Nicaea and Logos Theology

[Note: This article is linked conceptually to Discovering the Trinity.]

Many early Christians, when articulating the relationship of the Son to the Father, developed what we now call “Logos [Word] theology.” Justin Martyr, for example, calls the Logos God (or at least divine, the article is missing from θεος), but makes it clear that he is distinct from and subordinate to the Father. He disapproves of the light from light analogy, preferring instead the image of a torch lit from another. As unorthodox as this may sound at first glance, Justin affirms a common nature (the fire of the second torch is of the same nature as the fire on the first) and denies a materialist concept of God (the Father is not diminished by begetting the Son). The Logos’ role is to reveal God, to mediate his presence to this world.

Origen’s doctrine of the Logos is multi-faceted. Here, too, the Logos’ primary function is to reveal and mediate the Father to the created world. However, there is less subordination. Origen calls the Logos God and insists that the Logos is divine not by participation, but by essence (ComPs 135.2). However, subordinationism still exists. Origen is sure that the Logos participates in being, but speculates that the Father might be beyond being. There is still a gap, it seems, between God and “true God.”

Origen draws on Platonic, perhaps Middle Platonic, themes to explain the Logos. The Father is pure unity. The material world is plurality. The Logos exists as the unifying principle of plurality, or as Joseph O’Leary states, the idea of ideas, the virtue of virtues (ComJn 1.119; CCels 5.39). As the principle (ἀρχή) of creation, all creation holds together in him. He is analogous to the World Soul. Thus, while the Logos is God, there is always an ontological gap between him and the Father. He is able to reveal and mediate the Father only because he is not identical to the Father; he is not absolute unity.

Now, pro-Nicene theology insisted that the Son is not merely like the Father in nature (ὁμοιουσιος) but identical (ὁμοουσιος). This seems at first to contradict the central principle of Logos theology, and Richard Hanson asserts that Nicene theology abandoned the Logos doctrine. However, Lewis Ayres argues that pro-Nicenes transformed Logos theology while retaining its essential features. The Logos still reveals and mediates the Father, but how mediation and revelation occur is radically reconceived. Pro-Nicene theology turns the question on its head. How could the Logos reveal the Father unless he possesses an identical nature? If he is other than the Father, then he could not say, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9)?

First, mediation occurs through creation. The Logos who created the cosmos is in perfect union with the Father. Thus, the imprints of the Father truly exist in creation. All creation shouts testimonies to the Father’s power and goodness. Such testimony would be impossible if it were the work of an intermediary not in full union with the Father. Second, mediation occurs through redemption. As Athanasius argued, redemption could not be procured by a being existing in a middle state, slightly lower than God and higher than human. Only by the mediator grasping both extremes simultaneously can they be united. When believers are united to Christ by faith, they are united with the entire Trinity, for Christ is united to the Trinity. In no other way could the Scripture be true, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

So, we might say that pro-Nicenes challenged the Logos theology to come to grips with the true prerequisites for revelation and mediation. Only the co-eternal Logos, equal to the Father in wisdom, power, and glory, can assume true humanity and be the mediator our salvation requires.

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Published in: on March 12, 2011 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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