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Suffering and Evil in Early Christian Thought

series: Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History

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Distinguished Scholars Explore Early Christian Views on the Problem of Evil

What did the early church teach about the problem of suffering and evil in the world? In this volume, distinguished historians and theologians explore a range of ancient Christian responses to this perennial problem. The ecumenical team of contributors includes John Behr, Gary Anderson, Brian Daley, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, among others. This is the fourth volume in Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History, a partnership between Baker Academic and the Pappas Patristic Institute of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. The series is a deliberate outreach by the Orthodox community to Protestant and Catholic seminarians, pastors, and theologians.

Preface by David G. Hunter
Introduction by Nonna Verna Harrison
1. An Overview of Patristic Theodicies
Paul L. Gavrilyuk
2. Theodicy in Apocalyptic Thought: From Ancient Visions to (Post)Modern Nightmares
John W. Martens
3. The Suffering of Martyrdom: Greek Perspectives in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries
James C. Skedros
4. Learning through Experience: The Pedagogy of Suffering and Death in Irenaeus
John Behr
5. The Enemies of God: Demons and the Persecuting Emperors in Lactantius
Dennis P. Quinn
6. Christus Victor in the Work of Ephrem, Narsai, and Jacob of Serug
Gary A. Anderson
7. Greek Patristic Perspectives on the Origins of Social Injustice
Nonna Verna Harrison
8. Sympathetic Philosophy: The Christian Response to Suffering according to John Chrysostom's Commentary on Job
Douglas Finn
9. John Chrysostom on the Man Born Blind (John 9)
Nonna Verna Harrison
10. The Deaths of Macrina and Monica in Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Macrina and Augustine's Confessions: The Female Philosopher and the Problem of Christian Grief
Regina L. Walton
11. Evil, Suffering, and Embodiment in Augustine
David G. Hunter
12. Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Pedagogy of Destruction
Eric Phillips
13. The Word and His Flesh: Human Weakness and the Identity of Jesus in Greek Patristic Christology
Brian E. Daley, SJ
14. Suffering Impassibly: Christ's Passion in Cyril of Alexandria's Soteriology
J. Warren Smith
15. "The Impassible Suffers"
Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia


"The existence of rational human beings has always been inexorably intertwined with the reality of suffering and evil in all of its natural, social, interpersonal, and even cosmic pluriformity. Questions of theodicy no less than of justice, of resurrection, and of healing have been at the center of Christian theology and discipleship--and they demand answers in each generation. In this exceptional volume, Nonna Verna Harrison and David Hunter have brought together some of the best thinkers of our time to look deeply into the Patristic tradition and connect us once again with the wisdom of ancient Christianity. In the process, we see again the brilliance of the Christian refocusing of the 'question of suffering and evil' onto its true locus: the Incarnation of the God, the means by which all things are made new."

George Kalantzis, professor of theology, Wheaton College; director, The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies

"The presence of suffering and evil is considered the major problem for a theistic worldview. The challenge is old. So is the Christian response to it. An all-star cast of writers, mostly Catholic and Orthodox, consider what early Christian thinkers had to say about suffering in its varying forms and expressions--illness, death, persecution, natural disasters--and the sorrow that accompanies these things, especially as they relate to the human condition. From an overview of patristic theodicies to a contemporary theologian's reflections on how God enters human suffering, there is rich theological perspective on display here. This volume will enrich one's understanding of the thought of early Christians, especially in regard to the passion of Christ, and will provide insights helpful for modern Christian philosophy and theology."

Everett Ferguson, professor of church history emeritus, Abilene Christian University

"In an age where we seem to do anything we can to ignore the suffering of others and the reality of our own mortality, this volume offers a nuanced and thoughtful treatment of what were once the central themes of Christian theology and hope. This is an important volume that will have wide appeal to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of early Christian thought."

George Demacopoulos, professor of theology, Fr. John Meyendorff & Patterson Family Chair of Orthodox Christian Studies, and codirector of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University

The Authors

  1. Nonna Verna Harrison

    Nonna Verna Harrison

    Nonna Verna Harrison (PhD, Graduate Theological Union), an experienced patristics scholar, is the author of God's Many-Splendored Image, Grace and Human Freedom according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, and numerous articles and translations. She lives...

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  2. David G. Hunter

    David G. Hunter

    David G. Hunter (PhD, University of Notre Dame) holds the Cottrill-Rolfes Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. He is the author of Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Jovinianist...

    Continue reading about David G. Hunter


"Suffering and Evil in Early Christian Thought brings together fifteen essays from some of the best theologians of the patristic tradition in order to offer gleanings from the Fathers as tentative insights into the inscrutable problem of evil and suffering. . . . The collection succeeds insofar as it is extraordinarily accessible--while it is sedulously academic, it is approachable not only in the relatable topics under discussion, but even in the conscientious transliteration of Greek and Syriac words for the untrained. Cumbersome academic vocabulary is seemingly avoided, and the Fathers are often quoted at length, letting their unadulterated voices be heard on these important theological issues. . . . The collection is impressive, with numerous essays making a formidable contribution to patristic scholarship, whole doubling as exciting, engaging, and existential pieces that scrupulously interreact with works of the church fathers."

Brent McCulley,

Calvin Theological Journal