Blog 24: 1.13.18 - 1.13.22

Rick Phillips

These sections on the Trinity are especially valuable to Christians, who are greatly helped if we can begin to think of God and salvation in explicitly Trinitarian terms.  It has been observed that while the liberals worship only God the Father (the loving and accepting Father of all mankind, etc.), and while Charismatics worship only God the Spirit, evangelicals worship only God the Son.  I think there is a good deal of truth in that saying, and Calvin can greatly help us to worship and trust God as Trinity.

Calvin begins by expressing reservation about borrowing "comparisons from human affairs to express" the in relatedness of the members of the Trinity.  One sometimes hears about analogies of the Trinity, but Calvin is right in reminding us that there is no true analogy in our world to the Trinity: the mystery of God as three-in-one is unique.  Nonetheless, Calvin sees some forms of expression as warranted by Scripture.  In general, we may think of the Father as the Ordainer, the Son as the Executor, and the Spirit as the Empowerer. 

Calvin then turns to the issue that divided the East and West churches: the procession of the Son and the Spirit.  Calvin takes the Western side defending the formula that the Son proceeds from the Father, but the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son ("and the Son" being the point of East-West contention).  What do we mean by "proceeds"?  Well, this a classic instance of theology needing a term for a topic in Scripture, even though the term is clearly deficient.  We know that the Son is eternal, so he was not "made" or "created".  But the very nature of a Father and Son relationship involves the Son coming from or proceeding from the Father.  Do not be distressed if you find this all hard to grasp: you might need to read section 19 slowly and carefully.  Section 20 provides a very helpful summary that should help you get your feet on the ground. Calvin himself makes use of the best of the ancient writers, bringing forth some of Augustine's best material on the Trinity.  Studying this will help you to think clearly and biblically about God. 

When Calvin begins, in section 21, his refutation of Trinity heresies, I immediately thought, "This is going to take a while."  This is in large part because of the number and severity of such heresies.  Calvin was particularly exercised over these heresies in his own day: he resolves that "the truth which has been peaceably shown must be maintained against all the calumnies of the wicked."  He begins with a general assessment of Trinitarian heresies in section 21, reasserting his own guiding rule: "let us not take into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word."  It was adherence to these convictions that made Calvin great.  His refutation of the heresy of Servetus, the chief threat in his own day, shows both a clarity in understanding and representing his opponent and a fervor for overthrowing false teaching.