A Very Augustinian Christmas

Since my quarter has wrapped up (and with it all my assignments), I wanted to blog about Augustine. He is a figure whom I will be studying extensively over the coming months in preparation for my comprehensive exams. As a result, I wanted to find a passage in the Augustinian corpus which discusses the incarnation/ Christmas narrative. My gift to you comes from Augustine’s Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Charity (the version I have is a translation by Bruce Harbert of New City Press from 1999 titled The Augustine Catechism). The following quotes come from Chapter 38 of the Enchiridion (pp. 71-72 in my version). I have listed 3 separate quotes from this chapter which discuss how the Holy Spirit is not Christ’s father.

“But are we to say that the Holy Spirit is the father of Christ the man in such a way that, while God the Father begot the Word, the Holy Spirit begot the man, and that the one Christ is from the these two substances, both Son of God the Father according to his nature as Word and Son of the Holy Spirit according to his humanity, since the Holy Spirit begot him of the virgin mother like a father? Who will dare to say this?”

“Our question concerns how it is that we say that he was born of the Holy Spirit when he is in no way the son of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, the fact that God made this world does not justify our calling it God’s Son, or saying that it was born of God, but we can rightly speak of it as made or created or established or instituted by him, or other similar and suitable expressions.”

“While we acknowledge that he was born of the Holy Spirit and of the virgin Mary, it is hard to explain how he is not the son of the Holy Spirit and is the son of the virgin Mary; without doubt the Holy Spirit’s relationship to him is not that of a father, while the virgin’s relationship to him isĀ that of a mother.” (emphasis present)

Augustine shows us here that the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit becomes complicated in view of the incarnation. As Christ is born into this world to a virgin through the Holy Spirit, Augustine sees the potential problem of someone ascribing a Father/ Son relationship to the Holy Spirit. Christ is begotten of the “almighty Father, from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds.” (Ench. 38; p.71)

For Augustine, the Holy Spirit takes a part in creating or establishing the Son on earth as a man, but this does not make the Holy Spirit the Father of the Son. In the same way, the earth is not “born of God” just because it is made by God (see first quote above). So what does this mean for us this Christmas season?

Many people like the Christmas story and often a pastor will recount the narratives found in Matthew or Luke during Advent. As we seek to understand the incarnation and what it means for our lives, Augustine illustrates the complexity of the relationships within the Trinity. As one who studies many different theological controversies of the early church (Augustine appears to grab hold of several theological issues at once in the quotes above), I find solace in the fact that God came to earth to save humanity. Such reasoning sounds more appropriate to Easter, but I love thinking about the implications of the Word putting on flesh to save humanity. The salvific implications of Good Friday/ Easter cannot have taken place without the incarnation. Christ came to earth to save humanity.

Merry Christmas

First Blog Post; Reading Christopher Beeley

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.