Richard of St. Victor on the Trinity

We only know for sure his death date, it seems (neither Letham nor Muller give a birth-date for him). He died in 1173. He was a Scottish theologian. Both Muller and Letham indicate that he was a rationalist. However, he did have some helpful things to say on the Trinity. His influences include Augustine and Anselm (Letham, pg. 225).

Richard’s greatest Trinitarian dictum, to my mind, is this: “Love, by definition, is directed toward another. Therefore, love cannot exist where there is not a plurality of persons. Supreme love is not directed toward creation, since a created person is not worthy of supreme love” (Letham, pg. 225). He argues also that there cannot be merely two persons in the Godhead, otherwise love could not be shared (Letham, pg. 227). Letham’s assessment of this argumentation is as follows: Richard cannot prove why there shouldn’t be more than four persons in the Godhead. However, it is a very fine argument against a monistic God (such as the God Muslims have). See pg. 228. 

Muller notes a further refinement to Richard’s argument, however, which might just answer Letham’s (small) criticism. Richard argues that the Father gives but does not receive (within the Godhead). The Son receives and gives, whereas the Spirit only receives. This is not to establish any kind of ontological inferiority, but only to establish what the lines of relationship look like within the Godhead. He argues that, with this setup, the Trinity is complete as three. “The only possibility remaining is a person who neither gives nor receives-but such a person is solitary, not a part of the common life of the three, so that a quaternity is excluded” (pg. 34). I think this more than adquately answers Letham’s criticism.

It is a great pity that Letham’s book was already in the final editing stage when Muller came out, thus precluding any chance of Letham interacting with Muller. However, the two balance each other out quite nicely. Letham is a bit thin on Reformation Trinitarianism (only deals in depth with Calvin). Muller fills in that gap nicely.



  1. Seth McBee said,

    December 31, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    Lane…how is it going…been awhile since I have stopped by…anyway…

    The thoughts on the Trinitarian love struck me as interesting because I have heard Ravi Zacharias explain the Trinity in the same way…and knowing that Ravi is very well read, I wonder if this is where he got the idea…

    It is a very strong argument for the Trinity I might add…

  2. John said,

    January 1, 2007 at 1:19 am

    Against Richard (and Muller), I’d have to say that the Father not only gives but also receives. After all, the Son glorifies the Father just as the Father glorifies the Son. Therefore, both of them give (glory and honor) and both of them receive.

    For that matter, the Spirit also receives. Things are given to Him (e.g., the world as a temple).

    In creation, the Father and the Spirit give the world as a gift to the Son to be His honeymoon palace with people as His bride. In creation, the Father and the Son give the world as a gift to the Spirit to be His temple-house, which, of course, is primarily people. In creation, the Son and the Spirit give the world as a gift to the Father to be His kingdom and people as his children-citizens. Each gives. Each receives.

  3. Kymanika said,

    January 1, 2007 at 2:51 am

    I have to agree with John. Although, I admit I have never read about the Trinity from this angle and and I think it fits perfectly with the doctrine.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    January 1, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    In a sense, John, you are right. However, what I think they were getting at is something along the lines of what defines each person of the Trinity. The Father is the Father of the Son and is one of the two persons responsible for sending the Holy Spirit. In such terms, the Father only gives. In such terms also, the Son receives Sonship from the Father, and also sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is sent by the Son and the Father (at least in Western theology, of which Richard is a part), and so only receives. So, in terms of patrianism, filiation and spiration, the relations hold. I think that is all Richard is getting at, and does not mean to exhaustively chronicle every possible relation in their work that could be described. That’s what I saw in his argument, anyway. What do you think?

  5. September 3, 2007 at 10:13 pm

    […] The installment before the last, we saw that Richard Swinburne’s social trinitarian theory is very carefully built so as to satisfy multiple demands of orthodoxy. There is, he argues, a contradiction-free, reasonable trinitarian theory, which fits well with the classic creeds. But we can do even better than that. In Swinburne’s view, there’s a plausible argument for the Trinity based on reason alone. Don’t believe it? Oh, ye of little faith reason. Have ye not read the earlier Richard on this? […]

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