This series considers Adonis Vidu’s new book about relating a classical theology proper to God’s plan of salvation. So far, after surveying the book’s contents, we have thought about the covenant of grace and the nature of salvation concerning how those holding to confessional Reformed theology might best appropriate Vidu’s classical theology and reconcile it with specifically Reformed formulations of redemptive history and soteriology. This installment now reflects upon how Vidu relates his understanding of the Spirit’s mission to Christ’s work and eschatology, and the best way to bring that into conversation with a Reformed covenantal eschatology.
Vidu is rightly concerned to explain how the Spirit’s mission relates to our ultimate destination in the beatific vision. Setting aside how to explain the beatific vision, since there are different constructions that theologians find more and less amenable to Reformed theology, Vidu raises concerns about how the Spirit’s mission informs our understanding of how to obtain it. He seems particularly concerned about the possibility of extrinsicism, possibly rooted in his appropriation of Karl Rahner. He wrote:
Given the continuity between the life of grace and the life of glory provided by the supernatural presence of the Son and Spirit, how are we to understand the role of these missions in disposing us for glory? We have to probe here the precise continuity between the two lives, and whether the glory is something like an extrinsic reward or more like an intrinsic flowering of a supernatural principle already given to us.1
Again, he expressed the same concern about extrinsicism:
While this position gives a better account of the novelty of the eschatological setting than the Eastern doctrine, it does introduce an extrinsic element (a created supernatural supplementing of the visual powers), which threatens the continuity between the divine missions and the beatific vision.2
These quotes frame the discussion about the distinction between the Spirit having a mission to provide an extrinsic reward and a mission to enable the development of something already in human nature.3 Vidu obviously prefers the latter, connecting it to his view that the missions connect us in a creaturely way to the processions.
Reformed theology rejects the dichotomy between the Spirit’s mission being to provide an extrinsic reward and flowering an internal principle, affirming that glorification is both a reward and the actualization of an internal potential. We affirm that God created us with the potential to obtain higher communion with him by receiving an incorruptible body, indeed the kind fit for the beatific vision (1 Cor. 15:35–49). So, God built human nature with that potential for an “intrinsic flowering of a supernatural principle.” Nonetheless, the mechanism for activating that intrinsic flowering was the covenant of works, setting a condition to obtain a reward. In this sense, creation and eschatology are brought closer together, as well as creation, eschatology, and covenant. Further, as Geerhardus Vos famously argued, eschatology precedes soteriology.4 In other words, soteriology provides the eschatological destination offered to us in creation. Hence why Vidu’s presentation needs to take better account of the second Adam motif in Scripture.
Concerning the Spirit as Christ’s reward, even given Vidu’s argued relationship between processions and missions, it is hard to imagine another truly viable way to explain all the biblical data regarding Christ’s resurrection in respect to the Spirit than to see the Spirit in some way as the Son’s economic reward. Philippians 2:5–11 explains the Son’s ministry both concerning his humiliation and exaltation. Thomas Aquinas saw this exaltation as glorification, which Christ merited. Commenting on Philippians 2:9, Thomas wrote, “But he was glorified, not merely in Himself, but likewise in His faithful ones, as He says Himself (John 17:10). Therefore, it appears that He merited the salvation of the faithful.”5 Undoubtedly, Paul had Christ’s resurrection in view as this exaltation. The connection pertains to the Spirit as Christ’s reward when we consider that Christ “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4). Peter described the same result of Christ’s merit: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33). Keeping in mind Thomas’ point that Christ merited his glorification, which occurs by the Spirit, it is hard to see the promise of the Spirit to the Son to be anything other than a merited reward. Vidu’s insights shine rich light on the trinitarian metaphysics behind the divine missions but may not fully account for the additional factors from redemptive history and the shape of the historical economy that also informs a full dogmatic description of the missions. I agree with Vidu that the missions can be described as temporal processions—due to the missions reflecting the processions into created effects—because in this way the missions do reveal the true Trinity.6 The question, however, is whether they are only temporal processions or if other factors must also inform our full formulation of what the missions are and, more especially, achieve.
This idea is not only biblically defensible and traditionally Reformed but also aligns with Augustinian pneumatology. Augustine, reasoning from the premise that the Son was Son absolutely before being born in history, asked the question whether the Spirit was also gift before he was given in history.7 He concluded the Spirit eternally proceeded so was always the gift and that it should not trouble us that the Holy Spirit is said to be given in time “because the Spirit is eternally a gift but temporally given.”8 We can readily appropriate Augustine’s pneumatological point to bring Vidu’s point in alignment with the Reformed understanding that the Spirit was given to the Son prior to anointing the Son before the resurrection, but also at the resurrection as the Son’s glorifying reward. Vidu claimed that the Spirit cannot be the Son’s reward from the Father because “such an explanation perceives the Spirit to be extrinsic to Christ and in particular extrinsic to the humanity of Christ.”9 That would be the case if the Spirit were given to Christ only as his reward, but Reformed theology claims otherwise, as we will see in just a moment. Vidu also argued that the Spirit coming upon the Son began a gradual deifying of the Son’s human nature, which seems to undermine the traditional distinction between Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, typically shifted at his resurrection.10
This premise is not necessary with Augustine’s point in hand. Since the Spirit was the eternal gift, he fittingly came to the Son as the gift to anoint him in terms of his person, namely the divine gift from Father to Son, who worked as the Messiah. This not only neutralizes Vidu’s concern about the Spirit being extrinsic to the Son’s incarnate existence, but also gives the Spirit a more defined role in the Son’s glorification. Further, it is all the more fitting that the Spirit was given to the Son as his rewarded gift upon the completion of his divine mission as it respected features of redemptive history that necessitated our salvation, namely his role as the second Adam. Indeed, the Spirit proceeds from the Father as he anoints the Son and proceeds from the Son as an eschatological reward, demonstrating the Spirit’s double procession in his anointing and rewarding double mission.
The point is that Reformed theologians reading Vidu’s work have ready resources to reconcile some potential difficulties that they might have with his arguments while appropriating his basic premises of trinitarian grammar. Arguably, the work would have been clearer and more precise if he had incorporated these confessionally Reformed categories. His purpose, however, was not to write specifically for a Reformed audience.
This last issue of eschatology as inherent principle and covenantal reward also gains some ground in helping Reformed readers think holistically about how to incorporate Vidu’s arguments within their own system. The main work for Reformed readers to do in reflecting upon Vidu’s book is to determine what additional (i.e., confessionally Reformed) categories need to be incorporated into each claim to clarify them and make them more precise. The basic insight that the missions extend the processions is profoundly important. Without neglecting or diminishing the metaphysical theology imbedded in Vidu’s presentation, we also need to hold it next to our other systematic and redemptive-historical doctrines of justification and the covenant.
Vidu’s newest book is a great resource for thinking deeply about the recovery of classical trinitarian grammar. Although short in pages, it is rich in content, which will make you think deeply about the nature of God and the relationship between the Trinity and redemptive history. The best books are not necessarily those with which we agree on every point but those that refine and strengthen our thinking. This series of posts has sought to reflect on Vidu’s arguments to bring his best points about trinitarian theology to bear upon confessional Reformed theology. In this respect, Vidu has certainly refined and strengthen my thinking, which makes his book a valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion about recovering a traditional theology proper.
© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
1. Adonis Vidu, The Divine Missions: An Introduction (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021), 80 (italics original).
2. Vidu, 91.
3. Vidu, 44–45.
4. Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994), 60.
5. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols. (New York, NY: Benziger Bros., 1948; repr. Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1981), 3.48.1.
6. Vidu, 27.
7. Augustine, De Trinitate, 5.15.16; in Jacques Paul Migne (ed.), Patrologia Cursus Completus: Series Latina, 221 vols. (Paris, 1844–64), 42:921–22.
8. Augustine, De Trinitate, 5.16.17; in Migne, Patrologia…Latina, 42:922 (Nam sempiterne Spiritus donum, temporaliter autem donatum).
9. Vidu, 44 (italics original).
10. Vidu, 37–40.
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