Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Perhaps the "best" defense of Augustinian/Latin/Western Trinitarianism


Within the Reformed tradition, there have been a number of works that have been devoted to the defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. Some of this contributions have been monographs, some have been articles/essays, and number as chapters in larger works. While some modern Reformed folk have opted to follow John Calvin in distancing themselves from certain aspects of Nicene Trinitarianism (e.g. the Son of God being begotten from the essence and person of the Father, and eternal generation), most Reformed theologians have attempted to defend Augustinian/Latin/Western Trinitarianism while maintaining that the original Nicene Creed is in full support of this view. IMO, the most comprehensive defense of this particular trajectory of Trinitarian thought came via the pen of W.G.T Shedd.

Shedd, in the first volume of his Dogmatic Theology (first edition 1889), devotes 84 pages to the topic "Trinity in Unity" (chapter 4, pp. 249-333). Given Shedd's lucid style of writing, he was able to pack more solid material into those 84 pages than others have attempted to accomplish in hundreds of pages. Shedd's treatment in it's scope and depth is probably without equal, but in the end, falls short—this is not due to any lacking in Shedd's ability and effort, but rather, due to what Shedd was attempting to defend—i.e. the indefensible.

Now, what precisely in his cogent defense was indefensible? IMO, two key aspects which are foundational to Augustinian/Latin/Western Trinitarianism (defended by Shedd), are indefensible: first, the One God of the Bible and early catholic tradition is the Godhead/Trinity; and second, the begotteness of the Son of God is hypostatical (i.e. personal) only. The first of these two aspects directly involves the philosophical concept of absolute divine simplicity. The second aspect has its roots in thought of John Calvin, but is complicated by Shedd in his attempt to defend it while at the same defending the original language of the Nicene Creed of 325. This attempt is perhaps Shedd's weakest proposition for he speaks of the "communication" of the entire/full divine essence to the Son from the Father while at the same time denying that the Son's essence is begotten from the Father's essence !!!

Rather than trying to reproduce Shedd's extensive contribution through my own feeble efforts, I would instead like to urge those interested in this subject to read the entire treatment for themselves. An excellent PDF copy is available online for reading and/or downloading (for free):


And for those who really want to 'dig deep' into this topic, Shedd has a chapter in his earlier work, History of Christian Doctrine, which he draws from in his later work, that is, of course, directly related:

History of Christian Doctrine - Volume I (see Chapter III, pages 306-375)


Looking forward to some extensive dialogue...


Grace and peace,

David

6 comments:

Nick said...

For precision sake, I would not be using the phraseology Augustinian, Latin, or maybe even Western, if what you're describing is more accurately confined to Protestant theology. For one, no Catholic theologian I know of (nor especially church document) would take such liberties as to say the Nicene Creed got it wrong and opt for a hypostatic begetting only.

As for divine simplicity, everyone must affirm some form of simplicity in God. When the Latin tradition speaks of absolute divine simplicity, this is done within it's own philosophical framework, and it is not absolute simplicity in the sense of destroying or swallowing up the distinction between the Divine Persons. Since Protestants generally reject the Catholic philosophical traditions/framework from which this is taught, this would mean it is wrong to lump Catholics in the same boat as well.

There could be problems with how the Latins have expressed their Trinitarian views, but lumping Protestants and Catholics in the same boat is going too far, especially when Protestants routinely cherry-pick the Ecumenical Councils.

Drake Shelton said...

Nick,

“For one, no Catholic theologian I know of (nor especially church document) would take such liberties as to say the Nicene Creed got it wrong and opt for a hypostatic begetting only. ”

>>>So let me get this straight. Are u saying that the Godhead contains 3 beings each with its own mind and will? If so could you show me that from your catechism?

“and it is not absolute simplicity in the sense of destroying or swallowing up the distinction between the Divine Persons”

>>>Ad hoc

Nick said...

All I am saying is that I know of no place where any Catholic theologian has said Nicaea got it wrong, where as Calvin says Nicaea got betting of essence wrong.

I am not saying the Godhead contains 3 beings each with its own mind and will. That wording isn't even proper. The traditional formulation is that the 3 Persons each fully possess the one Divine Nature, and that will is a property of nature (which is why Jesus has two wills).

David Waltz said...

Hi Nick,

Thanks much for taking the time to comment; in your post you wrote:

==For precision sake, I would not be using the phraseology Augustinian, Latin, or maybe even Western, if what you're describing is more accurately confined to Protestant theology. For one, no Catholic theologian I know of (nor especially church document) would take such liberties as to say the Nicene Creed got it wrong and opt for a hypostatic begetting only.==

Me: Though some Calvinists have deviated in couple of aspects from a strict Catholic understanding of the Trinity, it must be keep in mind that a number have not. Further, those who have deviated still retain a predominant portion of the strict Catholic understanding of the Trinity such that they should still be considered as part of the Augustinian/Latin/Western tradition. (I suspect most EO theologians would place the less than strict Calvinists into a subset of the Augustinian/Latin/Western tradition.)

==As for divine simplicity, everyone must affirm some form of simplicity in God.==

Me: Agreed.

==When the Latin tradition speaks of absolute divine simplicity, this is done within it's own philosophical framework, and it is not absolute simplicity in the sense of destroying or swallowing up the distinction between the Divine Persons. Since Protestants generally reject the Catholic philosophical traditions/framework from which this is taught, this would mean it is wrong to lump Catholics in the same boat as well.==

Me: I would like to hear more on this Nick. Perhaps you could devote a thread on your blog pointing out where Prots have either rejected and/or deviated from "the Catholic philosophical traditions/framework". (If you do so, please let me know so I can read and link to it.)

==There could be problems with how the Latins have expressed their Trinitarian views, but lumping Protestants and Catholics in the same boat is going too far, especially when Protestants routinely cherry-pick the Ecumenical Councils.==

Me: Once again, unless someone persuades me otherwise, I do not at think (at least for now), that confessional Prots have deviated enough from the strict Catholic understanding to place them into a different tradition than the Augustinian/Latin/Western one.


Grace and peace,

David

Lvka said...

Relevant link for your last [two] article(s)...

Nick said...

David,

The most Dogmatic definition of the Trinity that I know of is from the 4th Lateran Council: "We firmly believe and simply confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immeasurable, almighty, unchangeable, incomprehensible and ineffable, Father, Son and holy Spirit, three persons but one absolutely simple essence, substance or nature ... This holy Trinity, which is undivided according to its common essence but distinct according to the properties of its persons"

Note that the absolutely simple essence is distinct from the three persons, showing that divine simplicity was not understood to mean persons are swallowed up or eviscerated in some monad blob. St Thomas Aquinas 'philosophically derives' this simplicity by showing there can be no accidental qualities in God's nature, and that God's essence and existence are the same. Since Protestants reject the Aristotelian categories by which the Latins were thinking in (especially in regards to transubstantiation and anthropology), then I don't see how Protestants can/do understand the Trinity in the same way.

This also plays into the fact many Protestants (including knowledgable Reformed I've seen) reject and hate the phrase "Mother of God" and don't believe when speaking of Jesus we are allowed to say things like "God died on the cross".

Unfortunately, I don't have enough information to be able to write up a blog post about this.