Unity of Christ (Conflict and Continuity in Patristic Tradition)

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Puritanboard Clerk
by Christopher Beeley (Yale University Press).

Beeley's work represents an interesting advance on previous patristic studies. He challenges long-held models on how to interpret different Christological interpretations. His works is thoroughly documented and covers every major Christological figure. I think he overshoots his case at the end and does not interact with challenges to his own viewpoint.

Part of his thesis is to rehabilitate Origen. For all of Origen's fatal flaws, few of his earlier followers really had the reaction to him that we have today. Nor did they even think of challenging the "grammar" of his Christology. This leads to another part of Beeley's thesis: The Alexandrian school was far more dualist than is commonly thought. This is seen in their surprising use of the communicatio idiomata. For all of the Alexandrian rhetoric of "God in the womb/God in the tomb," they always qualified it to mean that the divine nature really didn't suffer.

For our purposes Origen's Christology is the Son as mediator of the divine knowledge (he mediates the Father's utter simplicity).

As in Origen, so in Eusebius. Beeley correctly argues that Eusebius was not the closet Arian that people make him out to be. The problem was the term "ousia" connoted physical ideas. Given those ideas, if one said the two were of the same ousia, then it seemed you were saying they were "physical" or had no differentiating characteristics (and it is cheating to read later uses of "hypostasis" back into it). Beeley marshals enough quotations to say that while Eusebius is problematic, he is okay.

Beeley has a controvesial section on Athanasios. Continuing with his dualist motif, he suggests that Athanasios is not the Alexandrian you think he is. He, like virtually every ancient thinker, held to the divine impassibility of the Word. Coupled with the communicatio, this means that "suffering" is predicated of the person, not the Word.

Gregory of Nazianzus represents a supreme advance on all previous Christology. Gregory sees Christ's divine identity in dynamic, narrative terms (185). Interestingly, Gregory sees perichoresis as emphasizing, not the unity, but the distinctions (Beeley 189, cf. Ep. 101.20-21).

Beeley then contrasts Western thinkers with earlier Eastern ones. His conclusions aren't all that surprising from earlier works, so I won't deal with them here.

He does note weaknesses and shortcomings in later Eastern thinkers (Cyril and Maximos), but also points to key gains made.


1. I don't think he did full justice to Athanasios. He also said Athanasios held to a demi-urge view of creation (128). What makes this claim so outrageous is that the demi-urge view, like that of Freemasonry and modern day Luciferianism, is precisely the view that Athanasios attacked! Yes, Athanasios held that the world was made through the Son, but not in the Platonic demiurge fashion.

2. He dealt with some figures all too briefly.
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