Friday, April 15, 2016

Aquinas on John 14:28 and John 5:19


A few days ago, I got involved in a thread started by Dr. Edgar Foster—at his blog Foster's Theological Reflections—under the title: Question of the Day for Trinitarians.

Among other issues, Dr. Foster and I discussed Aquinas's understanding of Jesus statement that, "the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). I stated, that Aquinas believed that it could be understood to apply to both of Jesus' natures (i.e. divine and human); Edgar (who is quite knowledgeable and no novice when it comes to Aquinas), is of the opinion that Aquinas limited the interpretation to his human nature only. I quoted in our combox discussion the same selection from Aquinas's commentary on the Gospel of John that I provided in my April 1, 2016 thread, Clear elements of Nicene Monarchism..., which I believe supports my take. Here is that selection again:

1971 One could also say, as Hilary does, that even according to the divine nature the Father is greater than the Son, yet the Son is not inferior to the Father, but equal. For the Father is not greater than the Son in power, eternity and greatness, but by the dignity of a grantor or source. For the Father receives nothing from another, but the Son, if I can put it this way, receives his nature from the Father by an eternal generation. So, the Father is greater because he gives; but the Son is not inferior, but equal, because he receives all that the Father has: "God has bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9). For the one to whom a single act of existence (esse) is given, is not inferior to the giver. [LINK to online source.]

The above did not convince Edgar of my position, so to add strength to my view, I am providing yet another selection from Aquinas's commentary on the Gospel of John, this time from John 5:19:

746 To get the true meaning of Christ’s statement, we should know that in those matters which seem to imply inferiority in the Son, it could be said, as some do, that they apply to Christ according to the nature he assumed; as when he said: “The Father is greater than I” (below 14:28). According to this, they would say that our Lord’s statement, the Son cannot do anything of himself, should be understood of the Son in his assumed nature. However, this does not stand up, because then one would be forced to say that whatever the Son of God did in his assumed nature, the Father had done before him. For example, that the Father had walked upon the water as Christ did: otherwise, he would not have said, but only what he sees the Father doing.

And if we say that whatever Christ did in his flesh, God the Father also did in so far as the Father works in him, as said below (14:10): “The Father, who lives in me, he accomplishes the works,” then Christ would be saying that the Son cannot do anything of himself, but only what he sees the Father doing in him, i.e., in the Son. But this cannot stand either, because Christ’s next statement, For whatever the Father, does, the Son does likewise, could not, in this interpretation, be applied to him, i.e., to Christ. For the Son, in his assumed nature, never created the world, as the Father did. Consequently, what we read here must not be understood as pertaining to Christ’s assumed nature.

747 According to Augustine, however, there is another way of understanding statements which seem to, but do not, imply inferriority in the Son: namely, by referring them to the origin of the Son coming or begotten from the Father. For although the Son is equal to the Father in all things, he receives all these things from the Father in an eternal begetting. But the Father gets these from no one, for he is unbegotten. According to this explanation, the continuity of thought is the following: Why are you offended because I said that God is my Father, and because I made myself equal to the Father? Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself. As if to say: I am equal to the Father, but in such a way as to be from him, and not he from me; and whatever I may do, is in me from the Father.

748 According to this interpretation, mention is made of the power of the Son when he says, can, and of his activity when he says, do. Both can be understood here, so that, first of all, the derivation of the Son’s power from the Father is shown, and secondly, the conformity of the Son’s activity to that of the Father.

749 As to the first, Hilary explains it this way: Shortly above our Lord said that he is equal to the Father. Some heretics, basing themselves on certain scriptural texts which assert the unity and equality of the Son to the Father, claim that the Son is unbegotten. For example, the Sabellians, who say that the Son is identical in person with the Father. Therefore, so you do not understand this teaching in this way, he says, the Son cannot do anything of himself, for the Son’s power is identical with his nature. Therefore the Son has his power from the same source as he has his being (esse); but he has his being (esse) from the Father: “I came forth from the Father, and I have come into the world” (Jn 16:28). He also has his nature from the Father, because he is God from God; therefore, it is from him that the Son has his power (posse).

So his statement, the Son cannot do anything of himself, but only what he sees the Father doing, is the same as saying: The Son, just as he does not have his being (esse) except from the Father, so he cannot do anything except from the Father. For in natural things, a thing receives its power to act from the very thing from which it receives its being: for example, fire receives its power to ascend from the very thing from which it receives its form and being. Further, in saying, the Son cannot do anything of himself, no inequality is implied, because this refers to a relation; while equality and inequality refer to quantity. (Bold emphasis in the original.) [LINK]

In my opinion, I think the above comments make it quite clear that Aquinas applies John 14:28 and John 5:19 to both of Jesus' natures. Would be very interested in hearing from others on this issue...


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, April 1, 2016

Clear elements of Nicene Monarchism from an esteemed, 19th century Catholic theologian


Important elements of Nicene Monarchism include the priority of the Father over the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the etiological principle that the Father is the cause/source of both the person and substance of the Son and Holy Spirit. Though post-Augustine Catholic theologians rarely place an emphasis on the above aspects of Trinitarian thought (unlike many Anglican and Eastern Orthodox theologians), I remained convinced that the Catholic tradition has never denied those teachings. For instance, I found vestiges of Nicene Monarchism in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, who taught:

One of the most important 'relational' distinctions between the three persons of the Trinity is that, "the Father is the principle of the whole Godhead" (P1.Q.39.A5), the "fontal principle of the entire divinity" (fontale principium totius divinitatis - Aquinas, Commentum in Lib. 1 Sententiarum, D.34.Q.2) [See THIS THREAD for more on this issue.]

In his commentary on the Gospel of John (verse 14:28), we read:

1971 One could also say, as Hilary does, that even according to the divine nature the Father is greater than the Son, yet the Son is not inferior to the Father, but equal. For the Father is not greater than the Son in power, eternity and greatness, but by the dignity of a grantor or source. For the Father receives nothing from another, but the Son, if I can put it this way, receives his nature from the Father by an eternal generation. So, the Father is greater because he gives; but the Son is not inferior, but equal, because he receives all that the Father has: "God has bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9). For the one to whom a single act of existence (esse) is given, is not inferior to the giver. [LINK to online source.]

So, although I had found snippets of Nicene Monarchism in post-Augustine Catholic theologians, it was not until I had recently read the English translation of Matthias Joseph Scheeben's, Die Mysterien des Christentums (The Mysteries of Christianity), that I came across definitive support for Nicene Monarchism within the Catholic tradition. The following germane selections will be from the B. Herder Book Co. 1947 English edition, translated by Cyril Vollert.

From Chapter IV - The Productions of the Second and Third Persons, we read (all bold emphasis mine):

The term "generation" is of course employed, in the first place, to indicate that the production of the Second Person in God is wholly different from creation, the act by which non-divine beings come into existence. Creation is a free act of the divine will, whereby God calls into being things which of themselves were nothing, and communicates to them an existence which is essentially different from His own. But God brings forth His interior Word by communicating to Him His own being, His own substance. The Word proceeds from the Father's innermost substance, which passes over to the Word and places Him in full possession of the very nature that is proper to the Father. (Page 87.)

In God, in whom all that is found scattered in creatures is one, faith reveals to us the production of the Word from the substance of the Father. This Word is an intelligible image of its principle, because it proceeds from the latter's cognition and manifests it. It is likewise a real. substantial, personal image, because the cognition and also the object of the cognition, are expressed and impressed in this Word. The Second Person in the Godhead is produced because the First Person wills to utter and attest Himself, to express and manifest His nature. The Second Person receives the Father's nature in order to exhibit and manifest it in Himself. What then is to prevent us from saying that He is truly generated, nay, that in accord with the words of Holy Scripture, all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is so-called after the generating fatherhood of His principle? (Page 91.)

Then, in a footnote (#4, p. 91 ff.) Scheeben provides a quotation from Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles (IV.11), a work I had read in the 90's, long before my studies into Nicene Monarchism, and quite frankly, failed to recall its importance to Nicene Monarchism. Note the following:

We must note that what is generated is said to be conceived, so long as it remains in the parent. God's Word is begotten of God in such wise that He does not depart from the Father but remains in Him. Therefore God's Word may rightly be said to be conceived of God. This is the reason why the Wisdom of God affirms: 'The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived' (Prov. 8:24). (Page 92.)

A bit later, from the same footnote, we read:

Again, what is brought forth issues from the womb. For a similar reason the generation of God's Word, which is called birth to indicate his perfect distinction from His Father, is called birth from the womb, according to Psalm 109:3" 'From the womb before the day star I begot Thee." However, the distinction of the Word from the speaker does not prevent the Word from existing in the speaker. Hence, just as the Word is said t0 be begotten or brought forth from the womb, to indicate His distinct existence, so to show that this distinction does not exclude the Word form existence in the speaker, revelation assures us that He 'is in the bosom of the Father' (John 1:18).

Finally, we must advert to the fact that carnal generation of animals is effected by an active and a passive principle. The father has an active, the mother a passive part. Hence for procreation of offspring the father has one function, the mother a different one: the father confers nature and species on the progeny, whereas the mother, as passive and receptive principle, conceives and gives birth. Procession is predicated of the Word inasmuch as God understands Himself: but the divine intelligence involves no passive element, but is wholly active, so to speak, since the divine intellect is not in potency but exclusively in act. Therefore in the generation of God's Word there is no maternal function, but only a paternal function. Hence the various functions which pertain to the father and the mother in carnal generation, are attributed by Scripture to the Father in His generation of the Word: the Father is said to give life to the Son (cf. John 5:16), to conceive Him, and to bring Him forth. (Page 93.)

Towards the end of the chapter, Scheeben, provides some insightful commentary on the issue of 'relation' as it pertains to the three persons of the Godhead/Trinity. Scheeben writes:

The communication of the essence from one person to the others involves no separation or partition of the essence. On the contrary, the essence can be transmitted to one of the other persons only if this person enters into relationship with the First Person and is united to Him in oneness of essence.

Furthermore, the first principle is one, the original possessor of the divine nature is one, and the distinction among persons proceeds from this one principle. The distinction issues from the unity, and is in turn stabilized by this same unity. for the Second and Third Persons are distinct from the First Person only because they have their origin from Him and stand in relation to Him by virtue of this origin...(Page 115.)

The Father unites the other two persons with and in Himself as their common root and source; for He is the common principle of both. (Page 116.)

In ending, I would like to say that it is quite reassuring (and refreshing) to discover a 'heavy-weight' Catholic theologian who espouses a number of the propositions concerning the Godhead that I have been defending over the last few years.


Grace and peace,

David

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jesus Christ, the Angel of Jehovah, and Michael the Archangel - part 3


Part 3 of this ongoing series will focus primarily on Dr. Douglas F. Kelly's contributions concerning "The angel of the Lord" (Jehovah) and "Theophanies", published in his Systematic Theology - Volume One (2008 - Google Books).

Dr. Kelly begins his section on the "angel of the Lord" at page 465:

The angel of the Lord

Angels in both Old and New Testaments are usually 'messengers of God', often, 'ministering to those who are heirs of salvation' (Heb. 1:14). They are created spirits who can at times appear in human form. But they can also be identified with God Himself. Such is the case with the angel who speaks to Hagar, promising, 'I will multiply thy seed exceedingly' (Gen. 16:7). The, after the angel leaves, Hagar 'called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me...' (v. 13). At the sacrifice of Isaac (which was divinely prevented), the angel of the LORD said to obedient Abraham: 'I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me' (Gen. 22:12). Not to withhold Isaac from the angel was not to withhold him from God Himself. Thus, theangel is identified with the Lord. Jacob in his strange night of wrestling with 'a man' Genesis 32:30 (who is termed 'angel' in Hosea 12:4) says: 'I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.' The 'angel of the Lord' speaks to Jacob in Genesis 33:10-31, and makes it clear that He is the same as 'the God of Bethel.' Moses met the angel of the Lord in the burning bush, which was the same as meeting the Lord (Exod. 3:2-6). After the people of God had entered the Promised Land, the angel of the Lord says: '... I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you into the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you' (Judg. 2:1). Malachi 3:1, identifies the messenger (or angel) of the covenant with God Himself: 'Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.'

As Herman Bavinck writes:

... the subject which speaks through the angel of Jehovah far surpasses a created angel. The church-fathers before Augustine were unanimous in explaining this Angel of Jehovah as a theophany of the Logos...So much is clear: that in the Mal'akh Yhwh who is pre-eminently worthy of that name, God (esp. his Word) is present in a very special sense. This is very evident from the fact that though distinct from Jehovah this Angel of Jehovah bears the same name, has the same power, effects the same deliverance, dispenses the same blessings, and is the object of the same adoration. [53]

Thus, the mysterious appearance of the angel of the Lord indicates a certain diversity within the one Being of God, for He is at the same time both distinct from God and also one with God. Such passages indicate that God's Being is not an impoverished monad. Instead, His Being has a rich inner diversity.

53. Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, translated by William Hendriksen (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979 reprint), 257.

The OT passages quoted by Dr. Kelly, when reflected upon with the assessment from Dr. Bavinck in mind, seems to modify an absolute understanding that all the references to the 'Angel of Jehovah' have a created angel in mind (contra Augustine). 

Dr. Kelly immediately follows the above with his take on "Theophanies":

Some of the appearances of holy angels are traditionally called 'theophanies' (i.e. manifestations of God). 'In these theophanies we note that on occasions the A. V. or the LXX speak of an angel, and sometimes the angel. This is no discrepancy, of course, but merely two ways of translating the Hebrew construct state.' [54] Knight goes on to list fifteen theophanies. We have already discussed several of them (i.e. Gen. 16:7-14; 21:17-19; 22:11-18; 31:11-13; 32:4-12; Exod. 3:2-6; Judg. 2:1-5).

54. George F. Knight, A Biblical Approach to the Doctrine of the Trinity, 25.

Dr. Kelly then examines 9 more passages: Gen. 18:1-22; 19:1; 48:15-16; Exod. 14:19-22; Josh. 5:13-16; Judg. 6:11-24; 13:2-23; Zech. 1:12; and 3:6-10. (Page 466.)

He concludes this section with the following assessment:

Before the rise of biblical higher criticism, the Christian theological tradition, both East and West, Catholic and Protestant, generally understood the Old Testament theophanies to be pre-incarnate appearances of the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ Himself. The nineteenth-century Swiss Reformed scholar, Louis Gaussen, helpfully summarized much of the traditional interpretation on this point, as we see in Appendix II to this chapter. (Page 467.)

From the above mentioned appendix, we read:

Chapter Seven Appendix Two - The Traditional Christian Interpretation of Old Testament Theophanies as Pre-Incarnate Appearances of Christ (as summarized by Louis Gaussen) [From Louis Gaussen, Sermons par Gaussen, 1847.]

In the main part of Chapter 7 we considered some Old Testament passages that speak of the mysterious angel of the Lord, and undertood them to be intimations of the pre-incarnate Son of God. But more remains to be said about this foreshadowing of the Holy Trinity. Dr. Louis Gaussen has carefully explicated the appearances of the angel of the Lord in a relatively brief compass. (Page 479.)

Dr. Kelly then translates the germane portion from Gaussen's, "Gédéon devant l'Ange de l'Eternal" [from the French in, Sermons par Gaussen, 1847.]

In the selection provided by Dr. Kelly, Gaussen lists, "several very simple principles, by which we may grasp in a very precise and certain manner the right opinion on this important subject" (pp. 479-483). Of the five that he provides, the following is the first:

The first of these principles is nothing else than one fact; here it is: every time in the Holy Bible that we are faced with appearances of this mysterious Angel, whom the Holy Spirit calls 'the Angel of the Face' (Isa. 63:9); 'the Angel of the Covenant' (Mal. 3:1), or 'the Angel of the LORD God' or 'Angel of Jehovah', one understands Him to be attributing constantly all the most incommunicable names of the omnipotent God; and not only the names, but also His attributes and works; and not only His attributes, names, and works, but also the worship which everywhere God claims for Himself alone. (Pages 479, 480.)

The second principle, "is the principle of divine unity." The third, "will be only one assertion, which flows directly from the first two, and which is nearly the same as they are. Here it is: The Being who, in the Bible, attributes to Himself the names, the works. the characteristics, and even the worship of almightly God, cannot be a creature." (Page 481.)

The fourth, "which is no less questionable: THE ANGEL OF HIS FACE, who appears so often to the elect of God in the Old Testament, could not be God the Father." (Page 481.)

And the fifth:

It was the Angel of the LORD, O Christians, it was the same Saviour, the same Master, the Comforter, whom we are commissioned to proclaim in the flesh; and also it was therefore already He who was appearing before His incarnation, in preparation for His mission of incomprehensible abasement in which He would come down at a later time in order to save us. (Page 481.)

Gaussen provides additional commentary and Scriptural support for all five principals. At end of his translation, Dr. Kelley adds the following summary:

Most Old Testament scholars for the last century (even conservative ones) have been considerably more restrained in definitely identifying all appearances of the angel of the Lord as the pre-incarnate Christ. Even if Gaussen is at times overconfident in focusing the scope of all passages he quotes exclusively to the Second Person of the Trinity, still, I cannot see that he is essentially wrong either exegetically or theologically, in assuming that in most cases of theophanic appearances of the angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ is most likely referred to. Many Church Fathers, medieval scholastics, and sixteenth-century Reformers held to much the same understanding of the angel of the Lord, and I can find no compelling reason to part company with them on this point. (Page 483.)

The conviction held by the ante-Nicene Church Fathers, Gaussen, Gill, Hengstenberg, Liddon, et al., that, "in most cases of theophanic appearances of the angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ is most likely referred to", is also my view;  and like Dr. Kelly, "I can find no compelling reason to part company with them on this point."


Grace and peace,

David

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Jesus Christ, the Angel of Jehovah, and Michael the Archangel - part 2


The second installment of the 'Jesus Christ, the Angel of Jehovah, and Michael the Archangel' series, is coming later than I had originally anticipated, due to the fact that this area of study is much more complex and diverse than I had recalled. I suspect that it would take an entire book length treatment to do full justice to this genre; but with that said, it is my sincere hope that this continuing series will suffice, by providing selections from a number of conservative scholars whose views are quite close to mine. In this post, I am going to focus on the Anglican, Oxford scholar, Dr. H. P. Liddon's, 1866 Bampton Lectures, published in a number of editions under the title: The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—more specifically his second lecture of the eight he deliveredwherein he explores the relationship between the 'Angel of the Lord' and Jesus Christ (links to various editions available online HERE). [NOTE: all selections provided below will be from the 1908 edition.]

The second lecture of Liddon's eight 1866 Bampton Lectures, was published under the title: ANTICIPATIONS OF THE DOCTRINE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, and comprises pages 45-98 in the 1908 edition. I have chosen Liddon's reflections on Christ in the OT as a foundation of sorts, and this because he articulates important presuppositions and principals that Christian exegetes need to consider when approaching the question as to whether or not Jesus should be equated with the 'Angel of Jehovah' in the OT. Dr. Liddon begins his second lecture by quoting Gal. 3:8, which is followed with:

IF we endeavour to discover how often, and by what modes of statement, such a doctrine as that of our Lord s Divinity is anticipated in the Old Testament, our conclusion will be materially affected by the belief which we entertain respecting the nature and the structure of Scripture itself. At first sight, and judged by an ordinary literary estimate, the Bible presents an appearance of being merely a large collection of heterogeneous writings. Historical records, ranging over many centuries, biographies, dialogues, anecdotes, catalogues of moral maxims, and accounts of social experiences, poetry, the most touchingly plaintive and the most buoyantly triumphant, predictions, exhortations, warnings, varying in style, in authorship, in date, in dialect, are thrown, as it seems, somewhat arbitrarily into a single volume. No stronger tie is supposed to have bound together materials so various and so ill-assorted, than the interested or the too credulous industry of some clerical caste in a distant antiquity, or at best than such uniformity in the general type of thought and feeling as may naturally be expected to characterize the literature of a nation or of a race. But beneath the differences of style, of language, and of method, which are undeniably prominent in the Sacred Books, and which appear so entirely to absorb the attention of a merely literary observer, a deeper insight will discover in Scripture such manifest unity of drift and purpose, both moral and intellectual, as to imply the continuous action of a Single Mind. To this unity Scripture itself bears witness, and no where more emphatically than in the text before us. Observe that St. Paul does not treat the Old Testament as being to him what Hesiod, for instance, became to the later Greek world. He does not regard it as a great repertorium or store house of quotations, which might he accidentally or fancifully employed to illustrate the events or the theories of a later age, and to which accordingly he had recourse for purposes of literary ornamentation. On the contrary, St. Paul's is the exact inverse of this point of view. According to St. Paul, the great doctrines and events of the Gospel dispensation were directly anticipated in the Old Testament. If the sense of the Old Testament became patent in the New, it was because the New Testament was already latent in the Old. Προϊδοῦσα δὲ γραφὴ ὅτι ἐκ πίστεως δικαιοῖ τὰ ἔθνη θεὸς προευηγγελίσατο τῷ Ἀβραὰμ. Scripture is thus boldly identified with the Mind Which inspires it ; Scripture is a living Providence. The Promise to Abraham anticipates the work of the Apostle ; the earliest of the Books of Moses determines the argument of the Epistle to the Galatians. Such a position is only intelligible when placed in the light of a belief in the fundamental Unity of all Revelation, underlying, and strictly compatible with its superficial variety. (Pages 45, 46)

With the above, Dr. Liddon places before us the extremely important guiding principal that one must keep in mind when approaching Scripture: an organic, providential unity between the NT and OT with a "Single Mind" behind it all.

Dr. Liddon continues with the following:

And this true, internal Unity of Scripture, even when the exact canonical limits of Scripture were still unfixed, was a common article of belief to all Christian antiquity. It was common ground to the sub-apostolic and to the Nicene age ; to the East and to the West ; to the School of Antioch and to the School of Alexandria ; to mystical interpreters like St. Ambrose, and to literalists like St. Chrysostom ; to cold reasoners, such as Theodoret, and to fervid poets such as Ephrem the Syrian ; to those who, with Origen, conceded much to reason, and to those who, with St. Cyril or St. Leo, claimed much for faith. Nay, this belief in the organic oneness of Scripture was not merely shared by schools and writers of divergent tendencies within the Church ; it was shared by the Church herself with her most vehement heretical opponents. Between St. Athanasius and the Arians there was no question as to the relevancy of the reference in the book of Proverbs [8:22] to the pre-existent Person of our Lord, although there was a vital difference between them as to the true sense and force of that reference. Scripture was believed to contain an harmonious and integral body of Sacred Truth, and each part of that body was treated as being more or less directly, more or less ascertainably, in correspondence with the rest. This belief expressed itself in the world-wide practice of quoting from any one book of Scripture in illustration of the mind of any other book. Instead of illustrating the sense of each writer only from other passages in his own works, the existence of a sense common to all the Sacred Writers was recognised, and each writer was accordingly interpreted by the language of the others. (Pages 46, 47)

Dr. Liddon knew all too well that higher critical methods were making huge inroads into Anglican Biblical scholarship. He repeatedly, and consistently, maintained that Sacred Scripture cannot be placed on the same level of non-revelatory (i.e. non "God-breathed") literature. My continuing exploration into the "Angel of Jehovah" issue has revealed to me that those scholars who have abandoned, "an organic, providential unity between the NT and OT with a 'Single Mind' behind it all" view for higher critical methods are much more prone to reject any concrete connection between Jesus Christ and the "Angel of Jehovah".

With above in place, I will now move on to Dr. Liddon's reflections on what he terms, "The Theophanies", of the Old Testament.

Though Dr. Liddon clearly affirms his belief in "the doctrine of the Trinity", he makes some very important distinctions between the person termed Jehovah (in an absolute sense), and the person called the "Angel of Jehovah". On pages 52-53 we read:

From these adumbrations of Personal Distinctions within the Being of God, we pass naturally to consider that series of remarkable apparitions which are commonly known as the Theophanies, and which form so prominent a feature in the early history of the Old Testament Scriptures. When we are told that God spoke to our fallen parents in Paradise, and appeared to Abram in his ninety-ninth year e, there is no distinct intimation of the mode of the Divine manifestation. But when ' Jehovah appeared ' to the great Patriarch by the oak of Mamre, Abraham ' lift np his eyes and looked, and lo, Three Men stood by him.' Abraham bows himself to the ground ; he offers hospitality; he waits by his Visitors under the tree, and they eat. One of the Three is the spokesman : he appears to bear the Sacred Name Jehovah ; he is seemingly distinguished from the 'two angels' who went first to Sodom; he promises that the aged Sarah shall have a son, and that 'all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in Abraham.' With him Abraham intercedes for Sodom; by him judgment is afterwards executed upon the guilty city. When it is said that 'Jehovah rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven",' a sharp distinction is established between a visible and an Invisible Person, each bearing the Most Holy Name. This distinction introduces us to the Mosaic and later representations of that very exalted and mysterious being, the  מלאך יהוה  or Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is certainly distinguished from Jehovah ; yet the names by which he is called, the powers which he assumes to wield, the honour which is paid to him, shew that in him there was at least a special Presence of God. (Bold emphasis mine.)

After citing and commenting on other OT Theophanies, Dr. Liddon then writes:

But you ask, Who was this Angel ? The Jewish interpreters vary in their explanations. The earliest Fathers answer with general unanimity that he was the Word or Son of God Himself. (Page 56.)

And on the next page, he continues with:

The Arian controversy led to a modification of that estimate of the Theophanies which had prevailed in the earlier Church. The earlier Church teachers had clearly distinguished, as Scripture distinguishes, between the Angel of the Lord, Himself, as they believed, Divine, and the Father. But the Arians endeavoured to widen this personal distinctness into a deeper difference, a difference of Natures. Appealing to the often-assigned ground of the belief respecting the Theophanies which had prevailed in the ante-Nicene Church, the Arians argued that the Son had been seen by the Patriarchs, while the Father had not been seen, and that an Invisible Nature was distinct from and higher than a nature which was cognizable by the senses. St. Augustine boldly faced this difficulty, and his great work on the Trinity gave the chief impulse to another current of interpretation in the Church...The general doctrine of this great teacher, that the Theophanies were not direct appearances of a Person in the Godhead, but Self-manifestation of God through a created being, had been hinted at by some earlier Fathers and was insisted on by contemporary and later writers of the highest authority. This explanation has since become the predominant although by no means the exclusive judgment of the Church ' ; and if it is not unaccompanied by considerable difficulties when we apply it to the sacred text, it certainly seems to relieve us of greater embarrassments than any which it creates.

But whether the ante-Nicene (so to term it) or the Augustinian line of interpretation be adopted with respect to the Theophanies, no sincere believer in the historical trustworthiness of Holy Scripture can mistake the importance of their relation to the doctrine of our Lord's Divinity. If the Theophanies were not, as has been pretended, mythical legends, the natural product of the Jewish mind at a particular stage of its development, but actual matter-of-fact occurrences in the history of ancient Israel, must we not see in them a deep Providential meaning ? Whether in them the Word or Son actually appeared, or whether God made a created angel the absolutely perfect exponent of His Thought and Will, do they not point in either case to a purpose in the Divine Mind which would only be realized when man had been admitted to a nearer and more palpable contact with God than was possible under the Patriarchal or Jewish dispensations ? (Pages 57-59.)

Dr. Liddon points out the fact that Augustine introduced, "another current of interpretation", and though his, "explanation has since become the predominant [view]", it is "by no means the exclusive judgment of the Church".

What I find interesting is that Dr. Liddon's own reflections on the Angel of Jehovah passages seems much more in line with the pre-Augustinian view (i.e. the ante-Nicene Church Fathers); and perhaps even more importantly, it is the the pre-Augustinian view that most post-Reformation conservative scholars embrace.

Shall end here for now, with the hope that I will have part 3 ready for next week.


Grace and peace,

David