Reflections on the Patristic Fathers

by Nancy A. Almodovar, PhD (Apologetics), MTh (Theology & Apologetics), MACS, Cert. d'assuidite, Prof OT & NT, Prof of World Religions, Prof of Worldviews, currently MA Church History

Major issues on which patristic theology articulates the same truths evangelicals seek to articulate today, but does so in ways superior to ours. Explain why the patristic articulation is better and how we can incorporate that articulation of the faith into our proclamation.

There are many issues where Patristic Theology articulates the same truths as modern evangelicals and yet its ways are much greater. Therefore, my own reflections were mostly on the topic of the Trinity, and then baptism as a means of grace. The teachings and readings on the Trinity, however, have already made the greatest impact on my own work in apologetics. Learning the style in which they proclaimed the truths of the Christian faith and what may be deemed Patristic Apologetics, has broadened my own understanding of how to not only defend the faith but live it out.

The Trinity

The patristic teaching of the Trinity is what I have come to admire and desire to articulate. As an apologist who often has to answer question such as “Who is God?” and “What has He done?” I find myself in awe of the simple and yet profound ways that men such as John of Damascus (though I know we didn’t read him), Athanasius and Cyril articulated this difficult and yet key element of the Christian faith. When reading these great men of faith it is necessary to understand that they wrote within the context of both teaching Christians what is to be believed as well as defending this point of faith with those either who claimed to be Christians and yet denied the doctrine of the Triune God and even those outside the faith to answer their questions.

St. Athanasius begins his discourse against the Arians by saying that he had “deceived men into wrong thoughts of Christ.[1]” He held that it was necessary to confront this “harbinger of antichrist[2]” and “reckoned for a heresy more than ordinary, being known as Christ’s foe…[3]” His clarification of who God is comes from the Scriptures and Athanasius delineates what it is specifically that is confessed: “Very Son of the Father, natural and genuine, proper to His essence, Wisdom Only-begotten, and Very and Only Word of God is He…[4]

In a way that I had never heard before, Athanasius argues for the eternality of the Son through the confession of the eternality of God the Father. It would be impossible to call God the Eternal Father if there had come a point in time when God the Son did not exist. If the Son is not there eternally, then the Father cannot rightfully be called Eternal Father. This argument is so clear, brief and logical that even a young child can understand it. In fact, a few weeks ago teaching Sunday School I was working with my five year old student and taught him this, in much simpler language, and he stated it the next Sunday in the opening. In teaching the lay person in my Apologetics class, to explain to them the eternality of the Son through the lenses of God as Eternal Father simplified this often difficult to comprehend concept.