Divine Persons and Attributes

Halden has been musing about the divine persons and attributes here and here, and I thought it would be helpful to posit Edwards as a distinctive in the tradition. The two major issues brought up in Halden’s posts seem to be, in the first, the question of relations in the Trinity and simplicity, and, in the second, the question of attributes. In the second post, Halden questions the move to punt difference to procession and spend the rest of the time making sure there is no difference in attributes between the triune three. I think Edwards has a solution.

Using the psychological analogy, Edwards suggests that the Son actually is the Father’s understanding and the Spirit actually is the Father’s will. To be clear, these remarks do not function on the level of appropriation but being. So, how is the Son a person? Edwards runs personhood through the machinery of perichoresis so that personhood obtains only insofar as perichoresis obtains. The Father is a person only as he has the Son (his understanding) and the Spirit (his will/love). The Son, likewise, wills as he has the Spirit and so on. The benefit that this has is, first, exegesis. Halden mentions the Son being called the wisdom of God – and Edwards highlights this and several other passages to note that the Son actually is God’s wisdom. Edwards, of course, could build on a long line of theorists and exegetes working with appropriation and utilize their insights for his program. But second, this mediates the issue of person and individual. For Edwards, in the triune life, personhood is only had through communion. His view refuses to falter towards either slope, oneness or threeness, because you have threeness only insofar as you have oneness, and oneness obtains as each member shares and partakes of the other (the Father is a singular person only as he shares in the Son and Spirit). Edwards still grounds this idea, ultimately, in the divine essence, but forces the discussion to the level of persons rather than essence.

This leads us to the attributes. Edwards delineates the divine attributes into two categories: “real” and “relational.” Real attributes are simply those things that are true of God qua God. As fate would have it, there are only two real attributes in God: understanding and will. Other attributes, like wisdom, for instance, fall under understanding, and others fall under will, but every other attribute Edwards kicks into “relational” attributes – what he calls mere “modes” or “relations” of existence.

So, any thoughts? I think Edwards is on to something by running personhood through perichoresis. The attribute discussion is wrought with debates right now, and I won’t go into my interpretation.


5 thoughts on “Divine Persons and Attributes

  1. Kyle,

    Have you read my paper on this in Engaging the Doctrine of God, ed. Bruce McCormack? I think Edwards has a somewhat unique take on this matter because he divides the attributes into real and ‘meer modes or relations.’ I’d be interested to hear your comments on the paper.



  2. Oliver, we should talk about this. I have read it and I have a slightly different take. I’m trying to figure out when I can make it down your way – it would be good to grab some coffee. Maybe in January? I’ll let you know.

    Sincerely, kyle

  3. Interesting post. Do you think that this take on the attributes could be enriched in terms of our understanding of the way in which the three persons ‘person’ each other, if we adopted Weinandy’s thesis (a hobby horse of mine) that the ‘Father begets the Son in/by the Spirit’? I’ll just quote a section of his stuff which I think could be interesting here. Then again, I could be completely off track in taking about processions in a post about attributes :)

    “The Spirit (of Love) then, who proceeds from the Father as the one in whom the Father begets the Son, both conforms or defines (persons) the Son to be the Son and simultaneously conforms or defines (persons) the Father to be the Father. The Holy Spirit, in proceeding from the Father as the one in whom the Father begets the Son conforms the Father to be the Father for the Son and conforms the Son to be the Son for (of) the Father.”

    • Edwards accepted the filioque clause, so his depiction was constantly focused on having the Spirit emanating from the Father and Son together as a bond of love – similar to Augustine. That is an interesting way to do it though.

  4. Hi Kyle

    I agree that Edwards is on to something. THe Cappadocian Fathers hammered out a notion of particular personhood that was very firmly grounded in what we might otherwise call a notion of dynamic mutual constitution. So Basil referred to the notion of Sonship from the Father as “alone only begotten received from unregenerate light.” (Ep.38.4.32) When we add this to the appropriation of “formative cause” to the Son – the Father being the originating cause and the Spirit being the perfecting cause – of creation, we get an appropriate sense of the nature of divine personhood both transcendently and economically. (De Spiritu 16)

    I have to say I prefer these kind of categories to the tradition of appropriating cognitive metaphors as these only ever seem to dissolve the actual notion of personhood and personal agency as they are portrayed in Scripture.

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