Trinity


I have been kicking around doing a piece on Irenaeus’ Christology in light of his view of deification, and the opportunity to do something on pneumatology popped up, so I put in to do a paper on that side. Essentially, I’m arguing that if deification is a metaphor for Irenaeus, which it is since believers don’t become part of the Godhead, it is based upon his conception of true (non-metaphorical) deity. For the Spirit (and Christ) to deify believers means that these two are already truly God. This later became an argument for the Spirit’s deity in the fourth century: the Spirit deifies, he is not deified. I’m happy to see my friend Jonathan Morgan in the line-up since he does excellent work on Cyril’s Pneumatology.

Development of Early Christian Theology (S22-212)
11/22/2014
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room 30 B (Upper level) – San Diego Convention Center (CC)

Theme: The Spirit in the Early Church: Accounts of the Spirit in the Early Church

Christopher Beeley, Yale University, Presiding
Ben C. Blackwell, Houston Baptist University
Irenaeus on the Deification of Believers and the Divinity of the Spirit (25 min)
Kellen Plaxco, Marquette University
The Place of the Spirit in Origen’s Taxological Grammar of Participation (25 min)
Jonathan Morgan, Toccoa Falls College
Circumcision of the Spirit: Type and Pneumatology in Cyril of Alexandria(25 min)
David Kneip, Abilene Christian University
The Spirit and the Bible in Alexandria: Cyril and Didymus (25 min)
Paul M. Pasquesi, Marquette University
Reclaiming the Divine Feminine: Re-Reception of the Holy Spirit in the Divine Economy (25 min)

A few days ago I quoted a great summary passage from Irenaeus, and it’s sad that we are still struggling with the same problems. Of course, few in churches would explicitly affirm two Gods in the Bible, but the way they describe God’s action in the OT and in the NT only focuses on discontinuity. That is, they are functional Marcionites: the God of the OT is mean and angry, but the God of the NT is loving and forgiving. Of course, there is some discontinuity in the vision of God in the OT and the NT. How can there not be when the greatest revelation of God had not become manifest until the NT era? However, Irenaeus rightly responds to an overemphasis on the discontinuity by pointing out the greater continuity: the Creator of the World is also its Savior. He’s worth quoting again:

If He (the Creator) made all things freely, and by His own power, and arranged and finished them, and His will is the substance of all things, then He is discovered to be the one only God who created all things, who alone is Omnipotent, and who is the only Father rounding and forming all things, visible and invisible, such as may be perceived by our senses and such as cannot, heavenly and earthly, “by the word of His power;” and He has fitted and arranged all things by His wisdom, while He contains all things, but He Himself can be contained by no one: He is the Former, He the Builder, He the Discoverer, He the Creator, He the Lord of all; and there is no one besides Him, or above Him.

But there is one only God, the Creator–He who is above every Principality, and Power, and Dominion, and Virtue: He is Father, He is God, He the Founder, He the Maker, He the Creator, who made those things by Himself, that is, through His Word and His Wisdom–heaven and earth, and the seas, and all things that are in them: He is just; He is good; He it is who formed man, who planted paradise, who made the world, who gave rise to the flood, who saved Noah; He is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of the living: He it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. Against Heresies 2.30.9 (ANF)

Thus, Christ’s work of salvation is a fulfillment of the original intention of creation and in God’s covenanting work with the Jews. The same God is working it all out–not merely judgment and then love, or a mistake and then its solution. We see both love and judgment in both the OT and NT.

A few days ago I quoted a great summary passage from Irenaeus, and the last part of the paragraph was especially striking:

He [God] it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: through His Word, who is His Son, through Him He is revealed and manifested to all to whom He is revealed; for those [only] know Him to whom the Son has revealed Him. But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed. (Against Heresies 2.30.9 [ANF])

Irenaeus is very clear on the deity of Christ. He is not a creation; he is “eternally co-existing with the Father”. Thus, the Council of Nicea did not invent the idea of the Trinity as some like to affirm. Irenaeus is very clear about the topic some 150 years before Nicea. As God himself he is able to reveal God to others, not just to humans but other cosmic beings. Of course, scripture is revelation from God, but Irenaeus gives us a good word that we should look first to Christ as the true revelation of God. Barth would be proud.

Here’s a great passage I came across in Irenaeus today that summarizes one of his main themes:

Justly, therefore, do we convict them of having departed far and wide from the truth. For if the Saviour formed the things which have been made, by means of him (the Demiurge), he is proved in that case not to be inferior but superior to them, since he is found to have been the former even of themselves; for they, too, have a place among created things. How, then, can it be argued that these men indeed are spiritual, but that he by whom they were created is of an animal nature? Or, again, if (which is indeed the only true supposition, as I have shown by numerous arguments of the very clearest nature) He (the Creator) made all things freely, and by His own power, and arranged and finished them, and His will is the substance of all things, then He is discovered to be the one only God who created all things, who alone is Omnipotent, and who is the only Father rounding and forming all things, visible and invisible, such as may be perceived by our senses and such as cannot, heavenly and earthly, “by the word of His power;” and He has fitted and arranged all things by His wisdom, while He contains all things, but He Himself can be contained by no one: He is the Former, He the Builder, He the Discoverer, He the Creator, He the Lord of all; and there is no one besides Him, or above Him, neither has He any mother, as they falsely ascribe to Him; nor is there a second God, as Marcion has imagined; nor is there a Pleroma of thirty Aeons, which has been shown a vain supposition; nor is there any such being as Bythus or Proarche; nor are there a series of heavens; nor is there a virginal light, nor an unnameable Aeon, nor, in fact, any one of those things which are madly dreamt of by these, and by all the heretics.

But there is one only God, the Creator–He who is above every Principality, and Power, and Dominion, and Virtue: He is Father, He is God, He the Founder, He the Maker, He the Creator, who made those things by Himself, that is, through His Word and His Wisdom–heaven and earth, and the seas, and all things that are in them: He is just; He is good; He it is who formed man, who planted paradise, who made the world, who gave rise to the flood, who saved Noah; He is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of the living: He it is whom the law proclaims, whom the prophets preach, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles make known s to us, and in whom the Church believes. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: through His Word, who is His Son, through Him He is revealed and manifested to all to whom He is revealed; for those [only] know Him to whom the Son has revealed Him. But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed.

Against Heresies 2.30.9 (ANF)

The following is an extended quote from Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 30.5 (one of his Five Theological Orations), written near the time of the Council of Constantinople (AD 381).  The work is a refutation of the Eunomians/Anomeans/Neo-Arians, who thought that the Son did not eternally share the same nature as the Father.  As part of his argument he discusses the relationship of the Father to the Son when he is hanging on the cross.

If the Father and Son share the same essence/nature, how can they be separated at the cross? What could Jesus have meant when he exclaimed (quoting Ps 22.1), “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Gregory answers:

Why? You will say.  Is [the Son] not subordinate now?  If he is God, does he need at all to be made subordinate to God?  You are talking as if he were a bandit or an opponent of God!

No–look at this fact: the one who releases me from the curse was called “curse” because of me; “the one who takes away the sin of the world” was called “sin” and is made a new Adam to replace the old.  In just this way too, as head of the whole body, he appropriates my want of submission.  So long as I am an insubordinate rebel with passions which deny God, my lack of submission will be referred to Christ.  But when all things are put in submission under him, when transformed they obediently acknowledge him, then will Christ bring me forward, me who have been saved, and makes his subjection complete.  In my view Christ’s submission is the fulfillment of the Father’s will.  As we said before, the Son actively produces submission to the Father, while the Father wills and approves submission to the Son.  Thus it is that he effects our submission, makes it his own and presents it to God. “My God, my God, look upon me, why have you forsaken me?” seems to me to have been the same kind of meaning.  He is not forsaken either by the Father or, as some think, by his own Godhead, which shrank in fear from suffering, abandoning the suffer.  Who applies that argument either to his birth in this world in the first place or to his ascent of the cross? No in himself, as I have said, he expresses our condition.  We had once been forsaken and disregarded; then we are accepted and now are saved by the sufferings of the impassible.  He made our thoughtlessness and waywardness his own, just as the psalm, in its subsequent course says–since the Twenty-First Psalm [LXX, English = 22nd], clearly refers to Christ.

When representing humanity on the cross, Christ does not cease to be divine.  He subordinates himself on our behalf, but he can only humble himself if he were exalted in the first place.  The Father and the Son did not have separate intentions because sharing the same nature entails sharing the same will.  Miroslav Volf captures this idea when he recently tweeted: “Christ is not a third party inserted between an angry God and sinful humanity; he is the God who was wronged embracing humanity on the cross.”

This is an epilogue to my review of Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit.  See also Part 1Part 2, Part 3, & Part 4.

As I noted in my review, Awad’s argument that we need to appreciate the personal individuation of the Spirit more fully if He is an equal member of the Trinity as the Father and the Son.  As I read last month’s CT article by Michael Reeves, “Three is the Loveliest Number”, it showed the current relevance and need for Awad’s argument.  Reeves very helpfully critiques how many (evangelicals) shy away from or even positively eschew the doctrine of the Trinity.  What is more important than God?  Shouldn’t we pursue knowing God as fully as possible, seeking the depths of his revelation of himself?  And has not God revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  These are pressing questions that many have thought too little about.  For his work on reminding the church about the center of their gospel, I commend Reeves.

However, there is one area that I would have liked Reeves to express more fully in his article, and that area is the personal individuation of the Spirit.  This is just a brief article, and so we can’t fault him for not saying everything he believes, and even more we cannot charge Reeves for having a deficient view of the Spirit based on one article.  Of course his book, which I have not read, would be a better place to assess his perspective on the Spirit.  But, in the article Reeves seems to reproduce the same lack of individuation of the Spirit vis-a-vis the Father and the Son that is stereotypical of the West.  Again, I’m not sure that we can lay the problem at the feet of Augustine as some argue, but the Spirit, at times, seems merely to be the mediating presence of love between the Father and Son.  Rather than a relationship of three persons, Reeves brief article reads more like a relationship of two persons with the Spirit as a mediator. For example he writes:

If at any time the Father did not have a Son to whom he gave his life and love, then he simply would not be a Father. To be who he is, then, this God must give out life and love. And so we begin to see why the Trinity is such good news: God is love because God is a Trinity, because for eternity this God has been giving out—positively bursting with—love for his Son.

How the Father loves and delights in his Son is something we get to see in the baptism of Jesus. There the Father declares his love for his Son and his pleasure in him as the Spirit rests on the Son like a dove. For the Spirit is the one who makes the love of the Father known, causing the Son to cry “Abba!” (see also Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 for how he does the same for the adopted children of God). Thus Jesus is called “the Anointed One” (“the Messiah” in Hebrew, “the Christ” in Greek), for the Father loves, blesses, and empowers him by anointing him with his Spirit. (p. 44)

Rather than a focus on the personhood of each person, the Spirit seems to be minimized in light of the individuation of the Father and the Son.  This is not the only way Reeves represents the Spirit.  For instance, he has other statements that point to the equality of the three persons of the Trinity:

In the triune God we have a magnetically attractive God of overflowing love and radiant joy, the Father, Son, and Spirit finding their happy satisfaction and everlasting delight in each other. And since we become like what we worship, if we press in to know this God better, we will become delighted, friendly, and winsome, like our God. Just imagine what the world would make of that.  And it is not just the Christian life as such: The triune nature of God imbues all of life with a beauty it could never otherwise have. Because God is a relational God, the Father eternally knowing and loving the Son in the Spirit, relationships and love make sense.  (p. 45)

He begins with a relationship of three equal persons, but notice how the quote returns to the Father loving the Son as the focus.  Yes, that is the biblical focus in John, but can we not argue that the Father loves the Spirit in the Son or the Son loves the Spirit in the Father?  If the qualifying “in the …” makes one uncomfortable, Reeves and others would surely agree that the Father loves the Spirit, and the Son loves the Spirit, for that is (rightly) essential to his argument, so to focus repeatedly on the Father’s love for the Son appears to minimize the Spirit.

I don’t want this to be considered a strong critique of Reeves because I wish my students would all share his vision for Delighting in the Trinity.  However, Awad’s argument that we should recover the personal individuation of the Spirit is relevant to the way we delight in the Trinity.  If all three persons of the Trinity equally share in the Godhead, then let us delight in each of them.  Of course, we do not want to neglect the revelation of the Trinity in the Bible, which moves in order of focus from the Father to the Son to the Spirit, but logically our affirmation that the Spirit is God demands that we act and revere him accordingly, “who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and  glorified”.

This is part 4 of my review of Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit.  See also Part 1Part 2, & Part 3.

Let me conclude my review of Awad’s God Without a Face? with a clear support for his purpose and his argument.  There is a distinction between the West and the East with regard to the individuation of the Spirit.  We cannot simply lay the blame at Augustine’s feet, because many factors influence modern theology and the Enlightenment has done no favors to Trinitarian theology.  Whatever the source, the simple critique of Awad is that the west represents a unitarian anhypostatization of the Trinity (104).  A less technical way to say this is that the church at large in the West, and particularly Protestants, have little room for the individuation of the Spirit.  There are many examples that demonstrate otherwise, but a large majority of those in the west lack a substantial place for the Spirit.

To combat this problem, Awad is rightly calling for a robust encounter with the Trinity.  If God is really three persons, three hypostases, then we need to be able to account for the individuation of each person of the Trinity.  This is not simply a charismatic (i.e., pentecostal) movement, but rather a call to take the revelation of God’s self seriously.  Obviously, this can (and has been) appropriated by the larger pentecostal/charismatic movement, though they are often not the ones who will be reading and drawing from the deep patristic tradition explored by Awad.  At the same time, it is important to note that the experience of the Spirit is not merely limited to those who have this more refined perspective on his individuation, just as he is not missing from non-Charismatic churches.  God has been working through the centuries through and in the church, but that is no reason to ignore this call to a more careful and thoughtful interaction with God’s self-revelation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Accordingly, I can recommend Awad’s detailed and comprehensive monograph for those wanting to explore modern, patristic, and biblical conceptions of the Spirit.

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