Previously on this blog I provided a translation of a letter by Álvaro of Córdoba- who lived in the ninth century CE and advocated maintaining Iberian Christian identity separate from the Muslims rulers in Spain- to the abbot Speraindeus (also transcribed in the form 'Speraindeo'), asking for help in refuting Islam's denial of the Trinity doctrine and Muslims' use of certain quotations from the Gospels in an attempt to disprove the Trinity.
Speraindeus' response to Álvaro is preserved. He begins by noting he has been afflicted with troubles but Álvaro's letter served as a source of inspiration to respond. Regrettably, he notes, people now prefer to engage in idle talk and disparaging others without justification, rather than deal with matters of sacred scriptures.
He observes that the issues Álvaro has raised are serious and one must proceed with caution. Speraindeus then outlines the Trinity doctrine as it should be understood. That is, one deity (deitas) but in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are co-equal and co-eternal, but that does not mean the deity and power (virtus) are divided between the three persons. If you profess one person, then you fall into the Jewish error of understanding. If you profess three powers and three gods, then you fall into polytheism.
After outlining the Trinity doctrine, Speraindeus addresses the specific quotations cited by Muslims attempting to discredit the Trinity:
(i) On the first quotation (John 20:17), Jesus' ascension to Heaven pertains to the bodily, human form of the Son ascending to Heaven. It does not pertain to the substance of the Son's divinity and identity with the Father. The human experiences of the Son on Earth concern the human flesh.
(ii) On the second quotation (Matthew 24:36), other lines of evidence from the scriptures show that the Son knows the signs of the end times and the Day of Judgement and so he knows when they will occur. However, Jesus did not tell his disciples when exactly the Day and Hour would be so that they should not be complacent and should live every day as though the Judgement might occur on the next day.
Below is my translation of the text of Speraindeus' response to Álvaro. I include notes primarily to provide references for Speraindeus' Biblical citations.
The Letter of Speraindeus Directed to Albarus
From Speraindeus to the renowned Albarus the most illustrious lord to me and venerable, cherishing in kindness with all the affection of Christ:
I have been excessively preoccupied by the strongest tribulations and my mind and soul have been disturbed and caught[i] by the nets of rivals and pierced by their weapons I have been sitting wounded by the wounds of weariness and my spirit has been fluctuating like a ship amid the whirlpools of the sea, buried in trouble. Despite all this, suddenly your porter came into my presence and brought me the gift of a letter to me. Indeed I read through that very writing enthusiastically and recognised the addresses of your serenity. Forthwith things clearer than light shone for the one almost dead already and soon that internal man was roused. Stupefied I began to wonder who I was or who was the person through whom, such as I was, I merited to be roused and be asked about such difficult questions of the sacred scriptures, while several in this present time prefer to dabble not in this matter, but rather idle conversations, not bearing in mind the word of the Lord, who says: 'Every idle word which men have spoken: they will render an account about it on the Day of Judgment.'[ii] Or they want the tongue to be extended into the detraction of their companions, not remembering the holy Gospel, which says: 'You see the speck in your brother's eye and do not consider the log in your heart.'[iii] Indeed those things, which are harmful and hostile ones pile on to the detriment of a brother, several believe them and yet they do not recall the words of the psalmist: 'The words of the hostile one are injustice and trickery.'[iv] Indeed soon the listeners themselves brandish those figments of the hostile ones and expound them again to others in insult and detraction against the brother and throw behind them the words of the holy apostle, who says: 'The one who detracts a brother and judges a brother, he detracts the law and judges the law.'[v] So it is appropriate to drag ourselves with skill away from such mishaps, lest the clear voice of the Lord should intone to us through the prophet Jeremiah[vi]: 'I came and heard, says the Lord: no one says that which is good, and there is no one who does penance for his sin.'[vii]
Therefore, as we consider our transgression in all moments and at all hours hope for an end to our life in the most compassionate way possible we ought to show tearful weeping for the lapse of the brother and fulfill that and bring forth the apostolic dictum: 'Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is caused to stumble and I am not burned?'[viii] Therefore it should not be easily believed when someone brings the noise of slanderous words to our ears, unless, with them having been discussed usefully beforehand and recognised in good faith, they have an example in those words that the Lord spoke[ix]: 'The clamour of Sodom and Gomorra has been multiplied and their sinning has become very serious. I will therefore come down and see whether their works have caused to resound the clamour that has come to Me or it is not as such, that I may know.' The Almighty Lord who knows all: why does He seem to doubt before proof, unless He is putting forth an example of seriousness to us, lest we presume to believe the evils of men before proof? And thus He says: 'I will therefore come down and see whether their works have justifiably caused to resound the clamour that has come to Me or it is not as such, that I may know.'[x]
But I will pass over all these things which I have spoken through the contrition of my heart, and I will turn to that which your excellency requests. For who is to dare to say anything at all in such an ineffable business of matter?[xi] For the blessed Jerome says: 'The mysteries of the incarnation of the Lord and the sacrament of his nativity cannot be described.' And indeed we do not purport to describe how great the nativity itself is, but how greatly we can express through words. Indeed not only can we not explain how great the nativity itself is, but not even the holy evangelists have been able to say plainly. And if the holy evangelists, who indeed had the breath of the Spirit blown into them, were not able to say plainly, it is better to be silent about than assert regarding that which they have noted incompletely in the books of the Gospels. And it is better to believe just as things have been said than to commit something to scrutinisation in letters, according to the opinion of the doctor[xii] which has been placed correctly. He says: 'We believe:
That the Father with His offspring and their nourishing Spirit are three in persons, and one of Deity. How the immaculate virgin birth came forth, or how the son wanted to suffer, no one may scrutinize this, but only believe.'
And if it is forbidden to scrutinize it, who therefore should dare to write with arm or express with tongue anything at all?
And indeed as you seek testimonies from the books of the evangelists and apostles against those assertions which have been noted in your letter, in order to dissipate their machinations and indeed confirm most strongly the points of doubt, your good nature is nonetheless able to do that more eminently, as no tribulation or adversity of this world has ever worn it out. Indeed your intellect and sense have the greatest integrity, but already the harshness of this age has almost worn me out in many ways. But even as you can very much meet your need from this, as I think, you seek this for no other reason except that you are able to recognise the style of my credulity. Indeed may I humbly bring forth those things I believe and elaborate simply my opinions on the issues that have been asked about. For whatever the paternity of our lord- your begetter- has sensed in the same place to be outside the norm of truth, soon the speed of the writer should emend that and the grace of your honour should instruct me again secretly, as it once did with others, and the skill of heart should conceal what is unknowledgeable and ignorant, such that no one outside will perceive the error, as it has been required for your eminence to emend, remove and add. Behold, as the thing ordered has come from your excellency, so I- the humble client- have rendered the service as far as I can. But those points of opposition which were laid out in your letter, I will introduce by noting them down under the name of the assertor and I will bring forth in true text the testimonies of the sacred scriptures and with the words of the doctors I will connect (as far as I can) those things which I write in response. The end.
'Belief in the one substance of the Trinity- that is, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- without a beginning of times, is beyond sense and words: one power, one God, three names. For when I call God by name, He is divided, as I should thus say, indivisibly with one light in a light of three: three indeed according to the reason of nature of the essence, but also according to the reason of substance and deity. So there is one deity in three and there are three things in which there is deity. But let us leave something here more or less, so that there should be no confusion on the Trinity or separation in division. Indeed the Word was born from the Virgin Mary, receiving a living body. But what is meant here when He is described as sending His Word? The meaning is not that the Word was taken by the flesh, but rather in flesh and beyond flesh, just as
He who infers three powers, professes three gods. We believe that there are three persons, and indeed one power and one deity. But when you name the Father, you glorify the Son, and when you name the Son, you worship the Father. But if we profess one person of the Trinity, we profess the Jewish creed, because the Jews say there is one person and profess one God. If we say three gods, we are like the heathen peoples. But we profess the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit: the deity is not separated or divided. For God from God, power from power, light from light, truth from truth. There is no witness: not the Heaven, Earth, sea, light, darkness, angels, archangels, or the Cherubim or Serafim, but the Son was in the beginning with the Father. No one will know the one that cannot be born, except the one who has been born. Indeed he himself knows from where he was born. Nor does anyone know the one that can be born except the One who begat: the Father knows what He begat. The one begotten is similar to the Father who begat in counsel and wisdom: one power and one deity. Do you query the nativity of the Son of God? You have the particularly from the Virgin Mary, but the nativity of the Son of God from the beginning is with the Father.
So I profess that there is the one who cannot be born and the one born. I profess the Omnipotent Father is without beginning and without end, who wields all things and is wielded by no one, governs all things and is governed by no one, sees all things but is Himself invisible. I also profess Jesus Christ to be the Son of God with all counsel and power of the fatherly deity: so the Son has as much power as He has. The one begotten is not diminished in comparison with the one who cannot be born. For there are one power and one deity of the one that cannot be born and the born. Indeed the Holy Spirit is neither born nor that which cannot be born: it was neither made nor created. But if I say born, I assign two sons from one father and not one from one or alone from alone. And where is the One Father from Whom all things are, and the one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things are? And if I say that which cannot be born, now there is not one Omnipotent Father who cannot be born, but I make two Omnipotent beings. And if I say 'creation', I say as the heathen peoples do: for the heathen peoples adore the creation of the hand and not the creator of the Heaven and the Earth. So what do I have to say? A ghost? Let it be absent, for blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. So just as two firewoods joined together have been sent into the furnace of a fire and an inseparable flame proceeds from the two firewoods, thus the Holy Spirit proceeded from the power of the Father and Son, having the same power and deity, as the most blessed Paul the Apostle posited, saying: 'For One God, one Mediator of God and man: the man Jesus Christ.'[xv] Not God the Mediator of God, for He is One all the way to the Trinity, but receiving a body from the Virgin Mary, assuming the old human form which had fallen through disobedience, the Mediator became flesh by virtue of the Father: that is, Jesus Christ.
But when he took up the apostles as the Gospels testify, and he ascended onto the high mountain and changed the power of deity and behold a shining white cloud covered him, indeed a splendid cloud showed the power of the Father in him. As certain people teach through vacuous addresses, how three persons in one substance? But they say three powers, whereas we believe there are three persons in one power: three names, but one God in three names, in the name of one voice: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But they, dividing the power and deity of the Trinity, say: as an excellent and generous commander. Let it be absent. I do not hand down this doctrine or this exposition or creed, but I anathematize it all the more. For it has been written in the divine precepts: for visible things can likewise be compared with invisible things. Indeed an earthly emperor stands for three, but the imperial power is one. If the Cesar sets down the diadem from his head, he is not the excellent emperor. Thus those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit are not Christians. And if he lays down the purple,[xvi] he is only a man, just as the Jews adore one person. But we profess as there is an earthly emperor, there are thus also the heavenly man in the purple and the purple in the man. But the crown of the head holding the purple and one man shows the imperial power. Thus the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father, but the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son: the power of deity and the unity of the Trinity.' The end.[xvii]
The assertor has said: if he is truly God, why did he thus say to his disciples: 'I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'
The response: indeed in one person the one and true particular Son of God is consistent with two natures- of course the deity and humanity- and only in the body of humanity he predicted to have sustained these things to his disciples in the Gospel: 'Behold we ascend to Jerusalem and all things which have been written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be consummated: for he will be handed to the peoples and mocked and flogged and spat at. And after they flog him, they will kill him and he will rise on the third day.'[xviii] 'All that which has been said on Christ according to human nature, pertains not to the substance of the deity, but to the nature of the flesh.' 'For seizing the traitor in his Passion he said: Will you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?'[xix] Whom does he ask the traitor to betray except a man whom they also arrested, not the deity, which blinded by perfidy they could not recognize?' 'For also because he was tired, because he became hungry, because he became thirsty, because he slept, because he wept, because when he was near the time of his Passion he was sad, because he undertook the condition of death after the Passion, because he ascended into the Heavens.' According to which he says: 'I ascend to my God and your God.' 'All this pertains not to the incomprehensible substance of the deity'- about which he says: 'I and the Father are one'[xx]- 'but pertains to the weakness of humanity,' in which he affirmed that he was inferior to the Father, saying: 'The Father is greater than I.'[xxi] And thus he says: 'I ascend to my God and your God,' that He might elevate to the throne of Heaven the man whom He had assumed out of the Virgin when he came from the Heavens. But He had never departed from that place through divinity. Thus the Lord Himself says: 'No one has ascended into Heaven except the one who descended from Heaven: the Son of Man who is in Heaven.'[xxii] He did not say: 'Who was in Heaven.' So when he was on Earth, he was in Heaven. Thus he said: 'The Son of Man who is in Heaven.' And nonetheless he was speaking on Earth.
But on Earth Man was also God. For if God was not on Earth, how could the angels attend to Him? Thus it was written: 'Then the Tempter left him and behold, the angels approached and ministered to him.'[xxiii] Also the Apostle Paul says: 'The one who himself descended is the one who ascended over all the Heavens, so that he might fill all things.'[xxiv] For through this as He descended and emptied Himself, He accepted the form of the servant. This is his voice in the Psalm, when he says: 'From the womb of my mother you are my God.'[xxv] So through the very thing he assumed from the womb of the mother he said: 'I ascend to my God and your God.' When he says 'my' and 'your,' why does he not say 'our' in common? But speaking distinctly and separately he indicates that he himself has the same Father and God in the different way than we have. For when he says: 'I ascend to my Father,' of course he means in his own particular begetting, as the voice of the Father is about him: 'From the womb I have begotten you before the morning star.'[xxvi] And again: 'My heart has uttered a good word.'[xxvii] And in the Gospel: 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and God was the Word.'[xxviii] And so believing in the sign we profess that the only begotten Son of God was born from the Father before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from true God. And for this reason he said: 'I ascend to my Father,' of course through nature, 'and to your Father,' through grace: that is, by voluntary choice, as we, when idolatrous images are abandoned, are sons through the grace of faith and baptism, according to that which is from the Gospel: 'All who did accept him, he gave them the power to become sons of God: those who believe in His name.'[xxix] And thus he said: 'I ascend to my Father'- because I descended and assumed the flesh- 'and to your Father'- because through faith you ascend. So as I am a man, I have God: as he frees you from error, you have God. 'To my God,' in the unity of mystery, 'to your God,' indeed in heavenly power. Distinctly and separately therefore I have the Father and God, for the one He begot as God before the ages, He created as man at the end of the ages with Me.
The assertor has said: For after this issue concerning the persons from the sayings of scriptures, I will introduce another, in which there is nothing left- as I think- for you to infer to the contrary. That is: 'But concerning that Day and Hour no one knows- neither the angels of the Heavens nor the Son- except the Father alone.' As he declared indeed that he does not know, what can you now bring forth?
The response: in short I can have many testimonies brought forth and more magnificent, through which you will realise that he indeed knows the Day and Hour. For thus the Lord was asked by the apostles: 'Tell us,' they said, 'what will be the sign of your arrival and the consummation of this age.' He responded: 'Beware lest anyone mislead you. For a people will rise against a people and a kingdom against a kingdom, and there will be pestilences, starvation and earthquakes through the places. Then they will hand you into tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all peoples on account of my name. And then many will be scandalised, and betray each other and hate each other. And many false prophets will rise and mislead many. And when the iniquity has spread, the kindness of many will cease. For then there will be a great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world nor will there be after. For as lightning comes out from the East and appears all the way in the West, for thus will be the arrival of the Son of Man. Immediately after in the tribulation of those days the Sun will be obscured and the Moon will not give its light and the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the Heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in Heaven.'[xxx] He who narrated all these things, knows the Day itself and the Hour, because his arrival and the Day of Judgement will be when the sign, which he spoke of, appears in Heaven. He continues: 'And then all the tribes of the earth will lament aloud and will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of the sky with much power and majesty, and he will send his angels with the trumpet and great voice, and they will gather his elect from the four winds and highest of the Heavens all the way to their ends.'[xxxi]
He who directs his angels and brings together his elect from the highest Heavens all the way to their ends surely knows that Day in which he is to do those things. And he who foretold that he will come with much power and majesty, could not be ignorant of that Day in which he will come. Or how could he not know that Day, who declared that knowledge of it belongs to the Father and preferred to declare himself as one with the Father? He said: 'I and the Father are one.'[xxxii] And again: 'He who sees me, also sees my Father.'[xxxiii] And: 'I am in the Father and the Father is in me.'[xxxiv] As he therefore brought all those things and declared himself to be one in the nature of divinity with the Father, he of course knows the Day, but did not want to say to the apostles, according to which he said to those asking after his resurrection: 'It is not for you to know the times and moments which the Father has placed in His power.'[xxxv] When he says: 'It is not for you to know,' he shows that he himself knows, but does not allow for the apostles to know, so that always uncertain about the arrival of the Judgement they should thus live every day as though they are to be judged on the next day.
So if you persist in your obstinate opinion that the Lord does not know that day, then according to your point of opposition the Lord Himself did not know where Adam had hidden himself amid the woods of Paradise, when He said to him: 'Adam, Adam, where are you?'[xxxvi] And to Chain[xxxvii] He said: 'Where is your brother Abel?'[xxxviii] And He said to Abraam:[xxxix] 'Where is your wife Sarra?'[xl] Although he narrated all these things as though he did not know: certainly he himself - as has been written in the Gospel- asked about Lazarus when he came to revive him and said: 'Where have you placed him?'[xli] And he who put in place far off had already revealed his death to his disciples, asked these people about the place of the mound as though he did not know. But as per your assertion, therefore the Lord also did not know that Habraham feared God, but after he offered his son in sacrifice, then He certainly saw that he feared Him, and thus said to him: 'Do not set your hand on your son and do not do anything to him, for I have known that you fear the Lord and you did not spare your only begotten Son because of Me.'[xlii] Notice all these things indeed and do not feel ashamed to seek to know how these things should be understood, for He indeed knew all those things: He who told of various things of the world as though he did not know and himself established and created all things visible and invisible.
[ii] Matthew 12:36.
[iii] Matthew 7:3.
[v] James 4:11.
[vi] As written in the original text: 'ne vocem Domini per Iheremiam prophetam nobis intonet claraę.' The ę is used to represent Latin ae. As it stands, this sentence seems to me to be ungrammatical. A more correct reading (which I have followed in translation) should be: 'ne vox Domini per Iheremiam prophetam nobis intonet clara.' Any alternative suggestions are welcome.
[vii] Jeremiah 8:6.
[viii] 2 Corinthians 11:29.
[ix] Original Latin text: 'exemplum habentes in his quod Dominus locutus est verbis.' The 'quod' here looks to me to be an error as it is neuter relative pronoun accusative singular, where we should expect the plural quae.
[x] Genesis 18:20-21.
[xi] Original Latin text: 'ineffavilem rei negotjum.' The standard rendering would be: ineffabile rei negotium. Note the b-v blurring, the use of the masculine accusative singular adjectival form (instead of the neuter) and the use j for iu.
[xii] Church teacher.
[xiii] Latin here: 'protoplaustum,' from Greek πρωτοπλαστος.
[xiv] Matthew 11:27.
[xv] 1 Timothy 2:5.
[xvi] Original Latin text: et si purpura deposuerit. Considering that depono is a transitive verb, in my view 'purpura' should read 'purpuram' (i.e. it should be accusative and not nominative). 'purpura' literally means 'purple' (the colour associated with exercising of imperial power) and also has connotations of sovereignty and esteemed position.
[xvii] i.e. The end of this section.
[xviii] Luke 18:31-33.
[xix] Luke 22:48. The Latin quotation in Speraindeus' letter is 'osculum filium hominis trades?' Here, the author uses the verb trado with a double accusative: hand over X (acc.) with Y (acc.). Compare the Latin Vulgate rendering that has 'osculum' in the instrumental function of the ablative case, a more expected construction: 'osculo filium hominis tradis?' The quotation as it appears in the letter could be a simple error.
[xx] John 10:30.
[xxi] John 14:28.
[xxii] John 3:13.
[xxiii] Matthew 4:11.
[xxiv] Ephesians 4:10.
[xxviii] John 1:1.
[xxix] John 1:12.
[xxx] Matthew 24:3-30 (though not all the verses are cited).
[xxxi] Matthew 24:30-31.
[xxxii] John 10:30.
[xxxiii] John 14:9.
[xxxiv] John 14:10.
[xxxv] Acts 1:7.
[xxxvi] Genesis 3:9.
[xxxviii] Genesis 4:9.
[xl] Genesis 18:9.
[xli] John 11:34.
[xlii] Genesis 22:12.
(Update 21 July 2020): see the update on the original post on Álvaro's letter for reconsideration regarding which religious group's doctrines are being refuted here.