notes prepared by Larry Brown


Reasons for Christians to study our history

·         These are not dead names from the distant past, but many are our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom we will spend eternity. We need to get to know them better.


Noll intro, Turning Points (2001):

·         reminds us of the historical character of Christian faith

·         provides perspective on the interpretation of scripture

·         reassures us that most of our problems have been faced before: “Believers, guided by scripture, church authority, and the Spirit, have often acted wisely in such matters. Even when in retrospect Christians have made mistakes, the Lord has not abandoned them to their folly.”

·         helps to see our problems at a distance: “It is often easier in reviewing the past to discriminate between matters that are essential to Christian faith and those that are of relative importance or none at all.”

·         warns us of abuses: Throughout the entire history of Christianity, problems have arisen when believers equate the human acts of the church with the acts of God, when Christians use the name of God to justify their own desired actions. Studying Christian history can be an eye-opener. Heroes of the faith often have feet of clay. A Golden Age turns out to be tarnished. Oftentimes the church looks no better than the world around it. In all this disillusionment, we are reminded of “a divine patience broader than any human impatience, and a divine forgiveness more powerful than any human offense.”


Further challenges for Churches of Christ (Allen and Hughes, Discovering our Roots: the Ancestry of Churches of Christ. 1988)

·         “We often assume that our roots are simply in the NT and that we really have not been shaped in any significant way by the intervening history. We assume our churches are simply NT churches, nothing more or less. The sects and denominations of Protestantism may be products of history, but our origins come entirely from the Bible.”

·         “The conscious rejection of tradition leads only to the development of unconscious ones … We can deny tradition and its effects on us but we cannot escape them.” We are either “conscious participants or unconscious victims.”

·         “Without a sense of history, we are not aware of tradition. It is just when we think ourselves entirely immune from tradition and culture that we are most susceptible to their influences.”

·         “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

·         “A church that imagines it stands beyond history, beyond conformity to culture … has little to offer the world. But a church that owns up to its blunders and compromises – its humanness – is a church that can both receive and reflect the love and grace of God to the world around it.”



Part 1: Early Church Period


Three major transitions:

·         From Jewish to Gentile environment: Jews had different presuppositions about monotheism, ethics (especially sexual), the concept of history progressing toward the final judgment of God, and the authority of OT scripture.

·         From Apostolic age to Church Fathers: raising questions of continuity (are we the same church as the 1st century), authority of NT scripture (formation of the NT canon), and selection of leadership.

·         From persecuted sect to official religion of the Empire: challenges of Christianity having and abusing political power, and the church becoming too comfortable with the dominant culture.




Acts concludes probably about 62 AD with Paul under house arrest in Rome. His late letters may come from this period.

Persecution in Rome under Nero 64 (deaths of Peter and Paul, according to Eusebius)

Jewish wars and fall of Jerusalem (66-70), oddly never mentioned in late NT writings

John’s gospel, his letters, Revelation (90-95); limited persecution during this time under Domitian


Clement's Letter to the Corinthians

Author: by early tradition Clement was the third bishop of Rome 90-100 AD (although little sense of "papal" authority in this letter; Ignatius does not refer to any bishops in his letter to Rome). Date 95-96, after persecution of Domitian: "our recent series of misfortunes and setbacks" (1); this makes the letter contemporary with Revelation. This letter is included in the 5th century NT manuscript Alexandrianus (in the British Museum). Eusebius (4th c. church historian) says it was read in all the churches. “If things had been just a little different, some of [these writings] would have been scripture… and been familiar to every Bible reader in the world.” (Staniforth, Early Christian Writings)


Occasion for letter: Clement writes primarily to warn of the sin of pride (3), disunity, and rebellion against leaders/bishops (44)

·         Clement writes that, before the church at Corinth was known for its humility and absence of pride, but now “all have fallen back into the sin of envy, the sin that brought death into the world.” (3). Similar problem which Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians: “Read your letter from the blessed apostle Paul again.” (47) Clement seems to be familiar with at least ten of Paul’s letters.

·         Using the example of the saints’ humble faith, he mentions Rahab who let down a scarlet ribbon from her house, “thereby typifying the redemption which would flow through the blood of the Lord to all those who believe and hope in God.” (12)

·         Quotes Isaiah 53 as example of humility; Christ-centered ethics (similar to Paul): “You see, beloved, what is the example which has been given us; for if the Lord thus humbled Himself, what shall we do who have through Him come under the yoke of His grace?” (16)

·         Clement refers to the mythical phoenix, who builds a nest and sets itself on fire, and from the ashes rises a new phoenix. He treats this story as fact, testifying to the marvels of God’s creation (25)

·         “And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have done in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (32)

·         Christ brought illumination and knowledge of God: “Through him we can look up to the highest heaven and see as in a glass the peerless perfection of the face of God.” In him “we taste the wisdom of eternity” (36). “…Jesus Christ, by whom He has called us out of darkness to light and from ignorance to the clear knowledge of the glory of his name” (59). Similarly, the Didache thanks God for life and knowledge.

·         “Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love bears all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no divisions: love gives rise to no discord: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.” (49)

·         Clement mentions the deaths of Peter and Paul (5). Eusebius says they were killed during Nero’s time.


Didache  “teaching” (c 80-120) discovered in 1873

·         “And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.”

·         “Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way [“eucharist” means thanksgiving]. First, concerning the cup: We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus your Servant; to you be the glory for ever. And concerning the broken bread: We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus your Servant; to you be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever. But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, "Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

·         Note no mention in communion prayer of Christ's death, blood, sacrifice; instead, key themes are unity and eschatology.

·         “Concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there's a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet who speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. But not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And every prophet who orders a meal in the Spirit does not eat it, unless he is indeed a false prophet. And every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet.”

·         “Then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead -- yet not of all, but as it is said: The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.”

·         "Two Ways" section also found in Barnabas and similar to Qumran Manual of Discipline; probably Christian adaptation of earlier Jewish document.





Letters of Ignatius (107 AD)

·         Bishop of Antioch; almost nothing known about his life. Eusebius reports he died in Rome 107 AD, during celebration of Trajan's victory (10,000 gladiators and 11,000 animals died). He wrote seven letters to churches along the way to Rome.

·         Three crucial themes: authority of the bishop, glory of martyrdom, and problems with heresy and division:

1.   Docetism ("appears") was an attempt to rationalize faith, using current philosophy of materialistic dualism (spirit = good, body = evil). They claimed Jesus’ physical body was a phantom, he only appeared to be human. Ignatius’ dogmatic affirmations of the virgin birth, suffering under Pilate, etc. challenging docetism are early forms of the Creed. Docetism can be found in late NT letters: Cerinthus (100 AD) is possibly the subject of controversy in 1 John (story of John running out of the bath). Problem in letters to Tralles, Smyrna, Magnesia.

2.   Judaizers, similar to those Paul addressed in Galatians, insisted that Gentiles act like Jews. Some Jewish Christians may have wanted to return to their roots in Judaism. Problem with Philadelphians and Magnesians.

·         Ephesians: Ignatius looks forward to martyrdom, considering it the means to becoming a “true disciple” (1). He calls his chains a necklace of spiritual pearls (11). He emphasizes the importance of the bishop in each congregation; church in harmony like a choir under his direction (4). Christians carry the Name (in Antioch people first called Christians, possibly in derision, but Ignatius wears it with pride); emphasis on true flesh (7). Interesting analogy: “being stones of the temple of the Father, prepared for the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, making use of the Holy Spirit as a rope, while your faith was the means by which you ascended, and your love the way which led up to God” (9). “The last times are upon us” (11). Jesus’ baptism purified the water (18). The virgin conception and true identity of Jesus were hidden from Satan (19); this idea of God’s deception of Satan led to Gregory of Nyssa’s snare doctrine with Jesus’ body “baiting the trap.” Ignatius calls communion "the medicine of immortality." (20) High Christology: he is “both made and not made, God existing in flesh.”

·         Magnesians: describes three tiers of leaders (bishop, elders, deacons). Earliest use in Greek of noun "Christianity" (10). Describes worship on "the Lord's day" instead of the Sabbath (9), the earliest Christian text to discuss this change in worship. The NT mentions worship on the "first day of the week" only twice (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2) and never gives a theological rationale for the change or report of any controversy, which is surprising given the importance of the 4th commandment in Jewish life (cf. Barnabas 15). There is no 2nd c. evidence that Sunday was regarded as a day of rest like the Sabbath.

·         Romans: he calls Christ “my God.” Martyrdom described as "an intelligible utterance of God" (2) He asks them not to pray for his release: “I am truly in earnest about dying for God, if only you put no obstacles in the way. I must implore you to do me no such untimely kindness; pray leave me to be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God. I am His wheat, ground fine by the lions’ teeth to be made purest bread for Christ. Better still, incite the creatures to become my sepulcher, so that I need not be a burden to anyone after I fall asleep. When there is no trace of my body left for the world to see, then I shall truly be Jesus’ disciple” (4).

·         Philadelphians: unity found in one Eucharist administered by one bishop

·         Smyrneans: Docetic heresy: “And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians].” One day they will become phantoms without substance themselves (2). These heretics rejected the Lord’s supper as a material substance. Ignatius says the Eucharist is the same body as the Lord Jesus, perhaps the earliest evidence suggesting to some the idea of transubstantiation (7). First use of "catholic" church, meaning universal. Polycarp their bishop; Ignatius wrote a separate letter to him as well (8).


Martyrdom of Polycarp

·         Pupil of John in Ephesus, mentor of Irenaeus, martyred in 155 at the age of 86; earliest martyrology honoring his death and others. We also have his letter to the Philippians which mentions Ignatius, problem of docetism, love of money.

·         The martyrs “displayed such heroism that not a cry or a groan escaped from any of them; which seemed a clear proof to us all that in that hour of anguish those martyr-heroes of Christ were not present in the body at all, or better still, that the Lord was standing at their side … they made light of the cruelties of this world and at the cost of a single hour purchased life everlasting. For them the fires of their barbarous tormentors had a grateful coolness, for they held ever before their eyes their escape from the unquenchable flames of eternity.” (2)

·         Polycarp was betrayed by a servant, like Christ in the middle of the night.

·         When ordered to “revile your Christ,” Polycarp responded, “86 years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

·         Reports of miracles: the fire would not burn him but surrounded him like sails of a ship in the wind. Then when they stabbed him with a sword, a dove flew out of his breast, and enough blood flowed to extinguish the flames.

·         His bones were gathered and buried, where Christians assembled to celebrate the “birthday of his martyrdom.”


Letter to Diognetus

·         Anonymous apology addressed to pagan reader, a reasoned defense of Christianity. Diognetus means "heaven-born" and may indicate royal reader. No certain date but probably mid 2nd c. Written to an unbeliever, contains few scripture quotes, concentrates rather on first principles about God from nature and reason, refutes idolatry and Judaism.

·         foolishness of idolatry, appeals to reason (2) 

·         compares Jewish sacrifices to idol worship: “When they boast that a bodily mutilation is evidence of their inclusion among the elect, what does this deserve but to be laughed out of court?” (4). This is the first sign of anti-Jewish sentiments in early Christian writings (although understandable in light of Jewish opposition, and involvement in Polycarp's death). Paul's arguments were against legalistic Judaizers who wanted to circumcise Gentiles (3).    

·         Similarities to Marcion (his Antitheses contrasts OT / NT) but different; in Diognetus the God of Creation = God of Love, God of Judgment = God of Redemption

·         Christians are decent, moral citizens, rational, peaceful, loyal, no secret society of rebels or eccentrics (as Jews are); he refutes common rumors that love feasts are orgies – wordplay: common table (koinein) not bed (koitein); irony that persecuted Christians increase in numbers (5).         

·         In the classical world, ancient religions were respected as truth; Christians had to defend their "new" religion as a mystery hidden by God but now revealed in Christ. Logos as God's Truth/Wisdom and Logos as Creative Power proceeding from God. Difference again is incarnation, not just revelation of timeless truth but historical act (7).  

·         Christ as substitution and ransom: “He took our sins upon himself and gave his own Son as a ransom for us” (9)          

·         Curious absence of key terms: cross, resurrection, clergy, sacraments


Early Christian Anti-Semitism

·         After the fall of Jerusalem (70 AD), Jews may have felt the need to unite against Christians. Jews took an active part in condemning Polycarp at his mock trial.

·         “Epistle of Barnabas” (70-132 AD), included in 4th c. NT manuscript Sinaiticus (in British Museum), quoted as scripture by Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Continues discussion from Romans and Hebrews concerning the relationship of Judaism to Christianity, but this writer makes a harsh break with the past.

·         “Do not be like some and heap up your sins by saying that the covenant is theirs [Jews] and ours [Christians]. It is ours! They lost it completely when Moses had barely received it.” (4)

·         Referring to events in 70 AD: “how mistaken these miserable folk were in pinning their hopes to the building itself … after their armed rebellion it was demolished by their enemies … it has been revealed that the city, temple and Jewish people are all alike doomed to perish one day.” (16)

·         “Barnabas” gives many examples of how the OT was appropriated as Christian allegory using bizarre rules of interpretation. The writer misquotes Gen 14:14, saying Abraham circumcised 318 servants; ignoring that it was written in Hebrew, he takes the Greek letters which stand for that number “I E T” and interprets this as “IE(sus)” and T as the sign of the cross. (13)

·         The Didaskalia (3rd c) distinguished between the moral law of the OT which Christians still follow and the ceremonial laws that applied only to Israel.


Gnosticism (those “in the know”)

·         Discovery of Gnostic Nag Hammadi library of about 50 texts (1947); before this find, most of what we knew came from their critics [see notes at end of part one].

·         Justin and Irenaeus claim that Simon Magus (Acts 8) started the Gnostic traditions, declaring himself a god. He consorted with a prostitute named Helena, whom he claimed was the first creation of his mind, the first mother, who had lived in many different women including Helen of Troy (Adv. Her. 1.23).

·         Irenaeus repeats a story by Polycarp about John running from a bathhouse in Ephesus when Cerinthus entered, fearing the roof would fall on this enemy of truth (Adv. Her. 3.3.4).

·         The ultimate Transcendent Being could not be the source of creation, nor could It interact with the world in any way. There are many gods, emanations, generations of spirit beings, finally descending to the level of the material world. A demiurge (divine artisan, discussed by Plato) who created the world was the God of OT, not the same as the God of NT, the father of Jesus. [see details under Irenaeus]

·         Some said Jesus was a phantom, wasn’t really born, didn’t really die; he only “seemed” to, hence the term docetism “to seem.” He came to reveal the true God (not Yahweh). Others taught that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph on whom the Christ-Spirit descended at baptism but left him before the cross, as the Christ-Spirit could not suffer. Sometimes the Gnostics claimed that Simon of Cyrene was actually the one executed by mistake.

·         Three categories of people: pneumatics (spirituals with “knowledge”), psychics (“souls,” Christians with mere faith) and hylics (material pagans). The true God has sown spiritual seeds in this world; divine sparks reside in the “spiritual,” or enlightened ones, who have superior knowledge over ordinary Christians. Psychical Christians were saved by works and had to obey the law. Spirituals were saved by their own nature, having grace as their special possession; carnal sins did not soil them (according to the actual Gnostic texts, this antinomian attitude did not characterize most Gnostics).

·         For support Gnostics cited 1 Cor 2:14-15: only the spiritual man is able to understand; 1 Cor 2:6 speaking a message of Sophia to the mature, and 2 Cor 4:4 “the god of this age.” “We are not to blame if those who say they know mysteries above God do not even know how to read Paul” (Irenaeus, Adv. Her. 1.6).

·         Salvation comes not from faith in Christ’s atoning death but this secret knowledge and personal asceticism.

·         Unlike Marcion or the later Manicheans whose thinking was strictly dualistic, Valentinian Gnostics sought a grand system which would explain everything, good and evil, pain and happiness, as part of one reality (Minns, Irenaeus 31).

·         Extremes: Ophites (serpent) and Cainites viewed the serpent as man’s helper against the OT demiurge and praised Cain for his rebellion.


Gnosticism in the NT?

·         1 Tim 1:4:  “false doctrines … myths and genealogies”  

·         2 Tim 2:16-18: Hymenaeus and Philetus claimed that the resurrection had already taken place. Similar teaching in Gnostic Treatise on the Resurrection, Exegesis of the Soul, and Gospel of Philip.

·         1 John: antichrists deny that Jesus had come in flesh.


Marcion (d. 160?)

·         wealthy ship owner, generous giver to the church (influential)

·         Came to Rome about 140; his views were rejected by church, so he started his own churches in 144 (popular, some lasted until the 5th c)

·         Marcion tackled the problem of evil: how can a good God be the origin of evil?

·         Unlike Gnostics, Marcion didn’t have genealogies of gods, a chain of divine beings, just the demiurge and NT God. Marcion did not speculate about the origin of the demiurge; the two gods were unrelated, an impassible gulf between them (Adv. Her. 2.1.4). OT god was “stupid,” neither omniscient nor omnipotent, legalistic, a god of wrath and judgment, delighting in war, author of evils.

·         Jesus came (but not in flesh) to reveal the true God and save us from this evil world.

·         There is no resurrection; only the soul will be saved.

·         When Jesus descended to Hades at death, Cain, Sodomites, Egyptians accepted him and were saved, but Noah, Abraham and the prophets feared that this was another temptation from their God and did not accept Jesus (Adv. Her. 1.27).

·         Taught strict morals, demanded chastity, no marriage

·         Antitheses, comparing contradictions in OT and NT. The church had corrupted pure Christianity by linking it with Judaism. Gnostic texts used the OT but read symbolically.

·         Marcion’s canon (the first on record): he included only Luke (edited) and ten of Paul’s letters, no OT


Formation of the NT canon

·         In response to Marcion, the church began to develop its own NT canon, using three major criteria: apostolic authorship (or in the cases of Mark and Luke, close association), books widely accepted and read in the churches, and consistency of doctrine with OT and strongly accepted books.

·         The earliest known list is the Muratorian fragment (c.170) with all NT books except 1, 2 Peter, James, Hebrews, 3 John – but also mentions a few other anti-Marcionite letters of “Paul” not in our NT.

·         Several books remained in dispute for the next two centuries: Hebrews (unknown author), James (few uniquely Christian doctrines, sounds “Jewish”), 2 Peter, 2-3 John (they differ in vocabulary and tone from the first letters), Jude, and Revelation. Other books were partially accepted: 1 Clement (in 5th century Alexandrianus codex), Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas (in 4th c. Sinaiticus).

·         The 27 books that we now accept as the NT seem to be finalized by 367 with Athanasius.

·         Recognition of NT writings as “scripture” began with 2 Peter 3:16 describing Paul’s letters in reference to the “other scriptures.” His letters seem to be collected by the end of the first century (see Clement).


Protevangelium of James (apocryphal, mid-2nd c?)

·         Important in the development of Mariology, “James” gives the life story of Mary before the gospels, born of Joachim and Anna, an aged couple. She is carefully watched over by priests until her betrothal, at which time Joseph’s worthiness to be a “chaste guardian” of the virgin is indicated by a dove which springs from his staff.

·         When Joseph finds Mary is pregnant, they both must defend their innocence to the priests, who submit them to a drink test (Num. 5:11-28) which leaves them unharmed, indicating to everyone’s satisfaction that God does not condemn them. Later she submits to a physical exam of her virginity by the midwife, even after giving birth.

·         Teaches the perpetual virginity of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus without pain; her other “sons” were from Joseph’s previous marriage.

·         When Herod commands all the babies to be killed, Elizabeth hides John, and when Zacharias refuses to tell the soldiers where he is, they murder him in the temple.


Justin (100?-165, martyred)

·         Study of Greek philosophy led him to Christianity. "Philosophy is the knowledge of that which really exists, and a clear perception of the truth; and happiness is the reward of such knowledge and wisdom” (Trypho 3)

·         He came to admire those willing to die for a belief (Apol 2.12).

·         Of the Greek philosophical schools, Justin agrees most with Plato, in his view of God as wholly transcendent, immutable, impassible, and nameless; that the world was created, not eternal; in free will, and punishment after death. He disagrees with Plato that the soul is immortal, and in transmigration/reincarnation (Trypho 4-6).

·         Founded a Christian school in Rome, Irenaeus one of his students. Another student, Tatian, became a Gnostic after Justin’s death (Adv. Her. 1.28).


Defense of Christianity

·         Wrote two apologies, first written to emperor Antoninus Pius, defending Christians as good citizens. He defended Christianity against accusations of atheism, cannibalism, child sacrifice, incestuous orgies. Occasion for 2nd  apology: three Christians had been executed on the word of a husband whose Christian wife had rebuked his vices.

·         Addresses question of suffering (Apol 2): if Christians are right, why do they suffer? Why doesn’t God protect them from persecution? (1) Fallen angels (demons) are the cause of suffering, provoking persecution. (2) Through the ages those who follow “reason” (such as  Socrates) have been persecuted. (3) A day of reckoning is coming when God will make all things right.

·         Justin argued that Christianity was not a new upstart religion but with ancient roots in Judaism


Jesus’ pre-existence

·         Influenced by Stoic ideas, Justin discusses Logos (“Word” in John 1) as an eternal aspect of God, his wisdom, rationality, which came into being by distribution, not severance. Whatever is severed is cut off from the original; however, one torch may light another (distributed) without being diminished; speech doesn’t separate the thought from the speaker. So the Logos was different but not separate from God  (Trypho 61). The Son was “begotten from the Father by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided” (128).

·         Justin speaks of “another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things … distinct in number but not in will” (Trypho 56).

·         Justin uses the “Let us” passages in Genesis to support OT teaching the different “persons” (Trypho 62). Also “When Scripture says, 'The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,' [Gen 19:24] the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God” (129).

·         Any theophany of God appearing to Abraham (before Sodom), Jacob (wrestler), Moses (burning bush), Joshua (as captain of the Lord’s host), three Hebrews in furnace and others in the OT, was actually Jesus, any “incarnation” of deity in earthly form. “He who has but the smallest intelligence will not venture to assert that the Maker and Father of all things, having left all supercelestial matters, was visible on a little portion of the earth” (Trypho 56, 60; 127). Justin accepts the Platonic idea of God’s complete transcendence, too far removed to have direct contact with this inferior realm.

·         Trypho asks, “How can He be demonstrated to have been pre-existent, who [would be] filled with the powers of the Holy Ghost, which the Scripture by Isaiah [11] enumerates, as if He were in lack of them?" Justin replies, “The Scripture says that these enumerated powers of the Spirit have come on Him, not because He stood in need of them, but because they would rest in Him, i.e., would find their accomplishment in Him, so that there would be no more prophets in your nation after the ancient custom” (87).


Jesus’ birth and death prophesied

·         Trypho counters Justin that Isaiah 7 refers to a young woman in its historical time. He notes a similar virgin birth in the story of Perseus and Danae (67). Justin (who read only the LXX) says that Jews always appeal to the “original” Hebrew when disagreeing with Christian interpretation; he asks whether they cannot trust their seventy scholars (68). Justin says any parallels to Christ in pagan myths (Dionysos, Aesculepius, Mithras) were invented by Satan (69).

·         Strange proof-text for virgin birth: “And when Moses says that He [descendant of Judah] will wash His garments in the blood of the grape [Gen 49:11], does not this signify what I have now often told you is an obscure [!] prediction, namely, that He had blood, but not from men; just as not man, but God, has begotten the blood of the vine?” (Trypho 76) Justin’s “exegesis” ignores the original meaning and always refers to Christ. Trypho admires his reliance on scripture, but objects, “The utterances of God are holy, but your expositions are mere contrivances” (79).

·         Justin must explain to Trypho the seeming contradiction of the Jewish expectation of a glorious messiah and the lowly, crucified Christ. Justin relies on prophecies (which would be clearer if the Jews had not tampered with the scriptures, see below), and contrasts Christ’s humble first coming with his glory at the second (premillennial) coming (110). Justin taught a literal millennial reign in Jerusalem but admitted, “Many Christians who belong to the pure and pious faith think otherwise.” (80)

·         His death was a substitution, dying for the sins of the people (Isa 53); he took on himself the curse that was upon us (Deut 27:26)  (Trypho 89, 95). Justin also speaks of Jesus as Victor over demons (see below).

·         Foreshadowing of the cross in the OT: tree of life, wood of Noah’s ark (“saved through water, faith, and wood”), branches Jacob used to make the sheep fertile, Judah’s staff which identified him as Tamar’s lover, Moses’ staff, Aaron’s rod, Ps 1 “tree planted by the river”, Ps 23 ‘thy rod and staff comfort me,” Elisha’s stick that he threw in the water to retrieve the axe head “even as our Christ, by being crucified on the tree, and by purifying [us] with water, has redeemed us, though plunged in the direst offences” (Trypho 86, 138). When Plato in Timaeus describes the crossing of the celestial equator and equinox as an X, Justin claims he unknowingly prophesied of the cross (Apol 1.60)

·         Manner of crucifixion foreseen in Moses’ stretching out hands at battle with Amalek, in which Joshua/Jesus led the fighting (idea found in Barnabas 12), and Joseph described as the horns of a wild ox (which Justin calls a unicorn) with which he gores the nations, that is, they are pricked in their hearts to abandon idols (Dt 33:17). (Trypho 90-1)

·         Rahab’s scarlet cord out her window symbolizes Christ’s blood by which Gentiles are saved (111); same idea in Clement of Rome.

·         Two goats, one sacrificed and one released, on the day of atonement signify the two comings of Christ (40).

·         12 bells on the high priest’s robe prefigured the 12 apostles (conveniently forgetting the 12 tribes) (Trypho 42)

·         Justin admits that many of these “signs” of Christ in the OT are obscure, but "Unless a man by God's great grace receives the power to understand what has been said and done by the prophets, being able to repeat the words or the deeds will not profit him” (92).

·         Justin records two sayings of Jesus not in NT: “In whatever things I overtake you, in these will I also judge” (Trypho 47); “There shall be schisms and heresies” (Trypho 35), knowledge of sayings not in Gospels (which he calls Memoirs).



·         Demons are the offspring of angels who mated with women (based on Enoch’s Watcher stories from Gen 6). Pagans believed that these demons were gods such as Zeus, etc. When Socrates (whom Justin calls a Christian before the fact, Apol. 1.46) argued against the traditional gods, he was condemned, just as Christians are called atheists because they don’t believe in the gods (Apol 1.5). Belief in the influence of demons is prominent in Tertullian and Origen as well (3rd c).

·         Demon defeated at Jesus’ birth: “For that expression of Isaiah 'He shall take the power of Damascus and spoils of Samaria,' foretold that the power of the evil demon that dwelt in Damascus should be overcome by Christ as soon as He was born; and this is proved to have happened. For the Magi, who were held in bondage for the commission of all evil deeds through the power of that demon, by coming to worship Christ, shows that they have revolted from that dominion which held them captive” (Trypho 78)

·         Justin emphasizes Jesus’ role as teacher, who saves us with knowledge of the truth and of the false gods/demons (Apol. 1.23; Trypho 30, 83). He overthrew the demonic “principalities and powers” (Trypho 41). “He declared that He would break the power of the serpent which occasioned the transgression of Adam” (92).


Other thoughts

·         Argues against the idea that God’s foreknowledge implies fatal necessity. Free will is not negated by the truth of prophecy: “Unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions” (Apol 1.43). “But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so. So if they repent, all who wish for it can obtain mercy from God” (Trypho 141).

·         “If it is destined that one man should be good and another wicked, then neither is the one acceptable nor the other blameworthy. If the human race does not have the power by free choice to avoid what is shameful and to choose what is right, then there is no responsibility for actions of any kind” (Apol. 1.43).

·         The soul is not unbegotten or immortal, but must derive its life from God. “Now the soul partakes of life, since God wills it to live. Thus, then, it will not even partake [of life] when God does not will it to live. For to live is not its attribute, as it is God's; but as a man does not live always, and the soul is not forever conjoined with the body, since, whenever this harmony must be broken up, the soul leaves the body, and the man exists no longer; even so, whenever the soul must cease to exist, the spirit of life is removed from it, and there is no more soul, but it goes back to the place from whence it was taken” (Trypho 6). Gnostics teach no resurrection and that the soul goes straight to heaven at death (80).

·         Jews were given the law with its strict commands because they were stubborn and idolatrous, and needed constant reminding of the true God. Circumcision was not necessary for those who lived before Moses; if it were, Adam would have been created circumcised (Trypho 19). Christians do not need these aids to faith, having Christ (92).

·         Jacob married Leah first (Israel) then his true love Rachel (the Church) (Trypho 134).

·         Justin mentions that Simon Magus was honored with a statue in Rome and worshipped as a god (Apol 1.26)

·         Notes Stoic belief in periodic catastrophes such as Deucalion’s flood (Noah) and future fiery end (2 Peter 3) (Apol 2.7)

·         Mentions the sacred meal of Mithras (Apol. 1.66)

·         At the end of Apol 1, he includes a letter from Marcus Aurelius to the senate. Surrounded by German armies, “Having then examined my own position, and my host, with respect to the vast mass of barbarians and of the enemy, I quickly betook myself to prayer to the gods of my country. But being disregarded by them, I summoned those who among us go by the name of Christians. … they prayed not only for me, but also for the whole army as it stood, that they might be delivered from the present thirst and famine. … praying to God (a God of whom I am ignorant), water poured from heaven, upon us most refreshingly cool, but upon the enemies of Rome a withering hail. And immediately we recognized the presence of God following on the prayer, a God unconquerable and indestructible. Founding upon this, then, let us pardon such as are Christians, lest they pray for and obtain such a weapon against ourselves.”


Irenaeus (140? – 200?)

·         Bishop of Lyons, studied under Justin; as a young man he heard the preaching of Polycarp, who knew John, so Irenaeus was only two generations away from an apostle. Some call him the church’s first theologian. Two works survive: Against Heresies, an anti-Gnostic apology, and Proof of the Apostolic Preaching (AP)

·         Irenaeus refers to Linus as first bishop of Rome, whom he claims Paul mentions in 2 Tim 4:21 (3.3.3). Irenaeus promoted idea of apostolic succession, unbroken line of bishops insuring the purity of doctrine (4.26.2).

·         Early creed: “The Church, though dispersed through the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father ‘to gather all things in one,’ and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess’ to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all” (1.10).

·         Irenaeus was not an original thinker, that was not his purpose, but to show how the true gospel had remained unchanged from the beginning through the line of bishops in the true church. The original thinkers were the problem, who taught innovations. Irenaeus is the first to emphasize the issue of “orthodoxy” – raising several questions: who determines orthodoxy and how? Was Jesus orthodox?


Against the Gnostics

·         Irenaeus argues against Gnostics such as Valentinus (100-175), who almost became bishop of Rome.

·         Valentinus taught that creation began with a dyad of the incomprehensible Abyss and Thought or Silence, who begot a second pair, Mind and Truth, then Word, Life, Humanity, Church; these eight (Ogdoad, male-female pairs) beget 22 others, together symbolized by Jesus’ pre-ministerial 30 years (also parable of laborers; total of hours = 30). All these Aeons together form the Pleroma or Fullness. Only Mind (Nous) knew the Father (Abyss); to all others he was invisible. One of the younger Aeons, Sophia, desired to know the greatness of Incomprehensible, but could not, being impossible. After a futile struggle, in which she almost perished by being absorbed into the universal substance, her desire then gave birth to a shapeless substance, which was expelled from the Pleroma. This desire or Achamoth gave birth to the Demiurge, who created the world. Ignorant of the Aeons, he thought he was alone (“I am the Lord and besides me there is no other god”: Isa 45:5). So that such a desire would not overtake any others, the Aeons produced Christ who provided true knowledge of the Father, and Holy Spirit who caused them to rejoice and rest in the truth (Adv. Her. 1.1-2).

·         Irenaeus parodies his opponents’ ability to imagine multiple Aeons with his own genealogy of Gourd, Cucumber, and Melon (1.11.4).

·         Valentinus may be the author of the Nag Hammadi text, The Gospel of Truth. Unlike other Gnostics, he did not teach abstinence from sex but considered it the way to pass on the seed (the divine spark) to another generation.

·         Irenaeus says that in twisting the scriptures to support their ideas, Gnostics “strive to weave ropes of sand.” They rearrange passages out of context, like removing the pieces of a mosaic and making a different picture (1.8.1).

·         Irenaeus doesn’t share his opponents’ deep concern about evil and suffering as part of the material world. Irenaeus marvels at creation and the God who made it; he doesn’t understand their negative assessment of the world.

·         Gnostics supposed that it was not possible for the Highest God, being utterly transcendent, to create the world or that it was unworthy of Him, which, Irenaeus argues, makes Him a lesser god in fact, requiring assistance, thus not omnipotent. If other gods created without His knowledge, then He is not omniscient (2.2).

·         The Gnostic chain of being creates a continuum between God and the world; all reality is a continuous whole. Irenaeus argued that God is totally transcendent, with no substantial continuity with creation. The world is not a reflection or emanation many steps removed from God, but completely separate from Him. Everything else exists, not by sharing in the divine substance, but because God wills it.

·         Marcion’s two gods fail as God. One is good but not just, the other just but not good (3.25.3).

·         Against Gnostic derogation of matter, Irenaeus calls man plasma, something modeled from mud by God, inherently material, formed by the “hands” of God (5.1.3; 5.16.1). “If then you are the work of God, await the hand of your fashioner … Offer him a soft and pliable heart and retain the shape which he gave you. Retain the moisture he gives you, for if you turn dry and hard, you will lose the imprint of his fingers” (4.39.2).

·         Among the heretics he criticizes are the Carpocratians, who believed that good and evil are only matters of opinion. They thought it necessary to experience every kind of life and behavior, over and over by means of reincarnation, so that finally they would exhaust all possible fleshly desires and the soul would be pure (1.25).

·         Marcus the magician performed conjuring tricks to win the loyalty of “those who never had sense or had lost it.” He would change the color of the wine and fill a large glass with the contents of a small one (1.13).

·         Irenaeus includes the Ebionites in his list of heretics; although not Gnostics, they shared the belief that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph, a good man and teacher. They held onto Judaism and its practices (1.26).



·         Scripture does not tell us everything but what we need to know for faith and obedience. “If anyone asks, ‘What was God doing before he made the world?’ we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God himself … it is not proper for us to bring forth foolish, rash, and blasphemous suppositions in answer to it.” The Bible doesn’t reveal the day of Christ’s return: “If then the Son was not ashamed to ascribe the knowledge of that day to the Father only … neither let us be ashamed to reserve for God those greater questions which may occur to us.” Likewise, we cannot know how the Son was begotten by the Father: “His generation is altogether indescribable … those who strive to set forth generations and productions [of Aeons] cannot be in their right minds.” Irenaeus mocks their intimate knowledge of these emanations, suggesting they must have been midwives at the divine births (2.28). Valentinians claim that God is unknowable then proceed to describe the complex nature of deity in exhausting detail (2.13.3).

·         Defines NT scriptures on basis of apostolic author (or close connection) and wide church acceptance, “what is taught everywhere.” He limited the authentic gospels to four (3.11.8). He is the first to discuss the idea of the “New” Testament (Covenant) (4.9.1) (Donovan, One Right Reading, 1997).

·         Typical of allegorizing OT, Irenaeus takes a strange lesson from the story of Lot impregnating his daughters: there is no one who can give children to the church except the Father (4.31.2).


Nature of God and Jesus

·         Son and Spirit are often described as God’s hands (4.20 etc), the vehicles of his self-revelation in the world, not three coequals, but subordinate in function, one God with his Word and Wisdom. Irenaeus mostly avoids speculation, such as how the Son was begotten, etc., talks more on the works (economy) of God rather than divine nature; how God reveals himself to us, not his inner being.

·         Jesus is the invisible God made visible. Irenaeus follows Justin in attributing OT theophanies to Jesus, precursors to the incarnation (4.6; 4.7.4, 4.10.1). Also similar to Justin, he interprets Gen 19:24, Ps 45:6-7, 82:1, 110:1 as referring to two divine persons (3.6).

·         Refuting Gnostic idea of adoptionism: at his baptism “Christ did not at this time descend upon Jesus, nor was Christ one and Jesus another” (3.9.3).

·         Irenaeus was one of the first Christians to speak of creation ex nihilo: whereas man must start with some material, God creates out of nothing. He did not work from pre-existing, formless matter (2.10.4). His contemporary Theophilus also had this idea (Osborn, Irenaeus, 2001).


Recapitulation as God’s economy

·         Economy = an intelligent plan (law, nomos) for ordering things properly, as in a home (oikos). Irenaeus speaks of God’s economy not so much as individual divine works but as the single, unified plan which God has for his creation, what today we call salvation history, perhaps the first to do so (Minns, Irenaeus 56).

·         Jesus’ future humanity was the pattern God had in his mind when he fashioned man. “Man was created in the image of God and the image of God is the Son, in whose image man was created” (AP 22).

·         He differentiates in Gen 1 between the image of God (free will and rationality) and the likeness of God (spirituality, holiness). We lost the latter in the fall of Adam and recover it only in Christ, the idea of recapitulation (5.16.2, 5.21.2). “He recapitulated in himself the long history of mankind, procuring salvation for us, that what we lost in Adam (that is, to be according to the image and likeness of God), we would recover in Jesus” (3.18.1), an idea found in Rom 5: “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man shall many be made righteous.”

·         “He became what we are in order to enable us to become what he is” (5. pref.; cf. 3.19.1). “How shall man pass into God, unless God has [first] passed into man?” (4.33.4) Some commentators describe this as “deification through incarnation,” but Irenaeus means that we might become the human beings God meant us to be, in his image and likeness, not become gods. Jesus not only reveals God to us, but also reveals true humanity. Furthermore, the incarnation is not the basis for recapitulation; Adam’s fall came through disobedience, thus Jesus corrected this through his obedience unto death (3.21.10).

·         Jesus’ life had to recapitulate Adam’s: Just as Adam was born from “virgin” earth, Jesus was born of a virgin (3.21.10). Jesus overcame Satan’s temptations, whereas Adam did not. To cancel the effects of Adam’s disobedience in eating of a tree, Christ died on a tree (5.16.3).

·         As Satan once bound man through sin, it is fitting that a man would bind Satan (5.21.3).

·         Irenaeus thought Jesus died in his late 40s, during the time of Claudius, passing through every age, as did Adam, in order to sanctify men both young and old; cites John 8:57: “You are not yet 50 years old” (2.22).

·         Christ’s recapitulation of Adam’s sin, restoring the image and likeness of God, would not be possible if Jesus had not shared the same fleshly humanity of Adam or if the creator of Adam was another god (5.21).

·         There seems to be tension between this idea of recovering a perfect likeness that was lost, and Irenaeus’ other theme (below) of growing toward perfection. But Irenaeus never describes Adam’s original nature as perfect, but instead innocent and childlike (AP 12, 14). Man’s growth in God’s likeness was halted by his attachment to sin, and the child ceased to progress towards the destiny God has planned for him. Christ sets man back on track (Wingren, Man and Incarnation, 51).

·         Irenaeus assumed a solidarity between Adam and all his descendants, an early, undeveloped idea of original sin: “In the first Adam, we offended God” (5.16); also reference to Rom 5 (3.18). But all can be restored through solidarity with Christ.

·         Once an angel, Satan envied God’s workmanship, man, and set out to turn man against God. God banished Satan from his presence (4.40.3, 5.24.4). If God knew men (and angels) would sin, why did he not prevent it? God desires voluntary obedience, not compulsory. God wanted rational beings with free will (an aspect of His image) rather than unthinking creatures unable to make decisions or have the power to do anything other than what they were made to do. “Thus their being good would be of no consequence because they were so by nature rather than by will.” We value more those things which we struggle to possess (4.37). God could have offered perfection to man but man would not have been ready to receive it or having received it he could not retain it. (4.38).

·         Irenaeus describes the “fall” in terms of childhood, immature, weak, vulnerable, easily led astray (Augustine will call Adam rebellious, willfully disobedient). The “fall” was in a sense inherent in creation in that man as creature is finite and thus fallible: “Created things must be inferior to him who created them. … Man could not achieve perfection, being an infant.” See Paul’s comments about not being ready for meat, 1 Cor 3:2. Natural evils prepare us for eternal service to God (4.38). Satan offered Adam & Eve immediately what God intended to give them once they were ready for it, likeness to God.

·         Only God is Being in unchanging perfection; everything else is in a state of becoming. “God creates and man is in process of being created. The one who creates is always the same … but the person who is found in God grows and advances toward God” (4.11). Augustine saw the mutability of humanity and the created world in pessimistic terms; anything that can change for the worse certainly will. For Augustine change is corruption, falling away from perfection, whereas for Irenaeus, change is the potential for development toward perfection, found not in our efforts but only in God.


Other views of salvation

·         Irenaeus describes Jesus’ death in terms of atonement: redeeming us with his blood (3.16.9, 5.1), a sacrifice for our redemption (4.5.4), propitiation for our sin against God (5.17.1) but these are secondary to his recapitulation theme.

·         Christ as victor over Satan (but not in the sense of paying ransom): “How, too, could He have subdued him who was stronger than men, who had not only overcome man, but also retained him under his power, and conquered him who had conquered, while he set free mankind who had been conquered, unless He had been greater than man who had thus been vanquished?” (4.33.4) “For at the beginning Adam became a vessel in [Satan's] possession, whom he did also hold under his power, that is, by bringing sin on him iniquitously, and under color of immortality entailing death upon him. … wherefore he who had led man captive, was justly captured in his turn by God; but man, who had been led captive, was loosed from the bonds of condemnation” (3.23.1). “The Word of God, however, the Maker of all things, conquering him by means of human nature …” (5.24.4). Irenaeus doesn’t discuss this defeat as an act of deception by God (see Ignatius, Gregory of Nyssa).


Development of Mariology

·         Following his theme of recapitulation and Paul’s Adam/Christ typology, Irenaeus contrasts the roles of Eve and Mary: “Eve’s disobedience became the cause of death for herself and all the human race. Mary’s obedience became the cause of salvation for herself and the human race” (3.22). “For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel [Satan], so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter by an angelic communication receive the glad tidings that she should be the bearer of God…. As the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin [Eve – no sex in Eden], so is it rescued by a virgin, virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience” (5.19.1; also see AP 33).

·         This thought led to the idea of Mary as coredemptrix (15th c. term). By the time of Jerome, “Death by Eve, life by Mary” was a common slogan. Although still not an “official” doctrine of the church, many modern popes have sanctioned the idea. Pius XI (early 20th c): “The most blessed Virgin, conceived without original sin, was chosen to be the Mother of God so that she might be made an associate in the redemption of Mankind.” Benedict XV held that Mary may justly be said to have redeemed, together with Christ, the human race” (Mariology, Vol.1, ed. J.P. Carol, 1955, 36-7). Catholic scholars are quick to point out that “co-” derives from the Latin cum meaning “with”: Mary works with Christ but is not equal to him.

·         Mary is also called Mediatrix in the middle ages. The phrase “Hail Mary, full of grace” (based on the Vulgate) was taken to mean not only that God’s grace rested on Mary, but possessing that grace in its fullness, she has the right to dispense it. Aquinas (Three Greatest Prayers): “She was so full of grace that it overflows on to all mankind.” (In reaction, KJV translated Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail, thou that art highly favored.”) Leo XIII in the Papal Encyclical of 1897: “Nothing whatever of that immense treasure of all graces, which the Lord brought us … is granted to use save through Mary, so that, just as no one can come to the Father on high except through the Son, so almost in the same manner, no one can come to Christ except through his Mother.” Mediatrix also meant that Mary intercedes between Christ and the sinner: “through whom we ascend to him who descended through her to us.”

·         Mary was called Queen of Heaven by Pope Martin in the 7th c.



·         God allowed humanity to experience death so that we might also experience resurrection and know that our immortal life is not inherent but a gift from God (3.20).

·         The Gnostic God is “feeble, worthless, and negligent,” unable to save the body as well as the soul (5.4.1).

·         Irenaeus emphasized physical resurrection against Gnostics (5.7). He challenged the Gnostic view that the soul went straight to heaven at death, teaching instead of a waiting place until resurrection. Jesus did not ascend to heaven at death but waited in Hades with the saints there for three days until his bodily resurrection (5.31).

·         Along with Barnabas, Justin, Tertullian, and Hippolytus, Irenaeus thought that Jesus would come and reign 1000 years before we go to heaven, and perhaps was the first to suggest the antichrist would rule for 3½ years before Christ’s final victory (5.30.4). The millennium would be the 7th of 1000 years (based on Barnabas 15 teaching about creation) and was necessary to prepare the saints to become accustomed to “incorruption” before they entered the spiritual kingdom (5.32.1). As for 666: “It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfillment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved” (5.30.3).



·         Free will: “If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord himself, to give us counsel to do some things and to abstain from others?” Man is possessed of free-will from the beginning, being created in the likeness of God (37?)

·         Irenaeus mentions gifts in his day of foreknowledge, visions, prophetic speech (2.32.4) and tongues/languages (5.6.1).


Pagan criticism of Christianity

·         Celsus wrote an attack on Christianity, “A True Discourse,” about 180, which survives in Origen’s detailed defense (3rd c).

·         Jesus was the illegitimate son of Mary and a soldier named Panthera; Joseph kicked her out for her adultery. Jesus spent time in Egypt and learned sorcery (1.32).

·         "If this at least would have helped to manifest his divinity, he ought accordingly to have at once disappeared from the cross" (2.68). Celsus wonders why a god who foresaw the future could not have avoided his death.

·         Likewise, “If Jesus desired to show that his power was really divine, he ought to have appeared [after his resurrection] to those who had ill-treated him, and to him who had condemned him, and to all men universally" (2.63), which even Origen admits is a difficult question.

·         Christianity is a corruption of Greek ideas with nothing original to offer in ethics, but with strange new doctrines about God. Everything true in Christianity was borrowed from Greek philosophy, and much of its teaching is a distortion of the truth. He admitted that there were some positive ethics in the teaching of Jesus but he had taken them from Plato (the reverse of Justin’s claim that Plato read Moses).

·         Most Christians are stupid (1.9, 17, 27, 62; 3.44, 49; 4.42, 49-52, 87), characteristic of the irrational, anti-intellectual nature of their faith. “Christians repel every wise man from the doctrine of their faith, and invite only the ignorant and the vulgar" (3.18). A few Christians are educated but only clever enough to use allegory to explain away the embarrassments of the OT (1.17, 4.38, 48-51, 89). Celsus was familiar with Marcion’s arguments (5.54, 61; 6.53, 74; 7.18).

·         Christianity is hostile to the Greek tradition of rational investigation: “Do not ask questions. Only believe” (1.9; 6.11-12). Ask difficult questions about the resurrection and they answer “Anything is possible with God” (5.14).

·         The world was created for an elect few arbitrarily chosen, while everyone else will be consumed by the fire of judgment (4.10-11, 23). "It is folly on their part to suppose that when God, as if He were a cook, introduces the fire which is to consume the world, all the rest of the human race will be burnt up, while they alone will remain, not only those who are alive, but also those who are long since dead, the latter rising from the earth clothed with the self-same flesh (as during life); for such a hope is simply one which might be cherished by worms” (5.14). Believing themselves the elect, Jews and Christians are arrogant, thinking they alone have the truth (5.41-50). "It is not probable that [the Jews] are in great favor with God, or are regarded by Him with more affection than others, or that angels are sent by Him to them alone, as if to them had been allotted some region of the blessed” (5.50).

·         The mystery religions invite those to join who have “clean hands, pure of pollution, conscious of no known evil,” whereas the church invites sinners (3.49).

·         The Incarnation reveals a God who waited ages to send his spirit into a single man in an obscure part of the world, which defeats its claim of universality (4.23; 6.78). The Incarnation is impossible, as it implies God changed, either for the better or worse, either one incompatible with divine perfection. God either changed or appeared to be a man, thus deceiving everyone (4.14, 18).

·         The God of the Bible is a busy, interfering deity. A God who creates a world then suddenly decides to destroy it is childish (6.58). He has to correct the evils of the world he created (evidently incompetently) by drastic intervention: floods, tower of Babel, Sodom (4.20-1, 40; 6.53-9). What motivates this capricious behavior is God’s feeling that he is neglected by his creatures; he wants them to recognize his pre-eminence, “a very mortal ambition” (4.6; 8.2).

·         Christians criticized the crude anthropomorphism of myths of other cultures but continued to read literally their own myths as in Genesis (4.33-47; 5.59; 6.49), which are as incredible as Greek myths (2.55).

·         Celsus believes that god is unmoved and transcendent, has no special love for humanity, still less for a select group. The world was not created for man; he is only a small, insignificant part of the cosmos which goes on its merry way without interference from above (4.67-9, 73, 99).




The “alogoi” movements against Logos Christology (early Trinitarian thought in 2nd c)

·         Adoptionists: Theodotus, Paul of Samosata (bishop of Antioch). Strict monotheism, only the Father is God. God’s word and spirit refer to qualities, powers, aspects of God, not different persons. Either at birth, baptism, or resurrection, Jesus was endowed with God’s spirit, but uniquely in comparison to prophets. The Son existed only in the mind of God before Jesus’ birth. Divine and human were united in Jesus not by nature/essence but by Jesus’ uniting his will perfectly with the Father in loving obedience. Because he “learned obedience” (Heb 5:8) he was raised from the dead, given divine authority and appointed Savior and Judge. The title “Lord” was given as a reward, not because of his eternal nature: “God has made this Jesus both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:33-6), “who was appointed [not “declared” as in NIV] to be Son of God in power by the resurrection of the dead” (Rom 1:4).

·         Modalists: Praxeus, Noetus, Sabellius. One God acting in three roles, modes, describing stages by which God has worked in the world. Noetus supposedly said, “The  Father suffered in the Son.” Concerning Praxeus, Tertullian said the devil sometimes tries to destroy truth by defending it, maintaining the oneness of God only that he might fabricate a heresy. Praxeus “put to flight the Paraclete, and he crucified the Father” (1). Modalists claimed to uphold the monarchy of God. Very popular with the masses, even with Roman bishops Zephyrinus (198-217) and Callistus (217-22) although the latter eventually condemned Sabellius.

·         Almost all we know about these positions comes from their opponents, some a century or more later.


Tertullian (160? – 215?)

·         First major Latin theologian, living in Carthage, North Africa; the son of a centurion, and trained as a lawyer. Converted from paganism around 195, then to Montanism in 206. After leaving Montanism, he started his own sect.

·         In his major works, he wrote against the views of Marcion and Valentinus (Gnostic), Praxeus (modalist); 31 texts survive

·         Argued against human philosophy as an avenue to truth: “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” (Prescrip Heretics 7.9) Spiritual truth depends on revelation, not human reason.


Against Marcion

·         He challenged Marcion, who had objected to the idea of God becoming flesh: “Spare the one and only hope of the world. Why tear down the indispensable dishonor of the faith? Whatever is beneath God’s dignity is for my advantage.”

·         On the Flesh of Christ: He rejects Marcion’s idea that the Jesus-spirit passed through Mary without taking flesh from her flesh (“no seed from a father, no flesh from a mother”). He assumes that Mary did not remain a virgin but had other children. He also assumes Mary was a descendant of David (21).

·         “There are to be sure other things quite as foolish as the Incarnation which have reference to the humiliation and suffering of God, or else let them call a crucified God ‘wisdom.’ But Marcion would apply the knife to this also and even with greater reason. For which is more unworthy of God, which is more likely to raise a blush of shame – that he should be born or that he should die? That he should bear flesh or the cross? Be circumcised or crucified? Be laid in a manger or a tomb? You will show more wisdom if you refuse to believe this also … The Son of God was crucified. I am not ashamed because other men are ashamed. It is by all means to be believed because it is absurd. … It is certain because it is impossible.” (On the Flesh of Christ 5)

·         On the Resurrection: If Phidias the sculptor chose good material to fashion gods, did not God do even more so to fashion man?” (value of the body) Resurrection is necessary, for man must be judged according to how he lived in the body.

·         “But [Gnostics] will say, the churches have erred. Some indeed went wrong, and were corrected by the Apostle; though for others he had nothing but praise. … But let us admit that all have erred; is it credible that all these great churches should have strayed into the same faith"?  (Prescrip Heretics)


Christ and Trinity

·         First to use “Trinity” (Latin trinitas) defined as one substance in three persons (Prax 2.4); previously Theophilus had used the term “triad.” In this definition we see Stoic influence, with spirit described as substance, a highly rarified type of matter, as if God is made of something, “God-stuff,” which all three personae have in common. The Greek formula used the terms ousia, “being,” and hypostasis, “an individual instance of the same essential reality.”

·         According to Tertullian, this revelation of the Trinity is the unique contribution of the NT: “God was pleased to renew His covenant with man in such a way as that His Unity might be believed in, after a new manner, through the Son and the Spirit, in order that God might now be known openly, in His proper Names and Persons, who in ancient times was not plainly understood” (Prax 31).

·         The Son derives his substance from the Father, receives all power from the Father, and does nothing without the Father’s will. The Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. The Son reigns on behalf of the Father and according to 1 Cor 15 will one day restore everything back to the Father. Thus the Son’s administration does not challenge the monarchy of God (Prax 4).

·         Before all things, God was alone, being his own universe; there was nothing external to himself. But within himself he possessed his Reason, and inherent in Reason, his Word (Logos), which Tertullian considered “another,” a second person in addition to himself; just as someone in thought can talk with “himself” (Prax 5).

·         The Son/Word not coeternal with the Father: “Because God is in like manner a Father, and He is also a Judge; but He has not always been Father and Judge, merely on the ground of His having always been God. For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a Judge previous to sin. There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son; the former of which was to constitute the Lord a Judge, and the latter a Father.” Referring to Wisdom’s creation in Prov 8: “as soon as He perceived [Wisdom] to be necessary for His creation of the world, He immediately creates It, and generates It in Himself … the very Wisdom of God is declared to be born and created, for the special reason that we should not suppose that there is any other being than God alone who is unbegotten and uncreated. For that, which from its being inherent in the Lord was of Him and in Him, was yet not without a beginning – I mean His wisdom, which was then born and created, when in the thought of God It began to assume motion for the arrangement of His creative works. … this same Wisdom is the Word of God” (Against Hermogenes 3, 18).

·         The Word was begotten when God spoke, “Let there be light.” Wisdom says, “The Lord created or formed me as the beginning of His ways” [Prov 8:22]. “My heart,” says He, “has emitted my most excellent Word” (source?). The Word was a substantive being, not an attribute of God. “How could He who is empty have made things which are solid, and He who is void have made things which are full, and He who is incorporeal have made things which have body?” … Based on Phil 2, “In what form of God? Of course he means in some form, not in none. For who will deny that God is a body, although ‘God is a Spirit’? For Spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind, in its own form” (Prax 7).

·         How does this differ from Gnostic emanations, or tritheism? “Valentinus divides and separates his emanations from their Author, and places them at so great a distance from Him, that the Aeon does not know the Father: he longs, indeed, to know Him, but cannot;” whereas the Son knows the Father. The three in the Trinity involves distinction, but not separation; there is one substance not divided but extended, using analogies of root à tree à fruit, fount à stream à river, sun à ray à light (Prax 8). Same analogies used by Hippolytus, an anti-pope, rival bishop to Callistus (217-22).

·         God the Father alone is transcendent, Son and Spirit are extensions of God to achieve tasks “outside” God. “For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as He Himself acknowledges: ‘My Father is greater than I’” (Prax 9).

·         Tertullian notes that when Jesus says, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), ‘one’ is neuter, indicating they are united, not one in identity (Prax 22).

·         Christ had “two natures” divine and human (anticipating council of Chalcedon in 5th c). Only the flesh hungered, wept, suffered and died (Prax 27). [not very different from Gnostic division of Jesus/Christ]

·         Tertullian challenged Aristotle’s view of the immutability of God, admitting that God could indeed change his mind, as he did with Nineveh after Jonah’s preaching, also seen in God’s “repenting” his creation (Gen 6:7), and allowing Saul to become king (1 Sam 15:11). (Marcion 2.24)

·         Following Justin and Irenaeus, Tertullian attributes OT theophanies and any acts of divine judgment to Christ, as the Father has committed all judgment to the Son [John 5:22]. These acts and appearances were “rehearsals” for humanity to become accustomed to talking with God prior to the incarnation (Prax 16).

·         Types of Christ in the OT: Isaac who carried the wood for his own sacrifice; Joseph described as a bull, “whose horns were the extremities of His cross,” and a “unicorn,” “the midway stake of the whole frame is the unicorn” (Dt. 33:17, cf. Justin); also Moses’ outstretched hands and the bronze serpent (Marcion 3.18).


Sin and free will

·         Rather than Marcion’s lesser god, Tertullian blames human freedom, an aspect of the image of God, for the problem of evil. Freedom is necessary for man to be a moral creature, choosing between good and evil. Without freedom, it would be unjust for God to punish or reward us for our actions if we committed them by necessity. Likewise, Marcion is unjust to blame God for sin which is the consequence of our abuse of freedom. Human freedom implies that God does not control everything that happens in this world; He willingly gave up some of his power to allow for human free will. God knew what would happen if he created free creatures, that we would go against his will, but he allowed it to happen, not revoking our freedom which he considered a higher good (Marcion 2.5-7).

·         Although defending free will, Tertullian also thought that we inherit a tendency toward sin from Adam, deriving our souls from his (see below), thus the argument for infant baptism (providing some of the earliest evidence of the practice, around 200 AD), although Tertullian recommended waiting until the child was old enough to understand and ask for baptism.

·         Satan was a fallen angel who “departed from the condition of his created nature, through his own lusting after the wickedness which was spontaneously conceived within him,” although this too was permitted by God (Marcion 2.10). (cf. Irenaeus)

·         Whereas Marcion envisioned two gods, one just (wrathful), the other good, Tertullian argues that God cannot be truly good without being just, as goodness must oppose evil. We consider justice good and injustice evil (Marcion 2.12). The demand of justice aids in producing goodness: “Fear of judgment contributes to good, not to evil. For good, now contending with an enemy, was not strong enough to recommend itself by itself alone. … who, when so many incentives to evil were assailing him, would desire that good which he could despise with impunity? … Thus, justice is the very fullness of the Deity Himself, manifesting God as both a perfect father and a perfect master: a father in His mercy, a master in His discipline, … a father to be loved, because He prefers the sinner's repentance to his death, a master to be feared, because He dislikes the sinners who do not repent” (2.13).

·         God’s wrath in punishing sin cannot be likened to human emotions of anger, irritation, or losing one’s temper (2.16).


On Baptism:

·         “According to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children. For why is it necessary … that the sponsors should be thrust into danger? Who both themselves, by reason of mortality, may fail to fulfill their promises, and may be disappointed by the development of an evil disposition, in those for whom they stood?... Let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ…. If any understand the weighty import of baptism, they will fear its reception more than its delay: sound faith is secure of salvation” (18).

·         Tertullian recommends delaying baptism until one can commit to its strict demands, for some sins after baptism were “unforgivable”. During his Montanist period, he lists seven deadly sins: idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, fornication, false witness, and fraud, conceding that these might be forgiven once with penance but no more (Marcion 4.9).

·         Appropriate times for baptism were Easter and Pentecost. “However, every day is the Lord's; every hour, every time, is apt for baptism: if there is a difference in the solemnity [of the day], there is no distinction in the grace” (19).


On the Soul:

·         With support from the Stoics (surprising, with his criticism of philosophy) he taught that the soul itself possessed some kind of body, intimating united with and occupying the same space as the physical body. “But I call on the Stoics also to help me, … declaring … that the soul is a corporeal substance.”

·         “The soul certainly sympathizes with the body, and shares in its pain, whenever it is injured by bruises, and wounds, and sores: the body, too, suffers with the soul, and is united with it, whenever it is afflicted with anxiety, distress, or love, in the loss of vigor which its companion sustains, whose shame and fear it testifies by its own blushes and paleness. The soul, therefore, is (proved to be) corporeal from this inter-communion of susceptibility.” Whatever experiences feelings or suffers must be corporeal.

·         He uses the rich man and Lazarus in Hades as biblical support of souls described with bodies: “Every soul is detained in safe keeping in Hades until the day of the Lord” where they experience pleasure or punishment prior to Judgment. He also notes that John “saw” the souls of the martyrs under the altar in Rev 6.

·         Tertullian held the “traducian” theory that the soul was not created by God at each birth but derives its substance from the parents. In this way all human souls are derived from Adam, who “infected the whole race by his seed, making it the channel of condemnation” (Soul’s Testimony 3).


On Fleeing Persecution:

·         “Nothing happens without God's will … For what is the issue of persecution, what other result comes of it, but the approving or rejecting of faith, in regard to which the Lord will certainly sift His people? …This is that fan which even now cleanses the Lord's threshing-floor—the Church, I mean—winnowing the mixed heap of believers, and separating the grain of the martyrs from the chaff of the deniers; and this is also the ladder of which Jacob dreams, on which are seen, some mounting up to higher places, and others going down to lower … if persecution proceeds from God, in no way will it be our duty to flee from what has God as its author; a twofold reason opposing; for what proceeds from God ought not on the one hand to be avoided, and it cannot be evaded on the other.”

·         Brief mention of the ransom of man from Satan: “The Lord indeed ransomed him from the angelic powers which rule the world, from the spirits of wickedness, from the darkness of this life, from eternal judgment, from everlasting death.”


On the Spectacles:

·         Christians were not to attend the theater or public games. “Every one is ready with the argument that all things, as we teach, were created by God, and given to man for his use, and that they must be good, as coming all from so good a source; but that among them are found the various constituent elements of the public shows, such as the horse, the lion, bodily strength, and musical voice. … How skillful a pleader seems human wisdom to herself, especially if she fears losing any of her delights—any of the sweet enjoyments of worldly existence! … We must not, then, consider merely by whom all things were made, but by whom they have been perverted;” for example, idols are made of gold, silver, wood, which God created (2).

·         Public games and shows honor the gods, a form of idolatry (5).

·         Theater is “immodesty’s own peculiar abode. … For all licentiousness of speech, nay, every idle word, is condemned by God. Why, in the same way, is it right to look on what it is disgraceful to do? How is it that the things which defile a man in going out of his mouth, are not regarded as doing so when they go in at his eyes and ears?” (17) He lists several offences of theater: “With their high shoes, he has made the tragic actors taller, because ‘none can add a cubit to his stature.’ His desire is to make Christ a liar. And in regard to the wearing of masks, I ask, is that according to the mind of God, who forbids the making of every likeness, and especially then the likeness of man who is His own image? The Author of truth hates all the false; He regards as adultery all that is unreal. Condemning, therefore, as He does hypocrisy in every form, He never will approve any putting on of voice, or sex, or age; He never will approve pretended loves, and wraths, and groans, and tears. Then, too, as in His law [Dt 22] it is declared that the man is cursed who attires himself in female garments” (23). He reports a story of a woman who went to the theater and returned demon-possessed (26).

·         “With such dainties as these let the devil’s guests be feasted. … Our banquets, our nuptial joys, are yet to come. … You long for the goal, and the stage, and the dust, and the place of combat! … Can we not live without pleasure, who cannot but with pleasure die? For what is our wish but the apostle's, to leave the world, and be taken up into the fellowship of our Lord? [Phil 1:23] You have your joys where you have your longings” (28). 

·         “If your thought is to spend this period of existence in enjoyments, how are you so ungrateful as to reckon insufficient, as not thankfully to recognize the many and exquisite pleasures God has bestowed upon you? For what is more delightful than to have God the Father and our Lord at peace with us, than revelation of the truth, than confession of our errors, than pardon of the innumerable sins of our past life? What greater pleasure than distaste of pleasure itself, contempt of all that the world can give? … If the literature of the stage delight you, we have literature in abundance of our own—plenty of verses, sentences, songs, proverbs; and these not fabulous, but true. … Would you have something of blood too? You have Christ's.” (29)

·         “But what a spectacle is that fast-approaching advent of our Lord.” Tertullian looks forward to Judgment day when he will rejoice to see the spectacle of tragic actors truly lamenting their fate, the wrestler “tossing in the fiery billows,” the charioteer “all glowing in his chariot of fire.” He envisions those who have persecuted Christians brought low, and philosophers who misled others by teaching no afterlife proven wrong (30).


Other thoughts

·         Tertullian mentions the early Christian symbol of the fish, as an acrostic for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”: “We as little fishes, in accordance with our ichthus Jesus Christ, are born in water” (On Baptism 1).

·         Religious freedom: “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that all persons should worship according to their own convictions.” Any true god would not desire worship from an unwilling subject. (To Scapula 2)

·         Occupations unlawful for Christians: serving in the army, teaching pagan literature, training gladiators, working in gold and silver (which might be used to make idols), selling frankincense (used in idol worship). Servants cannot assist their masters in pagan worship (On Idolatry).

·         Sabbath day observance, like circumcision, was temporary, foreshadowing the eternal Sabbath brought about through Christ (Adv. Jud. 4). In reality the Sabbath law forbade works of men, but one could do the work of God on the Sabbath as Jesus did, also OT priests (Adv Marcion 4.12). The church fathers disapproved of inactivity as idleness and rarely considered the Sabbath as providing for needed physical relaxation. In church history serious restrictions on Sunday as a day of rest did not develop until Puritanism.



·         Tertullian defended the church as the repository of faith and guardian of truth – until disturbed by the lack of moral discipline among the clergy. He was attracted to Montanism (the New Prophecy), with more emphasis on spirit-led individual.

·         Montanus (movement began 156-70?), taught the Age of the Paraclete had come with himself as the Spirit’s mouthpiece, promising the near return of Christ, the new Jerusalem to be founded in Pepuza (his home town). His followers rejected the church institution, wanting to be Spirit-led only. They enforced strict discipline (which Tertullian admired), fasting, renunciation of marriage, selling possessions, and new revelations.

·         On Monogamy: During his strict Montanist period, he argues that second marriages, even after the death of a spouse, exhibit “shameless infirmity of the flesh.” “Heretics do away with marriages; Psychics accumulate them. The former marry not even once; the latter not only once” (he adopts Gnostic terminology with the distinction between the “spiritual” Montanists and “psychics,” other Christians). “‘It is not good for the man that he be alone; let us make a helpmate for him.’ For God would have said ‘helpers’ if He had destined him to have more wives. He added, too, a law concerning the future: ‘And two shall be into one flesh’—not three, nor more.”

·         Psychic Christians say that Jesus did not forbid second marriage, but Tertullian claims that Montanists have further teaching from the Paraclete: “For in saying, ‘I still have many things to say unto you, but you are not yet able to bear them: when the Holy Spirit shall come, He will lead you into all truth,’ He sets before us that He will bring such (teachings) as may be esteemed alike novel, as having never before been published, and finally burdensome, as if that were the reason why they were not published. … It follows,’ you say, ‘that by this line of argument, anything you please which is novel and burdensome may be ascribed to the Paraclete, even if it have come from the adversary spirit.’ [good question]

·         Critics of Montanism pointed to the difference between their ecstatic tongue-speaking resembling madness (babbling, rolling on the ground) and Paul’s discussion of the gift as intelligible speech in another language. Evidence of NT tongue-speaking after the 1st century is scarce and ambiguous. In the 4th c. Chrysostom and Augustine say that the gift no longer exists.

·         Because Montanists were also premillennialists, this idea soon lost favor in the mainstream church.


Clement of Alexandria (d. 215?)

·         led Christian school in Alexandria; known for speculative theology

·         Clement described philosophy as a divinely ordered preparation of the Greeks for faith in Christ, as the law was for the Hebrews; and taught the necessity and value of literature and philosophic culture for the attainment of true Christian knowledge (gnosis), in opposition to the numerous Christians who regarded learning as useless and dangerous (“the multitude are frightened at the Hellenic philosophy, as children are at masks, being afraid lest it lead them astray.” He says that if their faith is no stronger than that, it deserves to fail: Strom 5.10).

·         He was eclectic, believing there were fragments of truth in all systems, which may be separated from error; but declared that the truth can be found in unity and completeness only in Christ. “The way of truth is one. But into it, as into a perennial river, streams flow from all sides” (Strom 1.5).

·         “Since, therefore, truth is one … just as the Bacchantes tore asunder the limbs of Pentheus, so the sects both of barbarian and Hellenic philosophy have done with truth, and each vaunts as the whole truth the portion which has fallen to its lot” (Strom 1.13). For Clement philosophy means the search for truth, liberal education, and critical thinking more than any particular school of thought. He refers to the person with true Christian knowledge as a “Gnostic” (not the heresy).

·         When Paul in 1 Cor criticizes the wisdom of men, he doesn’t condemn all philosophy but that which contradicts scripture. He notes that Paul quotes from the Greeks in Acts 17, 1 Cor 15, Titus.

·         Unfortunately, many faithful Christians are moral but not very knowledgeable in matters of faith. They are like beasts who work out of fear, doing good without knowing why (Strom 1.9). This was a pastoral concern for Clement, as some intelligent pagans found Gnosticism more appealing, believing Christians were irrational and uneducated. Ambrose became a Gnostic for this reason, before Origen converted him.

·         On the topic of faith, he defended against pagan critics who scorned faith as irrational opinion without evidence: all argument takes something for granted as beginning postulates; first principles cannot be proven. Faith is a choice of will which leads to knowledge. Against heretical Gnostics he argued that faith was not inferior to their special knowledge; in this life we will never know everything but must trust in God. To his fellow Christians who insisted that faith was all-sufficient without any additional learning or reasoning, simple acceptance of authority, he said that mature faith seeks greater understanding than what was learned in the initial catechism. Advanced learning is not necessary for salvation but it can enrich it. The truly wise (“Gnostic”) will attain a higher place in heaven, that is, greater appreciation of the contemplation of God (5.14).

·         “The Word of God became man, that you may learn from man how man may become God” (Exhort Heathen 1.8). In context here, deification seems to mean immortality.

·         “We must then, according to my view, have recourse to the word of salvation neither from fear of punishment nor promise of a gift, but on account of the good itself” (Strom 4.6).

·         Jesus did not need to eat, his body “kept together by a holy energy,” but did so in order not to raise questions about his humanity (Clement admits this sounds like docetism). He felt no pleasure or pain but was impassible [?], which should be our goal as well (Strom 5.9). This sounds like Buddhist renunciation, of which Clement was familiar: the perfect man has “withdrawn his soul from passion” and “put to death his desires.”

·         If Adam was created perfect, how did he fall? Similar to Irenaeus, Clement says that Adam was not created perfect but “adapted to the reception of virtue. … Now an aptitude is a movement towards virtue, not virtue itself” (Strom 6.12). We were created with the ability to attain perfection.

·         Clement rejected the idea of original sin, and denies that a new baby who has not committed sin has fallen under the sin of Adam (Strom 3.16.100).

·         Quotes Homer, Euripides (Orestes, Ion), Aristophanes, Menander in texts that question or mock the gods. Mentions Bezalel as an example of a divinely inspired artist (Strom 1.4), supporting the study of the humanities, as God can use artists as well.


Selections from “Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?”

·         Those who heap praise on the rich are not only flatterers but also godless, because rather than praising God, they invest with divine honors men wallowing in an execrable and abominable life; and treacherous, because, by inflating the minds of the rich with the pleasures of extravagant praises, they make them despise all things except wealth, on account of which they are admired; bringing, as the saying is, fire to fire, pouring pride on pride, and adding conceit to wealth. (1)

·         “But well knowing that the Savior teaches nothing in a merely human way, but teaches all things to His own with divine and mystic wisdom, we must not listen to His utterances carnally; but with due investigation and intelligence must search out and learn the meaning hidden in them.” (5)

·         When Jesus tells the rich young man to sell all that he has, “He does not, as some conceive off-hand, bid him throw away the substance he possesses and abandon his property; but bids him banish from his soul his notions about wealth, his passion about it, the anxieties which are the thorns of existence, which choke the seed of life. For it is no great thing or desirable to be destitute of wealth.” (11)

·         “For one, after ridding himself of the burden of wealth, may none the less have still the lust and desire for money innate and living; and may have abandoned the use of it, but being at once destitute of and desiring what he spent, may doubly grieve both on account of the absence of attendance, and the presence of regret.” (12)

·         “[Jesus] praises the use of property … in giving a share of it, to give drink to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, to take in the homeless, and clothe the naked. But it is not possible to supply those needs without substanceRiches, then, which benefit also our neighbors, are not to be thrown away. For they are possessions, inasmuch as they are possessed, and goods, inasmuch as they are useful and provided by God for the use of men.” (13-14)

·         “He then is truly and rightly rich who is rich in virtue, and is capable of making a holy and faithful use of any fortune.” (19)

·         Jesus says we should seek out those in need whom we may help.  “This saying is above all divinity – not to wait to be asked, but to inquire who deserves to receive kindness.Do not judge who is worthy or who is unworthy. For it is possible you may be mistaken in your opinion. As in the uncertainty of ignorance it is better to do good to the undeserving for the sake of the deserving, than by guarding against those that are less good to fail to meet the needs of the good.” (31, 33)


Persecution in the 3rd Century

·         Persecution of Christians was sporadic until mid-century. Regional governors (proconsuls, like Pilate) acted as judge and jury and could condemn Christians on their own authority, even when there were no official imperial laws prohibiting the religion. Early persecution depended on the attitude of these governors, and could change at any time.

·         Tertullian remarked that the more Christians died, the faster the church grew: “The blood of Christians is seed” (Apology 50).

·         Septimus Severus (202) was the first emperor to make it illegal to convert to Christianity or Judaism. However, several of his successors overlooked or even favored Christianity. Alexander Severus (222-35) included Jesus in his pantheon, along with Orpheus, Abraham, and Alexander the Great. According to some, Philip the Arabian (244-49) was the first Christian emperor, partaking in worship services (evidence is vague).

·         Decius began the first empire-wide persecution (250-60), when Christians were forced to worship the old gods. Christian disregard for the gods was seen as the cause of everything from the decay of the empire to natural disasters. The next emperor Valerian at first favored Christianity but later turned against it, in 257 singling out bishops for persecution, depriving the church of leadership, and confiscating property. The Roman bishop was killed while teaching in the catacombs (Christians had formed burial societies in order to meet legally in cemeteries). In Carthage, Cyprian was beheaded.

·         Controversy developed within the church over the status of Christians who betrayed the faith, then repented. Should they be rebaptized? The question became more crucial when dealing with lapsed bishops. Novatian considered them illegitimate representatives of the church whose sacraments were not valid. He became a rival or anti-pope in Rome, establishing his own church and bishops; this was schism not over doctrinal differences but ethical purity. They would not accept the baptism of those who had been baptized by the Catholic bishops. Novatianist churches existed into the 5th c. (similar to Donatist schism in 4th c).

·         Addressing the schism of Novatian, Cyprian maintained that the criterion of church membership was not, as Irenaeus taught, acceptance of the apostolic teaching, but submission to the bishop himself. Rebellion against him is against God. The schismatic, no matter how correct his doctrine or virtuous his life, lives outside the church, hence without Christ and salvation. “No salvation outside the church.”


Origen (185 – 254)

·         A teacher of Greek literature, philosophy, mathematics in Alexandria, took over the catechetical school (although Eusebius says he studied under Clement, Origen never mentions him), later moved to Caesarea. His father died a martyr around 200 AD; during the peaceful decades afterward, Origen looked back with some nostalgia on those days when “there were few believers but they really did believe.” Eusebius reports a tradition that Origen made himself a eunuch, following Matt 19:12; but this may be hearsay, for in his commentary he criticizes the fanaticism of those who interpret this text literally. During the Decian persecution (250) he was imprisoned and tortured, dying a year later from ruined health.

·         Major works: On First Principles (first major systematic theology), Against Celsus (pagan critic of Christianity, 180), 279 sermons, commentaries (parts of Matthew, John, and Romans still survive); his Hexapla (six columns) compared Hebrew text with Greek translations (one of the first textual critics). He consulted with Jewish rabbis on their interpretation of the OT. He accepted most of the Apocrypha (found in the Septuagint, Greek translation) as scripture. Not all of his works have been translated (see Fathers of the Church series for many not in ANT).


Interpreting Scripture

·         In the preface of First Principles, Origen explains how the Scriptures “do not have just the meaning that is evident but another one hidden from most readers.” He felt that some truths were too difficult for most “simple” Christians but could be discovered by the scholar. The challenge to the Christian teacher is to speak without upsetting the simple, yet without starving the intelligent.

·         Scripture has three layers of meaning, literal, moral, and allegorical. Often the literal meaning is not the true meaning (citing 2 Cor 3:6 “the letter kills, the spirit gives life”). Difficult or incomprehensible passages are “stumbling blocks” placed by the Spirit to encourage readers to look for a more spiritual meaning (Prin 4.2.9).

·         OT passages are reinterpreted to apply to the Christian era. For example, the miracle of Gideon’s fleece symbolically refers to the transition from Judaism to Christianity: the dew of Moses that fell on Israel alone has dried up, and now falls on all those around them.

·         Origen argued that a strictly literal reading of scripture is often a misreading. Genesis 1 cannot be taken literally as God creates light on the first day, but the sun on the fourth. God didn’t physically walk through the garden (Prin 4.3.1). Christ’s coming “down from the clouds” is symbolism; he will not appear at any one place, but will make himself known to all the world at one time.

·         Furthermore, it was their literal readings of OT prophecies of the age to come that led the Jews to deny Jesus was the Christ (the wilderness didn’t bloom, the Dead Sea didn’t become fresh, the wolf didn’t lie down with the lamb, Egypt and Assyria didn’t worship in Jerusalem). Also the Gnostics read the anthropomorphic language about God too literally (God being angry), leading them to repudiate the OT God (Prin 4.2.1). God’s “wrath” is a figure of judgment, not that God experiences a human passion and gets angry (Celsus 4.72).

·         Discussing the OT as it applies to Christians, he distinguished between the ceremonial laws of the OT which were peculiar to Israel and moral laws which still apply in the Christian era (later expanded by Calvin).

·         Commenting on Luke’s preface, Origen confirms only four gospels; others (such as Gnostics) had “tried to compose” their own accounts but without the inspiration of the Spirit (Hom Luke 1).

·         Origen wanted to stay true to the original gospel, but felt that some knowledge had not been revealed in scripture but only hinted at, awaiting those who could understand more deeply. His theology contains much speculation, which after his death led to his being condemned for heresy. Irenaeus believed that heresy arises from the temptation to speculate about uncertain matters (Heresies 2.28.2).

·         To his credit, Origen frequently admits that he states his opinions, not biblical facts, and may be wrong. “Now we ourselves speak on these subjects with great fear and caution, discussing and investigating rather than laying down fixed and certain conclusions” (Prin 1.6.1)


Father and Son

·         Only the Father is uncreated, without a source, the fountainhead of all being (John Comm 2.3). The Father begot the Son but because he has always been “Father” as part of his nature, this was an eternal begetting or generation; He always had a Son, he was never without his Logos or Wisdom (Prin 1.2.2,4). Earlier writers such as Justin had said that the Logos did not become distinct from the Father until God “spoke” and created the world through his Word; prior to that, the Logos was only creative potential within God.

·         The Father begot the Son, not by an emanation separating from God as the Gnostics taught, but “as an act of will proceeds from the mind without either cutting off any part of the mind or being separated or divided from it” (Prin 1.2.6).

·         Only God the Father is called “the God” in Greek (‘o theos). The Son can be described as “God” (theos) or “divine” without the article (John 1:1). The Son is subordinate to “the God” but is above all others; he alone dwells continually with the Father; he derives his divinity from his unique relationship to the Father (John Comm 2.2).

·         Somewhat inconsistently, Origen calls both Father and Son “Almighty” (Prin 1.2.10). He calls Jesus “a second God” (Celsus 5.39, 6.61), and “a God next to the God and Father of all things” (Celsus 2.9).

·         Father and Son are two persons but one in love, will, and action, as man and wife become one flesh (Prin 2.6.3; John Comm 13.228). This resembles the social theory of the Trinity, from the 19th c and very popular today, which describes the three as a family of beings; they are “one” in purpose, power, knowledge, will, etc. [how is this different from tritheism, three gods working together for a common purpose?]

·         Origen seems to describe the Son as an intermediate being between God and the rest of creation (Danielou, Origen, 1955, 254). Origen tried to avoid both adoptionism and modalism: “Now there are many who … are afraid that they may be proclaiming two Gods, and their fear drives them into doctrines which are false and impious. Either they deny that the Son has a distinct nature of His own besides that of the Father, and make Him whom they call the Son to be God all but the name [modalism], or they deny the divinity of the Son, giving Him a separate existence of His own, and making His sphere of essence fall outside that of the Father [adoptionism]” (John Comm 2.2). However, his answer prompted accusations of Arianism (Christ as the first creature) in the next century.

·         “The power of the Father is greater than that of the Son … and that of the Son is greater than that of the Holy Spirit” (Prin 1.3.5, Greek). Origen was later condemned for subordinating the Son to the Father, but in this matter he is biblical, and the doctrine of the Trinity, as it developed in the next century, is not. The Son has always been and always will be subordinate to the Father: sent by the Father (Jn 3:16), obedient to the Father (Jn 14:31), speaks for the Father (Jn 14:24), does the Father’s will (Mk 14:36). Jesus frequently speaks of the Father’s superior status: “The Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28; 13:16). God alone has authority to decide kingdom matters such as assigning places of honor (Mt 20:23) or the time of the Son’s return (Mt 24:36). This relationship cannot be attributed solely to Jesus’ temporary role on earth, as Paul speaks of God as head of the risen Christ (1 Cor 11:3) and describes the exalted Lord submitting himself in eternity to the Father (1 Cor 15:28). Jesus remains dependent upon God’s knowledge even after his ascension: Rev. 1:1 says “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him …” indicating Jesus was not limited in knowledge only during the incarnation.

·         “For Christ is life, but he who is greater than Christ is greater than life … the Father who is beyond eternal life” (John Comm 13.19). Jesus says, “I have meat to eat which you do not know.” “Not only do men and angels need spiritual foods, but so too does the Christ of God. … he is always replenishing himself from the Father who alone is without need and sufficient in Himself” (John Comm 13.219). “The Father exceeds the Savior as much (or even more) as the Savior … exceeds the rest (John Comm 13.151).

·         The Logos was not confined to the body of Jesus, but was at the same time everywhere (Celsus 2.9).

·         Against Celsus who claimed that the gospel writers invented much of the story of Jesus, Origen argues, how could anyone create fiction and then believe in it to the point of being willing to die for what one knows is false? (2.26).

·         “Of all the marvelous things about him [Jesus], [the idea of incarnation] utterly transcends the capacity of our weak mortal intelligence to comprehend. … the human understanding with its narrow limits is baffled” (Prin 2.6)


Cosmos and Created Beings

·         Creation ex nihilo (Prin 1.1.3; 2.1.5; John Comm 1.17)

·         Because God has always been Creator, and always been Lord over something (Prin 1.2.10), Origen reasoned that God created spirit beings before he created the physical universe (1.4.3). “God did not begin to create after spending a period of idleness” (1.4.5, Greek). All living beings existed as spirit beings before being given a body, an idea found in Plato (3.5.3).

·         As spirits with free wills, we chose to serve ourselves rather than God. Thus the origin of sin is found in free will even before the physical creation. Our sins in this earlier existence determine our status in this present life, thus explaining how some are born more privileged, more gifted, more healthy than others (something like karma) (Prin 1.5.3, 1.8.1, 2.8.3, 2.9.6). The Garden of Eden story is an allegorical account of this pre-cosmic Fall (Celsus 4.40). Since we are born sinful (due to our own sins not Adam’s), Origen approved of infant baptism.

·         Origen did not teach, however, that we are condemned by original sin and our eternal fate predestined by God. Marcion and Gnostics said that men are born with either a good or bad nature and have no choice in the matter. Origen stressed that God’s election depends on his foreknowledge of man’s faith and resulting good works according to free will. Quoting James, faith as in mere belief is not enough without good works to prove faith. Justification is by faith, but lest someone rely on this and grow lax in obedience, he warns: “A person does not receive the forgiveness of sins in order that he should imagine that he has been given a license to sin; for the remission is not given for future sins but only past ones.” Obedience rests with us, and we should cease blaming the devil, our natures, or the stars for our sins (Rom Comm 1.3; 2.4.7; 3.9.4; 6.3.5).

·         Free will: “The matter is not done by force nor is the soul moved in either of the two directions (good and evil) by compulsion. Otherwise, neither blame nor virtue could be ascribed to it.” The freedom we now have is nevertheless limited by our slavery to the flesh; we will enjoy perfect freedom in the future age to come (Rom Comm 1.18.7; 1.1.4)

·         The sun, moon, and stars also are living beings with souls; based on their previous existence, some shine brighter than others (Prin 1.7.3-4).

·         From the time of his eternal begetting, the Son’s soul had remained pure and united with God, hence his sinless life in the flesh on this earth. Jesus in effect had two souls, his human soul (which could be troubled, Mt 26:38, Jn 12:27) and the Logos to which his human soul bonded perfectly (Prin 2.6.2-4, 4.4.4); Tertullian spoke similarly. “The Word, still remaining essentially the Word, suffers none of those things which are suffered by the body or the soul” (Celsus 4.15). Jesus the man died; the Word did not (John Comm 20.85, 28.157-9). Also “the Son of God was both wholly present in his body and also wholly present everywhere” (Prin 4.4.3).

·         Satan is a fallen angel (not new idea itself) because of Pride, wanting to be like God; likewise demons were not always wicked (Celsus 7.69). Earlier theodicies (explanations of the origin of evil) had emphasized the sin of lust, when the fallen angels called Watchers seduced women (Enoch, 2nd c BC). Origen may be the first to associate Satan with Isa 14:12, “How you are fallen from heaven, O morning star” which in Latin gave us the name Lucifer, “light bearer” (Prin 1.5.5). In its original context the verse refers to the king of Babylon.

·         He argues against Celsus that God orders all things, including sin and the demonic powers. Celsus asks if God hasn’t assigned demons their rightful place in the cosmos and thus deserve our respect and worship. Origen says God permits some things that He does not will to happen (7.68)

·         In Gen 1 God first says, “Let us make man in our image and after our likeness” but then it says “God created man in his image.” Similar to Irenaeus, Origen explains that we were created in God’s image, but the perfection of God’s likeness will come at the consummation. “The purpose of this was that man should acquire it for himself by his own earnest efforts to imitate God” (Prin 3.6.1).

·         We each have a guardian angel to assist us on the way back to God, but also a wicked angel (demon) to tempt us (Prin 3.2.4, ideas taken from Acts 12:15, Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas). Angels will be judged according to how successful they were with their charges. Each church is led by two bishops, one visible and one invisible (angel). Angels oversee the nations as well (Hom Luke 12, 13, 35.6). Some men such as John the Baptist may have been angels sent by God in human form (John Comm 2.25). Origen plays on the word angelos meaning messenger.

·         In 1 Cor 11, women must cover their heads because angels are present in worship (Hom Luke 23.8).



·         Discussing a Jewish reading of Isaiah 53, where they say the servant refers to the nation Israel: “It is evident that it is they [the Jews] who had been sinners, and had been healed by the Savior's sufferings … For if the people, according to them, are the subject of the prophecy, how is the man said to be led away to death because of the iniquities of the people of God, unless he be a different person from that people of God?” (Celsus 1.60)

·         Origen is the first of the church fathers to discuss in detail Jesus’ death as a sacrifice in our place (Kelly 186; John Comm 28.160-66, Rom Comm 3.8, Celsus 4.28). Jesus died not just for all humanity but for all spiritual beings (John Comm 1.255, 28.163; Rom Comm 1.4.4). After becoming sin for us (2 Cor 5:21), Jesus was defiled and had to wash his blood-stained robes in a heavenly baptism, Origen’s explanation of Luke 12:50 (John Comm 6.287-91).

·         However, Jesus’ role as example and teacher, along with his defeat of evil powers, seem to be more important in Origen’s teachings. Jesus came as an example and teacher to show us how to become more like God (Prin 3.5.6). The Logos is our teacher, law-giver, and model (Prin 4.1, 4.3).

·         Salvation by defeat of Satan (Christ as Victor): Lucifer was “crushed by Jesus” on the battlefield of the earth (John Comm 1.78). “Jesus submitted to slaughter on behalf of the world, purchasing us with his own blood from him who bought us when we had sold ourselves to sin” (John Comm 6.274; Hom Ex 6.9). “Now it was the devil who was holding us, to whom we had been dragged off by sins. Therefore he demanded the blood of Christ as the price for us” (Rom Comm 2.13.29).

·         God arranged for Mary to be betrothed to Joseph rather than being unmarried and pregnant. If Satan had realized that a virgin had conceived, he would have known that Jesus was divine; this way he “escaped the devil’s notice” (Hom Luke 6.4).

·         When God handed Jesus over to die, Satan did not realize that his death was no defeat but God’s ultimate plan and victory: “the opposing powers, when they delivered up the Savior into the hands of men, did not intend to deliver Him up for the salvation of some, but, as far as in them lay, since none of them knew ‘the wisdom of God which was hidden in a mystery,’ they gave Him up to be put to death, that His enemy death might receive Him under its subjection.” Satan, who had power over death, was defeated when Christ’s resurrection brought death itself under subjection: “in the very act of His being delivered up, and coming under the power of those to whom He was delivered up, [Jesus] destroy[ed] him that has the power of death; for ‘through death He brought to naught him that has the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage’ [Heb 2:14]” (Matt  Comm. 8).

·         “But to whom did Christ give his soul for ransom? Surely not to God. Could it then be to the Evil One?  For he had us in his power until the ransom for us should be given to him, even the life of Christ. The Evil One had been deceived and led to suppose that he was capable of mastering the soul and did not see that to hold him involved a trial of strength greater than he could successfully undertake” (Matt Comm 16:8). “…who was to redeem them from the enemy and purchase them with His own precious blood” (Matt  Comm. 40) [the NT never says Christ redeemed/ransomed us from Satan]

·         Salvation through deification: “They also saw the power which had descended into human nature, and into the midst of human miseries, and which had assumed a human soul and body, contributed through faith, along with its divine elements, to the salvation of believers, when they see that from Him there began the union of the divine with the human nature, in order that the human, by communion with the divine, might rise to be divine, not in Jesus alone, but in all those who not only believe, but enter upon the life which Jesus taught, and which elevates to friendship with God and communion with Him every one who lives according to the precepts of Jesus” (Celsus 3.28).



·         Origen explains suffering in this life as a form of spiritual preparation for the next. God sometimes causes suffering, but like a doctor, it is a means of restoring us to health. (Danielou 278; cf. Prin 3.1.13). Pain is beneficial in signaling that something is wrong with our bodies. A limb that has no feeling is seriously diseased, whereas a healthy one feels pain (Homily Judges 6). Commenting on Jer 20:9: “I wish to God I could feel a fire scorching my heart and burning my bones the minute I committed any sin” (Danielou 279).

·         Hell is a purging fire, not everlasting punishment: “I do not think that the kingdom of death is of eternal duration in the same way as that of life and righteousness, especially when I hear from the apostle that the last enemy, death, will be destroyed” (Rom Comm 5.7.8). “It is a purifying fire which is brought upon the world, and probably also on each one of those who stand in need of chastisement by the fire and healing at the same time, seeing it burns indeed, but does not consume” (Celsus 5.15). After this life, there will be an additional time of purging (Prin 1.6.3, 3.6.3,8). Origen suggests the possibility of other worlds after this one in which souls will be perfected (Prin 2.3). “God’s infinite patience and forbearance will in the end wear down the resistance of the faithless soul.” In this manner Origen respects both God’s grace and man’s free will. “The only thing that can give God glory is that all created spirits should freely acknowledge his excellence and love him for it” (Danielou, 285, 287).

·         Origen was a universalist. Even in future worlds, creatures with free will shall have the potential to fall away, but God’s love will eventually conquer. With all eternity to repent, everyone will ultimately choose to worship God. “Rightly then love, which is alone greater than all, will keep every creature from falling away at that time when God will be all in all” (Rom Comm 5.10.15). In one letter (Dial. Candidus, recorded by Jerome) he admitted that, because even Satan retains his free will, it was theoretically possible that he might one day be won over by the grace of God. Against Gnostic dualism, Origen thought that the reality of evil could not be co-eternal with good. “The end is always like the beginning,” that is, God will be all in all once again (1 Cor 15:28; Prin 1.6.2, 3.6.3).

·         While not believing in hell (Prin 2.10.8), Origen admitted it was a useful doctrine to motivate obedience in weaker Christians (Homily Jer 19.9).

·         Origen explains Paul’s doctrine of the transformation of the body into immortal, incorruptible form (1 Cor 15), but also suggests that at some time in the future, all material substance will dissolve, so that we will be like God completely, spiritual beings only (3.6.1).

·         Origen criticized a literal reading of the “1000 years” with its literal fulfillment of OT prophecies which sounded too hedonistic, a life of pleasures (2.11.2); after Origen (and Augustine), premillennialism was no longer popular.


Misc. topics

·         He thought that Mary remained a virgin all her life; Jesus’ brothers were from Joseph’s previous marriage, a view Tertullian had earlier rejected (Hom Luke 7.4). This idea is found in the apocryphal story of Mary in the Protevangel of James (mid-2nd century, mentioned by Justin). Later Athanasius will refer to her as “ever-virgin.” Mary was descended from David, arguing she would have married her kinsman (Num 36:8-9), similar argument in Justin and Tertullian (Rom Comm 1.5.4).

·         On Prayer: purpose is not to petition God for gifts but to become more like Him. Our lives should become one constant prayer (1 Thess 5:17), as virtuous deeds are a form of prayer.


Other developments in the 3rd century

·         Hippolytus describes baptism early in this century (Apostolic Tradition): Lengthy preparation with instruction, sometimes 3 years. All baptisms appear to have taken place on Easter Sunday or Pentecost. Candidates fast, pray all night, then undergo exorcism to banish evil spirits. They are questioned whether they have lived soberly, taken care of widows and the sick, been active in good works. They face west (realm of darkness) and renounce Satan and all his works, then face east and take the Trinitarian oath. Stripped of their old clothes, they go down into the water and come out to put on new white robes and are anointed with oil by the bishop (also sip a mixture of milk and honey). In some places, there was triple immersion. Infant baptism is now widely practiced in 3rd c, although not approved by all.

·         Debate between bishops Cyprian and Stephen as to the authority of the Roman bishop over other bishops. Cyprian believed that the promise made to Peter extended to all bishops equally, not just to the bishop in Rome. But the dominance of the Roman bishop is gradually taking hold.

·         Third sacrament (after baptism and communion) of penance became common, public confession, period of penance, and exclusion from communion until formal absolution by the bishop. Private confession to a priest doesn’t appear until the 6th century and not widely until the 9th.

·         Agape meals continued to be practiced although apparently not in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper (as in 1 Corinthians). By mid-century, writers are warning against abuses, however, with the meal becoming more like pagan banquets. Origen cautioned that the kiss of fellowship needed to be chaste.

·         In 301 Armenia (east of Turkey, northwest corner of Iran) became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Today Armenian Christians are an independent church with patriarchs in Jerusalem (who oversees their share of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) and in Istanbul. In doctrine Armenians are close to monophysitism (see Apollinarius below) as they believe the two natures are united or blended into one.




Diocletian persecution (r. 303-12) sought to get rid of divisive Christianity; oddly, his wife and daughter along with one of his governors were Christians. Destruction of church buildings, burning of sacred books, demotion of Christians in high positions, imprisonment and torture. Diocletian also split the administration of the empire into East and West, later to affect the separate development of Roman and Orthodox churches.


Constantine (r. 312-37):

·         Before the battle of Milvian Bridge 312 with a rival emperor, Constantine dreamed of the sign of the cross with the words “Conquer by this.” He had this symbol put on his soldiers’ shields, and won the day. In his biography of the emperor, Eusebius saw the Exodus story of Pharaoh’s chariots being cast into the sea as prophetic of Constantine’s victory over Maxentius and his men who drowned in the Tiber. Also Ps. 7:15, “He dug a hole and will fall into the pit he has made.” Maxentius had destroyed the Milvian Bridge thus cutting off his means of retreat.

·         Constantine’s policy was toleration of all religions: “No one whatsoever should be denied freedom to devote himself either to the cult of the Christians or to such religion as he deems best suited for himself.” Not until 381 was Christianity declared the official state religion. Like Diocletian he was concerned about the effect of religious strife on the stability of the empire, but he chose to exploit Christianity’s potential for unity. Unfortunately, two major controversies with Arians and Donatists (see Augustine) kept Christianity divided. Constantine criticized leaders for having “a passion for unhealthy quarreling.” He urged them to disagree in a spirit of brotherly love, and not raise questions about esoteric matters which distracted men from daily Christian living. He compared theologians to philosophers who for the “frivolity of an idle hour” speculate on unnecessary matters and argue over minutiae (Grant, Constantine the Great, 162, 171).

·         Constantine’s co-emperor over the eastern empire Valerius Licinius continued to support pagan worship and banned Christians from the government and army. In 324 Constantine overthrew him in Byzantium.

·         Constantine ordered that church property not be taxed. Local governments were to supply materials for building new churches. Clergy were released from public duties, and were provided with some public funds (to the point that some became priests in order to receive the benefits). The growing materialism among the clergy helped promote the reverse reaction of the hermetic movement.

·         Constantine appointed all bishops.

·         He moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople (Istanbul in modern Turkey). To build his new city, he took materials and statues from pagan temples.

·         In 321 Constantine passed a law making Sunday a day off from work to allow time for worship; however, there was no attempt to base this on Sabbath practice. Eusebius seems to be the first to discuss Sunday as the Christian "Sabbath." Jesus by the new covenant transferred the observance of the Sabbath to "the rising of the light" on Sunday (Comm Ps 91).

·         In 327 Constantine commissioned the building of the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, “discovered” by his mother Helena, along with fragments of the cross. The original church was destroyed in 1009 by Muslims, and rebuilt by the Crusaders.

·         First St. Peter’s basilica built in Rome (330) over the traditional site of Peter’s tomb. Christians would take pilgrimages to sites where the relics of martyrs lay.

·         He considered himself to be “bishop to those outside the church,” enacting laws based on Christian principles, many concerned with sexual morality, and allowing Sunday as a day of rest for state officials (Eusebius, Life of Constantine 4.24; Gonzalez, Faith and Wealth 150).

·         Constantine was no saint; he executed his oldest son and second wife, which his admirer Eusebius fails to mention. He retained the title Pontifex Maximus, high priest of paganism.

·         He postponed baptism until near death, so as not to risk apostasy afterward (typical belief of the day).


Arius (256-336)

·         “We acknowledge one God, who is alone self-existent, alone eternal, alone without beginning” (in Alexander, Ep. Alex.). Based on scriptures such as Prov 8:22 (“The Lord created me” – Wisdom, applied to Christ), Rom 8:29 (“The firstborn among many”), Col 1:15 (“firstborn of all creation”), Arius taught that Christ was the first created being, through whom all other things were created, which distinguished him from all other creatures as the only one directly created by God.

·         God was not eternally Father until creating the Son. Arius popularized his ideas with jingles, “There was [a time] when he was not.” During the Nicene council he would burst into song, stating his case.

·         “[The Son] was made for our sake, in order that God might create us through him, as by an instrument. And he would not have existed, if God had not willed to make us” (in Alexander, Ep. Encyc.)

·         As a creature, Jesus experienced emotions impossible for God. He feared death and asked that this cup be removed. On the cross he despaired that God had forsaken him. As a creature, he shared the limitations of creatures: “If the Son were, according to [the orthodox] interpretation, eternally existent with God, he would not have been ignorant of the day [of his return]; nor would have been forsaken [on the cross], as he was coexistent [with God]; nor would have asked to receive glory, having it in the Father [already]; nor would he have prayed at all, for being the Word, he would have needed nothing. But since he is a creature and one of the things generated, he said such things … for it is proper for creatures to require and ask for what they do not have” (in Athanasius, Oration contra Arius 3.26).

·         In all things Jesus was dependent on God, not possessing them in himself by divine nature: all authority in heaven and earth was given to him by God (Matt 28:18); the Father has entrusted judgment to the Son (Jn 5:22); the Father has placed everything in his hands (John 3:35; 6:37, Matt 11:27): “If he was, as you say, Son according to nature, he had no need to receive, but he possessed these things according to nature as a Son” (Oration 3.26).

·         “He bore the marks of true humanity: the body’s infirmities, the mind’s uncertainties, the soul’s troublings, the need for divine empowerment through the Spirit” (Gregg, Early Arianism, 1981, 12).

·         Jesus’ knowledge of the Father was limited to that which the Father revealed to him, not knowledge obtained in a divine, equal relationship. He did not know the answer to everything but asked questions (John 11:34, Mark 6:38).

·         As a creature, Jesus could change and grow “in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Mutable, he was potentially, though not in fact, able to sin. If he were truly God, how could he sin? He had to “learn obedience from what he suffered and was made perfect” (Heb 5:8). “He became obedient unto death; therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:8-9). “God has made the same Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Before the cross, Jesus is called by titles such as Son and Lord because of God’s foreknowledge of his obedience, titles which were not his by natural right but were won by virtue (Oration 1.5). Jesus was elected Son “on account of his diligence of conduct and discipline, and practice of moral advancement” (as recorded by their opponent Alexander, Ep. Alex.).

·         Christ’s victory of obedience gives his fellow men hope that they might do the same (similar to Pelagius in the next century). “Certainly we also are able to become sons of God, like him” (Ep. Alex.). “To all who believed in his name, he gave power to become sons of God” (John 1:12). Believers can enjoy union with the Father in the same fashion as Christ. The Father and Son are “one” in agreement of will, not eternal nature. Jesus prays that his disciples be one as he and the Father are one (John 17:11). Because we share his nature, what applies to the redeemer also applies to the redeemed. Jesus was truly like us so that we might imitate him. Gregg and Groh argue that Arius was not as concerned with demoting Christ to protect monotheism (as his critics claimed) as he was with presenting a view of salvation based on Jesus as a creature we might imitate.


Athanasius (295-373)

·         Whereas for Arius, Jesus’ ability to change implied potential for advancement, Athanasius feared change as the potential to sin. He argued that Jesus, like God, was unchangeable and thus had no free will, no potential for choosing evil. If Jesus were a creature and changeable, his virtue and thus the grace he received as reward for this virtue was not secure. A creature receives grace and is capable of forfeiting it. A created Christ could not bestow enduring grace (Orations against Arius 3.38).

·         Athanasius insisted that Jesus’ sonship must be of a different nature than the sonship of God’s creatures. “Hearing that men are called sons, [the Arians] hold themselves equal to the true and natural Son. … They are so arrogant as to suppose that as the Son is in the Father … so will they be” (Oration 3.17). If this were so, then all God’s creatures, from men to the stars and planets could earn the title of Son. His colleague against Arianism, Alexander wrote Christ’s natural sonship “surpasses by an inexpressible preeminence the sonship of those who have been adopted as sons through His appointment.” In his arguments with Arius, Alexander gives the first recorded instance (319) of calling Mary theotokos, God-bearer, affirming Christ’s full deity.

·         “If the Son advanced when he became man, it is plain that before he became man, he was imperfect, and the flesh became for him a cause of perfection, instead of he for the flesh” (Oration 3.52).

·         Incarnation as deification: for Athanasius deification = immortality, not becoming a god. We come to share in His divine life.

·         Only if Jesus were completely divine could his death save us. The Word became flesh so that we might be deified (Oration 1.38, 2.70, 3.33-4 etc). “He deified that which he put on” (1.42). “For if, being a creature, He had become man, man had remained just what he was, not joined to God; for how had a work been joined to the Creator by a work?” (2.67) In contrast, Arians sought to become like God by imitating Christ through willing obedience and discipline.

·         “God made man for incorruption, and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death came into the world.” Once God set death as the punishment for sin, He could not revoke his own law: “For God would not be true, if, when He had said we should die, man died not. [However] it were unseemly that creatures once made rational and having partaken of the Word should go to ruin, and turn again toward non-existence by the way of corruption. For it were not worthy of God's goodness that the things He had made should waste away, because of the deceit practiced on men by the devil. … what was God in His goodness to do? Suffer corruption to prevail against them and death to hold them fast? And where were the profit of their having been made to begin with? For better were they not made, than once made, left to neglect and ruin. For neglect reveals weakness, and not goodness on God's part.” The divine solution must not only remove the offense of sin but also remove the curse of mortality. Repentance might bring forgiveness for sin, but cannot restore immortal life. The chief effect of the Incarnation was to restore the possibility of this divine life, by taking the punishment of death on himself (“all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone, inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord's body, and had no longer claim against men, his peers”), then defeating mortality by his resurrection (“whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection”). “While it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal, and Son of the Father, to this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word which was come to dwell in it, remain incorruptible. … thus He, the incorruptible Son of God, being conjoined with all by a like nature, naturally clothed all with incorruption, by the promise of the resurrection” (Incarnation 3-9).

·         “As we had not been delivered from sin and the curse, unless it had been by nature human flesh, which the Word put on (for we should have had nothing common with what was foreign), so also the man had not been deified, unless the Word who became flesh had been by nature from the Father and true and proper to Him” (Oration 2.70).

·         “'Yet,' [Arians] say, 'though the Savior were a creature, God was able to speak the word only and undo the curse.' And so another will say in like manner, 'Without His coming among us at all, God was able just to speak and undo the curse;' but we must consider what was expedient for mankind, and not what simply is possible with God. … If God had but spoken, because it was in His power, and so the curse had been undone, … man had become such as Adam was before he disobeyed, having received grace from without, and not having it united to the body (for he was such when he was placed in Paradise); nay, perhaps had become worse, because he had learned to disobey. Such then being his condition, had he been seduced by the serpent, there had been fresh need for God to command and undo the curse; and thus the need had become unending, and men had remained under guilt not less than before, as being enslaved to sin, and, ever sinning, would have ever needed one to pardon them, and had never become free, being in themselves flesh, and ever falling short of the Law because of the weakness of the flesh.” Unless we are transformed by the new divine life from Christ, we would continue to be susceptible to sin. “If the Son were a creature, man had remained mortal as before, not being joined to God … Whence the truth shows us that the Word is not of things created, but rather Himself their Framer. For therefore did He assume the body created and human, that having renewed it as its Framer, He might deify it in Himself, and thus might introduce us all into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness. For man had not been deified if joined to a creature” (Oration 2.68-70).

·         He explained his earthly “limitations” by saying Jesus only pretended to be ignorant of his second coming, to be troubled in spirit, or felt abandoned on the cross (Oration 3.33, 3.37).

·         As later emperors were more favorable to Arianism, Athanasius had to live in exile for 16 years at different times. In his writings during this time he questioned the state’s influence over church matters: “For if a judgment had been passed by bishops, what concern had the emperor with it? … When did a judgment of the church receive its validity from the emperor, or rather when was his decree ever recognized by the church? There have been many councils held before now, and many judgments passed by the church, but the Fathers never sought the consent of the emperor thereto, nor did the emperor busy himself with the affairs of the church” (History of Arians 52).


Council of Nicaea, Asia Minor (325)

·         “It becomes clearer what cardinal matters of the faith were at stake in the years preceding and following the council of Nicaea. The character of the Savior, the Savior’s relation to God and to creatures, the process and means by which salvation comes to believers, and anthropology, the estimate of the limitations and capacities which belong to the human creature – these were the issues which so sharply divided orthodox and Arian Christians” (Gregg, Early Arianism 65)

·         No official records survive, not even the original creed, just reports by Athanasius and Eusebius (who leaned toward Arianism as opposed to modalism), etc. (Tradition says that St. Nicolaus also attended).

·         The council was called by Emperor Constantine (not the bishop of Rome) to settle what he considered simply a disagreement over words, too esoteric for most people to understand

·         Controversy over nonbiblical language: one iota (Greek letter “i”) difference between homoousion (Jesus and God are “of the same nature”) and homoiousion (“of similar nature”). The non-biblical term homoousion which Nicaea accepted as orthodox had been condemned previously by a meeting of bishops in Antioch in 268 because it failed to provide enough distinction between Father and Son, too close to Sabellianism.

·         Arians, in the minority at Nicaea (although some think the majority of believers at the time) were excommunicated and exiled. However, Nicaea did not end the controversy and Arianism gained ground during the next few decades. Constantine tried to make peace with the elderly Arius later and ordered him reinstated into the church at Alexandria, which the current bishop Alexander and his successor Athanasius refused to do. Constantine exiled Athanasius for his stubbornness, believing that good order in the empire was more important than correct doctrine.

·         Afterward, many questioned the authority of such a council and of the emperor over doctrinal matters. Ambrose: “The Emperor is in the church, not above it.”

·         After Constantine’s death (337) one of his sons favored Arius for a time. The eastern emperor Valens (364-78) supported the Arian position. Arianism spread widely among the Goths and Vandals to the north.


Council of Constantinople (381)

·         Called by emperor Theodosius, who had just declared Christianity the official and only state-sanctioned religion of the empire. Unlike Constantine, Theodosius did not promote tolerance toward different religious beliefs. He banned not only pagan religions but Christian sects who did not follow the Nicene creed. Arians and others who disagreed over the doctrine of the Trinity were forced to give up their churches.

·         The council condemned the Pneumatomachians, “fighters of the Spirit,” those who denied the deity/person of the Spirit by expanding the Nicene creedal statement.

·         Condemned the views of Apollinarius (see below) and reaffirmed the condemnation of Arianism.

·         Condemned Marcellus of Ancyra for his teaching that Jesus’ divine Sonship would end when his final victory had been won (1 Cor 15:24).


Nicene creed (as reported in 381): “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance (homoousion) with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered and on the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit.”


Council of Constantinople (381) expanded some sections: “… who was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary … he was crucified under Pontius Pilate … ascended and sits on the right hand of the Father. … And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. In one holy catholic and apostolic church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”


Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great (329-79), brother Gregory of Nyssa (335-94?), Gregory of Nazianzus (329-89)

·         The Cappadocians developed the idea of “coinherence,” the Son dwelling in the Father and the Father in the Son (see John 14:10) as an explanation of their oneness (Basil, Letters 38.8; Meredith, Cappadocians). G. Naz. says that the Father is the ground of unity for the other persons (Or. 42.15). The Cappadocians tend to focus more attention on the three persons than the one deity (which Augustine will challenge).

·         Basil compared the three in one to three men who share the same nature of Man (Letters 38.2), which his critics called tritheism. In his defense: “Let the unapproachable be altogether above and beyond number, as the ancient reverence of the Hebrews wrote the unutterable name of God in peculiar characters, thus endeavoring to set forth its infinite excellence. Count, if you must; but you must not by counting do damage to the faith. Either let the ineffable be honored by silence; or let holy things be counted consistently with true religion. There is one God and Father, one Only-begotten, and one Holy Ghost. We proclaim each of the hypostases singly; and, when count we must, we do not let an ignorant arithmetic carry us away to the idea of a plurality of Gods” (Basil, Holy Spirit 18 [44]).

·         Overall, they were more reluctant than others to speculate on God’s essential nature. Basil: “We can know God only by his operations [mercy, justice, etc] but do not undertake to approach his essence” (Epistle 234.1). Ultimately the doctrine of the Trinity is not an explanation of God’s nature, but the statement of a mystery, a reminder that He is beyond human comprehension.

·         Gregory of Nyssa admitted that every concept we have of God, even the Trinity doctrine, is a false or imperfect likeness, as no words can reveal the nature of God himself. Gregory seems to be the first theologian to discuss God as infinite and therefore indefinable (Against Eunomius 3, Not Three Gods). Likewise, “the manner in which the Divine nature was united to the human surpasses our power of comprehension” (Catechism 11).

·         Unity of operation: “Men, even if several are engaged in the same form of action, work separately each by himself at the task he has undertaken, having no participation in his individual action with others who are engaged in the same occupation. …Thus, since among men the action of each in the same pursuits is discriminated, they are properly called many …. But in the case of the Divine nature we do not similarly learn that the Father does anything by Himself in which the Son does not work conjointly, or again that the Son has any special operation apart from the Holy Spirit” (G. Nyssa, Not Three Gods). “If we observe a single activity of Father, Son and Spirit … we are obliged to infer unity of nature from the identity of activity (Basil, Letters 189.6; perhaps by Nyssa).

·         God created man “that there might exist a being who should participate in the Divine perfections. If man was to be receptive of these, it was necessary that his nature should contain an element akin to God; and, in particular, that he should be immortal. Thus, then, man was created in the image of God. He could not therefore be without the gifts of freedom, independence, self-determination; and his participation in the Divine gifts was consequently made dependent on his virtue” (Nyssa, Catechism 5).

·         “God did not, on account of His foreknowledge of the evil that would result from man's creation, leave man uncreated; for it was better to bring back sinners to original grace by the way of repentance and physical suffering than not to create man at all. The raising up of the fallen was a work befitting the Giver of life, Who is the wisdom and power of God; and for this purpose He became man” (Nyssa, Catechism 7).

·         Against those who thought an incarnation was beneath God, G. Nyssa argued that it’s not marvelous to think that God created the universe, as that kind of miracle would be natural to God. “God’s transcendent power is not so much displayed by the vastness of the heavens … as in his condescension to our weak nature” (Catechism 24).

·         G. Nyssa taught that Satan did not recognize the Son in Jesus, and was tricked by God into arranging his death, not realizing this was actually his defeat: “The Deity was under the veil of our nature, so that the hook of Deity was gulped down along with the bait of the flesh” (idea also found in Rufinus; cf. Ignatius). Gregory defends God’s act of deception by saying that justice should give everyone is due, and wisdom should always seek the benevolent end of justice, that is, the salvation of humanity. God’s deception accomplished both. “He who first deceived man by the bait of sensual pleasure is himself deceived by the presentment of the human form.” Even Satan benefits from this deception: “Whereas he, the enemy, effected his deception for the ruin of our nature, He Who is at once the just, and good, and wise one, used His device, in which there was deception, for the salvation of him who had perished, and thus not only conferred benefit on the lost one, but on him, too, who had wrought our ruin” (Catechism 26). Ambrose held a similar view (Kelly 387). Like Origen, Gregory was a universalist, teaching the ultimate salvation of all beings.

·         Gregory of Nazianzus refuted his friend’s thesis, rejecting the ransom theory entirely. Ransom could not be paid to Satan, which would reward him for his crime (“monstrous!”), nor was the ransom paid to God, who did not hold us in bondage but sought to save us from it (Orations 45.22). In the NT, the idea of ransom or redemption implies freedom from the bondage of sin, but scripture doesn’t address the question to whom the ransom was paid.

·         G. Nazianzus argued, against the view of Apollinarius (below), that Christ had to have a human soul: “What [in human nature] has not been assumed [by divinity] has not been healed, but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole. Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Savior only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity” (Letter to Cledonius, Ep. 101).


Post-Nicene Christological controversies:

·         Hilary of Poitiers (d. 366) first proposed the “kenosis” theory (Phil 2) that the Word upon becoming flesh emptied himself of divine attributes such as omniscience, inability to suffer (impassibility), and immortality.

·         Apollinarius (bishop of Laodicea, 310-390) taught that Jesus had a human body but in place of a human soul was the Logos; thus he had only one nature, which was divine (monophysite theory). Jesus’ intellect, emotions, and will were not human. If Christ was fully human, then he would have had free will, and thus sinned. Apollinarius freely admitted that Jesus was not fully human as we are, but a divine being clothed in flesh. Also according to current medical thought, the father (God) provided the soul, the mother the body. (His friend Athanasius held essentially the same view, but without condemnation.) Apollinarius translated scripture into classical style, writing part of the OT as an epic poem, the gospels as Platonic dialogues, and tragedies and comedies on biblical subjects. Jerome was one of his students.

·         Eutychus also argued that Jesus had only one nature. His humanity was “swallowed up” by divinity, as a drop of honey in the ocean. The human nature was not destroyed but transmuted into the substance of divinity.

·         As patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius (386-451) fought vigorously against heresy, but ironically gave the name to one himself. He objected to the term “God-bearer” (theotokos) to describe Mary, preferring “Christ-bearer.” God couldn’t be born, or suffer and die. These actions only applied to the human nature. “Theotokos” was affirmed as orthodox by the council of Ephesus in 431. Nestorius was accused by Cyril of Alexandria of teaching the heresy of “two Sons,” with the Logos and Jesus united only by will, not nature. Some interpreted this to mean that Jesus was a mere man, in whom the Logos indwelled fully while remaining separate. However, according to a text found in the 20th c. Nestorius actually anticipated Chalcedon in describing Jesus as one Person with two natures (Book of Heracleides). Nestorians spread Christianity throughout Persia, India, and even China. A few sects remain today.

·         In 451, the Council of Chalcedon addressed these issues, saying that Jesus was one person with two natures, divine and human, which exist without confusion or mixture, without impairing the other, but are nonetheless united in one person.

·         In 680 the creed will speak of Jesus’ human will and divine will as separate concepts [very confusing; how can one person have two wills?]. The human will submitted entirely to the Logos’ will. In the NT, however, Jesus says that he submitted to the will of his Father, not the Logos (a criticism made by Servetus in the 16th c).

·         “If the pagans of the first century were amazed by the love which Christians bore one another, those of later centuries could have been equally astonished at the loathing and intolerance [Christians] displayed toward their associates whose formulae for defining the indefinable differed from their own” (Christie-Murray, A History of Heresy 62).

·         4th century views of salvation began to move away from ransom and deification theories (held by Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa) toward substitutionary sacrifice offered for our sins (Eusebius, Cyril, Chrysostom).



·         During the reign of Arian emperors, Athanasius was exiled and hid with the monks in the Egyptian desert. He wrote a popular biography of the first Christian monk Anthony (“monk” comes from Greek monachos, “alone”). Anthony lived with other hermits, waging personal battles with demons, whom he said took the form of women, wild beasts, and reptiles.

·         With its desire to withdraw from the world, early monasticism became highly individualistic and eccentric. Some monks would eat one meal a week. Others would sleep standing up, or bury themselves neck deep in the ground. One man lived on top of a 60 ft. pillar for 30 years, allowing worms to eat at his sores.

·         Basil “the Great,” bishop of Caesarea, made important changes in monasticism, insisting that monks return to the cities and focus more on public service and education than self-inflicted suffering. Basil saw a dangerous temptation in the solitary life, for the aim of the Christian life is love, whereas “the solitary life has one aim, the service of the needs of the individual [which is] plainly in conflict with the law of love. … Whose feet will you wash? Whom will you care for?” He compared the hermits to the man in the parable who buried his one talent, rather than using his spiritual gifts for others. (Jones et al. The Study of Spirituality, 1986, 165)


Misc. developments in the 4th c.

·         Eusebius completed his history of the church in 325.

·         Churches are now built with baptisteries, resembling burial chambers to symbolize the burial of Christ.

·         The act of Consecration transforming the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ became common belief. Transubstantiation becomes official church doctrine in 1215.

·         Christmas is officially chosen as the celebration of Jesus’ birth (earliest record 336).

·         Christians created “a miniature welfare state in an empire lacking in social services.” They developed self-supporting programs similar to retirement and funeral insurance. In 362 the emperor Julian the “apostate,” who wanted to revive the pagan religions, recognized that to attract converts it would be necessary to match the benevolence programs of the church: “the impious Galileans … support not only their poor but ours as well; everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”

·         The emperor Gratian (375-83) rejected the pagan title pontifex maximus, and deprived pagan priests of their tax exemptions (now given to clergy). State funds no longer supported the temples.

·         In 381 Theodosius made it illegal not to be a Christian. Unfortunately, Christians who had argued for tolerance for their beliefs, once in power, often had little for pagans.

·         The Palestinian monk Jerome translates the Bible into Latin, the Vulgate, meaning in the common language (404). Jerome also defended the idea (seen earlier in the 2nd c. apocryphal Protevangel of James) that Mary remained a virgin, and that Jesus’ “brothers” were Joseph’s sons by a previous wife.


Attitudes toward poverty (Gonzalez, Faith and Wealth, 1990).

·         “You shall not turn away from anyone who is in need.” The way of death includes not only murderers, adulterers, and thieves but those who do not labor to help the afflicted, advocates of the rich, judges who cheat the poor. The text also warns those who are not truly needy defrauding givers (Didache 5.8; 1.5).

·         Let the rich man provide for the needs of the poor, and the poor man bless God for providing his help (Clement 37.2).

·         Ignatius warns slaves not to take advantage of churches by asking them to buy their freedom, lest they become slaves of greed (To Polycarp 4.3).

·         Aristides (2nd c) defends Christian generosity; when someone is hungry, and there is no surplus of food, they fast two or three days to give the food to those in need (Apology 15.7).

·         Shepherd of Hermas asks how can the rich be saved unless they help the poor? Excessive concern over business distracts one from faith. As pilgrims in a strange land, we should not buy up possessions here that we cannot take with us to our true home. “Instead of lands, buy afflicted souls” (Mand. 10.1; Sim. 1.1-9).

·         Lucian, 2nd c critic, admitted that Christians were very generous, but considered them gullible: “The efficiency the Christians show whenever matters of community interest [is involved] is unbelievable. They literally spare nothing.”

·         Tertullian: “Our compassion spends more in the streets than yours does in the temples.  …Possessions, which destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bond among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 42, 63).

·         Cyprian (d. 258) introduced the idea, “By almsgiving we may wash away whatever foulness we subsequently contract [after baptism].” Do not fear that your giving will reduce you to poverty: “The merciful cannot be in want. … By the prayers of the poor, the wealth of the doer is increased by the retribution of God.” Just as heathens give more when they know important people notice them, Christians should give more because God will know (Works and Alms 1, 9, 21). For those boundless in greed, “possession amounts to only this, that they can keep others from possessing them” (Letter 1.12).

·         Lactantius (250-325): Generosity can atone for post-baptismal sins, as long as one doesn’t rely on this to continue sinning. Those who fear poverty which results from giving are too concerned about their possessions (Inst. 6.12-13). He defends private property, for if all things were in common in society, no one would be motivated to save, and to take care of possessions (3.22).

·         Basil: “Superfluous [wealth] must be distributed among the needy.” Basil founded a benevolence center at Caesarea. Possessions which we do not need but hoard belong to the poor: “the cloak hidden in your chest belongs to the naked; the shoes rotting in your house belong to those unshod.” “What will you tell the Judge … who groom and adorn your horses and not your naked brother? You whose wheat rots, and yet you do not feed the hungry?” “If each were to take what they need, and to leave the rest for the needy, no one would be rich, but also no one would be poor.” “If one who takes the clothing off another is called a thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the naked and refuses to do so?” “Even the sea will not overreach its bounds … but the greedy no know limit.” Gregory of Nyssa: if Christians truly lived as God wants, “poverty would no longer afflict humanity.” (Gonzalez 177-8)

·         John Chrysostom (347–407): “For this is the foundation of all that is good, this of which [Luke] now for the second time makes mention, exhorting all men to the contempt of riches: ‘Neither said any of them that anything of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things common.’ … And great grace, it says, was upon them all; for ‘neither was there any among them that lacked’ [Acts 4:34]. This is why the grace was upon them all, for that there was none that lacked: that is, from the exceeding ardor of the givers, none was in want. For they did not give in part, and in part reserve: nor yet in giving all, give it as their own. And they lived moreover in great abundance: they removed all inequality from among them, and made a goodly order. … If this were done now, we should live more pleasant lives, both rich and poor, nor would it be more pleasant to the poor than to the rich themselves. … By selling their possessions they did not come to be in need, but made them rich that were in need. … Let all sell their possessions, and bring them into the common stock. How much gold think you would be collected?  … Then what thousands of gold would be collected! And what is the number of poor? I do not think more than fifty thousand [in the city]. Then to feed that number daily, what abundance there would be! And yet if the food were received in common, all taking their meals together, it would require no such great outlay after all. But, you will ask, what should we do after the money was spent? And do you think it ever could be spent? Would not the grace of God be ten thousand fold greater? Would not the grace of God be indeed richly poured out? Nay, should we not make it a heaven upon earth? … [but unfortunately] it seems, people are more afraid of this [idea of total giving] than of falling into a boundless and bottomless deep” (Homily 11 on Acts). These “radical” views made him unpopular with the Christian elite.


Augustine (354-430)

·         Augustine represents the summit of early church theology and had a profound impact on the development of both Medieval Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation.

·         His mother Monica was a Christian, but Augustine’s early reading of scripture, especially the OT, turned him away from the faith until much later in life. For nine years he was an initiate with the Manicheans, an eastern dualistic religion from Babylonia. In his early years he “ran with the wild crowd,” kept a mistress for 15 years (but faithful to her, almost a common law marriage of which he approves in The Good of Marriage 5), and pursued teaching rhetoric in Carthage and Rome. His conversion is recorded in his Confessions, one of the most famous autobiographies ever written.

·         Perhaps his most famous quote: “You made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you” (Confessions 1.1).


Mystery of the Trinity

·         “Since it is God we are speaking of, you do not understand it. If you could understand it, it would not be God” (Sermon 117.5). “Believe so that you may understand. For, unless you believe, you will not understand” (Sermon 212).

·         “What He has, He is: as for you, you are one thing, you have another. For example, you have wisdom, but are you wisdom itself? … In such a way He [actually Christ in context] has wisdom in such a way that He is Wisdom” (Tract John 48.6). “It is for this reason, then, that the nature of the Trinity is called simple, because it has not anything which it can lose, and because it is not one thing and its contents another, as a cup and the liquor, or a body and its color, or the air and the light or heat of it, or a mind and its wisdom.” The nature of God is simple “because in [him] quality and substance are identical” (City 11.10).

·         On the Trinity, prior to Augustine most writers expressed the idea that the Son and Spirit derive their divinity from the Father the begetter, source, or fountainhead. Most creeds begin, “I believe in God, the Father…” but for Augustine all three possess the same, equal divine essence, no subordination.

·         Augustine thinks of God primarily as Trinity, not as Father, on whom Son and Spirit rely for their divinity. For instance, he interprets passages such as “"Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever” as applying to the Trinity, not merely to the Father (Trinity 2.8). The Eastern church spoke more of the persons, and so were accused of tritheism. OT theophanies were not the appearance of the Son only but the entire Deity (Trinity 2.9).

·         Admitting that he speaks of an unspeakable mystery, for God cannot be adequately described by words or thoughts, Augustine differs from the Cappadocians who say, “one essence (ousia) in three substances (hypostases)” as He prefers one essence in three persons (in Latin essence and substance mean almost the same). He objects to describing God as having three substances, as if God were not “simple” (completely united in Himself and his qualities) and instead consisted of different things. What God “has,” He “is” (see above). (Trinity 7.4-6)

·         Even so, the three persons cannot be discussed in the same way as three men or three horses or three statues, as a class of beings/objects in three individual instances, as this would be the same as saying there are three gods who all share the category of godness. There is no genus of godness in which individual species exist (as in polytheism): “Therefore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three species of one essence.” Because of this mystery, we struggle for an adequate generic term to describe the three, “for the super-eminence of the Godhead surpasses the power of customary speech. For God … exists more truly than He is thought” (Trinity 7.4-6).

·         “Who will declare how Light is born of Light, and how both constitute but one Light” (Sermon 195).

·         God is personal, whether we speak of the three or the one together. Personality belongs to the essence of God, not one of his qualities. Thus even the term “person” is inadequate. “Why, therefore, do we not call these three together one person, as one essence and one God, but say three persons, while we do not say three Gods or three essences; unless it be because we wish for some word to serve for that meaning whereby the Trinity is understood, that we might not be altogether silent”    (Trinity 7.4-6).

·         “Further, in these things, one man is not as much as three men together; and two men are something more than one man. … But in God it is not so; for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together is not a greater essence than the Father alone or the Son alone; but these three substances or persons, if they must be so called, together are equal to each singly: which the natural man does not comprehend” (Trinity 7.4-6). Each of the three is omnipotent and all wise, but together they are not three times more powerful or intelligent (Trinity 5.8, 8.1, 15.3). “We do not speak of three Lords, or of three Omnipotent Ones, or of three Creators … because there are not three God but only one God” (Sermon 212.1).

·         “‘I and my Father are one.’ [Jesus] has both said ‘one,’ and ‘we are one,’ according to essence, because they are the same God; ‘we are,’ according to relation, because the one is Father, the other is Son. Sometimes also the unity of the essence is left unexpressed, and the relatives alone are mentioned in the plural number: ‘My Father and I will come unto him, and make our abode with him.’ We will come, and we will make our abode, is the plural number. ... Sometimes the meaning is altogether latent, as in Genesis: ‘Let us make man after our image and likeness.’ Both let us make and our is said in the plural, and ought not to be received except as of relatives. For it was not that gods might make, or make after the image and likeness of gods; but that the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit might make after the image of the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, that man might subsist as the image of God. … And if this cannot be grasped by the understanding, let it be held by faith, until He shall dawn in the heart who says by the prophet, ‘If you will not believe, surely you shall not understand’” (Trinity 7.4-6).

·         He explains how the Word can remain with the Father and yet could become a man by comparing it to speech. When a person speaks a word, it remains in his mind at the same time as it leaves the mouth and goes to another: “You have heard what is in my mind; now it is in yours, and I have not lost it” (Sermon 225).

·         Augustine agreed with Origen on the eternal generation of the Son; there was never a time when the Father did not have a Son (Sermon 196.1).

·         Augustine proposed many analogies of the Trinity, in particular to the human mind. He compared God not to three persons in relationship (as the Cappadocians) but to different aspects of one mind: memory, understanding, will, which can be separated for purpose of discussion but not in reality (Trinity 10.11). Another analogy: Father as lover, Son as beloved, Spirit as the love between them (Trinity 9.2; cf. 6.5, 15.17).

·         In his Confessions Augustine claimed to have found the first ch. of John in Plato (as read through Neo-Platonism), while noting that the Greeks never envisioned the Logos becoming flesh. He later retracted his over-enthusiasm for philosophy.


God and Creation

·         On creation, God first created the formless matter from which he shaped all other things (Confessions 12.8; cf. 11.5)

·         God exists outside time and created time (Confessions 11.13). Time involves change from one state to another, whereas God does not change (City 11.6; Confessions 12.8). “It is only that which remains in being without change that truly is” (Confessions 7.11). God contemplates all events in time in an instant, eternally before him; past, present, and future are equally real to him: “in the Eternal nothing passes away, but that the whole is present.” When asked what God was doing before creation, he replied, “Preparing hell for those who pry into mysteries,” but admitting this was a frivolous reply, he gave a more serious answer: before God created space and time, there could be no “before” or “after”; the question is meaningless (Confessions 11.10-12).

·         “I asked the earth; and it answered, ‘I am not He,’ and whatsoever are therein made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the creeping things that lived, and they replied, ‘We are not your God, seek higher than we.’ … I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars: ‘Neither are we the God whom you seek.’ And I answered unto all these things … ‘tell me something about Him.’ And with a loud voice they exclaimed, ‘He made us.’ My questioning was my observing of them; and their beauty was their reply” (Confessions 10.6.9).

·         The six days of Genesis were not meant to be taken literally, as the concept of evening and morning would make no sense prior to the creation of the sun (Gen contra Mani 1.23.41).

·         “In Paradise, man lived as he desired so long as he desired what God had commanded. He lived in the enjoyment of God, and was good by God's goodness; he lived without any want, and had it in his power so to live eternally. He had food that he might not hunger, drink that he might not thirst, the tree of life that old age might not waste him. There was in his body no corruption, nor seed of corruption, which could produce in him any unpleasant sensation. He feared no inward disease, no outward accident. Soundest health blessed his body, absolute tranquility his soul. As in Paradise there was no excessive heat or cold, so its inhabitants were exempt from the vicissitudes of fear and desire. No sadness of any kind was there, nor any foolish joy; true gladness ceaselessly flowed from the presence of God …. The honest love of husband and wife made a sure harmony between them.  Body and spirit worked harmoniously together, and the commandment was kept without labor. No languor made their leisure wearisome; no sleepiness interrupted their desire to labor” (City 14.26).

·         God did not create woman in the same way he created man, but instead out of him, so that the entire human race might be derived from one individual. In this way, God intended for all men to be united (City 12.22).

·         Augustine wrote about the consequences for Christian belief when its supporters attempt to justify or prove something wrong through faulty arguments and desperate attempts to preserve their interpretation of the sacred text: “Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” (On the Literal Meaning of Genesis)


Person of Christ

·         The Son lost none of his divinity by taking on flesh, nor did the man lose any of his humanity by taking on deity. One nature was not changed into another, nor mixed to create a third thing, such as two metals creating a new alloy (Trinity 1.7). He assumed what he was not, without losing what he was.

·         “The Word of God, through whom all things were made, did not leave the angels, did not leave his Father when he was in the virgin’s womb. … ‘How,’ the seeker asks, ‘could such greatness exist in so small a place?’ That womb received what the world does not contain” (Sermon 225).

·         The baby Jesus was not limited in knowledge in any way, but only appeared to be (On Merit and Forgiveness, Baptizing Infants 2.48).

·         In contrast to earlier writers, Augustine distinguished between personified wisdom in Proverbs, the first created thing, and the Word as Wisdom who was uncreated (Confessions 12.15).

·         Discussing Jesus’ prayer in Jn 17: “He prays for us who gives what he himself prays for. For Christ is man and God. He prays as man; as God, he grants what he asks in prayer” (Sermon 217).


Work of Christ:

·         Sacrifice: He is both the priest who offers and the offering itself (City 10.20). “For us he was both victor and victim, and the victor as being the victim; for us he was both priest and sacrifice, and priest as being the sacrifice” (Confessions 10.43).

·         Mediator: “as man He was Mediator; but as the Word He was not between, because [he remains] equal to God” (Confessions 10.43). His mediation was between God and men, not Satan (see below) (City 10.22).

·         Deification: “The only-begotten participated in our mortality so that we might participate in his immortality” (Trinity 13.9). “He who was God became man so as to make those who were men gods” (Sermon 192).

·         Ransom: “For our ransom he held out his cross as a trap; in it he placed his blood as bait” (Sermon 263).

·         In fact, Satan had no legal claim on mankind, so no ransom was due him. Rather, he overstepped his authority by shedding innocent blood: “It pleased God, that in order to rescue man from the grasp of the devil, he should be conquered, not by power, but by righteousness. …What, then, is the righteousness by which the devil was conquered? What, except the righteousness of Jesus Christ? And how was he conquered? Because, when he found in Him nothing worthy of death, yet he slew Him. … And therefore He conquered the devil first by righteousness, and afterwards by power: namely, by righteousness, because He had no sin, and [yet] was slain by him most unjustly; but by power, because having been dead He lived again, never afterwards to die.” By killing an innocent man, taking that which was not owed him, Satan lost his right over us. “The devil was conquered when he thought himself to have conquered, that is, when Christ was slain. For then that blood, since it was His who had no sin at all, was poured out for the remission of our sins; that, because the devil deservedly held those whom, as guilty of sin, he bound by the condition of death, he might deservedly release them through Him, whom, as guilty of no sin, the punishment of death undeservedly affected” (Trinity 4.13, 13.13-15; cf. Free Will 3.10.31).

·         “The Devil was overcome by his own trophy. … By seducing the first man, he killed him; by killing the Last Man, he lost the first from his snare” (Sermon 263). For similar arguments see Hilary (Hom Ps 68.8)

·         Augustine did not teach a “limited” atonement, as did Calvin: “Thus all, without exception, were dead in sins, whether original or voluntary sins, sins of ignorance, or sins committed against knowledge; and for all the dead there died the one only person who lived, that is, who had no sin whatever, in order that they who live by the remission of their sins should live, not to themselves, but to Him who died for all” (City 20.6). Christ’s blood applies to unbaptized babies (Against Julian 3.25.58). “The true and apostolic opinion is that Christ is the savior of all men” (Sermon 292.4). “The blood of Christ is salvation to those who wish it, punishment to those who refuse” (Sermon 344.4). However, God does not give faith to accept this atonement to everyone (see below).


On Grace and Free Will

·         “God, the Author of all natures but not of their defects, created man good. But man [Adam], corrupt by choice and condemned by justice, has produced a progeny that is both corrupt and condemned. For we all existed in that one man … Although the specific form in which each of us was to live was not yet created, our nature was already present in the seed from which it was to spring. And because this nature has been soiled by sin and doomed to death … no man was to be born of man in any other condition” (City of God 13.14).

·         Pelagius of Britain (in Rome 390, d. 418?) denied that man’s will was corrupted by the Fall. Adam’s sin injured only himself, not the race (Adam was created mortal and would have died even without sinning; death is man’s natural destiny). We are born in a sinless state of innocence like Adam was created; the only difference now is our sinful environment; children adopt evil ways from mimicking their parents. We have the ability to choose to do good. For Pelagius, grace was the revelation of God through the example of Jesus, for us to follow by our own will. God’s grace created us with free will and provided the law, knowing that we could obey it if we choose. A man could, if he tried hard enough, live a sinless life; in fact, some other than Christ had done so (Abel, Abraham, Job, Mary). God gives grace to those who prove themselves worthy to receive it. An ascetic monk, Pelagius was shocked by the licentiousness of Roman life, and was concerned that denying free will would lessen the resolve to live a righteous life and wanted to encourage its possibility (On the Proceedings of Pelagius 22-3, 32).

·         Other theologians gave a greater role to grace than Pelagius while affirming free will. Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom taught that God’s help is necessary for us to do good, but the initiative (choosing to do good) comes from us. We first desire to do good, then God strengthens that desire to make it effective.

·         In his early writings, Augustine expressed similar views: “God begrudges nothing to anyone, for he has given to all the possibility to be good, and the power to abide in the good as far as they would” (Of True Religion 4). “For the soul cannot receive and possess these gifts [of grace], except by yielding its consent. Whatever it receives is from God, and yet the act of receiving belongs to the receiver” (On the Spirit and the Letter 60). “Sin is so much a voluntary act that it is not sin unless it is voluntary” (Of True Religion 9.27). “'For it is ours to believe and to will, but it is His to give to those who believe and will, the power of doing good works through the Holy Spirit” (retracted in On Predestination). “I knew as well that I had a will as that I had life. When, therefore, I was willing or unwilling to do anything, I was most certain that it was none but myself that was willing and unwilling; and immediately I perceived that there was the cause of my sin” (Confessions 7.3). In fact, Pelagius quotes from Augustine’s early writings to support his arguments (Peter Brown, Augustine 148).

·         However, in the heat of battle against heresy, Augustine tended to swing to the opposite extreme. These early statements were written against the deterministic views of the Manicheans, a dualist eastern religion which taught the eternal existence of Good and Evil; Augustine had been a member before his conversion. In later writings against Pelagius, Augustine said the Fall had so corrupted the will that we now cannot choose anything but evil. We are unable not to sin. Man chooses to sin, and thus is responsible for his actions.

·         In his later writings, Augustine still insisted on human free will, in order to make us and not God responsible for our sins: “God's precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards. For they are given that no one might be able to plead the excuse of ignorance” (On Grace and Free Will 2). At first glance, this sounds much like Pelagius’ argument that God would not command us to obey if we did not have the ability to do so. However, Augustine defined free will in an unusual way: we freely choose to sin, not that we have a choice between good and evil: “We do not say that by the sin of Adam free will perished out of the nature of men; but that it avails [only] for sinning in men subjected to the devil, and not of avail for good and pious living, unless the will itself should be made free by God’s grace” (Two Letters of Pelagians 9).

·         “The Lord, in His foreknowledge of the future, foretold by the prophet the unbelief of the Jews; He foretold it, but did not cause it. For God does not compel any one to sin simply because He knows already the future sins of men. For He foreknew sins that were theirs, not His own; sins that were referable to no one else, but to their own selves. Accordingly, if what He foreknew as theirs is not really theirs, then had He no true foreknowledge” (Tract. John 53.4).

·          “The Pelagians think that they know something great when they assert that ‘God would not command what He knew could not be done by man.’ Who can be ignorant of this? But God commands some things which we cannot do, in order that we may know what we ought to ask of Him. For this is faith itself, which obtains by prayer what the law commands. … For it is certain that we keep the commandments if we will; but because the will is prepared by the Lord, we must ask of Him for such a force of will as suffices to make us act by the willing. It is certain that it is we that will we will, but it is He who makes us will what is good, of whom it is said, ‘The will is prepared by the Lord’ [Prov 8:35] … When he says, ‘I will make you . . . to do them,’ what else does He say in fact than, ‘I will take away from you your heart of stone,’ from which used to arise your inability to act, ‘and I will give you a heart of flesh’ [Ezek 36:26] in order that you may act?”  (G&FW 32)

·         For Augustine, grace and free will belong in a paradoxical relationship, as Scripture affirms both. “It is, however, to be feared lest all these and similar testimonies of Holy Scripture … in the maintenance of free will, be understood in such a way as to leave no room for God's assistance and grace in leading a godly life and a good conversation, to which the eternal reward is due” (G&FW 6). “When God says, ‘Turn to me, and I will turn to you’ [Zech 1:3], one of these clauses – that which invites our return to God – evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace” (G&FW 10). “Nevertheless, lest the will itself should be deemed capable of doing any good thing without the grace of God, after saying, ‘His grace within me was not in vain, but I have labored more abundantly than they all,’ [Paul] immediately added the qualifying clause, ‘Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me’” [1 Cor 15:10]  (G&FW 12).

·         “He, therefore, who wishes to do God's commandment but is unable, already possesses a good will, but as yet a small and weak one; he will, however, become able when he shall have acquired a great and robust will. …Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will. On which account the apostle says, ‘I am confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’ [Phil 1:6]. He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will” (G&FW 33).

·         “Why does He command, if He is to give … except it be that He gives what He commands when He helps him to obey whom He commands? There is, however, always within us a free will, but it is not always good; for it is either free from righteousness when it serves sin, and then it is evil, or else it is free from sin when it serves righteousness, and then it is good. But the grace of God is always good; and by it, it comes to pass a man is of a good will, though he was before of an evil one.  … For what does it profit us if we will what we are unable to do, or else do not will what we are able to do?” (G&FW 31)

·         Delight motivates the will, but we cannot choose what delights us or should delight us. “Who has it in his power to ensure that his mind attains just the right perception to move his will to faith? Who can respond enthusiastically to something that does not delight him? Who has it in his power to ensure either that he will meet what can delight him or that it will delight him when he meets it?” (Simplicianus 1.2.21)

·         God’s irresistible will: “It is not, then, to be doubted that men's wills cannot, so as to prevent His doing what he wills, withstand the will of God. … He has the wills of men more in His power than they themselves have” (Rebuke and Grace 45).


Election by grace, not merit

·         As his argument continues, Augustine insists that we have no freedom to choose God, unless He first chooses us. This election is based not on human merit but entirely on God’s free will. “[Paul’s] last clause runs thus: ‘I have kept the faith.’ But he who says this is the same who declares in another passage, ‘I have obtained mercy that I might be faithful’ [1 Cor 7:25]. He does not say, ‘I obtained mercy because I was faithful,’ but ‘in order that I might be faithful,’ thus showing that even faith itself cannot be had without God's mercy, and that it is the gift of God” (G&FW 17). “‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you’ [John 15:16]. There could be no merit in men's choice of Christ, if it were not that God's grace was prevenient in His choosing them” (G&FW 38).

·         In his early comments on Romans 9 (394 AD), Augustine had said that God elected Jacob because of his foreknowledge of Jacob’s faith. In his Retractions and other late writings, he corrected his earlier opinion and made it clear that election cannot come from any human activity, even faith; faith is a gift given by God to those whom He freely chooses (On Predestination 36). “Did we ourselves make ourselves faithful? … No man should think that he arrives at faith itself through the merit of his works; for it is faith [provided by God] which is the beginning whence good works first proceed” (Proceedings of Pelagius 34).

·         “No one believes who is not called. God calls in his mercy, and not as a reward of merits of faith, which follow his calling rather than precede it” (De Div Quaest. ad Simplic 1.2.7).


Faith as God’s gift

·         Augustine is fond of saying, “Give what you command and command what you will” (Confessions 10.29).

·         “Now if faith is simply of free will, and is not given by God, why do we pray for those who will not believe, that they may believe? This would be absolutely useless to do, unless we believe, with perfect propriety, that Almighty God is able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith. Man's free will is addressed when it is said, ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.’ But if God were not able to remove from the human heart even its obstinacy and hardness, He would not say through the prophet, ‘I will take from them their heart of stone, and will give them a heart of flesh’ [Ezek 11:19] …. Now can we possibly, without extreme absurdity, maintain that there previously existed in any man the good merit of a good will, to entitle him to the removal of his stony heart, when all the while this very heart of stone signifies nothing else than a will of the hardest kind and such as is absolutely inflexible against God?” (G&FW 29)

·         “‘For what have you which you have not received?’ [1 Cor 4:7] does not allow any believer to say, ‘I have faith which I received not.’ All the arrogance of this answer is absolutely repressed by these apostolic words. Moreover, it cannot even be said, ‘Although I have not a perfected faith, yet I have its beginning, whereby I first of all believed in Christ.’ Because here also is answered: ‘But what have you that you have not received? Now, if you have received it, why do you glory as if you received it not?’” (On Predestination 8).

·         “For some will say, ‘Many hear the word of truth; but some believe, while others do not. Therefore, the former will to believe; the latter do not will.’ Who can deny this? But since in some the will is prepared by the Lord, in others it is not prepared, we must assuredly be able to distinguish what comes from God's mercy, and what from His judgment” (On Predestination 11).

·         “But perhaps it may be said, ‘The apostle [Paul] distinguishes faith from works; he says, indeed, that grace is not of works, but he does not say that it is not of faith.’ This indeed is true. But Jesus says that faith itself also is the work of God, and commands us to work it. For the Jews said to Him, ‘What shall we do that we may work the work of God?’ Jesus answered, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ [John 6:28] The apostle … says that a man is justified by faith and not by works, because faith itself is first given, from which may be obtained works, in which a man may live righteously. For he himself also says, ‘By grace you are saved through faith; and this not of yourselves; but it is the gift of God, [Eph 2:8] — in saying ‘through faith,’ even faith itself is not of yourselves, but is God's gift” (On Predestination 12).

·         “Why, then, does He not teach all that they may come to Christ, except because all whom He teaches, He teaches in mercy, while those whom He teaches not, in judgment He teaches not? Since, ‘On whom He will He has mercy, and whom He will He hardens’ [Rom 9:18] …. And yet in a certain sense the Father teaches all men to come to His Son. For it was not in vain that it was written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be teachable of God’ [John 6:45] … so we justly say, God teaches all men to come to Christ, not because all come, but because none comes in any other way” (On Predestination 13).

·         “For it is God who works in you both to will and to accomplish according to his good will” [Phil 2:13] (Letter 186)


Perseverance of the Saints

·         “Now, moreover, when the saints say, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,’ what do they pray for but that they may persevere in holiness? For, assuredly, when that gift of God is granted to them, … none of the saints fails to keep his perseverance in holiness even to the end” (On Perseverance 9).

·         “Certainly, when the apostle says, ‘Therefore it is of faith that the promise may be sure according to grace’ [Rom 4:16], I marvel that men would rather entrust themselves to their own weakness, than to the strength of God's promise. But do you say, God's will concerning myself is to me uncertain? What then? Is your own will concerning yourself certain to you? and do you not fear, ‘Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’? [1 Cor 10:12] Since, then, both are uncertain, why does not man commit his faith, hope, and love to the stronger will rather than to the weaker?” (On Predestination 21)

·         “…to which calling there is no man that can be said by men with any certainty of affirmation to belong, until he has departed from this world; but in this life of man, which is a state of trial upon the earth, he who seems to stand must take heed lest he fall”  (On Perseverance 33).

·         “But, moreover, that such things as these are so spoken to saints who will persevere, as if it were reckoned uncertain whether they will persevere, is a reason that they ought not otherwise to hear these things, since it is well for them ‘not to be high-minded, but to fear’ [Rom 11:20]. For who of the multitude of believers can presume, so long as he is living in this mortal state, that he is in the number of the predestined? Because it is necessary that in this condition that should be kept hidden; since here we have to beware so much of pride. … men [should] have that very wholesome fear, by which the sin of presumption is kept down” (On Rebuke and Grace 40).

·         “Far be it from you to despair of yourselves, because you are bidden to have your hope in Him, not in yourselves. For cursed is every one who has hope in man, and it is good rather to trust in the Lord than to trust in man, because blessed are all they that put their trust in Him. Holding this hope, serve the Lord in fear, and rejoice unto Him with trembling. Because no one can be certain of the life eternal which God who does not lie has promised to the children of promise before the times of eternity” (On Perseverance 62).  [seems self-contradictory]


Predestination as God’s great mystery

·         With fallen man completely incapable of doing good or even willing it, only intervening, supernatural grace can bring about a state of redemption. “Mortals cannot live righteously unless the will itself is liberated by the grace of God from the servitude to sin into which it has fallen” (Retract 1.9). Such grace is unmerited and irresistible, creating in the elect the faith and the will to obey God. Pelagius: God helps those who help themselves. Augustine: God helps those who cannot help themselves.

·         This belief led Augustine to the conclusion that God chooses to provide his grace to some and not others; otherwise, if God wanted all to be saved, they would be. He interprets 1 Tim 2:4 “God wills all men to be saved” as saying God wills the salvation of the elect, among whom men of every race and time are represented: “Accordingly, when we hear and read in Scripture that He ‘will have all men to be saved’ – although we know well that all men are not saved – we are not on that account to restrict the omnipotence of God, but are rather to understand the Scripture … as meaning that no man is saved unless God wills his salvation; not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will, but that no man is saved apart from His will. … We are to understand by ‘all men’ the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances: kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned, and unlearned …” (Enchiridion 103).

·         “[By] the grace of God … the human will is not taken away, but changed from bad to good, and assisted when it is good. … also those which follow the world are so entirely at the disposal of God, that He turns them whithersoever He wills, and whensoever He wills, to bestow kindness on some, and to heap punishment on others, as He Himself judges right by a counsel most secret to Himself, indeed, but beyond all doubt most righteous” (G&FW 41).

·         But why [faith] is not given to all ought not to disturb the believer, who believes that from one [man] all have gone into condemnation, which undoubtedly is most righteous; so that even if none were delivered from condemnation, there would be no just cause for finding fault with God. … But why He delivers one rather than another, ‘His judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out’ [Rom 11:33]. For it is better in this case for us to say, ‘O man, who are you that replies against God?" [Rom 9:20] than to dare to speak as if we could know what He has chosen to be kept secret. Since, moreover, He could not will anything unrighteous” (On Predestination 16)

·          “Who can help trembling at those judgments of God by which He does in the hearts of even wicked men whatsoever He wills, at the same time rendering to them according to their deeds? …. For the Almighty sets in motion even in the innermost hearts of men the movement of their will, so that He does through their agency whatsoever He wishes to perform through them, even He who knows not how to will anything in unrighteousness” (G&FW 42).

·         “God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills whithersoever He wills, whether to good deeds according to His mercy, or to evil after their own deserts; His own judgment being sometimes manifest, sometimes secret, but always righteous. This ought to be the fixed and immoveable conviction of your heart, that there is no unrighteousness with God. Therefore, whenever you read in the Scriptures of Truth, that men are led aside, or that their hearts are blunted and hardened by God, never doubt that some ill deserts of their own have first occurred, so that they justly suffer these things. Thus you will not run counter to that proverb of Solomon: ‘The foolishness of a man perverts his ways, yet he blames God in his heart’ [Prov 19:3]. Grace, however, is not bestowed according to men's deserts; otherwise grace would be no longer grace. For grace is so designated because it is given gratuitously. Now if God is able, either through the agency of angels (whether good ones or evil), or in any other way whatever, to operate in the hearts even of the wicked, in return for their deserts, whose wickedness was not made by Him but was either derived originally from Adam or increased by their own will, what is there to wonder at if, through the Holy Spirit, He works good in the hearts of the elect, who has wrought it that their hearts become good instead of evil?” (G&FW 43)

·         “‘Therefore has He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens’ [Rom 9]. He has mercy out of His great goodness, [yet] He hardens without any injustice, so that neither can he that is pardoned glory in any merit of his own, nor he that is condemned complain of anything but his own demerit. For it is grace alone that separates the redeemed from the lost, all having been involved in one common perdition through their common origin. Now if any one, on hearing this, should say, ‘Why does He yet find fault? for who has resisted His will?’ – as if a man ought not to be blamed for being bad, because God has mercy on whom He will have mercy…. The whole human race was condemned in its rebellious head by a divine judgment so just, that if not a single member of the race had been redeemed, no one could justly have questioned the justice of God” (Enchiridion 99).

·         “For [infants] in receiving grace have no will; from the influence of which they can pretend to any precedent merit. We see, moreover, how they cry and struggle when they are baptized, and feel the divine sacraments. Such conduct would, of course, be charged against them as a great impiety, if they already had free will in use; and notwithstanding this, grace cleaves to them even in their resisting struggles” (G&FW 44). “You must refer the matter then to the hidden determinations of God, when you see, in one and the same condition, such as all infants unquestionably have, who derive their hereditary evil from Adam, that one is assisted so as to be baptized, and another is not assisted, so that he dies in his very bondage” (G&FW 45).

·         As of two twins, of which one is taken and the other left, the end is unequal, while the deserts [both deserving punishment because of original sin] are common, yet in these the one is in such wise delivered by God's great goodness, that the other is condemned by no injustice of God's. For is there unrighteousness with God? Away with the thought! But His ways are past finding out. Therefore let us believe in His mercy in the case of those who are delivered, and in His truth in the case of those who are punished, without any hesitation; and let us not endeavor to look into that which is inscrutable, nor to trace that which cannot be found out” (On Perseverance 25).

·         Augustine admitted that predestination may undermine morality, as in the case he reports of a group of monks criticized for their sins. They responded, “Why do you preach to us about our duties, when it is not we who act but God who works in us?” If all things are predetermined, then ultimately it’s up to God if we are sinners. (On Perseverance 38).

·         Although, therefore, we say that obedience is the gift of God, we still exhort men to it (On Perseverance 37). Augustine warned against preaching predestination in such a way as to discourage obedience. One should not say, ‘And if any of you obey, if you are foreknown to be rejected you shall cease to obey.’ Doubtless this is very true, assuredly it is; but it is very monstrous, very inconsiderate, and very unsuitable, not by its false declaration, but by its declaration not wholesomely applied to the health of human infirmity” (On Perseverance 62)

·         Why is preaching faith and obedience not in vain when God has predetermined everything? Because God has chosen to effect his election through preaching; He commands it, so it must be done without questioning (On Perseverance 22, 34).


On the Origin of Evil

·         Augustine follows Origen in applying OT texts allegorically to Satan: "How art thou fallen, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" (Isa 14;12) "Thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering," (Ezek 28:13) (City 11.15)

·         He traces the origin of evil before the Fall to the creation of the angels, and asks why, if they were created with good wills, did some fall? Anything God creates is good by nature, but because He created all things from nothing, there is the tendency to imperfection, as only pure, uncreated Being can be perfect. Everything made from nothing is capable of change and of being corrupted. Evil is the corruption of good, changing from what God intended into something else (City 14.13). For Augustine, Nothing almost becomes “something” (as darkness to light) which is opposed to Being/God, its negative or opposite (while not falling into dualism; he does not personify Nothing).

·         Both faithful and rebellious angels were created equally good, but God gave to some the extra benefit of grace which enabled them to resist temptation and remain faithful (thus predestination even in heaven)  (City 11.11, 12.9).

·         The number of elect has been set from eternity, to replace the number of fallen angels (City 22.1.2). “Mankind, who constituted the remainder of the intelligent creation, having perished without exception under sin, both original and actual, and the consequent punishments, should be in part restored, and should fill up the gap which the rebellion and fall of the devils had left in the company of the angels” (Enchiridion 29).


On Original Sin and sexuality

·         When Adam and Eve sinned, they saw their nakedness and covered themselves: “That’s the place from which the first sin is passed on” (Sermon 151.5). Adam’s original sin is transmitted from one generation to another through sexual reproduction, designed by God but corrupted by lust after the Fall. Our souls are produced through an extension of our parents’ souls, already tainted with sin.

·         Prior to the Fall, the first couple engaged in “passionless procreation.” The body was completely subject to the soul’s will; lust did not move those members of the body without the soul’s consent. “The man, then, would have sown the seed, and the woman received it, as need required, the generative organs being moved by the will, not excited by lust.” (He illustrates his point with examples of men who can control their bodies at will: wiggling their ears, crying at will, even passing wind in a musical fashion.) How sex would occur without desire, Augustine admits, is difficult to imagine today. Sexual desire became part of the penalty for sin, “this struggle and rebellion, this quarrel between will and lust.” However, he refutes those against sexual relations in marriage who say that before the Fall, Adam and Eve did not mate (an idea he himself once held). “That blessing upon marriage, which encouraged them to increase and multiply and replenish the earth … was yet given before they sinned, for the procreation of children, as part of the glory of marriage. … He who says there would have not been copulation or generation except for sin, virtually says that man’s sin was necessary to complete the number of the saints.” Augustine apologizes for his discussion of sexual matters, afraid that even in a religious context, talking about such things will excite the reader’s passions (City 14.17-26).

·         In later years he had to defend marital relations more strongly in response to the asceticism of the Manicheans (3rd century dualistic religion from Babylonia) who taught that reproduction entrapped the particles of Light within the material realm of Darkness. “The body is by nature [? or the Fall?] opposed to the soul, but it is not alien to the nature of man” (On Continence 12). This asexual trend was found not just in heretical groups but in popular piety. The heroine in Acts of Paul and Thecla refuses to marry her fiancé after hearing Paul preach; when she is thrown to the lions, the female lions protect her from the males. In Acts of John, Drusiana is buried in a sepulcher for two weeks by her husband for refusing his sexual requests.

·         God designed sex in marriage for procreation. Birth control or “unnatural” forms of sex are not permissible as this attempts to defeat God’s purpose. “Intercourse that goes beyond the necessity [of procreation] no longer obeys reason but passion.” Sex for pleasure in marriage gives into lust and is a venial sin (pardonable), whereas adultery is a mortal sin. Pleasurable sex in marriage is permitted, but only to protect the relationship from the temptation of adultery. Complete chastity is the best way; yet Augustine warns virgins not to think themselves superior to the married (The Good of Marriage 6, 10).

·         Sexual lust “takes such complete and passionate possession of the whole person, both physically and emotionally, that what results is the keenest of all pleasures on the level of sensation; and at the crisis of excitement, it practically paralyzes all power of deliberate thought. This is so true that it creates a problem for every lover of wisdom and holy joys who is both committed to a married life and also conscious of the apostolic ideal, that every one should ‘learn how to possess his body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God’ [1 Thess 4:4]. Any such person would prefer, if this were possible, to beget children without suffering this passion. He could wish that … the organs of parenthood might function in obedience to the will and not be excited by the ardors of lust” (City 14.16).

·         Eve was deceived into thinking that her disobedience was for her good. Adam was not deceived but sinned knowingly, choosing to remain with his mate and not be separated from her in her punishment. Their sin, seemingly insignificant, was all the more greater a rebellion because before the fall it was so easy for them to obey. An act of will occurred before the sinful behavior. Satan would not have tempted either if they had not already begun to seek satisfaction in themselves rather than in God. “Whoever seeks to become more than he is becomes less.” (City 14.12-13)

·         Augustine explains that Satan was not physically present in the garden, being a place of complete blessedness, but this story personifies the thoughts in Eve’s mind which tempted her (Genesis contra Mani 2.14.20).

·         “It is an error to conclude that all the evils of the soul proceed from the body …. The corruption of the body, which is a burden on the soul [Wisd. 9:15], is not the cause but the punishment of Adam’s first sin. … It was the sinful soul that made the flesh corruptible” (City 14.3). Satan has all kinds of vices but has no body/flesh.

·         Although admitting no certain knowledge from scripture, Augustine thought that souls were not created at birth, for how would they acquire the taint of Adam’s sin? (Letter 166.10). He also objected to Origen’s idea that souls were pre-existent (166.15).

·         Augustine’s mentor Ambrose was probably the first to suggest the idea that Jesus had to be born of a virgin to avoid the taint of original sin.


Psychology of sin

·         “Our mind cannot be understood, even by itself, because it is made in God’s image” (Sermons 398.2).

·         In his Confessions (2.4) Augustine obsesses about a childhood prank, stealing pears from a neighbor’s tree. He did not want the pears (threw them at pigs) but enjoyed the pleasure of stealing. It was love of sin itself that caused him to do it.

·         Lust takes many forms other than just sexual: “But pleasure is preceded by a certain appetite which is felt in the flesh like a craving, as hunger and thirst and that generative appetite which is most commonly identified with the name ‘lust,’ though this is the generic word for all desires”: lust of revenge; lust of money, lust of conquering, lust of applause, lust of ruling (City 14.15).

·         Three main forms of sin: lust for things (covetousness), lust for power, and sexual lust.

·         At birth we exhibit our self-centeredness by crying for attention, demanding that our parents take care of our needs immediately. “Who brings to my remembrance the sin of my infancy? For before You none is free from sin, not even the infant which has lived but a day upon the earth.” Babies are weak in physical strength but not in will (Confessions 1.11).

·         Sin can corrupt even good works if we perform them out of pride or for recognition. “Faithfully interrogate your own souls, whether you have not been unduly puffed up by your integrity, and continence, and chastity; and whether you have not been so desirous of the human praise that is accorded to these virtues, that you have envied some who possessed them” (City 1.28; 5.13).

·         “But whatever is done either through fear of punishment or from some other carnal motive, and has not for its principle that love which the Spirit of God sheds abroad in the heart, is not done as it ought to be done, however it may appear to men” (Enchiridion 121). “It is useless for anyone to think that he has triumphed over sin when he refrains for fear of punishment, because even though the impulse of the evil passion has not resulted in outward action, the evil passion is still the enemy within. … A man is an enemy of righteousness who refrains from sin only through fear of punishment” and would prefer that the threat of punishment be removed so that he might sin. True obedience loves the right way because it is right, and hates sin even if it were not punished. “He who fears hell does not fear to sin; he fears to burn” (Letter 145.4).

·         Whereas earlier theologians had placed emphasis on the evil powers outside man (demons), Augustine focused on the inward problem: “The Devil is not to be blamed for everything; there are times when a man is his own devil” (in Peter Brown 245). He analyzed the problem of sin in psychological terms, attributing its hold on people to the force of habit. Pleasure from past sins lives in the memory and is re-experienced, being amplified by each repeated action (On the Sermon on the Mount 1.12.34).

·         “The rule of sin is the force of habit, by which the mind is swept along and held fast even against its will, yet deservedly, because it fell into the habit of its own accord” (Confessions 8.5).

·         “Whence is this monstrous thing? What causes it? The mind commands the body, and it obeys at once; the mind commands itself, and is resisted. … The mind orders itself to make an act of will, and it would not give this order unless it willed to do so; yet it does not carry out its own command” (Confessions 8.9).

·         In his early days, Augustine prayed, “‘Give me chastity – but not yet.’ For I was afraid that you would answer my prayer at once and cure me too soon of the disease of lust, which I wanted satisfied, not quelled” (Confessions 8.7). He depicts his old temptations as calling to him, “Are you getting rid of us?” (8.11)

·         “For it is you, Lord, who judge me; for although no ‘man knows the things of a man except the spirit of man which is in him’ [Cor 2:11], yet there are some things in a man which even his own spirit does not know. But You, Lord, know all there is to know of him, because you made him” (Confessions 10.5).


Theodicy (reconciling the justice of God and the reality of evil):

·         Evil as the corruption of good: God is never to be blamed for any defects that offend us, but should ever be praised for all the goodness we see in the natures He has made. For God is absolute Being, and therefore all other beings are made by Him. No being that was made from nothing could be perfect, on par with God, not could it ever be at all, were it not made by Him.  Anything created is subject to change; only God is unchangeable (City 12.5). There is only one good in itself, which is God, the Author of Being. Anything else is good only by participating in God. Since everything else is mutable, it can fall away from the good.

·         If the entire creation is good, evil is the corruption or misuse of something good, a falling away from its created design and purpose (City 14.3). In his early work on Free Will, he explains that the human will sins when it turns away from the Supreme Good and turns toward its own private good. What causes the will to want to sin? Augustine says the origin of sin forever lies hidden within the mystery of human freedom (John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, 1966, 1978, 60-1).

·         Evil is the absence of good, as sickness is the absence of health (influence of Neo-Platonism). “There can be no evil where there is no good. … Nothing evil exists in itself, but only as an evil aspect of something good” (Enchiridion 4.13-14; cf. Confessions 7.12).

·         Bringing good from evil: “By his omniscience, God could foresee two future realities: how bad man, whom God created good, was to become, and how much good God was to make out of this very evil.” (City 14.11)

·         “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to allow no evil to exist” (Enchiridion 27).

·         “God would never have created any angel or man whose future wickedness He foreknew, unless He had equally known to what uses for good He could turn him, thus embellishing the course of the ages, as it were an exquisite poem set off with antitheses. For what are called antitheses are among the most elegant of the ornaments of speech. … As, then, these oppositions of contraries lend beauty to the language, so the beauty of the course of this world is achieved by the opposition of contraries, arranged, as it were, by an eloquence not of words, but of things. This is quite plainly stated in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, in this way: ‘Good is set against evil, and life against death: so is the sinner against the godly. So look upon all the works of the Most High, and these are two and two, one against another’” (City 11.18).

·         “For while the Lord, by His servants, overthrows the kingdoms of error, His will concerning erring men, as far as they are men, is that they should be amended rather than destroyed. And in every case where, previous to the final judgment, God inflicts punishment, whether through the wicked or the righteous, whether through the unintelligent or through the intelligent, whether in secret or openly, we must believe that the designed effect is the healing of men, and not their ruin; while there is a preparation for the final doom in the case of those who reject the means of recovery (Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus 1).

·         Plenitude of creation (the aesthetic argument): God designed nature to fill every level of Being, from the highest rank to the lowest: spiritual creatures (angels and humans) above non-spiritual, sentient (animals) above non-sentient (plants), living above non-living (rocks, etc). Everything has its place in the great chain of being. Augustine adapted this idea from Plato.

·         Unlike in Gnosticism and its later version Manichaeism, Augustine teaches the whole creation is good. The lowest level of being in God’s creation is still good. An inferior creature is not evil but of lesser good.

·         In his design there is a place for every natural thing, predator and prey, natural disasters, etc. If we cannot see the beauty of this design, it is because we are too enmeshed in our own troubles to appreciate the whole. “As it is beyond our comprehension to understand the providence of God, we are rightly commanded to have faith rather than allow the rashness of human vanity to criticize even the smallest detail in the masterpiece of our Creator.” (City 12.4)

·         Why did God create so many pernicious animals? To one unfamiliar with the craft, the tools in the artisan’s shop appear useless, but the artisan knows their use and value to his purposes (Gen contra Mani 1.16.25).

·         “Therefore it is not with respect to our convenience or discomfort, but with respect to their own nature, that the creatures are glorifying to their Creator. …For what is more beautiful than fire flaming, blazing, and shining? What more useful than fire for warming, restoring, cooking, though nothing is more destructive than fire burning and consuming? The same thing, then, when applied in one way, is destructive, but when applied suitably, is most beneficial. …We must not listen, then, to those who praise the light of fire but find fault with its heat, judging it not by its nature, but by their convenience or discomfort. For they wish to see, but not to be burnt. But they forget that this very light which is so pleasant to them, disagrees with and hurts weak eyes; and in that heat which is disagreeable to them, some animals find the most suitable conditions of a healthy life.” (City 12.4)



·         After many Christians fell away during Diocletian’s persecution, Donatus led a split from the main church, insisting on clergy that had not betrayed the faith (similar to Novatian in the 3rd c). Sacraments performed by unfaithful clergy were not valid; they insisted on rebaptizing. (Laws against Donatists’ rebaptism were used against Anabaptists centuries later.)

·         Donatists at times outnumbered Catholics in North Africa, and unfortunately the conflict became violent on both sides. Each claimed to be the only true church.

·         After losing appeals to the emperor over loss of church property, the Donatists rejected imperial authority over the church: “What does the Emperor have to do with the church?” (Optatus, Schis. Don. 3.3). Many of their members were from the lower classes, heavily taxed by the empire. Donatists resented the tax exemptions given to Catholic clergy, and thought that the church had more than its share of wealth and privileges. Augustine defended himself against accusations of covetousness and mismanagement of church funds (Letter 126.8). Donatists claimed that the devil had rewarded those who lapsed (Catholic clergy) with imperial favor and wealth, and accused them of wanting to save their riches rather than their souls (Aug. Answer to Petilianus 2.99.225).

·         Donatists gained a reputation for being social dissidents. Augustine writes: “Unity is shunned and peasants are emboldened to rise against their landlords. Runaway slaves, in defiance of apostolic discipline, are encouraged to desert and even threaten their masters” (Letter 108.18). Under the laws of Christian emperors, “the doctrine of the peace and unity of Christ was beginning by degrees to gain ground,” but bands of radical Donatists (Circumcellions) “disturbed the peace of the innocent in the spirit of reckless madness.” Masters lived in fear of servants who became Donatists, fearing violent reprisals if they punished them. “Under fear of clubs and fires and instant death, the records of worthless slaves were torn up so that they could go free” (Letter 185.15). Catholic reaction to Donatist extremists led to an even greater alignment of the church with the powerful state (Gonzalez, Faith and Wealth 161).

·         Augustine is the first theologian to approve of the state’s coercion of non-Catholics by confiscating property (quoting Ecclus 10:19, “Therefore the just took the spoils of the wicked”), assessing fines, and enforcing exile. He admitted that coercion was a last resort but sometimes necessary: “Does anyone doubt that it is better for man to be led to the worship of God by teaching rather than forced to it by fear of suffering? … but a hard-hearted slave will not be corrected by words. … ‘Beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from death’ [Prov 23:14].” Paul himself was “compelled” to believe in Christ; Jesus’ parable urged that people be compelled to come to his feast (Luke 14). “Why then should the church not compel her lost sons to return if the lost sons have compelled others to be lost?” (Letter 185.21-23, 37).

·         Donatists argued for religious freedom from the state religion, saying coerced faith was no faith at all. Some Donatists committed suicide to avoid being forced into the Catholic church. They would disrupt pagan ceremonies to stir up the mob to kill them (185.12).

·         Augustine did try to make peace with the Donatists, accepting their bishops back to the church; he was willing to alternate services with the Donatist bishop at Hippo. When laws were passed against them, he encouraged his people not to brag like victors (Letter 78.8). He considered Donatist baptism valid, being the mark of the Lord and not the baptizer, and did not require anyone to be rebaptized as a Catholic (Letter 185.23, 43). Whenever the Catholics took back church property from the Donatists, they would take responsibility for all the poor that the Donatists had cared for previously (Letter 185.36).

·         Quotes Cyprian: “There is no salvation outside the church” (On Baptism vs. Donatists 4.17). Also by Cyprian: “He will not have God as his father who does not wish to have the church as his mother” (Answer to Petilianus 3.9).

·         In his arguments with the Donatists, Augustine defined four marks of the church: unity, holiness, catholicity (universality), apostolicity. The holiness of the true church is not found in its members or leaders but in the holiness of grace dispensed in its sacraments. The church could not claim to be sinless, based on 1 John 1:8-9.

·         Against the Donatists’ idea that the church must be perfectly pure to be the true church, he argued that the visible church in this age will never be perfect, and is not equivalent to the eternal City of God, as there are many within the church who are not of the elect: “from the Church those reapers shall gather out the tares which He suffered to grow with the wheat until the harvest” (City 20.9). “Do not be surprised at the large number of bad Christians who fill the church … They can exist along with us in the church of this time, but they will not remain in that assembly of saints after the resurrection” (Sermon 223). “There are some also who as yet live wickedly, or even lie in heresies or the superstitions of the Gentiles, and yet even then the Lord knows them that are His. For, in that unspeakable foreknowledge of God, many who seem to be without are in reality within, and many who seem to be within yet really are without” (On Baptism vs. Donatists 27). “How many sheep are outside, how many wolves within!” (Tract. John 45.12)

·         Augustine feared that since the legalization of Christianity, many had been baptized for reasons other than faith, such as social benefits, reputation, political favors by powerful bishops: “For whence exist in the Church the great evils under which we groan, save from the impossibility of withstanding the enormous multitude that, almost to the entire subversion of discipline, gain an entrance, with their morals so utterly at variance with the pathway of the saints?” (Tract John 122.7)

·         Some Donatists asked, “If we have sinned against the Holy Spirit by casting scorn on your baptism, what use is it for you to seek us, when it is impossible for this sin to be forgiven?” Augustine answered that the unforgivable sin against the Spirit is rejection of the Spirit’s testimony about Christ (Letter 185.48-9).



·         The sacking of Rome by the Goth Alaric (an Arian Christian) in 410 caused many to blame the collapse of Rome on Christianity and its denial of the old gods. Some Christians despaired, having equated Rome’s success and future with the victory of the Church: “O weep for the empire … in a single city the whole world has perished!” (Jerome, cf. Augustine Letters 127.12)

·         Augustine wrote The City of God in answer. God is independent of human history and the rise and fall of nations. The church should never identify itself with the prevailing culture. The Christian has a higher allegiance than any state. The city of God is not a political entity; its citizens are those who love God. The city of God is not the church; in the visible, earthly church we must always be mindful of “wheat and tares.” Only God knows who the true believers are. Augustine traced the history of the City of God throughout scripture but did not bring it up to his own day, suggesting that we cannot with certainty identify the work of God in post-biblical history (as Eusebius had with the conversion of Constantine).

·         Augustine (following Ambrose) introduces the concept of the just war (now that the church and state are aligned). Wickedness must be restrained, by force if necessary, and the sword of the earthly ruler is divinely sanctioned. Prior to Augustine, no major writers condone a Christian killing in war; soldiers who converted were told to disobey their commanders rather than kill. No one who was a Christian already could enlist in the army.

·         Not only are our eternal lives predestined, but God determines our place and fortune in society (Sermon 125.5). He appoints rulers both good and wicked, but always justly and for the proper reason; some people deserve a cruel king (City 4.33). “The cause, then, of the greatness of the Roman empire is neither fortuitous nor fatal … [rather] human kingdoms are established by divine providence.” The same God gave power to Augustus and to Nero, to the Christian Constantine and the pagan Julian (City 5.1, 21).

·         “By what right does every man possess what he possesses? Is it not by human right? For by divine right, ‘The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.’ The poor and the rich God made of one clay; the same earth supports alike the poor and the rich. By human right, however, one says, This estate is mine, this house is mine, this servant is mine. By human right, therefore, is by right of the emperors. Why so? Because God has distributed to mankind these very human rights through the emperors and kings of this world” (Tract John 6.25).

·         “For even they who intentionally interrupt the peace in which they are living have no hatred of peace, but only wish it changed into a peace that suits them better. … even wicked men wage war to maintain the peace of their own circle, and wish that, if possible, all men belonged to them, that all men and things might serve but one head, and might, either through love or fear, yield themselves to peace with him!  It is thus that pride in its perversity apes God.  It abhors equality with other men under Him; but, instead of His rule, it seeks to impose a rule of its own upon its equals.  It abhors, that is to say, the just peace of God, and loves its own unjust peace; but it cannot help loving peace of one kind or other” (City 19.12).


Christian Life

·         “It is a lie not to live as a man was created to live.” Man desires happiness even when he lives in such a way as to make happiness impossible. When we sin, we seek our own happiness, not realizing that true happiness can be found only in pleasing God (City 14.4). “Because you made us for yourself, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you” (Confessions 1.1).

·         “In this life you cannot be happy; not one can. You seek what is good, but earth is not the source of that which you seek” (Sermon 231).

·         “How many necessities of strife there are on every side! Very often one is overcome with weariness, and says to himself, … ‘I have no peace [with others]; … what business is it of mine to endure this? Let me return to myself…’ Do return to yourself, you find strife there. … The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Tract John 34.10). “Whoever hopes for [peace] in this world, his wisdom is but folly” (City 17.13).

·         “Quite exceptional are those who are not punished in this life, but only afterwards. … the very life we mortals lead is itself all punishment, for it is all temptation, as the Scriptures declare, where it is written, ‘Is not the life of man upon earth a temptation?’ [Job 7:1] … Our infancy, indeed, introducing us to this life not with laughter but with tears, seems unconsciously to predict the ills we are to encounter” (City 21.14).

·         “If the things of this world delight you, praise God but turn your love away from them and give it to their Maker, so that in the things that please you, you will not displease Him. …The good things you love are from God, but they are good only as long as they are used to do his will” (Confessions 4.12).

·         “No man should be so committed to contemplation as to give no thought to his neighbor’s needs, nor absorbed in action as to dispense with the contemplation of God” (City 19.19).

·         Unlike other vices which manifest themselves in sinful acts, pride can corrupt even our good deeds, if we act in order to receive praise or fame.

·         “He that is good is free, though he be a slave; he that is evil is a slave, though he be a king” (City 4).

·         “Do not grow weary; do not look back. Your Lord’s promise is true when he says, ‘Whoever perseveres to the end shall be saved.’ You answer, ‘I notice that the one who lives an evil life is fortunate.’ You are mistaken; he is unfortunate, and more so to the very degree in which he seems to you to be more fortunate. His is an insanity which does not recognize his own misery … [like] a man with a high fever laughing” (Sermon 250).

·          “We should never undertake the task of chiding another’s sin unless, cross-examining our own conscience, we can assure ourselves before God that we are acting from love. If reproaches or threats or injuries, voiced by the one you are calling to account, have wounded your spirit, then for that person to be healed by you, you must not speak until you are healed yourself, lest you act from worldly motives to hurt, and make your tongue a sinful weapon against evil, returning wrong for wrong. Whatever you speak out of a wounded spirit is the wrath of an avenger, not the love of an instructor” (Galatians Comm 57).

·         “The beauty which flows through men’s minds into their skillful hands comes from that Beauty which is above their souls and for which my soul sighs day and night.” Yet Augustine feels guilty for appreciating music even in hymns: “Sometimes I feel that I treat [music] with more honor than it deserves. I realize that when they are sung, these sacred words stir my mind to greater religious fervor and kindle in me a more ardent flame of piety than they would if they were not sung … but I ought not to allow my mind to be paralyzed by the gratification of my senses, which often leads me astray. … When I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess it a grievous sin” (Confessions 10.34, 33).


On Wealth

·         “Not money in a rich man but covetousness is condemned” (En Ps 52.10). “’Perhaps,’ [the rich] would say, ‘You call him covetous and greedy who seeks another's goods,’ but I say, seek not even your own greedily or covetously” (Sermon 107.4).

·         If you call your possessions your “riches,” you will love them and will perish with them (Sermon 113.4).

·         “[Paul said,] ‘Let them be rich in good works, let them easily distribute, let them share’ [1 Tim 6:18]. Must [the rich] then lose all they have? He said, ‘Let them share,’ not ‘Let them give the whole.’ Let them keep for themselves as much as is sufficient for them, let them keep more than is sufficient. Let us give a certain portion of it. What portion? A tenth? The Scribes and Pharisees gave tithes. … And yet I am not finding fault with this; do even this. So hungry and thirsty am I, that I am glad even of these crumbs. But yet I cannot keep back what He who died for us said while He was alive: ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ He does not deal softly with us; for He is a physician, He cuts to the quick. The Scribes and Pharisees gave a tenth. How is it with you? Ask yourselves. Consider what you do, and with what means you do it; how much you give, how much you leave for yourselves; what you spend on mercy, what you reserve for luxury. … Seek only for sufficiency, seek for what is enough; and do not wish for more. All the rest is a weight, rather than a help” (Sermon 85.4-6; cf. En Ps 147).

·         What God has given you in abundance beyond your needs belongs to the poor; to keep it is theft (Sermon 206.2). "From those things that God gave you, take that which you need, but the rest, which to you are superfluous, are necessary to others. The superfluous goods of the rich are necessary to the poor, and when you possess the superfluous you possess what is not yours" (En Ps 147.12).

·         “The Lord made the rich so they could find help in the poor, and the poor to test the rich” (Sermon 39.6). The poor help the rich by alleviating their burden of riches which impedes their progress to heaven; poverty itself is burden as well, so both burdens are shared (Sermon 61.12, 164.9) 

·         “But you [the rich] will say, ‘I give costly banquets, I feed on rich meats.’ But the poor man, what does he feed on? On cheap food …. Well, I ask you, when you both are filled, and the rich food is inside you, what does it become? If we had but looking-glasses within us, should we not be put to shame for all the costly meat whereby we have been filled? [implying both rich and cheap food become the same waste] … But you will say, ‘I relish better my costly food.’ True, and it is hard for you to be satisfied, dainty as you are. You know not the relish which hunger seasons. Not that I have said this to force the rich to feed on the meat and drink of the poor. Let the rich use what their infirmity has accustomed them to; but let them be sorry that they are not able to do otherwise” (Sermon 61.12).

·         Giving is a way to do penance for minor sins after baptism, unless one uses giving as an excuse to sin: “For they would thus be driven to acknowledge that it were possible for a very wealthy man to buy absolution from murders, adulteries, and all manner of wickedness, by paying a daily alms of ten paltry coins. … They suppose that by giving to the poor a small fraction of the wealth they acquire by extortion and spoliation they can propitiate Christ, so that they may with impunity commit the most damnable sins, in the persuasion that they have bought from Him a license to transgress” (City 21.27.2).


On the Sabbath:

·         Summing up common patristic arguments, Augustine took the Sabbath day commandment figuratively, as a type of the eternal rest in God which was to come in Christ. (Letter 55.17-22 below)

·         Christians hope for “a certain holy and perpetual rest from the whole burden of every kind of care; and from this life unto that rest we make a transition which our Lord Jesus Christ condescended to exemplify and consecrate in His Passion. This rest, however, is not a slothful inaction, but a certain ineffable tranquility caused by work in which there is no painful effort.”

·         “If, in reading Genesis, you search the record of the seven days, you will find that there was no evening of the seventh day, which signified that the rest of which it was a type was eternal. The life originally bestowed was not eternal, because man sinned; but the final rest, of which the seventh day was an emblem, is eternal, and hence the eighth day also will have eternal blessedness, because that rest, being eternal, is taken up by the eighth day.”

·         “Nevertheless the seventh day was appointed to the Jewish nation as a day to be observed by rest of the body, that it might be a type of sanctification to which men attain through rest in the Holy Spirit.”

·         “When, however, the soul delights in God, there it finds the true, sure, and eternal rest, which in all other objects was sought in vain.”

·         “It is also for this reason, that of all the ten commandments, that which related to the Sabbath was the only one in which the thing commanded was typological; the bodily rest enjoined being a type which we have received as a means of our instruction, but not as a duty binding also upon us. For while in the Sabbath a figure is presented of the spiritual rest, of which it is said in the Psalm, ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ and unto which men are invited by the Lord Himself in the words, ‘Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: so shall you find rest unto your souls’; ... we are not commanded to observe the day of the Sabbath literally, in resting from bodily labor, as it is observed by the Jews; and even their observance of the rest as prescribed is to be deemed worthy of contempt, except as signifying another, namely, spiritual rest.”



·         Intermediate state: “In this intermediate period between the putting off and the taking again of the body, the souls are either tormented or they are in repose, according to those things which they have done during the period of the bodily life” (On Predestination 24). “During the time which intervenes between a man's death and the final resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life which it led on earth” (Enchiridion 109).

·         Rejecting the “gross dreams of carnal indulgence” in the millennium, Augustine proposed that the 1000 years symbolically represents the entire church age, “employing the number of perfection to mark the fullness of time.” The “first resurrection” in Rev 20 is the transition from spiritual death to life in this age. Satan is currently bound but will be loosed for three and a half years to gather the nations against the Church through the activity of the Antichrist. But Augustine assures us that he cannot ever cause the Elect to fall (City 20.7-9).

·         Augustine discourages looking for signs of the End, as most passages people use refer to other events. He agrees with contemporary interpretation (by whom?) of the 70 weeks in Daniel predicting the first coming of Christ, not the End (Letter 199.21).

·         Luke 21 makes clear with its reference to “armies surrounding the city” that the Abomination in Matt 24 / Mark 13 refers to the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Letter 199.29).

·         Christians should not look for signs of the End in present troubles of Rome: “As to wars, when has the earth not been scourged by them?” Christians should not panic “over present happenings as if they were the ultimate and extreme of all things” so that “we may not be laughed at by those who have read of more and worse things in the history of the world.” (Letter 199.35, 39).

·         Augustine accepts the Greek concept of the immortal soul, but also challenges Platonists in insisting that the body will be resurrected and made immortal as well (City 13.18, 24). He describes eternal damnation in Platonic terms: “not that death which releases the soul from the body, but that in which the soul will burn forever” (Sermon 224). [Jesus said, body and soul are destroyed in hell]

·         He speculates that the resurrection body will be recreated with all our organs, even genitalia no longer needed for procreation; but they will be glorified, no longer shameful (Sermon 243).

·         “Now it was expedient that man should be at first so created, as to have it in his power both to will what was right and to will what was wrong … But in the future life it shall not be in his power to will evil; and yet this will constitute no restriction on the freedom of his will. On the contrary, his will shall be much freer when it shall be wholly impossible for him to be the slave of sin. We should never think of blaming the will, or saying that it was no will, or that it was not to be called free, when we so desire happiness, that not only do we shrink from misery, but find it utterly impossible to do otherwise” (Enchiridion 105).

·         He condemned Origen’s idea that the wicked and even Satan would someday be purged of their evil and brought into the presence of God (City 21.27).



·         Mary remained a virgin, even through Jesus’ birth; if the risen Christ could walk through closed doors, then he could be born without violating her virginity (Sermon 191.1; 247). Ironically, this was a Gnostic teaching as well.

·         Augustine agreed with Pelagius on one point, that Mary was sinless, not by her own will but by God’s grace: “We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her” (Nature and Grace 42).

·         “We do not subject Mary to the devil because of the condition of her birth, but the reason that we do not is that the condition itself is cancelled by the grace of rebirth.” Mary is saved like everyone else, by rebirth in Christ, not an immaculate conception, an idea which developed later (Incomplete work against Julian 4.122).


Other thoughts:

·         “Miracles have not been allowed to stretch into our time, or the soul would always be looking for sensations, and the human race would grow jaded with their continual occurrence” (True Religion 47). But see Confessions 9.7 where he reports miraculous healings for those who came near the bodies of martyrs.

·         Explaining disagreements between the Hebrew and Greek translation of OT (Septuagint), he says that the 70 translators were also inspired, sometimes to write different ideas from the original texts. (City 18.43)

·         Concerning the reading of Genesis, Augustine admits that there are many possible interpretations of scripture, “flowing out in many streams from the one source of truth.” We cannot know for certain what was in the mind of Moses when he wrote these words. We can assert the truth of scripture while at the same time admitting that getting at this truth is often difficult. He rebukes those who are all too sure of their own interpretations: “They have no knowledge of the thoughts of [Moses’] mind, but they are in love with their own opinions. … When so many meanings, all of them acceptable as true, can be extracted from the words that Moses wrote, do you not see how foolish it is to make a bold assertion that one meaning in particular is the one he had in mind?” (Confessions 12.23-7)

·         Why do children suffer and die? God in his wisdom may use their deaths to bring about repentance in their parents. “Who knows what reward, in the secret of his judgments, God has in store for these little ones whose sufferings serve to break down the hardness of their elders?” (Letter 166.18).

·         Use of allegory: In John 21, Jesus tells the disciples to cast for fish and they catch 153. The two boats represent the Jews and Gentiles. Unlike earlier (Luke 5) he does not say cast to the right (the good people) or left (the wicked), but just cast, so that both good and bad are caught up in the nets (the church). There are so many wicked people in the church, their weight drags down the rest. As for 153, add the ten commandments to the seven operations of the Spirit (Isa 11:2-3), needed to obey the commandments, to get 17. Add the numbers 1 through 17 together to get 153 (Sermon 249).


Post-Augustine developments

·         Leo the Great (440-461 as pope) finally established the bishop of Rome as supreme, arguing direct succession from Peter the first bishop of Rome. All other bishops derive their authority not from Peter but from the pope.



Major Sources:


Davies, J. G. The Early Christian Church: A History of its First Five Centuries. 1965.

Hinson, E. Glenn. The Early Church. 1996.

Jefford, Clayton. Reading the Apostolic Fathers. 1996.

Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines. 1978.

Larson, John. A Theological and Historical Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers. 1961.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. 1953.

Placher, William. A History of Christian Theology. 1983.