One of the best and most comprehensive of the new works on the development of Nicene theology is John Behr’s Formation of Christian Theology. The second volume covers the “Nicene Faith,” examining the theological background of the Arian debate, the development of the controversy, and the theologies of Athanasius and the Cappadocians. Behr has drawn the best insights from current scholarship, but much of his book is a lucid and detailed exposition of the main treatises of the most important theologians of the period.
One of Behr’s most arresting claims is that the Eastern Fathers were not really concerned with developing “Trinitarian theology,” if by that is meant reflection on the internal mysteries of the immanent Trinity. Rather, the Fathers were concerned to expound the gospel – how is the crucified Jesus related to the one God – and their fundamental grammar for doing so was the biblical narrative of the Creator God’s promise to Abraham and Israel, realized finally in the advent of the Son and the coming of the Spirit.
Failure to recognize that this was the patristic obsession has led to all manner of mischief – a perceived abyss between the apostles and the fathers, institutionalized in the division of “New Testament Studies” from “Patristics,” the myth that Trinitarian theology represents a “Hellenization” of the gospel, indulgence of abstract speculations of divine procession and notions and relations.