Hungarian Reformed on the Sacraments

In the latest edition of Kerux, there is a fine presentation on the Hungarian Reformed Churches. James T. Dennison even translated their confessions.

Of those confessions one is the Erdod Confession. I thought that it had a good and condense statement on the sacraments that presented the basic Reformed position. This is the Erdod Confession from 1544:

Article VI

Baptism, the Lord’s Supper takes away Sins (Two Sacred Rites: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and their Administration and Effect).

In the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we follow the institution of Christ and the early church and we confess all our sins to be taken away through baptism and the grace of God to be offered and in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ to be truly exhibited beneath the bread and wine. Moreover, we desire that the institution of Christ in both sacraments be celebrated and administered in the native language, in a manner which befits reverence, and in the same rite and form in all the churches. We condemn those who diminish original sin, and those who assert that infants are not to be baptized. Likewise we condemn the violators of the institution of Christ and the profaners of the Lord’s Supper, and those who withdraw the other element from the laity and the lawful use of the Lord’s Supper, and turn it into the dreadful buyings and sellings and abomination of the Mass. Likewise we condemn all blasphemers, who call this institution of Christ, which exists in our churches, a diabolical mass. Peter therefore commands that this blasphemy be addressed and that such blasphemers are to be punished (2 Pet. 2:12)

The Chariot of Israel

“My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!”

Elisha shouted this out in 2 Kings 2: 12 when Elijah was being taken up in the fiery chariot.  The question that ought to come up in our minds, though it often doesn’t, is “How did he know what this was?”

Is there another reference to “the chariot of Israel” in the Bible?  This would be the primary verse.  I’ve heard others point to the fiery angels in Ezekiel 1 who seem to move with a wheel.  This is not totally clear though, and it isn’t explicit in Ezekiel 1.  We’d need to know what the chariot is first in order to see it there.

So is there another place to find the chariot?

The only other reference to “the chariot” is in 1 Chronicles 28.  This is a section describing temple furniture.  It says:

16 And by weight he gave gold for the tables of the showbread, for each table, and silver for the tables of silver; 17 also pure gold for the forks, the basins, the pitchers of pure gold, and the golden bowls—he gave gold by weight for every bowl; and for the silver bowls, silver by weight for every bowl; 18 and refined gold by weight for the altar of incense, and for the construction of the chariot, that is, the gold cherubim that spread their wings and overshadowed the ark of the covenant of the LORD.

So, the chariot is the piece of furniture that covers the ark of the covenant and would be used for carrying it.  It has gold cherubim that spread their wings over the ark.  More can be found in Exodus 25:10-22.   Here we see that the Lord would meet with his people atop the chariot.  He would speak to his people from the mercy seat, between the cherubim.  In 2 Samuel 6:2 we even read that the Lord dwells between the cherubim.

And so when Elisha sees a fiery chariot, with angels presumably, carrying Elijah up to heaven, he sees the chariot.  He recognizes it from the temple.  Elijah was being taken up in the ark of the covenant’s own covering.

He was being taken up in the reality, of which the temple furniture only served as a sign.

The extra neat part of all of this is that we are not told that this piece of furniture is called the chariot until the book of Chronicles, which was the last book written in the Old Testament.  The piece of furniture existed, but we, living today, don’t know that until we get to Chronicles.  So we learn that you have to use a stream-of-consciousness hermeneutic.  =)

This is the same way the New Testament works though.  It tells us all about the Old Testament, and it isn’t just making up a new way to read.  Rather, it is explaining to us about what was there all along.

Grace a Divine Attribute

Richard Muller explains the Reformed orthodox doctrine of the gratia Dei as being a divine perfection:

Although by far the larger discussion of divine grace belongs to the soteriology of Reformed orthodoxy, the theologians of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also consistently place the gratia Dei among the divine affections. Divine grace, as indicated both in the doctrine of the divine attributes and in the developing Reformed covenant theology of the seventeenth century, is not merely the outward favor of God toward the elect, evident only in the post-lapsarian dispensation of salvation; rather is it one of the perfections of the divine nature. It is characteristic of God’s relations to the finite order, apart from sin, in the act of divine condescension to relate to finite creatures. Beyond this, it is a characteristic of the divine being itself, at the very foundation of God’s relationship with finite, temporal beings.

~PRRD vol. 3 pg. 570

Muller even adds a footnote which says:

There is, both in the orthodox Reformed doctrine of God and in the orthodox Reformed covenant theology of the seventeenth century, a consistent identification of grace as fundamental to all of God’s relationships with the world and especially with human beings, to the point of the consistent assertion that the covenant of nature or works is itself gracious.

Now this is probably a point where Muller doesn’t discuss the “discontinuity” in Reformed orthodoxy. There were at least some Reformed thinkers who would have disagreed, though Muller gives the mainstream position. With the development of the covenant of redemption and high Calvinism, one wonders how it could be the case that grace is the fundamental ground of God’s relationship with all men.

But that’s a much larger discussion.

Augustine’s Sources

It was perhaps a year ago when a friend of mine remarked that he had, strangely, never considered Augustine as a thinker working within an established tradition. For whatever reasons, but most certainly due to Augustine’s immense status in our tradition- indeed he is perhaps the only patristic source that the average Reformed Christian is aware of, we fail to keep in mind that Augustine’s thought, especially regarding the Trinity, was not formed in a vacuum. On the contrary, he had numerous traditional sources to draw from.

Ambrose is the obvious example. He was Augustine’s pastor and perhaps the most instrumental figure in Augustine’s conversion. With Ambrose, comes Origen, as Ambrose was greatly influenced by Origen. It is also fairly certain that, as a North African Christian, Augustine would have known of Tertullian and his body of work.

Beyond these well-known names, a few more can be listed. Lewis Ayres, in a 2000 article for the Journal of Early Christian Studies, lists several other figures: “In which group I include such figures as Hilary, Ambrose, Gregory of Elvira, Phoebadius of Agen, Eusebius of Vercelli, and Rufinus” (‘”Remember that you are Catholic” (serm. 52, 2): Augustine on the Unity of the Triune God’, JECS, 8 (2000), 47.).

Augustine quotes Hilary directly in his De Trinitate, and a good introduction to Hilary’s role in the development of Latin theology can actually be found in D. H. Williams Ambrose of Milan. The book is about Ambrose, but it spends a sufficient amount of time describing Hilary’s role. Williams also examines Gregory of Elvira and Eusebius of Vercelli.

Most readers are likely unfamiliar with those last two names, which simply proves that we are unfamiliar with the development of the Latin tradition. As is our wont, we jump from super-star to super-star in Church history, and thus fail to grasp the complexity and the inter-relatedness of the various thinkers and traditions.

Augustine is thoroughly contextualized thinker, and his immediate context is most certainly the Pro-Nicene Church.  He is certainly Western, but he is combating the same challengers as the East and answering them in much the same way.  Hilary, in particular, represents a figure who was in both East and West, as does Jerome, who I have not yet mentioned, but was a Latin-speaker operating out of Jerusalem.

Sometimes you have to just see the forest rather than each tree, but the danger is that by not looking at the trees in sufficient detail, you are actually seeing the wrong forest altogether. Thus with the study of the history of Christianity, given all of the competing meta-narratives, we need to spend more time on the specifics.

Letham Against the Covenant of Redemption

In his The Holy Trinity, Robert Letham levels a brief criticism against the notion that Christ’s salvation was but a revelation of a covenant made between the Father and the Son and not their very shared nature. Writing against Warfield, Letham states:

By the same token, we point to the obedience of the incarnate Son in the economy of salvation, reflecting his eternal relation to the Father in loving submission, in identity of being and equality of status. The faithfulness of God also undercuts the suggestion made by Warfield—only a suggestion, for he does not pursue it—that certain aspects of the relationship between the Father and the Son in the history of salvation may have been due to a “covenant” between the persons of the Trinity by which the Son submitted himself temporarily to the Father, intending to abandon such submission upon the completion of our salvation. If this were so, the Son could not have revealed God to us.

~The Holy Trinity pg. 401

Barth levels a similar charge against Cocceius. The Covenant of Redemption construct, if allowed to remain an articulation of a new relationship that was somehow added to the natural relation between the Father and Son, does not reveal God to us in salvation.

But what could be clearer than that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s fullness? God is love, and the love of God was shown clearly in the giving of His Son to die for the life of the world.

My suggestion is that we follow Murray and others in defining covenant as not a product of the will, but rather as relationship itself. The Covenant of Redemption can be preserved by making it one reflection of the divine fellowship. God’s covenant is simply His own self-revelation finding its fulfillment in Christ. Covenant is God dwelling with man. It is Immanuel.

Jesus Christ is the covenant.


All of this talk about “simplicity” and “inseparable operations” can leave folks a little unsure as how to speak Biblically.  Surely the Bible presents the Son as doing things that the Father does not do, and just as surely, it must present the Spirit doing works that the Son does not do.  How can we reconcile this with our Trinitarian commitments?

Lewis Ayres offers up this explanation:

Closely linked to the doctrines of divine simplicity and inseparable operation is the practice of appropriation.  Appropriation is the practice of attributing to one divine person an attribute or action that is common to the Godhead and thus to all divine persons: because the persons work inseparably in the context of the divine simplicity we frequently speak about something as characteristic of a divine person although it is in fact equally true of all divine persons.  Appropriation is, for Pro-Nicenes, an important habit of Christian speech because it is central to Scripture’s own speech about the divine persons.  Appropriation is sometimes presented as an ‘Augustinian’ doctrine: in fact, Augustine’s clarity about the doctrine- which may be seen in Chapter 15- is simply the clearest statement of a common pro-Nicene principle.

~ Nicaea and Its Legacy pg. 297

We must also keep in mind the distinction between archetypal and ectypal phenomena.  What appears to us to be the work of a singular person, for it is occurring within our created world, involves all three persons in their infinity, however incomprehensible that may be.

Without the Son the Father Has Neither Existence Nor Name

Many people fear that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son implies a sort of subordination of the Son to the Father, as the Son is dependent upon the Father for his being.  However, Gregory is able to reverse this sentiment and say that the Father is dependent on the Son for his being.  To be a father, after all, is to have a son.  Gregory explains:

For he who truly believes in the One sees in the One Him Who is completely united with Him in truth, and deity, and essence, and life, and wisdom, and in all attributes whatsoever: or, if he does not see in the One Him Who is all these it is in nothing that he believes. For without the Son the Father has neither existence nor name, any more than the Powerful without the Power, or the Wise without Wisdom. For Christ is ‘the Power of God and the Wisdom of God,’ so that he who imagines he sees the One God apart from power, truth, wisdom, life, or the true light, either sees nothing at all or else assuredly that which is evil. For the withdrawal of the good attributes becomes a positing and origination of evil.

~ Against Eunomius 2.4

Ungenerate and Unoriginate

Gregory freely admits that ungenerate is simply a way to say Father (Against Eunomius 1.37) He prefers the revealed terms of Father, Son, and Spirit to any systematic terms like ungenerate and generate, but he understands the necessity of the latter given the heresies of his day.

He is concerned with guarding the eternality and uncreatedness of the Son, however, and so he grants this admission when it comes to the use of “generate”:

In our view, the ‘native dignity’ of God consists in godhead itself, wisdom, power, goodness, judgment, justice, strength, mercy, truth, creativeness, domination, invisibility, everlastingness, and every other quality named in the inspired writings to magnify his glory; and we affirm that every one of them is properly and inalienably found in the Son, recognizing difference only in respect of unoriginateness; and even that we do not exclude the Son from, according to all its meanings. But let no carping critic attack this statement as if we were attempting to exhibit the Very Son as ungenerate; for we hold that one who maintains that is no less impious than an Anomoean. But since the meanings of ‘origin’ are various, and suggest many ideas, there are some of them in which the title ‘unoriginate’ is not inapplicable to the Son. When, for instance, this word has the meaning of ‘deriving existence from no cause whatever,’ then we confess that it is peculiar to the Father; but when the question is about ‘origin’ in its other meanings (since any creature or time or order has an origin), then we attribute the being superior to origin to the Son as well, and we believe that that whereby all thins were made is beyond the origin of creation, and the idea of time, and the sequence of order. So He, Who on the ground of His subsistence is not without an origin, possessed in every other view an undoubted unoriginatedness; and while the Father is unoriginate and Ungenerate, the Son is unoriginate in the way we have said, though not ungenerate.

~ Against Eunomius 1.33

Notice that the Son is without origin when it comes to our concept of time and coming into being. The Son is superior to all such concepts of origin. His generation from the Father is purely within the transcendent and simple essence. When it comes to relations with the creation, the Son is without origin. When it comes to the relations within the godhead, His cause is the Father’s own essence, which is His own essence as well.

Nyssa on the Unity of Divine Operations

In On “Not Three Gods”, Gregory mentions that the persons of the Godhead are united by their operations (works).  This manner of speaking has been accosted for the purpose of social formulations of the Trinity, but a careful reading of the way in which Gregory employs the divine operations should dissuade us of any such notion within his own writings.  It is not that the Father works, the Son works, and the Spirit works, and their works happen to match up, as if they were synchronized swimmers, but rather the work of the Father is the work of the Son and the Spirit.  It is the same work.  The work itself moves from Father, to Son, and to Spirit.  Gregory explains:

Since, then, the character of the superintending and beholding power is one, in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as has been said in our previous argument, issuing from the Father as from a spring, brought into operation by the Son, and perfecting its grace by the power of the Spirit, and since no operation is separated in respect of the Persons, being fulfilled by each individually apart from that which is joined with Him in our contemplation, but all providence, care, and superintendence of all, alike of things in the sensible creation and of those of supramundane nature, and that power which preserves the things which are, and corrects those which are amiss, and instructs those which are ordered aright, is one, and not three, being, indeed, directed by the Holy Trinity, yet not severed by a threefold division according to the number of the Persons contemplated in the Faith, so that each of the acts, contemplated by itself should be the work of the Father alone, or of the Son peculiarly, or of the Holy Spirit separately, but while, as the Apostle says, the one and the selfsame Spirit divides His good gifts to every man severally, the motion of good proceeding from the Spirit is not without beginning; — we find that the power which we conceive as preceding in this motion, which is the Only-begotten God, is the maker of all things; without Him no existent thing attains to the beginning of its being: and again, this same source of good issues from the will of the Father.

If, then, every good thing and every good name, depending on that power and purpose, which is without beginning, is brought to perfection in the power of the Spirit through the Only-begotten God, without mark of time or distinction (since there is no delay, existent or conceived, in the motion of the Divine will from the Father, through the Son, to the Spirit): and if Godhead also is one of the good names and concepts, it would not be proper to divide the name into a plurality, since the unity existing in the action prevents plural enumeration.

~ On “Not Three Gods” pg. 334-335 NPNF vol. 5

Notice that the character of God’s power is one.  His will is one.  It moves through the persons, yet is one.  There is no distinction in it, because of Gregory’s commitment to simplicity and infinity, and so it can move “through” the divine persons without ever leaving them.

Muller Comes Through For Us

In the latest issue of the Calvin Theological Journal, Richard Muller reviews Jonathan Moore’s English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology. He mostly likes the book, but he does take issue with Moore’s presentation of “hypothetical universalism” in relation to the Reformed Tradition. Muller writes:

Moore also underestimates the presence of non-Amyraldian or non-speculative forms of hypothetical universalism in the Reformed tradition as a whole and thereby, in the opinion of this reviewer, misconstrues Preston’s position as a “softening” of Reformed theology rather than as a continuation of one trajectory of Reformed thought that had been present from the early sixteenth century onward. Clear statements of nonspeculative hypothetical universalism can be found (as Davenant recognized) in Heinrich Bullinger’s Decades and commentary on the Apocalypse, in Wolfgang Musculus’ Loci communes, in Ursinus’ catechetical lectures, and in Zanchi’s Tractatus de praedestinatione sanctorum, among other places. In addition, the Canons of Dort, in affirming the standard distinction of a sufficiency of Christ’s death for all and its efficiency for the elect, actually refrain from canonizing either the early form of hypothetical universalism or the assumption that Christ’s sufficiency serves only to leave the nonelect without excuse. Although Moore can cite statements from the York conference that Dort “either apertly or covertly denied the universality of man’s redemption” (156), it remains that various of the signatories of the Canons were hypothetical universalists- not only the English delegation (Carleton, Davenant, Ward, Goad, and Hall) but also the [sic] some of the delegates from Bremen and Nassau (Martinius, Crocius, and Alsted)- that Carleton and the other delegates continued to affirm the doctrinal points of Dort while distancing themselves from the church discipline of the Belgic Confession, and that in the course of seventeenth-century debate even the Amyraldians were able to argue that their teaching did not run contrary to the Canons. In other words, the nonspeculative, non-Amyraldian form of hypothetical universalism was new in neither the decades after Dort nor a “softening” of the tradition: The views of Davenant, Ussher, and Preston followed out a resident trajectory long recognized as orthodox among the Reformed.

~CTJ, 43.1 pg. 150

I would add that the thought of the “English hypothetical universalists” is nearly identical with that of the University of Heidelberg, namely Ursinus, Paraeus, and Kimedoncius. Davenant quotes Paraeus directly in his Dissertation on the Death of Christ. Thus, there is little unique to England among the English hypothetical universalists.