[ Introduction ] - [ Part 1 ] - [ Part 2 ] - [ Part 3 ]



Christ in the Old Testament and the 1st and 2nd Ecumenical Councils.

© John S. Romanides



There is an essential aspect Of the theological presuppositions of all Ecumenical Councils concerning the Person of Christ which is either missing or has been rejected by those following Augustine. This raises the question of whether those who do so really accept these Councils.

With the sole exception of Augustine, the Fathers maintain that Jesus Christ, before His birth from the Virgin Theotokos, in His uncreated Person of the Angel of God, Angel of the Great Council, the Lord of Glory, the Lord Sabbaoth, is He who revealed God in Himself to the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament. Both the Arians and Eunomians agreed that it was Christ who did this in His person or hypostasis which existed before the creation of the ages, but they insisted that He was created from non-being and is therefore not of the same nature (consubstantial or co-essential) with God, who is alone truly God by nature.

In order to prove their points the Arians and Eunomians argued, as did the Jew Trypho with Justin Martyr, that it was not the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush who said "I am He Who Is" (Ex. 3, 14), but God Himself by means of the created Logos Angel. The Fathers insisted that the Angel-Logos revealed this about Himself also, and not only about God. The Angel of the Lord spoke in His own right also when to Moses He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Ex. 3, 6).

Against the Arians St. Athanasius argues that the name 'angel' is sometimes applied to the uncreated Logos and sometimes to a created angel. He insists that there can be no confusion on whether one sees a created angel or the uncreated Son of God sometimes called 'angel' in the Old Testament. He insists that "when the Son is seen, so is the Father, for He is the Father's radiance; and thus the Father and the Son are one... What God speaks, it is very plain He speaks through the Logos and not through another... And he who hath seen the Son, knows that, in seeing Him, he has seen, not an angel, nor one merely greater than angels, nor in short any creature, but the Father Himself. And he who hears the Logos, knows that he hears the Father; as he who is irradiated by the radiance, knows that he is enlightened by the sun (Against Arians III, 12-14). As a key to the Old and New Testaments, St. Athanasius states that "there is nothing that the Father operates except through the Son..." (Ibid. III, 12).

This means that the Old Testament is Christocentric since Christ is the pre-incarnate Angel of the Lord and of the Great Council, the Lord of Glory, and the Lord Sabbaoth in Whom the patriarchs and prophets see and hear God and through Whom they receive grace, succor, and forgiveness.

That the Orthodox and Arians agreed that it was the Angel-Logos Who appeared to and revealed God to the prophets and the very same person who became man and the Christ should be taken very seriously as the key to understanding the decisions of the First and subsequent Ecumenical Councils. It is important to realize that the Orthodox and Arians were not arguing speculatively over an abstract Second Person of the Holy Trinity whose identity and nature one allegedly deciphered by mulling over biblical passages with the help of Hellenistic philosophy and the Holy Spirit. What they were discussing was the spiritual experience of the prophets and apostles; specifically whether it is a created or uncreated Logos who appears in glory to them and reveals in Himself as Image God the Father as Archetype.

Because the Eunomians held the same positions as the Arians on the appearances of the allegedly created Logos-Angel to the prophets, this same discussion was carried to the Second Ecumenical Council, St, Basil the Great with a bit of loss of patience accosts Eunomius as follows: You atheist, are you not going to cease calling Him who is really He Who Is - the source of life, the one who gives to all that exist their being - non-being? Him who found, when giving an audience to His own servant Moses, His proper and meet appellation for His eternity, naming Himself 'He Who Is.' For He said 'I am He Who Is. And that these things were said by the Person of the Lord no one will gainsay; that is, no one who does not have the Jewish covering lying over against his heart in the reading of Moses (2 Cor. 3. 15). For it is written, that an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in fire of flame from the bush (Ex. 3, 2). Whereas the Scripture presents in the narrative an angel, the voice of God follows: 'He said to Moses, I am the God of your father Abraham' (Ex. 3, 6). And a bit later again, 'I am He Who Is.' Who then is He Himself both angel and God? Therefore, is it not He about whom we learned, that He is called 'the Angel of the Great Council'? (Is. 9, 6)." After summarizing the same observations about the encounter between the Angel-Logos and Jacob, which one finds in St. Athanasius the Great and the earlier Fathers, St. Basil gives expression to the same interpretative principle as we saw in the bishop of Alexandria. It is clear to all, that wherever the same person is called both angel and God, it is the Only-Begotten who is declared, who manifests Himself to human beings from generation to generation and announces the will of the Father to His saints. Thus He who to Moses gave Himself the name 'He Who Is,' is to be thought of as none other than God the Logos, who in the beginning is with God (John l. I - 2)' (Refutation Of Eunomius Apology II, 18). Eunomius answered these arguments of Basil by claiming that the Son is the angel of "Him Who Is» but not "He Who Is Himself. This angel is called god to show his superiority over all the things created by him, but this does not mean that he is He Who Is. Thus Eunomius claims that, He who sent Moses was Himself He Who Is, but he by whom He sent and spake was the angel of Him Who Is, and the god of all else (Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius XI. 3).

The sophistic subtlety of the argument may seem strange but it is nevertheless important as a witness to the fact that the identity of the Angel, called God in the Old Testament, with Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God and Creator, was so entrenched in the tradition that the Eunomians could never think of getting rid of it as Augustine, a younger contemporary, was about to do in North Africa in spite of the fact his alleged teacher Ambrose and all the rest of the Western Fathers agreed with the tradition herein described.

St. Basil could not reply to Eunomius answers to his arguments since he had passed away, so his brother Gregory did so in his twelve books Against Eunomius which he read through with to St. Jerome during the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. This safe to claim that Jerome was in full agreement with the main Father of the Second Ecumenical Council together with Gregory the Theologian.

St. Gregory of Nyssa argues among other things that "if Moses begs that the people may not be led by an angel (Ex. 33, 15; 34, 9), (which God had announced He would send to lead His people to freedom; Ex. 32, 34; 33, 2) and if He who was discoursing with him consents to become his fellow-traveler and the guide of the army (Ex. 33, 17), it is hereby manifestly shown that He who made Himself known by the title 'He Who Is' is the Only-Begotten God. If anyone gainsays this, he will show himself to be a supporter of the Jewish persuasion in not associating the Son with the deliverance of the people. For if, on the one hand, it was not an angel that went forth with the people, and if, on the other, as Eunomius would have it, He Who was manifested by the name of 'He Who Is' is not the Only-Begotten, this amounts to nothing less than transferring the doctrines of the synagogue to the Church of God. Accordingly, of the two alternatives they must needs admit one, namely either that the Only-Begotten God on no occasion appeared to Moses, or that the Son is Himself 'He Who Is,' from whom the word came to His servant. But he contradicts what has been said above, alleging the Scripture itself (Ex. 3, 2) which informs us that the voice of an angel was interposed and that it was thus that the discourse of 'He Who Is' was conveyed. This, however, is no contradiction but a confirmation of our view. For we too say plainly, that the prophet, wishing to make manifest to men the mystery concerning Christ, called 'Him Who Is, an 'Angel,' that the meaning of the words might not be referred to the Father, as it would have been if the title 'He Who Is' alone had been found throughout the discourse (Against Eunomius, XI, 3).

These passages from mainstay Fathers of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils should be sufficient indications that for the Council Fathers the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was identical to the appearances of Christ the Logos without flesh to the prophets and in His human nature to the apostles. No one within the tradition, except for Augustine, ever doubted this identity of the Logos with this concrete Individual who revealed in Himself the invisible God of the Old Testament to the prophets and who became man and continued this same revelation of God's glory in and through His own human nature taken from the Virgin.

The controversy between the Orthodox and Arians/Eunomians was not about who the Logos is in the Old and New Testaments, but about what the Logos is and what His relationship is to God the Father. The Orthodox maintained that the Logos is uncreated and unchangeable having always existed from the essence or hypostasis of the Father who eternally and by nature causes His Son's existence before the Ages. The Arians and Eunomians insisted that this same Angel-Logos is a changeable creation of God who derives His existence before the Ages from non-being not by God's nature but by His will.

Thus the basic question was, did the prophets and apostles see in God's uncreated glory (Orthodox and Arians) or created energy (Eunomians) an uncreated or a created Logos, a Logos who is God by nature and has therefore all the energies and powers of God by nature or a God by grace, who has some but not all the energies of God the Father and then only by grace and not by nature. Both Orthodox and Arians/Eunomians agreed in principle that if the Logos has every power and energy of the Father by nature then He is uncreated, if not He is then a creature.

The question at issue was the experiences of revelation or glorification or theosis which God gives in His Spirit through His Logos Angel-Christ to the prophets. apostles, and saints. These experiences or these lives of saints are recorded primarily in the Bible but also in the post-biblical continuation of Pentecost in the Body of Christ, the Church. Therefore, both sides appealed to the Fathers of all ages, beginning with their lives recorded in Genesis and extending to their own day. They could not agree on the authority of the witnesses of their own time, but they did have a common ground of debate in the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as in the earlier patristic tradition.

Thus Orthodox and heretics use both the Old and New Testaments indiscriminately in order to prove whether the prophets and apostles saw a created or uncreated divine hypostasis or person of Christ. The argumentation is simple. Both sides make a list of all the powers and energies of God recorded in the Bible. They do the same for the Angel-Logos- Only-Begotten Son. Then they compare them to see if they are identical or not. They must not be simply similar but identical.

Both Orthodox and Arians fully agreed with the inherited tradition of the Old Testament witnessed to by the apostles and saints to whom God reveals His glory in His incarnate Son that creatures cannot know the uncreated essence of God, and that between the uncreated and the created there is no similarity whatsoever. Thus, in order to prove that the Logos is a creature, the Arians argued that He knows neither the essence of God nor His own essence and is not in all respects similar to God. The Orthodox argued that the Logos does know the essence of the Father and is in every respect similar to the Father, having all that the Father has by nature except Fatherhood or the being the cause of the existence of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Orthodox and Arians were in agreement that what God is in Himself by nature and what He is or does by will are not identical, but they differed sharply in the application of this distinction between the divine essence and will or energy. Thus the Orthodox argued that God causes the existence of the Logos by nature and the existence of creatures by will, whereas the Arians argued that both the Logos and all other creatures are products of the divine will.

Against these positions the Eunomians argued that the essence and uncreated energy of God are identical, that the Logos is a product of a created energy of God, that the Holy Spirit is the product of a created energy of the Logos and that each created species is a product of separate or distinct created energies of the Holy Spirit. If each species did not have its individual energy of the Holy Spirit, there would be only one created species and not many, according to Eunomius.

Eunomius is here actually mimicking in his own way the biblical and patristic witness to glorification Wherein each creature partakes and each saint communes with the Logos who is present to each by indivisibly multiplying His uncreated glory which is in toto, and not as part to each. present to and in each, as taught by Christ (John 14, 2-23) and experienced in Pentecost (Acts 2, 3-4) and which bears in the Logos both the Father and the Holy Spirit. This means that there are no universals in God and that God sustains not only species but every single part of existence in all its multiple forms. Thus the individual is never sacrificed by Christ for a supposedly common good. but at the same time the common good is the good of each individual. As a result of the mystery of the Ascension of Christ in His own proper glory and His return to His disciples in the Spirit of glory in Pentecost, He is now all of Him present to and in each in the states of' illumination and glorification (theosis). For this reason each communicant of the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist receives not a part of Christ, but the whole human nature of Christ which since Pentecost multiplies itself indivisibly in each member of His Body. Thus by partaking of the eucharistic bread, which is one, and the cup, which is one, each member of the Body of Christ receives not part but the Whole Christ and becomes what he already is, a temple (?a??) or a mansion (µ???) of the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Logos Incarnate in common with the other members of Christ's Body.

St. Ambrose of Milan

We already note the presence of St. Jerome at the Second Ecumenical Council and his agreement with St. Gregory of Nyssa. To the East Roman Patristic quotations we will also add a Latin speaking West Roman Father, and indeed St. Ambrose himself, who supposedly had supervised the baptism of Augustine. We had pointed out elsewhere that the difference between the Roman Patristic tradition, East and West, and the Franco-Latin tradition is exactly that between Ambrose, who follows the Roman Orthodox Patristic tradition, East and West, and Augustine who Platonized his own understanding of the Christian tradition and was followed by his students and finally by the whole Carlovingian Franco-Latin tradition which completely took over the Palatine School established by Charlemagne. In sharp contrast to Augustine, Ambrose completely rejects the core of the Platonic tradition, i.e. the realm of pre-existing ideas of which the world is a copy. "…though perchance our adversaries may have recourse to that theory of Plato, and place before Thee the ideas supposed by philosophers, which, indeed, we know have been exploded by philosophers themselves." (De Fide IV, iv, 47.)

We quote from Ambrose's book De Fide which he wrote at the request of West Roman Emperor Gratian. In sharp contrast to Augustine Ambrose writes "He, therefore, Who said "This is My Son." Said not, "This is a creature of time," nor "This being is of My creation, My making, My servant," but "This is My Son, Whom ye see glorified." This is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, Who appeared in the bush (Ex. iii,14), concerning Whom Moses saith, "He Who is hath sent me." It was not the Father Who spoke to Moses in the bush or in the desert, but the Son. It was of this Moses that Stephen said, "This is He Who was in the church, in the wilderness, with the Angel."(Acts vii.38) This, then, is He Who gave the Law, Who spake with Moses saying, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Issaac, the God of Jacob." This, then, is the God of the patriarchs, this is the God of the prophets." (XIII, 83).

Those who have reached glorification never taught that there is any similarity between the created and uncreated and that one may express or conceive God. In the light of this fact it should be clear enough that one may have the right to doubt claims that Augustine had reached glorification at least while he was writing his known works. In any case the reader is encouraged to study carefully the texts of Augustine himself here reproduced to see for himself how Augustine literally struggles to conceive God and to express God.

Also the very idea that God brings into existence creatures in order to convey messages, images and ideas and which He then returns to non existence, is indeed comical and outlandish.


[ Introduction ] - [ Part 1 ] - [ Part 2 ] - [ Part 3 ]



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