Objections to the Trinity
Here in Sydney I’m currently co-teaching a seminary class on the doctrine of the Trinity. We’ve spent the first few weeks of the course reading and discussing some sermons by Gregory of Nazianzus. The next section will focus on parts of Augustine’s De Trinitate. In the final third of the semester we’ll work through §59 of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics–“The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country”.
Anyways, one of the things we’ll be doing tomorrow is having the students wrestle with a set of objections to Nicene trinitarianism. The questions and statements come from a group of radical Arians called the Eunomians. The students will have read a specific sermon in which these objections are dealt with, but we’ll pose the questions to them and ask them to respond without referencing the text (at least at first).
So, I thought I’d pose the same questions to you orthodox trinitarians out there! Pick one or two or all of them and respond in the comments. I’m not going to refer you to the answer key just yet, but feel free to use the Bible and logic–and most of all, biblical logic. That’s what this debate was all about–how to read the Bible.
Here they are, placed into the mouths of anti-Nicene objectors:
1. We can agree that we should speak about “the unbegotten” and “the begotten” and the third “which proceeds from the Father”. But when did these latter two originate? If you try to say that they are co-eternal, then aren’t you claiming that they are “unbegotten” just like the Father? This talk of co-eternality seems to have brought you to an absurdity, since on your own logic of co-eternality you have negated anything distinct about this second and third.
2. If you try to say that the “begetting” and “proceeding” are causal and not temporal processes, how can you have a causal process that does not imply change (and therefore time)? “Eternal begetting” is a contradiction in terms.
3. You Nicenes want to say that God is eternally a father, but doesn’t fatherhood imply something one becomes rather than something one is? How can someone be a father without becoming one? Further, even your language—“God begat” (past tense) implies that there was a beginning to the process of begetting. If there was a beginning to the begetting of the Son, then he has not always existed.
4. Let me ask you something about this purported eternal begetting: does the Father beget the Son voluntarily or involuntarily? If you try to say that it’s involuntary, you make God subject to some external compulsion. If you say that it’s voluntary, then the Son came from the Father’s will and not from his nature. The Son has a different fundamental nature than the Father.
5. You should be able to agree that the Son either existed or did not exist when the Father begat him. But if he existed, then he did not get his existence from the Father’s begetting. If he did not exist, then he is not co-eternal. Therefore he was created.
6. Something that is “unbegotten” and something that is “begotten” are obviously not the same kind of thing. Therefore the Father and the Son are not the same kind of thing either.
7. If, as you say, the Son is of the same substance as the Father, and the Father is unbegotten, then the Son must be unbegotten too. Thus your talk of “of the same substance” continues to cause you absurdities. Here it has made you say, “the begotten is the unbegotten”. That doesn’t make any sense.
8. God must have stopped begetting at some point. If God’s begetting stopped, then it must have started. At some point, therefore, the Father must have started begetting. Again, this talk of co-eternality is absurd.
9. You Nicenes make a lot out of the fact that the Father and the Son are both called “God”. We do not contest the point, but don’t you realize that you can use the same name to refer to different things—even different types of things? There is even no reason, for example, why we cannot use the term “dog” for both what is normally called a dog and what is normally called a shark. In the same way, we can call the Father and the Son “God” without implying that they are the same type of thing.
10. You claim that in one sense the Father is superior to the Son—in the way in which the Father is the cause. We agree with you here, but since it belongs to the Father’s divine nature to be cause, the Father is therefore greater than the Son—greater in nature.
11. When you use the term “Father” are you trying to designate the substance or the activity? If you say the substance, then you are agreeing that the “Son” is of a different substance from the “Father”. If you say the activity, then you are admitting that the Son is a creation, not an offspring, since to be father would then be the result of some activity of God and not something essential to God’s being