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Two Views of Trinitarianism
Kathy L. McFarland
May 13, 2012
One of the earliest developments of the ideas concerning the relationship between the LORD God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is postulated by St. Gregory. His ancient views reflect the beginning development of the Trinity doctrine. Today, Gordon Fee speaks on the Trinity from a modern position that expresesses the practicality of the Trinity union. It is quite a contrast when the ancient and modern perspectives are examined by contrasting the two views of Trinitarianism.
Trinitarianism according to St. Gregory of Ancient Times
Understanding the Triune God - St Gregory speaks of the Trinity as the Godhead one in three that cannot be fully understood by mere human minds. He points out that even the second order of glorified beings, the angels that bear the shape and imprint of God’s beauty in order that they can encircle God, the First Cause, in their brilliant dance of pure presence. The primal light of God is transmitted in a stream through them, and their light shines to others, always at the beck and call of God. If human beings are unable to bear the full majesty of the glorified angels circling God, then human beings cannot expect to be able to comprehend the Triune God whose full glory is concealed within that gathering.
Holy Ghost is between God and Christ - Gregory defines the Holy Ghost as between the LORD God and the Lord Jesus Christ with the oneness of God reflecting the character of the Old Testament. His view describes the Triune God as three distinct identities without temporal separation or disruption of mutual connection and with relationship connections reflected in their titles like Father and Son with the Holy Ghost between them. Gregory thinks in the case of the Triune God, the Father is the originator of the Son and the Holy Spirit. This general idea is also confirmed by New Testament John 1:1-4 that denotes the Son of God as “the Word” of the LORD God, confirming the Father as originator, and the Son as produced by His expression in typological exegesis.
Holy Spirit is God - Gregory makes a philosophical declaration that either the Holy Spirit is a substance or an attribute of a substance; either He is the worker, or the works. If He is determined to be a substance, then he is either a creature or God; there is no half-way designation. The Holy Spirit must either be ingenerate or generate; if He is ingenerate, then He must come from two unoriginate beings. If He is begotten, He can only derive from the Father or from the Son. “If from the Father, then there will be two sons who are brothers.” And if the Holy Spirit comes from the Son, then the Father is a Grandfather according to Gregory’s argument. But, since there is no midway term between ingenerate and generate, then the only other solution is He is neither. Gregory explains that while the Lord Jesus Christ is called the “Son” of God because He is begotten, which makes Him Son of God. And since the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, he is neither a creature that is begotten, nor a Son. He is neither ingenerated nor generated; thus, he is God.
Jesus Christ is God – Gregory defines the LORD God as Father and unbegotten (agennesia), The Lord Jesus Christ as the begotten (gennesia) Son of God, and the Spirit that proceeds (ekporeusis) from God. It is Gregory that argues for the two complete natures of divine and human presence that form the person of Christ. That divinity, according to Gregory, leads to the equality with the LORD God, making Him as equal to God, as God Himself.
Three Major Changes in Theological Perspective According to Gregory – First, the Old Testament proclaims the Father openly, and His Son obscurely. Next, the New Testament speaks of the Son of God, but hints at the Spirit obscurely with just a suggestion of His Divinity. Then, the New Testament reveals the Holy Spirit as a continuation of the light of God. But, Gregory admits that the Holy Spirit’s divinity cannot be proven or even fully clarified through Scripture even though these three perspectives unfold through a sort of dispensationalism for the edification of faith.
Evaluation of Trinitarianism Belief of St. Gregory
Gregory’s idea concerning the second order of glorified angels that surround God with the belief that His light is transmitted through them is not biblical. It is not the light of the angels that reflects God’s light to human beings; rather, it is the light of Christ (Luke 1:79; John 1:6-9) reflected through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:7-8), after Christ ascends to Heaven (John 12:35-36; John 9:5), that is the source of a Christian’s illumination by God (1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Timothy 1:13-14). God’s light is then shone through faithful Christians and should remain unhidden from the world (Luke 11:33-36). In fact, adversaries of God produce a false light and transform themselves into angels of light (2 Corinthian 11:14), that allows the devil to surge into the hearts of profane and ignorant humans. Thus, St. Gregory’s conclusion that human beings are unable to understand the Triune nature of God is unsupported by his example.
This inaccuracy against Scripture Truth is reflective of many of St. Gregory’s ideas, which makes references to his noteworthy efforts to define the Trinity, contributes to a shaky confidence in the reliability of his words. Great care must be taken in analyzing his work with attentive focus to Scripture, since Gregory charges that Scripture contains error which makes it seemingly ripe for his interpretive slant.
However, Gregory accomplishes the laying of a foundation in which the nature of the Triune God can be considered and argued. The times he lived in required a stance against heresy; his philosophical arguments make his stance sure enough, that to argue against him requires a deeper contemplation and reference to Scripture. That is not a bad thing. His first efforts develop the terminology necessary to begin a discussion of this difficult subject amongst believers.
Value of Trinitarianism Belief of St. Gregory
Gregory was an admirer of Origen, a speculative writer, a powerful defender of the orthodox faith, and according to Eastern tradition, receiver of the intercession of the Virgin Mary (the first recorded Marian apparition), to help write his book “The Exposition of Faith.” While these things argue for scholarly rejection by Protestant Evangelicals, (especially his view that the Bible contained error) Gregory’s work was one of the first to make a decent effort to define the Triune God, in a time when heresy surrounded the faith of Christians. If careful attention is paid to Gregory’s ideas, especially with consideration to John 1:1-4 and the integrated “let US make man in OUR image after OUR likeness” in Genesis 1:26, as a unified One God with three separate personalities, with the LORD God as originator of the other Two, then it seems supported by Scripture and plausible.
Gregory also makes a strong point concerning the eternality of the LORD God in relation to the Trinity that helps my understanding of God’s nature. He says that the LORD God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost did not co-originate; rather, the LORD God originated, and Christ and the Holy Ghost came from Him, rather than after Him. As long as the Father is referred to as the origin, then all things that come from him, in particular the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, have that same eternality. This view conforms to my present understanding of the eternal nature of the Triune God through the revelation of Scripture, and the moving of the Holy Spirit.
The dispensational three-perspective revelation of the Trinity that Gregory applies and contributes to the understanding of how the idea of Trinity can change as faith progresses. While it is not fully presented in those precise words, Scripture does reflect in its unfolding a sense that more and more knowledge is given to the Believers in Christ concerning the nature of the LORD God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Trinitarianism according to Gordon Fee in Modern Times
According to Fee, Paul was too busy to reflect upon the Trinity doctrine. However, throughout his teachings through his epistles, Paul “affirms, asserts, and presupposes the Trinity every way, as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each with a distinct personality, but all unified as one God. This support by Paul influenced the church to later question how this is possible.
Fee contributes Paul’s title for the risen Christ as “Lord” which comes from the Old Testament language of the preexistent Son of God, in the language that Paul’s Judaism would reserve for the use of God Himself (2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 4:6-7). The relationship between the Church and the Holy Spirit develops the conviction that God is one God in three persons in a trinitarian way. Thus, what might have been a binitarian union of the LORD God and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Trinitarian nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is reflected in Paul’s writings, albeit without direct specification.
Fee says that Paul equates the activity of three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as one Person, even though Paul did not have the language at the time to express this concept. He uses the prayer of the saints that is directed toward the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost” recorded in 2 Corinthians 13:14 as proof of this association.
Evaluation of Trinitarianism Belief of Gordon Fee
It is difficult to presuppose what Paul was thinking as he wrote the things God moved him to write. Logical reason leads to the belief that if God wanted Paul’s ideas to be reflected in a certain way, then they were guided by Him, and it is not necessary to guess at things that must be irrelevant to God. The philosophical reasoning of Gregory holds more weight for me, than the guessing of Paul’s views on Trinity.
However, Fee does make a good case that Paul does not disagree with the Trinitarian concept in his writings, even if he does not specifically declare the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. But, Fee makes a specific point of God taking second billing in the prayer by saints (2 Corinthians 13:14) that is contrary to the LORD God being the Supreme LORD God throughout Scripture, with the Lord Jesus Christ taking the second role as begotten from the original LORD God, and the Holy Spirit flowing from Him. If rank of the three is determined solely by this passage, without considering the overall evidence of a Supreme LORD God in first rank, then Fee’s theology is flawed in my opinion.
Fee lists many Scripture references from Paul’s writings that confirm salvation as a threefold work of the LORD God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. And Fee makes the conclusion that “One simply cannot be a Christian in any Pauline sense without the effective work of the Trinity.” However, this does not prove equal in Godhead; rather, it proves that the LORD God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit operate together for the salvation of mankind.
Value of Trinitarianism Belief of Gordon Fee
Fee provides ample proof that the salvational writings of Paul reflect the efforts of the LORD God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit combined for the saving of those He graces. That concept is vividly discovered in many of the Scriptures referenced by Fee, and is a valuable tool in recognizing the effort the “Trinity” plays in their combined effort.
While it seems stretching the use of Scripture to fit sermon goals, Fee’s equating the Trinity to the unity of the Church makes some sense. However, this seems to reduce the divinity of the Trinity in such a way that is unbecoming and makes it seem that the Trinity is formed to serve mankind and help the poor, pathetic creatures within the church that need help unifying in the midst of their diversity.
Like Gregory, Paul recognizes the relationship between the three is the relational contribution of each of them. At this point in my learning, the Trinity must be relational in its expression of God’s will, or it becomes something so ethereal, that my mind cannot comprehend. Fee has not convinced me at all that the Trinity of Church Doctrine is or isn’t reflected in Paul’s writings. But, he makes a good case for the relationship the three hold in salvational efforts.
Daley, Brian E. Gregory of Nazianzus (C. 328-C. 390) Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, Edited by Donal K. McKim. Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2007.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
Fee, Gordon D. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Kindle ed.: Baker Book Group, 1994.
Galli, Mark, and Ted Olsen. 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.
Gregory, St, of Nazianzus. On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius. Kindle ed. Popular Patristics Series: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
Hall, Francis J. Introduction to Dogmatic Theology. New York; London; Toronto; Bombay; Calcutta; Madras: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907.
Luther, Martin. Luther's Works, Vol. 30 : The Catholic Epistles. Vol. 30 Luther's Works, Edited by Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann Jaroslav Jan Pelikan. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999.
 St Gregory, of Nazianzus, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius, Kindle ed., Popular Patristics Series (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press), xx, 31.
 Ibid., XXIX, 19; XXXI, 31.
 Ibid., XXIX, 19.
 It should be noted that Gregory would have rejected any attempt to typologically associate the shadows and images within Scripture with dogmatic exegesis. He resolved to stick with orthodox readings of Scripture to form His ideas of the Triune God (Ibid, XXIX, 33).
 Gregory, XXXI, 6-7.
 Ibid., XXXI, 8.
 Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 526.
 Brian E. Daley, Gregory of Nazianzus (C. 328-C. 390), ed. Donal K. McKim, Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 479.
 Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 30 : The Catholic Epistles, ed. Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Luther's Works, vol. 30 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 241-242.
 Gregory, XXXI, 22.
 Elwell, 526.
 Francis J. Hall, Introduction to Dogmatic Theology (New York; London; Toronto; Bombay; Calcutta; Madras: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907), 261-262.
 Mark Galli, and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 57.
 Gregory, XXIX, 3.
 Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, Kindle ed. (Baker Book Group, 1994), Location 836 of 4210.
 Ibid., Location 844 of 4210.
 Ibid., Location 873 of 4210.
 Ibid., Location 942 of 4210.