Wednesday, December 22, 2010
In the combox of our previous thread, Lvka (an Eastern Orthodox brother in Christ), articulated some of the distinctions between the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Trinity and those generally held by Augustinian/Western Trinitarians (link to Lvka's post). Lvka's reflections brought back to mind Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy's detailed book on the Trinity: The Mystery of the Trinity. Fr. Bobrinskoy is an ordained Orthodox priest, and the Dean and Professor of Dogmatic Thelogy at St. Sergius Institute, Paris (see Orthodox Wiki bio). The following is my response to Lvka; I am utilizing it as an introduction to the theme of this thread:
==Good morning Lvka,
Thanks much for your informative reply—an excellent summation of the post-Palamas EO view. Now, I would like to let Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy (Dean and Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St. Sergius Institute) 'fill in', so to speak, the development/progression of the doctrine of the Trinity in EO thought/history. (All the following quotations will be from his The Mystery of the Trinity, English trans. by Anthony P. Gythiel, SVS Press, 1999.)
Fr. Bobrinskoy begins his reflections on the development/progression of the doctrine of the Trinity with what he terms "the ecclesial explanation of the trinitarian dogma". (MT, p. 6.) He then writes:
"To study the progression of trinitarian revelation, there is the classical method, the so-called chronological and doctrinal method:
1. Form the first foreshadowings, the first Old Testament intimations, to the fullness of the New Testament;
2. Inside the New Testament itself, through the pedagogy of Jesus, His words and deeds, from Galilee to the Passion; then in the testimonies that follow;
3. Finally, from the post-apostolic writings to the earliest ecumenical councils.
Actually, the evolution of trinitarian dogma does not end at the Second Ecumenical Council, but continues through what is sometimes called the "christological period" (which extends to about the eighth century, and is characterized by the proclamation of the mystery of Christ in all its aspects), through the "pneumatological period" (which continues to about the fourteenth century, and culminates in the synthesis made by St Gregory Palamas. It particularly emphasizes the integration of the human being into the mystery of Christ through the grace of the Holy Spirit), and is, in our day, catching a second breath in what is called "the era of the Church." The theological progression cannot be doubted, though it is not brought about according to a linear scheme, but with strong movements, underground advances, times of regression, even of crisis." (MT, pp. 6-7.)
And a bit later:
"A living theology cannot be severed from the living environment that forms the body of the Church, where the Spirit of knowledge and of truth breathes. A theological reading of Scripture cannot be made outside the great Tradition which, generation after generation, searches the Bible in order to discover within it the presence of Christ, and in Him, the face of the Father." (MT, p. 7.)
He then provides the following quote from St. Gregory Nazianzen ("On The Holy Spirit"):
"'The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun’s light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated.' (MT, p. 8 - St Gregory Nazianzen, Oratio XXXI [Theologica V] 26, PG 36:161. Tr Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2ns ser., vol. 7, p. 326.)"
Fr. Bobrinskoy then adds:
"This is an exception text because it accept a dogmatic progression not only from the Old Testament to the New, but from the New Testament to the Church. Here St Gregory Nazianzen differs from St. Basil who applied the principle of tradition and antiquity much more stringently. Certainly, Gregory Nazianzen could, in the dialectic of his argumentation, legitimately see a dogmatic innovation in the profession of the divinity of the Spirit, for such divinity is not clearly stated in Scripture. In the New Testament, it is merely intimated through the revelation of the Son,; and, in the Old, through the revelation of the fatherhood of God." (MT, p. 8.)
Me: I think it is safe to say that Fr. Bobrinskoy believes that the continued work of the Holy Spirit in the Church is necessary for one to arrive at a correct understanding of the Godhead and the doctrine of the Trinity. After a workout and lunch, I plan to type up a new thread, reproducing the material in this post, and adding some more reflections on this issue.== [See THIS AF THREAD for an earlier treatment on the development of doctrine in Gregory Nazianzen.]
Fr. Bobrinskoy is yet one more Trinitarian scholar who acknowledges that the doctrine of the Trinity is far from being an explicit teaching of the Bible. Bobrinskoy, like so many Catholic scholars (and a few Anglican), points to the need of the Holy Spirit working through the Church to make clear/explicit, what is only implicit in the Scriptures (their understanding, of course). Even a few Protestant scholars have admitted that the doctrine of the Trinity is found wanting in the Bible—note the following selections:
The Trinity. The NT does not contain the developed doctrine of the Trinity. "The Bible lacks the express declaration that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of equal essence and therefore in an equal sense God himself. And the other express declaration is also lacking, that God is God thus and only thus, i.e. as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These two express declarations, which go beyond the witness of the Bible, are the twofold content of the Church doctrine of the Trinity" (Karl Barth, CD, I, 1, 437). It also lacks such terms as trinity (Lat. trinitas which was coined by Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 3; 11; 12 etc.) and homoousios which featured in the Creed of Nicea (325) to denote ttha Chirst was of the same substance of the Father (cf. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 1968, 113, 233-7). (J. Schneider, "God", in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2, p. 84.)
Part of the problem for the ordinary Christian may be that in its debates and struggles, the ancient church was forced to use extrabiblical terms to defend biblical concepts...Biblical language could not resolve the issue, for the conflict was over the meaning of biblical language in the first place. (Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, pp. 1, 2.)
Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine, it is striking that the term does not appear in the New Testament. Likewise, the developed concept of three coequal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the *canon...While the New Testament writers say a great deal about God, Jesus and the Spirit of each, no New Testament writer expounds on the relationship among the three in the detail that later Christian writers do. (Daniel N. Schowalter, "Trinity", in The Oxford Companion To The Bible, p. 782.)
In all of these elements of revelation, of course, Scripture has not yet provided us with a fully developed trinitarian dogma…Scripture contains all the data from which theology has constructed the dogma of the Trinity. Philosophy did not need to add anything essential to that dogma: even the Logos doctrine is part of the New Testament. It all only had to wait for a time when the power of Christian reason would be sufficiently developed to enter into the holy mystery that presents itself here. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, trans. John Vriend, pp. 279, 280.)
Though all of above scholars certainly believe that 'basic elements' for the development of the doctrine of the Trinity can be found in the Bible, a question which should be asked by everyone that embraces sola scriptura (and in so doing, rejects rejects any authorative, infallible 'rule of faith' outside of the Bible), is: were those 'basic elements' correctly developed by the Church? This, IMHO, is a crucial question, for if one is truly 'honest' with the Biblical data, and the subsequent developments of theology and christlogical, one will acknowledge with Dr. Raymond Brown that:
...in no NT passage, not even in Matt. 28:19 (“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) is there precision about three divine Persons, co-equal but distinct, and one divine Nature—the core dogma of the Trinity. Greek philosophy, sharpened by continuing theological disputes in the church from the 2nd to the 5th centuries, contributed to the classical formulation of the dogma…If ‘tradition’ implies that first-century Christianity already understood three coequal but distinct divine Persons and one divine Nature but had not developed the precise terminology, I would dissent. Neither the terminology nor the basic ideas had reached clarity in the first century; problems and disputes were required before the clarity came…Precisely because the “Trinitarian” line of development was not the only line of thought detectable in the NT, one must posit the guidance of the Spirit and intuition of faith as the church came to its decision. (Raymond E. Brown, Biblical Exegesis & Church Doctrine, 1985, pp. 31-33.)
The older, but respected, Cyclopedia of Biblical and Ecclesiastical Literature, concurs with Dr. Raymond:
The first class of texts, [i.e. triadic] taken by itself, proves only that there are three separate subjects named, and that there is a difference between them; that the Father in certain respects differs from the son, etc.; but it does not prove, by itself, that all three belong necessarily to the divine nature, and possess equal divine honor...
Matt. xxviii, 18-20. This text, however, taken by itself, would not prove decisively either the personality of the three subjects mentioned, or their equality or divinity. (Vol. X, p. 552.)
I shall end this opening post with a recommendation to those who have not read the threads here at AF listed under the label, Subordinationism (especially this older thread), to do so.
Grace and peace,