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In Search of the Triune God

The Christian Paths of East and West

Eugene Webb

Publication Year: 2014

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Under the broad umbrella of the Christian religion, there exists a great divide between two fundamentally different ways of thinking about key aspects of the Christian faith. Eugene Webb explores the sources of that divide, looking at how the Eastern and Western Christian worlds drifted apart due both to the different ways they interpreted their symbols and to the different roles political power played in their histories. Previous studies have focused on historical events or on the history of theological ideas. In Search of the Triune God delves deeper by exploring how the Christian East and the Christian West have conceived the relation between symbol and experience.

Webb demonstrates that whereas for Western Christianity discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity has tended toward speculation about the internal structure of the Godhead, in the Eastern tradition the symbolism of the Triune God has always been closely connected to religious experience. In their approaches to theology, Western Christianity has tended toward a speculative theology, and Eastern Christianity toward a mystical theology.

            This difference of focus has led to a large range of fundamental differences in many areas not only of theology but also of religious life. Webb traces the history of the pertinent symbols (God as Father, Son of God, Spirit of God, Messiah, King, etc.) from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament through patristic thinkers and the councils that eventually defined orthodoxy. In addition, he shows how the symbols, interpreted through the different cultural lenses of the East and the West, gradually took on meanings that became the material of very different worldviews, especially as the respective histories of the Eastern and Western Christian worlds led them into different kinds of entanglement with ambition and power.

Through this incisive exploration, Webb offers a dramatic and provocative new picture of the history of Christianity.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

Many friends and colleagues have made contributions to the work I have done on this book since I first conceived it three decades ago, more than I can even remember, but I would like to give special thanks to several who not only read the entire manuscript but also made many valuable suggestions: Rodney W. Kilcup, William...

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pp. 1-16

In the year 400 CE, Aurelius Augustinus, bishop of Hippo, whom we now know as Saint Augustine, sat down to begin his treatise The Trinity (De Trinitate). At the Council of Constantinople a few years before, in 381, the doctrine of the Triune God had been proclaimed as official dogma in the formulation now known as the Nicene...

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Chapter 1. Divine Sonship in Israel

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pp. 17-36

Symbols live in time. The images they are rooted in and the meanings that constitute them evolve together in relation both to the times that surround them and to the pull of transcendence that sometimes leads them toward what is beyond time. The word God is itself a symbol whose meaning has evolved over time; this is why one can find books with titles...

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Chapter 2. The New Testament Narrative of Son and Spirit and Its Ancient Antecedents

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pp. 37-72

In the figure of Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament, all the images and symbols from the Hebrew Bible that were discussed in the preceding chapter begin to converge and give further definition to the particular symbols that would later be used in formulating the symbolism of the Triune God and the doctrinal definitions associated with it. The image of...

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Chapter 3. From Symbols to the Formulation of Doctrine in the Creeds

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pp. 73-112

As we saw in the preceding chapter, for the earliest Christians, Israel had become narrowed down in Jesus to the one true “son of God” in whom Israel’s calling to sonship was at last fulfilled. Then, after Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension, Israel expanded again to encompass all those, Jew or Gentile, who came to be incorporated into the life Jesus...

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Chapter 4. Augustine and a New Symbolism for the Western God

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pp. 113-136

With the conclusion of the last chapter, the exposition of the historical unfolding of the primary symbolism of the Triune God, from early biblical imagery to the doctrine of the ecumenical councils through Chalcedon, is complete. As I explained in the Introduction, a primary symbolism, as I am using that term borrowed from Eric Voegelin, is one...

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Chapter 5. The Breach between East and West

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pp. 137-198

That there has been a breach, sometimes referred to as the Great Schism, between the Christian East and the Christian West is incontrovertible. What that breach was about, however, and when and how it took place are less clear. The stock answer in the West to the latter question is that it took place in 1054, when Cardinal Humbert of Mourmoutiers, who...

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Chapter 6. The Aftermath in the West: God and Power

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pp. 199-251

With the events of 1204–1261, the separation between the Eastern and Western Christian worlds, which had begun in a way that was hardly noticed in either West or East and only gradually began to be conscious and deliberate in the time of the Carolingians, finally became an open breach marked by blood and fire. But although the key elements...

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Chapter 7. The Aftermath in the East: Understanding Union with God in Christ

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pp. 252-294

Sometime around 1330, a Greek-speaking scholar from Italy, Barlaam the Calabrian, arrived in Constantinople, an event that would both precipitate a theological crisis and stimulate a response to it that would eventually carry the Eastern Orthodox tradition to a new level of articulation. Barlaam had grown up in one of the small areas of Greek language, culture, and...

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Chapter 8. The Great Divide

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pp. 295-326

It should be clear from the preceding chapters’ tracing of the different patterns of religious thinking in the Eastern and Western Christian worlds that under the broad umbrella of what goes by the name of the Christian religion there is a great divide between two fundamentally different ways of thinking about key aspects of the Christian faith. In Chapter 5, I...


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pp. 327-388


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pp. 389-416


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pp. 417-435

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About the Author

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p. 436-436

Eugene Webb is Professor Emeritus of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington and is the author of numerous...

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273079
E-ISBN-10: 0826273076
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220103
Print-ISBN-10: 082622010X

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: index
Publication Year: 2014