Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The curious case of Dr. Case, late professor of Early Church History and New Testament Interpretation at the University of Chicago School of Divinity: his liberal postmillennialism vs. the ‘Russellites’ and other premillennialists

I have been reading the third edition of M. James Penton’s, Apocalypse Delayed – The Story of Jehovah's Witnessess (2015 – Google Preview HERE). [I read the first and second editions shortly after their respective publication dates—1985, 1997.]

Whilst reading the sections on “Religious Persecution", "The Nature of Anti-Witness Propaganda", and "The Charge of Sedition" (pp. 203-209), stories of beatings and property destruction via mob violence during WWII—as experienced and related to me by my uncle Percy Crofoot and his life-long friend Walter Crabb—came to mind. The persecution did not start with WWII, but rather with WWI. The history of the W.T.B.S. between 1914-1939 was a bit hazy to me, so I pulled the “1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses”—which includes a detailed history of the W.T.B.S. in the United States—off of the shelf to refresh my memory. The following caught my eye:

On December 30, 1917, mass distribution of 10,000,000 copies of a new issue of the four-page, tabloid-size tract The Bible Students- Monthly began. Entitled "The Fall of Babylon" and with the subtitles "Ancient Babylon a Type--Mystic Babylon the Antitype-Why Christendom Must Now Suffer-the Final Outcome," It contained excerpts from the Seventh Volume, with very pointed references to the clergy. On its back page appeared a graphic cartoon depicting a crumbling wall. Some of its stones bore such words as "Protestantism," "Eternal torment theory," "Doctrine of the trinity," "Apostolic succession" and "Purgatory." With Scriptural foundation the tract showed that the great majority of the clergy "have been unfaithful, disloyal, unrighteous men" who were more responsible than any other class on earth for the war then raging and the great trouble that would follow

By late 1917 and early 1918 The Finished Mystery was being distributed in increasing numbers. Angered, the clergy falsely claimed that certain statements in this book were of a seditious nature. They were out to "get" the Watch Tower Society and, like the Jewish religious leaders when Jesus was on earth, they wanted the State to do the work far them. (Compare Matthew 27:1, 2, 20.) Both Catholic and Protestant clergymen falsely represented the Bible Students as being in the employ of the German government. For example, referring to the work of the International Bible Students Association, a legal agency of God's people, Doctor Case of the Divinity School of Chicago University published this statement: "Two thousand dollars a week is being spent to spread their doctrine. Where the money comes from is unknown; but there is a strong suspicion that it emanates from German sources. In my belief, the fund would be a profitable field for government investigation." (Page 95 – link to PDF.)

I first read the “1975 Yearbook” back in 1976, but had no recollection of, “the four-page, tabloid-size tract The Bible Students-Monthly”, nor of the statement published by, “Doctor Case of the Divinity School of Chicago University”. The charge that funding for the “spread of their doctrine”, came from “German sources”, struck me as baseless propaganda. I knew nothing of this “Doctor Case”, but some subsequent research revealed that a Professor Shirley Jackson Case had received his Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Yale, and subsequently taught Early Church History and New Testament Interpretation at the University of Chicago School of Divinity.

Dr. Case’s published books demonstrate that his views of Christianity and history were quite liberal, and that his liberalism could be combative. Notre Dame historian, George M. Marsden, has provided some interestingly insights into the mindset of the theologians teaching at the University of Chicago School of Divinity during Dr. Case’s tenure. Note the following:

Beginning in 1917, for several years the theologians at the University of Chicago School of Divinity led a fierce assault on premillennial teaching. These attacks, directed largely against their cross-town rival, Moody Bible Institute, were the first stage of the intense fundamentalist-modernist conflicts. (Fundamentalism and American Culture – New Edition, p.145 – Google Preview HERE.)

Marsden then added:

to the modernists at Chicago the progress of Christianity and progress of culture were so intimately bound together that the two were always considered together. “Modernism,” in fact, meant first of all the adoption of religious ideas to modern culture. (p. 146)

Believing that a postmillennial interpretation of history was a valuable tool in facilitating “the adoption of religious ideas to modern culture”, the modernist theologians at University of Chicago School of Divinity had developed a serious concern about the spread of premillennialism. Marsden points out that the first direct attack on premillennialism by those folk came in 1917 via the track published by the school’s dean, Shirley Mathews, under the title, “Will Jesus Come Again?” The track was shortly followed by the publication of Dr. Case’s book, The Millennial Hope: A Phase of Wartime Thinking (January, 1918 - link to PDF); from its pages we read:

History shows many variations in the millennial type of hope. While Gentiles, Jews, and Christians alike looked for a final release from present evils through some unique form of world-renewal, widely varying programs were proposed for the attainment of this end. Nor was there a single program for Gentiles, or for Jews, or for Christians. (Page 226)

Case’s liberal/modernist paradigm had no room for a divinely revealed millennial hope, and instead, embraces the following interpretation:

This diversity was a natural outcome of the varying circumstances under which millennial speculations arose and developed. They represent the work of different persons with a variety of tastes, living in different surroundings throughout a long period of years. (Ibid.)

In the same month of the release of the above book, the Chicago Daily News (Jan. 21, 1918) published Case’s comments containing the  “German sources” quote I found in the “1975 Yearbook”. The extract of the published article did not have Case identifying any specific group, and/or individual as the target of his charges. I have not been able to find the entire article, so what follows is speculation. Case may have had premillennialists in general in mind, but the specifics contained in his comments seem to mitigate such a view. A subsequent polemical essay by Case—published in the University of Chicago’s School of Divinity journal, The Biblical World—may provide a clue as to why the writer of the “1975 Yearbook” thought that Case had the ‘Bible Students’ (i.e. ‘Russellites’) in mind:

Among premillenarians the Russellites have perhaps been the most ready to press their principles to a logical issue. As a result they, along with their I.W.W. neighbors, have fallen under the ban of the authorities both in Canada and in the United States. Now they hasten to assure the world that they never had any thought of opposing the war, "for the reason that they recognize it of divine permission and could not oppose its progress without opposing the very foundation of their belief.” But his very confession brings its own condemnation. (“The Premillennial Menace”, The Biblical World, Jul. 1918, Vol. 52, No. 1, p.22 - link to PDF)

And so, until I can obtain a full copy of the Daily News article, I am going to side with the author of the “1975 Yearbook” that Case was probably referring to the Bible Students/Russellites in his unsubstantiated published statement.

As for The Bible Students-Monthly tract "The Fall of Babylon" that I had no recollection of—and for sure had never read—I was able to find a PDF copy online HERE.

Back to my studies…


Grace and peace,


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus (a concise, well written, book-length debate)

I first read The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus a few months ago, but recently discovered that it is now available online at academia.edu (LINK), so I thought it would be a good time to bring this interesting book to the attention of AF readers. From the forward of the book, by James McGrath, we read:

The Study of New Testament Christology—the depiction(s) of Jesus articulated by the authors of the New Testament—has never ceased to be of interest. But if it may not be true to say that there has been more interest in the subject in recent years, the past several decades have at the very least witnessed a burst of creativity in the field, with significant new and interesting proposals being offered by a range of scholars. This work has been stimulated in turn by an increased amount of attention to ancient Jewish sources, sparked by the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient literature that was previously neglected or unknown. This has allowed scholars to get a sense as never before of the Jewish context within which Jesus and his earliest followers reflected on who he was. (p. vii)

A bit later, McGrath relates:

The present volume is different from such other volumes in important ways. On the one hand, the contributors share a commit­ment to interpreting the Bible diligently and accurately, and allowing the evidence from the Bible to shape their views. On the other hand, the three christological viewpoints which the authors represent are only relatively rarely found within the same church setting. Trinitarianism, Arianism, and Socinianism are typically not found within the same denomination, much less within the same church, and more often than not, adherents to one of the viewpoints will regard the other views as anathema.

And so the fact that the authors are friends across such divides is an important message of the book, one which should not be missed. (pp. x, xi)

But, “the fact that the authors are friends”, does not diminish the passion and resolve that each author has for their respective position—this being evidenced by the clarity provided in their critiques of the opposing views.

Another unique aspect of the book, that I found to be quite valuable, is that each author provides precise definitions of the ‘labels’ given to the view that they defend—'Trinitarianism’, ‘Arianism’ and 'Socinianism’ (pp. xiii-xv).

I really enjoyed this book. The authors are competent and knowledgeable, providing a good defense of their respective views in a format that is concise and readable—without compromising the level of the content.

Hope others will take the time to read the tome, and then share some reflections…


Grace and peace,


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Monarchianism and Origen's Early Trinitarian Theology – a dissertation by Stephen Edward Waers (Part 3)

Part 3 of this series examines chapters 4 and 5 of Waers dissertation. Chapter 4 delves into, “[t]he interplay between the monarchian controversy and the development of Origen’s thought” (p. 216). Waers has made a, “conscious decision to read Origen with his contemporaries rather than with his heirs in the Nicene debates” (p. 216), and his analysis focuses, “almost exclusively on ComJn 1-2, books which Origen composed during the height of the monarchian controversy” (p. 216). Waers offers the following reasons for his emphasis on Orgien’s ComJn 1-2:

The fact that these books are extant in a mostly complete Greek text, untouched by the editorial hand of Rufinus, makes them particularly valuable for reconstructing Origen’s thought. Further motivating my choice to use these two books is the fact that I accept an early dating for their composition, beginning around 217 C. E. This dating means that these two books were composed in the middle of the monarchian controversy, with Contra Noetum (ca. 200-210) and Adversus Praxean (ca. 213) antedating them and the Refutatio (ca. 225-235) and De Trinitate (ca. 240-250) postdating them. This dating of the text, coupled with Origen’s probable contact with monarchianism during his trip to Rome, suggests that the anti-monarchian polemical context is important for interpreting works he composed while still in Alexandria. (p. 217)

Pages 219-228 provide important historical context for Origen’s ComJn, which includes the fact that Origen composed ComJn, at the request of his patron Ambrose* (p.225).

Pages 228-241 concerns “Monarchianism and Book 1 of the Commentary on John.” Waers in this section points out that Origen clearly has certain aspects of modalistic monarchianism in mind, placing an emphasis on the real existence of the Logos, who is God’s Son; and that this Logos/Son is distinct from the Father—both of these aspects being denied by the modalistic monarchians. I particularly found the following of interest:

In both ComJn and De Prin., Origen interprets ἀρχή in John 1:1 as a reference to the ἀρχή in Proverbs 8:22ff, where Wisdom is said to have been with God before creation. By means of Pr. 8:22, which itself echoes the opening words of Genesis in the LXX, Origen explicitly links Wisdom with demiurgic functions, even claiming that Wisdom contains within herself all of the forms of what would be created. In De Prin., he asks if any pious person could consider the Father to have ever existed without Wisdom by his side. Later in book one of ComJn, Origen stresses that the Wisdom of God “is above all creation” (τὴν ὑπἐρ πᾶσαν κτίσιν σοφίαν τοῦ θεοῦ). Thus, not only has Origen argued that Wisdom is not something insubstantial, he has also argued that Wisdom has been alongside of, and distinct from, the Father from the beginning, that the Father has never been without Wisdom. (Page 238)

Chapter 5 begins on page 242, and is my personal favorite. The title—Origen the subordinationist; subordination as a means of distinguishing the Father and the Son—sets the tone for the entire chapter. Note the following:

In this chapter, I demonstrate that the intentional subordination of the Son was a common strategy that anti-monarchian writers used to distinguish the Father and Son during the first half of the third century. By situating their terms for distinction within a subordinationist framework, they were able to clarify how the Father and Son were not “one and the same.” The term subordination is often used by scholars with the negative evaluative judgment that whatever is deemed subordinationist was a failure to live up to the standards of Nicaea. I reject this usage as anachronistic when discussing third-century texts and authors and argue, to the contrary, that the subordinationist schemata employed by the authors considered in this chapter were intentionally used to distinguish the Father and Son. Although subordinationism comes to be viewed as heretical in the post-Nicene period, it was an accepted anti-monarchian strategy among some prominent early third-century authors. (Pages 243, 244)

Now, given the fact that scholars use the term “subordination" in more that one sense—e.g. economic, functional, heirarchical, ontological, positional, relational—Waers, in pages 16-25, cogently delves into the issue of subordination. After relating how a number of other scholars have used the term with reference to the Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Waers writes:

In order to avoid over-generalizing, I work with a definition of subordinationism created from examples in the three main texts I consider in the final chapter: Tertullian’s Adversus Praxean, Novatian’s De Trinitate, and Origen’s ComJn. As I observe when reading these three texts, the subordination of the Son to the Father is not a uniform phenomenon in the early third century. Thus, perhaps my definition will add nuance to the ways we speak of subordination. In the texts I survey, subordination often occurs when the authors speak of the relationship between a cause/source and its effect (in our case, the Father and Son). When authors are dealing with a cause and effect, the effect either lacks something present in the cause or possesses it less fully. (Pages 21, 22)

He then provides the following definition:

The Son is less than the Father and distinguished from him because he has an origin. For both Tertullian and Novatian, the reception or derivation of something from a source necessarily implies that the recipient is less than the source. Novatian is explicit about this and states multiple times that the Son is less than (minor) the Father. This is what I mean by subordination. (Page 23)

Before he examines Origen’s subordinistic/anti-monarchian passages (pages 263-299), he takes a look at what Tertullian and Novatian had to say on this issue (pages 245–263).

Towards the end of his section on Origen, Waers boldly states:

His participation in the divinity of the Father necessarily entails him receiving or drawing it from the Father into himself. Only one is αὐτόθεος, and it is not the Son. (Page 291)

He then presents a number of passages from Origen wherein he subordinates the Son to the Father, and then writes:

Because divinity is received by the Son from a source outside of himself, argues Origen, he would cease to be God if he stopped being with the only true God, who is the Father. (Pages 293)

He ends chapter 5 with the following:

Origen, like Tertullian and Novatian, argued that the derivative or received nature of the Son’s divinity distinguished him from the Father, who alone properly and fully possessed divinity. With regard to divinity, the Son was downstream from the Father, the source from whom he drew it into himself. (Page 299)

Chapter 5 is followed by the Conclusion (pages 300-304). I shall let interested folk read it for themselves…

Grace and peace,


*Concerning this Ambrose, Eusebuis wrote:

ABOUT this time Ambrose, who held the heresy of Valtentinus, was convinced by Origen’s presentation of the truth, and, as if his mind were illumined by light, he accepted the ordodox doctrine of the Church. (HE, VI.18 – NPNF, Series 2, 2.264.)

From Jerome we read:

AMBROSE, at first a following of Marcion, and then converted by Origen, became a deacon of the the church and attained great fame through his profession of faith in the Lord. (On Illustrious Men, LVI – FC, volume 100.83.)


Ambrose, who, as we have said, was converted from the Marcionite heresy to the true faith, exhorted Origen to write commentaries on the Scriptures, providing him with more than seven secretaries, paying their expenses, and an equal number of copyists, and, more important than this, demanding work from him daily with incredible importunity. For this reason, in one of his letters. Origen calls him ἐργόδιώτην, a task master. (Ibid. 100.88.)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Monarchianism and Origen's Early Trinitarian Theology – a dissertation by Stephen Edward Waers (Part 2)

Part 2 of this series on monarachianism will focus on the following question:

Was monarchianism the majority view in the second and early/middle third century?

The ‘roots’ of the above question that has become somewhat popular amongst some 20th and 21st century scholars is uncovered by Waers in the early pages of his dissertation; note the following:

Harnack produced a number of accounts of monarchianism that shaped discourse for much of the twentieth century. Harnack’s division of monarchianism into two main streams, modalistic and dynamistic, has become a scholarly commonplace. Harnack’s account is colored by his overarching assumption that the speculative theology of the learned Logos theologians was at odds with the simple faith of the uneducated masses. He proposed that it was this opposition between the learned theologians and the simple laity that gave rise to the monarchian controversy and that monarchianism was an attempt to protect the pure faith against the intrusion of speculation which derived from Hellenistic philosophy. (Page 7)

Waers in his section on Tertullian, provides a quote that is utilized by Harnack and other folk who maintain that monarchiaism was the majority position in the early/middle 3rd century:

This monarchian interpretation of the oneness of God was particularly appealing for those whom Tertullian calls simple folks. For Tertullian, claims about the oneness of God must be balanced by assertions about the plurality of God in the economy, a balance that Tertullian’s simplices seem unable to achieve. Tertullian states, “Simple people… not understanding that while they must believe in one only <God> yet they must believe in him along with his economy, shy at the economy.” (Page 139)*

Now, to extrapolate from the above that the “simple faith" of the simplices mentioned by Tertullian was the same as the actual faith of the monarchians of the second and early/middle third century is dubious, and unproven. Later on, Waers exposes some of the weaknesses of such a view:

Despite its notable influence in the early-third-century church, it is difficult to sustain claims that monarchianism was the majority position in the church, or something like an early-third-century orthodoxy. Reinhard Hübner is the most recent proponent of this theory, and he suggests that monarchianism was the overwhelming majority position in Christianity until the middle of the third century. Hübner’s theory is built upon a number of suppositions, the most problematic of which requires a revisionist reading of virtually all second-century theology and a revisionist chronology of some major figures. (Page 203)


All of the extant accounts of monarchianism that I have studied thus far have shown that the explicit identification of the Father and Son was at the core of monarchian theology. The absence of such strong statements about the Father and Son being identical in second-century texts is an insurmountable obstacle for Hübner’s theory. Were Noetus as influential as Hübner contends, one would surely find this central aspect of his teaching mirrored in those writers who allegedly relied on him. It is more probable that Noetus’ antithetical statements about God were drawing on traditional ways of speaking about God in Asia Minor. He added to this traditional phraseology the monarchian postulate, that the Father and the Son are one and the same.

Once Hübner’s assertions in favor of an early date for Noetus have been problematized, his theories about monarchianism as the overwhelming majority position until the mid-third century lose their firm basis. There is evidence that monarchianism gained a strong following in Rome at the beginning of the third century. However, there is scarcely enough information to determine the extent to which monarchianism was adopted in other regions. (Pages 205, 206)

Should have part 3 up later this week, the Lord willing…

Grace and peace,


*Full context of Tertullian quote HERE.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Monarchianism and Origen's Early Trinitarian Theology – a dissertation by Stephen Edward Waers (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago (04-22-21), I received an email that brought to my attention the following scholarly article:

The Christology of Callistus

Shortly after reading Haine’s essay, I discovered the following germane dissertation by Stephen Edward Waers:

Monarchianism and Origen's Early Trinitarianism

This dissertation precipitated a renewed interest and investigation into the cause and rise of the theological movement that Waers has termed “monarchianism”. [Personally, I prefer ‘modalistic monarchianism’; other folk have used ‘patripassianism’, ‘Sabellianism’ and ‘modalism’ when referencing the movement.]

To make sure that his readers fully understand what he believes constitutes one as a monarchian, Waers provides the following working definition:

…the monarchians had two core commitments: (1) God is one alone; (2) Jesus is God. These two core commitments led them to conclude that the Father and the Son are “one and the same” (ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ). This is the heart of the theological position I am calling monarchianism. (Page 13)

The above definition is given towards the end of the section, “Major Scholarship on Monarchianism” (pages 6-14). Though brief, this section is a solid overview that begins with, Hermann Hagemann’s, Die römische Kirche und ihr Einfluss auf Disciplin und Dogma in den drei ersten Jahrhunderten (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1864), and is immedieately followed by Dr. Adolf Harnack’s substantive contributions. It also includes Heine’s above refenced, “The Christology of Callistus,” Journal of Theological Studies 49 (1998): 56–91, and ends with  Wolfgang A. Bienert, “Sabellius und Sabellianismus als historisches Problem,” in Logos: Festschrift für Luise Abramowski (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1993), 124–39; idem, “Wer war Sabellius?,” Studia patristica 40 (Leuven: Peeters, 2006), 359-65. 

Chapter 1, “Models of the Father/Son Relationship in the Second Century” (pages 26-94), examines a number of texts produced by the Church Fathers of the second century. From the opening of the chapter we read:

Scholars frequently refer to figures from the second century as “modalists” or “monarchians” without first defining what either of those terms means. For example, Campbell Bonner called Melito of Sardis’ theology “naïve modalism.” More recently, Reinhard Hübner has argued that Ignatius of Antioch was a monarchian. As I noted in the introduction and develop in the later chapters on the monarchian controversy, I prefer a restrictive and specific definition of monarchianism. Using my definition, monarchianism is restricted to those who explicitly claim that the Father and the Son are “one and the same” in an effort to maintain that there is only one God. (Page 26)

Though I certainly understand Waers’ motive for “a restrictive and specfic defintion of monarchianism”, I believe that other criteria than an explicit "statement that the Father and Son are ‘one and the same'", can be used to determine if ones theology is monarchian. As such, Reinhard Hübner's claim "that Ignatius of Antioch was a monarchian" needs to be taken seriously. Interestingly enough, John Henry Newman in his An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine states that, St. Ignatius may be considered Patripassian” (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989, p. 17). As for Campbell Bonner’s assertion that Meltio of Sardis’ theology was “naïve modalism”, I believe he was accurate. [See my post, James White's (mis)use of Melito of Sardis, for support of this assessment.]

Yet, even with the above observations in mind, Waers survey of the second century writers remains quite valuable. He divides the second century writings he exmamines into three categories. First, the authors that made a ‘soft distinction’ between the Father and the Son—i.e. the distinction made is primarly via the use of names and titles. Second, a “hard distinction”—i.e. those who provide an explicit explanation on how the Father and Son are essentially distinct. And third, those writers whose reflections lie in between the soft and hard distinctions. The following are the authors and writings, that are surveyed and categorized by Waers:

Soft Distinction -

1 Clement (Pages 35, 36)

2 Clement (Pages 36, 37)

Ignatius (Pages 38-41)

Polycarp (Pages 41, 42)

Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, and Shepherd of Hermas (Pages 42-45)

Epistle to Diognetus (Pages 46, 47)

Melito (Pages 48-52)

The Ambiguous Middle -

Theophilus of Antioch (Pages 52-57)

Irenaeus (Pages 58-61)

Clement of Alexandria (Pages 61-73)

Athenagoras (Pages 73-78)

Hard Distinction -

Justin Martyr (Pages 79-91)

Given my recent threads on Justin Martyr, I was particularly interested in reading Waers’ analysis of Justin’s theology on the relationship between the Father and Son. The following is from the middle of that section:

Justin unabashedly asserts that there is another God alongside the Creator God whom his dialogue partners acknowledge. Trypho and his coreligionists were pleased that Justin had clearly stated that there was no God above the Creator of all, but they remained unconvinced by Justin’s argument that there was another God alongside the Creator. This exchange between Justin and Trypho signals one of the chief points of disagreement that frequently recurs as the dialogue progresses. Justin again and again claims that the Son is another God alongside the Father. Other second-century authors spoke of Christ as God, but they did not clarify that he was another God. Justin carries on the tradition of maintaining the Son’s divinity, but he couples it with an equally strong affirmation that the Son is a God distinct from, and even different than, the Father. (Pages 85, 86)

Waers reiterates the above in his conclusion of the section; note the following:

Of all of the writings surveyed in this chapter, Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho stands out because of its strong concern to show that the Father and Son are distinct, even different. He argues that the Son is another God and that he is distinct from the Father in number. Justin’s descriptions of the difference between the Father and the Son offer a sharp contrast to the other second-century theologies that did not take care to distinguish them so strongly. Even more, while Justin uses an abundance of scripture from the Old Testament to support his positions, he does not shy away from using Greek philosophical concepts in a way that we do not see in the Apostolic Fathers. (Page 93)

In chapters 2 and 3, Waers provides, “a detailed analysis of the main texts of the period that bear witness to monarchian theology” (p. 96). He correctly points out that, “we do not possess any texts from the monarchians themselves”; as such, “[w]e are thus left with the difficult task of reconstructing monarchian theology using only the fragmentary evidence we can extract from hostile witnesses.” The following is his introduction to the texts he utilizes:

Although it is the latest of the texts I survey, I begin with an overview of passages relevant to monarchianism in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. He has little to say about monarchianism itself, but his work does elucidate the state of the church in Rome at the time when monarchianism made its appearance. Next, I discuss Hippolytus’ Contra Noetum, which I take to be the earliest of the sources attesting to monarchiansim. Then, I examine Tertullian’s Adversus Praxean, which I consider to be dependent on Contra Noetum. These two sources are the earliest attestation to monarchianism, and they show that there was a stable core to monarchian theology. At the same time, there was also variation and development within monarchian theology, early signs of which can be seen in Adversus Praxean. In chapter three, I undertake a similar analysis of the Refutatio omnium haeresium and Novatian’s De Trinitate, which give us later portraits of monarchianism. (Page 96)

I shall end part 1 of my look into Waers dissertation with the following selection:

The most foundational tenet of monarchian theology, and the one that remains stable across all witnesses, is the strong affirmation that there is only one God. At the beginning of the third century, such claims were common. Both the monarchians and their opponents claimed to believe in only one God. The distinctive thing about the monarchian commitment to belief in only one God was that it interpreted the oneness of God in a manner that rejected the position held by their opponents, namely, that Jesus and the father were distinct realities and both God. The monarchians supported their understanding of the oneness of God with references to classic biblical affirmations of monotheism, like Isaiah 44:6.

The second core component of monarchian theology was the unwavering confession that Jesus was divine. The acceptance of the divinity of Jesus demarcated them from the psilanthropists, who also sought to preserve the oneness of God by denying that Jesus was God. Because the monarchians had an interpretation of monotheism that did not allow for two distinct realities to be God, they argued that the Father and Son were one and the same. In their monotheistic reasoning, if the Father was God, and the Son was God, then they were necessarily the same. Any argument affirming that both were distinct and divine was tantamount to ditheism in the eyes of the monarchians. Using this same logic, the monarchians focused on biblical theophanies and argued that one and the same God was both invisible and visible. This approach was a stark rejection of the way someone like Justin interpreted the Old Testament theophanies. (Pages 213, 214)

Should have part 2 up soon. Until then, I hope folk who have taken the time to read part 1 will also read the entire dissertation.

Grace and peace,


Sunday, April 4, 2021

An interesting assessment of Justin Martyr's Christology

My continuing studies into Justin Martyr’s Christology are providing some interesting assessments. Note the following from the Reformed author, Harry R. Boer:

With the Apologists, Greek philosophy became associated with Christianity. The best known of them was Justin Martyr, a man from Samaria whose parents were Roman. He was a student and teacher of philosophy before his conversion. He remained a philosopher, regarding Christianity as the highest philosophy. He died a martyr for the faith between 163 and 167. Justin taught that before the creation of the world God was alone and that there was no Son. Within God, however, there was Reason, or Mind (Logos). When God desired to create the world, he needed an agent to do this for him. This necessity arose out of the Greek view that God cannot concern himself with matter. Therefore, he begot another divine being to create the world for him. This divine being was called the Logos or Son of God. He was called Son because he was born; he was called Logos because he was taken from the Reason or Mind of God. However, the Father does not lose anything when he gives independent existence to the Logos. The Logos that is taken out of him to become the Son is like a flame taken from a fire to make a new fire. The new fire does not lessen the older fire.

Justin and the other Apologists therefore taught that the Son is a creature. He is a high creature, a creature powerful enough to create the world but, nevertheless, a creature. In theology this relationship of the Son to the Father is called subordinationism. The Son is subordinate, that is, secondary to, dependent upon, and caused by the Father. The Apologists were subordinationists. (A Short History of the Early Church, p. 110 – Google Books link.)

Boer’s take on Justin’s Christology is an interesting one; it contains two important aspects that are rarely combined in the Christological evaluations of Justin's thought I have read. First, the preexistent Jesus Christ is created by God the Father, and as such is a “creature”. Second, this creative act by the Father is from Himself, and not ex nihilo.

Now, I suspect some folk are going to be quite eager to critique Boer’s assessment; but before doing so, I think it is very important to keep in mind that Justin on two occasions approvingly cites the LXX translation of Proverbs 8:22 which states that Wisdom was ‘created’ (ἔκτισέ), and then applies this verse to the preexistent Jesus Christ. (For the two quotations, see Dialogue With Trypho, chapters 61 and 129—both are provided in English and Greek in THIS THREAD.)

Back to my studies…

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Is Jesus Christ autotheos?

Is Jesus Christ autotheos (αὐτόθεος)? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Like many other theological terms, autotheos can be—and has been—used in more than one sense. Personally speaking, I first became aware of the term via B. B. Warfield’s reflections on John Calvin’s controversial elucidations on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Back in the fall of 2015 I published a three-part series—part 1; part 2, part 3—that delved into John Calvin's novel concepts concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, which included the denial of the communication/generation of the Son of God’s essence/substance from God the Father. To defend this view, Calvin placed a heavy emphasis on the aseity of the Son—i.e. that the Son is autotheos. An excellent introduction concerning this aspect of Calvin’s Trinitarian thought has been provided by Brannon Ellis, who wrote:

the heart of Calvin’s approach [concerning the doctrine of the Trinity] was exactly what his traditionalist opponents also embraced. Calvin and his classical critics were in agreement against all forms of antitrinitarianism, regarding the principal role of the affirmation of both ways of speaking of God through careful distinction. They did not agree, however, on the extent to which this shared conviction should be pressed when it came to one of the central claims of Calvin’s position—one that drew explicit attention to the nexus between Unity and Trinity, between the divine processions and the consubstantiality of the Father, Son, and Spirit. A constant element in all Calvin’s controversies was his assertion of the aseity (or self-existence) of God the Son, and denial of the legitimacy of this language by all his opponents—both orthodox and heterdodox.

Against antitrinitarians who more or less conflated personal and essential language, making the Son other than the one true God the Father or else indistinguishable from the Father in God, Calvin argued along with classical tradition, that, though the Son is not who the Father is, he is all that which the Father is. But, against some Trinitarians uncomfortable with his strong claim that the Son exists in and of himself, Calvin asserted in a similar manner that we must be able to say everything of the only-begotten Son that we say of the Father with respect to essence. The Son is therefore rightly confessed to be essentially self-existent, possessing deity ‘of himself’ (a se) as the one true God together with the Father and the Spirit.

Calvin’s affirmations along these lines, explicitly employing what I call autothean language, arose in 1588 in response to Valentine Gentile’s exclusive attribution of underived deity to the Father. The adjective autothean was first applied to Calvin’s views by a Roman Catholic polemicist shortly after Calvin’s death. It derives from his appropriation of Gentile’s language in order to claim against Gentile that the Son together with the Father possesses αὐτοθεὸτης (divine aseity), and therefore is αὐτοθεὸς (‘God of himself’, self-existent God). Again, however, Calvin had employed synonymous language—drawing similar criticism—from the beginning of his career. (Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, and the Aseity of the Son, p. 2)

Calvin was not the first individual to apply autothean language to the Son. However, he was the first to use autothean language in a sense that eliminated the communication/generation of the Son’s essence from the Father; a sense that evoked the "denial of the legitimacy of this language by all his opponents—both orthodox and heterdodox." It is a sense that stands in contrast with the original Nicene Creed, which states:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things seen and unseen.  And in one Lord, Jesus Christ the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten, that is, of the essence of the Father

One of the most proficient defenders of the Nicene Creed was the Anglican priest/theologian George Bull. In volume 2 of his Defensio Fidei Nicænæ - A Defence of the Nicene Creed, he specifically addressed the application of αὐτόθεος to the Son. His introduction to chapter 1 of Book IV is reproduced below:


He then writes:

...the Son has indeed the same divine nature in common with the Father, but communicated by the Father; in such sense, that is, that the Father alone hath the divine nature from Himself, in other words, from no other, but the Son from  the Father; consequently that the Father is the fountain, origin, and principle, of the Divinity which is in the Son. (Ibid. p. 557)

Bull immediately follows the above with numerous quotations from the Church Fathers that clearly support his ‘FIRST PROPOSITION’. In paragraph #7 on page 565 he begins his examination “of certain moderns, who obstinately contend that the Son may properly be called αὐτόθεος, i.e God of Himself.” He then writes:

This view is inconsistent both with the hypotheses of those who maintain it, and with catholic consent. They say,  I mean, that the Son is from God the Father, as He is Son, and not as He is God; that He received His Person, not His essence, or Divine Nature, from the Father. But this is self contradictory; for, as Petavius rightly says, "The Son of God cannot be begotten by the Father, unless He receive from Him His nature and Godhead." For what else is it ' to be begotten,' than to be sprung from another, so as to have a like nature ? he who is begotten must necessarily have [his] nature in such wise communicated by him [who begets,] as in it to be like him who begets [him.] Unless indeed Christ, in that He is the Son of God, is not God; or receives a relation only from the Father without [receiving] Godhead. I add, that in this case Person cannot be conceived of without essence, unless you lay down Person in the Godhead to be nothing else than a mere mode of existence, which is simple Sabellianism. (Ibid. p. 565)

On the next page, he cogently sums up his argument against those who maintain that the Son is ‘God of Himself’:

...if essence is communicated to the Son by generation, He plainly has His essence from the Father, not from Himself; otherwise either He would not be begotten, or He would not be begotten by another. Hence Damascene, on the Orthodox Faith, i. 10, rightly observes, "All things which the Son and the Spirit severally have, They have of the Father, even being itself." And in what way this opinion of theirs is repugnant to catholic consent, I have shewn a little before. The council of Nice itself certainly decreed that the Son is God of God; He, however, who is God of God, cannot, without manifest contradiction, be said to be God of Himself. (Ibid. p. 566- bold emphasis mine.)

In the last paragraph of chapter 1 (#10), Bull acknowledges a sense in which αὐτόθεος can legitimately be applied to the Son; note the following:

...no Catholic would deny that the Son both may and ought to be called αὐτόθεος, that is to say, true and veriest God. Hence, even Eusebius, who (if any one) acknowledged the subordination of the Son to the Father, as to His origin and principle, yet still did not hesitate to declare, that the Saviour is "worshipped, and rightly worshipped, as the genuine Son of the supreme God, and αὐτόθεος (very God)." Where by the word αὐτόθεος, is clearly meant, not one who is God of Himself, but one who is truly God; as may be gathered both from the fact that it is the Son of God, who is here called αὐτόθεος, as well as from the fact that in the same breath the Father is designated the supreme God; (Ibid. p. 569)

It is now time to answer the opening question of this post: Is Jesus Christ autotheos (αὐτόθεος)? If one defines αὐτόθεος as ‘God of Himself’, then NO; but, if one defines αὐτόθεος as ‘very God’ (i.e. God of God/God from God), then YES.

Grace and peace,


P.S. This post was prompted by this comment posted on March 13, 2021.