Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Early Eastern and Western creeds: the subtle, yet deeply profound differences

While rereading J.N.D. Kelly's Early Christian Creeds, something 'caught my eye' which did not make much of an impact during my earlier readings. On page 194, Kelly penned:

It has become, for example, common place to say that Eastern creeds differ from Western in being "more theological".

He then reflects on a few of those differences; but on the next page, he gets to the real 'meat' of the issue, writing:

But the differences between Western and Eastern formularies can be catalogued more precisely. So far as the first article is concerned [i.e. God the Father], R [the Old Roman Creed] stands apart from later creeds because of its failure to emphasize the oneness of God the Father...Almost without exception the Eastern practice is to assert belief in ONE GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, and to describe Him as MAKER OF ALL THINGS VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE or something of the kind. (Page 195)

Moving on, the later, so-called Apostles Creed (which most patristic scholars believe to be an expansion/revision of the Old Roman Creed) also fails "to emphasize the oneness of God the Father".

Continuing this 'tradition', Pope Damasus I (366-384), in what has been termed the Tome of Damasus (a collection of 24 canons composed at a council held at Rome in 382 A.D.), anathematized those who, believed in the Father as the "one God".*

Now, it sure seems to me that this contradicts the Nicene Creed (both 325 and 381) which clearly states that, "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty".

Perhaps I have missed something; if I have, I sincerely hope that our Catholic brothers in Christ (and anyone who thinks I have misread the data at hand) will offer their thoughts on this issue.

*Online resources concerning the Tome of Damasus:

English translation from Theodoret's, Ecclesiatical History, in - The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,  Second Series - volume III (pages 139-141)

Greek and Latin texts from Theodoret's, Ecclesiatical History, in - Migne's Patrologia Graeca, volume 82
(pages 1221-1226)

Denzinger's English translation, in - The Sources of Catholic Dogma (pages 30-32)

Denzinger's Latin text, in - Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum Et De Rebus Fidei Et Morum (pages 32-34)

Turner's critical Greek and Latin edition, in - Ecclesiae Occidentalis Monumenta Iuris Antiquissima, volume I (pages 281-294)

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Perhaps the "best" defense of Augustinian/Latin/Western Trinitarianism

Within the Reformed tradition, there have been a number of works that have been devoted to the defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. Some of this contributions have been monographs, some have been articles/essays, and number as chapters in larger works. While some modern Reformed folk have opted to follow John Calvin in distancing themselves from certain aspects of Nicene Trinitarianism (e.g. the Son of God being begotten from the essence and person of the Father, and eternal generation), most Reformed theologians have attempted to defend Augustinian/Latin/Western Trinitarianism while maintaining that the original Nicene Creed is in full support of this view. IMO, the most comprehensive defense of this particular trajectory of Trinitarian thought came via the pen of W.G.T Shedd.

Shedd, in the first volume of his Dogmatic Theology (first edition 1889), devotes 84 pages to the topic "Trinity in Unity" (chapter 4, pp. 249-333). Given Shedd's lucid style of writing, he was able to pack more solid material into those 84 pages than others have attempted to accomplish in hundreds of pages. Shedd's treatment in it's scope and depth is probably without equal, but in the end, falls short—this is not due to any lacking in Shedd's ability and effort, but rather, due to what Shedd was attempting to defend—i.e. the indefensible.

Now, what precisely in his cogent defense was indefensible? IMO, two key aspects which are foundational to Augustinian/Latin/Western Trinitarianism (defended by Shedd), are indefensible: first, the One God of the Bible and early catholic tradition is the Godhead/Trinity; and second, the begotteness of the Son of God is hypostatical (i.e. personal) only. The first of these two aspects directly involves the philosophical concept of absolute divine simplicity. The second aspect has its roots in thought of John Calvin, but is complicated by Shedd in his attempt to defend it while at the same defending the original language of the Nicene Creed of 325. This attempt is perhaps Shedd's weakest proposition for he speaks of the "communication" of the entire/full divine essence to the Son from the Father while at the same time denying that the Son's essence is begotten from the Father's essence !!!

Rather than trying to reproduce Shedd's extensive contribution through my own feeble efforts, I would instead like to urge those interested in this subject to read the entire treatment for themselves. An excellent PDF copy is available online for reading and/or downloading (for free):

And for those who really want to 'dig deep' into this topic, Shedd has a chapter in his earlier work, History of Christian Doctrine, which he draws from in his later work, that is, of course, directly related:

History of Christian Doctrine - Volume I (see Chapter III, pages 306-375)

Looking forward to some extensive dialogue...

Grace and peace,