Sunday, March 31, 2013

Michel René Barnes and the 'de Régnon theory/thesis'

In my last thread, I mentioned the 'de Régnon theory/thesis'. I am pretty sure that the first time I read about de Régnon was via a quotation provided by John Meyendorff in his book, Byzantine Theology (this was about a decade ago—see previous thread for that selection). After reading Byzantine Theology, I started to notice that the 'de Régnon theory/thesis' was showing up in a number of other works (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant), and usually without any mention of de Régnon. Through those 'other works', I began to accept the 'de Régnon theory/thesis' without much thought, not knowing that de Régnon was creator of the theory/thesis. However, after reading Dr. Holmes' The Quest for the Trinity, I started to examine 'de Régnon theory/thesis' much more closely, and I discovered that Dr. Michel René Barnes has done extensive research on this subject. I think it wise not to try to attempt reproduce Dr. Barnes' impressive research via the filter of my own mind, but rather, shall let him speak for himself—note the following links to some of his contributions that are available online:

I have found the above essays to be informative, substantial, and thought-provoking, and I'm very interested in the thoughts of others who will take the time to read them...


Grace and peace,


Thursday, March 28, 2013

An excellent book: The Quest for the Trinity

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,


Friday, March 8, 2013

Which Augustine ???

I have been reading and studying Augustine of Hippo, off and on, for over 30 years now. I have amassed well over 100 volumes of books either by or about him, and my digital collection easily doubles that figure in pdf versionsadd the dozens of scholarly articles and essays I have diligently collected (paper, pdf and html)I guess it is safe to say that my personal collection is fairly substantive. However, with that said, I sometimes feel I have only 'scratched the surface' when it comes to Augustine; just when I think I have gained a good grasp of his thought, a fresh reading of him, and/or some scholar's treatment, sends me back to the 'drawing board' (so to speak)—the last couple of days have sent me, yet once again, "back to the 'drawing board'", and it began with a renewed reading of De symbolo ad catechumenos (On The Creed) and De fide et symbolo (On Faith and the Creed). This prompted me to reread Michel René Barnes', "Rereading Augustine's Theology of the Trinity" (in, The Trinity, edited by Davis, Kendall, and O'Collins - 1999), and Lewis Ayres' chapter on Augustine in his, Nicaea and its Legacy (2004), leading to some online research, during which I dug up the following two essays that were new to me:

But, I am getting ahead of myself; I need to back-up a bit, and share some selections from On The Creed and On Faith and the Creed, which should set the tone for the essays by Barnes and Kuehn. I will be using the English translations provided by Cornish and Salmond in the 3rd volume of A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Schaff) [pdf copy: HERE; Latin texts available online: HERE]. Keeping in mind the distinction between the Latin/Western and Greek/Eastern approaches to the doctrine of the Trinity drawn by a number of patristic and theological scholars of the last few decades, one will find that the following selections are more in line with the Greek/Eastern approach. After his commentary on the Creed's "I believe in God , the Father Almighty", Augustine then continues with:

For this reason we believe also in His Son, that is to say, God the Father Almighty's, "His Only Son, our Lord." When thou hearest of the Only Son of God, acknowledge Him God. For it could not be that God's Only Son should not be God. What He is, the same did He beget, though He is not that Person Whom He begot. If He be truly Son, He is that which the Father is; if He be not that which the Father is, He is not truly Son. Observe mortal and earthly creatures: what each is, that it engendereth. Man begets not an ox, sheep begets not dog, nor dog sheep. Whatever it be that begetteth, that which it is, it begetteth. (On The Creed, p. 370)

Augustine's argument is pretty straight forward here—as Man begets Man, God begets God. He then goes on to argue against there being two Gods, utilizing a verse from Sacred Scripture that I had not seen used in this way before:

God gives that when he has believed he soon understands; that is God's gift, not human frailness. Still, if ye do not yet understand, believe: One God the Father, God Christ the Son of God. Both are what? One God. And how are both said to be One God ? How ? Dost thou marvel ? In the Acts of the Apostles, "There" was, "it says, in the believers, one soul and one heart." There were many souls, faith had made them one. So many thousands of souls were there; they loved each other, and many are one: they loved God in the fire of charity, and from being many they are come to the oneness of beauty. If all those many souls the dearness of love made one soul, what must be the dearness of love in God, where is no diversity, but entire equality! If on earth and among men there could be so great charity as of so many souls to make one soul, where Father from Son, Son from Father, hath been ever inseparable, could They both be other than One God ? Only, those souls might be called both many souls and one soul; but God, in Whom is ineffable and highest conjunction, may be called One God, not two Gods. (Ibid. p. 370)

Augustine gets even more "Greek" in his On Faith and the Creed; note the following:

Thus, then, the Son according to nature (naturalis filius) was born of the very substance of the Father, the only one so born, subsisting as that which the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, p. 324)

Shortly after showing his "Latin" side by stating that "this Trinity is one God", Augustine then uses physical analogies (as do a number of Greek Church Fathers) to clarify what he means by "one God":

Neither is it strange that these things are said in reference to an ineffable Nature, when even in those objects which we discern with the bodily eyes, and judge of by the bodily sense, something similar holds good. For take the instance of an interrogation on the subject of a fountain, and consider how we are unable then to affirm that the said fountain is itself the river; and how, when we are asked about the river, we are as little able to call it the fountain; and, again, how we are equally unable to designate the draught, which comes of the fountain or the river, either river or fountain. Nevertheless, in the case of this trinity we use the name water [for the whole]; and when the question is put regarding each of these separately, we reply in each several instance that the thing: is water. For if I inquire whether it is water in the fountain, the reply is given that it is water; and if we ask whether it is water in the river, no different response is returned; and in the case of the said draught, no other answer can possibly be made: and yet, for all this, we do not speak of these things as three waters, but as one water. (Ibid. p. 328)

A bit later we read:

But in the case of that Trinity, we have affirmed it to be impossible that the Father should be sometime the Son, and sometime the Holy Spirit: just as, in a tree, the root is nothing else than the root, and the trunk (robur) is nothing else than the trunk, and we cannot call the branches anything else than branches; for, what is called the root cannot be called trunk and branches; and the wood which belongs to the root cannot by any sort of transference be now in the root, and again in the trunk, and yet again in the branches, but only in the root; since this rule of designation stands fast, so that the root is wood, and the trunk is wood, and the branches are wood, while nevertheless it is not three woods that are thus spoken of, but only one [wood]. (Ibid. p. 328)

And then:

But these examples in things material (corporalia exetnpla) have been adduced not in virtue of their likeness to that divine Nature, but in reference to the oneness which subsists even in things visible, so that it may be understood to be quite a possibility for three objects of some sort, not only severally, but also all together, to obtain one single name; and that in this way no one may wonder and think it absurd that we should call the Father God, the Son God, the Holy Spirit God, and that nevertheless we should say that there are not three Gods in that Trinity, but one God and one substance. (Ibid. p. 328)

I think for the first time I finally understand why Augustine was so adamant in calling the Trinity "one God"; his above analogies have cleared up some misconceptions I had developed by focusing on a number of negative appraisals that have come from Eastern Orthodox and Protestant authors.

Now, with the above in place and in mind, I shall recommend the reading of the essays by Barnes and Kuehn, and shall patiently wait for the reflections and thoughts from those who have done so.

Grace and peace,


Monday, March 4, 2013

The Trinitarian Theology of John Henry Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons

While engaged in some internet research concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, I came across a dissertation which immediately 'caught my eye': 

The Trinitarian Theology of John Henry Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons 

I provided an 'introduction' of sorts to Newman's thoughts on the Trinity in THIS THREAD; the above dissertation is a valuable and welcome addition to the essay that I linked to in the afore mentioned thread, and is a must read for those who have any interest in Newman and/or Trinitarian thought.

Whether one loves or hates (or something in between) Newman, fact is, he was brilliant; and his patristic scholarship needs to be taken seriously (IMO). Vinh Bao Luu-Quang in his 2010 dissertation brings together a number of important themes concerning Newman's Trinitarian thought, including the significant influence that Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers had on him.

Though this dissertation is probably not everyone's 'cup-of-tea', I think that those who do take the time to read it will find it of value.


Grace and peace,