INTRODUCTION TO PATROLOGY
1 Patrology, Patristics and Ancient Christian literature
1.1 What is patrology and patristics?
Patrology is that part of the history of Christian literature which deals with the theological
authors of Christian antiquity. It gives preferential treatment to those authors who represent the
traditional ecclesiastical doctrine.
The term patristic is an adjective that qualifies theology, and therefore indicates works that look
at the readings of the fathers [path.r / PATER = father] according to a theological reading key.
The distinction between them is:
Patrology is an historical approach, looking at the context, historical surroundings and
Patristics is more dogmatic approach
Important texts on the value of patristics and patrology
“Next there should be opened up to the students what the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church have
contributed to the faithful transmission and development of the individual truths of revelation”
OPTATAM TOTIUS 16 [Decree on Priestly Training], 28 October 1965
There are two moments of inspiration: The auditus fidei and the intellectus fidei. The former comes in the
reflection and reading of scripture (St. Gregory the Great says that, “scripture grows with reading”). Dei Verbum
states that tradition is transmitted in 3 modes: preaching of bishops, the practice of the faithful and contemplation
and study of believers (DV 8).
1.2 Who are the Fathers?
The term Father is popular rather than exact (unlike “Doctor of the Church”), and hence the
question of who the Fathers are is open to debate. In the Hebrew community Father meant
Writer Definition of “Father” and context
Clement I An Apostle
Vincent of Lerins “Those who have remained, in all times and places, true to the communion of
d. c. 450 faith and are approved teachers” [written in 434 in the Commonitorium]
This is the first definition of a Father of the Church, and on the basis of this
understanding there is no reason to doubt them. It is interesting to note that
Vincent‟s definition is not restricted to bishops and that he includes spiritual as
well as theological writers (eg St Anthony of Egypt).
four criteria for a Father of the Church:
Orthodoxy of doctrine. (Doctrina orthodoxa)
Sanctity or holiness of life. (Sanctitas vitae)
Recognition/Attestation by the Church. (Approbatio ecclesiae)
In 1259 Pope Boniface VIII bestowed the honorary title, „doctor of the Church’ upon the Latin
Church Fathers Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and the Gregory the great.
Pope Pius V in his breviary of 1568 accorded the same honour to the Greek Fathers
Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom. Since the time
they have been honoured as the „four great Western and Eastern doctors of the Church. The
concept of the doctor of the church agrees with that of Church father, but it is not restricted to
antiquity. Hence the fourth criterion above is replaced with that of outstanding scholarly
achievement (eminens doctrina).
Ancient Christian writers who do not meet one or more of the first of three criteria of a Church
Father but are part of the Catholic Church are called „Church Writers‟. All other ancient
Christian, albeit not ecclesiastical, writings (apocrypha, heretical works, etc) are considered
part of the wider circle of „Early Christian or Ancient Christian Literature.
1.3 How did patrology and patristics develop?
J. Gerhardt, a Lutheran Theologian, coined the term „Patrology‟ in 1653 in his work Patrologia,
to indicate the works that have as their scope the reconstruction of the life and works of the
fathers, biographical and historical. However, work of this type began in antiquity:
Jerome, Hominibus Illustrius: He relied heavily on Eusebius of Caesarea (Christian) and
Vitorio (pagan writer). He made an important distinction between ecclesiastical writers
and Church Fathers, and in many respects represents the beginning of Patrology.
19C: this period saw the beginning of a more technical, illuminist approach that viewed the writings of
the fathers as purely literary works, rejecting the assumption of revelation and inspiration within the texts.
2 The study of the Fathers in theology: meaning and method
The study of the Fathers is valuable because:
1) The Fathers are a testimony to a theological method that is founded on Scripture and
Tradition. These authors possess a particular importance because they offer a direct and
authentic picture of the life, sentiments, aspirations and ideas of the first Christian
2) Sense of newness and originality. The Fathers wrote in a pagan society and theology
was defining itself in a non-Christian world. “The Fathers had a fruitful encounter with the
philosophies of the world in their cultural context.” (Fides et Ratio 36-41).
3) In their defence of the faith the profundity of Christian theology comes out. The Patristic
literature, quite different from classical letters, was never conceived as an academic
exercise written by intellectuals for intellectuals but as “preaching” directed towards the
conversion of the thought and the life of the public to which it was addressed. Because of
this, it profoundly modified the linguistic and literary tools which it inherited from the past.
4) Sense of mystery and experience of the divine. The love of God completes and fulfils the
intellect. Here St. Augustine's “Intellectum valde ama.”, a loving approach to study, is
In approaching theological study, the three great passions of the Fathers were:
The Passion and Revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
The faith is impassioned; the Fathers present a unity with regard to God and to man. It is
a proper vision of salvation. It is a reflection on God.
The Logos: the difference, diversity, otherness of God.
The Word communicating Himself in the texts. This also begins the idea of a school of
the faith not just for a few but for all.
The experience of the Church in history: the Church present in its liturgy and life.
THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS
The earliest examples of patristic literature are the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers;
the name derives from their supposed contacts with the Apostles or the apostolic community. These
writings date from the late 1C and early 2C (to around 150). The writings of Apostolic Fathers are
of a pastoral character. With regard to the content and style, they are closely related to the writings
of the NT, especially to the Epistles of Apostles. Typical of all these writings is their eschatological
character. The second coming of Christ is regarded as imminent. They do present a uniform
Christological doctrine. Christ is the Son of God, who is pre-existent, and who collaborated in the
creation of the world.
The Didache, (Greek: "Teaching"), also called TEACHING OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES
is the oldest surviving Christian church order, probably written in Egypt or Syria in the 2nd
century. The author does not mention his name. In 16 short chapters it deals with morals and ethics,
church practice, and the eschatological hope (of the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time)
and presents a general program for instruction and initiation into the primitive church. It was
known only through references in early Christian works until a Greek manuscript of it, written in
1056, was discovered in Istanbul in 1873 by the metropolitan Philotheos Bryennios. He published it
in 1883. It is not a unified and coherent work but a compilation of regulations that had acquired the
force of law by usage in scattered Christian communities. Evidently several pre-existing written
sources were used and were compiled by an unknown editor.
1–6 Ethical instruction concerning the two ways, of life and of death (God and Satan). The way
of life is marked by the love of God and neighbour (communion with one another and in the
liturgy); the way of death is the way of sin (certain sins are specified like murders, lustful
desires, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magical arts, sorceries, robberies, false testimonies,
false pretension, the lack of the fear of the Lord). It reminds us to bless those who harm us
and pray for our enemies. It ends with an exhortation to vigilance.
7 – 15 Discusses baptism, fasting, prayer (eg the “Our Father” three times a day), the Eucharist,
how to receive and test travelling apostles and prophets, and the appointment of bishops and
Chapter 7 on baptism is notable for the use of the Trinitarian formula and baptism ideally by
immersion in running water or by infusion (i.e. water poured on the head). Now before the
ritual cleansing, the baptizer and the one being baptized should fast, and any others who are
able. Now you will give word for the one who is being baptized to fast for one or two days
beforehand.” This is the sole reference from the first and second centuries regarding baptism
by infusion. Wednesday and Fridays are prescribed as fixed fast days.
Chapter 8 contains directives for fasting.
(9 – 10) The Eucharist Wednesdays and Fridays are suggested for fasting (while for the
Jews Mondays and Thursdays were the days of fasting).
The concept Church has in the Didache the connotation of universality.
Didache 11 - 15 is the disciplinary section, and discusses the appointment of Bishops and
Deacons. The charism is seen as one of itinerant preaching (like Paul). The heads of the
communities are called episcopoi and diakonoi. But whether these espiscopoi were simple
priests or bishops is not clear. Nowhere is made the mention of presbyters.
Very interesting are the principles of charity and social work as expressed in this part.
Although almsgiving is highly recommended, the duty of earning a livelihood by work is
likewise stressed. The obligation of providing for others was conditioned upon their
incapacity for work.
16 Disciplinary instructions and an eschatological conclusion detailing the signs of the end and
showing a community eagerly awaiting the return of the Lord. The uncertainty of the hour is
known to al the Christians but also the imminence of the parousia. Therefore, the faithful
should frequently be gathered together to seek the thing which are profitable for their souls.
It points out the signs that are to herald the parousia and the resurrection of the dead: false
prophets and perverters will multiply, sheep will turn into wolves, love will change to hate;
then the deceiver of the world will appear as the Son of God and he will do sign and wonder
and the earth will be given into his hands. The humankind will undergo fiery test. Although
many will be offended and lost, they who persevere in their faith shall be saved. Then shall
the world see the Lord coming on the clouds of heaven and all his saints with him. Therefore
the Christians are admonished: watch over your life; your lamps must not go out, nor your
loins be ungirded; on the contrary, be ready. You do not know the hour in which Our Lord is
Chapters 9 and 10 of the Didache (the Eucharist)
Didache 9 contains regulations for the celebration of the Eucharist. It goes on to prohibit the
unbaptised from sharing in the meal. Chapters 9 and 10 include several Eucharistic prayers. In
typical Jewish fashion (showing the profoundly Jewish spirituality of the early Christians), the
chalice is blessed first, followed by the bread and finally a thanksgiving is given to God. It is
important to note:
the word “Eucharist” does not appear;
when addressing the Father, the text refers to Jesus using the term (servant or
child, as in Acts 3:13 and 26) rather than (son, descendant, offspring, heir).
the prayers are permeated with the Jewish notion of anamnesis, calling to mind
the action of God in history and thereby making it effectively present.
The Eucharist is here clearly called a spiritual food and drink.
Didache 10 describes post-communion prayers. The theme of convocation appears: God has
called people from all ends of the earth and sanctified them. An epiclesis moment is also included
in which God‟s blessing is called down upon His assembly. The ritual concludes with an
eschatological cry expressing the eagerness for the coming of the Lord: “Come grace and let this
world pass! Hosanna to the God of David [cf. Matt 21:9] that is coming…”. “Maranatha!”
THE FIRST LETTER OF CLEMENT OF ROME TO THE CORINTHIANS
Life: According to the oldest list of Roman bishops, Clement is the third bishop of Rome. Clement
was Pope from 90/92-101 A.D. Tertullian states that Clement received consecration from St. Peter
himself. The Letter to the Church of Corinth (between 93 and 98), is ascribed to Clement. The
quotations from the Old Testament are long and numerous. The New Testament is not quoted
verbally. Sayings of Christ are now and then given, but not in the words of the Gospels. It cannot
be proved, therefore, that he used any one of the Synoptic Gospels. He mentions St. Paul's First
Epistle to the Corinthians, and appears to imply a second. He knows Romans and Titus, and
apparently cites several others of St. Paul's Epistles.
Importance: It was written to settle a controversy among the Corinthians against their church
leaders. He writes: “Jealousy had caused the divisions; it was jealousy that led Cain, Esau, etc., into
sin, it was jealousy to which Peter and Paul and multitudes with them fell victims. The Corinthians
are urged to repent after the example of the Patriarchs, and to be humble like Christ himself. ... ...
read St. Paul's first epistle to you, how he condemns party spirit.” Clement encourages the
Corinthians to pursue harmony and peace in response to the divisions that have broken out in the
community (between young and old?). He also utilises what might be called a cosmological
argument: as all the elements of the universe constitute an integral, unified whole, so should the
members of the community in Corinth.
The letter is of great consequence for the study of ecclesiastical antiquities as also for the
study of the history of dogmas and of liturgy.
1. Church History: The first chapter bears reliable testimony to St. Peter‟s sojourn in Rome,
St. Paul‟s journey to Spain and their martyrdom. Again the sixth chapter gives us
information about Nero‟s persecution of the Christians, speaks of multitude of martyrs and
mentions that many them were woman.
2. It is known as manifesto of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Here we find for the first time a
clear and explicit declaration of the doctrine of apostolic succession. The fact is stressed
that the presbyters cannot be deposed by the members of the community because authority
is not bestowed by them. The right to rule derives from the Apostles, who exercised their
power in obedience to Christ, who in turn was sent by God.
3. The epistle points to a clear distinction between hierarchy and laity. The layman is
bound by the rules laid down for the laity. The members of the Christian hierarchy are
called episcopoi and diaconoi. In other passages they are also called presbuteroi. Their
most important function is the celebration of the liturgy.
4. It bears witness to Christ‟s divinity who is called the beloved child of God through whom
God has taught us, made us holy, and brought us to honour. Christ is the High Priest and
Guardian of our souls.
5. The conclusion is a petition in behalf of the secular rule. It is of great interest in the study of
the primitive Christian concept of the state.
1–6 the evil situation – sedition and schism in the community broke the spirit of peace
and concord with strife and jealousy.
7 – 18 the remedy of the situation – radical obedience in faith and repentance in reflection
to the forgiveness of God.
19 – 36 effects of repentance – peace and concord in the community.
37 – 44 the discipline of the Church; tri-partition of the ministries.
45 – 58 advisory part.
59 – 65 a long prayer with a universal exhortation and final salutation
LETTER OF BARNABAS
Introduction: Ascribed by tradition to St. Barnabas, the Apostle, the writing dates possibly from
as late as AD 140 and was the work of an unknown author who refers to himself in the letter as a
teacher. Yet from the earliest times, has been attributed by tradition to the Apostle Barnabas, the
companion and co-worker of St. Paul. Origen calls it catholic epistle and numbers it among the
books of Sacred Scripture. The allegorical way of interpretation in the Epistle points to Alexandria
as the home of the author. The purpose of the author is to teach „perfect knowledge and faith‟.
Division: one section is theoretical, the other practical.
The first section 1-17: He proclaims the pre-existence of Christ. He was with the
Father when the latter created the world. The Incarnation is very much emphasised.
The motives prompted for incarnation are: first, the Son of God came in the flesh for
this reason that he might fill up the measure of the iniquity of those who had
persecuted his prophets to death. For this cause he endured. Secondly, he was willing
to suffer for us.
The importance of Baptism is also emphasised. Chapters 6-11 describe beautifully how
baptism confers upon man adoption to sonship and stamps upon his soul God‟s image
and likeness. Baptism makes God‟s creatures temples of the Holy Ghost. The
celebration of the eighth day of the week, Sunday, for it is the day of resurrection.
Instead of the Sabbath of the Jews, it is particularly stressed in chapter 15.8.
The author seems to be a follower of chiliasm. The six days or creation mean a period
of six thousand years because a thousand years are like one day in the eyes of God. In
six days, that is in six thousand years, everything will be completed, after which the
present evil time will be destroyed and the Son of God will come again and judge the
godless and change the sun and mood and the stars and he will truly rest on the seventh
day. Then will dawn the Sabbath of the millennial kingdom (15. 1-9).
The second section, chapters 18-21: takes up morals issues. Like Didache it describes
two ways of man, that of life and that of death. Killing of children is specifically
mentioned. The life of the infant, unborn or born, is protected by the law. In 19. 5 he
says, „You shall not procure abortion nor kill the child after it has been born‟.
The text shows at once both the continuity and discontinuity between Judaism and
Christianity. It is essentially a treatise on the use of the Old Testament by Christians
and contains polemic against the Jews of the time who have rejected Jesus Christ.
These are contrasted with the Christians, the new chosen people, who alone can
understand the Old Testament (with its prefigurements of Jesus). It discusses the
reconstruction of the Temple (in Christ and the Church) after the destruction Jerusalem
temple in 70 AD. It has polemic against sacrifices and says the Jews have not kept the
covenant given through Moses because they do not accept Christ. The second and final
part of the letter discusses the “two ways” of light and darkness (good and evil).
This writing has a profound knowledge of the Old Testament, and maintaining the link
with Christianity is important as there will be those (like Marcion) in the Christian
community who will advocate rejecting it. For pseudo-Barnabas the OT prefigures the
NT and the covenant is legitimised in the light of Christ‟s future coming, specifically:
- Israel‟s entrance to the Promised Land is equated with belief in Jesus coming in the
- the law is a preparation for the Gospel of Christ;
- the true Temple is the Lord Himself;
- the “Sabbath” is the eschatological 1000 - year reign before the end of the world.
IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH
Ignatius of Antioch also called IGNATIUS THEOPHOROS (GREEK: GOD
BEARER), bishop of Antioch, Syria, sentenced during Trajan‟s reign, is known mainly
from seven highly regarded letters that he wrote during a trip to Rome, as a prisoner
condemned to be executed for his beliefs. During the long voyage, which included a
stop at Philippi, he had the opportunity to write letters to Ephesus, Magnesia,
Philadelphia, Smyrna, Tralle, Rome and to St. Polycarp.
Beyond these letters we know nothing about the person and life of Ignatius. Byzantine
hagiography identified his as the child whom Jesus displayed to the disciple as an
example (Matt 18:2), where as Jerome took him to be a disciple of the Apostle John.
He was apparently eager to counteract the teachings of two groups--the Judaizers, who
did not accept the authority of the New Testament, and the Docetists, who held that
Christ's sufferings and death were apparent but not real. His thought is strongly
influenced by the letters of Paul and also by the tradition connected with the apostle
John. It is possible that he knew John personally.
In his letters, Ignatius repeatedly emphasises the real humanity of Christ, “the word
made flesh”. The Greek mind, and especially the Docetists, found it difficult to accept
the concept that the Divine could suffer.
Letter to Tralle 10:
“And if as some atheists (I mean unbelievers) say, his suffering was a sham (it's
really they who are a sham!), why, then, am I a prisoner? Why do I want to fight
with wild beasts? In that case I shall die to no purpose. Yes, and I am maligning
the Lord too!” (Note the connection between Jesus‟ death and that of the martyr
who imitates him).
Letter to Smyrna 4: 2:
Why, then, have I given myself up completely to death, fire, sword, and wild
beasts? For the simple reason that near the sword means near God. To be with
wild beasts means to be with God. But it must all be in the name of Jesus Christ.
To share in his Passion I go through everything, for he who became the perfect
man gives me the strength. (Note the expression of Christ becoming the “perfect
man” (teleios = the end, perfection) and that Christ gives the martyrs the strength
to suffer with him).
Spirituality of Martyrdom
Martyrdom is a witness; an experience that synthesises the Christian life and fulfils it.
“By martyrdom I become the word of God.” The Christological consideration of
martyrdom is the centre of Ignatius‟ thought. Martyrdom is not a choice of death, but
life in Christ. The strength of the martyr comes from Christ; thus martyrdom is not a
testimony to the greatness of man, but to the greatness of God. Ignatius views
martyrdom as the perfect way to transmit the faith. It is the perfect imitation of Christ;
hence only he is the true disciple of Christ who is ready to sacrifice his life for him.
Letter to the Romans 2:1-2:
I do not want you to please men, but to please God, just as you are doing. For I
shall never again have such a chance to get to God, nor can you, if you keep
quiet, get credit for a finer deed. For if you quietly let me alone, people will see in
me God's Word. But if you are enamoured of my mere body, I shall, on the
contrary, be a meaningless noise. Grant me no 2 more than to be a sacrifice for
God while there is an altar at hand. Then you can form yourselves into a choir
and sing praises to the Father in Jesus Christ that God gave the bishop of Syria
the privilege of reaching the sun's setting when he summoned him from its rising.
It is a grand thing for my life to set on the world, and for me to be on my way to
God, so that I may rise in his presence.
Note that he asks them not to intercede and stop his martyrdom.
Letter to the Romans 4:1 – 2:
I am corresponding with all the churches and bidding them all realize that I am
voluntarily dying for God-if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not
do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts-that is how I
can get to God. I am God's wheat and I am being ground 2 by the teeth of wild
beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ. I would rather that you fawn on the beasts
so that they may be my tomb and no scrap of my body be left. Thus, when I have
fallen asleep, I shall be a burden to no one. Then I shall be a real disciple of
Jesus Christ when the world sees my body no more. Pray Christ for me that by
these means I may become 3 God's sacrifice.
Note the voluntary nature of Ignatius‟ death, and his awareness of martyrdom
coming from the grace of God, a communion with Christ.
Note the Eucharistic Spirituality here: just as the flesh of Christ was sacrificed and
became nourishment for Christians, so Ignatius‟ blood will become in charity the blood
Ignatius is the first to describe the early church structure of a single Bishop as the head of a
local church. He advocates a hierarchical structure with an emphasis on episcopal authority. He
presents the Church as a symphony of believers around the bishop:
Letter to the Ephesians: 4:1-5:3:
Hence you should act in accord with the bishop's mind, as you surely do. Your presbytery,
indeed, which deserves its name and is a credit to God, is as closely tied to the bishop as the
strings to a harp. Wherefore your accord and harmonious love is a hymn to Jesus Christ. Yes,
one and all, you should 2 form yourselves into a choir, so that, in perfect harmony and taking
your pitch from God, you may sing in unison and with one voice to the Father through Jesus
Christ. Thus he will heed you, and by your good deeds he will recognise you are members of
his Son. Therefore you need to abide in irreproachable unity if you really want to be God's
members forever. 5 If in so short a time I could get so close to your bishop I do not mean in a
natural way, but in a spiritual-how much more do I congratulate you on having such intimacy
with him as the Church enjoys with Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ with the Father. That is how
unity and harmony come to prevail everywhere. Make no mistake about it. If anyone is 2 not
inside the sanctuary, he lacks God's bread. And if the prayer of one or two has great avail, how
much more that of the bishop and the total Church. He who fails to join in your 3 worship shows
his arrogance by the very fact of becoming a schismatic. It is written, moreover, "God resists
the proud." Let us, then, heartily avoid resisting the bishop so that we may be subject to God.
Summary of Ignatius’ theology
The idea of the divine „economy‟ is the core of Ignatius theology. God prepared mankind
for salvation in Judaism through the instrumentality of the prophets; their expectation found
its fulfilment in Christ.
The foundation of Ignatius‟ Christology is St. Paul but is enriched and influenced by St.
John. Christ is both divine and human. The divinity of Christ dwells in the souls of
Christians as in a temple.
He repeatedly attacks the form of heresy known as Docetism which denied the human
nature and suffering of Christ. He stresses the reality of Christ‟s incarnation, suffering and
Passion for us. So warning against heracies.
The Church is called the “place of sacrifice” and the Eucharist is called the “antidote against
death and everlasting life in Jesus Christ.”
Ignatius was the first to use the term „Catholic Church‟ to mean the faithful collectively. He
presents the Church as a symphony of believers around the bishop. By Christ all Christians
are linked by a divine union.
The hierarchical dignity and prestige accorded a bishop. The bishop is the teacher of the
faithful and guard against heresy, he is also the high priest of the liturgy and dispenser of the
mysteries of God. it is a characteristic of Ignatius to stress repeatedly that Christians are
united with Christ only when they are one with their bishop through faith, obedience and
particularly through participation in divine worship.
Ignatius holds the Church in Rome in highest regard. His is the earliest avowal of the
Primacy of Rome from the pen of a non-Roman ecclesiastic.
POLYCARP OF SMYRNA
Introduction: He was the bishop of Smyrna. It was to him as Bishop of Smyrna that St. Ignatius
addressed one of his letters. The discussion which Polycarp and Pope Anicetus carried on in Rome
in the year 155, relative to various ecclesiastical matters of moment, particularly the settlement of a
date for the celebration of Easter, give added proof of the esteem in which Polycarp was held.
- This document is the oldest detailed account extant of the martyrdom of a single
individual and is therefore often regarded as the first „Acts of the Martyrs’. The letter
bears the signature of a certain Marcion and was written shortly after the death of
- From this letter we get an excellent impression of the noble personality of the Bishop.
Quadratus ordered the Bishop: swear and i shall release you... he replied: for six and
eight years I have been serving Him, and he has done no wrong to me; how, then, dare I
blaspheme my king who has saved me (9.3).
- This document is the earliest evidence for the cult of the martyrs: We afterwards took
up his remains, more precious than costly stones, and more excellent than gold, and
interred them in a decent place. There the Lord will permit us, as far as possible, to
assemble in rapturous joy and celebrate his martyrdom- the day of his birth (18.2).
- It is also striking how positively this document asserts and justifies the honour paid to
martyrs: Him we worship as being the Son of God, the martyrs we love as being
disciples and imitators of the Lord; and deservedly, because of their unsurpassable
affection for their King and Teacher (17.3). The dogmatic character of the veneration of
martyrs as distinguished from the adoration paid to Christ, is indicated with
THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS
Introduction: The most popular noncanonical writing of the earliest centuries of Christendom was
the Shepherd of Hermas. In many places this letter enjoyed even the canonical recognition. It is a
book of revelation granted to him in Rome. These revelations took place roughly between 130 and
140. The name of the work owes to the figure of the second revelation, an angel in the form of a
Works: The work is divided into five visions, twelve mandates and ten parables.
Five visions: In the first main section of vision, 1-4, Hermas receives his revelation from
the Church, which appears to him first as an old and venerable matron, who gradually casts
off the signs of age and emerges in the fourth vision as a bride, symbol of God‟s elect.
First vision is prefaced by an account of a sin of thought which disturbs Hermas‟
conscience. The apparition manifests itself as the Church in the guise of an old lady and
exhorts him to penance for his sins and those of his family. In the second vision the old
woman gives him a booklet to copy and to circulate; the contents therefore again exhort to
penance, and quite clearly prophesy that a persecution is impending. In the third vision the
aged lady employs the symbol of a tower under construction and points out to him the
destiny of Christianity, which in a short time shall grow into an ideal church. As every
stone not suitable for the masonry of the tower is rejected, so every sinner who does not do
penance shall be excluded from the Church. Penance is necessary for time is at hand. The
fourth vision shows the seer grievous and imminent calamities and persecutions under the
aspect of a hideous dragon. As terrible as the monster is, it will do no harm to the seer and
to those who are armed with a steadfast faith. Behind the beast he sees the Church in the
attire of a beautiful bride, a symbol of bliss to those loyal, and a guarantee of their
reception into the eternal church of the future. In the fifth vision, which forms the transition
from the first to the second main section, the angel of penance appears in the guise of a
shepherd, who will sponsor and direct the whole penitential mission, who is to revitalize
Christianity, and who now proclaims his commands and his parables.
The Twelve Commandments: They proclaim Christian precepts to which the new life of
penitents should conform. All who adhere to the commandments will attain to eternal life.
The 12 precepts are:
a. Faith, fear of the Lord and sobriety
b. Single-heartedness and innocence
d. Purity and proper deportment in wedlock and widowhood
e. Patience and restraint of temper
f. Whom one must believe and whom one must disregard respectively, the angel of
justice and the angel of iniquity
g. Whom one should fear and whom one should not fear: Good and the devil
h. What one must avoid and what one must do: evil and good
i. Concerning doubts
j. Sadness and pessimism
k. Of false prophets
l. That one ought to extirpate all evil desire from one‟s heart and fill it with
goodness and joy.
The Ten Similitudes.
a. The first five of them consist of moral precepts. The first styles the Christians
strangers upon earth.
b. The second enjoins upon the rich, under the allegory of vine and elm which depend
upon each other, the duty to help the needy. In return the poor shall pray for their
c. To the question so perplexing to Christianity, why the sinner and the just man are in
no wise distinguishable upon earth, the third replies by comparing them to the trees
of a forest in winter.
d. The fourth parable adds the way of parenthesis that the world to come is like to a
forest in summetime, for then the dead as well as the healthy trees are readily
e. The fifth parable refers to the practice of public fasts observed by the whole
f. The sixth parable presents the angel of gluttony and deceit and the angel of
punishment in the shape of two shepherds and treats of the duration of the
punishment which follows.
g. In the seventh, parable Hermas pleads the angel of punishment, who torments him
for delivery, but is exhorted to patience and told, for his consolation, that he is
suffering for the sins of his family.
h. The eighth compares the church to a large willow tree whose branches are quite
hardy; for though torn from the parent trunk and apparently dried up they blossom
into vitality if they are planted in the ground and kept moist. Thus also those who
have been deprived of the life-giving union with the church through mortal sin, may
by penance and use of the means of grace offered by the Church be again roused to
i. The ninth is like a correction, probably inserted later. The example of Tower is
taken up once again and the different stones used in its construction represent the
various types of sinners. But what is entirely new is that the construction of the
tower is delayed for a time, in order to afford opportunity for many sinners to repent
and thus be received into the tower. But unless they hasten to repent, they will be
excluded. In other words the time of penance at first restricted is extended more
than was originally announced. It is quite probable that Hermas himself undertook
to make these changes because the expected parousia had not taken place.
j. The tenth parable forms the conclusion of the work. Hermas is admonished once
again by the angel of penance to cleanse his own family of all evil and he is
changed once more with the mission to summon everyone to penance.
The important teachings:
a. Repentance is the core of discussion. According to him, there is a saving repentance
after baptism. This is not a new idea but he insisted for the reason that some
teachers taught that any person who committed a mortal sin ceased to be a member
of the Church. His message offers not the first but the last opportunity to obtain
pardon for sins committed. This is what constitute the new element of his message.
Penance has a universal character: no sinner is excluded. Only the culprit who will
not repent is excluded. Penance must be prompt and must produce amendment; the
opportunity it provides must not be abused by falling back into sin. The intrinsic
purpose of penance is a complete reform of the sinner. The justification attained by
penance is to be not only a purification but a positive sanctification such as
produced in baptism by the infusion of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine penance
permits the idea that Church is an institution necessary for our salvation. Hence
Hermas speaks of prayer offered for sinners by the elders of the Church.
b. Christology: He never uses the term Logos or the name Jesus Christ. He invariably
calls the Saviour, Son of God or Lord. Sometimes, Holy Spirit is identified with the
Son of God (parable 9.1.1 and 5.6, 5-7. According to these passages, the Trinity of
Hermas seems to consist of God the Father and the second divine person, the Holy
Spirit whom he identifies with the Son of God and finally the Saviour.
c. Church: Church is the first created of all creatures, hence she comes to him in the
guise of a venerable old lady. The whole world was created just for her sake. But
the most prominent figure under which the Church appears to Hermas is that of the
mystical tower. The church is founded upon a rock, the Son of God.
d. Baptism: No one is received into this Church except by the reception of baptism. He
is thoroughly convinced that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. He
believed that the apostles and teachers descended into limbo after death to baptize
the righteous departed of pre-Christian times.
e. Ethics: More important than the dogmatic is the ethical teaching contained in
i. Important is the fact that here already we find a differentiation between
commandment and counsel, between obligatory and supererogatory works.
He writes: I will show you his commandments and if you do anything
beyond the commandments of God you will gain for yourself greater glory
and be more in favour with God than you were destined to be (Sim., 5.3.3).
As such works of supererogation Hermas mentions are fasting, celibacy and
ii. Worthy of note also is the clear-sighted observation regarding the spirits that
sway the heart of man. According to him there are two angels in everyone,
one of righteousness and one of wickedness (Mand 6.2.1-4). He also says
that it is impossible to the heart of may by angel and devil simultaneously.
iii. Of adultery he says that a husband must put away his wife should she guilty
of this sin and refuse to do penance. He himself may not enter upon another
union during her life time. If the adulterous wife repents and reforms, the
husband is obliged to receive her back (Mand 4.1.8).
iv. Hermas, contrary to a number of early Christian authors, permits remarriage
v. He also gives a catalogue of seven virtues: faith, continence, simplicity,
knowledge, innocence, reverence and love.
AREAS OF CONTENTION IN THE RELATIONS AMONG CHRISTIANITY, JUDAISM,
AND PAGANISM DURING THE 1C AND 2C
CHRISTIANITY AND JUDAISM
Relation: Christianity was no longer considered a Jewish sect. There is both a sense of Christianity
being in continuity with Judaism in the 1C and 2C, as in the Didache, but also as a discontinuity, as
in the letter of Pseudo-Barnabas.
The Christians took from their Jewish roots a way of understanding the role of religion in society.
With their new „way‟ Christians brought forth a new manner of using, writing and understanding
scripture, apocalyptic literature and the nature of God‟s covenant.
Contention: Interpretation of Scripture. Christians reread OT Scripture using Christ as the key to
its interpretation. All Scripture and prophecy was reinterpreted in the light of the Christian faith as
a pre-figurement of Jesus and his fulfilment of the covenant.
View of the Law. The Church saw itself as the New Israel, the true fulfilment of
God‟s covenant and Law. “The Jews misunderstood the law because they
interpreted it literally” – Epistle of Barnabas.
Understanding of God. The notion that Jesus as the promised Messiah could also
be the “Son of God” was considered blasphemy by the Jewish leaders.
CHRISTIANITY AND PAGANISM
Early writings indicate how they were distinguished, not by language, but by their care for each
other, including spiritual needs. They lived as members of their own country, yet acted as though
they belonged to a foreign land (Heaven). They maintained a difference between themselves and
the world around them, but still being involved.
Tacitus the historian comments on the diffusion of Christianity, reporting the attitude of the pagans
toward Christianity. He wrote of them as “odious” and a “calamity.” He also confirms the
historicity of the crucifixion (of Christ). In referring to Nero‟s hatred for the Christians (and using
them as scapegoats), Tacitus suggests that due to the early Christians belief in this Christ
radical/fanatic, they spread their crimes not only in Jerusalem but all through Rome.
Public life was infused with the idea that the “civil cult” or emperor worship was part of
everyone‟s civic duty. The Christians would not participate, and hence suspicion grew
about them (cf. the philosopher Celsus). The main accusations were in the areas of:
Philosophy Christians were accused as possessing irrational, superstitious beliefs
= they are without logos.
Law. They do not adhere to the laws of the Roman Empire = they are without
nomos. (many, for example, refused to serve in the army)
From these came three main accusations:
Atheism – they don‟t worship the Roman gods or those of traditional pagan
Cannibalism – in the Eucharist it was alleged that they fed on the flesh of
Immorality – in the “love feasts”; speaking of fellow Christians as “brothers and
sister” gave rise to speculation on their sexual practices and accusations of incest.
Faced with this pagan hostile attitude, the Church reacted:
by developing apologetics in defence of the faith (cf. Justin, Tertullian);
developing a theology and cult of martyrdom (cf Acts of Justin, Polycarp);
clarifying Christian theology.
JUSTIN (100 – 165)
Life: One of the most important of the Greek philosopher-Apologists in the early Christian church.
His writings represent the first positive encounter of Christian revelation with Greek philosophy
and laid the basis for a theology of history.
Works: First Apologia (Justin defends his fellow Christians against the charges of atheism and
hostility to the Roman state. He then goes on to express the core of his Christian philosophy: the
highest aspiration of both Christianity and Platonic philosophy is a transcendent and unchangeable
God). Importance of this work: It issues four regulations for a more just and correct court
procedure in the trials against the Christians.
Christians should be sentenced through a regular procedure before a criminal court
condemnation can take place only if there is proof that the defendants committed an offence
against the Roman laws
punishment must be proportionate to the nature and the degree of their crimes. Every false
accusations must be punished severely
Second Apologia: (Justin argues that the Christians are being unjustly persecuted by Rome).
Stoic and Platonic influences on Justin
Stoicism. Reality is one; an aboriginal and universal relationship (that excludes,
however, every divine transcendence) linking all beings in a marvellous cosmic unity.
The world is not something dead or chaotic, but a living and orderly being; although it
is entirely material there is a difference in it between the passive subject and a
principle, an active element of a fine subject - the ; something creating order in
the whole and giving coherence and a direction. It also speaks of God, Providence,
nature and the “soul of the world”. In an optimistic vision, it tries to live according to
the internal principle, the seed of the Logos or spark of the Fire, that each has in
oneself. There is also a sense of brotherhood. The key word for this existential attitude:
Platonic dualism. Platonist thought as it developed in the Roman Empire tended to
synthesise the philosophy of Plato (428-348BC) with religious elements. Platonic
dualism established an opposition between the world of ideas and the world of the
senses; the eternal and immutable versus the temporal and changeable. Platonic dualism
was marked by a negative tendency regarding the body: the soul is a prisoner of the
body, striving for release in order to reach the true world (cf. the Allegory of the Cave).
In the 2C the “Middle Platonism” accentuated the religious, mystical aspects of
The Logos and Greek philosophy
Justin held that traces of the truth were to be found in the pagan thinkers, since all men
share in the “generative” or “germinative” Logos (Word). The Logos was present from the
beginning, present in every man to illumine the mind and heart; consequently the Logos in seminal
form (logos spermatikos) was present in different philosophical systems, like Platonism and
Stoicism. The Logos theology, therefore, is the most important doctrine of Justin, because it forms
a bridge between pagan philosophy and Christianity. For Justin teaches that although the Divine
Logos appeared in his fullness only in Jesus Christ, a seed of Logos was scattered among whole of
mankind long before Christ. In that context, Heraclitus, Socrates, and the Stoic philosopher
Musonius lived according to the directives given by Logos. In fact they are truly Christians. He
writes: we have been taught that Christ is the firstborn of God, and we have declared that he is the
Logos, of whom every race of man were partakers, and those who lived according to the Logos are
Christians, even though they have been thought atheists, as among the Greeks, Socarates and
Heraclitus and men like them (Apology, 1. 46). Hence there can be no opposition between
Christianity and philosophy. He writes:
“Our doctrines, then, appear to be greater than all human teaching; because Christ, who
appeared for our sakes, became the whole rational being, both body, and reason, and soul.
For I whatever either lawgivers or philosophers uttered well, they elaborated by finding and
contemplating some part of the Word. Justin therefore values reason as follows: First
Apology 2: Reason requires that those who are truly pious and philosophers should honour
and cherish the truth alone, scorning merely to follow the opinions of the ancients, if they
The theology of history
Justin orients all of human history toward Christ, not just the history of the Jews (an approach
recalling Matthew‟s genealogy to Abraham) but of the whole human race (like Luke‟s genealogy to
Adam). Truth before Christ was a preparation and a partial participation in the fullness of the logos.
This was a way of showing respect for the ancient traditions of the Empire, particularly Judaism,
while still asserting the truth of Christ:
First Apology 46.
those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought
atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and
among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Mishael, and Elias,
and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we
know it would be tedious...
Justin links this historical unfolding with the Creator Logos. Since he is pre-existent, all
history is oriented towards the Logos in preparation for the coming of Christ, the fullest revelation
of God. Nevertheless, Justin maintained a critical attitude toward pagan cultures and philosophy,
and only accepted that which was or could be seen as oriented to Christ.
In a similar manner Justin inaugurated the practice of typological reading of the Hebrew
Scriptures. Everything in the Old Testament can be seen as a prefiguring, a pre-shadowing of some
aspect of the mystery of Christ and his salvific work.
Christians alone, therefore, possess the entire truth, because in Christ appeared to them Truth
Mary and Eve
In his Dialogue 100 he says:
“... He became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the
serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For
Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought
forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel
Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her,
and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing
begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, 'Be it unto me according to thy word.'
And by her has He been born, to whom we have proved so many Scriptures refer, and by
whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him;....”
Angels and Demons
Justin is one of the first authors who testifies to the cult of the angels. According to him, from
heaven they take care of all human beings. Justin attributes to the angels in spite of their spiritual
nature a body which is similar to the human body. The punishment of the demons in eternal fire
will take place after Christ‟s return. Therefore, they now are still able to mislead and seduce man.
Their whole endeavour after Christ‟s coming is to prevent the conversion of man to God and the
Justin's distinctive contribution to Christian theology is his conception of a divine plan in
history, a process of salvation structured by God, wherein the various historical epochs have
been integrated into an organic unity directed toward a supernatural end; the Old Testament and
Greek philosophy met to form the single stream of Christianity.
In addition, his concrete description of the sacramental celebrations of Baptism and the
Eucharist remain a principal source for the history of the primitive church. Justin serves,
moreover, as a crucial witness to the status of the 2nd-century New Testament corpus,
mentioning the first three Gospels and quoting and paraphrasing the letters of Paul and 1 Peter;
he was the first known writer to quote from the Acts of the Apostles.
THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE VARIOUS GNOSTIC CIRCLES
Gnosticism was a philosophical and religious movement prominent in the Greco-Roman
world in the 2C AD. While Gnosticism drew from and influenced in turn many traditional
religions, its effect was most clearly felt on budding Christianity, in which it inspired the formation
of the canon, creed, and episcopal organisation. Greek gnostikos (one who has gnosis, or "secret
knowledge"). Church Fathers who opposed Gnostic teachings (Irenaeus, c. 185; Hippolytus, c. 230;
Epiphanius, c. 375) .
Fundamentally its primary focus was the explanation of evil in the world, the situation of
the human in the world, and the possibility of a human‟s redemption. It assumed an unknown,
altogether transcendent God who had no immediate involvement with the creation. The world was
a created by a demiurge who separated himself from the true God in a prehistoric fall (and who is
to be identified as the God of the OT). The World he created, therefore, was intrinsically evil.
As far as human nature was concerned, he shared the nature of God, but the divine spark in
him had become subjected to the demiurge because he was closely attached to the world by means
of his physical body. For this reason the yearning and goal of the human are to breed from matter
and to return to the true God, which could only attained by knowledge and was reserved for the
elect. Since Christ is not responsible for the evil, he does not redeem the human from sin through
his death on the cross but in his gospel mere revealed the knowledge necessary for a person‟s
Man is divided into Simple, Christian and the Gnostics.
Key events in the development of Gnosticism
Marcionism: Marcion, a Christian from Asia Minor held a belief that the God of the Old
Testament could be distinguished from the God of the New Testament. The basis of Marcionite
theology was that there were two cosmic gods. A vain and angry creator god who demanded and
ruthlessly exacted justice had created the material world of which man, body and soul, was a part
(the God of the OT). The other god, according to Marcion, was completely ineffable and bore no
intrinsic relation to the created universe at all (the God of the NT). Out of sheer goodness, he had
sent his son Jesus Christ to save man from the material world and bring him to a new home.
Marcion proposed a reduced canon of Scripture based only on the gospel of Luke and ten
truncated letters of Paul. He negated any link between the Old and New Testaments, and spoke
only of love not of punishment. Marcionites were considered the most dangerous of the Gnostics
by the established church. Polycarp called him as the first born of satan
Montanism: the heretical movement founded by the prophet Montanus in Phrygia, Asia Minor c.
155 – 160. Montanus, accompanied by two prophetesses, Massimilla and Prisca (or Priscilla)
preached a charismatic eschatological-rigorist message, the key features of which were anti-
hierarchical and anti-sacramental. Montanus claimed to be the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit and
that Paraclete promised in Jn 14:26; 16:17. They denied the ecclesiastical authority and challenged
the authority of the Scripture over the prophets. Their prophecy contained an announcement of the
imminent end of the world. The New Jerusalem of Rev 21: 1, 10 descended from heaven, would be
located in Phrygia. It gradually disappeared, even though there is evidence of its traces in the East
until the ninth century.
Monarchianism: The first occurrence of the term is found in Tertullian. It proclaimed God a strict
monarchia (monoj only, arch, source or principle). That is, as the only and indivisible origin of the
universe. It proclaims a faith in a single God inherited from Judaism. This faith had to be
reconciled with faith in the divinity of Christ, the Son of God. The theological reflection on this
point led to elaboration of the Logos theology, which conceived Christ, as divine Logos, as united
with the Father and at the same time distinct from his and subordinate to Him, interpreter of His
will to the created will. Adoptionism and Patripassianism are the effects of this rigid theology.
Adoptionism: this endeavoured to preserve the oneness of God by arguing the Christ was born and
raised as a mere human. Only at his baptism or after his resurrection did God the Father accept him
as Son or the merit of his work.
Patripassianism: (from pater and passio)/ Modalism (modus= manner, way): They perceived that
God the Father and the Son merely as different manifestations of the one God, so that the Father
himself suffered on the cross in the form of the Son.
Dualism means the belief in two supreme opposed powers or gods, or sets of divine or
demonic beings. It is a common characteristic of Gnosticism.
Gnostic dualism says that the soul is imprisoned in the body. There is an emphasis on the
division between the spiritual (divine) and the material. The spiritual world (pleroma) is full and
complete. Because of sin, we lost our unity and fell into the material world. The „demiurge‟ (sub-
divine being) constitutes the material world. We strive for a return to the unity of the spiritual
world. Man, seen as fragments of the divine in the material world, must strive for a return to the
unity of the spiritual world for salvation. There is an ontological division of men and women into
three categories: the pneumatics/psychics (the spiritual souls), they could be saved and those
(worldly men) destined for destruction. Salvation is tied to knowledge.
Irenaeus was the bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon) and the leading Christian theologian of the 2nd
century. His work Adversus haereses (Against Heresies), written in about 180, was a refutation of
Gnosticism. In the course of his writings Irenaeus advanced the development of an authoritative
canon of Scriptures, the creed, and the authority of the Episcopal office. In many cases Irenaeus
acted as mediator between various factions. The churches of Asia Minor continued to celebrate
Easter on the same date (the 14th of Nisan) as the Jews celebrated Passover, whereas the Roman
Church maintained that Easter should always be celebrated on a Sunday (the day of the
Resurrection). Mediating between the parties, Irenaeus stated that differences in external factors,
such as dates of festivals, need not be so serious as to destroy church unity.
All his known writings are devoted to the conflict with the Gnostics. His principal work
consists of five books in a work entitled Adversus haereses. Originally written in Greek about 180,
Against Heresies is now known in its entirety only in a Latin translation, the date of which is
disputed (200 or 400?).
Adversus haereses: As the title shows, this five volume tractate is overthrow of the false knowledge
written in Greek around the year 180. He fundamentally denies its right to be called gnosis, for
Christ had proclaimed the only true and complete knowledge of faith to the apostles, who in turn
wrote it down in the writings of the NT. Beyond this the secret writings to which Gnostics appeal,
or even individually inspired knowledge, have to be seen as fundamentally in error and therefore
heretical. A few key passages from the book will enlighten us with his sound theology.
this profession is linked to the faith of the apostles;
the Spirit announces God together with his Word (and in Scriptures);
the profession is announced, not a secret.
the unity of God is emphasised (and the division between a „good‟ spiritual and
„bad‟ material world is implicitly denied).
Irenaeus shows the unity of the NT and OT from the parable of the rich man and
Lazarus against the views of Marcion and the other Gnostics.
Man is the union of spirit and flesh [he cites, for example, 1 Thes 5:23]
He shows God‟s design in creation.
In salvation history man is called to respond to the sacrifice of Christ.
Christ is the recapitulation of creation and the plan of salvation.
Irenaeus uses the word “economy”. This is God‟s way of relating to the world.
Key theological ideas:
As a theologian Irenaeus is important for two reasons.
a. He unmasked the pseudo-Christian character of the gnosis, and thereby accelerated the
elimination of the adherents of this heresy from the Church
b. He defended the articles of faith of the Catholic Church that he deserves to be called the
founder of Christian theology.
Trinity: In his battle against Gnostics, the identity of the one true God with the creator of the
world, with the God of the OT, and with the Father of the Logos. Although he does not discuss the
relationships of the three Divine persons within God, he is convinced that the existence of the
Father, Son and the Holy Spirit is clearly proved in the history of mankind. Let us make man.........
(Gen 1.26) are addressed by the Father to the Son and the Holy Spirit, whom Irenaeus allegorically
call the hands of God.
Christology: we find in Irenaeus the first attempt to grasp the relationship between the Father and
the Son in a speculative manner: God has been declared through the Son, who is in the Father and
has the Father in himself. Just as he defends the identity of the Father with the creator of the world
against the Gnostics, so he teaches that there is only one Christ, although we give him different
names. Therefore, Christ is identical with the Son of God, with the Logos, with the God-man Jesus,
with our Saviour and our Lord.
Recapitulation: the heart of Irenaeus theology is his theory of recapitulation. Although he
borrowed this from Paul, he elaborated it considerably. For him, it is a taking up in Christ of all
since the beginning. God rehabilitates the earlier divine plan for the salvation of mankind which
was interrupted by the fall of Adam, and gathers up his entire work from the beginning to renew it
in his incarnate Son, who in this way became a second Adam. Since by the fall of man the whole
race was lost, the Son of God had to become man for the re-creation of mankind. By this
recapitulation of the original man, not only Adam personally but the whole human race was
renovated and restored.
Ecclesiology: The ecclesiology is linked up with his theory of recapitulation. God sums up in
Christ not only the past but also the future. Therefore, he made him the head of the entire Church,
until the end of the world. He firmly convinced that the teaching of the Apostles continues to live
on unaltered. This tradition is the source and the norm of the faith. It is the canon of the truth. For
him, this canon of truth seems to be the baptismal creed, for we receive it in baptism. Only the
Church founded can be relied upon for the correct teaching of the faith and for the truth. Because
the uninterrupted succession of bishops in these churches guarantees the truth of their doctrine.
THE ALEXANDRIAN SCHOOL
Alexandria was the capital of Egypt from its founding by Alexander the Great in 332 BC to
AD 642, when it was subdued by the Arabs.
The Hellenisation process there gave birth to the Greek scriptural tradition in the Jewish
communities of the diaspora. In the first century, the most important representative of Hellenistic
Judaism, the Greek-speaking Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (15/10BC – 45/50AD)
attempted to synthesise revealed faith and philosophic reason. As such he occupies a unique
position in the history of philosophy and is regarded as a forerunner of Christian theology.
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (AD 150 – 215)
He was a Christian Apologist, missionary theologian to the Hellenistic (Greek cultural) world, and
second known leader and teacher of the catechetical school of Alexandria. He combated heretical
Gnostics. His goal was to make Christian beliefs intelligible to those trained within the context of
the Greek paidea (educational curriculum) so that those who accepted the Christian faith might be
able to witness effectively within Hellenistic culture.
Protreptikos ("Exhortation"): The author is ready to recognise the merits of Greek
philosophy, but with a profound conviction that it is only through the Christ, the Logos, that
this can be fully achieved.
The Paidagogos ("The Instructor"). Clement wants to train converted pagans in Christian
moral precepts under the guidance of Christ, the loving, if necessarily severe pedagogue, of
all believers. The logos is central to Clement‟s thought.
The Stromateis ("Miscellanies"). Here, by making the link between the intellectual and
spiritual, Clement wants to demonstrate that Christianity is the “true philosophy”, and
against the figure of the heterodox gnostic the figure of the true Christian gnostic, whose
superior knowledge of the mysteries of faith is accompanied by adequate moral perfection
and living love of God.
Aspects of Clement’s theology
Logos: Logos is the beginning and basis of his theology. He made it the highest principle
for the religious explanation of the world. The Logos is the creator of the universe. He is the one
who manifested God in the Law of the OT, in the philosophy of the Greeks and finally in the
fullness of time in His incarnation. He forms with the Father and the Holy Ghost the divine Trinity.
It is through the Logos that we can recognize God because the Father cannot be named. The Logos
is, as a divine person, essentially the teacher of the world and the lawgiver of mankind. He is also
the saviour of the human race and the founder of a new life which begins with faith, proceeds to
knowledge and contemplation and leads through love and charity to immortality and deification.
Christ as the incarnation Logos is God and man, and it is through Him that we have risen to divine
Ecclesiology: He was firmly convinced that there is only one universal Church as there is only one
God the Father, one divine Word, and one Holy Spirit. He calls the Church the virgin mother who
feeds her children with the milk of divine word. The Church differs in its unity and in its antiquity
from the heretics. The great obstacle for the conversion of pagans and the Jews to the Christian
religion is the fact that Christianity is divided by heretical sects.
ORIGEN (185 – 254)
The most important theologian and biblical scholar of the early Greek church. His greatest
work is the Hexapla (245), which is a synopsis of six versions of the Old Testament; his most
discussed work is the On First Principles (De principiis).
Faith in dialogue with neoplatonism
The Contra Celsum (Against Celsus) in eight books, was written by Origen. Origen wanted
to refute Alethes logos ("The True Doctrine" or "Discourse") by the Platonist Celsus, which had
been written against the Christians towards 180.
Origen claimed that: a philosophic mind has a right to think within a Christian framework
and that the Christian faith is neither a prejudice of the unreasoning masses nor a crutch for social
outcasts or nonconformists.
Against Neoplatonism, Origen holds that no man, through his own strength, can see God;
nevertheless, God concedes his “vision” and “knowledge” to all who direct themselves to Him,
including to those who are not true philosophers: this gift is free to all.
Word of God
Origen‟s greatest work is the Hexapla (245), which is a synopsis of six versions of the Old
Testament. Just as Paul uses allegory in the interpretation of the OT, Origen both uses allegory and
stresses the importance of the movement from literal to spiritual/allegorical reading. Origen
systemised hermeneutics, the study of the general principles of biblical interpretation to discover
the truths and values of Scripture, into three principles:
Literal: an interpretation according to the "plain meaning" conveyed by its grammatical
construction and historical context. It does not refer to the symbolic or figurative use.
Moral: which seeks to establish exegetical principles by which ethical lessons may be
drawn from the various parts of the Bible (this may also include allegorisation).
Spiritual (i.e., allegorical or anagogical): which interprets the biblical narratives as having a
second level of reference beyond those persons, things, and events explicitly mentioned in the text.
A particular form of allegorical interpretation that Origen uses is the typological, according to
which the key figures, main events, and principal institutions of the OT are seen as "types" or
foreshadowing of persons, events, and objects in the NT. Origen acknowledged this to be the
Principles IV 2, 4:
In the Scriptures .. the simple edification of flesh:
This is linked to the “literal sense” of Scripture and progresses with the perfection of Christian faith
to ... the edification of Spirit (“the spiritual sense”).
Homily on Genesis 10
Origen‟s interpretation: Every day we must go to the well of the spirit; Rebekah‟s servant is the
word of the prophet; as Isaac sends the servant, so Christ sends the prophet; we meet Christ in the
reading of the scriptures.
The main research themes of Origen’s theology
On Principles: Some studies sustain that “principles” refers to the fundamental teachings of the
Christian faith; others hold that the term signifies the principal constituents of being. It is perhaps
better to say that the title, in its voluntary ambiguity, wants to signify both things at the same time.
Origen wants to expose in his work “the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith as the
constituent principles of being” or vice versa “the agreement of the fundamental principles of being
with the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith”.
Origen is the first Christian writer to attempt a philosophical understanding of the Trinity, and
the first to place the Spirit in the scope of the divinity. Nevertheless, and in common with
Neoplatonic ideas, it is God the Father who is identified with the ONE (The God). The Son is the
participative divinity. The specific action of the Spirit, pertaining to His essence, is sanctifying
action. These divine hypostates (not prosopon) are joined in a dynamic harmony (unlike the static
Aristotelian First Cause). Origen underlined the distinction between the world of the uncreated
God, and the world of creation, and that the Son has no point of beginning (unlike Arianism), either
chronologically or conceivably. Nevertheless, Christian theology would later recognise this as a
type of subordinationism in that God – Son – Spirit are placed in descending order.
Of “nature” (of the “rational creatures”) to the various “natures”
The doctrine of creation constitutes the most distinctive aspect of Origen‟s thought.
According to Origen God created all creatures of the same incorporeal nature and perfectibility
equal in terms of grades of perfection (as defined by their created nature). They have a certain
resemblance with Him and were good (by accident; it is God who is substantially good) and free.
Freedom, however, has caused them to remove themselves from God. In turn, progressively greater
removal from God has caused the various (descending) categories: angels, men, demons. The Fall,
for Origen, which is wrapped up in the mystery of Scripture, is universal, and there exists a
gradation within all three categories. However, none of these categories is “closed”. In the intent of
the Creator, there should be an on-going progress towards His infinitude. The nature of such
creatures does not, however, imply only continual progress, but also the possibility of regress.
In some ways Origen seems to advance a Platonic conception of the world according to
which the cosmos is a replacement for a prehistoric and general sin. The thesis most attributed to
Origen, on the basis of some texts is that all rational creatures, with the exception of the anima of
Christ, have been alienated from God to a greater or lesser extent, including the angels. With
providential good, God composes and orders the three categories of being in three cosmic levels
placed in degrading order: heaven, earth, hell. Following the traditions of the Greeks, Origen
considers the stars as rational, intelligent creatures. Their variety of luminous and splendid forms is
a consequence of the variety of their initial comportment.
The pre-existence of the soul (The pre-existence of the soul (Platonism/gnosticism)
The thesis according to which the creation of the material world is a consequence of the fall
of rational beings (Gnosticism).
The manifestations of material evil as a series of medicinal punishments (Hellenism).
The eternal return and the cyclical movement of history (Hellenism)
The apokatastasis of the primitive condition of all, including the demons.
Origen‟s anthropology emphasises human freedom in marked contrast to common Gnostic
beliefs in predestination. It is also linked to his model of the cosmos as a continuum in the
degrading order of heaven, earth and hell. In this the high descend, degrading themselves towards
the low, and from the low ascend, perfecting themselves towards the high.
Origen holds that the soul is pre-existent (in line with Gnosticism). Origen located the
essence of the person in the soul alone and viewed the body as a prison. Men are rational souls
alienated from God and incorporated in bodies. Origen proposes a double-creation of the human
person: the spiritual aspect (the “image and likeness” of Gen 1:26-27), and the earthly (the “dust of
the earth” of Gen 2:7).
Here he makes much of the distinction between “image” (eikon) and “likeness”
(homoiousios). He also notes that the actual creation (v. 27) is only according to the “image,” not
according to both “image” and “likeness.” For Origen, the “image” is the original gift given by God
to humanity of spiritual faculties (including human freedom). It is then the task of the human
person, through an ethical life, to freely assimilate the self to the Word. It is in the process of this
personal, free assimilation that the person achieves a “likeness” to God. It is by being the “image”
of God that the human person is capable of knowing God.
THEOLOGY IN THE WEST
It is evident that Christians were present in Rome in the 1C. One need only cite Paul‟s letter
to the Romans. During this era the Church develops into a more visible presence in the Empire, and
forms an increasingly complex structure. Eusebius gives a hint of this complexity when he
describes a community which included “forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons,
forty-two acolytes, fifty-two exorcists, readers together with door-keepers, more than fifteen
hundred widows with persons in distress”. Christianity was more successful amongst the “lower
class”, but the catacombs also reveal the presence of affluent members. This period is also notable
for its alternating periods of persecution and tolerance.
HIPPOLYTUS (170 – 235)
Doctrine of Logos: Hippolytus championed the Logos doctrine that distinguished the persons of
the Trinity. He conceived of God as a unit who, while indivisible, was plural. This position is set
out in his most important work, the Philosophumena which seeks to show that the various Christian
heresies are traceable to false pagan philosophies. For Hippolytus, the Logos proceeds from the
Father and communicates the life of the Father to humankind. Hippolytus asserts that the Logos
without flesh is present to the Father, is manifested in the OT, and ultimately takes on flesh as Jesus
Christ. Hippolytus‟ further development of Logos theology led to the accusation of ditheism being
levelled against him.
However, he defines the relation of the Logos to the Father in a subordinationist way. He
distinguishes the Word internal or immanent in God and the Word emitted or uttered by God. He
describes the generation of the Word as a progressive development in three periods and teaches that
the Logos appeared as person only later, at the time and in the way determined by the Father. The
time before and after the creation are the first two phases in the evolution of the Word. The third is
the Incarnation, which makes the Logos the perfect son. He explains on several occasions that the
Logos took the flesh of Adam in order to renew mankind. In taking the flesh of Adam, the Logos
restored immortality to man.
The Church: the ecclesiology of Hippolytus has two aspects, a hierarchical and a spiritual. With
regard to the first, he purposes to prove that the Church is the bearer of truth and the apostolic
succession of the bishops is the guarantee of her teaching. In this case he stands very near to
Irenaeus. But he went astray with regard to the spiritual aspect of the Church, conceiving of a
society composed too exclusively of the just, and making no room for those who had erred gravely
in faith and morals.
TERTULLIAN (155 – 220)
Before 210 Tertullian left the Orthodox Church to join the Montanist movement, which had
spread from Asia Minor to Africa. His own dissatisfaction with the laxity of contemporary
Christians was friendly with the Montanist message of the imminent end of the world combined
with a strict and demanding moralism. Montanism stood in judgment on any compromise with the
ways of the world, and Tertullian gave himself fully to the defence of the new movement as its
most articulate spokesman. Even the Montanists, however, were not rigorous enough for Tertullian.
He eventually broke with them to found his own sect, a group that existed until the 5C in Africa.
Tertullian wrote works in defence of the faith, including his first work, Apologeticum
criticised Roman law as regards Christians and challenges those who condemn Christians. He also
wrote treatises against specific opponents, including:
"Against Marcion" claimed that two “Gods” (OT and NT) exist, Tertullian claims that this
contradicts the very nature and definition of God DEUS UNUS and DEUS SOLUS (One, Unique God),
How, therefore, can two great Supremes co-exist, when this is the attribute of the Supreme Being,
to have no equal,--an attribute which belongs to One alone, and can by no means exist in two? (I,
3). He also discusses the unity of Scripture and the one plan of salvation.
“Against Praxeas” is important as Tertullian first gives us the language for the Trinity. He
refers to the “Trinity”, “by unity of substance”
In Chapter X he uses analogies of procession without separability, “The tree is not severed
from the root, nor the river from the fountain, nor the ray from the sun; nor, indeed, is the Word
separated from God . . . for the root and the tree are distinctly two things, but correlatively joined;
the fountain and the river are also two forms, but indivisible; so likewise the sun and the ray are
two forms, but coherent ones.
Most important contribution of Tertullian regarding the Trinity is that he is the first one to use
the Latin word Trinitas for the three divine person.
Elsewhere he reflects on the mode of union of Christ‟s humanity and divinity using the
philosophy of the time. He excludes both juxtaposition (accidental union) and con-fusion (mixture)
or monophysitism, but suggests a union where both natures maintain their own characteristics =
One passage in this book is striking: Three, however, not in quality, but in sequence, not in
substance, but in form, not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance and one quality and one
power, because there is one God from whom these sequences and forms and aspects are reckoned
out in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In his eagerness to defend the real humanity of Christ, Tertullian stresses the point that His
body is not heavenly but really born of the very substance of Mary to such degree that he denies the
virginity of Mary in partu and post partum. Thus he states, although she was a virgin when she
conceived, she was a wife when she brought forth. He understands the brethren of Jesus as children
of Mary according to the flesh.
"Against Hermogenes," who claimed that God created the world out of pre-existing matter.
This would have implied a second principle besides God.
De Testimonio Animae (“The Testimony of the Soul”)
He interrogates the pagan soul, asking him of his knowledge of himself. “...But these very
persons elsewhere, confessing that the soul is divine, and bestowed on us by God, stumble against
a testimony of the soul itself, which affords an answer to these views. For if either divine or God-
given, it doubtless knows its giver...”. Tertullian is therefore speaking of the natural soul and natural
knowledge of God which comes from a universal openness to God.
He refutes the notion that the soul pre-exists and is introduced after birth by proving the
embryo to be an animate being. According to him, soul and body come into existence
simultaneously. Thus act of generation reproduces the entire man, soul and body. The result is his
heretical doctrine of traducianism, which denies the direct creation by God himself of each
He is the first one to use Mother as a title of the Church.
CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE (200 – 258)
Life and works
He became the first bishop-martyr of Africa. He was elected bishop of Carthage and a few
months later, early in 250, was confronted by the Decian persecution. Cyprian returned to Carthage
(early 251) and at a council of bishops in May 251 was able to regain his authority. The decision of
the council was that, though no one should be totally excluded from penance, those who truly had
sacrificed (the sacrificati) should be readmitted only on their deathbeds, and those who had merely
accepted certificates (the libellatici) were to be readmitted after varying periods of penance. Three
important principles of church discipline were thus established. First, the right and power to
remit deadly sins, even that of apostasy, lay in the hands of the church; second, the final authority
in disciplinary matters rested with the bishops in council as repositories of the Holy Spirit; and,
third, unworthy members among the laity must be accepted in the New Israel of Christianity just as
in the Old Israel of Judaism.
Re-baptism of heretics: Within months there was an even more serious dispute with Rome. For a
few years the supporters of Novatian had been active in Africa, asserting against Cyprian that no
forgiveness for lapsed Christians was possible. With the recovery of Cyprian's prestige, however,
their threat began to fade. Many of those whom they had baptised clamoured to be admitted to the
church. Was their baptism valid or not? In Rome, Stephen, confronted by the same problem,
decided that all baptism in the name of the Trinity was valid. The Africans at first were of two
minds. Cyprian held three councils between the autumn of 255 and September 256. The last, at
which 87 bishops were present, decided unanimously that there could be no baptism outside the
church, just as there could not be faith, hope, or salvation for those outside it. A minister could not
dispense what he himself did not possess, namely, the Holy Spirit. Those who had received baptism
from Novatianists must be baptised anew.
Cyprian‟s theology was based on the central idea of the unity and uniqueness of the church:
"He no longer has God for his Father, who does not have the Church for his mother". Nevertheless,
this unity was expressed through the consensus of bishops, all equally possessing the Holy Spirit
and sovereign in their own sees, with the people united to their bishop.
THEOLOGICAL DEBATES IN THE ECCLESIAL CONTEXT OF THE 3C
Moral problem: sin and apostasy
Issue of apostasy posed grave problems for the Church of the day. Some were of the opinion
that apostates could never be reconciled. Hippolytus, for example, believed that those who sinned
gravely after baptism should be expelled. Others, however, were of the opinion that sincere
repentance could atone for serious sins; Pope Callistus was reportedly of this view.
The key disciplinary issue was the date of the celebration of Easter. Some wished to
celebrate Easter on the day corresponding to the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Jewish Passover; this
group was characterised by a Passion-centred spirit. Another party favoured the Sunday after the
14th of Nisan, preferring to focus on the Resurrection rather than the Passion.
Some emphasised the unity of the Father and Son, at the risk of monarchianism; others
emphasised a separation by the Logos theology, at the risk of ditheism (or tritheism) and
Monarchianism aimed to exclude any distinctions within the divinity and safeguard at all
costs the unique mon-archy (one principle of God). A moderate monarchianism was
common in the church of Rome during this period. The two main models:
Absolute monarchianism itself divided into:
(a) Modalism: any doctrine that does not recognise Christ as a distinct person from the
Father, but only a mode in which the Father is revealed. The Sabellians denied the
distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as anything other than different
masks of the one substance and one hypostasis (ie person) of God.
(b) Adoptionism / dynamistic monarchianism: Christ is only a man given power by God
(Luke 1,35 is quoted in support, “the Holy Spirit descended on Him”). Exponents
included Paul of Samosata and perhaps also Luke of Antioch.
Relative monarchianism, or subordinationism. The Son carries the divine Name, but is different
from the Father, “God, but on an inferior level”. Exponents (although these cover a wide variety of
views) include Justin, Tazianus, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, Tertullian,
Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria. A Logos theology was often
monarchian in a relative sense.
Dionysius of Alexandria and Dionysius of Rome
Dionysius of Alexandria, in an effort to combat an outbreak of Sabellianism in the
Pentapolis, wrote against modalism and consequently placed much emphasis on the personal
distinction between the Father and the Son. Dionysius, alas, was less than careful in his manner of
exposition. Some of the language he used was prey to various interpretations, such as his reference
to the three hypostases in God. The Sabellians managed to obtain one of his letters and made a
formal complaint to Rome, accusing Dionysius of separating the Father and the Son; of denying
the Son‟s eternity; and of calling the Son a creature.
Dionysius of Rome responded in 262 by issuing a text that, while not directly naming
Dionysius of Alexandria, criticised his position as presented in the letter forwarded by the
Sabellians. When Dionysius of Rome read of three hypostases in God, he understood the term to
signify three substances; thus, he believed Dionysius of Alexandria to be compromising the divine
unity. Dionysius of Rome wrote against “those who divide, dismember, and so destroy the divine
oneness . . . into three powers and three separate beings and into three Godheads”
The theological movement known as “Arianism” takes its name from Arius (c. 260 – c. 336), a priest of
Alexandria in Egypt.
On the Father: The ungenerated Father is absolute monarch, incommunicable and transcendent,
even with respect to the Son. Since a generation of the substance of the Father would divide the divinity,
reducing it to physical categories or a physical substance, the Father is the only true God. Further, since
only that which is ungenerated is eternal, therefore, only the Father is eternal, since the Son is generated.
On the Logos): The was created, “but not like other creatures” because this occurred before
the beginning of the world. The is the intermediary between God and universe, a (neo-Platonic)
“demiurge” created ex nihilo through the will of the Father rather than a natural Son of the Father. He is not
of the same substance, and the title of God is improperly given to him. In Jesus the (semi) divine
replaces his human soul.
The response of Nicaea I (325)
Constantine, viewing this controversy as destabilising to the Empire, called the first ecumenical
council at Nicaea to settle the issue in 325.
The Nicene Creed: We believe in one God the Father almighty, creator of all things visible and invisible. And in our
one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, the only begotten born of the Father, that is of the being (ousia) of the Father,
God of God, light of light, true God of true God, born, not made, of one being with the Father (homousios), by whom all
things were made, which are in heaven and on earth, who for our salvation came down, and became incarnate and was
made man, and suffered, and arose again on the third day, and ascended into heaven, and will come to judge the living
and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit.
But those who say: "There was [a time] when he was not," and, "Before he was born, he was not," and
"Because he was made from non-existing matter, he is either of another substance (hypostasis) or being
(ousia)," and those who call "God the Son of God changeable and mutable," these the Catholic Church
Nicaea I declared the Son to be “of the Father's substance (ousia)” and, therefore, “God from God, Light
from Light, True God from True God, generated not created, consubstantial with the Father”.
The terminological problems
No sooner had the council closed than everything began all over again even worse than before. The
debate about the term „homoousios‟ (of the same substance) raged throughout the 4C century. It was used
to define the divinity of the Son and was intended to guard against the adoptionist and subordinationist
impulses of the time. However, it also confused many because “same” can be applied either to the generic
substance, or to an individual.
For these reasons even many anti-Arian bishops objected to the term. Consequently, the various factions
after Nicaea included those who defined the Son as:
homoousios: the hard line defenders of the Nicene creed;
homoiousios (of similar substance);
anomoios (dissimilar to the Father), eg the radically Arian “Anomeians” from 355.
[There was also a terminological problem with the Greek hypostasis, in that it could be taken to refer to
individuality as well as substance].
ST ATHANASIUS (293 – 373)
Introduction: St. Athanasius (set himself up as a champion in the defence of the Nicene Creed. The
Arians regarded him as their chief enemy and did everything to destroy him. To silence him they
enlisted the aid of the Emperors and corrupt ecclesiastical authorities. He was banished 5 times
from his own see and he spent 17 years in exile. During one such exile he completed his massive
theological work Four Orations Against the Arians.
Champion in the defence of the Nicene Creed:
From 350 onwards, he insisted on the term homoousios and had to defend it as being correct
and orthodox. In 362 at the Council of Alexandria, Athanasius elaborated in his letter to the
Antiochenes his analysis of all the terms being used.
On the subject of the ousia, he said there are not three substances or principles,
but one God and one principle.
On the subject of the hypostasis, he said that there is not one but three.
Triad: In his first letter to Serapion he states: “ there is then a Triad, holy and complete, confessed
to be God in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, having nothing foreign or external mixed with it not
composed of one that creates and one that is originated, but all creative; and it is consistent and in
nature indivisible, and its activity is one. The Father does all things through the Word and in the
Holy Spirit. Thus the unity of the Holy Triad is preserved. Thus one God is preached who is over
all, and through all and in all.
Logos: Arius placed Logos on the side of creation; Athanasius placed Him on the side of God. The
Word is not created, He is begotten. Arius asserted that the Son is a creature of the Father, a work
of the will of the Father. Athanasius refuted this claim pointing to the fact that the very name Son
presupposes His being generated. He repeatedly recalled the comparison of the light issuing from
the sun, so similar to the School of Alexandria, in order to demonstrate that begetting in God
differs from human begetting because God is indivisible.
A substantial part of the problem at this time was that many still believed hypostasis and
ousia to be the same. Athanasius prepared the way for a deepening of the understanding of ousia
and hypostasis to mean three hypostases in one ousia (the Trinity).
There was also a heavy pastoral dimension. Everything connected to the Incarnation.
Christ saved man by the free gift of God brought about through his Incarnation. He developed the
idea of redemption as the divinisation of man through Christ who is consubstantial with the Father.
We have all died with Christ, our High Priest, and thus we will be raised up through him and can
enter into the heavenly kingdom that was closed to us because of sin.
The discussions on the Holy Spirit: The synod at Alexandria in 362 had explicitly defined the
divinity of the Holy Spirit. However, there was opposition on the part of the “pneumatomachi”
(“those who combat the Spirit”). We can find the following points in the writings of Athanasius.
- The Holy Spirit must be God. For if he were a creature, we should have no
participation of God in Him.
- The Holy spirit is of the Trinity, and since the Trinity is homogeneous the Spirit is
not created but He is God.
- He is as the Son consubstantial with the Father.
- The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.
Cappadocia, located in the interior region of Asia Minor. Fathers‟ contribution to the progress of
theology, to the solution of the problem „Hellenism and Christianity‟, to the restoration of peace and to the
expansion of monasticism is such that it has had a lasting influence on the Church. Joined by deep bonds of
friendship and education dating back to their youth, each one of them was quite different in temperament
and character. Basil is known as the master ecclesiastical statesman and organiser, Gregory of Nazianzus as
the master of oratory and Gregory of Nyssa as the master thinker.
BASIL THE GREAT (329 – 379)
Reflections on Christological and Trinitarian controversies
Basil‟s contributions to Trinitarian theology are best understood within the context of his
pastoral commitment. Basil witnessed the various factions that had sprung up in the wake of Nicaea
and was pained by the division they were causing.
The anomeians, who asserted that the Father and Son were dissimilar; they were
the most radical in continuing the line of thought propagated by Arius.
The omeians, who admitted some manner of similarity but were very vague in
their articulation, preferring to avoid the non-biblical term ousias.
The Homoiousians, who understood the Father and Son to be of similar
The Homoousians, who accepted the Nicaean declaration of homoousios (but
sometimes still understood it in a Sabellian sense).
To alleviate the tensions of his day, Basil held that ousios refers to what is common in God,
and hypostasis what is proper to the Father and the Son. Ousios signifies the unique divine
substance while hypostasis signifies the distinctions that exist in God. Ousia corresponds to the
Latin substantia as that essential being which Father, son and Spirit have in common, while
hypostasis denotes a separation of certain circumscribed conception from the general idea,
corresponding to persona in the legal terminology of the Latins. Thus he could bring the clear
difference between them.
Basil‟s On the Holy Spirit is also notable for the history of Trinitarian theology. Whilst never
directly asserting that the Holy Spirit is homoousios with the Father and the Son (lest the term be
misunderstood, perhaps in a Sabellian sense), Basil‟s work clearly implies the divinity of the Spirit.
Asking whether the Spirit is a creature or uncreated, Basil clearly supports the latter option.
GREGORY NAZIANZEN (330 – 389)
4C Church Father whose defence of the doctrine of the Trinity made him one of the greatest
champions of orthodoxy against Arianism.
Reflections on Christological and Trinitarian controversies
It is Gregory who gave us the now classic axiom “that which He has not assumed he has not
healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved” hence, the necessity for Christ to
have assumed a complete human nature in order to effect our salvation. Along Christological lines,
therefore, Gregory adamantly insists on the full humanity of Christ against Apollonarius, who
denies Christ a human soul. Gregory recognised in Christ one subject with two complete natures:
“we lay down as a dogma the Unity and Identity of Person, Who of old was not Man but God . . .
but Who is these last days has assumed Manhood also for our salvation”
In his Oration 39 he says, They are divided without division, and They are united in
division. The Godhead is one in three, and the Three are one in Whom the Godhead is. In his
orations on the Holy Baptism he gives an accurate summary of his teaching. He writes: “I give you
this profession of faith a lifelong guide and protector: One sole divinity and one power, found in
the Three in Unity, and comprising the Three separately, not unequal in substance or nature, neither
increased nor diminished by addition or subtraction, in every respect one and the same; just as the
beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one. With this confession, Gregory intends to avoid the
heresy of Arius as well as of Sabellius.
Gregory advocates an “apophatic” theology. Against those who try to scientifically know
God, Gregory insists on the need to worship before the Mystery and recognise one‟s inability to
fully grasp it. For Gregory, authentic and true theological reflection is only possible in one is living
out the mystery.
About the Holy Spirit, in Oration 39 he says: the proper name of the Unoriginate is Father,
and that of the unoriginately Begotten is Son, and that of the unbegottenly Proceeding or Going
forth is the Holy Spirit.
GREGORY OF NYSSA (335 – 394)
The strongest intellect of the group, the real theologian and philosopher among the
Cappadocians was Gregory of Nyssa, Basil‟s younger brother. He occupies an outstanding
position in the history of speculative and mystical theology. He was consecrated as bishop of Nyssa
in 372 as part of the struggle against the Arians.
Reflections on Christological and Trinitarian controversies
Gregory wrote against Eunomius, the leading Arian theologian of his day. When Eunomius
in 383 submitted a „Confession of Faith‟ to the Emperor Theodosius, Gregory wrote a very detailed
criticism of it. Following Plato, he found even in finite things, the numerical unity of essence or
nature. Thus he attributed reality to the universal idea in order to explain the divine Trinity better
and to refute the accusation of tritheism. The distinction of the three divine Person consists
exclusively in their immanent mutual relations. For this reason their activity ad extra only be one
and divine Persons of the Godhead extends through the Holy Trinity. He conceives the Holy Spirit
as proceeding from the Father through the Son, i.e., immediately from the Son and mediately from
Theophilus, the patriarch of Alexandria, asked Gregory for a refutation of Apollinarianism
and soon afterwards Gregory published „Antirrheticus adversus Apollinarem‟ in which he refuted
the Apollinarian doctrine point by point. His Christology is characterized by a sharp differentiation
of the two natures in Christ.
“Great Catechetical Discourse”
At Constantinople Gregory wrote this work which was the first systematic reflection on the
faith, literally the first „Summa‟ of theology. In it he defined „Catechesis‟ in a much stricter
manner than is used today. It was a structured course in scripture, prayers, creed and morals in
preparation for Baptism, followed by period of „mystogogia‟ during the Easter season. He also
gave a great deal of attention to exegesis, giving a spiritual exegesis in his commentaries on most
of Scripture, in which the emphasis on the “end”: central message of the text. In this he sees all the
facts as connected around a central message which is a guide for the Christian life in the way of the
imitation of Christ. For example he sees Moses‟ life as a model of the unfinished journey of the
Christian life, a continual progress towards the infinite God. Gregory was more fascinated by the
works of Origen than Basil, but distanced himself from its controversial aspects.
ST. JOHN CHRISOSTOM
He favoured the teaching of Antioch in his exegesis as well as in his Christology. He
distinguishes clearly between ousia or physis as terms for nature, and hypostasis or prosopn as
terms for person. He teaches that the Son is of the same essence as the Father and uses at least five
times the Nicene formula homoousios to characterize the relation of the Son to the Father. He
prefers, however, the expressions like equal to the Father, equal to essence, equality in essence.
He stresses the complete and perfect divinity of Christ against the Arians and the complete
and perfect humanity against Apollinarists. He insists on the reality and integrity of these two
natures in Christ. Christ is of the same nature as the Father. He had also a human body, not sinful
like ours, but identical with ours in nature. Despite the duality of natures, there is but one Christ:
remaining what He was, He assumed what He was not, and though He became man, remained God,
in that He was the Word ... He became the one (man), He took the one (man). He was the other
(God). Thus there is no confusion, but also no separation. One God, one Christ, the Son of God.
There is no doubt that his training in that School influenced his Mariology. He never in his
many writings uses the title Theotokos for the Blessed Virgin to which the Antiochenes objected,
but neither does he employ their expressions Christotokos nor that of Diodore of Tarsus,
Anthropotokos, a proof that he deliberately exercised reserve and refused to take sides in the
discussion that had begun as early as 380. He clearly teaches the perpetual virginity of Mary: “we
are ignorant of many things, as for instance, how the infinite is in a womb, how He that contains all
things is carried, as unborn, by a woman; how the virgin gives birth and continues a Virgin.
AMBROSE (339 – 397)
His literary works have been acclaimed as masterpieces of Latin eloquence, and his musical
accomplishments are remembered in his hymns. Ambrose is also remembered as the teacher who
converted and baptised St. Augustine of Hippo, the great Christian theologian, and as a model
bishop who viewed the church as rising above the ruins of the Roman Empire.
Taking his position seriously, he gave away all his possessions, took on the duties of the
episcopal ministry, and devoted himself to the study of theology, a discipline in which he had little
grounding. He also devoted himself to the daily sacrifice of the mass, and made himself available
to every member of his flock. He defended the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and of the Holy
Ghost. He wrote works defending Catholic doctrine on the various sacraments, especially penance
and the Eucharist.
The Son is not unlike the Father, the Son did not have a beginning, the Son was not created, the
Son is good, the Son is true God, the Son does not have a divinity other than that of the Father (de
fede 1, 34-40). And we also find a Christological title gigias substantiae, twin-substanced giant, in
his hymn veni redemptor that insists the substantial unity.
AUGUSTINE (354 – 430) Feast day: August 28
Augustine and Manicheanism.
The Manichaean system as propagated in the Western Roman Empire was a materialistic
dualism that accounted for the creation of the world as the product of a conflict between light and
dark substances and for the soul of man as an element of the light entangled in the dark.
Manichaeism claimed to be the true Christianity, preaching Christ as the Redeemer who enables
the imprisoned particles of light to escape and return to their own region. He joined this movement.
His first zeal for this "religion of enlightenment" did not last long, however, for the Manichaean
experts (eg Faustus) proved incapable of dealing with the questions he put to them. He became
Augustine, Ambrose and Neoplatonism.
The bishop of Milan was Ambrose, the most eminent Christian churchman of the day.
Augustine was introduced to Ambrose and went to hear him preach, however, and this, his first
contact with the mind of a Christian intellectual, was enough to shake Augustine's prejudice against
Catholic teaching. Nevertheless he remained a sceptic: the being of God and the nature and origin
of evil remained for him problems as insoluble as they had ever been.
The solution of both problems was given to him by a chance introduction to Neoplatonic
writings in the work of its greatest exponent Plotinus. According to this spiritual monism evil is
simply the privation or absence of good. Neoplatonic mysticism also relied on the principle that the
inward is superior to the outward: to reach the good, which is the real, one must "return into"
oneself; for it is the spirit at the heart of man's inmost self that links him to the ultimate unity. In
the seventh book of the Confessions, Augustine tells how in such an act of introspection he found
God, the "changeless light," at once immanent and transcendent, a mystical experience more than
the conclusion of a process of reasoning.
In the eighth book of the Confessions he relates the final breakdown of resistance in a Milan
garden, when, at the sound of a child's voice calling "tolle, lege: tolle, lege" ("take up and read"),
he opened the New Testament Letters and read in Letter of Paul to the Romans the words, ". . . put
on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Rom. 13:14).
He received Baptism at the hands of Ambrose in the spring of 387. He found Christ is the unity of
all the philosophy he had been reading. In 391 he was ordained a priest and in 397 he became
bishop of Hippo.
Augustine as pastor
He diverted his studies from philosophy to Scripture. The realities of pastoral experience
among the very imperfectly Christianised people of an African seaport, together with the rapid
impregnation of his mind with the categories of biblical religion, made it impossible for him to
overlook the differences between Neoplatonism and Pauline Christianity.
Theory of the universe
Creation in Plotinus is motiveless and purposeless, the automatic by-product of the divine
self-contemplation; in Augustine its source is "the will of a good God that good things should be".
The outgoing energy of creative love forms the basic principle of his entire theology. Since nothing
can come into being or continue in it but by this divine will to create, all that exists is good "in so
far as it has being"; and because there are evidently degrees of goodness, there must also be
degrees of being. But even the formless matter that is nearest to "not being" is essentially good
because God made it; the origin of evil is not to be sought in material existence. Augustine
persistently refused to unload upon the material conditions of human life the responsibility for
Theory of knowledge
Following Plato, Augustine argued that the ability to make true judgements never can be
inserted into the mind from outside. The human teacher never can do more than help his pupil to
see for himself what he already knew without being aware of it. Augustine's favourite examples of
these intuitive judgements are the propositions of mathematics and the appreciation of moral
values; they are not the construction of the individual mind, because when properly formulated
they are accepted by all minds alike. The individual thinker does not make the truth, he finds it; and
he is able to do so because Christ, the revealing Word of God, is the magister interior, the "inward
teacher," who enables him to see the truth for himself when he listens to him.
Augustine accepts the basic assumption of ancient ethical theory that conduct is properly
directed to the achievement of eudaimonia - the happiness or well-being that is taken to be the one
universal desire of humanity. Augustine's cosmos is an ordered structure in which the degrees of
being are at the same time degrees of value. This universal order requires the subordination of what
is lower in the scale of being to what is higher: body is to be subject to spirit, and spirit to God.
Man must know his place in the order of the universe and, knowing it, must voluntarily accept it;
that is, he must set upon himself and upon everything else the relative value that is properly due.
Augustine's word for the ethical valuation that influences conduct is amor ("love"). Amor is the
moral dynamic that impels man to action. If it is rightly directed man will never set a higher value
on what is lower in the scale. All lesser goods are to be "used" as means or aids toward the higher;
only the highest is to be "enjoyed" as the ultimate end on which the heart is set. The supreme good
in whose fruition alone man reaches his perfection is for Augustine the God whose nature is agape,
love in the New Testament sense of the word. If, then, man's love, his amor, can rise to the
enjoyment of God, it will become a participation in the divine agape, love itself. God will have
given himself to men, and by sharing in his love men will love one another as he loves them,
drawing from him the power to give themselves to others.
Struggle with the Donatist schism
The Donatists (named after Donatus, one of its leaders) claimed that their church alone was
true church. The Donatist bishops were compelled to meet their Catholic rivals at a formal
conference held under an official arbitrator at Carthage in 411, the foregone conclusion of which
was a Catholic victory.
-Donatists and Catholics agreed that the power of the Holy Spirit is conveyed to the believer
through the sacraments, which are administered by the church through the clergy.
-The Donatists alleged, however, that the sacraments require for their validity a ministry
undefiled by serious sin; for the Spirit departs from the sinner, who cannot therefore "confer
what he does not possess." Augustine replied that the sacraments convey the Spirit in virtue
of Christ's ordinance alone and that this validity is unaffected by the worthiness or
unworthiness of the human minister. The church's unity depends on the Spirit's supreme gift
of charity, of which schism is the denial.
Struggle with the Pelagian heresy
As the Donatist controversy was ending, the Pelagians were already beginning to
threaten the traditional doctrines of sin and redemption in the Western Church. Pelagius had
set himself to resist the slackening of Christian moral standards. Against those who pleaded
human frailty in excuse for their failings, he insisted that God has made every man alike free
to choose and to perform the good; that it is the essence of sin to be a voluntary act that God's
law forbids and that the sinner was free to avoid; and that, were not this freedom real, there
could be no justice in God's punishments and rewards. This reduction of Christianity to a
bleak moralism could not avoid conflict with the plain implications of the church's
sacramental and liturgical practice. Baptism had always been "for the remission of sins," and
infants were held to need it because they inherit the guilt of Adam's transgression, which, as
St. Paul taught, brought death upon the whole race of men. The doctrine of original sin was
firmly established in the Western Church before Augustine's time; and when it was openly
rejected by Pelagius' disciple Celestius, there was no escape for Pelagianism from being
branded as a heresy. The prevarications of Pelagius were able to persuade Pope Zosimus
(417-418) to reverse the condemnation pronounced by his predecessor, Innocent I. But in the
spring of 418 the African bishops obtained from the emperor Honorius an edict banishing the
heretics; and Zosimus was obliged to come into line.
Augustine was the soul of the Church's resistance. He had seen Pelagianism at once as
not merely a denial of the virtue of Christian Baptism but also as a fatal misconception of the
relationship between God and man. For to assert that man can achieve righteousness by his
own effort is to contradict the fundamental truth that God is the giver of all good. Before the
controversy began, Augustine had worked out his own rationalisations of the doctrines of
original sin and divine grace--rationalisations that the church was to prove unwilling to
accept fully. He accepted the traditional belief in the fact and in the penal consequences of
Adam's transgression, defining the fact as man‟s refusal to accept his place in the created
order, and the consequences as a dislocation of the order of man's own nature--the revolt of
flesh against spirit. He argued that not only are all men involved in Adam's guilt and
punishment but also that this involvement takes effect through the dependence of human
procreation on the sexual passion, in which the spirit's inability to control flesh is evident. It
was this linking of original sin with human sexuality that exposed Augustine in his old age to
the most damaging criticisms of the Pelagian bishop Julian of Eclanum, who boldly asserted
the moral neutrality of the instincts that belong to man's created nature and charged
Augustine with relapsing into Manichaeism in his argument that an impulse that a man is
bound to fight and conquer must therefore be evil.
For Augustine the fall of man means that in all men the true order of love has been
violated. Departing from the love of God above him, man has followed the love of self and
become subject to what is below him. Man has fallen by the act of his own will. He cannot by
a similar exercise of will reverse the consequences of that fall. The subjection of spirit to
flesh is a slavery from which the perverted will has no power to deliver itself, just because it
cannot will the deliverance. What is needed is a kind of reversal of gravity--the substitution
of an uplifting for a down-dragging love. And Augustine believed that this could happen only
by that gracious descent of the divine love to dwell within the sinner: the gospel of the
incarnation and of Pentecost.
Pelagius, on the other hand, argued that all men have been created free to do what is
right when they see it, and that Christians have received the needed moral enlightenment in
Christ's teaching and example. Augustine knew the unreality of the Pelagian conception of
freedom as an innate and absolute power of choice, unaffected by circumstances. He pointed
to the inescapable conditioning of all moral activity by the situation of the agent--outside
whose control are in general not only the presentation of an object but also the kind of feeling
that the presentation excites. Moreover, the act of will is dependent on feeling as well as on
cognition. In Augustine's words: Men will not do what is right, either because the right is
hidden from them or because they find no delight in it. But that what was hidden may become
clear, what delighted not may become sweet--this belongs to the grace of God (De
peccatorum meritis et remissione).
Augustine insisted that without this delight in righteousness there can be no true
freedom in well-doing, but only a servile obedience to law. The love of God, which is the
motive of the Christian life, must be free. Yet love of God, as St. Paul said, enters man's heart
by the gift of the Holy Spirit; and Augustine found it increasingly difficult to leave room in
his doctrine of grace for a genuinely free response on man's part to the Spirit's gift. The
unexamined assumption that everything in human life must be ascribed either to God's or to
man's working compelled him to hold that God alone is the cause of every human movement
toward good. In the first year of his episcopate, the study of St. Paul's argument in Rom. 9-11
had convinced him that no event in time can alter the eternal setting of God's will toward any
human soul: his elect are chosen before the foundations of the world. God knows--not before,
but apart from, the time process--how each individual in the course of time will respond to
the particular form in which grace is offered to him; and the elect alone receive the grace that
will win their acceptance.
The rigour of this doctrine did not soften in face of the Pelagian challenge. In De
civitate, the masterpiece on which Augustine was working throughout the Pelagian
controversy, he drew a picture, as majestic as it is appalling, of the "beginnings, course and
destined ends" of the two invisible societies of the elect and the damned. The work seems to
have been in his mind before the capture of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 had shaken the
empire; but it took the form of a Christian apologetic against the pagan claim that the disaster
was consequence and punishment of Rome's apostasy from its ancestral religion. Augustine's
two cities are not to be identified with the Christian Church and the pagan or secular state.
They are symbolic embodiments of the two spiritual powers that have contended for
allegiance in God's creation ever since the fall of the angels--faith and unbelief, "the love of
self extending to contempt for God, and the love of God extending to contempt of self."
Neither power is embodied in its purity in any earthly institution; in this world the heavenly
and earthly cities are inextricably intermingled. If there is a philosophy of history in the De
civitate Dei, it is the religious philosophy of predestination.
Augustine found it difficult in his old age to reassure some of his own disciples, to
whom his doctrine seemed to make moral effort futile and praise and blame alike groundless.
But he would retract nothing. His last completed treatises drew out the logic of predestination
to its most ruthless conclusions and may be regarded as product of the too audacious attempt
of the time-bound human mind to contemplate existence with the eye of the eternal God.
The end of Roman civilisation in Africa was near and the Vandal armies were
besieging Hippo when Augustine died there on August 28, 430. Verus philosophus est
amator Dei ("The true philosopher is the lover of God"). In those words from the De civitate
Dei, Augustine has left at once the best portrait of himself and the fullest justification of his