Dialogues concerning the persons and nature of the Godhead were the hot topics of controversy during the early centuries of the church. These discussions had sensitized Christian laymen and clergy alike to the use of God-language. The council of Nicaea (325) and the council of Constantinople (381) had both condemned Arianism, whose followers refused to affirm that Christ is homoousios (same essence) with the Father. However, the problem with Arianism (or Homoianism) had not ceased by the end of the fourth century. The level of precision at which people were comfortable speaking about God changed between these two councils, as can be seen through the writings of Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa. Where Athanasius affirms that when we name the “Father” we “name nothing as if about him, but signify his essence itself” Gregory of Nyssa states, “…the Divine Essence is ineffable and incomprehensible: for it is plain that the title of Father does not present to us the Essence, but only indicates the relation to the Son.” After Constantinople I theologians made the three hypostases rather than the one essence their starting point in doctrinal discussions. Further, the Cappadocian fathers had all affirmed that God, who is one essence three persons, cannot be depicted by anything in the created realm, whether human or nonhuman. The Cappadocian doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God was influential to one student of Gregory Nazianzen, whose writings sparked a major controversy amongst the Nitrian monks in the Egyptian desert near Alexandria in 399.
If the Origenist controversy can be traced back to the teachings of one man (other than Origen) there is much evidence which points to Evagrios Pontikos (345-399). Continue reading “Historical Survey: Chrysostom and the Origenist Controversy (I)”