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Beza on the Trinity, 21 Theses, Part 1 (1–9)[1]

David C. Noe

Theses or Axioms on the Trinity of Persons and their Unity of Essence as Derived from Theodore Beza’s Lectures

Thesis I True knowledge[2] concerning God is the principal aspect of truly calling upon God. This is because we cannot worship what we do not know.

Thesis II We must seek our conception[3] of God from his Word, because in it, and nowhere else, does he fully disclose himself to us for our salvation, and he does so such that the one who gains knowledge[4] of God outside his Word gains no knowledge for his salvation.[5]

Thesis III Because God has not only fully disclosed himself to the world in the writings of the Prophets and Apostles in the most true fashion,[6] but even, most of all and especially, in their very suitable words and phrases, we must devote our effort not only to confining ourselves within the boundaries of Scripture (as regards the main point), but also observe the customary formulas of Scripture down to the finest little bit.[7]

Thesis IV Nevertheless, the stubbornness of heretics made it necessary sometimes to  fashion terminology in order to avoid their petty objections. But the Holy Fathers of the church did not do this carelessly. Instead, they used the greatest reverence so that the meaning of the Scriptures was not in any way whatsoever diminished, nor was any innovation introduced into God’s Word.

Thesis V This was why, long ago, the Greek terms οὐσία (ousia) and ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) were adopted against Sabellius Afer, who confused the persons with the essence, and against Samosatenus of Antioch,[8] who destroyed the Son’s divine nature. Nevertheless, the author of the letter to Hebrews in chapter 1 employed the second of these terms. Nearly the whole controversy regarding these topics depends upon the explanation of these two terms.

Thesis VI Therefore, we must understand that when the Fathers are discussing the divine mysteries they have borrowed these terms from natural phenomena.[9] This is not because they thought that subjects so distinct could properly be explained using the same terms. Instead, they did this so that, in some way, they might by a kind of comparison of things unequal set before our eyes divine realities. And with these as their weapons they resolutely silenced those who were transforming theology into mere philosophical wrangling.

Thesis VII Therefore, we will state what οὐσία (ousia) and ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) mean when it comes to natural phenomena,[10] at least as much as the present argument will require, and then explain in what respect the same terms are applied to the divine mysteries.

Thesis VIII There are some designations of a type of universal and indeterminate meaning. These by similar reasoning[11] are attributed to a whole host of predicates in which we note there is something shared. This element is in fact present in the very many different subjects concerning which, by similar reasoning, it is predicated. But still, it does not subsist outside of those subjects, just as likewise those subjects do not subsist except in that common shared element. When, for example, I say “person,” I do not conceive of anything that is properly subsisting per se, but I note in my mind a certain shared nature apart from any particular demarcation. By a similar reasoning Peter, Paul, Timothy, and other individual subjects like these subsist. Therefore, “person” is a term that indicates οὐσία (ousia), a concept expressed by the designation “person.”

Thesis IX Furthermore, because this conceptualizing afterward descends from that aforementioned universal to the individual and particular instances through which those subjects are distinguished—I mean those in which that common notion was previously conceived and which subsist fully delineated[12] by those properties—therefore, designations have also been found that are adapted to expressing these distinctions. Thus we say Peter, Paul, and Timothy, which are expressed as names of these ὑπόστασεις (hypostases) or ὑφιστάμενοι (hyphistamenoi), i.e., names of subjects defined by their own properties and subsisting in their own, shared οὐσία (ousia).

Endnotes

[1] From Tractationes Theologicae Bezae, Volumen I (Geneva: Jean Crespin, 1570), 651.

[2] de Deo scientia.

[3] dei cognitio.

[4] sapit.

[5] Beza here both recognizes the existence of natural theology and limits its efficacy.

[6] verissime.

[7] mordicus.

[8] Also known as Paul of Samosata, c. AD 200–275, who was Bishop of Antioch 260–268.

[9] a rebus naturalibus.

[10] in rebus naturalibus.

[11] pari ratione.

[12] circumscripte.

David C. Noe is an elder at Reformation OPC, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a licentiate in the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario, and serves as an associate professor and chair of the Philosophy and Classics Department at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also serves on the OPC Committee for the Historian. Ordained Servant Online, October 2019.

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