When I was in seminary, I read Leonard Hodgson’s book The Doctrine of the Trinity. Hodgson was a pioneer in what has come to be known as the social model of the Trinity. I no longer own my copy of the book, and so am unable to provide a substantive quotation; but as I recall, Hodgson advanced the proposition that each divine person must be understood as analogous to a human person, that is to say, an intelligent, purposive center of consciousness. The trinitarian persons form a divine community perfectly bound together in mutual love and self-giving.
I ate this stuff up back then, even though it went against everything my theology professor, Fr James Griffiss, was teaching us (he was a big fan of Rahner, Tillich, and Macquarrie). My exegesis and preaching of the gospel narratives confirmed, so I believed, the social construal of the Trinity: there is Jesus, whom the Father acknowledges as his Son (“You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased”), and there is the God of Israel, to whom Jesus prays, “Abba, Father.” Sure sounds like a conversation to me. All gospel preachers, I suggest, are closet social trinitarians. All we need to do is to throw in the Spirit, and we have a three-person family. My convictions were further confirmed by my readings in Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jürgen Moltmann.
Even when I became Orthodox I did not suspect that anything might be awry. With his emphasis on personhood John Zizioulas sure reads like a social trinitarian, and Dumitru Stăniloae speaks of the perichoresis of the three divine subjects: “In the perfect unity of the Trinity the consciousness of the other two subjects, and thereby the very subjects themselves who bear that consciousness, must be perfectly comprised and transparent in the consciousness of each subject” (The Experience of God, I:256). On first reading both Zizioulas and Stăniloae sound like social trinitarians, and certainly Zizioulas has been read by others as belonging to that camp.
But then two years ago I started to read the primary trinitarian sources of the fourth century, as well as some secondary scholarship. And I have begun to question. Don’t get me wrong. I resist attempts to imprison theology in inherited constructions. We cannot be faithful to the gospel if we merely reiterate traditional formulae. But I do want to see real continuity between, say, St Gregory of Nyssa and John Zizioulas … or William Hasker.
And all of this is by way of introduction to Dale Tuggy’s interview of Dr William Hasker. Hasker, like Tuggy, belongs to the analytic school of philosophy. As you know, I have questions regarding the helpfulness of analytic philosophy in the presentation of Christian dogma. I have not yet read Hasker’s new book on the Trinity, Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God (I’m hoping the publisher will eventually offer an affordable paperback); but I have to raise the question whether social trinitarianism faithfully presents the catholic faith of the Church.
Do listen to the interview. I will link to part 2 of the interview as soon as it is available.
In his book The Quest for the Trinity, Stephen Holmes argues that much of the 20th century revival in trinitarian doctrine in fact represents a significant departure from patristic commitments. He particularly zeroes in on the misinterpretation of the Cappadocians as social trinitarians. Zizioulas, I think, might agree:
In patristic thought, the person is not the center or subject of consciousness or of psychological experiences. This is apparent from the following highly significant observation: the persons of the Holy Trinity have only one will, only one “consciousness,” and—if the term may be permitted—”psychological experience.” In reality, all the things that in personalism constitute essential elements in the concept of the person are connected by the Fathers with the nature or essence of God, in other words, with what is common to the three Persons and not what is different. In other words, these are not hypostatic-personal properties that define the concept of the person, but properties relating to the essence or the nature of God. (The One and the Many, p. 21).
The Greek Fathers insisted that memory, knowledge, will and love are not individuated between the persons of God but common to them all. They understood that to confer individual psychological attributes upon the persons of God may lead to the projection of creaturely characteristics onto God. (John Zizioulas, Lectures in Christian Dogmatics, p. 69)
I have lots and lots of questions. The debate is often presented as a choice between social trinitarianism and modalism. But the patristic doctrine does not fit into either category.