A Defense of Cappadocian and Nicean Triadology Against the Heresy of Van Til’s View of the Trinity
Scriptural Evidence for Understanding the Father as Monarch
Gordon Clark’s Construction
The Nicene Creed reads, “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”
In Fr. Thomas’s lecture on the Holy Trinity he distinguishes the original understanding of the Monarchy of the Father compared to the Augustinian construction that was adopted by the West. He says that the One God is not strictly speaking the Holy Trinity. He says, "The one God is God the Father." He speaks of another theological error in saying,
"there is one God who is the Holy Trinity (15:53)..There is He who is
the Trinity (15:57)...we Orthodox Christians following Scripture and
the Credal statements and the liturgical prayers can never say there
is one God who is the Trinity. There is one God who is the Father;
and this one God who is the Father has with him eternally whom he
begets timelessly before all ages his only begotten Son who is also
His Logos His Word...and also His wisdom.. three instances of divine
life in total unity "
(Ancient Faith Radio, Fr. Thomas, The Holy Trinity: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/the_holy_trinity#2140)
This precise summary by Fr. Thomas will be defended in this paper. This is the exact error that Augustine’s construction posits which Van Til picked up on when he referred to the Trinity as one person. Fr. John Behr says,
"The Father alone is the one true God. This keeps to the structure of the New Testament language about God, where with only a few exceptions, the world “God” (theos) with an article (and so being used, in Greek, as a proper noun) is only applied to the one whom Jesus calls Father, the God spoken of in the scriptures...It is also important to note the essential asymmetry of the relation between the Father and the Son: the Son derives from the Father; He is, as the Nicene creed put it, “of the essence of the Father” – they do not both derive from one common source. This is what is usually referred to as the Monarchy of the Father...'The unity [of the three] lies in the communion of the Godhead' as St Basil the Great puts it (On the Holy Spirit 45). The emphasis here on communion acts as a safeguard against any tendency to see the three persons as simply different manifestations of the one nature; if they were simply different modes in which the one God appears, then such an act of communion would not be possible." (Fr. John Behr, The Trinity: Scripture and the Greek Fathers: http://solzemli.wordpress.com/2010/06/05/the-trinity-scripture-and-the-greek-fathers-by-fr-john-behr/)
John Meyendorf in his Byzantine Theology says,
(“The Triune God” http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/byzantine_theology_j_meyendorf.htm#_Toc26430277)
Alpha and Omega Ministries’ Colin Smith wrote an article titled Van Til and the Trinity: God as a Person. In this article he defends Van Til’s construction and in so doing makes some statements that clearly point out the fatal flaw in the Van Tillian and Western construction in general.
“In his Introduction to Systematic Theology, Van Til made the following statement:
Remember what Fr. Thomas said, “The one God is God the Father." The theological error is in saying, "there is one God who is the Holy Trinity(15:53)..There is He who is the Trinity (15:57).” This theological error is the exact position that Van Tillians take to escape their obvious heresy. So they run from one heresy to be embraced by a more clear and fundamental modalist heresy.
Concerning the Trinitarian activity Fr. Thomas says beginning at 38:41,
“Every activity proceeds from the Father, the source of every divine activity in creation sanctification, redemption. Whatever God is doing it comes from the Father; it’s God’s. The agent is always the Son. God creates through his Son, He speaks through his Son, He redeems through His Son, He sanctifies through his Son…But then all the activity is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. So every activity of God is from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit: from the Father by the Son in the Spirit….the term Triune God is not a traditional formula…There is no tri-personal Theos: God. There is the one Theos…the one God and Father…that one God is Father eternally with his Son who is God from God and with his Holy Spirit. ”
He seems to say that it is Orthodox to call God tri-personal divinity but not a tri-personal Theos. Honestly, I do not understand the distinction. He goes on to show that the Holy Spirit is not referred to as God/Theos in the Scriptures or in the early councils. He shows a distinction between calling the Holy Spirit “of one essence with the Father” and calling him God/Theos. The only place one can turn to in Scripture to prove that the Spirit was called Theos is Act 5:4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. Fr. Thomas explains this as referring to God the Father who’s Spirit the Holy Spirit is and the fact that the Holy Spirit contains the nature/essence of the Father. He also refers to the passage concerning the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit to refer to the fact that the Spirit is a divine person.
Scriptural Evidence for Understanding the Father as Monarch
You can go through your Bible and every instance where the phrase “God the” appears in reference to a person of the Trinity, it is always the Father. You never read “Blessed be God the Son” or “Blessed be God the Spirit”. The Cappadocian view is that the Father is the cause and source of Divine unity.
The following is taken from the KJV
Jhn 20:17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and [to] my God, and your God.
Eph 3:14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Eph 3:15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named
Rom 15:6 That ye may with one mind [and] one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Cr 1:3 Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ.
1Cr 8:6 But to us [there is but] one God, the Father, of whom [are] all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things, and we by him.
1Cr 15:24 Then [cometh] the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
2Cr 1:2 Grace [be] to you and peace from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ.
2Cr 1:3 Blessed [be] God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
2Cr 11:31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.
Gal 1:1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)Gal 1:3 Grace [be] to you and peace from God the Father, and [from] our Lord Jesus Christ
Eph 1:2 Grace [be] to you, and peace, from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ.Eph 1:3 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly [places] in Christ:
Jhn 16:28 I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.
Eph 1:17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
Eph 4:6 One God and Father of all, who [is] above all, and through all, and in you all.
Eph 5:20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
Eph 6:23 Peace [be] to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Phl 1:2 Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ.
Phl 2:11 And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Phl 4:20 Now unto God and our Father [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Col 1:2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Col 1:3 We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Col 2:2 That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;
Col 3:17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
1Th 1:1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians [which is] in God the Father and [in] the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1Th 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
1Th 3:11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
1Th 3:13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
2Th 1:1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2Th 1:2 Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2Th 2:16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given [us] everlasting consolation and good hope through grace
1Ti 1:2 Unto Timothy, [my] own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, [and] peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
2Ti 1:2 To Timothy, [my] dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, [and] peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Tts 1:4 To Titus, [mine] own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, [and] peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Phm 1:3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jam 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Jam 3:9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
1Pe 1:2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
1Pe 1:3 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
2Pe 1:17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
1Jo 1:2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen [it], and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
2Jo 1:3 Grace be with you, mercy, [and] peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
Jud 1:1 Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, [and] called:
Rev 1:6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him [be] glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Jhn 5:21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth [them]; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will….Jhn 5:23 That all [men] should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
The scriptural evidence is overwhelming.
Gordon Clark’s Construction
As Clark has been well known for rejecting Western Scholastic Philosophy he is in keeping with that in his Trinitarian construction. In Clark’s book, The Trinity, in the section regarding “Individuation” (pg. 101-109) Clark begins with the definition of person and takes a look at some different views and then gives his own:
“Accordingly the proposal is that a man is a congeries, a system, sometimes an agglomeration of miscellany, but at any rate a collection of thoughts. A man is what he thinks: and no two men are precisely the same combination. This is true of the Trinity also, for although each of the three persons is omniscient, one thinks ‘I or my collection of thoughts is the Father,’ and the second thinks, ‘I or my thoughts will assume or have assumed a human nature.”
This is how he individuates the persons and then one is led to the nature in that all three contain the predicates of the Godhead. I think he erred in referring to the Son’s individuating quality as his assuming a human nature, because this is economical not ontological but the problem is easily solved by asserting the thought, “I eternally generate from the Father.” Either way, though he is more rational and clear in his definitions, his construction is Cappadocian.
Clark clearly affirms the eternal generation of the Son in the next section of his book but does not deal with what I think is the logical consequence of Clark’s philosophy and Trinitarian construction: Is causality a predicate of the Father alone or an essential predicate of the divine nature? Farrell in a critique of Augustine’s view of Simplicity (Which Clark also criticizes in Thales to Dewey. The Patristic Period. Augustine.Truth and God) says,
"In other words, there is an artificial opposition of one person to the other two. It is at this point that the flexibility of Augustine’s Neoplatonic commitment begins to surface in a more acute form...Thus came Augustine to argue for the deity of Christ by means of the filioque; for, if the Son, acting as a cause along with the Father, causes the Spirit, then clearly the Son is God. But underlying Augustine’s response to Arianism is his acceptance of the Arians’ own confusion of person and nature by the acceptance of the Arian definition of the divine nature in terms of the causality of the Father.”
If Scripturalism rejects that distinction implies hostility, which I am persuaded it does reject, as the Law of Contradiction is posited as the thinking of the divine minds, and if it rejects that personhood is derived from the divine nature, which I am also persuaded it rejects, then causality is not a necessary predicate for the Son. In Augustine’s view causality must be a property of the Son because the persons are deduced from the nature and are only different modes of the nature. Scripturalism posits three absolute hypostases. Here then is another question, if the nature is then not the fountain and cause of the three persons what is? Remember, “Greek theology attributes the origin of hypostatic ‘‘subsistence" to the hypostasis of the Father — not to the common essence.” In the Cappadocian view the Father is the cause and source of Divine unity. It is in my judgment that the Scripturalist view must answer these questions by positing the Monarchy of the Father.
If then the Father is Monarch/hypostatic origin and cause, causality need not be predicated of the Son and therefore need not posit the Filioque. Gerald Bray was successful in convincing me of the Filoque by pointing out that the Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ and therefore must hypostatically participate in the Son. First, this is a different definition than Augustine’s view of procession, second this is economical. During my study for this paper, the Greek Fathers speak at length on the economical activity of the Spirit through the Son (See John of Damascus on the Holy Trinity). From my reading of Robert Letham, Gerald Bray, and Mark Bonocore the West simply does not understand the issues at hand. Even in the context of Jesus sending the Spirit in the Economy of Salvation he never says that the Spirit proceeds from him as well as the Father, he only admits the Father thus Joh 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: