Monday, September 15, 2008

Samuel Clarke, sola scriptura and the Trinity


This thread is going to begin an exploration into the teachings of the late 17th century/early 18th century Anglican divine, Samuel Clarke, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. Clarke was a clear, and ardent, supporter of sola scriptura; in his book, The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity, he wrote:

the Books of Scripture are to Us Now not only the Rule, but the Whole and the Only Rule of Truth in matters of Religion. (Samuel Clarke, The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity, p. v - emphasis in the original.)

In the “Contents” section of the book, Clarke sets forth 55 “diftinct Propofitions” (distinct Propositions). These 55 propositions clarify his position on the doctrine of the Trinity (see pages 15-27 of the PDF VERSION ); his view clearly endorsed a heavy dose of Subordinationism (some maintain that it is Arian, or Semi-Arian; though Homoiousian or Homoian are probably more accurate options/descriptions). Clarke presents 1,251 Scripture verses to establish the basis for his 55 propositions, and devotes over 100 pages defending them via Scripture and early Church Fathers.

The following are Clarke's first nine propositions (I have used the updated list provided by Pfizenmaier in his The Trinitarian Theology of Dr. Samuel Clarke, p.5):

I. There is one supreme cause and original of things; one simple, uncompounded, undivided, intelligent agent, or person; who is the alone author of all being, and the fountain of all power.

II. With this first and supreme cause or Father of all things, there has existed from the beginning, a second divine person, which is his Word or Son.

III. With the Father and the Son, there has existed from the beginning a third divine person, which is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

IV. What the proper metaphysical nature, essence, or substance of any of these divine persons is, the Scripture has no where at all declared; but describes and distinguishes them always by their personal characters, offices, power, and attributes.

V. The Father alone is self-existent, underived, unoriginated, independent. He alone is of none, either by creation, generation, procession, or any other way whatsoever.

VI. The Father is the sole origin of all power and authority, and is the author and principle of whatsoever is done by the Son or by the Spirit.

VII. The Father alone is in the highest, strict, proper, and absolute sense supreme over all.

VIII. The Father alone is, absolutely speaking, the God of the universe; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Israel; of Moses, of the Prophets and Apostles; and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

IX. The Scripture, when it mentions the one God, or the only God, always means the supreme person of the Father.


I have often confided in my theological friends that if I held to the principal of sola scriptura I would probably be a Homoiousian, or a Homoian Arian (I am Trinitarian due to Tradition, more precisely, Nicene and post-Nicene Tradition). It is quite interesting to find in Clarke one whose position is nearly identical to what mine would be if I rejected post-Nicene developments.


Grace and peace,

David

9 comments:

Chris said...

Orthodoxy does make the Father the "fount of divinity", does it not? So in many respects this guy's not that far from the tree, except in refusing to speculate about "substance" and making the Son and Spirit be "from the beginning" rather than explicitly "co-eternal". He does distinguish the offices and attributes of the three persons, which I think the Cappadocians would decline to do (though many other orthodox theologians have had fewer scruples on that count). The single really major difference from orthodoxy that I see here is in his point VIII: God the Father alone is God of the universe, and he is the God of Jesus Christ. This is equivalent to Arius' doctrine that Jesus is a "creature". In my opinion, this reading is not only consistent with the Bible but is also the most natural understanding of Jesus-as-logos in the context of Middle Platonism.

Chris said...

Of course, my last comment there assumes that the rest of creation was emanated in the same way that Jesus was. If we distinguish emanation from creation, so that Jesus and the Spirit are emanated from God's own being whereas the rest of the universe was deliberately created ex nihilo, then it ceases to make sense to speak of Jesus as a creature. I think this is the tack that Trinitarian orthodoxy ultimately took.

Bob Jones said...

The sensus plenior of Gen 1:1 teaches that Christ is the "One God".

Christ is the beginning and the end so Gen 1 starts off "In Christ"

The word Elohim is also a pun for "the not dark" which is of course Christ as the light.

Christ in his dual nature is the earthly and the heavenly so "heaven and earth" become "dual natured Christ.

And the word for created (without vowels) also has the sense of cut off, winnowing, separated.

So now we have In Christ, Christ cut off the dual-natured Christ. This is the first shadow of the cross. This is loose since it is in English, but you get the idea. The sensus plenior teaches the oneness of God and the trinity more explicitly than the literal.

It teaches that the Father wrote Genesis, the Son wrote the history of Israel, and that the Holy Ghost wrote the life of Christ in the flesh.

So even without the council at Nicea I'd still be trinitarian.

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

You wrote:

>> Orthodoxy does make the Father the "fount of divinity", does it not?>>

Me: Yes; and not just Eastern/Orthodox theologians. John Henry Newman emphasized the fons totius divinitatis of the Father, as well as Jonathan Edwards. There seems to be somewhat of a recovery of sorts of this teaching by some Catholic and Protestant scholars, which is probably due (at least in part) to the increased dialogue with Orthodox scholars/theologians.

>>So in many respects this guy's not that far from the tree, except in refusing to speculate about "substance" and making the Son and Spirit be "from the beginning" rather than explicitly "co-eternal". He does distinguish the offices and attributes of the three persons, which I think the Cappadocians would decline to do (though many other orthodox theologians have had fewer scruples on that count).>>

Me: Not sure exactly what you mean here. Certainly one needs to distinguish between the offices of the three persons; and I would add that the Father alone as ingenerate is a must attribute that needs to be pointed out.

>>The single really major difference from orthodoxy that I see here is in his point VIII: God the Father alone is God of the universe, and he is the God of Jesus Christ.>>

Me: Clarke quickly points out that “God the Father alone is God of the universe” in the absolute sense, and ties this to his emphasis of the Father as the fons totius divinitatis.

>>This is equivalent to Arius' doctrine that Jesus is a "creature". In my opinion, this reading is not only consistent with the Bible but is also the most natural understanding of Jesus-as-logos in the context of Middle Platonism.>>

Me: Clarke departs from Arius in that he denies that the Son’s derivation was ex nihilo.


Grace and peace,

David

Chris said...

Hey David,

You wrote,

>>Not sure exactly what you mean here. Certainly one needs to distinguish between the offices of the three persons; and I would add that the Father alone as ingenerate is a must attribute that needs to be pointed out.

I was referring to the great Cappadocian fathers, Basil and the two Gregorys. According to Many Mansions: An Introduction to the Development and Diversity of Medieval Theology, they argued that "since all three are one God, what can be said of any one person can be said, equally, of all of them. In other words, if we say the Father is wise, we must also say that the Son is wise; [...etc.] Furthermore, since there is only one Trinitarian God, when the Trinity acts, it always acts as a unity. At no time does the Father or Son or Holy Spirit act alone. [...] But if all three have identical power, identical rank, identical eternity, identical substance, and identical abilities, and if all three always act together as a unity, how can we possibly distinguish between them? The answer of the Cappadocians is simple: we can distinguish between the persons of the Trinity not by what they do or what they can do, but by the way in which they come into being."

Obviously other theologians throughout Church history have not had the same scruples about assigning distinct roles, offices, or spheres of action to the respective persons. The Cappadocian model seems to me to make the Trinity a purely formal proposition and to rob it of any real pragmatic or kerygmatic significance.

Bob Jones said...

"and if all three always act together as a unity, how can we possibly distinguish between them? "

They differ in their will. The son had a different will than the Father but submitted to it out of love.

Rev 5 suggests that the lion of Judah was not always worthy to open the book, but that he had to 'overcome'.

In the sensus plenior, Exodus 4 is a narrative of how the son first said no, then did it, just as in the parable of the two sons.

Moses recoiled from the serpent (the instruction to become incarnate and be made to be sin) but then grasped the tail of the serpent and 'overcame'.

Also in the sensus plenior, the Father is associated with the Word, the son with the Works, and the Holy Spirit with the life, but in John 1 these are each associated with Christ, which is what we expect if he is the fullness of deity in bodily form.

We also see Abraham as the father choosing the bride.
Issac as the son calling or wooing the bride.
And Jacob as the Holy Spirit who gathers the bride. So in these images, their actions are distinguishable.

Bob Jones said...

We may also see perspective differences between the persons of the Godhead.

In the sensus plenior, the Father wrote his testimony on the lives of the patriarchs from Adam through Joseph. He tells the same story four times and each one is the complete story of how the son had dominion and is fruitful and multiplies.

The Son wrote his testimony in the life of the nation of Israel. His story and perspective is not complete. The son wooes and works and waits for the bride, but ultimately he is left desolate with only the promise of dominion and being fruitful.

The Holy Spirit wrote His testimony upon the life of Christ, He testified at his birth, baptism, death, etc. His perspective is "Behold the Lamb of God" and the marriage of the lamb. He sees the son obtaining the promised dominion and being fruitful and multiplying.
He is like the best man proclaiming the arrival of the groom and taking joy in the new union and life.

What the...? said...

Bob Jones wrote:

They differ in their will. The son had a different will than the Father but submitted to it out of love.

This looks like a very confused statement to me. You’re saying that Christ’s will is separate from but co-eternal from the Father’s, correct? What about Christ incarnate? Did he have a human will? If so, it seems that it was the human will of Christ being expressed in the Agony in the Garden (which is the traditional dyothelete explanation as I understand it). If not, well, that’s just monotheletism, and you have an incomplete human nature.

This is apart from the problem of saying that God has at least two divine wills, wills that at least once contradicted each other, in the person of the Father, on the one hand, and the Son on the other. I don’t know, sounds like you’re flirting with Arianism or at least semi-Arianism to me. Not very Trinitarian.

What the...? said...

Sorry, that should be

but co-eternal WITH the Father’s,