Sunday, March 2, 2014

Creedal Foundations and the Resurrection of the Dead in the Apostolic Fathers

                   The writings of the Apostolic Fathers are the earliest extant patristic texts. One, the Didache, was possibly written as early as 50 (though some scholars date it closer to 150) and the latest, Second Clement, was likely complete before 170 (Galli, 10-14). They are called apostolic because they are by (or about, in the case of the Martyrdom of Polycarp) figures who likely had direct experience of the apostles. This is more likely in some cases than in others, but at any rate, the recently living apostles of Jesus Christ certainly directly influenced the era in which these Fathers wrote. This earliest age of Christianity significantly predates the formulation of the creeds that have since endeavored to ensure some degree of doctrinal unity within Christianity.
               The closest things to a creed found in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers are in the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch, who, writing before 117, approvingly observes that the Smyrnæans are 
“fully persuaded with respect to our Lord, that He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful, whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church” (86). 
This statement of Christian belief parallels significantly the order and content of the creed that would eventually develop at the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople (see page 10), and so it may be reasonable to suppose that the later councils built the creed, in small part, upon this foundation, of course filtered through centuries of baptismal creedal formulations.
Joanne McWilliam Dewart suggests a different reading of the resurrection in this statement of Ignatius. She reads, “Through the [rather than ‘His’] resurrection for his saints and faithful” (McWilliam Dewart, 47, emphases mine), as though Ignatius means to refer to the resurrection of the just and not simply of the resurrection of Christ. Ignatius’ omission of reference here to universal resurrection may or may not imply, as McWilliam Dewart suggests, that Ignatius believed in resurrection exclusively for the just (37).
While Ignatius might imply that God will not raise the unjust, the Didache states this plainly. Being primarily a guide for living according to “the way of life” (377), the Didache has very little to say about the resurrection of the dead, but what it does say is interesting. It ends with a simple apocalypse similar to that found in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 13:14-37) and it is in this context that it makes its only statement about the resurrection: “And then shall appear… the resurrection of the dead, yet not of all, but as it is said: The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him” (382, emphasis mine). The Didache is here interpreting a passage in Zechariah, which states, “Then the LORD your God will come, and all the holy ones with him” (Zech 14:5). The Didache erroneously identifies “coming with the Lord” with “resurrection,” rather than with “reigning with Christ Jesus” (cf. 2 Tim 2:12) or with the “resurrection of life” (John 5:29) This interpretation is contrary to the understanding of the Church, as it would develop in the following centuries.
One important and distinctive article of the Christian faith expressed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is that, “we look forward to a resurrection of the dead and life in the age to come” (Constantinople I, 24). Importantly, this “resurrection of the dead” does not include a qualification like that found in the Didache and consequently implies a resurrection of all the dead. Interestingly, this article was not included in the creed from the first council of Nicaea in 325 (Nicaea I, 5), but the first council of Constantinople added it in 381. Clearly, the Church only gradually realized the necessity of including this statement in the creed. Perhaps the first council of Nicaea considered it sufficient to attest to the resurrection of Christ, in which all resurrection is accomplished. The first council of Constantinople, however, encountered the need to clarify this belief further. Of course, the real foundation of this belief is Sacred Scripture, but to what extent do the Apostolic Fathers, hundreds of years before Nicaea, maintain and pass down the scriptural belief?
Although not without occasional ambiguity, there is ample support, in fact, for belief in the resurrection of the dead among the Apostolic Fathers, bearing in mind that the purpose of their writings was not doctrinal formulation, but more often exhortatory. Clement of Rome, in his epistle to the Corinthians, written in 96 or 97, offers a reasonably lengthy discussion of the resurrection of the body, considering that this is not the primary intention of his writing. During the course of this discussion, he associates the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ with the coming resurrection. He writes, “There shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead” (Clement, 11). The Apostolic Fathers frequently us this image of Christ as the first fruits, which implies that others will rise as He did (McWilliam Dewart, 36). The image also appears in Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:23). Clement further states that “the Lord continually proves [this] to us” through the testimony of nature’s numerous and continuous “resurrections.” He gives the cycle of night and day and the cycle of sowing and harvesting of grain as examples. (11). He also compares resurrection of the flesh to the fabulous life cycle of the phoenix (12). The fleshly and physical nature of these analogies suggests that Clement probably understands resurrection to be embodied and not shadowy, as would the contemporarily competing Gnosticism. Clement’s citation of Job as scriptural proof for the reality of the resurrection further strengthens the understanding of its physicality. He paraphrases the passage of Job that says, “After my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). Clement’s cyclical analogies, however, do not repeat his initial association of resurrection with that of Christ. Consequently, it is not entirely clear whether Clement understands the universal resurrection as primarily caused by Christ’s resurrection and triumph over death, or as primarily a function of good created nature. Furthermore, Clement never in his epistle specifically declares that resurrection is universal, as do certain other Apostolic Fathers, but rather limits his discussion to the positive resurrection of the just. Clement does not directly imply that resurrection was limited to the just, as did Ignatius, arguably; he simply leaves the issue of the resurrection of the unjust unaddressed.
That resurrection will take place for all people, Ignatius may actually imply in his Epistle to the Ephesians, which, in the course of a reflection on the newly established kingdom of God, states, “God… meditated the abolition of death” (57). Ignatius’ use of the term “abolition” as opposed to, for example, “relaxation” implies a total and complete end to the finality of death. For the abolition of death to be complete, the resurrection of all the dead would be necessary. However, declarations of Ignatius’ actual understanding of this issue, considering how scant his discussion of it is, are conjectural at best.   
Despite his possible ambiguity on the universality of resurrection, Ignatius does provide some further patristic support for the orthodox Christian belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead, which the council would later describe in the symbol of faith. He provides this foundation primarily in his discussion of the bodily resurrection of Christ contained in his Epistle to the Smyrnæans, in which he writes, “I know that after His resurrection also He was still in the flesh, and I believe that He is so now” (Ignatius, 87). He then quotes a passage from the apocryphal Gospel of the Nazarenes, which echoes a passage in the canonical Gospel of Luke, in which the eleven apostles, having seen the risen Lord, believe Him to be a spirit, to which the Lord replies, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39). Ignatius maintains and passes on this scriptural basis for belief in the resurrection of the flesh, writing also, “After his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh” (87). This emphasis is typical of Ignatius, who is consistently careful, against Docetism, to affirm the fleshly character of the resurrection of Christ and the essential unity of the body and the spirit in the human person (McWilliam Dewart, 48-49).
Ignatius, more clearly than Clement, connects the resurrection of Christ with the resurrection of others in his Epistle to the Magnesians, writing, “[On] the Lord’s Day…, our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death” (62). He reaffirms this point still more clearly in his Epistle to the Trallians, in which he writes, “Jesus Christ… was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus” (70). Here, once again, Ignatius provides a passage open to an accusation of denial of the resurrection of nonbelievers.
To this possible interpretation, Polycarp, whom Ignatius greatly admired[1], provides a possible corrective. In the context of exhorting deacons, youths and virgins to a virtuous life, Polycarp reminds his readers of the purpose in acting in ways that are pleasing to God: that in the resurrection, they may “reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12). Some of those God raises, by inference, will not reign with Him. In his Epistle to the Philippians, likely written before 120, Polycarp writes, 
“If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of Him, ‘we shall also reign together with Him,’ provided only we believe” (Polycarp, 34). 
 In this statement, belief does not necessarily appear as a prerequisite to resurrection, but rather only as a prerequisite to “also” reigning with the Lord.  
Polycarp offers the Church a more poignant testimony to his sure faith in the coming resurrection during his martyrdom. As he is preparing to hand his body over to be burned, he offers his prayer to God: 
O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ…, I give Thee thanks that… I should have a part in… the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 42). 
 In Polycarp’s reference to the “resurrection of eternal life,” he implies, in agreement with the Gospel according to John, of whom Polycarp is traditionally considered a disciple, that there is also another kind of resurrection, a “resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29), and not all those who are raised will also inherit eternal life. In fact, this is the faith as the Church would come to understand it, despite certain implications to the contrary in other apostolic writings (for example, in the Didache and Ignatius[2]), which is why the creed would later refer to the resurrection “of the dead” and not only of the saved.
However, another statement of Polycarp, found in his Epistle to Philippians, tends in the same direction as Ignatius and one could interpret it as a denial of universal resurrection. He writes, “He who raised [our Lord Jesus Christ] up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will” (33, emphasis mine). This could imply, of course, that if we do not do His will, He will not raise us. Polycarp wrote this epistle about forty years before his martyrdom. Read from the point of view of the later account of his martyrdom (or even within the context of the rest of the epistle), Polycarp may simply be saying that the Father will not raise those who do not do His will to eternal life, but rather to condemnation. A certain Pionius (copying Caius, copying Irenæus, a disciple of Polycarp (Polycarp, 43)) wrote the Martyrdom of Polycarp not long after Polycarp’s death, probably around 155. It is not entirely clear whether the “resurrection of eternal life” spoken of in this later document is a more mature expression of the Christian faith from an older Polycarp or an idea read into Polycarp’s words by one of the copyists that passed down the account of his martyrdom. Neither is it entirely clear that the author intended by this phrase the implication of a “resurrection of condemnation” as discussed above. However, regardless of what Polycarp’s or his disciples’ understandings may have been, the Church would ultimately accept universal bodily resurrection prior to the final judgment as the true belief. 
The homily commonly ascribed to Clement clearly defends this orthodox belief. It states, “Let none of you say that this very flesh will not be judged, nor rise again…. For just as you were called in the flesh, you will also come to be judged in the flesh” (Second Clement, 519). Second Clement clearly insists that the resurrection precedes the final judgment and, consequently, that there will be, as it says in Scripture, a resurrection “both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15).
As is found in the other writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the primary purpose of Second Clement is to encourage the faithful in righteousness. Therefore, even as it admits that salvation is not universal among those who will rise from the dead, it uses the resurrection as a means of encouragement for those who are suffering and may be tempted to forsake the faith. 
“Even if for a little time they suffer evil in the world, they shall enjoy the immortal fruit of the resurrection. Let not then the godly man be grieved, if he be wretched in the times that now are; a blessed time waits for him” (Second Clement, 522). 
 In Second Clement, reminders of the future fleshly resurrection serve both as a consolation to the just (“we… receive the reward in this flesh”) and a warning to the unjust (“you will… be judged in the flesh”) and in both cases serve to exhort the faithful to “repent with the whole heart” and to “practice righteousness” and obedience (519, 523). Further demonstrating belief in the bodily resurrection of the ungodly, Second Clement describes their condemnation in explicitly material terms, quoting Isaiah as a description of their torment, “their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched” (Isa 66:24), and stating, “those that have gone astray and denied Jesus through their words or through their works, how that they are punished with grievous torments in unquenchable fire.”
As is clear from the multiplicity of perspectives found among the Apostolic Fathers on this subject of the resurrection of the dead, while it is certainly the case that the creeds that would develop later do have a foundation of a sort in their writings, the need for clarification that the creeds would later seek to answer was already present in the sub-apostolic age. This need only intensified with the passing of time and the strengthening of various heretical movements, such as Gnosticism and Docetism, which were already present when the Apostolic Fathers were writing. Ultimately, the Church convened councils and settled this matter as well as many others that had been in dispute even from the earliest times. Now, at every liturgy, every orthodox Christian professes, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, expectation of the coming resurrection of the dead. Every orthodox Christian owes their knowledge of this truth of the faith to the Scripture, and also to the Apostolic Fathers and to the subsequent Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils who worked to preserve and pass down this and, in truth, the entire Christian faith.

[1] Ignatius wrote to Polycarp, “I may be found [your] disciple in the resurrection” (Ignatius, 96; Galli, 123).
[2] McWilliam Dewart claims these works hold this perspective (37).

from the Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæans

from the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
fully persuaded with respect to our Lord,

that He was truly of the seed of David

We believe in… one Lord Jesus Christ,

according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God;

the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages….

that He was truly born
of a virgin,
was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him;

And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and was made man;

and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages,

was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried;

through His resurrection,

and the third day rose again….

to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church.

And one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church….

we look for the resurrection of the dead….

Works Cited

Clement of Rome. “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed.
            Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans
            Publishing Company, 1885. 5-22. Print.

“Constantinople I.” Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Ed. Norman P. Tanner. Vol. 1.
            Washington: Sheed & Ward, 1990. 21-36. Print.

“Didache.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Vol. 7. Grand
            Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885. 377-382. Print.

McWilliam Dewart, Joanne. Death and Resurrection: Message of the Fathers of the Church 22.
            Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1986. Print

Galli, Mark. The Apostolic Fathers. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009. Print.

Ignatius. “The Epistles of Ignatius.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James
            Donaldson. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885. 49-126.

 “Martyrdom of Polycarp.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson.
            Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885. 37-44. Print.

“Nicaea I.” Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Ed. Norman P. Tanner. Vol. 1. Washington:
            Sheed & Ward, 1990. 1-20. Print.

Polycarp. “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Alexander
            Roberts and James Donaldson. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing
            Company, 1885. 33-36. Print.

“Resurrection of Christ” and “Resurrection of the Dead.” A Dictionary of Early Christian
Beliefs. Ed. David W. Bercot. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998. 558-564. Print.

“Second Clement.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson.
            Vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885. 509-523. Print.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

An Aristotelian Reading of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed

Given the Greek philosophical context of the Councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381) in which the Council Fathers articulated the Christian belief and doctrine in the Creeds, it is helpful to come to an Aristotelian philosophical understanding of the terms used in the Creed so that we may understand it clearly.
The Creed, as this word, which comes from the Latin word credo, suggests, is a statement of belief and it begins accordingly: πιστεύω or, as the Council Fathers actually put it, πιστεύομεν, indicating that not only as individuals, but as a community do we believe (Decrees 5, 24). What we profess is a shared belief, mutually substantiated and believed, revealed to the Church, not only to individuals. It is what Aristotle would call ἔνδοξα, which is commonly accepted belief or opinion as opposed to mere δόξα, which is simply individual belief or opinion (Topica 100a30-100b24). This latter is an insufficient premise upon which to build knowledge as Plato demonstrated in his Thaetetus and Meno. Aristotle, however, in the first book of his Topica, carefully distinguishes δόξα from ἔνδοξα and further that which merely appears to be ἔνδοξα and that which really is ἔνδοξα (100b21-101a1). I suggest that the plurality of πιστεύομεν at the beginning of the Creed as written by the Council Fathers indicates something of this same notion of ἔνδοξα. It indicates, that is, a belief that is generally accepted and upon which it is possible to begin true reasoning and not merely “contentious reasoning,” as Aristotle puts it (Topica 101a1-4).

Reasoning, on the other hand, is 'dialectical', if it reasons from opinions that are generally accepted (ἔνδοξα)…. Those opinions are 'generally accepted' which are accepted by everyone or by the majority or by the philosophers - i.e. by all, or by the majority, or by the most notable and illustrious of them (Topica 100a30 - 100b23). 

This true generality of acceptance of the propositions made in the Creed is also indicated at its end when it describes the Church as καθολικὴν, which means general or according to the whole (Decrees 24). Further, the word πιστεύομεν comes from πίστις, indicating faith, trust, and confidence, which is more than mere δόξα. The Creed is not claiming an opinion that what it professes may be true, but rather the confident assurance that it is true. The πιστεύω does not mean, “In my opinion there is a God,” but rather, “I have sure faith in God.” Aristotle uses this word πίστις in his Metaphysics when he writes that “we can convince ourselves… by means of induction” (1067b13-14). Another translation might be, “we can have faith by means of induction.” For Aristotle, then, πίστις indicates not merely an asserted belief but a convinced knowledge that has been arrived at inductively. All knowledge is built upon first principles, which “we must get to know… by induction; for the method by which even sense-perception implants the universal is induction” (Posterior Analytics 100b3-5). St. Paul might agree when he writes, “For faith comes by hearing” (Rom 10:17).   
Aristotle writes, “Now reasoning is an argument in which, certain things being laid down, something other than these necessarily comes about through them” (Topica 100a25-27). In the Creed, the generally accepted faith (πίστις) is laid down and reasoned upon. Having laid down the faith and begun from this established premise, then, the Creed proceeds categorically to describe its essence. Aristotle lists his ten categories thus: “Expressions which are in no way composite signify substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, state, action, or affection” (Categories 1b25-27). These categories describe a thing completely. That is what the Creed does with God. It describes Him as completely as human words are capable. Herein I will particularly examine the first four of these categories as they are used in the Creed.
In the Creed, the subject immediately follows the premise: “We believe in one God” (Decrees 24). The subject, the substance, the ουσία with which the Creed is concerned is God. A primary substance is a particular thing itself. It is the subject about which the predicates are identified and which itself cannot be predicated. For example, Aristotle is a primary substance. Nothing is Aristotle except Aristotle. The primary substance of God is God as we know Him, as He is revealed to us in His energies. Speaking of primary substance, Aristotle writes, “Substance, in the truest and primary and most definite sense of the word, is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject; for instance, the individual man or horse” (Categories 2a11-13). “Father” is a primary substance. The Father cannot be made the predicate of any other thing. Nothing is the Father except the Father. The Son is not the Father and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. So it is also with the other Persons in God. The quantity of the primary substance of God is three, which is to say, there are three Persons in God, all identified in the Creed. God is revealed to us and relates to us as Trinity. The Persons in God cannot be predicated. While we rightly say that the Father is God, we do not customarily say that God is the Father, because to do so would be insufficient and would seem to exclude the Son and the Holy Spirit. God as God – the essence of God – is the secondary substance.
Concerning secondary substance, Aristotle writes, “In a secondary sense those things are called substances within which, as species, the primary substances are included; also those which, as genera, include the species” (Categories 2a13-19). For example, Aristotle is a man and a man is an animal. These notions of “species” and “genera” can only be applied in a limited way to our understanding of God. Nonetheless, there is a sense in which the concept works, I think. The essence of God relates, by analogy, to the “species” and the spiritual nature of God relates, by analogy to the “genus.” The Father, for example, is God and is spiritual. “Of secondary substances,” writes Aristotle, “the species is more truly substance than the genus, being more nearly related to primary substance” (Categories 2b7-8). Here again, this works in a limited way. “God” is what the Father is more absolutely than a spiritual being is what the Father is. Likewise, Aristotle is more a man than an animal – though both are true. The essence, the ουσία, of God is His secondary substance and it is one and is unknowable beyond knowing that it is. God, as the One Who Is, the Being One, the ὁ ὤν is, in Aristotelian terms, the secondary substance, which is the absolute pure being, the essence, the form. God as God is not the primary substance of God because God is predicable to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each is God. The Creed identifies the Father as God (“true God”), the Son as God (“true God from true God”), and the Holy Spirit as God (“the holy, the lordly… co-worshipped and co-glorified”) and it tells us that there is “one God” (Decrees 24). The Son is ὁμοούσιον with the Father. The Holy Spirit is ὁμοούσιον “together with the Father and the Son.” This one and only one ουσία is the secondary substance of God. For this reason Jesus can say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), not because Jesus is the Father in His primary substance, which He is not, but because He and the Father are one in their secondary substance (John 10:30). That is, they are both God. 
Aristotle’s second category is quantity, which has already been addressed to some degree in that I have pointed out the Creed’s assertion that there is one God and three Persons in God. However many primary substances there are, there is always only one secondary substance, which is the form of the thing. There are billions of people, of which Aristotle is one, and yet there is one human nature which all people share. “Quantity is either discreet or continuous,” Aristotle points out (Categories 4b20). The quantity of the Persons in God as described above is a discreet number – three. Of continuous quantities, Aristotle identifies many instances including time. “Time,” he writes, “past, present, and future, forms a continuous whole” (Categories 5a6-7). The Creed refers to this continuous whole only to point out that its subject, God, transcends it, when it states that the Son is begotten “before all the ages” (Decrees 24). The Persons in God as God are above this continuous quantity, unlike Aristotle who has a past, a present, and a future.
The only-begotten quality of the Son and the processional quality of the Holy Spirit – both identified in the Creed – bring into focus the relational category in God. Aristotle writes, “Those things are called relative, which, being either said to be of something else or related to something else, are explained by reference to that other thing” (Categories 6a36-38).The very names by which we identify two of the Persons in God in the Creed indicate relation. The Father is Father as the one who begets the Son and the Son is the Son as the one who is “only-begotten… begotten from the Father” (Decrees 24).  The Son would not be the Son without the Father and vice versa. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is such as the one who is “proceeding forth from the Father” (Decrees 24). A helpful concept in Aristotle’s discussion of relation is that “correlatives are thought to come into existence simultaneously” (Categories 7b15). I became a father at the moment that I had a son. Before I had a son, I was not a father. As father, I came into existence at the moment my son came into existence as son. In the case of the Persons in God, of course, it is necessary to remember that this simultaneous interdependent existence does not come to be but is “before all the ages” (Decrees 24). Aristotle continues, however, “Yet, it does not appear to be true in all cases that correlatives come into existence simultaneously” (Categories 7b22-23). He gives the example of knowledge, which is in relation to the object of knowledge and he points out that the object of knowledge precedes the knowledge itself. There is interdependent relation, independent relation, and dependent relation. Much of the Creed is concerned with this latter type of relation, that is, it is concerned with the relationship between God and Man, which most certainly did not “come into existence simultaneously.”
It is helpful to look at the side of the Creed that deals with the human and the human’s relationship with God with the four causes that Aristotle identifies. The categories help us understand God as He is described in the Creed, but the causes help us understand that which God has caused. God as God is the uncaused cause and so the use of causes in seeking to understand God as presented in the Creed is futile. However, in seeking to understand the human of whom God is the Creator and cause and which God became in the incarnation, it is worthwhile. 
The first cause Aristotle identifies is the material cause, “that out of which a thing comes to be and which persists” (Physics 194b23-24). This cause is notably absent in the Creed’s account of Father’s creation “of heaven and of earth” and later of the Holy Spirit’s “life-giving” because God created “all things both seen and unseen” – all material – out of nothing, which is contrary to Aristotle’s belief in the eternity of matter (Decrees 24). However, the material cause is present in the Creed’s description of the incarnation. Humanity having already been created, it now provides the material cause of the incarnation when the Son “became incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary [and] became human” (Decrees 24). God the Son took His humanity from the material of the human Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Virgin Mary is the material cause of the incarnation.
The second cause Aristotle identifies is the formal cause, “the form or the archetype, i.e. the statement of the essence” (Physics 194b27-28). The essence of the Son who “came down from the heavens” and became man is God (Decrees 24). Yet, also, He took on the essence of Man. He who is ὁμοούσιον with the Father also became ὁμοούσιον with humanity and so there are two formal causes of the incarnation: the forms or secondary substances of both God and Man. The form or essence of the incarnate Jesus Christ is both God and Man.
 The third cause Aristotle identifies is the efficient or agent cause, “the primary source of the change or coming to rest” (Physics 194b29). The agent cause of the incarnation is the Holy Spirit, because the Son of God “became incarnate from the Holy Spirit” (Decrees 24). As Creator, God is the primary source of all that comes to be. In God, the Father cannot be understood as the cause of the Son or the Holy Spirit, though some may be tempted to come to that conclusion given that the Son is begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, because the Son and the Holy Spirit, as God, are uncaused. However, the Father is the cause of the Son being begotten and the Father is the cause of the Holy Spirit proceeding. It is “from the Father” that the Son is begotten and it is “from the Father” that the Holy Spirit proceeds (Decrees 24). I will return to further efficient causes described in the Creed after I describe for what purpose these agencies work, that is, their final cause.
The fourth cause that Aristotle identifies is the final cause “in the sense of end or ‘that for the sake of which’ a thing is done” (Physics 194b33-34). “For us humans and for our salvation” is the final cause of what follows in the Creed: the incarnation, the crucifixion, the suffering, the burial, the resurrection, the ascension, the session, the coming again, the judgment, the kingdom, the prophets, the Church, and baptism (Decrees 24). All these things are the efficient causes or agencies that bring about our salvation, which is “the forgiving of sins…, resurrection of the dead and life in the age to come” (Decrees 24). This is a description of our salvation, the final end of these acts of the Lord. These acts of the Lord create the potential for our salvation, which we can cooperatively actualize in ourselves by responding affirmatively to Him with our lives.
The philosophical terms of Aristotle’s categories and causes are useful for organizing our thinking and clearly expressing the truth that has been revealed to us in the Church. It seems apparent that the Fathers of the First Nicene and Constantinopolitan Councils allowed his philosophy to shape their understanding and expression of the faith and it is good for us to learn his system of thought so that we can more clearly understand them.

Works Cited
Aristotle. The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1941.
Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Ed. Norman P. Tanner. Vol. 1. London: Sheed & Ward, 1990. 

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