Institutes Study: Book 1, Chapter 13

Week 5 Study Questions

1. For what purpose has God revealed to us that He is one God in three persons?

So that we might know him more clearly and intimately.  Or as Calvin would put it, to “suppress all gross imaginations” and “check the audacity of the human mind.”  Without God revealing himself as Trinity, man is left to fathom him with carnal stupidity, and God will have none of that.

2. When we speak of the Trinity, what is meant by the word “person” (also called “subsistence” or “hypostasis”)?

Calvin says literally, “By person then, I mean a subsistence in the divine essence—a subsistence which, while related to the other two, is distinguished from them by incommunicable properties.”

3. When we speak of the Trinity, what is meant by the word “essense”?

The essence of God is “simple and undivided, and contained in himself entire, in full perfection, without partition or diminution.”

4. In summary form, what is essential that we know about the Trinity?

God is one essence in three distinct persons.

Calvin summarizes succinctly: “Let those, then, who love soberness, and are contented with the measure of faith, briefly receive what is useful to be known. It is as follows: – When we profess to believe in one God, by the name God is understood the one simple essence, comprehending three persons or hypostases; and, accordingly, whenever the name of God is used indefinitely, the Son and Spirit, not less than the Father, is meant. But when the Son is joined with the Father, relation comes into view, and so we distinguish between the Persons. But as the Personal subsistence carry an order with them, the principle and origin being in the Father, whenever mention is made of the Father and Son, or of the Father and Spirit together, the name of God is specially given to the Father. In this way the unity of essence is retained, and respect is had to the order, which, however derogates in no respect from the divinity of the Son and Spirit. And surely since we have already seen how the apostles declare the Son of God to have been He whom Moses and the prophets declared to be Jehovah, we must always arrive at a unity of essence. We, therefore, hold it detestable blasphemy to call the Son a different God from the Father, because the simple name God admits not of relation, nor can God, considered in himself, be said to be this or that.”

5. List some of the proofs for the divinity of each person in the Trinity.

The Father

Calvin does not exhaust himself in proofs regarding the divinity of the Father in this chapter.  He seems to take it for granted having already presented the first 12 chapters.  That said, he consistently uses the Father to establish the relationship with the Son and Holy Spirit within the Trinity.  In doing so, we find repetitious descriptions of the Father’s eternal nature, holiness, and sovereign power that exude his divinity.  Calvin however does treat the economical aspect of the Trinity, identifying the Father as the “beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things.”

The Son

  1. Is the logos (Word) of God, and therefore eternal with him
  2. Is called both God and Jehovah
  3. Appears in the OT as the angel of God, also logos
  4. Is called Lord of Hosts
  5. Is called Judge of the world
  6. Is called God of glory
  7. Is called the Creator of the world
  8. Is called the Lord of angels
  9. Is called the King of the Church
  10. Is the object of our prayers
  11. Is in whom we believe
  12. Performed miracles of his power, not that which was imputed unto him
  13. Bestowed power upon others
  14. Is both our Lord and Savior
  15. We are baptized in his Name

The Holy Spirit

  1. Is the Creator and Preserver of the world
  2. Is omnipresent
  3. Is the divine source of the prophets
  4. Quickens unto eternal life
  5. Is called God
  6. Is the object of the kind of blasphemy that is not forgiven
  7. We are baptized in his Name

6. In a few paragraphs, share some of the things you learned from this chapter that deepened your understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.

If I may speak freely, the most profound thing I appreciated in this chapter was the work of the Holy Spirit.  Calvin spends a great deal of time refuting heresies and clarifying the nature and work of the Trinity.  But it is with the flood of false thinking that I am most humbled.  I can’t begin to imagine where my own understanding would be if it were but myself and my bible locked away from the grace of the Church and her saints.  And it is there that I see the work of the Spirit most powerfully expressed.

Beyond this, I am obviously grateful for the clarity by which Calvin summarizes God, especially with regard to the economical nature of the Trinity.   He is very careful and cautious to approach human analogies but does so very well when he mentions, “This distinction is, that to the Father is attributed the beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and arrangement in action, while the energy and efficacy of action is assigned to the Spirit.”  I’m not sure if this sort of concise description even existed this clearly before Calvin (limited as my studies have been), but with his teaching I can see a tremendous amount of subsequent impact among faithful authors since the Reformation.

Lastly, but certainly not as an aside, this chapter gave me pause to reflect the depth of my own baptism.  Apparently there is nothing like a rich study of the Trinity to provide a sense of awe and wonder at the efficaciousness of this holy sacrament.  To ponder how each of the persons of God have worked in my own life, and how this is summed up with one sign and seal, is nothing short of breathtaking.

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