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Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine

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Khaled Anatolios, a noted expert on the development of Nicene theology, offers a historically informed theological study of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, showing its relevance to Christian life and thought today. According to Anatolios, the development of trinitarian doctrine involved a global interpretation of Christian faith as a whole. Consequently, the meaning of trinitarian doctrine is to be found in a reappropriation of the process of this development, such that the entirety of Christian existence is interpreted in a trinitarian manner. The book provides essential resources for this reappropriation by identifying the network of theological issues that comprise the "systematic scope" of Nicene theology, focusing especially on the trinitarian perspectives of three major Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine. It includes a foreword by Brian E. Daley.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published August 1, 2011

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About the author

Khaled Anatolios

11 books16 followers
Khaled Anatolios (PhD, Boston College) is professor of historical theology in the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. He is the author of Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine and two volumes on Athanasius.

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5 stars
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35 (32%)
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Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
Profile Image for Brent McCulley.
558 reviews41 followers
December 9, 2017
Very very good. The author writes quite perspicuously, and frames his thesis as a reconception of the movement and dialectic of the fourth century trinitarian debates. He wants to reconceive in two categories, namely, Unity of being and unity of will. He is convincing and his argumentation, selective in his use of Gregory, Augustine, and Athanasius, yet outlines all of the aforesaid in his introductory methodology which ultimately makes for an extremely readable, accessible, and cogent book that should be welcomed by theologians and laymen alike.

Anatolios should go on the shelf right next to constructions of similar genre in the likes of Lewis Ayers, Brian Daley, and Michel Barnes.
Profile Image for Jose Ovalle.
71 reviews5 followers
October 17, 2022
Dense and difficult but really good. Maybe not the first book I would recommend on the events that led to the Nicene Creed’s writing but this is definitely the most exhaustive treatment of the matter I’ve ever read
Profile Image for Matt Koser.
37 reviews1 follower
December 31, 2022
I don’t know if I would have made it far into this book if it wasn’t assigned for a class…. With that being said (and despite only 3 stars) it was an incredible book!

It’s difficult to sum it up and the impact it had on me, but basically, the author 1) describes the systematic scope of the doctrine of the Trinity by looking at 3 theologians: Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine 2) he pushes for a retrieval of it—the Trinity isn’t just a pocket of Christian doctrine, it’s the foundation of doctrine.

I’m looking forward to diving deeper into this topic! Definitely recommend this book if you can muster up enough focus to make it through it!

Content: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Style: ⭐️⭐️
Understandability: ⭐️⭐️
Profile Image for Samuel G. Parkison.
308 reviews62 followers
June 26, 2018
Very dense. Very rewarding. Anatolios does the hard work of tracing the development of Nicene theology on Nicene's own (variegated) terms. The clear and balanced approach of these church fathers is incredibly refreshing. While reading this work, I most appreciated about their approach to theology (1) the functional humility that accompanies a clear Creator-distinction (and the epistemological implication that exhaustive knowledge of the Trinity is impossible for finite creatures, but true knowledge of the Trinity is possible for those made in the image of--and self-revealed to by--the Trinity), (2) the emphasis on receiving the revelation of the Trinity the way the Trinity self-reveals: Triune mission (i.e., we know anything we know about the nature of the Trinity by virtue of the Triune God acting to create, speak, incarnate, fill, save, etc. We know who God is because of what God says and does, not because we can have direct access to "godness" and can render a judgment about whether or not God fits such a criteria), and (3) the intermingling of Trinitarianism, Christology, soteriology, pneumetology, and eschetology (i.e., we know God to be Triune because of the mediation--soteriological AND epistemological--of the incarnate Son, who incarnated by the Spirit in order to unite himself to fallen mankind, redeem him, and adopt him into Triune love through the Spirit).

Much more can be said, but these points alone are fodder for everlasting meditation.
Profile Image for Chris Little.
106 reviews2 followers
April 15, 2020
This is quite a book, even though I am certain my comprehension of it is far from complete. In other words: be ready for technical detail and argument.

My summary of the aim of Retrieving Nicaea is that Anatolios wants his readers to engage with fourth century Trinitarian theological grammar, rather than to memorise theological terminology. The why of the orthodox position (ontological unity between divine persons Father, Son, and Spirit) is his interest.

To get there, he starts with an overview before diving into three deeper specific studies: Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine. The overview itself is amazingly helpful. This overview divides the approaches to divine unity into two: unity of will (such as Arius), and unity of being (the Nicaean position). Both start with the supremacy of Christ but take different paths to express this, with major consequences. I am sure the three detailed studies also will continue to be influential amongst serious researchers, too - you know, those who understand all Anatolios says!

Read slowly, because that seems to only way to understand it. But do read it as part of developing a better understanding of the history and interpretation of Trinitiarian theology.
Profile Image for G Sutherland.
6 reviews
May 17, 2019
A good introduction to the Trinitarian theology of the Fathers, primarily through the perspectives of Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine. One of the merits of this work is Anatolios' careful attention to the wider biblical and theological domains within which these thinkers developed their understanding of the Trinity, including in his account the connection of Trinitarian theology to their anthropological and soteriological questions.
63 reviews
August 7, 2017
One of the best books on the Trinity in two decades. He outlines the thought of Gregory, Athanasius, and Augustine and discusses trinitarian theology along the lines of unity of being and unity of will. He reminds readers that the trinitarian doctrine was a matter of salvation, not peripheral speculation.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Ben Smitthimedhin.
354 reviews8 followers
March 30, 2022
Dense but worthwhile. Book is well-written and systematized enough to be sensible. It took me over halfway through the book to understand what Anatolios was doing, but it was the concluding chapter, clearly stating the implications/practicalities of Trinitarian doctrine, that won me over.
Profile Image for Lukas Stock.
77 reviews2 followers
July 13, 2022
Challenging read. Convincing nuancing and tracing of organic trajectories in the tradition of Trinitarian theology rather than convenient but artificial categories placed upon texts in retrospect.
Profile Image for Amy Hughes.
Author 1 book57 followers
March 26, 2013
Anatolios's aim is to bring the historical theological and systematic into conversation. This involves a "retrieval" that leaps right over the oft assumed boundary of "what it meant then" and "what it means now." He focuses on two principles that he argues are fundamental to the historical development of trinitarian doctrine and that make it particularly coincident with systematic concerns: the primacy of Christ, as it applies to the whole Christian narrative, but especially with regard to divine transcendence, and, secondly, a theological epistemology that makes no claim to comprehend the being of God but at the same time functions to relate our being and our knowing in relationship to God. Anatolios offers both a survey of modern reception of trinitarian doctrine and a historical survey to ground more a more detailed consideration of the early Christian debates.

A key strength of Anatolios's work is the way he deals with the question of how the all of the nuance and fracturing that occurred in this intra-conversation (all claimed to be "trinitarian") eventually boiled down to the "Arians" versus the "Orthodox." This, of course, was largely due to our reading of later Athanasius and others who would cast the debate in this way. This was not just a bout of name-calling, however. Anatolios proposes two categories, those who spoke of the Trinity as a unity of will and those who spoke of the Trinity as a unity of being. These distinctions are not hard and fast and there are certainly those who synthesize the two. The categories work and it sets Anatolios up well for the core of his work on Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine. Set against the historical backdrop and a larger narrative demarcated by these paradigms of unity, the retrieval of the focus on the primacy of Christ and theological epistemology succeeds in complicating the received categories of Nicaea and demonstrating its relevance for current systematic considerations.
Profile Image for G Walker.
240 reviews23 followers
November 30, 2012
Very helpful book. Worth reading (and studying). Shows how vitally important a proper Christology is in developing an "orthodox" Trinitarianism... and why the perichoretic relationships DO indeed matter. Handles Athanasius quite well as he does Gregory of Nyssa. He is also fair with Augustine too, though I perhaps would be more critical of his understanding of the Trinity. Wish he would have engaged the other two Capadocians, but I understand that this would have make a much larger, denser and possibly more confusing work. All in all, very accessible though - at least to the discerning and persistent laymen... good too for students of formal and historical theology too. Quite a helpful volume overall... really. Serves as a much needed gap filler on the subject at least in English and in he West. Worthy of supplementing this volume would be John Behr's works on the subject (The Way to Nicea and the set _The Nicene Faith_) See my notes on Behr elsewhere. Also worth reading would be Ayers, Chadwick, Hanson, Louth and last but not least Young and Teal.
Profile Image for Michael Philliber.
Author 6 books52 followers
July 5, 2012
Excellent piece on three major theological giants from the earlier years of Christianity.
Profile Image for Adam DeVille, Ph.D..
133 reviews31 followers
April 3, 2013
A deeply learned, carefully written work by one of the leading patrologists of our time. It's not for the uninitiated, but if you have patience with it, it pays rich dividends.
Profile Image for James.
11 reviews1 follower
July 12, 2013
An important contribution to the understanding, development, and recovery of classical Nicene theology. Requires a long-term commitment unless you're a speed-reader.
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