Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Trinity in the West and East

"Augustine saw common ground between the Christian doctrine of God and the NeoPlatonic idea of divine simplicity. In doing so he made the one essence of God primary. With no internal distinctions, great problems arose as to how to conceive of, and defend, the doctrine of the trinity. Moreover, since the essence had priority over the persons, the overwhelming tendency for Augustine, and the West thereafter, was to an impersonal view of God. Assuming absolute divine simplicity, the persons can only be relations in the one divine essence - less than attributes. Following this, Western theologians have almost uniformly considered the trinity only after long examinations of the existence, nature, and attributes of God, with the result that the trinity has been reduced to a virtual irrelevance in the daily life of the Western church. ... In the West the danger of modalism is very real, evident in all Western theology down to Barth and Rahner. If we start with the divine unity, expressed in the idea of absolute divine simplicity, the persons become problematic as real, personal, permanent, irreducible, and eternal ontological distinctions....Indeed, most Western Christians are practical modalists. Certainly, the trinity is little more than an arithmetical conundrum to Western Christianity....

"What a contrast the Byzantine liturgy provides! The trinity saturates the prayers and acclamations. Right at the heart of Eastern piety - and thus Eastern theology - is a clear and articulated realization that the God we worship is triune. It is a truism that God is central to the Christian faith and that he is the object of faith. But which God do we trust? What is God like? The Biblical and Christian answer is that he is an indivisible trinity of co-equal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.... The worship and life of the Reformed church could be revitalized through recognizing that it has much to learn from Orthodoxy at this crucial point." Robert Letham, Through Western Eyes, pp. 231 and 238 & 272.

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