Why Nicene Theology?
Where Did These Problems Start?
It may surprise you
to learn that
these problems were
introduced a long time ago by Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430 AD).
Historians and theologians are now seeing his influence as impressive
What did Augustine teach?
Because he didn’t fully understand Greek, Augustine made
interpretive decisions into Latin that have been
studiously questioned. He said that
God predestined some people to heaven and others
to hell, especially in his
misunderstanding of Romans 9 - 11 (see
Peter Enns' short article on
Seraphim Rose's appreciative criticism of
Mako's analysis of Romans 9 - 11, and
Ephesians 1:1 - 14 and a note by David Bentley
Other theologians said that God is never coercive;
God's grace empowers genuine human free will
even to reject Jesus.
He defined original sin as
unbaptized infants went to hell
for their sharing in Adam and Eve's guilt, unlike the Eastern
Greek tradition which left the question uncertain.
This created tensions with
Ezekiel 18 (which says God will not
count the sins of the fathers against the sons, and vice versa) and later Catholic theology. How did Jesus acquire a
fallen human nature to heal it, while not also
acquiring the transmitted guilt of Adam and Eve?
It didn't happen right away, but Augustine
paved the way for
Western Christianity to understand God as the cause of both good and
evil, God's character as desiring retribution at least as much as
hell as a prison,
and salvation as
legal pardon from guilt. He was also
the first theologian to give a
justification for state-sponsored
religious persecution against heretics. These are some reasons
why NHI seeks to go back to the
Nicene Creed (325 AD), before Augustine.
What is Christian Theology
from the Time of the Nicene Creed?
theology uses a medical framework. Jesus reveals God's desire to
heal and transform human nature,
undoing the corruption of sin in it, first in Jesus, and then in us, as
He shares Jesus with us by the Spirit. He reflects the love of a
relational God who maintains relationship with us. This understanding was the
foundation stone for Christians to say that God is 100% good and loving,
and even how we experience God as a Trinity.
Nicene theology comes from a time of intellectual
church unity, even across multiple languages and
cultures. Here is an
article which explains it well.
Christian teachers and
theologians read Scripture and affirmed:
o Human nature as
originally good and inclined towards God
o Sin as a corruption of
human nature that influences us to resist God
redeems fallen human nature
in his own body, then shares himself with us
by his Spirit
o Human free will as
upheld by God in grace; God is not
Hell as a state of being
the purifying love of God becomes torment to those who resist
Each church’s tradition is still dynamically
Roman Catholic tradition considers both Athanasius (297 - 373 AD, an architect
of the Nicene Creed) and Augustine (354 - 430 AD) to be "doctors of the
church," even though
they represent different opinions and trajectories.
Pictured are seven "fathers of the church" above the south door
of Lichfield Chapel, finished in 1340 AD. Athanasius is second from the
right. Augustine is on the left.
theologians, such as Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
(Pope Benedict XVI),
John Courtney Murray, and others of the "New
Theology," have questioned
Thomistic scholasticism. They advocate a return to
Athanasius, the Nicene era,
reading Aquinas and Augustine without a scholastic lens, and greater appreciation of the Orthodox East.
o For example,
Ratzinger corrected Augustine about how
much we know about the fate of unbelievers
for portraying God as too limiting. He
criticized Anselm's satisfaction theory
of atonement for portraying God
as prioritizing His own honor above His love for human beings.
Of course, he
disagreed with the Protestant view that God
needed to pour out His wrath on Jesus
for portraying God as dealing out infinite
the modern Catholic
Catechism no longer teaches the
Augustinian theory of inherited guilt, although, in this
assessment, it does not resolve
differences between various Catholic schools of thought.
in his Institutes, drew on Augustine (for example, on most
but high federal Calvinists and
differ with each other because of ambiguities
in John Calvin’s own writings, and questions about whether Calvin
was moving in a certain direction (towards Athanasius rather than
whom did Jesus die? High federal Calvinism is well
known for supporting limited atonement (the L in TULIP), which
says Jesus died only for the elect. But Calvin
universal atonement in his
commentaries on the Gospels. Also under discussion is
whether the Puritans' pietistic, individualistic Calvinism
departed from Calvin himself in
some significant ways,
such as defining "the elect" in individualistic terms,
rather than corporate or categorical.
o How does Jesus save us?
popular evangelical opinion focuses on the death of Christ alone
as atoning, Calvin says in
that the earthly obedient life of Christ, and his very humanity, is part
of the atonement, as the patristic and Nicene theologians said.
One question then becomes: ‘Was Calvin a
Calvinist?’ This is part of the dynamic, ongoing
discussion among those who interpret and follow Calvin.
In the Lutheran tradition, a similar
happening now about Luther, since Luther, as an Augustinian monk, was
influenced by Augustine.
the Orthodox community, the late Georges Florovsky (1893 - 1979), former Dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox
Seminary in NY from 1950 - 1955, called upon Orthodox scholars to sympathetically
reevaluate the development of both Eastern and Western Churches in
light of patristic sources. Since then, his students Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff, who each followed him into the
position of Dean, have done so as well, along with Kallistos Ware and John Zizioulas.
These efforts have contributed to a renewal of dialogue between East and West, and of interest in Christian theology from the Greek East.
The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox
by Father Seraphim Rose (2007, third edition) is a
very helpful and readable explanation of how Augustine's theology was
received by the Greek East at the time, and is regarded today.
Rose pays special attention to Augustine's teaching on double
The Doors of the Sea by American
Orthodox theologian and philosopher David Bentley Hart (2005) was
his response to the Asian tsunami of December 2004. Hart
compares Eastern Orthodox and high federal Calvinist interpretations
of this event, and shows the vast and important difference in
dealing with God's character in the face of human suffering, natural
disasters, and human moral evil.
T.F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy: Theology
edited by Matthew Baker and Todd Speidell (2015) is an excellent
resource as various Orthodox scholars interact with, and
constructively critique, the Scottish evangelical patristics scholar
and theologian Thomas Forsyth Torrance.
Person and Eros by Christos
Yannaras (2008) is dense but rewarding; Yannaras insightfully
critiques the development of theology and philosophy in the West.