While Athanasius may have died in AD 373, not only did his legacy live on his vehement defense of the Trinity, but he left behind him disciples who would continue that same defense. While the Council of Constantinople (AD 381) formalized and finalized the Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity, it did not put a stop to detractors.
With the rule of an Arian emperor, Arianism continued to thrive. Like any ideological teaching Arianism was presented at various levels and forms. Its proponents came full force with their own creeds and defenses in an attempt to supplant what had become the standard for understanding the Trinity. Yet three men would not let the hard work of the previous years be destroyed and they set forth to continue in a defense of the truth.
In the face of continued attacks, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa continued the work of Athanasius. Known as the Cappadocian Fathers, for the Capadocia region of Asia Minor from which they came, they would not let any attack go unmonitored and unmentioned.
As the Nicene Creed was developed, there was great emphasis on the language used. Particularly the word homoousios, which was used to convey the depth of the significance that God the Father and God the Son were of the same substance, thus equal. Using that language, the Cappadocian Fathers explained that God is one ousia and 3 hypostases.
Their defenses were important, not only because of the rise of Arianism, but for the prominence of other false teachings as well. Another force called Eunamianism began to take root, denying the immutability of God (just as the Jehovah’s Witnesses of today do). Likewise there were attacks against the Nicene Creed claiming it promoted modalism. Not only did the Capaddocian Fathers put forth arguments against those heresies, but they provided a solid defense against the accusations of modalism.
I love history and knowing about the events that shaped not only what has taken place, but what is taking place now. My purpose in looking at history is to understand the present. It is something that I have neglected to do well in my series on historical theology. It is my hope to make that a greater focus here. So as we look at the Cappadocian Fathers, what is it that we can learn for application today.
As we examine the Scriptures, the importance of discipleship is a facet of the Christian life that is something I personally see as hugely neglected. In looking at the relationship between Athansius and the Cappadocian Fathers, I can’t help but think that perhaps they understood the need for discipleship. As friends of Athanasius, they followed up on the work that he laid the groundwork for. Yet, were it not for teaching, training, and ties (relationship to one another) these men would have been unprepared. Yet I expect that these men learned from one another, challenged one another, and grew together as a result. A relationship of discipleship is a exceedingly great need in our churches today.
The Cappadocian Fathers, like Athanasius endured for such a strong stance against heresy. At great risk to their reputations and relationships, the men considered the protection of the Gospel a far greater need than themselves. It is a noble example for many of us; to think more highly of the testimony of God before men than our own testimony should dictate the way in which we live. Less concerned about false rumors that may be spread and more concerned about true reality of God be preached instead.
Logic & Language
We must find ourselves thankful for the defenses set forth by the Cappadocian Fathers. Not only did they defend the truth of God, but they did in a manner that was logical. Logic has become a lost form of language in our modern society. So neglected it is that discussions and arguments that now take place often lack any form of logic.
Related to this logical clarity is their use of language. In using homoousios as part of their logic, the importance of language is exemplified. Language allows us to communicate with one another, to convey emotion and though. The choice of words one uses conveys much about one’s condition and one’s character.
I suggest we have fallen victim to the world around us by our neglect of logic and language. It is a desire of mine that we would recapture the meaning and significance of logic and language seeking to involve it more and more in our interactions. As I say this, I am not unaware that my own mindset in this area must also improve.
Theology for All
While not always at the forefront of our understanding of Christian history, it was not merely ‘trained’ theologians engaged in these grand debates of doctrine. All people were involved in the same struggles. Trained theologians and untrained individuals all labored together, side by side. My point is simply this: there was a great interest in theology by all people. Theology was not simply seen as a clergyman’s work, but was seen as necessary for all. If any of us are to rightly live with God and for God, theology and doctrine must find its way into the facets of our life.
Over the course of the next several weeks, we will take some time to look at the individuals who made up the Capaddocian Fathers (Basil and the two Gregories). Examining who each man was and what each man stood for.