God.  4No, this is just quackery and deceit practiced by wizards.  5No man has ever seen God or made him known, but he has manifested himself… (The Letter to Diognetus 8:1-5)

Christ is God’s word – without Christ there is no knowledge of God – revelation is God’s self-revelation of himself. Christianity is not a human attempt to find God, rather it is founded on God’s revelation of himself, it is founded upon the Word. With this much Karl Barth could agree. Maybe he wrote the letter to Diognetus, because it sure sounds like something he would say. (JK)