Foster, Edgar G.
Metaphor and divine paternity : the concept of God's fatherhood in the Divinae institutiones of Lactantius (250-325 CE).
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This study is an exercise in historical theology and theolinguistics. The mention of historical theology entails that this investigation will dialogue with Christian authors of the past in order to illuminate modern theological issues. On the other hand, the allusion to theolinguistics (the study of how religious belief, thought and practice relates to language) indicates that this study will endeavor to discern what Christians mean when they employ terms like “Father” in theological discourse or corporate worship (i.e. liturgy). Should “Father” be viewed as a literal assignation for God? To what extent does this divine title signify the ontology or being of God? These questions will be addressed in the course of this study to show what bearing the doctrine of God the Father has on Christian belief and praxis. In particular, we are interested in what Lactantius means when he refers to God as Father. What implications thereby follow from his usage of this expression?
I would briefly like to explain why Lactantius has been chosen as a test case for an ancient Latin writer, who thought of God as Father. While it seems that numerous early church writers conceived God as Father in a metaphorical sense, the Lactantian concept of divine paternity seems to hold promise for additional studies in view of his contention that God is Father in a number of senses and primarily in terms of his status as Lord (dominus). Lactantius is accustomed to call God “Father and Lord” (pater et dominus). This vocabulary is used in the context of Roman notions such as paterfamilias, pater patriae and pater or patria potestas. Lactantius also stresses the eschatological character of God’s paternity in the final book of his Divine Institutes (Divinae institutiones). While modern theology has articulated and expanded our knowledge of God’s eschatological fatherhood, this study proposes that the Lactantian concept illuminates elements of God’s future paternity that may be useful to those engaging in historical theology.
Finally, I would like to thank the following persons for their varying and diverse contributions to this study: Dr. Philip Blosser gave me the inspiration to pursue the question of divine gender and pointed me towards useful definitions for the term “metaphor” such as “ambiguous identity synthesis” or “cross-modal sorting.” Rotary International (especially in the Lenoir and Hickory area) made my studies in Glasgow possible and they have been a fine support even after my 2001-2002 tenure as a Rotary scholar ended. I also want to express my appreciation to Dr. John Blakey (my erstwhile classics professor), Stacy Feldstein (a colleague in classical studies), Edward and Eleanor Foster (my parents), Sylvia Foster (my wife); David Schuman (for emphasizing the importance of carefully scrutinizing primary texts from antiquity when one undertakes a research project), and Solomon Landers (Hebrew and Aramaic specialist) for helping me understand the significance of certain Hebrew verbal stems.
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