William Hasker and Karen Kilby on the Social Trinity

I promised two weeks ago to link to part 2 of Dale Tuggy’s interview with William Hasker:

Note how Hasker stumbles when pressed on the difference between the social Trinity and three gods. There’s a problem here that is created when hypostasis is interpreted as an individual subjectivity. The Trinity becomes a collective of three divine persons (three consciousnesses, three minds, three wills). Social Trinitarians then have to wrestle with the question of the cooperation of the Three. Is it possible for the persons to disagree with each other. If not, why not? And how is this social trinitarianism not a form of polytheism?

Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading and re-reading St Gregory Nyssen’s epistle To Ablabius: On Not Three Gods, as well as expositions of Gregory’s thought by John Behr and Lewis Ayres. The tract is not long, but it is difficult. Gregory is often depicted as a proto-social Trinitarian; but both Behr and Ayres insist that this is a mis-reading of Gregory’s thought. For Gregory, God’s action toward and in the world is indivisibly one, flowing from the Father, through the mediation of the Son, perfected by the Spirit. From the unity of the divine action we may infer, says Gregory, the unity of the ineffable and incomprehensible divine nature. Ayres explains:

Whatever sort of individuality and difference exists between the three divine persons it is not the sort of individuality we observe in an existent that has its own self-caused and distinct activity. The divine persons, thus, do not simply act together, they function inseparably to constitute any and every divine activity towards the creation. … Gregory, of course, does not want to deny that the divine person possess their own distinct and irreducible hypostatic existence. However, his account of divine action uses a philosophical model of causality to present the three not as possessing distinct actions towards a common goal, but as together constituting just one distinct action (because they are one power). (Nicaea and its Legacy, pp 357-358)

In his book The Quest for the Trinity, Stephen R. Holmes notes the dramatic differences between ancient and modern presentations of the Trinity and concludes that the trinitarian revival of the 20th century in fact represents a thoroughgoing departure from the older tradition. If the modern construals are correct, then the Church Fathers, medievals, and Reformers were wrong. This is a bold claim, yet one I am having to take seriously as I read the primary trinitarian writings of the fourth century.

Dr Karen Kilby has also recently raised concerns about contemporary versions of the Trinity. In the following interview she notes her surprise about how much contemporary theologians and philosophers think they know about the inner life of God:

I suspect St Gregory of Nyssa would agree with Kilby’s critique. There is holy mystery here upon which we may not transgress. “Remove your shoes from your feet,” the Lord God commanded Moses, “for the ground you stand upon is hallowed” (Ex. 3:5).

(Return to part 1 of the Hasker interview)

This entry was posted in Holy Trinity and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.