Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Gunton on Creation

Colin Gunton’s Trinitarian Theology of Creation:
Creation as Creed, ex Nihilo and Trinitarian
(currently under revision)
by Jonathan Dodson

Humility in Theology
As finite formulators of truth, theologians are forced to nurture their understanding of God within a limited span of time. How each theologian uses his or her time is a personal decision. Personal, finite encounters with a three-personed, infinite and omniscient God require humility and specialty. Theologizing requires humility of heart because in order to understand God, we need his help. Exercise of the intellect apart from dependence upon the One ‘from whom are all things’, renders the theologian philosopher, one who seeks wisdom without seeking the wise One. Such contemptuous disrespect for the God of truth characterized St. Augustine’s pre-conversion search for rational certainty. Resistant to the inspiring preaching of Ambrose, Augustine desired certainty for the things he could not see, the kind of certainty that accompanies the equation of 7+3=10.[1] In reflection upon this memory he writes: “By believing I could have been healed so that my mind’s clearer sight would be directed in some way to your truth, which endures forever and is lacking in nothing (emphasis added).”[2] Augustine distilled this realization into the oft quoted phrase, fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.”[3]
Faith is the flipside of Godward humility and the healing hand for true theology. However, faith in God does not reduce God’s immensity to comprehensibility.[4] As a result, theologians (or anyone who seeks to think God’s thoughts after him) are humbly forced to narrow the depth of their understanding into specialty. The late professor Colin Gunton (1941-2003) was no exception to humility or specialty; in fact, humility fueled his theological expertise. One is hard-pressed to read his work without noting his magnanimous footnotes, crediting students and colleagues alike for their helpful insights. As King’s College professor of Christian doctrine, Gunton wrote over a dozen books, a stream of articles and served as the editor of the International Journal of Systematic Theology, while concurrently preaching and serving as the associate pastor of Brentwood church in Essex, England for a quarter of a century. The density of Gunton’s output reveals a thoughtful theologian, one who specialized in two major areas: the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the Trinity. With a doctrine in each hand Gunton, accompanied by humble skill, wove together a trinitarian theology of creation, the content of which will occupy the remainder of this paper.
Gunton’s trinitarian theology of creation is articulated in, but not limited to his well-known work, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study.[5] As suggested by the title, Triune Creator is a work of theological history, an attempt to erect the dogmatics of creation upon historical critique.[6] True to Gunton’s historical-theological method, this paper will engage an influential interlocutor, namely St. Irenaeus of Lyons († c. 202 A.D.).[7] In addition, we will draw broadly from Gunton’s writings in order to allow the “historical Gunton” to speak and his theology of trinitarian creation to be heard. As a result, a trinitarian theology of creation will emerge. To that end, three major features of Gunton’s doctrine of creation will be explored: creation as creed, ex nihilo, and trinitarian.

Creatio as Credo
The Christian doctrine of creation was affirmed as an article of faith as early as the 2nd or 3rd century in the first sentence of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth.” The Christian creed has its origin in a twofold Christian imperative, to believe and to confess one’s belief, both of which are in view here.[8] No doubt the authors of this historic creed had Hebrews 11.3 in mind when penning the first line: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Prior to the time of the apostles, the early chapters of Genesis set forth an account not only of Jewish origins but also of the entire universe: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1.1).” Scriptures and confessions alike underscore the fact that creation is an article of faith and not something ascertained by mere reason. Even Thomas Aquinas, the father of natural theology, affirmed that the idea that the beginning of creation in time cannot be derived from philosophy but must come from authoritative revelation.[9] Commenting on the Apostles’ Creed Gunton writes: “It can not be stressed too strong that ‘I believe’ is not the same thing as saying ‘I know intuitively’ or ‘reason shows me that…’. The words form the first article of a creed of a community of worship and belief which continues to say things without which they can not be understood.”[10] To believe in the Christian doctrine of creation is to believe in YHWH, Maker of heaven and earth.
Unfortunately, Gunton offers very little exegesis of the biblical texts mentioned above. His lengthiest treatment of creation texts is found in Triune Creator.[11] However, his short shrift of Scripture is not without justification. He writes:

“We must be particularly aware that there are dangers in the discussion of the individual texts of scripture and perhaps none more so than those of the creation narratives. It is surely significant that Irenaeus showed little interest in disputing the interpretation of individual texts with his opponents. He refers to Genesis very little, and rightly, for his concern is with the theology of creation as an interpretation of the first article of the Christian creed, which is itself a summary of the teaching of scripture as a whole on divine creation.[12]

To be sure, dangers abound in the exegesis of said texts. For instance, church history has demonstrated an unhealthy preoccupation with the chronology of creation, at the expense of its theology. Other “dangers” could be listed; however, if the doctrine of creation is creedal, then sound exegesis should serve to deepen the roots of the doctrine of creation. Although Gunton discusses a variety of issues related to Genesis 1 and 2 in Triune Creator (exegesis of Gen 1.1, status of days, imago Dei), it appears that his historical eye is not without an occasional cataract. Gunton’s trinitarian theology of creation is profoundly influenced by Irenaeus in a variety of ways, and rightly so. However, it may be that his affinity for the insightful church father may have diverted him from what would have otherwise greatly enriched his work.
Nevertheless, Gunton rightly points out that the primary source for Christian doctrine, through which the Old Testament is interpreted, is the New Testament, where the theology of creation is more prominent than historically recognized.[13] Of course, the adage of Augustine is not to be ignored, “The New is in the Old contained and the Old in the New explained.”[14] Gunton does, in fact, recognize the critical role that Genesis plays as the background to important New Testament texts such as Jn 1.1; Heb 4.3b-4, 11.3; Rev 4.11,[15] and maintains that the definitive contribution of the NT to the development of the doctrine of creation is its christological character.[16] To that end, trinitarian reflection on Christ’s role as mediator of creation is one of the areas in which Gunton excels. Before pressing onto this all important aspect of creation, a few comments regarding the context in which the Christian doctrine of creation emerged are apropos.
The doctrine of creation as derived from both the Old and New testaments was inspired and forged in the midst controversy. In the ancient Near Eastern world of the Hebrews, competing creation stories abounded such as the Sumerian epics Enuma Elish, The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Egyptian Mephite Theology of Creation.[17] In the Hellenistic world, Greek philosophy gradually moved away from the anthropomorphism and polytheism of Homer and Hesiod to more rational and impersonal cosmogonies and cosmologies as seen in the works of Thales, Heraclitus, Parminides and the rest of the Pre-socratic philosophers.[18] However, it was the Platonic conception of creation as depicted in Timaeus, that loomed large in writings of the early church fathers.
At the outset of Triune Creator, Gunton lays out three key themes of the Christian doctrine of creation that distinguish it from alternative creation theories. He writes: “We shall understand the distinctiveness of the Christian theology of creation only if we realize that these three themes – creation as an article of the creed; creation out of nothing; and creation as the work of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are in some way bound up with each other, both historically and systematically.”[19] Having briefly covered the first theme, creation as an article of the creed, we now turn to the theme of creation ex nihilo.

Creatio ex Nihilo
The Christian teaching that God created the universe out of nothing, creatio ex nihilo, can be summarized as follows: “…God is not to be likened, let us say, to a potter who makes a pot from the clay which is to hand; he is, rather, like one who makes both the clay and the pot. This teaching, which baffles understanding and is often rejected because there is no analogy to it in human experience, must be understood as an interpretation and summary of scripture’s witness to God as a whole.”[20] Commenting on the historical formation of creatio ex nihilo Gunton writes: “Unlike the definitions of the being of God and the person of Christ, the dogma of creation out of nothing was not made the subject of definition by an early church council, and appears to have been generally accepted, in theory if not always in practice, as the result of Irenaeus' decisive intellectual defeat of his opponents in the second century.”[21] Despite historical affirmation of creation ex nihilo as creed, the doctrine has come under scrutiny in recent years. Modern controversy regarding creation ex nihilo can be traced to Schleiermacher’s conflation of the doctrines of creation and conservation.[22] In his widely acclaimed work, Creatio ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of “Creation out of Nothing” in Early Christian Thought, Gerhard May has concluded that the doctrine is not warranted by Scripture regarding it primarily as a Christian reaction against Middle Platonism and Gnosticism.[23] However, as Paul Copen and William Lane Craig point out in their recent book, Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Scientific and Philosophical Exploration, “May proffers little substantiation of this claim, and many who cite him take it on his authority that creation out of nothing is ‘not demanded by the text of the Bible.’”[24] Moreover, Copen and Craig point out that renewal in creation ex nihilo studies is rejuvenating the doctrine, especially due to the work of noted theologians such as Colin Gunton, Robert Jenson and Wolfhart Pannenberg.[25] Commenting on the importance of creatio ex nihilo, Gunton says: “The teaching that the creation is the outcome of God’s willing is one of the most momentous developments in all the history of thought, affecting as it does the way in which the relation of God and the world is understood and, in the longer term, the development of science.[26]


Philosophical and Historical Context of the Doctrine of Creation
Among his many contributions to a lucid explanation of creation ex nihilo is Gunton’s grasp of the doctrine’s historical development, some of which will be concisely summarized here. The impetus for the Patristic formulation of creatio ex nihilo came via the pre-Socratic philosophers. The ontological makeup of the universe was a popular theme in the writings of the Greek philosophers, who oscillated between cosmological conceptions of the one and the many, represented by Heraclitus (the Logos) and Parmenides (it is) respectively.[27] Subsequently, Plato’s conception of creation articulated in Timaeus, proved immensely influential for the Greeks and, in turn, the Christians.[28] In fact, Christians would do well to approach the doctrine of creation with the piety of Plato:

“All men, Socrates, who have any degree of right feeling, at the beginning of every enterprise, whether small or great, always call upon God. And we, too, who are going to discourse of the nature of the universe, how created or how existing without creation, if we be not altogether out of our wits must invoke the aid of gods and goddesses and pray that our words may be above all acceptable to them and in consequence to ourselves.”[29]

Plato affirms elements of both the one and the many, conceiving of creation as a product of the demi-urge, a divine mediator who replicates the invisible eternal forms by impressing their pattern upon the receptacle substance from which the visible world is created. He considers the world “the fairest of creations.”[30] As a result, Plato affirms the goodness of creation while simultaneously downgrading its ontology; it is inferior to the eternal forms. The really real is the realm of the forms, not the visible world. The platonic conception of creation is picked up later by the Neo-platonist, Plotinus, whose application of platonic philosophy to Christian theology led to the development of the classical, yet heretical form of the doctrine of emanation.[31] Plotinus was followed by Origen, who modified the doctrine of creation by developing the doctrine of eternal creation. In turn, eternal creation laid the groundwork for Arius’ assertion that the Christ is the highest of all created beings, later refuted by Athanasias. The doctrines of the Forms, emanation and eternal creation are all departures from orthodox Christian teaching on creation.

Insight from Irenaeus
Having briefly set the historical and philosophical backdrop for the necessity of a clear articulation of the doctrine of creation, we turn to St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Commenting on the stature of the bishop of Gaul, Kelly remarks: “The theologian who summed up the thought of the second century, and dominated Christian orthodoxy before Origen, was Irenaeus."[32] Of course, Irenaeus’ theological influence was not dictated in the seclusion of an ivory tower but rather developed in the throes of theological controversy.[33] In his treatise, Against the Heresies, Irenaeus confronted a variety of Gnostic teachings rooted in platonic dualism which, in turn, coaxed his out his theology of creation. In the preface to Heresies in which he addresses the Gnostics as men who have “set the truth aside.” Irenaeus demonstrates a preoccupation with the integrity of creation and the glory of the Creator:

“These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretence of [superior] knowledge, from Him who rounded and adorned the universe; as if, forsooth, they had something more excellent and sublime to reveal, than that God who created the heaven and the earth, and all things that are therein (emphasis added).”[34]

In addition to producing his doctrine of creation, Heresies demonstrated Irenaeus’ fidelity to biblical exegesis. Although Heresies is not a treatise on the doctrine of creation per se, the doctrine profoundly informs Irenaeus’ apologetic. Moreover, it is his trinitarian theology of creation that enables him to affirm the goodness of the created order (contra Gnosticism). Gunton comments, “By strengthening the trinitarian aspects of the doctrine of creation, Irenaeus was able, first, to develop a markedly positive view of the value of the created order, material and spiritual alike.”[35] In his refutation of Gnostic error, Irenaeus builds an argument that initially questions the consistency of Gnostic philosophy, followed by a retrenchment of true Christian doctrine against the Gnostic claims to apostolic sanction. Marked by pastoral concern and a zeal for truth, Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is a fine example of a contextualized, trinitarian biblical theology of creation.[36] Given Gunton’s admiration for Irenaeus, one is left to wonder why he did not imitate his esteemed interlocutor’s model of exegetical argumentation.[37]
Nevertheless, Gunton skillfully lifts creatio ex nihilo from the mass of Gnostic refutation in Against Heresies, writing:

“In opposition to the plethora of mythologies of the creation to be found in Gnosticism, Irenaeus stressed the absolute freedom of God to create. There must be creation out of nothing, he argued, because if there is anything coeternal with God, that would be a kind of deity for it would impose necessity on the creator. All things other than God must, therefore, derive from the unconstrained will of the creator.”[38]

Here Gunton links the importance of creation ex nihilo with the omnipotence and sovereign freedom of God. Accordingly, Irenaeus writes, “While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point preeminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence.”[39] Although Irenaeus was not the first to teach creation ex nihilo, his contributions to the doctrine are unique and substantial.[40]
As noted by Gunton, Irenaeus affirmed creation out of nothing in contradistinction to the Gnostic concept of angelic mediation.[41] To assert that anything other than God created the universe would imply one of three things: disinterest in creation, inferiority to the other creator and/or ignorance of creation (2.2). However, Irenaeus demonstrates that, according to Scripture and reason, God took great interest in his creation, being fully aware and active in its formation, as, at least, any man would:

“For this is a peculiarity of the pre-eminence of God, not to stand in need of other instruments for the creation of those things which are summoned into existence. His own Word is both suitable and sufficient for the formation of all things, even as John, the disciple of the Lord, declares regarding Him: ‘All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.’[42] Now, among the “all things” our world must be embraced. It too, therefore, was made by His Word, as Scripture tells us in the book of Genesis that He made all things connected with our world by His Word. David also expresses the same truth [when he says] "For He spake, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created.”[43] (2.2.5)

Moreover, as can be seen above, a Christological element forms part of his argument. Another layer in Irenaeus’ argument is Johannine, namely that all things have been made through Christ (Jn 1.1-3, 14).[44] Later on, he emphasizes the centrality of Word in creation: “For the Creator of the world is truly the Word of God: and this is our Lord, who in the last times was made man, existing in this world, and who in an invisible manner contains all things created, and is inherent in the entire creation, since the Word of God governs and arranges all things; and therefore He came to His own in a visible manner, and was made flesh, and hung upon the tree, that He might sum up all things in Himself.” (5.18.3) It is also important to note that for Irenaeus, Christ as Creator should not be divorced from Christ as Redeemer. Jesus is the mediator of creation and new creation. Thus, Irenaeus’ trinitarian theology of creation begins to emerge.

The ‘Two Hands’ of the Creator
Gunton outlines two implications for Irenaeus’ creatio ex nihilo: a theology of mediation and the freedom of God in creation, both of which are facilitated by his uniquely trinitarian theology of creation.[45] A lengthy quote will explain:

“As is well known, Irenaeus frequently says that God created by means of his two hands, the Son and the Spirit. This enables him to give a clear account of how God relates to that which is not God: of how the creator interacts with his creation. The second aspect reveals the other side of this same reality, the freedom of God in relation to the created universe. Because God created by means of his own Son and Spirit, he is unlike the deities of the Gnostics and the One of neoplatonism in that he does not require beings intermediate between himself and the world in order to achieve his ends. That is, because the Son and the Spirit are God, to create by means of his two hands means that God is himself creating. This is accordingly a theology of mediation which breaks through Hellenic doctrines of degrees of being. There do not, on this account need to be intermediate beings between God and the world because the Son and the Spirit mediate between the divine and the created.”

To be sure, Irenaeus’ “two-handed” imagery is distinctly trinitarian.[46] He writes, “Now man is a mixed organization of soul and flesh, who was formed after the likeness of God, and moulded by His hands, that is, by the Son and Holy Spirit, to whom also He said, ‘Let Us make man.’”[47] However, it is interesting to note that this trinitarian metaphor occurs less than ten times in the span of Heresies’ five books.[48] Moreover, only a few of the references make an explicit connection between the hands of the Son and Spirit and non-human creation (one text which Gunton most frequently cites, 4.20.1).[49] Although the “two hands” of the Father is a technical phrase for Irenaeus, its infrequent use limits our understanding. Unlike the Cappadocians and other post-Nicene fathers, Irenaeus does not offer a full blown doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, Gonzalez is correct to point out that the metaphor is more or less left to stand on its own: “Irenaeus bypasses the more subtle aspects of trinitarian doctrine and simply affirms, as he must have heard from his ancestors in the faith, that God is Father, Son and Spirit, without discussing the relationship between the three.”[50] However, we must be weary of committing the word-thing fallacy, for Irenaeus makes numerous references to trinitarian creation that do not employ the two hands metaphor.[51] Moreover, each instance of the “two hands” metaphor is undeniably trinitarian.
What then, according to Irenaeus, is the purpose of the “two hands” metaphor and how does it relate to creation ex nihilo? First and foremost, the “two hands” metaphor emerges at the beginning of Book IV, which contains Irenaeus’ attempt to “add weight, by means of the words of the Lord” to his argument (4.pref.1). Thus, he is beginning to turn away from strict reason and return to the faith through which his reason operates. More specifically, this first reference is in response to Gnostics “teaching blasphemy against God our Maker and Supporter, and derogating from the salvation of man (4.pref.4).” Immediately after this sentence he writes, “Now man is a mixed organization of soul and flesh, who was formed after the likeness of God, and moulded by His hands, that is, by the Son and Holy Spirit, to whom also He said, ‘Let Us make man.’ This, then, is the aim of him who envies our life, to render men disbelievers in their own salvation, and blasphemous against God the Creator (4.pref.4).” Thus, Irenaeus perceives two Gnostic atrocities, 1) an attempt to blaspheme God (who is triune) and 2) to undermine Christian faith. How then does Gen 1.26 inform his argument? The quotation from Genesis 1 will appear disjointed unless we perceive two key elements in Irenaeus’ theology. One, Gnostic assault upon the Creator is an assault on the Triune God and two, to attempt to subvert redemption is to disfigure God’s new creation. For Irenaeus, Creator and Trinity go hand in hand, just as creation and redemption. Thus, he views their attempts to undermine the faith of believers in the Triune God as an assault on new creation. He writes, “…they blaspheme the Creator, and disallow the salvation of God's workmanship, which the flesh truly is…(4.preface.4)” His allusion to Eph 2.10 is especially illuminating, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Note that his understanding of “workmanship” is grounded in the creation/redemption imagery of Ephesians 2, which includes redemption of the flesh and the spirit, saved by grace to do good works![52] Therefore, if we understand just how closely Irenaeus views creation and redemption, we will begin to understand both the gravity of his argument and the greatness of his God.
Interestingly, Irenaeus’ “two hands” metaphor does not reappear until the last chapter of Book IV, forming an inclusio. After a sustained argument from Scripture regarding the centrality and deity of Christ and his pivotal role in redemptively recapitulating the human story as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, Irenaeus returns to trinitarian creation as the basis for creation ex nihilo. Because the Father is trinitarian, relating to the Son and the Spirit, the Word and Wisdom, he can create all things without the need for an angelic mediator, just as the title of his final section implies:

THAT ONE GOD FORMED ALL THINGS IN THE WORLD, BY MEANS OF THE WORD AND THE HOLY SPIRIT: AND THAT ALTHOUGH HE IS TO US IN THIS LIFE INVISIBLE AND INCOMPREHENSIBLE, NEVERTHELESS HE IS NOT UNKNOWN; INASMUCH AS HIS WORKS DO DECLARE HIM, AND HIS WORD HAS SHOWN THAT IN MANY MODES HE MAY BE SEEN AND KNOWN.

Irenaeus elaborates:

“And this is He of whom the Scripture says, ‘And God formed man, taking clay of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life.’[53] It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor any one else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these [beings], in order to the accomplishing of what He had Himself determined with Himself beforehand should be done, as if He did not possess His own hands. For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, ‘Let Us make man after Our image and likeness;’[54] He taking from Himself the substance of the creatures [formed], and the pattern of things made, and the type of all the adornments in the world. (4.20.1)

Why are Gnostics wrong in supposing that some sort of intermediary being created all things? According to Irenaeus there are at least four reasons. First, this is a contradiction of Gen 1.26, which informs the reader that God created man with the help of the Son and the Spirit (inclusio with preface). This assistance can not come through the agency of angels since, as finite and created beings, they could not create the image of the infinite and uncreated God.[55] Second, and related, there is no such power outside of the Trinity to perform creation, especially that of the imago Dei. Third, God had no need for any help since he is eternally self-sufficient as a Triune God. Fourth, creation was decreed before the existence of angels and was the product of intra-trinitarian counsel, “He himself had determined with Himself beforehand…For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in who, freely and spontaneously, He made all things…” Therefore, trinitarian creation ex nihilo implies the omnipotence, self-sufficiency, and freedom of God to create as he wills, springing from no deficiency but rather from the overflow of his creativity and sovereign will. As Gunton has observed via Irenaeus, this implies a freestanding value for the created order, affirming the goodness of creation: “It is accordingly his trinitarianism which gives Irenaeus the confidence and the reason to affirm the doctrine of creation out of nothing. The economy of creation and salvation as it takes its centre in Jesus Christ’s redemptive recapitulation of the human story demonstrates God’s total sovereignty in and over against all the created order.”[56]
As summarized above, Irenaeus’ trinitarian theology of creation has contributed to our understanding of the being of God in several key areas. Therefore, before examining the Trinity proper, we will reflect with Gunton on one of the “attributes” of the Trinity who creates ex nihilo, the attribute of omnipotence.


Divine Personal Omnipotence: Implications of the Two Hands
Gunton points out that Irenaeus was the first to systematically develop the omnipotence of God in the history of dogmatics.[57] How? Gunton writes: “The doctrine was a specifically theological coining, a side-effect so to speak of Irenaeus’ development of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, which, as he rightly saw, implied omnipotence.”[58] Moreover, contrary to contemporary formulations of omnipotence, Irenaeus’ understanding took on a more personal tone. Citing an often misinterpreted passage from Heresies, Gunton corrects the interpretation and points out that God’s omnipotence is not merely an action but an attribute of his personal being, namely the powerful actions of his two hands in creation. This section is worthy of full citation not only to exegete Irenaeus but also as an example of Irenaeus’ exegesis:

“Truly, then, the Scripture declared, which says, ‘First of all believe that there is one God, who has established all things, and completed them, and having caused that from what had no being, all things should come into existence:’[59] He who contains all things, and is Himself contained by no one. Rightly also has Malachi said among the prophets: ‘Is it not one God who hath established us? Have we not all one Father?’[60] In accordance with this, too, does the apostle say, ‘There is one God, the Father, who is above all, and in us all.’[61] Likewise does the Lord also say: ‘All things are delivered to Me by My Father;’[62] manifestly by Him who made all things; for He did not deliver to Him the things of another, but His own. But in all things [it is implied that] nothing has been kept back [from Him], and for this reason the same person is the Judge of the living and the dead; ‘having the key of David: He shall Open, and no man shall shut: He shall shut, and no man shall open.’[63] For no one was able, either in heaven or in earth, or under the earth, to open the book of the Father, or to behold Him, with the exception of the Lamb who was slain, and who redeemed us with His own blood, receiving power over all things from the same God who made all things by the Word, and adorned them by [His] Wisdom, when "the Word was made flesh;" that even as the Word of God had the sovereignty in the heavens, so also might He have the sovereignty in earth, inasmuch as [He was] a righteous man, ‘who did no sin, neither was there found guile in His mouth;’[64] and that He might have the pre-eminence over those things which are under the earth, He Himself being made ‘the first-begotten of the dead;’[65] and that all things, as I have already said, might behold their King; and that the paternal light might meet with and rest upon the flesh of our Lord, and come to us from His resplendent flesh, and that thus man might attain to immortality, having been invested with the paternal light (4.20.2).”

The particular phrase which has been misinterpreted as pantheistic is “He who contains all things, and is Himself contained by no one.” Gunton comments, “Although ‘contain’ is the usual translation for this passage (panta cwrwn monoj de acwrhtoj wn), Irenaeus’ theology as a whole suggests that ‘enclose’ might be a better translation. ‘Irenaeus can speak of God “enclosing” his creation and yet only be misinterpreted as a pantheist. In both the cosmic and christological case there is a distinct ontological divide functioning that only avoids collapse into monism by virtue of the fact that God himself prevents such a collapse through the mediating activity of the Son and the Spirit. By mediating his own being with that of his creation through his “two hands”, God created an ontological space in which duality does not collapse into dualism.’”[66] Through this explanation we perceive that God is personally involved in creation without necessitating pantheism or panentheism. To construe God’s creative activity as a transcendent, bare display of his raw power apart from the distinctly relational aspect of his immanence is to miss what trinitarian creation is meant to be and convey! Accordingly, Gunton writes: “Irenaeus’ God is ontologically transcendent, as creator of everything else that exists. But by virtue of his triune nature, God the Father is able to enter into personal relations with the created order by the mediating activity of his two hands, the Son ad the Spirit. Who are as truly God as he is God. Irenaeus’ God is thus ontologically transcendent of the world – he is a different kind of being, creator as distinct from creation – but by virtue of his triune being able to enter into relations with that world.”[67]
This personal dimension of the omnipotence of God is observable in Irenaeus’ generous use of Scripture, particularly in his link between the sovereignty of God “in heaven and on earth” through the incarnation. Irenaeus’ exegesis of Revelation is particularly insightful. In Revelation 5.1f John witnesses a problem in the heavenly court, posed by the angel’s question, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” In halakak fashion, Irenaeus interpretively summarizes the heavenly solution, “For no one was able, either in heaven or in earth, or under the earth, to open the book of the Father, or to behold Him, with the exception of the Lamb who was slain, and who redeemed us with His own blood, receiving power over all things from the same God who made all things by the Word, and adorned them by [His] Wisdom, when "the Word was made flesh;" that even as the Word of God had the sovereignty in the heavens, so also might He have the sovereignty in earth…” Irenaeus argues that the only ontologically sufficient solution for the book of redemptive history to be opened is Christ, the God-Man, who has the authority to open the book and execute its decrees of judgment and salvation precisely because he became man and conquered sin, death and hell. Thus, as the one who secured his sovereignty through his own birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus Christ received power from the Father enabling him to exercise universal sovereignty or “omnipotence”! Note that, according to Irenaeus, this omnipotence is directed towards the glorification of the elect, “and that the paternal light might meet with and rest upon the flesh of our Lord, and come to us from His resplendent flesh, and that thus man might attain to immortality, having been invested with the paternal light.”[68] This is no instance of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Instead, Jesus harnesses his power for the good of people and creation.
Such personal omnipotence is also demonstrated in the latter half of Revelation 5 where the 24 elders, representative of Israel and the Church (the whole people of God), sing a new song of salvation, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Trinitarian omnipotence is here opened up to the elect in that they will reign with Christ forever in the new creation, bringing Irenaeus’ theology of trinitarian creation full circle.[69] Situating Irenaeus’ theological insight in his historical context Gunton writes: “The doctrine of omnipotence is a new arrival on the scene of history, at least so far as Irenaeus’ cultural context is concerned. Greek gods were not omnipotent, but subservient to fate, chance and necessity. Irenaeus’ God is known to be omnipotent for Christian reasons: by virtue of what happened in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.”[70] Thus, we observe that Irenaeus’ trinitarian theology of creation gave rise to the Christian understanding of omnipotence as an equally personal and powerful “attribute” of God.

Trinitarian Theology for Systematic Theology
In his posthumously published work, Act & Being: Towards a Theology of Divine Attributes, Gunton laments the detrimental influence of Hellenistic philosophy upon the manner in which the doctrine of the Trinity has been historically conceived. In particular, he critiques the disconnected way in which many theologians have described God via “attributes” in distinction from God as Trinity, stating at the outset of his book: “To speak of the Trinity is already to say something of God’s characteristics, while to speak of the attributes apart form the Trinity – as is often done – is a mistake, and one which we shall be exploring below.”[71] Accordingly, Gunton asserts that many systematic theologies begin in the wrong place. Instead of beginning with the Trinity, which is itself characteristic of God, the majority of systematic theologies begin with Theology proper and extended discussions on God’s attributes, often to the neglect of the triune God. Gunton notes this problem in Hodge’s Systematic Theology, quoting a lengthy description of God which makes no reference to God as triune.[72] In agreement with Gunton regarding Hodge’s oversight, Robert Letham writes: “he does not get around to suggesting that God is triune until after 250 pages of detailed exposition of the doctrine of God…”[73] Thus, in the tradition of Lombard, Aquinas, Barth[74] and Rahner, [75] Gunton proposes that discussion about God should begin with his threeoneness.
Regarding the doctrine of the Trinity, a variety of insights have already been woven throughout our comments thus far, in particular Irenaeus’ contribution of the two hands of the Father. However, despite the innovation and contribution of the “two hands,” Irenaeus failed to sufficiently elaborate upon this metaphor’s implications for the immanent Trinity. To be sure, Irenaeus was not so radically economic in his trinitarianism that it warranted the accusation of subordinationist.[76] In Heresies 4.20.1 Irenaeus plainly affirms ontological unity within the Godhead: “…that the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father; and that Wisdom also, which is the Spirit, was present with Him anterior to all creation.”[77] Nevertheless, the economic emphasis in Irenaeus led to an obscuring of the Son and the Spirit as “Persons,”[78] which is, in part, what Gunton has attempted to improve upon in The Promise of Trinitarian Theology by paying particular attention to the work of the Cappadocian fathers. But first, some introductory comments.
Before and after the East-West split over the filoque clause, vigorous deliberation and, at times, violent debate characterized ecclesiastical concern regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. However, in recent years Western attention to the doctrine of the Trinity has been in steady decline. To be sure, Christian orthodoxy has consistently affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity, but that is the problem; it has merely been affirmed. The doctrine of the Trinity has increasingly become an affirmation that good, orthodox Christians slide onto the shelf of their mental libraries where, unfortunately, it has remained to collect dust. As a result, the Trinity has been fossilized into Christian consciousness as concept, not as praxis. This trend of viewing the Trinity as a problem or not at all is precisely what Gunton sought to overturn. He writes:

“…there has for long been a tendency to treat the doctrine as a problem rather than as encapsulating the heart of the Christian gospel. It is as if one had to establish one’s Christian orthodoxy by facing a series of mathematical and logical difficulties rather than by glorying in the being of God whose reality as a communion of persons is the basis of a rational universe in which personal life may take shape.”[79]

For Gunton, the Trinity was not a problem but a priority. In lieu of approaching the Trinity as a “problem solving device”, he viewed the doctrine as central to the Christian faith, as a relational reality soliciting praise and affecting every facet of life.[80] Thus, he proceeded in his trinitarianism with the assumption that by understanding the kind of being that God is we can begin to understand what kind of beings we are and the world we inhabit.[81] Profoundly moved by the pervasive power and relevance of the Trinity, Gunton sought to view everything through this doctrine: “Because God is triune, we must respond to him in a particular way, or rather set of ways, corresponding to the richness of his being…In turn, that means that everything looks – and, indeed, is – different in the life of the Trinity. (emphasis added)”[82]


The Immanent Trinity
How did Gunton view the Trinity? Much could be said and has been said on this topic;[83] therefore, what follows is an attempt to distill Gunton’s trinitarian theology. In our lengthy examination of the two hands of the Father, we explored the economic work of the Trinity via the Father’s work in creation through the Son and the Spirit. By reflecting on the Trinity’s work of creatio ex nihilo, we discerned a number of things about the being of God, his sovereignty, omnipotence and personal agency, gaining a glimpse into the immanent Trinity. Here we are further concerned with the immanent Trinity. However, lest we draw a line too sharply between the economic and immanent Trinity (even the manner in which these two approaches are often expressed is problematic, implying two “Trinities,” one economic and one immanent), it is important to affirm Rahner’s familiar aphorism, “The ‘economic’ Trinity is the ‘immanent’ Trinity and the ‘immanent’ Trinity is the ‘economic’ Trinity.”[84] Alternatively put in Guntonian form: “God is what he does, and does what he is.”[85] Therefore, it will not do to speculate upon the inner life of the Trinity apart from who God has revealed himself to be in his actions through history. As a result, “economic” insight will serve our “immanent” reflections. To that end, we turn once again to Irenaeus.
Quite frequently Irenaeus’ comments on the being of God are grounded in the action of God. This is observable in a familiar passage: “For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things…(4.20.1)”[86] Here the co-eternal existence of the three persons is affirmed in conjunction with their creating activity. Therefore, if the Son and the Spirit are, as the two hands, God the Father in action, they are the eternal God.[87] As full members of the Godhead, neither the Son nor the Spirit are to be misconstrued as ontologically subordinate to God the Father. In some sense, they are God the Father and are not some sort of semi-divine beings that bridge the ontological divide between Creator and creature. Therefore, each person of the Trinity is constitutively God, warranting study as individual persons, if we are to understand just who the Trinity is. Yet, in our aim to understand the immanent Trinity we do well to heed Gunton’s warning: “The point of the doctrine of the immanent Trinity is to provide a ground for the theology of the economy, but to go no further than is licensed by his revelation.”[88]
Yet, what does revelation hold out for us? Leaning upon the Cappadocian fathers, Gunton observes that Jesus’ historical identity is determined by his relation to the Father – being sent, returning to and remaining with the Father. Thus, the Son is the eternally begotten one (Jn 1.14, 18), limiting the human analogy of Father and Son to relation, not including origination.[89] Similarly, yet distinctly, the Spirit is to be understood in relation to the Father, not as another Son but as one who “proceeds” (evkporeu,etai, present middle) from the Father: Otan e;lqh o` para,klhtoj o]n evgw. pe,myw u`mi/n para. tou/ patro,j( to. pneu/ma th/j avlhqei,aj o] para. tou/ patro.j evkporeu,etai( evkei/noj marturh,sei peri. evmou/ (Jn 15.26). In addition to the Son and the Spirit’s relation to the Father, this text informs us of a relationship between the Son and the Spirit, completing the triune community. The Spirit is also, in some way, sent by the Son while also testifying concerning the Son.
By maintaining this relational conception of the Trinity, Gunton follows the contributions of St. Basil of Caesarea, who drew the distinction between the Trinity as essence and as persons.[90] To this Gunton adds the eschatological work of the Spirit as the perfecting presence of God not only in creation, but also in the Trinity.[91] Gunton writes: “Suppose that we were to infer from this the suggestion that in eternity the Spirit is the one who similarly perfects the being of God, so as first to enable the relation between the Father and the Son to be properly described as one of love; and second to provide the basis for God’s movement out into the world in his Son to create and redeem.”[92] By expanding upon Basil’s articulation of the Spirit as the perfecting cause, Gunton echoes the Augustinian analogy of the Trinity as Lover, Beloved and Love.[93] Thus, Gunton underscores the perichoretic and personal nature of the Trinity:

“…the being of God is describable as love, but love of a particular kind. To say that God is love means, first, that God is constituted, made up without remainder, of a personal structure of giving and receiving. Internally, God is a fellowship of persons whose orientation is entirely to the other. The notion of there being three persons in God is problematic for us, because we think that person means individual in the modern sense of one whose being is defined over against, even in opposition to, other individuals.”[94]

Indeed, love does get at the “heart” of the Trinity and is indicative of an eternal self-sufficiency and happiness shared by the three divine persons in communion, reminding us that God did not create out of deficiency or need- he is constituted without remainder. However, care must be taken when describing the Holy Spirit as “Love.” This emotive yet rather impersonal description comes dangerously close to downgrading the third person of the Trinity. Alternatively, Gunton proposes conceiving of the Holy Spirit as the mediator or agent of love, a hypostasis in his own being.[95]
To summarize in Gunton’s own words, God’s being is known in and through his action, his triune act.[96] He writes: “His action is triune in the sense that it is the action of the Father, Son and Spirit, whose opera ad extra are inseparable from one another, though they are distributed, so to speak, between the three persons: the Father being the originating source of action, which he performs through the Son’s involvement in the world and the Sprit’s perfecting of created things in anticipation of the Last Day.”[97]

Engaging Culture and Worship: Implications for a Trinitarian Theology of Creation
The action of the Trinity in creation compelled Gunton to explore not only the depths of the immanent Trinity but also its impact on culture. In his zeal to develop a more concrete trinitarianism, Gunton devoted significant space in his writings to engagement with the ideals and issues of modern culture, most notably his The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity.[98] Commenting on the relevance of the Trinity to culture he writes: “Modernity is like all cultures, in being in need of the healing light of the gospel of the Son of God, made incarnate by the Holy Spirit for the perfecting of the creation.”[99] Gunton even goes so far as to say, “…the value of the theology of the Trinity lies more in enabling a rethinking of the topics of theology and culture than in offering a privileged view of the being of God.”[100] However, Gunton’s perception of the value of trinitarian theology should not be perceived as radical orthopraxy or in some way at odds with doxological orthodoxy. On the contrary, like many other theologians in the Reformed tradition, he views theology, more specifically, trinitarian theology, as a means to doxology. He writes: “And as soon as we begin to look at worship in the Christian church, the importance of the trinitarian dimension immediately becomes apparent. Worship is not activity in which we contemplate or observe a being who is over and against us – though in a sense God is that also – but it is relational, something that happens between persons. And the happening between persons is worship in the Son and through the Spirit.”[101]

























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[1] Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, translated by John K. Ryan (New York: Doubleday, 1960), 138.
[2] Confessions, 138.
[3] According to Edmund Hill, Augustine derived this phrase from Isaiah 7.9 LXX, “unless you believe, you will not understand.” St. Augustine, The Trinity, trans. and intro. by Edmund Hill (O.P. Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), 22. In De Trinitatae, Augustine expands upon the meaning of fides quorum intellectum while commenting on the challenge and promise of understanding the Trinity, especially in conjunction with his exegesis of Mt 5.8. Ibid., VIII, 3.
[4] In agreement Gunton writes, “God is incomprehensible in not being graspable; but not incomprehensible in the sense of being entirely beyond our understanding.” Colin Gunton, Act & Being: Towards A Theology of the Divine Attributes (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 112.
[5] Gunton uses the specific phrase, “trinitarian theology of creation”, in a variety of places including, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology (London: T & T Clark, 1997), 142 and The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 10.
[6] Gunton, Triune Creator, ix.
[7] Gunton’s commitment to integrating systematic and historical theology is recognizable throughout his work, the least of which is certainly not The Triune Creator. In this vein and of particular interest is Gunton’s chapter on “Historical and Systematic Theology,” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, ed. Colin E. Gunton (Cambridge, England: Cambridge U. Press, 1997) and Theology through the Theologians: Selected Essays from 1972-1995 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996).
[8] Jaroslav Pelikan, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Christian Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 35.
[9] Aquinas, Summa Theologicae, 1a.2, as cited in Gunton, Triune Creator, 6.
[10] Ibid., 8.
[11] Ibid., 14-24. Although Gunton justifies his meager exegesis (see above), this is certainly one of the deficiencies in his work. His aim to develop a trinitarian theology of creation has been done at the expense of a biblical theology of creation. However, it appears that Gunton sought to rectify this deficiency in some of his later writings. For instance, in “The Spirit Moved Over the Face of the Waters: The Holy Spirit and the Created Order,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 4, no. 2 (July 2002): 190-204, Gunton develops a significant exegesis of Gen 1.1-2 along with exegetical-theological reflection of various NT texts.
[12] Ibid., 15.
[13] Colin E. Gunton, "The Doctrine of Creation," in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, ed. Colin E. Gunton (Cambridge, England: Cambridge U. Press, 1997), 145.
[14] ?
[15] Gunton, Triune Creator, 20-1. To be fair, Gunton also mentions the important role that Psalms and Job play in an OT theology of creation. He notes, “The Psalms, 104 and 139 for example, celebrate God’s creation of everything without the framework of days or an allusion to the first human couple. The famous speech of God from the whirlwind in Job 38-9 celebrates what is surely the main point of the Old Testament witness, the sheer freedom and sovereignty of God over all things that he has made, a note to be found nowhere outside of the Bible, for in all other accounts, certainly in those of the Greeks, there are always constraints on divine action.” Cambridge Companion, 145.
[16] Ibid., 21.
[17] For translations of the texts see, James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament with Supplement 3rd ed. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969).
[18] Hesiod is neither fully Homeric nor fully Pre-socratic, but functions as a kind of transitional figure in Greek cosmogony. For instance, he conceives of creation in terms of quasi-impersonal gods such as the Chasm (understood as void Chaos), which is later described as containing colliding atoms by the Atomists. The pre-Socratics become altogether impersonal, while depending upon the once personal and ancient conceptions of creation. The pendulum swings from the personal conception of the universe to the impersonal conception. Hesiod, Theogony, Works and Days trans. M. L. West (Oxford, England: Oxford, 1999).
[19] Gunton, Triune Creator, 9.
[20] Gunton, The Christian Faith, 17.
[21] The Christian Faith, 18.
[22] Friedrich E. D. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, 2 vols. Trans. Richard R. Niebuhr (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 1:148-52, cited in Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Scientific and Philosophical Exploration (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 10.
[23] Gerhard May, Creatio ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of “Creation out of Nothing”: in Early Christian Thought, trans. A. S. Worrall (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1994) cited in Copan and Craig, Creation Out of Nothing, 24.
[24] Copan and Craig, Creation Out of Nothing, 24.
[25] Creation Out of Nothing, 9.
[26] Gunton, Triune Creator, 65.
[27] Most of the pre-Socratic evidence is fragmentary, courtesy of Aristotle. However, the philosophical centers of Heraclitus and Parmenides thought have been historically recognized as representative of the one and the many. Heraclitus is most well known for his statement, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” Hence his philosophy of flux, also present in his emphasis on the logos as the fiery, volatile substance that permeates all things. Reality is in fluctuation. For Parmenides, reality is “an undifferentiated continuum, with no past and no future. It just timelessly is.” Ibid., 27a.
[28] Ibid., 22. Scholars have pointed out that the myth of Atlantis, which is a cycle of floods and drying out, surrounds the story of the Timaeus, leading them to suggest that Timaeus is mythical. Plato may have actually believed the Timaeus account, simply have recorded what Timaeus believed or employed a mythological genre to record his thoughts and develop his philosophy. Regardless, the principles contained in the Timaeus form a critical part of Platonic cosmology.
[29] Plato, "Timaeus," translated by Benjamin Jowett, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato Including the Letters, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, vol. LXXI, Bollingen Series (Princeton: Princeton Press, 1961), 1151-1211 (27c).
[30] Ibid., 29.
[31] Ibid., 32.
[32] J.N.D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (New York: Harper Row, 1960), 104.
[33] Douglas Farrow comments, “Moreover, he is rightly regarded as the prototypical catholic theologian, an interpreter of the faith for his own troubled times who bequeathed to subsequent generations of Christians (eastern and western) a great store of theological resources, if not the discipline of church dogmatics per se.” See Douglas Farrow, “St. Irenaeus of Lyons: The Church and the World,” Pro Ecclesia 4 (1995), 333-55 (334).
[34]St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies, ed. Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, reprint 2001. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. October 2002. Eerdmans Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library http://www.ccel.org/, preface.
[35] Gunton, Cambridge, 148.
[36] Farrow comments on his pastoral concern: “Rather he thought out his theology form the standpoint of the church’s actual communion with God in the person of Jesus Christ, a communion established and maintained by the Holy Spirit.” Farrow, “St. Irenaeus of Lyons: The Church and the World,” 335.
[37] Irenaeus’ exegesis is praised by Gunton, “…Irenaeus, a theologian whose theology was oriented rather to Scripture than to philosophy, and he achieved it on biblical grounds.” Act & Being, 25.
[38] Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, 120.
[39] Irenaeus, Heresies, II.10.4 cited in Gunton, Triune Creator, 53. See also IV.38.3;
[40] Ibid. Gunton notes that Theophilus of Antioch preceded Irenaeus.
[41] Interestingly, Irenaeus makes this point by way of an axe illustration: “Wherefore, we do not say that it was the axe which cut the wood, or the saw which divided it; but one would very properly say that the man cut and divided it who formed the axe and the saw for this purpose, and [who also formed] at a much earlier date all the tools by which the axe and the saw themselves were formed. With justice, therefore, according to an analogous process of reasoning, the Father of all will be declared the Former of this world, and not the angels, nor any other [so-called] former of the world, other than He who was its Author, and had formerly been the cause of the preparation for a creation of this kind (II.2.3).”
[42] Jn 1.3
[43] Ps 33.9; 148.5
[44] So Gunton, Triune Creator, 53.
[45] Ibid., 54.
[46] What follows is a personal exegesis of Irenaeus. Similar to Gunton’s dearth of biblical exegesis is his lack of patristic exegesis. Perhaps both his biblical and patristic exegesis would have been manifest in the originally envisioned two volume Triune Creator. In the preface he writes, “Ideally, this would have been a two-volume work, giving full space to history and dogmatics alike.” Ibid., ix.
[47] Irenaeus, Heresies, 4. pref. 1.
[48] “Two hands” texts in Heresies: 4.pref.1; 4.20.1; 4.33.4; 5.1.3; 5.5.1; 5.6.1; 5.17.4; 5.28.4; 5.35.2.
[49] Additional ‘two hands’ texts regarding non-human creation: 5.35.2
[50] Justo Gonzalez, A History of Christian Theology: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon Vol. 1 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1970), 161.
[51] E.g., Irenaeus, Heresies, 4.7.4; 4.38.3; 5.18.2; 5.28.4.
[52] Interestingly, Ephesians 2.18 is a statement of trinitarian new creation, “For through him [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
[53] Gen 2.7
[54] Gen 1.26
[55] Some modern scholars have interpreted this text differently, stating that the plural hf,[]n: indicates God’s appeal to the angelic council (Ps 89.5-8). To be sure, a host of angels were present with God, marveling at his creation (Job 38.7); however, the rather involved argument given to support this position appears to force the text. While the plural subject is not commonly used in Scripture to designate the Trinity, to interpret it as such need not be an instance of affective fallacy. With the presence of the Spirit in Gen 1.2 and no immediate mention of angels until 3.24, the context would suggest that, in fact, Irenaeus is correct to identify the Trinity with the imago Dei. The notion that the angels were also called the sons of God and accordingly bear his communicable image, rendering them qualified participants in the creation of man is also questionable. While man’s purpose is to reflect God’s glory, as the angels do, his manner of glorifying God is altogether different from the angels in that he is given the command to be fruitful and multiply and rule over creation. Thus, Chrysostom likely interpreted this text correctly when he identified the imago Dei as a functionary vice-regent who is commanded to imitate the rule of his King.
[56] Gunton, Triune Creator, 54.
[57] Gunton, Act & Being, 25.
[58] Act & Being, 26.
[59] Shepherd of Hermas, 2.1
[60] Mal 2.10
[61] Eph 4.6
[62] Mt 11.27
[63] Rev 3.7
[64] 1 Pt 2.23
[65] Col 1.18
[66] Ibid., fn.7 including citation from Paul Cumin, “Irenaeus, Gnostic Monism and the Strong Second Hand of God,” unpublished paper.
[67] Gunton, Triune Creator, 60.
[68] This intimates the more Eastern concept of theosis.
[69] Irenaeus misses the reference to the third person of the Trinity in Rev 5.6 which is an allusion to Zech 3 and 4, “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.” In agreement Beale comments, “…these spirits become Christ’s agents throughout the world, who figuratively represent the Holy Spirit himself.” G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 355. Tying omnipotence to divine being-in-relation, Caird comments, “By this symbol John undoubtedly invests Christ with the attributes of deity, but he also does something more important still: he redefines omnipotence. Omnipotence is not to be understood as the power of unlimited coercion, but as the power of infinite persuasion, the invincible power of self-negating, self-sacrificing love (emphasis added).” G.B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 75.
[70] Gunton, Triune Creator, 53.
[71] Gunton, Act & Being, 1.
[72] Act & Being, 7.
[73] Robert Letham, “Review of Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator,” WTS 62 (2000): 148. Also quoted in Ibid. Renewed emphasis on the Trinity as suggested by Gunton would certainly go a long way in overturning evangelical modalist and monotheist tendencies. Moreover, renewed reflection on the trinitarian God holds immense “apologetic” value in contending with popular contemporary heresies and religions such as Open Theism and Islam.
[74] “In giving this doctrine [the Trinity] a place of prominence our concern cannot be merely that it have this place externally but rather that its content be decisive and controlling for the whole of dogmatics.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I ed. G.W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975), 303.
[75] This critique is akin to the Rahnerian diagnosis of the theological bifurcation of De Deo Uno and De Deo Treno. Karl Rahner, The Trinity, 1970, trans. Joseph Donceel (New York: Crossroad, 2004), 16.
[76] So Edmund Fortman, “For he does not regard the Son and the Sprit as creatures but as just as eternal and divine as the Father, for they are the very Word of God and the Wisdom of God who belong to the very life of God… But it was not Irenaeus’ intention to subordinate them to the Father but to tell the Gnostics that the Supreme God is the Creator, and none other, that the one true God who is the Father, Son and Spirit is the direct and immediate Creator of all that is and needs no mediating aeons or angels as His intermediary instruments of creation.” The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 106. Cited in the unpublished notes of Dr. Paul C-H Lim, assistant professor of Christian Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, p. 5.
[77] Ibid., 3.
[78] Kelly, 108. Also cited in Lim, 6.
[79] Gunton, Promise of Trinitarian Theology, 31.
[80] Ibid., xxix.
[81] Ibid., xi.
[82] Ibid., 4. The italicized phrase, “everything looks different in the light of the Trinity” is a Guntonism and occurs three times within the first thirty pages of this book (cf. 7, 28).
[83] See relevant works by Gunton mentioned above.
[84] Karl Rahner, The Trinity, 22.
[85] Gunton, Act & Being, 76.
[86] Cited in Act & Being, 81.
[87] Gunton, The Christian Faith, 184.
[88] The Christian Faith, 185.
[89] The Christian Faith, 185.
[90] See Letter XXXVIII
[91] Basil writes, “And in the creation bethink thee first, I pray thee, of the original cause of all things that are made, the Father; of the creative cause, the Son; of the perfecting cause, the Spirit…” De Spiritu Sancto, XVI.38
[92] Ibid., 185-6.
[93] However, in distinction from Augustine he writes: “This would be in some way similar to Augustine’s characterization of the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son, but with a correction of its tendency to turn the deity into an eternal inward turning circle rather than a being from eternity directed outwards to the other.” Gunton, The Christian Faith, 186. Whether or not this is a fair assessment of Augustine is in question. Augustine, The Trinity, trans. and introd. Edmund Hill (O.P. Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), VIII.14. Gunton reminds the reader that Augustine points to Hillary of Poitiers for his popularized analogy, Act & Being, 135.
[94] Act & Being, 135.
[95] Act & Being, 135, 104 fn. 18.
[96] Act & Being, 113.
[97] Act & Being, 113.
[98] Interestingly, this work started out as a theology of culture which, unforeseen by Gunton, was quickly expanded to include a theology of creation. Gunton writes, “As the argument developed over more than a year, it became increasingly evident that this work is a theology of creation as much as, if not more than, a theology of culture.” See Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many (Cambridge: Cambridge, 2002), 2.
[99] Ibid., 1.
[100] Gunton, Promise, xxix.
[101] Ibid., 5-6.

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