on 17 November 2007
If I may borrow from Newman, to be christian is to be deep in history. Where do christian beliefs come from? The bible? Yes, but only partly yes - there was a lot of unpacking to be done before the creeds came into being. Every text involves an interaction between the reader and the text, but in the case of the bible, it is the interaction between the reading Ecclesia and the Word of God. The Word of God ceases to be his Word outside the Church.
As each new christian came along, a new question would arise, if Jesus was son at his birth, what was he before his birth? Who is Jesus? is he God or is he man? Or is he true God/true man? Did he really suffer, if he was God, how could that be so?
All of these questions had to be worked out and were worked out by the early church councils, consisting of bishops (mainly Greek speaking)from the Roman World. Are these councils decisive (yes!) for us now or does each generation start again (No! but it needs to find its own understanding based on the infallible declarations of the councils)? Kelly gives us the history in detail. I would challenge any reformed christain to read this and not wonder: is the Church of Rome or Orthodoxy (with which Rome shares 99% of its faith) not right? Do the fathers of the Church not sound suspiciously catholic - no extrinsic justification doctrine to be found among them. And,the sacraments, is the eucharist not life giving food for the immortal soul (no mere symbol)? is it not also a representative sacrifice (which caused such offense in the reformation)? - in short, can one really be a sola scriptura christian? Is that not to deny that God does operate and has operated through history with the Holy Spirit speaking throught the councils and through Peter.
Read this scholarly work by Kelly, and pause. It is a classic. God bless his work. May he rest in peace.
on 22 August 2012
The intention of this book is to set out in summary, the main christian doctrines that range from the close of the First century of the christian era to around the middle of the Fifth.
It is a task that Canon J.N. D. Kelly has executed admirably, breathtaking scholarship compressed into 511 pages.
We are taken on a quick background perusal that navigates the reader through an outline of Patrology, its relation to Judaism its initial mould, religious trends in the Graeco-Roman world. This is followed by a discussion on Neo-platonism (a blending of most of the preceding Philosophical Thoughts) and the threat posed to the christian church of the 2nd and 3rd centuries from Gnosticism. It is invaluable because it sets the reader up to explore Tradition and Scripture with Kelly. In broad terms he discusses the norm of Doctrine.
Authentic faith was to be found in'the Church's continous tradition of teaching and more concretely in the Holy Scriptures'(p.30). During the Primitive period of the church's existence when there was no official New Testament canon, she would find assurance in the
Apostolic Fathers collection; a corpus of writings,some of which date from a time prior to some N.T. books and shed light on early christian thinking and practice(p.35).
By the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian the Old Testament was re-examined in close proximity to the now canonical New Testament. Christ for these two christian Fathers was the pinnacle
in sourcing out christian doctrine(p.36). Two roles are set out by Irenaeus, for the safeguarding of christian revelation: the unbroken succession of bishops from the Apostles, and the sanction of the Holy Spirit(p.37).
In the 3rd and 4th centuries, with Gnosticism a seemingly vanquished foe no longer threatening catholic orthodox tradition; the tradition itself broadened to include the Scriptures and the Church's 'general unwritten teaching and liturgical life'(p.42),until both were complementary features in the Church exercising authority(p.47).
The Fourth century appealed to the Fathers in their singular or collective functions.
With the dawn of the Fifth century, there was an extension of this practice. There were lists of those whose teaching was felt to be almost canonical,and whose expressions of faith became the focus and almost the settling point of debate(p.48).
When it came to the Holy Scriptures, the O.T. that was used by early christians was the
Septuagint(LXX, the Greek version and not the Hebrew. It being the version of the Greek speaking jews of the Diaspora, scriptural quotations from the O.T. are based on it(p.53).
Kelly discusses the Apocrypha or Deutero- Canonical works which Western Christianity favoured. It was Jerome(p.55),who was insistent that the Apocrypha was only to be used for edification and not to bolster up doctrine.
The doctrine of Inspiration(pp.63-64), raised questions among the Fathers.
Augustine described the type of vision activated by the Holy Spirit, in for example stimulating the memories of the Evangelists,and keeping them free from error in their differing accounts. Kelly describes in some detail the three main types of visionary activity:Corporal, Spiritual, and Intellectual. The O.T. was to be seen as a book
imbued with christian Thought. Theologians and teachers were following in the same footsteps of Apostle and Evangelist(p.65).
Typology and Allegory are modern terms(p.69),and as the Fathers themselves use several terms to describe exegesis,to the exegetes of today Allegory is different from Typology(p.70). There is of course a close relationship between the two terms.
In Typology used as a methodology, persons or events in the O.T. are reconstrued as foreshadowing Jesus Christ or practice within the christian church. This 'type' of christian exegesis is markedly different from an allegory which is meant to present a spiritual concept concreted into solid images and events; the historical reference in the'type' is always in view(i.e. typology: Melchizadek represented Christ [Heb.7].
allegory: The Vine Isaiah. 5: 1-6;Psalms 80: 8-16).
The reaction in the 4th and fifth centuries by ecclesiastical authorities in Syria, in Antioch was against the excesses of the allegorical method(p.75).
Severian of Gabbala in the 5th century, made the distinction between theoria(insight),and
allegory. He, in keeping with the whole Antiochene School,believed that Allegory exegesis was unreliable. In accepting typology(as we moderns would style his method), as a 'prophecy expressed in terms of things'(p.170). The Antiochene's saw a real correspondence between historical fact and spiritual object,that although differing in their seperate qualities, should be viewed as a totality,with distinct features.
Pre-Nicene theology and the Divine Triad is treated with an affirmation of Monotheism,and God whose creative activity is exercised through His Word and Spirit;and that he is the same external Being who is proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets(p.86).
The christian Apologists were trying to explain the exact relation of Christ to God the Father,using the Philonic imagery of the Logos or Word(pp.95-96). This Logos was God's agent according to Justin(p.97),who created the Universe,was the bearer of truth and became incarnate in the flesh of a man.
The Holy Spirit(pp101-102),was the final part of the Divine Triad. Although the preoccupation of these Apologists,was the relationship between Christ and God the Father and the coordinating factors of the trinitarian formula and the cathetical teaching, they were more vague as to what role the Spirit exercised. Affiliation with the trinitarianism of the 3rd century, saw controversy regarding the triple relationship between the one indivisible God in this Triad(p.109). This triple emphasis in Western christendom,especially in the Logos doctrine was thought to be a threat to the divine unity and caused a reaction - these adherents being characterised as monarchists(propnents of the unity of the Godhead without alowing a sufficiency of independence to the Son),by Tertullian.
In the East they saw the plural concept of the Godhead in three distinct persons as a guarantee of this triplicity,and the bedrock of monotheism(p.110).
This trinity,was according to Hippolytus(pp.111-112),God's being or qualitive measure making itself known in Creation and Redemption. The Triad is only one God since it is the Father who commands, the Son who obeys, and the Spirit who informs our understanding. The close of 2nd century saw two opposing poles of teaching(pp.115-116). Dynamic monarchism or adoptimism(i.e. that Christ was only a man on whom God's Spirit had descended),which was classed as a christological heresy. Modalistic monarchism,which at the time shared the the common title with the former, was inclined to lessen the distinct functions between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their advocates fears were focussed on the unity of the Supreme Being,the Triune God.
During the middle decades of the 3rd century a standard of Western trinitarianism was evolving into a pattern(p.123),in the Roman church. Clement and Origen in the East used middle platonism(in broad terms dealing with the creative ideas of God) (p.127), to expound this Triune,the Eternal and Infinite God. Folowing this thematically we are treated to a dissertation by Kelly on the Trinity in the West and theological reflection(p.269).
The beginnings of Christology and the atteempts to demarcate the limits of the Divine and Human nature in Christ were not fully addressed until the 4th century says Canon Kelly(p.138). He describes(p.139),a 2nd century type of jewish sect known as the Ebionites who denied the divinity of Christ,and who were prevented from laying the burden of Jewish observance,which was reminiscent of the jewish form of Christianity in the Apostolic Age. Man and his redemption(the developments about the salvation effects of the Incarnation), was a slow laboured progress(p.163).
The Didache(a short manual of early church discipline circa 150 A.D.),gives praise to God for disclosing knowledge, faith and immortality through Jesus(p.164). Clement(ibid),speaks of tasting immortal knowledge. In the East(p.184),Kelly says that Origen's main thought on the Redemption was that Jesus's human nature had been profluently exalted to the ranks of a deity, when it had united itself with the Logos.
It was after the Ressurection, that his form had become immaterial, his soul fusing with the Logos(ibid).
When we venture with Kelly into the 'Christian Community and the beginnings of essiology',we can see that primitive christianty had local congregations each seperated by a constitution fitted to its own circumstances but called a church(p.189). The 3rd century saw the church develop (p.200),'abody knit together by a bond of piety, by unity of discipline....'(ibid). The Church is one and the bishops are the lineal successors of the Apostles(P.204).
Infant baptism became common in the west in the 3rd century,although in the East(pp.207-208), Clement of Alexandria regarded baptism as mediating the Spirit,while Origen laid more stress on its 'inward significance and spiritualefficacy'(ibid).
The progress of Eucharistic doctrine is probed by kelly(p.211),and the more considered approach identified,and the differences between East and West discussed.
Canon Kelly strolls through from Nicaea to Chalcedon, beginning with the Nicene crisis. He takes us in less than thirty pages, through Arianism which basically held that Christ was a created being inferior to God, and this heretical stance led to the anti Arian Creed of Nicaea in 325A.D. What he has to say before this is about a penetential
discipline that was beginning to form in the 3rd century,although there were still no signs of a private Penance(confession to a priest);it was a public invoking penance and exclusion from communion(p.218).
We are progressed to 4th century Christology,from the contrast between th left leaning Arianism of some Alexandrians,and the opposition by Eustathius of Antioch,one of the defenders of the Nicene settlement, down to the Antiochene Christology, where Kelly says that it was the achievement of the Antiochene School in the last decades of the 4th,and the first half of the 5th century.....[to bring back] the historical Jesus. The ''word man''
christology of Eustathius of Antioch has already been noticed(p.302).
The caption by Kelly,'Fallen Man and God's Grace',leads to nine Kelletic links,from the Soul's origin down to the Eastern perception in the 5th century;they are really reflections
of theological thought concerning the Primeval Fall.
Augustine and Original Sin(p.361-366),paints a pristine picture of Adam's fall from righteousness. This Father asserts a divine determinism, in a predestination that is not fatalism in that inevitability to sin is dependent on free will.
The Eucharistic Presence Kelly says was designated through the elements of bread and wine to be the saviour's body and blood, apprehended by faith alone(pp.440-442). It is efficacious(pp452-453).
In his deliberations on the christian hope of salvation Kelly opines that the tensions
are obviated by the twofold stress on the christian doctrine of The Las Things,when the exalted Lord will return and the dead raised to Final Judgment(p.459).
Eternal life will be for the redeemed a perpetual Sabbath(p.489).
Canon Kelly in the final stage of his book concentrates on Mary and the Saints, a bone of contention today between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestanism. He traces the rise of this fused veneration between Mary and the Saints, from its earliest beginnings as
'a cult of martyrs'(p.490);when persecution ceased with the accession of Constantine in the 4th century,this privelege was extended to others who had been examples of heroic sanctity(ibid). This veneration only became a coherent practice in the 4th century(p.491).
Mary like the Saints who have passed away from the earth, does not receive Latreia(worship), which is due to God alone, but hyperdulia(adoration),the highest degree of
The debates in the 5th century, in Ephesian and Chalcedon Councils culminated in the development of Mariology as a theological precedent that harmonised 'the union of the divine and human in the incarnate Lord'(p.498),although in the East and West there was continued debate. It was the title Theotakis(godbearer),that gave rise to the much later
dogma that Mary was free from Original Sin(immaculate conception),and made her the focus for devotion in the Roman Catholic Church.
J.N.D. Kelly's bok is mor motific and topical than consistently chronological,which can be a little distracting. However he parks a lot of information,albeit in outline into his labours. Readers will either be enriched in faith or confirmed in their scepticism as his honesty fills every page.