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Barth, Moltmann, Hilary, and the Trinity

June 27, 2006 2 comments

So of late I’ve concentrated a fair amount of my reading on the Trinity. My final term in seminary I took a course on the Doctrine of the Trinity in which we read Moltmann’s The Crucified God and The Trinity and the Kingdom. Now, I’m current reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics 1.1 (the later part) where Barth develops his doctrine of the Trinity. At the same time, I’m reading Hilary of Pointiers On the Trinity (which as you might have guessed is his development of the doctrine of the Trinity)

What has been most interesting is to see where all three of these authors start their development of the Trinity. Moltmann starts with Jesus Christ being identified as the “Son” of the “Father” and proceeds from there. Not suprisingly, Moltmann emphasizes the “threeness” over the “oneness”. Barth starts by identifiying God as being “One” and then develops from there into the doctrine of the Three “modes of being”. Finally, Hilary starts with a doctrine of God the Father by defining God by what we are not. (Omniscient, eternal, etc.) and then develops the doctrine of the Son by expounding the “Christological passages” of the New Testament (John 1, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”, etc.)

What has been most interesting is to see the three different approaches and what I see as their strengths.  From what I can tell, Moltmann is correct in his assessment of the dangers of developing a doctrine of God from classical theism – by saying that God is everything we are not (as Hilary does) because it can end up being a stretch to connect that image of God to the image of God presented by Jesus Christ.  Barth and Moltmann start in similar places, but Barth’s insistence on starting with God as one leads him toward his modalistic tendencies, while Moltmann’s starting with the three leads him toward his tritheistic tendencies.

What has been perhaps the most interesting is the realization that Barth rightly critiques the use of the word “person” given the post-enlightenment context in which he wrote.  While Moltmann tries to explain how he is defining “person” I think he ultimately fails because the word just carries too much baggage.  While I’m not sure the phrase “mode of being” (in English – this is one time I wish I knew German) is a great alternative Barth’s development of it has calmed some of my fears about the direction in which he was headed.

Well, that’s enough mindless musings for tonight.  I have a feeling this is one of these posts that makes little to no sense, but it helps me sort things out in my head.