Review: Richard Muller’s Triunity of God

Muller, Richard.  The Triunity of God. Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, volume 4.  Grand Rapids: MI, Baker Academic.

Given that there aren’t many specifically Reformed constructions of Trinitarianism, I would say that this book fills a woeful lacuna.  However, since it has long remained out of print, it doesn’t (and don’t tell me the age-old narrative that Baker “soon plans to republish it”).  Nevertheless, as JI Packer said of Herman Witsius, this book is mind-forming.  See the notes here.

Muller begins in the Middle Ages with Boethius’s classic definitions. The problem with Boethuis’s definition of person:   The definition ultimately poses all manner of problems for the doctrines of Trinity and Christ when the concept of individual substance is taken to indicate a unique entity essentially distinct from other similar entities” (Muller 27).

Latin authors preferred to speak of the Father as principium rather than cause, unlike the Greeks.  An efficient cause, for example, is perceived of as a different substance than its effects (Muller 47)!  Aquinas’s denial of real distinction is a denial of a substantial distinction.   He wants to deny that any distinction that would make the essence one “thing” and the “persons” other “things.”

Structure of the Book

Clarifying medieval discussions on filioque:  all Westerns agreed that the Spirit proceeded from Father and Son as from one principia.  Causal language was eventually abandoned, for it implied the Son/Spirit to be of a different substance (effects are not the same substance as causes).  Further, and right before the Reformation, the Trinitarian life ad intra was lining up with the work ad extra (Muller 59).

The Reformation forced thinkers to restate the doctrine of the Trinity anew.  Advances in historical criticism and typology meant that some exegesis needed revisiting.  Muller notes three basic issues: the inheritance of Patristic vocabulary, renewed exegetical battles against the Socinians, and a new philosophical vocabulary (62).

Objection: does essential identity demand personal identiy? The Reformed generally respond that this is true for finite essences (Muller 211).  The orthodox are slowly moving away from the old Cappadocian argument of three men having the essence of manness. The problem is that this moves from “genus (man” to “Genus (God)”, yet God isn’t a genus.

Nor is it a quaternity: the three persons plus the one essence.  Persons and essence are not distinct as a thing (res).

Exegetical Issues and Trajectories

The Reformers assumed a hermeneutic of movement from shadow and promise to fulfillment (214).

Eternal decree and election of Christ.  God works either by his decree or the execution of it (Perkins). As the Reformed saw that this was Trinitarian, they began to see the covenant of redemption.

The order of the persons ad intra in the opera personalia is mirrored ad extra in the opera appropriata (Muller 268).  These are modes of operation contributing to the ultimately undivided work of the Godhead ad extra. The works of the Son and Spirit terminate on their persons.  By terminate we mean the terminus is paired with a fundamentum. This pair means a relation of acts bringing about relations (268). The fundamentum is the source; the terminus is the conclusion of the action constituting the relation.

Aseity of the Son

The issue: Calvin denies explicitly that the Son is from the Father “with respect to his eternal essence” (Muller 325). The Son is generated per Sonship, not divinity.

However, Ursinus: the essence is absolute and communicable.  The person is relative and incommunicable.

Arminius rejected Calvin’s view, insisting that “Christ, as God, has both his sonship and his essence by generation” (329).

Conclusion

This is not to say that every single construction is satisfactory.  However, the Reformed orthodox did provide a robust Trinitarian framework that avoids most of the difficulties and charges labeled at scholasticism.

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Notes on Muller’s PRRD vol 4

Roscellin: confirmed anti-realist.  This view led him to declare that every existent thing is a unique individual: so-called universals are “mere words.” (Muller 26).  

The problem with Boethuis’s definition of person:   The definition ultimately poses all manner of problems for the doctrines of Trinity and Christ when the concept of individual substance is taken to indicate a unique entity essentially distinct from other similar entities” (27).  

Anselm on Human nature:  Human nature refers to the conjunction of the several properties and predicates that identify the nature, generally considered, as human—and this is prior to the more particular consideration of the single person as human, as participating in human nature. (27)

Anselm on Filioque:  followed standard Augustinian line that the processions::psychological love

  • As for the Greek claim that the concept of double procession resulted in the error of two ultimate principles in the Godhead, Anselm could respond that just as the creation of the world by all three persons does not result in a theory of three ultimate principles, so does the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son not result in a theory of two principles: for the three persons create as one God, and the Father and the Son are one God in the procession of the Spirit (Muller)

Difficulty of Defining “Person.”

Alexander of Hales:  good is self-diffusive.   bonum est diffusivum sui.  “Thus, the “distinction” of the persons in the one divine essence is the “difference of relation or of mode of existing” that arises “by reason of origin.’  (Muller 39). Further, “Thus, according to Alexander, distinction in God between essence and person is not a real distinction (secundum rem), but only a distinction of the rational intellect (secundum intelligentiam rationis); nonetheless, the distinction between persons is real even in God

Alexander objects to the claim that the distinction between persons and essence or between relations and the divine substance must either be according to substance or such as subsists between a thing and another thing (secundum rem) or merely according to our intellect (secundum intellectum solum). The first distinction would rule out divine simplicity, the latter would render the Trinity a doctrine fashioned in the human mind. Alexander responds that, in its inward economy, the one and same divine essence, is disposed as Father, who is neither generated nor proceeded from another; as Son, who is generated from another; and as Spirit, who proceeds from both—and that this manner or mode of being is “not merely according to the acceptation of out understanding, but in fact according to the thing itself.” Thus the Godhead must be considered both in terms of “the identity of substance” and in terms of “a disposition according to the consideration of origin or first principle”—in the first instance, there is the essential identify of the divine persons, in the second, there is the disposition or plurality of the Godhead according to “the predicament of relation” (40)

Thomas Aquinas

Latin authors preferred to speak of the Father as principium rather than cause, unlike the Greeks.  An efficient cause, for example, is perceived of as a different substance than its effects (Muller 47)!

Aquinas’s denial of real distinction is a denial of a substantial distinction.   He wants to deny that any distinction that would make the essence one “thing” and the “persons” other “things.”

Attributes do not result in a conceptual opposition.  Relations do.

Early Reformation Doctrine of Trinity

Structure of the Book

Clarifying medieval discussions on filioque:  all Westerns agreed that the Spirit proceeded from Father and Son as from one principia.  Causal language was eventually abandoned, for it implied the Son/Spirit to be of a different substance (effects are not the same substance as causes).  Further, and right before the Reformation, the Trinitarian life ad intra was lining up with the work ad extra (Muller 59).

The Reformation forced thinkers to restate the doctrine of the Trinity anew.  Advances in historical criticism and typology meant that some exegesis needed revisiting.  Muller notes three basic issues: the inheritance of Patristic vocabulary, renewed exegetical battles against the Socinians, and a new philosophical vocabulary (62).  

Subordination:  talk of Christ’s subordination referred to his mediatorial kingdom, when he handed it over to the Father (115).

The Terms of Trinitarian Orthodoxy

Trinitas: equivalent to Trium Unitas: “the subject itself, in its primary definition, denies composition in the Godhead” (169). God is not unitary, but unum; not triplex, but trinum.

Substantia, essentia, ousia: with regard to substance, the individual is primary and the genus secondary in the ontic sense. A genus will always be the predicate of a primary.  We would say “Simon is a man” and not “man is a simon.”

Keckerman:  essence is the whatness or quiddity, substance the existing individual.

Persona:

Tertullian: a persona is identified by one who has substantia (178).

Socinians: person is identified with primary essence, which would yield three gods.  This allowed them to exclude Son and HS from Godhood.

Turretin: person is an individual intellectual suppositum (III.xxiii.7).  See 2 Cor. 1:11.

Proprietates, relationes, and notiones:

Property:  a distinguishing characteristic of a subsistence not shared with other subsistences (187).

Notio: the way in which the three subsistences are distinct from one another.

Agnesia

Paternitas

Filatio

Procession

Spiration

The Trinity of Persons in their Unity and Distinction: Theology and Exegesis in the Older Reformed Tradition

Calvin: (see mainly Institutes 1.13.1).

Bullinger: Decades 4.3

Musculus: essence signifies that which is common; substance that which is proper to all persons.  Musculus follows Hilary and Jerome where substance is hypostasis, rather than ousia (Muller 206).

Order and Distinction of the Persons

Keckermann: the mode of God’s existence does not differ from the mode of God’s essence. The persons are distinct not by degree, state, or dignity, but by the order, number, and manner of doing (Trelcatius).

Objection: does essential identity demand personal identiy? The Reformed generally respond that this is true for finite essences (Muller 211).  The orthodox are slowly moving away from the old Cappadocian argument of three men having the essence of manness. The problem is that this moves from “genus (man” to “Genus (God)”, yet God isn’t a genus.

Nor is it a quaternity: the three persons plus the one essence.  Persons and essence are not distinct as a thing (res).

Exegetical Issues and Trajectories

The Reformers assumed a hermeneutic of movement from shadow and promise to fulfillment (214).

The Deity and Person of the Father

Covenant of redemption:

Eternal decree and election of Christ.  God works either by his decree or the execution of it (Perkins). As the Reformed saw that this was Trinitarian, they began to see the covenant of redemption.

The order of the persons ad intra in the opera personalia is mirrored ad extra in the opera appropriata (Muller 268).  These are modes of operation contributing to the ultimately undivided work of the Godhead ad extra. The works of the Son and Spirit terminate on their persons.  By terminate we mean the terminus is paired with a fundamentum. This pair means a relation of acts bringing about relations (268). The fundamentum is the source; the terminus is the conclusion of the action constituting the relation.

Venema: “The Father being the originating–the Son the efficient–and the Holy Spirit the Perfecting cause.”

The Person and Deity of the Son

The problem of subordination:   Col. 1:15 uses protokotos, not protoktistos.  Lordship, not creation (Rijssen).

Generation: a communication of personal existence without any multiplication or division of essence (284).

Aseity of the Son

The issue: Calvin denies explicitly that the Son is from the Father “with respect to his eternal essence” (Muller 325). The Son is generated per Sonship, not divinity.

However, Ursinus: the essence is absolute and communicable.  The person is relative and incommunicable.

Arminius rejected Calvin’s view, insisting that “Christ, as God, has both his sonship and his essence by generation” (329).

Procession of the Holy Spirit

The Reformed try to get around the asymmetry of the Father and Son generating a divine person while the Spirit does not, in the following way:  “in modo, since the way of generation terminates not only in the personalitas of the Son but also in a ‘similitude’, according to which the Son is called the image of the Father, and according to which the Son receives the property of communicating that essence to another person. In contrast, the Spirit does not receive the property of communicating that essence to another person, inasmuch as the way of spiration terminates only in the personalitas of the Spirit and not in a similitude of the Father

The Economy of the Covenants (Witsius)

This is the classic statement of Covenant Theology at the end of the 17th Century.  Witsius steers an irenic course between Voetsius and Cocceius. The first volume deals with Covenant Theology proper while the second volume analyzes the various types and shadows of the Old Testament.

Image result for herman witsius

Generally, covenants signify a mutual agreement between parties, with respect to something (43).  A covenant of God, furthermore, “is an agreement between God and man, about the way of obtaining consumate happiness,” including sanctions (45).  This covenant comprises three things: a) Promise; b) condition; c) sanction.

While it is a free agreement between God and man, man really couldn’t say no.  Not to desire God’s promises is to refuse the goodness of God, which is sin. Witsius views the CoW as probationary, yet Adam wouldn’t have “earned” the reward per any intrinsic merit.  The reward is rooted in God’s covenant, not in man’s merit.

Doctrine of God

God’s knowledge of future things cannot be conceived apart from his decreeing them (141).  The creature acts in concurrence with God’s action. All things come from God. There is only one first cause (I.8.15). If something could act besides having God as its cause, then there would be multiple first Causes, which is polytheism.

God and sin.  If all beings come from God, and even though sin is privation of being, it, too, is a kind of entity, then it also arises from God’s plan (para 22)

Book II.

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Covenant of Grace

Definition: a compact or agreement between God and the elect sinner, God on his part declaring his free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant, by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that goodwill by a sincere faith (2.1.5).

Chapter 2: Of the Covenant between God the Father and Son

The covenant of redemption is between God and the Mediator. The will of the Father, giving the Son to be the Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the will of the Son, presenting himself as a Sponsor or Surety for them (2.2.2). Christ’s suretyship consists in his willingness to undertake to perform that condition (2.2.4).

The exegetical foundation is in Zech. 6.13.  There is a counsel of Peace between God and the Branch.

Covenant and Justification: God the Father, through Christ’s use of the sacraments, sealed the federal promise concerning justification (para 11).  Christ’s baptism illustrates the sealing of the covenant from both sides.

BOOK III

Chapter 1: Of the Covenant of God with the Elect

The contracting parties are God and the elect (281). The son is not only mediator but testator, who ratified the covenant with his death. Are there conditions in the covenant of Grace?  Earlier divines like Rutherford spoke a qualified “yes,” though Witsius removes himself from that language. Condition: that action which gives a man a right to the reward (284).

The Decalogue

The substance of the decalogue is the same as the moral law (p. 165). When God gave the decalogue to Israel, he published some reasons annexed to it that were peculiar to Israel alone (176). There is in some sense a repetition of the Covenant of Works in Sinai (IV.4,47).  However, it was not repeated simpliciter. Carnal Israel embraced it as a covenant of works (Rom. 9.31). Sinai contains no promise of grace.

The Old Covenant

Witsius contrasts the promises made to Abraham with the stipulations of the Sinaitic Covenant. In Sinai God did not promise to give the people a heart to obey (337).  And it is to this covenant, and not to the Abrahamic or Davidic covenants, that God contrasts with the New Covenant.

Conclusion

This is the classic statement.  Witsius gets somewhat speculative in the second volume, but the first volume definitely rewards careful study.

 

Substance of the Covenant of Grace

HT to R. Scott Clark.  I plan to get this volume when I accrue (merit?) enough Amazon points.

2. Under the new covenant or testament, however, these promised blessings are not given to all men, because God is true, thus the covenant is necessarily discriminate. These blessings are given, however, doubly when the covenant is received. In the first place, by the substance of the covenant itself or by the promised blessings from God themselves, then by their administration in the visible assembly. In the first sense (learned from Jeremiah in the place already cited), which substance also is peculiar to the elect. For to all the elect and to them alone, this part, the remission of sins, renewal to the image of God, and the knowledge of God itself is therefor promised, or which embraces God’s favor which they would never have had from themselves (John 6:44,45; 64,65; 10:26; 11:52; Acts 13:47,48; Romans 8:29,30; 9:7,8,9,11,15,16; Titus 1:1).

CASPAR OLEVIANUSDe substantia, 1.1.2

Review: John Owen and English Puritanism

by Crawford Gribben. Oxford.

Image result for crawford gribben john owen

Crawford Gribben suggests, perhaps ironically, that John Owen’s life is shaped around a series of “defeats.” Although this text is part of Oxford’s series on historical theology, is weighted more towards biography than to theology, though Gribben is capable of skillfully surveying Owen’s theological developments.

Gribben gives considerable detail to Owen’s life in the Cromwellian era, both as a chaplain for the Irish invasion and as a courtier under Cromwell’s reign. On Gribben’s reading Owen isn’t necessarily opposed to Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland, merely grieved at some of the (inevitable?) excesses of a shock-and-awe campaign.

What is even more shocking, though, is Owen’s hostility to Presbyterianism. He fully supported Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland (Granted, the Presbyterian’s decision to back the debauched pervert Charles II is fairly high on the stupidity list). Owen’s specific criticism of Scotland should be seen in the larger context of “exporting England’s revolution” (cited in Gribben 106).

Much of Owen’s hostility to Scottish Presbyterianism owes to the latter’s view of a “National Religion.” He minces no words. “An unjust usurper had taken possession of this house, and kept it in bondage; —Satan had seized on it, and brought it, through the wrath of God, under his power” (Owen 8:298).

The rest of Gribben’s narrative matches conventional accounts of Owen’s life. Now to the theology. One of the criticisms of the Goold edition of Owen’s works is that they are arranged topically rather than chronologically. For example, “A Display of Arminianism,” one of Owen’s earliest works, is in the same volume as Death of Death.

This is a fine volume that deals with many nuances of Owen’s life in a judicial and sensitive manner. Gribben writes with an easy and engaging prose style.

Schaff: Church History, Volume 5 (review)

This is his second volume on the Middle Ages.

Image result for philip schaff

It is tempting to color the Middle Ages either as a period of gross or superstition or incredible beauty.  This answer is neither.  Or both. Much as we may be disgusted, and rightly so, at the abuses of the medieval papacy, some popes were truly talented individuals. Further, papal supremacy, while built on a foundation of sand, did nonetheless rein in lawless barons. For example, the most competent, if not the most scriptural, of medieval popes, Gregory VII, kept warring Europe in line.  Schaff writes, “it was a spiritual despotism, but it checked a political despotism” (Schaff 34).

The section on the Crusades read like a novel at times.  Schaff rightly deplores the indulgences and the erring piety behind the Crusades, but he notes, as we must all admit, that the military actions of the Western Europeans destroyed enough Muslim personnel to prevent a Muslim conquest of Europe (at least until the 21st century).

4th Crusade

Surprisingly, Schaff gives a relatively positive account of the 4th Crusade.  This one is tricky and requires some background. The rightful emperor was Isaac Angelus.  He was deposed and blinded by his brother Alexius III.  Long story short, the Latins intervened and deposed Alexius III and restored Isaac (for a time).  As unfortunate as later events were, this action “prolonged the successful resistance to the Turks” (273 n1). Yes, they turned Constantinople into a brothel, but one can’t help but wonder if Byzantine schemes didn’t set the stage.

Inquisition and Sacraments

Most people will find the section on the Inquisition fascinating, if only for morbid reasons.  It contains enough lurid details.

Theologically, Schaff’s section on the sacraments is of the most value to the theology student.   All medievals follow the Augustinian definition as “a visible sign of invisible grace.”  There is a virtue inherent in the sacraments.  They confer and confirm grace (continere et conferre gratiam).  God is the original cause of grace.  The sacraments, per Thomas, are the instrumental cause (705).

The body of Christ is in the sacrament not quantitatively, but in substance.  Not in dimensions but by a power peculiar to the sacrament.  This is the doctrine of concomitance (717). They argued that the whole Christ is in each of the elements, which justifies withdrawing the cup from the laity.

Penance and Indulgences

Penance deletes mortal sins committed after baptism (729).  It has four elements (contrititon, sorrow of the soul, which negative part is attrition), confession, satisfaction, and absolution. An indulgence simply mitigates the works of satisfaction needed for an absolution (737).

Sin and Grace

The flesh is tainted, being conceived in concupiscence. It is both taint and guilt (749). Grace: man needs prevenient grace “to beget in him the disposition to holiness” (753). Justification has four elements: 1) infusion of grace; 2) movement of the free will towards God; 3) the act of the free will against sin; 4) remission of sins.

This book is magnificent.  The prose reads like a novel.

De Regno Christ (Review, Bucer)

Bucer, Martin.

de-regno

This selection of Bucer’s *De Regno Christi* is useful, if incomplete. It omits most of his exposition of the 7th Commandment. I understand why, for space reasons. The drawback is that the reader is not engaged with Bucer’s groundbreaking work on divorce and remarriage. While such a view was originally aimed at Roman Catholicism, it would be very useful reading today as some in the “Young, Restless, and Reformed Camp” are advocating a similar Romanist view (John Piper, for one). Bucer’s discussion of the Kingdom of Christ is not as polished as later discsussions. His advocating of something similar to a theonomic socialism (yes, I said those two words!) should provide interesting discussions for social reform.

One cannot help but be stirred in reading Martin Bucer’s De Regno Christi.  He takes all the beauty of Plato’s Republic, strips it of its communism and communal marriage (which are probably the same thing) and reworks it around a rich Christian legal heritage.  One notes, however, that he give the magistrate a fairly large role in guiding religion to reform the society.  Is this Erastianism?  Maybe not, for Bucer is not saying (as far as I could read) that the magistrate should appoint ministers and determine doctrine.  He does, I think, give the magistrate free rein to reform the diaconate.  That might not be a bad idea, though.  Contrary to Baptist and congregationalist thought, deacons are not ruling elders in the church.  Further, on Bucer’s gloss, the role of the diaconate overlaps within the civil sphere, in which case it does become the magistrate’s prerogative.  Bucer doesn’t explicitly make that argument, but it does appear to be the general outline of his thought.

It helps to remember that Bucer wrote this treatise for King Edward VI, an early hero of Protestantism.   Following Wyclif’s “civil dominion” tract, Bucer’s proposal can be seen, if not as an Erastian state, then at least as a “churchly state.”  Admittedly, it’s hard not to be caught up in his narrative.  Even in his communistic and unbelieving moments, few can deny the power of Plato’s Republic.  Bucer takes all those beautiful elements and transforms them.  He gives us the vision of a truly Christian society, in which mercy and justice truly meet.