Volume 36 - Issue 3
That All May Honour the Son: Holding Out For A Deeper ChristocentrismBy Andrew Moody
In the November 2009 edition of Themelios, Dane C. Ortlund raises some very helpful questions about whether a christocentric theology signifies an unbalanced vision of the Godhead. 1 He offers equally helpful answers that Christocentrism is appropriate because (1) this is the way God is made known economically and (2) the purposes of the Father and Spirit in the economy are to make the Son known.
This article focuses the discussion on the second of these points and historically and systematically explores further what Ortlund calls “salvation-historical Christocentrism.” 2 In particular, I intend to promote a “filio-Christocentrism” that unpacks this category more fully.
1. Christ and the Son
What is the relationship between Christ and the eternal Son? Is Christocentrism the same as Filiocentrism? Ortlund’s christocentric Trinity assumes a fairly straightforward correspondence between Christ and the Son, 3 but things have never gone smoothly here. Historical theology has often found itself trying to unweave the humanity and divinity of Christ by ascribing certain actions or attributes (e.g., tiredness, ignorance) solely to the humanity of Jesus and other aspects of his life (e.g., miracles, wisdom) to his divinity. At times this approach has turned into an Antiochene division wherein the natures themselves act as independent agents. 4
This concern over the difference between the two natures of Christ makes it difficult to pin down what it means for God to have a christocentric agenda. Should the goals of such a plan be thought of as promoting the Son who is the person of Christ, or do they simply serve the humanity he assumes and redeems or perfects? Concerns over the immutability and impassibility of the Son have often ensured that it is the latter. Athanasius for example explains that the exaltation and naming of Christ in Phil 2:9-10 cannot refer to the Logos 5 but only to the change Christ brings about for us. 6
Gregory of Nyssa handles Acts 2:34-35 in the same way:
Who then was “exalted”? He that was lowly, or he that was the highest? . . . Surely, God needs not to be exalted, seeing that he is the highest. It follows then, that the apostle’s meaning is that the humanity was exalted: and its exaltation was effected by its becoming Lord and Christ. 7
We could multiply such quotes at length across the patristic and medieval period. Despite diverse theories of how Christ’s person, work, or nature confer blessings on creation, orthodox theologians generally agree that the benefit applies only to the human nature itself. The Logos himself as divine and immutable remains unmoved and unaltered in heaven 8 without any “real relationship” 9 to what he achieves in the flesh.
In the Reformation the same approach persists despite a focus-shift from Christ as perfector of human nature to Christ as Mediator. 10 As our representative the Son wins prizes for us in which he personally has no real interest, and he enters into new relationships with creation and the Father that stand apart from what he continues to enjoy as Son. Preaching from Eph 1:10, Calvin observes,
When Jesus Christ was exalted by God his Father, it was in order that his exaltation should serve our eternal salvation . . . all things were made subject to our Lord Jesus Christ, not for his own use (for what need had he of them?) but for our sakes, in order that he may give us whatever he knows to be for our profit. 11
Even more unexpected distinctions occur in Calvin’s exegesis of John 15:9 and 17:24. Dismissing, in the first case, the “abstruse inquiry” of those who would speculate on love between the first and second persons of the Godhead, Calvin states that this “has nothing to do with the present passage. But the love which is here mentioned must be understood as referring to us . . . the Father loves him, as he is the Head of the Church.” 12 The second reference is interpreted similarly. “You loved me before the foundation of the world,” writes Calvin,
agrees better with the person of the Mediator than with Christ’s Divinity alone. It would be harsh to say that the Father loved his Wisdom; and though we were to admit it, the connection of the passage leads us to a different view. Christ, unquestionably, spoke as the Head of the Church . . . he was beloved, in so far as he was appointed to be the Redeemer of the world. With such a love did the Father love him before the creation of the world, that he might be the person in whom the Father would love his elect. 13
2. Questioning the Model
No doubt there are fundamental orthodox truths being defended in all this. If the Son is truly divine—the Word of God who sustains all things by his own powerful word (John 1:1; Heb 1:3)—then we can scarcely think that the incarnation deprives him of this. Unless we are to cast him as a dispensable or redundant player in the life of God whose functions can be taken up by the Father and Spirit while he is on earth and whose human nature replaces his divinity, 14 we must surely agree and insist that assuming flesh does not mean relinquishing deity.
We must surely affirm the same in the case of Christ’s ascension and glorification. Christ is begotten “this day,” declared with power to be the Son of God, given the name above all names, and so on. Surely he already had these things; otherwise the second person of the Trinity needs creation to be himself, and his transcendence is lost. 15
But there are difficulties here too. The more rigorously we pursue the distinction between Christ’s human nature (or office) and his eternal person, the harder it will be to make sense of passages that speak of him “coming down” (John 6:38) or “becoming poor” (2 Cor 8:9) or “emptying himself” (Phil 2:7). 16 The attempt to make those relationships and gains apply to Christ only “officially” threatens to fracture him into two subjects and can foist clumsy distinctions onto Scripture. 17
And there are soteriological implications. If the love spoken of in verses such as John 17:24 and 15:9 really means only God’s relationship toward us (via Christ),then that necessarily diminishes what it means to be “in him.” To share in the “love” or “sonship” of Christ is not at all to share in those bonds that extend between Father and Son but something infinitely less: a hyperbolic expression of a perfect relationship between the Creator and created. 18 Indeed for Calvin and many of his heirs, the Son is so separable from the Mediator that in the end he appears to resign the office once it is complete:
But when as partakers in heavenly glory we shall see God as he is, Christ, having discharged the office of the Mediator, will cease to be the ambassador of his Father and will be satisfied with that glory which he enjoyed before the creation of the world . . . . Then he returns the Lordship to his Father so that—far from diminishing his own majesty—it may shine all the more brightly. 19
This melancholy prospect questions both the significance and permanence of our union with Christ. 20 The Son stoops to save us but seems to have no wish to remain bound to us any longer than is necessary. It is as if, having endured the wedding feast, he goes back inside to where he really lives with his Father while the bride gets to stand out on the porch looking in through the window. No doubt there should be happiness enough in that for us who should otherwise be in hell, but it is surely a shadow on our joy to learn that the Son’s mediation so chafes on his glory. Surely we were hoping that salvation meant having him and that he—Christ and Son—might see some gain in being united to us. 21
3. Christ as the Son’s Becoming
But what is the solution? Is there any way we can speak of a personal interest of the Son in his achievements and office without sacrificing his transcendence? Can we speak of the Son gaining anything for himself without denying his perfection?
It is certainly no threat to his divinity to speak of him gaining glory by his mission. If we ask why God created the world, then the closest thing we get to an answer from either the Bible or historical theology is that he created it for his own glory. 22 From the heavens that declare his glory to his mighty acts of salvation, God’s plan is that heaven and earth should finally be filled with his knowledge (Isa 11:9), that the nations should bring him glory (Ps 86:9), and that his own people should see his face and display his glory (Rev 21:11; 22:4; Isa 60:21).
And if we read the NT at face value, it seems that there is also a Trinitarian structure to this manifestation. God who reveals information about himself through the prophets in many and various ways in the OT, discloses himself most fully by revealing his Son (?ν υ??, Heb 1:2). This does surely not mean that the Son is uninvolved in salvation history up until this point; we know that all the acts of the Father are done through him (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6; John 1:3), but up until the incarnation the Son works invisibly or “transparently.” 23 Only in the last days is the Son brought forth (1 Pet 1:20) and set forth as the definitive way of honouring the Father—not just to afford us a superior revelation but so that “all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father” (John 5:23). In accord with the way God presents his salvation in Isa 48:9-11 and Ezek 36:22-23, his deeper purpose beyond our deliverance is to glorify his own name. Except here it is God the Father who explicitly seeks the glory of the Son by setting him forth as life-giver and judge (John 5:22-29). And the Son returns that honour by completing the work the Father gives him (John 17:4).
The supreme expression of this mutual glorification occurs through the cross itself, not simply because of the degree to which God’s purposes and character are invested in this event nor even because of the supreme love shown to us here by the Father and Son. But the very structure of the cross event—the way that it is Christ alone who takes the penalty of our sins on himself—signifies a mode of operation that is radically unlike anything that goes before. Here the Father and Son achieve our salvation by being separated. Or to be more accurate, the Father saves us by calling and allowing his Son to be the one who redeem us alone.
The arc of Rev 4-5 brilliantly illuminates the result of this for us. In Rev 4, John’s door into heaven opens to reveal a view of God enthroned at the centre of all glory and creation. Around him the four living beasts representing the orders of creation endlessly praise him while, further out, the twenty-four elders representing the full complement of God’s elect respond to the hymns of the creatures by surrendering their authority and proclaiming:
Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created; (Rev 4:11)
But in Rev 5 the theme of the praise switches from creation to redemption. In answer to the vain search for someone worthy to unseal God’s scroll of history, the Lion of Judah appears as a slain Lamb in the midst of the throne and living creatures. In response the elders initiate a new song that is at once similar, yet also different from 4:11. Falling to worship, they declare,
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth; (Rev 5:9-10)
Significantly the Lamb’s redeeming death is the ostensible reason he is praised, just as the Father is honoured as creator in the previous chapter. While there is no denial that the Son is also creator, nor that the Father is also saviour, nonetheless the persons are relatively responsible for these works in different ways. 24 In the cross-event, the Son becomes worthy of praise in a new way (signified by ?δ?ν καινη?ν). 25 Alongside his eternal inclusion in the nature, works, and praise of the Father (cf. 1 Cor 8:6), he now earns a particular and distinct worship that is different from, but equal with, that accorded to the first person of the Trinity.
And this takes us beyond mere manifestation. The Son’s achievement here is not simply to reveal the Father. It is also to establish a new relationship with the universe in which the Son himself is the focus and hinge. The world, hitherto seen as the Father’s by virtue of his creation (Rev 4:11) now also becomes the Son’s by virtue of redemption. 26 The culmination of the arc is praise to both God and the Lamb together: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:13).
Surely this clarifies and crystallises important answers to the question of how the Son relates to Christ. Christ is the eternal Son: but not simply the Son performing a vicarious mission on our behalf; he is also by that mission the Son becoming something new pro nobis at the behest of his Father. He is the Son in space and time, redeeming the Father’s world and thereby becoming its head and winning “a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14; cf. John 17:24). He is the Son completing the Father’s original secret plan that was for the world to belong to him (Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:16).
Jonathan Edwards, one of the few theologians to explore this theme, 27 draws together a skein of threads from historical theology to embroider a richly textured Christocentrism that is also filiocentric in the way just described. Following Irenaeus and the medieval scholastics, Edwards explains that the Word/Son is the perfect author and finisher of humanity, being himself the perfect and eternal “image of God” after whom and in whom all lesser images are created. 28 But Edwards converts this into a Reformed and more relational account by stressing that this pattern is completed by the cross and glorifies the person of the Son. The extent of humanity’s wretched poverty, the greatness of the price paid for its redemption, and the degree of its exaltation all magnify the Son. As he presses in his sermon Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design,
And because it was a spouse to communicate his goodness to that he desired, that she might be one fit not to give but receive good, one was pitched upon that was remarkably empty and poor in herself, not the highest order of creatures, but mankind . . . in a fallen, miserable and helpless state. . . . The great design was that Christ in this way should procure or obtain this his spouse, bring her to come to him, present her to himself and make her perfectly beautiful, perfectly and unspeakably happy . . . And this is the way that God the Father intended to glorify his Son: the world was created that from thence Christ might obtain this spouse. This was God’s portion and inheritance, [his] first fruits, his jewel, [his] darling. This was the great gift of God to the Son in the eternal work of redemption, the great promise of God to Christ, the joy set before him. 29
Edwards’ recourse here to the biblical typology of the church as the bride of the Son reoccurs again and again throughout his sermons and Miscellanies, clearly sounding a deep resonance in his understanding of salvation in Christ. 30 The redeemed church is the perfect spouse, knowing and glorifying the husband in whom she finds her deliverance and identity. Ordained for the Son by the Father and given back to the Father by the cross and consummation, the church becomes part of God’s life, a means by which the Father and Son love each other and give to each other. 31
Edwards’ approach sounds like something we would find in the writings of the mystical tradition, 32 but the imagery and concepts are biblical (especially Johannine). In union with Christ, Jesus’ disciples are drawn into the same relationship of love and indwelling that characterises the Father and Son (17:20-23). Becoming a means by which the Father and Son love and glorify each other (John 6:40; 14:13; 15:8; 16:27; 17:6, 10), we are enabled by the Spirit to speak to the Father in the same terms as Jesus (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6).
If the object of this discussion were simply the Son as Mediator, then there would be nothing very new in this. But Edwards will not stop there; Christ is not simply for us; we and our salvation are more fundamentally for him. Reaching beyond the ancient Thomist/Franciscan divide over whether the incarnation would have happened apart from the Fall, 33 Edwards insists that the incarnation and cross are God’s main plan. The Son’s delight and glory in his redeemed bride 34 is the eternal goal of everything.35
The creation of the world seems to have been especially for this end, that the eternal Son of God might obtain a spouse towards whom he might fully exercise the infinite benevolence of his nature, and to whom he might, as it were, open and pour forth all that immense fountain of condescension, love, and grace that was in his heart, and that in this way God might be glorified. Doubtless, the work of creation is subordinate to the work of redemption. 36
4. Applying the Pattern
Now the significance of all this may not be immediately obvious. After all it is probably fair to suggest that most modern Christians already straightforwardly believe that Christ and the Son are the same person with unified interests. 37 But recovering and exploring this “common-sense” approach can yield important insights for advanced thinkers too. If it is true, as I have argued, that the primary goal of redemptive history is installing the Son to a new glory and a new set of relationships, then there are a host of implications for key theological questions. While a full exploration is far beyond us here, some of these are listed very briefly below.
In recent years evangelicals have been increasingly drawn to the ancient doctrine(s) of theosis or deification—the idea that somehow Christ joins us to God—either by some kind of ontological participation or by a communication taking place between his divine and human natures. Such ideas may or may not have truth to them, but if the mission of Christ represents a genuine expression (or extension) of the relationship between eternal Son and Father, then another possibility presents itself. Divine participation here means becoming the medium or currency by which the Father and Son exchange love and honour in the contingent realm. 38 We are
- those whom the Father gives to the Son (John 6:37; 17:6; Eph 1:4);
- the means by which the Father fulfils his desire to honour his Son (John 5:23; 6:44; 17:10);
- loved by the Father for believing, loving, and obeying his Son (John 14:21; 16:27);
- the context and means by which Jesus glorifies the Father (John 15:8; 17:4, 18);
- sharers in the perichoretic dynamic of the Father and Son by the Spirit (John 17:20-23).
Deification here means being made a part of the relationship between the Father and Son: co-lovers and co-heirs and co-recipients of love. 39
If history is the process by which the Son of God comes into his inheritance as manifest ruler and deliverer of the world, then this elucidates a complex reciprocal relationship between him and humanity. On the one hand, humanity is fulfilled or completed in the Son (e.g., Heb 2:8-10; Eph 1:22) just as Mediator/Nature Christology has always maintained. 40 On the other hand, in becoming human and redeeming humanity, the Son also achieves the Father’s plans for him. The real meaning of humanity is the Son—or whom all things were made (Col 1:16)—becoming the one through whom history and creation are brought back into harmony with the Father. Christ’s rule is not just our rule mended by him; it is first his own reward for his sacrifice and conquest (Phil 2:5-11). The rule of humans over the world hitherto seen is thus a (poor) shadow of this rule; though in union with him we are joined to our antitype, converted to true humanity (Heb 2:10; Rev 5:10).
If the church is a gift given by God to his Son, then we must radically elevate our estimation of her significance. We are accustomed to thinking of the church as simply receiving God’s great compassion. And so she is. Yet she is also the body and bride of Christ, “the fullness of him that fills everything.” As such she is essential to Christ—not for a moment because the Son needs her for his eternal perfection but because the Father’s gift to the Son just is his coming into relationship with a people who share in his deliverance, life, and rule. 41 The Son’s becoming Christ cannot happen apart from the church, thus our service toward her is invested with much greater gravity, being itself an act of service toward not only the Son but the Father and Spirit from and through whom this plan for the Son comes.
4.4. Trinitarian Relations
The ideas proposed in this paper might redirect the focus of the current debate concerning the relationship between the life of Jesus and Trinitarian relations ad intra.The proposal here is that the sending of the Son by the Father is really a giving to him and that the obedience of Christ to the Father is really an honouring of the Father by the Son. 42 But this becomes much harder to envisage if the real Trinity behind the economy is a trio of conferring peers or if the unity of divine will is held to signify a single conscious agency behind the three. 43 In that case the initiative that allows the Father to give (or give to) his Son begins to look like a role-play or mirage. 44 Simultaneously, the honour accorded the Father by the Son loses depth, for those dictates really come from the three persons together. But a Trinity in which the Father really does possess some kind of volitional priority allows the patterns of honour and giving seen in, say, John 17, to be true; 45 each of the persons saves us and is honoured in a way that truly expresses the ad intra relationships. 46 And we, in honouring the Son and Father according to these patterns of creation and redemption, encounter and are united with the persons as they actually are, not ontologically but relationally: the Father determining for the Son and the Son responding in joyful accession to the Father.
What I propose here is on one level a fairly minor revision to the way we often view salvation history. I affirm God’s freedom and perfection in se, the orthodox distinction between the natures of Christ, Christ’s status as Mediator, and the cross and resurrection as the central elements in God’s purposes. All that I have proposed is that we see the cross and incarnation not simply as an ad hoc emergency provision for our sakes but as first arising from a still deeper purpose in the economy of the Father to honour his Son. Before the Fall, before the creation of the world, God chose us in his Son for the sake and glory of his Son. The Father, who “works all things according to the counsel of his will,” decreed that our knowledge and glorifying of him, 47 should be completed only in the setting-forth of his Son as head, redeemer, and object of faith (Eph 1:9-11).
But this small change has the potential to alter our perspective on a great deal. It radically elevates how we esteem our salvation and demands that we redefine humanity in Trinitarian terms. It helps us preserve the plain sense of Scripture as we read of the One who came down and the Father who sent him. It shows theology, Christology, and anthropology to be mutually illuminating and tied together. It tells us that we can share in the love and giving of the Triune God without eroding the distinction between divinity and creation.
2 Ibid., 319.
3 This is not a criticism given the scope of Ortlund’s paper. My own case here is that the assumption is correct.
4 In this vein the Tome of Leo (ratified at Chalcedon) disturbingly depicts the two natures working in communion with each other (Agit enim utraque forma cum alterius communione). See D. Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ: Person, Nature, and Will in the Christology of St. Maximus the Confessor (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 176-189 and A. Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition: From the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451) (2nd ed.; trans. J. S. Bowden; Christ in Christian Tradition; 2 vols.; London: Mowbray, 1975), 1:536.
5 The Logos “after the resemblance of the unalterable Father . . . is unalterable” (Contra Arianos 1.38-39; NPNF2 4.328-29).
6 “He himself has made us sons of the Father, and deified men by becoming Himself man” (ibid.).
7 Contra Eunomium 5.3 in NPNF2 5.177-78.
8 Thus the (ancient and misnamed) doctrine of the extra calvinisticum. See D. Willis-Watkins, Calvin’s Catholic Christology: The Function of the So-called Extra Calvinisticum in Calvin’s Theology (Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought 2; Leiden: Brill, 1966).
9 Aquinas distinguishes between the real (significant/affecting) relationship (relatio realis) that creatures have with regard to God and the merely conceptual relationship (relatio rationis) that the immutable God has with what he creates and rules. See H. Küng, The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought as Prolegomena to a Future Christology (trans. J. R. Stephenson; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1987), 531-32.
10 Heiko Obermann observed and Stephen Edmondson lately elaborated that Calvin’s theology represents a transition from a nature-Christology to a (person-centred) office or Mediator-Christology (Edmondson, Calvin’s Christology [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004]), but that is of limited significance here. Neither system envisages any personalstake for the Logos in his mission.
11 John Calvin, The Eighth Sermon on the First Chapter of Ephesians,http://www.the-highway.com/Calvin_Eph8.html (accessed March 2010), taken from John Calvin,Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians (trans. Arthur Golding; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973); cf. Institutes 3.1.1. It should be added that this is not the whole story with Calvin. In the same chapter he speaks intriguingly of the Father and Christ glorifying themselves in the church and considering themselves incomplete apart from her (see n. 41 below).
12 John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John (trans. J. Pringle; 2 vol.; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 2:111.
13 Ibid., 2:187.
14 “What was happening to the rest of the universe during the period of our Lord’s earthly life . . . was [the world] let loose from the control of the Creative Word?” W. Temple, Christus Veritas: An Essay (London: Macmillan, 1925), 142-43.
15 The best-case version of this is a panentheist scheme set out by the likes of Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, or Robert Jenson, where the temporal events of the incarnation somehow give rise to the eternal reality of the Trinity. The worst case is simply adoptionism.
16 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version ®). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
17 Can we really for example believe that the writer of Hebrews intends to limit our understanding of “the heir of all things” to Christ’s vicarious humanity when he has just introduced him as Son, radiance, imprint, and creator? Yet this is how historical theology has often read it. See for example Chrysostom, Homily 1, in NPNF1 14.368 and Calvin’s commentary on the same passage: John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (trans. John Owen; Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1853), 33-34.
18 Hence the distinctly Western habit (from Augustine) of pressing that “Father” means “the Trinity” for us and “the first person of the Godhead” for Christ. G. Emery, The Trinitarian Theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas (trans. F. Murphy; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 163-65.
19 Institutes 2.14.3; all Institutes quotes from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. J. T. McNeill; trans. F. L. Battles; 2 vols.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960). As far as I have been able to tell, this theory goes back to Martin Bucer—see W. v. t. Spijker, The Ecclesiastical Offices in the Thought of Martin Bucer (trans. J. Vriend; Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought 57; Leiden: Brill, 1996), 40—but becomes a mainstream Reformed staple via Calvin. How this relates to the eternal humanity of Christ is difficult to understand, though John Owen makes a valiant attempt to resolve it in the final chapter of his A Declaration of the Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ.
20 I hasten to acknowledge that Calvin’s doctrine of Christ as Mediator is the subject of much discussion and is more variegated than these quotes might indicate. My purpose here is simply to indicate one aspect of his theology.
21 Surely permanence and mutual delight are implicit in the imagery of marriage between the Lamb and his people (Rev 21 cf. Isa 62:4). The idea that our salvation might one day no longer be “in Christ” is hard to justify either from the Bible or tradition. The idea also jars with the “union with Christ” theme expressed elsewhere in Reformed theology; see for example L. Gatiss, ” The Inexhaustible Fountain of All Good Things: Union with Christ in Calvin on Ephesians ,” Them 34:2 (2009): 194-206).
22 Thus, Aquinas writes that, in creating, “[God] intends only to communicate his own completeness, which is his goodness.”Summa Theologiae 1a.44.4; cf. Thomas Aquinas, Creation, Variety, and Evil (1a.44-49) (trans. T. Gilby; Summa Theologiae; 61 vols.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 8:21. The Westminster Catechism puts the matter more plainly: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
All speculations in this area raise the difficult question of how God’s willing and achievement of any end relates to his status as actus purus (a perfect actor without need or change). The assumed answer in this paper is that there must be such a thing as a wholly contingent good that pleases God but without which he is already perfectly happy. To put it another way, the persons of the Trinity have contingent as well as natural relations.
23 In other words, much as the Spirit continues to work in the NT.
24 The doctrine or principle of appropriation acknowledges that certain activities of the Godhead are particularly the work of the different Persons without denying the Augustinian axiom that the opera ad extra are undivided. See, for example, Article 9 of the Belgic Confession.
25 Not meaning here the intrinsic glory—what the Son possesses from eternity—but the relative or transitive glory of his nature displayed and acknowledged in created space and time. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae 3a.25.2) approaches something like this distinction in distinguishing the worship due to God as God (adoratio latriae) and that occasioned by God’s contingent acts—whether creation or incarnation (adoratio duliae). The seventeenth-century Anglican Daniel Waterland puts it more helpfully (“Equality of Christ with the Father: Sermon V, Jan 6, 1719,” in The Works of the Rev. Daniel Waterland: Now First Collected and Arranged [ed. W. Van Mildert; Oxford: Clarendon, 1823], 104):
Though the absolute, essential dignity of our blessed Lord was always the same, and in respect of which he was ever equal with God, yet his relative dignity towards us, founded in the obligations we have received from him, never so signally appeared as in that amazing and astonishing instance of condescension and goodness, his becoming man, and dying for us. We were hereby “bought “with a price,” becoming servants to Christ, and Christ a Lord to us, in a peculiar sense, and under a new and special title.
26 The same dynamic seems to be at work behind God the Father as author of the scroll of history (Rev 5:1) and the Son/Lamb as the one who receives and accomplishes it (Rev 5:7; cf. 1:1).
27 Other exemplars are mostly Catholic: in modern times Hans Urs von Balthasar and Thomas Weinandy; Rupert of Deutz in the twelfth century; John of the Cross in the seventeenth (see below). But Edwards’s own theology here develops the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis) wherein the Father and Son enter into a compact for humanity’s deliverance. His nearest predecessor is English Puritan Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), who depicts the divine persons planning creation for each other’s glory (The Works of Thomas Goodwin, D.D., Sometime President of Magdalene College Oxford [8 vols.; Edinburgh: Nichol, 1861]). To Goodwin, one important end of the covenant of redemption is that the eternal Son might achieve “a double title to glory” (ibid., 1:100). I am very grateful to Mark Jones for his important research on Goodwin: M. Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth: The Christology of the Puritan Reformed Orthodox Theologian, Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010).
28 For relevant studies that show affinities between Edwards and earlier Christian Neoplatonism/exemplarism, see D. Schweitzer, “Aspects of God’s Relationship to the World in the Theologies of Jürgen Moltmann, Bonaventure and Jonathan Edwards,” RelStTh 26 (2007): 5-24, and M. Gibson, “The Beauty of the Redemption of the World: The Theological Aesthetics of Maximus the Confessor and Jonathan Edwards,” HTR 101 (2008): 45-76. While these studies (quite legitimately) highlight the Edwardsean thesis that the world is analogically like the Logos, I would suggest that Edwards’s real contribution is depicting salvation history as for the Logos personally and relationally.
29 J. Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 (ed. W. H. Kimnach; The Works of Jonathan Edwards Series 25; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 117-18.
30 Whether Edwards has overstated the image is open to question. As Graham Cole helpfully observed with regards to an earlier draft of this paper, God’s intentions are more varied than this and involve other categories such as restoration of the imago dei and revelation of the sons of God.
31 “Christ, with all his elect church, now perfect, shall ascend to heaven, and Christ shall come and present his church, now perfectly redeemed, to the Father, saying, ‘Here am I, and the children whom thou hast given me;’ and having thus finished all the work that the Father had given him to do, he shall deliver up the kingdom to the Father. Then shall the Father, with infinite manifestations of endearment and delight, testify his acceptance of Christ, and of his church thus presented to him, his infinite acquiescence in what his Son has done, and his complacency in him, and in his church; and in reward shall now give them the joy of their eternal marriage feast, and he himself will dress his Son in his wedding robes [a fresh glorification of his human nature]. . . . Thus God the Father will give the Son his heart’s desire” ( Miscellanies 1162, in J. Edwards and D. Brainerd, The Works of President Edwards: With a Memoir of His Life [ed. S. E. Dwight; 10 vols.; New York: Carvill, 1830], 587-88).
32 To be more precise, it sounds like John of the Cross, who manages to anticipate both the covenant of redemption and fully-fledged social Trinitarianism in one extended poem. See Romance sobre el Evangelio “In principio erat Verbum” acerca de la Santísima Trinidad 3-4; G. Brenan, St John of the Cross: His Life and Poetry (trans. L. Nicholson; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 191-93. I am indebted to both Rowan Williams and (Bekeley graduate student) Matt Paulson here.
33 The question is whether the incarnation was always intended as a consummation to creation and would have happened regardless of the Fall or whether it was primarily a reparative or emergency measure. For helpful summaries, see G. Florovsky, Creation and Redemption, vol. 3 of Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (14 vols.; Belmont: Nordland, 1976), 165-70; J. Sheppard, Christendom at the Crossroads: The Medieval Era (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 66-74. For Calvin’s intriguing position, see P. Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 339-41.
34 Not excluding, of course, her delight in him and the Father’s love for her through Christ.
35 Thus, while Edwards agrees with Reformed tradition that the regency of the Son under the pactum salutis will come to an end, he breaks with his predecessors insisting that the Son’s reign as Mediator will never end (The Works of President Edwards in Four Volumes [9th ed; 4 vols.; repr. of the Worcester ed.; New York: Leavitt & Allen, 1856], 1:426):
He then was invested with a two-fold dominion over the world: one vicarious, or as the Father’s vicegerent, which shall be resigned at the end of the world, and the other, as Christ, God-man and Head and Husband of the Church, and in this latter respect he will never resign his dominion, but will reign forever and ever, as is said of the saints in the new-Jerusalem, after the end of the world.
36 “The Church’s Marriage to Her Sons, and to her God,” in ibid., 3:573.
37 In most cases the instinct would be toward a kenotic theory: Christ “turning into” a man and then going back to heaven.
38 Michael S. Horton puts it well, striking a particularly Edwardsean note (Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ [Louisville: Westminster John Knox], 295):
It is not too extravagant to designate this with the noble title of “divinization.” Not only are the adopted heirs the beneficiaries of divine love; their adoption also is itself caught up in the love of the Father and the Spirit for the Son.
39 Once we note that all this happens through the Spirit we are presented with the possibility that the Church is a new manifestation of what the Spirit has always done. The Spirit himself is the eternal bond of love (vinculum amoris) between the first and second persons (Augustine). The Spirit is co-lover (condilectus) of Father and Son (Richard of St Victor). Now we apparently share in this too—a new expression of the Trinitarian exchange.
40 The distinction to observe here is this: much historical theology has been willing to see divine filiality as archetypal of humanity; and there has also been a willingness to see the Son as perfecting this correspondence by the nature/office/mediation he performs for us. But I am arguing that we should also stress that humanity’s antitype is the Son himself as incarnate redeemer and Lord; human typology finds its ultimate telos in the Son’s own contingent glorification.
41 This is a filio-christocentric version of the Augustinian doctrine of the totus Christi. As Calvin puts it in regards to Eph 1:23 (Eighth Sermon on Ephesians, 122-23), “our Lord Jesus Christ, and even God his Father, account themselves imperfect, unless we are joined to him . . . [as] a husband will say, I seem to be only half a man when my wife is not with me.” Cf. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 294: “The church exists because of the love, honour, glory, and majesty that the Father has wished to lavish on his Son in the Spirit.”
42 This is not to suggest that the mode of the Father-Son relationship is the same ad intra and in Christ. The entrance of the Son into a contingent fallen world brings an intrinsic heteronomy (Mark 14:36; Heb 5:8) and loss of glory (Phil 2:5-8). Nevertheless, (1) it is this in extremis manifestation of divine filiality which allows the Son to come out of the shadows (or unapproachable light!) and be known (John 13:31, etc.); (2) this situation is itself an event that finds its origin in the Father such that he too is savior (John 3:16; Rom 8:24).
43 By this I mean the tendency found in Western theology (chiefly after Ambrose) to reify the essence itself as a meta-personal subject above and beyond the three substantiae/suppositae/personae. As Augustine puts it, “Each of these is a full substance and all together are one substance (singulus quisque horum plena substantia, et simul omnes una substantia)” (De Doctrina Christiana [ed. R. P. H. Green; Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Clarendon, 1995], 16-17 [1.9]).
44 A possible solution might be to suggest that the persons of the Trinity actually change in the way they relate for the duration of salvation history such that the Father really is the principium and the Son really does unilaterally depend on him until the final wrap-up of history. But this is a fairly risky move: by turning the standard ad intra/ad extra dichotomy into a “before and after” scheme, it makes God time-bound, contingent, and (as discussed above) implies an ontological kenosis and dispensability on the part of the Son while he really absents himself from heaven and “becomes” a dependent agent.
45 A legitimate question is how this might work if, as orthodoxy maintains, the persons have only one will? To summarize a much larger discussion, it is vital here to realize that we must distinguish God’s essential will from his contingent decisions (to preserve his freedom). In scholastic speculation this has been accomplished by imagining God as eternally possessing an infinity of ideas (or rationes or λÏï¿½γοι), some of which he chooses to actualize in/as space-time according to his pactum or potentia ordinata. There is no injury to God’s volitional unity if we see each of the persons possessing the ideas but see the Father as one who (in eternity) decrees which should be thus actualized. And indeed something like this seems to be the foundation of (the pre-Warfield form of) the pactum salutis wherein the Father is said to be proposer on account of his priority as to subsistence; see Owen’s A Declaration of the Mystery of the Person of Christ 17 (J. Owen and W. Orme, The Works of John Owen [ed. T. Russell; 21 vols.; London: Baynes, 1826), 12:272-81; cf. 9:125-39.
46 Thus Maximus the Confessor explicates the means by which the whole Godhead is honoured in John 5:17: “One approves, the other does the work, with the Holy Spirit also working essentially to complete the Father’s approving and the Son’s working, that the Triune God may be all in all” (Ad Thalassium 2; PG 90:272b). This structure should be familiar to readers of the Institutes (cf. 1.13.18).
47 Again, it is essential to note that the glory of the Son is not exclusive of the Father’s praise but that the Father is most glorified through the distinct manifestation and “lifting-up” (cf. John 12:27-32; 13:31-32) of the Son.
Andrew Moody recently completed a doctorate on trinitarian relations through the Australian College of Theology and is currently lecturing in systematic theology at Ridley Melbourne.