D.M. Baillie – Personality, Modes or Social Trinity?

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Recently, I found Baillie’s monumental book on Christology and have only really flipped through it, but what I’ve found touches both biblical studies and theology.

On pages 138-140, Baillie is discussing the development of Anglican Trinitarian thought, and the more so by ignoring the historical divide between Person and persona (Latin), or personality, etc… In quoting a theologian before him (Webb), he writes of the thought which says that God is made up of Person(alitie)s which, as Baillie rightly insists, is more along the lines of the Cappadocians. This is not surprising from the Anglicans who are more East in some aspects rather than West. Further, our learned theologian is fair enough to note that Barth and others, historically speaking, did not see God as ‘three distinct individual men alongside each other’ (p139) as the Anglicans and the East do but as such things as ‘the root, the tree and the fruit’, or the sun, the ray and the light, or the source, the stream and the estuary.’ Here, I read Tertullian most of all.

It is interesting that he notes the (then) current development of the idea of a Social Trinity in which those along the lines of Webb and the Cappadocians saw love existing only within the Social Trinity as opposed to the ‘stark and lonely monotheism of Judaism.’ These who see the Godhead as such believe that they make God more social and more persona. Baillie, for himself, doesn’t seem to see one as less orthodox than the other. It is the ‘other’ interpretation of the Godhead (in Trinitarian thought) which interests me, for he writes,

In any case the contrast between this (i.e., the Social Trinity) and Barth’s interpretation is plain. The one prefers to speak of one Person in three modes of being: the other school prefers to speak quite frankly of three Persons in the highest kind of personal and social unity.

Earlier in this chapter, Baillie quotes Barth as saying,

The God who reveals Himself according to Scripture is One in three of His own modes of existence, which consist in their mutual relationships, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (The Doctrine of the Word of God) (p135)

Are these two understandings of the Christian revelation of the Godhead mutually exclusive? Does one tend to present a better understanding of the love of God than the other? Does one, then, show love (specifically, the love shown through Christ), more than the other? In other words is the Social Trinity, that of three distinct persons, the proper way to explain the love of God or is Barth’s and others, that God exists in three modes of beings?

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