Back in the Saddle Again

napoleon_davidI haven’t posted since I came back from Oxford. Aside from catching up with family and two other publishing projects, there were also physical matters to attend to at home. I was once a contractor (and the son of a contractor), so I do a lot of things myself at my house. For my main project this Fall I have been able to produce around 120 pages of text, tackling the chapters I thought the most difficult first, and leaving the others to get done over the course of this term, and into the summer. I also attended two conferences, one in San Juan, the other in Toronto. I attended both of them in the wonderful company of my dear friend Bill Tighe. We drove to Toronto together, and of course flew to San Diego. I have also been trying to stay away from internet arguments, though there are lots out there. One I would call your attention to is what is going on with Robin Philips on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. Robin is producing a five-part (though not five-point) argument on why he and his wife left Calvinism. The first section was fairly tame, but the second one, on the twisting of divine justice, is very good. The comments initially posted both a O & H and on Reddit either completely missed or failed to grasp the significance of the several fine points that Robin made, and especially about how a particular form of the notion of divine simplicity distorts our thought about God (for God is even beyond simplicity).

And this brings me to my thought tonight on something about Calvin, namely his peculiar Trinitarianism. Calvin consciously slighted the Nicene Creed, as well as the Athanasian formula, saying that councils and churches could not bind people’s consciences beyond the Word of God (though this doesn’t seem to have been a problem when it came to the Church in Geneva doing the same). One Pierre Caroli took Calvin up on this, though not Calvin alone, for Caroli identified Calvin and Pierre Viret as part of the Farrellistas. Caroli was a Doctor of Theology from the Sorbonne, and while his own understanding of the Fathers was weak, e.g., he maintained that the term Jehovah in the Old Testament could not be applied to our Lord Jesus Christ, but only to the divine nature of the Father, this was not the thought of the Fathers (both Athanasius and Irenaeus, just to name two, saw Jehovah as Christ), he nonetheless did pick up on something in which Calvin was emphatically wrong. Calvin wanted to identify Christ with Jehovah because of his idiomatic idea that the Son was autotheos, God in himself and possessed of aseity personally. Caroli spotted the problem and accused Calvin of Sabellianism (he had first accused him of being an Arian for having slighted the creeds). For Caroli, Calvin was a Sabellian in that Calvin’s doctrine of two monarchs and two unbegottens made nonsense of the Father’s begetting of the Son, and thus the property of “begottenness” was nothing other than a dispensation or mode of existence. To really stick the knife under the fifth rib, Caroli claimed that Calvin was just reproducing Servetus. Yet there was more, namely that now a third property, namely aseity, was the source of the Son and the Father, and thus the Father and Son are nothing other than properties of yet this other property. Thus, unbegotten is not a property of the Father, but the fount of deity, which make both Father and Son gods of yet another god. In this way, Calvin has actually reproduced the premise of one of the two fundamental Arian syllogisms: Aseity is a property of Deity (major premise), the Father alone has aseity (minor premise), therefore the Father alone is Divine {the other syllogism: the word is the subject even of the human operations and sufferings of Christ (major premise); but whatever is predicated of the word, must be predicated of him  kata physin (minor premise); ergo, the nature of the Word is limited and affected by the human operations and sufferings of Christ.}. Calvin’s problem is the same as the Arians, in that aseity, or unbegottenness, become definitive and determinative of deity, as opposed to the Orthodox Catholic doctrine that the Father alone is unbegotten. Caroli, however, rightly saw that the Son is not a product of a property that makes Him God apart from the Father.

Some forty years after Caroli’s confrontation with Calvin, Thomas Stapleton, once of New College Oxford, but with Elizabeth’s accession left England to take up life first at Douai and then at Louvain teaching Scripture and Theology (and whose massive Opera is still awaiting a translator), took up this question in his attack on William Whitaker, master of St. John’s College, Cambridge. That is the subject, however, for another post. Suffice it to say here, that Stapleton, a bit unjustly, accuses Calvin of having instigated the Arianism and Sabellianism then running rampant in Poland and Transylvania (a charge that some of those Arians would say is true, that they garnered what they needed for their heresy from Calvin). Of all the people and scholars I have been sacking over the last few months, whatever his deficiencies, Stapleton is easily my favorite. First, his Latin is very precise, and while not exactly Ciceronian, still cleaves to classical norms. But second, he produced an immense amount of work on the Gospels, and in particular passages which were then the center of the theological maelstrom that was the Reformation. An interesting study that could be done is to see how Stapleton’s interpretations of the Gospels, the Acts, Romans, and Corinthians line up with the Douai-Rheims translation of the Bible, as Gregory Martin, its chief translator, was an associate of Stapleton.

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About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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2 Responses to Back in the Saddle Again

  1. Rob says:

    In an article Fr. John Behr on the Trinity restricts the use of YHWH to the Father. This does not seem to reflect the OT references to YHWH the Father that are applied to Christ in the NT. So I was interested in your reference to both Athanasius and Irenaeus on this matter.

  2. Cyril Jenkins says:

    Rob, there are lots of places, but for two see Athanasius writing about Moses worshiping Christ in the burning bush (Contra Arianos 11.38), and Irenaeus about how He who enslaved Israel at Sinai set them free in the Gospel (Adversus Haeresios IV.17).

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