A most crucial question of contemporary theology probes the ground for orthodox trinitarian doctrine. According to historic Christianity, trinitarianism characterizes not only God’s manifestations of himself to man, but God as he is in himself.

For much anti-metaphysical modern thought, however, nothing can be known in itself, let alone the infinite God! Men can know God’s mighty acts, but not God per se. Propositional revelation of God’s very nature is banished from its venerable theological throne; revelation in act or event has usurped exclusive rights to the kingdom of contemporary theology.

Assuming that revelation is in act not assertion, can theologians avoid the ancient heresy of modalism? Modalists (Sabellians) in the early Church alleged the three Persons were merely ways in which God revealed himself to men, not distinctions within God’s own essence. It is questionable if those whose principle of authority is non-propositional can claim more. Henry P. VanDusen observes, “The crucial question in all speculative thought about the Trinity is precisely this: whether it is legitimate, indeed necessary, to recognize as true of the inmost reality of the Divine Being distinctions which are indisputably real within our experience of the Divine Being” (Theology Today [October, 1958], p. 378).

Two heroic attempts have been made to establish an ontological trinitarianism from a basis of revelation as act. Upon that ground Leonard Hodgson, the distinguished Anglican theologian, reasons inductively or synthetically to the doctrine of the Trinity, and upon that ground Karl Barth reasons analytically to trinitarianism. Can either synthetic or analytic reasoning from temporal events (albeit revelatory) lead us to truth about the ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.