“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Trinity: C. S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards on “Begetting” and “Proceeding”

Jonathan Edwards proposes a certain understanding of the Trinity in his insightful “Essay on the Trinity.” Edwards writes that “The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, un-originated and most absolute manner.” That is, the Father is primary, but not in the sense of being the cause or ontological source of the Son and the Spirit. Rather, there is some order or direction within the Godhead, and the Father is first in that order. This will become clearer as Edwards discusses how the Son is the image of the Father, and not vice versa.

The Son, writes Edwards, is “the eternal, necessary, perfect, substantial and personal idea which God hath of Himself.” The Nicene Creed states that the Son is “of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made.” Lewis writes along similar lines that although there was never a time when the Father existed and the Son did not (after all, God transcends time), the Father is nevertheless the “cause” of the Son, and that this is what is meant by “begotten Son” or the Son “proceeding” from the Father. The Son is “streaming forth from the Father, like light from a lamp…He is the self-expression of the Father.” Saying that the Son is causally dependent on the Father is, I think, too strong a way to describe this mysterious relationship between the persons in the Trinity. I am more inclined to think that there is no cause to any person of the Trinity at all – as one being, the Trinity is ontologically foundational. The Son, although equal to the Father (Philippians 2:6), is the called the second person of the Trinity because, as the image of the Father, he is second in this mysterious divine order after the primary person of the Father. This idea is strongly conveyed in Scripture:

  • The Son “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” – Hebrews 1:3
  • “He is the image of the invisible God…by him all things were created…in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” – Colossians 1:15-16,19 (see also 2 Corinthians 4:4)
  • The Son is “in the form of God” and has “equality with God” – Philippians 2:6
  • Peter speaks of "our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1).
Edwards then proceeds to describe the procession of the Spirit as the third person within the Godhead:
“[A]n infinitely holy and sacred energy arises between the Father and Son in mutually loving and delighting in each other, for their love and joy is mutual…The Deity becomes all act, the Divine essence itself flows out and is as it were breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of subsistence, and there proceeds the third Person.”
C. S. Lewis puts it this way: “The union between the Father and Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is a Person.” Indeed, Paul assumes a distinct person when he speaks of grieving the Holy Spirit of God in Ephesians 4:30. Edwards writes that “in partaking of the Holy Ghost, we possess and enjoy the love and grace of the Father and the Son, for the Holy Ghost is that love and grace.” This connection between the Spirit and the love and unity between the Father and the Son is confirmed in Scripture. For example, at Jesus’ baptism the Father calls Jesus his “beloved Son” as the Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends on him (Matthew 3:16-17). Edwards notes, “The Scripture seems in many places to speak of love in Christians as if it were the same with the Spirit of God in them” (Romans 5:5, Colossians 1:8). This understanding of the Spirit may help to explain why the Spirit is rarely mentioned where the Father and the Son are mentioned together – the Spirit is implied in the love of the Father and Son. Edwards writes:
“I can think of no other good account that can be given of the apostle Paul’s wishing grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the beginning of his Epistles, without ever mentioning the Holy Ghost, as we find it thirteen times in his salutations in the beginnings of his Epistles, but that the Holy Ghost is Himself love and grace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…the blessing is from the Father and the Son in the Holy Ghost. But the blessing from the Holy Ghost is Himself, the communication of Himself…This I suppose to be the reason why we have never any account of the Holy Ghost’s loving either the Father or the Son, or of the Son's or the Father’s loving the Holy Ghost, or of the Holy Ghost's loving the saints, tho these things are so often predicated of both the other Persons.”

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