« PreviousContinue »
otherwise adjusted or decided than they have been, in order to be in accordance with the results of a true interpretation of Scripture, as guided by a vital Christian experience; consequently, that the dogma itself could not take any other form than that it has taken. It will be enough here to call to mind the general outlines of its history.
In the primitive church we find a simple and untroubled agreement with what the Scriptures declare respecting the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. And when the reflections of the early Christians were specially directed to the subject, as was the case, partly from inward necessity, and partly for apologetic and polemic reasons,-in order to guard against the opinions of the Gnostics and Ebionites, or to remove all suspicion of an approximation to heathen notions; they connect all their speculations with that germ of a Christian philosophy (praois), which is given us in Scripture in the doctrine of the Logos. Since the distinction between the Son and the Father seemed clear, as long as they remained upon biblical grounds, the chief problem with which they were first concerned was to show the unity of the Father and the Son; and this, too, did not seem to be of difficult solution, whether they took their departure from the notion of the close union and agreement, that is, of the equality or, at least, similarity of the Son with the Father, or from the conception of his dependence from him, that is, of his emanation or procession; both of which are contained in the idea of the creative wisdom (cogía), or of the reason (vous), which is the medium of the divine revelation. But, since these two points were not kept distinctly separate, they did not, on the one hand, arrive at the conception of the identity of the nature, while, on the other hand, they were in danger of disregarding the difference of subsistence; hence the fluctuations between Subordinationism and a Unitarian Monarchianism, which were the two co-existent forms, the one the complement of the other, in which this truth found its imperfect expression in the first centuries. It was, however, Monarchianism which was first condemned by the church, since it stood in contradiction with the Holy Scriptures; in the form in which some held it (Theodotus, Artemon, Paul of Samosata), by its approximation to the heresy of the Ebionites, which denies the divine in Christ; in the form in which others held it (Praxeas, Noctus, Sabellius), by the denial of the pre-existence of the Logos, as a truly subsisting περιγραφὴ τῆς θείας οὐσίας, even independently of its manifestation in the world. The Subordination
The Development of the Doctrine.
theory, however, was itself necessarily soon condemned, when, after being freed from the restraint which Monarchianism had hitherto exercised, and not merely encouraged, but apparently jus tified in the most decided opposition to it, it was hurried forward, in the form of Arianism, to an extreme, more at variance than even the other, with the Scriptures, and with Christian experience, by declaring that the Logos is only the first of creatures. Many, (as the Eusebians and other so-called Semi-Arians,) did indeed now at first attempt to hold fast to the more ancient scheme of Subordination; but this was impossible, now that the earlier simple and undoubting faith was lost, and that the opposing views, which were at first limited and restrained by one another, had become freely developed, and were seen in their mutual opposition. The discussions upon this doctrine could be brought to a close, only by seeing and declaring, that both the elements, the equality and the subordination, had equal rights, and were compatible with one another; the former being defined as consisting in the unity of essence, which does not exclude a difference of subsistence; and the latter, in the order of subsistence of the persons, which does not exclude their consubstantiality. This was the result of the conflicts of the fourth century, and it left to the following ages nothing to be done,' excepting to give the doctrine that more definite form, in respect to the mode of expressing and establishing it, and of stating the consequences flowing from it, which has passed over into dogmatic systems since the times of John of Damascus. Along with this, however, we do indeed find a constantly increasing divergence (e. g. in the Athanasian creed more than in the Constantinopolitan,) from the biblical doctrine, not merely in the mode of expression, but also in the type; since the Scriptures have an appearance of favoring Subordination, while the doctrine of the church receded from this more and more. Yet this involved no contradiction, but was only a change in the point of view, brought about by the course which constant reflection upon the subject would necessarily take. The Holy Scriptures, when they speak of the Son of God, direct our gaze chiefly to the Incarnate Word, the man Christ Jesus, who is indeed, although, or we may even say, because, the Word was manifest in him, absolutely subordinate and subject to the Father; and, in contrast with this, they bring before our eyes the essence of God, as seen in its majesty and glory in the Father. The doctrine of
1 Baumgarten-Crusius, Dogmengeschichte, S. 1016. § 40.
the church must answer the query, what we are to think of the Logos, that was united with Jesus, when viewed by itself and apart from this union; what is its personality in its eternal relation to the Father and to the nature of God? And if this were a question which could not be passed by, neither could those distinctions which are necessary to answering it, e. g. of the Person of the Father from the divine essence; nor those propositions which the nature of the case demands, as that the Son has the same essence with the Father, in spite of the difference in the ordo subsistendi et agendi. But still it must be granted, that the church doctrine, even in what pertains to the mode of presenting it, has attached itself closely to the Scriptural statements; thus, for example, it has not allowed itself to separate the idea of the divine nature from the conception of the first person;1 on the contrary, in the language of the church, as well as of the Scriptures, the name of the Father is usually employed to designate both the nature and the person (οὐσιωδῶς and ὑποστατικῶς). With so much the more assurance, then, may it be maintained, that if it were possible wholly to forget the church doctrine of the Trinity, and to go back to an earlier stage in its development, or even to the simple statements of the Bible; still, when we came to reflect closely upon the doctrine, we should be carried forward by the inward necessity of the case, through essentially the same conflicts, to the same results.
This is confirmed by the mode in which the Reformers treated
'In fact there was a strong temptation to do this in the general tendencies of the church doctrine. That is, the unity may, so to speak, be construed with the threeness in one of two ways; either by finding it in the idea of the one identical essence in the three persons, or by finding it in the Father considered as the principium divinitatis, from whom the Son was begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeded; the second of these modes would be nearest to the Subordination system, which holds that the Father is the one true God who has revealed himself in the Son and the Holy Ghost. Hence, it would have been very natural for the orthodox doctrine, after it had freed itself from Subordinationism, to have decidedly attached itself to that other mode of constructing the doctrine, and, consequently, to have subordinated the idea of the Father, as well as of the Son and the Holy Spirit to the idea of the one true God (after the analogy of the relation of specific to generic notions); and thus, at the same time, to have avoided the reproach of being illogical in making the Son and the Holy Spirit both equal with and subordinate to the Father. A certain tendency "to this separation of the Father's name from the Monas," (as Baumgarten-Crusius calls it, Dogmengesch. S. 1028,) is apparent in many representations of the doctrine of the church; but it has never been able to gain exclusive authority, and that because the Scriptures stand in the way.
This Doctrine at the Reformation.
the doctrine. It has been said that they retained it, only because they were still unconsciously fettered by the Catholic subserviency to authority; and that they would have given it up, if they had been excited to a full discussion of the subject. But as to their being embarrassed by mere authority, this was not the case at first; they did not deny the doctrine, but laid no stress upon it; Melanchthon, in the first editions of his Loci, passed it by altogether, and spoke with depreciation of the labors which the Scholastics bestowed upon it. Nor can it be said that there was no polemic inducement to abandon the doctrine; for it is well known, that at the time of the Reformation there were many who doubted, and many who attacked it, and that there were several attempts to give it another form. And yet we see Melanchthon himself, by occasion of these doubts and attacks, in the later editions of the Loci again returning into the path which he had left; we see him with increasing earnestness interpreting, proving and defending the doctrinal positions of the church, with more and more thoroughness; with a zeal in which he seems almost to forget his natural mildness, we see him contending against the opponents of the doctrine, in special controversial treatises. And why all this, if he had not become more and more convinced, that, with the doctrine of the Trinity, the very foundation of our Evangelical faith would be undermined, and that if we followed the Holy Scriptures, we could come to no other result than that already attained by the church? That he was ignorant of the objections that might be brought against it, cannot be assumed, when we see how frequently he speaks of the severe struggles which he foresaw it would encounter; nor can it have been mere authority by which he silenced these objections in his own mind, since he constantly refers his readers to the declarations of Scripture, which, he says, must be received with all simplicity. Or, can we perhaps say, that the polemical inducement did not come from the right quarter? That would be to make the convictions on which our church is based too much dependent upon accidental circumstances! And from what quarter should it have come? From whatever quarter it might have come, we may be assured that it would have found the Reformers firm in their faith in Christ as the only ground of all justification and redemption; and on this account also, firm in their conviction of the divinity of Christ; for, if they abhorred even the opinion that any one could do something of himself for his own justification, as casting dishonor upon Christ, how could they have been satisfied with an opinion, by which his
dignity was directly lowered? But with the Consubstantiality of the Son, the whole church doctrine of the Trinity is virtually given to every one, who holds so firmly to the word of the Bible as not to be satisfied with a Sabellian interpretation of it; especially if he allows as little weight as did Luther2 to those objec
1 Luther especially expresses so deep a feeling of the connection of the whole of Christianity with the doctrine of Christ's person, and of this with the Trinity, that it is impossible to suppose that he was merely led by circumstances to hold it fast. Conf. his Remarks upon the Three Confessions (Works, Walch's edition, Th. 10. S. 1198 sq.) published in 1533: “I have remarked in all the histories of the whole of Christendom, that all those who have rightly had and held that chief article about Jesus Christ, have remained good and true in the right Christian faith; and though they may have erred and sinned in other things, yet they have held out to the last. For whoever stands right and firm in this, that Jesus Christ is true God and man, died for us and is risen, will agree to and stand by all the other articles; thus it is most true, what St. Paul says, that Christ is the chief good, ground, soil, and the whole sum, to whom and under whom all the rest is gathered together;-for thus it is determined, says St. Paul, that in Jesus Christ the whole perfect divinity shall dwell bodily or personally; hence, he who does not find or get God in Christ, shall never more, and no where, be able to find God out of Christ, though he go above heaven, under hell and beyond the world; for here will I dwell, says God, in this man, born of Mary the virgin, etc.-Again I have also remarked that all error, heresies, idolatry, scandals, abuses and evil in the churches, have come originally from this, that this article about faith in Jesus Christ has been despised or lost; and when one looks at them in the light and rightly, he sees that all heresies fight against this dear article about Jesus Christ, as Simeon says of him, that he is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against." Similar to this, in his Commentary upon Galatians (1535) chapter 3:13. Conf. also his Auslegung des andern Artikels, preached in the castle at Torgau, 1533; Sermon upon John xiv.-xvi, 1538 (specially John 14: 13); and, von den letzten Worten Davids, 1543.
2 Luther speaks against all intermixture of reason, even to lessen the apparent hardness and difficulty of this doctrine, and to make it more comprehensible, in a way which might seem objectionable, were it not made honorable by the strength of faith which he expresses. Conf. among other things his, disputatio de anno 1539, d. XI. Jan., and the disputatt. de unitate essentiae et de distinct. personar. d. a. 1545, in the Opera Latina Jenens. tom. 1. (S. 528 and 534 of the edition of 1564). "When logic objects to this doctrine, that it does not square with its rules, we must say, Mulier taBy reason and philosophy nothing can be said about these majestic things; but by faith all things may be rightly said and believed." "Reason is like a line which touches the whole sphere, but only at one point, and does not grasp the whole." "He who wishes not to wander in his inquiries, and not to be oppressed by the glory of the majesty, let him by faith touch and lay hold of the Son of God manifest in the flesh; for this brightness of the Father's glory touches an object and becomes a reflex ray, illuminating every man that comes into the world."-Since we shall not probably soon have a
ceat in ecclesia." 66