Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving…
I’m a big Ol’ History nerd, so I really enjoyed Chapter 3 – The Formation of Dogma: East and West (pgs. 115-142). Scripture is not a work of dogmatics or systematics, it is the inspired word of God and “the immediate expression of life.” He says that Scripture had not yet become the something that early believers reflected upon with a ‘thinking conscience.’
For this reason, the early church merely articulated dogmatics in epistolary writings and basic creeds. Outside of the canonical epistles, we have those that came later, i.e. Clement, Shepherd of Hermes, etc. As the church grew, we entered the era of apologetics. No longer writing just answers to questions of actions, we were forced to reflect more deeply on scripture in order to defend our beliefs in the face of persecution or our community being ostracized.
Educated converts such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus defended the faith against Gnosticism and created a ‘Christian vocabulary and worldview.’ Later through Tertullian and Origen, the foundations of Theology were set and Christianity increasingly became to be ‘understood primarily as a set of idea.’
The fourth century led to great developments in dogmatics as, after becoming the official religion, questions of theology moved from external attacks to internal struggles. The most compelling issues where those of the Christological nature, especially that of homoousia, that is the dual nature of Christ. Athanasius strongly asserted that the deity of Christ was the essence of Christianity; that is Christ had to be God to bring salvation. He along with others (Basil, the Gregorys, etc.) wrote polemic on this, the Trinity and the incarnation, all over and against the Arians and Macedonians. Orthodoxy was settled in 381 A.D. at the Synod of Constantinople.
The next four centuries were ones of turmoil for doctrine. For the eastern church the focus was that of humanity being subject to sin and corruption, and through Christ, we do not die but partake in life. The west focused on our relationship with God. We are guilty of violating the commandments, but through the work of Christ, we have grace. He notes that John resonates with the East and Paul with the West. I have no idea if this is still true of the Orthodox church today, but it always seemed to me there is a further division in the West, that the protestants resonate with Paul, while Catholics focus on Peter. Continue reading