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Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine Hardcover – October 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"[Retrieving Nicaea is] a work of profound theology: a brilliant summary of the conflicts and debates that originally led the church to articulate just what God is for a Christian, as substance and person, and of the beginnings of some accepted answers to the questions that troubled many believers in the controversies surrounding the Council of Nicaea (325). . . . As Prof. Anatolios reminds us, we are blessed by the fact that these first theologians, these first writers to 'talk about God' in what we call trinitarian terms, were also great theologians: great thinkers, great writers, individuals of great devotion and great faith. As we attempt to carry on their work today, joining intelligently and generously in their debates is probably the best place for any of us to begin. We can learn from them, perhaps better than from many more recent thinkers, both the terms of the discussion and the spirit of devout and eloquent brilliance that such a discussion inevitably requires of us if we are to carry it on well. This book, in fact, does just that, and does it supremely well; it brings us--with clarity and insight--face to face with the origins of trinitarian doctrine as a theological conversation on which our salvation, in one way or another, ultimately depends."--Brian E. Daley, SJ, University of Notre Dame (from the foreword)

In this volume Khaled Anatolios, a noted expert on the development of Nicene theology, offers a historically informed theological study of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and examines its relevance to Christian life and thought today. According to Anatolios, the development of trinitarian doctrine involved a global interpretation of Christian faith as a whole. Consequently, the meaning of trinitarian doctrine is to be found in a reappropriation of the process of this development, such that the entirety of Christian existence is interpreted in a trinitarian manner. Retrieving Nicaea provides essential resources for this reappropriation by identifying the network of theological issues that comprise the "systematic scope" of Nicene theology, focusing especially on the trinitarian perspectives of three major theologians: Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine.

From the Back Cover

"With this impressive book, Khaled Anatolios takes his place alongside luminaries like R. P. C. Hanson and Lewis Ayres as one of the most distinguished interpreters of Nicaea and its legacy. Especially important is his sympathetic interpretation of Athanasius. For anyone who wants to understand Nicene Christianity and its relevance for today, Anatolios is quite simply indispensable."
--George Hunsinger, Hazel Thompson McCord Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Khaled Anatolios's new book is a welcome addition to the flood of revisionary scholarship on patristic trinitarian theology in the last twenty years. Anatolios's treatment helps us to see the perennial importance of the key figures of the fourth and fifth centuries for all of our thought on this central mystery of the Christian faith. The clarity of his exposition and his constant desire to draw out the consequences of historical exposition mean that this book will find a treasured place on the bookshelves of theologians and theology students across the board."
--Lewis Ayres, Bede Professor of Catholic Theology, Durham University

"This volume is a welcome addition to the trinitarian renaissance of the last decades. Transcending the distinction between 'historical' and 'systematic,' Anatolios guides us through the work of three key fathers--Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine. This opens to us the broader coherence of a trinitarian theology, which touches every aspect of Christian existence under the primacy of Christ, and a clear theological epistemology. Retrieving the vision of those who gave shape to Nicaea in this way will, I am sure, bear much fruit and give great shape to Christian vision today."
--John Behr, dean and professor of patristics, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (October 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080103132X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801031328
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #397,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Alscribji on September 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Khaled Anatolios, who teaches historical theology at Boston College (also his Ph.D. school) has given his reading audience a very well-plodded and readable journey through the interpretive by-ways and hi-ways of Trinitarian theology. His treatment of Athanasius of Alexandria is exceptional. Never before has such a treatment been so well done. The only other exceptional book on fourth-century pneumatological/christological controversies can be found in Michael Haykin, The Spirit of God (and John Behr, The Nicene Faith, Part 2, 2 vols; and Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy). Anatolios restricts his map to Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine. This is a wise move on his part because, for one thing, it circumvents the problems that arise when you treat all three Cappadocians (the two Gregories and Basil) alongside Athanasius and Augustine. Anatolios shows that both pro-Nicene and anti-Nicene parties started from basic, same premsises. Their differences begin to emerge in the way that they define the relationship between God and Christ (and whether the Holy Spirit should be considered divine). Anatolios is able to distill large amounts of historical and theological data into a condensed, readable (and very astute) monograph without getting too bogged down in matters that could have hampered his work, e.g. treatments of Basil and Greg Naz that are already well done elsewhere). This work is highly recommended for both inquisitive lay persons (where does the Trinity come from?) and scholars alike.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. McGorlick. on October 20, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I am an adventurous but decidedly amateur theologian, and this book is a technical masterpiece of trinitarian historical-theology by a gifted author. The result: a sometimes arduous but ultimately rewarding experience that stretched my mind to re-think the Trinity in ways I never imagined. The author's contention was that to 'retrieve Nicaea' for ourselves in the modern era, 'we must creatively re-perform the acts of understanding and interpretation that led to' the original 'statements' of trinitarian belief. This is where the mind-stretching, and the arduous adventure, begins.

Fourth-Century trinitarian thinkers simply do not think like we do today. I was constantly surprised at the arguments they employed, while finding them to be an illuminating way of thinking about trinitarian doctrine. A case in point is the divinity of the Spirit. Where would you start? Athanasius started with the 'radical polarity of the Creator-creature distinction', asking whether the Spirit appeared in the Scriptures as some kind of creature, and therefore part of the created order, or 'whether it is other than creatures and belongs to and is one with the Godhead in the Trinity.' Starting with that deep theological distinction between what has been created, and who the Creator is, brings a different perspective to the direct search for biblical evidence that I would have gone straight to.

To conclude, if you want to think through the trinity by following the thoughts of those who've gone before, and aren't afraid of a good mental slog, then come and 'retrieve Nicaea' for yourself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Colby A. Scott on September 11, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I do not want to write a review here, but rather a quick note on the intended audience of this book to help the prospective buyer.

If you are looking for a first introduction to fourth century Trinitarian theology, this book is not for you. This book assumes that the reader has a background in Theology or Philosophy (or at least, a willingness to read and reread each paragraph). Moreover, Anatolios' uses an extensive vocabulary to express himself clearly and concisely. The arm-chair theologian would likely find this extensive vocabulary to be a hindrance and not a help.
Also, if you are looking for an historical book explaining the relationship between Church councils and Empire, this book is not for you. This book almost exclusively deals with theology.
If you are looking for a book that trivializes the arguments of "heretics" and presents them as straw-men simply to be knocked over, this book is probably not for you either. Anatolios succeeds in presenting the arguments of each of the authors under consideration as consistent and thoughtful theologians.

However, if you are looking to expand your personal library of academic books on fourth century theology, this book should be on your desk.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kendrick on June 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The recently published Retrieving Nicaea is part of a long tradition of literature reviving interest in the Trinity. It is also representative of revisionary scholarship contributing to new debates about Nicene theology. Retrieving Nicaea can be read for the sake of stretching the mind and challenging common perspectives on the theological controversies during the years before and after the Nicene Council. I cannot, however, recommend it wholeheartedly, for reasons I will explain below.

When we hear the words "Nicene Council," Christians quickly think of the "Arian controversy" and the battles waged for orthodoxy: God is of one essence (homoosious) in three persons (hypostaseis). Arius and his followers offered a different framework: Jesus Christ is begotten, hence there was a time when the Son did not exist. Jesus is in fact the firstborn of creation, but is not eternal. The Nicene Council successfully rejected Arius's ideas as heretical. In Retrieving Nicaea, Khaled Anatolios argues for a different take on Nicene theology.

Anatolios views this mainstream telling of the Nicene Council as shallow and erroneously fixated on innovative terminology, making the theological controversy merely one of philosophical significance with little relevance to the piety of the theologians debating the Trinity. Rather, "the central issue motivating the development of fourth-century Trinitarian thought was the reintegration of the principle of divine primacy with that of the primacy of Christ" (90). These patristic theologians were deeply doxological in their concern to maintain Christ's status as an object of worship, while also recognizing a difference between the Father and the Son.
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