An Interview with Stephen Holmes

Stephen R. Holmes is the author of the book The Quest for the Trinity, in which he argues that recent explications of the trinitarian doctrine depart in significant, and unfortunate, ways from the classical doctrine of the Church. As one who cut his theological eye-teeth on the very theologians Holmes critiques, I have found his argument challenging, though perhaps less challenging than I would have ten years ago. Here is the first part of Dale Tuggy’s interview with Holmes:

I’m still not sure what to do with the “social” doctrine of the Trinity. I am now persuaded that we must not think of the Father, Son, and Spirit as three independent centers of consciousness; but I’m unwilling, at this point, to give up all talk of the Trinity being a communion of love.

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12 Responses to An Interview with Stephen Holmes

  1. Agni Ashwin says:

    “we must not think of the Father, Son, and Spirit as three independent centers of consciousness.”

    Can one think of the Father, Son, and Spirit as centerless centers of consciousness?

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  2. Kevin Davis says:

    “In Himself He does not will to exist for Himself, to exist alone. On the contrary, He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and therefore alive in His unique being with and for and in another. The unbroken unity of His being, knowledge and will is at the same time an act of deliberation, decision and intercourse. He does not exist in solitude but in fellowship. Therefore what He seeks and creates between Himself and us is in fact nothing else but what He wills and completes and therefore is in Himself.”

    Barth, CD II.1, p. 275

    And yet Barth rejected “person” language for fear of tri-theism, just as he freely and frequently used language of “fellowship” and even “intercourse” within God.

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  3. brian says:

    Well, I wrote a dissertation that was largely concerned with the notion of the person. My view is that we too often confuse the Christian notion of the person with the modern western understanding of the individual (this is a pretty standard distinction in contemporary theology.) I think it is a mistake to refuse to use the language of personhood with respect to God because it is open to misinterpretation. It would be a larger mistake to start thinking of God as somehow “impersonal.” Granted, we are always dealing with Mysteries and the Mysteries extend to ourselves and all of creation because we bear the imprint of a mysterious God. Yet the Christian God is both Word and Silence. We do not end in a pure gesture of apophatic silence. Just so, I believe that God is the full flourishing reality of Personal Being — or rather, Being in its fullness is always already Personal.

    What this means for us is that none of us have ever fully, truly, experienced personal being. We are journeying towards personal being, but we have not yet arrived. By the way, this is an issue of eschatology and soteriology. People who resist an understanding of the Gospel that is universalist are not simply reading the Bible a certain way. They are reading the Bible a certain way because they have imbibed a modern, individualist concept of the person. However, if my personal being necessarily requires a relation to the other, then my personal salvation would also require the ultimate rescue of all that constitutes my personal being. We may not be able to understand how Triune Personhood “works,” but one can certainly imaginatively grasp that somehow incommensurable uniqueness and loving communion coincide.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Brian, you should find the second part of the interview (which I will post tomorrow afternoon) of interest, as the interview focuses on the question of personhood and Godhead. Tuggy pushes Holmes on this question, and Holmes waffles back and forth on it—not wanting, on the one hand, to deny personhood of God but, on the other hand, not wanting to get pushed into attributing to God modern understandings of person. It’s kind’ve fun listening Tuggy and Holmes go back and forth.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Brian, are you acquainted with Dumitru Staniloae’s discussion of divine personality and intersubjectivity in the first volume of his dogmatics?

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      • brian says:

        I am not, really. I purchased several volumes of Staniloae because his name kept coming up in other books I was reading. It may just be an accident of where I was at the time, but I was not drawn into his work and what I read did not stick with me. My library is currently badly disorganized, but I shall try and find the volume you speak of and give it a perusal.

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  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    “I am now persuaded that we must not think of the Father, Son, and Spirit as three independent centers of consciousness”. How is ‘distinct’ distinct from “independent”? (The language – as I know it in translation – of ‘Undivided but Distinct Hypostases’.) Is “consciousness” not always analogical? But is there not Hypositatic ‘distinction’ in – Whatever consciousness is analogical to?
    As I take it you suggest, “a communion of love” is not a mere eternal instance of reflexivity.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I don’t know. 🙂

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      What I think I may know, David, is that the 4th century Fathers did not think of the hypostases as independent centers of consciousness, as hypothesized by modern social trinitarians.

      I was reading Dumitru Staniloae’s chapter on the Trinity in the first volume of his dogmatics. He is willing to speak of the hypostases as pure subjects and of the inter-subjectivity of the Trinity. I’m not suggesting that this is an inappropriate way to go; but I was a bit surprised. All I could think was, how very Western. 🙂

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Belated thanks, Fr. Aidan! For what my opinion’s worth, I think you’re right about “independent” and “social”. However modern a word ‘Triunity’ may be (no OED access!), Triunity is neither Sabbelian modalism nor “social” (a ‘society’ of ‘independents’).

        I have not even caught up with your Staniloae posts, much less done any reading on my own of him, and so do not know what he might mean by “pure subjects”, but I think of my thinking about ‘distinctness’ as very much indebted to Vladimir Lossky, though I think he gets Western, Thomist thought about the ‘Personae’ and ‘relatio ‘wrong (but maybe having worked on Meister Eckhart might conduce to something of the sort…).

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