PhD candidate wins prestigious award

The ACU Faculty of Theology and Philosophy is pleased to announce that PhD candidate in Historical Theology, Mr Jonatan Simons, was awarded the Graduate Student Paper Prize by the North American Patristics Society.

Working within the Modes of Knowing research project in the Institute of Religion and Critical Inquiry (IRCI) at the ACU Melbourne Campus, Mr Simons is writing a dissertation titled Divine Simplicity in the Theology of Irenaeus under the supervision of Prof Lewis Ayres, Dr Michael Champion, and Dr Matthew Crawford.

Mr Simons’ thesis examines a work of Irenaeus, a second-Century bishop from Lyons who composed one of the earliest works of Christian theology. Irenaeus travelled throughout the Roman empire, lived in a region that was bilingual, and illustrated his points through the imagery of local art and through references to popular literature.

Mr Simons said, “There was tension in his theological praxis, for while Irenaeus writes against versions of Christianity that seem dangerous to him, he also wrote letters that sought to reconcile different church factions. He is not usually known for his philosophical acumen, but when he described God as ‘simple’, he used a term that was important in Hellenistic philosophy, but was starting to appear in Christian writings.

“I argue that this philosophical description of God is central to his theology. He insists that God is not separated into parts. According to him, some Christians were claiming that God, or part of God, was not involved in creation. For Irenaeus, because God is simple, God himself created the world and revealed himself to humanity. The paper that won the award is a section from this dissertation and, in it, I argue that he is exploring the way we talk about God, seeking to be a little less wrong.”

On receiving the award Mr Simons said, “My educational experience at ACU has been exceptional. My advisory team has been more helpful than I could ever have imagined. They have guided me through extra educational opportunities, such as visiting the British Library, presenting at conferences in Australia, the UK, and America, and publishing my first article. I have been warmly welcomed by the Modes of Knowing Research node of the IRCI. They provided opportunities to participate in their readings and meetings, they have answered questions, helped with translations, and made me, a student, feel like a member of a research project far beyond my knowledge, experience or capabilities.”

ACU Executive Dean of Theology and Philosophy, Professor Dermot Nestor said, “This is a highly significant achievement by an ACU student which testifies not simply to the quality of his own individual research program, but the nature and character of the supervisory support made available to him.”

After receiving MDiv and MA degrees, Mr Simons taught courses in History and Theology at the Fundación Universitaria Seminario Bíblico de Colombia in Colombia. He has given conference papers on the theology of Irenaeus of Lyons and the sermons of Augustine of Hippo at the Oxford Patristics Conference, the Patristic, Medieval, Renaissance conference (Villanova), and the American Society of Church History. His research focuses on the philosophical, literary, and historical influences on theological developments.

Previous awards include the 2016 Kantzer Award for Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College.

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