Triadic Truth Claims Trump All

A position should be accepted or rejected based on whether it is true or not.  While some do apply that dictum in overly simplistic ways and one should be aware of importing other categories into the discussion, there seems something intuitive about accepting or rejecting a position based on whether it is true or false.   To put it negatively:  the human brain is probably not wired to knowingly believe as true what one knows to be false.

This is applicable when one evaluates various theological positions.  To reject a position based on “cultural” reasons is inadequate, for example, especially if its own truth claims have not been tested.  The following issues are what I—and others to whom I have consulted for advice—call “dealbreakers.”  They function similarly to “defeaters”[1] in philosophy. If I can show that one system of beliefs (B1) is incompatible with another system of beliefs (B2; the conclusions reached by the church concerning the Trinity and Christology), then either B1 or B2 has to go.

Monergism

The early church reasoned that nature has a will and thus an energy.  Therefore, since Christ has two natures, Christ also has two wills and two energies.    The heresy of monotheletism, though, said Christ only had one will.  Taking it a step further, a more specific heresy said Christ only had one energy.  This heresy is known as…mono-energism, or monergism.

Someone could respond, “But that’s not how monergism is being used today.   All that this monergism connotes is that God is sovereign in salvation—we, too, believe that Christ has two wills and two energies.[2]”  However, as Demetrios Bathrellos notes in The Byzantine Christ, some adherents of mono-energism also held to two energies in Christ; they simply subsume Christ’s human energy under the work of the divine energy.   Does this sound familiar?  Does this not sound like the claim that “God makes my will willing to will God”?  Isn’t this a form of “effectual calling”?  In any case, there is no true synergism, not only in our salvation, but in Christ himself.

The Son Becomes the Father…or Arian

Triadic reasoning says that whatever is common to the divine essence is applicable to all.   Whatever is particular to the person is particular to that person.   The three persons of the Trinity do not share the divine essence, but rather each person fully possesses the divine essence.

In light of the above, we should briefly return to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Against Eunomius.  Eunomius had, in a move similar to Arius, identified causality and generation, not with the hypostasis of the Father, but with the divine essence.   This had several consequences:  the Son was not of the same essence as the Father since the Son does not generate a Son.[3] Modern day Filioquists reject that conclusion but accept the same form of reasoning. In this sense with regard to the Filioque we see a “transfer of hypostatic properties.”  In other words, the ancients had spoken of the Father’s properties as generation, but with the Filioque both Son and Father have the same hypostatic properties.

The Bond of the Church is the…Pope?

If the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, and if analogies between the eternal Trinity are valid in the temporal realm (which most defenders of the Filioque, both Protestant and Catholic, affirm), then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Holy Spirit and grace proceed from the Pope.  Of course, Protestants reject the claim that the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, but instead of one pope one often sees many popes from whom the Holy Spirit, as well as binding decisions on the church, proceed.

You Can’t Use the Referee to Score Points for Your Team…

(Unless you umpire freshman baseball games in high school).  I’ve dealt with the epistemological problems with sola scriptura elsewhere.   The argument runs along these lines:  One cannot know the contents of Scripture simply by using Scripture—there is no scriptural argument for the Table of Contents page.   Secondly, you cannot interpret “Scripture by the clearer parts of Scripture” because you cannot know which parts are the clearer parts of Scripture except by an arbitrary appeal to a certain passage.

Saying the argument another way:  if you and another believer disagree about a biblical passage, who (or what) is the referee?  It will not do to appeal to the Bible, for that is the very issue under contention.  Some might say the court of appeal is the methods of historical-grammatical interpretation.   The problem with this method is that the Bible itself uses other methods of interpretation[4], and that this knowledge is not acquired by “scripture alone.”  It is, if you will, a “tradition of men.”  It is a prestigious tradition, but simply that.

Conclusion

Simply saying that such and such group is ethnic and phyletist may be true in your particular experience (though it is funny how the most crass forms of American evangelical phyletism are perfectly acceptable), but that charge is utterly irrelevant concerning the truth claims at stake.  Saying that the Reformers were thinking new thoughts biblically is commendable for them, but if their particular thoughts contradict with what the church has concluded about Triad and Christ (see the point on defeaters above), too bad for them.  It does not matter what they get right.   Heresies tend to have deconstruct themselves along the dialectic.

To be fair, there are still some problems for me—problems I cannot yet address, but at least I am trying to pursue them along epistemological and truth-claim lines.


[1] A defeater is a belief (B1) that is held to be incompatible with another belief (B2), or it can be any form of evidence to undercut a position, if not outright refuting it.

[2] On the other hand, though, many Reformed are not affirming that.   They only pick and choose which councils they accept.  For example, they like the Third Council, except where it venerates the Theotokos.

[3] Unfortunately, Eunomius’ trap had thus been set.  Later theologians would indeed reason that if the Son did not cause another person he was not fully God.

[4] In fact, using a strict historical-grammatical method would rule out much of Galatians 4.

Presuppositions on the Church

  1. Christ established a physical, visible body of believers.  While there is a mystical element to it and perhaps even an “invisible” one (though it is best not to speak of that at all), it is primarily physical.
  2. While the Church is not a continuation of the Incarnation, per se, it cannot be separated from it.  To separate Church from Incarnation is to divide the Body of Christ, which is Nestorianism.
  3. Christ did not give a “Bible” to the Church when he founded it, but rather the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  4. If Christ only established the Church once, and all sides agree he gave order for its maintenance, which would be the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Ephesians 2), and if the Church is visible and physical (Premise 1), then there has to be a visible leadership and a visible continuation.
  5. Is the Church infallible?  This is almost always used as a late Western mode of thinking.  What is infallibility?  The ability to non-err in speaking and authority.  However, the locus of an institution/person/object’s infallibility is always outside that institution.  This is where infallibility arguments become self-eating.   To prove one’s highest authority one must reason only in terms of that highest authority (cf Wittengenstein, Greg Bahnsen).  For to prove one’s highest authority by something other than one’s highest authority is to create a new highest authority.

    On this line of reasoning, then, one immediately sees how difficult “proving the Bible” to be self-attesting et al really is.  You cannot prove the Bible, especially justifying its contents, simply by using the Bible (e.g., the canon of books).   Does this same line of reasoning hold true for the Church?  Many Roman Catholic apologists argue in precisely this way, and the same arguments would apply to them.

    Is there another way?  As one might have noticed, the above illustrates the difficulty with “Tradition vs. Scripture,” for both sides have an element of truth to them.   The Roman does elevate Tradition alongside Scripture and has a hard time explaining why the former doesn’t always trump the latter.   The Protestant can’t prove Scripture without tradition and thus has a hard time justifying his ultimate authority.

    But most the two be in tension with one another?   It is more helpful to see tradition as the ministry of the Holy Spirit within the Church, and to see the Bible as a subset of Tradition.  This puts the Bible where it should be:  as an icon of Christ pointing to Christ.  There is no longer a duality of Scripture and Tradition, but rather one harmonious whole.