ETS and the trinity: the case for potestas
I did not foresee that this would be a series. To access all posts on this topic, click on the tag at the top for “ETS.” I should know by now that any linguistic investigation is limitless, bounded only by the amount of free time and energy one has at any given time.
Regarding potentia and potestas, there are two possibilities. The first is that they are roughly equivalent and not distinguished in historic church doctrine. In this case “power” and “authority” are indivisible. If the Son is equal in power, he is also equal in authority to the Father.
The second possibility is that these two words are used with different meanings, potentia for power (might), and potestas for power (authority). In that case, we seek affirmation that the Son is equal to the Father in both, while complementarians say that the Son is equal to the Father in power (might), but not in power (authority.)
The doctrinal statement of ETS includes the statement that Father and Son are equal in power. While this phrase comes from the Westminster Catechism, which was written in English, it was subsequently translated into Latin as equal in potentia.
My best guess is that the use of the word potentia was not intended to exclude or contrast with potestas; these two were not regularly differentiated and contrasted, according to others. Here are potentia and potestas in the Lewis and Short Lexicon. The proverb “knowledge is power” is derived equally from ipsa scientia potestas est and scientia est potentia (also sapientia est potentia.) When the two were contrasted, in Hobbes and Spinoza, they are often both translated into English by the word “power,” one as power and the other as Power.
However, it we return to the notion that the two are distinguishable, then we can consider the rough equivalencies, exousia is translated into Latin as potestas (later autoritas), and into early English translations as “power.” Dunamis is translated into Latin as virtus and and later potentia, and into English as “power.” Erasmus notes that potentia is better for dunamis and potestas for exousia. The Westminster Catechism was written in English and used the word “power” which could mean either power (might) or power (authority) or both. But in 1660, it was translated into Latin as potentia.
Now, the question remains whether historic Christianity claimed that the Father and Son are equal in potestas (authority, exousia.) Here are the occurences I have found so far.
First, Augustine wrote,
non secundum imparem potestatem uel substantiam uel aliquid quod in eo patri non sit aequale missus est, sed secundum id quod filius a patre est, non pater a filio. Verbum enim patris est filius, quod est sapientia eius dicitur.
According to Augustine, the Son was not unequal to the Father in potestas (authority). This, of course, is always translated into English as “power” but it means “power (authority)” and not “power (might).”
Second, the creed of the Synod of Toledo 675 includes the phrase,
una est majestas sive potestas,
nec minoratur in singulis, nec augetur in tribus. Swainson, page 242
one majesty and power (authority)
not less as one, not greater as three
Third, there is a canon from the 7th to 9th century, the canon of Autun, existing in several manuscripts, which contains the following line. This line is found in other creeds and manuscripts as well.
tres itaque Personae sed una potestas Swainson. 273
In a 12th century exposition on the Athanasian creed, which I include here,
there are three phrases of interest:
unus Deus, una potestas, una majestas
one God, one power(authority), one majesty
una deitas, aequalis potestas, una coaeternitas
one deity, equal power (authority), one coeternity
una natura, una divinitas, una majestas, una gloria et potestas
one nature, one divinity, one majesty, one glory and power (authority)
Finally, in 1570, a Latin version of Chrysostom’s works were published. In Vol. 5, p 609, Paris edition, translated by Erasmus, is this phrasing from his Homily on the Creed,
Patri coaequalis in deitate, Dei et Deus: sed tamen non duo Dii, sed unus Deus.
In potestate una potestas, in esse una essentia, una virtus, una majestas
coequal in deity with the Father, God of God, yet not withstanding there are not two Gods, but one God
in potency, in essence, in substance – one power [authority], one essence, one virtue, one majesty. Hopkins. 297
We are left with two options. Either “power” in the creeds means both “power” and “authority” and these are indivisible, or, the meanings are separate, but throughout church history, basic creeds were understood to be saying that the Son was equal to the Father, or one with the Father, with respect to both “power” and “authority.” I don’t see a third option, in which the Son is under the potestas (authority) of the Father. I do not see this expressed in any of the creeds or expositions on the creeds before complementarianism. I will write more on this tomorrow.
To access all posts on this topic, click on the tag at the top for “ETS.”
Hopkins, John Henry. The primitive creed, examined, explained. 1834.
Swainson, Charles Anthony. The Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds: their literary history ; together with an account of the growth and reception of the sermon on the Faith, commonly called “the Creed of St. Athanasius” 1875. London. Murray.