marked up by Lance George
Greek and Hebrew fonts used in this document can be downloaded at BibleWorks
When Calvin turns, in his discussion of the doctrine of God, from the Divine Being in general to the Trinity (chap. xiii.), he makes the transition most skillfully by a paragraph (§ 1) which doubtless has the design, as it certainly has the effect, of quickening in his readers a sense of the mystery of the divine mode of existence.2 The Scriptures, he tells us, speak sparingly of the divine essence. Yet by two "epithets" which they apply to it, they effectually rebuke not only the follies of the vulgar but also the subtleties of the learned in their thought of God. These epithets are "immensity" and "spirituality"; and they alone suffice at once to check the crass and to curb the audacious imaginations of men. How dare we invade in our speculations concerning Him either the spirituality or the immensity of this infinite Spirit, conceiving Him like the Pantheists as an impersonal diffused force, or like the Manichaeans limiting His immensity or dividing His unity? Or how can we think of the infinite Spirit as altogether like ourselves? Do we not see that when the Scriptures speak of Him under human forms they are merely employing the artless art of nurses as they speak to children? All that we can either say or think concerning God descends equally below His real altitude. Calvin thus prepares us to expect depths in the Divine Being beyond our sounding, and then turns at once to speak of the divine tripersonality, which he represents as a mysterious characteristic of the divine mode of existence by which God is marked off from all else that is. "But" - this is the way he puts it (xiii. 2, ad init.) - "He points Himself out by another special note also, by which He may be more particularly defined: for He so predicates unity of Himself that He propones Himself to be considered distinctively in three Persons; and unless we hold to these there is nothing but a bare and empty name of God, by no means (sine) the true God, floating in our brain."
That we may catch the full significance of this remarkable sentence we should attend to several of its elements. We must observe, for example, that it ranges the tripersonality of God alongside of His immensity and spirituality as another special "note" by which He is more exactly defined. The words are: "But He designates Himself also by another special note, by which He may be more particularly distinguished," - the another referring back to the "epithets" of immensity and spirituality.3 The tripersonality of God is conceived by Calvin, therefore, not as something added to the complete idea of God, or as something into which God develops in the process of His existing, but as something which enters into the very idea of God, without which He cannot be conceived in the truth of His being. This is rendered clearer and more emphatic by an additional statement which he adjoins - surely for no other purpose than to strengthen this implication - to the effect that "if we do not hold to these [the three Persons in the divine unity], we have nothing but a naked and empty name of God, by no means the true God, floating in our brain." According to Calvin, then, it would seem, there can be no such thing as a monadistic God; the idea of multiformity enters into the very notion of God.4 The alternative is to suppose that he is speaking here purely a posteriori and with his mind absorbed in the simple fact that the only true God is actually a Trinity: so that he means only to say that since the only God that is, is, in point of fact, a Trinity, when we think of a divine monad we are, as a mere matter of fact, thinking of a God which has no existence - which is a mere naked and empty name, and not the true God at all. The simplicity of Calvin's speech favors this supposition; and the stress he has laid in the preceding discussion upon the necessity of conceiving God only as He reveals Himself, on pain of the idolatry of inventing unreal gods for ourselves, adds weight to it. But it scarcely seems to satisfy the whole emphasis of the statement. The vigor of the assertion appears rather to invite us to understand that in Calvin's view a divine monad would be less conceivable than a divine Trinity, and certainly suggests to us that to him the conception of the Trinity gave vitality to the idea of God.5
This suggestion acquires importance from the circumstance that the Reformers in general and Calvin in particular have been sometimes represented as feeling little or no interest in such doctrines as that of the Trinity. Such doctrines, we are told, they merely took over by tradition from the old Church, if indeed they did not by the transference of their interest to a principle of doctrinal crystallization to which such doctrines were matters of more or less indifference, positively prepare for their ultimate discarding. Ferdinand Christian Baur, for example, points out that the distinctive mark of the Reformation, in contrast with Scholasticism with its prevailing dialectic or intellectualistic tendency, was that it was a deeply religious movement, in which the heart came to its rights and everything was therefore viewed from the standpoint of the great doctrines of sin and grace.6 He then seeks to apply this observation as follows: "The more decisively Protestantism set the central point of its dogmatic consciousness in this portion of the system, the more natural was the consequence that even such doctrines as that of the Trinity were no longer able to maintain the preponderating significance which they possessed in the old system; and although men were not at once clearly conscious of the altered relation - as, in point of fact, they were not and could not be - it is nevertheless the fact that the doctrines which belong to this category attracted the interest of the Reformers only in a subordinate degree; and, without giving themselves an exact account of why it was so, men merely retained with reference to them the traditional modes of teaching - abiding by these all the more willingly that they could not conceal from themselves the greatness of the difference which existed between them and their opponents in so many essential points."7 They no doubt set themselves in opposition to the more radical spirits of their time who, taking their starting point from the same general principles, were led by their peculiarities of individuality and relations, of standpoint and tendency, to discard the doctrine of the Trinity altogether. But they could not stem the natural drift of things. "How could the Protestant principle work so thoroughgoing an alteration in one part of the system, and leave the rest of it unaffected?"8 And what was to be expected except that the polemic attitude with reference to the ecclesiastical doctrine of the Trinity, which was at first confined to small parties outside the limits of recognized Protestantism, should ultimately become a part of Protestantism itself?9
In accordance with this schematization, Baur represents Melanchthon as, in the first freshness of his Reformation-consciousness, passing over in his "Loci" such doctrines as that of the Trinity altogether as incomprehensible mysteries of God which call rather for adoration than scrutiny;10 and, though he returned to them subsequently, doing so with a difference, a difference which emphasized their subordinate and indeed largely formal place in his system of thought.11 While as regards Calvin, he sees in him the beginnings of a radical transformation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Calvin does, indeed, like Melanchthon, present the doctrine as the teaching of Scripture, and attaches himself to the ecclesiastical definitions of it as merely a republication of the Scriptural doctrine in clearer words. "We perceive, however, that he does not know how to bring the doctrine itself out of its transcendental remoteness into closer relations with his religious and dogmatic consciousness. Instead, therefore, of speculatively developing the Trinitarian relation as the objective content of the idea of God, out of itself, he rather repels the whole conception as a superfluity which leads to empty speculation (Inst., I. xiii. 19 and 20), or else where he enters most precisely into it, inclines to a mode of apprehending it in which the ecclesiastical homoousia is transmuted into a rational relation of subordination."12 "The intention was to retain the old orthodox doctrine unchanged; but it was internally, in the new consciousness of the times, already undermined, since there was no longer felt for it the same religious and dogmatic interest, as may be seen from the whole manner in which it is dealt with in these oldest Protestant theologians. Men could no longer find their way in the old, abstract form of the dogma. A new motive impulse must first proceed from the central point of the Protestant consciousness. The first beginnings of a transformation of the dogma are already discoverable in Calvin, when he locates the chief element of the doctrine of the Trinity in the practical consciousness of the operations in which the Son and Spirit make themselves known as the peculiar principles of the divine life (I. xiii. 13, 14), and finds the assurance of the election in which the finite subject has the consciousness of his unity with God solely in the relation in which the individual stands to Christ."13 That is to say, if we understand Baur aright, the new construction of the Trinity already foreshadowed in Calvin was to revolve around Christ; but around Christ as God-man conceived as the mediating principle between God and man, the unity of the finite and infinite, bearing to us the assurance that what God is in Himself that also He must be for the finite consciousness - in which mode of statement we see, however, a great deal more of Baur's Hegelianism than of Calvin's Protestantism.
So far as this representation implies that Calvin's interest in the doctrine of the Trinity was remote and purely traditional, it is already contradicted, as we have seen, by the first five lines of his discussion of the subject (I. xiii. 2, ad init.) - if, that is, as we have seen some reason to believe, he really declares there that vitality is given to the idea of God only by the Trinitarian conception of Him. It is indeed contradicted by itself. For the real meaning of the constitutive place given in Calvin's thought of the Trinity to "the practical consciousness of the operations in which the Son and Spirit make themselves known as the peculiar principles of the divine life," is that the doctrine of the Trinity did not for him stand out of relation to his religious consciousness but was a postulate of his profoundest religious emotions; was given, indeed, in his experience of salvation itself.14 For him, thus, certainly in no less measure than it had been from the beginning of Christianity, the nerve of the doctrine was its implication in the experience of salvation, in the Christian's certainty that the Redeeming Christ and Sanctifying Spirit are each Divine Persons. Nor did he differ in this from the other Reformers. The Reformation movement was, of course, at bottom a great revival of religion. But this does not mean that its revolt from Scholasticism was from the doctrines "of God, of His unity and His trinity, of the mystery of creation, of the mode of the incarnation"15 themselves, but from the formalism and intellectualism of the treatment of these doctrines at the hands of the Scholastic theologians. When Melanchthon demands whether, when Paul set down a compendium of Christian doctrine in his Epistle to the Romans, he gave himself over to philosophical disquisitions (philosophabatur) "on the mysteries of the Trinity, on the mode of the incarnation, on active and passive creation," and the like, we must not neglect the emphasis on the term "philosophical disquisitions."16 Melanchthon was as far as possible from wishing to throw doubt upon either the truth or the importance of the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, Creation. He only wished to recall men from useless speculations upon the mysterious features of these doctrines and to focus their attention no doubt on the great central doctrines of sin and grace, but also on the vital relations of such doctrines as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Creation to human needs and the divine provision for meeting them. The demand of the Reformers, in a word, was not that men should turn away from these doctrines, but that they should accord their deepest interest to those elements and aspects of them which minister to edification rather than to curious questions that furnish exercise only to intellectual subtlety. Any apparent neglect of these doctrines which may seem to be traceable in the earliest writings of the Reformers was, moreover, due not merely to their absorption in the proclamation of the doctrine of grace, but also to the broad fact that these doctrines were not in dispute in their great controversy with Rome, and therefore did not require insisting upon in the stress of their primary conflict. So soon as they were brought into dispute by the radicals of the age, we find the Reformers reverting to them and reasserting them with vigor: and that is the real account to be given of the increased attention given to them in the later writings of the Reformers, which seems to those historians who have misinterpreted the relatively small amount of discussion devoted to them in the earlier years of the movement, symptomatic of a lapse from the purity of their first love and of a reentanglement in the Scholastic intellectualism from which the Reformation, as a religious movement, was a revolt. In point of fact, it marks only the abiding faith of the Reformers in doctrines essential to the Christian system, but not hitherto largely asserted and defended by them because, shortly, there was not hitherto occasion for extended assertion and defense of them.
In no one is the general attitude of the Reformers to the doctrine of the Trinity more clearly illustrated than in Calvin. The historian of Protestant Dogmatics, Wilhelm Gass, tells us that "Calvin's exposition of the Trinity is certainly the best and most circumspect which the writings of the Reformers give us: surveying as it does the whole compass of the dogma and without any loss to the thing itself wisely avoiding all stickling for words."17 That this judgment is quoted by subsequent expounders of Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity,18 surprises us only in so far as so obvious a fact seems not to need the authority of Gass to support it. Apart, however, from the superiority of Calvin's theological insight, by which his treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity is made not only "the best and most circumspect which the writings of the Reformers have given us," but even one of the epoch-making discussions of this great theme, Calvin's whole dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity supplies an exceptionally perfect reflection of the attitude of the Reformers at large to it. At one with them in his general point of view, the circumstances of his life forced him into a fulness and emphasis in the exposition of this doctrine to which they were not compelled. The more comprehensive character of the work, even in its earliest form, coöperated with the comparative lateness of the time of its publication19 and his higher systematic genius, to secure the incorporation into even the first edition of Calvin's "Institutes" (1536) not only of a Biblical proof of the doctrine of the Trinity, argued with exceptional originality and force, but also of a strongly worded assertion and defense of the correctness and indispensableness of the current ecclesiastical formulation of it. No more than the earlier Reformers, however, was Calvin inclined to confound the essence of the doctrine with a particular mode of stating it; nor was he willing to confuse the minds of infantile Christians with the subtleties of its logical exposition. The main thing was, he insisted, that men should heartily believe that there is but one God, whom only they should serve; but also that Jesus Christ our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier is each no less this one God than God the Father to whom we owe our being; while yet these three are distinct personal objects of our love and adoration.20 He was wholly agreed with his colleagues at Geneva in holding that "in the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel," it conduced more to edification and readiness of comprehension to refrain from the explanation of the mysteries of the Trinity, and even from the constant employment of those technical terms in which these mysteries are best expressed, and to be content with declaring clearly the divinity of Christ in all its fulness, and with giving some simple exposition of the true distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.21 He acted on this principle in drawing up the formularies of faith with which he provided the Church at Geneva immediately after his settlement there, and he vigorously defended this procedure when it was called in question by that "theological adventurer," as he has been not unjustly called,22 Peter Caroli. This, of course, does not mean that he was under any illusions as to the indispensableness to the Christian faith of a clear as well as a firm belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, or as to the value for the protection of that doctrine of the technical terms which had been wrought out for its more exact expression and defense in the controversies of the past. He was already committed to an opposite opinion by his strong assertions in the first edition of his "Institutes" (1536), which he retained unaltered through all the subsequent editions; and the controversies in which he was contemporaneously embroiled - with Anabaptists, Antitrinitarians, "theological quacks" - were well calculated to fix in his mind a very profound sense of the importance of stating this doctrine exactly and defending it with vigor. He was only asserting, as strongly as he knew how, the right of a Christian teacher, holding the truth, to avoid strife about words and to use his best endeavors to "handle aright the word of truth." He never for one moment doubted, we do not say the truth merely, but also the importance for the Christian system, of the doctrine of the Trinity. He held this doctrine with a purity and high austerity of apprehension singular among its most devoted adherents. As we have seen, he conceived it not only as the essential foundation of the whole doctrine of redemption, but as indispensable even to a vital and vitalizing conception of the Being of God itself. He did not question even the importance of the technical phraseology which had been invented for the expression and defense of this doctrine, in order to protect it from fatal misrepresentation. He freely confessed that by this phraseology alone could the subtleties of heresy aiming at its disintegration be adequately met. But he asserted and tenaciously maintained the liberty of the Christian teacher, holding this doctrine in its integrity, to use it in his wisdom as he saw was most profitable for the instruction of his flock - not with a view to withdrawing it in its entirety or in part from their contemplation or to minimizing its importance in their sight or to corrupting their apprehension of it, but with a view to making it a vital element in their faith; first perhaps more or less implicitly - as implied in the very core of their creed - and then more or less explicitly, as they were able to apprehend it; but never as a mere set of more or less uncomprehended traditional phrases. To him it was a great and inspiring reality: and as such he taught it to the babes of the flock in its most essential and vital elements, and defended it against gainsayers in its most complete and strict formulation.
The illusion into which it is perhaps possible to fall in the case of the earlier Reformers, by which this double treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity is supposed to represent consecutive states of mind, is impossible in the case of Calvin. Circumstances compelled him to deal with the doctrine after both fashions contemporaneously. None can say of him, as Baur says of Melanchthon - in our belief wrongly interpreting the phenomena - that he first passed by the doctrine of the Trinity unconcernedly and afterwards reverted to the Scholastic statement of it. At the very moment that Calvin was insisting on teaching the doctrine vitally rather than scholastically, he was equally insisting that it must be held in its entirety as it had been brought into exact expression by the ecclesiastical writers.
Calvin began his work at Geneva on the fifth day of September, 1536, and among the other fundamental tasks with which he engaged himself during the winter of 1536 and 1537 was the drawing up of his first catechism, the "Instruction used in the Church at Geneva," as it is called in its French form, which was published in 1537, or the "Catechismus sive Christianae Religionis Institutio," as it is called in the Latin form, which was published early (March) in 1538. Along with this Catechism, there had been prepared in both languages also a briefer "Confession of Faith," written, possibly, not by Calvin himself, but by his colleagues in the Genevan ministry, or, to be more specific, by Farel,23 but certainly in essence Calvin's, and related to the Catechism very much as the Catechism was related to the "Institutes" of 1536; that is to say, it is a free condensation of the Catechism. In this Confession of Faith, although it was the fundamental documentation of the faith of the Genevan Church to which all citizens were required to subscribe, there is no formal exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity at all: the unity of God alone is asserted (§ 2), and it is left to the mere recitation of the Apostles' Creed, which is incorporated into it (§ 6), supported only by a rare (§ 15) reference to Jesus as God's Son, to suggest the Trinity. Even in the Catechism24 the statement of the doctrine, although explicit and precise, and supported by equally explicit assertions of the uniqueness of our Lord's Sonship ("He is called Son of God, not like believers, by adoption and grace, but true and natural and therefore sole and unique, so as to be distinguished from the others," p. 53, cf. pp. 45-46, 53, 60, 62), and of His true divinity ("His divinity, which He had from all eternity with the Father," p. 53), is far from elaborate. It is confined indeed very much to the assertion of the fact of the Trinity - although even here it is suggested that it enters by necessity into our conception of God; and even this assertion is made apparently only because it seemed to be needed for the understanding of the Apostles' Creed. In the general remarks on this Creed, before the exposition of its several clauses is taken up (p. 52), we read as follows: "But in order that this our confession of faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may trouble no one, it is necessary first of all to say a little about it. When we name the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we by no means imagine three Gods; but the Scriptures and pious experience itself show us in the absolutely simple (tres-simple) essence of God, the Father, His Son and His Spirit. So that our intelligence is not able to conceive the Father without at the same time comprehending the Son in whom His living image is repeated, and the Spirit, in whom His power and virtue are manifested. Accordingly, we adhere with the whole thought of our heart to one sole God; but we contemplate nevertheless the Father with the Son and His Spirit." There is certainly here a clear and firm assertion of the fact of the Trinity; we may even admire the force with which, in so few words, the substance of the doctrine is proclaimed, and it is also suggested that it has its roots planted not only in Scripture but in Christian experience, and indeed is involved in a vital conception of God. Calvin assuredly was justified in pointing to it, when the calumnies raised by Caroli were spread abroad and men were acquiring a suspicion that his "opinion concerning the personal distinctions in the one God dissented somewhat (non nihil) from the orthodox consent of the Church," as a proof that he had from the first taught the Church at Geneva "a trinity of persons in the one essence of God."25 But it is perhaps not strange that this should seem to some very little to say on the fundamental doctrine of the Trinity in a statement of fundamental doctrines which extends to some forty-two pages in length.26 In its brevity it may perhaps illustrate almost as strikingly as the entire omission of all statement of the doctrine from the accompanying Confession (except as implied in the repetition of the Apostles' Creed) the feeling of Calvin and his colleagues that the elaboration of this doctrine belongs rather to the later stages of Christian instruction, while for babes in Christ it were better to leave it implicit in their general religious standpoint (seeing that it is implicated in the experience of piety itself) than to clog the unformed Christian mind with subtle disputations about it. Meanwhile, at the very moment when Calvin and his colleagues were preparing these primary statements of faith, in which no or so small a space was given to the doctrine of the Trinity, they were also vigorously engaged in confuting and excluding from the Genevan Church impugners of that doctrine. For from the very beginning of his work at Geneva Calvin was brought into conflict with that anti-trinitarian radicalism the confutation of which was to draw so heavily upon his strength in the future. There were already in the early spring of 1537 Anabaptists to confute and banish, among whom was that John Stordeur whose widow was afterwards to become Calvin's wife.27 And there was to deal with just before their appearance that poor half-crazy fanatic Claude Aliodi - once Farel's colleague at Neuchâtel - who had as early as 1534 been denying the preëxistence of Christ, and was in the spring of 1537 at Geneva, teaching his anti-trinitarian heresies.28
Calvin's exact attitude on the doctrine of the Trinity and its teaching was, moreover, just at this time forced into great publicity by the assaults made upon the Genevan pastors by one of the most frivolous characters brought to the surface by the upheaval of the Reformation.29 It was precisely at this time (January, 1537) that Peter Caroli, who was at the moment giving himself the airs of a bishop as "first pastor" at Lausanne, conceived the idea of avenging himself upon the pastors of Geneva for what he thought personal injuries by bringing against them the charge of virtual Arianism. That the charge received an attention which it did not deserve was, no doubt, due in part to an old suspicion which had been aroused against Farel by the calumnies of Claude Aliodi.30 These were founded on the circumstance that in his "Sommaire" (1524-1525), Farel - with a purely paedagogical intent, as he explained in a preface prefixed to the edition of 1537-1538, because he believed the doctrine of the Trinity too difficult a topic for babes in faith - had passed over the doctrine of the Trinity, just as the Genevan pastors did again in their Confession of 1537.31 It is difficult for us, in any event, however, at this late date, to understand the hearing which a man like Caroli obtained for his calumnies. The whole Protestant world was filled with suspicions of the orthodoxy of the Genevan pastors. It was whispered from one to another - at Bern, Basle, Zurich, Strasburg, Wittenberg - that they were strangely chary of using the terms "Trinity," "Person," - that they were even "heady" in their refusal to employ them in their popular formularies. It was widely reported that they were beginning to fall into Arianism, or rather into that worst of all errors (pessimus error) which Servetus the Spaniard was spreading abroad. Not only was a local crisis thus created, which entailed personal controversies and synods and decisions, but a widely spread atmosphere of distrust was produced, which demanded the most careful and prompt attention. All the spring and summer Calvin was occupied in writing letters hither and thither, correcting the harmful rumors which had, as he said, been set going by "a mere nobody" (homo nihili), urged on by "futile vanity."32 And after the conferences and synods and letters, there came at length treatises. The result is that all excuse is taken away for any misapprehension of Calvin's precise position.
Throughout the whole controversy - in which Calvin was ever the chief spokesman, coming forward loyally to the defense of his colleagues, who, rather than he, were primarily struck at - two currents run, as they run through all his writings on the Trinity, and not least through his chapter (I. xiii.) on that subject in the "Institutes." There is everywhere manifested not only a clear and firm grasp of the doctrine, but also a very deep insight into it, accompanied by a determination to assert it at its height. Along with this there is also manifest an equally constant and firm determination to preserve full liberty to deal with the doctrine free from all dictation from without or even prescription of traditional modes of statement. There is nothing inconsistent in these two positions. Rather are they outgrowths of the same fundamental conviction: but the obverse and reverse of the same mental attitude. At the root of all lies Calvin's profound persuasion that this is a subject too high for human speculation and his consequent fixed resolve to eschew all theoretical constructions upon it, and to confine himself strictly to the revelations of Scripture. On the one hand, therefore, because he appealed to Scripture only, he refused to be coerced in his expression of the doctrine by present authority or even the formularies of the past; on the other, because he trusted Scripture wholly, he was insistent in giving full validity to all that he found there. It was the purity of his Protestantism, in other words, which governed Calvin's dealing with this doctrine; giving it an independence which is not yet always understood and has afforded occasion once and again for comment upon his attitude which betrays a somewhat surprising inability to enter into his mind.33
For the matter, which has been thus vexed, was perfectly simple. Calvin refused to subscribe the ancient creeds at Caroli's dictation, not in the least because he did not find himself in accord with their teaching, but solely because he was determined to preserve for himself and his colleagues the liberties belonging to Christian men, subject in matters of faith to no other authority than that of God speaking in the Scriptures. He tells us himself that it was never his purpose to reject these creeds or to detract from their credit;34 and he points out that he was not misunderstood even by Caroli to be repudiating their teaching; but Caroli conceded that what he did was - in Caroli's bad Latin, or as Calvin facetiously calls it, "his Sorbonnic elegance" - "neither to credit nor to discredit them."35 He considered it intolerable that the Christian teacher's faith should be subjected to the authority of any traditional modes of statement, however venerable, or however true; and he refused to be the instrument of creating a precedent for such tyranny in the Reformed Churches by seeming to allow that a teacher might be justly treated as a heretic until he cleared himself by subscribing ancient symbols thrust before him by this or that disturber of the peace. There were his writings, and there was his public teaching, and he was ready to declare plainly what he believed: let him be judged by these expressions of his faith in accordance with the Word of God alone as the standard of truth. Accordingly, when he first confronted Caroli in behalf of the Genevan ministers, he read the passage on the Trinity from the new Catechism as the suitable expression of their belief. And when Caroli cried out, "Away with these new Confessions; and let us sign the three ancient Creeds," Calvin, not without some show of pride, refused, on the ground that he accorded authority in divine things to the Word of God alone.36 "We have professed faith in God alone," he said, "not in Athanasius, whose Creed has not been approved by any properly constituted Church."37 His meaning is that he refused to treat any human composition as an authoritative determination of doctrine, from which we may decline only on pain of heresy: that belongs to the Word of God alone. At the subsequent Council of Lausanne he took up precisely the same position, and addressing himself more, as he says,38 ad hominem than ad rem, turned the demand that he should express his faith in the exact words of former formularies into ridicule. He was, he tells us, in what he said about the Creeds just "gibing"39 Caroli. Caroli had attempted to recite the Creeds and had broken down at the fourth clause of the Athanasian Symbol.40 You assert, Calvin said, that we cannot acceptably confess our faith except in the exact words of these ancient symbols. You have just pronounced these words from the Athanasian Creed: "Which faith whosoever doth not hold cannot be saved." You do not yourself hold this faith: and if you did, you could not express it in the exact words of the Creed. Try to repeat those words: you will infallibly again stick fast before you get through the fourth clause. Now what would you do, if you should suddenly come to die and the Devil should demand that you go to the eternal destruction which you confess awaits those who do not hold this faith whole and entire, meaning unless you express this your faith in these exact terms? And as for the Nicene Creed - is it so very certain it was composed by that Council? One would surely suppose those holy Fathers would study conciseness in so serious a matter as a creed. But see the battology here: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God." Why this repetition - which adds neither to the emphasis nor to the expressiveness of the document? Don't you see that this is a song, more suitable for singing than to serve as a formula of confession?41 We may or may not think Calvin's pleasantry happy. But we certainly cannot fail to marvel when we read in even recent writers that Calvin refused to sign the Athanasian Creed because of its damnatory clauses, "which are unjust and uncharitable," and that he "depreciated the Nicene Creed."42 According to his own testimony, he did nothing of the kind: he "never had any intention of depreciating (abiicere) these creeds or of derogating from their credit."43 His sole design was to make it apparent that Caroli's insistence that only in the words of these creeds could faith in the Trinity be fitly expressed was ridiculous.
Calvin's refusal to be confined to the very words of the old formulas in his expression of the doctrine of the Trinity did not carry with it, therefore, any unwillingness to employ in his definition of the doctrine the terms which had been beaten out in the Trinitarian controversies of the past. These terms he considered rather the best expressions for stating and defending the doctrine. That they were unwilling to employ them had indeed been made the substance of one of the charges brought by Caroli against the Genevan pastors. But the refutation of this calumny, so far as Calvin himself was concerned, was easy. He had only to point to the first edition of the "Institutes " (1536), in which he had not only freely used the terms in question, but had defended at large the right and asserted the duty of employing them, as the technical language by which alone the doctrine of the Trinity can be so expressed as to confound heretical misconstructions. When, then, Caroli expressed his wonder at "the pertinacity with which Calvin refused the terms 'Person,' 'Trinity,'" Calvin replied flatly that neither he nor Farel nor Viret ever had the smallest objection to these terms. "The writings of Calvin," he adds, " testify to the whole world that he always employed them freely, and even reprehended the superstition of those who either disliked or avoided them."44 That the Genevan pastors passed them by in their Confession, and refused to employ them when this was violently demanded of them, he explains, was due to two reasons. They were unwilling to consent to such tyranny as that when a matter has been sufficiently and more than sufficiently established, credit should be bound to words and syllables. But their more particular reason was, he adds, that they might "deprive that madman of the boast he had insolently made." "For Caroli's purpose was to cast suspicion on the entire doctrine of men of piety and to destroy their influence."45 Though they felt to the full, therefore, the value of these terms, not only for confounding heresy, but also for consolidating churches in a common confession, when their use was contentiously demanded of them they followed a high example and refused to give place, in the way of subjection, even for an hour.
Calvin's attitude to the employment of this technical language is sufficiently interesting in itself to repay a pause to observe it. As we have intimated, it is fully set forth already in the first edition of the "Institutes" (1536) in a very interesting passage, which is retained without substantial alteration throughout all the subsequent editions. The position of this passage in the discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, however, is changed in the final edition from its end (as in all the earlier editions) to its beginning. In the final edition, therefore, it appears as a preface to the discussion of the substance of the doctrine (I. xiii. 3-5), and it is strengthened in this edition by an introductory paragraph (§ 2), in which an attempt is made to vindicate for one of these technical terms direct Biblical authority. Calvin finds the term "Person" in the u`po,stasij of Heb. i. 3; and insists, therefore, that it, at least, is not of human invention (humanitus inventa). The argument in which he does this is too characteristic of him and too instructive, not only as to his attitude towards the terms in question, but also as to his doctrine of the Trinity and his exegetical methods, to be passed over in silence. We must permit ourselves so much of a digression, therefore, as will enable us to attend to it.
What Calvin does, in this argument, is in essence to subject the statement of Heb. i. 3 that the Son is "the very image of the hypostasis of God" - the carakth.r th/j u`posta,sewj auvtou/ - to a strict logical analysis. The term u`po,stasij, he argues, must designate something the Son is not: for He could scarcely be said to be the image of something He is. When we say image, we postulate two distinct things: the thing imaged and the thing imaging it. If the Son is the image of God's hypostasis, then, the hypostasis of God must be something which the Son does not share; it must be rather something which He is like. The Son shares the Divine essence: hence hypostasis here cannot mean essence. It must be taken then in its alternative sense of "person": and what the author of the Epistle says, therefore, is that the Son is exactly like the Father in person; His double, so to speak. This Epistle, therefore, expressly speaks here of two Persons in the Godhead, one Person which is imaged, another which precisely images it. And the same reasoning may be applied to the Holy Spirit. There is Biblical warrant, therefore, for teaching that there are three hypostases in the one essence of God - "therefore, if we will give credit to the Apostle's testimony, there are in God three hypostases," - and since the Latin "person" is but the translation of the Greek "hypostasis," it is mere fastidiousness to balk at the term "person." If anyone prefers the term "subsistence" as a more literal rendering, why, let him use it: or even "substance," if it be taken in the same sense. The point is not the vocable but the meaning, and we do not change the meaning by varying the synonyms. Even the Greeks use "person" (pro,swpon) interchangeably with "subsistence" (u`po,stasij) in this connection.
It is not likely that this piece of exegesis will commend itself to us. Nor indeed is it likely that we shall feel perfect satisfaction in the logical analysis, even as a piece of logical analysis. After all, the Son is not the image of the Father in His Personality - if we are, like Calvin, to take the Personality here in strict distinction from the Essence. What the Son differs from the Father in is, rather, just in His "Personality," in this sense: as Person He is the Son, the Father the Father, and what we sum up under this "Fatherhood" and "Sonship" is just the distinguishing "properties" by which the two are differentiated from each other. That concrete Person we call the Son is exactly like that concrete Person we call the Father; but the likeness is due to the fact that each is sharer in the identical essence. After all, therefore, the reason why the Son is the express image of the Father is because, sharing the divine essence, He is in His essence all that the Father is. He is the repetition of the Father: but the repetition in such a sense that the one essence in which the likeness consists is common to the two, and not merely of like character in the two. The fundamental trouble with Calvin's argument is that it seeks a direct proof for the Trinitarian constitution of the Godhead from a passage which was intended as a direct proof only of the essential deity of the Son. What the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had in mind was not to reveal the relation of the Son to the Father in the Trinity - as a distinct hypostasis in the unity of the essence; but to set forth the absolute deity of the Son, to declare that He is all that God is, the perfect reflection of God, giving back to God when set over against Him His consummate image. The term "hypostasis" is not indeed to be taken here, in the narrow sense, as "essence": but neither is it to be taken, in the abstract sense, as "person." It means the concrete person, that is to say, the whole substantial entity we call God; which whole substantial entity is said to be in the Son exactly what it is in the Father. Nothing is said directly as to the relation of the Son to the Father, as distinct persons in the Trinity; the whole direct significance of the declaration is exhausted in the assertion that this "Son" differs in no single particular from "God": He is God in the full height of the conception of God.
It is not, however, the success or lack of success of Calvin's exegesis which most interests us at present. It is rather two facts which his exegetical argument brings before us with peculiar force. The one of them is that the developed doctrine of the Trinity lay so firmly entrenched in his mind that he makes it, almost or perhaps quite unconsciously, the major premise of his argument. And the other is that he was so little averse to designating the distinctions in the Godhead by the term "persons" that that term was rather held by him to have definite Biblical warrant. His argument that u`po,stasij in this passage cannot mean "essence," but must mean "person," turns on this precise hinge - that the Father and Son are numerically one in essence, and can be represented as distinct only in person: "For since the essence of God is simple and indivisible (simplex et individua) Him - who contains in Himself the whole of it, not in apportionment or in deflection, but in unbroken perfection (integra perf ectione) - it would be improper or rather inept to call its image." In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity in its complete formulation is the postulate of his argument. And the outcome of the argument is that the Epistle to the Hebrews distinctly sets the Father and Son over against each other as distinguishable "Persons," employing this precise term, u`po,stasij, to designate them in their distinction. "Accordingly," says Calvin, "if the testimony of the Apostle obtains credit, it follows that there are in God three hypostases." This term as the expression of the nature of the distinctions in the Godhead is therefore not a "human invention" (humanitus inventa) to Calvin, but a divine revelation.
Since, then, the Bible had obtained credit with Calvin, he could not object to the use of the term "person" to express the distinctions in the Trinity. But he nevertheless takes over from the earlier editions, in which the discovery of the term in Heb. i. 3 is not yet to be found, a defense of the use of this term on the assumption that it is not Biblical. And this defense is in essence the assertion of the right and the exposition of a theory of interpretation. There are men, says Calvin, who cry out against every term framed according to human judgment (hominum arbitrio confictum nomen) and demand that our words as well as our thoughts concerning divine things shall be kept within the limits of Scripture example. If we use only the words of Scripture we shall, say they, avoid many dissensions and disputes, and preserve the charity so frequently broken in strifes over "exotic words." Certainly, responds Calvin, we ought to speak of God with not less religion than we think of Him. But why should we be required to confine ourselves to the exact words of Scripture if we give the exact sense of Scripture? To condemn as "exotic" every word not found in so many syllables in Scripture, is at once to put under a ban all interpretation which is not a mere stringing together of Scriptural phrases. There are some things in Scripture which are to our apprehension intricate and difficult. What forbids our explaining them in simpler terms - if these terms are held religiously and faithfully to the true sense of Scripture, and are used carefully and modestly and not without occasion? Is it not an improbity to reprobate words which express nothing but what is testified and recorded by the Scriptures? And when these words are a necessity, if the truth is to be plainly and unambiguously expressed - may we not suspect that the real quarrel of those who object to their use is with the truth they express; and that what they are offended by is that by their use the truth has been made clear and unmistakable (plana et dilucida)? As to the terms in which the mystery of the Trinity is expressed - the term Trinity itself, the term Person, and those other terms which the tergiversations of heretics have compelled believers to frame and employ that the truth may be asserted and guarded - such as homoousios, for example - no one would care to draw sword for them as mere naked words. Calvin himself would be altogether pleased to see them buried wholly out of sight - if only all men would heartily receive the simple faith, that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one God and yet neither is the Son the Father, nor the Spirit the Son, but they are each distinguished by a certain property (I. xiii. 5). But that is just the trouble. Men will not accept the simple faith, but palter in a double sense. Arius was loud enough in declaring Christ to be God - but wished to teach also that He is a creature and has had a beginning: he was willing to say Christ is one with the Father, if he were permitted to add that His oneness is the same in kind as our own oneness with God. Say, however, the one word o`moou,sioj - "consubstantial" - and the mask is torn from the face of dissimulation and yet nothing whatever is added to the Scriptures. Sabellius was in no way loath to admit that there are in the Godhead these three - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; but he really distinguished them only as attributes are distinguished. Say simply that in "the unity of God a trinity of persons subsists," and you have at once quenched his inane loquacity. Now, if anyone who does not like the words will ingenuously46 confess the things the words stand for - cadit quaestio: we shall not worry over the words. "But," adds Calvin significantly, "I have long since learned by experience, and that over and over again, that those who contend thus pertinaciously about terms, are really cherishing a secret poison; so that it is much better to bear their resentment than to consent to use less precise and clear language for their behoof" (I. xiii. 5, ad fin.). Golden words! How often since Calvin has the Church had bitter cause to repeat them! When we read, for example, William Chillingworth's subtle pleas for the use of Scriptural language only in matters of faith; his eloquent asseverations - "The Bible, I say, the Bible only is the religion of Protestants"; his loud railing at "the vain conceit, that we can speak of the things of God better than in the words of God," "thus deifying our own interpretations and tyrannously enforcing them upon others" - we know what it all means: that under this cloak of charity are to lie hidden a multitude of sins. When we hear Calvin refusing to swear in the words of another, we must not confuse his defense of personal right with a latitudinarianism like Chillingworth's. If he said, It is the Word of God, not the word of Athanasius, to which I submit my judgment, he said equally, The sense of Scripture, not its words, is Scripture. No ambiguous meanings should be permitted to hide behind a mere repetition of the simple words of Scripture, but all that the Scripture teaches shall be clearly and without equivocation brought out and given expression in the least indeterminate language.47
Calvin's interest was, in other words, distinctly in the substance of the doctrine of the Trinity rather than in any particular mode of formulating it. It rested on the terms in which it was formulated only because, and so far as, they seemed essential to the precise expression and effective guarding of the doctrine. This was consistently his attitude from the beginning. Already in the "Institutes" of 1536, as we have seen, he had given this attitude an expression so satisfactory to himself that he retained the sections devoted to it until the end. It is indeed astonishing how complete a statement of the doctrine of the Trinity itself was already incorporated into this earliest edition of the "Institutes," and how clearly in that statement all the characteristic features of Calvin's treatment of the doctrine already appear. The discussion was no doubt greatly expanded in its passage from the first to the last edition. In the first edition (1536) it occupies only five columns in the Strasburg edition; these have grown to fifteen and a half columns in the middle editions and to twenty-seven and a half (of which eleven and a half are retained from the earlier editions and sixteen are new) in the final edition of 1559. That is to say, its original compass was tripled in the middle editions and almost doubled again in the final edition, where it has become between five and six times as long as in the first draft.48 And in this process of expansion it has not only gathered increment but has suffered change. This change is not, however, in the substance of the doctrine taught or even in the mode of its formulation or the language in which it is couched or in the general tone which informs it. It is only in the range and the governing aim of the discussion.
The statement in the first edition is dominated by a simple desire to give guidance to docile believers, and therefore declines formal controversy and seeks merely to set down briefly what is to be followed, what is to be avoided on this great subject. Positing, therefore, at the outset that the Scriptures teach one God, not many, but yet not obscurely assert that the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God; Calvin here at once develops, by combining Eph. iv. 5 and Mat. xxviii. 19, a Biblical proof of the Trinity which in its strenuous logic reminds us of the analytical examination of Heb. i. 3 which we have already noted. Paul, he says, connects together one baptism, one faith and one God; but in Matthew we read that we are to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - and what is that but to say that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are together the one God of which Paul speaks?49 This is supported by Jeremiah's (xxiii. 33) designation of the Son by "that name which the Jews call ineffable"50 and other Scriptural evidence that our Lord is one God with the Father and the Spirit. He has in mind to prove both elements in the doctrine of the Trinity, the unity of God and the true distinction of persons, and therefore introduces these citations with the words: "There are extant also other clear (luculenta) testimonies, which assert, in part, the one divinity of the three, and in part their personal distinctions."51 Then comes the defense of the technical words by which the truth of the Trinity is expressed and protected, of which we have already spoken. The enlarged and readjusted treatment of the topic for the second edition of 1539 seems to have been composed under the influence of the controversy with Caroli. It is marked at least by the incorporation of a thorough proof of the Godhead of the Father, Son and Spirit, of the unity of their essence, and of the distinction between them, and a coloring apparently derived from this controversy is thrown over the whole discussion, in which liberty to formulate the doctrine in our own words and the value of the technical terms already in use are equally vigorously asserted. The material of 1539 remains intact throughout the middle editions (1543, 1550), although some short quotations from Augustine (§ § 16, 20) and from Jerome and Hilary (§ 24) were introduced in 1543. But it is very freely dealt with in the final edition (1559). Only some two-thirds of it (eleven and a half columns out of fifteen and a half) is preserved in that edition, while sixteen new columns are added: about three-fifths of the whole is thus new.52 Moreover, whole sections are omitted (§§ 10 and 15), a new order of arrangement is adopted, and much minor alteration is introduced. In this recasting and expansion of the discussion the chief place in the formative forces determining its form and tone is taken by the attack of the radical Antitrinitarians. The existence of these Antitrinitarian scoffers is recognized, indeed, from the first: they are explicitly adverted to already in the edition of 1536 as "certain impious men, who wish to tear our faith up by the roots": it is quite clear, indeed, that Servetus' teachings were already before his mind at this date. But it is only for the final edition (1559) that their assault assumes the determining position at the basis of the whole treatment: and it is only in this edition that Servetus, for example, is named. Now, Calvin not only arrays against them the testimony of Scripture in a developed polemic, but adjusts the whole positive exposition of the doctrine to its new purpose, shaping and phrasing its statements and modifying them by added sentences and clauses. The result is a polemic the edge of which is turned no longer against those who may have doubted Calvin's orthodoxy, as was the case in 1539, but rather against those who have essayed to bring into doubt or even openly to deny the mysteries which enter into the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The sharp anti-scholastic sentences which are permitted to remain, serve to give a singular balance to the discussion, and to make it clear that the polemic against the Antitrinitarians has in view vital interests and not mere matters of phraseology.
The disposition of the material in this its final form follows the lines of its new dominant interest. The discussion opens, as we have seen, with a paragraph designed to bear in on the mind a sense of the mystery which must characterize the divine mode of existence (§ 1). This is immediately followed by an announcement of the Trinitarian fact and a defense of the technical terms used to express and protect it (§§ 2-5). After this introduction the subject itself is taken up (§ 6, ad init.) and treated in two great divisions, by way first of positive statement and proof (§§ 6-20) and by way secondly of polemic defense (§§ 21 to end). The positive portion opens with a careful definition of what is meant by the "Trinity" (§ 6) and is prosecuted by an exhibition of the Scriptural proof of the doctrine in three sections: first the proof of the complete deity of the Son (§§ 7-13), then the proof of the deity of the Spirit (§§ 14-15), and then the proof of the Trinitarian distinctions, which includes a dissertation on the nature of these distinctions on the basis of Scripture (§§ 16-20). The polemic phase of the discussion begins with some introductory remarks (§ 21) and then defends in turn the true personality of the Son against Servetus (§ 22) and His complete deity against its modern impugners, Valentinus Gentilis being chiefly in mind (§§ 23-29).
This comprehensive outline is richly filled in with details, all of which are treated, however, with a circumspection and moderation which illustrate Calvin's determination to eschew human speculations upon this high theme and to confine himself to the revelations of Scripture, only so far explicated in human language as is necessary for their pure expression and protection.53 We observe, for example, that he introduces no proofs or illustrations of the Trinity derived from metaphysical reasoning or natural analogies. From the example of Augustine it had been the habit throughout the Middle Ages to make much of these proofs or illustrations, and the habit had passed over into the Protestant usage. Melanchthon, for example, gave new currency alike to the old ontological speculations which under the forms of subject and object sought to conceive the Logos as the image of Himself which the thinking Father set over against Himself, and to the human analogies by which the Trinitarian distinctions were fancied to be illustrated, such, for example, as the distinctions between the intellect, sensibility and will in man. Calvin held himself aloof from all such reasoning, doubting, as he says (§ 18), "the value of similitudes from human things for expressing the force of the Trinitarian distinction," and fearing that their employment might afford only occasion to those evil disposed for calumny and to those little instructed for error.54 What he desired was a plain proof from Scripture itself of the elements of the doctrine, freed from all additions from human speculation. This proof he attempted, in outline at least, to set down in his pages. It is interesting to observe how he conducts it.
He begins, as we have already pointed out, with a plain statement of what he means by the Trinity (§ 6). Such a "short and easy definition" (brevis et facilis definitio) had been his object from the outset (§ 2, ad init.), and it was in fact in order to obtain it that he entered upon the defense, which fills the first sections, of the term and conception of "Person" as applied to the distinctions in the Godhead. Reverting to it after this defense, he carefully defines (§ 6) what he means by "Person" in this connection, viz., "a subsistence in the Divine essence, which, related to the others, is yet distinguished by an incommunicable property." What he has to prove, therefore, he conceives to be that in the unity of the Godhead there is such a distinction of persons; or, as he phrases it, in a statement derived from Tertullian, that "there is in God a certain disposition or economy, which makes no difference, however, to the unity of the essence"; or, as he puts it himself a little later on (§ 20, ad init.), that "there is understood under the name of God, a unitary and simple essence, in which we comprise three persons or hypostases." In order to prove this doctrine, it would be necessary to prove that while God is one, there are three persons who are God, and Calvin undertakes the proof on that understanding. He does not pause here, however, to argue the unity of God at length, taking that for the moment for granted, though he reverts to it in the sequel to show that the distinction of persons which he conceives himself to have established in no respect infringes on it (§ 19), and indeed in his polemic against Valentinus Gentilis very fully vindicates it from the objections of the Arianisers and Tritheists (§§ 23 sq.). His proof resolves itself, therefore, into the establishment of the distinctions in the Godhead; and in order to do this he undertakes to prove first that the Son and the Holy Spirit are each God, and then to show that the Scriptures explicitly recognize that there is such a distinction in the Godhead as their divinity (taken in connection with the Divine unity) implies.
The proof of the deity of the Son is very comprehensive and detailed, and is drawn from each Testament alike. The Word of God, by which, as God "spake," He made the worlds, it is argued, must be understood of the substantial Word, which is also called in Proverbs, Wisdom (§ 7); and must accordingly be understood as eternal. In connection with this, the whole scheme of temporal prolation as applied to the Son is sharply assaulted. It is impious to suppose that anything new can ever have happened to God in Himself (in se ipso), and there is "nothing less tolerable than to invent a beginning for that Word, who both was always God and afterwards became the maker of the world " (§ 8). To this more general argument is brought the support of a number of Old Testament passages, which, it is contended, advert to the Son with declarations of His deity: such as the Forty-fifth Psalm, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever "; Is. ix. 6, "His Name shall be called Mighty God, Father of Eternity"; Jer. xxiii. 6, "The Branch of David shall be called Jehovah our Righteousness" (§ 9). And then the phenomena connected with the manifestations of the Angel of Jehovah are adduced in corroboration (§ 10). The New Testament evidence is marshalled under two heads: the divine names are applied to Christ by the New Testament writers (§ 11), and divine works and functions are assigned to Him (§§ 12-13). Not only are Old Testament passages which speak of Jehovah applied to Christ in the New Testament (Is. viii. 14, Rom. ix. 33; Is. xlv. 23, Rom. xiv. 10, 11; Ps. lxviii. 18, Eph. iv. 8; Is. vi. l, Jno. xii. 41), but these writers themselves employ the term "God" in speaking of Christ (Jno. i. 1, 14; Rom. ix. 5; I Tim. iii. 16; I Jno. v. 20; Acts xx. 28; Jno. xx. 28), and the like. And what divine work do not the New Testament writers credit Him with, either from His own lips or theirs? They represent Him as having been coworker with God from all eternity (Jno. v. 17), as the upholder and governor of the world (Heb. i. 3), as the forgiver of iniquities (Mat. ix. 6) and the searcher of hearts (Mat. ix. 4). They not only accredit Him with mighty works, but distinguish Him from others who have wrought miracles, precisely by this - these others wrought them by the power of God, He by His own power (§ 13a). They represent Him as the dispenser of salvation, the source of eternal life and the fountain of all that is good: they present Him as the proper object of saving faith and trust, and even of worship and prayer (§ 13b).
The deity of the Spirit is similarly argued on the ground of certain Old Testament passages (Genesis i. 2; Is. xlviii. 16) where the Spirit of God seems to be hypostatized; of the divine works attributed to Him, such as ubiquitous activity, regeneration, and the searching of the deep things of God on the one hand and the bestowing of wisdom, speech and all other blessings on men on the other; and finally of the application of the name God to Him in the New Testament writings (e.g., I Cor. iii. 16, vi. 19; II Cor. vi. 16; Acts v. 3; xxviii. 25; Mat. xii. 31). Having thus established the deity of the Son and the Spirit, Calvin turns to the passages which elucidate their deity to us by presenting to us the doctrine of the Trinity. These are all in the New Testament, as was natural (suggests Calvin), because the advent of Christ involved a clearer revelation of God and therefore a fuller knowledge of the personal distinctions in His being (§ 16). The stress of the argument here is laid upon Eph. iv. 5 in connection with Mat. xxviii. 19, which were already expounded at length, as we have seen, in the first edition of the "Institutes," and are here only strengthened and clarified by a better statement. As we are initiated by baptism into faith in the one God and yet baptism is in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, argues Calvin, it is "solidly clear" that the Father, Son and Spirit are this one God; whence it is perfectly obvious that "there reside (residere) in the essence of God three Persons, in whom the one God is cognized" (cognoscitur); and "since it remains fixed that God is one not many, we can only conclude that the Word and the Spirit are nothing other than the essence of God itself." The Scriptures, however, he proceeds (§ 17), no more thus identify the Son and Spirit with God than they distinguish them - distinguish, not divide them. He appeals to such passages as Jno. v. 32, viii. 16, 18, xiv. 16, "another";55 xv. 26, viii. 16, "proceeding," "being sent": but this part of the subject is lightly passed over on the ground that the passages already adduced themselves sufficiently show that the Son possesses a "distinct property" by which He is not the Father - for, says he, "the Word could not have been with God unless He had been another than the Father, neither could He have had His glory with the Father, unless He was distinct from Him": the distinction noted in which passages it is plain, further, is not one which could have begun at the incarnation, but must date from whatever point He may be thought to have begun to be "in the bosom of the Father" (Jno. i. 18). The determination that there is a personal distinction between Father and Son and Holy Spirit leads Calvin to inquire what this distinction carries with it. He finds it to be Scriptural to say that "to the Father is attributed the principium agendi, as fountain and source of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel and the actual dispensation of things to be done; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficiency (virtus et efficacia) of the action" - that is to say, if we may be permitted to reduce the definitions to single words, the Father is conceived as the Source, the Son as the Director, the Spirit as the Executor of all the divine activities; the Father as the Fountain, the Son as the Wisdom emerging from Him, the Spirit as the Power by which the wise counsels of God are effectuated (§ 18).56 Only now when this argument is finished and his conclusion drawn (§ 19) does Calvin pause formally to point out that "this distinction in no way impedes the absolutely simple unity of God" - since the conception is that the "whole nature (natura) is in each hypostasis," while "each has its own propriety." "The Father," he adds, "is totus in the Son, and the Son totus in the Father" - as Christ Himself teaches in Jno. xiv. 10. We are here, however, obviously passing beyond the proof to the exposition of the Trinity - a topic which occupies some later sections (§§ 19 and 20).
It will have already become apparent from the citations incidentally adduced that in his doctrine of the Trinity Calvin departed in nothing from the doctrine which had been handed down from the orthodox Fathers. If distinctions must be drawn, he is unmistakably Western rather than Eastern in his conception of the doctrine, an Augustinian rather than an Athanasian.57 That is to say, the principle of his construction of the Trinitarian distinctions is equalization rather than subordination. He does, indeed, still speak in the old language of refined subordinationism which had been fixed in the Church by the Nicene formularies; and he expressly allows an "order" of first, second and third in the Trinitarian relations. But he conceives more clearly and applies more purely than had ever previously been done the principle of equalization in his thought of the relation of the Persons to one another, and thereby, as we have already hinted, marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. That he was enabled to do this was a result, no doubt, at least in part, of his determination to preserve the highest attainable simplicity in his thought of the Trinity. Sweeping his mind free from subtleties in minor matters, he perceived with unwonted lucidity the main things, and thus was led to insist upon them with a force and clearness of exposition which throw them out into unmistakable emphasis. If we look for the prime characteristics of Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity, accordingly, we shall undoubtedly fix first upon its simplicity, then upon it consequent lucidity, and finally upon its elimination of the last remnants of subordinationism, so as to do full justice to the deity of Christ. Simplification, clarification, equalization - these three terms are the notes of Calvin's conception of the Trinity. And, of course, it is the last of these notes which gives above all else its character to his construction.58
The note of simplification is struck at the outset of the discussion when Calvin announces it as his intention to seek "a short and easy definition which shall preserve us from all error" (I. xiii. 2, ad init.). What the short and easy definition which he had in mind included is suggested when he tells us later (20) that "when we profess to believe in one God, under the name of God is to be understood the single and simple essence in which we comprehend three persons or hypostases." He accordingly expresses pleasure in the definition of Tertullian, when properly understood, that "there is in God a certain disposition or economy, which in no respect derogates from the unity of the essence" (6, ad fin.); and frankly declares that for him the whole substance of the doctrine is included in the simple statement "that the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one God; and yet neither is the Son the Father nor the Spirit the Son, but they are distinct by a certain property" (5). Similar simple forms of statement are thickly scattered through the discussion. "God so predicates Himself to be one," he says at its outset, "that He propones Himself to be distinctly considered in three Persons" (2, ad init.). "There truly subsist in the one God, or what is the same thing, in the unity of God," he says again, "a trinity of Persons" (4, ad fin.). "There are three proprietates in God " (ibid.). "In the one essence of God, there is a Trinity of Persons," and these are "consubstantial" (5, ad fin.). "In the divine essence there exist three Persons, in whom the one God is cognized" (16). "There is a Trinity of Persons contained in the one God, not a trinity of Gods" (25). It is quite clear, not only from the frequency with which he lapses into such brief formulas, but also from the distinctness with which he declares that they contain all that is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity (e.g., § 5), that in Calvin's habitual thought of the Trinity it lay summed up in his mind in these simple facts: there is but one God; the Father, the Son, the Spirit is each this one God, the entire divine essence being in each; these three are three Persons, distinguished one from another by an incommunicable property.59
Calvin's main interest among the elements of this simple doctrine of the Trinity obviously lay in his profound sense of the consubstantiality of the Persons. Whatever the Father is as God, that the Son and the Spirit are also. The Son - and, of course, also the Spirit - contains in Himself the whole essence of God, not part of it only nor by deflection, but in complete perfection (§ 2). What the Father is, reappears therefore in its totality (se totum) in the Son and in the Spirit. This is a mere corollary of their community in the numerically one essence. If the "entire nature" (tota natura, § 19) is included in each, it necessarily carries with it all the qualities by which it is made this particular nature which we call divine. Calvin is accordingly never weary of asserting that every divine attribute, in the height of its meaning, is manifested as fully in the Son - and, of course, also in the Spirit - as in the Father. In this indeed lay for him the very nerve of the doctrine of the Trinity. And in it, consistently carried out, lies the contribution which he made to the clear apprehension and formulation of that doctrine. For, strange as it may seem, theologians at large had been accustomed to apply the principle of consubstantiality to the Persons of the Trinity up to Calvin's vigorous assertion of it, with some at least apparent reserves. And when he applied it without reserve it struck many as a startling novelty if not a heretical pravity. The reason why the consubstantiality of the Persons of the Trinity, despite its establishment in the Arian controversy and its incorporation in the Nicene formulary as the very hinge of orthodoxy, was so long in coming fully to its rights in the general apprehension was no doubt that Nicene orthodoxy preserved in its modes of stating the doctrine of the Trinity some remnants of the conceptions and phraseology proper to the older prolationism of the Logos Christology, and these, although rendered innocuous by the explanations of the Nicene Fathers and practically antiquated since Augustine, still held their place formally and more or less conditioned the thought of men - especially those who held the doctrine of the Trinity in a more or less traditional manner. The consequence was that when Calvin taught the doctrine in its purity and free from the leaven of subordinationism which still found a lurking place in current thought and speech, he seemed violently revolutionary to men trained in the old forms of speech and imbued with the old modes of conception, and called out reprobation in the most unexpected quarters.
Particular occasion of offense was given by Calvin's ascription of "self-existence" (aseity, auvtoousi,a) to the Son, and the consequent designation of Him by the term auvto,qeoj. This term, which became famous in later controversy as designating Calvin's doctrine of Christ, seems, however, to have come forward only in the latest years of his life, in the dispute with Valentinus Gentilis (1558, 1561); and indeed to be rather Gentilis' word than Calvin's. Calvin, indeed, does not appear to have himself employed it, but only to have reclaimed it for Christ (and the Spirit) when Gentilis asserted that it was exclusively God the Father who could be so designated. "The Father alone," said Gentilis, "is auvto,qeoj, that is, essentiated by no superior divinity; but is God a se ipso"; "the lo,goj of God is not that one auvto,qeoj whose lo,goj it is; neither is the Spirit of God that immense and eternal Spirit whose Spirit it is."60 Such assertions, declares Calvin, are against all Scripture, which makes Christ very God: for "what is more proper to God than to exist (vivere), and what else is auvtoousi,a than this?"61 But the thing represented by the term - "self-existence" - Calvin asserts of Christ from the beginning of his activity as a Christian teacher. It does not seem to be explicitly declared of Christ that He is self-existent, indeed, in the first edition of the "Institutes" (1536), although it is already implied there too, not only in the general vigor with which the absolute deity of Christ is asserted with all its implications, but also in the identification of Christ with Jehovah, which was to Calvin the especial vehicle of his representation of Him as the self-existent God. "That name which the Jews call ineffable is attributed to the Son in Jeremiah" (Jer. xxiii. 33),62 he already here tells us. In the spring of the following year,"63 however, at the councils held within a few days of one another respectively at Lausanne and Bern, our Lord's self-existence was fairly enunciated in so many words in the statement of his faith which Calvin made in rebuttal of the charges of Caroli. He begins with a very clear exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity, and then comes to speak of what peculiarly concerns Christ, adverting especially to His two natures. "For," he continues, "before He assumed flesh He was the eternal Word itself, begotten by the Father before the ages, very God, of one essence, power, majesty with the Father, and indeed Jehovah Himself, who has always had it of Himself that He should be and has inspired the power of subsisting in others."64 Caroli at once seized upon this declaration, and complained that therein "Christ was set forth as Jehovah, as if He had His essence of Himself (a se ipso)."65 From this beginning rose the controversy. For in this one of his "calumnies" Caroli found some following, and Calvin was worried by petty attacks upon this element of his teaching through a series of years.66
Calvin apparently was somewhat astonished by the pother which was raised over an assertion which seemed to him not only a very natural one to make, but also a very necessary one to make if the true deity of our Lord is to be defended. He calls this particular one of Caroli's assaults the "most atrocious" of all his calumnies, and he betrays some irritation at the repetition of it by others. One effect of it was, however, to make him see that, although it might seem to him a matter of course to speak of Christ as the self-existent God, it was not a matter which could be taken for granted, but needed assertion and defense. He inserted, therefore, in the "Institutes" of 1539 (second edition) a clear declaration on the subject, which, with only the adduction of some additional support chiefly drawn from Augustine (inserted in 1543 and 1559), was retained throughout the subsequent editions. " oreover," says he in this passage, "the absolutely simple unity of God is so far from being impeded by this distinction, that it rather affords a proof that the Son is one God with the Father, because He possesses one and the same Spirit with Him: while the Spirit is not another Being diverse from the Father and the Son, because He is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. For in each hypostasis the whole nature is understood, along with that which is present to each one as His propriety. The Father is as a whole (totus) in the Son, the Son as a whole in the Father, as He Himself also asserts: 'I in the Father and the Father in me'; and that one is not separated from another by any difference of essence is conceded by the ecclesiastical writers.67 By this understanding the opinions of the fathers are to be conciliated, which otherwise would seem altogether at odds with one another. For they teach now that the Father is the principium of the Son; and now they assert that the Son has from Himself (a se ipso) both divinity and essence.68 When, however, the Sabellians raise a cavil that God is called now Father, now Son, now Spirit, in no way differently from His being named both strong and good and wise and merciful, they may easily be refuted from this, - that these manifestly are epithets which show what God is with respect to us, while the others are names which declare what He is really with respect to Himself. Neither ought anyone to be moved to confound the Spirit with the Father and the Son, because God announces Himself as a whole to be a Spirit (Jno. iv. 24). For there is no reason why the whole essence of God should not be spiritual, and in that essence the Father, Son and Spirit be comprehended. And this very thing is made clear by the Scriptures. For as we hear God called a Spirit in them, so also we hear the Holy Spirit spoken of, and that both as God's Spirit and as from God."69
Calvin was not permitted, however, to content himself with this brief positive declaration. A running fire was kept up upon his assertion of self-existence for Christ by two pastors of Neuchâtel and its neighboring country, Jean Chaponneau (Capunculus) and Jean Courtois (Cortesius) - the latter of whom had married the daughter of Chaponneau's wife.70 Calvin was disposed at first to treat their criticism lightly, but was ultimately driven to give it serious attention. Writing to the Neuchâtel ministers regarding certain articles which Courtois had drawn up - with the help, as was understood, of Chaponneau - Calvin remarks that he sees no reason for supposing them directed as a whole against him. One of them, however, he recognizes as having him in view - that one in which, "as from a tripod," the writer pronounces heretics those who say that "Christ, as He is God, is a se ipso." "The answer," he declares, "is easy. First let him tell me whether Christ is true and perfect God. Unless he wishes to parcel out the essence of God, he must confess that the whole of it is in Christ. And Paul's words are express: that 'in Him dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead.' Again I ask, 'Is that fulness of the Godhead from Himself or from some other source?' But he will object that the Son is of the Father. Who denies it? That I, for one, have not only always acknowledged, but even proclaimed. But this is where these donkeys deceive themselves: because they do not consider that the name of Son is spoken of the Person, and therefore is included in the predicament of relation, which relation has no place where we are speaking simply (simpliciter) of the divinity of Christ."71 In support of this distinction he then quotes Augustine, and proceeds to cite Cyril on the main point at issue - passages to which we shall revert in the sequel. This letter was written at the end of May, 1543, and later in the year we find Calvin holding a conference with Courtois, the course of which he reports to the Neuchâtel ministers in a letter written in November.72 Courtois went away, however, still unconvinced, and Calvin found himself compelled not many months later (opening of 1545) to write to the Neuchâtel pastors again at length on the subject, under considerable irritation.73 "This," he here declares, "is the state of the controversy (status controversiae): Whether it may be truly predicated of Christ, that He is, as He is God, a se ipso? This Capunculus denies. Why? Because the name of Christ designates the Second Person in the Godhead, who stands in relation to the Father. I confess that if respect be had to the Person, we ought not so to speak. But I say we are not speaking of the Person but of the essence. I hold that the Holy Spirit is the real (idoneum = proper) author of this manner of speaking, since He refers to Christ all the declarations in which auvtoousi,a is predicated of God, as in other passages, so in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. . . . He [Capunculus] contends that Christ, because He is of the substance of the Father, is not a se ipso, since He has a principium from another. This I allow to him of the Person. What more does he want? . . . I confess that the Son of God is of the Father. Accordingly, since the Person has a cause (ratio), I confess that He is not a se ipso. But when we are speaking, apart from consideration of the Person, of His divinity or simply of the essence, which is the same thing, I say that it is rightly predicated of Him that He is a se ipso. For who, heretofore, has denied that under the name of Jehovah, there is included the declaration of auvtoousi,a? . . ."
It was, however, in his "Defense Against the Calumnies of Peter Caroli," which was sent out in 1545 in reply to a new "libel" put forth by Caroli early that year,74 that Calvin speaks most at large on this subject, gathering up into this one defense, indeed, all the modes of statement and forms of argument he had hitherto worked out. He regards Caroli's strictures upon his assertion of Christ's self-existence as the most atrocious of all his calumnies, and prefixes to his discussion of them a citation of his own explanation of the matter, which he calls a "brief and naked explication." This runs as follows: "When we are speaking of the divinity of Christ all that is proper to God is rightly ascribed to Him, because respect is there had to the Divine essence and no question is raised as to the distinction which exists between the Father and the Son. In this sense it is true to say that Christ is the One and Eternal God, existing of Himself (a se ipso existentem). Nor can it be objected to this statement - what certainly is also taught by the ecclesiastical writers - that the Word or Son of God is of the Father (a Patre), even with respect to His eternal essence; since there is a notation of Persons, when there is commemorated a distinction of the Son from the Father. But what I have been speaking of is the divinity, in which is embraced not less the Father and the Spirit than the Son. So Cyril, who is often wont to call the Father the principium of the Son, holds it in the highest degree absurd for the Son not to be believed to have life and immortality of Himself (a se ipso). He also teaches that if it is proper to the ineffable nature to be self-existent (a se ipsa), this is rightly ascribed to the Son. And moreover in the tenth book of his Thesaurus, he argues that the Father has nothing of Himself (a se ipso) which the Son does not have of Himself (a se ipso)."75 From this beginning, he proceeds to elucidate the whole subject, drawing freely upon all that he had previously written upon it. The note of the discussion is given in the words: "I assert both truths - both that Christ is of the Father as He is the second Person, and that He is of Himself (a se ipso) if we have respect to the Divine essence simpliciter"76 - a declaration which he supports from the Fathers, particularly Augustine, thus: "Similarly Augustine (Sermo 38 'de tempore'): 'Those names which signify the substance . . . or essence of God, or whatever God is said to be in Himself (ad se), belong equally to all the Persons. There is not, therefore, any name of nature which can so belong to the Father that it may not belong also to the Son, or Holy Spirit.'" The whole is brought to a conclusion by a passage the substance of which we have already had before us, but which seems worth quoting again that its force may be appreciated in its new setting: "I confess that if respect be had to the Person we ought not so to speak, but I say we are not speaking of the Person but of the essence. I hold that the Holy Spirit is the real author of this manner of speaking, since He refers to Christ all the declarations in which auvtoousi,a is predicated of God, as well in other passages, as in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. . . . They contend that Christ, because He is of (ex) the substance of the Father, is not of Himself (a se ipso), since He has His principium from another. This I allow to them of the Person. What more do they ask? I acknowledge, then, that the Son of God is of the Father, and when we are speaking of the Person I acknowledge that He is not of Himself. But when, apart from consideration of the Person, we are speaking of His divinity, or which is the same thing simpliciter of the essence, I say that it is truly predicated of it that it is a se ipso. For who hitherto has denied of the name Jehovah, that it includes the declaration of auvtoousi,a? When, then, they object that the Son is of the Father, that I not only willingly acknowledge, but have even continually proclaimed. But here is where these donkeys are in error - that they do not consider that the name of Son is spoken of the Person, and is therefore contained in the predication of relation; which relation has no place when we are talking of Christ's divinity simpliciter. And Augustine discourses eloquently on this matter " . . . quoting the passages from Augustine to which we have already made reference.77
That Calvin let the paragraph he had prepared on this subject for the second edition of his "Institutes" (1539) stand practically unchanged - strengthened only by a couple of passages cited from Augustine - in the editions of 1543 and 1550, may be taken as indication that he supposed that what he had brought together in his "Defense Against the Calumnies of Caroli" (1545), incorporating as it does the essence of former expositions and defenses, was a sufficient exposition of the subject and defense of his point of view. In the meantime, however, the troubles in the Italian church in Geneva had broken out, culminating after a while in the controversies with Valentinus Gentilis (1558), in which new occasion was given for asserting the self-existence of Christ, and this brought it about that something more on this subject was incorporated into the "Institutes" of 1559. The positive statement was left, indeed, much as it had been given form in the "Institutes" of 1539 (§ 19): but in the long defense of the doctrine of the Trinity against Gentilis and his congeners with which the discussion of the doctrine closes in this edition much more is added on the self-existence of Christ. As over against these opponents the especial point in the doctrine of the Trinity which required defense was the true deity of the second and third Persons. On this defense Calvin entered con amore, for he ever showed himself, as he had himself expressed it, a "detester as sacrilegious of all who have sought to overturn or to minimise or to obscure the truth of the divine majesty which is in Christ."78 The God whom Isaiah saw in the Temple (vi. 1), he says, John (xii. 41) declares to have been Christ; the God whom the same Isaiah declares shall be a rock of offense to the Jews (viii. 14) Paul pronounces to be Christ (Rom. ix. 33); the God to whom the same Isaiah asserts every knee shall bow (xlv. 23), Paul tells us is Christ (Rom. xiv. 11); the God whom the Psalmist proclaims as laying the foundations of the earth and whom all angels shall worship (Ps. cii. 25, xcvii. 7) the Epistle to the Hebrews identifies with Christ (i. 6, 10). Now, continues Calvin, in every one of these passages it is the name "Jehovah" which is used, and that carries with it the self-existence of Christ with respect to His deity.79 "For if He is Jehovah, it cannot be denied that He is the same God who elsewhere cries through Isaiah (xliv. 6), 'I, I am, and besides me there is no God.' We must also weigh," he adds, "that declaration of Jeremiah (x. 11): 'the gods which have not made the heaven and the earth shall perish from the earth which is under heaven'; while on the other hand it must be acknowledged that it is the Son of God whose deity is often proved by Isaiah from the creation of the world. But how shall the Creator who gives being to all things not be self-existent (ex se ipso) but derive His essence from another? For whoever says the Son is essentiated by the Father, denies that He is of Himself (a se ipso). But the Holy Spirit cries out against this by naming Him Jehovah." "The deity, therefore, we affirm," he says a little later,80 "to be absolutely self-existent (ex se ipsa). Whence we acknowledge the Son, too, as He is God, to be self-existent (ex se ipso), when reference to His Person is not present: while, as He is Son, we say He is of the Father. Thus the essence is without principium; but the principium of the Person is God Himself."
It does not seem necessary, however, to multiply citations. Enough have already been adduced, doubtless, to illustrate the clearness, iterance and emphasis with which Calvin asserted the self-existence of Christ as essential to His complete deity; and at least to suggest his mode of conceiving the Trinity in accordance with this emphasis on the absolute equality, or rather, let us say, identity of the three Persons of the Godhead in their deity. His conception involved, of course, a strongly emphasized distinction between the essence and the Personality. In essence the three Persons are numerically one: the whole essence belongs to each Person:81 the whole essence, of course, with all its properties, which are only its peculiarities as an essence and are inseparable from it just because they are not other substances but only qualities. In person, however, the three Persons are numerically three, and are as distinct from one another as the distinguishing qualities by which one is the Father, another the Son and the third the Spirit. In these facts Calvin found the essence of the doctrine of the Trinity, and in accordance with his professed purpose to find a brief and easy definition of the Trinity we may say that in these facts are summed up all he held to be necessary to a doctrine of the Trinity.
Nevertheless Calvin's conception of the Trinity, if we cannot exactly say necessarily included, yet in point of fact included, more than this. It included the postulation of an "order" in the Persons of the Trinity, by which the Father is first, the Son second, and the Spirit third. And it included a doctrine of generation and procession by virtue of which the Son as Son derives from the Father, and the Spirit as Spirit derives from the Father and the Son. Perhaps this aspect of his conception of the Trinity is nowhere more succinctly expressed than in a passage in the eighteenth section of this chapter (xiii.). Here he explicitly declares that "although the eternity of the Father is the eternity of the Son and Spirit also, since God could never be without His Wisdom and Power, - and in eternity there is no question of first and last - it is nevertheless not vain or superfluous to observe an order [in the three Persons], since the Father is enumerated as the first, next the Son ex eo, and afterwards the Spirit ex utroque. For everyone's mind instinctively inclines to consider God first, then the Wisdom emerging from Him, and finally the Power by which He executes the decrees of His counsel. For this reason the Son is said to come forth (exsistere) from the Father (a Patre), the Spirit alike from the Father and the Son." The intimations which are here brought together are often repeated. Thus, for example: "For since the properties in the Persons bear an order, so that in the Father is the principium et origo . . . the ratio ordinis is held, which, however, in no respect derogates from the deity of the Son and Spirit" (§ 20). Again: "But from the Scriptures we teach that essentialiter there is but one God, and therefore the essence as well of the Son as of the Spirit is unbegotten (ingenitam). Yet inasmuch as (quatenus) the Father is first in order and has begotten His own Wisdom ex se, He is justly (as we have just said) considered the principium et fons of the whole divinity" (§ 25). Again, although he "pronounces it a detestable figment that the essence is the property of the Father alone as if He were the deificator of the Son," he yet "acknowledges that ratione ordinis et gradus, the principium divinitatis is in the Father" (§ 24). "The Father is the fountain of the deity, not with respect of the essence, but the order " (§ 26). And because the Father is thus the fons et principium deitatis (§ 23) from whom (ex eo, § 18) there have come forth (exsistere, § 18) the Son and afterwards from the Son along with the Father the Spirit (§ 18, ex utroque), there is involved here a doctrine of an eternal generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit. Both are repeatedly asserted. Of the Son, for example, we read: "It is necessary to understand that the Word was begotten of the Father (genitum ex Patre) before time (ante saecula)" (§ 7); "we conclude again, therefore, that the Word, before the beginning of time, was conceived (conceptum) by God" (§ 8); "He is the Son of God, because He is the Word begotten of the Father (genitus a Patre) before the ages (saecula)" (§ 23); "He is called the Son of God, . . . inasmuch as He was begotten of the Father (genitus ex Patre) before the ages (saecula)" (§ 24).82
Although such passages, however - and they are very numerous, or we may perhaps better say, pervasive, in Calvin's discussion of the Trinity - make it perfectly plain that he taught a doctrine of order and grade in the Persons of the Trinity, involving a doctrine of the derivation - and that, of course, before all time - of the second and third Persons from the first as the fountain and origin of deity, it is important for a correct understanding of his conception that we should attend to the distinctions by which he guarded his meaning. Of course, he did not teach that the essence of the Son or of the Spirit is the product of their generation or procession. It had been traditional in the Church from the beginning of the Trinitarian controversies to explain that generation and procession concerned only the Persons of the Son and Spirit;83 and Calvin availed himself of this traditional understanding. "The essence, as well of the Son as of the Spirit, is unbegotten (ingenitam)" (§ 25). "The essence of the Son has no principium, but God Himself is the principium of His Person" (§ 25). The matter does not require elaboration here, both because this is obviously the natural view for Calvin to present and hence goes without saying, and because his mode of presenting and arguing it has been sufficiently illustrated in passages already cited.84 There is another distinction he appears to have made, however, which is not so clear. Although he taught that the Son was begotten of the Father, and of course begotten before all time, or as we say from all eternity, he seems to have drawn back from the doctrine of "eternal generation" as it was expounded by the Nicene Fathers. They were accustomed to explain "eternal generation" (in accordance with its very nature as "eternal "), not as something which has occurred once for all at some point of time in the past - however far back in the past - but as something which is always occurring, a perpetual movement of the divine essence from the first Person to the second, always complete, never completed.85 Calvin seems to have found this conception difficult, if not meaningless. In the closing words of the discussion of the Trinity in the "Institutes" (I, xiii. 29, ad fin.) he classes it among the speculations which impose unnecessary burdens on the mind. "For what is the profit," he asks, "of disputing whether the Father always generates (semper generet), seeing that it is fatuous to imagine a continuous act of generating (continuus actus generandi) when it is evident that three Persons have subsisted in God from eternity?" His meaning appears to be that the act of generation must have been completed from all eternity, since its product has existed complete from all eternity, and therefore it is meaningless to speak of it as continually proceeding. If this is the meaning of his remark, it is a definite rejection of the Nicene speculation of "eternal generation." But this is very far from saying that it is a rejection of the Nicene Creed - or even of the assertion in this Creed to the effect that the Son is "God of God." We have just seen that Calvin explicitly teaches the "eternal generation" of the Son, in the sense that He was begotten by the Father before all time. It manifestly was a matter of fixed belief with him. He does indeed refuse to find proof texts for it in many of the passages which it had been the custom to cite in evidence of it.86 But he does not therefore feel that he lacks adequate proof of it. There is one argument for it, he tells us, which seems to him worth a thousand distorted texts. "It is certain that God is not a Father to men except through the intercession of that only begotten Son, who alone rightly vindicates to Himself this prerogative, and by whose beneficence it derives to us. But God always wished to be called upon by His people by His name of Father: whence it follows that there was already then in existence the Son through whom that relationship was established."87 That the Son is "God of God" he is therefore as fully convinced as the Nicene Fathers themselves. When, then, he criticises the formulas of the Nicene Creed, "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God," as repetitious, this is a criticism of the form, not of the content of this statement.88 And when he speaks of the "Deus de Deo" of the Creed as a "hard saying" (dura locutio), he by no means denies that it is "true and useful," in the sense its framers put on it, in the sense, that is, that the Son has His principium merely as Son in the Father, but only means that the form of the statement is inexact - the term "Deus" requiring to be taken in each case of its occurrence in a non-natural personal sense - and that, being inexact, it is liable to be misused in the interests of a created God, in the sense of Gentilis, and must therefore be carefully explained.89 His position is, in a word, that of one who affirms the eternal generation of the Son, but who rejects the speculations of the Nicene Fathers respecting the nature of the act which they called "eternal generation." It is enough, he says in effect, to believe that the Son derives from the Father, the Spirit from the Father and the Son, without encumbering ourselves with a speculation upon the nature of the eternally generating act to which these hypostases are referred. It is interesting to observe that Calvin's attitude upon these matters is precisely repeated by Dr. Charles Hodge in his discussion in his "Systematic Theology."90 It seems to be exactly Calvin's point of view to which Dr. Hodge gives expression when he writes: "A distinction must be made between the Nicene Creed (as amplified in that of Constantinople) and the doctrine of the Nicene Fathers. The creeds are nothing more than the well-ordered arrangement of the facts of Scripture which concern the doctrine of the Trinity. They assert the distinct personality of the Father, Son and Spirit; their mutual relation as expressed by these terms; their absolute unity as to substance or essence, and their consequent perfect equality; and the subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Father and the Son, as to the mode of subsistence and operation. These are Scriptural facts, to which the creeds in question add nothing; and it is in this sense that they have been accepted by the Church Universal. But the Nicene Fathers did undertake in a greater or less degree to explain these facts. These explanations relate principally to the subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father, and to what is meant by generation, or the relation between the Father and the Son. . . . As in reference to the subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father, as asserted in the ancient creeds, it is not to the fact that exception is taken, but to the explanation of that fact, as given by the Nicene Fathers, the same is true with regard to the doctrine of Eternal Generation."
The circumstance that Dr. Charles Hodge, writing three centuries afterwards (1559-1871), reproduces precisely Calvin's position may intimate to us something of the historical significance of Calvin's discussion of the Trinity. Clearly Calvin's position did not seem a matter of course, when he first enunciated it. It roused opposition and created a party. But it did create a party: and that party was shortly the Reformed Churches, of which it became characteristic that they held and taught the self-existence of Christ as God and defended therefore the application to Him of the term auvto,qeoj; that is to say, in the doctrine of the Trinity they laid the stress upon the equality of the Persons sharing in the same essence, and thus set themselves with more or less absoluteness against all subordinationism in the explanation of the relations of the Persons to one another. When Calvin asserted, with the emphasis which he threw upon it, the self-existence of Christ, he unavoidably did three things. First and foremost, he declared the full and perfect deity of our Lord, in terms which could not be mistaken and could not be explained away. The term auvto,qeoj served the same purpose in this regard that the term o`moou,sioj had served against the Arians and the term u`po,stasij against the Sabellians. No minimizing conception of the deity of Christ could live in the face of the assertion of aseity or auvtoqeo,thj of Him. This was Calvin's purpose in asserting aseity of Christ and it completely fulfilled itself in the event. In thus fulfilling itself, however, two further effects were unavoidably wrought by it. The inexpugnable opposition of subordinationists of all types was incurred: all who were for any reason or in any degree unable or unwilling to allow to Christ a deity in every respect equal to that of the Father were necessarily offended by the vindication to Him of the ultimate Divine quality of self-existence. And all those who, while prepared to allow true deity to Christ, yet were accustomed to think of the Trinitarian relations along the lines of the traditional Nicene orthodoxy, with its assertion of a certain subordination of the Son to the Father, at least in mode of subsistence, were thrown into more or less confusion of mind and compelled to resort to nice distinctions in order to reconcile the two apparently contradictory confessions of auvtoqeo,thj and of qeo.j evk qeou/ of our Lord. It is not surprising, then, that the controversy roused by Caroli and carried on by Chaponneau and Courtois did not die out with their refutation; but prolonged itself through the years and has indeed come down even to our own day. Calvin's so-called innovation with regard to the Trinity has, in point of fact, been made the object of attack through three centuries, not only by Unitarians of all types, nor only by professed Subordinationists, but also by Athanasians, puzzled to adjust their confession of Christ as "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God" to the at least verbally contradictory assertion that in respect of His deity He is not of another but of Himself.
The attack has been especially sharp naturally where the assailants were predisposed to criticism of Calvin on other grounds, as was the case, for example, with Romanists, Lutherans and afterward with Arminians. As was to be expected, it is found in its most decisive form among the Romanists, and we are afraid we must say with Gomarus that with them it seems to have been urged in the first instance, rather because of a desire to disparage Calvin and the Calvinists than in any distinct doctrinal interest.91 The beginning of the assault seems to have been made by Genebrardus, who "in the first book of his treatise on the Trinity, refutes what he calls the heresy of those denominated Autotheanites, that is of those who say that Christ is God of Himself (a se ipso), not of the Father, attributing this heresy to Calvin and Beza and in the Preface to his work [mistakenly] surmising that Francis Stancarus was the originator of it."92 The way thus opened, however, was largely followed by the whole crowd of Romish controversialists, the most notable of whom in the first age were probably Anthony Possevinus, Alphonsus Salmeron, William Lindanus, Peter Canisius, Dionysius Petavius,93 all of whom exhaust the resources of dialectics in the endeavor to fix upon Calvin and his followers a stigma of heresy in the fundamental doctrine of the Trinity. A more honorable course was pursued by probably the two greatest Romish theologians of the time, Gregory of Valentia and Robert Bellarmine. Although in no way disinclined to find error in the teaching of Calvin and the Calvinists, these more cautious writers feel compelled to allow that Calvin in his zeal to do full justice to the deity of Christ has not passed beyond Catholic truth, and blame him therefore only for inaccuracy of phrase. Gregory of Valentia, whom Gomarus calls "the Coryphaeus of Papal theologians," speaking of the error of the Autotheanites, remarks: "Genebrardus has attributed this error to Calvin (Inst., I. xiii), but, in point of fact, if he be read attentively, it will be seen that he [Calvin] meant merely that the Son, as He is indeed essentially God, is ex se, and is ex Patre only as He is a Person: and that is true. For although the Fathers and Councils assert that He is Deus ex Deo most truly, by taking the term [God] personally, so that it signifies the Person itself at once of the Father and of the Son;94 nevertheless the Son, as He is essentially God, that is, as He is that one, most simple Being which is God, is not from another, because as such He is an absolute somewhat. If this were all that were meant by the other heretics who are called 'Autotheanites,' there would be no occasion for contending with them. For it was in this sense that Epiphanius, Haer. 69, seems to have called the Son auvtoqeo,j."95 Bellarmine's candor scarcely stretches so far as Gregory's. While he too feels compelled to allow that Calvin's meaning is catholic, he yet very strongly reprobates his mode of stating that meaning and declares that it gives fair occasion for the strictures which have been passed upon him. "When," says he, "I narrowly look into the matter itself, and carefully consider Calvin's opinions, I find it difficult to declare that he was in this error. For he teaches that the Son is of Himself (a se), in respect of essence, not in respect of Person, and seems to wish to say that the Person is begotten by the Father [but] the essence is not begotten or produced, but is of itself (a se ipsa); so that if you abstract from the Person of the Son the relation to the Father, the essence alone remains, and that is of itself (a se ipsa)." But on the other hand Bellarmine thinks "that Calvin has undoubtedly erred in his manner of expressing himself, and given occasion to be spoken of as he has been spoken of by our [the Romish] writers." This judgment is supported by the following specifications: "For he [Calvin] says, Inst., I. xiii. 19: 'The ecclesiastical writers now teach that the Father is the principium of the Son, now assert that the Son has both divinity and essence of Himself (a se ipso).' And below this: 'Accordingly, when we speak of the Son simpliciter without respect to the Father, we may well and properly assert that He is of Himself (a se).' And in the twenty-third section, speaking of the Son, 'How,' he asks, 'shall the creator who gives being to all things not be of Himself (a se ipso), but derive His essence from another?' And in his letter to the Poles and in his work against Gentilis, Calvin frequently asserts that the Son is auvto,qeoj, that is, God of Himself (a se ipso), and [declares] the expression in the Creed 'God of God, Light of Light' an improper and hard saying."96
The gravamen of Bellarmine's charges we see from a later passage (p. 334b, near bottom) turns on Calvin's assertion that "the Son has [His] essence from Himself (a se)." This, Bellarmine declares, is to be "repudiated simpliciter," as he undertakes to demonstrate, on the grounds that it is repugnant to Scripture, the definitions of the Councils, the teaching of the Fathers, and reason itself, and as well to Calvin's own opinions; and is not established by the arguments which Calvin adduces in its behalf. In Bellarmine's view, however, in so speaking Calvin merely expressed himself badly: he really meant nothing more than that the Son with respect to His essence, which is His as truly as it is the Father's, is of Himself (a se ipso). He thinks this is proved by the fact that Calvin elsewhere speaks in terms which infer his orthodoxy in the point at issue. He speaks of the Son, for example, as begotten of the Father, which would be meaningless, if He does not receive His nature, or essence, from the Father, since "it is not a mere relation which is called the Son, but a real somewhat subsisting in the divine nature," and the Son is "not a mere propriety but an integra hypostasis." He even plainly says in so many words (I. xiii. 28) that the essence is communicated from the Father to the Son: "If the difference is in the essence, let them reply whether He has not shared it (communicaverit) with the Son. . . . It follows that it is wholly and altogether (tota et in solidum) common to the Father and Son." And he does not embrace the errors which would flow from ascribing to the Son His essence of Himself: for example, he ascribes but a single essence to the Persons of the Trinity, and he does not distinguish the essence from the Persons realiter but only ratione.
Petavius does not find it possible to follow Bellarmine in this exculpating judgment. For his part, he willingly admits that Calvin sometimes speaks inconsistently with himself, but he cannot doubt that he means what he says, when he declares that the Son has His essence not from the Father but from Himself - and this is a thing which, says he, is not only false, but impious to say, and cannot be affirmed by any Catholic. For it stands to reason, he argues, that everyone "has his essence from him by whom he is begotten; since generation is just the communication of the nature, - whether, as in created things, in kind, or, as in the divine production of the Word, in number. It is indeed impossible to form any conception of generation without the nature, and some communication of the essence, occurring to the mind."97 The whole question of Calvin's orthodoxy, between these writers, it will be seen, turns on their judgment as to his attitude towards the doctrine of "eternal generation." Bellarmine judges that, on the whole, though he has sometimes expressed himself inconsistently with regard to it, Calvin soundly believes in the doctrine of "eternal generation"; and therefore he pronounces him orthodox. Petavius judges that, though he sometimes expresses himself in the terms of the doctrine of "eternal generation," Calvin does not really believe in it; and therefore he pronounces him heretical. To both authors alike the test of orthodoxy lies in conformity of thought to the Nicene speculation, and they cannot conceive of a sound doctrine of the Trinity apart from this speculation and all the nice discriminations and adjustments which result from it.98 And it can scarcely be denied that Calvin laid himself open to suspicion from this point of view. The principle of his doctrine of the Trinity was not the conception he formed of the relation of the Son to the Father and of the Spirit to the Father and Son, expressed respectively by the two terms "generation" and "procession": but the force of his conviction of the absolute equality of the Persons. The point of view which adjusted everything to the conception of " generation " and " procession " as worked out by the Nicene Fathers was entirely alien to him. The conception itself he found difficult, if not unthinkable; and although he admitted the facts of " generation " and " procession," he treated them as bare facts, and refused to make them constitutive of the doctrine of the Trinity. He rather adjusted everything to the absolute divinity of each Person, their community in the one only true Deity; and to this we cannot doubt that he was ready not only to subordinate, but even to sacrifice, if need be, the entire body of Nicene speculations. Moreover, it would seem at least very doubtful if Calvin, while he retained the conception of "generation" and "procession," strongly asserting that the Father is the principium divinitatis, that the Son was "begotten" by Him before all ages and that the Spirit "proceeded" from the Father and Son before time began, thought of this begetting and procession as involving any communication of essence. His conception was that, because it is the Person of the Father which begets the Person of the Son, and the Person of the Spirit which proceeds from the Persons of the Father and Son, it is precisely the distinguishing property of the Son which is the thing begotten, not the essence common to Father and Son, and the distinguishing property of the Spirit which is the product of the procession, not the essence which is common to all three persons. Of course, he did not hold, as Bellarmine phrases it, that "the Son is a mere relation," "a mere property": the Son was to him too, as a matter of course, "aliquid subsistens in natura divina," "integra hypostasis." But he did hold that Sonship is a relation and that the Son differs from the Father only by this property of Sonship which is expressed as a relation (I. xiii. 6); and it looks very much as if his thought was that it is only in what is expressed by the term Sonship that the second Person of the Trinity is the Son of the Father, or, what comes to the same thing, has been begotten of the Father. His idea seems to be that the Father, Son and Spirit are one in essence, and differ from one another only in that property peculiar to each, which, added to the common essence, constitutes them respectively Father, Son and Spirit; and that the Father is Father only as Father, the Son, Son only as Son, or what comes to the same thing, the Father begets the Son only as Son, or produces by the act of generation only that by virtue of which He is the Son, which is, of course, what constitutes just His Sonship.
The evidence on which Bellarmine relies for his view that Calvin taught a communication of essence from Father to Son is certainly somewhat slender. If we put to one side Bellarmine's inability to conceive that Calvin could really believe in a true generation of the Son by the Father without holding that the Son receives His essence from the Father, and his natural presumption that Calvin's associates and pupils accurately reproduced the teaching of their master - for there is no doubt that Beza and Simler, for example, understood by generation a communication of essence - the evidence which Bellarmine relies on reduces to a single passage in the "Institutes" (I. xiii. 23). Calvin there, arguing with Gentilis, opposes to the notion that the Father and Son differ in essence, the declaration that the Father "shares" the essence together with the Son, so that it is common, tota et in solidum, to the Father and the Son. It may be possible to take the verb "communicate" here in the sense of "impart" rather than in that of "have in common," but it certainly is not necessary and it seems scarcely natural; and there is little elsewhere in Calvin's discussion to require it of us. Petavius points out that the sentence is repeated in the tract against Gentilis - but that carries us but a little way. It is quite true that there is nothing absolutely clear to be found to the opposite effect either. But there are several passages which may be thought to suggest a denial that the Son derives His essence from the Father. Precisely what is meant, for example, when we are told that the Son "contains in Himself the simple and indivisible essence of God in integral perfection, not portione aut deflexu," is no doubt not clear: but by deflexu it seems possible that Calvin meant to deny that the Son possessed the divine essence by impartation from another (I. xiii. 2). It is perhaps equally questionable what weight should be placed on the form of the statement (§ 20) that the order among the Persons by which the principium and origo is in the Father, is produced (fero) by the "proprieties"; or on the suggestion that the more exact way of speaking of the Son is to call Him "the Son of the Person" (§ 23) - the Father being meant - the term God in the phrase "Son of God" requiring to be taken of the Person of the Father. When it is argued that "whoever asserts that the Son is essentiated by the Father denies that He is selfexistent" (§ 23), and "makes His divinity a something abstracted from the essence of God, or a derivation of a part from the whole," the reference to Gentilis' peculiar views of the essentiation of the Son by the Father, i.e., His creation by the Father, seems to preclude a confident use of the phrase in the present connection. Nor does the exposition of the unbegottenness of the essence of the Son and Spirit as well as of the Father, so that it is only as respects His Person that the Son is of the Father (§ 25) lend itself any more certainly to our use. A survey of the material in the "Institutes" leads to the impression thus that there is singularly little to bring us to a confident decision whether Calvin conceived the essence of God to be communicated from the Father to the Son in "generation" and from the Father and Son to the Spirit in "procession." And outside the "Institutes" the same ambiguity seems to follow us. If we read that Christ has "the fulness of the Godhead" of Himself (Opp. xi. 560), we read equally that the Fathers taught that the Son is "of the Father even with respect to His eternal essence" (vii. 322), and is of the substance of the Father (vii. 324). In this state of the case opinions may lawfully differ. But on the whole we are inclined to think that Calvin, although perhaps not always speaking perfectly consistently, seeks to avoid speaking of generation and procession as importing the communication of the Divine essence; so that Petavius appears to be right in contending that Calvin meant what he says when he represents the Son as "having from Himself both divinity and essence" (I. xiii. 19).
We have thought it worth while to dwell with some fulness on this matter, because, as we have suggested already, it is precisely in this peculiarity of Calvin's doctrine of the Trinity that the explanation is found of the widespread offense which was taken at it. Men whose whole thought of the Trinity lived, moved and had its being in the ideas of generation and procession, that is, in the notion of a perpetual communication of the Divine essence from the Father as the fons deitatis to the Son, who is thereby constituted the Son, and from the Father and Son to the Spirit, who is thereby constituted the Spirit, could not but feel that the Trinity they had known and confessed was taken away when this conception was conspicuous only by its absence, or was at best but remotely suggested, and all the stress was laid on the absolute equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Such a conception of the Trinity would inevitably appear to them to savor of Sabellianism or of Tritheism, according as their minds dwelt more on the emphasis which was laid upon the numerical unity of the essence common to all the Persons or on that which was laid upon the distinctness of the Persons. Dissatisfaction with Calvin's Trinitarian teaching was therefore not confined to Romish controversialists seeking ground of complaint against him, but was repeated in all whose thought had run strictly in the moulds of Nicene speculation. Despite an occasional defender like Meisner or Tarnov,99 the Lutheran theologians, for example, generally condemned it. Many, like Tilemann Heshusius and Aegidius Hunnius and, later, Stechmannus, hotly assailed it, and the best that could be hoped for at Lutheran hands was some such firm though moderately worded refusal of it as is found, for example, in John Gerhard's "Loci Theologici." "The Greek doctors," he tells us,100 "call only the Father auvto,qeoj kai. auvtoou,sioj, not because there is a greater perfection of essence in the Father than in the Son, but because He is avge,nhtoj and a se ipso and does not have deity through generation or spiration. Bucanus, Loc. i, De Deo, p. 6, responds thus: 'The Son is a se ipso as He is God; from the Father as He is Son.' This he got from Calvin, who, Book I, c. xiii, § 25, writes: 'The Son as He is God we confess is ex se ipso, considered apart from His Person, but as He is Son we say that He is of the Father; thus His essence is without principium, but of His Person God is Himself the principium.' We are not able, however, to approve these words, but confess rather with the Nicene Creed that 'the Son is begotten of the Father, God of God, Light of Light,' and follow the saying of Christ, Jno. v. 26 . . . Prov. viii. 24. . . . Zacharias Ursinus101 therefore is right to separate from his preceptor here, writing in Catech., p. II. q. 25, p. 179: 'The Son is begotten of the Father; that is, He has the Divine Essence in an ineffable manner communicated to Him from the Father.' D. Lobechius, disp. 3 in Auqustinum Conf. th. 26, says: 'The essence should be considered in a two-fold way, either with respect to itself or with respect to its own being, or else with respect to its communication: it has no principium with respect to its own being; but with respect to its communication we say that the essence has as its principium, to be from the Father in the Son, for it has been communicated from the Father to the Son.'" Nevertheless, Gerhard, of course, does not deny that, when properly explained, the Son may fitly be called auvto,qeoj; since that would be tantamount to denying His true divinity. Accordingly he writes elsewhere:102 "The term is ambiguous: for it is either opposed to communication of the divine essence and in that sense we deny that Christ is auvto,qeoj, because He receives the essence by eternal generation from the Father; or it is opposed to the inequality of the Divine essence, and in that sense we concede that Christ is auvto,qeoj. Gregory of Valentia, De Trinitate, i. 22: 'The Son as He is a Person is from another; as the most simple being, is not from another.' Christ is verily and in Himself God (vere et se ipso Deus), but He is not of Himself (a se ipso) God." One would think Gerhard was skating on very thin ice to agree with Gregory of Valentia - who agrees with Calvin and uses his very mode of statement - and yet not agree with Calvin.
The subordinationism103 of the Arminians was of quite a different quality from that of the Lutherans. The dominant note which the Lutheran Christology sounded was the majesty of Christ; nothing that tended to exalt Christ could be without its appeal to Lutherans; they drew back from Calvin's assertion of His auvtoqeo,thj only in the interests of the traditional Nicene construction of the Trinity. The Arminians had, on the other hand, a distinct tendency to the proper subordinationism of the Origenists; and in the later members of the school, indeed, there was present a strong influence from the Socinians. To them, of course, the Father alone could be thought of as auvto,qeoj and the Son was conceived as in His very nature, because God only by derivation, less than the Father. As in his whole theological outlook, Arminius himself was here better than his successors. He fairly saves his orthodoxy, indeed; but he emphatically denies the auvtoqeo,thj of the Son. The Son may just as well be called Father, he intimates, as be represented as "having His essence a se ipso or a nullo"; and the employment of such language cannot be justified by saying that to affirm that the Son of God, as God, has His essence a se ipso, is only to say that the divine essence is not ab aliquo: there can, in fact, be no reason for calling the Son auvto,qeoj.104 On the other hand, nevertheless, he recognizes that the word auvto,qeoj may be taken in two senses. It may describe the one to whom it is applied either merely as vere et se ipso God, or else as God a se. In the former usage it is as applied to the Son tolerable; in the latter not.105 He argues that we must distinguish between saying that the essence which the Son has is from none, and that the Son which has this essence is from none: "for," says he, "the Son is the name of a person, which has a relation to the Father, and therefore cannot be defined or contemplated apart from this relation; while the essence, on the other hand, is an absolute somewhat."106 "To contend," he urges, "that to say 'He is God' and 'He has His essence from none' are equivalent statements, is to say either that the Father alone is God, or else that there are three collateral Gods." He cheerfully allows that neither of these assertions expresses the meaning of Calvin or Beza: but he contends that they use misleading language when they call Christ auvto,qeoj and he appeals to Beza's admission, when excusing Calvin, that "Calvin had not strictly observed the discrimination between the particles a se and per se."
The gravitation of Arminianism was, however, downward; and we find already taught by Episcopius, no longer a certain subordination in order among the Persons of the Trinity in the interests of the Nicene doctrine of "eternal generation " and "procession," but rather a generation and procession in the interests of a subordination in nature among the Persons of the Trinity. "It is certain" from Scripture, says he, "that this divinity and the divine perfections are to be attributed to these three persons, not collaterally and coordinately, but subordinately." "This subordination," he adds, "should be carefully attended to, because of its extremely great usefulness, since by it not only is there fundamentally overthrown the triqeo,thj which collateralism almost necessarily involves, but also the Father's glory is preserved to Him unimpaired." Wherefore, he continues, "they fall into perilous error who contend that the Son is auvto,qeoj, in such a manner that as He is God He is of Himself, as He is Son of the Father; because from this point of view, the true subordination between the Father and the Son is taken away."107 It is scarcely necessary to pause to point out with Triglandius108 that to say that the Son and Spirit are not collaterally or coordinally divine with the Father is to say they are not equally divine with Him, and to say that it is injurious to the Father's glory to call the Son auvto,qeoj, even as He is God, is to say that He is inferior to the Father even in His essence. No doubt Episcopius says in the same breath that "one and the same divine nature" is to be attributed to the three Persons. But this is not easy to conciliate with his argument, except on the supposition that in saying "one and the same nature," his thought wavered somewhat between numerical oneness and specific oneness,109 or else that he conceived the relation of the several Persons to this one nature to differ among themselves - one possessing it of Himself, the others by derivation from - shall we even suggest, by favor of? - another.
The path thus opened by Episcopius was eagerly walked in by his successors. All that may be thought to be latent in Episcopius came to light in Curcellaeus. We will, however, permit another hand to describe to us his teaching with regard to the Trinity. "If you take his own account," writes Robert Nelson, in his "Life of Dr. George Bull,"110 there would be no man more orthodox and catholic" than Curcellaeus is "in the doctrine of the Trinity, as also in that of the Incarnation of Christ. And he insisted, that both from the pulpit and from the chair, he had always taught and vindicated that faith, into which he had been baptized, and which he had publicly professed in the congregation, according to the form generally received; and did even teach and vindicate the same at that very time, when the charge of Anti-trinitarianism was brought against him. Yea, he expressed so great a zeal for the orthodox doctrine in this great fundamental, as he would seem forward to seal the truth thereof, even with his blood; if, as he said, God would vouchsafe him this honor. Notwithstanding all this, it is notoriously known, and that from his own very Apology, that he was no less an enemy to the Council of Nice than his master before him, if not more than he; that he was no friend at all to the use of the word 'Trinity'; that he so explained himself concerning that mystery as to assert no more than a 'specifical unity' in the divine Persons; that he defended the cause of Valentinus Gentilis, beheaded at Bern in Switzerland for Tritheism, maintaining his doctrine to have been the same with that of the primitive Fathers, particularly of Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Tertullian, and Clemens Alexandrinus; that he impeached the common (which he called the Modern and Scholastic) doctrine of the Trinity for approaching so very near Sabellianism, as hardly to be distinguished from it, and charged it to be a thousand years younger than that which was taught by Christ and His apostles; that he exploded the notion of consubstantiality, in the sense in which it is now generally taken, when applied to the Father and Son; that he was very much afraid to have his mind perplexed with the 'divine relations,' or with the manner of 'generation' and 'procession' in the Deity, or with modes of 'subsistence' and 'personalities,' or with 'mutual consciousness,' and the like; and therefore was for discarding at once all such terms and phrases as are not 'expressly legitimated' by the sacred writers; that he fully believed the Godhead of the Father to be more excellent than that of the Son, or of the Holy Ghost, even so far as to look upon this superiority as a thing unquestionable, and to appeal to the consentient testimony of the primitive Church for evidence; and lastly that he took care to recommend Petavius, and the author of Irenicum Irenicorum,111 a learned physician of Dantzick . . . to the perusal of his readers, for the sake of that collection of testimonies which is to be found in them, as wherein they might easily find 'an account of the primitive faith' concerning these great articles." A subordinationism like this, of course, could not endure Calvin's Trinitarianism, of which the cornerstone was the equality of the Persons in the Trinity - which equality it was that was safeguarded by the ascription of auvtoqeo,thj to Christ.
Indeed, this ascription was equally unacceptable to a subordinationism of far less extreme a type than that of Curcellaeus and his Remonstrant successors. It is the biographer of George Bull to whom we have appealed to bring Curcellaeus' trinitarian teaching before us: and George Bull is perhaps the best example of that less extreme, convinced, no doubt, but well-guarded, subordinationism which we have now in mind - the subordinationism which entrenched itself in the Nicene definitions and the explanations of the Nicene Fathers, interpreted, however, rather from the tentative and inadequate constructions out of which they were advancing to a sounder and truer trinitarianism, than from this sounder and truer trinitarianism of which they were the expression. It can scarcely be doubted that Bull's subordinationism owed much to the Arminian movement, from the extremes of which, on this point at least, he drew back. The Arminianism flowing in from the continent had been a powerful co-factor in the production of that Catholic reaction of seventeenth century England of which Bull was, in its post-Restoration days of triumph, one of the representatives and ornaments. It is interesting to note that the "Theological Institutes" of Episcopius, at the time that Bull was contemplating writing his "Defence of the Nicene Creed," was "generally in the hands of students of divinity in both universities, as the best system of Divinity that had appeared,"112 and that Bull himself speaks of Episcopius with high respect in all except his attitude towards the Nicene Fathers.113 Indeed, when he comes to state the subordinationism which he professes to defend as commended by Catholic antiquity, he avails himself of Episcopius' precise phrase, declaring that all "the Catholic Doctors, those that lived before and those that lived after the Council of Nice," "with one consent have taught that the divine Nature and Perfections do agree to the Father and Son, not collaterally or coordinately, but subordinately."114 But the particular form which Bull's subordinationism took was determined, naturally, by that special appeal which the neo-Catholic party to which he belonged made to primitive antiquity, by which he was led - with some insular exaggeration of the importance of his own position - to suppose that the design of Petavius in his exposition of the unformed trinitarianism of the ante-Nicene Fathers was to help "the cause of the Pope by showing that "there is very little regard to be had to the Fathers of the three first ages, to whom the Reformed Catholics" - that is to say, the Catholizing party of the Church of England - "generally do appeal."115 Whatever may be said of this conjecture, it cannot be doubted that Bull's design was to show that the appeal to the "first three ages" yielded in the matter of the Trinity the self-same doctrine which the Nicene Fathers formulated. In order to do this, however, he was compelled to saddle upon the Nicene doctrine a subordinationism which, of the very essence of the Logos Christology of the second and third centuries, was in the Nicene construction happily in the act of being transcended. In the interests of this subordinationism Calvin's equalization of the Son with the Father through the ascription to Him of auvtoqeo,thj was necessarily distasteful to Bull. That the Son is "very God" and in that sense may fitly be called auvto,qeoj he is, indeed, frank to allow, for he is himself, with all the Fathers, a true and firm believer in the Godhead of Christ: but that the Son is auvto,qeoj, "God of Himself," he repudiates with decision as inconsistent with "catholic consent" which pronounces Him rather qeo.j evk qeou/. For, depending here on Petavius, he will not allow that it is possible to say "that the Son is from God the Father, as He is Son, and not as He is God; that He received His Person, not His essence, or Divine Nature, from the Father"; on the ground that begetting means just communication of essence.116 It is a little amusing to see Bull, from his Anglican tripod, as Calvin would himself have said, patronizing Calvin. He graciously allows that Calvin has deserved well of us "for the good service which he rendered in purging the Church of Christ from the superstition of popery"; but he "earnestly exhorts pious and studious youths to beware of a spirit from which have proceeded such thing " as Calvin's unreverential allusions to the Nicene Creed, which he had dared to speak of as containing harsh expressions and "vain repetitions."117 "Even the zeal of Mr. Bull" thus, as his admiring biographer tells us, "hath not here hindered him from treating with esteem the author of so dangerous an opinion" as that Christ is God of Himself, the self-existent God, "while at the same time he is confuting it, for the sake of some laudable qualifications which he discerned in him, and was endeavoring to excuse him as well as the matter could bear, against the insults of the most learned writer of his whole order, so famous for learning"118 - by which we suppose Nelson means to intimate that Bull defended Calvin against injurious imputations of Petavius; though we have failed to observe this feature of Bull's discussion.
In England, too, however, the downward movement fulfilled itself. After Bull came Samuel Clarke and his fellow Arians in the established Church, matched by the Socinian drift among the dissenters. To these, naturally, Calvin's auvto,qeoj was as far beyond the range of practical consideration as it was to Crell119 or Schlichting,120 who did him the honor to express their dissent from it. Clarke, however, may claim from us a moment's notice, not so much on his own account, as for the sake of a distinction which Waterland was led to make in refuting him. Clarke was willing to admit that the Son may have been begotten of the essence of the Father, though he wished it to be allowed that it was equally possible that He may have been made out of nothing. "Both are worthy of censure," he said,121 "who on the one hand affirm that the Son was made out of nothing, or on the other affirm that He is self-existent substance." In his response, Waterland exhibits afresh the difficulties which lie in wait for those who take their startingpoint from even the measure of subordinationism which is embalmed in the language of the Nicene formularies, when they seek to do justice to the full deity of Christ. In the interests of the Nicene doctrine of eternal generation, he proposes to distinguish between necessary existence and self-existence, and, denying the latter, to claim only the former for the Son. The Second Person of the Godhead, he says, participates in the one substance of the Godhead, and is therefore necessarily existent; but He participates in it by communication from the Father, not of Himself, and therefore He is not self-existent. "We say," he explains,122 "the Son is not self-existent, meaning He is not unoriginate. You" - that is, Clarke - "not only say the same, but contend for it, meaning not necessarily existing." "Self-existence as distinct from necessary existence, is expressive only of the order and manner in which the perfections are in the Father, and not of any distinct perfection."123 That is to say, in Waterland's view, the Son is all that the Father is, but not in the same manner: the Father is all that He is in this manner, viz., that He is it of Himself; the Son, in this manner, viz., that He is it of the Father. Both are necessarily all that they are, and therefore both are necessarily existent: but only the Father is all that He is of Himself, and therefore self-existence can be predicated of Him alone. What is really declared here is obviously only that the generation of the Son is a necessary and not a voluntary movement in the divine nature: and all that is affirmed is therefore merely that the existence of the Son is not dependent on the divine will. Is this all that need be affirmed, however, in order to vindicate to the Son true deity? We must bear in mind that it is not impossible to conceive creation itself as necessary: the history of theology has not been a stranger to the idea that the world is the eternal and necessary product of the divine activity. In order to vindicate true deity to the Son it is not sufficient, therefore, to affirm that He is equally with the Father "necessary in respect of existence."124 That might be true of Him even were He a creature. What must be affirmed of Him if we would recognize His true deity is not merely that He could not but exist, but that the ground of His existence is in Himself. It is self-existence, not necessary existence, in other words, which really imports deity, and it is a degradation of this great and fundamental attribute to attempt to reduce it to a mere synonym of "ingenerate." It is rather the synonym of necessary existence as applied to deity, describing this necessary existence in its deeper significance and implications. The artificial distinction which Waterland wishes to make between the two as applied to the Son, seems thus merely an invention to "save the face" of the Nicene doctrine of "generation." Let us admit, says he, in effect, that the Son is equally with the Father "necessary in respect of existence." That is, of course, "self-existent" according to the proper significance of the term in its application to a Divine Being. But let us agree to say that we will not use the term "self-existence" but "necessarily existing" in this sense, and will reserve "self-existence" for another sense, distinct from "necessary existence." Now, "as distinct from necessary existence," "self-existence" can express only "the order and manner in which the perfections are in the Father" and not "any distinct perfection." Granted. If we are to use the term "self-existence" to express some other idea than self-existence - then it may express something which the self-existing, i.e., necessarily existing God who is the Son is not. But then it remains true that this necessarily existing God who is the Son is at this very moment confessed to be the self-existent God - under its synonym of "necessarily existent." In a word, if we will agree to use the term "selfexistent" in the sense of "ingenerate" - which it does not in the least mean - we may, of course, deny that the Son who is "generate" is "self-existent": but if we employ that term in the sense of "necessarily existent," - which is just what it means in the full reach of that term as applied to God - why, then we must say that the Son is "self-existent." To put the thing in a nutshell: the Nicene doctrine that the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit are necessary movements in the divine essence and not voluntary acts of God the Father, carries with it the ascription of necessary existence, in the sense of that term applicable to God, that is of "selfexistence," to the Son and Spirit and requires that each be spoken of as auvto,qeoj. To deny to them the quality of auvtoqeo,thj is thus logically to make them creatures of the Father's power, if not of His will; by which their true deity is destroyed. Thus the tendency among the so-called strict Nicenists to deny to our Lord that He is, as God, a se ipso betrays a lurking leaven of subordinationism in their thought. It indicates a tendency to treat the Nicene doctrine of eternal generation, not, as it was intended by its framers, as the safeguard of the absolute equality of the Son with the Father, but rather as the proclamation of the inferiority of the Son to the Father: the Son because generate must differ from the ingenerate Father - must differ in this, that He cannot be, as is the Father, self-existent God, which is, of course, all one with saying that He is not God at all, since the very idea of God includes the idea of self-existence.125
It was, therefore, a very great service to Christian theology which Calvin rendered when he firmly asserted for the second and third persons of the Trinity their auvtoqeo,thj. It has never since been possible for men to escape facing the question whether they really do justice to the true and complete deity of the Son and Spirit in their thought of the Trinitarian distinctions. It has not even been possible since for men who heartily believe in the deity of the Son and Spirit to refuse to them the designation of auvtoqeo,j. They may have distinguished, indeed, between auvto,qeoj and auvtoqeo,j - Self-Existent God and Very God - and allowed the latter to the second and third Persons while withholding the former.126 But in the very act of drawing such a distinction, they have emphasized the true deity of the second and third Persons, and have been deterred from ascribing auvtoqeo,thj to them in the sense of self-existence only by confusing it with "ingeneration." It is, however, a part of the heritage, particularly of the Reformed Churches, that they have learned from Calvin to claim for Christ the great epithet of auvto,qeoj:127 and their characteristic mark has therefore become the strength of the emphasis which they throw on the complete deity of the Lord. Whatever differences may have existed among them have not concerned the true deity of Christ, but rather the attitude taken by their teachers towards the Nicene speculation of "eternal generation." Concerning this speculation differences early manifested themselves. Immediate successors of Calvin, such as Theodore Beza and Josiah Simler, were as firm and exact in their adhesion to it as Calvin was dubious with reference to it. "The Son," says Beza, "is of the Father by an ineffable communication from eternity of the whole nature."128 "We deny not," says Simler, "that the Son has His essence from God the Father; what we deny is a begotten essence."129 And no less or less prejudiced an authority than Bellarmine pronounces these declarations "Catholic."130 Indeed, despite the influence of Calvin, the great body of the Reformed teachers remained good Nicenists. But they were none the less, as they were fully entitled to be, good "Autotheanites" also. They saw clearly that a relation within the Godhead between Persons to each of whom the entire Godhead belongs, cannot deprive any of these Persons of any essential quality of the Godhead common to them all.131 And they were determined to assert the full and complete Godhead of them all. Of course, there have been others, on the other hand, who have followed Calvin in sitting rather loosely to the Nicene tradition. Examples of this class are furnished by Trelcatius, Keckermann, Maccovius.132 Keckermann, for example, while not denying that many have preferred to say that "the Son has His essence communicated from the Father," yet considers that this can be said only in a modified sense and must be accompanied by certain important explanations - for, says he, "it is false if spoken of the essence considered absolutely, since the Son (as also the Holy Spirit) has this a se ipso." For himself he prefers, therefore, to say that "the second mode of existence in the Trinity, which is called the Son, . . . is communicated from the Father."133 This is, as we have seen, apparently Calvin's own view, while the more advanced position still which rejects, or at least neglects, the conception of "communication" altogether, whether of essence or of mode of existence,134 although it cannot find an example in Calvin, may yet be said to have had its way prepared for it by him. The direct Scriptural proof which had been customarily relied upon for its establishment he destroyed, refusing to rest a doctrinal determination on "distorted texts." He left, therefore, little Biblical basis for the doctrine of "eternal generation" except what might be inferred from the mere terms "Father," "Son" and "Spirit," and the general consideration that our own adoption into the relation of sons of God in Christ implies for Him a Sonship of a higher and more immanent character, which is His by nature and into participation in the relation of which we are admitted only by grace.135 Certainly other explanations of these facts are possible;136 and the possibility - or preferability - of other explanations was certain sooner or later to commend itself to some. Nothing, meanwhile, could illustrate more strikingly the vitality of the ecclesiastical tradition than that in such a state of the case the Nicene construction of the Trinity held its ground: held its ground with Calvin himself in its substantial core, and with the majority of his followers in its complete speculative elaboration. We are astonished at the persistence of so large an infusion of the Nicene phraseology in the expositions of Augustine, after that phraseology had really been antiquated by his fundamental principle of equalization in his construction of the Trinitarian relations: we are more astonished at the effort which Calvin made to adduce Nicene support for his own conceptions: and we are more astonished still at the tenacity with which his followers cling to all the old speculations.137
The repeated appeals which he makes to the Fathers is, as we have just hinted, a notable feature of Calvin's discussion of the Trinity and especially of his defense of his construction of the Trinitarian relationships. The citations he drew from the Fathers for this purpose were naturally much striven over. One instance seems worth scrutinizing, as on it was founded an accusation that Calvin did not know the difference between the two Latin prepositions "ad" and "a.," or else chose to "play to the gallery," which he counted upon not to know it. That the best Latinist of his day, whose Latin style is rather classical than mediaeval, could fail to feel the force of the common prepositions of that language is, of course, absurd: that a reasoner conspicuous for his fair-mindedness in his argumentation could have juggled with ambiguous phrases is even more impossible. An attentive reading of the passages in question will, as was to be expected, quickly make it clear that it is not Calvin but his critics who are at fault. Bellarmine, arguing that the reasons which Calvin assigns for calling our Lord auvto,qeoj are not valid, adduces his appeal to the passages in which Augustine remarks that our Lord "is called Son, with reference to the Father (ad patrem) and God with reference to Himself (ad seipsum)." "But," he adds, in rebuttal, "it is not the same thing to say that the Son is God ad se, and that He is God a se." "For," he somewhat superfluously argues, "the first signifies that the name of God is not relative and yet belongs to the Son: and this Augustine says and says truly, for although the Son is a relative, it is nevertheless a relative which exists, is divine, and accordingly includes the essence which is absolute. But [to say] that the Son is God a se signifies that the Son of God is not the Son of God, but is unbegotten, which Augustine never said, but Calvin falsely attributes to him."138 "It is either," writes Petavius,139 improving even on Bellarmine, "a remarkable piece of chicanery or else a remarkable hallucination in Calvin, when he seems to take as equivalents these two terms ad se and a se: as also these two, ad alium and ab alio, which" [i.e., ad se and ad alium] "Augustine makes free use of in explaining the mystery of the Trinity." Then, after quoting Calvin's citation of Augustine, he concludes: "Unless Calvin had supposed ad se to be the same as a se, and ad alium to be the same as ab alio, he would not have employed these passages from Augustine."140 In point of fact, however, Calvin does not confuse "ad" and "a" and he does not cite Augustine's use of the one as if he had employed the other. His citations are not intended to show that Augustine taught that the Son is not of the Father but of Himself: but only to show that we may - or rather must - speak in a twofold way of the Son, absolutely, to wit, as He is in Himself and relatively, as He is with reference to the Father. It is his own statement, not Augustine's, when he proceeds to say that when we thus speak of our Lord absolutely as He is in Himself, we are to say that He is a se, and only when we speak of Him relatively as He is with reference to the Father are we to speak of Him as a Patre. It is marvellous that anyone could confuse this perfectly clear argument: more marvellous still that, on the ground of such a confusion, anyone should venture to charge Calvin with gross ignorance of the meaning of the simplest Latin words or else of "remarkable chicanery" in his use of Latin texts. Here is what Calvin actually says: "By these appellations, which denote distinction, says Augustine, that is signified by which they are mutually related to one another: not the substance itself by which they are one. By which explanation, the sentiments of the ancients which otherwise might seem contradictory may be reconciled with one another. For now they teach that the Father is the principium of the Son; and now they assert that the Son has His divinity and essence alike of Himself, and is therefore one principium with the Father. The cause of this diversity is elsewhere well and perspicuously explained by Augustine when he speaks as follows: Christ is called God with respect to Himself, He is called Son with respect to the Father. And again, the Father is called God with respect to Himself, with respect to the Son He is called Father. What is called Father with respect to the Son is not the Son; what is called Son with respect to the Father is not the Father: what is called Father with respect to Himself and Son with respect to Himself is God. When, then, we speak of the Son, simply, without respect to the Father, we rightly and properly assert that He is of Himself; and we therefore call Him the sole (unicum) principium; but when we are noting the relation in which He stands to the Father, we justly make the Father the principium of the Son."141 A simple reading of the passage is enough to refute the suggestion that Calvin makes Augustine assert that Christ is "of Himself" when he is merely asserting that Christ is God when considered with respect to Himself and not relatively to the Father. If a matter so clear in itself, however, can be made clearer by further evidence, it is easy enough to adduce direct evidence. For Calvin has incorporated into the "Institutes" here material he uses often elsewhere. And in more than one of these instances of its use elsewhere, he distinctly tells us that he did not understand Augustine in these passages to be asserting the aseity of the Son. We may take, for example, a letter to the Neuchâtel pastors, written in November, 1543, with respect to Cortesius, with whom he had been having a discussion on our Lord's aseity - or as Calvin puts it, peri. auvtoousi,aj Christi. In the course of the discussion, he says, "we came to that difficulty that he did not think he could speak of the essence of Christ without mention of the person. I opposed to this first the authority of Augustine, who testifies that we can speak in a twofold way (bifariam) of Christ, as He is God - according to relation, that is, and simply (simpliciter). And that the discussion might not be prolonged, I adduced certain passages of Cyril, where in so many words (dissertis verbis) he pronounces on what we were discussing."142 That is to say, the passages of Augustine were appealed to not as direct witness to the auvtoousi,a of Christ, but only to prove the subordinate point that we can speak of our Lord in a twofold way: the passages from Cyril alone "expressly" declare on the point at issue. The declaration that Cyril was adduced as pronouncing on the point itself in so many words, is a declaration that Augustine was not so adduced.
In his assertion of the auvtoqeo,thj of the Son Calvin, then, was so far from supposing that he was enunciating a novelty that he was able to quote the Nicene Fathers themselves as asserting it " in so many words." And yet in his assertion of it he marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. Not that men had not before believed in the self-existence of the Son as He is God: but that the current modes of stating the doctrine of the Trinity left a door open for the entrance of defective modes of conceiving the deity of the Son, to close which there was needed some such sharp assertion of His absolute deity as was supplied by the assertion of His auvtoqeo,thj. If we will glance over the history of the efforts of the Church to work out for itself an acceptable statement of the great mystery of the Trinity, we shall perceive that it is dominated from the beginning to the end by a single motive - to do full justice to the absolute deity of Christ. And we shall perceive that among the multitudes of great thinkers who under the pressure of this motive have labored upon the problem, and to whom the Church looks back with gratitude for great services, in the better formulation of the doctrine or the better commendation of it to the people, three names stand out in high relief, as marking epochs in the advance towards the end in view. These three names are those of Tertullian, Augustine and Calvin. It is into this narrow circle of elect spirits that Calvin enters by the contribution he made to the right understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. That contribution is summed up in his clear, firm and unwavering assertion of the auvtoqeo,thj of the Son. By this assertion the o`moousio,thj of the Nicene Fathers at last came to its full right, and became in its fullest sense the hinge of the doctrine.