Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons (Torrance)

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RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Torrance, Thomas F. The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons. 1998.

In 2016, as we battled for the doctrine of the Trinity, this book was an anchor to which I turned over and over again. This covers much of the same ground as his earlier *The Trinitarian Faith,* though with some new material. Such material, however, does not replace The Trinitarian Faith and if money is a factor, then get TTF instead.

Being and Act

God reveals himself out of himself.

God gives himself as a whole. In knowing God we do not know God as a part, but we apprehend the Whole (though we do not comprehend the whole). But in apprehending the whole, we know that full comprehension eludes us (26). We know God as Totum, but not en toto.

In the Communion of the Spirit our own way of knowing is lifted up into the transcendent life (33). By our indwelling the Scriptures our minds form a structural kinship.

Torrance centers his argument around the homoousion. It guarantees how we understand the internal relations in the Trinity. Not only are the persons homoousion, but so are the relations. Only in Christ is God’s self-revelation identical with himself” (Torrance 1). In Christ God has communicated his Word to us and imparted his Spirit. God’s revelation of himself as Father, Son, and HS in the economy of salvation is grounded in and derived from the eternal being of God” (80).

The Trinitarian Mind

The mystery of Godliness means thinking about God in a Trinitarian way.

“The Son is the knowledge of the Father, but the knowledge of the Son is in the father and has been revealed through the Son” (Irenaeus 4.14.5).

P1: Our conceptual statements must be open-ended and point beyond themselves.

Top Level: More refined scientific theory/Trinitarian relations in God
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Middle Level: Theory/ Economy of Christ
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Ground level: day to day experience/ Evangelical apprehension and experience

Each level is open to the others. When we move from one level to another, we seek to order the basic concepts from the lower level to the higher. The intuitive mind takes its first principle at once and as a whole, naturally and tacitly (84). Since the Act and Word of God are internal to his being, we may know God through the Act and Word in the inner reality of his being (Contra Ar. 1:9ff). Since the Spirit is not embodied in space and time, we cannot know him in the concrete modalities. Our knowledge of him rests directly on the objectivity of God, unmediated.

One Being/Three Persons

Ousia--not a static being but the living and speaking being (116). Athanasius preferred to use verbs when speaking of God (De Synodis 34). Ousia is to be understood in terms of the divine “I am.” Being-in-Act and Act-in-Being.

Torrance makes several key, epistemological gains in this work. Knowledge of new realities calls for new ways of thinking--new concepts and new thought patterns (Contra Arianos, 1:23; 4:27; De Synodis 42). We interiorize what we seek to know and rely not just on external evidence (38). The object naturally integrates into us and we let it disclose its depths of meaning to us.

Torrance has an illuminating discussion of the Divine Monarchy. The monarchy means there is a specific order to the divine Persons. It is the order manifested in the history and revealing of God’s saving acts (176). The Son is begotten of the Father, not the other way around. If one presses the Cappadocian distinctions too far, then we are left with the claim that the person of the Father causes, deifies, and personalizes the Being of the Son, Spirit, and even Godhead!

We can say, however, that the monarchia of the Father is cause not of their being, but of their mode of enhypostatic differentiation (179). Torrance wants to see the monarchia referring to the Being of the Father, rather than strictly the Person. For him this points back to the intrinsic relations of the Being: The Being of the Father as Father means the Being of the Son of the Father.

Conclusion:

This is a good book, but it repeats a lot of material from his earlier work and the discussions aren't always clearer.
 

AT

Puritan Board Freshman
Isn't Torrance one of the 20th c. theologians Dolezal criticizes for revisionist doctrine of God?
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Isn't Torrance one of the 20th c. theologians Dolezal criticizes for revisionist doctrine of God?
I doubt it. Torrance is basically the champion of Athanasius. True, Torrance criticizes Aquinas but that does not mean Torrance holds to mutualism or anything like that.
 

AT

Puritan Board Freshman
Okay, did a search on my kindle. I think I oversimplified it by saying he held to a revisionist view.

Dolezal's criticism has to do with Torrance rejecting God as eternal creator, he quotes from the same book you have reviewed, where Torrance says that God became Creator, he quotes it from pg 208.

He also mentions Torrance in a footnote, on the same issue:

"Torrance argues that to say God became Creator "is not to say...that God did not always have the power to create, nor is it to say that creation was not in the Mind of God before he actually brought it into being, but that he brought it into being by a definite act of his gracious will." Christian Doctrine of God, 208. Torrance regards God's power to create as a capacity for action, as passive potency in need of some principle of act- namely, a definite act of God's will to move it into actuality. By willing to create he conceives of God as moving His power from bare potential to actuality. This is patently at odds with the demands of divine simplicity, which denies all composition of act and passive potency in God. It further renders God's actual power in creation the consequent of a particular act of the divine will. In other words, God makes Himself to be what He was not by new acts of His Will" (footnote 58, in chapter 5)
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Dolezal's criticism has to do with Torrance rejecting God as eternal creator, he quotes from the same book you have reviewed, where Torrance says that God became Creator, he quotes it from pg 208.

That's correct, and I think Dolezal is wrong on that point. Eternal creation is precisely what Athanasius attacked Origen on.
 

AT

Puritan Board Freshman
That's correct, and I think Dolezal is wrong on that point. Eternal creation is precisely what Athanasius attacked Origen on.
How do you respond to criticism that denying eternal creation leads to a denial of DDS? It brings potency in God, thereby denying his immutability as well.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
How do you respond to criticism that denying eternal creation leads to a denial of DDS? It brings potency in God, thereby denying his immutability as well.
God has active potency, not passive potency. Even Thomists admit that much. Eternal creation, quite frankly, is a bizarre idea. Creation isn't eternal. Science, as well as creation ex nihilo, proves as much.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Active potency? That's interesting... Though it feels like a cop-out Theistic Mutualists would use to get out of a tricky philosophical situation.

Theistic mutualists do not believe in active potency. That is a Thomist term.

Torrance, being an Athanasian, sees eternal creation as part of the horns of the Origenist-Arian dilemma. The argument, which I might try to distill later, is that if creation is eternal, and the generation of the Son is eternal, then we are very close to saying that the Son is also a product of the divine will, much like creation.
 

Knight

Puritan Board Freshman
Theistic mutualists do not believe in active potency. That is a Thomist term.

Interesting. I searched and read the following:

Active Potency. Potency as aptitude or capacity for act is divided into two main types, active and passive. Active potency is the inner power of an agent to perform some action, though it may not be actually so doing, e.g., the power of an artist to paint a picture, of a bird to fly, or of God to create beings.


I completely agree with this. God did not have to actually create. If what you are saying is true, then, I am very glad to hear it.

My struggle, then, is with those who think God's will and nature are identical, for in that case, I do not see how the above could be true. But is not this view (that God's will and nature are identical) also Thomistic?
 

83r17h

Puritan Board Freshman
How do you respond to criticism that denying eternal creation leads to a denial of DDS? It brings potency in God, thereby denying his immutability as well.

Another way to respond is to point out that denying eternal creation leads to a denial of simplicity only if "creator" is treated an essential attribute of God. However, "creator" is properly denoting the relationship between God and creation. Therefore to make it an essential attribute of God would make God dependent on creation, violating the doctrine of aseity (and interestingly enough, simplicity also).

Then how is it that God could have willed otherwise without also suggesting that God Himself could be otherwise?

There's an interesting question of language and equivocation here. If by "God's will [A]" we mean the "faculty" of God by which he wills, then it is identical with his nature. If by "God's will (B)" we mean the content of his decree, as that which his decree terminates on, then it is not identical to his nature. The absolute necessity of the former implies the necessary existence of the latter, but not the absolute necessity of its entire content. If I recall, Turretin has a helpful discussion of this point.

(from here: https://heidelblog.net/2016/08/turretin-defended-divine-simplicity-against-the-socinians/ - the whole page is worth a reflective read)
The decrees of God can be regarded in two ways: either subjectively (if it is right so to speak, i.e., on the part of the internal act in itself and absolutely); or objectively, extrinsically and relatively with respect to creatures (respectively). In the former manner, they do not differ from God himself and are no other than God himself decreeing. But in the latter, they do differ because they may be conceived as many and various (not as to the thing, since God has decreed all things by one single and most simple act, but as to the objects), even as the knowledge of God is conversant with innumerable objects without detriment to his unity.
 

AT

Puritan Board Freshman
Another way to respond is to point out that denying eternal creation leads to a denial of simplicity only if "creator" is treated an essential attribute of God. However, "creator" is properly denoting the relationship between God and creation. Therefore to make it an essential attribute of God would make God dependent on creation, violating the doctrine of aseity (and interestingly enough, simplicity
This comes very close to saying that God has certain attributes which he takes on, which are not essential to him. I think this view of the creation is William Lane Craig's.
 

83r17h

Puritan Board Freshman
This comes very close to saying that God has certain attributes which he takes on, which are not essential to him. I think this view of the creation is William Lane Craig's.

I don't think so. I'm saying that "creator" isn't properly understood as an attribute at all. So it isn't an attribute he takes on, because it just isn't an attribute. It's a relation. The proper attribute would be omnipotence, which is the basis of God's creative act. God doesn't take on omnipotence. By creating, he does establish a relationship to creation though. But a relationship between God and creation is not an attribute of God, because it is not in God.

Maybe I'm being less clear, but I don't believe that what I'm saying is any different than generic Reformed theology. I'm certainly not saying that God takes on non-essential attributes. What I am trying to say is that talking about "creator" as if it is an attribute is a category error. I can't think of any systematic I've read which ever includes "creator" among a list of attributes. Turretin definitely omits it, and treats creation under its own topic as an act of God (not an attribute).

Thus Turretin (1:440)
XI. An eternal agent, which acts out of itself upon another thing, requires a coeternal object. But God is not an eternal agent in this sense because he began to act out of himself only in time. And if he is called a pure act because always active in himself and devoid of all passive power (the root of change), does it follow that he always acted out of himself?
XII. It is one thing to be a sufficient cause actually, but another in action. God was from eternity a sufficient cause actually because he always existed and always willed to create the world. But he was not from eternity in action because he did not will to create from eternity, but only in time.
XIII. Although God did not create from eternity, he did not on that account change from potency to act and from leisure to work. ... And thus a certain change was made in the world, which passed from nonexistence to existence, but not in God who (remaining in himself the same) produced by his practical volition a thing from nothing out of himself.

I am trying to articulate exactly what Turretin says here.
 
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RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
In technical terms, God does not have a "real relation" to creation. That's why the act of creation is a radically new act yet introduces no change in God. I am kind of stunned that Dolezal, a Thomist, did not employ this standard line of Thomist reasoning.
 

Anti-Babylon

Puritan Board Freshman
In technical terms, God does not have a "real relation" to creation. That's why the act of creation is a radically new act yet introduces no change in God. I am kind of stunned that Dolezal, a Thomist, did not employ this standard line of Thomist reasoning.

Vos' "deeper Protestant conception"
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Sophomore
I don't think so. I'm saying that "creator" isn't properly understood as an attribute at all. So it isn't an attribute he takes on, because it just isn't an attribute. It's a relation.

That sounds right to me - I have never seen "Creator" in any attribute list in any systematic whatsoever.

The change that we are talking about does not take place within God but within creation - changing from non-existence to existence. We then have language to describe the relationship between the temporal creation and the eternal Creator. A title designating the relationship between an eternal entity and a non-eternal entity does not intend to imply any change in God.

This might be a similar example (I hope) - in Hebrews 1:11 Jesus is calls the elect his "brothers." Is he the eternal brother of the elect or did he become so in time when he redeemed them? It could not be eternal since one relation in the discussion has not existed eternally (the elect). Or is the Father the eternal Father of the elect or did He become so in time at the point of adoption? He is the eternal Father of the eternal Son but not the eternal Father of the elect (relationally speaking). The Father is the eternal Father of the Son since both entities in the discussion existed eternally. It seems a mistake to project that same language in relationship designations between the eternal God and any aspect of creation which of course is not eternal.

Regarding Torrance, I do remember discussions with a professor friend of mine who did his PhD studies in theology proper/Trinitarian studies saying that Torrence did deviate from historical Reformed thought in some significant way. I just wish I could remember what that was (I was sharing with him that Dr. Kelly assigned us to read Torrence on the Trinity).
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Regarding Torrance, I do remember discussions with a professor friend of mine who did his PhD studies in theology proper/Trinitarian studies saying that Torrence did deviate from historical Reformed thought in some significant way. I just wish I could remember what that was (I was sharing with him that Dr. Kelly assigned us to read Torrence on the Trinity).

He did not hold to limited atonement.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Sophomore
I don't remember that being the issue we discussed as that wouldn't have surprised me that much. At any rate, Dr. Kelly certainly liked Torrance and quoted him often.
 
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