Saturday, 20 June 2015

Trinities questions asked (i) and some thoughts from Novatian

I was privileged again a couple of weeks ago to have Dale Tuggy take seriously a question I raised, which he even aired and responded to in a clear, honest and concise way. If I say honest, it is because he does not attempt, as some scholars do in this matter (I am thinking particularly of Bart Ehrman), to have a full explanation that fully explains precisely the route from A to B. Which matter am I referring to? The journey of the church to the tripersonal God. So here's the question and a link to Dale's answer (hurray you get to hear my voice, I was a bit nervous!).

Thanks for your latest posts, really interesting. I look forward very much to hearing more on Clarke. In the meantime, I would like to hassle you a little more on the 325-381 development that you see from homoousios to tripersonal God, as you saw on the comment I left. I even wonder if you feel you are close to identifying the semantic stepping stones (as others have attempted, but rarely in any kind of satisfying way I feel) that take take us all the way through from New Testament to Chalcedon. I sense you might be (or maybe you already have somewhere?).

The reason why I wrote this question back in March was that it had dawned on me for the first time, although this podcast and other sources had already hinted at this, that to say that "God is triune" and "the Son is homoousios [consubstantial, of the same stuff] with the Father" are not synonymous expressions. I love the fact that we can be honest and concede that we are not in a position today to fully grasp what got the church to the "tipping point" as Dale puts it. He refers to a possibility that draws from the notion of Divine Simplicity, but is unsure.

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I then responded on the show notes comments section with the following:

in answering my question about the semantic steps, Dale mentioned that second and third century theologians were sometimes cross-examined about the way in which they called Jesus theos - did that not mean that they worshipped more than one God? The response centred around the uniqueness of the Father, the ultimate, One, True (...) God. Can someone provide some examples of such cross-examinations, if they have them ready to hand? It would be helpful for me to see this distinction played out when it really mattered.

Strangely enough, although no-one has yet answered this favour, I have stumbled over an excellent example from Novatian. Here it is (an excerpt, actually, from the paper I am always harping on about):

Father and corresponding “He” occurrences are in orange and the Son’s “He” occurrences in purple, and there is certainly no mixing.

… 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.[1]

Novatian here mentions something absolutely foundational to understanding how trinitarianism might have evolved (and he is only 60 years away from the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea). In any other religious world-view, the fact that there is more than one divine entity is not an issue, you simply add the “s” to “god”. But that is not something that the Christian faith could allow at any fundamental level – and yet the budding church had to work out some kind of solution based on their scriptures and distinctive faith. What Novatian pinpoints here is a crucial difference between other world-views of multiple gods, and the Christian God and his beloved only begotten Son – those polytheistic traditions have gods of independent origins. Jesus, however, whom the Christians worship and call “god” or "God" can do so because his origin was in the One God who has “no beginning”; he drew the logos out of himself, thus giving him the “matter” of which he is eternally and granting him divine status without multiplying the gods.

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