Over the last week and a half, I have read Christopher A. Beeley’s new book The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition.
Beeley is an author I first encountered when I arrived at Fuller, as I began a research topic on Gregory of Nazianzus. My professor mentioned Beeley’s book Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God: In Your Light We Shall See Light. This book introduced me to many aspects of Nazianzus’s work with which I was not yet familiar. Beeley takes a very harsh tone to past scholars, decrying them for a lack of thoroughness, which he promises to deliver in his work on Gregory.
In his Unity of Christ, Beeley again brings a touch of his usual confrontational rhetoric, but tones it down a bit. This book seeks to view many Church Fathers and their Christologies in light of Origen’s influence. Beeley begins the book with an examination of Origen’s thought regarding the unity of Christ, and traces an Origenist thread through various figures such as Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, and post-Chalcedonian thinkers such as Maximus Confessor.
In so doing, Beeley’s work succeeds in demonstrating an Origenist influence throughout these various Christian thinkers. He also succeeds in depicting Eusebius as a theologian in addition to his well-known position as an historian. However, Beeley’s work seeks to diminish Athanasius’s role in Nicene Christology. It is at this point in the work that his thesis becomes muddled due to his agenda of downplaying Athanasius. His remaining chapters are strong, especially the conclusion which provides an excellent summation of his arguments.
Overall, this book has successes and failures, the latter of which appear to be relatively minor. I feel that students of the Christological controversies in the Patristic period should engage with Beeley’s work. This book is slated for a book panel discussion at the AAR/ SBL national conference next weekend, and I am looking forward to hearing scholars engage its effectiveness as well as Beeley’s response to their critiques.