I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Trinitarianism of Ephesians 4:4-6, a Chiastic Creed

A few daring theologians in our day are carefully teasing out some of the “Trinitarian metaphysics” from especially certain creedal and doxological New Testament passage, not least Tom Wright and Peter Leithart.  This is not new, though.

St. Irenaeus, in Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, quotes in part Ephesians 4:4—6, which reads:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

From this text, he concludes, “...because ‘above all’ is the Father, and ‘through all’ is the Word—since through Him everything was made by the Father—while ‘in us all’ is the Spirit, who cries ‘Abba, Father,’ and forms man to the likeness of God” (I:5). 

Granted, within this creedal remark of St. Paul, Irenaeus picks up on the unmistakable Trinitarian formula, “One Spirit...one Lord (Jesus)...one God and Father.”  What is interesting, and certainly out of sorts with much of the rationalistic exegesis common this side of the Enlightenment, is that Irenaeus continues his Trinitarian reasoning throughout the following three prepositional phrases of verse six.  Before we dismiss Irenaeus’ exegesis as a byproduct of the old quadriga, the four-folded methodology, or some other highly subjective approach, judged through our modernistic rationalism, we should revisit St. Paul.

When we return to the text, we find an interesting chiasmus, which would point to the same conclusion that Irenaeus so naturally draws.  Look at the structure of this creed.

4:4       A. One Spirit
4:5              B. One Lord (Jesus)
4:6a                   C. One...Father
4:6b                   C. Over all
                   B. Through all
            A. In all

Granting that this text is likely a creedal formula, and that it is naturally structured in terms of a chiasm, I for one tend to think that Irenaeus’ Trinitarian conclusion is spot one.  It is further supported by the patristics’ hermeneutical key, the regulae fidei, the creedal Rule of Faith, which Irenaeus stresses in the early sections of the same work. 

Our ancient fathers in the faith did not pretend or deceive themselves into believing that they came to the text without any pre-drawn conclusions, much less without having a deep, deep precommitment.  Neither did they strive to recognize their precommitments so as to avoid them during exegesis, which all our hermeneutical textbooks caution us to do.  Rather the singular precommitment that ruled exegesis—sometimes for better or worse—was the regulae fidei, which matured into what we know today as the Apostle’s Creed.  For them, a robust Trinitarianism was the presupposition of all exegesis (and all of life), not merely its conclusion.  Perhaps we should put our fathers’ landmark back where we found it (Prov. 22:28).  Thankfully, some are.

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