Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Early Church, Trinitarianism, and the Subordination of the Son II

[This will be the second of a series of posts on the Trinitarian views of the early church fathers, particularly focused on the way in which they view the relationship between the Father and Son. For the first, see here.] 

Novatian was a third century early church father whose impressive intellectual capacities facilitated his near rise to the office of the bishop of Rome. Eusebius even records that his opponent Cornelius, who eventually secured the episcopate, admitted he was “remarkable” and “illustrious man,” a “defender of the doctrine of the Church,” though he clearly thought little of his moral character (link). While Jerome notes some of his letters which have apparently not survived, he particularly mentions that his work On the Trinity was “a great volume” and “a sort of epitome of the work of Tertullian” (link), a second century early church father credited as having coined the word “Trinity.” It is to this work (link) I now turn.

In his first eight chapters, Novatian uses Scripture to carefully and with appreciable nuance defend the doctrines of man as image of God, creation, and divine simplicity, timelessness, immutability, incomprehensibility, immanence, providence, accommodation, and perfection. On the whole, he is remarkably efficient. Noteworthy exegetical conclusions include that Isaiah 45:22 and Mark 10:18 both apply to the Father and that the “I AM” statements indicate divine immutability. These eight chapters each refer to the Father, after which he begins chapter 9 by writing:

The same rule of truth teaches us to believe, after the Father, also on the Son of God, Christ Jesus, the Lord our God, but the Son of God—of that God who is both one and alone, to wit the Founder of all things, as already has been expressed above. For this Jesus Christ, I will once more say, the Son of this God, we read of as having been promised in the Old Testament, and we observe to be manifested in the New, fulfilling the shadows and figures of all the sacraments, with the presence of the truth embodied. For as well the ancient prophecies as the Gospels testify Him to be the son of Abraham and the son of David.  

He then lists many passages in the Old Testament which anticipate Christ and follows in chapter 10 with a refutation of Docetism. Here, it is sufficient to note that he is clear in his affirmation that the Father is “God who is both one and alone.” This is not to exclude divinity from Christ, as he proceeds to extensively demonstrate from Scripture in chapters 11-22, but from this prelude to his discussion of the Trinity there can already be seen an indication that the Father is God in a peculiar sense. Indeed, in chapter 16, Christ’s relationship with “the one true God” who sent Him – the Father – is why He too is able “to be understood to be God”:

We must not then lean to one side and evade the other side, because any one who should exclude one portion of the truth will never hold the perfect truth. For Scripture as much announces Christ as also God, as it announces God Himself as man. It has as much described Jesus Christ to be man, as moreover it has also described Christ the Lord to be God. Because it does not set forth Him to be the Son of God only, but also the Son of man; nor does it only say, the Son of man, but it has also been accustomed to speak of Him as the Son of God. So that being of both, He is both, lest if He should be one only, He could not be the other. For as nature itself has prescribed that he must be believed to be a man who is of man, so the same nature prescribes also that He must be believed to be God who is of God; but if he should not also be God when he is of God, no more should he be man although he should be of man. And thus both doctrines would be endangered in one and the other way, by one being convicted to have lost belief in the other. Let them, therefore, who read that Jesus Christ the Son of man is man, read also that this same Jesus is called also God and the Son of God.

Just as the reason Jesus is man is that He is by nature of man, so also the reason Jesus is God is that He is by nature of God. He is able to be called man and God because He is by nature the Son of Man and Son of God. He repeats this argument in chapter 21 when he says: “Christ is proved to be not man only, because He was the son of man, but also God, because He is the Son of God?” Thus, He is no more God-of-Himself than He is man-of-Himself. And in chapter 18, in addition to adducing yet another proof of the divinity of Christ, Novatian argues “He is of God, is rightly called God, because He is the Son of God.” In context, he also touches on the subordination of the Son to His Father:

What in the world is the reason that we should hesitate to call Him God, who in so many ways is acknowledged to be proved God? And if, moreover, the angel meets with Hagar, Sarah's maid, driven from her home as well as turned away, near the fountain of water in the way to Shur; asks and learns the reason of her flight, and after that offers her advice that she should humble herself; and, moreover, gives her the hope of the name of mother, and pledges and promises that from her womb there should be a numerous seed, and that she should have Ishmael to be born from her; and with other things unfolds the place of his habitation, and describes his mode of life; yet Scripture sets forth this angel as both Lord and God— for He would not have promised the blessing of seed unless the angel had also been God. Let them ask what the heretics can make of this present passage. Was that the Father that was seen by Hagar or not? For He is declared to be God. But far be it from us to call God the Father an angel, lest He should be subordinate to another whose angel He would be. But they will say that it was an angel. How then shall He be God if He was an angel? Since this name is nowhere conceded to angels, except that on either side the truth compels us into this opinion, that we ought to understand it to have been God the Son, who, because He is of God, is rightly called God, because He is the Son of God. But, because He is subjected to the Father, and the Announcer of the Father's will, He is declared to be the Angel of Great Counsel. Therefore, although this passage neither is suited to the person of the Father, lest He should be called an angel, nor to the person of an angel, lest he should be called God; yet it is suited to the person of Christ that He should be both God because He is the Son of God, and should be an angel because He is the Announcer of the Father's mind. And the heretics ought to understand that they are setting themselves against the Scriptures, in that, while they say that they believe Christ to have been also an angel, they are unwilling to declare Him to have been also God, when they read in the Old Testament that He often came to visit the human race. To this, moreover, Moses added the instance of God seen of Abraham at the oak of Mature, when he was sitting at the opening of his tent at noon-day. And nevertheless, although he had beheld three men, note that he called one of them Lord; and when he had washed their feet, he offers them bread baked on the ashes, with butter and abundance of milk itself, and urges them that, being detained as guests, they should eat. And after I this he hears also that he should be a father, and learns that Sarah his wife should bring forth a son by him; and acknowledges concerning the destruction of the people of Sodom, what they deserve to suffer; and learns that God had come down on account of the cry of Sodom. In which place, if they will have it that the Father was seen at that time to have been received with hospitality in company with two angels, the heretics have believed the Father to be visible. But if an angel, although of the three angels one is called Lord, why, although it is not usual, is an angel called God? Unless because, in order that His proper invisibility may be restored to the Father, and the proper inferiority be remitted to the angel, it was only God the Son, who also is God, who was seen by Abraham, and was believed to have been received with hospitality.

A messenger is subordinate to the one on whose behalf he relates a message. As Christ is the angel, He is subordinate to the Father or subject to His will. Now, it is true that this is related to economic activity, but the reason he is fit for this office has to do with the relations in the immanent Trinity. The Son is suited to the position in question because He is God’s Son, properly inferior in person though not in nature. The footnote to this reference to the Son’s “proper inferiority” in Volume 5 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers appropriately says: “The Nicene doctrine includes the subordination of the Son.” The subordination of the Son is no more economic than the invisibility of the Father who the Son images. And in chapter 22, Novatian uses Philippians 2 to note He is not only the image of God but also the form of God:

If Christ had been only man, He would have been spoken of as in the image of God, not in the form of God. For we know that man was made after the image or likeness, not after the form, of God. Who then is that angel who, as we have said, was made in the form of God? But neither do we read of the form of God in angels, except because this one is chief and royal above all — the Son of God, the Word of God, the imitator of all His Father's works, in that He Himself works even as His Father. He is — as we have declared — in the form of God the Father. And He is reasonably affirmed to be in the form of God, in that He Himself, being above all things, and having the divine power over every creature, is also God after the example of the Father. Yet He obtained, this from His own Father, that He should be both God of all and should be Lord, and be begotten and made known from Himself as God in the form of God the Father. He then, although He was in the form of God, thought it not robbery that He should be equal with God. For although He remembered that He was God from God the Father, He never either compared or associated Himself with God the Father, mindful that He was from His Father, and that He possessed that very thing that He is, because the Father had given it Him. Thence, finally, both before the assumption of the flesh, and moreover after the assumption of the body, besides, after the resurrection itself, He yielded all obedience to the Father, and still yields it as ever. Whence it is proved that He thought that the claim of a certain divinity would be robbery, to wit, that of equalling Himself with God the Father; but, on the other hand, obedient and subject to all His rule and will, He even was contented to take on Him the form of a servant — that is, to become man; and the substance of flesh and body which, as it came to Him from the bondage of His forefathers' sins according to His manhood, He undertook by being born, at which time moreover He emptied Himself, in that He did not refuse to take upon Him the frailty incident to humanity.

The Son did not grasp at the “claim of a certain divinity” – that is, that which is proper to the Father alone – because such would have been a robbery. Rather, the Son was always “mindful that He was from His Father, and that He possessed that very thing that He is, because the Father had given it Him.” Accordingly, He is neither autotheos nor aseity.

In chapters 23-28, Novatian concerns himself with refuting heretics on opposite extremes: those who think these Scriptures prove the Son is the Father, those who think the Son is not human, and those who think the Son is not God. In chapter 26, he again emphasizes the obedience, subjection, and derivation of the eternally begotten Son to and from the Father:

And I should have enough to do were I to endeavour to gather together all the passages whatever on this side; since the divine Scripture, not so much of the Old as also of the New Testament, everywhere shows Him to be born of the Father, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made, who always has obeyed and obeys the Father; that He always has power over all things, but as delivered, as granted, as by the Father Himself permitted to Him. And what can be so evident proof that this is not the Father, but the Son; as that He is set forth as being obedient to God the Father, unless, if He be believed to be the Father, Christ may be said to be subjected to another God the Father?

He makes very similar points in the next chapter:

He is therefore the Son, not the Father: for He would have confessed that He was the Father had He considered Himself to be the Father; and He declares that He was sanctified by His Father. In receiving, then, sanctification from the Father, He is inferior to the Father. Now, consequently, He who is inferior to the Father, is not the Father, but the Son; for had He been the Father, He would have given, and not received, sanctification. Now, however, by declaring that He has received sanctification from the Father, by the very fact of proving Himself to be less than the Father, by receiving from Him sanctification, He has shown that He is the Son, and not the Father. Besides, He says that He is sent: so that by that obedience wherewith the Lord Christ came, being sent, He might be proved to be not the Father, but the Son, who assuredly would have sent had He been the Father; but being sent, He was not the Father, lest the Father should be proved, in being sent, to be subjected to another God.

It is evident Novatian considered that the economic and immanent Trinity are related, for the Father cannot be sent by the Son, nor can the Father be sanctified by the Son. The Son obeys, is less than, and is inferior to the Father. But again, this is strictly a comparison of the relations between persons, not of the natures of the persons. After a brief chapter on the Holy Spirit, Novatian fittingly concludes his treatise by considering how monotheism can be true if in Scripture both the Father and Son are called God. After citing numerous Scriptures demonstrating this to be the case, he concludes chapter 30 with several useful analogies to put heretics on the defensive:

And in the first place, we must turn the attack against them who undertake to make against us the charge of saying that there are two Gods. It is written, and they cannot deny it, that there is one Lord. What, then, do they think of Christ? — that He is Lord, or that He is not Lord at all? But they do not doubt absolutely that He is Lord; therefore, if their reasoning be true, here are already two Lords. How, then, is it true according to the Scriptures, there is one Lord? And Christ is called the one Master. Nevertheless we read that the Apostle Paul also is a master. Then, according to this, our Master is not one, for from these things we conclude that there are two masters. How, then, according to the Scriptures, is one our Master, even Christ? In the Scriptures there is one called good, even God; but in the same Scriptures Christ is also asserted to be good. There is not, then, if they rightly conclude, one good, but even two good. How, then, according to the scriptural faith, is there said to be only one good? But if they do not think that it can by any means interfere with the truth that there is one Lord, that Christ also is Lord, nor with the truth that one is our Master, that Paul also is our master, or with the truth that one is good, that Christ also is called good; on the same reasoning, let them understand that, from the fact that God is one, no obstruction arises to the truth that Christ also is declared to be God.

There is said to be one God, one Lord, one Master, and only one who is good, and yet in other places, other persons are also said to be God, Lord, master, and good. So even if there were a problem for monotheists, these other examples would pose a problem for Sabellians, tritheists, and other heretics too which, if they were to solve those cases, would solve the case for monotheists. The final chapter contains Novatian’s own solution, reproduced here in full:

Thus God the Father, the Founder and Creator of all things, who only knows no beginning, invisible, infinite, immortal, eternal, is one God; to whose greatness, or majesty, or power, I would not say nothing can be preferred, but nothing can be compared; of whom, when He willed it, the Son, the Word, was born, who is not received in the sound of the stricken air, or in the tone of voice forced from the lungs, but is acknowledged in the substance of the power put forth by God, the mysteries of whose sacred and divine nativity neither an apostle has learned, nor prophet has discovered, nor angel has known, nor creature has apprehended. To the Son alone they are known, who has known the secrets of the Father. He then, since He was begotten of the Father, is always in the Father. And I thus say always, that I may show Him not to be unborn, but born. But He who is before all time must be said to have been always in the Father; for no time can be assigned to Him who is before all time. And He is always in the Father, unless the Father be not always Father, only that the Father also precedes Him — in a certain sense — since it is necessary — in some degree — that He should be before He is Father. Because it is essential that He who knows no beginning must go before Him who has a beginning; even as He is the less as knowing that He is in Him, having an origin because He is born, and of like nature with the Father in some measure by His nativity, although He has a beginning in that He is born, inasmuch as He is born of that Father who alone has no beginning. He, then, when the Father willed it, proceeded from the Father, and He who was in the Father came forth from the Father; and He who was in the Father because He was of the Father, was subsequently with the Father, because He came forth from the Father — that is to say, that divine substance whose name is the Word, whereby all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. For all things are after Him, because they are by Him. And reasonably, He is before all things, but after the Father, since all things were made by Him, and He proceeded from Him of whose will all things were made. Assuredly God proceeding from God, causing a person second to the Father as being the Son, but not taking from the Father that characteristic that He is one God. For if He had not been born — compared with Him who was unborn, an equality being manifested in both — He would make two unborn beings, and thus would make two Gods. If He had not been begotten — compared with Him who was not begotten, and as being found equal — they not being begotten, would have reasonably given two Gods, and thus Christ would have been the cause of two Gods. Had He been formed without beginning as the Father, and He Himself the beginning of all things as is the Father, this would have made two beginnings, and consequently would have shown to us two Gods also. Or if He also were not the Son, but the Father begetting from Himself another Son, reasonably, as compared with the Father, and designated as great as He, He would have caused two Fathers, and thus also He would have proved the existence of two Gods. Had He been invisible, as compared with the Invisible, and declared equal, He would have shown forth two Invisibles, and thus also He would have proved them to be two Gods. If incomprehensible, if also whatever other attributes belong to the Father, reasonably we say, He would have given rise to the allegation of two Gods, as these people feign. But now, whatever He is, He is not of Himself, because He is not unborn; but He is of the Father, because He is begotten, whether as being the Word, whether as being the Power, or as being the Wisdom, or as being the Light, or as being the Son; and whatever of these He is, in that He is not from any other source, as we have already said before, than from the Father, owing His origin to His Father, He could not make a disagreement in the divinity by the number of two Gods, since He gathered His beginning by being born of Him who is one God. In which kind, being both as well only-begotten as first-begotten of Him who has no beginning, He is the only one, of all things both Source and Head. And therefore He declared that God is one, in that He proved Him to be from no source nor beginning, but rather the beginning and source of all things. Moreover, the Son does nothing of His own will, nor does anything of His own determination; nor does He come from Himself, but obeys all His Father's commands and precepts; so that, although birth proves Him to be a Son, yet obedience even to death declares Him the minister of the will of His Father, of whom He is. Thus making Himself obedient to His Father in all things, although He also is God, yet He shows the one God the Father by His obedience, from whom also He drew His beginning. And thus He could not make two Gods, because He did not make two beginnings, seeing that from Him who has no beginning He received the source of His nativity before all time. For since that is the beginning to other creatures which is unborn — which God the Father only is, being beyond a beginning of whom He is who was born — while He who is born of Him reasonably comes from Him who has no beginning, proving that to be the beginning from which He Himself is, even although He is God who is born, yet He shows Him to be one God whom He who was born proved to be without a beginning. He therefore is God, but begotten for this special result, that He should be God. He is also the Lord, but born for this very purpose of the Father, that He might be Lord. He is also an Angel, but He was destined of the Father as an Angel to announce the Great Counsel of God. And His divinity is thus declared, that it may not appear by any dissonance or inequality of divinity to have caused two Gods. For all things being subjected to Him as the Son by the Father, while He Himself, with those things which are subjected to Him, is subjected to His Father, He is indeed proved to be Son of His Father; but He is found to be both Lord and God of all else. Whence, while all things put under Him are delivered to Him who is God, and all things are subjected to Him, the Son refers all that He has received to the Father, remits again to the Father the whole authority of His divinity. The true and eternal Father is manifested as the one God, from whom alone this power of divinity is sent forth, and also given and directed upon the Son, and is again returned by the communion of substance to the Father. God indeed is shown as the Son, to whom the divinity is beheld to be given and extended. And still, nevertheless, the Father is proved to be one God; while by degrees in reciprocal transfer that majesty and divinity are again returned and reflected as sent by the Son Himself to the Father, who had given them; so that reasonably God the Father is God of all, and the source also of His Son Himself whom He begot as Lord. Moreover, the Son is God of all else, because God the Father put before all Him whom He begot. Thus the Mediator of God and men, Christ Jesus, having the power of every creature subjected to Him by His own Father, inasmuch as He is God; with every creature subdued to Him, found at one with His Father God, has, by abiding in that condition that He moreover was heard, briefly proved God His Father to be one and only and true God.

It’s difficult to summarize what is quite an articulate summary in itself, much more in a writer who was without much historic precedent for the doctrine. But to summarize anyway, Scripture manifests the Father to be the “one and only and true God” for the following reasons: the Father is the sole individual without a beginning in either a logical or chronological sense. He is the source of the Son who is immanently subject or subordinate to Him; that is, the Father has given the Son all He is and has, including divinity - the Son is from the Father, not from Himself. Therefore, He does nothing of His own will or determination but rather obeys the will, commands, and precepts of His Father. That which the Son is and does redounds to the Father whose majesty, greatness, and power is incomparable. Thus: “God proceeding from God, causing a person second to the Father as being the Son, but not taking from the Father that characteristic that He is one God.” And though He does not receive His Fathers’ properties of invisibility, beginning, etc., yet the Son is God, for He is eternally in and with His Father as the divine and begotten Son. He is logically caused, not chronologically, and in all this Novatian anticipates the arguments of Arius and his followers.

Is Novatian correct in all aspects? Undoubtedly not. And what questionable language he used must be understood in its original context, not read into from our own. But his Trinitarian peers recognized this to certainly be a first-class treatise of the time, and even now Novatian’s understanding far surpasses that of most Christians. Can it be imagined that so ardent an admirer of the man who was the first to call the “Trinity” by name and so remarkable an expositor of Scripture was really a closet Unitarian? If not, then who can deny that Trinitarianism is perfectly compatible with the subordination of the Son and monarchy of the Father in the immanent Trinity?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gordon Clark, Realism, and Trinitarian Principles of Unity

Numeric unity refers to unity among different [implicit] statements according to the referent to which each refers. So, for example, because the Son of God is Messiah, we may also say the Son of Man is Messiah because “Son of God” and “Son of Man” are numerically united according to the fact each refers to the same subject: Jesus. Thus, the Son of God is – though not necessarily means – the Son of Man.

Generic unity refers to unity among multiple distinct species according to the genus or genera under which they may be subsumed. So, for example, Peter, Paul, and John are generically united because of each the definition of “human,” “male,” “Jew,” etc. may be univocally applied though distinctly possessed. They are individual members of the same classes.

I have been told by a fellow Scripturalist that I don’t have “any understanding of numeric as opposed to generic unity as it relates to the Trinity” (link). Let’s see what Gordon Clark has to say and, in the process, evaluate Clark’s related beliefs.

His clearest exposition of numeric unity is found in Ancient Philosophy (pgs. 112-113). In context, Clark is expositing Plato’s theory of Ideas by providing a few historical criticisms. One such criticism was that an individual Idea or objects of thought “could not be present with two other objects at the same time, though such presence is necessary because the Idea Animal must be simultaneously present with the Idea Horse and the Idea Dog” (pg. 112). That is, Dog and Horse could not be distinct [sub-]species of Animal. Humoring the argument, Clark writes:

The Animal in the illustration is either numerically one or not. Since it is individual, the more plausible alternative is its numerical unity. If, then, this Animal is one, we have an animal which both barks and neighs” (pg. 113)

That is, the Ideas Dog and Horse would be [numerically] united such that they would refer to the same animal. Dog and Horse may mean, imply, or connote different predicates of this one animal – the animal can bark because it is a dog and neigh because it is a horse – but the referent would be identical. This is precisely how I view numeric unity.

In my question to Sean on the subject of numeric unity, I asked: “Have you accepted numeric unity after all? Is there but one Trinitarian mind and will?” The reason numeric unity would imply one mind and will rather than three is because the referent of “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” would be the same [person], a fact which is plainly Sabellian. So why doesn’t Sean answer the question? I suspect it is because he knows where my argument is headed: generic unity alone is an insufficient defense against the charge of tritheism. Clark recognized this too. More on this later.

Clark’s response to the aforementioned criticism of Plato’s theory of Ideas can be traced from Plato himself through Augustine. Clark notes that Aristotle used the same method of definition as Plato: “State the genus, then add the difference; this gives the species. The whole universal tree descends from the supreme genus to the infimae, lowest species” (Logic, pg. 24). Plato viewed the relation between species and genus as follows:

As Plato so clearly said in his Parmenides, the Idea, or genus, is not like a canopy or tent in which each man is directly under only a part of the covering. The Idea or definition must be complete in every individual case, or – in better Platonic language – every man must participate in the whole Idea. (The Atonement, pg. 112)

Neo-Platonists developed the idea of participation:

…if there be an object which completely realizes the Idea, still the Idea and the object remain distinct; the Idea never becomes the exclusive possession of the object but may also be present with other objects as well, with the same integral presence. The root of all difficulty in explaining participation is the tendency to think in spatial terms. Omnipresence is not hard to understand if one grasps clearly that it is the omnipresence of a spaceless and timeless entity. (Ancient Philosophy, pg. 245)

This philosophical tradition was improved by Augustine, who converted to Christianity from Neo-Platonism:

Plato had Ideas. Augustine has truths or propositions. In reading what Augustine wrote, most people fail to note what he did not write; namely, they fail to note that he has no theory of abstraction. Instead of abstract ideas, he has truths. The present treatise follows Augustine on this point: There are no such things as abstraction and abstract ideas. (The Trinity, Individuation)

Finally, Clark himself connects this transition from Ideas to propositions to the unity between subjects and predicates, species and genera, members and classes:

All items of knowledge are judgments or predications. A term, such as triangle, by itself cannot be either true or false. But if one says, “the triangle is an isosceles triangle,” or, “the triangle is a four-sided figure,” one has said something either true or false. All judgments are classifications. The triangle is classified under the species of isosceles triangle, or, falsely, under the class of four-sided figures. Two terms, therefore, the subject and the predicate, are brought together. Thus the mind imposes unity on experience by judging or classifying. Since judgments or propositions are the products of the mind’s unifying activity, the several types of judgment are witnesses to several functions of unity. These are the categories, the non-empirical contribution of the mind to knowledge – the prerequisites of learning. They are not based on or derived from experience, but rather the possibility of meaningful experience depends on them. (A Christian View of Men and Things, pgs. 218-219)

In sum, the “participation” of one truth in another is non-rivalrous. That is, the definitions of “dog” and “horse” can both include the definition of “animal” without its needing to be the case that there is just one animal in question, a numerically singular animal to which any reference to “dog” or “horse” would co-refer.

Rather, than being numerically united, then, the definitions of “dog” and “horse” are united by the possession of a common genus or class as a predicate in their respective definitions. This is possible because “a genus is not one of its included individuals” (The Trinity, Individuation); an animal is not a dog or horse per se. To speak of what a genus such as animal “is” means to define it, in which case “animal” is the subject, whereas in the case of species such as “dog” and “horse,” “animal” functions as a predicate. In its place as one predicate among many in these definitions we may substitute the predicates found in the definition of “animal” without a loss of meaning, but then it is obvious that there is a distinction between the genus [as a subject] and the species which possesses the genus [as a predicate]. In other words, the numerical oneness or distinctness of “animal” is unaffected by many species “participating” in it. Furthermore, in that same chapter in The Trinity, Clark notes:

…species and genera can be counted as well as individuals. This pussy, Timothy Ticklepitchers by name, and this puppy, Sport, are two numerically different animals. But feline and canine are also numerically different species. One is as numerical as the other. We can count and number species as easily as we can individuals.

In keeping with the previous illustration, not only is “animal” a genus under which species (dog, horse, etc.) can be generically united, but it is also itself just one among many species which may in turn be subsumed under a broader class or genus like “living creature.” Extrapolation from this fact begs the question: if, in this process of classification and definition, there is a lowest limit – individuals which cannot function as a genus (“non-aristotelian infimae species” per Clark’s Chapter on Augustine in The Trinity) – is there an upper limit, a genus that is not a species or sub-category of some broader genus or class? Yes, though what this limit is may depend on the sort of definition one is interested in:

A good enough beginning for the problem of definition, but only a beginning, is the distinction between connotative and denotative definitions. In fact we may say that the term definition is itself equivocal. Suppose now we wish to define the term eligible voters in such and such a locality. This may be done by saying, A person eligible to vote must be an American citizen, above a certain age, a resident of the State for one year (or whatever the State specifies), and a resident of the precinct for sixty days before the election, and registered. This is call connotative definition, because it lists the necessary and sufficient qualifications. The qualifications are necessary: That is, if any one of them is lacking, the person is ineligible to vote. The qualifications are also sufficient: No further qualification can be required. There is, however, another way to define eligible voters. This is called a denotative definition. A denotative definition explicitly mentions every individual – person, place, or thing – in the class. (Logic, pg. 21)

Denotatively, the upper limit of classification can be said to be existence, reality, or being. These words are simply meant to encompass what “is,” viz. everything. Clark’s dislike of using these words as predicates stems from the fact that they can, in some sense, be applied to every subject. Because they cannot distinguish any one subject from another, they don’t really serve a useful connotative function: can anything fail “to be [real or existent]”? No. Everything qualifies ipso facto. This is why Clark considered himself to be a Realist. On the other hand, an exhaustive denotative list of everything is useful because knowledge requires distinctions and distinctions imply multiple subjects or material from which a hierarchy of classifications can be demonstrated, the total sum of which is just existence, reality, or being that an omniscience would know. But as this is becoming somewhat beside the intended point of this post, I digress.

To lay the groundwork for understanding the way[s] in which Clark believed the persons of the Trinity are united, it will be useful to see how Clark viewed the unity of men. In The Biblical Doctrine of Man, Clark states, using A.A. Hodge’s The Atonement as a foil against which to discuss the proper perspective of the relationship between traducianism and Realism:

How could Adam’s descendants be personally guilty and merit God’s punishment? Hodge objects to the Realism of W.G.T. Shedd, whom he represents as saying (not a verbatim quotation from Shedd) that “Adam was the entire genus homo, as well as the first individual… every individual member [of the human race] was physically and numerically one with him… hence the whole genus is guilty…. This is the Realistic view recently advocated… by Dr. William G.T. Shedd” (p. 99). On the next two pages he reiterates the idea that we “were really and numerically one with Adam” and that “this Realistic theory of our numerical oneness with Adam is an essential element of the doctrine….”

Realism of course asserts the real existence of the human genus. This is an Idea in God’s mind and it is a real object of knowledge. But it is hard to imagine any Realist identifying the perfect eternal Idea with a temporal and imperfect individual. The relationship of Adam to the Idea is precisely the same as the relationship of any other individual man to the Idea. The individuals “participate” in, or are all “patterned after” the Idea; but the notion that one individual is “physically and numerically one” with Adam is enough to send poor Plato to his grace in despair…

There must be some sort of Adamic existence and unity; this unity surely has something to do with both body and soul; and the species man was eternally in God’s mind as truly as Adam was created. But these indubitable truths do not justify an assertion of the numerical and physical unity of each human being with Adam. Could Shedd or anyone else ever have held that I am physically and numerically Adam, and that you are too, and that therefore you and I are the numerically identical body now sitting in this chair?  (pgs. 48-50)

Again, on Clark’s view, everything is “real” or “exists” in some sense. Every subject has predicates. Even an arbitrary jumble of letters not meant to mean or refer to anything can be said to be “an arbitrary jumble of letters not meant to mean or refer to anything” – this predicate is meaningful, even if the intention of the speech is not. So a genus or “Idea” is real, a point whose importance will emerge later when discussing why Clark believes that “God is one substance and three Persons” (The Trinity, More On Terminology) harmonizes monotheism with Trinitarianism.

Clark corrects Hodge’s misunderstanding of Realism in two important ways. Firstly, the idea that Adam is the entire human genus is false if such is a statement of identity – Adam is no more or less man than Plato, Clark, or I am. All individuals distinctly “participate” in Ideas – or more precisely, propositions. Unity among men is not to be found in numerical identification between any one individual and a genus. This should be fairly obvious, as Adam has a physical body whereas the “Idea” of man is not. As was mentioned above, “participation” is not spatial.

Secondly, unity among men is also not to be found in numerical identification among individuals. While participation in an Idea is not spatial, the assertion that men are numerically united once again is viewed by Clark as implying that two different words or statements refer to the same object. In this case, the simplest way to show that no two human individuals are numerically united is to note that no two human individuals are bodily identical. Several pages later, Clark reiterates both this and the fact no genus is one of its individual members:

Hodge (Systematic Theology II, p. 217) admits President Edwards’ theory of original sin “is not exactly the old realistic theory.” Indeed it is not. Edwards was not a realist at all. He was an empiricist, deeply influenced by Locke and Berkeley. Hence objections to Edwards damage neither realism nor traducianism. But Hodge wants to convict realism, even apart from Edwards. He writes (p. 221) “the realistic doctrine… makes the numerical sameness of substance the essence of identity. Every genus or species of plants or animals is one because all the individuals of those genera and species are partakers of one and the same substance. In every species there is but one substance of which the individuals are the modes of manifestations.” From this he infers that realism must identify the individual Adam with the individuals Peter and Paul.

But the difficulty, and of course there are others also, lies in the word substance. This is the word that causes difficulty in the doctrine of the Trinity. Since substance is Latin, and since it was given a different meaning from its Greek cognate hypostasis, one wants to know what Hodge means by it. If we use the medieval Latin, we would not say that “in every species there is but one substance.” We would say, “every species is one substance.” Taking this back to Aristotle, this means that every species has a fixed definition. Plato would have said that the individuals participate in the Idea. In this way an individual could be called a mode of the Idea’s or definition’s manifestation. But this is far from identifying one mode of manifestation with another mode. That is, this is far from identifying the individual Adam with the individual Peter or Paul.
It is also far from identifying Adam with the species homo sapiens. A late Neoplatonist, Porphyry (c. 275), got his name attached to the phrase “a tree of Porphyry.” This is a dichotomous scheme of classification. For example, Living Being is divided into immortal and mortal; mortal is divided into rational and irrational; irrational is divided into plant and animal. Now, then, this individual dachshund, Zephi, is a “manifestation” of the essence, definition, or reality Dachshund. He also participates in the essence of definition of Dog; and of Animal.

If anyone should suspect that Porphyry in the third century of our era cannot be trusted as a representative of Plato six centuries earlier, we may note that Plato’s dialogue Sophist begins with a playful illustration of a “tree of Porphyry” in defining an angler. It eventually discusses the highest Ideas of Being, Same, Other, Rest and Motion; and concludes with another tree of Porphyry defining the Sophist. The dialogue Parmenides is too intricate to discuss here.

But even if Adam and Peter are “lowest species,” they are not identical with each other or with the higher species homo. Someone may now object that all this is too pagan. What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? This is the device of escapism. It evinces a disinclination to serious study. Yet a theologian may and ought to translate this material into more Biblical terminology. So we say, God knows, has the idea of, defines man, Adam, and Peter. God’s knowledge is clear and distinct. He does not confuse one definition with another; he does not confuse Adam with Peter, or either one with the definition of man. (The Biblical Doctrine of Man, pgs. 69-71)

Here too we see a rejection of the numerical unity, identity, or sameness of two individuals or of an individual and a genus. Each has a distinct definition. But a hierarchy of classes shows how one [definition] can “participate” in [a distinct definition of] another through incorporation. Adam and Peter both are men because in the distinct definition of each one will find that [the definition of] “man” is a predicate. In this way, individuals may be said to be particular instances of whatever classes they can be traced to on the “tree of Porphyry.”

It is unclear whether Clark would say that because genera can also be categorized under broader genera – for genera can “participate” in other “Ideas” – genera too can be modes, manifestations, or instances of higher classes. Genera by definition have species: do modes, manifestations, and instances only apply to concrete or particular individuals?

Regardless, if numerical identity is not the means by which all men are united, what is? And how does this relate to the Trinity? Clark answers this in several of his books, so we will examine each in turn. In his article “The Trinity” (link), he writes, “If there be any influence of Greek philosophy on the doctrine of the Trinity, it would be in the relationship of the three Persons to the one essence. This is very complicated. It involves the general philosophic problem of unity in multiplicity.” Prefacing his explanation as to how there can be “unity in multiplicity” in the Trinity, Clark replies to the problem more generally by once again advocating “Realism”:

The solution the following pages defend is the philosophy of Realism, often called Platonism. Strictly, it is not Platonism, but rather the theory of ideas as transformed by Philo. The term Realism, as opposed to empirical and nominalistic epistemology, denotes any theory insisting that we know the real object, and not merely a sensory image or representation of it. Plato called these real objects Ideas. The argument is this: Suppose we have a lot of dice of various sizes. They all have the same shape. Now, this shape is something real. Even though the shape comes in different sizes, it is the same identical shape. If sensory objects alone were real, there could be no idea of similarity or identity, for none of the individual dice is itself similarity. Nor is any one of the dice cube. If one of the dice were the cube, and if only sense objects are real, then no other die could be cube. Hence, there is a real object of knowledge, the cube. It is not a sense object, not only for the preceding reason, but also because this cube exists in many places at once, as no sense object can. Similarly, Plato united all men under the Idea Man, all horses under the Horse, and all beautiful things under real Beauty. With other arguments also Plato asserted the reality of knowable intellectual objects.

Here, Clark associates “participation” with unity [among participants]. Species presuppose a real genus, and it is by being subsumed under this genus that they are really united - this is just what I mean by generic unity. Again, the Idea is not physical, which is why it can be “omnipresent” or equally fully inherent in each participant; in Clark’s preferred terms, the definition of the class can be univocally predicated of each member. So with cubes, so with horses, so with men, and so too with the Trinity, as shall be shown in the following citations:

Postponing the matter of the Tri-personality, let us first examine the indivisibility of the substance. The term substance is an unfortunately mistaken Latin translation. Athanasius spoke of one ousia and insisted that the Three Persons were homoousioi, the same in ousiaOusia means being (a participial noun), reality, or definition. Charles Hodge, Volume I, 460, complains that homoousias can mean either specific sameness or numerical identity. He then argues that Athanasius intended the latter meaning. “In the former sense,” says Hodge, “all spirits, whether God, angels, or men are [h]omoousioi because they are all rational intelligences.” This is not, however, a good argument against the specific, or generic, use of the term homoousios. While God, angels, including Satan, and men are all rational intelligences, just as apple trees, rose bushes, strawberries and plums are rosaceae, the homoousios of Athanasius did not refer to the definition of rational intelligences, but to the definition of God in Three Persons. Species may be defined. So may genera. All the members of a genus are homoousioi. All the members of a species are also homoousioi. But the two homoousioi are not the same ousia. All apple trees belong to the same genus; but not all rosaceae are apple trees. The definition of the latter is more restrictive than the definition of the former. Therefore Athanasius was justified in asserting that the Three Persons were homoousioi, for this does not imply that men and angels are specifically homoousioi with the Three Persons. To make the point clearer, if that be necessary, not only are God and angels homoousioi: God, demons, men, plants, and even rocks are homoousioi. But this does not transmute worms into Deity.

Hodge, of course, is quite correct in saying that the Council took homoousios and homoiousios in radically different senses. But he has not disproved the specific unity of the Godhead. (The Trinity, The Athanasian Creed)

I am not exactly sure what Clark had in mind when he said “God, demons, men, plants, and even rocks are homoousioi.” He may have meant that each are at least included in the denotative list of all things: God, demons, men, plants, and rocks are all “real.” But in Trinitarian contexts, to say the persons of the Trinity are homoousioi is to say they are species of the genus “God.” All the members of a genus are homoousioi – the same in ousia – yet not the same ousia. That is, they are the same in being or definition, but not the same being or definition. In one respect, the same definition may be said to apply to each – in this case, the definition of “God” – but as this definition does not exhaust any of the persons, the persons may yet differ in some other respect such that they are specifically but not numerically the same:

One substance or essence means that neither the Father nor the Son is an “essence.” Each is a “person.” Only the Trinity as such is an “essence.” The confusion here and in the footnote above disappears, or at least is alleviated, by using the word definition instead of essence; and also by remembering that the Son has an “essence” that is different from the “essence” of the Father, but which in both cases contains the “essence” of Deity. The definition of Deity does not define the Son; nor can the definition of the Son apply to Deity. A succulent does not have all the qualities of a cactus, but the latter has all of the characteristics of the former. That is to say, the Trinity or Godhead, absolutely and as such, does not have the characteristics of any one Person, absolutely and as such; but each Person has all the predicates of Deity. Note that the word here is Deity, not Father. (The Trinity, Augustine)

Simplified: each Trinitarian person or species distinctly yet univocally possesses the genus “God.” Hence the label “specific” or “generic” unity: the species are united; the genus is that which unites. Not only does Clark equate specific and generic unity in his article “The Trinity,” but he also explicitly notes that the persons of the Trinity are united in the same sense men are united and uses this to in part explain why he thinks monotheism and Trinitarianism are compatible:

Now, when we face the subject of the Trinity – the common unity in the three Persons – may we not say that the three Persons share or communicate the common characteristics of omnipotence, omniscience, and so forth, and so constitute one essence? The Platonic point of view makes this essence a reality, as truly as Man and Beauty are real. Were the essence not a reality, and the Persons therefore the only realities, we should have tritheism instead of monotheism.

But if anyone assert that it is completely wrong to begin with realistic epistemology, it is enough to recall that nominalism provides no basis for the imputation of righteousness and justification by faith. Or even for talking about the human race. For any doctrine, it is necessary that the cube be a real object of knowledge.

A more substantial objection is that unity in the Godhead cannot be the unity of a species or a genus. The three Persons are one in a stricter, deeper, more inexplicable sense than the sense in which three or thirty men are one. Whether this objection is plausibly true or not depends on the sense in which men are one and the sense in which the Trinity is one. Those who make this objection should define the two senses (if indeed they are two) and point out the distinction. Unless we know how the Persons are one and how men are one, we cannot tell whether the unity is the same or different. But the objectors hardly define specific unity and disclaim ability to define divine unity. Their wording, however, suggests that they are using Aristotelian terminology and have misunderstood Plato.

Hodge wrote (Systematic Theology, II, 59), “the whole nature of essence is in the divine person [each one], but the human person [each one] is only a part of the common human nature” [Hodge is quoting W. G. T. Shedd, History of Christian Doctrine, II, 120. -Ed.] This is a confusing sentence. To fit the argument, it ought to read, “the whole nature or essence is in the divine person, but only a part of the common human nature is in the human person.” If the sentence is not so interpreted, the antithesis Hodge wants to assert-the antithesis between the unity in God and the unity in men-vanishes. Yet this interpretation, the only one that preserves the antithesis, makes the second half of the sentence false; for if a part of human nature were lacking in an object, if the definition of that object did not include every part of the definition of man, if the man did not participate in the whole Idea, that object would not be an individual man. A man is a man only because the entire definition fits.

The arguments of the eminent American theologian fail completely to show that epistemological realism, and especially the assertion that there are eternal Ideas in the mind of God, are inconsistent with the doctrine of the Trinity. But it must be made likewise clear, in the interest of sound logic, that the failure of Hodge’s arguments do not prove the identity of the type of unity among men with the type of unity among the three Persons of the Trinity. It remains an unrefuted plausible option. It seems to be the best solution ever proposed. But it still may be and undoubtedly is inadequate.

Taking note of Clark’s proposed solution first, he says the divine attributes may be predicated of each person of the Trinity. They are therefore specifically or generically united in some sense. Furthermore, “The attributes constitute the definition of God” (The Trinity, Hodge and Berkhof). This definition, like the definition of “man,” is as real as the persons or definitions of whom these definitions may be predicated, so Clark puts forward the argument that monotheism is true because there is just one [real] definition of “God” – the divine attributes – that is applied to each person.

The primary objection to this is that if there is one God in the same sense that there is one man – one generic definition applied to each species – then there would be nothing to prevent us from saying that there are three Gods just as we say there are “three or thirty men.” So even though there is but one definition of “God,” tritheism is still a real danger. Indeed, Clark does not even attempt to reply to this objection in the article. His conclusion here is simply that while the unity among the persons of the Trinity is parallel to the unity among men, “it still may be and undoubtedly is inadequate.” Elsewhere, however, he attempts an answer:

It is interesting to see how Gregory relates the generic Man to the One God. In a letter (?) to Ablabius, On ‘Not Three Gods’ (331-336), he raises the question why, if Peter, James, and John are one human nature, but three men, why are not the Three Persons, of the same nature, three Gods? With unintentional understatement he remarks that this is a difficult question. All men, he continues, have the same nature. Similarly an army has a nature, and though each soldier has an individual name, the nature cannot be divided. However, in the case of God, the matter is more complicated. Gregory’s answer seems to be that God’s nature is unnameable and unspeakable. God is indeed incorruptible, but this word does not express God’s nature in essence. When we say that God is incorruptible, we say that his nature suffers no corruption, but we do not say what that nature is.

Yet, Gregory admits, this does not solve the problem: If there is one common nature, why are there not three Gods? The Godhead signifies an operation, not a nature. Philosophy is an operation, but there are three philosophers. Gregory replies, perhaps lamely, that although the Godhead is an operation, like shoemaking or philosophy, and not a nature, the men operate independently, but the Three Persons always act conjointly, and their operation is one, not three operations. For example, he adds, a sinner does not have three regenerations. Therefore there are not three Gods. (The Trinity, Three Intermediates)

While first paragraph should clarify that Clark’s references to “one nature” or “same nature” is to be taken in a generic rather than numeric sense, it’s worth repeating. Men are not numerically united. The Father, Son, and Spirit are not numerically united. As the aforementioned dog-horse illustration shows, that would lead to Sabellianism. There is one definition but multiple possessions of that one definition. There is not one omniscient mind, though there may be one definition of “omniscient mind.” Actually, Clark’s primary method of individuation necessitates three omniscient minds:

Though they are all equally omniscient, they do not all know the same truths. Neither the complex of truths we call the Father nor those we call the Spirit, has the proposition, “I was incarnated.” This proposition occurs only in the Son’s complex. Other examples are implied. The Father cannot say, “I walked from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Nor can the Spirit say, “I begot the Son.” Hence the Godhead consists of three persons, each omniscient without having precisely the same context. (The Incarnation, pgs. 54-55)

Naturally, human beings are mutable: Their thoughts or minds change. The three Persons of the Godhead are immutable because their thoughts never change. They never forget what they now know, they never learn something new, in fact they have never learned anything. Their thought is eternal. Since also the three Persons do not have precisely the same set of thoughts, they are not one Person, but three. If substance were the principle of individuation – for we have seen that space-time cannot be – then there could not be three Persons. Identity of substance would mean identity of person. If then substance, for this and other reasons, is not the principle of individuation, the theologians referred to should explain what their principle is. (The Trinity, Individuation)

More precise would be to say that though each person knows the same truths and propositions – meanings of statements – they are able to state their knowledge differently. This variance in ability is entirely due to the utterer, not the content of what it uttered per se. One can refer to oneself or one’s ego with the indexical “I.” Such reflexive utterances would mean the same thing as [others’] statements in which the name of the person is substituted for the indexical he would use, for the referent is the same in both cases – so it is the same propositional knowledge – but still, only the first person can state the proposition with the indexical without a loss of or change in meaning. At any rate, Clark is correct that the Father, Son, and Spirit have different thoughts. Distinct persons and thoughts both imply distinct minds, and Clark implies as much when he equates “a person” with “a mind, an intelligence” (The Trinity, The Holy Spirit).

I mention all this because I find it strange that Clark would be inclined to agree with Gregory of Nyssa that the joint operation of the Trinitarian persons is the principle of unity which suffices for Trinitarians to legitimately believe in one God rather than three. If the “Godhead signifies an operation, not a nature,” then Godhead and God do not mean the same thing. For Clark agrees with Berkhof and Gill that “God” is His attributes and His attributes are His nature:

The Biblical data, as it seems to me, adequately support Berkhof’s assertion that “God and his attributes are one” (44). Psalm 85:10 gives literary expression to this idea: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” The Scriptures give no hint of a quality-less ousia to which separate attributes are somehow glued on. “Neither can they be regarded as something added to the Being of God.”

In this Berkhof agrees with John Gill, who also held that “the attributes of God...are not other than God himself, and neither differ from one another, but with respect to their objects and effects, and in our manner of conception of them; nor from the nature and essence of God: they are himself and his nature...” (A Body of Divinity, I, iv, 34, column 2). (The Trinity, Hodge and Berkhof)

One Godhead or [joint] operation, then, would not answer the tritheistic objection. There would still be three possessions of the one definition of “God.” To be sure, this definition may necessitate cooperative rather than independent action, but this does not establish monotheism. Monotheism pertains to the immanent or ontological Trinity, not the economic Trinity, so reference to the activity of the persons seems out of place in this discussion anyway. 

But sometimes Clark himself is less than clear in his usage terminology, so it is difficult to follow what meaning of Godhead he intends. Does he really think “Godhead” means the operation of the persons per Gregory of Nyssa? Or does he think it refers to the “qualities” or “attributes” the persons have in common?

The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity certainly teaches that the Father and Son are equal in power and glory, and, as equally eternal, they may be called equally ultimate. But the Father is not to be equated with unity and the Son with plurality. The three persons are the plurality and the Godhead is the unity. The Godhead is not one of the persons as distinct from another, but rather the common reality shared by the three. Such is our partial answer to the objections of Islam, and also to some confused American theologians. But whether the group of common qualities, the Godhead, is more ultimate than any one of the three persons who share these attributes, and whether “ultimate” means “generic,” for certainly there is no chronological precedence in this argument, are questions more properly discussed in a systematic theology than in an exegesis of Colossians. (Commentaries on Paul’s Epistles, pg. 204)

Clark certainly doesn’t seem satisfied with Gregory of Nyssa’s answer, which he admitted was perhaps lame. But then, I don’t see that Clark provides a significantly different answer. Clark writes that “…the Trinity has three Persons but only one will” (The Incarnation, pg. 22), and he uses this fact in what may be his most direct explanation as to how the unity among the persons of the Trinity is superior to the unity among men:

Naturally the Persons of the Trinity are one in the sense that all men are one, and all horses; but it does not follow that the three Persons are one only in that sense. For example, three human beings have three wills; but the three Persons of the Trinity have but one will. Hence the diversification of human beings is not identical to the diversification of the Persons, for which reason we cannot assert that the two unities are completely identical. (The Atonement, pg. 117)

However, if this is intended to explain how there are not three Gods, it seems to be very similar to be Gregory of Nyssa’s answer. It depends on whether “operation” is synonymous with “will.” If so, then the above criticisms apply. But in any case, is “one will” to be taken generically or numerically? If the former, saying the persons of the Trinity are “of one will” insofar as they distinctly will unto to the same ends, goals, or purposes seems little different than the fact that the Trinity is “of one mind.” And as men could hypothetically be completely of one mind or will and remain three distinct men, the persons of the Trinity could be completely of one mind and will and remain three distinct Gods.

So even if the following citations can somehow be squared with the idea that the three persons of the Trinity each possess a numerically distinct will which nevertheless cannot act apart from the wills of the other persons, this affirmation of generic unity would not explain how the unity of will in the Trinity differs in nature from unity possible among men, let alone why it means that there is one God in a sense significantly different than all other genera such that the fact three species of the genus may each be called “God” does not in turn imply three Gods:

God sent His Son. Christ did not come of his own individual volition. He was sent. This does not mean that he was unwilling and reluctant to come. In fact, the phrase ‘his own individual volition’ is very poor theology. The three Persons of the Trinity have but one will. On earth Christ did not act on his own volition: “I did not come of myself (on my own authority), but he who sent me is true”; and, “I do nothing on my own authority, but as the Father has taught me, these things I speak” (the Gospel 7:28, 8:28, 42). (First John, pg. 134)

…one would ordinarily think that a person must have a will. But the orthodox doctrine allows the three persons of the Trinity to have one will only, while surprisingly the incarnate Jesus has two wills, one divine, one human; and yet even with a human will, and “reasonable soul,” he is not a human person. (The Trinity, The Athanasian Creed)

Thus the begetting of the Son occurs, and the Son as a Person exists, by a necessity of the divine nature – the nature of the divine will. Later this theme may become complicated, or simplified, by the identification of the Father’s will, the Son’s will, and the Spirit’s will as one will. (The Trinity, Eternal Generation)

If, as is apparent, Clark means that there is really just one numeric will, how is that metaphysically possible? How can wills of persons be numerically united without persons being numerically united? The ambiguity of what it means for there to be “one will” is surprising, given Clark’s usual antipathy for imprecise terminology.

Does this mean Father will to die on cross? How can one person love another if there is only one numeric will? Doesn’t agreement between two parties presuppose numerically distinct wills and, if so, how is the covenant of redemption possible on Clark’s view? How can the persons have different thoughts if each does not distinctly possess a will whereby He is able to assent to differently indexed statements?

It does not look like Clark has any other answer than to return to the idea that monotheism is true because, as a genus, “God” is numerically distinct from all other subjects. It has a unique definition. That returns us to the problem of why we may say there are three men but not three Gods. Or if there really is only one man, is there only one “person”? For there are a great many individuals of whom “person” can be predicated. Does the fact that these are species of the genus “Person” imply that there is one person? Is Clark a solipsist? Doubtful. Does it not make more sense to say that while the definition of “person,” “man,” and “God,” is the same in each case of predication, because the members’ possessions of it are distinct, they are each able to be counted as numerically distinct instances of the Idea? If not, what has happened to the “omnipresence” of the Idea?

It appears that despite his best efforts, Clark did not harmonize monotheism with Trinitarianism. So what is there left to say? For starters, I think I know what generic and numeric unity mean. Additionally, on the one hand, Trinity and Trinitarianism are not words found in Scripture. Scripture does not bind our conscience to these labels. On the other hand, what these labels represent in church history is relevant insofar as the persons associated with the label accurately explain and defend Scripture. I am a Scripturalist, but I recognize the practical function of history. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t refer to myself as a Calvinist, Protestant, etc. And I believe Clark agreed:

After the time of the apostles the immediate need of the church was to formulate and defend the deity of Christ, which it did in the doctrine of the Trinity in the Nicene Creed. (Predestination, pg. 82)

Some theologians, whose Christianity is in doubt, assert that the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of Athanasius, is seriously deformed by a large admixture of Greek philosophy. If the reader takes the good advice to turn immediately to Athanasius’ On the Decree, he may be amazed at the amount of Scripture he uses, and the virtually complete absence of Greek philosophy – only one short reference in the whole book, if I remember correctly. (First John, pg. 154)

If, as Clark thinks, Trinitarianism is represented by the Nicene Creed and Athanasian doctrine – and I would certainly agree – then I would and will argue that these and other primary Trinitarian sources certainly permit Trinitarians to hold to the subordination of the Son, the Monarchy of the Father, and the denial of numeric unity among the persons of the Trinity or between these persons and the divine nature. That is to say, they permit the idea that the Father is the metaphysical ground of the persons and definitions of the Son and Spirit, and the resultant perichoretic unity is able to account for their unity in mind, will, and nature as well as biblical monotheism and Trinitarianism. These men and creeds are fallible, but there is much about Scripture which can be learned through them. To conclude, then, I still insist I at the very least hold to an orthodox strain of historic Trinitarianism.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Besides Me...

Malachi 2:10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

That all passages in the New Testament which refer to the “one God” (Mark 10:18, 12:29, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Romans 3:30, Galatians 3:20, Ephesians 4:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, James 2:19) or “only” or “[only] true God” (John 3:33, 5:44, 17:3, Romans 3:4, 16:27 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Timothy 1:17 1 John 5:20) either clearly refer to the Father or at least arguably refer to the Father lends credence to the idea that among the three divine persons who are equal in respect to divinity, the Father is preeminent in respect to His person. The Old Testament can also be used in this way.

In Isaiah 44-45, the speaker, YHWH, says multiple times and in various ways that “besides me there is no God.” I believe this to be the Father’s own testimony. Now, this would no more preclude one’s being able to call the Son [and the Holy Spirit] “God” in some distinct sense than would the idea that if the Father could say “besides me there is no Savior” (Isaiah 43:11), we would be unable to refer to the Son as Savior. It would simply require qualifications as to what it means to refer to Him as such.

That is, we know Jesus comes in the name of YHWH to do the work of YHWH. He may be referred to as YHWH, being the natural Son and, hence, perfect image of His Father, but He is not the same person as YHWH per se. That would be Sabellian. So too would it be Sabellian to say that the Father and Son are both numerically identical to YHWH, as in that case any alleged difference between Father and Son would be purely nominal.

Rather, the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). This fact is attested by both Jesus and His Father in conjunction with the OT law that the testimony of two [distinct] persons is true (John 8:17-18) and further evidenced in Christ’s work (John 10:37-38). Thus, while Jesus has clearly been ordained to be our Savior, Jude can conclude his epistle by referring to the only God, the Father, as Savior:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Further, while we see that the Father is called Savior even in the NT – and so in the context of Isaiah 44-45, YHWH certainly need not, as some think, refer to the Son – the Father is especially called the Savior or Redeemer of Israel in the OT (e.g. Psalm 106, Isaiah 63). So when He besides whom there is no God is referred to as the Savior of Israel in 45:15-17, the natural inference is that it is the Father who is in view (Hosea 13:4, cf. Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15).

The previous chapters confirm this. YHWH is the Father in Isaiah 42:1-4 (cf. Matthew 12:18-20). In Isaiah 43:10, the servant of YHWH is mentioned yet again, this time as a witness to what YHWH, the Father, has done. What has the Father done? As noted before, is Israel’s redeemer (43:1) and savior (43:3).

Thus, it would seem the Father remains the speaker until Isaiah 44:8, relevant because by the next chapter it should be clear that it is the Father besides whom there is no God (44:6-8; cf. 45:5, 6, 14, 21). Tangentially, it may be pointed out that this is not an abstract being, nature, or essence – the speaker is a person. It is the Father who pours out His Spirit (44:3; cf. Acts 2:17-22).

The repetition in titles – Creator, Redeemer, Savior – and concerns – “who will be glorified?” “who chooses?” “who blots out transgressions?” – indicates that in Isaiah 44:21ff., YHWH is also meant to refer to the Father. Notice too that Cyrus is called YHWH’s shepherd (44:28) and anointed (45:1). Which makes more sense, that Cyrus is the shepherd of and anointed by the Son or that Cyrus is a type of Christ, the Father’s shepherd and anointed? But if it is the Father speaking in 45:1, then it is clearly the Father speaking in 45:5, 6, 14, 21.

Cumulatively, I believe these points forcibly imply the Father is YHWH in Isaiah 44-45. Just as the idea that one person can be the only true God and that a distinct person can also be the only true God butchers the meaning of the word “only,” so too the idea that besides one [person] there is no God and that besides this one [person] there can be another God – again, in a particular, hypostatic sense – is unintelligible.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


This is the first time in a long time I don’t feel as though I have writer’s block. I have had no shortage of topics on my mind, and as if I didn't have enough to blog about, Drake Shelton has written a response to an excursion I wrote on what Gordon Clark called necessitarianism, which he accepted by the time he wrote The Trinity after having previously rejected it. Even as Trinitarianism has become clearer to me in the past several months – thanks in part to Drake – this remains one fundamental issue on which I have been unable to agree with him. This is what I wrote that Drake is responding to in his post:

Finding Scriptures which deal with this issue will require consideration of logical implications, for to my knowledge there is no explicit passage which addresses it. My current response would be that nothing which occurs is unnecessary, for that would imply, as Clarke wishes to avoid, that God’s will is arbitrary. Sure, on the assumption that there are multiple possible worlds, God may have a reason for instantiating some particular possible world, but as on Clarke’s view such a reason would not be necessary, it would still be arbitrary. I may as well ask what God’s reason was for choosing His reason for creating this possible world over against any other reason capable of being chosen which might have led to the instantiation of another possible world, and there could be no answer because the reason itself was chosen arbitrarily. There are, however, several objections to my own position – some made by Clarke and others I have received from those who are in most other respects in agreement with my Trinitarian views – so I will try to address them in a short amount of space.

Clarke thinks the idea that something can be willed necessarily is a contradiction in terms. Thus, he, Athanasius, and others dichotomize that which is willed from that which is a “necessity of nature.” But I do not find his reasons for saying so persuasive: he mentions that I might as well say that a man’s heart beats by his will, the sun rises by man’s will, and a balance which turns necessarily turns by its will. These are just examples of what a proof by example fallacy looks like. What Clarke rather ought to have done is define what it means “to will” or “to choose” or “to act.” As a Calvinist, I don’t have any problem with a definition of these terms which excludes the notion of freedom of contrariety – the ability to have willed, chosen, or acted differently than one did. In fact, freedom of contrariety itself presupposes a definition of willing, choosing, and acting. I would define these words in terms of the mind’s volitional selection, determination, or performance.

Where the line is between providing mere synonyms and providing a clear metaphysical definition can be challenging, but in any case, I am in no worse a position than Clarke, who must also define these terms. Until he does, the burden of proof is on him to explain why necessity is mutually exclusive with will. Anyway, I don’t suppose Sean will have any issue with my explanation, as this is entirely consistent with Gordon Clark’s view 1) that God’s existence is necessary yet by His eternal will and choice, and 2) that the generation of the Son is voluntary and necessary like creation (see his chapter on Eternal Generation in The Trinity).

This last remark brings me to the objection from the other side to my position, viz. my thinking creation is necessary as well as the Son and Spirit. Whereas Sean thinks I bring the Son and Spirit down to the level of creation by making the them contingent – a counter which backfires, as [I would hope] Sean would not say the person[al property] of the Son is created even though he holds that the person[al property] of the Son is contingent – the objection here is that I raise the creation to the level of divinity (see here and here for examples).

Now, I admit I have perhaps missed some solution which would resolve the tension between an unnecessary creation and a seemingly arbitrary God, but if so, I have not encountered it. It seems easier for me to explain why a necessary creation is not divine than it is to explain why an unnecessary creation is not arbitrary. As I understand it, the reason there is an objection to the idea that who the Father is determines everything He wills is that such means the Son, Spirit and creation all originate from the Father in the same way. I suspect the argument is that since “like causes like,” one whose nature is divine must, if He acts according to a “necessity of nature,” cause another with a divine nature.

But I do not see why this needs to be the case. The nature or person of the Father may determine His causation of this possible world as well as the Son and Spirit, but I assert that creation is not consubstantial with the Father because the Father did not [and, therefore, could not on my view have willed to] communicate His nature to creation. Thinking about this question recently, I found myself asking: is divine nature communicated to the Son and Spirit because they are eternally begotten and spirated, or are the Son and Spirit said to be eternally begotten and spirated because the divine nature is communicated to them? If the latter is possible, then is this not a reasonable answer as to why the necessity of creation would not imply consubstantiality with its Creator?

Drake responds:

We have already discussed this. Your use of “unnecessary” is ambiguous. You could mean a necessity of God’s nature or of a necessity extending from the eternality of his will. (link). I think you are still stuck in the dialectic between a necessity of nature and an arbitrarity.

That is, he wants to know, when I speak of “multiple possible worlds” or of the “necessity” of creation, whether I am speaking with reference to what is possible and necessary to God according to His nature or possible and necessary to God according to His will. On Drake's view, that which is necessary according to God’s nature is also necessary according to His will. But that which God wills is not necessarily necessary according to His nature, though there may be some other meaning according to which it may be called necessary, a point I will turn to momentarily. To answer, though, I was questioning whether there are other possible worlds that God could have instantiated according to His nature or if this actual world is the only possible world and, thus, necessary for Him to will as well.

Now, in our last discussion, Drake agreed that “what God wills must be agreeable to His nature.” But, as I just mentioned, he also said he doesn’t think that God’s nature determines everything He wills. His nature prescribes the boundaries of what can be willed in all cases, but it does not determine what must be willed in all cases. In that case, the argument I outline in the above paragraphs is little different than what it was then:

The divine will is atemporal. We agree. It’s logically contingent on the divine nature. We agree. The only problem, as I see it, is that on your position, no answer can be given as to why the divine will instantiated this “world” (or reality) over against another “world” which would have similarly been agreeable to the divine nature. There must be some other “world” agreeable to the divine nature on your view, or else this world would have been necessary, a point to which you strenuously object. I believe last time we established that another such “world” would have been one in which God didn’t create. That would be, you said, consistent with the divine nature. Then again, I pointed out it would be mutually exclusive with this “world” because only in the latter is it true that “God created.”

Now, you can say the divine will was eternal or atemporal, but I don’t think that isn’t relevant because you’ve already agreed that it’s nevertheless logically contingent on the divine nature, a divine nature which, since it doesn’t “direct and regulate” which of the two (or more) “worlds” which are agreeable to it are to be instantiated by the logically contingent divine will, there can never be any answer as to why the divine will instantiated this “world” over against the other which would have similarly been agreeable to the divine nature. This is why the instantiation of this “world” must have been arbitrary relative to any other “world” which would have been agreeable to the divine nature. This is why I say that on your view, the divine will is arbitrary. Anything you could adduce as a reason for God’s instantiation of this “world” (e.g. “for His glory”) could without exception have been adduced as a reason for the other.

Drake replied that “The will is eternal which makes the question meaningless.” I strongly disagree. My argument is effective as long as God’s will is logically contingent on His nature. This is exactly what Drake admits when he says that “what God wills must be agreeable to His nature.” True, there is no chronological or temporal lapse between that which is possible for God to effect by His nature and that which He eternally chooses to effect; there is, however, a logical priority. Because there is such a priority, the question is begged as to why, if God could have instantiated some other world or reality agreeable to His nature, He rather willed to instantiate this one. What was His reason? Drake replies:

The word “reason” can be replaced by the word “basis” and as we have discussed many times there are two of those in God: nature and will. So yes you could ask what was the basis of his eternal will, and I would respond, the agreeability of his nature.

I am afraid the point has been missed. If I ask what the basis or reason is that, given that world A (in which God creates) and world B (in which God never creates) are both agreeable to His nature, God chose to instantiate world A rather than world B, the answer “it was agreeable to His nature” doesn’t suffice. For world B would also have been agreeable to His nature. The arbitrarity objection stands.

Drake does mention that there are two “reasons” or “bases” in God, but He doesn’t elaborate as to what that means. What does it mean for God to have a reason according to His nature, how is it distinguished from His having a reason according to His will, and in what way does his answers to these questions solve the problem of seeming arbitrariness (i.e. God’s choosing of world A which is no more or less agreeable to His nature than world B would have been)? Drake continues:

You think that necessities are only necessities of nature. I have affirmed that a necessity can also extend from the eternality of God’s will and thus openly deny that creation is arbitrary, thus denying any other possible world, while also denying that it is a necessity of divine nature.

Firstly, I have to wonder what was the point of the previous questions designed to determine whether I was speaking of necessity “according to nature” or necessity “according to will” when it is apparent he already knew I was speaking about the former.

More importantly, how is the will of God necessary if it is not necessitated by His nature? It would seem more precise to say that the will of God necessitates, not that it is itself necessarily necessitated. This is very important, because my objection pertains to the latter, not the former. God’s will may be some times be necessitated – such as in the communication of divinity to the Son and Spirit – but it is not always necessitated.  But my argument is that the fact that the will is not always necessitated is why it is sometimes arbitrary. The fact that it necessitates whatsoever is willed is irrelevant.

As a side point of clarification, the points regarding man’s heartbeat, the sunrise, and the turn of a balance were related to Samuel Clarke’s argument that what is necessary is mutually exclusive with what is willed. I had quoted his argument earlier in my article, which was why I mentioned it then. Drake does not believe the two are mutually exclusive, so there is no reason to further pursue this particular line of dialogue.

So much for the responses to my criticisms. Now Drake offers a few criticisms of his own. Firstly, he thinks that my assertion that there are not multiple possible worlds agreeable to God’s nature implies “a conflation of activity, essence and existence. This is ADS.” But this is not an argument. The Father possesses distinct attributes whether or not creation is necessary according to His nature, and these divine attributes, while they determine His activity, are distinct from it. A definition of “existence” will need to be provided before I can reply further.

In response to my question, “is divine nature communicated to the Son and Spirit because they are eternally begotten and spirated, or are the Son and Spirit said to be eternally begotten and spirated because the divine nature is communicated to them?” Drake replies:

The former. The emanation is the basis of the communication, in the genus of relation. The latter makes the emanation arbitrary and ad hoc. WE may have here encountered the Hegelian Dialectic. In order to avoid an arbitrary God, you are forced to have an arbitrary God.

I don't particularly like the language of emanation, though I understand what he means: it is the genus of which spiration and begetting are species. Regardless, why does Drake think that “the Son and Spirit [are] said to be eternally begotten and spirated because the divine nature is communicated to them” suggests arbitrarity? I stated the existences of the Son and Spirit are necessary in any case, so if everything God wills is to maximize the manifestation of His glory, and the Father has communicated divinity (and individuating properties) to two other subjects, the logical conclusion is that this communication is willed for His glory, which is clearly not ad hoc. There are too many unexplained gaps for me to be expected to follow these arguments.

His last argument, stated here, explains why he thinks that it is necessary to maintain that creation is not necessary according to God’s nature, and this, unless I am mistaken, is supposed to show why that which is derived by a necessity of nature is that to which the divine nature is communicated. Essentially, the argument is that if creation is necessary according to God’s nature, such makes God’s nature dependent on creation, which is pagan.

But dependent in what sense? In my article on Clarke, Drake made the point – with which I agree – that the property of Fatherhood logically depends on the Son. The Father cannot be the Father unless there is a Son, which is no problem since the Son has always existed. But this isn’t pagan, is it? The Son metaphysically depends on the Father, yet the Father too in some sense depends on the Son. If no deficiency in the Father is implied in this case, then I do not see why, by way of analogy, it may not be said that creation is necessary according to God’s nature so long as it is clarified that any implied dependency doesn’t suggest deficiency. Indeed, creation is from God precisely because God had a reason to create. That this reason is necessary according to His nature rather anticipates any objection that this reason is externally imposed on God. Deficiency is precluded rather than established. God is sufficiently able to effect that which He most strongly desires; the fact that He must do so according to His nature is not because of what creation is but because of who He is. The creation clearly metaphysically depends on the Creator, but it must also be kept in mind that it is the nature of God that determines the nature of creation, not the other way around.

It is rather like epistemology: in epistemology, there are axioms and theorems. In short, axioms are the set of propositions purported to be sufficient in order for knowledge to be possible. They are preconditions for knowledge. Theorems are what can be deduced by means of the axioms. Now, even though our knowledge-claims regarding theorems depends on our being able to deduce them from a source – axioms – the knowledge of the axioms will in some sense depend on the system of theorems they yield. For axioms can be falsified if two theorems they produce are contradictories.

So on the one hand, just as a theorem cannot be known if it is not deducible from some given set of axioms, creation cannot exist if it is not the product of the Creator. The theorems (creation) are determined by the nature of the axioms (God). On the other hand, just as one can use theorems as one means by which to evidence that a set of axioms is not unsound, creation is one means by which to evidence that God is divine. Neither of these are sufficient conditions, but both are necessary conditions. But I will not push the analogy too far.

Finally, none of this implies that the divine nature is communicated to creation if it is necessary according to God’s nature. That only follows if it cannot be the case that “the Son and Spirit said to be eternally begotten and spirated because the divine nature is communicated to them.” I don’t see that this possibility has been refuted.

UPDATE: Drake and I are continuing this discussion here.