The Unity of Christ

The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition

Christopher A. Beeley
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    The Unity of Christ
    Book Description:

    No period of history was more formative for the development of Christianity than the patristic age, when church leaders, monks, and laity established the standard features of Christianity as we know it today. Combining historical and theological analysis, Christopher Beeley presents a detailed and far-reaching account of how key theologians and church councils understood the most central element of their faith, the identity and significance of Jesus Christ.

    Focusing particularly on the question of how Christ can be both human and divine and reassessing both officially orthodox and heretical figures, Beeley traces how an authoritative theological tradition was constructed. His book holds major implications for contemporary theology, church history, and ecumenical discussions, and it is bound to revolutionize the way in which patristic tradition is understood.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18326-9
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Part I. The Great Master
    • 1. Origen of Alexandria (pp. 3-46)

      Christianity was born in Jerusalem, the temple city of ancient Israel where Jesus was crucified and his disciples first witnessed the risen Lord. Yet the great flowering of Christian theology began farther south, in the cosmopolitan port city of Alexandria on the northern coast of Egypt. A century and a half after Jesus’s death, Alexandria produced the most prolific theologian of the early Christian period and the person who had the greatest influence on the church’s understanding of Christ for over five hundred years—Origen of Alexandria (c. 185–c. 254).

      Well before the time of Christ, Alexandria had become...

  5. Part II. Fourth-Century Authorities
    • 2. Eusebius of Caesarea (pp. 49-104)

      The official accounts of church history and the standard textbooks of late antiquity tend to depict the great fourth century as being determined by the first “ecumenical” Council of Nicaea in 325 and the rise of the Christian Roman empire under Constantine. Even the most recent studies of fourth-century theology begin with some sort of prelude to the Arian crisis and the great council of 325, from which the narrative then takes shape.¹ Yet this momentous period of Christian history did not commence with any sense that conflict was about to erupt between the Alexandrian presbyter Arius and his bishop;...

    • 3. Nicaea (325) and Athanasius of Alexandria (pp. 105-170)

      The church of Alexandria again played a leading role in the major theological and ecclesiastical developments of the fourth century, while the city remained the chief commercial center of the eastern Mediterranean. The new imperial capital of Constantinople, founded in the 320s, would eventually rival both Rome and Alexandria for prominence, but not until the latter part of the fourth century. Meanwhile, the metropolitan see of Alexandria continued to produce formidable bishop-theologians who greatly affected the course of patristic theology: Athanasius, who was bishop of the city for nearly half of the century (328–373), and, in the following century,...

    • 4. Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Constantinople (381) (pp. 171-222)

      The period from 360 to the early 380s was a crucial turning point in the development of patristic Christology. Here our attention shifts from Alexandria and Palestine to the regions between Constantinople and Antioch, where much of what later became orthodox Christian theology was defined with a degree of clarity and permanence that has seldom, if ever, been repeated. This achievement took place largely through the theological efforts of the Cappadocian fathers—Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa—together with the great Council of Constantinople of 381, which produced the so-called Nicene Creed that is known...

  6. Part III. The Construction of Orthodoxy
    • 5. Augustine and the West (pp. 225-255)

      The formal tradition of Latin Christology got a late start in comparison with the Greeks. While there were important advances by Tertullian and Novatian in the third century, it was mainly due to the efforts of theologians such as Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and above all Augustine of Hippo that Latin theology came into its own in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. The tradition of pro-Nicene Latin theology gained new momentum in reaction to the Council of Sirmium in 357 and the homoian Western synods of Constantius in the late 350s and when several theologians...

    • 6. Cyril, Leo, and Chalcedon (451) (pp. 256-284)

      The fifth century marks a new period in the development of patristic Christology. A major shift occurred in this period not merely because of new circumstances that inevitably come with the passage of time, but also because the way in which theologians constructed and defended their views of Christ changed in a more fundamental sense. At the heart of this change was the reception and use of earlier “patristic” authorities. In the fourth century, theologians made both direct and indirect use of earlier sources, with the work of Origen holding a special place of sustained influence. Yet the great debt...

    • 7. Post-Chalcedonian Christology (pp. 285-310)

      It has long been customary in some circles to think of the Council of Chalcedon as the great watershed in the definition of Christological orthodoxy. In fact, the council of 451 led to even greater divisions among churches that based themselves on roughly the same group of traditional authorities, and in terms of Christology it arguably brought more problems than solutions, for reasons that we have just discussed. In reaction to the council’s dualizing pronouncements, the churches of the East ruptured into a formal schism between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian bodies that still exists today. Far from being the end, or...

  7. Epilogue (pp. 311-312)

    It can be tempting in theological, historical, and ecclesiastical work, when faced with great complexity and conflict, to throw one’s hands up in exasperation. One of the chief aims of this book has been to urge that we must do just the reverse—that in order to understand patristic theological tradition, it is crucial that we acknowledge both the conflicts and the continuities wherever they may exist. The pressure either to overstate the fragmenting effects of disagreement or to gloss over real problems in the name of an easier solution can be considerable. But there is no other way of...

  8. Notes (pp. 313-350)
  9. Bibliography (pp. 351-374)
  10. General Index (pp. 375-388)
  11. Scripture Index (pp. 389-391)

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