Mar 12, 2012

Upcoming Series on the Trinity


I plan to begin a series of postings (chapters) on proving that God is one in three persons with a purpose to disprove Sabellianism and Modalism.

As an introduction to this study, I cite from ISSUE: 3 - "Trinity: A Historical and Theological Analysis" on the historical background to the doctrine of the Tinity. (see here)

"A distinctive feature of Christianity is its doctrine of the Trinity. Simply put, the doctrine holds that there exists one true and living God, and that this God, without contradiction, can be denominated in terms of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Trinitarian belief has long been a standard of orthodoxy. And no doctrine more effectively demarcates biblical Christianity from a variety of modern cults. Given the historical and contemporary significance of the doctrine, it is lamentable that many Christians today are unable to provide an account of the doctrine’s historical development and its present formulation - a shortcoming we seek to correct in the following brief survey.

"The natural starting point is the New Testament. Here we find the authoritative writings of Jesus’ apostles and their close associates, who articulate the fundamental normative beliefs of the New Testament church. These are largely based upon and entirely consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. While description of God as a Trinity is not offered as such in the New Testament, many passages make important and revealing affirmations about God in general, and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in particular. These passages provide the raw data used by the post-apostolic church to formulate its doctrine of the Trinity in the centuries to come.

The key texts fall into three groups: (1) those that stress continuity with Jewish monotheism in affirming that there is only one God (Mk 12:29; Rom 3:29-30; 1 Cor 8:4; 1 Tim 2:5; Jas 2:19), (2) those that represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three distinct individuals or persons (Mt 11:27; 26:39; 28:19; Mk 1:9-12; Lk 11:13; Jn 14:16-17, 26), and (3) those that variously refer to God in the person of the Father (Mt 6:9; cf. Is 63:16), the Son (Jn 1:1-3, 18; 20:28; Rom 9:5; Col 1:15-20; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:1-4, 8-12; 1 Jn 5:20), or the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). From these texts it is clear that the New Testament church, without yet formulating with precision the doctrine of the Trinity, fully endorsed the three key theological strands that would later be woven into a tight doctrinal cord: only one God exists; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons; and the title “God” befits each of them.

The prima facie irreconcilability of these three beliefs is well known. How can one God be three persons? It would seem that if there is only one God, then either the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not each properly called God, or they are one and the same person. Or, if the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all properly called God and they are distinct persons, then there must be three Gods. During the early history of the Christian church, a few influential figures pursued these tempting resolutions of the apparent conflict. Their daring departures from the New Testament portrayal of God culminated in the great Trinitarian controversy of the fourth century. An ironic boon to the Christian church, this controversy ultimately resulted in a progressive refinement of the doctrine and its permanent and official creedal formulation.

Initial attempts at refinement occurred among the Greek Apologists of the second century. Utilizing the resources of the Hellenistic philosophy of Philo of Alexandria, defenders of Christianity (including Justin Martyr, Tatian, Theophilus, and Athenagoras) developed what is now referred to as Logos Christology. They claimed that the man Jesus Christ was the incarnation of the logos of the Father, or of “God’s reason”—that is, the rational principle behind the creation and ordering of the universe. Though not yet a mature conception of the Trinity, this perspective recognized God as a differentiated unity. There is one God, but one in whom the Logos is begotten of the Father as an individual.

In the third century, the waters of overt doctrinal controversy began to stir with the rise of a drastically different conception of God, variously referred to as “modalism,” “monarchianism,” or “Sabellianism.” Advanced by figures such as Noetus, Praxeus, and Sabellius, this unequivocally Unitarian view of God denied the numerical distinctness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and instead regarded each as a different face or mode of one and the same divine individual. On this view, the one God assumes various roles as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, depending on what befits the state of the created world.

North African church father Tertullian responded to modalism with a two-pronged refutation. First, he observed that the distinctness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not in tension with monotheism so long as that which is one in God and that which is three can be specified and distinguished. Tertullian introduced terminology that would later become standard in creedal formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity. Tertullian insisted that the assertion “there is one God” means that there is but one divine substance, though that substance is shared by three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The term “substance,” borrowed from Aristotle, was used to identify the respect in which God is one: God is exactly one existing thing or being, with one essential divine nature that is shared by each of the three persons of the Godhead (in the same way that three human beings each share one and the same human nature). In all likelihood, when Tertullian used the term “persons,” he meant something more than mere individuals, something approximating centers of self-consciousness.

Second, Tertullian cited numerous Scriptural passages that use personal pronouns to indicate an I-Thou relationship among members of the Trinity. He noted that the use of these pronouns does not fit comfortably with the idea that members of the Trinity are merely modes of one and the same individual. For example, Jesus’ practice of referring to himself as “I” and to the Father and Spirit as “Thou” and “He” entails distinctness of person among the members of the Godhead. With such arguments, Tertullian and other church fathers convinced the church to reject modalism in favor of tri-personal diversity within the Godhead.

The fourth century witnessed the great Trinitarian controversy followed by the formulation of two official church creeds. The controversy was sparked by the development of Arianism, a view advanced by an Alexandrian presbyter named Arius who took the extreme alternative to modalism. Whereas modalism denied personal distinctions between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in order to maintain the oneness of God, Arianism sought to preserve monotheism by holding that while the three persons are indeed distinct, only one of them is properly called God, namely, the Father. The Son, in contrast, was held to be a preeminent but wholly created and non-divine being who does not share the same substance with the Father and has a determinate starting point to his existence.

The growing popularity of this Arianism, and the resulting threat of schism within Roman Christendom prompted the emperor to convene an ecumenical council in Nicea in AD 325, with the goal of settling the dispute with Arius. The result: the Nicene Creed, the first of two historic creedal formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity. Particularly significant was its affirmation that Jesus is “from the essence of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father.” This phraseology sought to cement the orthodoxy of the conviction (contra Arianism) that Jesus is in fact properly called God, that He shares the same essence (nature) as the Father, and that while eternally begotten of the Father, He was never literally created.

The Nicene Creed established the heterodoxy of Arianism, but a terminological confusion within the creed left room for a new controversy. The creed, composed in Greek, used the terms hypostasis and ousia interchangeably to designate that which is one in God and common to the three persons, namely, the divine essence or nature or substance. But for many Eastern, Greek-speaking theologians, the two terms were not synonymous: while ousia was taken to mean “substance,” hypostasis was understood to refer to a concrete individual, one properly referred to by a name. Hence, for Eastern thinkers, the creed’s denial that the Father and the Son are different hypostaseis was tantamount to claiming that there are no differentiated individuals within God, and this suggested a return to modalism.

Decades of further debate concluded with final resolution in two additional councils, the Council of Alexandria in AD 362 and the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. At Alexandria, the church fathers settled upon a use of terms that explicitly identified the members of the Trinity as one ousios (nature/substance) but different hypostaseis (individuals/persons). At Constantinople, the Nicene Creed was revised to underscore the deity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, resulting in what came to be known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed."

By the end of the fourth century, then, the official creedal formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity was complete. Its central claim is that there is but one God—one thing that is God and that instances the divine nature—and this God is three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

- John Y. Kwak & Douglas Geivett
John Y.Kwak & R. Douglas Geivett, Talbot Department of Philosophy, Biola University, U.S.A

1 comment:

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Stephen Garrett

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor