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5 Colin Gunton on the Trinity and the Divine Attributes Marc Vial The aim of this essay is not to offer a general presentation of the theology of Colin E. Gunton, who was born in 1941 and was a prominent theologian until his untimely death in 2003. Such an overview can be read elsewhere.1 As I was working on the theme of God’s almightiness, assuming that the treatment of this question should be grounded in a trinitarian theology, I discovered Gunton’s last book, Act and Being, the precise purpose of which is to bring to the fore the resources an account of God’s trinitarian being and act offer for a specifically Christian approach to the divine attributes.2 This essay is mainly devoted to an analysis of some of the claims Gunton makes in Act and Being. First, however, let us begin with a brief exposition of some of the major elements of Gunton’s trinitarian theology in general. Gunton’s Trinitarian Theology: Some Guidelines In 2003, the year of Gunton’s death, a collection of his essays on the Trinity was published, the subtitle of which refers to a passage from Act and Being:3 Toward a Fully Trinitarian Theology.4 The word fully deserves scrutiny. Although not in an 1. See Christoph Schwöbel, “The Shape of Colin Gunton’s Theology: On the Way Towards a Fully Trinitarian Theology,” in Lincoln Harvey, ed., The Theology of Colin Gunton (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 182–208. 2. Colin Gunton, Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002). 3. Ibid., 104. 4. Colin Gunton, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Essays toward a Fully Trinitarian Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2003). 127 exclusive way, it is intended, if I am not mistaken, to emphasize the distinctive character of the Holy Spirit’s being and work, a character which, according to Gunton, the Western theological tradition has neglected. The presentation of Gunton’s understanding of the third person of the Trinity will allow me to sketch other aspects of his trinitarian theology. This first part will be based on two of Gunton’s writings: The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, in which the main elements of Gunton’s trinitarian theology are already present,5 and a synthetic article, “God the Holy Spirit.”6 Gunton stresses the Holy Spirit’s distinctive character by using the expression coined by Basil of Caesarea: “perfecting cause.”7 The Spirit is the one whose specific act is to perfect: it brings to perfection the creation (that is, everything which is not God) as well as the love that God is. This very simple statement leads us to think that the emphasis on the specificity of the Holy Spirit’s person and work has important consequences for the way Gunton conceives the economic Trinity (the relationship the three persons have with the world) as well as the eternal or immanent Trinity (the relationship the three persons have with one another). Let us begin by considering the economic Trinity. Following Barth, Gunton contends that we cannot have any access to the knowledge of God’s being except by considering God’s acting. We will return to this point later. For now, let us turn to the specific act of the Holy Spirit in and for the world. Here is the main thesis: the Holy Spirit is the perfecting cause of the creation, for its proper activity consists in leading everything which is not God into communion with God, that is, leading creation to its destination.8 The Spirit is therefore the one who enables human beings to correspond to what God has in mind in God’s creative purpose. Gunton insists on the fact that the Spirit’s activity is not limited to a simple restoration. The Spirit’s acting consists less in enabling human beings to return to their supralapsarian condition than in perfecting them, in allowing them to coincide with their telos: to coincide with what God wants for them to be. To put it in other words, the Spirit’s activity is better understood in eschatological terms rather than in protological ones.9 This eschatological dimension of the Spirit’s acting is fundamental in Gunton’s 5. Christoph Schwöbel has noted this in “The Shape,” 198. 6. Colin Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991); and “God the Holy Spirit: Augustine and His Successors,” in idem, Theology Through the Theologians: Selected Essays (1972–1995) (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 105...


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