Sunday, February 25, 2018

Augustine's novel development concerning the Trinity


In the combox of the previous thread on Augustine (link), Andrew L. Davis wrote:

 >>I definately agree that Augustine saw the Trinity as one substance/essence. But what I hoped to show with the quotes I cited above is that it appears that he went beyond articulating the persons to be one essence to ultimately treat them as a single person. What I mean by that isn't that he uses the term "person" for the Trinity, but in using singular personal pronouns for the Trinity, and praying to it as though a person, it seems like a difficult conclusion to avoid that he treated the Trinity as a person, conceptually. In doing so I think he went to a place beyond where the Nicene and pre-nicene fathers went.>>

Andrew then asked:

>>What do you make of the singular personal language in his prayer quoted above from the end of On the Trinity?>>

In one of his later works, Augustine himself provides an explanation which I believe constitutes an answer to Andrew's question. Before going to that work, I am going to provide a quote from the prayer that Andrew mentioned.

[Note: all the following Latin texts are from the Sant'Agostino website; the English translations are from, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (hereafter, NPNF).]

Domine Deus une, Deus Trinitas - O Lord the one God, God the Trinity - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 15.28.51; NPNF 3.228)

The above is one of the many variants of Augustine's famous phrase:

Trinitas quae Deus est - the Trinity, Who [which] is God - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.4.7; NPNF 3.20)

Concerning this phrase, the Augustinian scholar, Lewis Ayres wrote:

...the phrase Trinitas quae Deus est, [is] a phrase not found in his predecessors. Interestingly this phrase is only once used by Augustine in his homiletic corpus, but it is used frequently in his the De Trinitate, in two letters closely connected to that work and in his late anti-'Arian' works. Its absence from sermons, and from the record of his public debate with Maximinus, suggests that Augustine saw the phrase as, at the least, needing careful explanation because of its direct identification of Trinitas as Deus. While Augustine's standard practice seems to have been to refer to the Father when Deus is used without further qualification, he also uses a number of innovative phrases which speak directly of the Trinity as God and which identify Son and Spirit by (scriptural) titles and phrases that his predecessors were reticent to apply to any other than the Father without qualification. (Augustine and the Trinity, 2010, p. 100.)

Other variants of the phrase include the following:

Trinitas sit unus et solus et verus Deus - the Trinity is the one and only and true God - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.2.4; NPNF 3.19)

uno et solo Deo, quod est ipsa Trinitas - the One and only God, which is the Trinity itself - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.6.10; NPNF 3.22)

unus et solus et verus Deus, ipsa Trinitas - the One and only and true God, the Trinity itself - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.6.10; NPNF 3.22)

ipse Deus Trinitas - God Himself, the Trinity - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.6.11; NPNF 3.22)

ista Trinitas unus est Deus - this Trinity is one God - (De  Fide et Symbolo - On Faith and the Creed, 9.16; NPNF 3.327)

But, why has Augustine introduced the phrase—and its variants—Trinitas quae Deus est ??? As mentioned above, I believe that he has given us one of his explanations as to the 'why' in one of his later works— Contra Maximinium (Against Maximinus). Note the following:

I would not have thee mistake that place in the epistle of John the apostle where he saith, "There are three witnesses: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three are one." Lest haply thou say that the Spirit and the water and the blood are diverse substances, and yet it is said, "the three are one:" for this cause I have admonished thee, that thou mistake not the matter. For these are mystical expressions, in which the point always to be considered is, not what the actual things are, but what they denote as signs: since they are signs of things, and what they are in their essence is one thing, what they are in their signification another. If then we understand the things signified, we do find these things to be of one substance. Thus, if we should say, the rock and the water are one, meaning by the Rock, Christ; by the water, the Holy Ghost: who doubts that rock and water are two different substances ? yet because Christ and the Holy Spirit are of one and the same nature, therefore when one says, the rock and the water are one, this can be rightly taken in this behalf, that these two things of which the nature is diverse, are signs of other things of which the nature is one. Three things then we know to have issued from the Body of the Lord when He hung upon the tree: first, the spirit: of which it is written, "And He bowed the head and gave up the spirit:" then, as His side was pierced by the spear, "blood and water." Which three thingsf if we look at as they are in themselves, they are in substance several and distinct, and therefore they are not one. But if we will inquire into the things signified by these, there not unreasonably comes into our thoughts the Trinity itself, which is the One, Only, True, Supreme God, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, of whom it could most truly be said, "There are Three Witnesses, and the Three are One:" so that by the term Spirit we should understand God the Father to be signified; as indeed it was concerning the worshipping of Him that the Lord was speaking, when He said, "God is a Spirit:" by the term, blood, the Son; because "the Word was made flesh:" and by the term water, the Holy Ghost; as, when Jesus spake of the water which He would give to them that thirst, the evangelist saith, "But this said He of the Spirit which they that believed on Him were to receive." Moreover, that he Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are "Witnesses," who that believes the Gospel can doubt, when the Son saith, "I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me. He beareth witness of me." Where, though the Holy Ghost is not mentioned, yet He is not to be thought separated from them. Howbeit neither concerning the Spirit hath He kept silence elsewhere, and that He too is a witness hath been sufficiently and openly shown. For in promising Him He said, "He shall bear witness of me.'' These are the "Three Witnesses, and the Three are One," because of one substance. But whereas, the signs by which they were signified came forth from the Body of the Lord, herein they figured the Church preaching the Trinity, that it hath one and the same nature: since these Three in threefold manner signified are One, and the Church that preacheth them is the Body of Christ. In this manner then the three things by which they are signified came out from the Body of the Lord: like as from the Body of the Lord sounded forth the command to ''baptize the nations in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." "In the name:" not, In the names: for "these Three are One," and One God is these Three. And if in any other way this depth of mystery which we read in John's epistle can be expounded and understood agreeably with the Catholic faith, which neither confounds nor divides the Trinity, neither believes the substances diverse nor denies that the persons are three, it is on no account to be rejected. For whenever in Holy Scriptures in order to exercise the minds of the faithful any thing is put darkly, it is to be joyfully welcomed if it can be in many ways but not unwisely expounded. (NPNF 7.526, 527) [For another English translation of the above passage, see The Works of Saint Augustine - A Translation for the 21st Century - Arianism and Other Heresies, (vol. 1.18), pp. 307, 308.]

And so, "the Three are One", because of one substance; and because the Trinity—i.e. the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—hath one and the same nature. Since the one substance and the nature is God, the Trinity is God.


Grace and peace,

David

25 comments:

Andrew L. Davis said...

Thanks for this post, I think these quotes are insightful as to how Augustine thought about the matter.

However, I still have lingering concerns that this does not truly clear Augustine of treating the Trinity as a person. Allow me to interact with this a bit more:

Firstly, I see it proven that Augustine views the Trinity as one God in terms of the three persons sharing one essence. Although there may be some developement in language in Augustine on this matter, I believe we could cite serveral earlier examples of church fathers like Hilary and Athanasius also using the word "God" as a name for the divine nature. If that useage is accepted, then its easy to see how the three persons together can be called "one God" without meaning anything modalistic by it. I think the quotes you've shared are good evidence that Augstine is using the phrase "one God" this way, as equivalent to "one essence" - at least some of the time.

There are three things I have observed within On the Trinity which give me reason to say that even with the above being granted, Augustine still ultimately treated the Trinity itself (or the common essence) as a single person. This may have been less than conscious even, seeing as how he explains it in what you quote in the article. The three things are:

Augustine questions if the person who appeared to the patriarchs as God was "God the Trinity" or the Son - the fact that the Trinity is viewed as a possible identity for this person implies a willingness to conceive of the Trinity as a person. This point alone is not much, but combined with the following I would suggest it helps paint a broader picture.

Secondly, Augustine prays to "God the Trinity" at the end of his books. If our explanation of this language is what you suggest in this article, then we understand him to be speaking of "God the Trinity" as the essence. This already seems somewhat strained for the reason I will cite as my third point- but here I want to point out that praying to the essence and asking the essence for things is effectively treating it as a person. As I imagine you would agree, the essence considered in abstract is not a person- so interacting with it as you would a person is very odd. And in doing this, Augustine is treading on new ground, it seems, as the pattern among the ealier fathers is to direct prayer to the person of the Father.

My third reason is Augustine's use of singular personal pronouns for the Trinity. Whether he intends that as the group as a whole, or the common essence seems like a moot point- gramatically, using singular personal pronouns is implicitly treating the subject as a single person. Here too, I believe Augustine breaks new ground. This combined with the other two points make it difficult to see Augustine's explanation from Against Maximus as truly clearing up these concerns.

What are your thoughts? Do you view his explanation in Against Maximus as being able to justify his way of speaking I've just cited?

Alex said...

I am struggling with exactly the same problem as Andrew. You can not refer to three persons as a him. Some confessions created more than one thousand years after Christ do this as well. They refer to YHWH when talking about the whole godhead, all three persons, as a HIMSELF, how can u refer to three persons as a himself?

David Waltz said...

Hi Andrew and Alex,

Thanks much for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns. Yesterday was a very busy day for me (outdoor chores)—with no time for the internet—and today is packed with a number out of town activities. I have but a few minutes before I head out for the day, so my comments will be brief for now. Should have plenty of time tomorrow to delve more deeply into your comments, concerns and questions. Until then, I would like to share a selection from Peter Lombard's, The Sentences, which quotes and comments on Augustine's phrase, ipse Deus Trinitas:


>>However certain adversaries of the truth concede, that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit or the Three Persons are one God, one Substance, but do not want to concede, that the one God or one Substance is the Three Persons, saying, that the Divine Substance is predicated of the Three Persons, not the Three Persons of the Divine Substance. But the Catholic Faith holds and predicates, both that the Three Persons are the One God, the one Substance or Essence or Divine Nature, and that the One God or Divine Essence is the Three Persons. Whence (St.) Augustine in the first book On the Trinity thus says: "Rightly is God itself understood (to be) the Trinity, the blessed and only Powerful One". Behold, how he expressly said “God itself . . . the Trinity”, to show both that God itself is the Trinity and the Trinity God itself.>> (The Sentences, Book 1, Distinction 4, Chapter 2 - Quaracchi Edition of 1882.)

Notice that ipse is translated as "itself", and not as "Himself", which I (and others) believe to be the more accurate translation. This correction is a very important distinction that needs to be made in order to understand Augustine's full teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Hope to expand on this issue tomorrow, the Lord willing.


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello again Andrew,

In your Feb. 25 post you wrote:

==There are three things I have observed within On the Trinity which give me reason to say that even with the above being granted, Augustine still ultimately treated the Trinity itself (or the common essence) as a single person...

Augustine questions if the person who appeared to the patriarchs as God was "God the Trinity" or the Son - the fact that the Trinity is viewed as a possible identity for this person implies a willingness to conceive of the Trinity as a person.==

IMO, Augustine's assessment of the OT theophanies may be the weakest link in his overall theology. I do not think he that adequately deals with NT portrayal of the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" as the Father, and not the Trinity. I cannot help but conclude that this affected his understanding of the OT theophanies in a negative way.

BTW, while on the topic of OT theophanies, what is your take on the appearance of Jehovah to Abraham at Mamre as "three men"? (Gen. 18:1, 2)

==Secondly, Augustine prays to "God the Trinity" at the end of his books. If our explanation of this language is what you suggest in this article, then we understand him to be speaking of "God the Trinity" as the essence.==

As I read the prayer, I see Augustine understanding the "one God" as a single essence/substance, and the Trinity as three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In a number of his writings, he explicitly identifies the one God as a single essence/substance, and in many of those instances follows this up with a definition of trinitas as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I don't see anything in his final prayer in De Trinitate that undermines his more explicit theological affirmations. Have I missed something?

==My third reason is Augustine's use of singular personal pronouns for the Trinity. Whether he intends that as the group as a whole, or the common essence seems like a moot point- gramatically, using singular personal pronouns is implicitly treating the subject as a single person.==

Wheelock's Latin Grammar (1992) identifies four types of Latin pronouns: personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns. My research so far indicates that when pronouns are used with deus and trinitas, they are usually intensive and not personal. This is an important distinction, and is probably the reason why some folk prefer to translate ipse as 'itself' rather than 'himself'.

Now, while I personally do not like some of Augustine's language and conclusions, I do not believe that he teaches a quaternity, or a form of modalism. But with that said, I remain open to the possibility I have missed something.

Thanks much for your interest in this topic. Please feel free to continue the discussion, for I am ardent believer that 'iron sharpens iron'.


Grace and peace,

David

Andrew L. Davis said...

Hi David,

Thanks for your response.

//BTW, while on the topic of OT theophanies, what is your take on the appearance of Jehovah to Abraham at Mamre as "three men"? (Gen. 18:1, 2)//

I find Justin Martyr's treatment of that passage in his Dialogue With Trypho compelling, wherein he lays out a case for the "three men" being the pre-incarnate Son and two angels. This interpretation is supported well by the text IMO, and many other fathers say the same thing. Aside from heretics such as Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, and Photinius, I am not aware of anyone seriously questioning that this was the Son appearing as 'the Angel of the LORD' prior to Augustine, who oddly seems to treat it as an open question, despite a very strong interpretive tradition in previous centuries.

//As I read the prayer, I see Augustine understanding the "one God" as a single essence/substance, and the Trinity as three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In a number of his writings, he explicitly identifies the one God as a single essence/substance, and in many of those instances follows this up with a definition of trinitas as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I don't see anything in his final prayer in De Trinitate that undermines his more explicit theological affirmations. Have I missed something?//

I would see what you are saying here as plausible, but the issue I am hoping to highlight is that the subject of parts of his prayer- that is, the one the preyer is directed to- appears to be the "one God"; not as the Father, but the entire Trinity, or, perhaps better understood as the essence, as you have noted. But my point is this: if what he means by "one God" is the one essence/divine nature, as you suggest based on his explanations in other places in his corpus of writing, then why direct prayer to it?

Consider this example: "O Lord the one God, God the Trinity, whatever I have said in these books that is of Yours, may they acknowledge who are Yours; if anything of my own, may it be pardoned both by You and by those who are Yours. Amen.” (Book 15, Ch. 28)

We would agree, I believe, that the essence considered in abstract is not a person. Yet in praying to the essence as the "one God", he is treating it as such. I would argue that, in accordance with the way the essence is treated by earlier theologians like Hilary of Poitiers and the Cappadocians, the essence considered in itself can no more be the personal subject of prayer than human nature considered in abstract could be interacted with as a single personal subject which we could speak to and interact with as a person. Prayer implies the personal intelligence of the subject, and needless to say its concrete existence and ability to respond. Yet the divine nature considered in abstract would not fit such a description, as it is not a person, and does not have a concrete existence apart from existing in the persons of the Trinity as what They are. But here perhaps we would run into some differences in how we view the essence, depending on where you fall with the Fourth Lateran Council. As perhaps you may suspect, I would essentially agree with Abbott Joachim.

Andrew L. Davis said...

//Wheelock's Latin Grammar (1992) identifies four types of Latin pronouns: personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns. My research so far indicates that when pronouns are used with deus and trinitas, they are usually intensive and not personal. This is an important distinction, and is probably the reason why some folk prefer to translate ipse as 'itself' rather than 'himself'.//

This is certainly interesting to me, and as I don't know Latin myself, I would say you have an advantage in being able to speak to these sorts of details. If the pronouns are indeed able to be understood grammatically as impersonal, that would be quite significant to the discussion, IMO (although it would not ultimately change the point I made above regarding the essence as a subject of prayer). I would be interested to hear anything further you uncover regarding them.

On that note, would you happen to know what the Latin grammar would be for the words "you" and "yours" in the quote above? Their number and personal significance would be significant to the discussion, I think. From the way the English translation makes it appear, it seems like this would be an example of Augustine using explicitly personal grammar for the Trinity as a whole, or for the essence.

Thanks again for your thoughtful interaction.

In Christ,

Andrew

Rory said...

I have found a couple of instances in the Catholic liturgy where it seems to me that the Catholic Church could be said to be praying to the Essence in the same way as St. Augustine. I will provide Latin originals from which came the English translations:

"O blessed Trinity! O undivided Unity! grant to us, thy servants, that our fasts may produce abundant fruits. Amen."

"Praesta, beata Trinitas,
Concede, simplex Unitas,
Ut fructuosa sint tuis
Jejuniorum munera.
Amen.


---I gave the Latin in the verse form. The English is a prose translation. This was taken from the Audi, benigni Conditor, which is chanted daily during Lent at Vespers.

"Blessed be the Holy Trinity, and undivided Unity: we will give glory to Him, because He hath shown His mercy to us."

"Benedicta sit sancta Trinitas, atque indivisa unitas: confitebimur ei, quia fect nobiscum misericordaim suam."


---From the Introit to the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, according to the 1962 Missal.

The song for Vespers is clearly petitioning the Trinity, although no personal pronouns are used. But it doesn't seem possible that this last prayer could be directed to the Three Persons. Because it uses singular pronouns three times, the prayer has to be directed instead to the "undivided Unity."

Do these prayers demonstrate that the Catholic Church, possibly like St. Augustine, perceives that the Unity or Essence is a person? If Augustine's orthodoxy on this question is debatable, so would be the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church.

Mystical theology demonstrates that advanced prayer often becomes poetic in the heart of the person praying. The Introit is best heard in solemn chant. Obviously, the hymn for Vespers is also sung. No one accuses St. Francis of thinking that the sun or the moon are persons because he refers to them as brother and sister. With a soaring heart, he is clearly waxing poetic.

I am suggesting it for your consideration that both the Church and St. Augustine are well aware that the "undivided Unity" itself lacks personhood. When pondering the beautiful unity that exists between the Three, neither party can refrain from a little poetic license in their prayers.

I do not think anyone here faults those who might wish to honor or make requests of the "undivided Unity", especially when it is understood that the Three are fully in accord in every way. If it is in the interest of rigorous theological precision, we would never refer to the Unity with a personal pronoun.

It is sometimes forgotten by students of theology that St. Augustine was a contemplative. His was a religion of the will and the intellect, even if we tend to focus on the intellectual side. Desiring to magnify and adore the Unity, the language of the heart (not the intellect) cannot be dulled by referring to the object of affection as an It.

In my opinion, this must be given some consideration when evaluating the actual beliefs of St. Augustine, as well as those of the Roman Catholic Church. Do these prayers represent examples of how it slips out that the Catholic Church and Augustine really believes that the Essence is another person? Or might it not be possible that both, for reasons found in the hearts of lovers, violate the normal use of languages, and make use of an "impersonal pronoun" in reference to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost?

Andrew L. Davis said...

Hi Rory,

I appreciate your interaction.

While I understand that devotional language and prayer may be less precise simply due to the nature of it being devotional, there still remains a balance to be struck between poetic license and accuracy (as I imagine you would agree). The very fact that devotional language is often more from the heart than the mind means that such language could be argued to really give us a unique window into what a person truly believes. I would even suggest that nothing is quite so telling of what we really think of God than the way we pray to Him.

You note that in some RCC liturgy, prayer seems to be directed to the essence, as we are considering Augustine may do as well- yet the question I would put to Augustine above really applies equally to the examples of liturgical prayer, namely, why would someone pray to the essence itself? The essence in abstract is not rightly the subject of prayer. There is no biblical warrant for such a practice, but beyond that there simply does not seem to be any logical sense to be made of it; as I said above, it is akin to speaking to "human nature" itself and expecting a response. This question stands regardless of what pronouns are used.

The idea that prayer being directed to something other than the persons of the Father, the Son, or the Spirit may simply be a due to the devotional nature of the prayers seems stretched, when we consider that what we are seemingly dealing with here is not simply a switching from impersonal pronouns to personal pronouns, but the subject of the prayer being an object other than one of the persons of the Trinity. It is this in itself that suggests that the essence is being treated as a person, IMO, with the use of personal pronouns seemingly corroborating that.

David Waltz said...

Hi Andrew,

After providing the ending of Augustine's final prayer from his De Trinitate, you wrote:

==We would agree, I believe, that the essence considered in abstract is not a person. Yet in praying to the essence as the "one God", he is treating it as such. I would argue that, in accordance with the way the essence is treated by earlier theologians like Hilary of Poitiers and the Cappadocians, the essence considered in itself can no more be the personal subject of prayer than human nature considered in abstract could be interacted with as a single personal subject which we could speak to and interact with as a person. Prayer implies the personal intelligence of the subject, and needless to say its concrete existence and ability to respond. Yet the divine nature considered in abstract would not fit such a description, as it is not a person, and does not have a concrete existence apart from existing in the persons of the Trinity as what They are. ==

I do not think that Augustine is separately, "praying to the essence as the 'one God'"—i.e that Augustine has in a concrete sense separated the one divine essence from the three Persons in this prayer. Hence, we read: "O Lord the one God, God the Trinity".

The beginning of the chapter is even more clear (IMO):

"O Lord our God, we believe in Thee, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. For the Truth would not say, Go, baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, unless Thou wast a Trinity."

Following the Biblical example of using the singular "name" with reference to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we see Augustine using the singular te with reference to "the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

[Note: te is a personal pronoun in the accusative case, that means it has reference to Patrem, et Filium, et Spiritum Sanctum (the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit), which are also in the accusative case, and not Domine Deus noster, which is nominative.]

But, even if Augustine has used a personal pronoun with reference to the one essence (I am still looking for an example/s) separately from the Three, I do not think we could charge him with believing in a Quaternity. (See Rory's liturgical examples.)

Now, I pray for the one Church, referring to It at times with personal, singular pronouns—e.g. Her and She—but this does not mean that I believe that the Church is a 'person'.

More later, the Lord willing.


Grace and peace,

David

Rory said...

Andrew, hi.

There is no arguing with what you wrote here:

"The essence in abstract is not rightly the subject of prayer. There is no biblical warrant for such a practice, but beyond that there simply does not seem to be any logical sense to be made of it; as I said above, it is akin to speaking to "human nature" itself and expecting a response."

Thank you for prompt and cogent reply. I agree. I did not address the main difficulty. You would also have a problem, as would I, if petitions were directed to an abstract It. Poetic license would not justify petitioning any nature as a person.

Do you think that Augustine, or the Catholic Church would disagree with us about that? I think both would condemn anyone who says that it is appropriate to petition the Essence in the abstract.

I think the best solution to the problem is to be found elsewhere than proposing that either party believes in four Persons in the Godhead. I added to your prayers of Augustine, those of the Catholic Church in her liturgy, so as to highlight that he is hardly alone.

If the Catholic Church petitions the Essence as a person, I wonder that no one has ever caught it before now. Thousands of educated clergy and theologians have been praying that Introit for centuries without concluding that it was prayer to the Essence in the abstract. I think that like me, they assumed that it necessarily corresponded with what the Church teaches officially.

I wonder if the Orthodox don't have some sacred poetry or hymn among their devotional or liturgical treasures that might rouse the suspicion that they also treat the Essence as a person. It seems it could lead to nobody believing in the Trinity if we condemn Augustine for his prayers.

In my mind, there has to be some kind of answer that would not involve us proposing that Augustine, along with the Catholic Church, maybe the Orthodox Church, and who knows how many other Christians that have called themselves Trinitarian, have actually treated the Essence as a person, and therefore allow a fourth Person of the Godhead.

I'll say this much, next time Trinity Sunday rolls around (First Sunday after Pentecost), while praying the Introit, I will make sure that the Blessed Trinity knows I am praying to the Three Persons, not what the Three Persons are!

Thanks again for explaining why the poetic license theory left you still unconvinced about Augustine's orthodoxy in this matter. I hope I have clarified why any quaternity theory leaves me dissatisfied.

Rory

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,
Very interesting dialogue between you and Andrew. In your last post, you wrote:

==If the Catholic Church petitions the Essence as a person, I wonder that no one has ever caught it before now. Thousands of educated clergy and theologians have been praying that Introit for centuries without concluding that it was prayer to the Essence in the abstract. I think that like me, they assumed that it necessarily corresponded with what the Church teaches officially.==

Good point.

==In my mind, there has to be some kind of answer that would not involve us proposing that Augustine, along with the Catholic Church, maybe the Orthodox Church, and who knows how many other Christians that have called themselves Trinitarian, have actually treated the Essence as a person, and therefore allow a fourth Person of the Godhead. ==

This brings to mind one 20th century Reformed theologian who promoted the following nonsense:

>>We do assert that God, that is the whole Godhead, is one person…He is one person. When we say that we believe in a personal God, we do not merely mean that we believe in a God to whom the adjective “personality” may be attached. God is not an essence that has personality; He is absolute personality. Yet, within, the being of the one person we are permitted and compelled by Scripture to make the distinction between a specific or generic type of being, and three personal subsistences.>> (Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction To Systematic Theology, pp. 229, 230.)

When I first read the above back in the 1980's, I was confused, for I had never heard of such view. Since then, my studies of the Church Fathers and subsequent Catholic and Orthodox theologians have convinced me that Van Til's view is heretical. I have also come to the same conclusion concerning certain aspects of John Calvin's teaching on the Trinity. (I published three posts on this: first; second; third.)


Grace and peace,

David

Rory said...

Dave,

I never knew you could find Van Til to have promoted, "the following nonsense". But now that you spell it out, yeah. Kinda nutsy.

What about his presuppositionalism though? I don't remember if I have ever confronted you about it, not feeling adequate to the task. But I have had an instinctive discomfort with it, as I have understood, or misunderstood it. Nobody is wrong about everything, especially smart folk. I tend to think Van Til was a genius rather than a screwball. But wait...maybe genius and screwball are compatible? Heh. Yeah.

I do not wish to distance ourselves from the present discussion, but at some point here, or in real life, I would like to hear your current thoughts. Do you continue to fully embrace Van Til's pre-suppositionalism?

R.

David Waltz said...

Rory,

Last night, you asked:

==Do you continue to fully embrace Van Til's pre-suppositionalism?==

No. Though Van Til was brilliant, I have come to believe that a good deal of his thought is flawed, including his presuppositionalism.


Grace and peace,

David

Andrew L. Davis said...

Hi Rory and David,

Rory said:

//In my mind, there has to be some kind of answer that would not involve us proposing that Augustine, along with the Catholic Church, maybe the Orthodox Church, and who knows how many other Christians that have called themselves Trinitarian, have actually treated the Essence as a person, and therefore allow a fourth Person of the Godhead.//

While I understand wanting to be charitable in our judgement, I would offer a couple of points for our consideration:

Its quite plausible that someone can personify the essence in abstract without consciously assenting to that. IMO, that is arguably what we see in both the case of Augustine, the RCC and others. I doubt nearly anyone would openly identify themselves as believing that the essence in abstract may be prayed to or treated as a person, but it is possible to be unaware of mistaken thinking. As far as no one ever noticing such an error, there was Abbot Joachim who criticized something similar in Peter Lombard's writing and was condemned for it.

I would also argue that as soon as the phrase "one God" begins to be used primarily for the essence, it introduces a temptation to unwittingly personify the essence, since it is only natural to think of the one God as a person (in particular, the Father, according to scripture).

Finally, as David points out, there have been Protestants who have come out and openly taught that the essence, or Trinity as a whole, is a person. Is it not possible that many others have theologically ended up in the same place conceptually while still maintaining formal theological and philosophical distinctions which would not allow them to openly confess such a view? Simply observing the mixed reaction to men like Van Til in Protestantism, I think its fair to say that many share his error, at least conceptually; hence the unwillingness to condemn the teaching among many.

Andrew L. Davis said...

David said:

//Now, I pray for the one Church, referring to It at times with personal, singular pronouns—e.g. Her and She—but this does not mean that I believe that the Church is a 'person'.//

This is figurative language, however. In the case of many using personal pronouns for the Trinity, there is no indication it is intended figuratively. Certainly in several protestant confessions personal language is used for the Trinity as a whole without any sign of it being figurative.

Finally regarding the singular "name" in Matthew 28, I wonder if the grammar truly necessitates taking there as being a singular name mentioned- especially in light of the context in which three names are very clearly named. Maybe I am missing something, but it seems like it can consistently be interpreted in such a way as to be referring to three names, only using the word "name" once to avoid needless redundancy, not to indicate there is only one name being spoken of.

I have gotten the impression that we will probably have a very hard time coming to complete agreement on the extent to which the church has unwittingly erred, or not, because of your Roman Catholic convictions. If I am not mistaken, those do bind you to a certain extent to need to see the church's historic decisions as correct, does it not? As a Protestant, I am able to consistently disagree with historic decisions much more easily. There differences in ecclesiology and matters of authority probably have a fairly large impact on our overall stances.

Also, I wanted to share my site Contra Modalism with you; https://contramodalism.com/ . There is quite a bit I have written there related to these topics, which would perhaps be of interest to you.

In Christ,

Andrew Davis

David Waltz said...

Hi Andrew,

So good to see you back. Thanks much for taking the time to share some more of your thoughts on this important issue. Yesterday, you wrote:

==In the case of many using personal pronouns for the Trinity, there is no indication it is intended figuratively. Certainly in several protestant confessions personal language is used for the Trinity as a whole without any sign of it being figurative.==

Agreed.

==Finally regarding the singular "name" in Matthew 28, I wonder if the grammar truly necessitates taking there as being a singular name mentioned- especially in light of the context in which three names are very clearly named. Maybe I am missing something, but it seems like it can consistently be interpreted in such a way as to be referring to three names, only using the word "name" once to avoid needless redundancy, not to indicate there is only one name being spoken of.==

If I remember correctly (will check this out tomorrow when I have more time), commentators on this passage note that the use of the singular goes against strict Greek grammar.

You importantly noted that the, "three names are very clearly named". I think Augustine does the same—i.e. that the one divine essence is tri-personal—clearly, and frequently identifying the one Godhead as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

==I have gotten the impression that we will probably have a very hard time coming to complete agreement on the extent to which the church has unwittingly erred, or not, because of your Roman Catholic convictions. If I am not mistaken, those do bind you to a certain extent to need to see the church's historic decisions as correct, does it not?==

I am not a practicing Roman Catholic, and have not been so since the beginning of 2010. See THIS THREAD.

Thanks for the heads-up on your Contra Modalism site; will be reading through the posed material over the next few days.


Grace and peace,

David

Andrew L. Davis said...

David,

Wow, I had not seen that post. Sorry for the mistake. Amid seeing references to Roman Catholicism in some of your older articles and the Newman quote at the bottom of the blog, I assumed you were still part of the RCC. That is encouraging in terms of that not then being a potential hinderance to being able to work through some of these issues to the point of agreement. What tradition are you currently associated with, if you don't mind sharing?

In Christ,

Andrew Davis

David Waltz said...

Hello again Andrew,

I have not joined any other ecclesiastical group since my since my 2010 "announcement". While on this topic, do you belong to any denomination?

I have been reading through a number of your posts. Four of my favorites so far are:

Historic Anglican Testimonies to the Father in Particular Being the “One God”, Semi-Modalism In the Dutch Reformed Confessions, Equivocation Over the Term “Person” and Van Til’s Views on the Trinity.

Given the context of the last three mentioned posts, I think you will find the following thread quite interesting:

Warfield, Vos, and Van Til: Is God One Person?


Grace and peace,

David

Rory said...

Hello Andrew,

Thank you for replying to my comments:

Andrew
Its quite plausible that someone can personify the essence in abstract without consciously assenting to that. IMO, that is arguably what we see in both the case of Augustine, the RCC and others.

Rory
I agree that "someone can personify the essence in the abstract without consciously assenting to it." It is possible that I have not seen the gravity of doing this. If while praying with the intention to only believe what the Catholic Church teaches, I mistakenly slip up and personify the Essence, it seems like it would be a venial fault at most. Lets consider instead of Augustine, an ignorant, yet faithful medieval journeyman who is praying to the Essence. Do you think God would refuse to hear the prayer? The question is not rhetorical. I am sure we both agree that if such an one should stubbornly refuse correction, it would be much more serious.

But for those who are Catholic like me, we often make acts of faith which say words to the effect that I believe whatever the Holy Catholic Church teaches. That doesn't mean that we know everything that the Church teaches. It just means that if our opinions or prayers are contrary to Church teaching, they must be rejected. Books of theology and devotion often have disclaimers in them from Catholic authors, who knowing their personal fallibility, submit their writings to the Church. Leaving aside the question of whether the Catholic Church is true or not, it seems like such an attitude would greatly mitigate any blame. I would be very hesitant to consider such persons heretics.

I agree that the error should be corrected if possible whenever it is observed, for the perfection of the soul and for the glory of God. Am I missing the gravity of the matter when it happens in souls who are docile to proper teaching authority? I may not have thought this thing through.

Rory said...

AndrewI would also argue that as soon as the phrase "one God" begins to be used primarily for the essence, it introduces a temptation to unwittingly personify the essence, since it is only natural to think of the one God as a person (in particular, the Father, according to scripture).

Rory
I am not well enough informed to comment about Abbot Joachim and Peter Lombard.

The part I quoted seems reasonable to me. I will be on the lookout for the "one God to identify the essence". I don't think I'll find it in the "ordinary" of the Mass. These are the words that never change. Of course the "propers" are much more numerous, and I haven't looked at all of them with this in mind. I studied the ordinary after I become more acquainted with the Monarchy of God the Father through this blog. If I were to visit your blog, would you have examples of where this occurs in liturgies, writings, and other places?

Andrew
Finally, as David points out, there have been Protestants who have come out and openly taught that the essence, or Trinity as a whole, is a person. Is it not possible that many others have theologically ended up in the same place conceptually while still maintaining formal theological and philosophical distinctions which would not allow them to openly confess such a view? Simply observing the mixed reaction to men like Van Til in Protestantism, I think its fair to say that many share his error, at least conceptually; hence the unwillingness to condemn the teaching among many.

Rory
I would not be surprised if it is more pervasive than I have been aware. I think it is possible that this error is assumed by many in communities that profess Trinitarianism. I think I might figure out a way to test a few fellow parishioners/friends. I believe I could take them to the prayers of the Mass to show that the error is untenable for a Catholic.

As for Van Til and others who can't have any authority besides the Bible, I am surprised there aren't more Van Til's. If not for the authority of the Catholic/Orthodox Church, I would listen to somebody who disagrees with the Councils. If the Catholic Church can be safely ignored, I can't think why we would expect a 4th Century gathering of Catholic bishops to have nailed the doctrine of God. If I were neither Catholic nor Orthodox, besides Van Til, I would probably have to give some attention to Arius, Joseph Smith, and Muhammed too?

I appreciate your thoughtful posts on this subject Andrew. Don't feel hurried to reply, especially to that last paragraph. It would take us another direction and this one isn't exhausted. When time permits, I'll poke around on your blog. Maybe I'll get the answers I asked about the gravity of slipping in to this error unconsciously over at your blog.

Andrew L. Davis said...

David,

I am currently a member in the RPCNA; however, my membership there does not well reflect where I am doctrinally. If you know much about the RPCNA/Covenanters, they have historically held some very peculiar views, which for the most part I would not be characterized by personally.

Thanks for the link.

In Christ,

Andrew Davis

Andrew L. Davis said...

Hi Rory,

Unless I am mistaken, I have not spoken strongly on this thread about the gravity of treating the essence as a person. While I do believe it is a very serious mistake, I would not say that someone who falls into such an error is necessarily unsaved, or that God would not hear their prayers. I think true Christians make mistakes; it says much more, as I think you pointed out, if a professing Christian does not correct course after being shown their mistake. I also see a potential distinction to be made between lay Christians being mistaken on this matter compared to officers in the church who have a responsibility to know correct doctrine and don't.

That said, I do think it is a more prevalent mistake than perhaps you take it to be. There are several examples available on Contra Modalism. And if it is not a damnable doctrinal error, it is at least a very serious one.

Christians speaking of the "one God" and primarily meaning something -or in their thinking, someone- other than what the Bible refers to with that phrase is indeed serious. This is especially highlighted when we consider that scripture grounds Christian unity in our 'one God, one Lord, one Spirit, and one baptism etc'; a unity which is greatly undermined if the "one God" of some Christians is a different person than the "one God" of others.

In Christ,

Andrew Davis

Rory said...

Given its untimeliness, it is unlikely that any but you will see this David, but I think you will find it interesting. You might recall a phone conversation where I declined to assert my previous confidence that in her official prayers, the Catholic Church never addresses the Essence as a Person. I had been discouraged from this because of a passage my missal of the Introit for the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The English translation which had troubled me reads as follows:

"Blessed be the Holy Trinity, and undivided Unity: we will give glory to Him, because He hath shown His mercy to us."

After our discussion here with Andrew, I do not agree with the way the Latin has been translated. I do think it is doctrinally confused. However, it should be taken in to consideration that opposed to many other prayers of the liturgy, the introits are ordinarily adapted from passages in Holy Scripture, most often the Psalms. In this case, the introit seems to be taken from Tobias 12. Here is the pertinent section:

"...Bless ye the God of heaven, give glory to him in the sight of all that live, because he hath shewn his mercy to you." (Tob. 12:6)

The God of heaven, spoken of by the angel Raphael, is the Blessed Trinity spoken of in the introit. Obviously, the Old Testament worshipper is in no danger of ascribing personhood to the Essence when praying to the God of heaven as him. I still think it would be best as long as the Church is going to praise the God of heaven, as the Trinity, that it would be better to change the "him" of Raphael, to the "It", which is the Essence. I cannot speak to the motivation behind this particular translation.

However, I was pleased to find a different translation, which also included commentary that was precisely clear in distinguishing Persons from Essence. Last Sunday was the Feast of the Blessed Trinity. Here is how the English introit was translated by Dom Prosper Gueranger in the Liturgical Year:

"Blessed be the holy Trinity, and undivided Unity; we will praise it because it hath shown its mercy to us."

---The Liturgical Year, vol. 10, p. 104, St. Bonaventure Publications, (2000)

A few pages farther, the comments on the Gospel are taken from the last verses of Matthew popularly known as the Great Commission where the Apostles are enjoined to go and teach all nations, baptizing...:

"While confessing the God whom we have been taught to know as He is in Himself, we must, likewise pay a tribute of eternal gratitude to the ever glorious Trinity. Not only has It vouchsafed to impress Its divine image on our soul, by making her to Its own likeness; but, in the supernatural order, It has taken possession of our being, and raised it to an incalculable pitch of greatness. The Father has adopted us in His Son become Incarnate; the Word illumines our minds with His light; the Holy Ghost has chosen us for His dwelling: and this it is that is expressed by the form of holy Baptism. By those words pronounced over us, together with the pouring out of the water, the whole Trinity took possession of Its creature."

ibid., p. 108

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Thanks much for the quotes; very informative. The translation of the demonstrative pronoun "ei" as "it" sure seems to fall in line with what Wheelock had to say, as related above. I found the selections you provided in my older edition of Dom Prosper Guéranger's The Liturgical Year. I am going to provide the introduction to the Introit you quoted for those who may read this thread in the future:

>>The Liturgical Year - Dom Prosper Guéranger (1879)

Translated by Dom Laurence Shepard

The Time After Pentecost Vol. 1
TRINITY SUNDAY

Although the Sacrifice of the Mass is always celebrated in honour of the blessed Trinity, yet, for this day, the Church, in her chants, prayers, and lessons, honours, in a more express manner, the great Mystery, which is the foundation of our christian faith. A commemoration is, however, made of the first Sunday after Pentecost, in order not to interrupt the arrangement of the Liturgy. The colour used, by the Church, on this feast of Trinity, is white, as a sign of joy, as, also, to express the simplicity and purity of the divine essence.

The Introit is not taken from holy Scripture. It is a formula of glorification in keeping with the Feast, and speaks of the blessed Trinity as the divine source of the mercies bestowed on mankind.>> (Page 122)

Moving on, I found the following you wrote of great interest:

==The God of heaven, spoken of by the angel Raphael, is the Blessed Trinity spoken of in the introit. Obviously, the Old Testament worshipper is in no danger of ascribing personhood to the Essence when praying to the God of heaven as him. I still think it would be best as long as the Church is going to praise the God of heaven, as the Trinity, that it would be better to change the "him" of Raphael, to the "It", which is the Essence.==

Apart from the first sentence, I concur with your reflections. To make a 'long-story-short', "The God of heaven" in the Bible, with virtually no exceptions, has reference to the Father, not the Son, nor especially, the Trinity.


Grace and peace,

David

Rory said...

Dave hey.

Thanks for the reply. I was not saying that "the God of heaven" as found in the Old Testament could be understood as the Trinity, and I can't think of any New Testament references. If the introit was taken from Tobias 12, it would mean that the Church was adopting this praise of "the God of heaven" and applying it to the Trinity for the sake of her liturgical worship. It should not be intended to affirm that Tobias 12 was revealing what was not revealed until the revelation of Jesus Christ.

I hope that helps.

Rory