Sunday, July 19, 2015

Owen Thomas' Explanation of the Trinity Doctrine

Professor Owen Thomas endeavors to articulate what the Trinity is and is not:

The result of the analysis of the biblical testimony in the light of the tradition of the church is that the distinctions Father, Son and Spirit do not refer to persons in the modern sense [i.e., as separate centers of consciousness] or parts of God; each refers to the whole of the Godhead. They do not refer to aspects, qualities, or attributes of God, because all of these apply equally to each of the "persons." They do not refer to functions or types of activity of God, because each of the "persons" is involved in each activity of God. They are not simply ways in which God is revealed or ways in which we experience God but rather essential or immanent distinctions in the godhead. The names Father, Son and Holy Spirit refer to modes of being of God, distinctions in the way in which God is God, distinctions in the form, pattern, order, or structure of all of God's activities.

Quote taken from Thomas' work Introduction to Theology. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1994. Page 71.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity#/media/File:Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.svg

18 comments:

Philip Fletcher said...

He does say the traditions of the church. He does not say it is biblical of course, there are no scriptures to back up what he says. But in a traditional manner, it is understood. However tradition is wrong! I assumed that when they refer to Jesus as Wisdom of God, that that quality was of God, but it still is a quality, not the whole of God.

Edgar Foster said...

Philip, Thomas also mentions the "biblical testimony in the light" of church tradition. So he does believe and argues that the Trinity doctrine is biblical, if you read the entire chapter from the book I quoted, but he just thinks it cannot be derived from scripture apart from church tradition. And I believe that Thomas is an Episcopalian theologian.

He also does not reckon that Christ is the whole of God, but rather, he confesses that Jesus is the Son of God (i.e., the second person of the Trinity). But "person" here is understood in a premodern and analogical sense.

Alethinon61 said...

So Owen Thomas is a modalist?

~Sean

Edgar Foster said...

Sean,

Thomas makes it clear in his book that he's not espousing "heretical" modalism. We also find orthodox writers like the Cappadocian Fathers using "modes of being" language. Thomas is referring to eternal distinctions or modes unlike modalists, who tend to depict the modes of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in serialized ways.

Duncan said...

Edgar,

Regardless of what he claims elsewhere this quote falls back to modalist language.

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan,

Thomas' remarks are completely in line with "orthodox" Trinitarianism. What the Cappadocian Fathers say is not that much different from the language of Thomas.

Edgar Foster said...

Please see http://fosterheologicalreflections.blogspot.com/2007/11/lewis-ayres-on-cappadician-use-of.html

Duncan said...

Frankly, the just cannot help it with the fundamental floors in the logic:-

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6OJvO2jMCr8C&pg=PA919&lpg=PA919&dq=Cappadocian+Fathers+modalism&source=bl&ots=Fvn1BktWux&sig=G43YIVRzPL-96cyXXGLHBftr_WY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDoQ6AEwBWoVChMIm_iypKvuxgIVg7QUCh3XhQuX#v=onepage&q=Cappadocian%20Fathers%20modalism&f=false

"only gets beyond modalism by the mere assertion that he does not want to be a modalist".

Duncan said...

Socrates’ Church History, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol. II, p. 27.

while they [the bishops] occupied themselves in too minute investigation of its import, they roused the strife against each other; it seemed not unlike a contest in the dark; for neither party appeared to understand distinctly the grounds on which they calumniated one another. Those who objected to the word homoousios, conceived that those who approved it favored the opinion of Sabellius and Montanus; they therefore called them blasphemers, as subverting the existence of the Son of God. And again the advocates of this term, charging their opponents with polytheism, inveighed against them as introducers of heathen superstitions…. In consequence of these misunderstandings, each of them wrote as if contending against adversaries: and although it was admitted on both sides that the Son of God has a distinct person and existence, and all acknowledged that there is one God in three Persons, yet from what cause I am unable to divine, they could not agree among themselves, and therefore could in no way endure to be at peace.

Can you confirm that is a reasonable translation?

Edgar Foster said...

Regarding the link from google books, the comment about modalism is made concerning how Adolf Harnack viewed Augustine's articulation of the Trinity doctrine. Notie that both Greek and Latin theologians considered modalism to be heretical. That includes the three Cappadocians, who use mode language for the triune deity. The reference you provided states that Basil, Gregory Nazianzius, and Gregory of Nyssa all "fashined a powerful theory of the Trinity" that still resonates with the East and social trinitarinism advocates.

Edgar Foster said...

I believe the words of Socrates are translated from Εκκλησιαστική Ιστορία 1.23:

ἃς μετὰ τὴν συνόδον οἱ ἐπίσκοποι πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἔγραφον͵ ἡ τοῦ ὁμοουσίου λέξις τινὰς διετάραττε· περὶ ἣν κατατριβόμενοι καὶ ἀκριβολογούμενοι τὸν κατὰ ἀλλήλων πόλεμον ἤγειραν· νυκτομαχίας τε οὐδὲν ἀπεῖχε τὰ γινόμενα· οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀλλήλους ἐφαίνοντο νοοῦντες͵ ἀφ΄ ὧν ἀλλήλους βλασφημεῖν ὑπελάμβανον. Οἱ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ ὁμοουσίου τὴν λέξιν ἐκκλίνοντες͵ τὴν Σαβελλίου καὶ Μοντανοῦ δόξαν εἰσηγεῖσθαι τοὺς αὐτὴν προσδεχομένους ἐνόμιζον· καὶ διὰ τοῦτο βλασφήμους ἐκάλουν͵ ὡς ἀναιροῦντας τὴν ὕπαρξιν τοῦ Υἱοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ· οἱ δὲ πάλιν τῷ ὁμοουσίῳ προσκείμενοι͵ πολυθεΐαν εἰσάγειν τοὺς ἑτέρους νομίζοντες͵ ὡς Ἑλληνισμὸν εἰσάγοντας ἐξετρέποντο. Καὶ Εὐστάθιος μὲν ὁ Ἀντιοχείας ἐπίσκοπος διασύρει τὸν Παμφίλου Εὐσέβιον͵ ὡς τὴν ἐν Νικαίᾳ πίστιν παραχαράττοντα· Εὐσέβιος δὲ τὴν μὲν ἐν Νικαίᾳ πίστιν οὔ φησι παραβαίνειν͵ διαβάλλει δὲ Εὐστάθιον͵ ὡς τὴν Σαβελλίου δόξαν εἰσάγοντα· διὰ ταῦτα ἕκαστοι ὡς κατὰ ἀντιπάλων τοὺς λόγους συνέγραφον· ἀμφότεροί τε λέγοντες ἐνυπόστατόν τε καὶ ἐνυπάρχοντα τὸν Υἱὸν εἶναι τοῦ Θεοῦ͵ ἕνα τε Θεὸν ἐν τρισὶν ὑποστάσεσιν εἶναι ὁμολογοῦντες͵ ἀλλήλοις͵ οὐκ οἶδ΄ ὅπως͵ συμφωνῆσαι οὐκ ἴσχυον· καὶ διὰ ταῦτα ἡσυχάζειν οὐδενὶ τρόπῳ ἠνείχοντο.

From just a cursory examination, the rendering seems mostly fair to me.

Duncan said...

The paradigm in which this reference work is based is bound to minimize the imports of such statements of persons like Adolf Harnack, to label it as extreme, but every trinitarian analogy I have ever encountered thus far falls into modalist language. This is why it always end up with the get out of jail free card of a sacred mystery. Something that cannot be adequately expressed in words.

What is claimed & what is said. Subtly different.

http://fosterheologicalreflections.blogspot.co.uk/2013_10_01_archive.html

I think we are on the same page.

Duncan said...

"as separate centers of consciousness"

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=OYjO5N2l7l4C&pg=PA188&dq=%22separate+centers+of+consciousness%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAGoVChMI-Kjr1fPwxgIVRJ2ACh2_wQZf#v=onepage&q=%22separate%20centers%20of%20consciousness%22&f=false

Philip Fletcher said...

Yeah, but even with all the fancy ancient greek, it comes down to this, without church tradition, there is no trinity doctrine, we know that no 1st century christian believed in it. More than likely no 2nd centruy christian did either. Without the church tradition as being held equal to scripture,( which it should not be) there is no trinity. Years ago I got an email ( wish I had retained it) from Barry Hofstetter, he told me straight out that the "RCC was inspired to make the belief that Jesus is God."
I said I be concerned with anything the RCC said. So this is the kind of mentality evangelical and all trinitarians have. Wow was all I could think of.

Killa Jules said...

Trinitarian 'logic' allows them to defend their claim that Jesus is God, no matter what. If Jesus miraculously appeared to the world tomorrow and said, "I am not God the almighty" they would say that Jesus was only saying that he alone is not the Godhead. If he used Trinitarian language to deny the trinity and said "I am not part of the Godhead" they would take that as 'proof' that the Trinity is not composed of separate parts. If Jesus said "the trinity doctrine is false", they would claim that Jesus was only referring to some version of the Trinity that they disagree with (Latin or social trinitarianism) or they might say that he only meant that human language couldn't describe it. Their arguments allow them to weasel their way out of anything.




The only thing ever described in scripture as a multi-personal entity (or something like that) is Legion. Who just so happens to be a man possessed by demon(s). "I am called legion for we are many" has similar sort of sentence structure/intended meaning that I'd expect a Trinitarian deity to use to describe itself (their self?).

I wonder what, if any, significance this has.

Philip Fletcher said...

I agree with you on that, but without a doubt, they cannot find the word trinity in the bible, nor can they say that 1st century Christians believed in it. They fuss and fuss about the divine name not being in the christian greek scriptures, so it should not be there in any translation, but they want us to accept the trinity, when it doesn't appear there in the scriptures either. And someone went out of his way to produce the spurious 1 John 5:7,8,( really spurious means it is a added lie.), because they had no evidence for it outside of church tradition. Let's see them weasel around that. Yes, without church tradition there is no trinity.

Killa Jules said...

Good points, especially regarding 1 John 5:7,8. Indeed, without church tradition, there is no trinity which brings me to my other question. Might there be a link between the concept of the trinity and Legion, as described in Mark 5:9? Legion is the closest thing in the bible that could be called multi-personal and the Bible does sometimes mention 'teachings inspired by demons'. Coincidence?

Philip Fletcher said...

Well, we know teaching inspired by demons is correct. However, thru out history, there has been and continues to be a trinity of God. It started way before legion. So somewhere along the way about the end of the 3rd. century the trinity was brought into the apostatizing Christians. I think Tertullian came up with the phrase. But, did not say that God was a trinity.