Inseperable Operation

In an effort to clear up some spookiness that I’m hearing around these parts, I offer this quote from Ayres’s Nicaea and Its Legacy. E-Pro, this one’s for you:

One of the most important principles shared by pro-Nicenes is that whenever one of the divine persons acts, all are present, acting inseparably. In Chapter 15 I provide summary statements of the doctrine from Hilary, Ambrose, and Augustine: to them can be added this passage from Gregory of Nyssa:

“If… we understand that the operation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one, differing or varying in nothing, the oneness of their nature must needs be inferred from the identity of their operation. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit alike give sanctification, and life, and light, and comfort, and all similar graces. And let no one attribute the power of sanctification in an especial sense to the Spirit, when he hears the saviour in the Gospel saying to the Father concerning his disciples, ‘Father, sanctify them in thy name.’… As we say that the operation of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one, so we say that the Godhead is one…”

Understanding what is intended by this principle is, however, as complicated as understanding the consequences of any of the individual terminologies mentioned in the previous paragraph. Inseparable operation does not mean that the three persons are understood as merely co-operating in a given project. To begin to grasp the importance of the concept we need to turn to the doctrine of divine simplicity with which it is closely connected.

For pro-Nicenes God is non-composite: God has no parts, is incapable of division, and is not composed of a number of elements. In other words, God is simple. Most pro-Nicenes also add that God is infinite and is present everywhere, immediately and yet not as creatures are present to each other. As Christopher Stead has shown, however, ‘simplicity’ in early Christian hands is a concept deployed rather loosely. By the late fourth century speaking of the divine nature as simple is usually taken also to include a number of non-necessary corollaries, in particular that as simple God must be unique and incomprehensible. It will be important for the argument of this chapter, however, to show that although simplicity is not defined with great precision, it is used consistently. Earlier in the book I argued that during the fourth century the very ‘grammar’ of divinity was at issue. Within pro-Nicene theology we find a very clear if often implicit set of rules for such language. Pro-Nicenes assume the impossibility of there being degrees of divine existence, and they assume God to be the only truly simple reality. The generation of the Son and the breathing of the Spirit thus occur within the bounds of the divine simplicity. Because God is indivisible the persons cannot be understood to work as three-divided human persons at work. Linking divine simplicity and inseparability of operation draws us inexorably towards the persistent pro-Nicene assertion that the nature of God is unknowable.

~ Nicaea and its Legacy pg. 280-282

If I can explain this concept more simply (forgive me!), we can say it like this: Jesus IS the power, will, and wisdom of the Father. Admittedly this is Athanasian, but I think also Calvinian. Jesus’s will (the divine one) is not just in agreement in with the Father’s will, it is the Father’s will. The same goes for the Spirit. The one will of the divine nature is the Father’s, and thus the Son’s and the Spirit’s. This is in the Institutes too. I promise.

Furthermore, Jesus does not do the work of redemption as a man. This is completely wrongheaded. He is the Godman, and always acts as God, even as he acts as Godman. To say that he works as the second Adam purely as man is Nestorian, and plays right into the hands of critics who say that we sever the economic Trinity from the immanent Trinity. They are the same Trinity after all, differing in the “how,” not the “what” or “who.”

All theology is theology proper. Christology holds the center of theology proper. To obscure one is to obscure all.


Those Alexandrian Bishops

Despite his protestations of innocence, Athanasius exercised power and protected his position in Alexandria by the systematic use of violence and intimidation. The papyrus of 335 documents in detail one small episode in which he coerced his opponents and used violence in an attempt to prevent them from attending a church council. That was not an isolated misdemeanor, but a typical example of the means by which bishops of Alexandria maintained their power in the Christian Roman Empire. If the violence of Athanasius leaves fewer traces in the surviving sources than similar behavior by later bishops of Alexandria like Theophilus, Cyril, and Dioscorus, the reason is not that he exercised power in a different way, but that he exercised it more efficiently and that he was successful in presenting himself to posterity as an innocent in power, as an honest, sincere, and straightforward ‘man of God.’

~Timothy D. Barnes Athanasius and Constantius pg. 32-33

Constantine’s Christology

I’m doing a good bit of reading in and about the 4th century, and it has really been enlightening. One unexpected tidbit that I stumbled across was a letter from Constantine in which he clearly espouses an orthodox theology. It is one that is quite contrary to Eusebius’ presentation of him. Here’s a portion of it:

Constantine Augustus to the Catholic Church of Nicomedia-

You all, beloved brothers, obviously know very well that the Lord God and Christ the Savior are Father and Son- Father without beginning and without end, parent of the world itself, and Son, that is, the will of the Father, which has not been comprehended by any human conception nor received through any extraneous essence for the completion of his works. He who understands this and keeps it in his mind will have indefatigable endurance of every sort of affliction. But Christ, the Son of God, the creator of all and supplier of immortality itself, was begotten- or rather, he who also is ever in the Father came forth for the ordering of what he had created- Christ was begotten by an indivisible coming forth, for will is both permanently fixed in its dwelling place and acts on and arranges the things which need different attention according to the nature of each one. What then is there between God the Father and God the Son? Obviously nothing…

What dreadful brigandage has been revealed, which denies that the Son of God has come forth from the indivisible essence of the Father? Is God not everywhere, and do we not perceive his presence ever with us? Does not the harmony of the universe exist through his power, without the deprivation of separation?

(from Timothy D. Barnes Constantine and Eusebius pg. 242-243)

Barnes concludes that Eusebius exaggerated, if not wholly forged, most of his records in regards to Constantine. Having probably not conversed directly with Constantine more than four times, he was certainly not an immediate counselor. And though it is true that Constantine desired peace and unity for stability’s sake, it is also the case that he was a true supporter of Athanasius.