“Three selves, one being”—does it work as a trinitarian formula? Well, why not? It all depends on what we mean by the word “self.” Dale Tuggy defines self as a center of individual consciousness, volition, and agency—i.e., someone who is “in principle capable of knowledge, intentional action, and interpersonal relationships.” On his blog Tuggy expounds a bit more on his understanding of self:
I hold that we all have a vague concept of a self. It is a thing (substance) which is (normally) conscious, which can perform intentional actions (do things for reasons), has knowledge, and can be one party in I-thou relationships (friendships of some variety). So, all normal humans are selves. Dogs and monkeys are maybe borderline cases. Angels and demons would be selves. And, gods, devas, etc. (in the context of polytheism) would be selves, as would be God in monotheism.
If this is what “self” means, and if the doctrine of the Trinity asserts three selves, then it’s hard to see how the doctrine of the Trinity does not entail three gods, as Tuggy pointedly observes in his critique of William Hasker’s social trinitarianism. But what if we do not accept this modern definition of self and instead adapt the word to classical trinitarian doctrine? What would the result be?
Consider the early 20th century Episcopal theologian Francis J. Hall. When I was at Nashotah House in the late 70s, the American Church Union gave copies of his multi-volume Dogmatic Theology (the Anglican Summa, as it’s sometimes called) to all the seminarians. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf ever since. I regularly consulted the Dogmatic Theology when preparing catechism classes. One of my favorite volumes in the series is the one devoted to the Trinity. I recommend it as a solid introduction to the catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Hall is conversant with the theological tradition, but he doesn’t get bogged down in the technicalities of scholastic presentations. He writes clearly and confidently. Like many Anglican theologians of his day, he also had a lively interest in the question of divine personality.
Hall recognizes the problem with employing the term “person” to signify the three hypostases of the Trinity. In popular usage “person” implies “complete and separate individuality.” If the word “person” does in fact enjoy this meaning in the doctrine of the Trinity, then, says Hall, “the doctrine is self-contradictory. Three complete and separate individuals cannot be described as one indivisible being” (IV:165-166). But this is not what the catholic Church teaches when it speaks of three divine persons in one divine essence:
The theological proposition that three divine Persons co-exist in the one indivisible God neither means nor implies that three separate individuals are one being. It means only that three divine Selfs exist in, and possess, the indivisible Godhead, without either separation or confusion. Such doctrine is not self-contradictory, for it does not, as is objected, declare three persons to be one person, or three beings to be one being. (IV:166)
Unlike modern social trinitarians, Hall rejects the proposal that the Trinity is a collective of three independent individuals. The divine persons, rather, perfectly co-exist in each other by virtue of their equal possession of the one divine nature. This is the doctrine of coinherence. Hence the term “person” may be considered as functionally equivalent to “subject,” “self,” or even “ego” but without any suggestion of separation:
To assert the existence of three Persons in God means merely to say that there are three Egos in Him, the distinction being such as to warrant the use of distinguishing names and of plural personal pronouns and being involved in the very essence of God, so as to have eternal validity. But it does not mean that these three Egos are separate beings, or that they are to be regarded as mutually independent individuals. (IV:105)
Whether the term person is suitable for describing the three “somewhats” that Scripture teaches to exist in the Godhead is a question which does not require an answer in this connection. The fact is that theology has appropriated it for such use, and has employed it for many ages in a determinate and distinctively theological sense. This sense is to be ascertained neither by psychological analysis of human personality, nor by appeal either to etymology or to philosophy. It is to be discovered by studying the history of the word in catholic theology. Like many other terms, personality has various meanings; and confusion of thought must result from criticising a proposition in which it is used with one meaning as if it were employed in another. … It is sufficient to say that the term is suggested by the reciprocal use of pronouns in Holy Scripture as between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and positively means, when applied to Them, that They are distinct selfs, αὐτοί, or egos. Negatively, and by reason of the teaching of both Church and Scripture as to divine unity, it does not signify separate individuals, but selfs of one and the same individual and divine Being. (IV:164-165)
How does Hall not fall into the tritheism of three gods? By not importing into trinitarian discourse a modern definition of selfhood. A clear distinction between “person” and “nature” must be maintained, in accordance with the trinitarian and christological tradition. Those elements that we commonly associate with personhood (namely, consciousness and will) do not belong to the divine person but to nature.
The sixth Ecumenical Council, held at Constantinople in 680 A.D., accentuated the difference between person and nature, and settled it once for all, so far as the catholic terminology of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are concerned, that the term person signifies the indivisible self of a rational nature, as distinguished from the natural attributes and functions which this self possesses, and by means of which it is manifested.
Even the will is to be referred to nature rather than to person; for like all the natural properties, it is possessed by the personal self rather than constitutes that self. The sixth Council decided that the one Person Christ possesses “two natural wills and two natural operations.” It is obvious that, if will is personality, there can be but one will in one person; but if will is a possession of person, and distinguishable from it, no contradiction is involved in declaring that the one Person of the Word-incarnate possesses two wills. The line of demarcation in catholic terminology between person and nature was thus made to include will in nature, and to limit the meaning of person to the self or ego of the nature thus defined. (IV:98-99)
Each divine self, in other words, is a subject and possessor of the divine nature in all fullness. To each we may attribute all the properties of divinity, including consciousness and volition. This is why we may speak of three selves, without implying three gods. The Father, Son, and Spirit “receive proper names, are distinguished by a reciprocal use of pronouns, and are all acknowledged to be proper Subjects of divine predications, although such predications pertain to but one indivisible Being” (IV:178). Failure to properly distinguish between person and nature mortally wounds many contemporary presentations of the Holy Trinity, whether they fall into the one-self or three-self model. Modern definitions of personhood cannot be transferred into Godhead without compromising the catholic affirmation of Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.
When pushed by critics to explain further what a divine self or ego is, Hall points out that even the human ego eludes explanation: “Psychology postulates the existence of ego or self, but cannot get back of psychical processes to make this self a distinct and immediate object of scrutiny and description” (IV:194). We posit the existence of the self to account for our subjective experiences; but what precisely is this “I” that experiences them, that thinks and feels, that makes decisions, that acts in the world? The ego forever evades our attempts to define it. “It remains and must remain an inscrutable entity,” writes Hall (IV:195). If self is ineffable at the created level, then we should not be surprised by its ineffability at the divine level.
Analytic philosophers will no doubt find unsatisfactory Hall’s modest construal of divine selfhood as metaphysical subject of divine properties and operations (though those who have been influenced by Wittgenstein and his grammatical approach to philosophy may well nod their heads with approval); but Hall insists that the catholic doctrine of the Trinity does not permit us to say anything more. The theological meaning of “person” is dogmatically defined by the Church’s rejection of “the Sabellian definition of divine Persons as mere aspects, dramatis personae,” and by her rejection of “the opposite and tritheistic definition of Them as separate beings or individuals. The divine Persons, in brief, are real, eternal, and distinct Selfs, but do not constitute separate Divine Beings” (IV:183-184). The Church was more concerned with describing what divine selfhood is not rather than what it is (IV:184, n. 1).
We may not be able to explain how there can be three selves where there are not three independent beings; but why do we think that we may impose our experience of finite human personality upon the infinite and transcendent Creator? “Apart from supernatural revelation,” Hall rightly states, “the possibilities of divine personality lie beyond our capacity to determine” (IV:193). Measuring and defining divine personality by what we observe in the created realm must be judged misguided and unsound, if not silly. “Because we never find more than one real self in one human being, it does not follow that only one self can exist in the one divine Being” (IV:166-167).
Hall’s acknowledgement of the limits of theological understanding should not be considered as an unfortunate retreat into mysterianism (though the triune God is indeed unfathomable mystery) but as necessary acknowledgement that faithful theological reflection is determined by God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ as given in the Scriptures and ecclesial experience. When the Church began to dogmatically define the trinitarian grammar, she was not interested in resolving philosophical conundrums but in protecting the apostolic revelation. “The Church’s purpose in defining,” Hall concludes, “was to preserve inviolate the mysteries which she had received from God, but which she did not pretend to explain” (IV:52).
Good to hear the esteemed Francis Hall is still “around.”
To repeat old news which just might appear as something new, the Cappadocian Fathers (and other 4th century worthies) rejected the conventional word for “person/persons” (prosopon/prosopa) in favor of “hypostasis/hypostases” with its revised meaning (formerly it was used to mean pretty much the same as “ousia”). They could have used prosopon if they’d wanted to say pretty much what Tuggy says–but they simply didn’t want to! Divine personhood frankly had no human parallel. Prosopon (which can also, in other contexts, mean “face” or “mask”) would not work: it not only didn’t reveal the distinctive character of the “persons” of the Trinity, it had implications that pointed in the direction of modalism. As for “new words” or “old words with new meanings,” we can be helped by Georges Florovsky:
“Christian thought . . . was maturing but gradually and slowly, by a way of trial and retraction. The early Christian writers would often describe their new vision of faith in the terms of the old and current philosophy. They were not always aware of, and certainly did not always guard against, the ambiguity which was involved in such an enterprise. By using Greek categories Christians were forcing upon themselves, without knowing it, a world which was radically different from that in which they dwelt by faith. Thus they were often caught between the vision of their faith and the inadequacy of the language they were using. . . In fact, the new vision required new terms and categories for its adequate and fair expression. It was the urgent task for Christians “to coin new names,” kainotomein ta onomata, in the phrase of St. Gregory of Nazianzus.”
Thank you, Charles, for that great quote from Florovsky.
Based on my ongoing reading in the Cappadocians, I think you may be putting the matter too strongly when you state that they “rejected the conventional word for ‘person/persons’ (prosopon/prosopa) in favor of “hypostasis/hypostases.” St Basil and St Gregory Nazianzen continued to use prosopon/prosopa. I think the difference may be is that the word is now interpreted in light of hypostasis, which eliminates all Sabellian readings.
my head hurts–where was the simple life i once knew…?
It’s in the Divine Liturgy. That’s where the life of the Trinity is experienced and known.
i guess that i am a slow-riser then. but key-point–i’m rising. counts, right?
Sun, rising counts.
yes it does.
Amen, Brother Aidan.
why is it so hard for the convert?
Daniel, you have a lot on your plate. Be gentle on yourself.
I find it very hard to do away with Jesus and his Father as two selves given their “I-thou” relationship on display for all to see in the gospels. This has priority for me over questions of being, nature, or even monotheism. If Jesus and his Father as two selves is ditheism, then I’m almost willing to say so be it. Something elsewhere has to give, as I see it.
Ben, I for one am certainly not proposing abandonment of the I-Thou relationship between Jesus and his Father. Such a proposal would be heretical, given that the risen Son is now eternally enfleshed in our humanity. The only question is how much of the gospel narrative do we read back into the immanent Trinity, and this only becomes an important question if Jesus Christ is acknowledged as “begotten not made, homoousios with the Father.” If Jesus is just a guy, then his resurrection has no soteriological significance for me and does not reveal to us who God is in his immanent life (see my articles “Thinking Trinity“).
Hall has a couple of interesting pages on the question whether an infinite monadic Deity can be personal:
Here we find Hall affirming something close to a social Trinity (within the previously stated parameters of trinitarian being). He then continues:
In other words, from all eternity God is Love, even if he had never created the world, even if he had never become incarnate in Jesus Christ. Orthodox theologians like Zizioulas and Staniloe would approve, I think, of what Hall is saying here. I’m not sure about theologians like Behr and Louth. They might say that Hall (with St Augustine) is indulging in inappropriate speculation.
Yes, this sounds like Richard of St. Victor. Why not just call it three-selves? The I thou relation seems to be non-contingent on the incarnation. And that relation seems to be all that is needed for me to affirm multiple selves, or more specifically multiple first person perspectives.
P.S. I’m not a big fan if Rahner’s immanent-economic trinity distinction. I don’t think it’s helpful- http://wp.me/p3mheW-iI
Thank you, Ben, for bringing Rauser’s essay on Rahner’s rule to our attention, as well as to your own two articles summarizing Rauser. It’s been a long time since I last read Rahner’s book on the Trinity. I honestly do not know how strongly he intended his rule. As I recall, that question remains a real question for those who have struggled to understand it. The four theologians who have sought to implement the rule in their trinitarian theologies are Robert W. Jenson, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann, and Catherine LaCugna. I have read them all, but I am best acquainted with Jenson’s work (see David Hart’s summary and critique of Jenson’s work: “The Lively God of Robert Jenson“). Paul Molnar has offered a vigorous critique of Rahner in his book Divine Freedom and the Immanent Trinity.
Rahner’s rule has to be appreciated, I think, within the context of the way dogmatic theology was being done in the Catholic Church for much of the second millennium. At least in Rahner’s judgment, a split had occurred in the presentation of the doctrine of God, a split between the one God and his attributes, usually presented first, and the triune God, as revealed in Scripture. I see Rahner’s rule as call for the integration of the two loci. Whatever else one might say about the theologians who have sought to implement Rahner’s rule in their work, they have made the trinitarian God preachable in a way that scholastic presentations (whether Catholic or Protestant) do not.
It may well be the case that the rule has served its polemical purpose and can now be dispensed with. I have been wrestling with this for a few years now.
Why is the question of the relation between the economic and immanent Trinities important? For the same reason that the homoousion is important.
So the real question seems to be which aspects of the I-thou relationship between Jesus and his Father are also essentially part of the I-thou relationship between the Son and the Father (even if there were no creation or incarnation, i.e. the immanent I-thou vs. the economic I-thou). I suspect that there’s enough in common between the immanent and the economic I-thou’s–if I can put it that way–for there to be between two selves in some suitable sense of the word ‘self’. Hope I’m not just going round in circles here!
Ben, is Jesus Christ of one substance with the Father? How you answer that question will determine everything else.
I know the ‘correct’ answer 🙂
Unfortunately, I don’t know what it means–and not for lack of trying to understand!
What is necessary is not that you understand what the Church Catholic means when it declares Jesus Christ to be homoousios with the Father; but why the Church deemed the alternatives heretical. If rationalism has its way, then none of us will end up believing in God, much less the Trinity!
And that is what the analytic philosophers don’t seem to get, precisely because they are functioning as independent philosophers and not as believers under the authority of the the revelation entrusted to the Church.
Why did they deem the alternatives heretical? Not simply because they were wrong, I presume. One must be more than merely wrong to be a heretic. I suspect that heresy must involve a rejection of God’s authority when confronted by it in Jesus and the Spirit.
Presumably, certain alternative doctrines were thought to undermine Jesus’ authority and were therefore rejected as a precaution. Ironically, heresy hunters are just as likely to reject Jesus’ authority in their unloving treatment of heretics.
Because neither unitarianism nor Arianism can underwrite the salvation promised by the gospel–namely, eternal participation in the divine life of the Holy Trinity.
You are not wrestling with a logical problem (how can God be Three in One?) but with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many evangelicals do not understand this because they still look upon salvation as a legal matter. The Church Fathers knew better.
If you are going to take Scripture as your authority, then you have no choice but to also take Nicaea as your authority. Only the Church that canonized the Scripture may authoritatively interpret it.
As I see it Jesus is the authority. And I don’t see why someone could not recognize and embrace that authority (which leads to agape) while also holding incorrect theological beliefs. In fact, I think it happens all the time. The gospel, as NT Wright would say, is that God raised Jesus from the dead and that Jesus is revealed to be the one Lord. This seems compatible with several theologies.
By the way, have you seen the Christ-Shaped Philosophy project at the EPS? You’d find it very interesting, an important corrective to Christian analytic philosophy. I’m trying to grapple with how it would apply to theology, even analytic theology. I’d love to hear your response to this lecture – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L765lDVN0iw
Ben, as so often happens in theological disputation, especially regarding core beliefs, we end up with the question of hermeneutics and the authority of the Church. Four months ago I wrote a series on this, beginning with the article “Unitarianism and the Bible of the Trinity.” In that first article I noted the oddity of appealing to the Bible to criticize the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, as if the Bible can be properly read apart from the trinitarian Church that canonized it and apart from the hermeneutical rules that governed their trinitarian reading of the Bible.
Francis Hall writes: “The doctrine of the Trinity was revealed in terms of experience. The purpose of dogma is to preserve the true conception of that experience for those whose changed conditions of experience and thought make its assimilation difficult” (IV:51, n. 1). Hall’s point, I believe, is exactly right. Once the wheel is invented, we don’t have to reinvent it every generation.
1. I pointed out that given the I-thou relationship evident in scripture, I take three-self trinitarianism much more seriously than one-self trinitarianism. If that’s not monotheism then so be it.
2. You pointed out, I think, that we need to be cautious about bringing certain aspects of the economic Trinity into the immanent trinity. But the I-thou is important because God is love.
3. I reaffirmed that the I-thou seems to be enough to get me to three selves, and that I don’t really think the immanent-economic distinction is very helpful.
4. You asked me whether or not I affirm the homoousion.
5. I did not specify, but pointed out that whatever it is about the I-thou relation in the economic trinity that gives us three-selves is probably transferable to the immanent trinity as well.
6. You again ask me about the homoousion.
7. I reply that I know what the correct answer is but that I don’t understand it.
8. You appeal to church authority and say that it’s important to know why not-homoousios is heretical.
9. I try to define heresy as a view that undermines Jesus’ authority.
10. You try to define heresy as a view that fails to underwrite the gospel, defined as eternal participation in the divine life of the Trinity. You say I am wrestling with the gospel by wrestling with homoousion (if indeed I am). Once again, you appeal to church authority.
11. I appeal to Jesus as the authority and point out that many different, incompatible theologies uphold his authority.
12. You appeal to the authority of the church again.
I’m a bit surprised that we’ve gone from me expressing reservations about one-self trinitarianism to questioning and testing my beliefs about the homoousion. I’m a protestant. Appealing to church authority has little credibility to me, although I know it means a lot to you. I respect that. But because the church says so just isn’t good enough in my books. I understand that homoousios has been poorly understood from its introduction at Nicaea. Some meanings of it are true, others are false (with some prime examples in the anathemas of Nicaea), and Christianity doesn’t stand or fall on getting that puzzle right. I’m looking for a proper foundation upon Jesus’ loving authority (not necessarily biblicism). I suspect that it’s possible to submit to that authority on a personal and corporate level even if one has incorrect theology, even incorrect theology about homoousion.
BBC program on Trinity (with Janet Soskice, Martin Palmer, and Graham Ward)
I’m also struggling to understand what you do with Deuteronomy 6.
If we say that Jesus and His Father are not the one God, but are three selves, and so three Gods, then we seem to deny that God is One. On the other hand, if we say the One God is the Father, then we seem to assert that Jesus is commanding us to worship another God from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and so he is a false prophet, and we should either be circumcised, or at the least, be God-fearing gentiles.
Perhaps you can give a different answer to the first question that does not appeal to homoousias–though you have your work cut out for you–but even then, in what sense can you say that the Three are One? What is it that they have in common? Is that thing they have in common created? If so, then their unity is not eternal, and they are not one. Is it uncreated? Then how is it not a fourth? And then we have the same question as before, but now instead of three we’re asking how the four are one–which leads to an infinite regress.
So that tack doesn’t seem viable either.
I think both horns of your dilemma are promising avenues to carefully consider. I’m not convinced that monotheism of the correct variety requires literally one divine person. I’ve written about this and interacted about it with Dale Tuggy on our blogs. Here’s the first post – http://wp.me/p3mheW-k0
On the other hand, if some sort of unitarianism is true (and there is a strong exegetical case to be made there given the one God *and* one Lord language of the NT), then I (contra Dale Tuggy), don’t see why it would follow that Jesus is not divine. Here’s my post on that – http://wp.me/p3mheW-ls.
Bottom line, I think the I-thou relation is much more obvious than the correct definition of monotheism and so I start with the I-thou and go from there.
Ben: Could you give me an argument that Buber’s philosophy is evident in Scripture? I haven’t read “I-thou”, thouh its on my list, and I believe it is an important work. But I don’t see how we can suddenly pretend his philosophy is self-evident, and that theologians who do not hold to it are denying what is obvious in the text.
Hi Matthew, I’ve never heard of Buber. But I think it is fair to say that at face value Scripture depicts Jesus relating to his Father as one person relates to another, call it an “I-thou” relationship. Indeed, if any analogy for the Trinity is offered in Scripture, it would seem to be person-to-person holy unity. So at face value, the unity that you and I ought to enjoy is an appropriate analogy for the unity/oneness of Jesus and his Father.
In John 17:20-23 Jesus prays, “I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that *they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you*. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, *that they may be one just as we are one*—I in them and you in me—that *they may be completely one*, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me.”
I don’t have time for a more full answer now, but, Buber was a very influential Jewish philosopher from the early twentieth century. His major work, whose German name escapes me, is usually called I-Thou in English.
I’m not Orthodox, but I love a lot about it and I do love the Creeds. It’s difficult enough to sort out the different modern psychological understandings of the ‘self’. When you add in the competing visions of the 3rd and 4th centuries, it super daunting. Just offering my two cents here…
As I understand it (the Orthodox here can correct me), we don’t want to embrace an understanding of the divine hypostatic identities/distinctions that lands us in a social trinitarianism where you essentially have three divine individuals who just really love each other a lot. But neither do we want to deny all distinction/differentiation of a hypostatic nature within God; that is, I don’t see that we have to deny an “I-Thou” relationship essential to God.
Personally I favor an Augustinian approach, an analogy derived from the human experience of self-transcendence. We are subjects of address, and we address ourselves as subjects, thus objectifying ourselves personally in a conversation that defines our personal existence. And we can even further observe this conversation from what you might call a third-person perspective if we wish. And what are these in us but distinct perspectives definitive of a single undivided personal existence within a single mind and will. Yet the conversation is real and meaningful. Anatolios comments (on Augustine’s approach): “If the mind’s self-awareness is to correctly imagine its own existence so as to safeguard the mutuality whereby it knows itself exactly to the extent that it is, then this self-knowledge must take the exact measure of the mind’s mode of existence.”
Does this differentiation of perspectives in conversation within me as a single human being make me 3 selves? Not really, though it depends I suppose on how you define ‘self’. You can define ‘self’ in a way that makes trinitarianism polytheistic. But is that the only sense of self that’ll bear the weight of a trinitarian affirmation? I think not.
It’s just an analogy, and the Orthodox here may feel I’m pushing it too much, but it does what analogies are supposed to do, i.e., give us a way of meaningfully conceiving of what we have to say (that God is three persons [still the best English word for ‘hypostasis’ despite the modern dangers] without removing all the mystery.
Perhaps the ‘duality’ you think suggests a ‘ditheism’ is coming from the dual natures in play post-Incarnation. With incarnation, we have the embodiment of that divine perspective on Godself which is the Son. So naturally Jesus self-identifies as his Father’s Son in an I-You relationship. But this Father-Son relationship we see embodied within the constraints of creaturely finitude (though the relationship is not limited to the terms of Jesus’ human mind and finite perspective, i.e., the Logos is not reduced without remainder to the constraints of Jesus’ embodied, finite perspective). The two perspectives (the one infinite and uncreated via the divine nature and the other finite and created via the human nature) are not co-terminous, but they both belong to one and the same Son.
Thanks for that. I just don’t feel comfortable chalking up major features the I-thou relationship of Jesus and his Father to the incarnation. It seems that the I-thou relationship pre-exists the incarnation. I don’t need a modern psychological definition of person to recognize this I-thou relation–it’s been in the texts for nearly 2000 years. In any case, we are faced with the incarnation and an incarnate I-thou relation. *That* relation seems more sure to me than various incompatible definitions of monotheism.
Trinitarianism, in its classical forms (Cappadocian, Augustinianism) is essentially shaped by the Fourth Gospel, which for ancient Christian thinkers/teachers, provided the lens for reading the other gospels and the rest of the apostolic writings. John’s gospel provides its own lens for reading the rest of the text: the prologue (Jn 1:1-18), especially verse one when it comes to the Trinity. There’s much that can be read as binitarian (to reference Ben’s ditheism above) on the surface, but Jn 1:1 needs sustained reflection before we rush on to other matters in John. It provides us with with a Logos/Word who simultaneously IS GOD and is WITH GOD, identity (“same-as-ness”) and difference (“seperateness”). There’s the mystery of the Trinity in a nutshell, at least as regards Father and Son. The Spirit comes in later (in chapters 14 and 16) is deliberately down-played (“he” won’t speak of himself but of Christ).
But the Son as being both God and with God is echoed in chapters ten and fourteen with the claim by Christ that he and the Father are “one” and that he and the Father are “in” each other–identity and difference again. The “oneness” of their work is underscored in chapter five, where the Father is seen giving everything he has to the Son and the Son proclaims that he does only what he sees his Father doing (a Father who works day and night).
All this is fair game for theologians (even analytic theologians) but one would wish that modern analysts were as concerned as our ancient ancestors to deal with all this through lives grounded in worship and prayer. Asceticism, even lay asceticism (the prayer practices of people with families and secular jobs), is the underexplored “epistemological” dynamic left out of most discussions. The Gregories and Augustine would find this most strange. They would echo Aidan (above): “It’s in the Divine Liturgy. That’s where the life of the Trinity is experienced and known.” Lacking that grounding, a lot of other things remain opaque and “merely” intellectual games.
At the end of the day, the classical doctrine of the Trinity is a “best as we can do” effort to give some kind of articulation to something given to in “ecclesial vision”–we behold the Trinity as a mystery, one that defeats expression beyond a certain point but “makes sense” on another level. How else could it have had the staying power that its had. What other doctrine is so little contested by the universal church? Even the Nestorians and monophysites, who got off the boat after Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), were and remain Trinitarian. Virtually every other doctrine we can think of, including something as important as justification, is as hotly contested now as it was centuries ago, often with a sense that very little has changed since, say, the sixteenth century. By contrast, the Trinity is so “odd” and counter-intuitive, that one would have thought it would have fallen by the wayside long ago. What gives its enduring strength? Could it be that it carries its own self-evidencing weight for those closest to the inner mystery of faith?
I am beginning to wonder if “monotheists” are better understood to be those who build up the church of the one God under the authority of the one Lord by the power of the one Spirit. We need not understand much theology to respond to the loving authority of God mediated through his exalted one Lord and Holy Spirit. On the other hand, “polytheists” might be better identified as those who act in such a way as to divide the one people of the one God, recognizing multiple competing authorities rather than that of the one Lord. Perhaps monotheism is as monotheism does.
Ben: I just don’t feel comfortable chalking up major features [of] the I-thou relationship of Jesus and his Father to the incarnation. It seems that the I-thou relationship pre-exists the incarnation.
Tom: Totally agree. I wasn’t suggesting the I-Thou relationship isn’t eternal. I think it is.
Ben: In any case, we are faced with the incarnation and an incarnate I-thou relation. *That* relation seems more sure to me than various incompatible definitions of monotheism.
Tom: If we define ‘monotheism’ as precluding any ‘I-Thou’ relation definitive of God’s existence, then I don’t see how trinitarians can be monotheists. That was the point of the (Augustinian) analaogy regarding the manner in which a human being self-relates in/through a multiplicity of perspectives.
Thanks Tom. I guess I prefer to critique the prevailing definition of monotheism rather than my face value interpretation of the I-thou relationship. The Augustinian analogy doesn’t seem to do justice to the I-thou of Jesus and his Father, at least not from my perspective. Monotheism is a slippery fish. Some monotheisms are true, others are false. Failing to be monotheistic, on some definition of monotheism, might not be such a bad thing.
you are trying to rationalise the trinity. i hate to break it to you, but faith in god ain’t no where near “rational”.
Your post and the ensuing discussion leads me to ask a question I hope is not too simple-minded nor off-topic:
If, as you say, God is not another object in the universe, what can we rightly say of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word become flesh? Doesn’t the Incarrnation forever “objectify” God in a way? And doesn’t such objectification give fodder to the philosophical naysayers?
why are you replying to me?
Good question, Andy. Off the top of my head: I think it is appropriate to speak of the incarnate Christ as the objectification of the eternal Son; but even in his objectification the divine essence does not become an object of human apprehension. How does that sound?
I hope I’m not rationalizing, but it’s always possible. You should check out Dallas Willard’s essay “Jesus the logician” in his book “The Great Omission”. Jesus was a brilliant, clear, logical thinker and I don’t see why his followers ought not try to do the same under his loving authority.
“Logic” wasn’t the same back then as it is now. Logic was more centered around the idea of bridging the gap between the transcendent world and the material world. I would suggest you read F.C. Copleston’s series “A History of Philosophy”.
I probably won’t get around to reading it but feel free to summarize or point me to a blog post. In Willard’s essay he points to two simple logical relations that Jesus uses regularly – inference and non-contradiction. These seem to be fairly timeless. Here’s my summary – http://wp.me/p3mheW-gi
I quote the part referencing Aristotelian logic in book one of Fr. Copleston’s series here:
It sounds like the basis for another (more lengthy) post. I’ll look for it!
Ben 1: I pointed out that given the I-thou relationship evident in scripture, I take three-self trinitarianism much more seriously than one-self trinitarianism. If that’s not monotheism then so be it.
Tom: It certainly can be trinitarian monotheism depending on how you define ‘self’.
Ben2: You pointed out, I think, that we need to be cautious about bringing certain aspects of the economic Trinity into the immanent trinity. But the I-thou is important because God is love.
Tom: I don’t know of any Orthodox believer who doesn’t think the trinitarian relations are essential/definitive of God and that this relations amount to a personal address-response (I-Thou). Apophatically, of course, we confess we can’t sit inside God and observe this all from the inside out and spit out nice clean propositions that fit perfectly together. But insisting that we say such I-Thou relations are essential/eternal to God is a legitimate cataphatic confession.
Ben3: I reaffirmed that the I-thou seems to be enough to get me to three selves, and that I don’t really think the immanent-economic distinction is very helpful.
Tom: Again, it all depends on how one understands ‘self’. If you insist on metaphysical grounds that such I-Thou address/response requires three fully individualized centers of consciousness and will JUST LIKE any three human ‘selves’ are thus distinct, then you’ve got polytheism.
Ben: I’m a protestant. Appealing to church authority has little credibility to me…
Tom: That’s not something Protestants have always said re: the Creeds.
Ben: Some meanings of it are true, others are false (with some prime examples in the anathemas of Nicaea), and Christianity doesn’t stand or fall on getting that puzzle right.
Tom: What does it stand or fall upon? And who determines what it stands or falls upon?
As much as I don’t like the feel of it, Ben, some manner of normative authority must rest in the ecumenical creeds or else each of us is his own final council and creed. But…that’s pretty much where sola scriptura ends up with anyhow. It eventually turns into sole mio.
Ben: I’m looking for a proper foundation upon Jesus’ loving authority (not necessarily biblicism).
Tom: So am I. And what I’m coming to see is that unless we want to reinvent the church every generation on every street corner, some manner of corporate/conciliar authority vested in the pneumatic community itself is how the Church defines itself, its faith and its mission. But like Fr Aidan, said, that’s basically been done. Once the wheel is invented….
These are helpful summaries Tom. I’m not so certain that multiple divine centres consciousnesses amount to polytheism (of the false variety). If you’re interested, I’ve been engaging Dale Tuggy about this recently – http://wp.me/p3mheW-ls.
What does Christianity stand or fall upon? I propose that it might be the authority of the one Lord Jesus Christ, with which the Holy Spirit immediately confronts each of us. I consider myself united with anyone else who also calls upon the name of the Lord (1 Cor 1:2). Theology and creeds are means–not ends–to building one holy united church under the authority of the one Lord. There will be multiple theologies (many of which will be incorrect) within that church as we each struggle to understand. But it is obedience to and trust in Jesus’ Lordship that unites us.
I am not anti-Nicaean. I deliberately avoided wholehearted unqualified public affirmation (on this thread) to avoid the impression that being pro-Nicaea is what really counts. I have the freedom, as one who calls on the name of the Lord, to struggle to understand as I am able. Of course, if I’m causing any of you to stumble, let me know and I’ll think more quietly!
Regarding the concern for the abiding normativity of ‘logic’ (esp. laws like non-contradiction and identity), my own sense is that to say these are transcendended apophatically is not simply the equivalent of saying they’re ‘contradicted’ (i.e., rendered false). It’s a bit more nuanced than that, but I do appreciate the concern of analytic folk to secure the meaningfulness of Christian claims about God. It took me a while to appreciate the concern behind apophaticism, but Denys Turner helped me find my way into what I’m comfortable with. His book ‘Silence and the Word’ was most helpful (also a few posts on Turner’s work here if you’re interested: http://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/category/denys-turner/). In the end, an apophatic denial is a very specific kind of denial, not SIMPLY the ‘contradicting’ of an affirmation. Rather, the entirety of cataphatic discourse is qualified apophatically—affirmations AND their contradictions.
I do not understand the accusation if illogic against the ecumenical trinitarian doctrine. The doctrine is clear right up front about the radical transcendence of God and thus the unknowability of his essence. Are there outright contradictions in the formulation of the doctrine? Only, it seems to me, if we do not acknowledge the analogical and symbolic nature of theological language.
Agree or disagree?
Agree. I personally don’t see any obvious logical contradiction generated by the notion of the trinity or incarnation, which is not to say it’s utterly comprehended and not mysterious.
Yes, Aidan. Yes.
It’s worth noting that “individual” is etymologically more appropriate as a modifier of “Trinity” not as a modifier of “Person”. The Individual (= indivisible) Trinity. And “I” as a noun, not pronoun–“the I”–is also very recent, and, without the Latin “ego” masking the meaning, still sounds very very odd.
Matthew N. Petersen,
What are you saying or suggesting about differences between “I” as noun and as pronoun? Are there things that could not have been discussed until “I” was given an article (in languages that have articles)?
What, for instance, is going on with the ‘ego eimi o on’ of Exodus 3:14 of the Septuagint translation (where the ‘on’ has a nominative definite article)? And with the New Testament instances of ‘ego eimi’ (e.g., St. John 18:5,6,8), and, for that matter, with the use of ‘o on’ as inscription in the cruciform nimbus in icons of Our Lord, where there is the depiction of Him according to His Enhypostasized Humanity rather than the word ‘ego’?
I’m not sure I understand your question. The abstraction “the I” is a distinctly modern abstraction. I cannot say what all the implications of that are. We could argue whether it is a faithful development of the ancient hypostasis language (at the least it is a change, and that change should be taken into account). The ancients explained the Trinity in terms of hypostasis and ousia, that is, in terms of which and what. Whether their articulation of the meaning of which is the same as ours, though, is open. My strong guess is that it is not, and we need to figure out how to fit our concepts into the ancient synthesis, or to reject oir conceptions. (Some of both probably needs to happen. And perhaps some of their nondogmatic formulations need rearticulated.)
As to the passages from the gospel: I don’t understand your point. Jesus does not say “o ego emi””The I is” or “My I is” but, quoting Exodus 3 (actually, I believe two passages from Exodus 3), “I am”. The icons pick up on this, and say “The One who is” or, “The is-ing”. (Being has different connotations.)
Matthew N. Petersen,
Thank you for your response! I agree the change has to be taken into account. I wonder how the Greek ‘ego’ was discussed, grammatically, exegetically, philosophically, and theologically, from, say, Philo on. (Being not widely enough read, even in translations, I can only wonder, alas.) And I wonder how different the discussion would be in effect, without a “the I”.
With respect to Exodus 3, who is speaking, and on behalf of Whom? For example, St. Stephen in Acts 7:30 speaks of “aggelos [“kyriou” in some MSS.]” and in verse 35 of “cheiri aggelou tou ophthentos” while in verse 31 speaking of “phone kyriou” [ or, in one MS., “ho kyrios”] which, or Who, says, “ego ho theos” in verse 32. God [“ho theos”] Who can say (or on behalf of Whom can be said) “ego” is not simply “which”. If this is the Son/Logos speaking, does – or can – He say “I” as the Son? Can the Holy Spirit say “I” as the Spirit? Is the Father “I” as Father? And when, in the Septuagint this “I” emphatically speaks the first-person pronoun as well as the first-person present form “eimi” which presumably functions as a ‘personal copula’ with “ho on” (whether “The One who is” or, “The is-ing”, or “The Being One”), then this “on” with an definite article is not simply “which” but “Who”.
I presume the icon use of “ho on” identifies not only the Son/Logos but the Son/Logos Incarnate as the Man Jesus (the Theaner Who is “perfect Man of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting”) as He (or One) Who can say/ has said, “ego eimi ho on”.
Chalcedonianly speaking, no Hypostasis can say “I” apart from the fully Enhypsotasized-by-that-Hypostasis One Ousia.
I wonder how the Trinitarian “individualis” (for pointing out which, thanks!) was used? Only of the ‘indivisibility’of Each ‘Persona’ from Each Other ‘Persona’, or also of the ‘indivisibility’ of the ‘Substantia’ from Each ‘Persona’?
Whether any of this has clarified my question and my point in my previous comment….?