In her chapter “Ephrem, Athanasius, and the ‘Arian’ threat” of Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy: Ephrem’s Hymns in Fourth Century Syria (CUA Press, 2008), Christine Shepardson compares the anti-Arian rhetoric of these two great defenders of Nicene Christology, arguing that both deployed anti-Jewish rhetoric and language against the Arians in their efforts to defend Roman ‘orthodoxy’. This essay reflects upon her arguments in this chapter, noting some convincing and unconvincing facets of her perspective. Continue reading
Few people who have ever learned something about English poet John Milton (1608-74 CE) doubt his incredible talent. Not only was Milton a world class poet (I won’t delve into speculation about “the best ever”), but he was also a talented writer, a Cambridge trained scholar, an apologist for the English Commonwealth, a defender of the right to divorce and freedom of the press, and an astute theologian. Of all of these qualities Milton’s personal center seemed to involve his theological musings, as one cannot help but notice the Biblical allusions and theological connections present everywhere within his work. A fascinating issue surrounding Milton involves his apparent Arianism, that is, the rejection of Jesus as being eternally divine. Alas, this is another topic that is best saved for another post. Today, we post a different question to Milton’s theology: How did Milton seek to understand the divine plan of God? To try an answer this query, we turn to several of Milton’s poems. Continue reading
By the early fourth century, the Christianity had spread across the Roman world with surprising speed, tenacity, and relative uniformity of belief. While the early Church was by no means completely uniform in doctrine, belief, or practice, the vast majority of Christians professed what has become known as Christian Orthodoxy. Heresies such as Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism, while threatening the fledgling Church, were never serious threats in the way that the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries were. Chief among the divisions in the fourth century was the question of the deity of Jesus of Nazareth: was the founder of the Church human? Was He divine? Was He somehow both? The answer to this question was important for historical reasons, but was even more important for its soteriological implications.
Soteriology is quite literally “the doctrine of salvation.” But by the fourth century, there were many doctrines of salvation. Some Christians, such as Paul of Samosata, denied that Jesus was fully divine; the Gnostics denied that Jesus was actually human; Arius proclaimed that while Jesus was God, He was created and not eternal. Within this debate about the divinity of Christ, salvation became a very important concern, as the various sides of the debate used soteriology to provide support for their respective positions. The kerygma (proclamation) of Christianity had always centered on Jesus Christ as the source of the good news of the true God and salvation for all who believed in Him. It is not surprising, therefore, to see that in the midst of even the most technical and philosophical debates, the early Church was greatly concerned with understanding the soteriological implications of orthodox Christian Christology. Since each competing Christological claim appealed to the words of scripture for support, the Church looked to their history in order to answer the question of what salvation mean for earlier followers of Jesus. Continue reading