In the next two segments, I review the books that I read in 2013 on the topic of theology.
Theology - Doctrine of the Trinity
This is now regarded as the “go to” book on the Arian controversy and the development of what he calls the “pro-Nicene” doctrine of the Trinity in the latter half of the fourth century culminating in the Council of Constantinople in 381 when the Nicene Creed was reaffirmed and expanded. Ayres pursues a number of historical and theological arguments, and his scholarship is daunting, so it is not an easy read by any means. He tries to accomplish so many things that at times I lost the thread of the argument. But the main thing I took away from it was this: the divine simplicity + three persons = inseparable operation of the three persons. This is the heart of the mature doctrine of the Trinity as articulated by the “pro-Nicene” theologians, especially the Cappadocian fathers and Augustine. It is an essential part of the answer to the question, “How can we say God exists in three persons while upholding the oneness of God?” Understanding this with clarity also provides a sound basis for mounting a devastating critique of the social Trinitarianism that is growing in popularity in contemporary theology.
This is a very good introductory book tracing the history of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. But I was a tad disappointed – his opening chapter hooked me and set me up for certain expectations that were not met in the way I had expected. In his first chapter Holmes surveyed the central ideas of contemporary Trinitarian theology (e.g., Barth, Rahner, Zizioulas, Pannenberg, Moltmann, Jenson, Plantinga, and others). Having set forth their ideas, he then made a daring and exciting proposition: “These are the ideas which I claimed at the start were absent from, or even formally condemned by, all earlier accounts of the Trinity” (p. 32). This sets the stage, then, for Holmes to provide a reading of those earlier accounts, which he does in the remaining chapters of the book, following a historical scheme. But then I felt that the book ended abruptly and he never returned to his claim at the outset, to show the differences between the contemporary Trinitarian theology and the historic doctrine. I think Holmes believed the point had been made implicitly merely by setting the two side-by-side, leaving it to the reader to note the differences. But I would have liked it if Holmes had written one more concluding chapter in which he showed point-by-point the ways in which contemporary Trinitarian theologies depart from the church’s historic understanding. Perhaps Holmes felt constrained to avoid being too polemical because this book is the first of a projected series titled Christian Doctrines in Historical Perspective, edited by Alan P. F. Sell. The goal of the series is “to trace the biblical roots and defining moments in history of major Christian doctrines” (General Editor’s Preface). I hope that someday Holmes writes that final chapter in some form.
Excellent book. I learned so much from it. It is truly a rich and rewarding study. The title of the book is a little misleading. Although he does cover the general doctrine of God in the church fathers in the first three chapters, the remaining 11 chapters are devoted to the doctrine of the Trinity. So it would better be titled “The Trinity in Patristic Thought.” I think the main benefit of this book is the way Prestige really tries to get inside the minds of the church fathers via word studies replete with quotations showing how they used each term.
In his introduction he explains how the book originated. “At the end of 1921 I was invited by the late Professor C. H. Turner to undertake research work for the projected Lexicon of Patristic Greek* ... It fell to me to investigate ... nearly all the words of main importance for the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation ... The basis, therefore, of the present book is the extended research made for the Lexicon into the meanings ... of those words which acquired special importance for Greek patristic thought.”
(*This is the famous A Patristic Greek Lexicon. It passed through various editors and was ultimately published by Oxford under the editorship of G. W. H. Lampe in 1961. Prestige’s early work is acknowledged in note 1 of the Preface.)
Prestige covers such crucial Greek theological terms as: gen(n)etos, agen(n)etos, prosopon, hypostasis, ousia, homoousios, monarchia, oikonomia, perichoresis, and so on. The book is not just a series of word studies. Prestige also covers the history of the debates and the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, but in this historical dimension, Prestige is old and needs to be supplemented with more recent works like that of R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God or, more recently, Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea and, above all, Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy.
I also read some of the “pro-Nicene” fathers in order to get a taste of their way of interpreting Scripture with regard to the Trinity:
Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians (in NPNF2 vol. 4) – finished the First Discourse
Basil of Caesarea, Against Eunomius (The Fathers of the Church 122; CUA Press, 2011)
Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980)
Gregory Nazianzen, Five Theological Orations (in NPNF2 vol. 7)
Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius (in NPNF2 vol. 5) – I was able to read only selections
Augustine, Sermons 52 and 117 (in NPNF1 vol. 6)