Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The following extract from Hilary of Poitiers' letter "On the Councils" to the Western bishops in 359 AD makes good theological and pastoral sense:
Every separate point of heretical doctrine has been successfully refuted. The infinte and boundless God cannot be made comprehensible by a few words of human speech.
Brevity often misleads both learner and teacher, and a concentrated discourse either causes a subject not to be understood, or spoils the meaning of an argument where a thing is hinted at, and is not proved by full demonstration.
The bishops fully understood this, and therefore have used for the purpose of teaching many definitions and a profusion of words that the ordinary understanding might find no difficulty, but that their hearers might be saturated with the truth thus differently expressed, and that in treating of divine things these adequate and manifold definitions might leave no room for danger or obscurity.
You must not be surprised, dear brethren, that so many creeds have recently been written. The frenzy of heretics makes it necessary.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
For all the desire that we possess to be purely biblical in the categories and language that we use to express our doctrinal convictions I am not aware of anyone today who is significantly and successfully Trinitarian who does not owe a great and decisive debt to the Council of Nicaea.
That the Nicene Creed is woven indelibly into the fabric of contemporary, orthodox, theology is an undeniable and persistent fact. It is a permanent legacy in the articulation of the doctrine of God's triune identity.
Quite simply, can we be Trinitarian without being Nicene? I seriously doubt it.
To attempt it would be a crazy feat of theological gymnastics, an oddball mission to bungee-jump into the world of the New Testament without stopping anywhere in the following twenty centuries of church history.
Even if it were possible to do so the undeniable reality is that in order to secure clarity on the biblical meaning of God's eternal triune being, and crucially to distinguish this architectonic truth from it's heretical rivals, it proved necessary to use extra-biblical terminology.
There is a recognition in the church fathers that heretics use the same biblical stock of language as the orthodox but give these words a false meaning. How else could they distinguish truth from error, orthodoxy from heresy, Athens from Jerusalem, without the painstaking task of clarifying the meaning of biblical terms by employing a wider theological vocabulary?
Their legacy has shaped the theology and language of churches across the globe ever since.