Friday, August 04, 2017

Turretin: Why was the Father not incarnated

V. (2) The Father could not be incarnated, for as he was the first in order he could not sent by anyone or act a mediator to the Son and the Holy Spirit. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.13.IV.5]

According to Turretin, the ad intra ordering (ταξις) of the Father as first is the reason why the Father (ad extra) is not incarnated, but the Son, by virtue of being second, was incarnated.


Benjamin Wong said...

Dear Daniel:

1. Do you have an opinion on this quotation of Francis Turretin?

As you quoted Turretin, I do not find his reasoning convincing.

Indeed, there is an ontological ordering in the Trinity "ad intra".

But as Orthodox Nicene Trinitarians, we rejected any ontological subordination within the Trinity.

If "Fatherhood", "Sonship", and "Holy Spirithood" are economic divisions of labour of the Trinity "ad extra", then the ontological ordering of the Trinity is not a good reason why the First Person of the Trinity is not incarnated.

2. As one who is theological conversant and has familiarity with Gordon Clark, I would appreciate any comments you may have on the following blog post:

"A Clarkian Solution to the Ontological Trinity : A Proposal"


Benjamin Wong

Daniel C said...

Hi Ben,

1. Yes, I agree with Turretin.

That is not ontological subordinationism. Ordering does not imply anything about ontology, unless the person who is proposing the order explicitly applies it to ontology.

"Fatherhood," "Sonship" and "Procession" are personal qualities. When applied to the persons ad intra, they are "Unbegotten," "Begotten," and "Spiration." These are personal distinctions within the one being of God. But just as the Son being begotten never once imply ontological subordination, so likewise the personal ordering within God has no implication on the ontology of God.

Turretin's point is that the workings of the Trinity ad extra is not arbitrary. The workings of the Trinity reflect (but are not equal to) the ad intra ordering of the Persons. Thus, the reason why the Father is not incarnated (ad extra) is that He is first in order (ad intra).

If people are uncomfortable with the idea of an immutable ad-intra order within the Trinity, they should stop reading modern "defenders" of "pro-Nicene" orthodoxy concerning the Trinity, and instead read the writings of older orthodox theologians, who were more interested in wrestling with the biblical data than kneejerk reactions to contemporary controversial statements.

Daniel C said...

2. Gordon Clark's view of the Trinity focuses on attempting to propose a new solution to how God is both one and three. As far as I remember, Clark did not use traditional terminology and interact with them well. Clark's view of the Trinity therefore focuses on the self-conscious act of knowing and knowledge in general. So in my view, it has some utility but it does not help in settling the main issues of ontology on which most Trinitarian discourse occurs.

Your blog post seems to have more than one view of "essence." You mention both many "essences," and also "one essence." Assuming you do not agree that equivocation of meaning is a good thing, I do not see how what you are proposing actually contributes to the topic. Also, "essence" and "person" are different categories, while historically "essence" (Latin essentia) and "nature" (Latin natura or "being"(Greek ousia) are closely related.

Benjamin Wong said...

Dear Daniel:

1. I have been thinking about some of the issues regarding the Trinity and that is the reason why I asked if you agree with Turretin.

I have not read Francis Turretin's [Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3 vols.] so I am not "quarreling" with either him or you.

I find Turretin's claim itself very interesting.

And thank you for your elaboration. : - )

2. I agree that there is an "ordering" in the Trinity.

My understanding is that the "ordering" in the Trinity is ontological.

The traditional theological relations used to capture the ordering within the Trinity are "eternal generation" and "eternal procession" and these two relations are ontological relations between the Persons of the Trinity.

The "Father" is used to designate the Person who eternally generates another Person.

The "Son" is used to designate the Person who is eternally generated by another Person and who do not eternally generate another Person

The "Holy Spirit" is used to designate the Person who eternally process from two other Persons, and who neither eternally generate nor is eternally generated by any other Persons

3. I think it is the used of "Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" in the New Testament that inspired the formulation of the theory of "eternal generation" and "eternal procession".

But the traditional understanding is that "eternal generation" and "eternal procession" reflect ontological properties of the Trinity while "Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" do not.

"Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" reflect the economic or functional roles the three Persons of the Trinity assumed with respect to creation.

4. My puzzle is that if there are no ontological subordination in the Trinity, then is it "possible" that the First Person of the Trinity (in terms of order) takes on other economic or functional roles with respect to creation:

Is it possible that the First Person of the Trinity takes on the functional role of the "Son" or the "Holy Spirit"?

Is it possible that the Second Person of the Trinity takes on the functional role of the "Father" or the "Holy Spirit"?

Is it possible that the Third Person of the Trinity takes on the functional role of the "Father" or the "Son"?

If not, then why not?

If it is possible, then what of "the workings of the Trinity reflect (but are not equal to) the ad intra ordering of the Persons"?

5. By the way, I am very comfortable with "the idea of an immutable ad-intra order within the Trinity".

It is just that I am puzzled by the ad-intra ordering of the Trinity used as an explanation of the ad-extra ordering of the functional roles of "Father", "Son", or "Holy Spirit"?

I would appreciate if you have any further thoughts on this topic. : - )



Daniel C said...

Dear Ben,

I did not see it as quarreling; I thought we were discussing, but I apologize if you thought otherwise.

The issues concerning persons and being goes back to the patristic discussions concerning the Trinity. It is because they primarily thought in the area of ontology that the Trinitarian controversies happened. If "persons" is ontological, then does this not mean that confessing three "persons" imply a belief in tritheism? But certainly God is one. Thus, some decided to embrace Arianism or some form of Subordinationism, in order to preserve the belief that God is both one and three.

The Nicene answer is that "persons" are "subsistences," not "substances," therefore God is one "substance" or "essence," while the three persons are all equally God because the "persons" are not on the same level as "substance." It may not be satisfactory for you, but that was the answer they arrived at. Thus, "persons" are not primarily about being, and thus not primarily ontological.

The terms "eternal generation," "eternal procession" therefore should not be identified as ontological terms. It is such confusion that have led many to question or reject these terms. John Calvin for example questioned eternal generation, preferring instead to call Christ autotheos (God in Himself).

I get it that having a separate category "personal" that is not "ontological" is confusing, and I don't know how I can make it any less so. As I have said, the whole category of "subsistence" was created so as to create a space for "person" that is not ontological in nature.

Daniel C said...

4. That is similar to my argument, except in reverse. Since I do not agree that the functions/ roles of each person is arbitrary, therefore I hold to an immutable ordering of the Persons within the Trinity, an ordering that is linked to "subsistence" and is thus not ontological.

5. This is merely to say that the reason why any person of the Trinity does/ takes on the role that He does, is because of the ad-intra ordering. In other words, to the question: "Why did the Son become incarnate, instead of the Father of the Holy Spirit?" The answer is, "Because the Son is the second person of the Trinity." Likewise, to the question: "Why did the Father send the Son, instead of the Son sending the Father?" The answer is, "Because the Father is the first person of the Trinity." It is proper for the first person of the Trinity to do such-and-such, and it is proper for the second person of the Trinity to do such-and-such. That is merely what I am claiming, and I believe Turretin is too.