Gregory Nazianzen on Doctrinal Development

Many of the readers of this blog know that I disagree with the idea that Doctrine has developed over time. My basis for this belief is that idea that many times the New Testament writers spoke about the Faith that was once for all delivered unto the Saints. In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, we read that the new Christians continued steadfastly in the doctrine of the Apostles. If the Church is to continue in the Doctrine of the Apostles then that Doctrine must not change. You might call it Doctrinal Procession or Development, but I do not see a scriptural basis for it.

This week, while reading Early Christian Doctrines I came across a que to a thought by Gregory of Nazianzus. So, I went searching for it, in hopes of finding something biblical about it. This is the quote:

XXVI.  To this I may compare the case of Theology3733 except that it proceeds the reverse way.  For in the case by which I have illustrated it the change is made by successive subtractions; whereas here perfection is reached by additions.  For the matter stands thus.  The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely.  The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit.  Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself.  For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun’s light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory,3734 the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated.  For this reason it was, I think, that He gradually came to dwell in the Disciples, measuring Himself out to them according to their capacity to receive Him, at the beginning of the Gospel, after the Passion, after the Ascension, making perfect their powers, being breathed upon them, and appearing in fiery tongues.  And indeed it is by little and little that He is declared by Jesus, as you will learn for yourself if you will read more carefully.  I will ask the Father, He says, and He will send you another Comforter, even the spirit of Truth.3735 This He said that He might not seem to be a rival God, or to make His discourses to them by another authority.  Again, He shall send Him, but it is in My Name.  He leaves out the I will ask, but He keeps the Shall send,3736 then again, I will send,—His own dignity.  Then shall come,3737the authority of the Spirit.

Theology, the translator tells us, is restrict to the Doctrine of the Deity of the Son. We can accept that. Gregory’s use of Father does not equal the use by the Jews, the Apostles, the Apostolic or the early Church Fathers. For them, Father was the principle, the source of Creation. The Son is proclaimed not as Son, but as Messiah, as the Hope of Israel.

The problem with Gregory’s analysis of the Old and the New and the Now (Father, Son, Spirit) is that it only provides Inspiration for the two. We are the base our doctrine on the Scriptures. If this is the case, then we have no real scriptures pointing to the deity of the Spirit and thus, no justification of the third person of the Trinity.

There is of course problem with the ‘gradual’ indwelling of the Apostles by the Spirit. There is no scriptural evidence for that. Christ did not give the Spirit measured in John 20.

Well, I don’t want to dissect him too much, but I would rather stick with Chrysostom

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49 Replies to “Gregory Nazianzen on Doctrinal Development”

  1. Joel,

    Jude 1:3, of course this does not mean the faith cannot be learned more fully or expressed further, as even Jude said he first sought out to do “making every effort to write you about our common salvation.” Doctrinal development is caused by the theological instinct, that loving curiosity which really only the Living Church can touch and desire. As Newman said: “This constant tradition and habit in the Church of scientic analysis is an ecclesiastical principle rather than a note of any kind, and it is hardly known outside Christianity.”

    ‘The Catholic theologian may excercise his mind freely on all that authority has not yet defined as forming part of the “depositum.”‘ But even the depositum must grow in us, and become part of us…”But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:18) And this into “the day of eternity. Amen” (Verse 19)

    This is not an argument, as much an holy intuitive! Indeed as St. Paul said, we are “stewards of the mysteries of God”! (1 Cor.4:1)

    I think brother you are comparing apples to oranges here. Tertullian and his time, is a good case in point! The same Tertullian who had fortified the Catholic Church against Gnosticism was none the less anxious to protect it from becoming a political organization. Being unable to reconcile incompatibles, he broke with the church and became the most powerful representative of Montanism in the west.

    The balance of Truth is sometimes hard to understand, but not its reality..we can feel this, though often we cannot explain it. But we can at least touch it! Sometimes this is paradox, but even there simply faith!

    Fr. Robert

  2. PS…Tertullian held his view of monotheism to be “a doctrine inspired by nature, and tacitly entrusted to the conscience innate in us.” Also, “conscience, being the same in all, is a surer guide than learning, for nature cannot lie.” It is really here too, that any real psychology of intuition can exist. But like Luther conscience bound by God! Both in the heart (interior) and mind (the mental).

    But really, sadly, few people are listening, both within, and of course to God’s real Word…”In spirit & truth”! I am speaking of more than mental categories. And here our doctrine and knowledge of God must be more than the letter of any proper argument, one or triune. But revelatory and spiritual!


  3. Fr. Robert,

    Jude 1.3 was on my mind. I can understand the idea of fleshing out doctrine, and would agree with it, unless when you flesh it out, your great a new man completely.

    I do not agree with the ability of Councils, etc, although they are indeed great and learned men, to progress doctrine. Would Tertullian have recognized Gregory’s ‘Father’ or indeed Basil’s?

    Would Irenaeus with his Economy have recognized an eternal Son?

    I agree that we must grow in Grace, but that Grace does not change, but instead we are changed by it.

  4. Fr. Robert,

    This thought has occurred to me – I would say that the early Church Fathers relied on the Scriptures for an foundation and called upon the historical interpretation of those Scriptures in defense of the Faith against various heretics.

    But how solid is the foundation of the Church if those interpretations change with each generation?

  5. As the text indicates that we “grow” or deepen, and increase in grace thru the person of Christ (and that was 2 Peter 3:18). This is the true sense of the NT and Church truth to development. Christ as the center and central person of the Triune God draws the Church and the Mystical Body of Christ into this increase. What the East call “theosis.” This alone is the true existent knowledge in God and Christ!

    Let me get back a bit later as to Terullian and Irenaeus. Most important questions I feel.


  6. Joel,

    The foundation of the Church also stands and deepens as in each generation the Church must express the great trues of God to different situations and different human needs. Not that the Church ever seeks to merely express just “gnosis” or knowledge, for its own sake. And yes the historical interpretation is always right itself! Though often just the spiritual beginning of a question, or a need.

    And our best “defense” is to let God be God…One and Triune – always the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit! As you have discovered..economic and yet too always ontological, the very being of God!

    I want to address your question with Terullian, etc. But will, I hope in just a bit?


  7. Fr. Robert,

    I believe that we must deepen ourselves in Grace, but again, I take that verse compared with

    1Co 4:6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.

    If we are to deepen ourselves in Grace, which I believe is to be changed, developed, and progressed by it, we must never go beyond what is written – the Scriptures.

    I have no problem with Marcellus’ position, as you know, and I believe as well that Irenaeus would have had not problem, nor Ignatius, and further Paul.

    How can one explain that the vision of God went from Economy to Ontological, and not quickly either.

  8. Joel,

    As I have shared with lanis, Tertullian wrote his Against Praxeas (Adversus Praxean) to stand against the early form of Modalism..Monarchianism. This theological movement in the 2nd and 3rd century’s. In its attempt to safeguard Monotheism and the Unity (Monarchy) of the Godhead, the movement became heretical, as it failed to do justice to the independent subsistence of the Son of God. There were two distinct groups of Monarchian theologians, the Adoptionist and the Dynamic. (It would seem that your Oneness is the latter). The term “monarchia,” in itself susceptible of a perfectly orthodox meaning, was used as a slogan by Tertullian’a opponents (Adv. Praxean, 3 and 9) who thus came to be known as ‘Monarchians’.

    Also some have thought the identity of Praxeas is unknown. Some have suggested ‘Praxeas’ may be a pseudonym for someone better known, perhaps even Irenaeus, although this suggestion is not generally accepted.

    In his chapter 25, he says: “Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from the Another. These three are one [thing], not one [Person], as it is said, ‘I and my Father are one,’ in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number.”

    Whatever else can be said about Modalistic Monarchianism it can easily be seen how it can fall into the different errors of Sabellianism, Patripassianism, etc. God never makes Himself a “mode”. He has used theophany: a temporary physical manifestation of Himself, as in His revelation to Abraham (Gen.18). But it must be distinguished from Incarnation.

    Fr. Robert

  9. Fr. Robert, I myself am against designated the Son as a mere ‘mode’. What I have studied of the Monarchians, it seems that they made their theology in opposition, at the very least in explanation if not practice, to the developing Logos Doctrine of the Justin and others. This, I believe, is the wrong way of stating doctrine. This forces one to contrive equally unbiblical ways of demonstrating the Deity.

    That is interesting that some would decide that Praxeas was Irenaeus…I know of at least one Economist who will stand behind that theory. (smiles here).

    How can we stand on what is written, and not go beyond that which stands, if we apply Person (hupostasis) to the Son or the Spirit if the Scriptures applies this word to only one, that of God the Father?

  10. Joel,

    First, if Jesus is not a “mode”, but as the Scripture supports an incarnation forever. How then is He not an eternal and separate person, but and equal with the Father? (St.John 1:1-3;14;18, etc.) And then what is HE to you and your Oneness doctrine? That Oneness book was a real hammer to my mind!

    What is given to God in scripture, is surely given to all the persons of the Godhead theologically. And the idea of economy in God, must follow on in His ontology. For God cannot “mode” Himself. This is simple logic and epistemology!

    Theology does go beyond the mere words of scripture, for ideas and doctrinal connection. This is also creational and historical. As the whole of redemption orders and follows, Col.1:20. Thus we have a “sacramental universe” fully & finally redeemed!

    Fr. Robert

    PS Writing on the fly! I will try to e-mail later?

  11. Fr. Robert, the Logos is the Emanation from God, not distinct except in Time, not separate but in the Incarnation. He is the very Image of God because He is God.

    The Spirit is also an Emanation, but not distinct. The Spirit is the power of God.

    Thus, Logos and the Wisdom of God are not distinct modes, but His Word and His Power.

    I do not see that the Economic View of the Deity must lead to the Ontological view of the Deity. The Economic View, I believe of Marcellus as well as others before him, saw the Emanations as positional by the nature of the Economy, thus the Son was God according to the Economy of God.

    He is distinct only in the Incarnation, but as the Son prayed in the Garden to reunite as it was before the Incarnation.

    Fr. Robert, your ‘on the fly’ emails are more substantive than many of those that are ‘well thought out’.

  12. Joel,

    You know that us Trinitarians believe that “emanations” are nothing but modes, right.

    And what is an economy of God, if it is not also part of HIS ontology? And especially in the NT revelation!

    Reunite what in eternity? It can only be the Father and the Son! (John 17:5) Let’s get back to the texts…St. John 1:1-3 ; 14; 18. (Just to name a few)

    And your position is certainly Arian (you must know this?), I say this friendly, but with certain theological conviction!

    And please look at the Oneness apologetic. It is really a hammer! I don’t see how you can survive theologically? I mean in position.

    Finally, the famous formulation of Tertullian: “tres personae, una substantia” (three persons, one substance). I am convinced that Quintus Tertullian was an early Trinitarian in the modern sense even!

    Fr. Robert

  13. PS..also your incarnational position is open to a “docetic” view (“I seem”, Gk.), sense it is not eternal.


  14. Fr. Robert, my theology is hardly Arian, as the Logos is the same substance as the Father. As is the Spirit. Trinitarians may believe that the emanations are nothing but modes, that that is in error.

    Modes, at least in some minds, are successive representations, hence the crude creed of Father in Creation, Son in Redemption, Spirit in Regeneration. I simply don’t see that in Scripture, nor do I see a ontological view of the Emanations in Scripture as well.

    We see the Father through the Son (His Image, Word). It is through the Son that we approach the Father because of the Incarnation. The Son, however, except for the Incarnation in Time, is not distinct from the Father, but the very image of His Person.

    I would agree that Tertullian, more than any other, is a Trinitarian in the modern sense of the word, at least in his later writings – after he became a heretic.

  15. The blog is a strange tool! We can say and do things with people across the miles. But it can never replace the face to face act and action! This is an aspect of the seminary classroom that cannot be matched! We cannot indicate our complete passion and wonder over God and His truth/revelation without the human touch! This is also an aspect of the kergmatic, the sign and seal of which is baptism.


  16. Fr. Robert, you are indeed very much correct.

    Please don’t underestimate my belief that the Incarnation of the pre-existent Word is essential, the essential belief, to Christianity. I agree with Athanasius in this point, among others. I do not see the Word as a subordinate creature as the Arians would, nor do I see Him as something deified because of His obedience. He is very God, God in Action, the emanation of His Person.

    Perhaps next summer, I will be able to travel to the United Kingdom and we can put the human touch to our wonder over God.

  17. Joel,

    Any theological position that denies the Son His eternality would be something Arian to my mind. And can be even Unitarian also.

    The Godhead simply must be ontological! This is the only conclusion in the sense of logic and epistemology. And both the great minds of Karl’s Barth and Rahner knew this.

    And do you feel that Tertullian was a heretic because he was Trinitarian?

    I am on call tonight, at the hospital (my time is later than this computer clock?)


  18. Fr. Robert, let me correct my outburst about Tertullian. I mean that he was recognized as a heretic when he joined the Montanist sect. It seems that upon joining the sect, his pneumatology increased. Am I correct on this?

    I believe that the website clock is set to my Eastern time zone here in the U.S. It must be early morning for you?

    I understand your view of denying the eternality of the Son, however, you must understand the idea that the Oneness believer has of the Trinitarian. I don’t fully share this view, Fr. Robert, and have benefited from these conversations. I hope you understand that I am not Arian, albeit, your vision of the Oneness believer.

  19. Joel,

    I am indeed baffled at your position of “emanations”? This is a favorite word with Gnosticism, as I am sure you know?

    I am going to be in the USA this month (S. Cal.). My birthday is on the 24th. My brother lives there, and me “mum” went out there after her surgery. Not sure if both my wife and boys will come however? It may be just a short trip? Mainly to see mother. I am going to give my birthdays


    I would love to “see” my friend my West Virginia sometime!

  20. Fr. Robert, you get a chance, as I said, even within a driving distance, let me know and I can make the trip, otherwise, we are planing at least a short visit, we hope and pray for God’s Will, to UK next year.

    I have read a bit about the Gnostics of Irenaeus’ day among others, using emanations, and of course aeons; however, I am at a lost for what other words to use, especially sense the Greek would be unintelligible even transliterated (yes, I know that the Gnostics would have used the Greek as well). I prefer Economy, as I see that both in the Greek and in the Church Fathers, namely Ignatius and Irenaeus.

  21. Joel,

    It is early morn. I love to be close to patients in need!

    Yes, I am only thinking theologically. I must confess that Oneness book was rather tight in logic and of course he is trinitarian, etc.

    Yes, Tertullian was very Montanist! But, I don’t see them fully heretical myself.

    I am gonna make some rounds, and head home for me bed soon. I will answer your e-mail after some sleep,and then coffee (no tea for this

    Later mate,

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