Primary sources for my response to the Barth Blog Conference

June 16, 2008

Hello, long time no see. I’ve been really busy. But, my friend WTM has organized a theobloggers conference on Barth and Jüngel. In responding to one of the posts there I felt the need to cite some primary literature, so I have put the texts up here for reference.

The question at hand is whether the vestigia trinitatis are ever considered the grounds for the doctrine of the trinity. I argue that they are not.


Augustine De Trinitate, VI

Haec igitur omnia quae arte divina facta sunt et unitatem quamdam in se ostendunt et speciem et ordinem. Quidquid enim horum est et unum aliquid est, sicut sunt naturae corporum ingeniaque animarum, et aliqua specie formatur, sicut sunt figurae vel qualitates corporum ac doctrinae vel artes animarum, et ordinem aliquem petit aut tenet, sicut sunt pondera vel collocationes corporum atque amores aut delectationes animarum. Oportet igitur ut Creatorem per ea quae facta sunt intellecta conspicientes Trinitatem intellegamus, cuius in creatura quomodo dignum est apparet vestigium. In illa enim Trinitate summa origo est rerum omnium et perfectissima pulchritudo et beatissima delectatio. Itaque illa tria et a se invicem determinari videntur et in se infinita sunt. Sed hic in rebus corporeis non tantum est una quantum tres simul, et plus aliquid sunt duae quam una res; ceterum in summa Trinitate tantum est una quantum tres simul, nec plus aliquid sunt duae quam una, et in se infinita sunt. Ita et singula sunt in singulis, et omnia in singulis, et singula in omnibus, et omnia in omnibus, et unum omnia. Qui videt hoc vel ex parte, vel per speculum in aenigmate, gaudeat cognoscens Deum, et sicut Deum honoret et gratias agat; qui autem non videt, tendat per pietatem ad videndum, non per caecitatem ad calumniandum; quoniam unus est Deus, sed tamen Trinitas. Nec confuse accipiendum est, ex quo omnia, per quem omnia, in quem omnia; nec diis multis, sed: Ipsi gloria in saecula saeculorum. Amen. (link)

Therefore all these things which are made by divine skill, show in themselves a certain unity, and form, and order; for each of them is both some one thing, as are the several natures of bodies and dispositions of souls; and is fashioned in some form, as are the figures or qualities of bodies, and the various learning or skill of souls; and seeks or preserves a certain order, as are the several weights or combinations of bodies and the loves or delights of souls. When therefore we regard the Creator, who is understood by the things that are made we must needs understand the Trinity of whom there appear traces in the creature, as is fitting. For in that Trinity is the supreme source of all things, and the most perfect beauty, and the most blessed delight. Those three, therefore, both seem to be mutually determined to each other, and are in themselves infinite. But here in corporeal things, one thing alone is not as much as three together, and two are something more than one; but in that highest Trinity one is as much as the three together, nor are two anything more than one. And They are infinite in themselves. So both each are in each, and all in each, and each in all, and all in all, and all are one. Let him who sees this, whether in part, or through a glass and in an enigma, rejoice in knowing God; and let him honor Him as God, and give thanks; but let him who does not see it, strive to see it through piety, not to cavil at it through blindness. Since God is one, but yet is a Trinity. Neither are we to take the words, of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things, as used indiscriminately [i.e., to denote a unity without distinctions]; nor yet to denote many gods, for to Him, be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (link)

Peter Lombard, I Sent d. III, 1

Ecce ostensum est, qualiter in creaturis aliquatenus imago Trinitatis indicatur; non enim per creaturarum contemplationem sufficiens notitia Trinitatis potest haberi vel potuit sine doctrinae vel interioris inspirationis revelatione.  Unde illi antiqui philosophi quasi per umbram et de longinquo viderunt veritatem, deficientes in contuitu Trinitatis, ut magi Pharaonis in tertio signo.   Adiuvamur tamen in fide invisibilium per ea, quae facta sunt. (link)

Behold it has been shown, how among creatures to some extent the image of the Trinity is indicated; for through the contemplation of creatures a sufficient knowledge [notitia] of the Trinity cannot be had nor [vel] could it without the revelation of doctrine and/or of interior inspiration.Whence those ancient philosophers as if through a shadow and from afar saw the truth, deficient (as they were) in the constituition of the Trinity, like [ut] the magi of the Pharaoh at the third sign.  We, however, are helped to believe invisible things [in fide invisibilium] through those (things), which have been made. (translation ibid)

Thomas Aquinas, in I Sent d. III, q. 1, a. 4

Utrum philosophi naturali cognitione cognoverint Trinitatem ex creaturis?
. . .

Respondeo dicendum, quod per naturalem rationem non potest perveniri in cognitionem Trinitatis personarum; et ideo philosophi nihil de hoc sciverunt, nisi forte per revelationem vel auditum ab aliis. Et hujus ratio est, quia naturalis ratio non cognoscit Deum nisi ex creaturis. Omnia autem quae dicuntur de Deo per respectum ad creaturas, pertinent ad essentiam et non ad personas. Et ideo ex naturali ratione non venitur nisi in attributa divinae essentiae. Tamen personas, secundum appropriata eis, philosophi cognoscere potuerunt, cognoscentes potentiam, sapientiam, bonitatem. (link)

Whether by natural philosophy one could come to know the Trinity from creatures?

. . .

I respond that by natural reason one is not able to come to the knowledge of the persons of the trinity, and therefore the philosophers have written nothing about it, except perchance by revelation or hearing from another. And this is the reason for it, because natural reason does not know God except through creatures. Therefore all things that are said of by respect to creatures belong to the essence and not to the persons. And therefore by natural reason, one does not come except into the attributes of the divine essence. . . . (my rough translation)

Book Review of Neil MacDonald

February 28, 2008

Hello everybody,

Sorry I’ve been away. Life’s a bit busy, but here’s what I’ve been up to:

I’ve written a book review of Neil MacDonald’s “Karl Barth and the Strange New World Within the Bible” for Princeton Barth center.

For your reading pleasure

November 30, 2007

Review of the new Beowulf.

Avery Dulles and Ecumenism

November 16, 2007

Avery Cardinal Dulles, has written a piece about ecumenism in the new edition of First Things. It’s a good article. It’s sober, it provides a nice historical context of recent ecumenical work, and most of all it’s a realistic assessment about exactly how much (or little) agreement there really is between protestants and catholics who actually care about their own respective theologies.

The blogosphere has already picked up on the article. (Cf. Millinerd, and J. Goroncy). One thing that I noted when I read the article hasn’t been mentioned yet in the blogs (to my knowledge) so I thought I’d chirp in.

Read the rest of this entry »

Five Badass Popes

November 9, 2007

This is the coolest thing ever.

Katherine Tachau on the portrayal of astrologers and logicians in the Bibles Moralisees.

November 8, 2007

A few days ago Fordham’s medieval studies program hosted famous medievalist Katherine Tachau who delivered a fascinating lecture about the depiction of astrologers/astronomers and logicians in some illustrated paraphrases of the Bible from the early 13th century called ‘Bibles Moralisees’. Tachau’s thesis is that these elaborate texts were commisioned by conservative religious groups and given to French nobility to surreptitious combat the influence of the new pagan learning.

The texts of the Bibles Moralisees contain eight small circular pictures. Each page is concerned with one particular bible story and the last two pictures reveal the spiritualized meaning of the story. One example regarding the story of the tower of Babel. The seventh picture has a group of pagans using an astrolabe and taking measurements while the construction of the tower goes on behind them. The eighth picture has a contemporary university master conducting astronomical research in precisely the same pose. The implication: the universities, by opening their doors to pagan learning, have been tempted into vana curiositas and they will get their recompense from God for their arrogance just like the Babel tower builders.


 An interesting  tidbit. Abelard and Heloise named their son ‘astrolabe’. I take that to the logician’s way of striking back at the conservatives.

Another interesting tidbit–besides the scholastics, the Bibles Moralisees  also often abuse the Cathars. Modern scholarship opines that the name ‘cathar’ comes from the greek ‘katharos’ = “clean, purified”. However in the Bibles Moralisees the Cathars are always pictured worshipping a small cat-shaped idol. According to Tachau this is because Alain of Lille was confused about the etymology of the name and assumed that they were called ‘cathars’ because they worshipped cats. (“Th” was pronounced as  ‘t’ in medieval french just like in modern french.) 

What if . . .

November 7, 2007

. . . sometime back in the sixties two radically different cultural icons–Woody Allen and Billy Graham, say– had sat down for a chat about the morality of premarital intercourse? What could two people like that have to say to one another?

I wonder . . .

Good things to read

November 5, 2007

Two more good pieces in the NYT. One by Stanley Fish on Bart Ehrman’s new book on the problem of evil. Another by Oppenheimer on Anthony Flew’s newest book. The Oppenheimer piece makes it sound like Flew had nothing to do with the writing of the book that now bears his name. If the facts are correct, then this is troubling indeed. But, with the Times, facts must be taken with a grain of salt.

Happy Reformation Day!

October 31, 2007

We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God’s judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God’s grace.

(from the Joint Lutheran/Catholic Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification [Emphasis mine])

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

October 28, 2007

David Kirkpatrick has just written the sanest thing I’ve read about the influence of Evangelicals on American politics in a long time. And it was published in . . . wait for it . . . The New York Times.

My favorite quote comes from:

“Frank Page of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. [who had been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention], campaigned on a promise to loosen up the conservatives’ tight control. He told convention delegates that Southern Baptists had become known too much for what they were against (abortion, evolution, homosexuality) instead of what they stand for (the Gospel). “I believe in the word of God,” he said after his election, “I am just not mad about it.”

Amen, Pastor Page.