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Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology Paperback – 22 Jun 2006
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The author's extensive erudition and knowledge of primary and secondary sources...make his achievement almost as remarkable as his initial ambition... This approach to pro-Nicene theology offers some illuminating insights... I maintain my stance on the opposite bank, but am glad to be able to salute a book of such good scholarship and stimulus from the other bank. (Maurice Wiles, The Journal of Theological Studies)
About the Author
Lewis Ayres is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at the Candler School of Theology and the Graduate Division of Religion, Emory University.
Top customer reviews
He entitles the book 'an approach', and he never claims too much for it, but it is, ultimately, a fruitful and constructive approach. I'd recommend this very highly to anyone with an interest in this subject; to professionals it is vital reading. After all, no one ever said scholarship has to be a gripping read, and a book this good does repay the effort it sometimes requires. Mind you, it might just be me, of course.
Following on from the first two-thirds of the book giving consideration to a narrative treatment of these developments, the remainder of the work is a more thematic approach, which in particular seeks to demolish the idea of distinct Western versus Eastern Trinitarian viewpoints, with specific appeal to the Trinitarian theologies of Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine.
A dense and hard going work, but excellent scholarship and an invaluable contribution to the study of 4th century theological development.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Here is my take-aways after many hours of working through the text.
1. One cannot easily divide into Eastern and Western views of the Trinity during this period. There is too much shared material and ideas. The older paradigm of East vs West does not hold.
2. The development of Nicaean or Pro-Nicene doctrines was a long political struggle. I don't know how many persons were exiled and then returned, then exiled, then returned before the controversy ended, if ever it did.
3. It seems the best summaries of Pro-Nicene doctrine can be found in the two Gregorys and in Augustine. If one wants to start there and then work backwards, one would find the best pathway.
4. Ayres is very critical of current Trinitarian writing and research, particularly German authors and their legacy, stemming from Hegel. I found this fascinating. The two thrusts of Hegel he sights are: A. Conflating life of the Trinity with world process or the development of the Spirit/Geist (Hegel). After reading his argument, I found a lot of truth to what he says. But I also see involvement of YHWH in the OT and Jesus's actions in the NT as God interacting with the world. So, some caution here, but I think Ayres is on target, Too many modern Trinitarian works easily map the life of the Trinity onto world process. B. Linking the relationships of the Trinity to psychological categories. I find this line of thinking to be very on-target. Read for example Richard Rohr in the area of spiritual practice and see how he virtually maps the Trinity onto human psychology.
5. Ayres draws attention to the pathway that Pro-Nicenes pursue in reading Scripture, from reading the plain sense of Scripture, to thinking and pondering, to finally union with the mystery of the Trinity itself. I like this, as I am both a biblical scholar and as well a trained Spiritual Director. I find absent from my academic teaching setting any emphasis that the people both reading and writing Trinitarian doctrine during the 4th century were actually attempting to get in touch with God, not just analyze a text. This is refreshing. People didn't study the Trinity to write academic paper. They did so to meet God.
I gave this book 4 stars not because of its content and argument, but because it is just darn hard to read, even for an academic like me.
He begins his narrative as most do--with a discussion of Origen. Ayres helpfully notes that early Christian thinkers were reticent to use the term "homousios" since it implied a material division in God. Also, "hypostasis" was seen as connoting a reality; therefore, thinkers were reluctant to confess multiple realities in God.
Ayres then continues with a long discussion of Athanasios. While he gives us much useful information and helpfully establishes the context, he really isn't breaking any new ground. Ayres' key sections deal with explicating his "pro-Nicene" theology, particularly as the Cappadocians relate to Augustine. He gives us very helpful analyses of the two Gregories and Hilary.
Of his erudition and scholarship there can be no doubt. This will likely serve as a standard reference for doctoral students, and rightly so. I do not think his analyses are wrong, just incomplete. I agree with Ayres that simplistic readings of "Greek vs. West" are wrong. I just don't see it as really that prevalent, even among Orthodox scholars. They only people I've seen fret over this issue are Ayres' disciples. Even a radical Orthodox scholar like Joseph Farrell--who wrote a 1,200 page critique of forms of Western culture, never reduced scholarship to those categories. I honestly think Ayres is shadow-boxing dead Frenchmen.
Ayres' protestations against dead Frenchmen notwithstanding, one must pursue this line of thought a bit further. De Regnon did not make up this "persons vs. essence" historiography. St Hilary of Poitiers was acutely aware of it. No one is claiming that the Evil Latins begin with the one essence while the Trinitarian Greeks begin with the Persons. Rather, one is making the argument that formulating theology within a specific philosophical framework reduces the persons to the one essence (shades of Aquinas!). St Hilary specifically identifies this problem in De Synodis 67-69. He said if you start with the one essence (homousion) as a template for theology, you will end up with modalism.
While I can agree with his arguments on what constitutes a pro-Nicene theology, I don't see how this category is any more logically tight than de Regnon's. I suspect that Ayres commits the "Word = concept" fallacy in his chapter on divine simplicity. He appears to work under the assumption that the "pro-Nicene" guys used the term "simplicity" (aplosis) univocally, notably Augustine. I think one example will suffice. In de Trinitate Book VII (and numerous other places) Augustine identifies person and essence, along with identifying within God all of God's attributes. If all of the attributes are identifiable with the divine essence, and the divine essence admits of no distinctions, then all of the attributes are identifiable (synonymous) with each other. Interestingly, this is what Ayres' student Andrew Radde-Galwitz calls the "Identity Thesis." Fair enough; Augustine is entitled to it.
In Letter 234 St Basil specifically identifies the Identity Thesis and rejects it (along similar lines as recent analytical philosophers did). Therefore, I don't see how Ayres can claim that Augustine and the Cappadocians taught the same thing on simplicity.
This book is outstanding on so many levels. The student gets much information on key passages in Athanasios and the Cappadocians. The book occasionally borders on overkill and Ayres' constant raising and rebutting the "De Regnon" Thesis gets old very quickly. Since the book was written in 2003, some passages probably need to be cross-referenced with more recent
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