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The Post-Nicene Greek Fathers

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The interaction of these two schools of thought and centers of influence constitutes the history of the Eastern Church during the period before us. There is a technical use of terms which would limit "the Alexandrian School" to the theological institution connected with the Alexandrian Church and "the Antiochian School" to a certain school of scripture interpretation originating in Antioch. We, however, designate by the first the type of thought and the body of thinkers centering in Alexandria from the fourth century onward, and by the second the thought and thinkers peculiar at that period to the Orient. These two types of though may be traced to a common source in the mind of Origen. This greatest theologian of the early Church was the culminating fruit of an earlier school at Alexandria. Five hundred years before he was born, the Greek conqueror founded, near the mouth of the Nile, within a few hours' sail of either Greece or Syria, the city which bears his name. The population of this earliest cosmopolitan center was Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian, in about equal numbers. There, on what may be called neutral soil, were planted side by side the intellectual life of Greece and the moral and religious life of Palestine. Through the patronage of the Ptolemies and the influence of the great Alexandrian Library there grew up a school of literary and scientific men who made of Alexandria a second Athens. At the same time there sprang up among the Hebrew residents a school of the Rabbis, which was so famous as to be known among the whole nation as the "Light of Israel." The interchange of ideas between these two schools was the first step toward universalizing the peculiar treasures, the knowledge and the religion, the reason and the faith, of these two peoples. But the Ptolemaic and Rabbinic schools gave place to two others: the Neo-Platonic, a school of philosophy colored by the religion taught by the Rabbis; and the Christian, a school of faith enlightened and broadened by its contact with the Greek intellect. The origin of this Christian school was a catechetical class connected with the Alexandrian church. Pantsenus, the first teacher to lift it to its high rank, was followed by Clement, the Christian philosopher, and he by Origen, under whom and his immediate successors the Alexandrian school par excellence completed its work. For we must now distinguish the work of the earlier and later Christian schools of Alexandria. The work of the school represented by Clement and Origen was to establish the claims of Christianity upon the intellect of the world. These teachers had not to develop and formulate the interior doctrines of the faith; but, comprehending Christianity as a whole, as the revelation and redemptive power of the one Supreme God, to stamp it upon the human mind, in opposition to all polytheistic superstitions and fantastic philosophies. That work it successfully wrought, and thereby, above all other schools of thought, classical, ecclesiastical, or scientific, merited the first place in the estimation of an enlightened Christian world. But a mind which, like Origen's, could so grasp and so impress Christianity, could not fail to reason profoundly upon its interior problems. We, for whom the grander questions in theology have so long been solved, forget that their solution was the work of centuries. Thus the prevailing conception of God as triune, though founded upon the Scriptures, was not fully formulated until the fourth century. The Christian consciousness of the second century, side by side with its belief in one God, had fixed indefeasibly upon the God-hood of Christ. Then came, in the third century, an age of profound thought. Its chief work, as we have seen, was to reach God, not to define him. Nevertheless, vigorous thinkers who had reached him began to work on the problem which the preceding age had given, but had not itself the mind to ponder, viz., How one God with a divine Christ? One thinker, Sabellius, now answered, The two-ness is only seeming, since the theophany in Christ is only economic and temporal, and will end as it began with the work of manifestation and redemption. But to Alexandrian minds, imbued with the idea of the Logos, this answer was not adequate. To Origen, who completed the Alexandrian conception of the Logos by his doctrine of the "Eternally-Begotten," the Eternal Son was as real and distinct as the one Supreme God; and, as the chief exponent of a school in which faith was wedded to science, he sought to understand the relations of these conceptions. That, however, was not his achievement. Faith and science never brought him beyond a conception of the Son as subordinate. But his faith had laid hold upon the two essential elements of the truth, the divineness and the eternal distinction of the Son; and his reason pronounced them reconcilable. He, therefore, as the head-master of the first Alexandrian school, whose work was now substantially done, handed over to the next age a two-fold task: to keep what faith pronounced; to complete what reason had unsuccessfully begun. This was really a form of the work of which Alexandria had been the recognized center, since ever Greek and Jew had met in the newly founded city, only that work was now far advanced. Instead of "Are faith and reason reconcilable," the question now was, "How are they reconcilable? "

But Alexandria was no longer to monopolize a task which had been hers for four centuries. The last twenty years of Origen's life were spent in Asia, and of the twofold work which he projected into the fourth century, part, the faith-task, was left to the later school of Alexandria; and part, the task of reason, to what we call the school of Antioch. Perhaps no better distinction can be drawn between these two schools than to say that Alexandria represented the believing, the mystical, the intuitive Origen, Antioch the broad-minded, reasoning Origen.

We can not wonder at this division of labor. Each champion to do best his specific work must approach the task from a peculiar stand-point, and while one profound mind like Origen's might be developed in both the above directions, no body or school of men sufficiently numerous to work out the grand problem presented could possess this complex character. Let us note just what was to be done. The Christian consciousness as against Ebionism had long before acknowledged the Son, the Eternal Word, as divine. The Christian intellect had since affirmed that this needed explanation, and had sought such explanation first in Sabellianism, then in Subordinationism. The first of these did not satisfy the intelligence, the second did not meet the demands of faith. So the Church stood at the beginning of the fourth century, a part resting with all its weight upon a divine Christ, a part in an intellectual ferment, believing yet anxious until its intellect should follow its faith. Without the anchorage furnished by the former party, the Church might drift upon the rocks of doubt; without the sails of the latter, she would never make a haven of rest. That haven was to be the trinitarian dogma as completed at the Council of Constantinople. Without tracing the steps by which this dogma was formulated, we may briefly note the workers and the characteristic work of Alexandria and of the East. Since the days of Dionysius, who had for a time perpetuated the subordination views of Origen, the Alexandrian leaders had been asserting with more and more of earnestness and obliviousness to its intellectual bearings the truth of the Godhood of Christ. To continue this bold assertion in the face of all opposition, and side by side with the assertion of a distinct Father and Son, was the part of Alexandria. The one man who almost by his sole efforts performed this work was Athanasius. He is rightly called the great Trinitarian; yet his was not so much a constructive as a conserving work. His own mind was never perplexed with questions as to how there is one God and the consubstantial Son. The Christian consciousness, the devout, the religious element in the Church, had intuitively grasped both these elements as facts; and when, at Nice, the bishop of Alexandria and his young deacon insisted upon the [Greek letters], it was simply as conservers of what was held by the fathers as a matter of profound faith. So throughout his long career as champion of the Nicene symbol, Athanasius, notwithstanding his "Orations against the Arians," was rather the living and inflexible embodiment of a faith in the several elements of the trinitarian doctrine than a philosophical exponent of that doctrine.

But over against this conserving [Greek letters]; was the outreaching [Greek letters]; whose home was now in the East. For although Arius first broached his theory of subordination in Alexandria, his doctrines had previously been propounded by Lucian of Antioch, and it was in the churches of the Orient that the opposing theories of subordination and patripassionism found congenial minds and their chief support. For fifty years following the Council of Nice almost every prominent mind of the Eastern Church shows signs of unrest under the definitions of that body. Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eusebius of Csesarea, Acacius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil of Ancyra, Aetius, and Eunomius, on the one hand, represent various degrees of Arianism. Marcellus of Ancyra and Photinus, at the other extreme, hold to a modified Sabellianism. We shall think but narrowly, if we dismiss the controversies and the creed-making of this period as the mere gymnastics of restless or ambitious minds. They were rather the intellectual throes by which birth was given to the rational acceptance of a dictum of faith. Looking back upon the conflict, we see the Alexandrian bishop tossed and buffeted, but holding ever aloft his intuitively formed creed and saying firmly, "I believe." The bishops of the East, analyzing, defining, accepting, denying, receiving, anathematizing through a long generation, at last find out every intellectual element involved; and then the struggle is brought to an end by the rise of three men. Basil and the two Gregorys, educated amid the battle, have the minds to discern, the hearts to believe, and the wisdom and courage to demonstrate that reason and faith are at one in their approval of the dogma of Nice. When, therefore, the symbol uttered by Alexandrian faith A. D. 325 is reaffirmed at Constantinople A. D. 381, that affirmation is the product of the Antiochian reason.

But this formulating of the trinitarian dogma was only one of the two great contests in which Alexandria and Antioch were respectively the representatives of faith and reason. The fifth century presented a new problem in the person of Christ. Apollinaris having asserted that Christ had no human soul, but that instead the Logos was the animating principle of his human body, the Council of Constantinople repudiated this doctrine, and expressly recognized the human soul. But, like the Council of Nice, it simply affirmed a truth, and left it for the future to define and defend. The goal to be reached through long agitation and bitter controversy was the definition of Chalcedon. The distinctive task of faith was now, while admitting a certain human personality, to maintain the exclusively divine in Christ. The task of reason was to make the human nature a real element in the Christological conception. The faith of the whole Church had been over-ready to use terms which seemed to favor the Godhood of the Son. One expression of that nature which had come into somewhat wide use was "Mother of God," as applied to the Virgin Mary. Phrases of this sort were in especial favor in Egypt. When, therefore, Nestorius, who had been called from the church at Antioch to the patriarchate of Constantinople, took grounds against the indiscriminate use of [Greek letters], he at once found an opponent in Cyril of Alexandria. Whether animated by a holy zeal or moved by an unrighteous envy of his rival, Cyril launched against Nestorius twelve nathemas, enunciating the mystical, incomprehensible fact of the union of deity and humanity in the one person of Christ, in such a manner that the predicates of the divine and of the human Christ could be used interchangeably. In the response made to these anathemas, we see not only the Antiochian spirit, but also the work of the historic Antiochian school of interpretation. More than fifty years before this, Diodorus of Tarsus, then a priest and a teacher of the Scriptures at an institution in the suburbs of Antioch, had devoted himself to the interpretation of scripture in an historical and grammatical sense, breaking away from the old allegorical methods. He had for his pupils Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia, the latter of whom succeeded him as the representative of this reasonable use of scripture in matters of doctrine. By such usage Theodore was led to scatter all those misty and unreal conceptions with which the traditional interpretation had enveloped the person of Christ, and to see in him not only the divine Logos, but also the real man depicted in the gospels. Nestorius, if not an actual pupil of Theodore, was trained in the same institution at Antioch, and shared the opinions of this great father. His repudiation of the term "Mother of God" was in strict accord with the Antiochian spirit, and when denounced by Cyril he at once applied to his friend, John of Antioch, to have a reply made by one of their school. This work was assigned to Theodoret, bishop of Cyrus. The controversy led to the Council of Ephesus, A. D. 431, at which Nestorius was deposed, and the Alexandrian dogma of the one nature was affirmed. Nothing, however, was settled by this action, which was grossly partisan. For although Nestorius's deposition was confirmed, the Syrians still contended for the biblical Christ of a divine and a human nature, while the Alexandrians as stoutly contended for their traditional, mystical Christ in whom the human was virtually swallowed up in the divine. Cyril and Theodoret continue this controversy, and when Cyril dies, his successor, Dioscorus, takes up the cause. "God was born," "God suffered," were Alexandrian rallying-cries, which were taken up by monks in the Egyptian interest in Palestine and at Constantinople. The zeal of a certain Eutyches, one of these monks, led at last to an open rupture, and to the calling of a council, A. D. 449, for a new decision of the point at issue. This gathering fell under the control of Dioscorus, who with his monks conducted himself so outrageously that it has always borne the name of the Robber Synod. Changes at court, however, soon made possible the repudiation of this council, and the gathering of the fourth general council at Chalcedon. Here, although the memory of Nestorius was branded, a creed was adopted which recognized the work of the Antiochian teachers; and the Egyptian mysticism received such a blow that it never again became dominant in the Church. Theodoret also, who had been deposed at Ephesus, was restored to his see. With this definition culminated the distinctive labors of the schools of Alexandria and Antioch; for the subsequent struggles of the Monophysites and the defenders of Chalcedon were not contests of thought, but only quarrels for place and power. Both schools had sadly degenerated and soon sank into the worst caricatures of their former selves. It was indeed a lofty faith which had enabled Athanasius for fifty years, through all perils, to advocate the consubstantial Trinity; but it was only a pitiable superstition which led the fanatic monks of Alexandria to shout for the "Mother of God." So it was an enviable rationalism which had enabled the three Cappadocians to justify to men's reason a grand dictum of faith; but it was only a miserable pedantry with which the later Orientals measured and defined the thousand-and-one points of orthodoxy.

As we saw, in the work of Origen in the third century, a parallel to labors to which the present age is recurring, so had we space we might profitably note some modern parallels to these parties of the fourth and fifth centuries. The Church has still her Alexandria, and her leaders to whom a traditional faith is more than all rational systems of belief. She has also her Antiochian body, with its heterogeneous elements. As in that ancient time, so now, a part of this thinking body are so exalting reason that they forget the faith; but the larger portion, let us hope, studying rationally the written word, are proving the Basils and Gregorys, the Diodoruses and Theodores, the Chrysostoms and Theodorets, of our new age of biblical study.



So much of the Church literature of this age has reference to the doctrinal definitions of the first four councils that acquaintance with the symbols which they adopted is necessary to an appreciation of the writings. The definitions of all four councils were strictly logical, anthropology being mainly left to the more practical West. There is a noticeable distinction, however, between the work of the first two and the two succeeding assemblies. The Councils of Nice, A. D. 325, and Constantinople, A. D. 381, formulated in their creeds the conception of God in his entirety, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Councils of Ephesus, A. D. 431, and Chalcedon, A. D. 451, advanced to the more specific consideration of the person of the Son. At Ephesus no authoritative symbol was uttered, the delegates being divided into an Alexandrian or one-nature party, and an Antiochian or two-natures party. These afterward compromised by the concurrence of the latter in the excommunication of Nestorius, champion of the two natures, and the consent of the former to a confession allowing the two natures. Thus was necessitated the Council of Chalcedon, which propounded a symbol since recognized by the Church Catholic as rightly defining the person of Christ.



I believe in one God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost,* the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the prophets. And one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.


* The Nicene Creed ended here. Appended to it, however, was the following anathema: "But those who say that 'there was once when He was not,' and 'before He was begotten He was not,' and that 'from the not being He came to be'; or those who say that the Son of God is 'of another substance or essence,' or 'created,' or 'alterable,' or 'mutable,' the Catholic Church anathematizes."



We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only-begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the creed of the holy fathers has handed down to us.


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