Category Archives: Patristics

Trinitarian Questions and Mormon Accounts of the “Great Apostasy”

I’m currently reading some essays from a book titled Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy.  Each essay is written by a different author and covers a different subject. I have long been interested in the Latter Day Saints and particularly their concept of the “Great Apostasy” – i.e., the idea that early Christianity fell almost immediately into decline and (as it typically goes), with the death of the last Apostle, Christianity ceased to have a priesthood or authority. This decline narrative isn’t unique to the LDS, but the way they employ it is interesting.standing-apart

One of the essays I have read is by Lincoln Blumell, a professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. He notes in his essay that:

it may be noted that the term Trinity (Grk. τριάς; Lat. trinitas) is not used with any technical meaning, as it would be in subsequent centuries, to define and circumscribe the relationship existing among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (“Rereading the Council of Nicaea and Its Creed,” p. 197)

He points to Clement of Alexandria in the footnote and admits that Clement does use the phrase ἁγία τριάς  in Book IV of the Stromateis, but there it refers to the trinity of “faith, hope, and love” from 1 Cor 13.13. This is true indeed. However, Clement also uses the phrase in Book V of the very same book to discuss the actual Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The opening of the 14th chapter of the 5th book indicates that Clement is going to demonstrate how the Greeks borrowed heavily from and misinterpreted Hebrew wisdom. He writes,

τὰ δ’ ἑξῆς <προσ>αποδοτέον καὶ τὴν ἐκ τῆς βαρβάρου φιλοσοφίας Ἑλληνικὴν κλοπὴν σαφὲστερον ἤδη παραστατὲον.
Now it must be shown with greater clarity the Greek plagiarism of the philosophy of the Barbarians (Hebrews).
Then, in 5.14.103, Clement writes:
οὑκ ἄλλως ἔγωγε ἐξακούω ἤ τὴν ἁγίαν τριάδα μηνύεσθαι. τρίτον μὲν γὰρ εἶναι τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα, τὸν υἱὸν δὲ δεύτερον, δι’ οὗ “πάντα ἐγένετο” κατὰ βούλησιν τοῦ πατρός.
I understand it [the subject of the passage from Plato] to be nothing other than the Holy Trinity, for the third is the Holy Spirit, the second the Son, the one through whom “all things came to be” according to the will of the Father.
Dr. Blumell’s footnote, quoted in part below, seems misleading:
Similarly, Clement of Alexandria is the first to use the phrase “holy trinity/triad” (ἁγία τριάς) but has it refer to the attributes of “faith, hope, and love” when discussing 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Clement indeed does use it to refer to the triad found in 1 Cor 13, but the footnote seems to imply this is the only time he uses it. This is clearly wrong, as demonstrated here. Perhaps this isn’t the sort of “technical language” Blumell is discussing, but I’m not sure exactly what he means by the phrase. Clement refers to the Word being God repeatedly throughout his works, though he does distinguish Him from the Father. However, every good Trinitarian does. Blumell makes another point here that seems unclear – he says that many of the Fathers in the second and third centuries “regarded Jesus as subordinate to and distinct from the Father.” (p. 197). With respect to subordinationism, it is true among some, though not as many, I think, as often stated (e.g. I think Origen’s “subordinationism” is totally overblown in the secondary literature). But as said above – every Trinitarian today thinks the Word is not the Father.
At any rate,  I’m not trying to impose a post-4th century Trinitarianism on the 2nd century, but it’s not as dire as Blumell is making it out to be. There is reference to the Trinity long before Nicaea and the word is used to discuss the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood 1.4

Here’s my next little chunk of Chrysostom’s “On the Priesthood.” Here he’s relating what his mother said in response to him wanting to live a communal life with a friend of his. I haven’t done the whole of her response, just this little part.

Greek Text:

Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ᾔσθετοταῦτα βουλευόμενον, λαβοῦσά με τῆς δεξιᾶς, εἰσήγαγεν εἰς τὸν ἀποτεταγμένον οἶκον αὐτῇ καὶ καθίσασα πλησίον ἐπὶ τῆς εὐνῆς ἧς ἡμᾶς ὤδινε, πηγάς τε ἠφίει δακρύων καὶ τῶν δακρύων ἐλεεινότερα προσετίθη τὰ ῥήματα, τοιαῦτα πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἀποδυρομένη. Ἐγώ, παιδίον, φησί, τῆς ἀρετῆς τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ σοῦ οὐκ ἀφείθην ἀπολαῦσαι ἐπὶ πολύ,τῷ Θεῷ τοῦτο δοκοῦν· τὰς γὰρ ὠδῖνας τὰς ἐπὶ σοὶ διαδεξάμενος ὁ θάνατος ἐκείνου, σοὶμὲν ὀρφανίαν, ἐμοὶ δὲ χηρείαν ἐπέστησεν ἄωρον καὶ τὰ τῆς χηρείας δεινὰ ἃ μόναι αἱ παθοῦσαι δύναιντ’ ἂν εἰδέναι καλῶς. Λόγος γὰρ οὐδεὶς ἂν ἐφίκοιτο τοῦ χειμῶνος
ἐκείνου καὶ τοῦ κλύδωνος ὃν ὑφίσταται κόρη, ἄρτι μὲν τῆς πατρῴας οἰκίας προελθοῦσα
καὶ πραγμάτων ἄπειρος οὖσα, ἐξαίφνης δὲ πένθει τε ἀσχέτῳ βαλλομένη καὶ ἀναγκαζομένη φροντίδων καὶ τῆς ἡλικίας καὶ τῆς φύσεως ἀνέχεσθαι μειζόνων. Δεῖ γάρ, οἶμαι, ῥαθυμίας τε οἰκετῶν ἐπιστρέφειν καὶ κακουργίας παρατηρεῖν, συγγενῶν ἀποκρούεσθαι ἐπιβουλάς, τῶν τὰ δημόσια εἰσπραττόντων τὰς ἐπηρείας καὶ τὴν ἀπήνειαν ἐν ταῖς τῶν εἰσφορῶν καταβολαῖς φέρειν γενναίως.

My translation:

For when she perceived that I was deliberating these things,  seizing me by the right hand, she led me into her own house and sat down near me upon the bed where she gave birth to me,  she sent forth streams of tears and she put forward words more pitiable than her tears, lamenting these things concerning us. She said, “I, child, was not given to enjoy the virtue of your father for long, for this seemed good to God.  His death was made manifest during the birth pangs of your birth, setting upon you orphanhood and me untimely widowhood, and also terrible things of widowhood, which only those who have suffered them are able to know well.  For there is no word suitable to describe that storm and wave which a young woman undertakes,  having just left the home of her parents and being inexperienced in business matters,  she is instantaneously cast down into unmanageable grief and forced to uphold responsibilities greater than her age and nature should allow.  For it is necessary, I say, for her to set right the laziness of the slaves and to watch closely their wickedness,  to drive away the schemes of family, to bear nobly the tax collectors and the abuses and the rudeness in the paying of taxes…”


Again, I felt like this was a pretty straightforward text as far as the Greek goes. This piece is doubly interesting in what it tells us about women and slaves according to Chrysostom. I thought it was intriguing that Chrysostom records his own mother saying that slaves are indifferent (ῥαθυμίας) and are bad workers or even wicked (κακουργίας). I imagine that if he found these to be embarrassing, he wouldn’t have included them, though I could be wrong. I haven’t read enough Chrysostom to see if he ever says anything bad about his mother’s view towards slaves.


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John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood 1.3

I returned from Boston yesterday and found myself sitting in a coffee shop this morning, looking forward to reading a little more of Chrysostom in Greek. I think I’m getting the “tempo” of his Greek after having read a little of him now.

Greek Text:

Πλὴν  ἀλλ’  ἀγαθός τε ὢν καὶ πολλοῦ τὴν ἡμετέραν τιμώμενος φιλίαν, ἁπάντων ἑαυτὸν ἀποστήσας τῶν ἄλλων, ἡμῖν τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον συνῆν, ἐπιθυμῶν μὲν τούτου καὶ πρότερον, ὅπερ δὲ ἔφην, ὑπὸ τῆς ἡμετέρας κωλυόμενος ῥαθυμίας. Οὐ γὰρ ἦν τὸν ἐν τῷ δικαστηρίῳ προσεδρεύοντα καὶ περὶ τὰς ἐν τῇ σκηνῇ τέρψεις ἐπτοημένον συγγίνεσθαι πολλάκις τῷ βίβλοις προσηλωμένῳ καὶ μηδὲ εἰς  γορὰν ἐμβαλόντι ποτέ. Διὰ τοῦτο πρότερον διειργόμενος, ἐπειδή ποτε ἡμᾶς ἔλαβεν εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν τοῦ βίου κατάστασιν, ἀθρόως ἣν πάλαι ὤδινεν ἐπιθυμίαν ἀπέτεκε τότε καὶ οὐδὲ τὸ βραχύτατον τῆς ἡμέρας ἡμᾶς ἀπολιμπάνειν ἠνείχετο μέρος, διετέλει τε παρακαλῶν ἵνα τὴν οἰκίαν ἀφέντες ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ κοινὴν ἀμφότεροι τὴν οἴκησιν ἔχοιμεν· καὶ ἔπεισε καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα ἦν ἐν χερσίν. Ἀλλά με αἱ συνεχεῖς τῆς μητρὸς ἐπῳδαὶ διεκώλυσαν δοῦναι ταύτην ἐκείνῳ τὴν χάριν, μᾶλλον δὲ λαβεῖν ταύτην παρ’ ἐκείνου τὴν δωρεάν.


My translation:

In addition to being a better man than most, and honoring our friendship, he separated himself from all the others, he associated with us all the time, wishing for how it was before – but just as I said before, he was hindered by our indifference.  For it was not possible for the one regularly attending the law court and excited by the delights of the stage to associate with the one ever fastened to books and never going into the market.  After this was removed, and when he had received us into his state of life, he all at once brought forth the desire which he had long anguished over, and he could not stand to leave us even for the smallest measure of time, and so he persevered calling on each of us to give up our own home in order that we both might have a common home.  He persuaded me and the matter was in hand. But the continuous wailing of my mother hindered me from giving this kindness to him, or rather to receive this gift from him.



This was fairly straightforward. I’m getting a little less wooden as I become more comfortable with reading Chrysostom. If you find something you think I’m being a little too loose with or if I’ve just misread Chrysostom entirely, please let me know.

Chrysostom’s use of ὤδινεν and ἀπέτεκε is interesting. ὠδίνω means to be in pains due to childbirth, and τίκτω (from which we get ἀπέτεκε) means to give birth to a child. It’s interesting that Chrysostom uses this sort of language before mentioning his own mother whose “continuous wailing” (αἱ συνεχεῖς ἐπῳδαὶ) hindered Chrysostom. Chrysostom’s biological mother is hindering the birth of his friend’s “child”, the desire for a communal life and Christian friendship.


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The Filioque

Here at the Pappas Patristics Institute I’m having the chance to help with a course on the Filioque. The institute is held at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, though many of the participants come from a variety of religious backgrounds. It’s great to see such an interest in the Fathers.

In our Filioque course this morning we read some excerpts from Gregory Nazianzus’ oration on the Holy Spirit (31). He states that his purpose in writing this section is:

ἵνα τὸ ἀσύγχυτον σώζηται τῶν τριῶν ὑποστάσεων ἐν τῇ μιᾷ φύσει τε ἀξίᾳ θεότητος

“In order to safeguard the distinction of the three hypostases in the single nature and dignity of the Godhead.”

Thus, for Gregory, the issue is protecting the individual hypostases from Sabellianism, which he identifies in the same passage.  He stresses John 15.26’s use of “procession” as a hypostatic quality of the Holy Spirit.

We also read a bit from Hilary of Poitiers in Book VIII of De Trinitate. Throughout he stresses the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. He makes the point that the Holy Spirit receives from the Son in Jn 16 and is said in 15.26 to proceed from the Father. Does the Spirit receive from the Son alone? Of course not. This would be absurd to Hilary. Likewise, does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father alone? Hilary would say no. Proceeding is like receiving in that both Son and Father participate.

The issue seems to be where one’s theological emphases are. For Hilary, he has to argue against Arianism. Arianism tried to say that the Son was of a different nature than the Father, overstating the distinction between the hypostases, so Hilary works to show the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. What the Father does, the Son does. Gregory, on the other hand, is dealing with Sabellians (Modalists) for whom there was absolutely no distinction between the hypostases, thus he has to stress the particular hypostatic qualities of each person within the Trinity. Therefore when he comes to Jn 15.26, he cannot say that proceeding (τὸ ἐκπορευτὸν) is like sending, giving, or any other term the Latins use, because that would wreck his argument. He has to find something in Scripture to keep the Holy Spirit hypostatically unique in order to fend off Modalism.

The instructor for the course made a good point concerning these texts: we’re essentially looking at a train wreck that won’t happen for another 400 years. The beliefs of each are wholly orthodox, but the trajectories of these texts point to future problems.  As a Catholic, I’m quite happy to be here discussing these ideas with others, particularly my Orthodox brothers and sisters. We’re far from gathering around the altar and singing  Te Deum, but it never hurts to truly understand the position of another.



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A koinonikon: Not as Judas did

I mentioned in a previous post that next week I will be in Boston for the Pappas Summer Patristics Institute, which is held at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. One thing I’m looking forward to is getting to attend Vespers while there. A practice that I think my friends in the West have a hard time getting into is venerating icons when one walks into a church. When you enter, you ought to kiss an icon, but do so on the hands or feet and never the face as Judas did. This reminded me of a communion hymn (κοινωνικόν) commonly used in the East:

Greek Text:

Τοῦ δείπνου σου τοῦ μυστικοῦ
σήμερον, ὑιὲ θεοῦ,
κοινωνόν με παράλαβε.
οὐ μὴ γὰρ τοῖς ἐχθροῖς σου
τὸ μυστήριον εἴπω,
οὐ φίλημα σοι δώσω
καθάπερ ᾿Ιούδας,
ἀλλ’ ὡς ὁ λῄστης
ὁμολογῶ σοι
μνήσθητί μου κύριε
ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ σου.

My Translation:

Receive me today as a companion of your mystical meal, O Son of God,

I have not spoken the mystery to your enemies

I will not give kisses to you as Judas did,

But as the thief I speak in agreement:

‘Remember me, Lord, in your Kingdom’


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Norman Russell and “one like a son of man”

I started reading Norman Russell’s The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition. Interestingly, the first three chapters don’t really deal with the Patristic tradition at all, but provide background information on Roman/Hellenistic and Jewish ideas of deification.

Concerning the various theories on the identity of the “one like a son of man” from Daniel 7, Russell states:

The simplest explanation, however, is the most satisfactory. The ‘one like a son of man’ is an angel, probably Michael, entrusted with the protection of the people of Israel. Only later, in Christian tradition and in the Book of Parables (I Enoch 37-71) does he become a Messianic figure, the Elect of God.  (p. 67)

I don’t know 2nd Temple Judaism’s literature, so I was wondering: are angels ever called “sons of men”? The identification of the ‘one like a son of man’ as an angel seems wrong to me, but I’m open to hearing evidence for such a theory.


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John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood 1.2

This is the second installment of my little translation of St. John Chrysostom’s De Sacerdotio (On the Priesthood). I’m going to be in Boston next week as a Teaching Fellow at the Pappas Summer Patristics Institute, so I figured I should go ahead and knock a little chunk of this out early because I may not be able to work on it much or at all next week.

Greek Text:

Ἐπειδὴ δὲ ἔδει τὸν μακάριον τὸν τῶν μοναχῶν μεταδιώκειν βίον καὶ τὴν φιλοσοφίαν τὴν ἀληθῆ, καὶ οὐκέτι ἡμῖν ὁ ζυγὸς οὗτος ἴσος ἦν, ἀλλ’ ἡ μὲν ἐκείνου πλάστιγξ ἐκουφίζετο μετέωρος, ἐγὼ δ’ ἔτι ταῖς τοῦ κόσμου πεπεδημένος ἐπιθυμίαις καθεῖλκον τὴν ἐμαυτοῦ καὶ ἐβιαζόμην κάτω μένειν, νεωτερικαῖς αὐτὴν ἐπιβρίθων φαντασίαις, ἐνταῦθα λοιπὸν ἡ μὲν φιλία βέβαιος ἔμενεν ἡμῖν καθάπερ καὶ πρότερον, ἡ δὲ συνουσία διεκόπτετο· οὐ γὰρ ἦν τοὺς μὴ περὶ τὰ αὐτὰσπουδάζοντας κοινὰς ποιεῖσθαι τὰς διατριβάς. Ὡς δέ ποτε καὶ αὐτὸς μικρὸν ἀνέκυψα τοῦ βιωτικοῦ κλύδωνος, δέχεται μὲν ἡμᾶς ἄμφω τὼ χεῖρε, τὴν δὲ ἰσότητα οὐδὲ οὕτως ἰσχύσαμεν φυλάξαι τὴν προτέραν. Καὶ γὰρ τῷ χρόνῳ φθάσας ἡμᾶς καὶ πολλὴν τὴν σφοδρότητα ἐπιδειξάμενος, ἀνωτέρω πάλιν ἡμῶν ἐφέρετο καὶ εἰς ὕψος ᾔρετο μέγα.

My Translation:

But when there was need to pursue the blessed life of the monks and the true philosophy,  no longer was the balance the same for us, but his scale was light, raised high in the air, while I, being shackled with the desires of the world, drew down my own scale and I forced it to remain down, weighing it down with youthful fantasies. While the friendship remained steady even as before,  our time spent together was interrupted.  For where there are not common enthusiasms for the same things, there is no common way of life. But when I lifted myself a little from the worldly wave, he received us with both arms,  we were not able to preserve the former equality.  For outstripping us with respect to time and exhibiting much vehemence, higher still he bore himself and raised himself to a great height.


The only issue I had with this text was this weird phrase:  τοῦ βιωτικοῦ κλύδωνος . Perhaps I need to get Lampe’s Patristic Greek dictionary before I go any further, but I’m not sure what a lively wave has to do with this. **I edited it thanks to Josh N’s comment. It’s not very poetic, but it makes more sense.**


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