Review – The Trinity by Gilles Emery

The criteria for an introduction to the Trinity are several: reasonable length, clearly defined terms, biblical reasoning, historical sensitivity, logical progression, and doctrinal synthesis. By these standards, The Trinity: An Introduction to Catholic Doctrine on the Triune God by Gilles Emery, O.P. has earned its subtitle.

In the first chapter, the doctrine of the Trinity is located within the liturgical practice of the Church and within the movement of redemptive history. The New Testament allows us to follow both the path of the human Jesus leading to Easter or the path of Jesus’ pre-existent filial divinity. In either case, the Holy Spirit is the key to our knowledge of the Trinity, and the doctrine of the Trinity is manifested in the economy of salvation.

The second chapter contains a biblical examination of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, along with their relations and simplicity. The third examines “Confessions of Trinitarian Faith,” both in Scripture and in the later practice of the Church. It includes an overview of early heresies and a luminous close reading of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, relying heavily on patristic sources.

The fourth chapter clarifies the nature of the divine “persons” or “hypostases.” It moves deeper into the person/nature distinction, the ramifications of simplicity, analogical language. It also features reflections on the relationship between divine and human persons.

The fifth and longest chapter is a “Doctrinal Synthesis on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” It explains in depth what is proper to each person, thus distinguishing generation from procession. The filioque is explained, defended, and asserted to be substantially agreeable to Eastern trinitarian theology. The Holy Spirit as personal Love and Gift receives special attention.

The final chapter reintegrates the economic and immanent aspects of the Trinity. It explains how modes of action may be “appropriated” to one person without compromising the indivisible action of the Trinity. The Father acts through the Son and in the Spirit, both in creation and in salvation. The missions of the Son and Spirit reveal God and save the just through “divinization,” a reception of the Trinity and communion with the Father. The book wraps up with a punchy conclusion and a glossary.

Emery’s specifically Catholic approach is visible in several ways. He remains at all times sensitive to the liturgical and sacramental dimensions of trinitarian theology. Thomas Aquinas is his primary influence. (Emery has written a 4oo+ page monograph on Thomas’ trinitarian theology). Most references to modern writings are to official documents of the Catholic Church or individual Catholic theologians. Probably also because of the introductory nature of the book, there is very little interaction with contemporary trends in trinitarian theology.

Trinitarian doctrine is not easy, but Emery (with has translator) has rendered it intelligible and attractive. The prose is straightforward, the subdivisions are logical, and the tasteful use of italics highlights key themes. Exegetes, theologians, historians, and liturgists alike will find the Trinity related to their discipline. Most importantly, The Trinity will prepare its readers to enter higher levels of discussion about the Trinity. That is ultimately what makes it a successful introduction. I highly recommend this book for your library, whether you are a beginner or not, Catholic or not.

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Published in: on September 14, 2011 at 9:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Review – Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought by Arvin Vos

Arvin Vos’ Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought butchers the sacred cow of contemporary Protestant philosophy, the vilification of Thomas Aquinas. Vos, a Reformed Protestant, demonstrates that traditional Protestant interpretation of Aquinas flawed. Moreover, he argues that in some cases Aquinas’ thought is superior to Calvin’s and the Reformed tradition’s; he urges Protestants to re-appropriate their Thomistic heritage.

Vos’ catalogue of Protestant errors is embarrassingly thorough. Protestants have wrongly opposed Calvin to Aquinas on the nature of faith. Though their language is quite different, their substance is similar. Vos argues against Wolterstorff that in matters of faith, Aquinas was a fideist (in Wolterstorff’s somewhat unusual categorization) rather than an evidentialist. Regarding the Five Ways, Vos contends that they are not philosophical prerequisites to belief. Their actual function is much more interesting, and I urge readers to concentrate on this exposition, which I found to be the highlight of the book. Aquinas does not, as many Protestants suggest, construct a two-story view of knowledge in which faith is superadded to reason; rather, he argues that philosophical demonstration is unnecessary (though not unhelpful) where there is faith. Finally, Aquinas does not radically distinguish nature from grace or make grace an accessory to nature. A careful consideration of Aquinas’ definition of nature dispels that notion.

At first, Vos’ thesis may seem too revisionist, too innovative to be credible. After all, is it really likely that such a wide spectrum of Protestant thinkers — Carl Henry, Rienhold Neibuhr, Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, Herman Dooyeweerd — have all misinterpreted Aquinas? Vos points out that there are very few Protestant scholars with firsthand proficiency in Aquinas, with the result that mistakes in secondary sources are widely disseminated. Even more crucially, Vos’ interpretation of Aquinas is not particularly original. He draws heavily from 20th century Catholic scholars, such as Henri de Lubac, Etienne Gilson, Marie-Dominique Chenu, G. de Broglie, and others.  The Thomism of “pure nature” and rationalism that Protestants rightly refute, say these authors, stems not so much from Thomas as from Thomistsof the 16th- and 17th centuries, who were seeking to bolster Catholicism against Protestantism and Cartesianism. As these scholars have called attention to misinterpretations of Aquinas within their own tradition, Vos does likewise for Protestants.

The claim that Protestantism has widely misinterpreted Thomas, but not necessarily Thomism, is itself significant enough to make Vos’s work worth reading. The sharpest bite is not this point, however, but Vos’ assertion that Aquinas’ definition of faith and description of the natural powers of man is superior to Calvin’s. Reformed readers may not swallow this easily, but they cannot ignore  Vos’  argument. Besides, anyone who can sludge through Van Til or Dooyeweerd should have no problem handling this lucid, 174-page treatment.

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Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 11:59 am  Comments (1)  
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