In a post on Tuesday, I mentioned that Ligon Duncan was on campus lecturing as part of Grove City Evangelical Scholarship Conference on John Calvin--"1509-2009: 500 Years of John Calvin," and that I was going to try and catch a lecture. Well, I was able to attend one lecture, but it was not part of the conference. He addressed a Church history class that is studying Patristic and Medieval Church history, so rather than lecturing on Calvin, he gave an impromptu lecture on early Church history.
The title of the lecture was "God's Providential Hand in the Unfolding of Early Church History," and his thesis was simply: "God has put the right people in the right place, at the right time, in order to preserve the truth of orthodoxy." Here are the highlights:
1. Irenaeus of Lyons: He took on the challenge of the Gnostics. Gnostics claimed to have a special, more spiritual understanding of the New Testament and teachings of the Christ (even claimed to know better than the apostolic authors of the New Testament). In God's providence, Irenaeus had received a unique educational experience that prepared him to engage and counter the claims of the Gnostics. He had studied in Smyrna under the tutelage of a teacher (many believe it was Polycarp) who had been under the tutelage of the apostle John. The Gnostics may have claimed a better understanding, but Irenaeus was the one who truly knew the truth.
2. Constatine and the Council of Nicea 325: By Constatine taking Christianity off of the list of forbidden religions in the Roman Empire, he paved the way for the Council of Nicea. The council provided an opportunity for the East and West to come together to confirm the apostolic teaching concerning the deity of Christ against the heretical views of Arius. This confirmation provided unity to the Church concerning Christology that would have been impossible as long as Christianity remained on the forbidden religion list.
3. Pulcheria and the Council of Chalcedon 451: Leading up to this council, the deck was being stacked against the biblical understanding of Christ's two natures of being fully divine and fully human. The intent was to overturn the biblical perspective, and instead, make a one nature perspective the official doctrine. The emporer of the time, Theodosius II, was exacerbating the tension in the church, especially between East and West on this issue, by refusing to convene a council, while simultaneously appointing bishops that held to the one nature view in order to try and stack the deck against the orthodox position. However, Theodosius II died and his successor, Marcion, called for a council to bring unity to the church. Marcion was married to Pulcheria who was orthodox, and she influenced her husband as he organized the council to have the right persons present to defend orthodoxy. The Christology defended and confirmed by the council has come to establish the boundaries of orthodox Christology for Protestantism, Roman Catholocism and Eastern Orthodoxy.