Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Monarchy of God the Father: Goad vs. Dr. Beeley and the original Nicene Creed

Earlier this week, while engaged in some online research, I came across a doctoral dissertation that caught my eye: "TRINITARIAN GRAMMARS: A COMPARISON OF GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS AND SOME CONTEMPORARY MODELS" by Keith Wesley Goad [LINK to full pdf version]. The following is an abstract of the dissertation:

There is a growing trend among contemporary models to claim that their model is based upon the Eastern tradition in opposition to the Western model represented by Augustine. The purpose of the dissertation is to describe the doctrines of the knowledge of God and the Trinity as articulated by Gregory of Nazianzus, the Eastern father who defined these doctrines for the Eastern tradition, for the purpose of critically evaluating the contemporary models that seek to find their historical precedent in the Cappadocians.

The first two chapters demonstrate Gregory's doctrines of the knowledge of God and the Trinity in order to demonstrate how his numerous confessions all relate to and modify one another. Gregory's doctrine of God was based upon God's nature being infinite and only known through his actions and names. Gregory's doctrine of the Trinity is multifaceted so that he uses a number of grammars to defend the unity and the three persons. Chapter four compares Augustine's On The Trinity to Gregory's grammars to provide a concrete comparison between the two traditions to demonstrate that the typical paradigm that contrasts the East and West is oversimplified and wrong.

The contemporary models will then be analyzed in light of Gregory's grammars and model in order to demonstrate that they have introduced concepts and grammars that are contrary to that of Gregory. The contemporary theologians analyzed include Karl Rahner, Cornelius Plantinga, Bruce Ware, and Thom McCall. The contemporary models are wrong to claim Gregory as their historical precedent because they fail to meet the most basic standards of Orthodoxy as presented by Gregory. One of the main problems in the contemporary treatment of Gregory is that his doctrine is oversimplified so that one aspect or grammar is emphasized and the others are ignored. There is confusion over the proper relationship between the economic and immanent Trinities. There is also a number of problems in how the terms one, unity, essence, and person have been redefined by the contemporary models when compared to Gregory's doctrine. The final argument is that the contemporary models fail to provide the necessary grammars and confessions that safeguard the doctrine of the Trinity and promote worship when compared to Gregory.

I literally could not stop reading this dissertation (even though I knew from the provided abstract that I would disagree with a number of Goad's conclusions), for he did an excellent job of summarizing the, "growing trend among contemporary models to claim that their model is based upon the Eastern tradition in opposition to the Western model represented by Augustine", a topic that I have been studying in depth for over three years now. I have probably read at least 75% of the works cited by Goad so I was able to digest his dissertation without needing to do a good deal of supplementary study. There is so much material that could be covered, but I want to focus on the issue of the Monarchy of God the Father. Note the following:

There is a long history of debate concerning how Gregory used the concept of Monarchia in his confession of the Trinity. There appears to be two different grammatical roles for the term Monarchia. One establishes the Triune God as a whole so that the Creator is set apart from creation. The other seeks to distinguish the persons who exist within the God and provide a proper order among the persons. As already seen above, the Monarchia is used as a reference for monotheism over against polytheism and atheism. Gregory's grammar demands that all three persons must be understood to exist distinctly within the one Monarchy and single rule. While Monarchia is a reference for one God, the key issue is how Gregory used Monarchia within the other grammar. The Monarchia is also a key intra-­Trinitarian grammar for the Father being the arxe, aitia, and aitios of the Son and Spirit. The debate among Patristic scholars is how Gregory uses both grammars alongside one another and what he includes in the causal language of the latter. (Pages 142, 143.)

A bit later we read:

The most popular interpretation is that Gregory's use of the various causal/source terminology is ambiguous and possibly contradictory because in some places he says that the Father is the Monarchia and in others he says the essence is the Monarchia. There are two positions that seek to reconcile the confusion. First, the Father is the cause of the person of the Son and Spirit, but there is hesitation in confessing the Father is the cause of their deity. Second, the Father is the source of the person of the Son and Spirit as well as their deity. The major difference between these two positions is that the latter emphasizes the Father as God proper and blurs the distinctions between person and essence. A third option was seen above in Torrance and Cross who limit the Monarchy to the essence. (Page 144.)

Goad's assessment that the, "major difference between these two positions is that the latter emphasizes the Father as God proper and blurs the distinctions between person and essence", is wrong—in fact, I believe that it does just the opposite—the belief that the, "Father is the source of the person of the Son and Spirit as well as their deity", not only does NOT blur "the distinctions between person and essence", but it also represents the theology of the original Nicene Creed.

This misstep of Goad's becomes even more apparent when he attempts to dismantle Dr. Beeley's scholarship on this matter. Though Goad acknowledges that, "Christopher Beeley's work stands out as the most thorough study on the role of the Monarchy", he disagrees with Beeley's view that Gregory reconciles the, "role of the Monarchia by arguing that the Father is God proper and as such is the cause of the Son's person and essence" (p. 151); and this because Goad believes that the, "Father's  Monarchia cannot imply causation of the son's divine nature because this would deny the full deity of the Son" (p. 166).

Three important points here: first, Goad's position is at odds yet again with the theology of the original Nicene Creed; second, it goes against virtually every pre-Augustine Church Father (and many modern day Eastern Orthodox theologians); and third, causation does not require a diminishing of the nature conveyed, in fact, in many cases it requires the full communication of the nature.

In ending, though I believe that Goad's dissertation is valuable and a must read, I firmly believe that a number of his conclusions are faulty.

Grace and peace,



Steve said...

causation does not require a diminishing of the nature conveyed, in fact, in many cases it requires the full communication of the nature.

Can this be true of the Trinity if God the Father is the only uncaused cause? IOW, if God the Father's nature entails being an uncaused cause, can He fully communicate being an uncaused cause to the other perons of the Trinity such that they are now uncaused causes?

Iohannes said...

Hi David,

I wish I had leisure enough to read the dissertation. Thank you for calling attention to it. I haven't had much time for blogs, but am pleased to see you continue to dig into this topic.

Hi Steve,

I think St. Gregory would deny that the Father's nature entails being an uncaused cause. It entails being eternal, but being an uncaused cause is in Gregory's system a personal property of the Father's, not an attribute belonging to the divine essence.

This comes out in the third theological oration:

If we say that the Father is qua cause superior to the Son, they add the minor premise

but he is cause by nature and hence conclude that he is greater by nature.

I do not know whom the fallacy misleads--themselves or their opponents. For it is not the case that all the predicates affirmed of someone can be affirmed without further qualification of his basic being. No, plainly they are affirmed of some particular thing, in some particular respects. Is there anything to stop me also taking as my premise, "the Father is greater by nature" and adding "but 'being greater by nature' is not necessarily 'being Father,'" and then concluding that "'greater' is 'not necessarily greater' or that 'Father' is not necessarily 'Father'"? Or take another example: "'God is substance,' but 'substance is not necessarily God.'" Draw the conclusion for yourself--"God is not necessarily God." No, the fallacy here arises from arguing, as the logicians call it, "from the particular to the general." We concede, of course, that it belongs to the nature of the cause to be superior, but they infer that the superiority belongs to the nature--which is like our saying "man X is dead" and their drawing the inference that "Man," without qualification, is dead.
(15, in Wickham's version)

In Christ,

Steve said...

Personal properties of a thing are allowed for by its nature. This is why different kinds of things have different kinds of capacities. For example, it is of our nature to be rational animals. You can call our rationality a personal property if you like, but it is only because of our nature that we are rational. So if you want to make the claim that being an uncaused cause is a personal property, and not of God the Father's nature (which I believe is a mistake) then you have to explain where that personal property comes from if not His nature.

Thanks for the Gregory quote. I'm not sure I understand him…he seems to be talking about the fallacy of confusing the accident with the essence. That's fine for material things, but I'm not sure what to make of it with respect to something that has their existence entirely reducible to their essence…perhaps we disagree on that point, too.

David Waltz said...

Hi Steve and John,

Sorry for my somewhat tardy response, but we have had grandkids all week during their spring break, and I have not had much time for the internet...

Don't think I can add much more to the discussion other than mentioning the analogies used by a number of the Church Fathers. In the following thread, I provide three such examples from the pen of Augustine:

Which Augustine ???

Grace and peace,