Monday, November 9, 2015

John Calvin on the Trinity: "an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity" ??? - part three

In part one and part two of this series we examined two polar opposites as to whether or not Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity constituted, "an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity." In this post, we will examine the claim that Calvin's Trinitarianism is essentially the same as that of the 4th Lateran Council.

The Reformed apologist, Steven Wedgeworth, in his "Is There a Calvinist Doctrine of the Trinity?" (link), wrote:

When one turns to the text of the Fourth Lateran Council, the similarity with Calvin becomes immediately apparent.

Wedgeworth goes on to provide quotations from the 4th Lateran Council, and then focuses on doctrinal points Catholics and Calvinists hold in common. But, and this importantly, he virtually ignores a portion from the 4th Lateran Council (even though he quotes it) that a number of Reformed folk clearly deny—maintaining that Calvin denied it too—the teaching that, the Father, in begetting the Son from eternity, gave him his substance. From the Constitutions of the 4th Lateran Council we read:

We, however, with the approval of this sacred and universal council, believe and confess with Peter Lombard that there exists a certain supreme reality, incomprehensible and ineffable, which truly is the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit, the three persons together and each one of them separately. Therefore in God there is only a Trinity, not a quaternity, since each of the three persons is that reality — that is to say substance, essence or divine nature-which alone is the principle of all things, besides which no other principle can be found. This reality neither begets nor is begotten nor proceeds; the Father begets, the Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds. Thus there is a distinction of persons but a unity of nature. Although therefore the Father is one person, the Son another person and the holy Spirit another person, they are not different realities, but rather that which is the Father is the Son and the holy Spirit, altogether the same; thus according to the orthodox and catholic faith they are believed to be consubstantial. For the Father, in begetting the Son from eternity, gave him his substance, as he himself testifies : What the Father gave me is greater than all. It cannot be said that the Father gave him part of his substance and kept part for himself since the Father's substance is indivisible, inasmuch as it is altogether simple. Nor can it be said that the Father transferred his substance to the Son, in the act of begetting, as if he gave it to the Son in such a way that he did not retain it for himself; for otherwise he would have ceased to be substance. It is therefore clear that in being begotten the Son received the Father's substance without it being diminished in any way, and thus the Father and the Son have the same substance. Thus the Father and the Son and also the Holy Spirit proceeding from both are the same reality. (4th Lateran Council - LINK - bold emphasis mine.)

[NOTE: This doctrine that the Son receives His divine essence from the Father is known as communicatio essentiae—i.e. communication of essence.]

In order for one to make that claim that Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity is essentially the same as the Trinitarianism defined at the 4th Lateran Council, one must demonstrate that Calvin clearly taught that, "the Father, in begetting the Son from eternity, gave him his substance". This means that the Son receives not only His personhood from the Father, but also His Godhood/divine essence. This particular portion from the 4th Lateran Council is a reaffirmation of the same teaching found in numerous Church Fathers, and importantly, in the Nicene Creed. The beginning of original the NC of 325 reads as follows:

We believe in one God the Father all powerful, maker of all things both seen and unseen. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten begotten from the Father, that is from the substance [Gr. ousias, Lat. substantia] of the Father... (LINK)

Though some Reformed folk (e.g. Benjamin W. Swinburnson, Steven Wedgeworth) believe that Calvin affirmed the 4th Lateran Council teaching that, "the Father, in begetting the Son from eternity, gave him his substance" (i.e. communicatio essentiae), Warfield is convinced that he did not. Note the following:

The principle of his doctrine of the Trinity was not the conception he formed of the relation of the Son to the Father and of the Spirit to the Father and Son, expressed respectively by the two terms "generation" and "procession": but the force of his conviction of the absolute equality of the Persons. The point of view which adjusted everything to the conception of " generation " and " procession " as worked out by the Nicene Fathers was entirely alien to him. The conception itself he found difficult, if not unthinkable; and although he admitted the facts of " generation " and " procession," he treated them as bare facts, and refused to make them constitutive of the doctrine of the Trinity. He rather adjusted everything to the absolute divinity of each Person, their community in the one only true Deity; and to this we cannot doubt that he was ready not only to subordinate, but even to sacrifice, if need be, the entire body of Nicene speculations. Moreover, it would seem at least very doubtful if Calvin, while he retained the conception of "generation" and "procession," strongly asserting that the Father is the principium divinitatis, that the Son was "begotten" by Him before all ages and that the Spirit "proceeded" from the Father and Son before time began, thought of this begetting and procession as involving any communication of essence. (B. B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity”, in Calvin and Calvinism, volume V of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield – Baker Book House, 1981 reprint, pages 257, 258 -bold emphasis mine.)

Now, it is quite interesting that though most Catholic apologists of Calvin's day were as convinced as Warfield that Calvin did not teach "any communication of essence" from the Father to the Son, there was one who believed that he did, and that man was none other than the esteemed Robert Bellermine. Warfield takes Bellermine to task in the following selection:

The evidence on which Bellarmine relies for his view that Calvin taught a communication of essence from Father to Son is certainly somewhat slender. If we put to one side Bellarmine's inability to conceive that Calvin could really believe in a true generation of the Son by the Father without holding that the Son receives His essence from the Father, and his natural presumption that Calvin's associates and pupils accurately reproduced the teaching of their master - for there is no doubt that Beza and Simler, for example, understood by generation a communication of essence - the evidence which Bellarmine relies on reduces to a single passage in the "Institutes" (I. xiii. 23). Calvin there, arguing with Gentilis, opposes to the notion that the Father and Son differ in essence, the declaration that the Father "shares" the essence together with the Son, so that it is common, tota et in solidum, to the Father and the Son. It may be possible to take the verb "communicate" here in the sense of "impart" rather than in that of "have in common," but it certainly is not necessary and it seems scarcely natural; and there is little elsewhere in Calvin's discussion to require it of us. Petavius points out that the sentence is repeated in the tract against Gentilis - but that carries us but a little way. It is quite true that there is nothing absolutely clear to be found to the opposite effect either. But there are several passages which may be thought to suggest a denial that the Son derives His essence from the Father. Precisely what is meant, for example, when we are told that the Son "contains in Himself the simple and indivisible essence of God in integral perfection, not portione aut deflexu," is no doubt not clear: but by deflexu it seems possible that Calvin meant to deny that the Son possessed the divine essence by impartation from another (I. xiii. 2). It is perhaps equally questionable what weight should be placed on the form of the statement (§ 20) that the order among the Persons by which the principium and origo is in the Father, is produced (fero) by the "proprieties"; or on the suggestion that the more exact way of speaking of the Son is to call Him "the Son of the Person" (§ 23) - the Father being meant - the term God in the phrase "Son of God" requiring to be taken of the Person of the Father. When it is argued that "whoever asserts that the Son is essentiated by the Father denies that He is selfexistent" (§ 23), and "makes His divinity a something abstracted from the essence of God, or a derivation of a part from the whole," the reference to Gentilis' peculiar views of the essentiation of the Son by the Father, i.e., His creation by the Father, seems to preclude a confident use of the phrase in the present connection. Nor does the exposition of the unbegottenness of the essence of the Son and Spirit as well as of the Father, so that it is only as respects His Person that the Son is of the Father (§ 25) lend itself any more certainly to our use. A survey of the material in the "Institutes" leads to the impression thus that there is singularly little to bring us to a confident decision whether Calvin conceived the essence of God to be communicated from the Father to the Son in "generation" and from the Father and Son to the Spirit in "procession." And outside the "Institutes" the same ambiguity seems to follow us. If we read that Christ has "the fulness of the Godhead" of Himself (Opp. xi. 560), we read equally that the Fathers taught that the Son is "of the Father even with respect to His eternal essence" (vii. 322), and is of the substance of the Father (vii. 324). In this state of the case opinions may lawfully differ. But on the whole we are inclined to think that Calvin, although perhaps not always speaking perfectly consistently, seeks to avoid speaking of generation and procession as importing the communication of the Divine essence; so that Petavius appears to be right in contending that Calvin meant what he says when he represents the Son as "having from Himself both divinity and essence" (I. xiii. 19). (B. B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity”, in Calvin and Calvinism, volume V of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield – Baker Book House, 1981 reprint, pages 258-260 - bold emphasis mine.)

I believe that Warfield's understanding of Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity is the correct one. Not only does his view make sense of the negative historical reactions to Calvin's views, but it also lends more consistency to Calvin's overall reflections on the Trinity. Though Calvin certainly maintained a number of common points with other Trinitarians within the Augustinian trajectory of Trinitarian thought, I believe that he introduced a theological novum in denying that the Son receives His Godhood/divine essence from the Father. This denial when coupled with his strict teaching that the Son is autotheos, gives considerable weight to Warfield's claim that, Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity, "marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity".

However, with that said, I depart from Warfield on the nature of this so-called "epoch"; Warfield believes that it constituted a positive theological development, I do not, but rather, maintain that it is a negative development, and as such, it should be rejected.

Grace and peace,


Friday, October 30, 2015

John Calvin on the Trinity: "an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity" ??? - part two

In my last thread, I provided quotes from five Reformed theologians who affirmed (to one degree or another) that Calvin's elucidations on the doctrine of Trinity marked, "an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity" (link). In this post, I provide two Reformed contributions which present a substantially different view, a view that basically conforms to the notion that Calvin's take on the Trinity, "carefully avoided anything that could have been considered an innovation". Those who adopt this view, have a difficult task before them, and I say this for three important reasons: first, from a strictly historical perspective, the extant evidence presents considerable opposition to such a view. Brannon Ellis has provided an excellent summary of the early historical responses to Calvin's reflections:

In the years after Calvin's death his autothean stance garnered sustained criticism, not only from antitrinitarians, but from the great majority of quite orthodox fellow trinitarians as well. Controversy over his views spread to include Roman Catholics from the 1560s and Lutherans from the 1590s. After the turn of the seventeenth century, Arminius and his Remonstrant successors joined the general opposition to this language...Each of these trajectories rejected Calvin's advocacy of the aseity of the Son, remaining in polemic with the Reformed who universally took it up. (Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, and the Aseity of the Son, p. 3.)

Second, even though the early Reformed camp, "universally" embraced Calvin's teaching on, "the aseity of the Son", they were divided into two opposing positions concerning the doctrine of eternal generation, with one of the two clearly being a novel development—i.e. those who taught that that God the Father did not communicate the divine essence to the Son via eternal generation.

Third, Warfield's exhaustive treatment on Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity presents substantial evidence that his read on Calvin's thought is the correct one—that Calvin added something important to the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity—and that it, constituted "an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity." (It is important to keep in mind that it is a separate issue whether or not this "epoch" was a positive or negative development.)

Adherents of the position that Calvin's take on the doctrine of the Trinity did not entail any real innovation/s, begin with the presupposition that those who oppose their view have grossly misunderstood what Calvin himself taught. This is the only recourse they have when the early historical opposition to Calvin's position is brought into play; they maintain that the Catholic, Lutheran and Remonstrant Trinitarians had incorrectly read Calvin—i.e. they all got it wrong.

This supposed incorrect reading of Calvin apparently has also been a major problem among "several" Reformed folk, for one fairly recent (2012) proponent of non-innovation view, has published an online critique of three "modern" Reformed theologians (Robert Reymond, Gerald Bray and Roger Beckwith) who:

...have claimed that the Calvinistic or Reformed doctrine of the Trinity represents a distinctive break with, and perhaps an advancement of, the Nicene tradition. They assert that Calvin’s attribution of the term autotheos to the eternal Son, as well as his statements about the “unbegotten” essence of God, represent a correction to implicit subordinationism within the long-standing tradition. (Steven Wedgeworth, "Is There a Calvinist Doctrine of the Trinity?" - LINK.)

Wedgeworth continues with:

In this paper, we will investigate how these claims arise in the history of Reformed theology and respond by examining the context in which Calvin made his (now) controversial statements. We will argue that the recent thinkers who suggest that there is a distinctively Calvinistic doctrine of the trinity have misunderstood Calvin’s context, and thus wrongly assumed his theology to be creative on this point. We will thus contend that rather than creating a new theological construction, Calvin was instead working within an old Western tradition.

Later in the paper, Wedgeworth attempts to defend the views that not only was Calvin, "working within an old Western tradition", but also that Calvin's position was virtually identical to that of Peter Lombard and the 4th Lateran Council !!!

Though Wedgeworth's paper is certainly interesting, and worth reading, I believe that a number of his conclusions are problematic. (In part 3 of this ongoing series I will provide some reasons why I believe this to be so.)

Another online paper delves into the division between Reformed folk who believe that Calvin maintained a non-innovative, historical view of eternal generation and those who adamantly deny this—i.e. Calvin introduced a novel concept which advanced/corrected the historical understanding of eternal generation. Benjamin W. Swinburnson, sets the tone for his extensive essay with the following:

A central issue that arose from these 16th century polemics was the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of God. What precisely were Calvin’s views on the subject? Did it represent a distinctive break with Patristic and Medieval orthodoxy? If so, what is the precise nature of Calvin’s distinctiveness?

Different answers have been given to these questions over the past four hundred years. Broadly speaking, two schools of interpretation have emerged. One school views Calvin’s teaching on eternal generation as being in substan­tial continuity with his Patristic and Medieval predecessors and Reformation successors, while the other tends to view him as making some kind of distinc­tive break with past interpretations of the doctrine—a break (it is argued) that was not always consistently implemented by his successors. Both schools of thought tend to agree that Calvin embraced a form of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, but they disagree as to how he defined it. Specifically, the main area of dispute concerns Calvin’s acceptance or rejection of the idea of communication of essence in eternal generation. ("John Calvin, Eternal Generation, and Communication of Essence: A Reexamination of His Views" - HTML version here; PDF here.)

Swinburnson endorses and defends the view that Calvin taught, "the idea of communication of essence in eternal generation", and maintains that Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity did not introduce any novel concepts. (Warfield embraced the opposite view, and I lean towards his assessment, but I remain somewhat open to the possibility Calvin had no explicit position on this issue.)

I shall conclude this post with a suggestion to those who are interested in this topic that they read both of the online papers I linked to above, as well as Warfield's substantive essay, which was linked to in the previous thread.

Part 3 coming soon...

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

John Calvin on the Trinity: "an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity" ??? - part one

Over the last few days, I have been reading the selections from Brannion Ellis' book, Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, and the Aseity of the Son, that have been provided online via Google preview (LINK). The book is an interesting one, in that it is attempting to defend a middle position between two contrasting views of Calvin's Trinitarian thought—i.e. between the view that Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity, "marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity" [1]; and the stark, contrasting view that Calvin's Trinitarian thought, "carefully avoided anything that could have been considered an innovation" [2].  (Though Ellis is not the first person to present a mediating position between the two polarized views, his is certainly the most exhaustive.)

Ellis' book brought back to mind a definitive work penned by B. B. Warfield. It was way back in 1981, that I purchased the Baker Book House reprint edition of "The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield" (10 volumes). Shortly thereafter, I read volume 5, which contained the substantive essay, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Trinity" (pages 189-284). [This essay was originally published in The Princeton Theological Review, 1909, and is available online HERE.] It was in this contribution by Warfield that I first came across the term αὐτόθεος (autotheos). Given the high regard that the Reformed community had for Warfield, I accepted the bulk of his assessments without any critical reflection, assessments which included the following:

Clearly Calvin's position did not seem a matter of course, when he first enunciated it. It roused opposition and created a party. But it did create a party: and that party was shortly the Reformed Churches, of which it became characteristic that they held and taught the self-existence of Christ as God and defended therefore the application to Him of the term αὐτόθεος; that is to say, in the doctrine of the Trinity they laid the stress upon the equality of the Persons sharing in the same essence, and thus set themselves with more or less absoluteness against all subordinationism in the explanation of the relations of the Persons to one another. When Calvin asserted, with the emphasis which he threw upon it, the self-existence of Christ, he unavoidably did three things. First and foremost, he declared the full and perfect deity of our Lord, in terms which could not be mistaken and could not be explained away. The term αὐτόθεος served the same purpose in this regard that the term ὁμοούσιος had served against the Arians and the term ὑπόστασις against the Sabellians. No minimizing conception of the deity of Christ could live in the face of the assertion of aseity or αὐτόθεότης of Him. This was Calvin's purpose in asserting aseity of Christ and it completely fulfilled itself in the event. In thus fulfilling itself, however, two further effects were unavoidably wrought by it. The inexpugnable opposition of subordinationists of all types was incurred: all who were for any reason or in any degree unable or unwilling to allow to Christ a deity in every respect equal to that of the Father were necessarily offended by the vindication to Him of the ultimate Divine quality of self-existence. And all those who, while prepared to allow true deity to Christ, yet were accustomed to think of the Trinitarian relations along the lines of the traditional Nicene orthodoxy, with its assertion of a certain subordination of the Son to the Father, at least in mode of subsistence, were thrown into more or less confusion of mind and compelled to resort to nice distinctions in order to reconcile the two apparently contradictory confessions of αὐτόθεότης and of θεός ἐκ θεοῦ of our Lord. It is not surprising, then, that the controversy roused by Caroli and carried on by Chaponneau and Courtois did not die out with their refutation; but prolonged itself through the years and has indeed come down even to our own day. Calvin's so-called innovation with regard to the Trinity has, in point of fact, been made the object of attack through three centuries, not only by Unitarians of all types, nor only by professed Subordinationists, but also by Athanasians, puzzled to adjust their confession of Christ as "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God" to the at least verbally contradictory assertion that in respect of His deity He is not of another but of Himself. (B. B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity”, in Calvin and Calvinism, volume V of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield – Baker Book House, 1981 reprint, pages 251, 252.)


In his assertion of the αὐτόθεότης of the Son Calvin, then, was so far from supposing that he was enunciating a novelty that he was able to quote the Nicene Fathers themselves as asserting it " in so many words." And yet in his assertion of it he marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. Not that men had not before believed in the self-existence of the Son as He is God: but that the current modes of stating the doctrine of the Trinity left a door open for the entrance of defective modes of conceiving the deity of the Son, to close which there was needed some such sharp assertion of His absolute deity as was supplied by the assertion of His αὐτόθεότης. If we will glance over the history of the efforts of the Church to work out for itself an acceptable statement of the great mystery of the Trinity, we shall perceive that it is dominated from the beginning to the end by a single motive — to do full justice to the absolute deity of Christ. And we shall perceive that among the multitudes of great thinkers who under the pressure of this motive have labored upon the problem, and to whom the Church looks back with gratitude for great services, in the better formulation of the doctrine or the better commendation of it to the people, three names stand out in high relief, as marking epochs in the advance towards the end in view. These three names are those of Tertullian, Augustine and Calvin. It is into this narrow circle of elect spirits that Calvin enters by the contribution he made to the right understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. That contribution is summed up in his clear, firm and unwavering assertion of the αὐτόθεότης of the Son. By this assertion the ὁμοουσιότης of the Nicene Fathers at last came to its full right, and became in its fullest sense the hinge of the doctrine. (Ibid. pages 283, 284- bold emphasis mine.)

I subsequently began to notice that a number of other Reformed theologians embraced similar views; note the following:

Students of historical theology are acquainted with the furore which Calvin's insistence upon the self-existence of the Son as to his deity aroused at the time of the Reformation. Calvin was too much of a student of Scripture to be content to follow the lines of what had been regarded as Nicene orthodoxy on this particular issue. He was too jealous for the implications of the homousion clause of the Nicene creed to be willing to accede to the interpretation which the Nicene fathers, including Athanasius, placed upon another expression in the same creed, namely, 'very God of very God' (θεόν ἀληθινὸν ὲκ θεοῦ ἀληθινο). No doubt this expression is repeated by orthodox people without any thought of suggesting what the evidence derived from the writings of the Nicene Fathers would indicate the intent to have been. This evidence shows that the meaning intended is that the Son derived his deity from the Father and that the Son was not therefore αὐτόθεος. It was precisely this position that Calvin controverted with vigour. He maintained that as respects personal distinction the Son was of the Father but as respects deity he was self-existent (ex se ipso). Hence the indictments leveled against him. (John Murray, "Systematic Theology", Studies in Theology, volume 4 in the Collected Writings of John Murray, 1982, p. 8.)

Gerald Bray:

It therefore comes as something of a surprise to discover that the Protestant Reformers, in spite of their links with the Augustinian tradition, and notwithstanding Karl Barth's claim that he was walking in their footsteps, had a vision of God which was fundamentally different from anything which had gone before, or which has appeared since. The great issues of Reformation theology – justification by faith, election, assurance of salvation – can be properly understood only against the background of a trinitarian theology which gave these matters their peculiar importance and ensured that Protestantism, instead of becoming just another schism produced by revolt against abuses in the mediaeval church, developed instead into a new type of Christianity.

The radically different character of Protestantism, and especially Calvinism, has often be recognized by secular historians, but its theological origins have seldom been discerned. Partly this is because theology is a difficult and unpopular subject, which many scholars in other disciplines refuse to take seriously, preferring to treat theological statements as mythical conceptualizations of what are really socio-economic problems.

Partly too, it is the result of theologians' failure, or sheer inability, to perceive the uniqueness of what the Reformers taught about God. It is often assumed that the Reformers accepted their ancient inheritance without quarrel, and had nothing original to contribute to it. Many people assume that that Calvin's defense of the Trinity, for example, was intended mainly as a refutation of heretics like Servetus, and offers little that could be termed new.

Recent ecumenical discussions have tended to confirm this impression. Today both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians are inclined to stress the superficial causes of the Reformation, like the abuse of clerical power, and play down the underlying theological differences...The great pillars of Reformation doctrine are not Scholastic shibboleths perpetuating an artificial divide in Western Christendom, but claims about the being of God which are of such vital importance that those who rejected them felt that they were no longer in spiritual fellowship with people who insisted on making them the heart of their religion.

Far from being more or less the same as its Catholic counterpart, Reformation theology is distinguished from it by a number of characteristics, of which the following are the most significant. First, the Reformers believed that the essence of God is of secondary importance in Christian theology. (Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God, 1993, pp. 197, 198 - bold emphasis mine.)

In the next two paragraphs, Bray provides his support for the above 'characteristic', and then moves on to the second:

The second point which distinguishes the theology of the Reformers is their belief that the persons of the Trinity are equal to one another in every respect. (Ibid. p. 200)

His extrapolation of the 'point' over the next two pages leads into number three:

...the third principle of Reformation theology, which is that knowledge of one of the persons involves knowledge of the other two at the same time. (Ibid. p. 202)

In what follows, Bray outlines his understanding of how the Reformers avoided what he terms the "semi-Sabellian" understanding of the Trinity that dominated the Western tradition, prior to the Reformation period, quoting the following from Calvin's Institutes:

. . . to the Father is attributed the beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things, to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and arrangement in action, while the energy and efficacy of actions is assigned to the Spirit (I,13,18).

He immediately then writes:

Viewed in relation to action, the three persons of the Trinity can be distinguished as follows:

Father : beginning
Son : arrangement
Spirit : efficacy

This scheme preserves the priority of the Father, which from ancient times has been expressed by the term 'source of the Godhead' (Greek: pēgē tēs Theotētos; Latin: fons Deitatis) without the ontological implications which such a statement is bound to have in the context of an Origenist theology. (Ibid. p. 203)

After introducing the fact Calvin stated, "that each person of the Trinity is autotheos", he goes on to emphasize that Calvin's, "words are carefully chosen so as to avoid any hint of causality", and that the Son is not, "ontologically dependent on the Father as the only true autotheos." (Ibid. p. 204)

This is not the place to critique Bray's sweeping assessments (of which I think there are a number of significant problems); the intent of the quotations are to establish that he clearly believes the Reformers (especially Calvin) understanding of the Trinity introduces a break within the Western tradition via some novel aspects.

Richard A. Muller:

The Reformed doctrine of the Trinity (and, of course, also the doctrine of the Person of Christ) is characterized by a declaration of the aseity of Christ's divinity: considered as God, the Second Person of the Trinity is divine a se ipso — he is autotheos. This had been a point of controversy with both the antitrinitarians and with Rome since the time of Calvin, and in the course of the development of Reformed dogmatics in the late sixteenth and seventeenth century, it became not only the distinctive feature of Reformed trinitarianism but also a crucial point, defended against any and all opponents. (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics - The Triunity of God, 4.324.)

Interestingly enough, a bit later, Muller adds:

The radical statement of the son's aseity found in Calvin's trinitarian polemic is not echoed by all of the early orthodox Reformed theologians: as Amyraut noted, there as no debate among the orthodox over the distinct personal identify of the Son, but there was discussion over whether he stood in utterly equal majesty and dignity with the Father. (Ibid. p. 326)

He then provides the following quote from Ursinus:

God the Father is that Being who is of himself, and not from another, The Son is that self-same Being, or essence, not of himself, but of the Father. (Ibid. p. 236)

Morton H. Smith:

It is of interest to observe the treatment of these concepts by the Nicene theologians (325 A. D.). They sought to define to define the eternal generation of the Son as follows: first, it was not by creation that Christ is the Son of God. Second, it is temporal, but eternal. Third, it is not after the manner of human generation. Fourth, it is not by the division of essence. After giving these four negations, the following positive speculations are suggested: first, the Father is the beginning, the fountain, the cause, the principle of the being of the Son. Second, the Son thus derives his essence from the Father by eternal and indefinable generation of the divine essence from the Father to the Son. Calvin was the first one to challenge these last two speculations. He taught that the Son was a se ipso with regard to his deity. He did not derive his essence from the Father. (Systematic Theology, volume one, 1994, p. 152 - bold emphasis mine.)

Warfield, Murray, Bray, Muller and Smith are representatives of the view that Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity, "marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity". (It is important to note that those who are supporters of this view do not believe Calvin's overall Trinitarianism lies outside the Augustinian tradition—or that it is devoid of any historical precedent—but rather, they focus on features of his thought they feel are innovative.)

In my next post, I will provide selections from the opposing view; that Calvin, concerning the Trinity, "carefully avoided anything that could have been considered an innovation".

Grace and peace,



1. B. B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity”, in Calvin and Calvinism, volume V of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield – Baker Book House, 1981 reprint, page 283.

2. Francois Wendel, Calvin - Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, English trans., Philip Mairet, 1963, Baker Books edition, 1997, p. 168.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Two provocative posts worth reading

Yesterday, Randal Rauser, "a systematic and analytic theologian of evangelical persuasion", published an interesting post under the title: "If the God of Calvinism exists, would you worship him?" (LINK)

His conclusion comes as a bit of a surprise, given the fact that Randal is not a Calvinist.

Fr. Alvin Kimel (an Eastern Orthodox priest), takes issue with Randal's conclusion in, THIS POST.

The two posts are certainly worth reading, as well as the numerous comments they have generated.

Personally, I have yet to determine which conclusion one should side with...

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Finger of God" = "Spirit of God"

While reading the Gospel of Luke in Greek, a certain phrase in a well known discourse of our Lord stood out. From Luke 11:20 we read:

But if I by the finger of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you. (ASV)

εἰ δὲ ἐν δακτύλῳ θεοῦ ἐγὼ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, ἄρα ἔφθασεν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς  βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. 

This same discourse was recorded by Matthew:

But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you. (Matthew 12:28 - ASV)

εἰ δὲ ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ ἐγὼ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, ἄρα ἔφθασεν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς  βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. 

Now, the phrase which stood out for me in Luke 11:20 was "the finger of God" (δακτύλῳ θεοῦ). To my knowledge—within the pages of the New Testament—this particular phrase occurs only once, making it quite unique. And to make it even more unique, in the parallel passage of Matthew 12:28, "the finger of God" is substituted with the phrase, "the Spirit of God" (πνεύματι θεοῦ).

I am not going to dwell on which phrase which was actually spoken by Jesus in its original context (scholars are divided on this issue, though I think it is the Lukan passage), but rather I want to focus on the fact that God, through His Holy Spirit, wanted us to realize that "the finger of God" is "the Spirit of God".

The phrase, "the finger of God", brought to mind a very special event recorded in the following two verses from the Old Testament:

And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God. (Exodus 31:18 - ASV)

And Jehovah delivered unto me the two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which Jehovah spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly. (Deuteronomy 9:10 - ASV)

We know from 2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1:21 that all Scripture is inspired by God through His Holy Spirit; and in the above two verses, we learn that the Holy Spirit (i.e. "the finger of God") literally wrote Scripture.

There is also the unique event recorded in Daniel chapter 5, when:

...the fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace... (verse 5)

I sincerely wonder if it would be a 'stretch' to equate, "the fingers of a man's hand", with a manifestation/work of the Holy Spirit?

Anyway, just wanted to share some of my random musings...

Grace and peace,


Friday, September 18, 2015

The Monarchy of God the Father and the Trinity - selections from Eastern Orthodox scholars/theologians

Over the past few years, I have provided a number of selections from Eastern Orthodox scholars/theologians concerning 'the monarchy of God the Father' and the doctrine of the Trinity. In this post I expand some of the excerpts, and add a few more.

Boris Bobrinskoy (The Mystery of the Trinity, 1999) -

The paternity of the Father is unique, ineffable, perfect, not only the mystery of the relation between the Father and the Son, but also the archetypal foundation of all human fatherhood, source of the perfect grace coming from on high, from the Father of lights (Jm 1:17): "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Page 262).

Following the Cappadocians, the patristic tradition differentiates in the mystery of the Father between His "absolute," negative property of being ungenerated, and His "relative" and positive property of Paternity.

The proprium of the Hypostasis of the Father is to be "without cause," without "beginning." These negative terms carry all the weight of the Uniqueness of the Father, who is the only one not to receive His origin in the divinity from another Hypostasis. But these terms do not suffice, and the concept of "Ungenerated" specifies still more the unique character of that One who does not have origin.

"The Father is uncaused (anaitios) and ungenerated (agennētos); He is not from another, but He has being from Himself [i.e. autotheos]; and whatsoever He has, He does not have from another." [3]

3. St. John Damascene, De fide orthodoxa, I.8, PG 94:821D. (Page 263)

...the Father is not only "uncaused" and "ungenerated," but he is the "cause," the "principle" (archē) not only of the being of creatures, but also of the trinitarian Hypostases of the Son and of the Spirit. (Page 264)

St. Gregory Nazianzen said, "I want to call the Father greater (than the Son); this expression "greater" refers to cause, not to essence, because to those who are like essence (tōn homoousiōn) there is no greater or less in the point of essence.) [5]

5. Oratio XL., In sanctum baptisma, 43, PG 36:419BC. (Page 264)

Causality, then, belongs properly to the Father. This is the fundamental principle of the "monarchy". (Page 265)

The Monarchy of the Father proclaims, by necessity, the nontemporal origin of the Son and the Spirit. (Page 265)

The Father is the sole cause of the Godhead... (Page 266)

Thus, the oneness of God is placed not only on the level of the nature common to the Three, but on the basis of the personal relation or origin from the Father. (Page 266)

Vladmir Lossky (Orthodox Theology, Eng. trans. 1978, 2nd ed.) -

The term "monarch" for the Father is current in the great theologians of the fourth century. It means that the very source of divinity is personal. The Father is divinity, but precisely because he is the Father, He confers it in its fullness on the two other persons. The latter take their origin from the Father, μόνη ἄρχή, single principle, whence the term "monarchy," the divinity-source," as Dionysius the Areopagite says of the Father. It is from this indeed that springs—this that is rooted—the identical, unshared, but differently communicated divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Page 46)

John Meyendorff (Byzantine Theology, 2nd ed, 1983) -

The same personalistic emphasis appears in the Greek Fathers' insistence on the "monarchy" of the Father. Contrary to the concept which prevailed in the post-Augustinian West and in Latin Scholasticism, Greek theology attributes the origin of hypostatic "subsistence" to the hypostasis of the Father—not to the common essence. The Father is the "cause" (aitia) and the "principle" (archē) of the divine nature, which is in the Son and in the Spirit. What is even more striking is the fact that this "monarchy" of the Father is constantly used by the Cappadocian Fathers against those who accuse them of "tritheism": "God is on," writes Basil, "because the Father is one." (Page 183)

John Zizioulas (Being As Communion, 1985) -  

Among the Greek Fathers the unity of God, the one God, and the ontological "principal" or "cause" of the being and life of God does not consist in the one substance of God but in the hypostasis, that is, the person of the Father. The one God is not the one substance but the Father, who is the "cause" both of the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. (Pages 40, 41)

John Behr -

So how can Christians believe in and worship the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and yet claim that there is only one God, not three? How can one reconcile monotheism with trinitarian faith?

My comments here follow the structure of revelation as presented in Scripture and reflected upon by the Greek Fathers of the fourth century, the age of trinitarian debates. To avoid the confusion into which explanations often fall, it is necessary to distinguish between: the one God; the one substance common to Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and the one-ness or unity of these Three.

The Father alone is the one true God. This keeps to the structure of the New Testament language about God, where with only a few exceptions, the world “God” (theos) with an article (and so being used, in Greek, as a proper noun) is only applied to the one whom Jesus calls Father, the God spoken of in the scriptures. This same fact is preserved in all ancient creeds, which begin: I believe in one God, the Father…

“For us there is one God, the Father… and one Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 8:6).

The proclamation of the divinity of Jesus Christ is made no so much by describing Him as “God” (theos used, in Greek, without an article is as a predicate, and so can be used of creatures; cf. John 10:34-35), but by recognizing Him as “Lord” (Kyrios).

Beside being a common title (“sir”), this word had come to be used, in speech, for the unpronounceable, divine, name of God Hiself, YHWH. When Paul states that God bestowed upon the crucified and risen Christ the

“name above every name” (Phil 2:9),

this is an affirmation that this one is all that YHWH Himself is, without being YHWH. This is again affirmed in the creeds.

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God… true God of true God.”

According to the Nicene creed, the Son is

“consubstantial with the Father.”

St Athanasius, the Father who did more than anyone else to forge Nicene orthodoxy, indicated that

“what is said of the Father is said in Scripture of the Son also, all but His being called Father” (On the Synods, 49).

It is important to note how respectful such theology is of the total otherness of God in comparison with creation: such doctrines are regulative of our theological language, not a reduction of God to a being alongside other beings. It is also important to note the essential asymmetry of the relation between the Father and the Son: the Son derives from the Father; He is, as the Nicene creed put it, “of the essence of the Father” – they do not both derive from one common source. This is what is usually referred to as the Monarchy of the Father.

St Athanasius also began to apply the same argument used for defending the divinity of the Son, to a defense of the divinity of the Holy Spirit: just as the Son Himself must be fully divine if He is to save us, for only God can save, so also must Holy Spirit be divine if He is to give life to those who lie in death. Again there is an asymmetry, one which also goes back to Scripture: we receive the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead as the Spirit of Christ, one which enables us to call on God as “Abba.” Though we receive the Spirit through Christ, the Spirit proceeds only from the Father, yet this already implies the existence of the Son, and therefore that the Spirit proceeds from the Father already in relation to the Son (see especially St Gregory of Nyssa, To Ablabius: That there are not Three Gods).

So there is one God and Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, and one Holy Spirit, three “persons” (hypostases) who are the same or one in essence (ousia); three persons equally God, possessing the same natural properties, yet really God, possessing the same natural properties, yet really distinct, known by their personal characteristics. Besides being one in essence, these three persons also exist in total one-ness or unity.

There are three characteristics ways in which this unity is described by the Greek Fathers. The first is in terms of communion:

“The unity [of the three] lies in the communion of the Godhead”

as St Basil the Great puts it (On the Holy Spirit 45). The emphasis here on communion acts as a safeguard against any tendency to see the three persons as simply different manifestations of the one nature; if they were simply different modes in which the one God appears, then such an act of communion would not be possible. The similar way of expressing the divine unity is in terms of “coinherence” (perichoresis): the Father, Son and Holy Spirit indwell in one another, totally transparent and interpenetrated by the other two. This idea clearly stems from Christ’s words in the Gospel of John:

“I am in the Father and the Father in me” (14:11).

Having the Father dwelling in Him in this way, Christ reveals to us the Father, He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).

The third way in which the total unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is manifest is in their unity of work or activity. Unlike three human beings who, at best, can only cooperate, the activity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one. God works, according to the image of St Irenaeus, with His two Hands, the Son and the Spirit.

More importantly,

“the work of God,” according to St Irenaeus, “is the fashioning of man” into the image and likeness of God (Against the Heretics 5.15.2),

a work which embraces, inseparably, both creation and salvation, for it is only realized in and by the crucified and risen One: the will of the Father is effected by the Son in the Spirit.

Such, then, is how the Greek Fathers, following Scripture, maintained that there is but one God, whose Son and Spirit are equally God, in a unity of essence and of existence, without compromising the uniqueness of the one true God. (From the online article, The Trinity: Scripture and the Greek Fathers - link - bold emphasis added)

Thomas Hopko -

... in the Bible, in the creeds, and in the Liturgy, it’s very important, really critically important, to note and to affirm and to remember that the one God in whom we believe, strictly speaking, is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is God the Father. In the Bible, the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is God who sends his only-begotten Son into the world, and Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Then, of course, in a parallel manner, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of God, that the Holy Spirit, being the Spirit of God, is therefore also the Spirit of Christ, the Messiah, because the Christ is the Son of God, upon whom God the Father sends and affirms his Holy Spirit. (From the online transcript of the podcast, The Holy Trinity - link)

Grace and peace,