Tag Archives: Church Fathers

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Catholicism, Patristics

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.


Filed under Catholicism, Patristics

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.


Filed under Catholicism, Patristics

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.**


Filed under Patristics

John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood 1.1

I realized awhile ago that I am not a philologist. I do, however, enjoy learning languages and I need to spend more time doing them. So I’ve devised this scheme to help my Greek. I’m going to translate St. John Chrysostom’s De Sacerdotio (On the Priesthood) and then post my “translation” here on my blog. You will see how bad I am at Greek and Notre Dame may rescind their offer and take back my MA. Posting my failures on the internet is not something I’m inclined to do, but I figure this will help me get better at Greek and maybe I’ll become more humble (sainthood, here I come!).

Without further ado, section 1.1 of Chrysostom’s “On the Priesthood”:

Greek Text:

Ἐμοὶ πολλοὶ μὲν ἐγένοντο φίλοι γνήσιοί τε καὶ  ἀληθεῖς, καὶ τοὺς τῆς φιλίας νόμους καὶ εἰδότες καὶ φυλάττοντες  ἀκριβῶς· εἷς δέ τις τουτωνὶ τῶν πολλῶν, ἅπαντας αὐτοὺς ὑπερβαλλόμενος τῇ πρὸς ἡμᾶς φιλίᾳ, τοσοῦτον ἐφιλονείκησεν ἀφεῖναι κατόπιν ἐκείνους ὅσον ἐκεῖνοι τοὺς ἁπλῶς πρὸς ἡμᾶς διακειμένους. Οὗτος τῶν τὸν ἅπαντά μοι χρόνον παρηκολουθηκότων ἦν· καὶ γὰρ μαθημάτων ἡψάμεθα τῶν αὐτῶν καὶ διδασκάλοις ἐχρησάμεθα τοῖς αὐτοῖς, ἦν δὲ ἡμῖν καὶ προθυμία καὶ σπουδὴ περὶ τοὺς λόγους οὓς ἐπονούμεθα μία, ἐπιθυμία τε ἴση καὶ ἐκ τῶν αὐτῶν τικτομένη πραγμάτων· οὐ γὰρ ὅτε εἰς διδασκάλους μόνον ἐφοιτῶμεν,  ἀλλὰ καὶ ἡνίκα ἐκεῖθεν ἐξελθόντας βουλεύεσθαι ἐχρῆν ὁποίαν ἑλέσθαι τοῦ βίου βέλτιον ἡμῖν ὁδόν, καὶ ἐνταῦθα ὁμογνωμονοῦντες ἐφαινόμεθα. Καὶ ἕτερα δὲ πρὸς τούτοις ἡμῖν τὴν ὁμόνοιαν ταύτην ἐφύλαττεν ἀρραγῆ καὶ βεβαίαν· οὔτε γὰρ ἐπὶ πατρίδος μεγέθει μᾶλλον ἕτερος ἑτέρου φρονεῖν εἶχεν, οὔτε ἐμοὶ μὲν πλοῦτος ὑπέρογκος ἦν, ἐκεῖνος δὲ ἐσχάτῃ συνέζη πενίᾳ, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ τῆς οὐσίας μέτρον τὸ τῆς προαιρέσεως ἰσοστάσιον ἐμιμεῖτο καὶ γένος δὲ ἡμῖν ὁμότιμον ἦν καὶ πάντα τῇ γνώμῃ συνέτρεχεν.

My translation:

I had many true and genuine friends , those who knew the laws of friendship and strictly cherished them.  There was one from among the many who exceeded all the rest in their friendship with us, he was eager to pass by those who were absolutely disposed toward us.  Out of those who were keeping company with me, he was with me all the time.  We availed ourselves of the same lessons and we consulted the same teachers. There was for us a singular eagerness and desire for those studies at which we both worked, and an equal desire was born out of those affairs.  For not only when we were resorting to our teachers, but also thereafter when we left, when it was necessary to deliberate what manner of life seemed better for us to choose, then we showed ourselves to be in agreement.  And there were other things which kept safe for us this unbroken and firm concord.  With respect to the greatness of the fatherland, neither of us had reason to believe one greater than another, nor did I have excessive riches and he excessive poverty, but the proportion of our nature represented the equality of our choices, even our kin were of the same rank and everything agreed with our dispositions.

Some issues I had with this:

ἀφεῖναι (Aor Act Inf ἀφίημι) means something like “let go” or “discharge.” There’s a meaning of “pass by”, but it means to neglect, not as I’m using it here. It was the closest thing that made sense to me. Any suggestions?

οὔτε γὰρ ἐπὶ πατρίδος μεγέθει μᾶλλον ἕτερος ἑτέρου φρονεῖν εἶχεν (With respect to the greatness of the fatherland, neither of us had reason to believe one greater than another) – I feel like I’ve got the sense of this, but maybe I’m way off.

So there’s the first installment in this little humility project. I’ll post 1.2 soon. My goal is to post one of these a week, if not more. If I slack off and don’t hold to this schedule, yell at me in the comments or something.


Second installment.

Third installment. 


Filed under Patristics

Augustine and Jerome in Letters

In one of Augustine’s letters to Jerome (XXVIII), Augustine covers a variety of points on which he would like Jerome’s opinion/response. Augustine deals with the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin, translation of Origen’s works (though Origen is not named),  and the Galatians controversy.

The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin had already occurred long before Jerome and Augustine. Jerome’s vulgate was an attempt to create a better translation, drawing upon the vetus latina, the Septuagint, and the Hebrew Bible.  He had, however, drawn criticism for using the Hebrew manuscripts.  Augustine tells Jerome that he wishes for him to use the same methods he had used in his translation of Job, namely to apply signals and symbols wherein Jerome’s translation is at odds with the Septuagint, whose authority is most weighty (ut signis adhibitis, quid inter hanc tuam et LXX, quorum est gravissima auctoritas, interpretationem distet). This is not because Augustine is concerned with textual criticism, but because he wants Jerome to be convicted as to how wrong some of his translation work is. In another letter (LXXXII), Augustine tells the story of a Bishop who is almost run out of his congregation because of reading Jerome’s translation of Jonah at the point where Jonah is covered by the shade of a plant. Jerome’s translation reads “hedera” or “ivy”, whereas the congregation was used to hearing “curcurbita” or “gourd.”  Obviously this doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but for Augustine it’s quite serious as it caused an uproar in this congregation. Jerome writes to Augustine to give a defense of his choice of word, citing both his philological prowess and his experience with the plant (CXII).

The Galatians controversy is another interesting issue. Some exegetes in the early Church were uncomfortable with the idea of Paul actually rebuking Peter (Cephas) in Galatians 2. It was used to discredit Paul or Peter amongst heretical sects who wanted to do away with one or the other. Clement of Alexandria comes up with the idea that Cephas is another Cephas and not Peter, son of Jonah. This is possible, but unlikely. Origen however comes up with another theory: Paul and Peter planned this as an act in order to show the Judaizers were wrong. Jerome had adopted this explanation in his commentary on Galatians and Augustine is “grieved” because it violates the double precept, which is the guiding rule in Augustine’s hermeneutic. If one is to admit any falsehood into Scripture, what keeps heretics from saying anything that displeases them is a lie? Augustine asks about Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 4.1-3 concerning the forbidding of marriage. “What shall we say, when perverse men arise, forbidding marriage…declaring that all that he said about strengthening of marriage was a lie…?” (XXVIII).  He also uses Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15.14-15 concerning the resurrection of Christ. Augustine asks if someone were to ask Paul, essentially, “So what if it’s not true, doesn’t it resound the glory of God?” would not Paul correct them? Then Augustine gets Jerome with another statement undoubtedly meant to convict him: “Sed hoc intellegentiae relinquo tuae. Admota enim lectioni diligentiore consideratione, multo id fortasse facilius videbis quam ego” that is, “But I leave this matter to your own intelligence. For by the application of diligent consideration to reading, perhaps you will be able to it with even greater ease than I.” In other words, “Through diligent consideration, you may end up agreeing with me and agreeing with me more than I agree with myself.”  Then another slammer, “…nisi forte regulas quasdam daturus es, quibus noverimus ubi oporteat mentiri et ubi non oporteat” or “unless by chance you can provide some rules by which we might know when it is right to deceive and when it is not right.”

This is just a snippet of the correspondence between Augustine and Jerome. It’s a fascinating piece of history. In fact, both Jerome’s and Augustine’s letters both provide interesting insights into the world of late ancient Christianity. There are many translations available if Latin isn’t your gig and I would suggest reading them.


Filed under Patristics

We will be changed…or will we?

In my “Early Christian Latin Texts” course, we were assigned a few pages of a random Latin text to translate, identify, and discuss. Mine turned out to be the ending of Rufinus’ Commentarius in Symbolum Apostolorum, specifically where he’s discussing the resurrection of the flesh.  He goes through various arguments, then gets into 1 Corinthians 15. Quoting 1 Cor. 15.51, he says:

Ecce mysterium vobis dico: omnes quidem resurgemus, non omnes autem immutabimur (sive, ut aliis exemplaribus invenimus: omnes quidem non dormiemus, omnes autem immutabimur).

“Behold, I speak to you a mystery: we all will rise, but we will not all be changed (or, as we have found in other manuscripts: we will not all sleep (die), but we will all be changed).”

Rufinus’ first reading agrees with Codex Bezae’s reading, which replaces the Greek “οὐ κοιμηθησόμεθα” (we will not all sleep/die) with “οὐ ἀναστησόμεθα” (we will not all rise). He notes, however, that he’s aware of manuscripts which read like most of our Greek NTs do today- “we will not all sleep/die, but we will all be changed.”

If I remember correctly, I don’t think the critical apparatus in the NA-27 listed Rufinus as a witness to the alternative reading.



Filed under Patristics