Trinity in Creation

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I have written a piece in response to the most recent Theopolis Conversation on the subject of the Trinity in creation.

By leaning into identifying the Logos with God revealed in the singularity of his act (and even declared prior to any act), John immediately chastens any visions of plurality that might give rise to a ‘social Trinity’, for instance, while still maintaining personal differentiation. One consequence of this is the theological load-bearing that prepositional differentiation start to perform from the outset: God’s works are from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit (this is also a notable feature of the Apostle Paul’s theological account of Christ’s deity). God’s works are not the collaborative work of a team of different unified agents, but the multiplicity proper to God is such that it is appropriate to represent him as a single purposeful Agent throughout the creation account, as elsewhere in the Scripture…

Read the whole piece here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Creation, Doctrine of God, Genesis, Guest Post, NT Theology, OT, OT Theology, The Triune God, Theological, Theopolis. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Trinity in Creation

  1. Hi Alastair- I have been meaning to write some comments on this post for quite some time, as it brought together a number of points concerning which we differ and which I have not seen other authors raise. It is meant, of course, in the spirit of mutual upbuilding, as your work is consinstently of a very high caliber. Both of us are shaped at a very deep level by the theological and biblical work of James Jordan, Peter Leithart, and the Biblical Horizons/Theopolis network- and I think both of us, as a general rule, are more deferential to what we take to represent normative Christian tradition on this or that issue. So I hope that you find the following to be useful or at least interesting in disagreement and agreement. I hope its length substantively serves its meaning rather than being noise.

    1. I agree that the divine council is relevant to the text in Genesis 1, but I think the trinitarian reality is distinctly present as the basis for that council- after all, that God’s creative self-extension into contingent being should take conciliar form is itself an aspect of natural revelation in creation. The typical language used to describe the council is also suggestive: “sons” of God being the most clearly trinitarian. Proverbs 8:22ff summarizes the narrative of the creation week through the lens of “Wisdom” – the word in 8:22 means, I think, “begotten” and thus links the beginning of Proverbs (addressed to a son who is called to become wise) and the end (asking whether the reader has the wisdom to know the Name of God and of His Son). Within Genesis itself, God’s first-person speech is often used explicitly where God is addressing Himself. Most clearly is Genesis 8:21-22 where God addresses Himself “in His heart.” That the text narrates a divine verdict sets it in the context of the heavenly court (especially in view of the judgment-scene in Genesis 6, where God “sees”, pronounces the world “not good”, and decrees judgment) confirms this intuition. That God alone is specified as the active agent of man’s creation seems to me to suggest that this is to be taken according to a trinitarian nuance. God speaks in His own trinitarian life, creating Man as a corporate organism (the name belongs, through Genesis 5:1-2) to the single image which is the human family which is a plural unity- male, female, and begetting children. Genesis 4:1-2 shows God as the divine Begetter, a major theme in Genesis that is again stated explicitly in Genesis 14 where He is the “Begetter of Heaven and Earth.”

    Genesis 11 broadens this story- taking place as it does after the heavenly rebellions narrated (or manifested) in Genesis 3 and 6. Here again we have the creation of a plurality in the existence of mankind- many nations. But in this case the plurality is unqualified by unity until Pentecost. The “let us” of this divine-council scene includes the rebels on the councils- thus, the intertextuality with Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and the rest of the prophetic song makes a great deal of sense. As in 1 Kings 22, the evil angels act as agents in God’s divine judgment upon the nations. God confuses both the language and the worship (“lip”) of the nations by allowing the no-gods after whom they sought to successfully prey upon their minds and hearts.

    The structure of the glory-cloud is also indicative of a trinitarian theme in Genesis 1. Exodus 14:19-31 follows out the seven days of Genesis 1 in narrating the passage of Israel through the Red Sea, beginning with the reference to the “Angel of God” in the glory-cloud which “lit up the night” and followed by the division of the waters of the Red Sea- echoing the darkness of Genesis 1 followed by “light” and a division of the waters. The upshot for the present purpose, however, is that the hovering “Spirit of God” in 1:2 is identified with or at least connected to the glory-cloud which descends upon Mt. Sinai. When Moses in Deuteronomy 33 says that the LORD came on Sinai with “thousands of His holy ones”, we see the basic pattern which exists in the glory-cloud. It is the cloud of divine presence permeated by the angelic powers and- most importantly- having the “Angel of the LORD/God” at its center- i.e. the Son. Whether or not one would need the NT to identify the divine Angel with the Son, the reality of a plenitude of persons- one “from whom” the revelation comes and one “through whom” the message comes- seems well-established. This is consistent with what the prophetic books later say: in a “cloud” Ezekiel sees the Chariot of God animated by the Spirit, piloted by angels, and carrying one enthroned who is “in the likeness of a Man.” In light of these things, Genesis 1:1ff is seen as having a remarkably and beautifully precise narrative logic to it. God creates “the Heavens” as well as the “earth”- the latter is unformed, empty, and invisible. If the Spirit in Genesis 1:2 is what was just suggested (which as you know is not original to me but is developed by Kline), then what is described is the Logos: the world is unstructured, so the Logos of its structure, being the pattern for Heaven, now descends to terrestrial reality and begins to brighten, structure, and fill it. Given this, the divine council is present in Genesis 1 from 1:2 onwards, but it is the inner dialogue in God which is being underscored. This makes vivid sense of Job 38- when the foundations of the earth are laid, the heavenly council rejoices- they were there, having descended in the glory of Genesis 1:2, counselors and witnesses of the enthroned Logos and Angel of the LORD at the heart of the cloud.

    I think we see in Genesis 18-19, which you cite, a sign of the unity between the trinitarian and divine-conciliar overtones when the LORD, having come down from Heaven (similar to the statement about going “down” in Genesis 11) with two judicial witnesses (created angels) to inspect and judge the cities of the plain, acts in 19:24, which says that “the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of Heaven.” As a standalone verse, it could be dismissed as an unusual turn of phrase, perhaps: but the context is striking. “Heaven” is the locus of the council and thus a representation of its authority (hence celestial imagery in relation to sovereignty- underscored by the note that the “sun had risen on Zoar” in just the previous verse). In context, we have already encountered signs of judicial proceedings: God has chosen to include Abraham in the business of state, as it were. Two created angels accompany the LORD to formally examine the case brought against Sodom. To bear a name is to bear the authority signified by that Name (thus “my Name is in Him” concerning the Angel of the LORD) so that a trinitarian reading of 19:24 has a strong contextual basis. This is the divine Son, revealing the Father who is in Heaven and making known His will in the process of enacting it. It is the Son who concretely and visibly makes Him known- joined by created angels who share in His work and ratify it. So the twofold presence of the LORD is genuinely a hypostatic twoness. The Father in Heaven, revealed in and through His Word and council- both human (Abraham) and angelic (the two angels) enacts His purpose in this pattern of activity.

    Showing that a trinitarian and divine-conciliar reading are conceptually compatible does not, of course, demonstrate that we actually need both if only one explanatory model is sufficient- but I think the points about divine self-deliberation, the noted presence of the Angel of the LORD (especially since members of the council are in some texts called angels), and the description of the heavenly fire gives us reason to think that a multiplicity of persons has greater explanatory force in reading the text.

    2. One of the major difficulties I have with this piece and with your other comments on the normative doctrine of God is the privileged place you give to the analogical concept of being as the distinctive mark of speech about God. The notion of univocity in speaking about God is not an innovation of recent theologians or philosophers. It was represented consistently in medieval theology of East and West- in the East by the dominant Palamite tradition held this view- Gregory Palamas as read by Nicholas Cabasilas, Mark of Ephesus, Gennadius Scholarius, and others (the latter two had studied Latin theology extensively) rooted in the patristic tradition enunciated by Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Cyril, Maximus, and others. In the West it was represented by the Scotists within the Franciscan theological tradition (whom I think were the majority contra the Ockhamite branch)- among whom are counted Bonaventure and of course Scotus himself, among many others. I can’t speak to the Reformation traditions but it seems to me very problematic to take the implication of univocity as a departure from the Christian tradition ipso facto. It is a departure from a key school within that tradition (Thomism) and those who took his interpretation of simplicity as normative, but I do not think it is normative for the catholic tradition of the Church as a whole and so cannot be used as a yardstick by which to measure orthodox biblical exegesis.

    3. Related to this point, the language of a “social” Trinity is used imprecisely, it seems to me, in contemporary theology. On the one hand, the New Testament is clear that trinitarian relations are the archetypal source for human communities. Most obvious (and therefore often overlooked- as a fish overlooks water) is the language of sonship. God is Begetting Father and Begotten Son. He is thus the source of all Fatherhood in heaven and earth, as Paul says in Ephesians 3. That is related to the above as the “let us” of Genesis 1 is issued in relation to the creation of Man as generative male and female. Likewise in John’s Gospel, Jesus prays that His disciples may “be One as [Father and Son] are one.” In 1 Corinthians 12, the threefold unity of God’s life is invoked through the language of “one Spirit…one Lord…one God” in the context of explaining the simultaneity of unity and plurality in the Body of Christ. The relation of the Father and Son was used in the preceding chapter to analogize the relation of headship between husband and wife. And in 1 Corinthians 2, I think there is a very strong indication as to the nature of the relationship: the Spirit of God apprehends the thoughts of God and so “imparts wisdom” that we obtain the “mind of Christ” (i.e. the “mind of the Lord” mentioned in the same verse- 1 Cor. 2:16). This is spelled out in the context of Paul’s call for the unity of the church, and the same language is in Philippians 2: since we share the “mind of Christ”, we are unified by Jesus’ faithful embrace of the Father through the Spirit in love for all mankind.

    In the Christology of the Councils, the “one nature” of the Godhead *is* given in parallel to the “one nature” of mankind. Thus, the incarnate Son is consubstantial with both. Not only so, but the relationship between nature, energy, and will elucidated by the Sixth Council exegetes what is meant Christologically (if we are speaking within a confessional context) by orthodox teaching on the unity of God. Will is predicated of nature so that the incarnate Son possesses the one will of Father, Son, and Spirit with respect to His divinity- and the one will of humankind with respect to His humanity, bringing the latter into obedience to the former by His hypostatic union. Clearly, “will” is being used in a different sense than its colloquial use today: it means something more like “power of willing.” The distinctive qualities of a person’s activity are individuated in every act of that one will: the conflict and discord in mankind is what is at issue, of course- it is contrary to God’s purpose because it is contrary to the nature of mankind. This raises the issue of distinguishing the character of God’s unity from the unity of mankind, but at this point I just want to note that the unity of mankind is linked very strongly to the unity of God such that the interiority of the Father and Son with each other is said in John 17 to characterize the relationship among the disciples of Jesus. There is a strong sense in the New Testament that the oneness of the Church has as its archetype the oneness inherent in the life of God: thus Ephesians 4:1-6- “one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father…” The metaphysical cashing out of this relationship is distinct (though I think the category of energy is robust and sufficient here- I will link a piece on this at the bottom) from the affirmation of the relationship itself- that there is a very strong relationship seems to be powerfully indicated in the Bible. Notably, the Shema comes in that book of the Pentateuch where Israel’s maturation into a perfected unity is a theme: the oneness of the God revealed to Israel is crucial because the nation itself is bound together in devotion to that one God: hence, they are thrice gathered to “one” place chosen by the one God.

    4. The qualities which characterize the interpenetrating life of the triune God are not identical to (though they are, of course, related to) the principle by which each person subsists as who they are. Were this the case, of course we would never be able to share in or access univocally the mutuality inherent in that divine life. The words “begetting” and “procession” in the end, do not say anything more than we already know. We know the Son exists as the Son and the Spirit exists as the Spirit. We know that both names characterize a relation (Joseph Bryennios, a medieval Byzantine theologian, suggests intriguingly that each person has two names corresponding to His two trinitarian relations) and that these relations individuate the entire divine operation as lived in the person. God, as God, is Father. As Father, He begets the Son. As Father of the only-Begotten Son, He is bound to the latter by the embrace of Love- realized by and manifest in the Holy Spirit. In each case, the hypostasis is internal to the reality of the other hypostases. The one cannot exist without the others. Self-existence, generation, procession- these are the ontological principles by which the persons are who they are, and we do not share in those. We share in their qualities of existence, not that by which they exist. As Gregory of Cyprus says with refence to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit exists through the Son but does not have His existence through the Son. The same is true, I think, for us- which makes sense as it is the Spirit who dwells in us.

    I know it is tacky to post one’s own writing, but I’m afraid I’m a tacky individual. In the paper linked below I talk about the theology of the Trinity as the governing principle in the Palamite doctrine of the energies- which represents my own “views” on the nature of trinitarian theology as well. It’s not an essential part of what I’ve argued here, but it does develop it in a constructive context and provide a more robust specification of the relationship between nature, hypostasis, will, and energy.

    To state my issue on the notion of analogical predication in this context directly: I think that in the way we do share in God’s uncreated life, we do so totally and without limitation. In the sense we do not share in God’s being, we do not share in it to any degree whatsoever. It is quite possible that I have misunderstood your own view on this subject, but the way I read your idea in this article and elsewhere is that in our being made participants in God, the qualities belonging to God in which we participate are predicated analogously. If God’s plurality is a pattern for human relationships, then it is not so univocally, but only analogously. The difficulty I think I have with this- both practically and theologically- is that the nature and extent of the analogy is inchoate and simply cannot be otherwise- to give further definition would be to undermine the idea of analogical predication. But I think our concept of analogy presumes univocity in at least some way. When I say “this is good food”, I am using good” in an analogical sense relative to “he is a good person.”

    But the analogy lies in the aspect of the two which is bound together univocally: in both cases a concrete subject corresponds to an archetype of what the subject ought to be. The reason it is analogical and not univocal is because it also has other properties which are not merely non-univocally alike, but utterly unlike. The one is food, the other is a person. In the one case the “ought” is a man’s personal preference, in the other the “ought” is the divine intention embedded in human nature as its final cause. But the nature of the correspondence between subject and archetype is more than analogically alike- it is univocally identical. Analogy exists to capture relations between things whose properties are identical in certain cases and different in others. But to speak of the *entire relation* as analogical, whether we are speaking of God or otherwise, seems to break down.

    Thanks very much again for your contributions- and I am *very* much looking forward to your book on relations between the sexes.

    Seraphim Hamilton

    • Thanks for such detailed interaction, Seraphim!

      Unfortunately, as I am snowed under with things right now, I can’t give you the thoughtful response that your comments deserve. However, I will note that, while I disagree with various aspects of your other points, we are largely in agreement on your first point.

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