Between the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), many controversies erupted from the Alexandrian and Antiochene positions on the person of Christ. The Council of Constantinople (381 AD) condemned the belief of Apollinarius that Christ only had one will, that of the divine. While the Church believed that Christ had a divine will, there was too much scriptural and philosophical support for the position that Christ had a human will as well. How else can one explain Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), and other verses that seem to indicate that Christ had a human will? For God to be the redeemer of man, He needed to include full humanity as Irenaeus and Tertullian had emphasized years before. Continue reading
C. S. Lewis once said that if the incarnation happened, “it was the central event in the history of the earth.” What is the incarnation? And why has it been such an important area of theological consideration since the earliest days of Christianity? The term ‘incarnation’ may be defined as “a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or quality.” For the Christian tradition, the man who has been understood as deified has been Jesus of Nazareth; but the Christian claim of Jesus as God, not merely as one who embodied God, historically presented a plethora of questions to the early Christian theologians.
In determining what the incarnation means for Christians, the Early Church Fathers sought to determine more concerning the person Jesus. Maurice Wiles writes that “the heart of Christian faith is the person of Christ and what God has done in him.” The orthodox Christian Church has always professed monotheism based upon the Jewish tradition and the scriptures. Given this monotheistic belief however, the early Church viewed Jesus not as a simple messenger of God, but worshiped Him as the Son of God. This is especially evident in the writing’s of Irenaeus, who refers to Jesus as “the Word, the Son of God.”  Continue reading
Most early Christians seem to have lived with a fairly basic understanding of soteriology. Beginning with Tertullian of Carthage, however, deeper investigation into specific aspects of soteriological doctrine began to circulate within the Church. Philosophical language and concepts began to find more frequent use among the Fathers, and soon after the Fathers began teaching that “Christ suffered for our sins, healing our wounds and destroying death by His blood, and that we have been restored to life and our sins purged by it.” In the East, theologians such as Origen and Methodius debated the effect of Adam’s fall and its impact on human freewill, death, and the new Adam of Christ. This eventually coalesced into statements indicating that, “sin called for a propitiation, and Christ stepped forward as ‘a victim spotless and innocent,’ propitiating the Father to men by His generous self-oblation.” The developments in thought, influx of philosophical language, and challenges of geographic distance eventually led to different Christian centers processing different (at least slightly) beliefs regarding the person and work of Christ in human salvation. 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. Continue reading
While the influence of Pauline writings on early Christianity remains widely recognized, few studies investigate the particulars of Paul’s theological and exegetical influence on ante-Nicene Christianity. Beginning this immense task of studying the specific reception histories of Pauline pericopes is Jennifer Strawbridge’s The Pauline Effect, winner of the 2014 SBL-De Gruyter Prize for Biblical Studies and Reception History. This volume examines how Paul and his letters—particularly the texts of 1 Corinthians 2.6-16, Ephesians 6.10-17, 1 Corinthians 15.50-58, and Colossians 1.15-20—shaped early Christian theology and practice. Among the contributions of this volume is the argument that early Christian use of Paul reveals definitive development of Christian formation as “progress from one level of wisdom to another” (4). Continue reading
This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.
For today’s reflection, I outline and reflect on Elaine Pagels’ “What Became of God as Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity.” In so doing I argue that while Pagels’ approach to the question of the divine feminine remains an important aspect of early Christian thinking, her characterization of the category “gnostic” remains unhelpful for framing the study of these documents. Continue reading
The Early Christian Church spent hundreds of years seeking a definitive answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” The answer to this all-important question formed the basis for much of Christian theology and practice. Who is Jesus? Is He God? Is He Man? How does Jesus save us? These are the questions that early theologians had to wrestle with and answer in the first centuries of the Christian faith. Continue reading
Following Knox’s perspective is Joseph Tyson’s work Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle, in which Tyson argues argues for a late compositional dating of Luke-Acts as a response to Marcion during the period from 100 to 150 CE. Tyson understands Marcion to have presented an enormous problem for the church with his rejection of the Jewish Scriptures, and that writers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian were pressed into finding symbolic or allegorical representations of Christ in those scriptures whilst simultaneously using the gospel narratives to present him as something unique. Pauline writings and theology became especially problematic for use by the proto-orthodox, as they constituted the core of Marcion’s theological system, and thus the proto-orthodox created Luke-Acts to combat the challenge of Marcionite Christianity. Tyson thus argues for three distinct versions of the Gospel According to Luke: the pre-Marcionite gospel of roughly canonical Luke 3-23, the Marcionite Gospel which likely included the pre-Marcionite version with some significant omissions and minor changes, and the canonical edition with added prologue, infancy narratives, a re-writing the resurrection, and addition of post-resurrection scenes. This proto-orthodox version of Luke-Acts became the primary anti-Marcionite tool in the early church, eventually becoming formally canonized. Tyson, following Knox, argues that both Marcion and the editor of Luke-Acts used a primitive form of Luke’s gospel. Such actions on the part of proto-orthodox writers demonstrate not only Marcion’s unique position of canon formation, but also how his use on new Christian scripture influenced the great Christian community. Continue reading