‘Church Fathers’ Category

Book Review: The Quest for the Trinity by Stephen Holmes

February 9th, 2015 Posted in Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Theology

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Stephen R. Holmes, The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012; xx+231 pages.

the quest for the trinityA part of an ever-growing body of recent literature on the most important doctrine of the Christian Faith, that is, that the true and living God is a triune Being, this comprehensive study by Stephen Holmes, senior lecturer in theology at the University of St. Andrews, is a solid critique of the direction of much of this literature. As Holmes notes, many theologians in the twentieth century, especially in the latter half, believed that the doctrine of the Trinity had been neglected, even lost, and they sought to recover it. As Holmes adeptly shows, though, this recovery by the likes of Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, and John Zizioulas has given rise to a perspective on the Trinity quite at odds with what had prevailed in Christian thinking and devotion from the patristic era to the end of the eighteenth century. The reason for this Holmes deftly shows to have been the fact that twentieth-century thinkers regarded the patristic understanding of the Trinity, which Christian tradition had assumed to be correct down to the rise of biblical criticism in the eighteenth century, as deeply problematic. The Fathers’ insistence on the simplicity and ineffability of the divine being, the fact that the three divine hypostases are distinguished by the eternal relations of generation and procession, and that the entirety of Scripture bears witness to the Triune God have basically been ignored by modern writers. And the result, in Holmes’ opinion, can hardly be described as a “Trinitarian revival.”

Holmes first looks at the biblical witness to the Trinity (p.33-55) and rightly stresses that the Patristic development of the doctrine of the Trinity is “largely a history of biblical exegesis” (p.33). Some of their exegesis seems odd to early twenty-first-century readers, but Holmes helps us make sense of their hermeneutics and also shows why it can be regarded as viable. He then turns to the actual development of the patristic understanding of the Trinity, which rightly occupies a significant amount of his book (p.56­–143). Critical to his argument here is his cogent demonstration that there is a unified patristic witness about the Trinity, contra the common, but very wrong, assumption that the Greek Fathers, personified in the Cappadocians, and the Latin Fathers, personified in Augustine, took two very different and conflicting pathways of thought about God.

Chapter 7 looks at the medieval doctrine of the Trinity and the debate over the filioque (p.147­–164), where Holmes argues that neither position in the latter should be regarded as doing “violence to the received orthodox and catholic tradition” (p.164). While this reviewer personally sees the filioque as a correct development, I think Holmes is right in his emphasis here. Chapter 8 (p.165–181) tracks the story from the Reformation to the close of the eighteenth century. The period after the Reformation is often ignored in the history of Trinitarianism, and Holmes’ careful, though succinct, attention to this era is very welcome. The final chapter (p.182–200) looks at Trinitarian thought in the last two hundred years—the speculative nature of much of it in the nineteenth century after G.W.F. Hegel and F.D.E. Schleiermacher and then the supposed recovery in the twentieth century.

Has Holmes proven his case? This reviewer thinks so: twentieth-century theologians have clearly regarded the patristic synthesis as deeply problematic and taken thinking about the Trinity in very different directions from the received tradition. If so, what is needed then is a true ressourcement, in which the Fathers’ thinking on the Trinity is carefully delineated and its significance for the present day cogently argued.

Michael A.G. Haykin
Professor of Church History
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

To download the review as PDF, click here. To see other book reviews, visit here.

Reading Plan for the Latin Fathers (April-June 2014)

April 19th, 2014 Posted in Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Reading Church History Lists

By Michael A.G. Haykin

April 19–26     Read Tertullian’s Against Praxeas
Question: What are Tertullian’s main arguments against modalism and how does he anticipate the later Trinitarian formula “three persons in one being”?

April 27–30     Read Cyprian, To Donatus
Question: Outline Cyprian’s understanding of conversion.

May 1–7          Read Cyprian, On the Unity of the Catholic Church
Question: What are the marks of the true church according to Cyprian and how does he substantiate his view?

May 8­–15        Read Novatian, On the Trinity
Question: How does Novatian show from Scripture that Jesus is God?

May 16–23      Read Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 1
Question: Outline Hilary’s conversion.

May 24–31      Read Augustine, Confessions (the whole book)
Question: Outline the way that Augustine depicts God as The Beautiful.

June 1–7          Read Augustine, City of God 1.1–36; 4.1–4; 11.1–4; 12.4–9; 13.1–24; 14.1–28; 15.1–2; 20.1–30; 21.1–2; 22.8–9; 22.29–30
Question: What is Augustine’s understanding of history?

June 8–15        Read Patrick, Confession
Question: What is Patrick’s understanding of the missionary call?

Download the Reading Plan for the Latin Fathers (PDF)

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

Dr. Rowan Greer

April 11th, 2014 Posted in Church Fathers, Church History, Historians

By Michael A.G. Haykin

One of my scholarly heroes, Dr Rowan Greer, has recently passed away. Here is the official notice, which does not mention the book that deeply shaped the way that I approach Patristic exegesis, The Captain of Our Salvation, his ground-breaking study of the exegesis of Hebrews.

On March 17, 2014, The Rev. Dr. Rowan A. Greer III, Walter H. Gray Professor of Anglican Studies at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, died after several years of on-and-off illness. He was 79. Greer taught at Yale for nearly 35 years, and he is remembered for his generous and devoted service to his students.

Although he rarely attended academic conferences, Greer is widely known for his pioneering work in the study of Antiochene Christology, patristic exegesis, and early Christian pastoral ministry, and for his translations of early Christian texts. Greer’s Theodore of Mopsuestia: Exegete and Theologian—published four years before his 1965 Yale Ph.D.—is still regarded as a seminal work. His treatment of patristic exegesis in Early Biblical Interpretation (Westminster, 1986, with James Kugel), was for many years a rare introduction to early Christian hermeneutics. And his volume on Origen for the Classics of Western Spirituality Series remains a treasured and much-used book.

Greer’s scholarship was characterized by an approach that integrates theological and social concerns, well before such interdisciplinarity became de rigueur. Building on early works from the 1960s and 1970s, the fullest expression of Greer’s approach came in his monograph Broken Lights and Mended Lives: Theology and Common Life in the Early Church (Penn State, 1986), which ranges from classical soteriology to the practicalities of family, hospitality, and Christian politics. Greer’s Christian Hope and Christian Life: Raids on the Inarticulate (Crossroad, 2001), a study of Christian eschatology in Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, John Donne, and Jeremy Taylor, won the Association of Theological Booksellers’ 2001 Book of the Year. In recent years he published two volumes of translations, The “Belly-Myther” of Endor: Interpretations of 1 Kingdoms 28 in the Early Church (Brill, 2007, with Margaret Mitchell), and Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Commentaries on the Minor Epistles of Paul (Brill, 2010). With the assistance of J. Warren Smith, a final work-in-progress will appear later this year as One Path for All: Gregory of Nyssa on the Christian Life and Human Destiny (Cascade).

A memorial service will be held at Yale Divinity School sometime this fall.

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

 

Reclaiming St. Patrick’s Day

March 17th, 2014 Posted in Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Biblical Spirituality, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Eminent Christians, Missions

By Steve Weaver
Patrick Cover

Michael Haykin’s new biography of Patrick. See below for a free giveaway opportunity.

We are blessed in our society today to have holidays such as Easter, Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day which are filled with Christian significance. Unfortunately, almost all of the Christian meaning for these important markers on the Christian calendar has been forgotten. As much as we Christians like to blame the nebulous society around us, I don’t think it is the “world’s” fault that these holidays have not retained their Christian meaning. Instead, I fault Christians who are either unaware of their heritage or just plain derelict in their duty to educate their children. We shouldn’t expect unbelievers to celebrate Christianity, but we should expect Christians to seek to pass their heritage on to the next generation.

Hopefully you do use the holidays of Christmas and Easter as opportunities to talk to your children about the birth and resurrection of Christ respectively. However, days like St. Valentine’s Day and especially St. Patrick’s Day are often missed opportunities in evangelical homes. Perhaps we’re frightened away by the fact that these individuals are often associated with the Roman Catholic Church. But there is no need to fear Patrick for in him evangelicals have not a foe but a friend.

Patrick was a courageous Christian missionary to Ireland in the 5th century. His story of being kidnapped as a boy in Britain to become a slave in Ireland, his escape back to Britain, and his call as a missionary to return is a fascinating tale of God’s providence and grace. His dedication to the doctrine of the Trinity is both admirable and worthy of emulation. Talking to your children about how Patrick taught the Trinity to the pagans of his day provides a tremendous opportunity to explain this difficult biblical teaching to them. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. Likewise, Patrick’s commitment to take the gospel to unreached peoples (Ireland at the time would have been considered the “end of the world.”) is another important teachable aspect of this remarkable life for our children. Read, in Patrick’s own words, his commitment to take the gospel to Ireland:

I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers, bearing the reproach of my going abroad and many persecutions even unto bonds, and to give my free birth for the benefit of others; and, should I be worthy, I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord would grant it to me. (Confession 37)

In short, St. Patrick should be introduced to our children as a courageous missionary hero who believed and taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Many legends are attached to the story of Patrick and though I believe most are grounded in some true events, the discerning reader must be aware of the mixture of legend and history on this early Christian figure. However, we are not dependent merely on legends to know about the life of Patrick. His autobiographical Confession has survived the centuries and is a fascinating recounting of his life.

For those interested in learning more, there is a helpful modern biography of Patrick by Philip Freeman. For parents wanting a good introduction that can be ready by or to their children, I highly recommend Patrick: Saint of Ireland by Joyce Denham. In addition, a new biography of Patrick has been penned by Michael Haykin, which is already available in the UK and is available for pre-order in the US. We are going to give away a free copy of this book today. Enter the contest below!

A few short, but very helpful articles about Patrick’s modern-day relevance are available online.

This post originally appeared on March 17, 2012 on pastorhistorian.com. It has been lightly edited and reposted today on that blog in honor of St. Patrick’s Day 2014.

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children.

New Series on Early Church Fathers Edited by Michael Haykin

March 14th, 2014 Posted in Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Eminent Christians, Historians

By Steve Weaver

A new series of books featuring biographies of the early church fathers is being published by Christian Focus Publications of the United Kingdom. Noted Patristic scholar Michael A.G. Haykin is serving as the series editor. According to the publisher’s website:  ”this series relates the magnificent impact that these fathers of the early church made for our world today. They encountered challenges similar to ones that we face in our postmodern world, and they met them with extraordinary values that will encourage and inspire us today.”

Basil CoverThe first volume, authored by Marvin Jones, focuses on Basil of Caesarea. The publisher’s website provides the following description:

Basil of Caesarea (329-379 AD) was a Greek Bishop in what is now Turkey. A thoughtful theologian, he was instrumental in the formation of the Nicene Creed. He fought a growing heresy, Arianism, that had found converts, including those in high positions of state. In the face of such a threat he showed courage, wisdom and complete confidence in God that we would do well to emulate today.

Patrick CoverThe second volume in the series was authored by Haykin and is an exploration of the life and impact of Patrick of Ireland. The publisher’s website provides this description:

Patrick ministered to kings and slaves alike in the culture that had enslaved him. Patrick’s faith and his commitment to the Word of God through hard times is a true example of the way that God calls us to grow and to bless those around us through our suffering. Michael Haykin’s masterful biography of Patrick’s life and faith will show you how you can follow God’s call in your life.

Both these books are available in the UK. They will not be available in the US until May, but are available for pre-order now on Amazon:

Other books scheduled in the series include:

  • Athanasius by Carl Trueman
  • Cyril of Alexandria by Steve McKinion
  • Augustine by Brad Green
  • Irenaeus of Lyons by Ligon Duncan
  • Tertullian by David Robinson

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children.

 

The Fathers—my mentors

January 31st, 2014 Posted in Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Do the Fathers lead logically to the full-blown theology of the Roman Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodoxy? Not at all: Epiphanius of Salamis condemned the use of icons and pictures; Cyprian described Stephen, the bishop of Rome, as the Antichrist; Augustine’s view of the presence of Christ is much closer to Luther than Trent; and on and on. Read Calvin’s Institutes and see how often he cites the Fathers, esp. Augustine. And why? Because he believed they supported him, not the Roman Church. And he was right. Thomas Cranmer, the theological and liturgical architect of Anglicanism, was one of the leading patristic scholars of his day. No, the Fathers are not necessarily the root of the Roman Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodoxy. They are just as much my Fathers as they are theirs—and I, a full-blown unrepentant Evangelical—am not ashamed to own them as my theological mentors and forebears. This does not mean I believe everything they believed, even as I do not believe everything my great hero Andrew Fuller believed (his view that John Wesley was a crypto-Jesuit is plain ridiculous, e.g.).

If you wish to see how contemporary Evangelicals read the Fathers, check out the series of books beginning to be published this year by Christian Focus and of which I am the series editor: “Early Church Fathers.”

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

Dr. Haykin contributes to New Book on the Atonement

November 15th, 2013 Posted in Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Theology

By Steve Weaver

Final coverReleasing this month from Crossway is a massive new book on the doctrine of definite atonement titled From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. As the title suggests, this volume will approach the doctrine historically, biblically, theologically, and pastorally.

Edited by David and Jonathan Gibson, the volume assembles a world-class group of scholars to address their “particular” topics. Dr. Haykin drew from his patristic training to write his chapter: “We Trust in the Saving Blood”: Definite Atonement in the Ancient Church.

There is a website dedicated to promoting the book. On the website, you will find a list of the contributors, the table of contents, endorsements, and a free preview (PDF) of the book.

The book is slated to release on November 30, 2013, but is already available for pre-order from Amazon.com.

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Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 2 and 14.

A Reading-Plan for The City of God

November 7th, 2013 Posted in Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Books, Church Fathers, Church History, Eminent Christians

By Michael A.G. Haykin

StAugustineCityOfGodWhen I have lectured on Augustine’s seminal work, The City of God, I have often mentioned a reading plan I have for the work. Here it is below. The number prior to the full stop refers to the book (there are twenty-two books in The City of God), and the numbers after the full stop refer to the chapters within the respective books.

1.1­–36: why Augustine wrote The City of God

4.1–4: the nature of kingdoms without justice

11.1–4: the origin of the two cities, the city of God and the city of man

12.4–9: the origin of evil

13.1–24: man’s fall and sinfulness

14.1–28: the two cities

15.1–2: the two cities at the beginning of time

20.1–30: the end of the two cities

21.1–2: the eternality of the punishment of the wicked

22.8–9: an excursus on miracles

22.29–30: the beatific vision

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

Prayer: Common Ground for Origen of Alexandria and Fuller of Kettering

June 19th, 2013 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Ancient Church: 2nd & 3rd Centuries, Andrew Fuller, Biblical Spirituality, Church Fathers, Church History, Eminent Christians, Prayer

By Dustin W. Benge

Throughout church history men have written treatises on the subject of prayer using the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9–13) as a framework to shape their pastoral instruction. Perhaps no connection could be made between early church father, Origen of Alexandria (184/185–253/254) and Andrew Fuller (1754–1815), except they both gave insightful expositions on the Lord’s Prayer.

Origen’s treatise on prayer (De Oratione) reads more as a practical pastoral handbook than a major theological treatise. Origen gave a beautiful interpretation of the opening address of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Origen believed a Christian could not proceed with the following petitions and requests contained within the Lord’s Prayer until this opening phrase is rightly understood. Origen pointed out that the Old Testament does not know the name “Father” as an alternative for God, in the Christian sense of a steady and changeless adoption.[1] Only those who have received the spirit of adoption can recite the prayer rightly. Therefore, the entire life of a believer should consist in lifting up prayers that contain, “Our Father who art in heaven,” because the conduct of every believer should be heavenly, not worldly. Origen explained:

Let us not suppose that the Scriptures teach us to say “Our Father” at any appointed time of prayer. Rather, if we understand the earlier discussion of praying “constantly” (1 Thess 5:17), let our whole life be a constant prayer in which we say “Our Father in heaven” and let us keep our commonwealth (Phil 3:20) not in any way on earth, but in every way in heaven, the throne of God, because the kingdom of God is established in all those who bear the image of Man from heaven (1 Cor 15:49) and have thus become heavenly.[2]

Like Origen, Fuller began his exegesis of the Lord’s Prayer by establishing that prayer must be dependent upon the character of the one to whom we are allowed to draw near, namely, “Our Father.” The recognition of God as “Our Father” implies that sinners have become “adopted alien[s] put among the children.”[3] Those adopted into God’s family can therefore rightly approach God as their Father but it must, as Fuller clarifies, be through a Mediator. Fully consistent with the Messianic age, Christ set himself within the context of the prayer as the One through which the Christian must come if he or she is to approach God as “Father.” Fuller states, “The encouragement contained in this tender appellation is inexpressible. The love, the care, the pity, which it comprehends, and the filial confidence which it inspires, must, if we are not wanting to ourselves, render prayer as a most blessed exercise.”[4]

Origen and Fuller arrive at the same conclusion. They both see the phrase, “Our Father,” as the affirmation within the Lord’s Prayer that anchors the proceeding requests and brings great confidence within the one praying. Understanding God as “our Father” is the gift that causes the joy of prayer to be realized.


                [1] On Prayer (De Oratione) (Coptic Orthodox Church Network).

                [2] Origen, “On Prayer,” 125.

                [3] The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, 1:578.

                [4] The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, 1:578.

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Dustin W. Benge (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Associate Pastor and Pastor for Family Ministries at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, AL. Dustin is a junior fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center and lives with his wife, Molli, in Mobile.

The First Abolitionist: Gregory of Nyssa on Slavery

June 18th, 2013 Posted in Ancient Church: 4th & 5th Centuries, Church Fathers, Church History, Eminent Christians, Great Quotes

By Dustin Bruce

Though it rubs against our modern sensibilities, Christians in the ancient world generally accepted slavery as a normal, albeit unfortunate, aspect of human reality. One expert has summarized, “In antiquity, only the rare Christian perceived the gospel to be incompatible with the institution of slavery.”[1] Gregory of Nyssa (A.D. 330–395), the youngest of the Cappadocian Fathers, was just such a rare Christian.

Gregory, in what is considered “the most scathing critique of slaveholding in all of antiquity,” attacked the institution as incompatible with humanity’s creation in the image of God.[2] Gregory’s remarkable diatribe against the practice of slavery may be found in his fourth homily on Ecclesiastes, specifically addressing 2:7, “I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem” (ESV).

Of all the Preacher’s boasting, this statement stands as the worst affront to Gregory and in his mind, God.[3] He asks, “Do any of the things listed here…suggest as much arrogance as the man’s idea that he as a man can be master over his fellows?”[4] Such a declaration of slaveholding reveals the “vast extent of his boastfulness.”[5] Gregory states sharply, “Such a voice as his is raised in open defiance against God.”[6]

For Gregory, slavery violates the characteristics of man as created in the image of God. The following portions are a mere sampling of his powerful argument:

‘I acquired slaves and slave girls.’ What is that you say? You condemn a person to slavery whose nature is free and independent, and in doing so you lay down a law in opposition to God, overturning the natural law established by him. For you subject to the yoke of slavery one who was created precisely to be a master of the earth, and who was ordained to rule by the creator, as if you were deliberately attacking and fighting against the divine command.[7]

What price did you put on reason? How many obols did you pay as a fair price for the image of God? For how many staters have you sold the nature specially formed by God? ‘God said, “Let us make man in our image and likeness.”’[8]

Gregory of Nyssa holds a unique place among the Fathers as the singular opponent of the existence of slavery in any form. With comments reminiscent of a William Wilberforce speech or a Frederick Douglass discourse, Gregory sharply denounces the practice of enslaving a person who bears the image of God as immoral and contrary to God’s intentions for humanity. Not only is Gregory’s condemnation of slavery unique, it is also instructive. With millions of modern day slaves, all bearing the image of God, existing in a state of tortuous bondage throughout the globe, may all God’s people be as bold as Gregory in asking, “who can buy a man, who can sell him, when he is made in the likeness of God.”[9]


[1]Jennifer A. Glancy, Slavery as Moral Problem: In the Early Church and Today (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 78.

[2]Glancy, Slavery as Moral Problem, 97.

[3]It is interesting to note that Gregory understands the Preacher to be offering a public confession for his sins in this portion of Ecclesiastes. Daniel F. Stramara Jr., “Gregory of Nyssa: An Ardent Abolitionist,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 41, no. 1 (1997): 43.

[4]Translation taken from Trevor Dennis, “Man Beyond Price: Gregory of Nyssa and Slavery,” in Heaven and Earth : Essex Essays in Theology and Ethics (Worthington, West Sussex: Churchman, 1986), 130. Also, an English translation may be found in Stuart George Hall and Rachel Moriarty, eds., Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on Ecclesiastes (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1993), 74–75.

[5]Dennis, “Man Beyond Price,” 135.

[6]Dennis, “Man Beyond Price,” 135.

[7]Dennis, “Man Beyond Price,” 135.

[8]Dennis, “Man Beyond Price,” 136.

[9]Dennis, “Man Beyond Price,” 136.

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Dustin Bruce lives in Louisville, KY where he is pursuing a PhD in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Seminary. He is a graduate of Auburn University and Southwestern Seminary. Dustin and his wife, Whitney, originally hail from Alabama.