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Talk about nuggets. The work that’s gone into preparing this one has felt more like prospecting forlornly for gold than munching on small, tasty pieces of chicken available on any city street corner.

All the same, the ongoing search for adoption in the ante-Nicene Fathers has been worth it. To my knowledge, there has never before been a systematic search for it in their writings. Thus, it’s been important to complete the search thoroughly. Although we’re not done, we end here our specific search of the Latin Fathers (Ante-Nicene Fathers 5:601ff.; 6:413ff.; 7:1-368). I’ve caught no glint in those remaining writings of a golden quote or perspective, but I make some comment in order to help fellow gold diggers in the years to come.

Our latest tracking of the Fathers reveals that Cyprian of Carthage, with whom we left off last time, was at one and the same time the greatest potential for the development of the familial themes of the New Testament among the early Latin Fathers, and the point from which their decline of interest in adoption set in. In other words, the consistent familial expression and tone of Cyprian’s theology failed to compensate for his silence about adoption.

I’m not saying by this that all succeeding Latin Fathers took their lead from Cyprian. After all, we do not find in their writings the degree of Cyprian’s fondness for the new birth motif. Nor would it be fair to imply that regardless of their subject matter the Latin Fathers subsequent to Cyprian were duty bound to include thoughts on sonship (Paul) or childhood (John). We must also take account of the fact that not all the writings of the remaining Latin Fathers are extant.

We only have fragments of Caius (Gaius) of Rome. It’s feasible that Novation could have included comment on adoption in his Treatise Concerning the Trinity, but he would not be the last to limit the discussion of the Godhead to relations between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Given that baptism was later described by Calvin as the symbol of adoption, I hoped for some passing references to the doctrine in the Acts and Records of the Famous Controversy About the Baptism of HereticsA Treatise Against the Heretic Novation, and A Treatise on Re-Baptism. My hopes were in vain. Similarly, The Seven Books of Arnobius Against the Heathen contains some passing references to the Fatherhood of God and a few to those born “the children of the Lord,” but otherwise the title of the lengthy work tells its own story.

What about Lactantius’ work The Divine Institutes? Certainly his repeated references to God as the parent of the universe are somewhat novel. These are supplemented by increased references to God as Father. In those most significant, Lactantius uses the general Fatherhood of God to promote equal rights amid the injustices of society (as in the persecution of Christians). Compare his work A Treatise on the Anger of God:

” . . . God will have all men to be just, that is, to have God and man as objects of their affection; to honour God in truth as a Father, and to love man as a brother: for in these two things the whole of justice is comprised” (Ante-Nicene Fathers 7:271-72).

More narrowly, Lactantius sees in God’s specific Lordship and Fatherhood of the Christian reason why the believer should not desert him in the hour of persecution.

Also in Lactantius’ writings are found a few passing references to such related themes as slavery, rebellious children, the church as a household, and the inheritance. Yet there’s nothing on adoption. Perhaps Lactantius’ lost writings would paint a different picture. Yet, accused of losing Tertullian’s gains for the systematic teaching of the Trinity, it is feasible he also let slip Tertullian’s known interest in adoption. He was not alone. So, apparently, did the rest of the Latin Fathers who closed out the ante-Nicene period: Venantius, Asterius Urbanus, Victorinus, and Dionysius of Rome. For whatever reason(s), interest in adoption petered out among them as the ante-Nicene period drew to a close.


If you’ve found this beneficial, there’s more spiritual encouragement to be found at the on-line homes of Tim J R Trumper:

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