Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Ridgley - II
It is sometimes said that the Nicene formulations have the merit of protecting the Son against Arianism. For the Nicene position distinguishes (as Ridgeley makes clear) the Son’s being begotten from being created. He only is begotten and not by the will of his Father but by his essence. But in fact Ridgeley’s anti-Nicene or Nicene-free outlook is more clearly anti-Arian, since to suppose that the Son is begotten of the Father has been understood as involving the giving of the divine essence to the Son, and the Arians suppose the Son receives his divine perfections from the Father and hence cannot be equal to the Father. Ridgeley's view is that ‘this expression had better be laid aside, lest it should be thought that we conclude the Son not equally necessary, and, from all eternity, co–existent with the Father....’(I. 260)
Ridgley's concerns with Nicaea have to do with unease that any meaning we attach to 'begotten' must imply some kind of dependence, even if we qualify the term by saying, for instance, 'begotten not made' or 'begotten, not created' or even 'begotten by the essence of the Father'. To beget a son is to bring about the being of the son; it is an asymmetrical term, if X begets Y then necessarily Y does not beget X, or does Y exist under the same circumstances as X. The Son is begotten but cannot beget. He thus lacks powers in relation to the godhead that the Father has, even though he his said to be divine as the Father is divine. These powers imply some kind of subordination of the one begotten. But is he not said to be 'eternally begotten'? Yes, if words mean anything eternally begetting is nevertheless a form of begetting, and even though it may be qualified by '…..but not made' a positive meaning to begottenness still remains. And similarly with the spiration or procession of the Spirit.
Spiration presents another set of difficulties. The Father and the Son are said together to spirate or process the Spirit (at least in Western formulations of the doctrine). But is it possible to say, beyond it being the work of Father and Son together, how being begotten differs from being spirated? It does not seem that we can. One speculation (begottenness) leads inevitably to others: is the Son begotten all at once, or by an eternal continuous begetting? And which of either is true of spiration? What sense can be made of all this?
As to what concerns the farther explication of this mystery, we may observe, that the more nice some have been in their speculations about it, the more they have seemed bewildered: thus, when some have enquired whether the eternal generation is one single act, or an act continued; or whether, when it is said, This day have I begotten thee, the meaning is that the divine nature was communicated at once, or whether it is perpetually communicating. And the difficulties that attend their asserting either the one or the other of them, which they, who enquire into these matters, take notice of, I shall entirely pass over, as apprehending that this doctrine receives no advantage by such disquisitions. (I. 262)
Ridgley offers his own, more more modest sense of ‘communicate’ other than ‘begotten’ or ‘spirated’. He says
If I may be allowed to give my sense of the communication of the divine essence, though it will probably be thought that I do not say enough concerning it, yet I hope that, in other respects, none will conclude that I advance any thing subversive of the doctrine of the Trinity, when I assert that the divine essence is communicated, not by the Father to the Son and Holy Spirit, as imparting or conveying it to them; but take the word communicate in another sense, namely, that all the perfections of the divine nature are communicated, that is, equally attributed to, or predicated of the Father, Son and Spirit; this sense of the word is what some intend when they say the human nature is communicated to every individual, upon which a account they are denominated men…. would be understood, when I say that the divine perfections are communicated to, or predicated of, the Father, Son and Spirit; and this all who maintain the doctrine of the Trinity will allow of. The other sense of communication, viz. imparting, conveying or giving the divine essence, I shall be very ready to fall in with, when the apparent difficulties which, to me, lie in the way thereof, some of which have been already considered, are removed. (I 261-2)
In this sense there is no communicator of the divine essence to any person, but each person of the Trinity is said to hold his divine nature in common with the others simply in virtue of being a divine person, a nature which no human person can have.
Ridgeley gives detailed attention to the exegesis of texts of Scripture that those of a Nicene frame of mind appeal to, such as Ps. 2.7, Prov. 8,22,23,25, Micah 5.2, Heb.1.13, Col.1.15. John 5.26, 1.17, and so on. (I.164 f.) He generalises from the exegetical conclusions he comes to from the texts he examines in the following way:
I cannot but conclude that these [texts], and all others of the like nature, that are brought to prove the eternal generation, or Sonship of Christ, respect him as God-man, Mediator; and those other scriptures, that speak of the procession of the Holy Ghost, respect the subserviency of his acting as a divine Person to the Mediator’s glory, in applying the work of redemption. (I. 266-7)
That is, they refer to the members of the Trinity in their economic roles, and do not provide evidence for the relations of the persons of the Trinity in themselves. Ridgley does not even go so far as to suggest that the relations of the persons in themselves make them ‘apt for’ their respective freely undertaken roles in the work of redemption. John Calvin was prepared to say that there is a certain ‘order’ in the Trinity, (Inst. I.13.20) thus cutting off useless speculation as to whether the Spirit could have become incarnate, and not the Son. Ridgeway does not even go this far, but perhaps he would not deny it.
How did Nicene trinitarianism arise?
His exegesis of the texts may suggest that Ridgeway might suggest that the Nicene wording arises from reading back into the Trinity itself what Scripture teaches about their respective redemptive offices, as well as too eagerly concluding that texts that refer to the mission of the Son refer to his begottenness or also to his begottenness, or entail it.
Another suggestion comes to mind. Though nothing of an expert on neo-Platonism, my hunch is that the Fathers were either consciously or subliminally mapping out the doctrine of the Trinity onto a neo-Platonic template. Neo-Platonism was part of their background, some of the atmosphere which these men breathed in. According to neo-Platonism the One, the Intelligence begotten by the One, and the Soul, proceeding from the Intelligence – are three divine hypostases, the second and third only divine in a weakened sense. Maybe the Nicene theologians were saying: whatever neo-Platonism can offer, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity can make a better offer: three hypostases, two of which are either begotten or spirated, yet each fully divine, and bearing no traces of the emanationism of neo-Platonism.
Ridgley strikes me as a mild-mannered, careful person, and a model controversialist. He recognised the difficulty of this topic, and yet he was unwilling to venture into areas that turned out to be mere word-spinning. This passage is typical.
And I hope, through divine assistance, we shall advance no doctrine that is subversive of our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, which we are endeavouring to maintain, derogatory to the essential or personal glory of the Father, Son, and Spirit, or altogether contrary to the sense, in which many Christians, who are unacquainted with those modes of speaking, used by the fathers and schoolmen, understand those scriptures upon which this doctrine is founded. (I.258)
Ridgley's controversial style provides us all with a lesson – always respectful of those theologians from which he dissented without naming them, for what he has otherwise learned from them, respecting their intentions, reproducing their views accurately, not offering ridicule, and giving his own views gently and diffidently, but firmly. He is also respectful of the tradition even when he differs from it. He keeps the lid on the point at issue, not letting differences about this affect the many other points of agreement.
More than this, Ridgley’s views show that the Reformed tradition is broader, and tolerated a variety of theological views, that some would like to think. Ridgley’s thinking is clearly within the parameters of Reformed Orthodoxy even though his is the voice of a minority. He is frequently cited by Richard Muller in in Vol. IV of his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.