Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Christian Trinitarianism and Muslim Unitarianism, Part Three (with a detour into Modalism)

The second post in this series was graced (geddit?) with a comment from John. I'm not certain that it's the John of True Discernment, but it could be.

John touched on a number of different points, but I wanted to focus on one of them.

First, let me quote something that I said in my original post:

It's probably impossible to explain the Trinity, but whatever one may say about Rowan Williams, I find no fault with what he said here.

John did have some concerns, one of which was as follows:

Also while it is true that the Trinity cannot be fully expressed in Human , language or terms, what you have described above is Modalism. The idea that God the Father operates in different modes. Sometimes as God the FAther, sometimes as God the Son, and sometimes as God the Holy Spirit. This is a false Theology on God.

God can best be described as one "What and three "Who's" There ARE indeed three separate wills within the Trinity but they operate in perfect Unity.

The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry defines Modalism as follows (in part):

Modalism is probably the most common theological error concerning the nature of God. It is a denial of the Trinity which states that God is a single person who, throughout biblical history, has revealed Himself in three modes, or forms. Thus, God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times. At the incarnation, the mode was the Son. After Jesus' ascension, the mode is the Holy Spirit. These modes are consecutive and never simultaneous. In other words, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same time, only one after another. Modalism denies the distinctiveness of the three persons in the Trinity even though it retains the divinity of Christ.

The St. Michaels Seminary Students Forum includes a post with several comments on the book The Shack:

In the novel, the Trinity is an African-American woman (the Father), a Middle Eastern man (the Son), and the Holy Spirit is an Asian songstress named Sarayu. The book has major theological problems: modalism, rejection of Biblical hierarchy, overemphasis on free-will to the neglect of God's sovereignty, and a misunderstanding of the concept of submission, feminism, etc....

As Article One of The Thirty-Nine Article states:

Faith in the Holy Trinity:
There is only one living and true God, who is eternal and without body, indivisible and invulnerable. He is of infinite power, wisdom and goodness. He is the maker and preserver of all things both visible and invisible. Within the unity of the Godhead there are three persons who are of one substance, power and eternity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

So in this light I re-read Archbishop Williams' statement, and I don't see any hard Modalism in it. Regarding the persons of God, Williams wrote:

Christian belief about the Trinity - God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit - appears at once to compromise the belief that God has no other being associated with him....

Since the earliest Councils of the Church, Christian thinkers sought to clarify how, when we speak of the Father ‘begetting’ the Son, we must put out of our minds any suggestion that this is a physical thing, a process or event like the processes and events that happen in the world. They insisted that the name ‘God’ is not the name of a person like a human person, a limited being with a father and mother and a place that they inhabit within the world. ‘God’ is the name of a kind of life, a ‘nature’ or essence – eternal and self-sufficient life, always active, needing nothing. But that life is lived, so Christians have always held, eternally and simultaneously as three interrelated agencies are made known to us in the history of God's revelation to the Hebrew people and in the life of Jesus and what flows from it.

Note the "simultaneously as three interrelated agencies" statement, which directly contradicts Modalism. (As does Matthew 3:16-17, which I cited in the first post in this series.)

However, the following statement of Williams' could be interpreted in a couple of different ways:

In human language, in the light of what our Scripture says, we speak of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, but we do not mean one God with two beings alongside him, or three gods of limited power. So there is indeed one God, the Living and Self-subsistent, associated with no other; but what God is and does is not different from the life which is eternally and simultaneously the threefold pattern of life: source and expression and sharing. Since God's life is always an intelligent, purposeful and loving life, it is possible to think of each of these dimensions of divine life as, in important ways, like a centre of mind and love, a person; but this does not mean that God ‘contains’ three different individuals, separate from each other as human individuals are.

Here is how the Athanasian Creed expresses this:

And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.

Well, this post didn't really get into Islamic thought. Perhaps I'll rectify that in the future.

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