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

Review: Escape from Reason (Schaeffer)

In Schaeffer’s other works he shows you step by step on how to “take the roof off” of a stoned-up hippie.  He doesn’t do that in this one. This is more of a Dooyeweerdian (though he never acknowledges it) deconstruction of the nature-grace dualisms.  I think he succeeds, though there are a few howlers. Along the way he gives brilliant insights, but the frustrating thing is that they are all in passing and are never developed.

Most of the book is a summary of He is there and He is Not Silent and The God Who is There.  Still, as a summary it avoids most (but not all) of Schaeffer’s weak points and the argument is forced to be tighter.

Aquinas as Fall

He wants to blame Aquinas for everything. I’m sympathetic to that idea, and there is much wrong with Aquinas, though I don’t think we can pin every problem on him, at least not as regards art.  Aquinas’ focus on particulars opened up the world of nature in art. Previously, art focused on the universal. Artists after Aquinas began to focus more on nature. The danger was that nature was autonomous and ate up the upper storey of grace. Schaeffer writes, “Aquinas lived from 1225 to 1274, thus these influences were quickly felt in the field of art” (Schaeffer 12).  Who is he talking about? He means Cimabue (1240-1302). Thus, with Cimabue we see Aquinas’s focus on the particular. Strictly speaking, this is a logical fallacy. It reads:

If Aquinas’s focus on particulars, then we will see the influence of Cimabue’s paintings on nature.

We see the influence of Cimabue’s paintings on nature.

Therefore, Aquinas is the influence.

This is the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  In any case, it’s doubtful that Aquinas’s monastic writings would have been mainstreamed in the art community.  Nevertheless, Schaeffer offers a number of diagrams that demonstrate this nature-grace fall (which I will show at the  end of the review).

Reformation man didn’t have this duality of nature and grace, since God’s propositional revelation spoke to both storeys.  Therefore, even though nature isn’t grace, we have a unified propositional revelation from God.

The Modern Era

There is Schaeffer’s notorious section on Hegel, notorious in the sense that he gets everything wrong.  But this also reveals that Schaeffer misplaces the antithesis. We commend Schaeffer for his take on the law of non-contradiction.   We just reject this as the antithesis. If this is the point of antithesis, and if the Greeks upheld it as Schaeffer maintains, then on his gloss the Greeks were quite biblical in epistemology.  This is unacceptable.

His analysis of modern art is quite good, or so I imagine.  I don’t know much about modern art, except that most of the stuff in the National Endowment of Arts is trash.

ermey

Critique

I like this book better than the others in his trilogy.  I read it in one sitting. It’s very well-written. And the diagrams are great.  My main problem is that it reads too much like a genealogical critique. What I mean is that Schaeffer traces the problem of a thought by seeing the problems in its predecessor’s thought.  This is very close to the genetic fallacy.

But there is another problem.  Let’s grant that Schaeffer’s analysis is correct.  This can’t substitute for the hard work in epistemology and metaphysics that the budding apologist has to do.

Diagrams

Schaeffer’s project represents the “two-storey” universe.  God is up top. Man on the bottom. Unhinged from biblical revelation this means that the world of “universals” is above and the world of particulars below.  They either never meet or one eats up the other.

Set 1.

Grace
——-
Nature

[Renaissance art]

Grace (universals)
———–
Nature (particulars)

[Kant and Rousseau]

Freedom
————
Nature

Schaeffer has a brilliant point there.   Reformation man posited the uniformity of nature within an open system.  Apostate man believes in the uniformity of nature within a closed system, and is left with a mechanical determinism when it comes to human freedom.

[Kierkegaard and the New Theology]

Faith
—–
Rationality

[Secular Existentialism]

Optimism must be non-rational
——————————
All rationality = pessimism

 

Do Properties Think?

In Plantinga’s fine chapter “Materialism and Christian Belief” (ed. Peter Van Inwagen, Persons: Human and Divine) he notes a difficulty in Thomism where it tries to defend dualism.  Dualism is the standard Christian belief that man cannot be reduced to a merely physical being.  Aquinas, with dualism, acknowledges that the soul is a thinking part of the body.  But he also says the soul is the *form* of the body, and Plantinga argues that makes it a property.  And properties can’t think (Plantinga 101).

What is a property?  Peter Van Inwagen defines it as “something that can be said of something.”  I guess that’s good enough.  Let’s look at Plantinga’s argument more closely:

P1: Aquinas–soul is a thinking part of the body (so far, so good).
P2: Soul is the form of the body (standard Aristotle and Aquinas)
P3: (P2) makes the soul a property.
C1: Yet it seems odd to say that properties can “think.”

If Plantinga’s argument holds, then this puts considerable strain on Thomism, and I do reject Thomism, but I am not so sure of (P3).  Let’s see if we can make it work.

P3*: The soul is the principle by which the body lives.
P4:  The soul is the property that gives the body life.
C2: The soul is a property.

Review: Vanderwaal, Job-Song of Songs

I’m normally skeptical of Bible surveys and introductions. You can find the book online. They usually never get beyond surface level and are written with the grace of a dictionary. Fortunately, Cornelis Vanderwaal’s material isn’t that. He gets to the point but he also gives you depth. And he brings the covenant to the front. For him covenant is real. It isn’t just a heuristic device.

Job

There is the standard fare here, which I won’t go into detail. He does note that Job contrasts with Babylonian wisdom. For Job wisdom begins with the fear of God.

Psalms

Vanderwaal highlights the covenantal langauage in the Psalms. A covenantal interpretation is not a “spiritual” (read: Platonic) one (Vanderwaal 47). Psalm 10, for example, doesn’t focus on man in general, but on the covenant servant David.

Imprecatory psalms are those of covenant judgment. God is the Lord of the Covenant who judges in covenant judgment. Take the word “arise” in the Psalms. It is tabernacle language, but it is also the language of God’s covenant. When God “arises” he Judges.

The cursing language is drawn from the Covenant. Even the Christ joins in the cursing (Ps. 69). Peter applies verse 25 to Judas in Acts 1.20. Paul applies verses 23-24 to the Jews (Rom. 11.9-10). Thesis: Yahweh avenges his servants because of the statute of the Covenant.

Even nature itself bears witness to the Covenant. In Psalm 19 the creation witnesses to the covenant, sun and moon.

Song of Songs
fountain
A beautiful section on married sexuality. No Greek or Gnostic darkness here. He does point out (but not develop) Garden-City motifs pointing to the New Jerusalem.

Grace restores nature.  This is the problem with the current fascination with Reformed Thomism.  Thomas knew exactly what he was doing when he downplayed married sexuality.  It wasn’t a medieval hiccup.  For him, grace perfects nature.  For us, it restores. I know that the Calvinist International guys like Bavinck.  I just think it is pouring new wine into old wineskins.

Also, see here and here.

Covenantal Relations in the Trinity

One of the Reformed Thomist criticisms of Kuyper, Vos, etc., is that they posited covenantal relations in the Trinity.  And this is bad because of Hegel or something.  I want to do two things: actually see what they say and see what Scripture says. And perhaps note why Reformed Thomists resist this point so much.

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We always come back to him for some reason

By way of prep reading I recommend Ralph Smith’s website.

First of all, what is a covenant?  Answering this question is a nightmare, but we can give it a try:

 

 

 

 

From the beginning of God’s disclosures to men in terms of covenant we find a unity of conception which is to the effect that a divine covenant is a sovereign administration of grace and of promise. It is not compact or contract or agreement that provides the constitutive or governing idea but that of dispensation in the sense of disposition…. And when we remember that covenant is not only bestowment of grace, not only oath-bound promise, but also relationship with God in that which is the crown and goal of the whole process of religion, namely, union and communion with God, we discover again that the new covenant brings this relationship also to the highest level of achievement. At the centre of covenant revelation as its constant refrain is the assurance ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people’. The new covenant does not differ from the earlier covenants because it inaugurates this peculiar intimacy. It differs simply because it brings to the ripest and richest fruition the relationship epitomized in that promise. [Emphasis added.]

So we can at least get the term “relationship” derived from it.  Following Van Til I argue (Or posit) that the relationships between the persons of the Trinity is covenantal:

The three persons of the Trinity have exhaustively personal relationship with one another. And the idea of exhaustive personal relationship is the idea of the covenant (“Covenant Theology” in The New Twentieth Century Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge).

Let’s take Jesus’s words in John 17: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (This is often taken to prove the divine oneness of the Trinity, but I don’t think that is the point of this passage).  That Jesus is using covenantal relation language is evident from verse 11:  that they may be one even as We are.  Jesus isn’t asking the Father that we have the same divine nature as they do.  Rather, it is that we have the same covenantal relation in unity.

Kuyper on Covenant:

If the idea of the covenant with regard to man and among men can only occur in its  ectypical form, and if its archetypical original is found in the divine economy, then it
cannot have its deepest ground in the pactum salutis that has its motive in the fall of
man. For in that case it would not belong to the divine economy as such, but would be introduced in it rather incidentally and change the essential relations of the Three
Persons in the divine Essence (quoted in Hoeksema 295).

I think Kuyper is saying something like the following:

  1. If the covenant is ectypal, then it isn’t part of God in se (if you want to use those categories).
  2. Therefore, it is accidental to the being of God.
  3. Therefore, it would call into question the Pactum Salutis, which must refer ontologically and not economically.

Ralph Smith concludes and sums up Kuyper’s position:

If Father, Son, and Spirit do not relate to one another in covenant essentially in their fundamental intratrinitarian fellowship, why should the contemplation of man’s fall and redemption introduce something new and different in their relationship? And how should we think of God as the unchangeable God, if intratrinitarian relationships have been fundamentally and essentially changed in the pactum salutis? (Smith 23).

Mutual Exhaustion in the Covenant

Van Til said the members of the covenant mutually exhaust the scheme.  Granted, there probably is a better way to say it, but I think it is worth unpacking.  Smith writes,

First, the covenant idea, he says, is nothing but the representative principle applied to all of reality. This makes the whole creation covenantal in the nature of the case. God does not enter into a covenant with man after creating him, for man is created as God’s image. Man is God’s representative and therefore a covenantal being from the first. The same is true in a general way for the rest of creation, since all the creation is a revelation of God, representing Him in a secondary sense. As Van Til says, the representative idea must be applied to all reality.

I think what CVT is saying is that when God creates, he creates covenantally.  It is a representational principle, but who is representing what?  CVT doesn’t specifically state it, but the covenantal relation in the Trinity is being represented. Smith again,

Second, Van Til sees the source of this representative, which is to say, covenantal
principle in the eternal relations of the persons of the Trinity. The covenant in God is not merely a covenant between Father and Son, nor is it merely an agreement entered into for the sake of the salvation of the world. To quote again one sentence from the previous paragraph: “the Trinity exists in the form of a mutually exhaustive representation of the three Persons that constitute it.”

In this sentence Van Til clearly defines the eternal, internal relations of the Persons of the Trinity as representational and therefore covenantal.

In conclusion, Van Til:

In the Trinity there is completely personal relationship without residue. And for that reason it may be said that man’s actions are all personal too. Man’s surroundings are shot through with personality because all things are related to the infinitely personal God. But when we have said that the surroundings of man are really completely personalized, we have also established the fact of the representational principle. All of man’s acts must be representational of the acts of God. Even the persons of the Trinity are mutually representational. They are exhaustively representational of one another (Survey of Christian Epistemology. 52-53).

Why do Reformed Thomists get up in arms about this?  My guess is that a covenantal ontology really doesn’t mesh with Thomism.  It’s hard to square covenant with the idea that relations = persons, for then the covenantal relations between the persons would also be persons.

Beyond Classical or Personal Theism

Notes on the Frame/Dolezal discussion:

Frame rightly reacted to Dolezal’s Thomism, but more so the fact that Thomas’s view of God is like a solar disc whose rays never actually reach creation.  Sure, Thomas can say things like God’s knowledge creates realities.  And that’s good, but it never seems to really “fit” with the whole system.

Let’s ask ourselves some questions about Thomism and Hellenism:

  1. Is “I am Essence” the same thing as the God of the Burning Bush?
  2. Shouldn’t Thomas’s complete ignorance of Hebrew and passing ignorance of Greek discredit some of his ideas about God?  I mean, he bases exegesis of Scriptural texts off of Latin word studies!

That doesn’t mean Personal Theism is correct. I have problems with saying God is *in* time (not sure if Frame even says that).   But for us who read Hebrew and the Semitisms in NT Greek, we aren’t obligated to agree with Reformed Thomists.