I begin with a paragraph I wrote to Mr. Foster in an earlier correspondence, which sets the state for the remarks that follow:
I would assert here that the writings of Christians in the early third century period (didn't Hippolytus die in the early 200's?) were notoriously un-systematic. Also there's your caveat ["While there are admittedly debatable passages..."] which suggests that whatever you're suggesting must be far from cut-and-dried.Foster:
Hippolytus died circa 236 C.E. While his writings may have been "unsystematic," as you say, there is almost no doubt (historically) that he was accused of being a "ditheist" by Bishop Callistus. W.H.C. Frend thinks that the bishop may have been justified in labeling Hippolytus thus. He also thinks that Hippolytus thought of the Logos as a created being, deified for a time. The Catholic writer Edmund Fortman in his book The Triune God also informs us that Hippolytus "rather deliberately seems to avoid putting the Holy Spirit on the same personal plane with the Father and the Son, and to regard Him more as a divine force than a divine person" (page 119). Granted, as Fortman writes, Hippolytus may not have highlighted the "personality" of the Spirit because he was not dealing with a heated issue that arose prior to 381 C.E., namely, the Pneumatomachi Controversy. Nevertheless, he does not seem to ascribe personhood to the Spirit of God and he appears to subordinate the Son (ontologically) to the Father.Blosser:
I have no serious quarrells here, as far as I can tell. Muslims regularly accuse Christians of tri-theism, and Christians aren't always cautious to avoid being thus misunderstood. If you ask nearly any rank-and-file Christian to explain "God," he will almost always, if he ventures the least bit beyond the confessional formulations, end up saying things that could be understood either in the direction of modalism or tri-theism. Beyond that, it's an empirical fact that trinitarian concepts are refractory to facile understanding and that many people-- even theologians otherwise known for reasonably careful thought-- have expressed themselves incautiously or misunderstandingly on the Trinity.Here let me insert once more something I wrote in my earlier correspondence with Mr. Foster in order to contextualize the exchange that follows:
The NT itself partakes of such ambiguities, doesn't it. I see nothing prohibitively problematic about such things as calling God "one" and Jesus His "Son," then portrayhing Jesus in a subordinate role, while still assuming that Jesus too is God, though not God the Father. If the Trinity doctrine is true, what else would we expect but such seemingly confused language?Foster:
The problem, as Swete notes, is that the language of Hippolytus does not allow for the Holy Spirit being an eternal divine relation or Person--he also believes that the Son as such is not eternal--and his thought evidently contains elements of subordinationism. That is, Hippolytus is not just maintaining that the Son or Spirit are subordinate to the Father as respects function; they are subordinate PER ESSENTIAM. Such claims are utterly at odds with Nicene Christianity.Blosser:
I find it difficult to be surprised by any of this. Until controversy compels the Church to publicly clarify her mind on a doctrinal issue such as this and define it (as at Nicea), one expects to find a great deal of latitude in what is believed and asserted about the question. This is the case at present with questions such as those eschatological questions concerning the anti-Foster:
Christ, the meaning of the 'millenial' reign of Christ, the tribulation, the 'binding of Satan', etc., etc. And it was the case with other doctrines before they were defined.
This does not mean that there was no objective theological truth concerning the issue prior to its magisterial definition by the Church, or that the Church simply "fabricated" its doctrine out of thin air and then imposed it arbitrarily on her members. The objective basis for the trinitarian understanding of God is clearly evident in Scripture and tradition, we believe, even though this was likely not clear to everyone prior to her dogmatic definitions. This is true even regarding something as mundane as which books constitute the Bible-- which was anything but a definite article of faith prior to the close of the fourth century AD.
Hence, if Hippolytus held a form of subordinationism of the Holy Spirit or Son, this should not surprise us. Further, as mentioned before, there is a legitimate respect in which these two Persons of the Trinity ARE subordinate to the Father and proceed from Him, even if this isn't clearly articulated in the possibly deficient formulations of Hippolytus.
My beef with Mr Bowman is that he has illicitly employed Contra Noetum 10.1-2. This passage does not say what he would like it to say.Blosser:
I have no quarrel with that.Foster:
The problem with God willing the Son into existence, even if He did so by means of His own essence oe substance, have been detailed by Jesuit Edmund Fortman (quoted earlier). Fortman lists what he calls two "grave defects" with Hippolytus' "theory" of the Father metaphysically (!) willing the Son into existence: (1) The Logos was not a person or the Son eternally, but only precreationally; (2) "The generation of the Son was not essential to God but only the result of a free decision of God. Hence God might have remained without a Son and thus might have remained only one Person" (Fortman, page 118). In other words, the generation of the Son, according to Hippolytus as interpreted by Fortman, was something that may or may not have transpired. It was a contingent divine act.Blosser:
Yes, indeed. I don't dispute this. What I dispute is the notion that he can be taken for a careful trinitarian theologian. He's the theological equivalent of an Empedocles, and the notion that his writings can meaningfully be adduced against Nicea seem not more plausible to me than that Empedocles metaphysic should be proposed as counting against the Periodic Table of Elements developed in the 19th Century. At most, it seems to me, Hippolytus gives us one snapshot of the kinds of inchoate Trinitarian opinions that existed in the ante-Nicene period.Again, I insert a quote from the earlier exchange to contextualize what follows:
I think this is merely a reflection of the fact that Christ is clearly in many respects subordinate to the Father. But even if we talked about the Petrine notion of our being "partakers of the Divine nature" in the Greek language of THEOISIS (or QEOSIS), neither you nor I could, strictly speaking, call one another or ourselves "God" even in the sense that Hippolytus calls Christ "God."Foster:
If the pre-Nicenes truly did not view Christ as "fully God," then the early Christians were not simply saying that Christ is subordinate to the Father. Augustine of Hippo writes that each divine Person is fully God or the whole of the Godhead is in each Person. To say otherwise, to deny that Christ is "fully God," is to blatantly contradict what Augustine averred. One who makes such a declaration is not merely insisting that Christ is subordinate in function to the Father. Rather, a Christian who does not affirm the full deity of Christ is subordinating him to the Father vis-a-vis being, essence or nature.Blosser:
This is assuming that "fully God" can mean only what you think it means. But why should we believe that? It is also to assume that each ante-Nicene utterance regarding a Person of the Trinity is to be accorded the same weight you would accord it in a theological treatise on the Holy Trinity. But why should we think that? It seems to me that there are a wide variety of contexts in which men made reference to "God" ("Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit") in the first three centuries. If I were to respond in the affirmative to my young son's question "Daddy, did Jesus pray to God?" would this mean that I was denying that Jesus is "fully God"?