Personal Learning Statement - CF103 Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I

1. What do you think you have gained from the course?

This is the first opportunity I have had to do any detailed reading on Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology. I gained so very much from this course, especially understanding how heresy (point of view/ school of thought), was introduced into the early Christian community, leading some astray into believing that Christ was only God, or that Christ was only man (that is the denial of one of the natures of Christ, in effect believing in a single 'physis'). I learnt that Christ's two natures were in perfect harmony; but that there were not "two separate Sons" or "two separate Christs", or multiple "prosopa" but rather a "hypostatic union" in Him, the God-man. So finely balanced is the doctrine of Christology, that any particular denial of a given nature, would completely disrupt the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Additionally, if Christ was not God, and just a man, our salvation could not come from a mere creature, and we would be forever enslaved by our sins.

2. Please comment on any unanticipated outcomes of the course.

More broadly, and beyond my assessment I felt entirely blessed to hear the lectures of Associate Professor Marcus Plested of Marquette University and Hon. Associate Professor Mary Cunningham of the University of Nottingham so many times over. I learnt so much by listening to their deliveries, their depth of learning, and their love of the Apostolic Fathers. Both lecturers were able to share stories that took me back to a time 2000 years ago. Who were these brilliant men (and women) who drew so near to Christ and passed down His teachings in the continuum of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? From Ignatius of Antioch to Justin Martyr and Ireneaus of Lyons, to St Basil the Great and his younger brother St Gregory of Nyssa. Great orators, men who knew much about philosophy, and above all loved our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I kept thinking whilst listening to Plested and Cunningham, how incredibly well-read these two lecturers are, and yet so humble in their delivery. I felt like I was listening to an abridged version of Philip Schaff, and then so much more from decades of labouring over reading deeply the Church Fathers. Plested was excellent in his delivery of describing the heresies, all the way from Ebionism, to Apollonarianism, Docetism, and Arianism, Nestorius and more. He also showed great skill in discussing the Ecumenical Councils, and presenting on groups who took the position of anthropological maximalism and anthropological minimalism but was careful to distinguish that it wasn't that clear-cut in reality to group the Fathers into "sides". Cunningham was so eloquent in conveying the fire of faith of the Apostolic Fathers. I was very moved, by the way in which Cunningham presented the fervour and faith of the Apostolic Fathers- Ignatius on his way to martyrdom, Justin Martyr believing after a conversation with an old man, and Irenaeus who spent much of his time dedicated to refuting heresy.

At last, about A.D. 130, after a conversation with an old man, his life was transformed: "A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do." (Saint Justin Martyr)

3. Did your course change your view of the topic, and if so, in what way?

When I was in high school, Year 10, our religious studies teacher, made us learn the Creed off by heart in English. Our test was to not only be able to recite the Prayer, but also to record it in writing during an actual examination. As a young person, I do not believe I understood the weight of this prayer, the Symbol of Faith as titled in the Divine Liturgy (Greek-English translation) I would hold at each service. It was only after studying little bits of the outcomes of the Ecumenical Councils in this session (up to the end of the 4th century) did I realise how "hugely" momentous that actually documenting the Nicene Creed was for Christians. And despite growing up, I held close to me the Our Father, and The Creed, I feel now I have a better grasp why any changes in the Creed, would affect Eastern Orthodox doctrine. The words, "...begotten not made; of one essence with the Father" are now crystal clear in my mind. 

I have really come closer to comprehending the role that our Early Church Fathers played in the formation of Eastern Orthodox doctrine. So many Fathers, when compared one against the other, almost spoke in a single united voice. I especially was moved to read about theosis, deification of man, salvation, soteriology, the theadric, the God-man, the Divine Logos, in so many different ways by so many different fathers, Saint Athanasius the Great, Saint Alexander of Alexandria, Saint Damascene I, Irenaeus of Lyons, and so many more.

4. Please use this space if you wish to comment further on the academic experience of your course

I found this course unsurprisingly demanding but so fundamental to me knowing more about the Holy Trinity and Christ the God-man. So much information was covered over time and geographic span that I had to listen to the recordings dozens of times each.

In the past, the prayers practiced in our Church have informed me of the existence of the Holy Trinity, doing the sign of the Cross has reaffirmed the Holy Trinity, reading the Scriptures and looking out for specific passages where the Son has pointed to the Father, or the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove, all of these things denoted to me the existence of the Holy Trinity.

I remember entering into a discussion with a friend who openly considered 'what if there was no Holy Trinity', that 'there was just a Holy Father and Holy Son', given there was 'no trace of it in the Scripture'. I feel that I can now confidently address a response to such a question, whereas I would have only been able to say previously, "just believe it, it is the truth".