Friday, September 23, 2005

Deus Absconditus

Yesterday, we discussed the doctrine of the Trinity in doctrine of the Holy Spirit (because you can't have one without the others -- or can you?)... Some people in class suggested that the Holy Spirit is the least understood person of the Trinity, with the least clear function for most people's lives. (As Wesleyans pursuing Holiness, we should be ashamed that our people don't know the work of the Holy Spirit, but that's another post) I respectfully disagree. In much mainline protestand worship, at least in New England, the person of the Trinity most likely to disappear is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, but actually the Father, the first person of the Trinity.

I have some theories about why the Father has become a hidden person of the Trinity -- they involve a combination of feminist critiques of masculine imagery for God; continued use of "God" as a synonym for "Father" in public prayer in Western Christianity despite the Augustinian/post-Augustinian insistence that "God" means the whole of the Trinity all at once, not just one person; and the filioque in the creed which obviates any unique and necessary role for the Father relative to the Son and Holy Spirit. We have gone from being truly Trinitarian to Binitarian -- and lest we offer ourselves false-congratulation for returning to the Binitarian state of ante-Nicaean theology, it's a different Binity!

In the United Methodist Hymnal, we have a new doxology set to beautiful music, filled with "alleluia's" but which never mentions the first-person of the Trinity (UMH, 94). I know the intent of most people singing "Praise God. the source of all our gifts! Praise Jesus Christ who power uplifts! Praise the Spirit, Holy Spirit!" is to give praise to all three persons of the Trinity, but functionally, it either elevates only the first person to the level of God (Arianism), or totally removes the first person of the Trinity from God (the new Binitarianism)...read the text with your "outsider to Christianity" goggles on, it's pretty obvious.

In her book, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, Catherine Mowry LaCugna asserted that the Trinity was a "dead doctrine," maybe she's right. How can we have a Trinitarian understanding of God when one of the three persons has disappeared?

6 comments:

MysticMonk said...

Perhaps it becomes difficult because the Trinity doctrine was added on latter. Jesus never said he was the same as the father or the same as the holy spirit. Most direct dialog from God comes in the Old Testament which mentions neither. A Messiah was to come but never, God will appear as the Messiah.

The Trinity was conceived to explain this problem. How do you explain the divinity of Jesus, God(Father) and this power/essence of the Holy Spirit when there can only be one God?

It doesn't make sense to have 3 Gods. But unless one trys to understand that God (not the Male father) is all things, makes up all things, causes all things and has no sex or any human quality. Then the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost becomes manifestations of the all encomposing God.

David said...

MysticMonk, You're half right about Jesus' lack of identification with the Father/Holy Spirit. John 10:30 and the surrounding verses are classic texts demonstrating the unity of God the Father and Jesus the Son (see also especially John 10:38 for Father-Son perichoresis).

While the evidence for Jesus identification with the Holy Spirit is less substantial, we find in John 14:16 (NRSV) "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (parakletos), to be with you for ever." In John 14-16 the Paraclete consistently refers to the Holy Spirit, except in this verse where it refers to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit -- hence limited reference to the Unity of Son and Spirit.

I agree that we must try to understand that God is not merely the Father (or the Son or Holy Spirit), but your commentary that "uless one trys to understand that God (not the Male father) is all things, makes up all things, causes all thing and has no sex or any human quality. Then the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost becomes manifestations of the all encomposing God," sounds to me like pantheism. The orthodox Christian response, for centuries, has been that God is Trinity, and that God is distinct from Creation. Additionally, Chalcedonian Christians affirm that God took on humanity in the Incarnation -- that Jesus was both truly human and truly divine. If we say God has no human qualities we deny the Incarnation, and as Athanasius argued, our faith is in vain because only God (not another human) can save us.

The doctrine of the Trinity was an attempt to reconcile the experience of God by the Church (in the Father to whom they prayed, in Jesus Christ who saved them from sin and death, and in the Holy Spirit in whom they lived and who lived in them), so yes, it can be a challenge to understand and apply the Trinity to Christian life and faith.

Thanks for your imput!

MysticMonk said...

John 10:30 is interesting compared to 10:34 and 10:35.

10:34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;

Are we all Gods since we are all Sons and Daughters of God?

Looking at John 14:16, the question then becomes. Why does Jesus need to ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit? In that sentence, all three are present, yes, but as seperate entities. If they are one, then Jesus would not need to ask. He would say "I will be with you always as the Holy Spirit".

Must cut short, wife demanding I go get dinner for family. Peace.

Brian Russell said...

David,
interesting post on the Trinity.

I think that your critique about the loss of "Father" language as well as your remark about a lack of appreciation for the work of the Spirit is telling. Perhaps we are more unitarian than we care to admit.

Mystic Monk offers some interesting reflections, but I think that he misses some implications within the First Testament. Certainly, there is no explicit doctrine of the Trinity in the First Testament, but the makings of one are there. To cite one example, Psalm 2 extols the Israelites King as the "Son of God." Son of God was a typical Near Easter title for a King. It is striking how the NT picks up this psalm and employs it to speak of Jesus. Philippians 2:12 in particular "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" plays off of Psalm 2. What is important here is that in Philippians 2:10-11, Paul (or whoever wrote the Christ hymn in 2:6-11) equates Jesus with Yahweh of the OT. How else to read "Jesus Messian is LORD"? 2:12 then reminds us how to approach the true king, the Son of God, God himself.

Great post.

MysticMonk said...

Semantics can be fun. Different people can take the same words to mean different things. For after all they are labels for concepts and are subjective.

From my (limited) understanding. The Messiah as in the Old (first) Testament refers to a savior. A person to lead the Jews from the darkenss. An emmisary or prophet from God. Not God himself.

As you pointed out. Son of God was used for earthly kings/rulers. It helps with showing the populace that they have a mandate from Heaven to rule. Also Lord does not always mean God. It is a title. Calling Jesus Lord does not say that he is God. It says that he is in charge as royalty or King. He who should be respected and obeyed.

p.s. Food for thought. In reference to John 10:30 and the use of Lord. You can ignore if you wish since they come from other traditions.

From Buddhism and Islam:

I found an interesting Quran reference. Mohammad once said that he was one with God. I can get the exact line if you wish. But in Islam, Mohammad was a prophet. The idea that he was God is completly rejected.

In Buddhism, you will find frequent references to Buddha as Lord Buddha. But Buddha himself says he was not God.

Brian Russell said...

Words can be slippery indeed! The key is to read them within their historical context (as much as this is possible). The use of Lord can be a honorific title as it probably is in the Buddhist text which you cite.

However, this is not the case in the Philippians passage. Pious Jews began substituting "LORD" for the revealed name of their God (Yahweh or as in popular parlance "Jehovah").

The Philippians text is asserting that Jesus Messiah is to be associated directly with Yahweh of the OT. Why do I say this? Because Philippians 2:10-11 is a partial quotation from Isaiah 45:23. Moreover, the context of Isaiah is one of the most strongly worded monotheistic sections of the Bible. It asserts that there is only one God to the exclusion of all other claims. If this is true, it is striking that Paul uses this sort of language regarding Jesus. He is elevating Jesus to the level of Israel's God.

He doesn't work out the implications of this in his letters, but later Christian theologians would via Trinitarian thought.

Thanks for the conversation.