« Prev 7. Philosophical Form of the Doctrine of the… Next »

§ 7. Philosophical Form of the Doctrine of the Trinity.

The philosophical statements of the doctrine of the Trinity have been intended by their authors either to prove it, or to illustrate it, or to explain it away and substitute some speculative theory as to the constitution of the universe for the Scriptural doctrine of the Triune God. The two former of these classes, those designed for proof, and those designed for illustration, need not be discriminated. It may be remarked in reference to them all that they are of little value. They do not serve to make the inconceivable intelligible. The most they can do, is to show that in other spheres and in relation to other subjects, we find a somewhat analogous triplicity in unity. In most cases, however, these illustrations proceed on the assumption that there are mysteries in the Godhead which have no counterpart in the constitution of our nature, or in anything around us in the present state of our existence.

We have already seen that the fathers were accustomed to refer to the union of light, heat, and radiance in the one substance of the sun; to a fountain and its streams; to the root, stem, and flower of a plant; to the intellect, will, and affections in the soul; as examples of at least a certain kind of triplicity in unity, elsewhere than in the Godhead. The last-mentioned analogy, especially, was frequently presented, and that in different forms. Augustine said, that as man was made in the image of the Triune God, we have 479reason to expect something in the constitution of our nature answering to the Trinity in the Godhead. He refers to the memory, intelligence, and will, as co-existing in one mind, so that the operations of the one are involved in the operations of the others. Gregory of Nyssa refers for his illustration to the soul, the reason, and the living power, united in one spiritual substance in man. It was admitted, however, that these analogies did not hold as to the main point, for these different powers in man are not different subsistences, but different modes of activity of one and the same personal essence, so that these illustrations lead rather to the Sabellian, than to the Scriptural view of the doctrine of the Trinity.

By far the most common illustration was borrowed from the operations of our consciousness. We conceive of ourselves as objective to ourselves, and are conscious of the identity of the subject and object. We have thus the subjective Ego, the objective Ego, and the identity of the two; the desired Thesis, Analysis, and Synthesis. In one form or another, this illustration has come down from the fathers, through the schoolmen and reformers, to theologians of our own day. Augustine493493De Trinitate, IX. xii. 18, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1837, vol. viii. p. 1352, b. says, “Est quædam imago Trinitatis, ipsa mens, et notitia ejus, quod est proles ejus ac de seipsa verbum ejus, et amor tertius, et hæc tria unum atque una substantia.” Again,494494Ibid. X. xi. 18, p. 1366, a.Hæc — tria, memoria, intelligentia, voluntas, quoniam non sunt tres vitæ, sed una vita; nec tres mentes, sed una mens: consequenter utique nec tres substantiæ sunt, sed una substantia.” And,495495Ibid. XIV. vi. 8, pp. 1443. d. 1444, a.Mens igitur quando cogitatione se conspicit, intelligit se et recognoscit: gignit ergo hunc intellectum et cognitionem suam. . . . . Hæc autem duo, gignens et genitum, dilectione tertia copulantur, quæ nihil est aliud quam voluntas fruendum aliquid appetens vel tenens.” Anselm496496Monologium, xxxiii., edit. Migne, p. 188, b. See also Thomas Aquinas, I. xxvii. 3, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 56. has the same idea: “Habet mens rationalis, quum se cogitando intelligit, secum imaginem suam ex se natam, id est cogitationem sui ad suam similitudinem, quasi sua impressione formatam, quamvis ipsa se a sua imagine, non nisi ratione sola, separare possit, quæ imago ejus verbum ejus est. Hoc itaque modo, quis neget, summam sapientem, quum se dicendo intelligit, gignere consubstantialem sibi similitudinem suam, id est Verbum suum.” Melancthon497497Loci Communes, De Filio, edit. Erlangen, 1828, vol. i, pp.19, 21. adopts and carries out the same idea: “Filius dicitur imago et λόγος: est igitur 480imago cogitatione Patris genita; quod ut aliquo modo considerari possit, a nostra mente exempla capiamus. Voluit enim Deus in homine conspici vestigia sua. . . . . Mens humana cogitando mox pingit imaginem rei cogitatæ, sed nos non transfundimus nostram essentiam in illas imagines, suntque cogitationes illæ subitæ et evanescentes actiones. At Pater æternus sese intuens gignit cogitatonem sui, quæ est imago ipsius, non evanescens, sed subsistens, communicata ipsi essentia. Hæc igitur imago est secunda persona. . . . . Ut autem Filius nascitur cogitatione, ita Spiritus Sanctus procedit a voluntate Patris et Filii; voluntatis enim est agitare, diligere, sicut et cor humanam non imagines, sed spiritus seu halitus gignit.” Leibnitz,498498Remarque sur le Livre d’un Antitrinitaire Anglois, edit. Geneva, 1768, vol. i. p. 27. says “Je ne trouve rien dans les créatures de plus propre à illustrer ce sujet, que la réflexion des espirits, lorsqu’un même esprit est son propre objet immediat, et agit sur soi-même en pensant à soi-même et à ce qu’il fait. Car le redoublement donne une image ou ombre de deux substances respectives dans une même substance absolue, savoir de celle qui entend, et de celle qui est entendue; l’un et l’autre de ces êtres est substantiel, l’un et l’autre est un concret individu, et ils différent par des rélations mutuelles, mais ils ne sont qu’une seule et même substance individuelle absolue.

Of the theologians of the seventeenth century belonging to the Reformed Church, Keckermann was the most disposed to present the doctrines of the Bible in a philosophical form. We find, therefore, with him a similar attempt to make the mystery of the Trinity intelligible. He regards the existence of God as consisting in self-conscious thought. As thought is eternal, it must have an eternal, absolute, and perfect object. That object must, therefore, itself be God. The unity of the divine essence demands that this object should be in God himself, and therefore, it eternally returns to Him.499499Opera, edit. Cologne, 1614, vol. ii. Systema Theologiæ (tract at end of vol.), p. 72, the last of three pages marked 72.

The modern theologians of Germany, who profess allegiance to the Scriptures, have, in many cases, taken the ground that absolute unity in the divine essence would be inconsistent with self-consciousness. We become self-conscious by distinguishing ourselves from what is not ourselves, and especially from other persons of like nature with ourselves. If, therefore, there were no person objective to God, to whom He could say Thou, He could not say I. Thus Martensen500500Dogmatik, pp. 129, 130. says: Although the creature can have no adequate comprehension of the divine nature, we have a semblance 481of the Trinity in ourselves; as we are formed in the image of God, we have the right to conceive of God according to the analogy of our own nature. As distinction of persons is necessary to self-consciousness in us, so also in God. Therefore, if God be not a Trinity, He cannot be a person. How, he asks, can God from eternity be conscious of Himself as Father, without distinguishing Himself from Himself as Son? In other words, how can God be eternally self-conscious, without being eternally objective to Himself? That with us the objective Ego is merely ideal and not a different person from the subjective Ego, arises from our nature as creatures. With God, thinking and being are the same. In thinking Himself his thought of Himself is Himself in a distinct hypostasis. Dr. Shedd501501History of Christian Doctrine, vol. i. p. 366. has given a similar exposition, “in proof that the necessary conditions of self-consciousness in the finite spirit, furnish an analogue to the doctrine of the Trinity, and go to prove that trinity in unity is necessary to self-consciousness in the Godhead.”

Pantheistic Trinitarianism.

In all that precedes, reference has been made to those who have had for their object to vindicate the doctrine of the Trinity, by showing that it is not out of analogy with other objects of human thought. There are, however, many modern systems which profess to be Trinitarian, which are in fact mere substitutions of the formulas of speculation for the doctrine of the Bible. Men speak of the Trinity, of the Father, Son, and Spirit, when they mean by those terms something which has not the least analogy with the doctrine of the Christian Church. Many by the Trinity do not mean a Trinity of persons in the Godhead, but either three radical forces, as it were, in the divine nature, which manifest themselves in different ways; or three different relations of the same subject; or three different states or stages of existence. Thus with some, the absolute power or efficiency of the Supreme Being considered as creating, upholding, and governing the world, is the Father; as illuminating rational creatures, is the Son; and, as morally educating them, is the Spirit. According to Kant, God as creator is the Father; as the preserver and governor of men, He is the Son; and as the administrator of law, as judge and rewarder, He is the Spirit. With DeWette, God in Himself is the Father; as manifested in the world, the Son; and as operating in nature, the Spirit. Schleiermacher says, God in Himself is the Father; God in Christ is the Son; God in the Church, is the Holy Spirit. The avowed Pantheists 482also use the language of Trinitarianism. God as the infinite and absolute Being is the Father; as coming to consciousness and existence in the world, He is the Son; as returning to Himself, the Spirit. Weisse attempts to unite Theism and Pantheism. He pronounces the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity the highest form of philosophical thought. He professes to adopt that doctrine ex animo in its commonly admitted sense. There is a threefold personality (Ichheit) in God necessary to the constitution of his nature. When the world was created the second of these persons became its life, merging his personality in the world and became impersonal, in order to raise the world into union and identity with God. When the curriculum of the world is accomplished, the Son resumes his personality.502502    C. H. Weisse, Idee der Gottheit; Dresden, 1833, pp. 257 ff., 273.
   The Literature of the doctrine of the Trinity would fill a volume. Bull’s Defence of the Nicene Creed, Pearson On the Creed, Waterland On the Trinity, Meier’s Geschichte der Lehre von der Trinität, Baur’s Geschichte der Lehre Von der Trinität, Dorner’s History of the Person of Christ, in five volumes, one of the series of Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, a very valuable collection of important modern works, Shedd’s History of Christian Doctrine, and the other historical works on the doctrines of the Church, open the whole field to the theological student.

« Prev 7. Philosophical Form of the Doctrine of the… Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |