Friday, February 12, 2010

The Trinity, Part VII - Heresy wrap-up

At last!  We reach the final heresies regarding the Trinity that Calvin disputes.  I knew this day would finally come.  Calvin acknowledges that there are many more, but he does not want the reader to get too bogged down in all the smaller heresies. 

The first issue handled by Calvin is a misunderstanding of "essence."  There were those who thought that the essence shared by the three Persons of the Trinity was like a fourth Person.  They believed that this essence beget the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  He calls this falsehood a "quarternity." 

The next section deals with is the misconstruing of the Incarnate Word's subordination to the Father.  This subordination was while Christ was in flesh form only.  At all other times, Christ is an equal part of the Trinity.  Christ willingly lowered himself to come to us in flesh form for our salvation.  Some of Calvin's opponents being addressed in this section believed that Christ was a lesser god than the Father, not the same God.  Calvin handles this by writing, "Moreover, I wonder what these makers of new gods mean when, having confessed Christ as true God, they immediately exclude him from the deity of the Father.  As if he could be true God and not be one God, and as if a divinity transfused were anything buy a newfangled fiction!"

Some people appealed to Irenaeus and Tertullian to support their own heresies.  Irenaeus was dealing with heretics who believed that the God of Israel and God the Father of Christ were two separate gods.  I was quite surprised several years ago when I learned that this heresy was still believed by some people.  When arguing that there is only one God, some have taken out of context Irenaeus' writings and falsely believed that only the Father is God.  Therefore, they conclude that Christ is a lesser deity than the Father.  Calvin cites other writings of Irenaeus which clearly state that Christ was an equal part of the Godhead as the Father.  Likewise, others twisted what Tertullian wrote about the economy within the Trinity and turned it into "evidence" that there is subordination within the Godhead.  Tertullian wrote about this economy, or division of responsibilities, within the Godhead.  Tertullian did not turn this into a doctrine to rank the three Persons and make one subordinate to any other.

Finally Calvin quickly mentions writings by Justin, Hillary, Ignatius, and Augustine.  He speaks about how heretics "are not ashamed to pluck out any kind of mutilated utterances" from these writings to make it appear that these theologians promoted the same heresies as they do.

This chapter on the Trinity lasted a week.  Calvin covered a lot of ground in this chapter - from the deity of each Person, to the relationship between the Persons, to the heresies that bombard this doctrine.  It is a complex topic, central to our Christian faith and obviously misunderstood by many.  I hope that this discussion has been helpful to you.

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