Friday, June 17, 2016

One divine will in three persons

There can scarcely be anyone who has had the time and the will to read all that evangelicals have been writing about the Trinity in the last week or so. There has no doubt been a certain amount of cattishness, bad manners and a good deal of heat, but in my more optimistic moments I think there has been some light. At least I am tempted to feel a bit clearer I think that:

The three persons of the Trinity are distinguished by their eternal relation of origins. There is one divine nature and one love, power, will, intellect etc. but this one divine nature exists only in the three persons. There is no divine nature or attributes etc. behind the persons. Both the oneness and the threeness are irreducible. The one God is in three distinguishable persons. The Son loves the Father with the divine love (since he is divine and of one substance with the Father) but he does so in a manner consistent with his eternal relation of origin towards the Father. So with his will: he wills the divine will since he is divine (is / has / shares the divine nature and is of one substance with the Father) but he wills it as Son. The Son’s will is the same as the Father’s divine will but it can be distinguished from the Father’s since it exists in the person of the Son and stands in a Sonly relation to the Father because of the Son’s relation of origin to the Father. Right?

 P.S. no heresy intended! Please feel free to put me right!


Thomas Renz said...

Like you I feel that for all the heat this discussion has generated, there has also been some light and the debate has spurred me on to reflect further on my understanding of the Trinity. Maybe this is because we had both put Augustine's De Trinitate on our reading list before all this erupted? There is still a lot I need to digest.

Your way of putting it preserves the inseparable divine operations and a single divine will and this seems to me critical. H. Wayne House apparently argued along similar lines "that the Father and Son may hypostatically possess an identical will in a unique way." Butner grants this and observes that "this uniqueness must be grounded in the personal properties of unbegotten and begotten, rooted in the relation of eternal generation."

The question is whether Father and Son language necessarily entails not only "begetter-begotten" but also "authority-submission". Here I would agree with those who claim that within the Trinity it is not possible to speak of ‘authority’ and ‘submission’ meaningfully if one genuinely holds to inseparable divine operations and a single divine will.

"The Son does receive the identical will of the Father (along with all of his being) through generation, but I do not see how we can therefore say that the Son possesses this will in a submissive way. The Son is not free to act differently than the Father, cannot will a different outcome than the Father, does not temporally possess this will later than the Father, and does not have a numerically distinct will from the Father." (Butner) The Son and the Father will the same outcome as a result of having the same wisdom and moral character.

The Son is not free to differ from the Father; it is impossible for the Son and the Father to will contrary things. What use can there be therefore for the language of yielding to another's will along the lines submission works within human relationships?

(For what it's worth, it seems to me that there has been overstatement on both sides. "Eternal Functional Subordination" is neither new, as some of its opponents claim, nor is it mainstream, as some of its proponents claim. As far as I can see, for the last 1500 years it has never been anything other than a minority view among Christian theologians, within the West at any rate.)

Marc Lloyd said...

Thanks, Thomas.

I was typing away here when my computer crashed. I am trying not to take it as a sign!

I had thought I might do another post touching on some of this stuff.

I certainly don't think that we should assume that Father and Son relations necessarily entail authority and submission. That is rather the point to be proved, isn't it?

In particular I would need to look much more closely at the exegetical case. Are there any texts that could not refer to the Son's obedience as a man?

I am not convinced that the power to will the contrary is required for genuine willing. An unregenerate person cannot will to do good but still freely wills to sin. In fact, I do not think God has liberty of indifference. He cannot lie. His will is always and freely perfectly governed by his wisdom and goodness but this is not a limitation on his freedom since he can always do what he wants. I am inclined to think that all of God's acts are necessary and free expressions of his perfect will, but I think Jonathan Edwards might be the only eminent person to have thought that!

Having said that, if we were to grant some kind of obedience of the Son to the Father in eternity, I agree it would be very different to the obedience of the newly recruited private soldier to the sergeant major, since the Father and the Son share the same divine will and would always agree. I wonder if it might be better to talk of some kind of relational disposition which flows from their relation of origins. In the same way that it is fitting to their relations that the Son becomes incarnate one might think that the Son has a glad disposition of submission / response to the Father in eternity. The external acts of the Trinity are undivided but the order of begun by the Father, enacted in the Son and completed in the Spirit (or similar) might correspond to something in the divine life. Again, a theological and exegetical case would have to be made, but it is possible, I think.

The idea that the inner life of God should correspond with God's revelation is attractive but it can be used too simplistically, I think. If the Son obeys the Father as a man this does not on it's own prove that the Son obeys the Father in eternity or we would also be looking for some kind of eternal analogue to the Son's thirst, hunger and tiredness in the eternal life of God.

Thomas Renz said...

On the contrary, maybe it could be said that Christ Jesus, the person, is hungry and thirsty and tired according to his human nature but obeys according to both his divine and human nature. The latter is required for there to be human obedience which is soteriologically crucial. The former could be argued on the grounds that the relationship between the Father and the Son has not been changed through the incarnation. The question is whether "obedience" is a relational term in this sense and whether an overemphasis on continuity here may fail to take into account the humbling, lowering of status, that the incarnation brought with it.

I agree that the power to will the contrary is not required for genuine willing. What I am saying is that the language of yielding, submitting to another's will is meaningless where the will is not in fact other.

Thomas Renz said...

I have found Mark Jones impressive in this debate. His latest contribution addresses the question of "will(s)" within the Trinity:

(I do not know whether his final comments are helpful. I guess the point is that submission is more important for evangelical "egalitarian" ethics than for "complementarian" ethics which tends to limit submission to people in certain roles such as wives, children and slaves. In any case, there are not only plenty of "complementarians" who firmly reject eternal subordination within the Trinity but also "egalitarians" who affirm it, such as Craig Keener.)