Trinity, Person, etc, as necessary to unmask false teachers


With all the fuss of late on the Trinity and Elephant Room II, I have found it interesting that my reading of Calvin’s Institutes this year has brought me to a particular section.  Book I, Chapter 13, Section 4 is titled “The church has regarded expressions like “Trinity,” “Person,” etc., as necessary to unmask false teachers.  As you probably know nothing is new under the sun.  Enjoy the section.

4. Such novelty (if novelty it should be called) becomes most requisite, when the truth is to be
maintained against calumniators who evade it by quibbling. Of this, we of the present day have too
much experience in being constantly called upon to attack the enemies of pure and sound doctrine.
These slippery snakes escape by their swift and tortuous windings, if not strenuously pursued, and
when caught, firmly held. Thus the early Christians, when harassed with the disputes which heresies
produced, were forced to declare their sentiments in terms most scrupulously exact in order that
no indirect subterfuges might remain to ungodly men, to whom ambiguity of expression was a kind
of hiding-place. Arius confessed that Christ was God, and the Son of God; because the passages
of Scripture to this effect were too clear to be resisted, and then, as if he had done well, pretended
to concur with others. But, meanwhile, he ceased not to give out that Christ was created, and had
a beginning like other creatures. To drag this man of wiles out of his lurking-places, the ancient
Church took a further step, and declared that Christ is the eternal Son of the Father, and
consubstantial with the Father. The impiety was fully disclosed when the Arians began to declare
their hatred and utter detestation of the term μ . Had their first confession—viz. that Christ
was God, been sincere and from the heart, they would not have denied that he was consubstantial
with the Father. Who dare charge those ancient writers as men of strife and contention, for having
debated so warmly, and disturbed the quiet of the Church for a single word? That little word
distinguished between Christians of pure faith and the blasphemous Arians. Next Sabellius arose,
who counted the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as almost nonentities; maintaining that
they were not used to mark out some distinction, but that they were different attributes of God, like
many others of a similar kind. When the matter was debated, he acknowledged his belief that the
Father was God, the Son God, the Spirit God; but then he had the evasion ready, that he had said
nothing more than if he had called God powerful, and just, and wise. Accordingly, he sung another
note—viz. that the Father was the Son, and the Holy Spirit the Father, without order or distinction.
The worthy doctors who then had the interests of piety at heart, in order to defeat it is man’s
dishonesty, proclaimed that three subsistence were to be truly acknowledged in the one God. That
they might protect themselves against tortuous craftiness by the simple open truth, they affirmed
that a Trinity of Persons subsisted in the one God, or (which is the same thing) in the unity of God.

Text copied from CCEL PDF version.  Slightly different translation than the McNeill version linked above at WTS Books which I am reading.

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One Response to Trinity, Person, etc, as necessary to unmask false teachers

  1. Niles Ferguson says:

    “to whom ambiguity of expression was a kind of hiding-place.” In the wake of all the TD Jakes hoopla, I would have enjoyed hearing Calvin himself asking the questions. I think we could have gotten to the root of where he stands.

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