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Whose Fall? What Hellenism? Christianity’s Fall into Hellenistic Philosophy Revisited

By J. Alexander Rutherford (PhD Candidate at Moore Theological College)

Author: J. Alexander Rutherford
Journal Title: Teleioteti Journal for Christian Ministry
Journal Abbreviation: TJCM
Volume: 01
Issue: 01
Date Published: 2023
Pages: 01-41

Abstract: Many scholars have demonstrated the flaws in the claim that Christians sold out to Hellenistic philosophy soon after the apostles’ death. However, these same scholars have failed to account for the pervasive intuition that something was indeed troubling in this period. This paper argues that instead of a falling into Hellenistic philosophy, some in the early church were subtly seduced by scientia. The use of philosophy as a legitimate and helpful tool for Christian intellectual engagement with all of life soon led to the metastasis of philosophy from its position as a tool in the pursuit of Gospel ends to an end itself. By the middle of the 5th century, a particular metaphysic was enshrined as the measure of the catholic, apostolic faith delivered once for all, thereby demanding that right speech and thought about God must be philosophical. It is argued that this shift is not a natural outworking of biblical principles but alien to them. Philosophy has its place in Christian intellectual engagement and proclamation, but it cannot take the centre without drastic and detrimental consequences.
Keywords: Hellenization thesis; The Theory of Christianity’s fall into Hellenism; Classical Theism; the Nicene Creed; the Definition of Chalcedon; metaphysics; theology; ontology.

I am certain that my experience in the first year of PhD studies was not unique, but it certainly was jarring. Not only was I confronted by an academic register I had not yet acquired, I also had to wrestle with an entirely new culture (moving to Australia from Canada). More significantly, my proposed thesis faced resistance from the outset, resistance which I did not at first understand. I found my prospective project continually relegated to merely another instantiation of the “Hellenization hypothesis”—a hypothesis I vehemently denied! From my perspective, I valued the church fathers; I appreciated the critical engagement with philosophy Christians demonstrated throughout the ages, and I was myself interested in thinking Christianly about metaphysics—a project I liked to think I shared with Christians throughout the ages.

            However, I had yet to discover the significant debate over the “Hellenization hypothesis” that has developed among Evangelicals and Christian academics more broadly in recent years. I associated this project with old-school liberalism, with Harnack and the history of religions school, yet as a I soon discovered, there was  broader narrative concerning “the Theory of Theology’s Fall into Hellenistic Philosophy,” as Paul L. Gavrilyuk puts it.1 By suggesting in the premise of my project that their was an inherent difficulty in Chalcedon’s Definition resulting from certain aspects of ancient metaphysics, difficulties which modern philosophy can help us diagnose, I can see now how easily I fit (unbeknownst to me) in the box of this theory. Not just classical liberals but even Evangelicals were arguing that the early Church sold out in one way or another to premises of ancient metaphysics—perhaps with the doctrines of simplicity or impassibility. Often, they were drawing on the tools of Modernist or Postmodernist philosophy to make this critique. Needless to say, I was forced to change my project radically, but my intuition that there was a difficulty in Chalcedon resulting from the early church’s engagement with philosophy has persisted.

            I have grown in my appreciation for the skill with which the early church theologians engaged with and adapted contemporary philosophy for their purposes, often critically engaging with it from the biblical foundation. However, though I would deny the main claims characterizing this narrative (such as the uncritical appropriation of Greek categories and the incompatibility of Greek thought with Hebrew thought), I still see the need to flag issues concerning Christian engagement with philosophy throughout its history. With John C. Peckham, I want to suggest that Classical Theists and others have been too quick to dismiss all criticisms of Classical Theism and of the early church as either selling out to modernism or a full endorsement of the Hellenization hypothesis.2 However, I also want to nuance what exactly the problem—if there is indeed a problem—may be.

            This paper will not argue it is a problem that Christians used non-Christian thought constructively. Nor will it be argued that the early church theologians failed to think critically about the tools they were using; they certainly engaged critically and biblically with pagan philosophy. No, this paper will argue that by using the tools of ancient philosophy, even as critically as they did, Christians not only made minor mistakes (none of us are perfect in our “missionary theology,” are we?) but, more significantly, also bought into critical assumptions of that philosophy.3 These assumptions have created problems, or so I will argue.

            The parable Iain McGilchrist used for his 2009 book, The Master and the Emissary, is fitting for the problem I am identifying,

There was once a wise spiritual master, who was the ruler of a small but prosperous domain, and who was known for his selfless devotion to his people. As his people flourished and grew in number, the bounds of this small domain spread; and with it the need to trust implicitly the emissaries he sent to ensure the safety of its ever more distant parts. It was not just that it was impossible for him personally to order all that needed to be dealt with: as he wisely saw, he needed to keep his distance from, and remain ignorant of, such concerns. And so he nurtured and trained carefully his emissaries, in order that they could be trusted. Eventually, however, his cleverest and most ambitious vizier, the one he most trusted to do his work, began to see himself as the master,  and used his position to advance his own wealth. He saw his master’s temperance and forbearance as weakness, not wisdom, and on his mission on the master’s behalf, adopted his mantle as his own—the emissary became contemptuous of his master. And so it came about that the master was usurped, the people were duped, the domain became tyranny; and eventually it collapsed into ruins.4

            Ours is likewise a story of the servant usurping its master, but in this case, we are dealing with Christian life and engagement—particularly in its intellectual dimensions. Theology did not begin as a Christian science; as early as Aristotle, the science of theologia is identified, “There must, then, be three theoretical philosophies, mathematics, physics, and what we may call theology [θεολογική, theologikē], since it is obvious that if the divine is present anywhere, it is present in things of this sort.”5 This is not how “theology” is often used today (it is certainly not the way I use the term), but I have no objections to using the term for this science.6 As Christians engaged with a world that itself had a theologia along with accompanying accounts of physics, metaphysics, and ontology, Christian intellectuals naturally engaged with their peers on the same level, seeking to show how the biblical teaching is neither anti-metaphysical nor anti-theological but is actually the appropriate end of metaphysics and theologia; it is true not only in the spiritual and phenomenal realms, but in every sphere of intellectual activity. In this way, philosophy (by which I mean that sphere of intellectual activity that is often associated with the Hellenization hypothesis, such as metaphysics and theologia) is tool in a broader Christian project of living life in submission to Christ. Not only is it a tool, but it is arguably a servant and secondary tool to a greater purpose and goal.

            Christ’s commission to his disciples was to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20, ESV). The tools they were given to do so were the public reading of Scripture (e.g. 1 Tim 4:13), the teaching of the word and doctrine (e.g. Acts 2:42; 1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 3:16-17), self-less service to one another and the world (e.g. Gal 6:10), corporate life together (e.g. Eph 4:11-16), the Lord’s supper (1 Cor 11:17-34), Baptism (Matt 28:19), etc. The primary activities given by the Lord for the church to accomplish his mission are contingent and particular activities, pertaining to individual events and persons; doctrine in the Scripture focuses on the level of God’s revealed self in space and time, not so much on the conceptual refinement and search for universal, necessary truths associated with metaphysics and theologia. However, nothing about Christ’s commission suggests that philosophy is an illegitimate tool for thinking about God and his world, engaging in the works he has entrusted to the church, and for rationally commending the faith to others. However, philosophy is clearly not the commission of the church; it is not integral to its purpose nor is it necessary for Christians to know, love, live for, and teach Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:1-5). In this sense, it is a tool, and therefore a servant—a very useful one at that.

            However, what if at some point or another (probably at many points) that tool metastasised from its position as a servant to the role of the master? What if this servant began to see itself as wiser and more efficient than its master and other servants? What if this servant staged a revolt and subtlety submitted every other servant to itself, perhaps—if at all possible—usurping the master itself? This is the grain of truth that I want to argue is present in the thesis of “Christianity’s fall into Hellenistic philosophy.” Instead of throwing itself uncritically into a mode of thought antithetical to the gospel—embracing a “Greek” way of thinking instead of a “Hebrew” one—I want to suggest that Christian thinkers and eventually much of the Church bought into the thesis of Plato’s great dividing line, that the intelligible world is more valuable than the perceptible world (Rep 509c-511a), that truth is not opinion (and the latter is the object of the senses), and (with Aristotle) that Wisdom—the knowledge of “causes and principles”—is the highest form of knowledge (e.g. Meta 980a-982a). The particularity of “Christ and him crucified” has given way to the claim that “primarily and principally, theological intelligence intends eternal and necessary truths, by the gift of God penetrating to their depths,” deriving the practical therefrom.7 In sum, metaphysics and theologia—knowledge as scientia—became the goal of Christian contemplation of God, the warp and woof of their God-talk, the form which was actualized in preaching and teaching—even the goal of Biblical exegesis. In the later case, one thinks of Origen’s account of exegesis in the First Principles (e.g. Prin. Pref. 8-10), but let’s turn to a contemporary example to see this trajectory among those who vehemently deny the so-called “Hellenization hypothesis,”

The study of patristics has not been regarded as essential preparation either for systematic theologians or for pastors, and this creates problems in understanding and passing on classical orthodoxy. The decline in the study of Greek philosophy by theologians also renders them unable to comprehend what the fourth-century debates were all about…. Holding together classical theism and trinitarian theology requires tolerance for mystery and sustained attentiveness to the nuances of philosophical and theological debates of the fourth century. Classical theism without trinitarian theology gives us the god of the philosophers, that is, the remote and impersonal god of Deism, who does not speak or act and who, crucially, cannot save us.8

No one can be an expert in everything, but statements about God constitute theology, and theology is a single activity. Anyone who wishes to do theology of any sort—from Old Testament exegesis to systematic theology—needs basic competence in all of the following areas: the history of philosophy and theology, biblical languages, biblical hermeneutics, biblical introduction, the history of biblical interpretation, biblical theology, and dogmatic theology. To ask that it be made easier is to ask the impossible; it cannot be less complicated than it is. Asking that theologians without competencies in all these areas be allowed to do theology is like demanding that a person with only high school biology be allowed to perform surgery. It can be done, but the result will not be pretty.9

            Is it not evident how scientia has taken a central place? To even speak about God, we need to be academics of unparalleled calibre—to such depth that Bruce Ware and J.I. Packer never reached.10 No longer are fisherman filled with the Spirit sufficient to bring the Gospel to all nations, to speak the truth of God; no longer can a young man like Timothy pass on the good deposit he has received (1 Tim 4:12; 6:20; 2 Tim 2:1-7). No longer is the truth of God able to be uttered by the uneducated rocks or lived by young men and women (Luke 19:40; Ps 119:9-16).

            How is it that the servant has become the master? This is, I believe, the true story of Christianity’s “fall”: it is not a fall into something totally other—Christians throughout the ages have been wise enough to avoid that ditch. Instead, it is the soft seduction of scientia, the fact that Christianity is indeed more cogent, more commendable, and eminently more reasonable than its peers that has led us to Carter’s Elite Theism. In wielding the tool of Philosophy with great insight and prowess, filled with the Spirit and equipped with the written Word of the Creator himself, Christians have beaten their unbelieving peers at their own game, yet they have succeeded where the philosophers never did—in making that game the only game in town.

            For the reader who still needs to be convinced that Christians used philosophical tools and did so critically, there are many resources available making this point. Gavrilyuk and Andrew Radde-Gallwitz have made the case for Christian critical engagement with their sources in reference to impassibility and simplicity; in a later period, there are various efforts to mitigate the implications of metaphysics on the eternality of matter and the free creation of God, motivated by their adherence to Scripture.11 One could argue that the reason a tension exists in the Definition of Chalcedon, as several authors have argued, is because its authors were unwilling to accommodate the Biblical teaching of the incarnation to their metaphysical frameworks, so they put together a statement that upheld both and, as a result, contained a significant tension.12 Nevertheless, I digress; this is not our project here.

            Instead, I want us to first consider the council of Nicaea and its later interpretation in the context of the controversy over the Son’s relationship to the Father. I want to consider, in particular, what tools were wielded in this struggle and the result they had on Christian ecclesiology at the end of the 4th century. Second, I want to consider how Nicaea was received at Chalcedon and the tools that were used in the debates over the incarnation from Ephesus I (431) to Chalcedon (451). Finally, I will bring together these threads and argue that Chalcedon reflected in writing an attitude towards orthodoxy that developed in the preceding century, an attitude that enshrined scientia as the measure of right faith and the mark of “in” and “out” among Christians, simultaneously making orthodoxy and Christian ministry a matter of Scientia.

1. Arius and the Significance of Nicaea

The 4th-century did not create an interest in Christian engagement with the Hellenistic intellectual tradition, nor did it signal a significant deviation from the use of philosophy in the 3rd century. As many have observed, Arius and many others were “Origenian” in their approach to such matters.13 In his compelling treatment of Arius, Rowan Williams argues that in this sense, Arius was a “conservative,” specifically because of his adherence to received tradition.14 However traditional the metaphysic was through which Arius developed his theology, his bold statements of Christ’s ignorance of and radical difference from the Father were sure to provoke his Alexandrian peers and the bishop, Alexander—it didn’t help that Arius seemed to be a popularizer in his approach to disseminating his teaching.15 In response to Arius and the threat that the growing conflict in Alexandria posed to the unity of his Empire, Constantine convened the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (325) to address the growing conflict in the Alexandrian church. Nicaea did not end the controversy, which quickly expanded across many different fault lines as Christians (or so-called Christians, if you prefer) battled over which account of the Son’s relationship to the Father would be secured. Cogent accounts of this period are plenty; I merely want to focus on two aspects of it.16 First, Nicaea as a response to Arius’s purported error and, second, the reception of Nicaea in the second half of the 4th century.

A. The Response to Arius’s Error

In Constantine, Rome had its first Christian emperor, yet Rodney Stark argues that he did not “Christianise” the empire but instead responded to the startling phenomenon of the previous centuries, namely, that Christianity—a largely persecuted religion—grew to the point where being a “Christian” Emperor was pragmatically ideal, however sincere Constantine’s conversion may have been.17 As the head of an Empire with a large population of Christians, the inter-Christian theological debates could no longer be ignored; a serious split in the global Christian church would have significant ramifications for the Empire. At Nicaea, a document was produced as the answer to Arius’ error, a “Creed” (σύμβολον, sumbolon) that would be acceptable to the majority of the bishops in the Empire but unacceptable to Arius. There is a broad agreement among scholars that the term ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, “consubstantial”) was introduced to achieve the latter purpose: it was a term that Arius would certainly not agree with.18 There were good reasons for Arius not to agree: the term was associated with a 3rd century heresy, of Paul of Samosata, and had significant materialist connotations that all parties were eager to deny.19 However, the term worked, Arius and many who were likeminded rejected the Creed; the Creed was a concerted effort to delineate some as “in” and some as “out” in the global, Imperial church. The result was not so clear cut, of course, and decades of debate ensued. However, the means that council used to secure their goal are as important as its immediate result.

            The Nicene Creed with its anathemas was an unassuming document: it contained clear Scriptural claims, “the Father almighty,” “Son of God,” “only-begotten,” etc. However, the bishops recognized that repeating the statements of Scripture were not enough: Arius did this as well. They need to fight at the level of concepts and ideas. On this level, the particular tools they used to fight Arius’s error were those of Arius’s own tradition—a tradition shared by many at Nicaea. They were the tools of Christian philosophy. Ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, “consubstantial”) is an unambiguously metaphysical term, as are οὐσία (ousia, substance) and ὑπόστασις (hupostasis, subsistence) given in the anathemas (where these terms are used synonymously).

B. The Reception of Nicaea in the 4th Century

It is important to observe that the significance of Nicaea was not in 325 or 326 what it was in the last half of the 4th century. As many scholars have argued, the significance of Nicaea and its Creed, especially the word ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, consubstantial), was a gradual matter.20 Gradual as it may have been, the fact is that ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, consubstantial) along with the Creed became a watchword of the Global, Imperial Church—of orthodoxy or the mainstream conciliar tradition—by the end of the 4th century. The major conciliar thinkers of this period came to use the term, giving it various degrees of significance, yet more importantly, they developed a shared account of the conciliar or orthodox Christian account of the Father, Son and Spirit in their diversity and unity. As we shall see, this account was a thoroughly metaphysical.

            With varying emphases, key conciliar thinkers of this period, such as Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa in the East and Hilary of Poitiers in the West developed similar accounts of the unity and plurality in the Godhead. The first three eastern fathers are particularly significant in light of Chalcedon, where they are the most commonly cited authorities for interpreting the Nicene Creed and its tradition.21 Though they occasionally employed the term ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, consubstantial), the fathers mentioned above developed similar conceptual accounts of the Trinity using a diversity of terms and arguments. Focusing on the first three (this view is present but less prominent in Nyssa), they articulate a shared account where God the Father is the one true God from whom the other two receive identical essence as from a first principle (causal without temporal implications) and unbroken continuity of being. In other words, as a son is identical in essence to his father, so the Son is identical to the Father in essence and so properly spoken of as “God,” similarly for the Spirit who is likewise from the Father and rightly called “God” (as was elaborated in the Constantinopolitan Creed of 381). The unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was not secured merely by essential identity, for this may imply that they were merely “collaterals” (ἀδελφά, adelpha) who receive identity through a transcendent norm or an antecedent substance or who were three completely independent substances (Athanasius, Syn 51.1; Basil, Ep. 52.1). Instead, the Father, Son, and Spirit were alike in essence without deviation (as Basil would say) because they had the same substantial being (Ep. 9.3, Ep. 361). The one substance of the Godhead was God the Father: the Son and Spirit are “from” him in such a way that they share in his being, as a river flows from its source or a ray from the sun (Athanasius, Dion. 10:3; 18; Decr. 23).22 There is an unbroken continuity of being between the three, rooted in the monarchia of the Father.23 This was developed in Athanasius, Apollinaris, and others on analogy with their account of the unity of the human substance rooted in its first member, Adam (Athanasius, Dion. 10.3; Dec. 19-20, 23.1; Syn 42, 48, 51-53; Ep. Serap. 2.3; Basil, Eun. 1.20; Ep. 52.2; Apollinaris, Basil’s Ep. 362).24 Though it is not identical with the philosophical models of their peers, this account of divine and human unity-in-plurality fits within the Neo-Platonic philosophical milieu of the 4th century.25

            Now, this metaphysical framework for the unity-in-plurality of the Godhead was not developed without reason; no, these fathers were actively debating with those who were steeped in a similar tradition of philosophy and philosophical theology as themselves. The conciliar fathers and their opponents were using similar tools to fight their theological battle; this is clearly seen, for example, in the Eunomius’ account of the comprehensibility of God’s essence and Basil’s response, which sought to uphold genuine knowledge of God along with the incomprehensibility of God’s essence.26 Whatever the justification, the growing recognition of Nicaea at the end of the 4th century accompanied with the sophisticated accounts of God’s unity-in-plurality created an unparalleled ecclesiological situation moving into the 5th century, a situation that would be explicated and ratified at Chalcedon.

            There are several accounts of a power struggle among Christians in this period, between a view of Christian authority rooted either in charismatic teachers and their schools or in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, or between monastic groups and bishoprics.27 With the first ecumenical council and the dawn of a Christian empire, there was a growing investment of power in councils, canonical law, and bishops.28 In the 3rd century, Origen and Clement of Alexandria before him developed sweeping syntheses of biblical, theological, and philosophical thought, accounts which would in later eyes be considered heretical (at least in Origen’s case). However, there was significant latitude to do so at that time; this is not to say orthodoxy and right belief did not exist, but the canonical structures in the 4th and 5th centuries for defining a global orthodoxy did not yet exist, and—more significantly—the measure of orthodoxy employed prior to the 4th century were not as metaphysically robust as Nicaea came to be regarded. The rule of truth in Irenaeus, the early baptismal declarations, and the Apostles Creed are not thin; they make important claims about Christian beliefs and the centrality of Scripture; however, in none of these was a metaphysical account of these doctrines rendered normative.29 As such, metaphysics could—for good or for ill—be explored with impunity by the so-called Alexandrian school. Though the phrase “one οὐσία (ousia, substance) in three ὑποστάσες (hypostases, individuals)” is not of Cappadocian coinage, it certainly captures the spirit of conciliar Christianity at the end of the 4th century, pitted against the equally metaphysical accounts of the heterodox. For those engaged in the frontlines of the controversy, these terms are not mere placeholders nor ill-defined concepts but signifiers of a robust and articulate synthesis of Biblical thought in philosophical modes, built through critical interaction with both the pagan philosophers and the heretics.

            Roughly speaking, ousia signified the philosophical universal and hypostasis the particular. Universality was further delineated in terms of essence, or the “account of being” (τὸν τοῦ εἶναι λόγον, ton tou einai logon), and fundamental reality; the particular was understood as the universal individuated through a particular property or properties (ἰδιώματα, idiōmata).30 Turning to the 5th century, this was not in debate. However, how the incarnation would be articulated and its relationship to this Trinitarian ontology were.

2. The Council of Chalcedon

In the 5th century, the debate over the proper articulation of the incarnation and the relationship of the incarnation to the Trinitarian ontology of the 4th century was waged on thoroughly metaphysical grounds. The first significant controversy concerning the union of humanity and divinity in Christ broke out in the late 4th century among the pro-Nicene conciliar parties, with Apollinaris articulating a one nature Christology of the Divine Word and Flesh and receiving a strong response from Gregory of Nyssa.31 Given the heavily metaphysical account of Trinity forged in the prior decades, theological battles between truth and heresy were now being waged on fraught battle grounds of metaphysics.

A. Metaphysics and Heresy in the 5th Century

It was out of his commitment to Nicene Orthodoxy that Nestorius first set out on troubled waters in the early 4th century. By denying the appropriateness of θεοτόκος (Theotokos, “Mother of God”), he was not seeking to deny a true union of humanity and deity in the single Christ but to articulate (perhaps in a clumsy fashion, or perhaps with logical precision) an account of the communicatio idiomatum that would maintain the Nicene insistence on the Word’s undeviating identity of essence with the Father—a view that would be endangered if “suffering” or other such non-divine attributes were predicated of the divine substance.32 Indeed, it is arguable that it was Nestorius’ lack of metaphysical rigor that landed him with the condemnation of a heretic. A close reading of the Bazaar and his other treatise shows that his primary concern was not metaphysical but logical; προσώπον (prosōpon) for him did not mean “individual” as it would at Chalcedon nor the subjective self, as is sometimes attributed to him.33 Instead, it was a primarily logical term: it was neither the existential nor ontological “I,” but the grammatical one: it was denoted by names and corresponding properties. However, by maintaining the discussion at a logical level, Nestorius was able to preserve the fullness of the divine and human identities as well as their union via the discrete προσώπα (prosōpα, grammatical subjects) and their unity, the Christ.34 This, of course, begged significant metaphysical questions, which Cyril was quick to observe. There was no small amount of political and religious machinations involved at this point, yet Cyril perceived in Nestorius’s account a serious metaphysical problem: if προσώπον (prosōpon) meant individual, as it would in Cyril’s vocabulary, then the incarnation results in two “sons”—a human individual and a divine individual—in a merely moral union. Nestorius expressed frustration over Cyril’s failure to interpret his intent, yet Cyril concern is completely understandable in a post Nicene climate where the battle for orthodoxy was waged precisely on the battleground of metaphysics.

            Similarly, when the Second Council of Ephesus (449) was convened in response to the Constantinople Home Synod of 448, a metaphysical question was at the heart of the debate. Eutyches shows no sign of seeking to diminish either the humanity or divinity of Christ in his account of the incarnation; instead, he expressed indifference to metaphysical precision and an unwillingness to engage in the sort of conceptual delineation characterizing the Christology of those following the Formula of Reunion (see The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, Session I.513-514, 527, 535, 542-544).35 When offered terminology from the Dyophysite bishops with an accompanying explanation, he unequivocally expresses willingness to accept this language (Session I.422). However, he refuses to anathematise those who will not adopt it (Session I.535, 542-544). Now, I am not seeking to defend Nestorius or Eutyches in these accounts, for the issues are far more complicated than what they said or didn’t say theologically—often involving some level of political and ecclesiological ineptitude. However, the reasons that Eutyches and Nestorius were condemned was not for a denial of any Biblical teaching or theological synthesis, such as the perfect deity and humanity of Christ Jesus and his perfect identity with the Father in a way that does not amount to the multiplication of deities. So far as their theology is concerned, Nestorius was exiled for his inadequate account of metaphysics in the incarnation and Eutyches for his failure to engage with the incarnation at metaphysical depth (perhaps he was unable to do so, as Pope Leo would have it).36 This is the context in which Emperor Marcian conveyed the council of Chalcedon (symbolically convened at Nicaea, though it was forced to move). Here, the issues surrounding Ephesus II were to be resolved and a unitive position on the Catholic faith was to be hammered out—though not without initial objections from the bishops involved.37

B. The Definition of Chalcedon and Metaphysical Orthodoxy

That is, the bishops understood their role to be putting Dioscorus and those who allied with him at Ephesus II—Pope Leo’s latrocinium (“The Robbers Synod”)—on trial. This happened, and Dioscorus’ condemnation was secured in Session I and II (according to the Greek Acta printed by Schwartz).38 The imperial representatives soon made it clear that they had a more substantial agenda in mind; though the ecclesiastical party expressed objections—“We will not produce a written exposition” (Session III.7-8)—Session V demonstrates that they were eventually persuaded to produce a ὁρός (horos, “definition”) of the Faith.

            The bishops objected on the basis of canon 7 from Ephesus I, which prohibited producing any creeds or normative conciliar documents after Nicaea (Session III.7); Nicaea was to be the sole standard. Ephesus I did not itself produce a creed, but it was connected with Nicaea in the minds of many of the bishops. Together, they enshrined conciliar orthodoxy; orthodoxy was hedged by the Creed and the canon, “Nicaea and Ephesus.”39 To get around Ephesus I, the imperial party and its ecclesiological allies (particularly Anatolius of Constantinople) used the hereto relatively unknown Creed produced in Constantinople (381) against the so-called Pneumatomachians (those who wage war against the Spirit), showing that though sufficient, Nicaea needed to be applied to new errors as they arose.40 Thus, the Definition came to enshrine a view of Nicene pre-eminence received from Ephesus I while permitting further expansions or extensions of it to new errors:

We therefore decree—we ourselves upholding the order and all the decrees of the faith of the holy synod formerly taking place at Ephesus, over which presided the most holy in memory Celestine of Rome and Cyril of Alexandria—on the one hand, that the exposition of the right and spotless faith by the 318 holy and blessed fathers at Nicaea, gathered together by the pious in memory Constantine who was then Emperor, shines forth preeminent and, on the other hand, that the decrees of the 150 holy fathers in Constantinople give support for the uprooting of heresies that then sprung up and the confirmation of the same universal and apostolic faith which is ours. (ACO V.31, my translation)41

And, because of those who seek to destroy the mystery of the economy and shamelessly speak with frivolity to the effect that the one born from the virgin Mary was a mere man, [the council] accepted (ἐδέξατο, edexato) the conciliar letters of the blessed Cyril, who was shepherd of the church of Alexandria, both to Nestorius and to those of the Orient as being fitting for both the refutation of Nestorius’ madness and the interpretation (ἑρμηνείαν, ermēneian) of the saving creed for those who with pious zeal seek understanding (ἔννοιαν, ennoian). To these is suitably attached (συνήρμοσεν, sunērmosen) for the confirmation of sound doctrine also the epistle of the president of the great and senior Rome, the most blessed and holy Archbishop Leo, which he wrote to Archbishop Flavian (now among the saints) for the removal of the perversity of Eutyches since it agrees with the confession of the great Peter and is a universal pillar against those with false beliefs. (V.34, my translation)42

            There is a “right and spotless faith” passed on from the apostles; following Ephesus I, the participants at Chalcedon recognise the Nicene Creed as the pre-eminent exposition of that faith, receiving support and confirmation from the Constantinopolitan Creed and Cyril’s conciliar letters (The 2nd Letter to Nestorius and The Letter to John of Antioch) with the support of Leo’s Tome. The Creed is to be interpreted through these three letters and, as the rest of the Acta demonstrate, a select number of fathers.43 Chalcedon goes further in its adherence to Nicaea: not only is it pre-eminent, but it is the “unerring faith of the Fathers” (V.31). Subsuming Constantinople under Nicaea (both having just been read), the Definition then declares “Thus this wise and saving Creed of divine grace was sufficient for complete knowledge of and confirmation of godliness; for it both thoroughly teaches the complete matter [τὸ τέλειον, to teleion] concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and it also presents the Lord’s enanthropation [ἐνανθρώπησιν, enanthrōpēsin] of the Lord to those who receive it faithfully” (V.34).

            Thus, the one holy, apostolic, universal faith is the faith expressed by Nicaea and its conciliar tradition. As Nicaea had issued anathemas for particular metaphysical concepts, the Definition follows suit, anathematising “those who, on the one hand, invent fables concerning the two natures of the Lord before the union and those who, on the other, imagine in vain one after the union.” The shocking thing about this last anathema (directed at Eutyches, the former at Nestorius) is that in the discussion over the draft in Session V, Dioscorus with his “one nature” theology was explicitly said not to been found to be in theological error (Session V.13); however, at the insistence of the Imperial officials, “in two natures” was added in the place of the more ambiguous “from two natures” (Session V.17-22), and with this anathema, Dioscorus and sympathetic Cyrillians would now find themselves among those anathematized. The Definition concludes,

Therefore, these things being formed in every way carefully and diligently, the holy and ecumenical synod has decreed [ὥρισεν, ōrisen] that it is not permissible for anyone to bring forth another faith [πίστιν, pistin] or, therefore, to write, compose, think, or teach otherwise.44 But those who dare to set forth another faith or, therefore, to produce or teach or pass on another creed [σύμβολον, sumbolon] to those desiring to turn to the knowledge of the truth from Hellenism, from Judaism, or, therefore, from whatever sort of heresy, consequently these, whether they are bishop or clerics, bishops are to be estranged from the episcopate and clerics from their office, and if they be monks or laypersons, they are to anathematized.

            The Definition, a carefully worded response to Nestorius and Eutyches with an eye to Apollinaris, built on Ephesus I to enshrine Nicene Christianity as the true expression of the one holy, apostolic, and catholic faith. What is ratified is not a mere formulas or words, but an extensive conceptual apparatus that was used from Nicaea to Chalcedon to explain, defend, and develop what was said there. In the Definition itself, the anathemas address particular ontological errors (“one nature” or “two individuals”) and the densely argued expositions of the two-nature doctrine in Cyril and Leo’s letters is given as the authoritative interpretation of this tradition. For words such as ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, consubstantial) and ὑπόστασις (hypostasis, individual), which appear in these letters but are not developed, the officially published Acta—produced by Marcian in conjunction with Anatolius of Constantinople—repeatedly points to select fathers as the authoritative interpreters of Trinitarian dimensions of this tradition.45

3. Faithful Stewardship or Usurpation? The rise of the Emissary

By the end of AD 451, something has happened. There has been a shift from the 1st century to the 5th century: the right, holy, catholic faith is now a necessarily metaphysical faith. Metaphysical speculation had long been a component of Christian intellectual engagement, yet it had now moved from the halls of philosophy, monasteries, and catechetical schools to the churches and bishoprics. To be a catholic bishop, cleric, monk, or layperson meant subscribing to a theologia, a developed metaphysic attending to the Christian reflection on God and his world. This is not to say metaphysics eclipsed reading and teaching from Scripture, nor that other forms of theological reflection ceased, only that the right faith was now necessarily a metaphysical faith. Attendant to this, a trend did emerge of expositions of the Fathers and their faith alongside of expositions of Scripture (such as the various Ambigua produced by Maximus the Confessor), but that development lies outside of our scope.46 The question that now confronts us is evaluation: is this a right and good development or something that should be troubling? In terms of our initial parable, has the servant engaged in faithful stewardship and organically taken a central place in his master’s business or has he usurped the master? Our Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers will answer this question in a very different way than Protestants, so we will now focus on a properly Protestant interpretation of this development. Is the evolution of a metaphysical orthodoxy a proper development of the logic of Scripture, a necessary “second exegesis” that emerged as the Faith itself matured and new errors multiplied?47 This is at least plausible and seems to be the approach taken by many Protestant champions of so-called Classical Theism.

            According to Carter, the Fathers were not innovating or seeking novelty but “were taking concepts and breaking them apart by hammering them on the anvil of Scripture and then reforging them in the flame of truth until they were bent into a usable shape for proclaiming the gospel.”48 They were thoroughly working out biblical principles in response to more and more errors, building a system intrinsic to biblical faith itself.49 This is a biblical-theological theism, classical yes, but thoroughly biblical.50 They were engaged in “missionary theology,” but working from the Scriptures mythos towards logos, from narrative revelation to appropriate conceptual explication.51 There is thus a proper sense of doctrinal development, not the creation of a hitherto unknown “doctrine of God,”52 or the invention of orthodoxy (as classic proponents of the “fall” theory had it), but the development of proper implications of Scripture. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”53 The Reformers were less optimistic about the “unerring” work of the Fathers than Chalcedon, but they still wanted to give the Creeds the benefit of the doubt.54

            As stated in the introduction, I am not interested in reviving the classical fall hypothesis: I see no reason for metaphysics to be opposed to the Bible, theology, or simple faith. Indeed, I want to argue that the Bible has metaphysical implications: it points us to a God active in this world over against atheism and physicalism, it makes all things dependent on God’s continued activity, etc. However, these are genuine “implications,” for they are not worked out in a systematic or metaphysical manner in the Bible. However, seeing metaphysics as a legitimate Christian endeavour—as one tool among many others—is a different beast than making a metaphysic a necessary condition for the orthodox, catholic, and apostolic faith. So, we are asking, is the development of a metaphysical orthodoxy a natural unfolding of the Bible’s inherent principles? I want to argue in this section that it is not; that in this case, a specific metaphysic has metastasised from the hands to the heart of Christianity and that this is usurpation, not faithful stewardship.

            Carter’s statement about speaking truthfully about God, namely, that one needs extensive academic pedigree to do so, is a clear implication of the Definition of Chalcedon’s concluding anathema. There are several reasons for concluding that this is a usurpation. 1) It is clear from the Bible and experience that someone can have right faith without metaphysical accomplishments, and when it comes to individuals, people can have their worldview reformed—including metaphysical entailments—without being taught an explicit metaphysic. That is, as we implicitly develop the metaphysics of our age, through our parents, schools, and media, so we can implicitly develop a different metaphysic through active engagement with a different worldview. 2) Moreover, a close reading of Chalcedon and the ensuing conflicts between the Miaphysites and Chalcedonians shows that the metaphysical framework enshrined at Chalcedon was not perfect (this is tacitly acknowledged when Classical Theists rely on a Thomistic metaphysic not a Nicene one). 3) Finally, there are historical and contemporary possibilities for a genuinely Christian metaphysic other than the one espoused between AD 325-451, showing that Christian theology can be developed by faithful but imperfect Christians into multiple metaphysical systems, and therefore, need not be anchored to any one of them.

A. The Possibility of Simple Faith.

First, Carter’s claim concerning what it takes to talk rightly about God stands in the face of the Bible’s teaching and our own experience. It may be suggested that Carter spoke with a little bit too much flourish at this point, that neither he nor the majority of Christian academics today would take such a position, namely, that knowing God requires philosophical attainment. However, a slip of the pen or not, Carter’s point is consistent with the pedagogical practices of our schools and the academy, where monograph after monograph argues this point with its hidden curriculum: by dismissing “simplistic” readings and understandings of God and insisting that only with this method and these tools can the right answer be achieved, can knowledge of God be truly obtained, academics show that their tools are the best and ideal tools for understanding God and his word.55 Returning to Carter’s claim, the Biblical teaching opposes it: even if some apostles and early church teachers had the ability to engage in the sort of philosophical reflection performed by the 4th and 5th-century fathers, their writings do not show it. Though the author of Hebrews uses terms with philosophical pedigree, for example, his argument itself does not require a developed philosophical lens for the reader to follow it. Moses and other Old Testament authors were (traditionally) writing before the dawn of pre-Socratic philosophy, yet they thought they were able to speak truthfully about God, doing so in rich prose, narrative, and poetic expositions. Luke presumes that it was a good thing for the synagogues Paul visited to measure what he said against Scripture, presuming they could do so (Acts 17:10), and Paul encourages the average Christians who will hear his letters read to speak about God with one another (Eph 4:15, 17-25). Jesus himself did not choose learned men but fishermen and tradesmen to be his chosen spokesmen; empowered by the Holy Spirit, they spoke truthfully about God, but not in philosophical modes (e.g. Acts 2:14-41, 3:11-4:11; 7:1-53). Paul commissions a young man of Greek and Jewish lineage to lead the Church in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:1-4, 4:2), and instructs both Timothy and Titus to appoint “worthy men” not on the basis of intellectual accomplishment or extensive skill but on the basis of extensive character qualifications and “the ability to teach” (he doesn’t even qualify that as “teach well”) (1 Tim 3:1-7; 2 Tim 2:2; Titus 1:5-16). Perhaps the most learned of early Christians, Apollos—a “learned” Alexandrian (Acts 18:24)—was instructed in the faith by an otherwise not outstanding Christian couple, Priscilla and Aquilla (Acts 18:26). If the metaphysical prowess of a mid-1st millennia intellectual with Neoplatonic learning is necessary for speaking truthfully of God, none of these would qualify.

            Setting aside potential character issues—such as impudence—Eutyches was able to affirm and acknowledge the full deity and humanity of Jesus, without demonstrably grasping the finer points of the metaphysical discussion upon which he touched. This is true of many believers I know today, who can remind me of God’s generous, kind, and consistent character, who can pray to the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, all without grasping any of the finer points of 4th-century doctrine. They speak about God regularly, occasionally lead Bible studies, sometimes preach, and do so in a way that seems entirely consistent with God’s Word.56 By what Biblical principle are these persons disqualified from speaking truthfully about God? If the metaphysical orthodoxy we are exploring is a rightful implication of Scripture, there should be such a principle. This is not the only problem; the metaphysical orthodoxy we are tracing presumes that at Chalcedon there is a consistent metaphysical articulation of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation. What if this were not the case?

B. The Problem in the Definition.

The topic of my PhD Thesis is the conceptual Apparatus of Chalcedon’s Definition. I sought to ascertain if the problems Johannes Zachhuber, Jean-Yves Lacoste, and Bruce L. McCormack identified at Chalcedon actually existed. I conclude that there is indeed a tension at the heart of Chalcedon. This tension emerged because those at Chalcedon sought to simultaneously be faithful to the received tradition and to the Bible, refusing to abandon either Nicaea as interpreted by Athanasius, Basil, and Gregory or the Bible’s teaching on Christ’s full humanity and deity. When the attribution of dual consubstantiality was read through the lens of the Nicaea, the implications of Nestorianism were hardly avoidable; to avoid the claim that Christ was “two sons,” one would have to tweak that apparatus significantly, but doing so also resulted in problems. Timothy Pawl has shown how one could articulate a logically consistent two-natures Christology, however he does so by accepting the “Nestorian” thesis that Christ had two individual natures—two πρόσωπα (prosōpa, individuals) or ὑποστάσες (hypostases, individuals) in 5th-century parlance—and raising significant questions about the Trinity, questions which came out in the 7th-century tritheism controversy.57

            Johannes Zachhuber has argued that the response to the difficulties of Chalcedon led to an overthrow of the classic metaphysical framework employed in the 4th-century, anticipating the rise of the empirical sciences and other particular-oriented ontologies.58 I have argued elsewhere that Chalcedon lends significant plausibility to William of Ockham’s conceptualist ontology, a significantly different metaphysic than that developed in the 4th-5th centuries.59

            Finally, perhaps the most prominent pro-Chalcedonian theologian of the 6th-7th century, Maximus the Confessor, was forced to develop a drastically different metaphysic than that espoused at Chalcedon in response to the post-Chalcedonian debates, but even here, his metaphysic could not reconcile Chalcedon’s agenda of upholding both the Nicene tradition and a two-nature Christology as espoused by Cyril and Leo.60

            There is, thus, weighty evidence that the metaphysic enshrined by Chalcedon is not the perfect orthodoxy it declares itself to be; if one is to argue that orthodoxy must be metaphysical, then the Niceno-Chalcedonian tradition must be measured by different metaphysic and counted as either heterodox or perhaps deficient—as the 6th century declared Origen’s writings. That is, the immediate history of the Niceno-Chalcedonian tradition shows that it was an inadequate metaphysic for the task it attempted, yet it proclaimed itself as the orthodox metaphysical tradition: if one where to maintain with this tradition that orthodoxy is necessarily metaphysical, they must do so from a different position, for there is no coherent metaphysic in that position, sufficient to uphold the claims of both Nicaea and Chalcedon. If there were such a metaphysic, a plausible alternative to Niceno-Chalcedon, then perhaps it would be better not to declare the Niceno-Chalcedonian tradition orthodox nor the later one but recognize that both are the product of faithful, devoted Christian intellectual activity wielding the tool of philosophy in (imperfect) service to Christ. Several options yield themselves at this point, I will briefly raise two.

C. Plausible Alternate Metaphysics.

The first obvious option is that offered by Miaphysites up to and after Chalcedon. The Miaphysite church had a strong philosophical tradition after Chalcedon, working out in detail how a “one nature” Christology could uphold the Biblical claims concerning Christ and the Nicene Tradition (excluding Chalcedon). They claimed many of the same heroes as the Chalcedonians, yet they developed Cyril’s Christological in a significantly different metaphysical direction.61 Chalcedonian Christology sounded too much like Nestorianism—it didn’t help that Nestorius viewed Leo’s Tome as a vindication of his position and received an imperial invitation to Chalcedon (though he died before attending).62 The metaphysic used to explain their position developed from generation to generation, but they ended up with similar troubles as the Chalcedonians. That is, by seeking to maintain the unity of humanity and deity in one individual, they placed the ontological priority on the individual and were, therefore, unable to uphold the Nicene responses to the Tritheism.63 Skipping forward several centuries, Thomas Aquinas articulated his own metaphysic that sought to account for the incarnation and the Trinity. Others followed, Duns Scotus and William Ockham among them. I want to consider briefly an early modern alternative before concluding.

            There seems to something of a renewed interest in George Berkeley among Christian Philosophers, as well as Jonathan Edwards, both of whom articulated an immaterialist or idealist metaphysic on a thoroughly Christian foundation.64 Berkeley did so in response to Atheism and Skepticism in 18th-century Britain.65 Similar to Ockham, Berkeley rejected extra-mental universality and explained all universal terms by their ability to supposit for (to use Ockham’s term) individuals. He also rejected Locke’s substance and with it any featureless matter, or the possibility of pure potentiality.66 In the place of a propertyless substrate in which primary qualities such as form existed, he argued only minds exist; the extra-mental world is the immediate action of minds, primarily God’s but also finite, created minds, interacting. As such, perceptible phenomena are like a language by which God communicates with his creation.67 I have recently argued that by adopting some key principles from Berkeley and Ockham’s metaphysics we can make better sense of many issues in our Doctrine of God and of the incarnation than by using the framework of Classical Theism.68 At a more popular level, I have worked out several aspects of a metaphysic building on Berkeley and Ockham (among others) to explain several features of practical theology, exegesis, and the knowability of God and his world.69

            The point is not that any of these metaphysical systems are evidently a better option than that produced by Chalcedon; however, if any of them are plausible as a cogent account of the incarnation and God’s revealed character, or at least as cogent as the Niceno-Chalcedonian tradition, then the claim that the latter tradition is merely a working out of what is implicit in Scripture is significantly weakened. That is, the same Scriptural teaching can be worked out into different metaphysical systems, showing the Scripture is not determinative for a single metaphysic. This does not mean there is no right metaphysic, or even that humans are unable to arrive at a right metaphysical system, but only that God, in his wisdom, hasn’t given us enough in Scripture so that a Christian may say that this metaphysic is the definitive, once-for-all, Christian metaphysic, and all others are heretical. For centuries, faithful Christians have engaged in metaphysics, and for several centuries, they have disagreed. If the Niceno-Chalcedonian metaphysic was not merely an unfolding of the implicit claims of Scripture, then the exaltation of that metaphysic to the standard of Christian orthodoxy appears to be the usurpation of a useful yet limited tool.

4. Conclusion

In this paper, it has been argued that by the end of the council of Chalcedon in 451, a metaphysical system was granted the status of the measure of orthodoxy. It has been argued that this was not a natural outworking of the Bible’s own principles but something alien to them, the metastasis of a useful but limited tool from its proper place as a tool to the central place of the Christian Faith itself. Christians in the 4th-5th centuries did not simply roll over to Hellenistic philosophy; no, they critically engaged with it, built upon it with the tools given them in Scripture, and perhaps bested the pagans at their own game. However, in doing so, they began to wage the battles of Christian orthodoxy more and more on the battleground of ontology and metaphysics until those battlefields became the entire war—or so it seemed in the aftermath of Chalcedon. What was once a useful tool for the defence and elucidation of the Christian Faith became its key structure and provided much of its content. With that move made, it was easy enough for the Christian intellectual life at all levels, lay persons through clergy, to take on a particular philosophical bent: attention moved from the contingent and mutable events God accomplished in this world—God’s covenanting and, above all, Christ and him crucified—to the “universal, necessary truths” of scientia.70 I am rightly reminded by a Catholic brother that many outside of the major cities and episcopal sees did not go down the metaphysical route I have described here, yet this still describes the dominant stream of ecclesial authority at and after Chalcedon, which has exercised significant influence on present day Protestantism.

            This is not a “Theory of Christianity’s Fall into Hellenism” revived, but an alternate account of what many contemporary theologians have found problematic and sought to explain, sometimes with recourse to “Christianity’s Fall” narratives. In its place, I have offered a narrative we could call “Orthodoxy’s slip into scientia” or, perhaps, “the Master and his Emissary.” The goal has not been to deny the possibility or fruitfulness of philosophy and metaphysics, nor to denigrate the early church (from whom we still have much to learn), let alone to deny the reality of the catholic, apostolic faith—of “orthodoxy” or right and wrong beliefs. No, instead, I offer a plea to keep the crucified and risen Christ at the centre and to let the tools we use to commend him to this world remain just that, tools.

            One last response may be raised to all of this: what else could the early church have done against the threat of errors such as those raised by Arius, the Eusebii, or Eunomius (among others) than meeting them on their own battleground? Ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, consubstantial) and other non-Scripture terminology was introduced for this very reason, because they were working on the level of synthesis and second-exegesis, for which the response to this or that Scripture was “here is another interpretation.” This is evident in the debate between Maximinus and Augustine, where each party appears to shoot past the other; Maximinus is able to point to Scripture after Scripture in support of his view (which is itself not clear), Scriptures for which Augustine has an alternate interpretation and his own riposte from Scripture.71 Augustine also appeals extensively to the tradition which Maximinus, on his interpretation of Scripture, rejects as unfaithful. This debate would have perhaps gone differently if both parties agreed on the same rules for reading the Scriptures, on their clarity and the path to proper interpretation. For two parties who are confessedly committed to God’s self-revelation in Scripture, not their respective creeds and traditions, the only thing that would do is an approach to Scripture derived from Scripture itself. So, clarifying the clarity of Scripture and how God has written Scripture so that its clarity is not ineffective but effectual in making Scripture the sole norming norm and final sounding board for disputes is in order. To do this would require a willingness to listen, to learn, and to be wrong—namely, humility.

            Whether or not their theology was wrong, a good case can be made for all the classic heretics that prior to bad theology was bad character (a judgment which may, uncomfortably, apply to all too many of our heroes as well) or a lack of competency for the role they were given. Nestorius was steward of a tradition he received, a fine orator, and acquainted with logic, yet he seemed to lack the worldly wisdom sufficient for the role of archbishop to which he was exalted. The accounts given of Eutyches are not conclusive, but an argument could be made by the presence of the claims he was making and the hearsay delivered by the emissaries sent to him from the Constantinople Home Synod that he was a little too keen to engage in theological debate—perhaps overestimating his own abilities (as Pope Leo would have it). Judging by the nature of the Thalia and the accounts of later historians, Arius was not a sequestered metaphysician but somewhat of a populist, composing a blasphemous account of the Word in the form of popular entertainment, an account that proclaimed the Son’s createdness, otherness to, and ignorance of the Father.

            The standard set by God through his apostles for a minister of the Gospel is exceedingly high (1 Tim 3:1-13; 2 Tim 2:1-2; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet 5:1-5); perhaps many of these men should have been disqualified from public office for character or competencies unsuited for the high calling they were given. It is a much more detailed, exacting, and painfully slow process to ascertain character in comparison to drafting a statement by which any number of problems could be diagnosed, but this slow, relational method appears to be the primary one God has given his people to diagnose false teaching and disqualify would-be leaders, let alone expelling the dissident layperson. Perhaps this is the master which philosophy has usurped, the terribly inefficient and contingent process of evaluating character in the context of ministry and teaching.

  1. Paul L. Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought (Oxford University Press, 2004), 21, PMCid:PMC500870. Followed by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine 18 (Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 89 []
  2. Cf. John Peckham, Divine Attributes: Knowing the Covenantal God of Scripture, 2021, chap. 1. []
  3. “Missionary theology” is Vanhoozer’s description of what the Early Church was doing. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology, 90. []
  4. Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, New expanded edition. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), 14 []
  5. Metaphysics VI.I, 1026a in Aristotle, “Metaphysics,” in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Rose and J. A. Smith, Logos Edition., vol. 8 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1908). []
  6. E.g. “I would suggest that we defined theology as ‘the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life.’ The meaning of this definition ought to be fairly clear, except for application. I would define application as ‘teaching’ in the New Testament sense (didache, didaskalia), a concept represented in some translations by doctrine. Teaching in the New Testament (and I think also in the Old) is the use of God’s revelation to meet the spiritual needs of people, to promote godliness and spiritual heath.” John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1987), 81. []
  7. John Webster, “What Makes Theology Theological?,” in God Without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, Vol. 1: God and the Works of God, T&T Clark Theology (London ; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 221 . []
  8. Emphasis added. Craig A. Carter, Contemplating God with the Great Tradition: Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021), 29. []
  9. Carter, Contemplating God, 296. []
  10. Carter, Contemplating God, 298. Cf. James E. Dolezal, All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism (Grand Rapids, Mic: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 21–34; George H. Guthrie, “The Study of Holy Scripture and the Work of Christian Higher Education,” in Christian Higher Education: Faith, Teaching, and Learning in the Evangelical Tradition, ed. David S. Dockery and Christopher W. Morgan (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 83. []
  11. Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity, Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God. Grigory Benevich, “God’s Logoi and Human Personhood in St Maximus the Confessor,” Studi Sull’Oriente Cristiano 13.1 (2009): 137–52; Maximos Constas, “Maximus the Confessor, Dionysius the Areopagite, and the Transformation of Christian Neoplatonism,” Analogia 2.1 (2017): 1–12; Vladimir Cvetković, “‘All in All’ (1 Cor 15:28): Aspects of the Unity Between God and Creation According to St Maximus the Confessor,” Analogia 2.1 (2017): 13–28; Emma Brown Dewhurst, “How Can We Be Nothing?: The Concept of Non-Being in Athanasius and Maximus the Confessor,” Analogia 2.1 (2017): 29–34; Timur Shchukin, “Matter as a Universal: John Philoponus and Maximus the Confessor on the Eternity of the World,” Scrinium 13.1 (2017): 361–82,; Vladimir Cvetkovic, “Re-Interpreting Tradition: Maximus the Confessor on Creation in Ambigua Ad Ioannem,” in Questioning the World. Greek Patristic and Byzantine Question and Answer Literature, ed. Bram Bemulder and Peter Van Deun, Lectio 11 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2021), 147–80 []
  12. Arguing for a tension or aporia are Jean-Yves Lacoste, “Homoousios et Homoousios: La Substance Entre Théologie et Philosophie,” Recherches de Science Religieuse 98.1 (2010): 85–100; Johannes Zachhuber, The Rise of Christian Theology and the End of Ancient Metaphysics: Patristic Philosophy from the Cappadocian Fathers to John of Damascus (Oxford University Press, 2020), 103–11; Bruce Lindley McCormack, The Humility of the Eternal Son: Reformed Kenoticism and the Repair of Chalcedon (Cambridge University Press, 2021) My soon to be submitted PhD thesis seeks to identify if such a tension exists and, if so, what its contours are. Cf. James Alexander Rutherford, “Chalcedon and the Plausibility of Conceptualism” (presented at the Australia & New Zealand Association of Theological Studies Annual Conference, 2022, Sydney, June 2022); James Rutherford, “The Divine-Human Analogy in the Niceno-Chalcedonian Tradition and Maximus the Confessor,” in St Andrew’s Orthodox Seminary’s 9th Patristic Symposium (Sydney, 2022); James Alexander Rutherford, “Interpreting the Definition of Chalcedon” (presented at the Australia & New Zealand Association of Theological Studies Annual Conference, 2022, Sydney, June 2022). []
  13. E.g. Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2. ed. (London: SCM, 2001); Giulio Maspero, “Isoangelia in Gregory of Nyssa and Origen on the Background of Plotinus,” in Papers Presented at the Seventeenth International Conference on Patristic Studies Held in Oxford 2015 Volume 10 Evagrius between Origen, the Cappadocians, and Neoplatonism, Studia Patristica  84 (Leuven: Peeters, 2017), 77–100; Ilaria Ramelli, “Gregory Nyssen’s and Evagrius’ Biographical and Theological Relations: Origen’s Heritage and Neoplatonism,” in Papers Presented at the Seventeenth International Conference on Patristic Studies Held in Oxford 2015 Volume 10 Evagrius between Origen, the Cappadocians, and Neoplatonism, Studia Patristica  84 (Leuven: Peeters, 2017), 165–231. []
  14. Williams, Arius. []
  15. E.g. M. L. West, “The Metre of Arius’ ‘Thalia,’” JTS 33.1 (1982) 98–105; Rowan D. Williams, “The Quest of the Historical Thalia,” in Arianism: Historical and Theological Reassessments: Papers from The Ninth International Conference on Patristic Studies, ed. Robert C. Gregg, Reprint., Patristic Monograph Series V. 11 (2006: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006), 1–35; Philostorgius, Epitome, 2.2. []
  16. E.g. John Behr, The Nicene Faith: Vol 2 of Formation of Christian Theology (Crestwood, N.Y.: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004); Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 1st ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Frances M. Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and Its Background, 2nd ed. (London: SCM Press, 2010). []
  17. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton University Press, 1996) []
  18. E.g. R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 202; Williams, Arius, 68–70; Behr, The Nicene Faith: Vol 2 of Formation of Christian Theology, 157. []
  19. G. L. Prestige, St Basil the Great and Apollinaris of Laodicea (London: SPCK, 1956), 209; George Christopher Stead, Divine Substance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 242–44; Hanson, The Search, 190–97; Williams, Arius, 134–35; John Behr, The Way to Nicaea, The Formation of Christian Theology v. 1 (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), 187–88; Behr, The Nicene Faith: Vol 2 of Formation of Christian Theology, 137. Cf. Athanasius, Syn. 3; Basil of Caesarea, Ep. 361-363. []
  20. E.g. Mark S. Smith, The Idea of Nicaea in the Early Church Councils, AD 431-451 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 7–28. []
  21. See Rutherford, “Interpreting the Definition of Chalcedon.” []
  22. Cf. Lewis Ayres, “Athanasius’ Initial Defense of the Term Homoousios: Rereading the De Decretis,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 12.3 (2004): 337–59, []
  23. Cf. John A. McGuckin, “‘Perceiving Light from Light in Light’ (Oration 31.2): The Trinitarian Theology of St. Gregory the Theologian” (n.d.): 12 ftn. 6, 27, []
  24. Cf. Ayres, “Athanasius’ Initial Defense of the Term Homoousios.” []
  25. Cf. Johannes Zachhuber, “Derivative Genera in Apollinarius of Laodicea,” in Apollinaris Und Die Folgen, Studien Und Texte Zu Antike Und Christentum 93 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015), 93–114. []
  26. See the first Apology in Eunomius, The Extant Works, trans. Richard Paul Vaggione, Oxford Early Christian Texts (Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 1987); Basil of Caesarea, Against Eunomius, trans. Mark DelCogliano and Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, The Fathers of the Church v. 122 (Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America Press, 2011). Cf. Radde-Gallwitz, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity. []
  27. E.g. Williams, Arius; Michael Gaddis, There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire, The Transformation of the Classical Heritage 39 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Thomas Graumann, “Orthodoxy, Authority and the (Re-) Construction of the Past in Church Councils,” in Invention, Rewriting, Usurpation: Discursive Fights over Religious Traditions in Antiquity, ed. Jörg Ulrich, Anders-Christian Jacobsen, and David Brakke, Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity v. 11 (Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 2012). []
  28. Cf. Patrick T. R. Gray, “‘The Select Fathers’: Canonizing the Patristic Past,” in Studia Patristica (Louvain: Peeters, 1989), 21–36; Patrick T. R. Gray, “Covering the Nakedness of Noah: Reconstruction and Denial in the Age of Justinian,” Byzantinische Forschungen 24 (1997): 193–205; David Wagschal, Law and Legality in the Greek East: The Byzantine Canonical Tradition, 381-883 (Oxford University Press, 2015); Smith, The Idea; Thomas Graumann, The Acts of the Early Church Councils: Production and Character (Oxford University Press, 2021) []
  29. Cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.8.1; Cyprian, Ep. 69.2, 75.7,  (NPNF numbering); Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 6. Adriani Milli Rodrigues, “The Rule of Faith and Biblical Interpretation in Evangelical Theological Interpretation of Scripture,” Themelios 43.2 (2018): 257–70; J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2006), chap. 4; Wolfram Kinzig and Markus Vinzent, “Recent Research on the Origin of the Creed,” JTS 50.2 (1999): 534–59; Liuwe H. Westra, The Apostles’ Creed: Origin, History, and Some Early Commentaries, Instrumenta Patristica et Mediaevalia 43 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2002), 21–72 []
  30. E.g. Basil, Eun. 2.4-5, 9, 28-29 (Greek). Cf. Basil, Spir., 17.41; Ep. 189.8; Ep. 214.4; Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 25; Apologia de Fugua Sua 13, cf. C. Ar. III, 18.1, 18.2, 32.4. []
  31. Cf. George D Dragas, “The Anti-Apollinarist Christology of St Gregory of Nyssa: A First Analysis,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 42.3–4 (1997): 299–314; Brian E. Daley, “Divine Transcendence and Human Transformation: Gregory of Nyssa’s Anti-Apollinarian Christology,” in Rethinking Gregory of Nyssa, ed. Sarah Coakley (Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2003), 67–76; Gregory of Nyssa, Anti-Apollinarian Writings, trans. Robin Orton, The Fathers of the Church, a New Translation volume 131 (Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America Press, 2015). []
  32. Cf. Nestorius, 2nd Reply to Cyril in John A. McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria, The Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 23 (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 365; Quaternion 17 in Michael Gaddis and Richard Price, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, 3 vols., Translated Texts for Historians (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005), vol. 1 p. 324; Sermon XII, XV; Nestorius, The Bazaar of Heracleides: Newly Translated from the Syriac and Edited with an Introduction, Notes & Appendices, trans. G. R. Driver and L. Hodgson (Oxford: Clarendon, 1925), 85–86, 262. []
  33. E.g. Charles M Stang, “The Two ’I’s of Christ: Revisiting the Christological Controversy,” Anglican Theological Review 94.3 (2012): 529–47. []
  34. E.g. Bazaar p. 157, 179; Sermon XII, translated in Bethune-Baker, Nestorius, 84. []
  35. Translated in Gaddis and Price, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon. From here forward, The Acts. []
  36. In the Tome, he calls him “very imprudent and very inexperienced.” Cf. René Draguet, “La Christologie D’Eutychès D’après Les Actes Du Synode de Flavien (448),” Byzantion 6.1 (1931): 456. []
  37. Cf. G. E. M. De Ste. Croix, “The Council of Chalcedon with Additions by Michael Whitby,” in Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy, ed. Michael Whitby and Joseph Streeter (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Richard Price, “The Council of Chalcedon (451): A Narrative,” in Chalcedon in Context: Church Councils 400-700, ed. Richard Price and Mary Whitby (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 70–91 []
  38. The English number of Price and Gaddis’ translation differ at this point, Dioscorus trial occurring in Session III. Eduard Schwartz, ed., Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum II: Concilium Universale Chalcedonense, 6 vols. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1914). []
  39. Cf. Smith, The Idea, 172–85. []
  40. This is based on the first chapter of my PhD Thesis, “Rightly Defining the Son of God.” Cf. Rutherford, “Interpreting the Definition of Chalcedon.” Both build on the argument of Smith, The Idea. []
  41. See ACO 2.1.2, p. 127 lns 1-8 for the Greek text. []
  42. ACO 2.1.2, p. 129 lns 6-16 []
  43. Cf. Rutherford, “Interpreting the Definition of Chalcedon.” []
  44. γοῦν (goun, therefore) is postpositive, so its placement suggests that the latter three infinitives are to be grouped together, rather than the division of Gaddis and Price, The Acts. []
  45. On the publication, see Gaddis and Price, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon; Tommaso Mari, “The Latin Translations of the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon,” Greek, Roman & Byzantine Studies 58.1 (2018): 126–55; Tommaso Mari, “Greek, Latin, and More: Multilingualism at the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon,” Journal of Latin Linguistics 19.1 (2020) 59–87; Graumann, The Acts of the Early Church Councils. []
  46. Cf. Gray, “‘The Select Fathers.’” []
  47. “Second exegesis” is Carter’s term. Carter, Contemplating God, 270, cf. 31–44. []
  48. Carter, Contemplating God, 216–17. []
  49. Carter, Contemplating God, 203–36. []
  50. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology, 89–93. []
  51. “missionary theology” is Vanhoozer’s phrase, in Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology, 90. On mythos and logos, Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology, 1–80. For his account of the compatibility of this expansion with Sola Scriptura, see Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016). []
  52. Cf. Hanson, The Search. []
  53. WCF Ch. 1, art. 6. Quoted in Carter, Contemplating God, 53–54. []
  54. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.ix.8; Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2021), 64. []
  55. Cf. Perry W. H. Shaw, “The Hidden Curriculum of Seminary Education,” JAM 8.1–2 (2006): 23–51; Terry Anderson, “The Hidden Curriculum in Distance Education: An Updated View,” Change 33.6 (2001): 28–35,; John M. Frame, “The Academic Captivity of Theology,” in John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg: P&R Pub, 2014); John M. Frame, “Seminaries and Academic Accreditation,” in John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub, 2014). []
  56. See Rutherford, The Gift of Knowledge; The Trinity and the Bible. []
  57. Timothy Pawl, In Defense of Conciliar Christology: A Philosophical Essay, First edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). Cf.  Uwe Michael Lang, “Notes on John Philoponus and the Tritheist Controversy in the Sixth Century,” Oriens Christianus 85 (2001): 23–40; Uwe Michael Lang, John Philoponus and the Controversies over Chalcedon in the Sixth Century: A Study and Translation of The Arbiter (Leuven: Peeters, 2001); Uwe Michael Lang, “The Controversies over Chalcedon and the Beginnings of Scholastic Theology: The Case of John Philoponus,” in The Mystery of Christ in the Fathers of the Church: Essays in Honour of D. Vincent Twomey SVD, ed. Janet E Rutherford and David Woods (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012), 78; Christopher Erismann, “The Trinity, Universals, and Particular Substances: Philoponus and Roscelin,” Traditio 63 (2008): 277–305; Christophe Erismann, “John Philoponus on Individuality and Particularity,” in Individuality in Late Antiquity, ed. Alexis Torrance and Johannes Zachhuber, Ashgate Studies in Philosophy and Theology in Late Antiquity (Farnham: Routledge, 2014); Dirk Krausmüller, “Under the Spell of John Philoponus: How Chalcedonian Theologians of the Late Patristic Period Attempted to Safeguard the Oneness of God,” JTS 68.2 (2017): 625–49, []
  58. Zachhuber, The Rise of Christian Theology and the End of Ancient Metaphysics. []
  59. Rutherford, “Chalcedon and the Plausibility of Conceptualism.” []
  60. Cf. Rutherford, “The Divine-Human Analogy in the Niceno-Chalcedonian Tradition and Maximus the Confessor”; Rutherford, “Chalcedon and the Plausibility of Conceptualism.” []
  61. Aloys Grillmeier and Theresia Hainthaler, Christ in Christian Tradition Vol. 2, Part 2: The Church of Constantinople in the Sixth Century, trans. Pauline Allen and John Cawte (London: Mowbrays, 1995), pt. 1; Anna Zhyrkova, “The Miaphysite and Neo-Chalcedonian Approaches to Understanding the Nature of the Individual Entity: Particular Essence vs. En-Hypostasized Essence,” Review of Ecumenical Studies, Sibiu 11.3 (2019): 342–62,; Zachhuber, The Rise of Christian Theology and the End of Ancient Metaphysics, 119–88; Severus of Antioch and Sergius the Grammarian, The Correspondence of Severus and Sergius, trans. Iain R. Torrance, Texts from Christian Late Antiquity 11 (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011). []
  62. On his response to the Tome, see Frag. 308 in Nestorius, Nestoriana: Die Fragmente Des Nestorius, ed. Friedrich Loofs (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1905); Nestorius, Bazaar, 337. On the invitation and the Syriac tradition, see George A. Bevan, “The Last Days of Nestorius in the Syriac Sources,” Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies 7.1 (2009): 39–54,; George A. Bevan, The New Judas: The Case of Nestorius in Ecclesiastical Politics, 428-451 C.E (Leuven: Peeters, 2016). Cf. Evagrius, HE, 1.7. []
  63. Cf. Lang, “Notes on John Philoponus and the Tritheist Controversy in the Sixth Century”; Uwe Michael Lang, “Patristic Argument and the Use of Philosophy in the Tritheist Controversy of the Sixth Century,” in The Mystery of the Holy Trinity in the Fathers of the Church: The Proceedings of the Fourth International Patristic Conference, Maynooth, 1999, ed. Vincent Twomey and Lewis Ayres, Irish Theological Quarterly Monograph Series 3 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007), 79–99; Zachhuber, The Rise of Christian Theology and the End of Ancient Metaphysics, 119–88, 311–22. []
  64. E.g. Joshua R. Farris, S. Mark Hamilton, and James S. Spiegel, Idealism and Christian Theology, Idealism and Christianity 1 (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016); Steven B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel, Idealism and Christian Philosophy, Idealism and Christianity 2 (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016); James S. Spiegel, “Berkeleyan Idealism and Christian Philosophy,” Philosophy Compass 12.2 (2017); Marc A Hight, “Berkeley and Bodily Resurrection,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 45.3 (2007): 443–58,; James S Spiegel, “The Theological Orthodoxy of Berkeley’s Immaterialism,” Faith and Philosophy 13.2 (1996): 216–35; James S Spiegel, “A Berkeleyan Approach to the Problem of Induction,” Science and Christian Belief 10 (1998): 73–84; Marc A Hight and Joshua Bohannon, “The Son More Visible: Immaterialism and the Incarnation,” Modern Theology 26.1 (2010): 120–48; Marc A Hight, “How Immaterialism Can Save Your Soul,” Revue Philosophique de La France et de l’étranger 135.1 (2010): 109–22 []
  65. George Berkeley, Principles, Introduction §§1-4; I.155-156 in Principles and Three Dialogues, pp. 7-8, 94-95. []
  66. Cf. Daniel Garber, “Something-I-Know-Not-What: Berkeley on Locke on Substance,” in Essays on the Philosophy of George Berkeley, ed. Ernest Sosa, Synthese Historical Library (Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 1987), 23–42, []
  67. George Berkeley, Works on Vision, ed. Colin Murray Turbayne, The Library of Liberal Arts (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963). []
  68. James Rutherford, “The Metaphysics of Theology.” []
  69. J. Alexander Rutherford, God’s Gifts for the Christian Life — Part 1: The Gift of Knowledge (Airdrie, AB: Teleioteti, 2021). []
  70. On the Biblical-theological role of covenant in early theology, see Ligon J Duncan III, “The Covenant Idea in Ante-Nicene Theology” (University of Edinburgh, Ph.D. Thesis, 1995). []
  71. Augustine and Maximinus, Collatio cum Maximino episcopo Arianorum in PL 42. []