Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Social Trinitarianism

Back on September 22, 2009, Dr. Bryan Cross started an interesting thread over at Called to Communion (which, btw, has become one of my favorites blogs), critiquing what has been termed “Social Trinitarianism” (ST). Bryan clearly believes ST “is not compatible with the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.” The thread has not stimulated very much interest (which I believe to be unfortunate), so I am duplicating my last post—adding some important resource(s) information.

Hello Bryan and Kjetil,

The exchange between the two of you yesterday has renewed my interest in this thread. I had hoped by now that Bryan would have answered the questions I posed to him back on the 24th; but alas, still no response. As such, I fear that my post may not be as cogent and constructive as I would like.

Kjetil posted:

>>We say that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is three persons. I don’t think that they are united in exactly the same way as three human persons – for instance Peter, James and John – is united. Because three human persons doesn’t just share an abstract property making them human. We also acknowledge that each of these persons has a concrete body and a concrete soul and that they have three concrete wills and operations.>>

Agreed; but with that said, some important Church Fathers still felt that important comparisons could be made. Note the following:

==For we say that gold, even though it be cut into many figures, is one, and is so spoken of, but we speak of many coins or many staters, without finding any multiplication of the nature of gold by the number of staters; and for this reason we speak of gold, when it is contemplated in greater bulk, either in plate or in coin, as “much,” but we do not speak of it as “many golds” on account of the multitude of the material, — except when one says there are “many gold pieces” (Daries, for instance, or staters), in which case it is not the material, but the pieces of money to which the significance of number applies: indeed, properly, we should not call them “gold” but “golden.”

As, then, the golden staters are many, but the gold is one, so too those who are exhibited to us severally in the nature of man, as Peter, James, and John, are many, yet the man in them is one..

Indeed, it would be a lengthy task to set out in detail from the Scriptures those constructions which are inexactly expressed, in order to prove the statement I have made; where, however, there is a risk of injury to any part of the truth, we no longer find in Scriptural phrases any indiscriminate or indifferent use of words. For this reason Scripture admits the naming of “men” in the plural, because no one is by such a figure of speech led astray in his conceptions to imagine a multitude of humanities or supposes that many human natures are indicated by the fact that the name expressive of that nature is used in the plural. But the word “God” it employs studiously in the singular form only, guarding against introducing the idea of different natures in the Divine essence by the plural signification of “Gods.” This is the cause why it says, “the Lord our God is one Lord, and also proclaims the Only-begotten God by the name of Godhead, without dividing the Unity into a dual signification, so as to call the Father and the Son two Gods, although each is proclaimed by the holy writers as God. The Father is God: the Son is God: and yet by the same proclamation God is One, because no difference either of nature or of operation is contemplated in the Godhead. For if (according to the idea of those who have been led astray) the nature of the Holy Trinity were diverse, the number would by consequence be extended to a plurality of Gods, being divided according to the diversity of essence in the subjects. But since the Divine, single, and unchanging nature, that it may be one, rejects all diversity in essence, it does not admit in its own case the signification of multitude; but as it is called one nature, so it is called in the singular by all its other names, “God,” “Good,” “Holy,” “Savior,” “Just,” “Judge,” and every other Divine name conceivable: whether one says that the names refer to nature or to operation, we shall not dispute the point. (Gregory of Nyssa, On “Not Three Gods” - NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. V, pp. 335, 336.)==


==Many persons, in their study of the sacred dogmas, failing to distinguish between what is common in the essence or substance, and the meaning of the hypostases, arrive at the same notions, and think that it makes no difference whether ousia or hypostasis be spoken of…

Of all nouns the sense of some, which are predicated of subjects plural and numerically various, is more general; as for instance man. When we so say, we employ the noun to indicate the common nature, and do not confine our meaning to any one man in particular who is known by that name. Peter, for instance is no more than, than Andrew, John, or James. The predicate therefore being common, and extending to all the individuals ranked under the same name, requires some note of distinction whereby we may understand not man in general, but Peter or John in particular…

Suppose then that two or more are set together, as, for instance, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, and that an enquiry is made into the essence or substance of humanity; no one will give one definition of essence or substance in the case of Paul, a second in that of Silvanus, and a third in that of Timothy; but the same words which have been employed in setting forth the essence or substance of Paul will apply to the others also. Those who are described by the same definition of essence or substance are of the same essence or substance when the enquirer has learned what is common, and turns his attention to the differentiating properties whereby one is distinguished from another, the definition by which each is known will no longer tally in all particulars with the definition of another, even though in some points it be found to agree. (Basil, Letter XXXVIII – NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. VIII, p. 137.)==


==Everyone is to be warned to approach the questions of the “sacred page” most cautiously; but particularly those dialecticians of our own time (or, rather, the heretics of dialectic), who think that universal substances are the only “breath of the voice,” and cannot understand that color is something different from body, or wisdom from the soul, are to be blown right out of the discussion of spiritual questions…For instance, how can someone who does not yet understand how several men are one man in species comprehend how in that most mysterious and lofty nature several persons, each one of whom is perfect God, are one God? (St. Anselm, “Letter on the Incarnation of the Word”, A Scholastic Miscellany – Anselm to Ockham, pp. 98, 99.)==

And more important than the CFs is the language of the Chalcedonian Definition/Symbol of 451:

==We, then following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead (theotēti) and also perfect in manhood (anthrōpotēti); truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial (homoousion) with the Father according to the Godhead (theotēta), and consubstantial (homoousion) with us according to the Manhood (anthrōpotēta). (See Philip Schaff’s, The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. II, p. 62.)==

I am not as convinced as Bryan that ST is as incompatible “with the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity” as he believes. It is important to point out that some recent Catholic authors/theologians have actually embraced ST. The following are a few examples:

Catherine Mowry LaCugna – see her award winning, God For Us

George A. Maloney – see his Abiding In The Indwelling Trinity

Thomas V. Morris (former professor at Notre Dame) – see his The Logic of God Incarnate (especially chapter 9)

One must also take note of the 12th century Catholic mystic/theologian Richard of Saint Victor’s work, De Trinitate, which many believe teaches strong elements of ST.

I suspect as more Catholic theologians interact with their Eastern Orthodox collegues on the doctrine of the Trinity, one will see more leanings towards ST among Catholics.

Anyway, looking forward to some dialogue on ST…

Grace and peace,


Friday, September 25, 2009

Upcoming prayer service to mark the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on justification

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 23, 2009 ( An evening prayer service will mark the 10th anniversary of the landmark agreement on the doctrine of justification signed by Catholics and Lutherans, and later approved by Methodists.

Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. episcopal conference, and Lutheran Bishop Mark Hanson will lead the Oct. 1 prayer service in Chicago. The agreement was signed Oct. 31, 1999, by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation. Methodists joined the agreement in 2006. (Entire Zenit article HERE.)

Links to Joint Declaration and supporting documents:




Grace and peace,


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is God a being or a person ???

Summer is finally over, and with its end, so too the numerous outdoor projects and frequent guests—I am officially back to beachbum status !!! [GRIN]

Earlier today, while reading through some apologetic sites known for their frequent anti-Catholic posts, I discovered that TurretinFan (hereafter, TF) had posted the exact same thread (What About King Saul?) on James White’s AOMIN blog (MY REBUTTAL HERE).

This “discovery” enticed me to check and see if any other anti-Catholic mischief has been transpiring over the last few weeks on the AOMIN blog. By clicking on the Roman Catholicism Category, one finds no less than 10 anti-Catholics posts between 08/30/09 – 09/23/09. I then looked over recent The Dividing Line programs introductions; in addition to the ongoing diatribe concerning Francis Beckwith, I found this: In the first half I discussed the debate between TurretinFan and William Albrecht on the topic of the propriety of the use of the phrase "Mother of God" with reference to Mary (LINK). I had not heard/seen anything on this debate, and needed to do a bit of research to find the full debate (James has a tendency not to provide pertinent links). The entire debate in MP3 format can be accessed HERE; and installments of the debate are found at YouTube, beginning with PART 1.

During TF’s first cross-examination (MP3 - 9:40ff.), he asks William the following questions:

What is God? Is God a being or a person?
William answered those questions with: God is three persons in the Trinity.
TF then asked: You don’t understand the distinction between a being and a person?

Part of William’s response included: …I just don’t understand what you are trying to get to with that type of question.

Indeed William, indeed! TF’s questions are, without any doubt in my mind, ill-conceived, misleading, and above all, imprecise. The terms “being” and “person” each have many meanings (whether one is thinking strictly of the English usage, or the Greek and Latin equivalents), and in any theological discourse, one must carefully, and precisely, define them. For instance, one of the definitions of the English term “being” is “a person”; and to complicate matters even further, some Reformed theologians (TF claims to be “Reformed”) clearly state that God is both a “being” and a “person” (e.g. Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction To Systematic Theology, 1974, pp. 229, 230; Ralph Smith, Paradox and Truth, 2002; Lane Tipton, “The Function of Perichoresis and the Divine Incomprehensibility”, The Westminster Theological Journal, 64.2 – 2002, pp. 289-306.)

Now, interestingly enough, James White, in The Dividing Line program linked to above, comments on TF’s question/s to William:

…he [William Albrecht] is asked a very simple question, a very simple question that would require him to understand and to know a simple, orthodox, definition of the doctrine of the Trinity; specifically that with the one being that is God there exists three co-equal and co-eternal persons—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now this is, this is, orthodox Roman Catholicism. But as you will see, Mr. Albrecht knows much about Mary, but knows very little about the Trinity; because he doesn’t understand what the doctrine of the Trinity is, and he doesn’t understand the orthodox use of the term being, in regards to the being of God which is shared fully and completely by three divine persons. (7:22ff.)

And a bit later:

There is absolutely no reason for this confusion, if you have even the most basic understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity: there is one, true and eternal being, of God—the ‘what’ of God, that which makes God God—shared by three co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s not difficult, it’s not hard…

Sorry James, the doctrine of the Trinity is complex; hundreds of books have been written on the doctrine, and many more will be written. Add to this the fact that TF does not define the term “being”, one can certainly understand why William dealt with TF’s questions in the manner that he did so.

Now, let’s move on to James’ definition of “being”: there is one, true and eternal being, of God—the ‘what’ of God, that which makes God God—shared by three co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Is this definition as clear as James seems to think that it is? James is equating “being” with the essence/nature/substance of God—i.e. God’s ousia. Take note of this usage when applied to Christology: Jesus Christ possesses two “beings” (i.e. essences/natures/substances), one that is fully divine, and the other that is fully human. Sounds silly doesn’t it. I think one can readily discern that the term “being” can be confusing; that is, unless one, as said earlier, carefully, and precisely, defines it.

I am ultimately left wondering if James is truly aware how the term “being” has been used in Catholic thought? One articulate Reformed theologian sheds some important light on this issue:

Being is used in two senses in scholastic philosophy. First, there is the abstract property that applies to absolutely everything, “being in general.” Aquinas denies that God is being in this sense, for being in general includes the being of accidents, for example, a kind of being that is certainly not divine. Furthermore, Aquinas has a deep desire to maintain the Creator-creature distinction. To say that God is being in general would imply pantheism, the identity of God with the world.

For Aquinas, God is Being in a second, more profound sense: that of esse, sometimes translated existence. The distinction between essence and existence is basically between “what” and “that.” The essence of anything is what it is; to say that it exists is to say that there is a being with such an essence.
(John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, p. 221 - italics in the original.)

Yes James, “There is absolutely no reason for this confusion”; “It’s not difficult, it’s not hard…” Right…

Grace and peace,


UPDATE (09-25-09): Just moments ago, I discovered that William has uploaded a short rebuttal to some of James White’s criticisms concerning the “Mother of God” debate: LINK.

ANOTHER UPDATE (11-19-10):

Van Til's controversial comments on the doctrine of the Trinity have once again created some theological conflict within the Reformed community. Note the following two posts (linked to below), by Colin Smith:

Van Til and the Trinity: God as a Person

Van Til and the Trinity: A Quick Response to PuritanReformed

Monday, September 14, 2009

TurretinFan’s misguided polemic

Had a very busy weekend with guests (who showed up earlier than expected on Friday afternoon), and finally have some ‘free’ time for the internet. After reading through my emails, I began ‘surfing-the-web’, and eventually checked in on TurretinFan’s (hereafter, TF) website/s, where I had earlier submitted a comment. I discovered that TF has now responded to my post, but given the length of TF’s response (and his penchant for pointing out spelling errors in combox responses that cannot be corrected), I felt it best to compose my rebuttal here at AF (allowing me the opportunity to correct the “spelling, grammar, and any other errors” that TF is so fond of pointing out).

I shall reproduce my original combox response:

In my reading of Catholic literature, I have never came across any author/theologian/bishop who has denied the fact that our Lord, Jesus Christ is the “single chief Shepard” of His Church. Yet with that said, I also do not of know any Catholic author/theologian/bishop who would deny that there is one true King of God’s Kingdom; and yet, Scripture speaks of many who were anointed as kings of God’s earthly Kingdom. If the one, true, single King can (and did) appoint earthly representatives to the position of king, why is the notion that He has appointed an earthly chief shepherds such a difficult concept for you?

[For TF: “came”, should be “come”; “Shephard”, should be “Shepherd”, and “appointed an earthly chief shepherds”, should be “appointed earthly chief shepherds”.]

TF chose to create a NEW THREAD to respond to my late night musings, and began his polemic with:

I. Misdirection / Misinformation

The first stage of the comment is misdirection and/or misinformation. No one, we are told, denies that Jesus is the single chief Shepherd. Here's the problem, while there may be folks who claim that Jesus is the chief Shepherd, an official position ("official" in the sense that it is to be found in a papal encyclical, which - of course - is different from it being a de fide dogma) is that, on earth, the pope replaces Jesus…

TF then cites examples of Roman Bishops (Popes) who utilize the title “chief shepherd”. My initial thought on these quotes is: and this is a problem? My goodness, TF needs (and I mean this sincerely) to spend a bit more time in Sacred Scripture. Scripture informs us that our Lord’s “flock” will have but “one Shepherd” (John 10:16 – see also Ez. 34:23, 34); and yet, we know that Christ’s Church most certainly has more than “one Shepherd”. [The concept delineated by our Lord in John 13:20 is certainly germane to this discussion.]

Further, though Scripture informs us that there is but “one God”, and that God the Father is the “one God”, I doubt that TF will deny that Jesus is also the “one God”. (‘Complicating’ matters a bit further, Scripture also terms angels, kings, and judges “God/s”).

In the famous Shema, we read that: “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah” (ASV); and yet, the angel of Jehovah is termed “Jehovah” and Jerusalem is called “Jehovah”! [See Deut 6:4; Zech. 3:1-2; Jer. 33:16.]

So, it seems to me that if one applies a bit of objectivity, one can discern that terms and phrases that appear to be ‘absolute’, in fact, have varied degrees of application.

We now proceed on to TF’s next section, II. Scriptural Confusion.

TF’s remark that, “Israel's human kings were a symbol of their rejection of God”, is perhaps the most convoluted statement of his that I have yet to read. Such a view ignores the promises given through Moses concerning the future kings (human) of Israel (see Deut. 17:14-20). And further, if “Israel's human kings were a symbol of their rejection of God”, why would God via Sacred Scripture extol a human king of Israel in such a lofty manner as we find in Psalm 45? (Which includes the title God/Elohim; for another Psalm of praise concerning a human king of Israel, see Psalm 72.)

TF’s section III. is, IMHO, not worth commenting on, so I shall move on to section IV:

IV. Confusion of ReasoningI was going to call this section "rational confusion," for the sake of parallelism, but the connotation in English would be wrong. The confusion of reasoning in this comment lies in trying to change the question from "did" to "could." Since, by now, the comment may no longer be fresh in your mind, I'll remind you what he said: "If the one, true, single King can (and did) appoint earthly representatives to the position of king, why is the notion that He has appointed an earthly chief shepherds [sic] such a difficult concept for you?"Notice how the comment seems to argue (implicitly, of course) from the idea that God could appoint a king while still being the one true King, to the idea that God did (just assumed, not demonstrated) appoint an earthly chief shepherd. From a logical standpoint, that misses the main argument by simply assuming what needs to be demonstrated. It needs to be demonstrated that God did appoint such a chief shepherd.

It is “demonstrated” in Scripture that Jesus did in fact appoint “an earthly chief shepherd”, but TF’s anti-Catholic bias seems to cloud his mind to this concept. The famous Petrine passages in the NT demonstrate that Peter was appointed the head/chief of the apostles, and as such the head/chief of our Lord’s visible Church. Some important Protestant scholars affirm this (e.g. Oscar Cullman’s, Peter), while denying Petrine succession—which, of course, is a separate issue.

Jesus commands Peter in the Gospel of John to “shepherd My sheep”, and Peter most certainly carries out this command of our Lord; he becomes the “chief” shepherd, among many shepherds, even though our Lord clearly states that there is only “one shepherd” over His fold (John 10:16).

Ultimately, TF’s overall polemic differs little from the Arian, Socinian, and Unitarian attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity (i.e. only God the Father is called the “one God”, hence, Jesus cannot be the “one God”), a polemic that suffers from the apparent inability to move beyond an absolute reading of certain terms and phrases found in Scripture, towards a mindset that can grasp broader concepts and applications of those terms and phrases.

Much more, of course, could be said, but I sincerely believe that I have adequately addressed TF’s polemical post.

Grace and peace,