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456

LECTURE 7 NOTE A.—P. 270.

RECENT THEORIES OF THE TRINITY.

Some examples may be given of recent theories of the Trinity which seem defective from the Christian point of view. Of these, three classes may be named:

I. Speculative Theories, which do not start from the basis of Christian facts, but are the products of a priori deduction. These theories are abstract, speculative, cosmological, with little relation to distinctively Christian interests. The typical example here is Hegel’s, in his Religionsphilosophie,. ii. pp. 223–251. Hegel speaks of an immanent Trinity in God—a Trinity of God’s being before or outside of the creation of the world. He does not disdain even the name “persons,”—“person, or rather subject,” speaks of Father, Son, and Spirit. Yet this Trinity is little more than the play of pure thought with itself in the element of highest abstraction: thought eternally distinguishing itself from itself, and as eternally sublating that distinction. The Father is the pure abstract idea; the Son is the element of particularity in that idea; the Spirit is the sublation of this in individuality. The distinction is only ideal, does not become real till the passage is made into the actuality of the finite world. Here Hegel is careful to remind us that, though in the domain of science the idea is first, in existence it is later—it comes later to consciousness and knowledge (p. 247). This Trinity has therefore no existence prior to the world or independently of it; it is simply potentiality and basis. [Hegel’s own formula for his immanent process is—“God in His eternal universality is this: to distinguish Himself, to determine Himself, to posit another to Himself, and again to annul this distinction—therein to be in Him self, and only through this act of self-production is He Spirit” (p. 237).] The supreme abstraction of all this is very evident. The names of Christian theology are retained, with no agreement in content. What possible resemblance has “the idea in its abstract universality” to the Father in the Christian conception? Yet Hegel’s treatment contains many profound and suggestive thoughts. In consonance with this speculative mode of thought are the theories 457which make the world, or the idea of the world, the mediating factor in the divine self-consciousness.

II. Impersonal Theories, which recognise an immanent distinction in the Godhead, but one only of potencies, of momenta in the divine life, of modes of existence, therefore not a true personal Trinity. Thus Schelling (whose “potencies,” however, become personal later in the world-process),910910Pfleiderer remarks on Schelling’s Trinity—“The interpretation of the three potencies by the three persons of the Church’s doctrine of the Trinity, and the more than bold exposition of dogmatic formulae and passages of Scripture, we may pass as by a mere hors d’oeuvre without value for philosophy. Orthodoxy could feel no gratitude to our philosopher for his deduction of a triple Divine personality which only began with the creation, and was only to be fully realised at the conclusion of the world-process. The trinity arrived at is that of Montanism or Sabellianism, rather than that of the Church.”—Religionsphilosophie, iii. p. 21 (Eng. trans.). A good criticism of Beyschlag’s Trinitarian view may be seen in Dorner, Syst. of Doct. iii. pp. 258–260. Rothe, Beyschlag, etc. This view lies near akin to Sabellianism. E.g., Rothe’s distinctions of nature, essence, and personality have nothing to do with the Biblical distinctions of Father, Son, and Spirit, which he takes to relate only to the sphere of Revelation. A recent example of this type of theory is afforded by F. A. B. Nitzsch in his Lehrbuch der evangelischen Dogmatik (1892). Nitzsch holds that we are compelled to postulate, not simply a Trinity of Revelation, but a Trinity of essence (ii. p. 442). But it is a Trinity of potencies, principles, modes of subsistence (pp. 439–446), not persons. A Trinity of persons, he thinks, would be Tritheism (p. 444). He grants that the Scripture teaches the personality of the Spirit, in part also of the Logos (pp. 440, 444). But this representation cannot be dogmatically used (p. 444). The personality of the Son lies in the human nature (p. 441), and the Spirit is not a person, but a principle. It is, however, a divine nature, in the strict sense of the word; is not to be interchanged with the holy disposition or religiously-elevated state of feeling of man,911911Pfleiderer explains the Holy Spirit rationalistically as “the arrival of the Divine reason at supremacy in our heart.”—Religionsphilosophie, iii. p. 305. but is considered as an objective, real divine power, which is essentially equal with God (p. 439). Nevertheless, when we go on to ask what this threefold mode of subsistence in the divine nature is, we find it difficult to distinguish it from a Trinity of Revelation. God as Father is God in Himself in distinction from His relation to the world; the Logos is the Revelation principle in God; and the Spirit is the principle of the divine self-communication (pp. 445, 446). Christ is the one in whom this Revelation finds its highest expression; in this sense He is the Incarnation of the Logos, and has “Godhead.” “This expression,” he tells us, “is quite in place” (p. 514). It is evident (l) that this so-called ontological Trinity is barely distinguishable from an economical or Sabellian one; (2) that Christ has not real Godhead—is, in truth, purely man, only the highest organ of divine Revelation; and (3) that the Trinitarian doctrine sought to be established is awkward and confused, and has 458little relation to the scriptural doctrine. It is made to rest primarily on God’s relation to the world (p. 442), and not on the facts of Redemption. Its representation of “ God in Himself” as the Father has nothing in common with the New Testament idea of Fatherhood. Then the personality is made to reside only in the first principle. God as Father is personal; the other two potencies (Logos and Spirit) are not personal Further, in this Trinity there is no room for the Son. The divine second principle is named “Logos,” not “Son.”—the Son comes into being with Jesus Christ. We have, therefore, the contradiction of an Eternal Father without an Eternal Son; the Logos is not the Son of the Trinitarian formula. The first and third members in this formula are truly divine—one personal, the other impersonal; the middle member is personal, but not truly divine. The ordinary doctrine of the Trinity may be difficult, but it certainly is more coherent and less contradictory than this of Nitzsch’s, which seems to originate rather in a desire to keep in touch with ecclesiastical phraseology, than in any real need arising out of its author’s Christology or Pneumatology.

Dr. Dorner is a powerful defender of the Godhead of Christ, yet it is doubtful whether in his later views he has not surrendered the only basis on which this doctrine can be consistently maintained. In his History of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ, Dr. Dorner proceeds on the view (or seems to do so) of a Trinity of personal distinctions (Cf., e.g., his remarks on Hegel’s theory in vol v. p. 150). In his System of Doctrine, on the other hand, he abandons this ground, and falls back on a Trinity of impersonal modes—momenta in the constitution of the one divine Personality. The Hypostases are to be thought of as “the eternal points of mediation of the Absolute divine Personality”—as “intermediate between attributes and Egoity and Personality” (i. pp. 382, 383, Eng. trans.); as “not of themselves and singly personal,” but as having “a share in the one divine Personality in their own manner” (p. 448). As against a view which would make the divine Hypostases” three severed subjects, with separate self-consciousness, and divided self-determination,” this has perhaps its truth. But Dr. Dorner evidently so regards these momenta of the divine Personality that neither is the Father a Person, nor the Son a Person, nor the Spirit a Person; but the three constitute together the One Personality, or divine self-consciousness. There is not such a distinction between Father and Son as could be expressed by the pronouns I and Thou. The strained character of this construction is seen in the attempt to retain the names Father and Son for these internal modes of the divine self-consciousness. It is not, it is to be observed, the completed Personality who is the Father, and the historical Christ who is the Son; but Father is the name for the first “point of mediation,” Son for the second point, Spirit for the third, in the one self-consciousness. But how, it may be asked, can an impersonal moment in a process be described as Father, or how can an impersonal principle be described as Son?

In accordance with this view, Dr. Dorner does not admit that a 459personal divine Being became incarnate in Christ, but only that a principle incorporated itself with the humanity derived from the virgin (iii. p. 163). “God as Logos, as that special eternal mode of being of the deity, unites Himself perfectly and indissolubly with Jesus, and thus may be said to have become man in Him, because as Logos He has His being, His perfect Revelation in this man, and has become a living unity with this man” (iii. p. 303). Christ is not simply human or simply divine, but the divine and human natures coalesce to form a “God-human Ego” or personality (pp. 308, 309). Here, again, one cannot but feel that Dr. Dorner’s theory leaves the divinity of Christ in an exceedingly ambiguous position. He is constantly objecting to the orthodox doctrine that it imperils the integrity of the humanity of Christ—i-makes it unlike ours. But what of his own theory of Christ’s peculiarly constituted Personality? Either it must be held that this union of the Divine principle with His humanity is akin in character to that which takes p lace in every believer—in which case his ground is taken away for asserting a sole and exclusive divinity for Christ; or it ceases to be a truly human person (as, on the other hand, it is not a Divine Person), and can only be thought of as a tertium quid, a peculiar product of the union of divine and human factors. The Church doctrine at least avoids this ambiguity by saying boldly—it is a divine Person who appears in humanity,—one who submits Himself to the conditions of humanity, yet in origin and essence is eternal and divine. It is difficult to see how, on Dr. Dorner’s view, Christ should he a truly divine being; but if He is so—and there can be no mistake about Dr. Dorner’s earnestness of conviction on the subject—the conclusion cannot be avoided that as in the theories of Rothe and Beyschlag, a new divine Person has since the Incarnation been added to the Godhead. There was but one divine Personality before—not the Father, but the one God, constituted through the three” modes”; there is now a second, as the result of the Incarnation of one of these modes—true God and Man. Surely the mere statement of such a view is sufficient to show its untenableness.

III. Neo-Sabellian Theories, which resolve the Trinity into aspects of the divine in the process of its self—manifestation or Revelation. The ground is abandoned of an immanent or ontological Trinity, and the names Father, Son, and Spirit are taken but as expressions for the phases of the divine self-manifestation m nature or grace. Schleiermacher inclines to this view (I. Der christ. Glaube, sects. 170–172), and we have seen that theories like Rothe’s and Nitzsch’s tend to pass over into it. The Ritschlian theologians have no alternative but to adopt it. It is a view which will always have a certain popularity, seeming, as it does, to evade metaphysical subtleties, while giving a plausible, easily apprehended interpretation of the Trinitarian formula. Its simplicity, however, is all upon the surface. The moment it is touched with the finger of criticism, its inadequacy is revealed.

The forms of these Neo-Sabellian theories are as varied as the 460minds that produce them. We may distinguish, first, certain popular forms. The old Sabellianism confined itself to the stadia of Revelation (the Father in the Law, the Son in the Incarnation, the Spirit in the Church). In modern times we have a wide variety of triads—God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; God m creation (Father), in Christ (Son), in the inward fellowship of believers (Spirit); God in nature (Father), in history (Son), in conscience (Spirit); God in Himself (Father), as revealed (Son), as the principle of inward communion (Spirit), etc. A common feature in nearly all these triads is the identification of God as Creator with the Father; or again, God in His absolute, self-enclosed being, is viewed as the Father. But it cannot be too often repeated that it is not peculiarly as Creator that God, in the Christian view, is revealed as the Father. Creation is not the Revelation of God’s Fatherhood. It is in Christ only that the Fatherhood of God is perfectly revealed (Matt. xi. 27). We know the Father thorough the Son. Still less does Fatherhood, in the Christian sense, denote God in the depths of His absoluteness. The truth in these views is that the Son is the principle of Revelation in the Godhead; that the Father, apart from the Son, is undisclosed and unrevealed. But that to which the Son heads us back in God is a true Fatherhood of knowledge, love, and will. The second criticism to be made on these theories is that they do not give us a truly divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. Whether the Son is identified with the “world,” or with “humanity,” or with “Christ,” the second member of the Trinity is not divine as the first and third are. It is not God who is the Son, but the (non-divine) Son reveals God. This, it may be observed, is a principal distinction between the ancient and the modern Sabellianism. The old Sabellianism sought to hold by a real Godhead of Christ, though it failed in doing so. It was the same God, according to it, who in the old dispensation revealed Himself as Father, who afterwards became incarnate as Son, and who later was manifested as the Holy Spirit in the Church. The defects of this view were glaring; for if the phases were, as the Sabellians held, successive, then the one God ceased to be Father before He became Son, and had ceased to be Son before He became Spirit. Then Father and Son are terms without meaning. But, further, in ceasing to be Son, the divine must be supposed to have left the humanity of Christ. Thus the reality of the Incarnation is again denied.912912Or reduced to a mere theophany. Ancient Sabellianism spoke of an absorption even of the humanity of Christ. We have only a temporary union of the Godhead with the man Christ Jesus. In the Neo-Sabellianisms, on the other hand, the Person of Christ is regarded as divine only in a figurative and improper way, i.e. as the bearer of a divine Revelation, or in an ethical sense; and the successive phases of the divine self-manifestation are not regarded as necessarily sublating each other; i.e. God remains Father, while revealed as Son, while manifested as Spirit.

Kaftan’s view of the Trinity in his Das Wesen der christ. Religion 461does not rise above a Trinity of Revelation or manifestation. “The Christian believes in God,” he says, “the supra-terrestrial Lord of the world, who was from the beginning, and is in eternity. He believes in the Godhead of Jesus, the historical Founder of our religion, in whom God has revealed Himself, through whom God has entered into that relation to mankind which from eternity He had in view. He believes in a power of the divine Spirit in the history of mankind which, since the appearance of Jesus Christ, and more precisely since His resurrection from the dead, has come to its perfection in Christendom, and which transplants the man, who allows himself to be possessed by it, into the blessed fellowship of the divine life. But still it is one God in whom he believes. . . . How can this be otherwise brought to a single expression than by designating the Christian faith in God as the faith in a three-one God? The Christian has and knows God only through Christ in the Holy Spirit” (p. 388). “Understood in a Christian sense, God is personal Spirit; as such we find Him in the historical personal life of Jesus Christ; as such we believe in Him ruling in history: this is the signification of the Christian faith in the three-one God” (p. 390, first edition). This is a much higher position than the ordinary Ritschlian one [note the emphatic assertion of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and the connection of this with the mission of the Spirit]. The crucial point is the affirmation of Christ’s divinity. Now, whatever this means to Kaftan, it is certain it does not mean the entrance into time of a pre-existing divine Being; nor would he allow the inference to a personal distinction in the Godhead as the ground of the Incarnation (p. 391). His Trinitarian doctrine, therefore, does not mean more than that God has a super-earthly mode of being, that He has revealed Himself historically in Jesus Christ, and that He has wrought since as a spiritual power in the hearts of men. He refuses, indeed, to admit that this is a mere economical Trinity. The Revelation, he says, expresses the essence. But Sabellianism never denied that there was that in God which determined the modes of His self-revelation, or that to this extent they expressed His nature. Kaftan’s midway position is untenable. Either he must deal earnestly with the “Godhead” of Christ which he so strenuously maintains, and then he can hardly avoid moving back on personal distinctions; or, holding to his modal view of the Trinity, he will find it increasingly difficult to regard Christ as truly divine.


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