Chapter 3: Encounters with the Philosophers’ God

God of Empowering Love: A History and Reconception of the Theodicy Conundrum
by David P. Polk

Chapter 3: Encounters with the Philosophers’ God

“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?” Tertullian famously queried around the turn of the third century CE (Prescription Against Heretics, 7).1 The question might just as well be turned on its head: What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?

The early encounter of the Christian witness with prevailing Hellenistic philosophical notions about the nature of God was of crucial importance in establishing the universal relevance of the Judeo-Christian story about God’s dealings with humanity. To confirm its credibility, the message had to move beyond its initial eastern Mediterranean ghetto by engaging the broader social context into which it was continually expanding. That this interaction between biblical testimony and Greek philosophy occurred could therefore be considered a critical, even necessary, development. How it turned out can be seen to have corrupted essential elements of the biblical vision, especially the central notion of a dynamic, living deity for whom love is at the core of divine manifestations of power. And that, in turn, spun out unfortunate consequences that have held sway for two millennia.2

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The focus of my investigation here was not of paramount concern to early Christian theologians and apologists. Their primary objective was to establish God’s relation to Jesus, or rather, how Jesus could somehow be both visibly and fully human yet fundamentally divine, which led eventually to the development and refinement of a doctrine of the Trinity. At the same time, there were concentrated efforts to confirm God as “uncreated creator” of all that is, to recognize God’s lordship over all that God has created, and to defend God’s power over death by virtue of Jesus’ resurrection. The climate was one of ferment and conflict, so that corrupting alternatives, such as Marcionism and other dualisms, were ardently opposed. To this short list, Jaroslav Pelikan would add the protecting of God’s “otherness,” particularly in regard to God’s “sovereign independence.”3

It seems at first glance that understanding God as love was simply a given, not requiring any special defense, because that love was so clearly manifest in the person of Jesus Christ as well as in the grace of redemption. But Robert Grant half a century ago took notice of how difficult it was for early Christian theologians “to make sense of the basic affirmation that God is love.” Although, according to Grant, what characterizes the God of the gospels is “all-inclusive love,” the theme of love was one that philosophical theologians treated “only with difficulty”; after the New Testament, we encounter “relatively few references to God’s love” in the early Christian literature.4 The subject of God’s power, however, is an altogether different matter.

THE ASSURANCE OF DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE

EARLY EFFORTS TO CHARACTERIZE GOD’S POWER

A defense of God’s absolute and unopposable omnipotence over all that God has created came to dominate non-canonical Christian theologizing from early on, even though other avenues were available to be pursued. Writing early in the second century CE, Clement of Rome identified God as the “Master of the universe” (1 Clement 8:2) who oversees without dissension or opposition the divinely ordained orderliness of all that transpires in creation (20:1–12). “Nothing is impossible to God except [39] for lying . . . By his majestic word he established the universe, and by his word he can bring it to an end” (27:2, 4) God “will do everything when he wants to and as he wants to” (27:5).5

Aristides of Athens, ca. 125, appears to have been the first to articulate this for Christians in specifically philosophical form. Drawing on Aristotelian tradition, Aristides wrote: “I perceived that the world and all that is therein are moved by the power of another, and I understood that he who moves them is God, who is hidden in them, and veiled by them. And it is manifest that that which causes motion is more powerful than that which is moved” (Apology, sec. 1). And later on he observed that Christians take from their Jewish forebears the understanding that God is “one, the Creator of all, and omnipotent” (14).6

A generation passed without any explicit reinforcement of a doctrine of divine omnipotence. Writers struggled to frame their understanding in more ambiguous terms. Justin Martyr lifted up the Logos of God as the means, or bridge, by which an absolute and unchanging deity can have relations with the created order. Jesus Christ is presented as the “first Power after God the Father and Master of all” (1st Apology 32). But this is not unlimited: Humans have “free choice” and “power of choice,” within the embrace of God’s perfect foreknowledge (43f.). So also, Justin’s onetime pupil Tatian restricted the phrase “all power” to God’s initial creative activity; God’s creation, especially humanity, is not without power altogether but simply is not “of equal power with God” (Address to the Greeks, 5).

In his A Plea for Christians (177 CE), Athenagoras employed philosophical abstractions to identify God through negations of observable features of creation: God is “uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable” (sec. 10). In respect to divine power, all Athenagoras could posit is that it is “indescribable” (10). He then went on to acknowledge that “there are other powers which surround matter and pervade it,” but nothing is opposed to God to such an extent that it can obviate God’s intentions: “if anything did manage to set itself up against God, it would cease to exist. It would fall to pieces by the power and might of God” (24).

So far, this appears to be the championing of divine power as superior to, though not exclusive of, all other centers of power. That is found [40] also in the contemporaneous Apology that Theophilus of Antioch wrote To Autolycus (180 CE), where he identified God as “in power incomparable” (1.3), and “more powerful than man” (2.4). To illustrate that relationship more vividly, Theophilus drew attention to the heavenly bodies: “For the sun is a type of God, and the moon of man. And as the sun far surpasses the moon in power and glory, so far does God surpass man. And as the sun remains ever full, never becoming less, so does God always abide perfect, being full of all power . . . But the moon wanes monthly” (2.15).7

UNQUALIFIED OMNIPOTENCE: THE CONTRIBUTION OF IRENAEUS

It is only when we turn to Irenaeus of Lyons that we encounter full blown a philosophical defense of divine omnipotence, but precisely in Irenaeus we are dealing with a leading Christian thinker of his time whose influence was extensive.8

When he became bishop of the church of Lyons, in Gaul, Irenaeus saw as his primary task the championing of legitimate Christian doctrine against the corruptions of Gnostic thought, primarily by attacking the errors of Valentinus and his followers. Valentinus was active ca. 120–160 CE, from Alexandria to Rome. Irenaeus summarized Valentinus’ basic position in Against Heresies (2.11.1) as particularly full of intermediate entities between a perfect God and this world’s creation, who constitute a “Pleroma” of secondary but powerful beings that account for the far less than perfect state of creaturely affairs.

This supplies the context for Ireneaus’ unequivocal insistence on the all-encompassing omnipotence of the true God of Christianity. God is “the Omnipotent” (AH 2.5.4), free and independent, “the Lord Omnipotent” (4.17.3,5).9 And this is especially reflected in God’s act of initial creation. For Irenaeus, in contrast to his heretical opponents, God worked with nothing already extant when God began to create. The “raw materials” were of God’s own formulating. “God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power formed all things . . . out of what did not previously exist” (2.10:2). “God (being powerful, and rich in all resources) created matter itself ” (2.10:3). God “Himself called into being the substance of His creation” (2.10:4). So [41] therefore, if God the Creator “made all things freely, and by His own power, and arranged and finished them, and His will is the substance of all things, then he is discovered to be the one only God who created all things, who alone is Omnipotent” (2.30.9).10

The manner in which Irenaeus attempted to integrate God’s omnipotence with God’s love was essentially limited to God’s redemptive activity through Jesus Christ: The love of God is manifest in that God does not leave us to our just desserts but ultimately saves us from the folly of our ways. In that respect, by far the most extensive references in Irenaeus to divine love name not the Father but the Son; the one who is “a most holy and merciful Lord, who loves the human race” is precisely the Savior (3.18.6). Even so, one passage does tie the two foci together: It is explicitly through God’s “love and power” that God “shall overcome the substance of created nature” (4.38.4). The distinction that later follows this is that the Creator “is, in respect to His love, the Father; but in respect to His power, He is Lord” (5.17.1).

THE FLOWERING OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL DIALOGUE AT ALEXANDRIA

For Clement of Alexandria, writing toward the end of the second century CE, philosophy is “the handmaid of theology,” given to the Greeks as preparation for Christ in a manner similar to the Law being given to the Hebrews (Stromata, 1:5). In this perspective he was following a trail first blazed by a fellow Alexandrian a century and a half earlier, the Jewish philosopher Philo, a contemporary of Jesus who attempted to clothe the Septuagint in amenable patterns from Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism.11 His synthetic effort is echoed throughout the corpus of Clement’s writings, which are far less systematic in approach than one would wish; the Stromata (“Miscellanies”) is less an orderly treatment of theological topics than a series of notes woven into a tapestry whose warp and woof are difficult to discern.12

Concerning God, Clement pursued two fundamental principles: that God is beyond the reach even of abstract human language and therefore must be identified by what God is not, but that, at the same time, God must be understood as “the omnipotent God” (Stromata, 1.24): “Nothing withstands God, nothing opposes Him: seeing He is [42] Lord and omnipotent” (1:17). This is cogently articulated in a passage meriting quotation at length because of how it summarizes in one place the relationship of these two basic affirmations:

This discourse respecting God is most difficult to handle. For since the first principle of everything is difficult to find out, the absolutely first and oldest principle, which is the cause of all other things being and having been, is difficult to exhibit. For how can that be expressed which is neither genus, nor difference, nor species, nor individual, nor number, nay more, is neither an event or that to which an event happens? No one can rightly express Him wholly. For on account of His greatness, He is ranked as the All, and is the Father of the universe. Nor are any parts to be predicated of Him.

For the One is indivisible; wherefore also it is infinite, not considered with reference to inscrutability, but with reference to its being without dimensions, and not having a limit. And therefore it is without form and name.

And if we name it, we do not do so properly, terming it either the One, or the Good, or Mind, or Absolute Being, or Father, or God, or Creator or Lord. We speak not as supplying His name; but for want, we use good names, in order that the mind may have these as points of support, so as not to err in other respects. For each one by itself does not express God, but all together are indicative of the power of the Omnipotent. (5.12)

The crux of the matter is that God is conceived to be beyond division or parts, beyond dimensions, beyond individuation, beyond form, not properly identified by any name—but wholly power without qualification or limitation.

A PHILOSOPHICAL COUNTERPOINT

ORIGEN AND THE LIMITS ON DIVINE POWER

Clement’s successor and theological superior at Alexandria was Origen, who began teaching at the tender age of eighteen when his tutor had to flee to avoid the latest round of persecutions. He eventually penned the [43] systematic treatise that his teacher had aspired to but never completed, entitled On First Principles. In it, toward the outset (1.2.10), Origen offered an extended analysis of the nature of divine omnipotence. Since there was never a time when God was not almighty, and since God must have something over which to exercise power in order to be deemed omnipotent, then God already contained the universe somehow within Godself. Quoting Psalm 104:24 that “’thou has made all things in wisdom’,” and identifying that wisdom with the Christ, Origen could maintain that “wisdom, through which God is called Almighty, has a share even in the glory of omnipotence. For it is through wisdom, which is Christ, that God holds power over all things.” So the omnipotence of Father and Son “is one and the same,” and Jesus as Lord is “glorified as being the effluence of omnipotence.” And what is this “glory of omnipotence”? It is God the Father holding “dominion over all things,” a dominion he “exercises through his Word.” Thereupon Origen concluded by asserting: “this is the purest and brightest glory of omnipotence, that the universe is held in subjection by reason and wisdom, and not by force and necessity.”13

This implicit modification of divine omnipotence, subjugating it to divine “reason and wisdom,” hints at the direction in which Origen was moving. Sheer exercise of power somehow does not get at the heart of what characterizes God’s activity. “This blessed and ruling power,” he went on to declare, “is the good God and kindly Father of all, at once beneficent power and creative power, that is, the power that does good and creates and providentially sustains . . . these powers which are in God, nay, which are God.”14 Therefore, divine omnipotence does not compel or overpower. God “has so ordered everything that each spirit or soul . . . should not be compelled by force against its free choice to any action except that to which the motions of its own mind lead it.”15 With all these caveats against unqualified omnipotence being laid down like stepping stones to a new horizon of view, Origen finally arrived at a provocative conclusion: “we must maintain that even the power of God is finite, and we must not, under pretext of praising him, lose sight of his limitations.”16 Therefore he warned toward the very close of his treatise, “let no one take offence at the saying, if we put limits even to the power of God.”17

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A PATH NOT TAKEN: PERSUASIVE POWER IN PLATO’S TIMAEUS

Origen’s mental wrestling with the qualified character of divine power already had a close kinsman in Plato in the dialogue known as the Timaeus, from the sixth century CE. The work was in wide circulation among the philosophically minded Christians of the period under discussion here, although I have found no indication that Origen drew on its intriguing propositions.

Plato presented two orders of existence: that which is, i.e., being, which is unchanging and eternal and is “always real” (e.g., the Platonic forms), and that which becomes (génesis) “and is never real.”18 He then introduced a concept of initial creation of “that which becomes” that echoes closely the insights of Genesis 1:1–2 far to the south in Judea: creation as an act of bringing order out of chaos. “Desiring, then, that all things should be good and, so far as might be, nothing imperfect, the god [Demiurge] took over all that is visible—not at rest, but in discordant and unordered motion—and brought it from disorder into order.”19

We have already seen how defending God’s omnipotence required the development of a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo in Theophilus and Irenaeus, a notion not at all explicit in Genesis 1:2 where, when God began to create, all was “a formless void.” The terms Plato used are very different: “Reason” and “Necessity.” Necessity is responsible for that which arises by chance, “at random and without order.”20 In a very real sense, it is the “given” upon which the Demiurge worked his “rational” activity of bringing order out of chaos. Thereupon Plato wrote: “the generation of this universe was a mixed result of the combination of Necessity and Reason. Reason overruled Necessity by persuading her to guide the greatest part of things that become toward what is best; in that way and on that principle this universe was fashioned in the beginning by the victory of reasonable persuasion over Necessity.21

This focus on divine power as persuasive, not coercive or controlling or overpowering, is harmonious with what we have already observed in the biblical witness, though it is a path not trod by any but a few of the early Christian synthesizers of Hellenistic philosophical thought. The one place where the exception is clearly visible is in the anonymous Letter to Diognetus from the mid-second century CE, where [45] God’s use of persuasive and not coercive power is affirmed in regard to how God leads wayward humanity to salvation: The invisible God, the Ruler and Creator of all, sent “the Designer and Maker of the universe himself, by whom he created . . . like a king sending his son who is himself a king. He sent him as God; he sent him as man to men. He willed to save man by persuasion, not by compulsion, for compulsion is not God’s way of working.”22

“WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT”23—DIVINE IMPASSIBILITY

OPENINGS TOWARD THE RETENTION OF GOD AS LOVE

Nowhere in the biblical witness do we find an assertion that “God is power.” Power is certainly something that God wields, as we have encountered from the very outset. But 1 John does contain the bold proclamation, “God is love” (4:8,16), as we have seen. And the everlasting love that God has for God’s covenant people, articulated throughout the Old Testament, comes to fruition for Christians in the embodiment of divine love manifest in Jesus Christ. What, then, became the fate of this key element of biblical understanding when his followers attempted to incorporate the insights of Hellenistic philosophy into their worldview? Did it remain at the center of the being and activity of a dynamic, living deity, or did it become reduced to something quite otherwise?

Let children be taught that love itself has power, Clement of Rome proposed (1 Clement 21:8). He went on to sing love’s praises (49, 50) with phrases that echo 1 Corinthians 13, observing that “the bond of God’s love” (49:2) is what unites God and us, so that “you see, brothers, how great and amazing love is, and how its perfection is beyond description” (50:1). A very soft expression is found in Aristides of Athens who observed that Christians “know the loving-kindnesses of God toward them” (Apology, XVI). And the writer of the Letter to Diognetus noted that God gave up God’s Son “to show at last his goodness and power. O the overflowing kindness and love of God toward man!” (9:2).

Intriguingly, the most extensive assertions of the preeminence of God’s love seem to have been made by those whom the church came to vilify as proponents of heresies. Hippolytus of Rome, early in the third [46] century CE, referenced the gnostic Valentinus as having followed 1 John in naming God as “wholly love,” in relation to which “love is not love unless there is something loved.”24

The case of Marcion is somewhat complex. He was active early in the second century CE and is well known for having posited not one but two Gods, one represented in the Old Testament and seen as responsible for the world’s creation, the other encountered only in the New Testament in the teaching of Jesus and specifically in the theology of Paul. Our access to his work is essentially through the writings of those who opposed him, most extensively in Tertullian’s Against Marcion.

Over a century ago, Adolf von Harnack interpreted this contrast in terms of “the good God of love” over against the creator God.25 But Harnack also noted that Marcion’s recurring Latin expression for the former was “solius bonitatis,”26 that is, “only good.” Are “goodness” and “love” synonymous terms? Jaroslav Pelikan is more cautious, recognizing that Marcion’s God of “simple goodness,” per Tertullian, is characterized by “serenity and mildness”27 and not by any active expression of powerful love. Even so, Marcion clearly tried to lift up a God of sublime benevolence for the alternative church he founded, but he was able to do so only by sacrificing the essential unity between love (his Supreme God) and power (his unloving Creator God).28

THE HEAVY BURDEN OF THE DOCTRINES OF GOD’S IMMUTABILITY AND IMPASSIBILITY

The prevailing winds that blew through the doctrinal formulations of the early centuries of the church were jarring nor’easters insofar as any biblical insight into a dynamic and interactive God of love is concerned. Conceptual wreckage was left in their wake. This is especially apparent when questions of change and passion were raised concerning the essential being of God.

The issue arose early.29 Justin wrote of the “impassible God” in his First Apology (sec. 25). The Greek word is apathes, akin to the English “apathetic,” conveying an absence of passion, an unfeeling indifference. Athenagoras, as we saw earlier, echoed this in his identifying of God through negations of the known world (A Plea for Christians, sec. 10). Irenaeus championed this understanding explicitly: “The Father of all” [47] is no less than “He who is impassible” (Against Heresies, 2.12.1).30 For Clement of Alexandria, this is true both for the nature of God (Stromata, 2.16) and for the highest achievable good of those who would truly embody the divine image: “Endurance also itself forces its way to the divine likeness, reaping as its fruit impassibility” (2.20). In sharp contrast to the Old Testament testimonies to the wrath of God and the yearning of God for the covenant people to mend their ways, Clement wrote, “God is impassible, free of anger, destitute of desire” (4.23).

We have concentrated here on impassibility but that theme is tightly interlocked with its companion, immutability, i.e., changelessness. That God is constant in God’s purposes goes without saying insofar as the biblical narratives are concerned. But we have had occasion to observe the frequency of testimony that God “changed God’s mind” about this or that. So what is at work here in insisting on applying abstract philosophical concepts of immutability and impassibility to the Christian’s God?

For the Greeks, change was problematic and ephemeral, less than “truly real.” That can readily be discerned in Plato’s notion of the eternal Forms or Ideas, which come to be varyingly embodied in passing moments but which themselves are unchanging and unaffected by how the world momentarily incarnates them. We have encountered this already in Plato’s Timaeus.

A very close corollary has to do with how the attribute of perfection can be applied to divine reality. Capacity for change is impossible to a Being characterized as perfect for the simple reason that movement would necessarily occur from the less to the more perfect, or the converse. But either direction would deny any constancy of absolute perfection.

Thus, the trap the integrators of Bible and philosophy set for themselves: Inasmuch as God can never be properly conceived as less than perfect, all the qualities of ongoing dynamic interaction of God with God’s creation got subsumed under categories of pure thought. Any tinge of affectedness or alteration on the part of God must be dutifully rejected. And, it was.

So, what does love have to do with it, insofar as God is concerned? A kernel remains, but stripped of its satisfying richness. God’s love has [48] been reduced to a stance God takes unswervingly toward the creation and fallen humanity, bereft of passion and particularity, an eternal and unchanging love utterly unaffected by the responses of the beloved. The question remains: Is that truly love?

ANOTHER PATH NOT TAKEN: INSIGHTS OF THE LATER ORIGEN

Once again, an alternative avenue of possibility presented itself to the church as a way of breaking through this conceptual logjam. Toward the end of his long career, Origen apparently experienced a change of heart of major proportions. In his Homily on Ezekiel, he wrote:

What is that affection whereby on our account He [Christ] is affected? It is the affection of love. The Father Himself, too, the God of the Universe, long suffering, and of great compassion, full of pity, is not He in a manner liable to affection? Are you unaware that, when He orders the affairs of men, He is subject to the affections of humanity? . . . The very Father is not impassible [Ipse pater non est impassibilis], without affection. If we pray to him, He feels pity and sympathy. He experiences an affection of love. He concerns himself with things in which, by the majesty of His nature, He can have no concern, and for our sakes He bears the affections of men. (6.6)31

This rejection of apatheia as not an appropriate stance for God or for God’s people was sadly bypassed as the church’s thinking continued to move onward through time. The “affection of love” held insufficient appeal to those whose heads had been irreversibly turned toward idealized abstractions. Origen, for this and other idiosyncrasies such as his universalist doctrine of apokatastasis,32 came to be identified not as orthodox but heterodox by the church’s official leadership. His time would have to come later.

WHAT HAS BEEN LOST?

Colin Gunton has astutely observed that “the Christian doctrine of God is for much of its history a hybrid of two organisms,” namely the biblical understanding of God as living and dynamic, and the Greek categories [49] of absolute perfection. The doctrine of divine attributes “has often been approached using the wrong method; developing the wrong content; and even when that has not been entirely the case, treating things in the wrong order,” resulting in a “tangled web” of relations between Hebrew and Greek notions.33 This was certainly true in those initial centuries of conceptual reflection.

Wolfhart Pannenberg concluded his incisive overview of the period with the observation that one must “spare the Christian doctrine of God from the gap between the incomprehensible essence and the historical action of God, by virtue of which each threatens to make the other impossible,” and went on to state that “in the recasting of the philosophical concept of God by early Christian theology considerable remnants were left out, which have become a burden in the history of Christian thought.”34

What we have seen in this chapter is a critical loss of any incipient uniting of divine power and divine love that the biblical record endeavored to convey, with overwhelming power coming to the fore and love being reduced to something less than its biblical richness of insight and imagery. An absolutely powerful God for whom love is but one attribute among many is neither palatable nor biblical. The establishment of the doctrine of divine omnipotence has set the stage for problematic attempts to shoehorn love back into the portrayal of divinity without doing injustices either to the notion of love or the understandings of power. As we shall have occasion to see, those attempts were doomed from the start.

ENDNOTES

  1. Quotations from the original sources in this chapter are taken from the huge trove of English translations on the easily accessible website “www.earlychristianwritings.com.
  2. Wolfhart Pannenberg has rightly pointed out that Christian theology cannot subsume Christian motifs into a status of mere illustrations of a philosophical idea of God. The task of the theologian, he contends, is to engage philosophy with its own “assimilative, transforming power.” “Christian theology can link up with the philosophical idea of God only [50] by breaking through it at the same time . . . Theology must push on to the basic elements of the philosophical idea of God and transform those elements in the critical light of the biblical idea of God.” (“The Appropriation of the Philosophical Concept of God as a Dogmatic Problem of Early Christian Theology,” in Basic Questions in Theology, Volume II, trans. George H. Kehm [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971], 140, 139.) My pivotal question is indeed whether, in those initial formative centuries of theological reflection, it was rather the core of the Christian witness itself that became transformed, to its ongoing detriment. As Daniel Day Williams expressed it, “the fusing of Christian faith with Greek metaphysics was, if not a disaster, a wrong turn from which theology has yet to recover.” (The Spirit and the Forms of Love [New York: Harper & Row, 1968], 17.)
  3. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100–600) (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), 52.
  4. Robert M. Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1966), 2–4.
  5. Although the technical term is nowhere used by Clement, Pannenberg—correctly, I believe—calls this “the freedom of God’s active omnipotence” (op. cit., 175f.).
  6. Aristides characteristically named the deity as “God Almighty”—theos pantokrator, in the Greek. Pantokrator explicitly means “ruler of all.”
  7. Theophilus neglected to push the analogy further in the direction that the moon (humankind) has no light/power of its own but shines only with the reflected light/power of the sun (God).
  8. Pannenberg praises Irenaeus’ attempts at a Christian philosophical synthesis as superior even to the Alexandrians (Clement, Origen) who followed (op. cit., 178f.).
  9. For an insightful critique of Irenaeus’ theology of God’s power, see Richard Norris, “The Transcendence and Freedom of God: Irenaeus, the Greek Tradition and Gnosticism,” in William R. Schoedel and Robert L. Wilken, eds., Early Christian Literature and the Classical Intellectual Tradition: In Honorem Robert M. Grant (Paris: Editions Beauchesne, 1979), 87–100.
  10. Colin Gunton identifies Irenaeus as the first explicitly to expound the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, in Act and Being: Towards a Theology [51] of the Divine Attributes (London: SCM Press, 2002), 26. Certainly he was the first to give it extensive emphasis, although the notion may well have been “in the air” in the latter half of the second century CE. Already Theophilus, far to the East in Antioch, wrote around the same period of time that “the power of God is manifested in this, that out of things that are not He makes whatever He pleases” (To Autolycus, 2.4).
  11. Philo’s body of work is available in English translation at www.earlyjewishwritings.com/philo.html. See also the Philo entry in the “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy” at www.iep.utm.edu/philo/.
  12. See Justo Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1970), 1:196f.
  13. The quotations here are from Origen, On First Principles, tr. G. W. Butterworth (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), Book 1, chapter 2, paragraph 10, found on pp. 23–25. The emphasis is mine.
  14. Ibid., 1.4.3 (p. 41). Again, the emphasis is my own.
  15. Ibid., 2.1.2 (p. 77).
  16. Ibid., 2.9.1 (p. 129). This wording is found only in an original Greek manuscript; Rufinus altered it in his Latin translation.
  17. Ibid., 4.4.8 (p. 323). This so scandalized Rufinus that he omitted the passage altogether.
  18. Francis M. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology: The Timaeus of Plato translated with a running commentary (London and Henbley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1937), 27D-28A (22).
  19. Ibid., 30A (33).
  20. Ibid., 46E (157).
  21. Ibid., 48A (160), emphasis mine. Cornford recognized that Plato’s Demiurge is anything but omnipotent (36f., 165). “The creation of the world—said Plato—is the victory of persuasion over force,” according to Alfred North Whitehead in Adventures of Ideas (New York: Macmillan, 1933), 90. Plato “does finally enunciate without qualification the doctrine of the divine persuasion” (170).
  22. “Letter to Diognetus,” tr. Eugene R. Fairweather, 7.2,4, in Cyril C. Richardson, ed., Early Christian Fathers, vol. I of The Library of Christian Fathers (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953), 218f.
  23. The quote is the title of a song written by Terry Britten and Graham [52] Lyle (1984) and made famous by the singer Tina Turner.
  24. Hippolytus, Against All Heresies, 6.29.6. See Grant’s brief discussion in The Early Christian Doctrine of God, 35.
  25. Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma, tr. Neil Buchanan (NY: Dover Publications, 1961), I:272.
  26. Ibid., 272, ft. 2.
  27. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, I:74, quoting Tertullian, Against Marcion, 1.25 (see also AM 1.6). See Pelikan’s excellent summary of Marcion’s theology, I:71–81.
  28. Tertullian’s own position over against the errors of Marcion was the championing of the one God who is both “wholly goodness” and completely “omnipotent . . . able both to help and to hurt.” Such a God is both “perfect father” and “perfect master: a father in His mercy, a master in His discipline; a father in the mildness of His power, a master in its severity; a father who must be loved . . . a master who must needs be feared” (AM 2.13). This is wholly alien to the observation in 1 John 4:18 that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
  29. See the brief summary of this topic in Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God, Appendix II, “The Impassibility of God,” 111–14.
  30. See also AH 2.18.6 Even though he acknowledged that Christ truly suffered (AH 3.18.6), Irenaeus found himself having to affirm that the Logos, consistently with the Father, “must be perfect and impassible” (2.17.7) as well.
  31. This will come back onto play only in the late twentieth century, particularly in the work of Jürgen Moltmann.
  32. This is the doctrine of the universal restoration of all in God’s creation that has fallen from grace. A shorthand way of expressing it is that, in the end, “even the Devil will be saved.” It is a provocative but propitious point of view because it asserts, in essence, that anything less can be understood to be a denial of the all-encompassing power of God’s love!
  33. Gunton, Act and Being, 2, 8.
  34. Pannenberg, BQT II:181f.