Trinitarian Renewal

Mindzoom Affirmations Subliminal Software

Daily Success Affirmations for Life

Get Instant Access

Here we can offer only a brief consideration of the merits of these characteristic theses of recent trinitarian theology, and of the suggestion that they constitute needed novelties, at least in the West. The first three theses will receive the most attention.

The importance of identifying the Trinity

Surely (1) lacks the novelty sometimes attributed to it (leaving aside its corollary for the moment). Nor need we go back so far as the Greek Fathers to retrieve the thesis. Thus

Thomas Aquinas: "The Christian faith consists above all (principaliter) in the confession of the Holy Trinity, and it glories especially in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." 12 But this claim seems well attested even in the Latin manualist darkness from which Rahner and others seek to deliver trinitarian theology. As we have observed, Franzelin takes Scripture's trinitarian baptismal formula to be the church's "compendium of the doctrine and faith to be professed concerning God." Or consider the Roman theologian Ric-cardo Tabarelli, professor at the Lateran a generation after Franzelin: "The mystery of the Trinity is not only the distinctive summit (caput) of Christian revelation, but the basic teaching of the whole of Christianity and the essence of the gospel" (Tabarelli 1964:9).

Protestant theologians endorse (1) with equal insistence - not only the reformers and scholastics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but many in the nineteenth century as well. Thus the Lutheran Isaak August Dorner, like the Catholic Franzelin, makes much of the trinitarian significance of the Matthean baptismal formula, and takes belief in the Trinity as basic to Christian identity.13 Though he follows Schleiermacher in supposing that the distinctive experience of Christian faith must be the final source and guarantee of Christian doctrine, Dorner insists against his predecessor that such faith requires a robust affirmation of the divine Trinity: "the objective existence of eternal distinctions in God is the necessary presupposition for personal communion with God through Christ in faith" (Dorner 1883, §31, 1:414). In this he does not regard himself as a voice crying in the wilderness, but as perfecting a trinitarian renewal (though he does not call it that) already underway since the middle of his century, which has successfully reversed a fatal neglect of the Trinity in several earlier generations of Protestant theology.14

We might also take these affirmations of the centrality of the Trinity for Christian faith to suggest the basic claim made in (2): in order to pick out the one God, we have to pick out the persons of the Trinity. On the ability to identify God largely depends the sort of relationship it is possible to have with God - including, for example, whether one can successfully direct worship to the one true God and not, idolatrously, to something else. That the doctrine of the Trinity gives the distinctively Christian way of "identifying" God is, to be sure, a relatively recent way of putting the claim embodied in (2), which even contemporary advocates of (2) do not always employ.15 In fact this thesis is probably more novel in formulation than in substance, and is arguably among the most characteristic claims of trinitarian theology, traditional or contemporary.16

It comes, however, in weaker and stronger versions, each of which poses problems. A weaker version claims that we need to be able to locate the persons of the Trinity in order to identify the one God fully, while a stronger version claims that we need to be able to locate the persons of the Trinity in order to identify the one God at all. By allowing that God can be identified to some extent without reference to the persons of the Trinity, a weaker version seems to require that picking out the persons of the Trinity logically (and perhaps psychologically) supplements this preliminary identification of the one God (since the converse cannot be the case: we cannot, presumably, identify the persons of the Trinity without also identifying the one God, so the latter could never be added on to the former, only the former to the latter). This suggests that belief in the one God has to enjoy a centrality among Christian convictions which belief in the

Trinity lacks, and so pries (2) loose from (1). Puzzlement also arises as to how we could identify the one God without picking out the persons of the Trinity. Merely believing, correctly enough, that there is (for example) a single omnipotent being does not guarantee that we will actually assign this omnipotence to its true bearer - that we will succeed in identifying the subject of this omnipotence. To solve this problem by going further, and saying that we can identify the one God as a personal agent without reference to the Trinity, suggests that we can locate a divine person without identifying any of the persons who are the one God. This, however, may not be compatible with belief in the Trinity at all.

The stronger version avoids just these problems by simply excluding the possibility that those who (for whatever reason) fail to spot the persons of the Trinity can succeed in picking out God in the first place; (2a) and (2b) tend to reinforce this point, and so to support a stronger version of the thesis. But Christians seem to have good reasons not to confine to themselves the capacity to locate God. We need not enter into the debate about the possibility of natural theology to find relevant cases. As texts like Romans 11:28-9 indicate, the God whom Christians locate has permanently elected Abraham's carnal descendants to be his own people, which seems to require that they - that is, the Jewish people to the end of time - have the capacity to identify and worship the God who has elected them. But of course Israel does not identify God by reference to the persons of the Trinity. Apart from whether another religious community might be able to locate the one God, the logic of Christian worship itself poses a problem here. Christians claim in any case to worship the God of Israel, yet supposing this God to be the same as the Trinity, or as any one of the three persons, apparently leads to various kinds of incoherence.17

It should not be assumed that traditional versions of (2) accept only a weak form of the thesis, and that the stronger form is a modern innovation. Aquinas argues that "among those things which we hold true about God by faith, it is singular to Christian faith that we confess the Trinity of persons in the unity of the divine essence. For under this profession we are sealed by Christ in baptism." To be sure, some of what Christians hold true by faith may be shared with Jews and Muslims, for example the conviction that God is one. Therefore "in order to indicate the unique and singular teaching of the Christian faith, our discussion of the faith has not been entitled 'on God,' but 'on the Trinity.'"18 It might be supposed that Thomas means to "start" with the one God, known also by Jews and Muslims, and then supplement this preliminary apprehension of God by reference to the persons of the Trinity. But on their face these comments might equally be taken to suggest that belief in a single God is not by itself sufficient to locate this God and enable one, for example, to succeed in worshipping him. For that we need "the singular teaching of the Christian faith." Whether Aquinas holds a weaker or stronger form of (2) depends, among other things, on the extent to which he thinks we need to have distinctively Christian convictions in order to have true beliefs about God in the first place.19 Whether a weaker or stronger form of the thesis is more plausible likewise depends in part on how this question ought to be answered.

Presumably few trinitarian theologians ancient or modern would quarrel with the corollary that the doctrine of the Trinity ought to shape everyday Christian practice and belief in deep and discernible ways (cf. 1a). After all, as Aquinas and Franzelin observe, the doctrine is the heart of every Christian's baptismal faith. Whether it can be laid at the door of trinitarian theology "that Christians, for all their orthodox confession of the Trinity, are virtually mere 'monotheists' in their religious existence," is in any case open to doubt (Rahner 1997:10). Vast socio-historical triumphs and disasters are not likely to have been wrought by events that went on in the heads of theologians long dead. Even supposing that traditional Western trinitarian theology suffers from deep errors (like putting its discussion of "the one God" before "the Trinity") and needlessly arcane preoccupations (like whether mode of origin or relation is person-constituting in God), such theological misconceptions would be unlikely to keep the doctrine of the Trinity from mattering to Christians.

But the idea that such a profound deformation of Christianity has occurred at all seems implausible, at least if (1) and (2) are right. If this doctrine really is the most essential Christian teaching, and articulates the most basic Christian beliefs about who God is, how could Christians be generally ignorant of it or indifferent to it? If there actually are communities whose identity turns on (1) and (2), then their members must generally know how to be trinitarian in their identification of God and their everyday religious life, even if they lack much explicit knowledge about the doctrine of the Trinity. Of course it is almost always worthwhile to try to make implicit knowledge more explicit, not least to head off possible distortions of communal belief and practice. But this should not be confused with restoring trinitarian conviction to the church, as though it were not even implicit, and had to be put there by theologians. To worry that the doctrine of the Trinity might become irrelevant to Christian life suggests that the doctrine is in fact no more than an abstruse conceptual puzzle, and not the most basic Christian teaching: (1a) thus seems incoherent with the claim about the indispensable role of the doctrine to which it is supposed to be the corollary.

Economic and immanent

Whether the "economic Trinity" and the "immanent Trinity" are identical, as (3) proposes, depends on what these terms refer to - more precisely, on whether they refer to the same thing.20 Unfortunately defenses of (3) display a confusing welter of assumptions about the referents of these terms. Some accounts suggest that "the economic Trinity" refers to the actions of the divine persons ad extra or "externally," while "the immanent Trinity" refers to the relations (and perhaps also actions) among the divine persons ad intra or "internally." This has the disadvantage of requiring that we already know what is "external" and "internal" to the Trinity, which the distinction between the "economic" and "immanent" Trinity itself is supposed to tell us. Along similar lines Rahner suggests that "the economic Trinity" refers to God's "three concrete ways of being given," while "the immanent Trinity" refers to the same God's "three relative concrete ways of existing" (199 7:74). This too simply relabels the problem, since we now need to know how to distinguish divine ways of being given from divine ways of existing. Rahner makes a more informative suggestion when he proposes that "the immanent Trinity" refers to three divine persons who are "in God, setting aside his free self-communication" (199 7:101). Presuming that God's "free self-communication"

refers to the economic Trinity, (3) would then be the claim that the Father, Son, and Spirit with whom we meet in the economy of salvation are identical with the Father, Son, and Spirit "aside" from the economy of salvation.

This too can be taken in different ways. It might mean that even if the Father, the Son, and the Spirit had created no world or undertaken no saving economy for us, they would still be the same three persons, the same triune God, whom we encounter in time. This seems plausible enough, and apparently supports the conviction, which often motivates (3), that all the way down God is the Trinity of persons with whom we become acquainted in the doings and sufferings of Israel, Jesus, and the church. But taken this way (3) hardly seems novel, or indeed a claim which anyone ever thought to deny. No one, that is, has suggested that there are six divine persons, three of whom we meet in the economy and, hidden behind these, three others who comprise a shadowy "immanent" Trinity.21 In Aquinas's austere but far-reaching formulation, the missions of the divine persons (the "economy of salvation," roughly) always "include an eternal procession, and add to it a temporal effect," namely that "a divine person . . . exists in the creature in a new way" (Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, 43, 2, ad 3 and c; my emphasis). Since for Aquinas the divine persons have their personal uniqueness or identity in virtue of the relations of origin to which the "eternal processions" give rise, this observation implies that we become acquainted by way of the "temporal missions" with exactly the same three persons who are eternally the one God, and who would be the one God even if there were no economy of creation and salvation.

Recent trinitarian theologies often, however, seem to take (3) in a much stronger way. Not only are Father, Son, and Spirit the same persons in the economy as they would be "aside" from it, they are the same in every respect (or at least in every respect pertinent to salvation). The three have, in other words, exactly the same features or attributes "immanently" as they do "economically." So Barth, for example, argues that "God is the one whom he is in his works." Of course "he is also the same one in himself, before and after and above his works," so that "he is who he is even without them." But nonetheless "he is also in himself none other than precisely the one whom he is in his works" (II/1:260). This might simply be an insistent version of the weaker claim that the divine three are the same persons in their works as they would be "even without them," but Barth can lean toward the much stronger claim. The very being of God, he argues, is an "act," a "deed," and an "occurrence" (Geschehen), and "the content of this occurrence consists in the fact that the Word of God became flesh and that his Spirit is poured out on all flesh" (II/1:267).

This suggests that the Son and the Spirit have the very same features in virtue of their (and the Father's) "works" (like being flesh and being poured out) as they have in virtue of their divine being, "even without" these works. But this is incoherent. The works themselves, once undertaken, are features of the divine persons, and result in the possession by the persons of various characteristics (like being incarnate or being poured out on all flesh). If they did not undertake the works, then they would not have the features or characteristics which depend on undertaking the works.

We can generalize the point. The very idea of the divine persons "aside" from the economy requires that there be some difference between the three persons in the economy and these three persons not in the economy. Otherwise the immanent Trinity would be indiscernible from the economic, and so the idea of the Trinity "aside" from the economy would be void. But the strong version of (3) is just the claim that Father, Son, and Spirit have all the same features "aside" from the economy as they possess on account of the economy. The three divine persons cannot both have and not have all the same features "aside" from the economy as they possess on account of it. The immanent Trinity cannot, in other words, be both identical with and discernible from the economic. It thus seems impossible to maintain the strong version of (3), which wants to take it as an unqualified identity statement.

Theologies seeking trinitarian renewal sometimes iron out the incoherence in the strong version of (3) by arguing that the immanent Trinity really is indiscernible from the economic. There just is no "outside" to the economy of salvation, no feature any divine person would have even if the three had created and redeemed no world (e.g. Jenson 1982:103-48). In this maximalist version of (3), the persons of the Trinity apparently cannot avoid having precisely those features which belong to them in the temporal economy of salvation: the Word cannot avoid being incarnate as Mary's firstborn and crucified son, the Spirit cannot avoid being outpoured in Jerusalem at Pentecost, and so forth. On this view, after all, there is no situation "aside" from the economy by reference to which these could be features which the persons of the Trinity have acquired, but which these same persons might also not have acquired.

This is a consistent position, but for well-established theological reasons an implausible one. As a whole and at every point, the economy of creation and salvation is a gift of the triune God to creatures. Only a free being can give a gift to another. A God who could not help enacting the incarnational and pentecostal economy of salvation narrated in Scripture would not undertake it freely, and so could not give it to creatures as a gift. The traditional insistence that the divine persons need not have the features they freely acquire in the temporal economy - that the immanent Trinity is not in every respect identical with the economic - stems not from a merely speculative interest in preserving God's freedom, but from the deep conviction of Christian faith that the saving work of the Trinity is wholly an act of free grace. For this reason theologians who want to take (3) as an unqualified identity statement usually, if inconsistently, assume that there nonetheless has to be a situation outside any economy of creation and redemption from which the divine persons may freely undertake the history of salvation which actually comes to pass.

As to novelty, most of the claims embodied in (3) and (3a) were already current in the nineteenth century, in much the same terms Rahner, Barth, and their followers would later use. Thus Dorner: "The economic Trinity . . . leads back to immanent distinctions in God himself, all the more so because in the world of revelation we have to do not merely with a teaching of truths, but with the true being of God in the world, with God's actions, indeed with his self-communication (Selbstmittheilung)" (Dorner 1883, §29, 2:370; cf. pp. 351-2, 363-4, 416-17n.2). Indeed, the strong and, especially, the maximalist versions of (3) find a clear precedent in Schleiermacher, despite their often vehement repudiation of him. Though he does not use the terms "economic" and "immanent" to talk about the Trinity, Schleiermacher departs from traditional trinitarian views for the same reason that the strong and maximalist versions of (3) do. Christian theology ought to equate in every respect - "as definitely as possible" - the being of God "in itself" with the being of God in Christ and the church (1976, §170, 1). Traditional understandings of the Trinity fail to do this because they posit in "the highest being" an eternal distinction of persons "independently" of God's being in Christ and the church (§170, 2). To be sure, on other grounds Schleiermacher cannot regard either Jesus Christ or the spirit which animates the church as really God, or as divine persons in their own right. But granted the assumption that Christ and the Spirit are true God, strong and maximalist defenses of (3) hew closely to the logic by which Schleiermacher identifies the immanent with the economic being of God.

Talk of an "economic Trinity" and an "immanent Trinity" which are identical with one another apparently disguises diverse claims, which turn out to be either uncon-troversial, incoherent, or implausible; (3) might therefore be dropped as more confusing than helpful. In any case Christian faith in a triune God who fully but freely enters space and time demands of theology an account of who these persons are which does not rely on the features they acquire in the economy in order to distinguish and relate them (though the temporal actions of the persons may of course have a role in our knowledge about these distinctions and relations). Though often dismissed as irrelevant or misguided by advocates of the strong and maximalist versions of (3), traditional "treatises on the Trinity" have sought to provide just this sort of account.

Feminist theologies sometimes reject the doctrine of the Trinity as irretrievably patriarchal. Those which do not, and instead join in the trinitarian renewal, usually advocate strong or maximalist versions of (3). At the same time they tend to deny that the masculine elements in the scriptural and ecclesial rendering of God's temporal acts (a person of the Trinity becoming incarnate as a male; Jesus's address to the one who sent him as "Father") really belong to the economy of salvation in a constitutive way. As a result these elements also fail to inform us about the being or inner life of God on display in the economy (see Johnson 1992:191-223, LaCugna 1991). This last suggestion appears more coherent with a weak version of (3) than with the stronger ones feminist theologies more often support, since a weak version allows that there be features the divine persons possess in virtue of their temporal acts, even features quite central to the economy, which they would otherwise not have. But even a weak version of (3) will run up against limits on the extent to which it can prescind from the particular features of the temporal economy which actually comes to pass (by taking them, for example, as a collection of symbols of the divine mystery for which others might equally well be substituted). Past a point, it will no longer be possible to suppose that this particular economy lets us in on the very being and life of God - that in it we encounter the divine persons themselves in their temporal acts, and so can still read the immanent Trinity off the economic. Where that point lies is another, and in connection with feminist concerns much debated, question.

Moreover, even on the weak and uncontroversial version of (3), the claim (3a) that the immanent Trinity can only be "read off" the economic poses problems of its own. This suggestion often stems from the worry that unless the temporal actions of Father, Son, and Spirit are a sufficient basis for grasping who they are (even apart from any possible economy of creation and salvation), the persons of the Trinity will remain inaccessible to us. Apart from the economy we lack evidence for grasping who the divine persons are, and need the economy to make good the deficit. The problem, though, is that the scripturally narrated economy of salvation gives us too much evidence about how to distinguish and relate the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and we need some way to narrow the field.

This is perhaps clearest when it comes to the relation between the Son and the Spirit. As recent trinitarian theologies have often observed, the New Testament depicts not only actions by the incarnate Son Jesus of which the Spirit is the term (the Son breathes the Spirit upon the apostles, sends the Spirit to them, and so forth), but also actions of the Spirit of which the Son is the term (the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness, incites him to preach good news to the poor, is the power who raises him, and so forth). How are we to "read off" from this a conclusion about what makes the Son and the Spirit the unique individuals they are? One influential suggestion has been that divine persons can be sent only by those from whom they originate, and that their personal uniqueness derives from these relations of origin (cf. Aquinas, Summa theologiae, i, 43, 1). Since the Father sends the Son and both send the Spirit, we can "read off" from these economic data that the Son originates from the Father, and the Holy Spirit originates from both the Father and the Son. Given the distinct location of each person in this order of origin, we can discern what makes each one the unique individual he is. But while the New Testament never says exactly that the Spirit "sends" the Son, it clearly makes the Son the term of the Spirit's action (like "leading" into the wilderness). From this the traditional principles allow us to infer that the Spirit originates from the Father, and the Son originates from both the Father and the Spirit.22

Thus we can read off from the economy both that the Spirit originates from the Son, and that the Son originates from the Spirit. But these look like contradictories, so one of them has to be false. "To originate from" implies "to depend totally for one's being upon." If the Spirit depends totally for his being upon the Son, as the Son does upon the Father, the Son cannot also depend totally for his being upon the Spirit. The Son cannot depend totally for his being on one who, as originating from him, cannot be unless he is. The same goes, mutatis mutandis, if the Son depends totally for his being upon the Spirit. Thus if we are to "read" the economic data in a way which yields a coherent set of results regarding the relations of origin among the divine persons, we need guidance which the economic data do not themselves provide - perhaps from some sort of authoritative teaching about what makes each person the unique individual he is.23

Where to start?

The question of where trinitarian theology should "start" (cf. 5a) connects many of the issues raised by theses (4) to (6). The difference between "personalist" and "essential-ist" views of the Trinity (cf. 4) consists in, or results from, different theological starting points; whether or not a trinitarian identification of God adequately informs the whole of Christian theology (cf. 5) turns on whether theology starts with the persons or the essence; in the distinction between personalist and essentialist approaches to the Trinity, and thereby in different starting points, the basic difference between the "Eastern" and "Western" trinitarian traditions is held to consist (cf. 6). The plausibility of much of theses (4) to (6) therefore hangs on whether the content of a trinitarian theology depends in any important way on where it starts.

Probably the clearest notion of a starting point in theology (or any other verbal enterprise) is that of the first item in the order of presentation - where the book starts. Schleiermacher advocates with particular force the idea that the content of Christian theology, or at least the possibility of grasping the content correctly, depends on the right sequence of topics. For just this reason he argues that the doctrine of the Trinity has to come last in the order of presentation, so as to avoid the false impression that "acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity is the condition without which one cannot believe in redemption and the founding of the Kingdom of God by the divine in Christ and the Holy Spirit" (1976, §172, 3). More recent trinitarian theology often accepts this claim about the difference the order of presentation makes, and uses it to insist that, on the contrary, the (economic) Trinity has to come first.

Presumably any trinitarian theology needs to offer an account of how the three interacting persons with whom we meet in the economy of creation and salvation are one God. It needs to indicate, in other words, how it is consistent to suppose both that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit who make themselves available to us in time are irre-ducibly distinct from one another, and also that they are, whether taken together or one by one, irreducibly not distinct from the one God. To the accomplishment of this basic trinitarian task the order of presentation makes no difference at all. Where one statement comes in a sequence of statements simply has nothing to do with its consistency (or inconsistency) with other statements in the sequence. And of course the sequence can include any statement at all; a sequence of statements places no logical or conceptual constraints on what the next statement will be (though this statement may be inconsistent with earlier ones). The order of presentation simply has nothing to do with what can get said in a trinitarian theology, and with whether what gets said is coherent.

Nor does the order of presentation have anything to do with the content and coherence of a theology as a whole, and in particular with whether a robust awareness of the Trinity informs other theological topics. A scholastic theologian like Aquinas is sometimes faulted for saying relatively little about the temporal actions of the divine persons in his questions about the Trinity in the first part of the Summa theologiae; together with the order of presentation (where discussion of the one divine essence precedes that of the persons), this leaves the impression that "everything about God which is important for us has already been said in the treatise on the one God" (Rahner 199 7:17). It may simply be, however, that the scholastics generally do not think that questions about the processions, relations, and so forth in God are the place to look for a trinitarian account of, say, creation, the image of God in humans, or our deifying participation in the life of God.24 Here too one need not go back to the medievals. Having begun his presentation with "the one God," a manualist like Tabarelli nonetheless observes that the Trinity is "the basis of all the mysteries which are revealed in the gospel . . . from the doctrine of the Trinity the other mysteries of Christ borrow their light, and are contained in it as their common bond" (Tabarelli 1964:9).

The worry about where to start in trinitarian theology might be reframed as a claim about the order of justification. What happens among the divine persons in the economy of salvation has to serve as the epistemic basis not only for assertions about the divine persons "in themselves" (cf. 3a and 4b), but for the assertion that they are one God or share a single divine essence. When it takes (3) in this way, recent trinitarian theology apparently reverses Franzelin's insistence that one always has to have the unity of the divine nature "before one's eyes" in order to grasp the personal distinctions properly (Franzelin 1895:3), but accepts his assumption that the coherence of the two claims depends on which one is taken as epistemically basic.

In this sense, the claim that we have to "start" with the divine persons amounts to saying that the unity of God has to be, and can only be, inferred with logical necessity from the distinctions and relations among the divine persons displayed in the economy of salvation. Unless this strong claim can be made out (and defenders of a personalist starting point have not tried to go this far), it will suffice for trinitarian theology to show that the personal distinctions and the unity of God are consistent with one another.25 To this end it will make no difference whether one proceeds in "personalist" fashion by trying to exhibit the consistency of the divine unity with the personal distinctions, or in "essentialist" fashion by trying to exhibit the consistency of the personal distinctions with the divine unity.

None of this implies that the content of trinitarian proposals might not fail to cohere with the most basic convictions of Christian faith about the Trinity. Thus Rahner, for example, worries that Franzelin's refusal to attribute to the Holy Spirit a relationship to us which the Son and the Father lack reduces trinitarian faith to "mere monotheism." For his part Franzelin worries that ascribing to the Spirit such a relationship is compatible only with tritheism. Whether the coherence of the Christian conviction that the one God is the Trinity really depends on the answer to this warmly debated question is perhaps open to doubt. In any case, showing that a particular theological claim about the Trinity fails to square with the most basic elements of trinitarian faith calls for more than a verdict about where the disputed claim starts. It requires a demonstration that the claim is logically incompatible with any coherent way of maintaining that the three persons are the one God.

Of course decisions about how to proceed in presenting and justifying trinitarian claims may have pedagogical significance, even if the content and coherence of those claims fails to depend on such decisions. Here the rule is to start in the place most helpful to understanding, and not to insist on beginning the same way every time. The philosopher W. V. Quine says somewhere that asking where you should start in philosophy is like asking where you should start in Ohio: it depends on where you are and where you want to go. Surely the same holds for trinitarian theology. Arriving at a coherent account of the Trinity depends on setting out from your present location, whatever that may happen to be, and finding a route (there will no doubt be several) which will allow you to move from that point of departure toward your goal.

To the extent that it depends on the notion of opposed starting points, (6) also turns out not to be very informative: if there are important differences in content between trinitarian theologies written in Greek and those written in Latin, these cannot depend on where each "starts." To be sure, recent trinitarian theologies differ widely on (6). Some decline to play off Eastern against Western views, and draw freely from both.26

But historical research into the connections and contrasts between Greek and Latin trinitarian theology, unbound by de Régnon's assumption that these constitute two disparate traditions, has only begun to bear fruit.27

The main casualty of (6) is no doubt the long scholastic tradition of reflection on the Trinity. Stretching roughly from Anselm into the eighteenth century on both the Protestant and Catholic sides, scholasticism takes earlier texts like Augustine's De Trini-tate as points of departure for critical analysis (not as sets of conclusions to be repeated), and argues with considerable conceptual rigor over many of the options currently proposed as solutions to trinitarian problems. Thesis (6) has repeatedly assured trinitarian theologians that they would find in this whole complex tradition of inquiry only essen-tialist misery, and therefore could safely leave it behind.

We have observed that when it comes to novelty, some common claims of recent trinitarian theology seem less to get beyond Schleiermacher and Franzelin than to oscillate between them, depending on the point at issue. Even apart from questions about the plausibility of these claims, under the influence of (6) the assumption that something new has happened is yet more problematic. When guided by this thesis, the past century's reflection on the Trinity arguably embodies not so much the renewal as the eclipse of trinitarian theology as an ongoing tradition of inquiry.

Notes

1 References to Schleiermacher (1976) will be by paragraph (§) and section number in the text. I will cite English translations where they are available, but have freely modified them in light of the original-language texts (references to which may be found in each of the cited translations).

2 J. B. Franzelin, Tractatus de Deo Trino secundum personas (references in the text are from the 4 th edition of 1895).

3 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (1956-75). References will be by volume and part number in the text. In some respects Barth thought of himself as "renewing" trinitarian theology less than do many who rely on and develop his views.

4 For an insistent version of (1a), see LaCugna (1991).

5 For a vigorous version of (2), see Jenson (1982, 199 7).

6 Though he continues to prefer "mode of being" to "person," Barth's treatment of reconciliation makes much of the voluntary interaction of the Father and the Son on our behalf, and thereby of their differences as agents (e.g., in his account of Jesus's obedience to the Father's command, which is not only "economic" [IV/1:198] but "belongs to the inner life of God," entails a genuine immanent "subordination" of the Son to the Father, and requires a "dynamic" rather than "static" way of thinking about the divine unity [IV/1:201-2; see IV/1:192-210]).

7 Especially that of John Zizioulas (1985).

8 For an energetically trinitarian account of Jesus's passion and resurrection, which Rahner himself does not undertake, see Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale (1993). For a different one see Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (1981:21-96).

9 In his Études de théologie positive sur la Sainte Trinité, 4 vols. (1892-8). Rahner explicitly follows de Régnon on this point. See Theological Investigations, vol. 1 (1961:146).

10 See de Régnon's summary in Études, vol. 1:428-35.

11 In his influential The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, for example, Vladimir Lossky draws from de Régnon not only the historical thesis (1957:57-8), which he uses more polemically than his source, but many of his trinitarian citations of the Greek Fathers. As Michel Barnes has observed, the English translation obscures the extent of Lossky's dependence by dropping most of the references to de Régnon in the notes of the French original (Barnes 1995a:51-79). Cf. Lossky, Essai sur la théologie mystique de l'église d'orient (1944:43-64).

12 De Rationibus Fidei, prooem (no. 949), Raymund Verardo (1954:253). Cf. also Aquinas, Summa theologiae, ii-ii, 174, 6, c: "The whole faith of the church is founded on the revelation made to the apostles concerning faith in the unity and trinity [of God]." Since Aquinas is (together with Augustine) perhaps the theologian whose unhappy influence is assumed to create the most pressing need for trinitarian renewal, he will serve as a useful counterpoint in the evaluation of the present theses.

13 "Early on the doctrine of the Trinity," especially in its baptismal role, "was the holy sign which distinguished Christians from all non-Christians" (Dorner 1883, §29, 1:363; cf. also pp. 349-52).

14 Cf. the discussion in Dorner (1883, §30b:39 7-412). I am grateful to Lewis Ayres for pointing out this passage to me.

15 Walter Kasper and Wolfhart Pannenberg, for example, take locating what Christians are talking about when they speak of "Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit" as a basic problem in the doctrine of God, though they do not describe this as the question of how to "identify" God. See Kasper (1984:133-229); Pannenberg (1991:259-80, 300-36).

16 For an argument in support of (1), and of a version of (2), based on Christian eucharistic practice, see Marshall (2000a:17-49).

17 On these issues see my essays, "The Jewish People and Christian Theology" (Marshall 199 7:81-100), and "Do Christians Worship the God of Israel?" (Marshall 2000b:231-64). The latter argues that only a weak version of (2) is compatible with a non-supersessionist understanding of the Church's relationship to the Jewish people.

18 Expositio Primae Decretalis I (no. 1139), Verardo (1954:418b). The "discussion" to which Aquinas refers here is his own, in the first part of the Expositio.

19 On this see my essay, "Faith and Reason Revisited: Aquinas and Luther on Deciding What is True" (Marshall 1999:1-48).

20 On this see also Marshall (2000a:263-5).

21 Though Barth's odd remarks about the triune God making a "copy" (Nachbild) of himself in the world do give one pause. Cf. III/2:218-19.

22 As, e.g., Thomas Weinandy argues in The Father's Spirit of Sonship (1995), though he usually speaks of the Son originating "in" rather than "from" the Spirit (but cf. p. 70, in note 31).

23 In part to execute a pre-emptive strike against the Filioque, modern Orthodox theologians sometimes reject (3a) entirely: the identity-constituting characteristics of the persons cannot be "read off" their temporal actions at all. But this too makes for puzzles. If there need be no coordination between the relations among the persons which their temporal actions display and what makes each the unique individual he is, then we have to admit the possibility of a temporal economy in which, say, the Spirit could send the Father to be incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and could then breathe the Son upon the world through the risen Father. This Augustine and the Western scholastic tradition have uniformly denied (see, e.g., Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, 43, 4), which is not to say (with some strong and all maximal versions of [3]) that the temporal economy which actually comes to pass is the only one the triune God could undertake.

24 Each of these topics in Aquinas and other medieval theologians has been the subject of a substantial recent study: Gilles Emery, La trinité créatrice (1995); D. Juvenal Merriell, To the Image of the Trinity (1990); Luc-Thomas Somme, Fils adoptifs de Dieu par Jésus Christ (199 7).

25 We cannot decide here whether the converse claim has actually been advocated in the tradition, namely that the personal distinctions must be derived from the unity of essence. In any case, after the condemnation at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) of the proposition that the divine essence or nature "generates" (attributed, whether or not correctly, to Joachim of Fiore), the scholastic tradition explicitly rejects any idea of deriving the persons from the essence. In fact Thomas Aquinas apparently puts the Summa theologiaes discussion of the personal distinctions after the questions about the divine essence precisely as an aid to avoiding this idea. Even the fullest understanding of the divine essence cannot by itself yield any knowledge of the divine persons, which requires a grasp of the relations of opposition among them. On this see Schmidbaur (1995).

26 See, e.g., the trinitarian sections in vols. 3 and 5 of von Balthasar's Theo-Drama (1992, 1998), and Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (1983), especially vol. 3.

27 Cf. André de Halleux (1990:215-68); Michel Barnes (1995b:237-50); Gilles Emery (2000:521-63); Lewis Ayres (2000:39-82).

References

Aquinas, T. 1948-52. Summa theologiae, ed. Peter Caramello, 4 vols. Turin and Rome: Marietti.

Aquinas, T. 1954a. De Rationibus Fidei, in Verardo (1954:253-68).

Aquinas, T. 1954b. Expositio Primae Decretalis in Verardo (1954:417-26).

Ayres, L. 2000. "'Remember that you are Catholic' (sermon 52, 2): Augustine on the Unity of the Triune God," Journal of Early Christian Studies 8:39-82. Barnes, M. 1995a. "De Régnon Reconsidered," Augustinian Studies 26:51-79. Barnes, M. 1995b. "Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology," Theological Studies 56:237-50.

Barth, K. 1956-75. Church Dogmatics, trans. G. Bromily et al. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. Buckley, J. J. and Yeago, D. eds. 2000. Knowing the Triune God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Congar, Y. 1983. I Believe in the Holy Spirit, trans. D. Smith. London: Geoffrey Chapman. De Halleux, A. 1990. "Personnalisme ou essentialisme trinitaire chez les pères cappadociens?"

Patrologie et oecuménisme. Leuven: Peters. De Régnon, T. 1892-8. Études de théologie positive sur la Sainte Trinité, 4 vols. Paris: Victor Retaux et Fils.

Dorner, I. A. 1883. A System of Christian Doctrine, vol. 1, trans. A. Cave. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. Emery, G. 1995. La Trinité créatrice. Paris: J. Vrin.

Emery, G. 2000. "Essentialisme or Personalism in the Treatise on God in St. Thomas Aquinas?"

The Thomist 64(4):521-63. Franzelin, J. B. 1895. Tractatus de Deo Trino secundum personas, 4th edn. Rome: Ex Typographia Polyglotta.

Gunton, C. ed. 199 7. The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenson, R. W. 1982. The Triune Identity. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.

Jenson, R. W. 1997. Systematic Theology, vol. 1: The Triune God. New York: Oxford University Press. Johnson, E. 1992. She Who Is. New York: Crossroad.

Kasper, W. 1984. The God of Jesus Christ, trans. M. J. O'Connell. New York: Crossroad.

LaCugna, C. M. 1991. God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins.

Lossky, V. 1944. Essai sur la théologie de l'église d'orient. Paris: Aubier.

Lossky, V. 1957. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. London: James Clarke.

Marshall, B. D. 199 7. "The Jewish People and Christian Theology," in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, ed. C. Gunton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 81-100.

Marshall, B. D. 1999. "Faith and Reason Revisited: Aquinas and Luther on Deciding What is True," The Thomist 63(1):1-48.

Marshall, B. D. 2000a. Trinity and Truth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marshall, B. D. 2000b. "Do Christians Worship the God of Israel?" in Knowing the Triune God, eds. J. J. Buckley and D. Yeago. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, pp. 231-64.

Merriel, D. J. 1990. To the Image of the Trinity. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.

Moltmann, J. 1981. The Trinity and the Kingdom, trans. M. Kohl. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.

Pannenberg, W. 1991. Systematic Theology, vol. 1, trans. G. Bromily. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Rahner, K. 1961. Theological Investigations, vol. 1, trans. C. Ernst. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

Rahner, K. 199 7. The Trinity [1967], 2nd edn., trans. J. Donceel. New York: Crossroad.

Schleiermacher, F. 19 76. The Christian Faith, trans. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.

Schmidbaur, H. C. 1995. Personarum Trinitas: Die trinitarische Gotteslehre des heiligen Thomas von Aquin. St. Ottilien: Eos Verlag.

Somme, L. -T. 1997. Fils adoptifs de Dieu par Jésus Christ. Paris: J. Vrin.

Tabarelli, R. 1964. De SS. Trinitate, ed. C. Fabro. Rome: Pontifica Universitas Lateranensis.

Verardo, R. ed. 1954. S. Thomae Aquinatis Opuscula Theologica, vol. 1. Turin and Rome: Marietti.

Von Balthasar, H. U. 1992, 1998. Theo-Drama, vols. 3 and 5, trans. G. Harrison. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press.

Von Balthasar, H. U. 1993. Mysterium Paschale, trans. Aiden Nichols. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Weinandy, T. 1995. The Father's Spirit of Sonship. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Zizioulas, J. 1985. Being as Communion. New York: SVS Press.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Path To Positive Thinking

The Path To Positive Thinking

Finally, The Ultimate Guide To Changing Your Life Forever... Get Your Hands On The Ultimate Guide For Live Improvement Through The Art Of Positive Thinking And Let It's Magic Change Your Life Forever! Discover How Ordinary People Can Live Extraordinary Lives Through The Power Of Positive Thinking

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment