Yesterday, I finished reading the above book by Dr. Stephen R. Holmes, which was published back in November, 2012. [A good portion of the book is available via Google books preview: LINK.]
Given my recent focus on the doctrine of God, the Trinity, and the Monarchy of God the Father, I think most readers will understand why I chose this book; and those who will take the time to read it for themselves, will also understand why I am taking the time to blog about it.
The book, given its scope (i.e. a history of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity), is rather small (231 pages), but Dr. Holmes has a lucid style of writing, and is able to pack more pertinent information in those 231 pages, than I suspect most could accomplish in twice the number. As for the intent/purpose of the book, I shall let Dr. Holmes speak for himself:
This book is on a big-picture scale, necessarily. Covering in one brief volume two thousand years of debate over what is possibly the central topic of Christian devotion, together with the necessary biblical background, means that at every turn I have obscured details of debates, offered impressionistic sketches of complex positions, and otherwise done violence to scholarly ideals. I do not apologize for this; not only is there value for students in a text which renders a broad vision of the subject, but there is also an argument made in the text that follows that could not have been convincingly made with any less breadth of focus.
In brief, I argue that the explosion of theological work claiming to recapture the doctrine of the Trinity what we have witnessed in recent decades in fact misunderstands and distorts the traditional doctrine so badly that it is unrecognizable. A statement of the doctrine was settled in the fourth century, and was then maintained, with only very minor disagreement or development, by all strands of the church – West and East, Protestant and Catholic – until the modern period. (Page xv)
Dr. Holmes then touches on a number of 20th century theologians who have contributed to this "explosion of theological work", which includes such notables as Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jürgen Moltmann and John Zizioulas (all of whom I have had the privilege of reading).
He then delves into the OT, intertestamental, and NT periods; this is followed by the early Patristic age through the 20th century. The entire book is worth readinig (IMHO), but right now, I would like to focus on two aspects: the 'theory' of Theodore de Rėgnon and Augustine.
Now, I suspect that a number of folk who have interest in the doctrine of the Trinity have never heard of Theodore de Rėgnon, and yet, his 'theory' has played an extremely important role in much of "the explosion of theological work" concerning the doctrine of the Trinity that Dr. Holmes spoke of. In a nut shell, it was de Rėgnon who put forth the proposal that there exists a significant difference between Latin/Western and Greek/Eastern theologians in how they approach the doctrine of the Trinity. John Meyendorff (a supporter of this 'theory') provides the following from de Rėgnon:
Latin philosophy considers the nature in itself first and proceeds to the agent; Greek philosophy considers the agent first and passes through it find the nature. The Latins think of personality as a mode of nature; the Greeks think of nature as the content of the person. (Byzantine Theology, page 181.)
Concerning this issue/theory, Dr. Holmes writes:
The proposal is that a paradigm for interpreting patristic Trinitarianism was offered by Theodore de Rėgnon over a century ago; this paradigm suggested that Latin Trinitarianism, supremely represented by Augustine, started with one God, and asked how he could be triune; by contrast Greek Trinitarianism began with the three hypostases, and asked how they could be one God. (Page 129)
Dr. Holmes included the above in his section on Augustine. He firmly believes that Augustine has been misunderstood, and that the de Rėgnon "paradigm" is seriously flawed. His section on Augustine (pages 129 - 139) presents his assessment of Augustine's thought that runs counter to those who have been influenced by the de Rėgnon "paradigm". A few pages later, Dr. Holmes pens:
One of my themes in this book is the falsity of what is called, however fairly, the 'de Rėgnon thesis': the idea that, from Augustine on, Trinitarian theology in the Greek-speaking East and the Latin-speaking West took decisively different turns, leading to two distinct traditions. (Page 144)
Over the next 20 pages, Dr. Holmes presents his evidence to the contrary—i.e. there is no fundamental difference/s between Eastern and Western traditions concerning the doctrine of the Trinity apart from the filioque (and even here, he believes the difference has been inflated due to politics).
Though I am at present unable to assent to all that Dr. Holmes has written, I can say that he has certainly given me much to ponder and reflect on. It is my sincere hope that a good number of those who read this thread will obtain this book, read it, and then share their thoughts with me.
Grace and peace,