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That is, it is plain and intelligible in so far as it asserts, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct persons or agents, equal in every divine perfection; each capable of thinking, willing, and acting of himself; and each deriving his happiness from the society of the others. To such language, gross and polytheistic as a portion of it seems, we can attach definite conceptions. But, when it asserts that these three equally divine persons are only one Being, it either expresses no ideas whatever, or utters a manifest absurdity; for, as applied to an intelligent, thinking, voluntary agent, it is inconceivable that the term “person" can mean any thing else but a being. The words are synonymous or convertible. God is a person or being, because he is, thinks, feels, wills, and acts: Jesus Christ is a person or being, because he is, thinks, feels, wills, and acts. They are distinct persons or beings, because each of them has his own separate consciousness, will, and mode of action. To affirm, then, that these persons, with another called the Holy Ghost, constitute but one Being; is a contradiction in ideas; or is equivalent to asserting that the three persons are only one person, which is a contradiction in terms.
Although ... I would not drop the use of the word “person," yet I would protest against the license which is often taken in speaking of the persons of the Godhead. When authors speak of their eternal and mutual society, and converse together; of their taking counsel together and deliberating, just as if an effort were necessary in order to harmonize them, or to bring them to one and the same conclusion, or to be of one and the same mind, or in order to cast light upon what it may be proper for them to do; when they tell us of one person entering into covenant with another, simply as divine, and before the foundation of the world; of one divine person commanding, and another, simply as divine, obeying, - all this, and much more of the same nature, so long as it is indulged in, will continue to bring upon Trinitarians the reproach of Polytheism; and I had almost said that the reproach is not destitute of at least a semblance of justice. — MOSES STUART, in Biblical Repository for July, 1835; vol. vi.
pp. 99, 100.
A very large portion of the Christian teachers, together with the general mass of disciples, undoubtedly hold three real living persons in the interior nature of God; that is, three consciousnesses, wills, hearts, understandings. Certain passages of Scripture, supposed to represent the three persons as covenanting, co-operating, and copresiding, are taken, accordingly, so to affirm in the most literal and dogmatic sense. And some very distinguished living teachers are frank enough to acknowledge, that any intermediate doctrine, between
the absolute unity of God and a social unity, is impossible and incredible; therefore, that they take the latter. Accordingly, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are, in their view, socially united only, and preside in that way, as a kind of celestial tritheocracy, over the world. They are one God simply in the sense that the three will always act together with a perfect consent or coincidence. This view has the merit that it takes consequences fairly, states them frankly, and boldly renounces orthodoxy, at the point opposite to Unitarianism, to escape the same difficulties. It denies that the three persons are “ the same in substance," and asserts, instead, three substances; and yet, because of its clear opposition to Unitarianism, it is counted safe, and never treated as a heresy. However, when it is applied to Christ and his work, then it breaks down into the same confusion as the more common view, reducing the Son to a really subordinate and subject position, in which the proper attributes of Deity are no longer visible or supposable. — DR. HORACE BUSHNELL: God in Christ, pp. 130–1.
The moment we conceive of the Deity as consisting of three distinct individuals, each possessing consciousness, affections, will, of his own, we contradict and virtually abandon the true scriptural, simple idea of one God. Whatever guard we may throw about our language, we do in fact, from that moment, believe not in one God, but in three.
.... A leading New England divine (Dr. NATHANAEL EMMONS] ... thus discourses upon the mode of the divine existence: “We find no difficulty in conceiving of three divine persons. It is just as easy to conceive of three divine persons as of three human persons. There is no mystery in the personality of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, though there is a profound mystery in their being one God." Using the term “personality” in this sense, conceiving of the three divine persons as we do of three human persons, we are quite ready to admit, with the author, that there is both a difficulty and a profound mystery, nay, we should certainly add an utter impossibility, in conceiving of these three as one Being. It does not remove the difficulty to say, that “ being may signify something different from person in respect to Deity," and therefore “we may easily conceive that God should be but one Being, and yet exist in three persons." For “ being" and
person"-signify different things as respects man also, yet it is not easy to conceive of three human persons constituting one human being., Nor is it any advance towards the removal of this difficulty to say, what is doubtless true, that " the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three in respect to their personality, and but one in respect to their nature and essence.” Personality is here supposed to be something distinct from nature and essence, so that what pertains to the one does not pertain to the other. Very true. But the personality of the Father, Son, and Spirit, according to the author, consists in this, that each " is able to understand, to will, and to act, of himself," and to do so “as a free, voluntary, almighty agent." But do not understanding, will, and free voluntary action, pertain, we ask, to the very nature and essence of Deity? Can we conceive of Deity as essentially, and in his original nature, destitute of these properties? If not, then as personality consists in these things, what becomes of the distinction just made ? and how is it that a threefold personality, in this human sense, does not also involve a threefold nature and essence?... If the doctrine of the Divine Unity be not essentially swept away and abandoned by these and the like representations, then we are at a loss to conceive what idea can be attached in any man's mind to that word “unity.” It is replied, the Scriptures nowhere teach that the Unity of God is just like our unity. True. But what, we ask again, is the proper and primitive meaning of that word “unity”? Are there several kinds of unity, as there are several shades of a color, or several races of men ? Strictly speaking, is there any other unity but numerical unity ? And when we think of a thing as being one, or as more than one, is not this one of the simplest ideas that the human mind can form, one of its elementary conceptions? Is it not evident, that, when we speak of three or more personal, individual, distinct agents, each willing and acting for himself, as being one, we use the term in a secondary, and not in its proper and primitive, sense? We mean they are one in sentiment, one in heart, one in purpose and action, &c. In this sense, any three men, or any number of men, may
It devolves on those who conceive of the three divine, as they do of three human, persons, not merely to admit that it is a mysterious thing how these three are one Being, but to show that in any intelligible sense, or any proper use of terms, they can be one; that three conscious, intelligent, voluntary agents, thinking, feeling, willing, acting, each for himself, distinct from each other, do or can in any proper sense constitute one Being. ... The view under consideration has led those who adopt it to a method of speaking of the Sacred Trinity which seems to us altogether objectionable. They are accustomed to represent the divine persons as consulting together, forming plans, and enjoying mutual intercourse and companionship. [Here the critic takes from Dr. EMMONS a passage which appears in the latter part of our extract, p. 291; and he goes on to say:] We ask, now, whether there be not, in all this, the essential element of Tritheism. We put it to every candid and intelligent mind, whether, if the doctrine of Divine Unity were altogether stricken out of the Bible, and in place of it stood the revelation of three Gods, it would be possible to speak of the society and companionship mutually enjoyed by the three, in terms plainer, more direct, and appropriate, than the above. JOSEPH HAVEN, Jun., in the New Englander for February, 1850 ; vol. viii. (new series, vol. ii.) pp. 17-21.
The article from which we have made so long an extract seems to us to contain a masterly exposure of a theory of the Trinity, which, with some slight varieties, has been advocated by many distinguished divines. It is not the less effective because it proceeds from the pen of one who, in opposition to the views of Unitarians, believes (id. pp. 5, 6) that “the Son and Spirit are really and absolutely divine."
§ 10. THE TRINITY OF THE IPSEITY, THE ALTERITY, AND THE
In the Trinity there is, 1. Ipseity; 2. Alterity; 3. Community.
Synthesis. The Trinity is, 1. The Will; 2. The Reason, or Word; 3. The Love, or Life. As we distinguish these three, so we must unite them in one God. The union must be as transcendent as the distinction..... My faith is this: God is the Absolute Will: it is his Name, and the meaning of it. It is the Hypostasis. As begetting his own Alterity, the Jehovah, the Manifested, he is the Father; but the Love and the Life -- the Spirit - proceeds from both. SAMUEL T. COLERIDGE: Table Talk; in Works, vol. vi. pp. 289-90, 314, 517.
We make no pretension to understand COLERIDGE'S formulas of the Trinity. But the curious reader may, if he choose, study what is further said on this subject in the “ Literary Remains ” of the same author (Works, vol. v. pp. 18, 19, 355-6, 404). In one of these passages, he regrets that " the total idea of the 4=3=1,
of the adorable Tetractys, eternally self-manifested in the Triad, Father, Son, and Spirit, was never in its cloudless unity present to" Dr. WATERLAND, whose writings he so much venerated.
We are free to say for ourselves, that we think COLERIDGE committed an error in leaving the scheme of the Triad for that of the Tetrad, in his construction. The symbols of the church, and the Christian mind, proceed upon the hypothesis of a simple Triad, which is also a Monad, and hence teach a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity. Coleridge, on the other hand, proceeds upon the scheme of the Pagan Trinity, of which hints are to be found in Plato, and which can be traced back as far as Pythagoras, — the scheme, namely, of a Monad logically anterior to, and other than, the Triad, of a Monad which originally is not a Triad, but becomes one, whereby four factors are introduced into the problem. The error in this scheme consists in this its assumption of an aboriginal Unity existing primarily by itself, and in the order of nature, before a Trinity, -of a ground for the Trinity, or, in Coleridge's phrase, a prothesis, which is not in its own nature either triune or personal, but is merely the impersonal base from which the Trinity proper is evolved. In this way, we think, a process of development is introduced into the Godhead which is incompatible with its immutable perfection, and with that golden position of the schoolmen that God is “actus purissimus sine ulla potentialitate.” There is no latency in the Divine Being. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. We think we see, in this scheme of Coleridge, the influence of the pantheistic conception of potentiality, instead of the theistic conception of self-completeness; and that, if he had taken the distinct and full personality of the finite spirit as the image and likeness of the Infinite Personality, and, having steadfastly contemplated the necessary conditions of self-consciousness in man, had merely freed them from the limitations of the Finite, of time and degree, — he would have been more successful, certainly more continuous and progressive. While we say this, however, we are far from believing that Coleridge's practical faith as a Christian in the Trinity was in the least affected by this tendency to modalism in his speculative construction of the doctrine; a modalism, too, which, as we have remarked above, is logically, and ought actually to have been, precluded by the position, which he heartily adopted, of the intrinsic rationality and necessity of the doctrine. Few minds in the whole history of the Christian church, as we believe, have had more awful and adoring views of the Triune God, or have bowed down in more absolute and lowly worship before the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. -- PROF. SHEDD: Int. Essay to Coleridge's Works, vol. i. p.