Here is an exerpt from a paper I will be presenting this week. This is the opening section on Thomas Weinandy’s formulation of the trinitarian processions. Bear in mind it is an oral presentation so this is not particularly polished as of yet. The paper will head on from here to discuss Gunton on personhood and Bonhoeffer on community.
Weinandy on Trinitarian Processions
His Basic Thesis
The filioque clause has been the centre of much modern Trinitarian discussion as we are all aware. The biblical, systematic and historical validity of the clause has been highly contested. Thomas Weinandy has made a rather interesting contribution to this conversation. Weinandy’s basic thesis is ‘the Father begets the Son in or by the Spirit’. On the surface this sounds quite an odd contribution but I hope here to give some substance to it and to move to understand the way in which this thesis may help us see the ongoing role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian community.
Weinandy states that:
“Recent efforts creatively to address these issues [being the filioque and its corollary] have been inadequate. The inadequacy stems, I believe, from the fact that both the more traditional theologians and even the more progressive ones are working from within Trinitarian parameters that are unsuitable to meet the existing biblical, systematic, spiritual and ecumenical issues. The historical Trinitarian development contains within it weaknesses which make true radical Trinitarian enrichment impossible.”
What Weinandy sees as the problem for both the Eastern and Western traditions is there reliance upon a priori philosophical systems. In the East, he argues, there is a neo-platonic emanationism; and in the West, he argues, there is reliance upon an Aristotelian epistemology.
“Specifically there are traces of Middle and Neo-Platonic emanationism, especially within Eastern Trinitarian thought. Similarly Aristotelian epistemology fashions the Western conception of the Trinity. That is, something must be known before it can be loved.”
Weinandy wishes to maintain, the monarchy of the Father without falling into these traps. The East, he argues, fall into the trap of locating the one being of God soley in the Father and the West locate the one being of God in the language of substance behind the persons. In order to maintain the monarchy of the Father, but keep away from the language of substance as preceding personhood, he argues, with Athanasius, that a more faithful way to deal with the oneness of being is “to conceive of the one being of God as the Father who, from within the homoousious, begets the Son and spirates the Spirit and so establishes them both in their personhood and deity.” Thus, the Father then gives his deity completely to the son and to the Holy Spirit. “The Godhead is neither in the Father alone nor is it in a solitary substance distinct from the Trinity. The Godhead is the Trinity.” The one God is the three persons.
Weinandy then argues that, in light of this a radically new conception of the Trinity is on order. So then Weinandy develops his basic thesis that:
“…the Father begets the Son in or by the Holy Spirit. The Son is begotten by the Father in the Spirit and thus the Spirit simultaneously proceeds from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten. The Son, being begotten in the Spirit, simultaneously loves the Father in the same Spirit by which he himself is begotten (is Loved).”
Weiandy believes that this overcomes the dilemma of the west in that it locates the Spirit in the act of generation of the Son. So that the Spirit functions as the love in which the Son is begotten. This means that both knowing and loving are simultaneous. The Son is begotten in the Spirit and so in that moment the Father is who he is as Father of the Son whom he loves in the Spirit. Again, it is in the person of the Father that the Son and the Spirit are constituted as persons. However it is not the person of the Father who is the one being of God alone. The one being of God is the Father begetting the Son and spirating the Spirit.
This pattern is illustrated in several Christological kairoi. First, Weinandy illustrates the way in which the Spirit functions in the birth of Jesus. And I quote:
“The depiction of the Father begetting the Son in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit becomes, I believe, a temporal icon of his eternal begetting in the Holy Spirit. Firstly, as the Son is sent forth by the Father into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit, so the Son is eternally begotten of the Father in the Holy Spirit. Secondly, as the son is conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, and so conforms the Son to be Son now as man, so the Holy Spirit conforms the Son to be the eternal Son of the Father within the immanent Trinity.”
“We cannot infer too much from Matthew’s infancy narrative, but we can at least infer a Trinitarian pattern. Jesus was conceived in the Holy Spirit, and Yahweh (the Father) was instrumental in his conception to the extent that he sanctioned it in his confirmation to Joseph. Therefore the Son born of Mary manifests God with us.”
While we may be less confident in asserting as strongly a direct parallel with the immanent life of God, it can be argued that there is a relationship between the missions of God ad extra and the processions in se. This allows us to maintain the freedom of the divine life in se while simultaneously maintaining that the missions reflect something of the inner divine begetting and proceeding. The begetting of the Son in the womb of Mary by the Spirit is then a reflection of the eternal act in which the Son is begotten by the Father in/ by the Spirit.
Another Christological moment cited by Weinandy is Jesus’ Baptism. Weinandy states that in the baptism of Jesus:
“A Trinitarian pattern is clearly discernable. God’s creative and prophetic word is always spoken in the power of the Spirit, and as such, in light of the New Testament revelation, we have a clue to the inner life of the Trinity. The breath/Spirit by which he eternally breathes forth his Word/Son. As the Father commissioned Jesus by the power of his Spirit to recreate the world so, in the same Spirit, God eternally empowered him to be his Word.”
“the Father speaks as the Spirit descends upon Jesus, declaring him to be his Son in whom he is well pleased. The Father’s words are selected from Isaiah 41:4 and 44:2-3 where the prophet speaks of God’s suffering servant upon whom he will bestow his Spirit, and the royal enthronement Psalm – ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’ (Ps 2:7).”
So Weinandy continues to argue that Christ’s Sonship is bound up with the way he is identified by the Spirit as the Son of the Father. The expression ‘today I have begotten you’ is then a temporal expression of an eternal act. These Christological Kairoi function as moments in which the way the Son is begotten by the Father is revealed in a partial, economic way that mirrors, to some extent, the intratrinitarian begetting.
So then, this conference is to do with Pneumatology, and it is to this that we shall now turn. Within this basic thesis there is an interesting way of framing the role and function of the Spirit within the life of God. The Spirit is framed as the one who is the agent of the Son’s begetting, but also as the one in whom the Son turns himself towards the Father in love.
Christian theology, particularly the Western tradition with its Augustinian heritage, has often had trouble really identifying what we mean when we say that the Spirit is personal. At least one recent treatise has even seen it appropriate to approach the Spirit as an ‘it’. The trouble with much of this has been with the filioque clause. While an ecumenical statement has now been signed, the Catholics and much of Protestant theology still professes the filioque. The issue, in brief, with regard to the Spirit is that the Spirit only functions after the generation of the Son, as Augustine’s Aristototelian order of knowing would have it, as a bond of Love which binds the two persons together. This means that “Holy Spirit as the Love between them does not play an active role, and thus appears less clearly as an acting subject.” However, Weinandy’s thesis, I believe, offers us a way of thinking about the personhood of the Spirit which respects the tradition but moves constructively beyond the filioque.
The Trinitarian ontology expounded by Weinandy allows us to begin to think of the Spirit as, what I have called rather awkwardly, the ‘personalising person’. I quote:
“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.”
The Spirit then functions so as to draw the Father and the Son together and so to ‘person’ them. This avoids the trouble of the filioque which can only see the Spirit as binding the Father and Son together after the Father has begotten the Son by making the Spirit the agent of the Son’s begetting. This in turn persons the Father, as the Father is only the Father in that he has the Son. The Son returns love to the Father in same Spirit in whom he was begotten. The Father then ‘persons’ himself in the act of begetting the Son in the Spirit, as he cannot be Father without the Son. This does not undermine the monarchy of the Father as he remains the sole ungenerate source of the Trinity. Rather it provides more “precise definition to the paternity of the Father, for now we clearly see that the Father is truly the Father not only in begetting the Son, but he also exercises his paternity in spirating the Spirit as the Fatherly love in whom and by whom the Son is begotten.”
The filioque is unable to ascribe this role to the Spirit because the Spirit only proceeds after the begetting of the Son. Hence, there are issues surrounding just how the west can conceive of any kind of subjective depth to the Spirit. He does not have a defining role except to be a bond of love between the Father and Son, which while being true, does not do justice to his own distinct personhood.
So just how does this mean that the Spirit functions as a ‘personalising person’? As I have argued, if the Son proceeds from the Father in the Spirit it is in the Spirit that the Father gives his deity to the Son. The Son is then defined by his relationship to the Father in the Spirit. The Father also, in having given himself to the Son in the Spirit, ‘persons’ himself as the Father of the Son in the Spirit. So them we have a Spirit who functions in the immanent life of God to ‘person’ the other persons to be who they are in relation to eachother.
This is ultimately displayed most profoundly for Weinandy in the crucifixion:
“Now if Abba can only be spoken in the Spirit (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15), then it is in the crucifixion that we witness most clearly the bond of love forged in the Spirit between the Father and the Son. Within the crucifixion, at this most severe and radical moment we behold in time the eternal enactment of the Father being ceaselessly, in the Spirit, the Father of and for the Son, and the Son being always, in the Spirit, the Son of and for the Father.”