Holy Trinity round-up

In three weeks it will be Trinity Sunday. A lot of clergy are wary of Trinity Sunday. There is an idea that preaching on the Trinity is impossible, or irrelevant, or dangerous. It may be the first and last of these; certainly not the second. It is also a risk we should take — precisely because it is not irrelevant. Since I’ve blogged about the doctrine of the Trinity here a few times, I thought I’d make a convenient one-stop shop for clergy looking ahead to that Feast and trying to think of how to go about their duty.

First, my page of Resources on the Holy Trinity.

Second, my translations of the Creeds:

Third, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not irrelevant:

Posts of passages and quotations on the Trinity:

My varied musings on the Trinity in anti-chronological order, usually inspired by reading something ancient or medieval (but also, one time, The Shack!):

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The Trinity and Mission

A friend got the ball rolling on Facebook concerning the important question of missiology and theology, and that we should have theology that is intrinsically linked with mission. I was reminded of this piece of mine from a couple of years ago.

the pocket scroll

These are musings brought upon me by my friend Rick (who blogs over here) in an e-mail today as I plan some seminars on the Fathers. One of the hard sells these days can be the deep theology of the Church Fathers. What does homoousios have to do with me? I already know why Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong; why discuss the patristic discussions of Christology? Isn’t it more important just to accept Jesus in your heart? This is all so impractical.

But Rick just sent me an e-mail challenging all of that. Where do we evangelicals tend to get our vision of mission? The Great Commission. What do we see happening there?

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus has appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All…

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What, one asks St Basil, does the Holy Spirit do?

The Chancel of this church, a lovely image from Sacred Scotland

This morning I worshipped at a local Anglo-Catholic church; like many high Anglican churches, this particular parish tends to be broadly orthodox with a bit of a liberal bend. This Sunday was the first Sunday for their new curate to preach. Before preaching, she decorously mounted the pulpit (oddly on the right-hand side of the sanctuary) and proclaimed:

In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier. Amen.

I’d heard rumours of this economic Trinity being used to replace the traditional (Biblical) appellations for the Three Persons of the Glorious Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Besides the fact that neither Scripture nor Tradition recommends this naming of the All-holy Trinity, it obscures the bases of Trinitarian thought, such as the relationship between the First and Second Persons — Father and Son. It also reduces the ThreePersons to their economic activity in our salvation.

Given that All Three Persons is involved in creating, redeeming, and sanctifying it, we also get a bit blurry on how the doctrine of the Trinity — our understanding of the Godhead based upon meditative readings of Scripture and Tradition — is actually formulated.

As luck (Providence?) would have it, today I was reading St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, today in preparation for a Byzantine theology reading group I’m part of tomorrow night. I’ve blogged about this work of his before here. St Basil, too, began with a discourse on the use of the doxology.

St Basil’s primary goal in this treatise is to prove the fully Godhead of the Person of the Holy Spirit. He begins by approaching the Person of the Son’s Divinity using philological and scriptural proofs, then does the same for the Spirit before discussing various potential protestations using arguments from Scripture, Tradition, and the brute force of logic.

St Basil the Great

Along the way, a few words about the action of the Spirit are said — and we see that the Person of the Spirit is more than our Sanctifier (yet another problem with the politically correct doxology above). I quote the translation by David Anderson in the 1980 SVS Press Popular Patristics edition (Fr John Behr has a new 2011 edition out for said series):

All things thirsting for holiness turn to Him;* everything living in virtue never turns away from Him. He waters them with His life-giving breath and helps them reach their proper fulfillment. He perfects all other things, and Himself lacks nothing; He gives life to all things, and is never depleted. … He is the source of sanctification, spiritual light, who gives illumination to everyone using His powers to search for the truth — and the illumination He gives is Himself. His nature is unapproachable; only through His goodness are we able to draw near it. He fills all things with His power, but only those who are worthy may share it. He distributes His energy in proportion to the faith of the recipient, not confining it to a single share. … the Spirit is given to each one who receives Him as if He were the possession of that person alone … (section 22, p. 43)

This passage is largely about the sanctifying and sustaining power of the Spirit, but it is beautiful and lyrical. Basil here also points to the important role of the Holy Spirit in drawing us into communion with the Trinitarian Life. Elsewhere, he says:

One cannot see the Father without the Spirit! It would be like living in a house at night when the lamps are extinguished; one’s eyes would be darkened and could not exercise their function. Unable to distinguish the value of objects, one might very well treat gold as if it were iron. It is the same in the spiritual world, it is impossible to maintain a life of holiness without the Spirit. (section 38, p. 64)

And:

Is it not indisputably clear that the Church is set in order by the Holy Spirit? (section 39, p. 65)

And how does the Holy Spirit sanctify us? As with Moses on the Mountain — Contemplation:

Objects placed near something brilliantly-colored themselves become tinted through reflected light; likewise he who fixes his gaze on the Spirit is transfigured to greater brightness, his heart illumined by the light of the Spirit’s truth. Then the glory of the Spirit is changed into such a person’s own glory, not stingily, or dimly, but with the abundance we would expect to find within someone who had been enlightened by the Spirit. (section 52, p. 83)

Basil’s ascetic and mystical vision for the Christian life is more fully set out in his ascetical works, the so-called Longer Rule and Shorter Rule. Throughout this treatise, Basil refers to the work of the Spirit in prophecy, in the giving of knowledge, and so forth. Finally, I give you this passage from section 49 (p. 77):

The Spirit enables the heavenly powers to avoid evil, and persevere in goodness. Christ comes, and the Spirit prepares His way. He comes in the flesh, but the Spirit is never separated from Him. Working of miracles and gifts of healing come from the Holy Spirit. Demons are driven out by the Spirit of God. The presence of the Spirit despoils the devil. Remission of sins is given through the gift of the Spirit. … Through the Spirit we become intimate with God … He gives us risen life, refashioning our souls in the spiritual life.

Charismatics will be pleased with my last chosen passage — here we see the Holy Spirit performing miracles and healing and driving out demons! Indeed, the ancient Church never imagined the cessation of such manifestational gifts of the Spirit, although the theologians tend to be quiet about them. Most theological works tend to focus on either the interpretation of Scripture, the solving of a particular problem, or the refutation of a divergent opinion.

The Spirit certainly sanctifies us — but it is clear that He does much more than that!

*Here, Anderson gives the note that in Greek pneuma is neuter, so neuter pronouns are used for the Person of the Spirit throughout. However, in English this would nullify the Spirit’s personhood. In Syriac, the word used where Greek says pneuma is feminine, and in Latin, spiritus is masculine. The Spirit transcends gender, using one of a few choices, depending on language!

What makes a Protestant?

One evening, as a friend and I walked to Vespers at the local Orthodox Church, he remarked that he had invited some of our other friends who had responded by looking at him as though he had three heads. Another time, these same friends had chuckled in a, “Yeah, right,” sort of way when he said that he was as much a Protestant as they were.

The question has been raised here as to why I am not Eastern Orthodox, given that I seem to embrace so many Eastern Orthodox beliefs. The question is related to the response of more evangelical, Reformed Protestants who don’t see my Methodist/Episcopalian friend who appreciates Aquinas, incense, and Kallistos Ware as being “as Protestant” as they are.

What makes a Protestant?

GK Chesterton, in The Thing: Why I Am Catholic, takes issue with some of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century responses to this question, when people such as Dean Inge argued that basically being a Protestant was rising in protest whenever things were going wrong. He also has trouble with the fact that those things that make a Milton or a Bunyan delightful to the modern Protestant are things that Milton and Bunyan share with Catholics — not things that make them Protestant.

This question has needed answering for a good while, then.

According to Bruce McCormack at the University of Edinburgh’s Croall Lectures for this year, Protestants — the theologians, at least — should be working from within the framework of their confessional statements to produce a comprehensive worldview. He was not fond of those Protestants who produce either Catholicism light or a Patristic synthesis to theological issues. We should be identifiable through our adherence to the confessional statements of our tradition, according to McCormack. At least, that’s what I think he was saying.

For many contemporary Protestants, this is probably a bit of a problem, especially if we consider the very large number of Anglicans who are Arminians and thus cannot throw themselves wholeheartedly into Article of Religion 17, “On Predestination.” For me, saying that I must pledge my allegiance to a particular confession and produce theological thinking in accord with it is a definite problem, if we recall this post.

Nonetheless, I would still like to say that I am a Protestant. And being Protestant requires more than a rejection of papal claims. There are, I believe, certain doctrinal positions Protestants emphasise as well as certain approaches to doctrine and worship.

First of all, justification by faith. As a Protestant, I believe that nothing we do can make us justified before God. No amount of condign merit will justify me. It is the faith within the heart and life of the believer that justifies. God will justify those who have chosen to follow Him and put their trust in Him. From true faith will flow a life of good works, yes; but the good works are not what justify us but the fruit of the justified.

Second, the primacy (supremacy?) of Scripture for faith, life, and doctrine. A lot of Anglicans like pointing to Hooker’s three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, from which the removal of a single leg means utter disaster, saying that people like Mark Driscoll are troubling because of how much they overemphasise Scripture.

Well, the fact of the matter is, Scripture contains everything necessary for salvation. Other things might be okay, but they aren’t necessary. If it’s not in Scripture, it is not binding. Now, tradition and reason are important for the interpretation of Scripture. We can never escape them. That is the point of this whole website. But Scripture still stands supreme. If tradition, through the years, has come up with something counter to Scripture, the Church — the same Church who handed down the tradition — can jettison it after a long, painful process of prayer and searching the Scriptures together.

Third, I do not believe that a true Protestant will have a Roman understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass. That is to say, the idea that Christ himself is offered upon the altar as an immolation for our sins by the Priest who stands in Christ’s stead each Sunday. Now, the idea that there is a twofold sacrifice of ourselves, our souls and bodies, along with the gifts of bread and wine at the Holy Table — this is acceptable. It is also acceptable to say that the Eucharist recapitulates Christ’s atoning work and brings its benefits to the assembled Body through the Sacramental act (see Robert E. Webber, Worship Old and New).

As regards other aspects of the Sacrament, Protestants are divided. I, myself, follow Luther in The Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as explained here. I affirm with my Anglican heritage that the Holy Eucharist and Holy Baptism are outward, visible signs of an inward, invisible grace.

If to be Protestant one must sign on to a confessional statement, most Protestants would have to believe in penal substitutionary atonement. And most of us do. And some of us believe in Christus Victor. Some of us, rascals that we are, believe in both. But this issue is more of an East vs. West question than a Protestants vs. the World question.

In fact, most of the major questions of Christology and Triadology (the study of the All-holy Trinity) do not have a particular spin from the Protestants, outside of heretics like Oneness Pentecostals. We tend to follow St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas on these issues. Some, like Reformed theologian T.F. Torrance, turn to Sts. Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria for their Christology. I, myself, follow a sort of Neo-Chalcedonian, Conciliar Christology with something of an Augustinian-Thomist Triadology for good measure. There’s nothing un-Protestant about that!

I’m getting tired. But I think that the issue of justification, the place of the Bible in the Christian life, and the question of the sacrifice of the Mass (tied into how you answer the first two) are among three of the defining points of Protestants.

I am a Protestant, and maybe even an Anglican.

Pain & Anguish Greater Than We Could Ever Know

What use is Patristic theology? I mean, why read the Fathers? How does this stuff, this all-too-frequently high-flying, maximalist, cerebral theology help any of us in our daily lives?

Well. Today I was reading The Orthodox Way by Met. Kallistos Ware. The chapter at hand was his chapter all about Christ, the theanthropos — the God-man. And while I was reading, some thoughts took hold of me. They follow, inspired by the Fathers and Met. Kallistos.

First, let us consider the Person Who died on the Cross that Friday long ago. That Person, that God-man, that one-of-a-kind being was fully God and fully man. As my friend Pope St. Leo I says, he is complete in what is his own and complete in what is ours. Everything that could be predicated about God can be predicated about the incarnate Christ. So also everything about man — save sin.

And, as Holy Scripture tells us, Jesus suffered everything we suffered except sin. He is, by the Scriptural record, fully human. He grew tired, thirsted, hungered — died. God the Word was eight days old and held in the arms of his mother (as per St. Cyril of Alexandria).

Second, let us consider who God is. God, as we learn from the careful, prayerful reflection of the Fathers upon their deep reading of Scripture, is three persons. These three persons are co-equal and co-eternal and other suchlike things. They also are one, sharing a single essence. God, the one, true God of Christian monotheism, is also three. His existence is one of endless, boundless love, self-giving love at a level of intimacy we creations shall never know.

We’ll never know this kind of love because each of us has only one essence per person. God, on the other hand, has one essence and three persons. It is not the sort of thing we can really even properly conceive. Jesus, then, was a participant in this divine life of self-giving love and shared essence. He took on flesh and became human without ceasing to engage in the life of the Trinity.

Third, let us consider what this Person went through on the Cross that Friday long ago. Before he died, he went through enormous amounts of physical pain, torture, and suffering. Such is the stuff of many Good Friday sermons. Yet what else do we see him suffering before death? According to 2 Cor, God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us.

That is intense. Jesus was the perfect human, not only in terms of being entirely human complete with body, soul, and spirit, but also in terms of sinlessness. And now, this sinless soul, this one and only human being ever to not sin takes upon himself the sin of the entire world.

Think about how it feels to sin, knowing you shouldn’t. There is a definite feeling of sorrow, sadness. A feeling of separation. Separation from who you know you should and could be, from whomever you may have wronged in sinning, from God himself.

This separation is what causes the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” One of the Trinity was crucified and died for us. He was cut off from the divine life that gave Him life. He was cut off from everything he had ever known.

I don’t know how to express how powerful that anguish must have been because I can’t even express how glorious the love of the divine life is.

What I do know is this — He suffered this separation and pain out of love for His creation. He suffered this separation, this death both physical and spiritual (for spiritual death is the separation of the human soul from God) so that we might have true life through him. This is victory, friends.

This Good Friday, let us bless the Lord who loved us so much that He suffered the unthinkable.