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Charles Hodge on Trinitarian Personality

If you’ve had a chance to peruse Andrew Hoffecker’s biography, Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton or Hodge’s own works, you’ll know that Charles Hodge is an old school giant. In my opinion, his three volume Systematic Theology belongs on every pastor’s shelf. The following excerpts come from Hodge’s discussion on the Trinity and are great examples of Hodge’s mind in action. Though he delivers the goods on orthodoxy, he does so with a deep biblical sensitivity and a desire for creative, yet faithful theologizing within the tradition.

As the essence of the Godhead is common to the several persons, they have a common intelligence, will, and power. There are not in God three intelligences, three wills, three efficiencies. The Three are one God, and therefore have one mind and will. This intimate union was expressed in the Greek Church by the word [perichoresis], which the Latin words inexistentia, inhabitatio, and intercommunio, were used to explain. These terms were intended to express the Scriptural facts that the Son is in the Father, and the father in the Son; that where the Father is, there the Son and Spirit are; that what the one does the others do (the Father creates, the Son creates, the Spirit creates), or, as our Lord expresses it, “What things soever” the Father “doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” (John v. 19.) So also what the one knows, the others know. “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. ii. 10, 11.) A common knowledge implies a common consciousness. In man the soul and body are distinct, yet, while united, they have a common life. We distinguish between acts of the intellect, and acts of the will, and yet in every act of the will there is an exercise of the intelligence; as in every act of the affections there is a joint action of the intelligence and will. These are not illustrations of the relations of the persons of the Trinity, which are ineffable, but of the fact that in other and entirely different spheres there is this community of life in different subsistences,—different subsistences, at least so far as the body and soul are concerned. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 461–462)

Hodge develops the doctrine of perichoresis, particularly as it bears upon divine consciousness and the three hypostases. Relating these is no small ordeal, but Hodge does so in a way that preserves Trinitarian orthodoxy, while also maintaining the personality of God as God. Hodge continues,

This fact—of the intimate union, communion, and inhabitation of the persons of the Trinity—is the reason why everywhere in Scripture, and instinctively by all Christians, God as God is addressed as a person, in perfect consistency with the Tripersonality of the Godhead. We can, and do pray to each of the Persons separately; and we pray to God as God; for the three persons are one God; one not only in substance, but in knowledge, will, and power. To expect that we, who cannot understand anything, not even ourselves, should understand these mysteries of the Godhead, is to the last degree unreasonable. But as in every other sphere we must believe what we cannot understand; so we may believe all that God has revealed in his Word concerning Himself, although we cannot understand the Almighty unto perfection. (Hodge, 462)

Speaking more in philosophical vernacular, Hodge argues that God—as unity—is addressed as a person, while God as three is also three persons. It’s important to note that Hodge is not departing from Nicean and Constantinopalitan orthodoxy here. In the creedal usage, God is three persons (hypostases) in one essence. He’s drawing out the implications of the notion of perichoresis, that is, the mutual indwelling of the hypostases in the divine essence. Cornelius Van Til built upon Hodge’s work on Trinitarian personality. If you would care to read more on Van Til’s use of Hodge, find a copy of Dr. Lane Tipton’s dissertation “The Triune Personal God: Trinitarian Theology in the Thought of Cornelius Van Til”. Ph.D. dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2004. You may also listen to Christ the Center episodes 49 and 152.


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