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Steve Holmes is a Baptist minister, writer and speaker, and presently Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of St Andrews. He is a member of the leadership team at St Andrews Baptist Church, and on the board of trustees of the Evangelical Alliance UK and of Chapel St Community Schools, a Christian charity working for social regeneration in deprived areas.

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The doctrine of the Trinity was settled in the fourth century, and maintained, with only very minor disagreement or development, by all strands of the church--Western and Eastern, Protestant and Catholic--until the modern period. In the twentieth cen

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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
The Holy Trinity is not what it used to be! 9 Nov. 2012
By James R. V. Matichuk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In the twentieth century there was a flowering of Trinitarian theology from such luminaries as Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, John Zizioulas, Jurgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Robert Jenson, Miroslav Volf, Leonardo Boff, Cornelius Plantinga, Michael Rea, Brian Leftow and others. While this so-called Trinitarian revival begins with Barth and best intentions (to rescue the doctrine of the Trinity from Liberal theology's refuse pile) those that followed him took avenues which broke with the tradition. Sometimes this was because scholars willfully lay aside earlier theological reflection, other times it is because they fail to appreciate the meaning and nuances of earlier theological discussions.

In The Quest for the Trinity Stephen R. Holmes, senior lecturer in theology at St. Andrews, has written a short book which gives an overview of the contemporary approaches to the Trinity, and sets it against the backdrop of the theological tradition. Holmes basic premise is that the contemporary quest to recapture the doctrine of the Trinity, misunderstands and distorts the tradition (xv). In his first chapter, Holmes sketches the contours of the `Trinitarian revival.' In the chapters which follow, he walks chronologically through the history of the church, demonstrating the broad consensus of Trinitarian theology from the 4th Century councils until the Nineteenth Century. Holmes presents and summarizes the writings of many of the theologians and thinkers who reflected on the nature of the Triune God.

This is a short book (232 pages) and therefore cannot necessarily give a detailed analysis of all twenty centuries of theological reflection. Yet Holmes demonstrates his thesis and illuminates significant details along the way. Holmes is able to shows that the method and understanding of the Trinity had significantly changed in the modern period from what it was in the patristic, medieval or Reformation eras. For instance, when Holmes looks back on the Biblical texts which formed the basis of patristic reflection on the Trinity, he observes that many of the go-to-texts were from the Old Testament. In the modern period, the Old Testament is treated as though it had nothing significant to teach us about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity because historical critical approaches trained us to read the Bible, solely through the lens of authorial intent. Patristic exegetes were committed to reading the Old Testament Christologically and mined it for theological treasures.

Beyond method, Holmes demonstrates that contemporary approaches to the Trinity employ language differently than earlier approaches. In the fourth century debates, which culminated in the councils of Nicea and Constantinople, the language of personhood (hypostasis, persona) was employed to refer to the members of the Trinity. In contemporary theology, personhood is understood as fully personal, possessing will, intellect, personality. In the patrisitic period, personhood denotes a self-consciousness but the individual distinctions between persons is not stressed (there are not three I-centers). Rather the Cappadocian formulation affirms that the Triune God exists as one substance, trice over. Likewise traditional theologians were committed to the ineffability of God, where modern theologians sometimes claim a fuller understanding of God's nature.

One conclusion which Holmes makes that is controversial in some quarters is his assertion that Greek and Latin conception of the Trinity are in substantial agreement. My own theological training taught me that the model of the Trinity in the East was a `Social Trinity model' which stressed the inter-relation of the persons but in the West, the Trinity was understood in more psychological terms. Often the blame for the difference is assigned to Augustine for his ubiquitous influence on the West and his failure to understand the Cappadocians. Against this Holmes asserts that Augustine was the greatest interpreter of Cappadocian Theology (122). Holmes observes that, " Augustine is held not to have understood the Cappadocian achievement, and to have stumbled through some metaphysical arguments which are best sub-Trinitarian when compared to the glories of the two Gregories. (130)" Holmes finds unlikely that Augustine would present a radically different Trinity from the Cappadocians without knowing that he did. He asserts to the contrary:

If any explanation is offered to account for this extraordinarily unlikely state of affairs, it usually turns on a suggestion that Augustine's grasp of Greek was at best partial, and therefore that he did not understand the texts that led to the Constantinopolitian settlement. Against this, we might note: that Augustine's grasp of Greek was actually rather good, at least by the time he wrote De Trinitate, that there are several earlier Latin interpreters of Nicene theology whom he could have read, some whom we know he stood in close relationship to (e.g. Ambrose of Milan), and that no writer of the day accuses Augustine of misunderstanding Constantinopolitian Trintarianism. Further, my discussion of Hilary, above, has indicated just how dependent on Eastern categories his developed Trinitarianism theoloogy was. (130-1).

Nevertheless, differences in Eastern and Western Trinitarianism develop with the controversy over the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed (In the original creed, `the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father', in the West the word's `and the Son' were added to the Creed. However this difference did not threaten the Church's orthodoxy or catholicity; there was full communion for centuries between Christians on both sides of the debate(164).

Without going into the details of every thinker Holmes profiled, I think he demonstrates well that Christians were united in their understanding of the Trinity until the 19th Century (when the ferment of the Reformation and enlightenment style rationalism prompted a decisive break with tradition). You do not need to be an expert of the Trinity to read this book; however I think those who have followed the Trinitarian conversation will find this book most valuable.

Thank you to Intervarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Solid scholarship trumps theological novelty 10 Feb. 2014
By Randal Rauser - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When I was doing my PhD in systematic theology more than a decade ago, everyone was talking about a renaissance in the doctrine of the Trinity. Theologians like Moltmann, Pannenberg, Boff, LaCugna and my own Doktorvater Colin Gunton may not have agreed on much, but they did agree that the doctrine of the Trinity had long been neglected by the theological tradition. And they also agreed that a proper understanding of the doctrine would yield abundant practical fruit far beyond the confines of the doctrine of God. As Stephen Holmes puts it, in much recent theology there has been a suspicion of historic trinitarianism as little more than “useless orthodoxy” (2). In its place various reconceptualizations of the doctrine have been offered.

In "The Quest for the Trinity" Stephen Holmes subjects this spate of revisionist projects to its own scalpel with a ringing indictment that it “misunderstands and distorts the traditional doctrine so badly that it is unrecognizable.” (xv) Not only does much of the revisionist project fail to understand the tradition, but by the standards of that tradition many recent theologies of the Trinity are even heretical (2).

The book’s approachable cover, inviting title (a quest!) and short length (a mere 200 pages) convey the impression that this is a readily accessible volume, perhaps even introductory in nature. It isn’t. As I read The Quest for the Trinity my initial hopes that it might serve as a supplementary text in one of my introductory systematic theology classes quickly evaporated. While Holmes wrote the book to be ”accessible” (xvi) I discovered quickly that this is a relative goal: Holmes’ aim was accessibility for upper-level undergraduate majors in theology, not a general audience of theologically novice seminarians.

That isn’t a complaint, of course. It is, rather, fair warning to adjust one’s expectations. As far as complaints do go, I really don’t have any. While I bought in initially to the “Trinitarian renaissance” in the 1990s, I soon developed my own suspicions about dubious historical reconstruction, pie-in-the-sky speculation, wooly “the Trinity changes everything” pragmatism, and the insatiable contemporary search for novelty. While I had made my own modest attempt at a broader critique of the trend (see in my review of Stanley Grenz, "Rediscovering the Triune God" in International Journal of Systematic Theology, 9, no. 2 (2007), 231-35), Holmes provides a magisterial, full on assault. This book lands like a bombshell on the playground of the Trinitarian theologians.

In the popular reconstruction of history that I was sold fifteen years ago, the Cappadocians were theological saints who wisely based their Trinitarian formulation on the ontology of personhood. Then Augustine came along and loused everything up by introducing the primacy of the one divine substance. And so enters de Regnon’s venerable thesis according to which the East begins with the threeness (and personhood … and goodness and light and gumdrops and rainbows) and the West with the one (and a metaphysics of substance … and badness and darkness and Plato and storm clouds).

Holmes shows, with delicious irony, that contemporary theologians do not understand the Cappadocians half as well as Augustine did. And together the Patristic theologians (East and West) share a common theological understanding of God as Trinity (see the summary on 146). This common vision continued to be faithfully developed through the Medieval and Reformation periods.

Contemporary Trinitarian theology has made grandiose claims about going behind Augustine to retrieve the doctrine (or, in the case of Catherine Mowry La Cugna, of going behind Nicaea!). Holmes demonstrates with conviction that this is false. The roots of the contemporary speculative anti-metaphysical and personalist reconstructions only go back to the thin soil of the Romantic age. He writes:

“The practice of speaking of three ‘persons’ in this sense in the divine life, of asserting a ‘social doctrine of the Trinity’, a ‘divine community’ or an ‘ontology of persons in relationship’ can only ever be, as far as I can see, a simple departure from … the unified witness of the entire theological tradition.” (195)

Holmes doesn’t say the emperor has no clothes (academics don’t typically engage in such grandstanding). But his justified indictment of recent Trinitarian theology certainly suggests the charge.

It should be stressed that Holmes is by no means an unthinking conservative who trumpets tradition for the sake of. Indeed, he remains open to theological revisionism insofar as it can be justified:

“The development of the doctrine of the Trinity took place in the context of an intellectual culture that was shaped by Greek philosophy, and it could be argued that this became determinative. However, the argument needs to be made; as far as I am aware it has not really been seriously essayed since von Harnack, even if it has been regularly assumed.” (198)

So don’t think of Holmes as prematurely shutting down theologies that dare to cross the boundaries into heterodoxy. Instead, he invites all to the table of theologically rigorous conversation.

This is a book of dizzying ambition, as it undertakes a survey of two millennia of Trinitarian theology in order to challenge a broad consensus that has emerged only in the last several decades. By and large Holmes succeeds while wielding in equal measure a sharp theological acumen, comprehensive historical theological knowledge, and an independence of thought which is able to challenge theological trends not from misbegotten iconoclasm but rather from a stronger and clearer grasp of the subject matter.

Along the way, Holmes offers many intriguing analyses and insights. For example, he trenchantly observes that Tertullian “succeeded — brilliantly — in clarifying the terms of the problem, but he has done no more than that.” (71) And he offers the following fascinating analysis of Irenaeus: “It is perhaps no surprise that Irenaeus, so long ignored, has been feted as a key Trinitarian thinker in the recent ‘Trinitarian revival’; his stress on the economy fits recent Trinitarianism far better than it did classical Trinitarianism.” (67) And while he is no fan of Eunomius, Holmes points out that the charge of rationalism is mistaken since ”clarity can never be a defect in theological work.” (97) As a proponent of analytic theology I reply, yea and amen!

In fact, I found myself saying “Yea and amen” so often reading this book that my study began to sound like a Pentecostal prayer meeting. This is an outstanding work by a leading historical and systematic theologian, and it provides a novel contribution to academic literature even as it maintains its accessibility to the wider audience (caveat noted). In a marketplace crowded with books on the Trinity, many aiming for novelty and daring reinvention, Holmes reminds us that the best theological books are those written by highly educated, measured scholars who are independent of mind and not driven by theological fashion.

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Timely and Much Needed Introduction 6 Dec. 2013
By Derrick A. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
*Note: this review was originally published in The Journal of Cultural Encounters vol.9 no.1 (2013): 102-108. I have graciously been given permission to reproduce it here. For full disclosure I was also given a free review copy of this book.*

To produce a concise statement somehow encapsulating the mood and posture of that perennially occult entity "modern theology" is one of the more elusive incantations of the academic. Many helpful attempts have been put forth, but for the sake of simplicity if we might assume Walter Kasper's formula--that "the history of modern thought" is, at one level, "a history of the many attempts to reconstruct the doctrine of the trinity," --we might also gain immediate ground to understand the wonderful blurb by Karen Kilby branding the backside of Stephen Holmes' latest book, The Quest for the Trinity. "It is," she says, "rare to write something that is both a textbook and a real intervention in a debate." That a textbook be also an intervention, and an intervention a textbook, emerges precisely from an intentionally blurred line between the systematic and historical `moments' of theology: Holmes' book, as a historical overview of the development of Trinitarian doctrine (and so: textbook), undercuts much of the colloquy of modern trinitarianism at its historiographical heart (and so: intervention). For a major characteristic of these projects is that they are built upon the scaffolding of historical diagnostics: if the Trinity ended up marginalized, something somewhere went wrong and a good deal of sleuthing is needed to trace such ailments to find patient zero. So goes the vast drift of today's modern Trinitarianism: much of the vogue of our current decision making strategies in theology are driven precisely by the subtext of the historical narration they piggy-back upon (against patriarchalism-hierarchicalism, classical-theism, Constantinianism, substance metaphysics, Greek East vs. Latin West, Hellenization, onto-theology, and the like). Yet, what happens when these fundamental historical narratives (what Patristic scholar Lewis Ayres has elsewhere called the "tropes" of a culture of modern systematic theology) turn out to be misleading, or even fundamentally incorrect?

So enters Holmes. "I argue," he writes, "that the explosion of theological work claiming to recapture the doctrine of the Trinity that we have witnessed in recent decades in fact misunderstands and distorts the traditional doctrine so badly that it is unrecognizable" (xv). He goes on to note that "This is a historical judgment; it may be that recent writers are right in their accounts of the content and use of Trinitarian doctrine, but if so, we need to conclude that the majority of the Christian tradition has been wrong in what it has claimed to be the eternal life of God" (2). What is more Holmes feels that the Trinity is suffering a malady polar opposite to the Kantian charge that, even if true, the Trinity is practically useless; one today finds so many divergently "practical" projects (for ecclesiology, homosexuality, marriage, politics, religious pluralism, et al...) one begins to wonder if the Trinity is truly patient of such deployments, or if the general idea that "the trinity is our social program," should be called into question (at least in many of its forms) by the multifarious success that it now enjoys. It is, at the very least, telling that "such wildly divergent implications can be drawn from the same doctrine." (26), and Holmes pulls no punches here: "in each case the acceptable ethical outcomes cannot flow from the Patristic doctrine of the Trinity: the dogma needs massaging, relativizing, or simply reversing before it generates `acceptable' political content for today...political utility is only achieved [in these contemporary projects when] the received form of the doctrine of the trinity is radically adjusted." (29)

In making such bold claims, Holmes' work can satisfyingly be placed within the stream of what Sarah Coakley has elsewhere labeled a "third wave" of Trinitarian scholarship--a small but powerful band of thinkers who, since the ebbing of the first gushes of the Triad's newfound celebrity, have grown increasingly impatient with the analytical decisions made in the wake of what is claimed are faulty historical narratives. As such, Holmes is certainly not the first to gather evidence under such a banner--to cite a few examples Augustine has found able defenders in Lewis Ayres, Michel René Barnes, Michael Hanby, Rowan Williams, and others; while Aquinas has recently been unfettered from much of our mid-century obloquy by the likes of Gilles Emery, Matthew Levering, Jean-Pierre Torrell, and Karen Kilby. Others like Thomas Weinandy, Paul Gavrilyuk, Daniel Costello, and David Bentley Hart, have eloquently begun to lift our "post-metaphysical" suspicions regarding the received doctrines of immutability, impassibility, and simplicity. But what is lacking in these works is precisely an introductory guide to the history of trinitarianism which takes into account large swaths of this contemporary research. Holmes has managed to do just that, somehow fitting the major highlights into a slender and approachable introductory volume for students.

Beginning somewhat elliptically for a historical guide, Holmes opens his first chapter with a not unjustified look into the 19th and 20th centuries, in order that the reader might come to grips with the major trends of the Trinitarian revival, and the strategies and concerns it involves in dialoging with past efforts. This is the most critical of Holmes' chapters, as he is quite concerned to point out that paradoxically it is often where the Trinitarian revival thinks that it is most in line with Patristic thought that the subtle (and not so-subtle) inversions and distortions are manufactured. Once the first chapter identifies such misapprehensions, one might summarize the rest of the book as two halves of a single attempt to correct our perceptions of Patristic trinitarianism and its legacy. The first half of the book is dedicated to the events leading up to Nicaea, and the later post-325 A.D. conflicts of the pro-Nicenes against those like the heterousians and pneumatomachii. Chapter three examines early developments in the Apologists, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origin, and others, while four and five are dedicated to the massively complex 4th-century debates, and chapter six, along with a helpful interlude, is dedicated to Latin 4th and early 5th century trinitarianism (but mainly, of course, upon the colossal figure of St. Augustine). Chapter two, to be sure, deals with the scriptural evidence for the Trinity, but not in the usual manner with which we have become accustomed with introductory volumes on the Trinity. Here it fits nicely into the broad Patristic trajectory, as Holmes quite rightly notes "we cannot consider the history of the doctrine of the trinity without studying this tradition of exegetical support; nor can we simply presume that modern readers will accept, or even understand, the exegetical arguments being offered" (34). Hence Holmes' dealings with scripture are to point out how utterly central exegetical debates were to the formation of Trinitarianism, and what hermeneutical and theological presuppositions were at play on all sides of Patristic development in chapters three through six.

With these events and strategies outlined, we come to a helpful interlude postscripted to chapter six gives a general conceptual map of the territory just traversed: East and West did not have fundamentally different strategies regarding the Trinity; Augustine was not a "monist" and the Cappadocians were not, conversely, "personalist"; divine simplicity and unity, far from being only haphazardly juxtaposed with a "robust" Trinitarianism, was actually one of the central engines driving conceptual development, along with immutability, on all sides; far from some speculative endeavor banking on an absurd exactitude of knowledge of God, early pro-Nicene trinitarianism insisted all God-talk was inexact, analogical, trophic, and--to borrow anachronistic language--was more concerned about producing a `grammar' able to uphold liturgical practices and Gospel proclamation as true; hence Trinitarianism was not driven primarily, or even largely, by philosophical considerations, but was in the main an exegetical and theological endeavor (146). And on and on.

One need only be a casual reader in contemporary trinitarianism to see that many of these claims run headlong against the grain of innumerably repeated historical formulae--where Augustine, and Aquinas after him, are bastardized as often as the Cappadocians are lionized for equal and opposite reasons; where a supposed Hellenization must be discarded for more biblical theology; static substance metaphysics abandoned for more dynamic and personalist categories, etc... What Holmes wants to stress--along with many among the so-called "third wave"--is that East and West, despite differences in style, terminology, or rhetorical employment, did not have any fundamental differences among them as far as the pro-Nicene trajectory (or what we now call "Orthodoxy") is concerned. The West was concerned with personalism as much as the East was with simplicity because they were both inheritors of fundamental clusters of problems and continuities that had to be dealt with appropriately.

And this sets up the second half of the book. Far from seeing Medieval and Reformation attempts as dislodged or aberrant, Holmes' is keen to insist that in their broad intentions they mirror and develop the generalities of pro-Nicene consensus. Indeed, here East and West (filioque aside) are presented as following the same broad patterns of argumentation and reasoning regarding the Trinity. Aquinas is defended from Rahner's famous charge of separating his treatises "On the One God," and "On the Triune God," while Anselm, at the very least, thought the Latins and the Greeks agreed on all technical points of the trinity save the Spirit's procession (149). And later in the Reformation, for example, Calvin nearly always referred to the Cappadocians (at least Basil and Gregory Nazianzus) when discussing topics important to Western theology (168-169). Holmes never tires of stressing that the East-West distinction (the so-called "De Regnón" paradigm, though this is unfair since this itself is a misreading of De Regnón) has been utterly overplayed. Indeed Holmes points out a particularly absurd instance in contemporary theology in which the Westerner, Richard of St. Victor, is more often than not seen as properly understanding the Eastern, personalist approach (153). One wonders, however (as Holmes does), if regarding a Westerner as having "Eastern" sensibilities rather than representing a personalist strand within a shared tradition (or at the very least a Western personalist tradition stemming from Augustine's obvious influence on Richard) seems less a plausible reading, and more about relegating discretely idealized thought forms to their respective cardinal directions.

Rather than seeing the relegation or marginalization of the Trinity within inherent Western or broadly Medieval tendencies, Holmes' closes his book in the final chapter by insisting upon a much later break following on the heels of Biblicist and rationalist anti-Trinitarianism: "almost all of the arguments we are involved in...are arguments that began in reaction to Kant, and that, whilst they have grown and developed, have not yet been either solved or forgotten" (182). While of course including Hegel in this narrative, Holmes focuses specifically on Schleiermacher--but not in the way typical to his treatment in trinitarian summaries, as the man who finally relegated the Triad to the appendices of theology. More important to Holmes than such placements of the Trinity in the shadowy back bits of systematic theology, is Schleiermacher's methodology itself, which had an acute sense of historical development. Holmes notes that Schleiermacher was adamant that in order to do justice to the tradition one "must be responsible in doing theology at our own moment of history," which actually means that the fundamental stability of the doctrine of the Trinity which Holmes is at pains to enumerate was seen by Schleiermacher as "an enormous, almost intractable, problem" (187-188). Thus from Schleiermacher "the harvest of nineteenth-century theology includes a broad sense that the discipline stood in need of fundamental reformulation...if we try to analyze this...it tends to reduce to a series of claims about the broad narrative of the theological tradition...which were based on nineteenth-century historical work." We suffer now from what Holmes calls "dislocation,"--"we all know now that the historical work was inadequate in many ways, but the sense that the tradition we have received is somehow warped or broken remains strong." (195) We are thus left with a "curious legacy" where there is "in some unspecified and shadowy way" the suspicion of distortion in need of correction by modern reconstruction (197).
And so ends Holmes' tantalizing introduction to the vast history of Trinitarianism. If this review has done any justice to the content and excellence of Holmes' work, it will have also, hopefully, brought about in the reader a sense of unanswered disquiet: what now? Herein lies the weakness of the volume. While we will do well to avoid that perennial shelter of bad reviews--and so avoid being disappointed in a book for not being something it never intended itself to be--Holmes' notes on the deconstruction of contemporary Trinitarian conclusions and methodology are as innumerable as his own constructive suggestions are absent. Holmes absolves himself of this lack in the introduction (xvi-xvii) and so we must respect the tight parameters which generated the volume. Yet when Holmes says things like "we could have returned to careful readings of the Father's and the classical tradition, but we chose to see the doctrine taught by the Father's as the problem, not the potential solution," (199) or "the practice of speaking of three `persons' in [the] sense of asserting a `social doctrine of the trinity', a `divine community' or an `ontology of persons in relationship' can only ever be, as far as I can see, a simple departure from (what I have attempted to show is) the unified witness of the entire theological tradition," (195) without offering even a glimmer of an alternative (a final chapter on this would have been welcomed) we might be excused from a bit of head-scratching as we wonder exactly what Holmes has in mind for constructive work in Trinitarian theology now. Especially disconcerting is Holmes' repeated emphasis on how vital Patristic exegetical strategies were to their doctrine of the Trinity, and how many of these would not be accepted by modern academic standards of historical-critical method. This is obviously a problem that many have addressed or begun to address (the exegetical studies of Bauckham, Hurtado, and others, and the theological hermeneutics of those like Treier come to mind) nonetheless this aspect of Holmes work is left unexamined beyond the disjunction between ancient and modern practices, and when one notes this volume is primarily intended for students, and not experts more widely read in the relevant literature, this lacuna is especially disconcerting.

Regardless of this, one cannot help but admire his latest book. It is sadly too often true that we imbibe the Fathers (and Mothers), Medievalists, and Reformers only by proxy through their appearances and positioning in contemporary projects, and so become beholden to certain prejudices that have already been overcome by specialists, but remain unknown amongst the small type of hard to procure monographs (or--let us be frank--prejudices often overcome by mere readings of primary sources). It is also sadly--and simultaneously--true, that the attrition of the time-consuming and often difficult work of making one's way through a de Trinitate or a Theological Orations makes in-depth study often prohibitive for the non-specialist, and intimidating for the initiate. Holmes' work here has admirably helped us on both accounts with his quite manageable and timely volume on the Trinity, for which any student of theology should be incredibly grateful.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Great historical theology, not sure about the conclusion 21 Mar. 2013
By Adam Shields - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The basic thesis is that the modern focus is fundamentally different from the Patristic understanding of the Trinity. This is not actually all that hard to capture. One of the things I most liked about Dunzl's Doctrine of the Trinity is that he clearly showed that doctrinal development is at least partially dependent on language and culture of the time. You cannot move beyond the current ability to describe the theology you are trying to document into a doctrine.

But a comment early in the book put me off on the wrong foot. "..the [modern] claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is generative for ecclesiology and ethics is in danger of being cast into doubt if such wildly divergent implications can be drawn from the same doctrine." In context, Holmes seems to be suggesting that because modern theologians come to different conclusions about ethics and ecclesiology when thinking about the Trinity that the entire idea of using the Theology of the Trinity to discuss ethics and ecclesiology is a suspect idea.

As an example both the role of women in complementarian theology and the radical pacifism of Miroslof Volf are both based primarily on trinitarian theological positions. On the one hand Volf sees no subjugation of the Son to the Father and therefore bases his theology on a mutuality of the trinity. Other other hand Bruce Ware bases his theology of complementarian roles of husband and wife on a very different theology of the Trinity. Both the Father and Son are equally valued, but they have different roles and the role of the Son is to subjugate himself to the will of the Father. Holmes does not spell this out, but insinuates that without agreement of different theologians like Ware and Volf, the modern social understanding of the Trinity is suspect. To which, I think we can point to almost any other theological position and the differences that people have over them.

Holmes is asserting, and I think clearly makes the case, that the Patristic language of person and substance that was used in the early development of the Doctrine of the Trinity is very different than the modern concepts of personhood that arose after the enlightenment, and especially after Freud or the modern concepts of substance that have so vastly changed with the ideas of quantum physics. Where The Quest for the Trinity shines is the investigation of the Patristic theology of the Trinity.

What Holmes is doing is summed up in this quote: "L.P. Hartley's opening claim from The Go-Between is quite true. `The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.' The history of the early development of the doctrine of the Trinity is largely a history of biblical exegesis, but exegesis of a kind that is unconvincing, obscure, or seemingly arbitrary to the modern reader. If we are to understand the arguments that went on, we need to understand the exegetical rules - and the debates over those rules - that governed those arguments."

Both as a criticism and affirmation, I have never used the dictionary (and wikipedia search) on my kindle as much as I did with this book. Holmes is very precise with language. I really do need to read this again because the history and the changes is the language are subtle.

But there are places where I think Holmes did not completely persuade me of his argument. His assertion that Augustine was actually just explicating the Eastern theology of the Trinity and not making fairly radical changes to the theology seems suspect. Here Holmes is going against the common stream of understanding of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity for decades if not centuries. In addition, if he is right, that Augustine was really just explicating the East then that helps make his case that modern theology of the Trinity is fundamentally different from Patristic. But if Augustine is different, if there really was an Eastern theology that focused more on the social relationship of the Trinity, then some of the movement of modern theology is really an expansion of that historical theological tradition. I think this is the weakest point in the book.

On the whole, this is technical, but important book on the development of the theology of the Trinity. I hope that there is more development around actual evaluation of the modern expansion of the doctrine of the Trinity instead of just saying that it is different from the Patristic doctrine of the Trinity. Holmes has clearly made the case that the Patristic Fathers were not using the language in the same way as modern theologians are. But I do not think that is an incredibly controversial point. What is controversial and I do not think discussed enough in this book, is the idea that the expansion of the doctrine of the Trinity might be either improper or heretical depending on your view.
The publisher provided me a pdf copy of the book for purposes of review.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding Example of Historical Scholarship on the Trinity 14 Feb. 2013
By Nate Claiborne - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The Quest For The Trinity is the first volume in a new series called Christian Doctrines in Historical Perspective. We can look forward to one volume per year for the next few years or so. This volume though sets the tone for the series. In this case, we are treated to a brief but thorough treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity.

In chapter 1, Holmes begins his study in the modern period and details the revival in Trinitarian studies that took place in the 20th century. If you're familiar with this phenomena, then you'll recognize the usual suspects who receive mention: Barth, Rahner, Zizioulas, Pannenberg, Moltmann, Jenson, Boff, and Volf.

Having given a "flavour to the energy and main themes of contemporary Trinitarian theology" (32), in chapter 2 Holmes implicitly raises the question of whether it all constitutes a legitimate revival. To make his case, he must go back in time and starts with the Bible. Holmes does this through five headings: The Old Testament, Old Testament Theology, The Intertestamental Period, and two final ones devoted to the New Testament. Due to space, he only focuses on the major passage that were used in constructing the doctrine. One might have liked to see a full exegetical treatment, but you can read Letham's book with us if that's what you're looking for.

Chapters 3-6 devoted to a close reading of the patristic sources up the end of the fourth century. Chapter 3 details the early patristic developments in Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen (among others). Chapters 4-5 then cover the fourth century debates, which as Holmes rightly sees it, set the bar for orthodoxy in Trinitarian doctrine. Chapter 4 specifically focuses on the story Arius' rise and Athanasius and the Nicene response. Chapter 5 then chronicles Eunomius' rise and Basil and Gregory of Nyssa's response, eventually getting us to Chalcedon after visiting Gregory of Nazianzus. The chapter rounds with a look at John of Damacus as an example of Trinitarianism in the East. In chapter 6, the focus is on Augustine and Hilary of Potiers as examplars of Trinitarianism in the West.

After conducting this study, Holmes transition with an interlude titled "The Harvest of Patristic Trinitarianism." He offer the following (appropriately so) 7 point summary of the received doctrine from this time (146):

The divine nature is simple, incomposite, and ineffable. It is also unrepeatable, and so, in crude and inexact terms `one'.
Language referring to the divine nature is always inexact and trophic; nonetheless, if formulated with much care and more prayer, it might adequately, if not fully, refer.
There are three divine hypostases that are instantiations of the divine nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The three divine hypostases exist really, eternally, and necessarily, and there is nothing divine that exists beyond or outside their existence.
The three divine hypostases are distinguished by eternal relations of origin - begetting and proceeding - and not otherwise.
All that is spoken of God, with the single and very limited exception of the language which refers to the relations of origin of the three hypostases, is spoken of the one life the three share, and so is indivisibly spoken of all three.
The relationships of origin express/establish relational distinctions between the three existent hypostases; no other distinctions are permissible.

Holmes will return to this summary at the end of the book (199-200). As sees it, this represents "an adequate, if incomplete, epitome of necessarily orthodox teaching concerning the eternal life of God" (146).

Holmes expects readers to hold this summary in the back of their mind as he proceeds in a quicker historical pace through the Medieval period (chapter 7), and the Reformation to the beginning of the 18th century (chapter 8). Little development of the received doctrine is witnessed through these chapters (which is kind of the point). One development that is important on the heels of the Reformation is the rise of anti-Trinitarianism. This will come into full bloom in the 18th century onward, as Holmes explain in chapter 9, which also closes out the book.

Toward the end of chapter 9 though, we come full circle, having made our way back to the modern period and come to the 20th century revival from the other side. It is here that Holmes reiterates the 4th century summary and make his closing point: the so-called Trinitarian revival is really nothing of sort since it was not reviving the received orthodox doctrine that arose from the patristic sources.

As an historical study, Holmes work is excellent, especially since it is driven to make a point about modern idiosyncrasies in the doctrine of God. It also serves well as a concise overview of the patristic thought on the doctrine of God from the key theologians that developed it.

In terms of weaknesses, I thought the ending was rather abrupt. I echo Nick Norelli's desires for Holmes to develop his conclusion a bit more and weigh in on its significance for 21st century Trinitarian studies. However, given the aims of the particular series, maybe that is why Holmes refrained from adding an additional editorial chapter along those lines.

Whether you look at it as a strength or weakness, Holmes work is dense and relies on readers to be familiar with technical theological terms in patristic Trinitarian and Christological studies. For me, I had a very strong background from seminary with this language (I took 6 hours just in Trinitarian studies), but for the average reader, it might prove to be heavy lifting to navigate Holmes' depth of thought and language.

All in all though, Holmes' book is welcome addition to any serious theological student's library. Especially if you're interested in patristic studies or Trinitarian theology, this book is for you. It is well a conceived historical study in the doctrine of God that is potentially paradigmatic for readers only familiar with the so-called 20th century Trinitarian revival. I hope the book is widely read and proves to be influential in 21st century Trinitarian studies!

As I mentioned above, you have an opportunity to win a copy of this book. If you're in RSS, you'll probably need to click through to see the PunchTab form. As always, just follow the prompts to earn your entries! I do want to add this disclaimer though: I plan on starting a blog newsletter in the coming weeks or by the first of the year. By entering your email, you are also adding yourself to the mailing list. You can enter the giveaway without using your email, but if you go that route, that is what you're doing (and this will be true in giveaways from now on!)

[I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher]
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