« AnteriorContinuar »
§ 11. THE TRINITY OF DISTINCTIONS, OR MYSTERIOUS PERSONS.
If there be in our gospels a doctrine concerning which a good logician has apparent cause to exclaim, it is this : A God who has but one essence, and who nevertheless has three persons; the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is God; and these three are but one. The Father, who is with the Son, does not become incarnate when the Son becomes incarnate. The Son, who is with the Father, no longer maintains the rights of justice in Gethsemane, when the Father maintains them. The Holy Spirit, who is with the Father and the Son, proceeds from both in a manner ineffable; and the Father and the Son, who is with the Holy Spirit, do not proceed in this manner. Are. not these ideas contradictory? No, my brethren. If we should say that God has but one essence, and that he has three essences in the same sense that we maintain he has but one, - if we should say that God
- is three in the same sense he is one, it would be a contradiction. But this is not our thesis. We believe, on the faith of a divine book, that God is one in the sense to which we give the confused name of “essence. ” We believe that he is three in a sense to which we give the confused name of persons.” We determine neither what is this essence, nor what is this personality. That surpasses reason, but does not revolt it. .... To find a contradiction, it is requisite to have a distinct idea of what I call “ essence," and of what I call “person;" and, as I profess to be perfectly ignorant of the one and the other, it is impossible I should find an absurdity. JAMES SAURIN : Sermons, No. XCIII. vol. ii.
357. On this passage we have to observe, that the reasoning is either wholly unintelligible, and therefore useless; or it proves, notwithstanding the disclaimer, if it can prove any thing, that there are three Gods. If, in using the terms
essence" and 66
” and “personality," we cannot determine what their meaning is, - if we cannot discriminate between the one expression and the other, or have only a “confused” notion of their import, - it is the merest verbiage to say that God is one in his essence, and three in his personality. We might as well, in addressing another, employ the words of a language, che elements of which were understood by neither of the parties. If, how
" of God we mean his properties or attributes, - and of these we can have clear, though limited, conceptions, - then, by attributing the divine properties severally to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, by regarding them each as God, or by treating of them as really divine persons, acting in different and opposite capacities, as the pious and eloquent writer represents them, and not as mere characters or relations, we unquestionably think and speak of them as three distinct Gods. To say,
3ver, by the
then, that three essentially divine persons are only one God, is as absurd as to say that three persons, partaking each of the characteristics of humanity, are only one man; and, so far from being a mystery, --something either hidden or incomprehensible, it is a manifest absurdity, and thus not only surpasses reason,” but “revolts it."
We are led to infer from several incidental glimpses afforded us by revelation, that there are certain distinctions in the divine nature, which correspond in some measure with the several relations to ourselves in which God has manifested himself to us. But what these distinctions are, we are quite unable to comprehend; nor are we encouraged to indulge in curiously inquiring. Scripture chiefly teaches us what they are not, guarding us carefully against the notion of three Gods: but what are the relations to each other of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it leaves unexplained; dwelling strongly on their relations to us, as constituting a threefold manifestation to mankind of the one God. — ARCHBISHOP WHATELY: Sermons on Various Subjects, pp. 199, 200.
The archbishop goes on to say, that,“ in relation to ourselves,” this threefold manifestation “is, in one respect, as if there really were three distinct beings.” Such a result is, we think, not surprising; for it seems scarcely possible, so far as regards God and Christ, that any “inference from incidental glimpses” should overcome the irresistible conclusion derived from every page of the New Testament, that, however one in disposition, design, and works, they were really and truly distinct beings. On the threefoldmanifestation" theory, which regards the word "person,” when applied severally to the Father and the Son, as denoting " character” (id. p. 203), Christianity, instead of being a revelation, would be a riddle.
I believe, — I. That God is one, numerically one, in essence and attributes. In other words, the infinitely perfect Spirit, the Creator and Preserver of all things, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, has numerically the same essence and the same perfections, so far as they are known to us. To particularize: the Son possesses, not simply a similar or equal essence and perfections, but numerically the same as the Father, without division and without multiplication. II. The Son (and also the Holy Spirit) does, in some respect, truly and really, not merely nominally or logically, differ from the Father. . . . We profess to use it [the word "person "] merely because of the poverty of language; merely to designate our belief of a real distinction in the Godhead; but not to describe independent, conscious beings, possessing separate and equal essences and perfections. MOSES STUART : Letters to Channing; in Miscellanies, pp. 18, 21.
In this definition of a Triune God, it will be noticed that the cautious and acute theologian who penned 'it avoids the use of the word "person," though he afterwards tries to explain it in conformity with his theory. But does he escape from the necessary consequences of all definitions of the Trinitarian doctrine? Certainly not. The first article of his belief - 50 expressed as to speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with a verb in the singular number - implies only that the Son and Holy Ghost are one and the same existence or intelligent agent as the Father, or that all the three are but names of the one God, “the infinitely perfect Spirit.” This form of faith might, we think, be subscribed by any believer in a nominal or modal Trinity. The second article is of a different character, and denies the Son and Spirit to be the same as the Father; asserting that they are truly and really, not nominally, different from the Father; or, as we cannot avoid explaining the proposition, that they are distinct intelligent beings, agents, or persons. Not having used the latter term, however, and taking for granted that his doctrine is the same as that which is commonly defined by the word "person,” but knowing that it is employed and understood by many to denote a living, self-conscious, and determining agent, the writer affirms that it should designate merely real distinctions in the Godhead, and not independent, conscious beings. That is to say, it should be used as significant of no ideas whatever. Yet, strange as it may seem, though perfectly natural, this vague and meaningless theory — this “ Trinity of Distinctions" or Non-entities is usually lost sight ofuby its propounders, who, both in their polemical and practical writings, are forced by the laws of language, of common sense, and of Scripture, to treat of God and Christ as separate existences, having each his distinct, individual consciousness, will, and agency.
Trinitarians have said a thousand times, that they use the word “person," in this connection, not in its ordinary acceptation, as signifying a separate, individual being; not as denoting a perfectly distinct consciousness, understanding, and will. They use it, in place of a better word (as they have a perfect right to do, defining the sense), to set forth one of the ineffable personal distinctions in the mysterious and adorable Unity of the Godhead. DR. ENOCH POND: Review of Dr. Bushnell's "God in Christ,” pp. 18, 19.
And, in defining it, do they ever assign any sense, capable of being understood, which does not necessarily involve the notion either of a mere character or relation, or of a real, perfect, individual agent or being; either of a property or representation of God, or of one of the Deities in the Godhead? Does not the definition imply either Sabellianism or Tritheism; either a shadowy and unscriptural form of Unitarianism, or a plurality of distinct Gods?
While it [the modern Trinitarian theory] admits a certain distinction eternally existing in the nature of the Godhead, to which it applies the term “hypostasis” or “subsistence” or “ person,” it does not for a moment attach to this distinction the idea of so many separate individual existences. Not in any such sense does it employ the word "
“person." CALVIN himself is careful distinctly to disavow any such idea : “They deceive themselves in dreaming of three separate individuals, each of them possessing a part of the divine essence. The names of Father, Son, and Spirit, certainly imply a real distinction; let no one suppose them to be mere epithets by which God is variously designated from his works; but it is a distinction, not a division." Just what that distinction is, just what relation these hypostases hold to each other and to that divine nature in which they subsist, it is neither for this theory nor any other to define. Neither Calvin has attempted this, nor any other man in his right mind. JOSEPH HAVEN, Jun., in the New Englander for February, 1850; vol. viii. (new series, vol. ii.) pp. 6, 7.
Unless we misapprehend the import of the preceding extract, the writers mean that the one God is to be regarded under three different aspects; that, for reasons inherent in his very nature, the one Infinite Being disclosed himself to mankind under the totally dissimilar characters of a Father and a Son, as well as that of a Holy Spirit. Of this theory of a Triune God, we shall, in the following subsection, offer a variety of representations.
While the Unity (of God) is thus confused and lost in the Threeness (namely, by the representation that the three persons are three sets of attributes inhering in a common substance), perhaps I should also admit that the Threeness sometimes appears to be clouded or obscured by the Unity. Thus it is sometimes protested, that in the word “person” nothing is meant beyond a “threefold distinction;' though it will always be observed, that nothing is really meant by the protestation; that the protester goes on to speak and reason of the three, not as being only somewhats, or distinctions, but as metaphysical and real persons. Or the three are sometimes compared, in their union, to the soul, the life-principle, and the body, united in one person called a man, - an illustration which, if it has any point or appositeness at all, shows how God may be one, and not three; for the life and the body are not persons. Or, if the soul be itself the life, and the body its external development, which is possible, then, in a yet stricter sense, there is but one person in them all. Probably there is a degree of alternation, or inclining from one side to the other, in this view of Trinity, as the mind struggles, now to embrace one, and now the other, of two incompatible notions.
It is a somewhat curious fact in theology, that the class of teachers who protest over the word “person,” declaring that they mean only a threefold distinction, cannot show that there is really a hair's breadth of difference between their doctrine and the doctrine asserted by many of the later Unitarians. They may teach or preach in a very different manner; they probably do; but the theoretic contents of their opinion cannot be distinguished. Thus they say that there is a certain divine person in the man Christ Jesus; but that, when they use the term “person,” they mean not a person, but a certain indefinite and indefinable distinction. The later Unitarians, meantime, are found asserting that God is present in Christ in a mysterious and peculiar communication of his being, so that he is the living embodiment and express image of God. If, now, the question be raised, Wherein does the indefinable distinction of one differ from the mysterious and peculiar communication of the other, or how does it appear that there is any difference ? there is no living man, I am quite sure, who can invent an
Such is the confusion produced by attempting to assert a real and metaphysical Trinity of persons in the divine nature. Whether the word is taken at its full import, or diminished away to a mere something called a " distinction,” there is produced only contrariety, confusion, practical negation, not light.
DR. HORACE BUSHNELL: God in Christ, pp. 133-6.
§ 12. THE TRINITY OF NAMES, MODES, RELATIONS, OR CHARACTERS;
OF IMPERSONATIONS, DEVELOPMENTS, OR MANIFESTATIONS.
As God afforded a clearer manifestation of himself at the advent of Christ, the three persons also then became better known. ... Nor can it be doubted but that, in this solemn commission, “Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Sonyand of the Holy Ghost," Christ intended to testify that the perfect light of faith was now exhibited. For this is equivalent to being baptized into the name of the one God, who hath clearly manifested himself in the Father, Son, and Spirit: whence it evidently appears, that in the divine essence there exist three persons, in whom is known the one God. — JOHN CALVIN: Institutes, book i. chap. xüi. 16.
It is exceedingly difficult to make out CALVIN's opinion respecting the Trinity. In some places of the "Institutes," he seems to speak of Father,