Not a Trace: The Vestigia Trinitatis in Karl Barth

The doctrine of the vestigia trinitatis has a long and distinguished history in theology, going back at least to Tertullian and formulated with some rigor by Augustine. The general idea here is that within creation (immanent to it, one might say) there is a kind of ‘trinitarian disposition’ (to quote Barth). Creation in itself and as such is ordered trinitarian-ly. Standard examples include faculties of the human person such as willing, remembering and understanding (Augustine) while Tertullian draws out examples from nature such as fountain, river and stream. All these are traces of the Trinity – examples in nature or in humanity as such of three-in-one-ness .

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More Reading Notes 4/21/14

‘A Biblical Theology of Exile’ has so far been great reading. The first chapter on methodology had some great stuff on colonialism/postcolonialism, and the second chapter (which is as far as I’ve gotten) has been surveys of attitudes/trends in historical exile study. As a side-note, it was one of the only books cited in the bibliography of the chapter on ‘Exile’ in ‘The World of the New Testament’ I could afford. Brill isn’t in the habit of making inexpensive books, it would seem.

I spent some time this morning going through I.1 of Barth’s dogmatics, specifically the sections on the Trinity. He makes extensive uses of ‘modes of being’ and the relations between the persons of the Trinity – he also noted that the Trinity isn’t a case of three persons so much as a threefold repetition of the one God, which is an interesting way to look at it.

Based on the limited reading I’ve done, Robert Jenson is a theologian with whom I need to become more acquainted with – David Bentley Hart speaks quite highly of him, at any rate.

Torrance’s ‘Reality and Scientific Theology’ has a ton of good Trinitarian stuff in it – his analysis of ‘persons’ from the Boethian and Ricardine perspective is pretty illuminating, especially when he applies it to the Trinity. Barth has pretty much the same analysis in I.1 – I’m not sure which is more difficult to read.

Another Trinitarian Thought

Gregory Nyssa holds that the Godhead isn’t a description of God’s nature but rather an operation which unites the persons of the Trinity. Gregory gets into what the term actually means in ‘On Not Three Gods’:

‘…we suppose that “Godhead” (theotes) is derived from “beholding” (thea) and that by general custom and the teaching of the Scriptures, he who is our beholder (theates) is called God (theos). Now if anyone admits that to behold and to see are the same thing, and that the god who oversees all things both is and is called the overseer of the universe, let him consider whether this operation belongs to one of the Persons we believe to constitute the holy Trinity, or whether the power extends to the three Persons. For if our interpretation of “Godhead” is the right one, and the things which are said to be beheld (theata) and that which beholds them is called God (theos), no one of the Persons of the Trinity could properly be excluded from this form of address on the ground of this meaning of the word.’ (‘On Not Three Gods’)

So, again, Nyssa basically grounds the unification of the three persons in the operation of the Godhead – the operation(s) flow in one motion from the Father, through the son, to the Spirit.

Trinitarian Thoughts

– Barth’s way of thinking about the Trinity is very interesting, because it proceeds after the fact of God’s revelation. God has spoken, so what must be true of God for this to be so? Kevin Davis helpfully noted that the ‘what must be true of God’ bit is given in revelation – Barth basically (in a manner that should be familiar to those who know Barth) makes all the conditions for revelation depend on God. McGrath notes that the Spirit does seem to fare a bit poorly in Barth.

– N.T. Wright’s focus on the ways of speaking about God acting in the world within a Jewish framework is interesting to me (and something I’ve mentioned here before). Wright sees the classical ways of thinking about the Trinity not as wrong but perhaps a bit conceptually confused – persons, nature, essence, substance, etc. Sometimes he plays the ‘greek philosophy’ card a bit too strongly but I think a lot can be said for his overall point – which is, in a nutshell, that Scripture contains a built-on trinitarian grammar or framework. Wright is a bit more strictly biblically focused than most trinitarian formulations in that he sees the ways of thinking about God in the OT and in 2TJ as being fairly prescriptive of how we should think about the Trinity.

– I don’t see a way for social trinitarianism to avoid being tritheistic.

– Analytic philosophy does not make for good trinitarian theology.

Barth on God’s Love

‘God’s loving is an end in itself. All the purposes that are willed and achieved in Him are contained and explained in this end, and therefore in this loving itself and as such. For this loving is itself the blessing that it communicates to the loved, and it is its own ground as against the loved. Certainly in loving us God wills His own glory and our salvation. But He does not love us because He wills this. He wills it for the sake of His love. God loves in realising these purposes. But God loves because He loves; because this act is His being, His essence, and His nature. He loves without and before realising these purposes. He loves to eternity. Even in realising them, He loves because He loves. And the point of this realisation is not grounded in itself, but in His love as such, in the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And as we believe in God, and return to His love, it is not be understood from itself, but only from His loving as such.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics’ 2.1, p. 279)

The Apostle of Ireland

 
 
 

‘For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death, and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, and in whom we believe. We look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name.’

– St. Patrick