Tying a Trinity Knot—Part 2

trinityknot_V41I won’t address here the Trinitarian texts. I’ll agree that they nowhere explicitly describe a full-blown version of the doctrine. It’s also the case that these same texts nowhere describe a full-blown Unitarianism either, though the Unitarian argument proceeds on the basis that since there’s no full-blown doctrine of the Trinity explicit in the texts, Unitarianism must be true. After all, Christianity was born out of Judaism and early believers were all Jewish monotheists, right? What other options are there? But it isn’t that simple.

There is definitely something going on in the belief of the early church. They’re obviously Jewish and monotheist, yes. But their experience and worship of the risen Christ demanded a rethink of God, and that’s where we find them in the NT texts, in the middle of that rethink. Some aspects of this rethink are clear to them. Others are not as developed. But there’s enough implicit in the texts, and enough explicit in their experience and worship of the risen Christ, to see that later generations were right to draw the conclusions they did regarding the belief that God is internally self-related, or Triune. One thing is for sure, not rethinking God and just maintaining the established Unitarian worldview wasn’t going to work because (as we’ll see in the next post) it simply couldn’t accommodate their experience of salvation through and worship of Christ. Trinitarianism is where that ‘rethink’ was headed, and it short-sheets our theology to insist that simply because there’s no explicit Trinitarian doctrine in the text, the doctrine is either false or, if not false, not essential to anything.

The early believers were simply not finished unpacking what kind of ‘One God’ God must be if (as their monotheism rightly told them) God alone is worthy of worship AND if (as their experience of Christ rightly told them) Jesus was deserving of that unique worship.

But if one is a believer in the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, interpreted as meaning every confessing Christian has the responsibility to determine and interpret Scripture independent of the tradition-embodied-community (never mind where Scripture actually explicitly expounds such a doctrine), then in the end nothing about traditional beliefs and nothing said by other Christians in any format is ultimately prescriptive for Christian identity and there are no categorically defining beliefs which are irreducibly communal in nature. If “I” read the Bible this or that way, I get to call it “Christianity.” I define the Faith for me. You get to define it for yourself, and so forth. I’m told by believers in sola scriptura that this does not permit a ‘free for all’. But all we have is their word for it, though I can think of no authority upon which a ‘free for all’ would be defeated.

If this is your view, it’s going to be difficult to be open to the idea that the authoritative text of Scripture isn’t the text-as-blank-slate and then interpreted-solely-by-each-individual sort of text. My sense is that while there’s something unique and authoritative about Scripture, the authoritative text is the text-interpreted-in/through-the-community of those who offer to Christ the worship God alone deserves, the same worship that produced the very texts in question.

(Picture here.)

About these ads
This entry was posted in Trinity.

14 comments on “Tying a Trinity Knot—Part 2

  1. Dale says:

    “The early believers were simply not finished unpacking what kind of ‘One God’ God must be if (as their monotheism rightly told them) God alone is worthy of worship AND if (as their experience of Christ rightly told them) Jesus was deserving of that unique worship.”

    Tom, this is confused. This is an argument that Jesus and God are numerically identical. But in your view, and everyone’s, the two have differed. A single entity can’t, at one time, differ from itself. But these have; therefore, they are not one entity.

    As a matter of fact, we know that the early Christians did not reason:

    1. Only God should be worshiped.
    2. Jesus should be worshiped.
    3. Therefore, Jesus is God (i.e. is = to God).

    The argument is valid, but they assume that in light of the exaltation of the man Jesus by God, 1 is false. See the material here for the evidence:

    http://trinities.org/blog/archives/4750

    But in short, it’s right in the explicit statements of the NT.

  2. Dale says:

    “same texts nowhere describe a full-blown Unitarianism either”

    “Full blown” unitarian theology is just the claim that the one God, Yahweh, just is (is numerically the same as) the one Jesus calls Father, and no one else. But this is right on the surface of John 17:1-5, and is pre-supposed in every NT book.

    To see it more tediously laid out, and some key passages carefully interpreted: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/4054

    • tgbelt says:

      Tom: The early believers were simply not finished unpacking what kind of ‘One God’ God must be if (as their monotheism rightly told them) God alone is worthy of worship AND if (as their experience of Christ rightly told them) Jesus was deserving of that unique worship.

      Dale: Tom, this is confused. This is an argument that Jesus and God are numerically identical. But in your view, and everyone’s, the two have differed. A single entity can’t, at one time, differ from itself. But these have; therefore, they are not one entity.

      Tom: It doesn’t follow that if Christ is deserving of the worship we offer God that ‘Christ’ and ‘God’ are numerically identical. In saying the triune persons differ from each other with respect to personhood is not to say the triune God so defined differs from the triune God (i.e., it doesn’t violate the principal that an entity cannot differ from itself). A single entity may be constituted by internal distinctions definitive of its being the single entity it is.

      • Dale says:

        OK – I agree. So both of us, look at this argument

        1. Only God should be worshiped.
        2. Jesus should be worshiped.
        3. Therefore, Jesus is God (i.e. is = to God).

        and say that premise 1 is false, while 2 is true.

        Your remarks at the end of your comment suggest that you think God has three essential parts, and that Jesus is one of them. There are two difficulties with this. One is that it is unorthodox. If you’re a classic catholic, God is simple. If you’re an evangelical, you will not agree that Jesus is 1/3 of God. More importantly, it is inconsistent with the one God being identical to the Father. The Father isn’t the Trinity. So, if the one God is the Trinity, it is false that the one God is the Father. Here we have a clash between post 381 catholic orthodoxy and the NT – and, between that later theory and the pre-Nicece catholic theologians.

  3. Canadian says:

    Dale,
    As far as I can tell, in keeping with the father’s of the eastern church and Ecumenical Councils, what you are correctly attempting to retain is the monarchy of the Father. The one “God” is not a 3 piece pie made up of parts, nor is the one “God” the simple essence. The Father alone is autotheos, God of himself. The OT shema is about the Father. But the Son and Spirit differ from Him only in that one is begotten and one proceeds. The nature they share is simple, but the Persons are distinct.

    The creed rightly says “I believe in one God…..the Father almighty.” But it does not stop there, “and in one Lord Jesus Christ, light OF light very God OF very God….and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.”
    The Father is pleased to eternally beget a divine Son, and another divine “He” eternally proceeds from the Father alone….the Holy Spirit. Both the Son and Spirit have their source in the Father. He is the principle of unity in the Trinity. So Thomas can exclaim of Christ “my Lord and my God” while knowing full well Isa 45:5 and the shema. He realizes Christ is a divine Person yet not the Father.
    In John 17:21, Christ says not only the the Father indwells him but more notably the he indwells the Father. Only a divine Person could indwell the Father in this type of perichoresis. He then goes on to pray that his people would be what the Trinity is….an undivided communion of Persons. We are brought into this loving communion of divine Persons in Christ, not directly by a Personal indwelling of the Father like Jesus has.

    • Dale says:

      Hi Canadian,

      I suspect that there is a big division here in the trinitarian camp. Are the “persons” of the Trinity wholly equal? Not if the “monarchy of the Father” folks are right. Because then the Father would have a great-making property which the other two lack – existing a se, not because of any other, but wholly independently. That would make him the uniquely greatest being.

      Will they deny that aseity is a divine attribute? It would seem they must – otherwise the Son and Spirit, by having “the divine nature” would be a se too. But they deny that.

      In any case, this is arguably not a form of trinitarianism at all, properly speaking. http://trinities.org/blog/archives/3747 If they’re really identifying the one God with the Father (only) then, they would just be unitarians, with a very exalted view of the Son and Spirit.

      About Thomas, sorry, I don’t think that reading works. The reason is that the gospel don’t teach the eternal generation and procession doctrines. The fathers badly proof-texted on this topic, trying to find some scriptural justification for what was really began as one of Origen’s platonic speculations. (Against the other logos theologians, he wanted to ensure that the Son was really eternal – hence, mysterious eternal generation. The others thought the Logos was made to exist just before the time of creation – again, for essentially platonic reasons.)

      God bless,
      Dale

      • Canadian says:

        Dale,
        Thanks for your reply.
        The Persons have everything the Father has except in the begetting and proceeding. They receive the very divinity of the Father but the fact that they have their source in the Father, means that they are not autotheos. Their modes of existence (unbegotten, begotten, proceeding) are unique Personal characteristics and not the relationship of a differing divine nature.
        The church rejected Origen and his heretical ideas. He was officially condemned in the 5th Council. The Cappadocians and especially Maximos the Confessor gutted his positions. The eternality of the Persons with their source in the Father does not proceed from Origen’s eternality of creation.
        Thomas called him God! The Father begets a divine Son who is called God; the Holy Spirit who is Lord, proceeds from the Father in John 15. An unchanging Father does this eternally or he is not unchanging.

  4. tgbelt says:

    Dale: Your remarks at the end of your comment suggest that you think God has three essential parts, and that Jesus is one of them. There are two difficulties with this. One is that it is unorthodox.

    Tom: You’ve misunderstood me. I don’t view the persons (or the personal distinctions) as ‘parts’ of God (as if when assembled correctly produce God). I don’t think the Son is one ‘part’ of God that he’s 1/3 of God.

    Dale: More importantly, it is inconsistent with the one God being identical to the Father. The Father isn’t the Trinity. So, if the one God is the Trinity, it is false that the one God is the Father.

    Tom: Canadian has already touched on it. In my view the monarchia of the Father makes it possible to refer (as do the Orthodox) to the sense in which the Father is the one true God (so that there’s no need to deny the NT sense in which the Father is named ‘God’) and also to the sense in which the Father’s own personal existence obtains in or as (we’ll have to stretch as best we can to express it) begetting and breathing forth (so that there’s no need to limit the concept ‘God’ or the concept of ‘the Father is God’ to the judgment that there there’s no more to be said about the matter.

  5. Dale says:

    [P] “The Persons have everything the Father has except in the begetting and proceeding. They receive the very divinity of the Father but the fact that they have their source in the Father, means that [not-P] they are not autotheos”

    So, the Son and Spirit lack aseity (being autotheos). Thus, they are less great than the Father. But, they’re just as great.

    Sorry, but this is not coherent.

    • Canadian says:

      Unbegotten (autotheos) is a property of the Person of the Father, begotten is a property of the Person of the Son, proceeding is a property of the Person of the Spirit.

      “But if we say that the Father is the origin of the Son and greater than the Son, we do not suggest any precedence in time or superiority in nature of the Father over the Son (for through His agency He made the ages), or superiority in any other respect save causation. And we mean by this, that the Son is begotten of the Father and not the Father of the Son, and that the Father naturally is the cause of the Son: just as we say in the same way not that fire proceedeth from light, but rather light from fire. So then, whenever we hear it said that the Father is the origin of the Son and greater than the Son, let us understand it to mean in respect of causation. And just as we do not say that fire is of one essence and light of another, so we cannot say that the Father is of one essence and the Son of another: but both are of one and the same essence.”
      St John of Damascus “On The Orthodox Faith” bk1 ch8.

  6. Dale says:

    Tom, after your last remarks, I’ve lost my grip on what you think the Trinity is. You seemed a clear three-selfer, but at the last, you kind of hint that the Father exists also as Son and Spirit.

    May I suggest a post devoted to that – to saying what you think the “persons” are, and in what sense you think they are homoousios.

    God bless,
    Dale

    • tgbelt says:

      Dale: Tom, after your last remarks, I’ve lost my grip on what you think the Trinity is. You seemed a clear three-selfer, but at the last, you kind of hint that the Father exists also as Son and Spirit. May I suggest a post devoted to that – to saying what you think the “persons” are, and in what sense you think they are homoousios.

      Tom: I got that right here in my back pocket! Uh, gimme a sec…yeah, now where did I put those divine persons?

      (I’ll try to get back to ya this weekend, Dale.)

    • tgbelt says:

      Dale, I like a lot about the psychological model/analogy because it safeguards divine unity. I and my own self-contemplated image of myself don’t constitute two separate/individual beings. And I like analogies drawn from the ecstatic nature of personal being drawn from our own person-person experiences because it captures something essential (I believe) to personal/loving being per se. Both say something I believe is essential to Christianity and demonstrated in the narrative of creation/redemption (even if not explicitly and unambiguously propositionalized in so many words), and that is that God is One God and that this God is the ground of personal/loving being (i.e., he is personally/lovingly related as this One God).

      Where I am in working this out may not conform nicely to the options and framework which you specify as being our only options in your Stanford piece (which I think is excellent); i.e., “He’s a three-selfer,” or “He’s a one selfer” or whatever box we may have. You may need some new boxes. And that may be a good bit of the difference between us (really between you and the entire orthodox tradition), i.e., how prepared we are to (a) accept that the territory which is the mystery of the transcendent, uncreated God by definition must exhaust any map we produce to express it — and we MUST express it, and express it very carefully — so that (b) we end up embracing and actually living the right mysteries. I haven’t found anyone who articulates this logic today better than Denys Turner.

      So—I think the monarchia is as good a ‘map’ as any at expressing what it is that grounds the unity of the One God, while ‘persons’ is as good a ‘map’ as any at expressing what it is about God’s essential ‘God-defining’ experience that makes God the personal/loving being he is. And I take it that ‘homoousion’ is a good ‘map’ for expressing what it is that makes these unique personal distinctions definitive of the uncreated divine experience which is the self-sufficient existence of the One God (as opposed to constituting polytheism).

      Of all the models, I feel most comfortable with Edwards’ approach (which combines a good bit of Augustine and the EO too as I understand it). Just as “I” (Tom) self-contemplate or self-perceive and in this self-defining act generate an ‘image’ of myself as the objectified content of my subjective self-perception, so God can be thought of similarly (my EO friends are pulling out their hair by now!). But where my powers to perceive (and in perceiving, reproduce) the truth about myself (my own image) are inherently limited (I can’t consciously contemplate all that is in fact true about myself without remainder) God is not so constrained. All that is in fact true and actual about the Father (as, let’s cautiously say, the One God) becomes true of his image. Nothing that ‘is’ in the case of the Father could fail ‘to be’ in the case of his own self-perceived image, the Son, including ‘actuality’, with the exception of course that the ‘image’ (as the word suggests) is ‘derived’ whereas the Father is not so derived (i.e., the Father is not an image of anything else).

      Is my own ‘image’ “me”? Well, yeah. And there wouldn’t be a “me” (in fully realized personal terms) apart from such self-relating. Are both numerically identical? Well, not exactly. This dialogue, this address and response, constitutes my undivided existence. So it is in God’s case, as Jenson says, that “the Son by virtue of the character of his otherness, is God.”

      I’ll try to jump back in this weekend.

      Tom

  7. […] (of course) three parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s