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"Bold and erudite...This ambitious work justly shows how crucial the study of the fourth century is for understanding traditional or mainstream trinitarian theology, and it has succeeded already in fostering greater conversation toward this end." --Journal of Religion
About the Author
Lewis Ayres is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at the Candler School of Theology and the Graduate Division of Religion, Emory University.
For the most part Ayres gives us a magisterial survey and exposition of the Nicene era. His goal is to identify and commend what he terms a "pro-Nicene" theology. His second goal is to combat a problematic understanding of Trinitarian theology: Eastern personalism vs. Western monism, also known as the "De Regnon" Thesis.
He begins his narrative as most do--with a discussion of Origen. Ayres helpfully notes that early Christian thinkers were reticent to use the term "homousios" since it implied a material division in God. Also, "hypostasis" was seen as connoting a reality; therefore, thinkers were reluctant to confess multiple realities in God.
Ayres then continues with a long discussion of Athanasios. While he gives us much useful information and helpfully establishes the context, he really isn't breaking any new ground. Ayres' key sections deal with explicating his "pro-Nicene" theology, particularly as the Cappadocians relate to Augustine. He gives us very helpful analyses of the two Gregories and Hilary.
Of his erudition and scholarship there can be no doubt. This will likely serve as a standard reference for doctoral students, and rightly so. I do not think his analyses are wrong, just incomplete. I agree with Ayres that simplistic readings of "Greek vs. West" are wrong. I just don't see it as really that prevalent, even among Orthodox scholars. They only people I've seen fret over this issue are Ayres' disciples. Even a radical Orthodox scholar like Joseph Farrell--who wrote a 1,200 page critique of forms of Western culture, never reduced scholarship to those categories. I honestly think Ayres is shadow-boxing dead Frenchmen.Read more ›
The first part of this book offers a new narrative of the fourth-century Trinitarian controversies. It takes forward modern revisionary scholarship, showing the slow emergence of the theologies that came to constitute pro-Nicene orthodoxy. Ancient heresiological categories, such as "Arian" and "Neo-Arian," are avoided while the unity of "Nicene" theologies is not assumed. In the second part, the author offers a new account of the unity in diversity of late fourth-century pro-Nicene theologies. In particular he argues that the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed and the statements of unity and plurality in the Trinity to be found in all pro-Nicene theologians and in Theodosius' anti-heretical legislation were intended to be understood in the context of a broad set of theological practices and assumptions. He offers an account of the basic strategies that ground pro-Nicene theology, focusing on common epistemological concerns, a common notion of purification and sanctification, and a common aesthetics of faith. He also provides detailed introductions to the Trinitarian theology of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine of Hippo. Throughout the first two parts of the book a constant concern is to show that the common acceptance of a basic division between eastern and western Trinitarian theologies is unsustainable. Finally, the author considers the failure of modern Trinitarian theology to engage pro-Nicene theology in a substantial manner. Fundamental characteristics of the culture of modern systematic theology, especially the role of narrative and the influence of Hegel, prevent appreciation of the theological culture essential to pro-Nicene theology.
If you are interested in the development of doctrine as it occured at Nicea in the fourth century, this is an excellent book showing not only the development of doctrine but that modern scholars can fully comprehend the issues and nuances of the issue. I truly enjoyed it and learned much.
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This is a remarkable book. The sheer learning and expertise radiates from the pages. Granted this is a technical discussion of the legacy of Nicaea, but it is also accessible. One finishes the book with a real grasp and understanding of the achievement of the Church Fathers.
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It was disappointing that this book is pure opinion, without any evidence to prove its case. The first two sections are a historical survey, loaded with various conclusions and summaries for which no evidence is presented at all. The footnotes either just refer to a few primary sources, or give more unproven opinions.
The third section of the book then in a bizarre fashion attempt to show that the "pro-Nicenes" all believe certain doctrines which were not even mentioned in the creed, such as deification. In each case the same logical fallacy is used to attempt to prove the case: arguing from a few specifics to a general. Quotes from primary sources of a few fathers who favor a specific doctrine, like deification, are quoted. The author then states what he thinks those quotes show that the fathers believed, which in itself is very debatable and just the author's unproven opinion. Finally comes the logical fallacy of assuming that since a few pro-Nicene fathers (supposedly) believed a certain doctrine, then ALL the Nicenes must believe it. Which is like saying that 3 pro-Nicenes had brown eyes, so ALL of them must have brown eyes.
Of course any author has the right to throw out unproven opinions as thought provokers. That is why I award two stars. But it is very disappointing that from its cover this book has the appearance of being a researched and formally documented argument, which it clearly is not.