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Retrieving Nicaea

The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine

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"An impressive book. For anyone who wants to understand Nicene Christianity and its relevance for today, Anatolios is quite simply indispensable."--George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary

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 theologians: Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine. It includes a foreword by Brian E. Daley.
Introduction: Development as Meaning in Trinitarian Doctrine
1. Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology: History and Interpretation
      Before Nicaea
      The Early Stages of Controversy
      Crisis and Resolution
      Categories and Interpretation
2. Development of Trinitarian Doctrine: A Model and Its Application
      Common Experience at the Threshold of Nicaea
      Trinitarian Theologians of Unity of Will
      Trinitarian Theologians of Unity of Being
3. Athanasius: The Crucified Lord and Trinitarian Deification
      The Divinity of the Crucified and the Christian Story of Salvation
      Constructing a Trinitarian Hermeneutics
      Nicaea and the Dialectic of Scripture and Doctrine
      Theology of the Holy Spirit
      Christian Life in the Trinity
4. Gregory of Nyssa: The Infinite Perfection of Trinitarian Life
      The Doctrine of Against Eunomius
      A Trinitarian Systematic Theology of the Catechetical Oration
      Theology of the Holy Spirit
      Defining the Trinity? Three Hypostaseis, One Ousia
      Christian Life in the Trinity
5. Augustine's De Trinitate: Trinitarian Contemplation as Christological Quest
      Augustine's Trinitarian Epistemology
      Scriptural Exposition of God as Trinity
      The Trinitarian Image in Humanity
      Human Certainty and Seeing the Trinity
Conclusion: Retrieving the Systematic Scope of Nicene Theology


"With this impressive book, Khaled Anatolios takes his place alongside luminaries like R. P. C. Hanson and Lewis Ayres as one of the most distinguished interpreters of Nicaea and its legacy. Especially important is his sympathetic interpretation of Athanasius. For anyone who wants to understand Nicene Christianity and its relevance for today, Anatolios is quite simply indispensable."

George Hunsinger, Hazel Thompson McCord Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Khaled Anatolios's new book is a welcome addition to the flood of revisionary scholarship on patristic trinitarian theology in the last twenty years. Anatolios's treatment helps us to see the perennial importance of the key figures of the fourth and fifth centuries for all of our thought on this central mystery of the Christian faith. The clarity of his exposition and his constant desire to draw out the consequences of historical exposition mean that this book will find a treasured place on the bookshelves of theologians and theology students across the board."

Lewis Ayres, Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology, Durham University

"This volume is a welcome addition to the trinitarian renaissance of the last decades. Transcending the distinction between 'historical' and 'systematic,' Anatolios guides us through the work of three key fathers--Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine. This opens to us the broader coherence of a trinitarian theology, which touches every aspect of Christian existence under the primacy of Christ, and a clear theological epistemology. Retrieving the vision of those who gave shape to Nicaea in this way will, I am sure, bear much fruit and give great shape to Christian vision today."

John Behr, dean and professor of patristics, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary

"Khaled Anatolios puts the 'theology' back into 'historical theology,' explaining how the doctrine of the Trinity emerged out of an effort to account for the full sweep of Christian scripture and worship. The result is a brilliant book of spiritual as well as scholarly significance."

R. R. Reno, editor, First Things; executive director, Institute on Religion and Public Life

"[Retrieving Nicaea is] a work of profound theology: a brilliant summary of the conflicts and debates that originally led the church to articulate just what God is for a Christian, as substance and person, and of the beginnings of some accepted answers to the questions that troubled many believers in the controversies surrounding the Council of Nicaea (325). . . . As Prof. Anatolios reminds us, we are blessed by the fact that these first theologians, these first writers to 'talk about God' in what we call trinitarian terms, were also great theologians: great thinkers, great writers, individuals of great devotion and great faith. As we attempt to carry on their work today, joining intelligently and generously in their debates is probably the best place for any of us to begin. We can learn from them, perhaps better than from many more recent thinkers, both the terms of the discussion and the spirit of devout and eloquent brilliance that such a discussion inevitably requires of us if we are to carry it on well. This book, in fact, does just that, and does it supremely well; it brings us--with clarity and insight--face to face with the origins of trinitarian doctrine as a theological conversation on which our salvation, in one way or another, ultimately depends."

Brian E. Daley, SJ, University of Notre Dame (from the foreword)

The Author

  1. Khaled Anatolios

    Khaled Anatolios

    Khaled Anatolios (PhD, Boston College) is professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. He previously taught in the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He is the author of Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian...

    Continue reading about Khaled Anatolios


"Undergraduates and seminary students often have difficulty grasping the arguments that led to the formation of the Christian doctrine of Trinity. This introduction . . . will make the job of teaching these crucial debates much easier. Dealing with sources of the Eastern and Western traditions, the book overcomes traditional divisions between history of exegesis, historical theology, and systematic theology. . . . Advanced undergraduates might well find the book a helpful companion to their reading of primary sources. . . . An important overall narrative of critical debates in Christian theology. Teachers and students of these debates and their connections to classical and contemporary Christian practice will find it both clarifying and edifying. . . . Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty."

A. W. Klink,


"Anatolios's historical study of Nicaea is a thorough overview of Trinitarian debates from the fourth to fifth centuries. Anatolios considers Augustine alongside two major Greek thinkers, Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa, as well as providing a thorough background to the theological controversy which supposedly began with Arius and Alexander of Alexandria. With its careful and clear explanations, helpful chapter divisions and headings, and detailed footnotes, Retrieving Nicaea is a historical overview, an erudite scholarly study, and a useful work for both students and advanced scholars. . . . Anatolios's clear and systematic presentation [condenses a very difficult and broad topic] admirably well."

Benjamin de Lee,

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"This study is the latest of a number of weighty attempts over the last half-century or so to make sense of the controversies over the nature of Christian doctrine that were unleashed by the peace of the Church under Constantine. . . . It is not easy to establish a fresh perspective in such well-trodden territory, but Anatolios succeeds magnificently. . . . The chapters . . . are based on much learning and are full of insights. . . . Anatolios also makes useful references to modern discussions of Trinitarian theology."

Andrew Louth,

Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"Anatolios shows it is not only possible but in a sense necessary for the historian of Christian doctrine to be a systematic theologian. . . . The book sidesteps the problems inherent in theological linguistics by taking the theological intent of Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine seriously. And by the same token, it is able to show that these figures were fast on their feet as philosophers. An outstanding feature of the book is the way it shows that pro-Nicene theologians imagine a way out of foregrounding the divine transcendence and otherness without forfeiting God's real sovereignty. And they imagine a way of saying Christ became Incarnate without that meaning that he is the inferior, passible side of a God whose real merit is to be impassible and different from us. . . . The key sections of the book are those in which Anatolios shows how Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa employ the principle of the divine philanthropia to supersede Trinitarian aporia."

Francesca Murphy,

Theology Today

"The theology of Athanasius has been the focus, over the years, of Khaled Anatolios's distinguished work. . . . This book does several things at once. It covers more territory than previously with chapters not only on Athanasius but also on the doctrinal background leading up to his work, and then continuing with substantial entries on Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine. The argument is designed throughout to demonstrate the current relevance of these ancient theological figures."

George Hunsinger,

Theology Today

"Anatolios rightly forgoes any distinction in principle between historical and systematic theology. . . . In this remarkable book, Anatolios succeeds, to a degree beyond that of any current theologian of whom I'm aware, at doing both. He offers a rigorous historical account of Athanasius, Nyssa, and Augustine on the Trinity that is all of a piece with an assessment of the impact the teaching of these great Nicene theologians ought to have on the way we ourselves think about the Trinity. This is neither historical nor systematic theology, but something far better and more welcome. It's just theology. Anatolios shows quite effectively that Nicene theology often has a critical impact on the way we now think about the Trinity. . . . I am very grateful to Khaled Anatolios for the gift of this book."

Bruce D. Marshall,

Theology Today

"From the orthodox perspective, the creedal formulations of the early ecumenical councils, culminating in Chalcedon in 451, represented the triumph of truth over error. In Retrieving Nicaea, Khaled Anatolios tells a more complicated story. He focuses mainly on the debates that occurred between the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople in 381. . . . Three theologians--two in the East (Athanasius of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa) and one in the West (Augustine of Hippo)--constructed coherent theologies rooted in the resolution of these fourth-century debates. But Anatolios's interest in the topic is more than historical. . . . He is convinced that one can still draw from the various elements of this theological tradition to restate Trinitarian theologies (note the plural!) in a contemporary idiom. . . . Anatolios does not attempt to reformulate Trinitarian theology himself; instead, he provides contemporary theologians with a fresh understanding of the original formulations and their relationship to the needs of those who still worship in the name of the Holy Trinity."

Lawrence S. Cunningham,


"Anatolios makes a strong case for the relevance of trinitarian doctrine in the church today. . . . Anatolios's carefully argued and selective treatment of Nicaea and its reception will take its place among other important works on this period. He attempts to recall the circumstances that led to the articulation of trinitarian doctrine in the fourth century. In this effort, he has composed a book that will serve as an example of how to engage in theological questions connected to the concerns of Christian living."

Philip Michael Forness,

Word & World

"[An] important and provocative study. One of the great values of the book is . . . its careful work of historical theology. Anatolios writes admirably well. . . . The theologians of the fourth century were doing what theologians in every age do. Because they were among the first to do it, paying attention to how they did it is a rich source of methodology for our own trinitarian reflections. But theologians beware! Anatolios is concerned with not only the how but also the what of fourth-century trinitarian reflection. . . . . His careful analysis of how early theologians addressed their issues has provided a helpful guide to thinking about our own."

Stephen K. Black,

Theological Studies

"Retrieving Nicaea is both an invitation and guide to help constructive theologians concerned about the Trinity to engage the Nicene doctrine within its complex, but decipherable, fourth century theological context. . . . Those who have studied and written on Nicaea in all its complexity will appreciate Anatolios' remarkable clarity that invites readers deeper into the logic of Nicaea. It is a work that should help bridge the lamentable gap between systematic and historical theologians."

J. Warren Smith,

Modern Theology

"In the course of his exegesis of the patristic texts the author shatters several commonplaces of the history of trinitarian theology. . . . At the same time, he mounts an argument for a holistic reconception of trinitarian theology. . . . Anatolios has written an important book, enlightening with regard to the history of the fourth-century trinitarian controversy in itself and theologically significant for the relevance the author claims for his findings to the contemporary theological enterprise. In this he presents a model of historical theology, and a provocative one."

William P. Loewe,


"Older textbook accounts often cast the story of the fourth-century doctrinal debates far too simplistically, speaking of a grand 'Arian Controversy.'. . . Over the last few decades, scholars have dismantled this narrative. . . . Anatolios's study is part of this broader renaissance, which he draws on and consolidates in helpful, important ways. One of the great strengths of Anatolios's work as a historian of early Christian thought rests in his ability to bring an acute theological sensitivity to the thinkers he studies. . . . There are breakthrough moments in the book. . . . [Anatolios's] account brilliantly counters the tendency of some recent scholarship to ignore the meat of the matter, namely, the theology itself. . . . On the far side of Anatolios's nuanced, detailed account of the development of the Nicene consensus, future systematicians will have to grapple with a rather differently configured patristic inheritance: one focused not on Greek categories but on the primacy of Christ and on the Christian experience of God, an inheritance that balances Bible, liturgy, and a faith-imbued mode of thinking. This, I should add, is what good historical theology is all about. . . . [The] task [of historical theologians] is to retrieve a hard-won wisdom, to help us savor a patrimony that, over the centuries, has become lost or muddled or reduced to bloodless slogans. If we as Christians are to know who we are and what we believe and why, we need such sustained efforts at retrieving this hard-won wisdom. It is all the more urgent when the stakes are so great, when the matter lies so close to the heart of Christianity--namely, who we say God is."

William Harmless, SJ,

First Things

"This book makes for challenging reading, but its ambition of retrieving the systematic scope of Nicene trinitarianism for contemporary theology rewards the effort. A careful and generous reader of the fourth- and fifth-century debates, Anatolios reaches beyond abstract historical and doctrinal understandings to the trinitarian piety reflected in Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine and encourages contemporary readers to likewise allow themselves 'to be determined by God's trinitarian being.'"

Amy Plantinga Pauw,

Christian Century

"Though uncompromising in its scholarship, the book is not written from a detached perspective, but rather an integrative one--a perspective that rejects the sharp modernistic divide between systematic and historical theology, the academy and the church, and indeed faith and practice. Anatolios's work is . . . profoundly pastoral in its presentation. Its expression is at times sublime, at times almost impenetrable, yet always erudite and thought provoking. It cannot be read quickly, should not be merely used as a reference work, and must now be engaged by any serious scholar of the fourth century."

Clayton Coombs,

Trinity Journal

"This book is a remarkable achievement in a number of respects. Anatolios gleans significant insights from contemporary trinitarian theology, which gives a freshness to his approach to the fourth century. His ability to discern a deep coherence in an early theologian's complete work brings new insights. . . . I heartily recommend this book for Anatolios's ability to discern coherence across diverse figures and within a single theologian's often sprawling oeuvre and for his skillful demonstration of a compelling vision of the task of historical theology. . . . Pastors and those who teach them should carefully attend to this book so they can better guide the people of God in faithful worship of God, who is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

Stephen Lawson,

Restoration Quarterly

"An authoritative voice. . . . Known to this point primarily for his work on Athanasius, a key fourth-century advocate of trinitarian orthodoxy, Anatolios now extends his gaze, joining the ranks of Lewis Ayres, Michel Barnes, John Behr, and Joseph Lienhard as one of the most erudite interpreters of the period. . . . Retrieving Nicaea provides a lasting contribution to both church and academy."

Gregory W. Lee,


"For those who know Anatolios' work it will come as no surprise that his contribution on fourth century Trinitarian doctrine is well worth the investment. To be sure, this is not a work for beginners, but it can certainly be read with profit by those who have a solid foundation in early church history and doctrine. . . . Anatolios wends his way through the complexity of the debates of this period with clarity, to say nothing of his grasp of the personalities involved. . . . Anatolios' book is one of both breadth and depth. . . . Retrieving Nicaea not only deserves to be read by graduate students, but should be read by those still in the throes of lecture preparation. The details of this book . . . will provide reliable guidance on how to approach the Fathers on this most important of topics. Most significantly, this monograph reminds us that worship is the most appropriate context for reflecting on Trinitarian doctrine."

David S. Hogg,

Southeastern Theological Review

"Anatolios takes us into the inner connections between the biblical words, phrases, and thoughts and those of the Mediterranean bishops' cultures and theological ideologies. He does so with clarity, sensitivity to the faith of all the participants in the controversy, and deep devotion to the Trinitarian life we all share. . . . A very good book in content and presentation. . . . This is a book by a scholar for scholars. As a book for scholars it should be read by anyone who has an interest in the development of doctrine, the meaning of God, and the role of Father, Son, and Spirit with us and each other. One would only pray that the bishops of today would join those scholars in their reading and understanding of doctrinal development and in translating the biblical languages into the contemporary languages. In other words, retrieve Nicaea."

Nathan R. Kollar,

Catholic Books Review

"Anatolios shows . . . that Arius is an extreme version of theological thinking swirling in the 3rd and 4th centuries. What the reader learns along the journey is how we ought to take care with the challenge of speaking of the triune God in human speech and the numerous triggers for weak thinking on this important biblical doctrine."

Ryan Reeves,

Reformation 21 (2015 End of Year Review of Books)

"Anatolios provides an impressive education to any who desire one. Why did the developments for which Nicaea is famous take place? What exactly were the controversies that gave rise to Nicaea? With depth and clarity, Anatolios then explores just what the council Nicea said. . . . What follows is a historical and intellectual delight as the author takes the reader through the thought of Athanasius (my personal favorite), Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine, through whom the implications of the Nicaean doctrine of God and its Christology are hammered out."

Glenn Peoples,

Right Reason blog