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.

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

Is the Holy Spirit a product?

I don’t want to get into Filioquist metaphysics.  Confessionally, I am a Protestant and that means I am in the Filioque tradition.  So let’s get this out of the way up front:  do I hold to the Filioque?  I think later Protestant thinkers, in terms of seeing it in Speech-Act format, perhaps have the resources to constructively engage this debate.  But if we are asking do I hold to the Filioque in terms of Augustine, Thomas, and the 4th Lateran Council, the answer is absolutely not.  It is dialectics.

I want to thank Jay Dyer for doing the leg work on this.  Here is the problem: if you say that the Holy Spirit is from the Father’s (and Son’s) will, you are an Arian. Or so St Athanasius says:

Hence the Son, not being (for He existed at the will of the Father), is God Only-begotten , and He is alien from either. Wisdom existed as Wisdom by the will of the Wise God. (De Synodis).

That’s straightfoward enough.  Arian theology says that the Son is a product of the Father’s will (and presumably, the Holy Spirit is a product of the Son’s).    But here is what Western theology states:

Ludwig Ott: “The Holy Ghost proceeds from the will or the mutual love of the Father and Son.” (Sent. certa.). 

Augustine:  “But if any person in the Trinity is also to be specially called the will of God, this name, like love, is better suited to the Holy Spirit; for what else is love, except will?” (De Trinitate, Schaff edition, p.234).

Here a person of the Trinity is identified with the operation or attribute of God.  The Filioquist can get out of this by saying Augustine is saying that the Holy Spirit *is* (=?) the will of the Father, not a product of the will of the Father.   True, that is a different claim.  But if will is a faculty (or operation or function) of essence, then the Holy Spirit is an operation of the essence–and now we are right back at saying he is a product of the essence.

Towards a Western Trinity

This isn’t new.  I’m moving some old essays to this site.

In Robert Arakaki’s “Plucking the Tulip,” while the majority of the piece dealt with “calvinism,” he did make some comments on why the Eastern view of the Trinity is more preferable than the Western view (and with what the Filioque entails).

In this piece I evaluate the shortcomings of Augustinianism and the inadequacy of the Eastern essence/energy distinctions.  I conclude with some suggestions on moving past the impasse.

This is the final part both of Arakaki’s “Plucking the Tulip” and my response to it.  The response was delayed because I actually thought this part of his critique was very good.  I have demonstrated my own reasons why I find his critique of TULIP to be unconvincing.  I had to wrestle and think through these issues much more than on soteriology.   Indeed, when I was looking into Eastern Orthodoxy, it was the Trinitarian issues that had the most “pull.”   Western theologians today, at least in the Evangelical world, have done a terrible job in presenting a Western view of the Trinity that understands the East’s concerns (or presenting any view of the Filioque, period.  It is a mark of deep and deserved shame on American Evangelicalism that Karl Barth has the most thorough, recent defense of the Filioque).   This is one of the areas where new thought is actually possible.

I must begin by repeating the now-common refrain that there really isn’t as big as gap between East and West on the Trinity as once was thought.   This is undoubtedly true in the earlier Patristic eras with greater differences coming to light as the first millennium ended.  Certainly, there is a marked divide between later figures like Aquinas and Palamas.

Arakaki begins by noting Calvin’s Western roots.  He writes, “Unlike Eastern Orthodoxy which draws on a wide range of Church Fathers,Western Christianity in both its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms depends heavily on Augustine of Hippo” (Arakaki 12).

Mr Arakaki tries to connect predestination with the Western view of the Trinity.  He writes, “This is because theology (the nature of God) and economy (how God relates to creation) are integrally related” (14).   Mr Arakaki is correct to note that double predestination is not unique to Calvin.  As the former Orthodox theologian Joseph P. Farrell has noted, double predestination is an inference from absolute divine simplicity (Farrell, 332 passim.), and almost all medieval Western theologians held to this model of simplicity. Further, Arakaki’s claim that God’s nature is related to God’s economy is absolutely correct.    He notes that his Eastern view is the Cappadocian one, grounding the monarchy of God in the hypostasis of the Father.   Following Metr. Zizioulas he states that such a position emphasizes the person over the nature.  God exists through his mutual love.   To borrow Zizioulas’s famous title, “Being is Communion.”   There is a certainly a truth to this.

Mr Arakaki contrasts this with the Augustinian view.  His summary of Augustine is by and large correct, and I won’t belabor the point with more quotations.  He quotes sources on Augustine to the effect that Augustine emphasized the nature over the person.  Arakaki then notes difficulties with the West’s view:  “the Father is God, the Son is God,the Holy Spirit is God; but the Son is not the Father, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit; but there is not three gods but only one God” (16).  Obviously, such a view is unsatisfying.  It is not surprising that one infers the Filioque from such a construction.  Indeed, if the above is problematic, then it appears that the Filioque is also problematic.

A High-Church Reformed Response

It must be first noted that Western theologians do in fact have a response to Mr. Arakaki.   How can one claim that “The Father is God/The Son is God/The Spirit is God/There is one God”?   Western theologians could make this claim work by positing a “relations of oppositions.”   I am not going to take that route.  I have my own questions about such a model.  I only mention it to say that there are cogent, rational alternatives to his presentation.

Mr Arakaki has certainly placed his finger upon the Western problem.  Indeed, it is a pressure point.   In fact, even more problems could be adduced.   We shan’t mention them here.   In order to respond to Mr Arakaki, I will flesh out the Eastern view a little more, drawing upon perhaps its most forming theologian, Gregory Palamas (as interpreted by Vladimir Lossky).  According to Lossky, “The Father is the sole monarchy of the Godhead,” but this isn’t subordinationist because “terms such as procession and origin are but inappropriate expressions for a reality alien to all becoming, all process, all beginning” (Lossky, A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu, 78, quoted in Jenson, 152). This point shouldn’t be passed over.   This is in line with the Eastern emphasis on apophatic theology:   we have knowledge of God by negation.  At its most basic it denies any knowledge of the divine nature.  Rather, we know God by his energies.  (Much more could be mentioned and Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw’s outstanding work, Aristotle East and West, will fill in any lacunae in my narrative).

Palamas on the Essence/Energies

Not only does Palamas see that God has an ousia (I understand the fine nuances between ousia, substance, and essence; in the following I will use ousia as roughly synonymous with essence), but “God also possesses that which is not substance” (Palamas, Chapters 135, quoted in Sinkewizcs, 241).  Yet Gregory is clear that this is also not an accident, of which one does not admit in God.  Palamas calls this entity which is neither substance nor accident an “energy.”  Elsewhere he calls it the “arche of deity” (Triads 3.1.29).  This is crucial for his view of the spiritual life.

In one of Palamas’ more brilliant moves, he notes the Western view of divine simplicity (God’s essence is absolutely simple, admitting of no distinctions) and how impossible it is for deification:  If God’s essence is absolutely and immutable, how exactly can the saint participate in it?  If the saint participates in the essence, then the saint is absorbed into the essence.   If the saint participates in “created grace,” then he is participating in a created medium and not in God.  Admittedly, it’s a brilliant move.

One should keep in mind that Gregory likely holds to something similar to divine simplicity.  He is careful to note that God is “according to the ousia beyond ousia” (ibid).  What he likely means is something like Plato’s beyond being or hyperousia (Republic 549b).  If this is in fact what Palamas means, and I think it is, then he is not as far removed from the West as one might think.  The only difference, it seems, is that he adds a tertium quid to the equation:  the divine energies.

Lossky’s problem points back to Gregory Palamas. Palamas employs the Cappadocians, but with a subtle difference. The saints, for Palamas, participate in the divine energies, but not in the divine ousia, deity sheerly as such. The problem, though, is that the Cappadocians were a lot more flexible than Palamas in their use of terms. Their use of the term ousia (Basil probably excepted) does not suggest anything other than the divine life. As Catherine Lacugna says, whom Mr Arakaki quotes elsewhere with approval, “God’s ousia exists as Father, Son, Spirit.  The three persons do not have a common ousia; they are the divine ousia…Further, as Rowan Williams points out, the doctrine of the Trinity means the identification of ousia with energeiai” (LaCugna, 192, quoted in Letham 249ff).  Here is the problem for Palamas: “It is one thing to say that abstract deity is itself always the same quality, as the Cappadocians did; it is quite another to say that deity taken as God himself is a static essence. Ironically, Orthodoxy is here driven to a bluntly modalist doctrine: God himself is above the biblical narrative, which applies only to his energies (Jenson 153).  Jenson’s comment needs to be fleshed out:  we can only identify God by his self-identifying in the biblical narrative–the persons arising out of the narrative.  But on Palamas’s gloss what can we even know of the Persons?  He seems to intimate that this “energy(ies)” is above the gospel narrative itself (Triads 3.1.10-13; 3.1.16-19; 3.3.26-27).   Perhaps most disastrously, Orthodoxy has a tendency to “reify the energies, the moments of the divine life, and at least in the case of the Spirit, the energies replace the person in the historical actuality of salvation” (Jenson 157).

Further, it appears that Orthodoxy is in danger of what (ironically) Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart calls the “pleonastic fallacy.”  According to Hart, this fallacy claims “the fallacy that says that—since there is an infinite qualitative distance between the ultimate principle of all reality and the world of “unlikeness” here below—it is necessary to posit a certain number of intermediate principles or “hypostases” in the interval between the two in order to bridge that distance” (Hart).  While this fallacy was initially pointed out against neo-Platonists and Arians–and I have no intention of saying the Orthodox are the latter!–one cannot help but see certain similarities.  On such a gloss we see an apophatically unknown God who is made knowable–not by the persons, mind you, because Lossky says the terms for hypostatic differentiation are only “inappropriate expressions”–but by some other tertium quid, the energies of God.

Further, we can only have an indirect knowledge of God.  Granted, we aren’t knowing God through a created medium, pace Roman Catholicism, but it is still a medium nonetheless. We do not know God as he is but only through the energies.  If this knowledge is indirect knowledge, then how do we know God’s essence?   As Robert Letham remarks, “If the divine essence is unknowable, how does Gregory know it” (Letham 249)?

Given Orthodoxy’s commitment to a relational ontology, one must ask how this is even possible if we only relate via the energies and not the persons, as it appears Palamas says.  Further, we must note Arakaki’s earlier claim:  “This is because theology (the nature of God) and economy (how God relates to creation) are integrally related” (Arakaki, 14).  I agree, but if all we can know are God’s energies and not his ousia, as Basil says (Letter 234), then one wonders how such a claim is even possible.   If the ousia is hyper-ousia and beyond our knowing, which was Basil’s point against Eunomius, then we may be allowed to hope that that theologia and economia are integrally related, but that is only a guess.  By definition, we can’t know that.  As Robert Letham remarks on Palamas,For all of the problems of the Filioque, it at least attempts to say that what is true in ontology is true in economia: The Son is the giver of the Spirit in history because he is a giver of the spirit in ontology.

Putting the Filioque at the End

Let’s assume that my (and Jenson’s) critique of Palamism holds.  Even so, that does not prove the Filioque is true.  This is not a problem, though.  As of now, one can affirm what the Filioque is trying to get at (God is not dissimilar in ontology and economy; the economy reveals the ontology) while seeking to work past difficulties inherent in the project.

At the risk of horrifying everyone both East and West, I will expand (and correct)  Hegel’s “I-thou/Master-slave” analogy.  This does not mean I agree with all of what Hegel says.  I think he is more insightful than people realize, but he is also wrong on a number of points.  The present use of him is simply an analogy. I am not endorsing his ontology.

If you and I are to be free for one another, each of us must be both subject and object in our discourse. If I am present, I am a subject whom you have as my object. But if I am not an object for you as subject, if I somehow evade that, I enslave you. I am not reciprocally available to you (Jenson 155).

How then, can this mutual availability happen? How is an I-Thou relationship possible without becoming a struggle for power? (Jenson notes with humor that postmodernism carried out this program under a tutelage of horror!) Following Jenson, in perhaps a mildly Augustinian strain, we can note, “there is freely given love…a third party in the meeting of ‘I’ and ‘Thou. Thus, if you and I are to be free for one another, someone must be our liberator (okay, granted this isn’t the best term–JA)…If I am to be your object and you mine, so that we may be subjects for each other, there has to be one for whom we are both objects, and whose intention for us is our love for each other. The theological conclusion is obvious.

Still, it does not fully answer the Filioque debate, at least not here. We can tentatively  toward a Western answer. The debate over the Filioque is misplaced. If God is indeed the God of the future, and we see Cappadocian hints of an ever-forward moving futurity in God, then does it not make more sense to see the better question as “The Spirit is the End and Goal of all God’s ways”? East and West debate over the beginning Archimedean point when they should be discussing the divine goal as the Spirit’s Archimedean point” (157). Quoting Pannenberg again, “The fault of the Filioque is that the true Augustinian insight that the Spirit is the fellowship of the Son and Father ‘was formulated in terms of relations of origin’” (Pannenberg, I: 347, quoted in Jenson, 157 n. 67).  Seen from this light, the East-West debate is simply two sides of the same coin.  Neither side tries to rise above the problematic.

On What Can We Agree?

I certainly agree that Augustinian triadology is simply inadequate.  It solves many problems but at great costs.   While I think the Orthodox concept of the divine energies is problematic–and I’ve only touched on one aspects.  I think there are more damaging criticisms available which I won’t pursue here–to the degree that Orthodoxy talks about the “divine light” I can appreciate.  I realize that Orthodoxy sees the two terms as synonymous.  I do not.  My arguments challenge a concept of the divine energies but not the divine light.  There is no reason why on a post-Augustinian gloss that one cannot appropriate the divine light.   Protestant biographies abound with saints who experience the divine light–glory–of God.  The Covenanter John Walsh was known to be surrounded by light while he was praying.   Even the modern Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, recalls an instance when he was flooded by divine light in language quite similar to that of Eastern Orthodox stories (Pannenberg).

In conclusion I agree with what the Filioque is trying to say.  God is not dissimilar in mission as he is in ontology.  Further, while God is transcendent we must be careful in positing that God’s essence is so radically other that we have no consistent way of saying how we can know God.  But even granting Eastern criticisms, we must confess that the East is not the way we should go.  Their Trinitarianism, while consistent and occasionally beautiful, comes at too great a cost.  If pressed hard enough we are left with a frozen view of God (to borrow Jenson’s phrase) above the biblical narrative–and such a view tends toward agnosticism (since we can’t know God as he really is).     Even worse, and in line with some other Orthodox critiques of Palamism (Moss), it’s hard to see on an Orthodox gloss how we can even have a “personal” relationship with God if the persons, too, are hyperousia and our only manner of communion is through the “energies.”

Which Way the West?

It is often remarked that Protestantism is divorced from the early church, that it can’t look back to church history and find itself.  What does one make of this claim?  Admittedly, it’s hard to find the location of First Presbyterian Church, Jerusalem.  Certainly, Protestants must acknowledge the hard work of the ancient church(es) in working through canonical, Christological, and Trinitarian issues.  We stand upon the shoulders of giants.   However, since Protestantism does not claim an infallible tradition, nothing significant is sacrificed when Protestant theologians began to admit that their tradition erred in formulation et al in years passed.

Further, nothing is lost in admitting that previous models of metaphysics may not have been the best to work with.  This does not mean jettisoning the hard work of the early church(es).  It does require a critical receiving of texts and positions, asking what light can they shed on our current situations, and cautiously moving forward.  Rowan Williams has cogently suggested that we saw such a handling of philosophical issues in the Nicene crisis (Williams 2002).  According to Williams’ reading, Arius conservatively employed a number of respected (if pagan) philosophical traditions which compromised the biblical narrative of the Son’s being with the Father. It was to the Nicene Fathers, Athanasius and Hilary, to “deconstruct” the older metaphysics around a new terminology that was more faithful to the biblical narrative (Farrell 184; cf. Hilary, De Synodis 76).

When one reads the Filiioquist debates, especially between two competent debaters, one has to admit that both sides make good cases.  I think there is a reason for that:  both sides are operating off of the same problematic: the Person(s) as causing the origin of another Person(s).   Either side, as Sergei Bulgakov noted with great clarity, must inevitably result in some dyad:  either Father-Son + Spirit or Father + Son/Spirit.  The triad has been lost.

It is to the credit of some recent theologians like Pannenberg and Jenson that they can find models to speak of the Trinity in a way that does not inevitably reduce to some form of monad + dyad.  Indeed, Panneberg can speak of mutual reciprocity, “the divine consciousness existing in a threefold mode,” and “each of the persons relates to the others as others and distinguishes itself from them” (Pannenberg 1991, 317; contra Robert Letham, Pannenberg is not advocating, at least not here anyway, three centers of consciousness, which would fall prey to some form of social Trinitarianism.  Pannenberg’s language is very clear:  a consciousness existing in a threefold mode is still one consciousness, one subject).

My own essay does differ from traditional Protestant proposals.  I do not hide that fact.  I hope I have demonstrated the truths behind the Filioque and what it means for our knowledge of God, even if I demur from the confessional formulations of it. It must be admitted that Calvinism’s Trinitarianism (to the degree that such an entity exists) stands or falls independent of my own formulations (and vice-versa).  Calvin did not write much on the Trinity for the simple fact that he didn’t have to.   Roman Catholicism did not differ from him on that score, so there wasn’t a point.  Calvin’s later doctrine of autotheos per the Son did raise some concerns, but even Catholics like Robert Bellarmine conceded that Calvin was largely in the “Tradition” on this point (Bellarmine 307-310, quoted in Letham 256).  I depart from Calvin in terms of language but hope that my own conclusions are not too far removed from his.

Works Cited:

Arakaki, Robert. “Plucking the Tulip,” http://orthodoxbridge.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Plucking-the-TULIP4.pdf (accessed 6 January 2014).

Basil the Great.  Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol 8.  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publ.

Bellarmine, Robert.  “Secunda controversia generalis de Christo,” Disputationum de controversiis Christianae fidei adversus haereticos.  Rome, 1832.

Bradshaw, David.  Aristotle East and West:  Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom.  Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Bulgakov, Sergei.  The Comforter.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2005.

Farrell, Joseph. P.  God, History, and Dialectic:  The Theological Foundations of the Two Europes and their Cultural Consequences.   Seven Council Press, no date.

Hart.  David Bentley.  “The Lively God of Robert Jenson.”  First Things.  October 2005.  [Accessed 10 January 2014].

Hegel.  GWF.  Phenomenology of Spirit.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology vol 1.  Oxford University Press, 2001.

LaCugna, Catherine.  God for Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.

Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship.  Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2004.

Lossky, Vladimir. A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu.  Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1967.

Moss, Vladimir.  “Romanides on the Holy Trinity.”  http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/410/romanides-holy-trinity/ [accessed 13 January 2014].

Palamas, Gregory.  One Hundred and Fifty Chapters. ed. Sinkewicz, Robert.  Toronto:  Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1988.

——————-.  Triads (Classics of Western Spirituality).  Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart.  Systematiche Theologie.  Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1988-1993.

—————-.  “God’s Presence in History.”  http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1710.  [accessed 10 January 2014].

—————-.  Systematic Theology.  Trans. G. W. Bromiley.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Plato, The Great Dialogues.  trans. W. H. D. Rouse.  New York: Signet Classics, 2008.

Williams, Rowan.  “The Philosophical Structures of Palamism,” Eastern Churches Review 9 (1977): 27-44D.

—————.  Arius: Heresy and Tradition.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Zizioulas, John.  Being as Communion. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.

Outline Torrance Trinitarian Faith

Chapter 1
1.  Christ is himself the content of God’s self-revelation

    1. We know the Father through his Son.
    2. Christ’s vicarious humanity
      1. he did not come in a man but as man.
      2. Christ ministers the things of God to man and the things of man to God.
  1. The Nicene Ordo
    1. The triune God’s activity
      1. Godward relations: From the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
      2. manward relations: in the Spirit, through the Son and to the Father (Torrance 5).
  2. Nicene Creed is Kerygmatic
    1. Passed on by faith
    2. Radical shift in the pious’s understanding.
      1. Moved from in-turned human reason (epinoia) to a centre in god’s revealing activity in the incarnation of the Logos (19).
      2. view of faith: not subjectively grounded, but objectively grounded persuasion of mind, supported by the hypostasis of God’s being.   Hilary: in faith a person takes his stand on the ground of God’s own being (De Trin. 1.18).
    3. scientific knowledge: episteme–standing or establishment of the mind upon objective reality.
      1. It is through faith that our minds are put in touch with a reality independent of themselves.
      2. It is through faith our minds assent to the inherent intelligibility of things, yield to their self-evidencing power and are adapted to know them in their own nature (kata phusin).
    4. Faith is not non-cognitive.
      1. it involves the mind’s responsible assent to the self-revelation of God in Christ.
      2. it arises under the creative impact of God’s word (21).
      3. it is listening obedience (upakoe tes pisteos).

Conclusion: we must learn from God himself what we are to think of him (Hilary, De Trin. 5.20).

  1.  Rejection of Dualism: Irenaeus rejected the Philonic aisthetos cosmos/noetos cosmos distnction, preventing the faith from being relativised.

Chapter 2: Access to the Father

  1. Father/Son relation
    1. We approach God as Father through the Son (49).
      1. If we begin, rather, with concepts like “Unoriginate” then we will have a vague concept of God and we know nothing about who he really is.
      2. If we cannot say anything positive about God, then we really can’t say anything negative about him.
      3. Leaving us, therefore, with no point in God by reference to which we can control our assumptions (51).
    2. Scientific knowledge, again
      1. In accordance with the nature of the reality being investigated (kata phusin).
      2. Therefore, we can speak truly about God.
      3. Since there is no likeness between God’s being and the created being, God can only be known from himself.
    3. God’s Communication
      1. In the Incarnation God does not tell us some fact about himself, but he gives us his very self.
      2. By Jesus’s coming to us as man, his humanity reveals the very nature of God (56).
    4. Knowing and Being
      1. Matt. 11:27
      2. The father and the son have a mutual relation of knowing.  Only the Son can know the Father and reveal him.
      3. Therefore, a mutual relation of knowing entails a mutual relation of being.  This gives us direct access to the closed circle of divine knowing.
      4. Our knowledge of God is rooted in the eternal being of God himself (59).
    5. More on epistemology
      1. The doctrine of the Son comes first because he is Logos.  Our knowledge of God is already pre-Worded.
      2. The humanity of Christ is the arche of all of God’s works.
        1. It is a vicarious humanity: the controlling principle by which all of our knowledge of God is tested.
        2. Our knowledge of God must conform to Christ because he is the Eidos of the Godhead.
  2. Contrast with Judaism
    1. Epistemology: we may know God the father in a more positive way.
    2. We have a conceptual grasp on God’s internal relations.
  3. Contrast with hellenism
    1. Priority of Vision
      1. Hellenism gives a conceptual priority of sight.
      2. Modes of seeing: idea, eidos, theoria
      3. Knowledge = vision taking place conceptually through a beam of light directed from eye to object.
    2. The Obedience of Hearing
      1. (hupoke tes akoues)
      2. Are the terms “Father” and “Son” meant to be visual images?   Hellenism said yes.  Hebraism said no.
      3. Images:
        1. For Hellenism images were mimetically related to what they signify.
        2. Hebraism: proper images used in speech and thought refer to God without imaging him.
    3. Activity of God
      1. Word and activity are intrinsic to the very being of God (enousios logos and enousios energia).
      2. The Greek doctrine of Logos was coopted by the Hebrew notion of The Word of the Lord (Debar Yahweh).
      3. The Logos is not an abstract cosmological  principle.
        1. The Logos inheres in the very being of God.
        2. The inner being of God is always an eloquent, speaking being.
      4. Energia refers now to the providential activity of God.
        1. rejected is the Aristotelian energia akinesias.
        2. God is never without his activity.  Being is dynamic.  And so is creaturely being.  Doctrine of motion.  
        3. God’s act is always act-in-his-being.  

The Almighty Creator

    1. Priority of Fatherhood: our knowledge of God as creator is taken from our knowledge of God as Father.
      1. Source and Fount: God is the ultimate source only as he is Father of the Son.
        1. If God is without offspring, then he is without works, for the Son is the offspring through whome he works.
        2. The triune God is the arche: mia theotes kai mia arche
      2. It is as Father that God is the fount (pege) of all being.
        1. Our concept of God must be controlled through the revelation of God as pater of the Son.
        2. The Son’s becoming man links the created arche with the uncreated arche.
        3. Thus, a two-fold, vicarious humanity.
    2. God was not always creator.
      1. Distinction between nature (phusei) of God and the will (Boulesei) of God.
        1. Son is by nature.
        2. Creation by will.
        3. Phusei and Boulesei can’t be identical, otherwise we risk linking the generation of the Son with the creation of the world.
      2. Athanasius: the nature of things that came into existence have no likeness in being to their maker, but are external to him and depend on him for existence.
      3. For God to create is secondary and for him to beget is primary.
        1. God was always Father but not always maker.
        2. In God’s self-communication to us in the Incarnation there is something new to the eternal being of God.  God is free to do what he has never done before.
    3. God does not will for himself to exist alone
      1. Creation out of nothing, part one.
        1. What is the relation of God to the universe?  It is neither a necessary relation nor an accidental relation.
        2. the universe was created by the eternal Word, so it is an intelligible product of the Divine Mind.
      2. The Universe is a temporal analogue
    4. Ex Nihilo
      1. The real starting point of creation ex nihilo was the Resurrection of Christ, for it demonstrated God’s power over death and non-being.
      2. Distinction between Word and Will
    5. Contingence of Creation
      1. creation is suspended and unstable (reustos).
      2. It is sustained by the divine Logos.

 

  • sumbebekos: creaturely events are neither necessary nor random.

 

      1. Thus, they are contingent.
    1. Contingence Proper
      1. creation has a measure of genuine, if limited independence.
      2. However, the independence itself is dependent on God.
      3. Nature has a limited autonomy: “bring forth fruit after its own kind.”
    2. Intelligibility of Creation
      1. Rejecting dualisms of intelligible and sensible realms.
      2. Single rational order pervades the universe.
  1. Relational Conception of Time and space
    1. it relates to God one way in his transcendent nature and to creatures another way.
    2. Within the universe are spatial-temporal structures which are open to the creative and ordering activity of God.
    3. This broke free from the deterministic universe of Greece.
      1. the laws of nature depend on the voice of God.
  2. Freedom of creation
    1. physics of light: created light is a created reflection of the uncreated light of God.
    2. It is contingently related to God’s constancy and invariance.

God of God, Light of Light

  1. Homoousios safeguards God’s Revelation
    1. If Christ were not homoousios toi patri, then he could not reveal God to us.
      1. There is no interval of time, being, or knowledge in the Godhead.
      2. The Father/Son relationship falls within the one being of God (Torrance 119).
    2. Light
      1. Light is never without its radiance.
      2. The Son is proper to the being of the Father.
  2. Homoousios
    1. Always implies another.
      1. Begotten from within the being of the Father.
      2. Implies internal distinctions and internal relations.
    2. Hermeutical Significance
      1. Inner structure of the gospel.
      2. Kerygma of truth = canon of scripture.
      3. The words of Scripture point to realities beyond themselves.
    3. Hermeneutical Instrument
      1. What God is toward us and in the midst of us is what God really is in himself (130).
      2. “ousia” now means more than simply “being.”  It means “being” in its inward reference.  hupastasis means being in its outward reference (or at least it did for Athanasius).
      3. The Being of God is never static.  The doctrine of enousios energeia means that being is dynamic.

Chapter 5: The Incarnate Savior

    1. Divine philanthropia
      1. The mediation of Christ involved a twofold movement: man to God::God to man
      2. Only God can save, but he saves as man.
    2. The Incarnation
      1. Kenosis was not a dimunition of God’s being but tapeinosis, impoverishment and abasement (153).
      2. The notions of servant and priest are tied together in Christ.
    3. The Atonement
      1. The atonement falls within the being and life of God.  It does not take place outside of Christ, but in him.
      2. The traditional biblical language of atonement is connected with Christ’s ontological solidarity.
      3. Deification (166)
        1. redemption and knowledge/illumination were closely connected in Patristic thought.
        2. Redemption is tied to the whole of Christ’s life
      4. Athanasius’s vicarious terms are not merely external to the being of Christ.
        1. They reveal a coherent pattern governed by an underlying unity in the person of Christ.

The Eternal Spirit

    1. Lexicography of Spirit

 

  • ruach carries a connotation that pneuma normally didn’t:  active, concrete presence/force.

 

    1. The spirit of God is not some emission of divine force but the confrontation of human beings and their affairs with his own divine self (192).
  1. Perceiving the Spirit
    1. Spirit is the specific nature of God’s eternal being.
    2. Christ is the only Eidos of the Godhead but Spirit is the Eidos of the Son.
      1. The Spirit himself is imageless.
      2. Epiphanius: we must use our ears rather than our eyes, for we know the Spirit only through his Word.
  2. Function
    1. The Holy Spirit no less than the Son is the self-giving of God (201).
    2. Doctrine of the Holy Spirit is derived from God.
      1. God himself is the content of his self-revelation.
      2. “doctrine developed naturally and properly out of the inner structure of knowledge of the one God grounded in his self-revelation and self-communication as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (202).
      3. Yet, knowledge of the spirit is taken and controlled by our knowledge of the Son’s homoousios, for it is only through this prism is the knowledge of God mediated to us.
  3. Interpretive Account
    1. God is Spirit and the Holy Spirit is God
      1. The Arians equated the limits of their understanding with the limits of reality (207).
      2. However, the Holy Spirit controls the categories for understanding.  He stands for the “unconditionality and irreversibility of the Lordship of God in his revelation” (Barth, CD I/1, 468ff).
    2. Spirit and Homoousion
      1. When the Holy Spirit is given to us, God is in us, and if the homoousion holds true, then Christ is in us.  “It is not merely by his power or operation, but God himself is present to us in his being.
      2. Didymus rebuts Basil’s distinction between the energies/operations of God and the immediate activity of his being…for it would damage a proper understanding of the real presence of God to us in his Spirit” (Torrance 210).
      3. The Spirit is spirit both in his ousia and his hypostasis.
        1. The Spirit reveals both the hypostases of Father and Son, but he is not directly known to us in his hypostasis.
        2. He remains veiled as he unveils the other two (Didymus, De Trin. 3.36)
        3. “He is the invisible light in whose shining we see the uncreated light of God manifest in Jesus Christ, and is known himself only in that he lights up the face of God in Jesus Christ” (Torrance 212).
  4. The Holy Spirit is distinctively personal reality along with and inseparable from the Father and the Son.
    1. Basil drew a sharp distinction between the one ousia of God and the three hypostases.
      1. He drew prosopon and onoma into the range of meaning expressed by hypostasis.
    2. Epiphanius had a more Hebraic slant.
      1. He preferred to see the persons as enhypostatic rather than as modes of existence.
      2. He applied homoousion beyond simply relating to each person, but also to the inner relations as well (Torrance 222).
    3. Personalism
      1. We are personalized persons, persona personata.
      2. God alone is properly and intrinsically Person.
  5. The Procession of the Spirit
    1. Whatever else we may say about the procession of the Spirit, we must ground our knowledge of the Spirit in our knowledge of the Son (231).
    2. Thesis 1: The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and belonging to the Son is from him given to the disciples and all who believe on him (Torrance 231).
      1. The Spirit proceeds from the father and receives from him and gives (kai ek tou autou lambanei); the Spirit receives from the Son (ek tou Hiou lambanei).
      2. If the Son is of (ek) the Father and proper to his being (idios tes ousias autou), the Spirit who is said to be of (ek) God must also be proper to the Son in respect of his being (idion einai kat’ ousian tou Hiou).
    3. Double movement of thought
      1. What the Holy Spirit is towards us, he is in himself AND what he is in himself he is towards us.
      2. the Holy Spirit belongs to the constitutive internal relations of God.
    4. The Cappadocians
      1. In order to rebut the charge that their differentiation between the three hypostases implied three divine principles, they shifted the weight of the term “Cause” onto the Father.
      2. This had a damaging effect of seeing the Deity of the Father as wholly uncaused but the deity of the Son/Spirit as eternally derived or caused.
      3. Further, they cast the internal relations between the three Persons into a consecutive structure or causal chain of dependence, instead of conceiving them (like Athanasius) in terms of their coinherent and undivided wholeness (Torrance 238).  Gregory of Nazianzus was probably closest to Athanasius in that he could speak (if somewhat inconsistently) of the deity as Monarchia.
        1. Nazianzus saw the terms arche and aitia as more likely referring to relations or schezeis subsisting in God beyond all time, origin, and cause.
    5. Beginning the Filioque Problematic
      1. Athanasius had taught that the Spirit is ever in the hands of the Father who sends and of the Son who gives him as his very own.  This is where Trinitarian reflection should have stayed.
      2. Torrance: “The Cappadocian attempt to redefine ousia as a generic concept, with the loss of its concrete sense of being as internal relations, meant that it would be difficult if not impossible for theology to move from the self-revelation of God in his evangelical acts to what he is inherent in himself.  If God’s Word and act are not inherent (enousia) in his being or ousia, as Athanasius insisted, then we cannot relate what God is toward us in his saving relation and activity to what he is in himself” (246).
        1. Cappadocian impasse:

The Triunity of God

  1. Athanasius
    1. God is eternally triune in himself.
    2. The true knowledge of God is knowledge of Him as he is Father and Son in his own being.
      1. The fullness of the Father’s godhead is the being of the Son (Contr. Ari. 3.5).
      2. homoousion carried within it the idea of coinherent relations within the one being of God.
        1. not a mere linking of properties but complete indwelling.
    3. There is a hierarchy of our knowing God but not a hierarchy in the being of God.
      1. We take our knowledge of the Father from the Son and our knowledge of the Spirit from the Son.
    4. Terminology
      1. ousia: lays stress on intrinsic constitution
      2. hypostasis: a reality ad alios, God as manifest.
      3. Monarchia:
        1. The Father is the arche of the Son.
        2. As the Son has the Godhead, he, too, is an arche.  But he is not an arche subsisting in himself.
        3. His view of the complete identity, equality, and unity of the Persons was so strong that he declined to advance a few of the Monarchy with respect to the person of the Father.
        4. He rather prefered to speak of God as Monas rather than Arche.
  2. Basil, The Gregories, and Didymus
    1. Basil: ousia should be treated as an abstract generic term.  This modified the early Athanasian approach.  Ousia was now equated with phusis as the common nature of the three persons.
    2. This is connected with Basil’s sharp distinction between God’s essence and God’s energies.  This also means we can only differentiate the persons by their peculiar characteristics.