Saturday, April 13, 2019

On "The Cats of Ulthar" by H. P. Lovecraft (1350 words) ***

For those who love cats, here's a story about cat revenge. Two townspeople hate cats and murder them at every opportunity, until one day . . . Read the story here.

On "A Brief History of the Trinity in the Early Church" by Franz Dunzl ****

This short history of Trinitarian thinking is largely fairly approachable, though the innate density of some of the ideas does keep it from being as accessible as one might wish for.

Dunzle begins his discussion with a brief statement about the problem--that Christianity claims monotheism but also claims more than one entity as God. This has made both Jews and Muslims claim that the monotheistic stamp is incorrectly placed upon it. How did Christianity continue to make monotheistic claims?

Early Christians claimed Jesus as God. How they did this depended on various sects. Dunzl looks in part at the Ebionites (p. 8), a group who rejected the synoptic Gospels, keeping only a Hebrew Matthew and positing adoptionism. Early versions of the Gospels, as Dunzl denotes with mainstream views on the cannon, did not include information on the birth of Jesus. Mark is our first Gospel and starts with Jesus's baptism and ministry. His place as God's chosen starts at that baptism, when the Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove--he's adopted as God's son. However, later views would come to see him as God's son from birth, coming from a virgin.

How does one reconcile the idea of Jesus the Son as one with the Father, even if subordinate to him? Jewish concepts of a second type of power, be it an angel or logos or wisdom, were extent in the Old Testament scriptures. Philo took such ideas and tried to reconcile them with Platonic philosophy, seeing in the Logos Plato's concept of the transcendent one and the expression or copy of that one in the lower physical world (p. 12). This idea would also find form in Christianity. The early writing, The Shepherd of Hermas, shows another theory: that Jesus was God's Spirit embodied or made flesh (p. 13).

The next chapter focuses on a debate between the Monarchians and the "Logos" theologians. The former were essentially modalists. They argued that God was one because he exists in different modes--a mode as Father (during which he does not suffer) and a mode as Son (during which he does). The main scriptures for this argument are John 10:38 and 14:8-10, wherein Jesus proclaims himself to be in the Father and the Father in him, and that if one has seen the Son, one has seen the Father. Logos theologians, however, would point to other scriptures to show how such modalism was nonsense. Take, for example, John 1:1--if the Word is with God and is God, and they are the same, then one could not say that God was with God and was God. Or John 8:17, where Jesus says two bear witness of him--himself and his father. If there are just modes, there is only one witness: himself and himself. Even the grammer of "I and my Father are one" suggests plural--not one person but one in unity. These were arguments of Tertullian against modalism (pp. 31-32).

Logos theologians focused on John 1:1 but also often drew ideas from Greek philosophy. Justin in his Dialogue with Trypho (56.11) claims there are "two Gods" but that the second is subordinate to the first in will--that is, there is only one will. But such an idea would still not have satisfied the tenets of strict monotheists. Leave it to Tertullian to begin to explain the concept in a more "acceptable" form--only he brings in a third entity, the Holy Spirit. The three are of one substance but of three forms or gradations. He compares the Father to water, the stream to Logos, and the Spirit to a canal. All emanate from the Father--are eternally begotten by him. The Logos brings forth salvation to the people, like a river, and the Spirit is distributed to the people like a canal distributes water (p. 32). Origen of Alexandria would take this idea even farther, coming up with much of the language that would later become standard (though at his time, such words didn't have yet the distinctive meaning they would come to have among theologians), describing the three as three hypostases of the one God.

Enter Arius. A presbyter in Egypt, where such men were essentially like bishops of small churches in other areas, Arius came up with an idea to maintain monotheism. Jesus, in his view, was begotten by God--essentially created by him. Being created, he was not the "real" god. In this manner, one could say Christians had only one God. This idea didn't sit well with the bishop of Alexandria, who worked to get Arius kicked out of the church. Arius appealed with his ideas to others in the eastern church and gained some other supporters, including several bishops.

The debate was serious enough that it came to the attention of the emperor, Constantine. Wanting unity in the faith that he was using to maintain unity in the empire, Constantine convened a meeting of bishops. The issue wasn't as big a deal in the West, so many from the West did not attend, but most eastern bishops did--260 in all came. The compromise worked out by Eusebius (the one who became the Christian historian) worded the belief in such a way that both Logos theologians and Arians could accept it. Alas, this was not satisfactory to the Logos theologians, so the eventual creed passed included several phrases that clarified the position such that no Arian could support it; further, an appendix was added that directly refuted Arianism.

Despite this, the main supporters of Arianism weren't kicked out of the church. Rather, they were banished to less prominent locations. Constantine's main goal was unity; he wanted all to get along.

Alas, the solution did not prove a lasting one. The rest of the story becomes one of constant political intrigues and ongoing further attempts either to overthrow the Council of Nicea's findings or to finesse them. Over the course of years following Nicea, some worked to try to get various bishops defrocked or pushed to the edges of the empire by making various accusations of immorality rather than even discussing the issues at hand.

One man with a "new" theory that essentially repeated many of the ideas of the modalists was Marcellus. He managed to endear himself and his ideas of the bishops in the west, bringing about a sort of schism in concepts between the eastern and western bishops. More synods and councils followed, under later emperors, finally settling out under the emperor Theodosius at the Council of Constantinople.