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ETS and the trinity: Augustine and una potestas

August 6, 2012

This is one more story that never ends! I have to trash the details in order to make any headway at all. I am finding no consistency at all in the translation of words in the domain of “power” and “authority.” Since “power” is a catch all in English, I have been working in French and German, but not finding consistency there either. In French, potestas is pouvoir, and potentia, puissance, usually but not consistently. Au(c)rtoritas, does occur, and is translated into French as autorité but this does not have the meaning of “authority over” in English. It, rather, refers to an authoritative source of knowledge, something that has integrity, but has no actual power to act over others. Therefore, authority was not used in the creeds with reference to the trinity. The expression was always potestas or potentia, pouvoir or puissance, and power, as an expression of both exousia and dunamis. English lacks two seprarate words to fill this domain.

We will go with what we have. English translations of Latin and Greek – either the scripture or the church fathers – use “power” indiscriminately. It means either power (might) or power (authority over) or both at once. But Erasmus and Luther both designate the Latin potestas for exousia, and potentia for dunamis. This is something tangible.

The phrase una potesta, “one power” and by definition in English, “one authority over” is recurring throughout the centuries, and, of course, has its origin in Augustine, – his sermon 215, to be exact, an exposition on the creed. Here is section 8.

This is from the sermon in English. Where is says “one might” that is th translation for una virtus, the common translation for the Greek dunamis, and where it says “one power” that is una potestas the translation for the Greek exousia.

I have to say unequivocally that, according to Augustine, those who teach that the Son is under the potestas of the Father, and is therefore of lesser authority than the Father, are anathemitized. Ware writes of the “inherent authority of the Father, and inherent submission of the Son” Father, Son and Holy Spirit, page 80.

I do know that many try to reconcile this, to say that the Father and the Son are one in authority vis-a-vis humanity, but are in an assymetrical relationship in inner trinitarian relations. But it seems to me that we only know what God is vis-a-vis humanity. If we argue that God is quite different within the trinity than He appears to us, we are certainly arguing from ignorance.

If the Westminster Catechism and the doctrinal basis of the ETS in any sense, refers back to Augustine’s exposition on the creeds, then it appears that “power” means “authority over.” However, we have no proof of that. It remains open.

To read all the posts in this series, click on the ETS tag at the top right. More tomorrow.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2012 10:19 pm

    I find this new ETS position very disturbing. I would perhaps find it less disturbing if I thought the scholars who hold this view had arrived at it from studying Trinitarian theology and then, perhaps, applying it to the roles of men and women but it seems the opposite has happened. Surely it is a far greater blow to evangelical theology if our doctrines of the Trinity fall into error than it is if we accidentally ordain women. I would like to request better guardians at the gates.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 6, 2012 10:30 pm

    How can you? Bruce Ware was the director of ETS – he has articulated the harshest of the subordination stances. Paul Barnett, former bishop of Sydney, is also a proponent Who is going to guard against this belief? Can it be turned around? The vast majority in evangelicalism today, seem to hold to this belief.

  3. August 9, 2012 11:39 am

    IVPress released a book called “The Eternal Generation of the Son” in response to evangelicals like Wayne Grudem and Mark Driscoll who claim that the Son is a subordinate of the Father. I thought it was pretty good and very detailed. I’d check it out if you get the chance.

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