Threeness and Oneness: East and West

The past few weeks I’ve been chipping away at Robert Letham’s The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (P+R, 2004).  Its a fantastic book.  Letham’s historical overview of the development of the doctrine of Trinity is especially good.  He shows how different emphases in the East and West have led toward different challenges.  In the West, starting with Augustine and furthered with Aquinas, the emphasis has been on the one divine essence, with the three persons calling for explanation.  The recurrent danger has been modalism.  In the East, starting with the Cappadocian Fathers and furthered with John of…

Simplicity and Trinity

Divine simplicity means that God is not composed of different parts, but utterly whole and indivisible.  Its opposite is not “complex” but “composite.”  To affirm divine simplicity is to affirm that each of God’s attributes is identical with his essence: God is not merely loving and righteous and holy, but Love and Righteousness and Holiness.  Whatever God is, He wholly is. I used to really struggle to understand how the doctrine of God’s simplicity fits together with the doctrine of the Trinity.  After all, if God has no parts, how can we say that He exists in three Persons?  How…

Trinity and Aseity

John Webster on how the doctrine of Trinity saves us from a merely negative, functional definition of divine aseity: “Aseity is not to be defined merely in negative terms, as the mere absence of origination or dependence upon an external cause. If this is allowed to happen, then a subordinate characteristic of aseity (God’s ‘not being from another’) comes to eclipse its primary meaning (God’s ‘being in and from himself’)…. Aseity is not merely the quality of being (in contrast to contingent reality) underived: it is the eternal lively plenitude of the Father who begets, the Son who is begotten,…

Two Calvin Quotes

Calvin, commenting on Exodus 34:6-7, writes: “Thereupon his powers are mentioned, by which he is shown to us not as he is in himself, but as he is towards us; so that this recognition of him consists more in living experience than in vain and high-flown speculation” (Quoted in Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives, edited by Bruce McCormack [Baker Academic, 2008], p. 9.) As I have reflected on this quote over the last week, it has helped me see in a new way the danger of an overly philosophical and intellectual approach to theology. In Scripture, the…

Reflections on the Trinity (4)

Some fascinating quotes from Edwards on the Trinity, all of which I have drawn from Amy Plantinga Pauw’s The Supreme Harmony of All: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards. “God has appeared glorious to me, on account of the Trinity. It has made me have exalting thoughts of God that he subsists of three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” (Personal Narrative) “I am not afraid to say twenty things about the Trinity which the Scripture never said.” (Miscellanies #94) “One alone cannot be excellent, inasmuch as, in such case, there can be no consent. Therefore, there must be a…

Reflections on the Trinity (3)

In my continued reflections on the difficult, weighty, and beautiful doctrine of the Trinity, I looked a bit tonight at the fourth and final section of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, entitled “Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity.” Lewis is a master of stating profound truths in simple and accessible ways. I found several helpful quotes that helped me think through more clearly some of the ideas I had hit upon in my first two posts on this topic. I will reproduce some of the best ones here. From Chapter 2, “The Three-Personal God:” “You know…

Reflections on the Trinity (2)

I want to return to something I referred to in my last post (and have written about elsewhere), namely, my struggle with this doctrine during college. I found the Trinity difficult because it just seemed too strange to be plausible. Also, it seemed arbitrary – why three? If God has existed from all eternity past as a community of persons, why not four, or forty? What has been most helpful to me on this doctrine is the theology of Karl Barth, particularly his doctrine of the “infinite qualitative distinction between God and man.” In referring to Barth I am not…