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De Moor V:4: The Abiding Usefulness of the Traditional Trinitarian Vocabulary

Johannes a Marck

Indeed, our AUTHOR approves the wish of CALVIN, which he expresses to torment in the worst way the Papists and the Lutherans, found in book I of Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter XIII, § 5, “Would that these names [of Trinity, ὁμοουσίου/homoousios, etc.] were buried, if only these things were agreed among all the faithful, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God: yet the Son is not the Father, and the Spirit is not the Son; but they are distinguished by a certain property.”

But at the same time he asserts that the Use of the Names of Person and Trinity in the present state of the Church is lawful, useful, and necessary, to distinguish truth from error, since, as IRENÆUS says, in his preface, book I, chapter II, page 3, the Heretics are ὅμοια μὲν λαλοῦντες, ἀνόμοια δὲ φρονοῦντες, saying the same things, but are thinking different thoughts. And so, if it be not permitted to make use of words other than those that are αὐτολεξεὶ/expressly set down in Sacred Scripture, we will not be able to explain the Scripture, nor to apply it to theoretical and practical uses; especially to the conviction and refutation of Heretics, among whom there is no one that does not make use of the words of Scripture, and also attempt to confirm his errors from them. Thus Sabellius was not denying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three, because the Scripture asserts this: but he was constituting from those three one Person, variously named according to diverse operations. Arius was not denying that Christ is God, but he was understanding a God made and dependent. Socinus[1] acknowledges Christ as the Son of God, but with respect to office and power, not of a nature truly eternal and coessential with the Father, etc. But in addition, we saw above in § 1, 2, that the language of Trinity or Triunity in its components occurs in Sacred Scripture, 1 John 5:7. And that not only does Paul make use of the language of person in general, which he expresses by the Greek term προσώπου/face/person, 2 Corinthians 1:11,[2] but he also applies this to divine Persons, with the word ὑπόστασις/hypostasis used, Hebrews 1:3.[3] For which reason neither the Catechesis Palatina, question XXV,[4] nor the Belgic Confession, articles VIII, IX,[5] draws back from employing these terms, asserting that in the One divine Essence there are three Persons, which each eternally have a Hypostasis distinguished by their incommunicable Properties: and that this doctrine of the Holy Trinity has always been asserted and preserved in the true Church, from the age of the Apostles unto the present day.

And CALVIN most eloquently urges this same thing, Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter XIII, § 3-5, concluding: “Moreover, if so anxious a superstition constrains them, that they might not bear these names: no one now, even if he be disturbed, will be able to deny that, when we acknowledge one, the unity of substance is to be understood: that, when we acknowledge three in one essence, the persons are indicated in this Trinity. With which honestly confessed, we do not delay over words. But I have previously found, and indeed quite frequently, that those that pertinaciously quarrel over words foster a hidden virus: so that it is more expedient to provoke them openly, than to speak more obscurely in order to please them.” While the same CALVIN, § 2, against those that hatefully assail the language of Person as if humanly invented, urges that the Son is called by Paul the character τῆς ὑποστάσεως τοῦ Πατρὸς, of the hypostasis/person of the Father, Hebrews 1:3, but that ὑπόστασιν/hypostasis here is not able to be explained of His Essence, but of His Person, which Latin word answers to the Greek ὑπόστασις/hypostasis.

This is to be maintained against the Socinians and the Socinianizing Remonstrants; just as Stephanus Curcellæus in his peculiar Dissertation, which is the first in his Quaternione Dissertationum Theologicarum adversus Samuelem Maresium, or de vocibus Trinitatis, Ὑποστάσεως, Personæ, Essentiæ, Ὁμοουσίου, et similibus, tries painstakingly to prove that the use of those terms is neither necessary nor useful; and so it is better that there be a return to the simplicity of the Sacred Books, and that all humanly invented terms be kept from the doctrine of salvation, or at least that no one be compelled hereafter to swear to them, as he says in § XI, operibus Curcellæi, page 816: which same thing Curcellæus also urges in the Præfatione operum Episcopii,[6] page ***2, versa, and following, which is found printed in Curcellæi Operibus, in which see pages 795, 796, number VI: but to Curcellæus’ Quaternioni Dissertationum, proscribed by the supreme Curia of Holland and Zeland, MARESIUS opposed his Defensionem Fidei Catholicæ, the first Dissertation of which, which has regard to this, and which is altogether worthy of reading, contains Repetitionem et Defensionem Dissertationis Theologicæ de Vocibus Trinitas, Essentiæ, Personæ, et similibus, in Ecclesia retinendis, adversus Stephanum Curcellæum, Sociniano-Remonstrantem, pages 1-312. This is also to be held against the Anabaptists, who, for example, in Belydenisse van den Eenigen Godt, etc., overgegeven aan Gedeputeerden van den Hove van Holland, 1626, have on page 10, the terms One Being, and also Trinity, as also Three Persons, of the older form of speech, we avoid, because the Scripture itself does not know them, and because it is dangerous in speaking of God to use words other than the words of Holy Scripture: compare SPANHEIM’S Elenchum Controversiarum cum Enthusiastis et Anabaptistis, opera, tome 3, columns 779, 780. On the other hand, as RYSDYK sees a legitimate use of the terms Trinity, Person, Subsistence, ὁμοουσίου/ homoousios, in which we discourse concerning the Mystery of the Triune God; so he shows, Verdediging van de Rechtzinnigheid der ware Mennoniten, § 21, 29-32, pages 24-27, 77-88, 90, 111-115, that some genuine Mennonites do not shrink from them, but the same are found in their writings. The same thing is also to be held against Hobbes; see COCQUIUS, Anatome Hobbesianismi, locus VI, chapter XIII, pages 128-131.

They ought not to object here the ἑτεροδιδασκαλίαν/ heterodoxy that Paul repudiates in 1 Timothy 6:3:[7] even supposing that the Apostle there treats of this very matter, he does not wish any to teach ἕτερα, different things, that is, doctrine alien to the truth and simplicity of the Gospel. But he does not speak of the mode of teaching, as if he judged it unlawful to make use of any other words than ἐγγράφοις, those written. Now, we hold to the holy doctrine delivered by the Apostles, and we express it in words, not only those long established by the common consent of the Church, but also almost αὐτολεξεὶ/expressly Scriptural.

Neither ought they to accuse us of καινοφωνίας, novelty of terminology, which Paul wills to be forbidden, 1 Timothy 6:20;[8] 2 Timothy 2:16.[9] Since, 1. Paul condemns, not καινοφωνίαν, novelty of terminology, simply, but βέβηλον καινοφωνίαν, vain novelty of terminology. Some novelty of words is useful and necessary, which makes for the elucidation of the truth and confutation of error; but other is vain and destructive, which under new and foreign words carries foreign doctrines. AUGUSTINE, tractate XCVII on John, chapter IV, tome 3, part 2, column 538: “Avoid, says the Apostle, profane novelties of wores, etc. He does not say novelties of words only, but he adds profane. For, there are novelties of words agreeing with the doctrine of religion, just as it is written when the name of Christian began to be used.[10] —Against the impiety of the heretical Arians also the fathers established a new term, Homoousios: but they were not signifying a new thing by that name, for this is called Homoousios, that is, I and the Father are one,[11] that is, of one and the same substance.” It is very doubtful whether Paul wrote καινοφωνίαν, novelty of terminology, or it is not rather to be read κενοφωνία, vain babbling, in both passages of the Epistles to Timothy, which through listlessness and ignorance of the Scribes, generally making use of αι and ε interchangeably, was changed into καινοφωνία, novelty of terminology. Whence the Vulgate Translator, who in 1 Timothy 6:20 read profanes vocum novitates, profane novelties of words, nevertheless in 2 Timothy 2:16 has profana et inaniloquia, profane and vain talk: see the JOHN MILL’S[12] notes on both passages.

Johannes Cocceius

[Whence the imprudence…and they make mention here only of the Mystery of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.] This influences COCCEIUS,[13] whom MARESIUS had already here noted, Systemate Theologico, locus III, § 1, note a: “I am amazed (says he) at with what scruple the Learned Cocceius shrunk from the name and term Trinity, that, being about to treat of the actual matter, he wrote in locus IV of his Summæ of the Mystery of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in that entire passage does not mention the Trinity. This scrupulosity…is μυστηριώδης/mysterious, and is to be added to the first fruits of that new Theology that wants to be considered Scriptural κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, in an ultimate sense:” see COCCEIUS’ Opera, tome 7, pages 174 and following. At the general Synod of Torun, 1595 AD,[14] among other things it was also treated of the preservation and upholding of the doctrine concerning God, His Essence and Persons, because of those that shrink from the term Trinity: and it was decided that those that are unwilling to make use of that term might be excluded, as of doubtful character, from the body of Evangelicals, because they are not rightly established in the faith concerning God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: with JABLONSKI[15] reporting in his Historia Consensus Sendomiriensis, pages 223, 231.

[1] Fausto Paolo Sozzini, or Faustus Socinus (1539-1604), was the father of Socinianism, a rationalistic heresy (denying the Deity of Christ, the satisfaction theory of the atonement, etc.), an aberration of the Reformation.

[2] 2 Corinthians 1:11: “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons (ἐκ πολλῶν προσώπων) thanks may be given by many on our behalf.”

[3] Hebrews 1:3: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person (καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ), and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…”

[4] Heidelburg Catechism 25: “Since there is but one only divine essence, why speakest thou of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Because God hath so revealed Himself in His word, that these three distinct persons are the one only true and eternal God.

[5] Belgic Confession 8, 9: “According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God, who is one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct, according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things, visible and invisible; the Son is the word, wisdom, and image of the Father; the Holy Ghost is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son. Nevertheless God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost have each His personality, distinguished by their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God. Hence then, it is evident that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Ghost is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless these persons thus distinguished are not divided nor intermixed; for the Father hath not assumed the flesh, nor hath the Holy Ghost, but the Son only. The Father hath never been without His Son, or without His Holy Ghost. For they are all three coeternal and coessential. There is neither first nor last; for they are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy. All this we know, as well from the testimonies of Holy Writ as from their operations, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves. The testimonies of the Holy Scriptures, that teach us to believe this Holy Trinity, are written in many places of the Old Testament, which are not so necessary to enumerate as to choose them out with discretion and judgment. In Genesis 1:26, 27, God saith: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, etc. So God created man in His own image, male and female created He them. And Genesis 3:22: Behold, the man is become as one of us. From this saying, Let us make man in our image, it appears that there are more persons than one in the Godhead; and when He saith God created, He signifies the unity. It is true He doth not say how many persons there are, but that which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New. For when our Lord was baptized in Jordan, the voice of the Father was heard, saying, This is My beloved Son: the Son was seen in the water, and the Holy Ghost appeared in the shape of a dove. This form is also instituted by Christ in the baptism of all believers. Baptize all nations, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. In the Gospel of Luke the angel Gabriel thus addressed Mary, the mother of our Lord: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. Likewise, The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you. And, There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. In all which places we are fully taught that there are three persons in one only divine essence. And although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless we now believe it by of the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in heaven. Moreover we must observe the particular offices and operations of these three persons towards us. The Father is called our Creator by His power; the Son is our Savior and Redeemer by His blood; the Holy Ghost is our Sanctifier by His dwelling in our hearts. This doctrine of the Holy Trinity hath always been defended and maintained by the true Church, since the times of the apostles to this very day, against the Jews, Mohammedans, and some false Christians and heretics, as Marcion, Manes, Praxeas, Sabellius, Samosatenus, Arius, and such like, who have been justly condemned by the orthodox fathers. Therefore, in this point, we do willingly receive the three creeds, namely, that of the Apostles, of Nice, and of Athanasius; likewise that which, conformable thereunto, is agreed upon by the ancient fathers.”

[6] Simon Episcopius (1583-1643) was a Dutch theologian. He studied at the University of Leiden under Jacobus Arminius, and embraced his teacher’s distinctive doctrines. He became a leader among the Remonstrants, playing a significant role at the Synod of Dort (1618).

[7] 1 Timothy 6:3: “If any man teach otherwise (εἴ τις ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖ), and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness…”

[8] 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings (κενοφωνίας; καινοφωνίας, only weakly attested), and oppositions of science falsely so called…”

[9] 2 Timothy 2:16: “But shun profane and vain babblings (κενοφωνίας; καινοφωνίας, only weakly attested): for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”

[10] Acts 11:26.

[11] See John 10:30.

[12] John Mill (c. 1645-1707) was an English churchman and theologian. He produced a critical edition of the Greek New Testament, which included all previous collections of various readings, with additional readings added from new manuscripts and Oriental versions.

[13] Johannes Cocceius (1603-1689) was born in Bremen, Germany, and went on to become Professor of Philology at the Gymnasium in Bremen (1630), held the chair of Hebrew (1630) and theology (1643) at Franker, and was made Professor of Theology at Leiden (1650). He was the founder of the Cocceian school of covenant theology, bitter rival to the Voetian school.

[14] The Synod of Torun was convened in hopes of bringing the Unity of Brethren, Calvinists, and Lutherans in Poland into a closer connection.

[15] Daniel Ernst Jablonski (1660-1741) was a Polish minister and theologian. He labored Gottfried Liebniz to bring the Lutherans and the Calvinists together, in the hopes of creating a unified and catholic evangelical church.

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