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C.S. Lewis: On the Doctrine of the Trinity
The Doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important Christian doctrines and would possibly be considered a “protective” doctrine.1 Defined by the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, the Trinity consists of three separate species, hupostaseis, who share a common substance, ousia.2 Although the Trinity is a complicated doctrine, we can suffice it by saying that the Trinity consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all of whom are equal in power but separate in entity. C.S. Lewis warns that the Trinity works together in ways that we, as humans, could never understand. He uses the analogy of a cube: a perfectly three-dimensional object made up of six two-dimensional squares. Each square is unique but remain one cube.3 Lewis adopts the typical evangelical view of the Trinity when it comes to Jesus, as adopted by the National Association of Evangelicals. The National Association of Evangelicals adopts the following definition for the Trinity: “We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”4 To begin his defense of the Trinity, Lewis talks about the common problem faced when using the words “to create” and “to beget.” The Bible talks about Jesus being the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16 says that God sent his only begotten Son. John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only Begotten, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." But what does "begotten"
1 [Tillich, 1957] 139-140. 2 [, 2005] 3 [Lewis, 2002] 133. 4 [Evangelicals]
Matt Davies March 20, 2009 Professor Apel actually mean? CS Lewis puts the definition as such: "To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make."5 He goes on further saying that when one begets something, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. Therefore, humans can beget a baby but they will create a birdhouse. He goes further to say this, which begins the first point. "What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God."6 Working off the aforementioned premise, we can examine the position of Lewis based on the Bible and the accepted evangelical definition. The Bible states that Jesus was begotten, as demonstrated above by John 1:14 and John 3:16. Therefore, Jesus is of one spirit with God and is, in fact, God Himself. The Trinity is one perfect being7 but also three. This line of reasoning would lead us to believe that a member of the Trinity was walking on earth with mere mortals at one specific point in time. This is a claim that Lewis would defend. We cannot claim that Jesus’ earthly life was part of Jesus’ divine history because God has no history.8 Yet to be a Christian, one must belief that the earthly Jesus was divine; to use the language of Lewis, Jesus was either who he said he was, i.e. the Son of God, or a madman.9 To be a Christian, you must believe the former.
5 [Lewis, 2002] 130. 6 Ibid. 130. 7 I use the word “being” with great caution. The common Christian belief is that Jesus is the only member of the Trinity with a body. However, when I use the word “being” here, I refer to the previously defined “hupostaseis.” 8 [Lewis, 2002] 139. 9 Ibid. 51.
Matt Davies March 20, 2009 Professor Apel A difficult question arises from this line of reasoning. If Jesus’ time on earth was not part of God’s history, then was He both fully God and fully man? This is the question of the Hypostatic Union: “what is the relation between the entity to which…human predicates apply, and the Second Person of the Trinity?”10 John Lamont, a professor at St. Mary’s College at the University of St. Andrews, claims that we have only one sufficient possibility when dealing with the Hypostatic Union. This possibility deals with the question of identity. If Jesus-man was and is identical to Jesus-divine, then the divine nature of Jesus had human predicates. Lamont will claim that this view necessitates that Jesus had every human attribute and every divine attribute, by Leibniz’s Law of the indiscernability of identicals.11 One might think that this would be contradictory unless we distinguish between being fully human or merely human; or consequently between being fully divine or merely divine. However, this contradiction does not have to exist. If we ascribe to a deity at least the knowledge, or predicates, of a human, Jesus can accurately have both. For example, a human cannot fully know everything; we can only identify a true proposition as it specifically relates to our worldview or paradigm. However, God can, and does, know everything. He has at least the knowledge of a human. Paul Tillich warns that any “diminution of the human nature would deprive the Christ of his total participation in the conditions of existence.12 Lamont solves the dilemma by attributing the theory of divine simplicity. “…there is no feature of that [divine] nature that is not identical with every other feature of it, and with the divine existence…the doctrine of divine simplicity means that God
10 [Lamont, Jan. 2006] 16. 11 Ibid. 16-17 12 [Tillich, 1957] 142.
Matt Davies March 20, 2009 Professor Apel cannot have the contrary of any human or created property, but it allows that God can have the contradictories of human or created properties.”13 Tillich argues that we need to get rid of any “nature” language and adopt a new term. He suggests that we “replace the inadequate concept of ‘divine-nature’ by the concepts of ‘eternal God-man-unity’ or ‘Eternal God-Manhood.’”14 By ascribing to Jesus a human nature, “we must say that he has a complete human nature in the first sense of the word. Through creation, he is finite freedom, like every human being.”15 By using the word human, we mean that Jesus was involved in every aspect of human life. Hebrews 2:17-18 informs us that “…he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Again in Hebrews 4:15 we are told that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are. This is what Tillich means by Jesus having a human nature. He was tempted and suffered through this temptation but was wholly without sin. Therefore, Jesus having a fully divine nature, the attributes that make God who He is, does not contradict with a fully human nature. Jesus suffered in every way that we as humans suffer and was involved with the “tragic ambiguities of life.”16 It is important to note that Lewis does not take prescribe to Adoptionism; Jesus was not adopted by God as the Savior over other possibilities. The Second Person of the Trinity, who
13 [Lamont, Jan. 2006] 21. 14 [Tillich, 1957] 148. 15 Ibid. 147. 16 Ibid. 147.
Matt Davies March 20, 2009 Professor Apel was deemed to be Savior yet not chosen over another, exists because God exists. There are not several entities in Heaven who were begotten; the Bible only ascribes that title to Jesus. Jesus is the only One who exists inside the nature of God Himself. In fact, “he is the self-expression of the Father…”17 Because of the descriptive household language ascribed to Jesus as the Son and God as the Father, we can try to describe the relationship of Jesus to God. Jesus was the Only Begotten, not the Only Chosen. We cannot choose who our sons are outside of adoption. Hence, Lewis makes it clear that Jesus is the self-expression of the Father. In fact, Jesus is “what the Father has to say. And there never was a time when He was not saying it.”18 Jesus being chosen infers a time when God the Father was not “speaking” the Savior. It is clear that the Incarnation and Hypostatic Union is a paradox. I’m sure that Lewis had this doctrine in mind when he reminded his listeners that we cannot understand all the doctrines of Christianity. “Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be – the inconceivable, the uncreated, the thing from beyond nature, striking down nature like lightning.”19 That is why we, as Christians, can satisfied with the explanation that a main doctrine of Christianity is a paradox. Yet Lewis is clear about these following facts: Jesus was fully God and fully man; Jesus is the self-expression of God; Jesus was begotten and not created. “Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map.”20 He is not defined by our doctrines; our doctrines try to define Him. Once we can accept these attempts to define the indefinable, we can begin to understand Jesus for who He truly is.
17 [Lewis, 2002] 142 18 Ibid. 142. 19 Ibid. 53. 20 Ibid. 128.
Matt Davies March 20, 2009 Professor Apel
Evangelicals, National Assocation of. Statement of Faith. 19 March 2009 <http://www.nae.net/index.cfm?FUSEACTION=nae.statement_of_faith>. "Hypostasis." Jones, Lindsay. Enclyclopedia of Religion. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2005. Lamont, John. "The Nature of the Hypostatic Union." Heythrop Journal Vol. 47 Issue 1 (Jan. 2006): 16-25. Lewis, C.S. "Mere Christianity." HarperSanFrancisco. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. 5-177. Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology, Volume 2. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
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