Foundational Theology

Foundational theology is merely the theology of the early church fathers. If a person takes time to read them, they will find a great deal of reasoning with the Scriptures. Foundational theology takes the conclusions of these early church fathers as authoritative for subsequent interpretation and protects against heretical thought using that foundation under the presupposition that the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, who showed them the true interpretation of the Scriptures. It is a continuation of the apostolic tradition, in recognition that they were with Christ and subsequently received power from on High to proclaim the gospel to the world.

Foundational theology seems like fundamentalist theology because it takes the Scriptures very literally, but it is actually quite fine tuned, in that it builds upon precepts and then views texts based on those established precepts. Fundamentalist theology is more like a wild horse. It can go anywhere, seeking to interpret foundations based on the text, rather than the text based on the foundations. It divorces itself from the tradition of the apostles and places no value in the observations of the early church fathers.

While I am not beyond criticizing the early church fathers or re-examining the foundations they have set, I do find that paying close attention to what they have said makes very good sense, given that those who taught them were the apostles themselves through the oral reception of their words and daily teachings in a world where discipleship was taken far more seriously than it is today.

That said, I am not superstitious about it. I don’t hold them infallible and their authority is relative, heading in two directions. The first direction is toward the beginning, which is proximity to Christ. It stands to reason that information gets lost from generation to generation. A careful preservation of the faith first handed to the saints is no easy task. Thus it is that the later centuries are marked by new disagreements and controversies. Proximity in terms of number of generations and proven study of those in which such proximity is evident is the most important way to determine what the early traditions held. The second direction is toward the end. There is a certain authority that comes from people who continually reflect. While proximity disappears, reflection increases. As Daniel states, “many will go back and forth and knowledge will increase” (Dn12:4). He describes a progressive revelation that does not end with the apostles and indicates the increase of knowledge until the return of the Lord.

Foundationism is thus progressive. It builds and receives and also seeks through continuous reflection and grows in observation over time clear through until the Lord returns. The beginning, the middle and the end of all of this is all subject to scrutiny but must be examined as a whole and not from just one standpoint or another. Where change is found through the centuries, and it is, we have fair reason to ask why and draw conclusions as we seek the Lord’s help, who promised the Holy Spirit to those who would ask of the Father.

Fundamentalism is its opposite. Fundamentalism in its purest form utterly disregards all but the texts themselves, and even goes so far as to suppose that only those texts which were preserved constitute the Gospel. It supposes that if there were any oral traditions and teachings, acknowledging they certainly existed, that all of these were restricted to the same teaching as the texts, so they have no value or authority and certainly do not constitute the Word of God.

Foundationism, by contrast, sees the pillar and ground of the truth as the Living God Himself, a Truth which can only be discovered in the church of the Living God as He speaks (1Tm3:15). He is thus described by Paul as the God who continues to speak because He is living. The Scriptures stand forever unchanged, but it is questionable whether any of the apostles even considered their own writings to be a new set of Scripture in the same sense that the writings of the Old Testament were. They believed they had received authority from on high but did not seem to suppose that that authority was limited to their writings.

Foundationism must examine the implications of eternity past. God's presence in it is a reflection of the belief in divine perfection.
Foundationism must examine the implications of eternity past. God’s presence in it is a reflection of the belief in divine perfection.

I say all this here in the cosmostrophy blog and to some that may seem odd. The question of how an eternity has passed, since God is said to be from eternity, is a mathematical one that pertains not to God, but to math itself.  It calls for a reconciliation that none of the early fathers seem to have considered, not being mathematicians so much, or considering the Universe as a certain amount of mass and energy that might limit its particular time and space. Neither do they seem to have considered the possibility of multiverses – multiple Universes – so much as multiple deities and secondary powers like angels and the ogdoads they saw as inconsistent with the perfection they saw in the one immutable God.

Their view of divine perfection led them to think of God as impassible, without passion, because they saw God as unchanging and wholly other, uncreated. They saw emotion and feeling as something that belonged to creation rather than to God. And for this reason, they relegated the feeling even of Jesus strictly to His humanity. They believed that His divinity united in Him as one Person, temporarily on earth by divine economy,  did not share passion or feeling – no suffering. These belonged to the human nature alone, so that by economy in the unity of humanity and divinity in Jesus, the one Son did share in our sufferings, but not the Father and not the divinity of Jesus, only his humanity.

A new theology has recently arisen that challenges this antipassianism of divinity. It has taken many forms and can be found in the panentheism of Whitehead and Harthshorne, as founders of it and it has much appeal because it sees God as sharing in our sufferings. It helps us cope when we see family members dying to think that the Lord suffers with us as we pray. These new theologians, unlike the fathers, also tend to maintain that the Creator depended on creation somehow for his own being. Whitehead maintained some form of immutability of the divine through “process theology” and it is not anything I spend my time reading so I can’t say whether or not he really does any justice to divine immutability. The struggle for all of these is in seeing the Father as dispassionate, lacking feeling. It seems incongruous to them, (and to me), that God can lack any good quality if God is perfect. Are feelings a bad quality? Is suffering a bad quality? If it is not unholy, then why must God lack it?

It is all a conundrum that I believe could be solved by asking the cosmostrophic question, a consideration that so far as I know, none of the early church fathers entertained, nor did others after them who honored the tradition they received from that foundation. Invariably, the view of the fathers was to see time as something that began with creation, not observing that if God was from all eternity, that there must also have been an eternity that had first passed, which is a mathematical impossibility. A minimum of two Universes must exist in order for their to be two separate time frames – the one that is eternal for God, and the other that begins with our own Universe. Instead, the fathers all saw time as being ever preexistent, ignoring this impossibility. They instead saw God as non-Universal because He is uncreated. They never thought of a Universe that was much more vast than our own – infinite – that consisted of nothing but God Himself. They assume, like many of us do today, that our own Universe is endless. But cosmologists don’t think that is true.

To resolve this with modern cosmology, we can answer the cosmostrophic question and suppose that God must have skipped over time on our behalf to allow us to be created. He did not just create us out of nothing. He passed over an infinite amount of time in doing so. The economy of salvation is thus given to us through Christ into a world infinitely distant from Himself not just in time, still wholly other as the fathers maintained, but in His own endless Universe both as to time, and perhaps space. The alternative is to suppose that God is not actually literally from eternity, but would saying so be consistent with the foundation of the apostles? No. They would consider that a blasphemy. None of them doubted that God was from all eternity. And neither has this issue been doubted by any of the subsequent fathers who built on their foundation.  Do you see how this works? God is seen as eternal because being eternal is one of the attributes of perfection. God being unchanging is also thought to be such an attribute. This is because if God changes, this indicates that one state of being is greater than another. They have always maintained that he must be unchanging – immutable – on account of this theology of perfection. It is a theology that can first be traced to Ireneus.

Now I would be willing to entertain the idea that God is not from all eternity, if it were not for the notion of perfection that the early fathers also founded in describing God as they reasoned with the Scriptures.  It is this very immutable eternal single perfection that they continually recognize that caused them to assume that divinity could take no part in the economy of this Universe except through the Son, who being sent by God the Father expressed the will of God the Father through the divine work of salvation.

The problem I have with that is that I don’t see Immutability as excluding passion just because passion is human. Just because a quality is human does not mean that it is not also a divine quality first? In fact, it stands to reason in the argument for the perfection of divinity, that not only is God immutable, but that God should also lack no good quality in His immutable perfection. That human nature is a temporal nature is given in Christ without confusion and His human nature is proven wholly good, not that it is divine. His prenacence as Son is not fleshly, but does serve as the Word to man historically, and has existed eternally with the Father before creation. What is holy in what is fleshly is surely not excluded in the pre-eternal Son prior to his humanity. Thus every good quality of humanity has eternally existed as a quality of the divine perfection. This is an observation that stands in contradiction to the notion of divine passianism and unfortunately, I find myself in a quandry over it, as I am confronted with a huge weight of material from the fathers, given their early encounter with the modalists, which resulted in a copious number of works denouncing patripassianism as heresy.

Seeing this, I have sought to delineate how it is that the divine perfection is fully reconciled with the fact that what is good in humanity has eternally pre-existed as qualities included in the one immutable divine nature, but this presents a great difficulty for me as a foundationist because the foundation started out very much weighted toward defending the separation of Persons in the Trinity and in such a fashion that the theme of immutability seems to have overpowered the reason the theme of immutability came up in the first place – the divine perfection, as persuasively given first through Ireneus.

Tracing the origins of these things, I find that the mentor of Tertullian, the first to outline the problem of patripassianism at length, was Justin, a philosopher trained by one probably directly associated with the apostles. Justin himself mentions a teacher in the Christian faith who mentored him, but does not give us his identity but his knowledge of the Scriptures is clear in his Dialog with Trypho and the respect of his authority as a teacher among early Christians is apparent in the preservation not only of that work but of his letters to the Senate and to Marcus Aurelius.

I will begin looking at Justin and Ireneus as I redirect this conversation back toward the apostles but will first be examining carefully the antipatripassianism that is given through Tertullian, since his is the first record we have of a detailed treatment of the matter. Tertullian wrote over a hundred years prior to the Council of Nicea and was thought a heretic by the orthodox that followed because of his sympathies toward Montanus. Yet despite this his writings are preserved, which to me stands a testimony to the early church’s wholehearted agreement with his non-Montanist material.

The reader of this blog will be able to look up my summaries of Tertullian by looking up posts marked by that name as I add my commentary in the coming days. For now, I just want to outline my purpose for this exercise. Whether one ultimately deems me a heretic or not for supposing that divinity cannot lack any good quality that humanity possesses on account of it being the divine nature to be perfect, not just immutable, I won’t concern myself with. My goal here is to simply examine what was said, listen and learn from it as I do, and to see if any of this dismantles the notion of the divine perfection in the sense I am seeking here to preserve, since to me it seems plainly logical.

I will close here by saying that there is one last reason why this matters to me. Ultimately, this bears on my view of how to solve the problem of evil and suffering in the Universe. Many people insist that God cannot be perfect because he allows evil. Foundational cosmostrophy solves the problem of evil by seeing God as perfect, reaching forward in time with an infinite leap, taking all that is good from it back to Himself to His own time frame and Universe, and enjoying the good from all eternity. He does this through multiple mansions or Universes on behalf of the good of each, so that there is no good lacking. We are infinitely removed from evil because we are truly creatures of that Universe and not of this one, to which we are dying, and where we find suffering. God’s own Universe is wholly other and then these relational Universes accompany Him but do not add to His omnibenevolence because they can’t, as He has always possessed every good quality they have in themselves. For His good pleasure, He lets them participate in His glory though they are less than what He is. He does not depend on them for His existence or goodness, which is complete with or without them. His goodness is prior to them and requires no need of change to have any good thing added to it.

This is the view I will maintain as I examine the foundational theology of the church through the writings of the church fathers in the two directions I mentioned, beginning with Tertullian. Are you ready?


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