On the Monarchy of the Father (with a bit about divine aseity thrown in for good measure)

I’ve been studying Trinitarian theology for a long time. One thing that always seemed self-evident was the doctrine of the monarchy of the Father. The Fathers of the church spoke of God the Father as principle (arche), source (pege), and cause (aitia). The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed refers to the Son as God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, and the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father (I reject the filioque for a number of reasons). It seems a given that the monarchy is a well established doctrine. 

I can remember early in my studies reading many an author who subscribed to Theodore De Régnon’s paradigm, which basically asserts that the Eastern tradition used the three divine Persons as its starting point for Trinitarian theology while the Western tradition began with the one divine essence, but the reality is a bit more complex than that. Nonetheless, even if we grant these starting points it still seems as though the doctrine of the Father’s monarchy is uncontroversial.

So here is how I understand the doctrine in its simplest form. The divine essence (ousia) is found in the Father’s person (hypostasis). The Father is Father from all eternity and begets the Son by an eternal generation so that all that the Father has (to include the divine essence) the Son has also. Likewise, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father by an eternal procession so that all that the Father has (to include the divine essence) the Spirit has also.

This means that from all eternity the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have shared the divine essence equally since the Father has never been without the Son and the Spirit. There is both an asymmetrical personal relationship and an essential equality in such an understanding of the Trinity. This essential equality allows us to speak of any divine Person as God because whatever the divine essence is exactly, they all have it.

This is one of the things I found problematic with a recent presentation by Dr. Beau Branson on the subject. He argues that the one God just is the Father and that the one God is simply one Person of the Trinity. I think this is mistaken for the reason stated above. I’ll grant that God as a title is generally reserved for the Father in the New Testament. I have no problem with referring to the Father as God and the Son and Spirit as Son and Spirit. But titles aren’t the issue. The issue is whether or not the Son and Spirit can be said to be God.

The answer is yes. It’s quite appropriate to refer to the Son and the Holy Spirit as God because the same divine essence that is found in the Father’s person is shared with the Son and the Spirit from all eternity. Each divine Person has never been without it. Each divine Person is as much God as the Father is God. Branson says that they’re of the “same species.” He says that the title God can be predicated of Son and Spirit but is only proper to the Father. Branson appears to believe in three divine beings, which as far as I can tell, is tritheism, but claims that there is only one God, the Father. His view is idiosyncratic. And trust me, I’ve tried to be as charitable as possible when listening to his presentation.

He also lays a lot at the feet of divine aseity, which he ascribes to the Father alone on the basis of the Son’s generation and the Spirit’s procession. If the Son is eternally begotten and the Spirit eternally proceeds then each is from the Father, which in turn means that each is not “from self” (a se). But the Father, Branson supposes, is a se since he is neither begotten nor proceeds. The problem with this as I see it is that divine aseity makes no sense as a personal property since the Persons of the Trinity have existed from all eternity. There is no Father without Son or Spirit.

Aseity has to be something proper to the divine essence, which I’d agree is grounded in the Father’s person, but has been shared with Son and Spirit from all eternity. This might not sound like a big difference, but it is. Divine aseity is rightly ascribed to any divine Person on the basis of their eternal existence. No Person of the Trinity has come into being therefore each Person of the Trinity is a se. But this does no violence to a doctrine of the Father’s monarchy. Nor does it necessitate some kind of “egalitarian” view of the Trinity. There is still plenty of room for order (taxis) within the Trinity.

That’s my spiel…

B”H

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2 thoughts on “On the Monarchy of the Father (with a bit about divine aseity thrown in for good measure)

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