Richard Muller on Ancient and Modern Definitions of “Person”

In none of these usages does the term persona have the connotation of emotional individuality or unique consciousness that clearly belongs to the term in contemporary usage.  It is quite certain that the trinitarian use of persona does not point to three wills, three emotionally unique beings, or, as several eighteenth-century authors influenced by Cartesianism argued, three centers of consciousness; such implication would be tritheistic.  It is equally certain that contemporary theological statements to the effect that the God of the Bible is a “personal” God point not to the Trinity, but to the oneness of the divine will in loving relation to creatures.  In other words, despite the variety of usages and implications we have noted, the patristic, medieval, Reformation, and Protestant scholastic definitions of the term persona are united in their distinction from colloquial modern usage.  In brief, the term has traditionally indicated an objective and distinct mode or manner of being, a subsistence or subsistent individual, not necessarily substantially separate from like personae.  Thus, in trinitarian usage, three personae subsist in the divine substantia or essentia (q.v.) without division and, in christological usage, one persona two distinct naturae, the divine and the human.  This can be said while nonetheless arguing one will in God and two in Christ- since will belongs properly to the essence of God and to the natures in Christ, and in neither case to persona as such.  Thus, in the language of the scholastics, persona indicates primarily an individuum (q.v.), and individual thing, or a suppositum (q.v.), a self-subsistent thing, and more specifically still, an intelligent self-subsistent thing.

~Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, p 226-227


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.

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.

Muller on Dort and “L”

In a second chapter, the Canons treat of the problem of the relationship of Christ’s sacrifice to the salvation of the elect. Because the form of the Canons is so closely related to the forms of the Remonstrance it is incorrect to argue that the Synod derived a concept of limited Atonement from the decrees. The second chapter of the Canons follows logically not upon the first chapter but upon the second chapter of the Remonstrance. The Remonstrance stated that the universal sufficiency of Christ’s death was available to all those men who chose faith in Christ. Dort affirms the infinite value and sufficiency of Christ’s death. It affirms also the universality of the call of the Gospel. The benefits of Christ, however, are available only to those chosen by God in eternity. No man is able to accept the promise of the Gospel without the gift of God’s grace. The Remonstrants might have accepted these declarations had it not been for their concept of election. Arminian theology like Calvinist restricted the actual efficacy of Atonement to the faithful. It set the limit in man’s rejection of God’s grace: the elect are those foreseen by God as faithful. The Calvinists denied the doctrine that election was based on foreknown faith. They thereby placed the limit of the efficacy of the Atonement in the will of God. The underlying issue addressed by the Calvinist response is the sovereignty of God’s grace in the work of salvation.

~ Richard Muller Predestination and Christology in Sixteenth Century Reformed Thought pg. 424, 425

Note that it is election that is limited. The value and sufficiency of Christ’s death is infinite. The reception is conditioned upon faith, and the creation of that faith is limited in God’s plan. This arrangement is key because it allows for a true offer of the gospel to all and places the blame of damnation on man’s rejection of God.

Christ as Divine Will

Commenting on John 1:1, Calvin writes:

As to the Evangelist calling the Son of God the Speech, the simple reason appears to me to be, first, because he is the eternal Wisdom and Will of God; and, secondly, because he is the lively image of His purpose; for, as Speech is said to be among men the image of the mind, so it is not inappropriate to apply this to God, and to say that He reveals himself to us by his Speech.

Stephen Edmondson, following Jacobs and Muller, summarizes Calvin’s relation of Christ and election in this way:

We understand Christ’s work as Mediator only when we grasp from the outset that this work is conditioned by and revelatory of God’s mercy for God’s chosen from eternity. Conversely, we must also say that we know of our election only in Christ, through his work as Mediator. We both know of God’s gracious choice through Christ’s manifestation of that choice in his redemptive activity, and we know that we, in fact, are God’s chosen, the elect, as we find ourselves engrafted into Christ. As Jacobs explains, God’s eternal decree for our salvation and Christ’s realization of that decree are two sides of the same coin– each rightly grasped only in its relation to the other.
(p148 )

Richard Muller asserts even more forcefully:

We have already noted three points in the doctrine of predestination where christological concerns have an impact the definition of elect as “in Christ,” the assertion that predestination is known only in Christ, and the statement that Christ himself is the “author of election” together with God the Father. The third of these points illustrates well what Jacobs calls “die trinitatstheologische Verankerung” of Calvin’s teaching on election– and it presses definitively beyond the purely functional level of doctrine. Against two writers who viewed predestination as the governing concept in Calvin’s thought, Jacobs could argue,

The opinion of Kampschulte and O. Ritschl, that Christ has a merely formal significance for Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, utterly misunderstands the fact that Christ and election belong to one another inextricably– as inseparable as water and a fountain; Christ correctly understood is the “index”: Christ is election itself.

In the work of reappraisal, the hyperbole of Jacobs’ last phrase was justified, and it serves to carry the day not only against the older scholarship, but also against Reid’s contention that Calvin failed to press his christological concerns to their proper conclusion in the doctrine of election. (35-36)

Robert Letham seems to share this understanding of Calvin, and I have explored his book in the past.

All of this serves to further illustrate the fact that we should look to Christ in order to find our place in God’s predestinating plan. We are elect as we are in Christ. And of course, we all know that the places to “see” Christ are just those places where he is exhibited and shewn forth; thus the covenant community ie. the visible church serves as the location of Christ.

It is little wonder that as Calvin’s paradigm continues to fall out of acceptance in mainstream Calvinistic churches today, hyper-calvinism continues to be embraced more and more. Let us ask for God to send his grace and strengthen those faithful ministers who are currently seeking to combat this encroaching danger.