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God, and the results and issues of human life, are determined. As the acceptance or rejection of the doctrine of intuitive or necessary truth determines the character of all psychological inquiry, so the acceptance or rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity determines the character of all religious belief. Need we be surprised then to find that upon this fundamental ground there has been waged a fierce and bitter controversy, and that men have frequently been led to introduce an authority, and adopt measures which, having no real connection with the controversy, were utterly incompetent to give a decision or develope satisfactory results. Let not the faults and imperfections of the past prejudice investigation now, or lead us to overlook the primary importance of the contested dogma. There ought to be a careful distinction made between the truth and importance of a dogma, in relation to the essential character and integrity of a system of belief, and any measures that may be adopted in its establishment or defence. The former may be all that is affirmed, while the propriety of the latter may be very questionable. But this employment of imprųdent or injudicious measures ought not so to prejudice the mind as to prevent it duly estimating the truth and importance of affirmed doctrine. A similar consideration may be advanced in reference to imperfect and inconclusive argument. For, not only do men allow themselves to be prejudicially influenced by the ecclesiastical action which may be taken in maintaining or defending any dogma, but they are apt also to seize with evident satisfaction upon any imperfect and inconclusive argument which may be advanced in its support, overlooking arguments valid and strong, in fact, dealing with the subject as if the inconclusive reasoning they repudiate were all that could be advanced. It may be justifiable enough to expose the weak places in an adversary's defences, but after all we may be no nearer demolishing the real strength of his position. A besieging army may capture a fortress by taking advantage of some weak place, and the defenders may be completely at its mercy; but dogmas cannot be vanquished in this way; neither can we by any such method overturn and demolish systems of belief. The security and strength of a fortress are measured by its weakest part; but the strength and stability of a system of belief are measured by the strongest reasons and arguments that can be advanced in its support. It is little use meddling with the weak and imperfect reasons by which any system of belief is supported; this is labour lost; we must grapple with the most potent arguments, these overturned, the position is destroyed, and all weak and paltry argumentation will be swept away in the general rout. And yet it is not uncommon for disputants to be jubilant over a paltry success, which, after all, constitutes no positive advantage; an insignificant outwork may have been disposed of, but the success, such as it is, may only
serve to reveal the real strength of the position attacked. The doctrine of the Trinity has suffered from both these causes. The ecclesiastical action of its defenders has occasioned prejudice, and imperfect reasoning, advanced in its support, has led many to conclude the doctrine absurd and irrational. We propose in this essay to state the doctrine as contained in the faith of the church; to indicate the principal lines of argument adopted in its maintenance and defence; and also to enumerate the principal forms of antiTrinitarian belief.
In the unity of the Godhead there subsists a threefold distinction, expressed by the names Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; numerically one, for there is none other God beside Him, and metaphysically one, for he is without parts and passions; there is, nevertheless, revealed in Scripture, as comprehended in the simple and undivided essence of Deity, a trinal distinction. This distinction must not be resolved into a difference of attribute or determination, for all the attributes of the Godhead are affirmed of Father, Son, and Spirit respectively; neither must it be resolved into an official or relative distinction, for the persons subsisting in the Godhead are revealed as co-existent, co-equal, and co-eternal. Concerning the mode of this distinction we affirm nothing, it is the revealed fact we postulate. Reasoning about the mode has frequently contributed to obscure the fact. That a thing is may be apprehensible when the mode of its subsistence cannot be comprehended. These two points are plainly different, and we may know the former even though entirely ignorant of the latter. This consideration exposes the irrelevancy of most of the objections taken to the doctrine of the Trinity. These objections mostly refer to the mode concerning which nothing is affirmed, and have no reference to the revealed fact, which is all that is postulated. This is the case in reference to all objections based upon the terms employed in expressing the revealed fact of trinal distinction. The distinctions are denominated personal, and it is affirmed that in the unity of the Divine essence there subsists three persons; but the term person does not indicate the nature or mode of the distinction, it merely expresses the fact, and perhaps it is as suitable for this purpose as any other term we can employ. And yet it is frequently referred to in controversy as if it were intended to accurately express the mode in which the threefold distinction subsists in the Godhead. Now we have reason to complain when the term is made to include what no Trinitarian comprehends under it when it is used to express the fact of trinal distinction. Human personalities are numerically distinct, but no such numerical distinction is meant when the persons in the Godhead are spoken of: and to reason as if the term in the one usage meant exactly what it denotes in the other, so that the doctrine of the Trinity is made tritheistic, violates every
canon of valid and legitimate argument. A change of term would secure no advantage, for whatever form of expression might be employed, it would labour under the same obscurity, and be liable to the same sophistical misuse. We do not need any other term, all we require is to recognise in all argumentation that this term, person, merely expresses the fact of distinction, but denotes nothing respecting its nature or mode. The objection that the doctrine of the Trinity is contrary to reason, proceeds upon a similar misunderstanding or misinterpretation. It is frequently asked how one can be three, and three one; as if it were affirmed that the persons in the Godhead were one and three in precisely the same sense; for it is only when one is affirmed to be three, and three one in the same sense, that reason is violated, and that there is palpable contradiction. But, now, what is contained in the doctrine of the Trinity? It is affirmed that God is one in essence, and that in this unity of essence there subsists a trinal distinction. It is not affirmed that he is one in the same sense in which he is trinally distinct; nor that he is trinally distinct in the same sense in which he is one in fact there is nothing affirmed as to the nature or mode of subsistence; hence the objection is irrelevant, for it proceeds upon the assumption that Deity is affirmed to be one and trinally distinct in the same sense, which is not the case. Its irrelevancy is further evident from the consideration that whatever is contradictory to reason must be so within reason's own province. The incomprehensible, that which transcends reason, cannot be affirmed contradictory to it; its incomprehensibility renders it impossible to prove that it is contrary to reason. It may be so, but it cannot be shown to be so, for in order to show it to be so there must be an adequate notion of it, in fact, it must cease to be incomprehensible. But the mode of the Divine subsistence, either in its unity or its trinal distinction, is beyond human comprehension; and as the doctrine of the Triune Deity, contained in the faith of the Christian Church, comprehends no affirmation respecting the nature or mode of either the Unity or Trinity it cannot be stated as contrary to reason. We may ask, what is it that is contrary to reason? and the answer must come in one of two forms: first, either a statement of what the Church never taught; or second, an admission of ignorance, a concession that the whole question lies above the plane of human reason.
In all our inquiry concerning theologic doctrine it is necessary that we apprehend the province within which our inquiry may be prosecuted, and the character of the result which our investigation may be expected to yield. Deity in his mode of existence is not in any sense a legitimate subject of human thought and enquiry. Man is not required to comprehend how God exists, but to believe that he exists. This distinction between fact and mode has been
considerably overlooked in theologic controversies. Anti-Trinitarians have unceasingly demanded to know how there can be trinity in unity. They demand that this doctrine be reduced to the level of human reason; that the Divine existence be made intelligible in mode as well as in fact. Now this is demanding what is impossible. Deity must either be undeified or man must be deified before such a result can be reached; for so long as Deity remains Deity and humanity remains humanity, they are separated from each other by the whole distance between finite and infinite; and to demand that the mode of the higher be made comprehensible to the lower, is to demand either that the higher be reduced to the level of the lower, or the lower raised to the plane of the higher; in the one case eliminating the infinite from the category of being, and in the other case the finite: by one result abolishing the infinite, and thus destroying the object of inquiry, or by the other result abolishing the finite, and thus destroying the inquirer; feats these in intellectual gymnastics that we have not the remotest desire to perform. But now does the simple unity under which most anti-Trinitarians formulate the facts of the Divine existence render that existence any more comprehensible in its mode than the trinitarian formula. We think not. The subsistence of Deity, as simple unity, is as incomprehensible as the trinity in unity. By discarding the latter and adopting the former we do not approach one whit nearer comprehensibility. We can as easily comprehend the Divine existence under the one formula as the other, the truth of the case being that we can comprehend it under neither. But it is satisfactory to know that the boasted comprehensibleness of Unitarian doctrine is but a fiction with which men have deluded themselves, for when we place it alongside Trinitarianism and carefully estimate it, with a view to ascertain the progress made in passing from the one to the other, the result proves to be simply nothing, for we can no more comprehend Deity under the formula of unity than we can under the formula of trinity-in-unity; neither are we any nearer a comprehension of Deity under the one formula than the other. It is obvious then that the mode—the how of Divine existence, which fills so large a space in controversies concerning the doctrine of Triune Deity-really lies beyond the province of inquiry; for however the formula of theologic doctrine be altered out of deference to human reason not one step in advance towards comprehension is realised. It is the fact which men are required to believe, and to believe because it is revealed. The inquiry is not, how can there be trinity in unity? but, is it revealed in Scripture that such is the fact? If so, then must the fact be accepted. We are not required to comprehend the mode of the trinity in unity, but to apprehend the fact as matter of revelation, and to accept it upon the authority of revelation. The mode is beyond comprehension; we believe the facts.
We may now approach the various lines of argument which have been pursued with a view to establish Trinitarian doctrine. The considerations just submitted incline us to attach little importance to what may be denominated the philosophical argument. By this line of reasoning an attempt is made to demonstrate upon metaphysical grounds that there must be distinctions in the Godhead. Space and duration as modes of the infinite, certain laws of human thought, and sundry considerations regarded as applicable to the nature of Deity, are pressed into service, and an abstruse and elaborate argument constructed, designed not only to show that the doctrine of the Trinity is in harmony with reason, but that it is an expression of the highest reason. This method of reasoning we regard with distrust. It transcends the legitimate province of inquiry, and seeks to bring to light what God has not revealed. Whatever views may be entertained concerning space and duration they shed no light upon the doctrine of the Trinity, neither can they render comprehensible what is obviously beyond human comprehension. And such conditions of thought as that expressed by the formula that to man 66 pure being and non-being are identical," cannot render any aid in reducing to comprehensibleness this doctrine. The formula certainly expresses an important truth. Man thinks all being under the condition of relation; and to him being unrelated is simply as nothing. But then this equation can only apply to the province of human knowledge; it cannot be made transcendental, else human thought becomes the measure of being. Deity reveals himself in relation to us, and the fact of his being thus revealed we can intelligently apprehend. He reveals himself in relation to us as comprehending in his undivided essence a trinal distinction, and this, as a fact revealed, we may apprehend; but it is certainly beyond our province to apply our impotences of thought to determine the mode in which Deity must subsist. We have no right to say that God must be trinally distinct because we are unable to think of pure and unrelated being. If we assume this position we make our limitations of thought— our impotence of thought-determinative of what God must be in himself, and humanity becomes the measure of Deity. The opponents of Trinitarian doctrine are not averse to this method of argument, it gives them an advantage which they are not slow to use, and by which they are enabled to place their view of the question in a most favourable light. In all such attempts at explanation and demonstration men pass beyond their depth, and expose themselves to the fair and merited ridicule of their adversaries.
A second line of reasoning, and, what we hesitate not to affirm, the main line of reasoning, that which gives validity and force to every other, may be denominated the scriptural argument.