Three Persons, so far

Robert Letham has written a useful and sometimes annoying book on the doctrine of the Trinity in which he asserts there can be no more than three persons. It is a position Aquinas also holds to, so it is respectable. Aquinas, that is, in the Summa Theologiae asserts it, and apparently the answer provided is not necessarily what he believes. He asserts there that only mind and will, or their equivalent in God, can generate and spirate. There are no other persons arising from the exercise of God’s powers or faculties—of which he has none, being simple.

Aquinas is wonderful, if a bit dry. The vision is grand and worth mastering. And yet I wonder if what he says must be. Is his way of accounting for the persons as living relations, relations that subsist since they are contained in the abundance of being that is God’s essence, from which all being is derived, if that is the only way there is. It is the way we have of giving a reasonable account of what we believe. It is not unreasonable. I do not say a way, because I do not see how else it can be done other than to claim a mystery. I admire what Aquinas does and I doubt it can be improved on . . . going on what we have.

What if God were to reveal more persons though?

We started out with monotheism, and while the Old Testament is compatible with Trinitarian orthodoxy, the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament. I cannot believe any human in the Old Testament had the slightest idea about the Trinity. None. You can see things in retrospect, but only after the clarity of the New Testament, not before. It is not till the New Testament that the Trinity is unmistakably revealed. It is after the New Testament that men begin to wrestle with it. We have come to believe it, but what exactly it is we believe, how to speak about it, what cannot be said is what concerns us. This never happened in the Old Testament.

We know that most of what there is to know of God we do not know. Part of this is simply that most of what there is to know of God we cannot know. What finite creature will understand his infinite Creator in any but the smallest way? But another part of this is that there is probably plenty we can know, or will be able to know, that we do not need to know right now. God does not randomly reveal things about himself. I think that because if he did, it would be confusing and probably misleading. There is a harmony and coherence to what he reveals, and a need for what he reveals. He does all things well and deliberately. So I believe God can reveal more, and I am pretty sure we can know more, or will be able to.

Why can’t that be more persons?

I’m not saying it has to be. I do know it is the sort of thing to say that will get a reaction. And it has. People don’t even like to have it suggested. One of the arguments made to me was that God of old spoke in various and sundry ways but has now spoken by his Son. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing more to find out about God after redemption is consummated, does it? These redemptive-historical guys are so eschatologically saturated that I think they think we have reached the limit. I think I can knock their argument down, the problem is that at the moment I’m not sure I understand it.

I can’t imagine they really think humanity will never grow in knowledge of God. I believe they do not conceive of life in the resurrection as having stages or ages, let alone levels of being. I do think they think that doctrinal formulation is so stable that reformed theology is fixed in stone. That’s why they puzzle over Augustine and shake their head, wondering why he can’t be Bavnik. Here I am waiting for the day the framework of Covenant Theology will at last give and yield to something better. They, I can tell you, are not waiting for that day. It does not enter their imagination. I think it is a way; but they think it is the way. They talk about radically non-speculative theology and such phrases, as if doctrinal formulation were not human reflection on divine revelation and therefore finite and to some degree adjustable. I do not mean to relativize doctrine, or that revelation will somehow be discontinuous with Christian orthodoxy. But think of the revolution wrought on theology by the revelation of the Trinity. It was expanded, taken to realms unexpected, sophisticated beyond anyone’s imagining.

I can’t believe that won’t happen again. I believe it actually will, has to. I don’t say it has to be persons. I do not say there ever have to be more than three. No doubt what will be revealed, because it is something revealed, will be unexpected. But I still think it is impious to go all dogmatic about it unless you can come up with a compelling reason. And a compelling reason, I do not see. And think about it, more persons would be most unexpected.

I know what you’re thinking. The Trinity did not set aside Monotheism, but unexpectedly sophisticated it. I agree. But that is not an argument for the Trinity not being expanded, should that prove to be true. It is not an argument to say you can’t conceive of that; that is the definition of what already happened. I would of course be coherent, even if you can’t see how. You can only argue that it won’t fit. You have to put up a positive roadblock. I don’t see why more persons would damage anything but some articulations and ramifications of our understanding and none of the substance of revelation. I think the denial lies in that way, but I can’t hit upon it. I do not know what I’m missing.

So I keep bringing it up to see who is going to shoot me down.


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