About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Friday, 28 November 2014

Chernobyl today

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl from Danny Cooke on Vimeo.

This amazing video shows the town of Pripyat, near Chernobyl

"Like the Dawn" by Oh Hellos

This video is a photography project by some YWAM students. I think it is great.

My thanks to Richard Dormandy for pointing me to this

Friday, 14 November 2014

Origen's orthodox Christology

It is often said that there were unhelpful subordinationist elements in Origen's Christology that blossomed in later Arianism. In other words, Origen's Christological legacy was found, in part, among the heretics.

I have long thought that this view was likely based on misunderstanding Origen—that terms he used were later picked up and used differently by some in Christological debates, and those later uses were then read back into Origen.

Anyway, yesterday I read a fascinating article that maintained that far from having subordinationist tendencies, Origen was a strong anti-subordinationist and that a line can be traced from his views into Nicene orthodoxy. His heirs were not the Arians, but defenders of Nicene orthodoxy—Athanasius and the Cappadocians in particular.

Its author even argues that the key creedal term homoousios (of one being with ...)—which was used by Origen of the Son's relation with the Father—may possibly have proposed by Constantine at Nicea on the advice of Eusebius (who got it from Origen). This is, of course, speculation. But it is interesting speculation.

The article is

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, "Origen's Anti-Subordinationism and Its Heritage in the Nicene and Cappadocian Lines." Vigiliae Christianae 64 (2010) 1–29

Here is the abstract:
Nyssen’s arguments in In Illud: Tunc et Ipse Filius entirely derive from Origen (probably also passing through Marcellus of Ancyra and Eusebius). Origen’s influence, theoretical and exegetical, is evident in every passage, from the argumentative pillars down to the tiniest details of exegesis. Gregory’s close dependence on Origen in his anti-subordinationism, within his polemic against ‘Arianism,’ confirms that Origen was not the forerunner of ‘Arianism,’ as he was depicted in the Origenistic controversy and is often still regarded to be, but the main inspirer of the Cappadocians, especially Nyssen, in what became Trinitarian orthodoxy. Origen inspired Marcellus, who was anti-Arian, Eusebius, who in fact was no ‘Arian,’ Athanasius, the champion of anti-Arianism, and the Cappadocians. I argue extensively that Origen’s Trinitarian heritage is found, not in Arianism, but in Nyssen, Athanasius, Eusebius, and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan line, on the basis of a painstaking analysis of his works (always with attention to their reliability in relation to Greek original, translations, and fragments) and of Pamphilus, Eusebius, Athanasius, and other revealing testimonies, pagan and Christian. The origin of the homoousios formula is also investigated in this connection. Further interesting insights will emerge concerning Eusebius and his first report of what exactly happened at Nicaea.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Rethinking the Tower of Babel with Paul Penley

Looking ahead to ETS in San Diego made me think of the last time it was there (2007), and a paper that I heard on the tower of Babel. It was subsequently published in the ETS journal.

Paul T. Penley, “A Historical Reading of Genesis 11:1–9: The Sumerian Demise and Dispersion under the Ur III Dynasty.” JETS 50.4 (2007) 693–714

I reread the paper yesterday and was again impressed by it. The thesis is not new, but it is worth considering. In a nutshell, Penley is arguing that the Babel story is not some ahistorical primal event but a historical remembrance of cultural events that can be more or less identified. Crazy, huh! In fact, not crazy.

The story, he argues, is a summary of cultural shifts that took place over a period of two millennia! These have been compressed down into a representative story.

Penley’s thesis is that the story begins with an eastward migration in the Tigris-Euphrates basin (Gen 11:2), which matches the Ubaid period in the first half of the fourth millennium BC. This migration led to settlement in Mesopotamia and the development of urban cultures.

The tower was a ziggurat, one of the famous temples of Mesopotamia that were ritual mountains symbolically reaching down into the underworld and up to the heavens. The tower incident in Genesis 11 refers not to a single ziggurat connected with one particular city (e.g., Babylon, Ur, Uruk, Borsippa), but is representative of all the urban centers built around such artificial temple-mountains.

The story tells of the unity of the people and their ambitious building work. This links to the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur in the third millennium BC (c.2110–c.2000 BC). This was a period in which the land was united, great building projects were undertaken, and Sumerian was the common language. In some ways, a golden age.

However, this dynasty met its demise around 1960 BC with serious incursions into Sumer by Amorites from the Arabian desert, soon supplemented by attacks from the East by Elamites. The great unifying Sumerian culture fell, never to rise again. The unifying language was broken up too, with the introduction of new, alien languages. This, Penley sees in the climax of the biblical story with its confusion of languages, the halting of the building project, and the dispersion of the people.

This is not then a story about the origin of different languages in the world. It does not speak of “the whole earth” having one language, but of “the whole land” (eretz) having one language (11:2). This, thinks Penley, is the land of Sinar and the language is Sumerian. The focus is not global but local. Genesis is telling “a theologically charged historical summary of the rise and fall of Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia from the fourth to the third millennium BC” (p. 709).

For the author of Genesis, this was all preparation for the story of Abraham from Ur.

Interesting suggestion.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Was Athanasius a universalist?

When it comes to patristic universalists, everyone points to Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, and some folk point to various precursors and followers of Origen, but not many people seek to enlist St. Athanasius (d. 373). However, in her recent 900-page volume on apokatastasis, Ilaria Ramelli makes a pretty strong case that Athanasius was indeed a universalist.

She notes that he was a supporter and defender both of Origen and of certain of Origen's followers, including Palladius, Theognostus, and St. Anthony. She further demonstrates that Athanasius absorbed a range of theological and exegetical insights from Origen.

Consequently, one should perhaps not be surprised if it turned out that Origen's universalism was also taken on board by the great Anti-Arian saint. And so it appears. Ramelli surveys a range of texts in which Athanasius sees:

  • Christ's incarnation as having a salvific effect on all humanity 
  • Christ death for all as resulting in the salvation of all
  • That what God has called into existence should not perish (on the grounds that then God's work for it would be in vain)
For instance, [all refs in the book]
Flesh was taken up by the Logos to liberate all humans and resurrect all of them from the dead and ransom all of them from sin. 
The Logos became a human being for the sake of our salvation . . . in order to set free all beings in himself, to lead the cosmos to the Father and to pacify all beings in himself, in heaven and on earth.
. . . in himself he has liberated humanity from sin, completely and entirely, and has vivified it from the state of death . . . 
he delivered his own body to death on behalf of all . . . in order bring again to incorruptibility the human beings now doomed to corruption 
That corruption may disappear from all forever, thanks to the resurrection. . . . He has paid for all, in death, all that was owed. . . . He set right their neglectfulness, having rectified all human things by means of his power. 
Creatures, which are his work, should not be reduced to nothing by the deception of the devil. 
[Christ], who through his own power has restored the whole human nature
He handed his own body to death for the sake of all . . . in order to drive back to incorruptibility . . . human beings.
[Christ] has redeemed from death and liberated from hell all humanity.
He died for all . . . to abolish death with his blood . . . he has gained the whole humanity. 
the totality of the people has entered, so that every human be saved. 
He offered the sacrifice for all.
Our Saviour's death has liberated the world. By his wounds all of us have been healed
[In the cross there is] salvation of all humans in all places 
I am most certainly not an Athanasius scholar, but it certainly looks universalist! And given his Origenist sympathies, we'd need some good reasons to think it was not.

Now Athanasius did speak of the eschatological punishment of aionial fire. Presumably this is why people assume that he could not have been a universalist. However, Ramelli argues that Athanasius' use of this concept follows that of Origen. In other words, she argues that he makes a clear distinction between aidios (eternal) and aionios (age-long, or belonging to an age). Thus, future punishment is never spoken of as aidios (eternal), but only ever as aionios (belonging to the age to come). 

She further shows that—like Clement, Origen, and others—Athanasius had a notion of corrective punishment in the age to come. After citing the threat of eternal fire he reveals that its aim is "that these may revive, and those may correct themselves." Those who have been cursed by the Lord can have his mercy and will be inserted anew once they have abandoned their incredulity.

If Athanasius was indeed a universalist, this is not insignificant. It is easy in some quarters to dismiss Origen (often on the basis of misunderstanding him), but one cannot so easily dismiss Athanasius, the great defender of Nicene orthodoxy and the arch-opponent of Arius. If Ramelli is right, then universalism was not as marginal and fringe as it is sometimes claimed.