Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to get back to my brief book reviews of books that I read in 2014. The next grouping of books is a large one, both in terms of the area of theology covered and in terms of the number of books that I read in 2014. The reason I was prompted to engage the topic of Christology and the Trinity is that I spent a good deal of 2014 in a written debate with two non-Trinitarians – one who held a Socinian view which denies the preexistence of Christ and claims that he is a mere man, and the other who held an Arian view that accepts the preexistence of the Son but denies his eternal preexistence. In order to be prepared for this debate, I wanted to read as much as I could on these topics.
This is one of Athanasius’ primary writings critiquing Arian Christology. I read this treatise by Athanasius in both the original Greek and in the English translation provided in NPNF2 (vol. 4). I was surprised to discover how exegetical Athanasius is. The thesis of Harnack that early Christian theology became Hellenized by incorporating too much Greek philosophy does not hold water, at least for Athanasius. His Greek style is fairly simply and easy to understand. It is not the flowery Atticizing Greek that some of the other church fathers are known for, although it is certainly a step above the simple Koiné Greek that characterizes much of the NT.
I can best summarize this treatise as Athanasius’ extended analysis of the statement in the Nicene Creed that the Son is “begotten not made.” Interestingly, the famous Nicene term homoousious does not play a big role in the treatise (it occurs only once). Rather, Athanasius explores every facet of the distinction between God’s two ways of producing, creating vs. begetting. We all understand what it means to say that God is a Creator, who makes things that are separate from his own being. Things that have been created by God are not divine, have a beginning, a time when they did not exist. When God makes a creature, the creature it is an act of God’s will and the resulting creature is not part of the Creator’s own eternal divine being. When God begets the Son, however, the Son is not an alien being utterly separate from God but an offspring who is proper to the divine nature. The begetting of the Son is not an act of God’s will but the eternal outflow of God’s very essence.
Here’s a quote from Athanasius making this point:
“Senseless are these Arians; for what likeness is there between Son and work, that they should parallel a father’s with a maker’s function? How is it that, with that difference between offspring and work, which has been shewn, they remain so ill-instructed? Let it be repeated then, that a work is external to the nature, but a son is the proper offspring of the essence; it follows that a work need not have been always, for the workman frames it when he will; but an offspring is not subject to will, but is proper to the essence .... The Son, not being a work, but proper to the Father’s offspring, always is; for, whereas the Father always is, so what is proper to His essence must always be .... For the offspring not to be ever with the Father, is a disparagement of the perfection of His essence. Wherefore His works were framed, when He would, through His Word; but the Son is ever the proper offspring of the Father’s essence.” (NPNF2 4.323-24)