Saturday, December 1, 2012

Failure to "Communicate"

Opting to pass over a previous reply to him in which I mention quite a few Scriptures to support my Trinitarian beliefs, Sean Gerety has decided to reply to this post in which I ask a few questions to those who would say both 1) that the persons of the Trinity are each self-existent and autotheos and 2) that eternal generation and procession are biblical doctrines. Of course, I don’t mind discussing the logical implications of Sean’s position and those who think similarly, but in a post labeled “Going Beyond What is Written,” I would have expected to see some interaction with what I've actually said about “what is written.”

Instead, I see much ado about historical theology – or rather, what contemporary theologians who agree with Sean opine about historical theology – and a general begging off from answering the questions asked in my post by way of appealing to a general lack of clarity in the usages of particular terms. In the latter case, I fail to see why Sean, a strong advocate of a two-person theory of the Incarnation, would retain terms such as “eternal generation” or “eternal procession” when it seems he cannot even define them. More on that in a bit.

Before further reply, however, I wish to make a point of clarification Sean did not see fit to mention: in the post to which he is replying I only argued that Clarkians should, if they agree with Clark that a person is an essence or definition, admit that if the person of the Son is generated, then the essence of the Son is generated by definition. My “opponents” are not Clarkians per se and much less in toto, for quite a few Clarkians agree with me. I myself am a Clarkian in several respects, principally epistemologically and soteriologically. But my conscience is not bound to Clark’s writings.

Sean’s first response to the substance of my post is to note that in “Nicene orthodoxy,” koinonia, a Greek word for “communication,” “is not a transfer of something from one person to another, much less from a superior to an inferior, rather it carries the idea of sharing something in common.” The point is that Sean thinks if and when the Nicene fathers speak of the communication of the Godhead or divine nature from the Father to the Son, they only mean that the Father and Son and Spirit have the Godhead in common.

If Sean could point us to an example of such usage, I would appreciate it, for I would like to see that the Nicene fathers did, in fact, use it in this way. However, even if they did, what is that supposed to prove? After all, I wouldn't disagree that the Father, Son, and Spirit have in common the univocally distinct possession of the divine nature or set of divine attributes; that is, though our understanding of what predicates may be considered divine attributes may differ, Sean and I both agree that the persons of the Trinity are generically united by them.

But none of this would prove that the Nicene fathers did not further believe that the reason they are so united is because the Son and Spirit are logically derived from, caused by, or metaphysically dependent on the Father. So what’s Sean’s point? That the colloquial meaning of “communicate” is not the ancient meaning? Okay. I never said it was. Perhaps if Sean spent less time thinking of imaginative pejoratives and more time reading the actual content of my post, he would have noticed that. Or, if there was some other point to this section, Sean needs to work on his communication.

Next, Sean cites a Kevin Giles several times in an effort to show that I am mistakenly rejecting Nicene Orthodoxy. Now, I am at a slight disadvantage because I do not yet have access to his book – I hope to have it later this month – but I have by this point read enough early church fathers to know that either Sean is not being forthright about the conclusions of Giles, or Giles is not being forthright about his conclusion of what the early church believed regarding eternal generation.

This is evident in Giles’ own citation of the Nicene Creed in which the Son is said to be “God of [ek] God, Light of Light, true God of true God.” Since he so helpfully produced a Clark quote on the meaning of one Greek term already, perhaps Sean can also find what Clark has to say about the meaning of ek. Until then, I will try to fill in the gap: it means “out from” and connotes “to.” When the creed says that the Son is “God of God,” it is saying the Son is God out from the Father, or the Father is the source of the Son. Thus, the Creed does not say the Son is “God of Himself” (autotheos), it says He is “God of God.” This is problematic for Sean, as he denied any kind of "from/to relationship."

Giles himself says that “the Son on the basis of his begetting is “one in being [homoousios] with the Father.”” Although I would avoid using ambiguous phrases like “one in being,” as long as Giles thinks homoousios refers to the generic rather than an alleged numeric unity among the persons of the Trinity, I fully agree with him; it is indeed “on the basis” of eternal generation that the Son is homoousios with the Father. This is exactly what Sean denies by asserting the Son is aseity and autotheos.

[Somewhat off topic, I do disagree with Giles that “almighty” is a divine attribute, though. Scripture always refers to the Father as Παντοκράτωρ or παντοκράτορος (“Almighty”).]

Sean then turns his attention to addressing why I think the idea each person of the Trinity is aseity and autotheos is incompatible with eternal generation. Here was my argument:
Generation is a word which implies logical, if not temporal, derivation. But if the "second person" of the Trinity is self-existent and autotheos, He cannot be said to be eternally generated; that is, the second person wasn't "generated" per se, since the second person qua second person is allegedly underived, self-existent, and God-of-Himself.  
Rather, it would appear that in this case, "eternal generation" actually means the second person merely eternally assumed the personal property of Sonship. If the second person of the Trinity only derives His property of Sonship from the Father, it's misleading to say the second person qua second person is eternally generated. For the person of the Son isn't generated at all. 
At most, the second person derives His personal property from the Father, not His person from the Father. But then it would be more appropriate to refer to the Son as eternally adopted. Furthermore, this neo-Adoptionism appears to make the relationships among the persons arbitrary, for I see no reason to think that the personal properties could not be reversed. To us, the first person may be the Father and the second may be the Son, but why may it not have been the case that the first person be the Son and the second the Father? Or, why must the second person have "derived" His property from the first if each of the persons of the Trinity are autotheos, ontologically co-equal in every respect?
What is Sean’s reply?
According to Clark the idea of generation was used “as a contrast with the term creation, as well as a contrast with eminationism, to preserve the New Testament teaching on the doctrine of the Second Person.”  The word “eternal” was to address the heresy of Arius.  He is also notes that “Terminological difficulties abound in every line.  Modern theologians could have avoided some, if they had a greater knowledge of pagan Greek philosophy.”  I think that is an understatement given the many ancient and modern controversies surrounding the doctrine of Eternal Generation of the Son.  After all, if John Calvin can be accused of being a heretic over this issue (and he was), and more recently Robert Reymond has taken some heat too even to the point of having to revise the second edition of his systematic theology, I think Clark’s warning suggests that we need to tread very lightly before trying to draw rigid implications from the ancient creeds especially while reading our own definitions of key terms back into them. 
As anyone can see, this is no reply at all. Sean never tells his reader what “generation” actually means. He doesn't even offer a possible alternative. And because he has no answer, he is in no position to answer my questions. In that case, I don’t need to demonstrate incoherence, for it is admitted at the forefront. I don’t see why Sean says he believed the Son is eternally generated if he can’t explain what that means other than that he would like for his position to be considered orthodox. Anyway, he follows his mystification by saying:
Interestingly, just as Ryan can’t “see how eternal generation is compatible with the view that the persons of the Trinity are each autotheos and self-existent,” some modern Evangelicals agree with Ryan and want to modify or even abandon the creed on that account. 
This implies that “modern Evangelicals” think the Nicene Creed teaches that the persons of the Trinity are autotheos and self-existent. But even though they would be wrong, which “modern Evangelicals” is Sean talking about? Can he give an example? It seems to me that the precise opposite is the case: because the Nicene Creed rejects that the Son is aseity or autotheos, some Reformed individuals are proposing that the Nicene Creed be abandoned (example). I pointed this out to Sean when he cited this same link in the course of our conversation on facebook. It is too bad that he has forgotten it already.

Finally, Sean concludes with several authors who supposedly state that the Nicene Creed was “designed specifically to guard against the type of ontological subordinationism, along with the subordination of authority, Ryan and Drake believe.” I explain what I mean by "ontological subordination" here. Now, it may be these sources do, in fact, disagree with me. But does that make them true? How does Sean know? Not once does Sean himself examine what the Nicene Creed says. Allow me: The Creed says “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty.” The Creed says the Son is “God of God.” 

These facts are untouched by Sean’s authors and, therefore, by Sean himself. Clark is correct that “we must apply to the Son some sense of the term “generation,”” but the sense applied is the very reason that the Son is subordinate to the Father. There is certainly no subordination in regards to the divine nature predicable of each – the Son and Spirit are of the same essence as the Father – but if that’s Sean’s argument against my position, then in his hopes to show that I've gone beyond what is written, Sean has had to resort to going beyond what I've written.

1 comment:

徐马可 said...

The reason why Sean calls those who differ from him a heretic or other label is because the only thing he can do now is to raise the passion of common people by these big names, because he has no support in 1)bible; 2)antiquity; 3)and reason, so his only weapon left is to put forth a label or name on us, because the common minds care more for the name than the substance of a thing.

Good work Ryan!