Calvin’s Doctrine Of The Trinity: A Summary And Evaluation -- By: C. B. Holdsworth

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 07:2 (Spring 1998)
Article: Calvin’s Doctrine Of The Trinity: A Summary And Evaluation
Author: C. B. Holdsworth

Calvin’s Doctrine Of The Trinity:
A Summary And Evaluation

C. B. Holdsworth

The honor and awesome responsibility of formulating the doctrine of the Trinity is shared by few men: R. A. Finlayson cites Irenaeus and Origen as well as Tertullian, and declares that, “Under the leadership of Athanasius the doctrine was proclaimed as the faith of the church at the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), and at the hand of Augustine a century later it received a formulation, enshrined in the so-called Athanasian Creed.” It was down to Calvin to give it “a further elucidation” before it passed into the body of the Reformed faith.1

B. B. Warfield sees Calvin’s contribution as being distinctly Augustinian rather than Athanasian: “That is to say, the principle of his construction of the Trinitarian distinctions is equalization rather than subordination… simplification, clarification, equalization—these three terms are the notes of Calvin’s conception of the Trinity.”2 Warfield also speaks of “the very great service to Christian theology which Calvin rendered when he firmly asserted for the second and third persons of the Trinity their autothotes.”3

What Calvin did do was to bring the doctrine right into his own age and situation, and the second part of the chapter on the Trinity in his Institutes of the Christian Religion is mainly polemical, addressing itself to the particular heresies of his day.4 This explains some of the caution which he had concerning the terminology of the creeds. We shall have occasion to notice his justification of the use of the

word “person,”5 his criticism of the repetitiveness of the clause, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God” in the Nicene Creed,6 and his hesitancy to enter into speculation on the subject of the eternal generation of the Son.7

We begin, though, not with the Institutes, but with Calvin’s Commentary on Genesis, to give us a sense of the integrity of the man. In commenting on the use of the plural Elohim in the opening verse of Genesis 1, he refers to those who infer that the three persons of the Godhead are thus indicated. Such he cautions, as they are likely to slip into Sabellianism while asserting the deity of...

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