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The Fatherhood of God from Origen to Athanasius.

Widdicombe's special concern in this very readable work is to understand Origen's and Athanasius' doctrines of God the Father in each author's distinctive context or Sitz im Leben. To accomplish such an understanding successfully, W. carefully sets out the issues and influences that affected each author. In the case of Origen, for example, W. takes the reader through important issues regarding middle Platonic understandings of whether God can be known and how the Logos functions to reveal God. W.'s thoroughness gives the book a synthetic dimension that some other treatments of Origen and Athanasius lack: the reader has a clear sense of both Origen's and Athanasius' theologies of God over-all, and how the specific doctrine of the fatherhood of God figures in each of those theologies.

Origen and Athanasius constitute the end points of W.'s analysis because what is actually being described in the book is the doctrine of the fatherhood of God in Alexandrian theology. Origen, it is argued, establishes a theology of fatherhood which will characterize most of the successive generations of Alexandrian theologians. Alexander and Athanasius are the most significant of these later theologians, and both find their moment of crisis when a fellow Alexandrian, Arius, promotes a doctrine of God which denies the legitimacy of the traditional insight of God's fatherhood. The debate with Arius is treated by W. as the decisive event in shaping Athanasius's mature understanding of the fatherhood of God. W. makes the argument that Athanasius's doctrine of God's fatherhood keeps faith with Origen's while Arius's neglect (or rejection) of the doctrine breaks with Origen. Athanasius's anti-Arian understanding of the fatherhood of God thus constitutes the full development of Origen's doctrine.

Which is not to collapse Origen's and Athanasius's doctrines into one another. As W. makes clear, Origen's doctrine of divine fatherhood is set very much within the context of cosmology, in which Origen is developing a distinctively Christian alternative to pagan understandings of divine transcendence: responding to texts like Republic 509B and Timaeus 28C are important milestones for Origen. W.'s emphasis on the centrality of Origen's argument against God's materiality in particular is well taken and illuminating. Athanasius's doctrine of divine fatherhood, as has already been suggested, is by contrast very much engaged with refuting what seemed to Athanasius as the fundamental disavowal of God's natural or intrinsic productivity. What binds Origen and Athanasius is precisely the insight that God must be understood to be, by nature, productive.

While I have only quibbling criticisms to make about W.'s analysis of the content and context of the Alexandrian doctrine of God's fatherhood from Origen to Athanasius, I must disagree with his assessment of the significance of the doctrine's last stage, in Athanasius. W. asserts that the ultimate significance of Athanasius's doctrine of God's fatherhood lay in its function as the foundation for later pro-Nicene trinitarian thought, in that Athanasius's discussion of divine fatherhood sets the parameters for later fourth-century theologians, such as the Cappadocians, in their treatment of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is another fourth-century argument over God's fatherhood which seems the more likely foundation for Cappadocian trinitarian theology, namely the debate between Basil of Ancyra and George of Laodicea, who favored fatherson language, and Eunomius of Cyzicus and Eudoxius of Antioch, who favored Creator-creature language. In this debate, the use of "father" for God is thought by Eunomius and Eudoxius to attribute passion to God and thereby imply material generation and, more importantly, take away God's freedom. Basil and George's theology likely owes nothing to Athanasius, and that of Eunomius and Eudoxius may owe just as little to Arius. It is premature, I think, to give Athanasius the fourth-century role of being the nor-mative expression of Eastern pro-Nicene theology (although I would not argue with a claim that he obtains this status in the fifth century).

I emphasize this point because some of W.'s readers will be searching for a good historical account of the patristic doctrine of God the "Father" as a resource for contemporary gender-related speculations (as W. foresaw and provides for in a Postscript). They will certainly find that in W.'s work of first-class scholarship. What cannot happen next, I suggest, is the conclusion that an account of Athanasius's doctrine of the fatherhood of God provides as well an account of the fundamental "Nicene" trinitarian doctrine of fatherhood of God.

MICHEL RENE BARNES Marquette University, Milwaukee
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Author:Barnes, Michel Rene
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1995
Words:735
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