Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Trinity: Tom McCall Critiques Zizoulas as Tom Torrance Critiques the Cappadocians

In Tom McCall's critique of Eastern Orthodox and Trinitarian theologian, John Zizoulas; McCall offers a proposal that is highly similar (if not self-same) with that of Thomas F. Torrance's. McCall is appreciative of Zizoulas' emphasis on Being-As-Communion as definitive for how we should conceive of the divine Monarchia or God-head, but like Torrance, contra the Cappadocians; McCall finds concern with Zizoulas' retrieval, as it were of the Cappadocian grounding of the God-head in the Person's, or Person (the Father), instead of the Being of God (ousia) which is given shape by the mutual in-dwelling, subject-in-being kind of onto-relating (as Torrance calls it) that as Torrance has highlighted someone like Epiphanius or Athanasius has offered in the Patristic Tradition. McCall sketches, and develops what is called the Sovereign Aseity Conviction, which is the belief that God alone gives himself his own being. McCall is worried that when this reality is correlated with Zizoulas' belief that 'Being-As-Communion' is understood as definitive for God, and further, when the conception of Sovereign Aseity is grounded in the Person of the Father, rather than an actual Being that is indeed in communion; that we end up with a non sequitur (and I share his worry). For if the definition of God-ness is indeed given primary shape by BAC, then to posit (as Zizoulas does) that there is principle of God-ness, such as Father, prior to the possibility for genuine communion to inhere; then we end up with a non-starting conception of God-ness if this conception is going to be defined by being-in-communion. [There is further discussion needed to parse this out further, and McCall provides it; discussion on person-hood in the Monarchia etc. But I am not going to provide that here, at the moment---maybe in the comments if someone wants. I am highlighting McCall's critique of Zizoulas here because it sounds very very similar to Thomas Torrance's critique of the Cappadocians in his book Trinitarian Faith]. Here is McCall on Zizoulas, and McCall's counter-proposal to Zizoulas:

[T]he first adjustment [to Zizoulas' view] is this: the SAC [Sovereign Aseity Conviction] must be seen as a property of the triune God rather than as a property of the Father alone. As we have seen, to predicate the SAC of the Father alone is to raise several concerns, not least of which is whether this means that the Father is of a different essence than is the Son or Spirit. To assert that the Father alone is unthrown and a se is to say that the Father has different essential properties than does the Son or Spirit --- properties that are not either accidental properties (after all, this seems to be what it means to be the Father) or "onto-relational" properties. But to predicate the SAC of the Trinity alleviates this problem; it makes the SAC an essential property of divinity, one that is had by each and all of the divine persons. Furthermore, the ascription of the SAC to God is the way the biblical writers think of it (e.g., Exod. 3:14). [Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?, 207]

I agree with McCall's call for an adjustment relative to Zizoulas' conceiving of things; just as I agree with Thomas Torrance's call for a dependence on Athanasius, Epiphanius, Didymus the Blind, et alia in contrast to the Cappadocians. A contrast that sees the importance of grounding God's being-in-communion in the Sovereign-Aseity of all the Persons mutual-indwellment of the other; instead of annexing this to the person of the Father alone (which would be contradictory because of prior conflict given the defined premises).

Anyway, besides the important theology being noted here; it makes me wonder how much McCall has depended on Thomas Torrance's proposal, contra the Cappadocians, for his (McCall's) own proposal contra Zizoulas? Let me close with a quote from Torrance, quoting Epiphanius, in Torrance's 'Trinitarian Faith':

[G]od is one, the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit . . . true enhypostatic Father, and true enhypostatic Son, and true enhypostatic Holy Spirit, three Persons, one Godhead, one being, one glory, one God. In thinking of God you conceive of the Trinity, but without confusing in your mind the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the Father, the Son is the Son, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, but there is no deviation in the Trinity from oneness and identity. (Epiphanius, “Anc., 10,” cited by T. F. Torrance, “The Trinitarian Faith,” 234-35)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Adam,

      You don't seriously expect me to take this seriously, do you? Come on man. I visited your blog and saw a post where you have God the Father + God the Son + God the Holy Spirit = 3 Gods. Come on, a basic class in logic can penetrate this kind of fallacious thinking. Christians affirm one Who (ousia being) and 3 Whats (hypostases, or persons)--to speak crudely; and it affirms these in a way that the persons shape the being and the being shapes the persons as they mutually indwell (perichoresis) one in the other. There is no logical contradiction here, and no need to conclude that Christians worship 3 Gods; if so then Jesus taught idolatry since he received the worship of Thomas in John 20 for example or thought of himself as God (see Jn 5.18, 19:7, 20:28, chapter 10 etc).

      Your thinking reflects cultic thinking that needs to be washed by the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. Don't provide any more links to this post. If you want to engage the material and substance of this particular post; then I'm all ears, if not I consider what your doing here as spam, and I don't like spam!

    2. Adam,

      I removed your comment because I don't want my blog to have a link on it that goes to the kind of dross that that so called documentary represents.

      Don't do that again; i.e. leave a comment with a link to a video series or something.

  2. Bobby,

    I totally agree with you and Torrance, which should probably be obvious by now ;)
    In discussion with an Orthodox friend of mine we have hit on this issue numerous times, and each time I come back to this similar point, that if the Father alone has 'aseity' i.e. has existance in and of Himself, and the Son and Spirit have a 'derived divinity' then it seems to me that the Father could be God all by Himself, which would destroy our knowledge of God because in the end 'Father' would not be something about the 'very Being of God' but something else, and He would remain utterly transcendant and unknowable. Torrance makes a good point when he says the Father cannot be Father without the Son or Spirit, etc.
    To me the monarchia must be grounded within the the Tinity as a whole,even as the Reformed-Orthodox agreed statement has said. I think more Orthodox should read that and look into the theology behind it. They don't want to pit the Cappodocians against Athanasius, which I don't think Torrance does, but Basil and Nyssa may have gone in a direction which ended up being unhelpful in this instance becasue they had to deal with the Eunomian heretics who said the ousia of deity is unbegotten, therefore the Son is not homoousios,and persons in the Nicene camp who stressed homoousios to the point of Sabellianism. Either way to be consistant with Athanasius' view that 'you can say everything about the Son you say about the Father except Father' it seems to me that one must affirm Torrance's position via Athanasius, Epiphanius, etc.

    1. One more thing.
      I think the problem really may lie with not taking Athanasius advice that,'essences come first and words second' in other words, I think too much stress is laid on trying to understand what Begotton and Proceed mean, instead of being like Torrance and saying we don't know what those things mean, and we must not take our idea of those words and cast them upon God becoming guilty of mythology. We should just look to these words as that which differentiates the Persons, but keep in mind the homoousios and perichoresis which protects against subordinationism which would create levels of deity, and ultimately make Christ something other than the Father, and not the exact image and revelation of God, and then we're back to still not knowing who God is in Himself.

    2. Cody, great points, thanks for sharing!

      My reading of Torrance makes me think he was not happy at all with the Cappadocians on their Trinitarian theology; or I read TFT as against the Cappadocians, this seems to be a major point of his in his Trinitarian Faith. You don't agree with that, or you do?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.