The Logic of Trinitarian Doctrine

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18 Responses to The Logic of Trinitarian Doctrine

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    This is an introductory piece of course, but his choice of ‘qualities’ is unfortunate. ‘Perfections’ allows for difference in mode of existence, which ‘qualities’ does not. The omission of the implications of divine simplicity on the distinction between essence and existence is likewise unfortunate. It skates too close to the thin ice of univocal conception of divinity. The pro-Nicene fathers were clear to make simplicity, the infinite remove of divine and creaturely mode of being, the corner stone of trinitarian grammar.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      But as you note, Robert, this is an introductory piece (probably written for undergraduates) that seeks to present the rules of patristic trinitarian doctrine; hence, your two criticisms seem … well … picky. If Cary had written a book on the patristic doctrine of God, then the omission of divine simplicity would be significant; but he didn’t and so it ain’t. Regarding Cary’s preference for qualities (attributes, properties) instead of perfections, my question (both for Cary and for you) is, which terms did the Greek and Latin Fathers prefer? Cary can hardly be criticized if the Fathers commonly used the term qualities.

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      • phillipcary says:

        It was Augustine (appropriating the Categories of Aristotle) who contrasted qualities and relations. Handy, I think. In other contexts I would prefer the term “perfections.” But both terms (qualities and perfections) are highly abstract, more suitable for the classroom than the pulpit. . What belongs in the pulpit are what these terms refer to: such things as the wisdom, eternity, omnipotence, etc. of God. And that’s what you need to teach people in the church about: that the eternity of the Father is no different from the eternity of the Son, etc. , so they don’t start developing an Arian imagination which makes the Son less truly eternal, omnipotent, wise (etc.) than the Father.

        Likewise the doctrine of simplicity. To expect believers to wrap their minds around that doctrine before believing in the Trinity would be pastorally wrong-headed. What teachers in the church need to do is understand these doctrines well enough to teach their implications in ways that ordinary believers can grasp. Hence my insistence that the eternity (etc.) of the Son is no different from the eternity (etc.) of the Father follows from the doctrine of divine simplicity, but does not use the term, because ordinary believers don’t need the term. But they do need to know that the Son is not less eternal (etc.) than ther Father.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Agreed.

          Unfortunately divine simplicity has come to be thought of as optional, a superfluous and inconvenient afterthought, a concept incompatible with a God who can relate and experience creation. My premise is that we can’t at all theologize trinitarian without divinity simplicity.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Fr Aidan/Phillip,

          Don’t you think they should also know that whatever ‘quality’ is ascribed to God is God?

          Without this teaching ‘God’ signifies a being among beings, no?

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Divine sImplicity is a, if not the, cornerstone to the logic and grammar of patristic trinitarian theology, east and west. Without DS the uncreate/created distinction collapses and inevitably univocal theological conceptions follow. It is precisely the univocal use and understanding of pivotal trinitarian concepts which the Nicene fathers used to criticize the position of their detractors. ‘Generation’ is an example of such – it was understood by anti-Nicenes univocally (i.e. as creaturely generation indicating beginning in time, derivative existence, and so forth) and thus demonstrated the validity of the anomoian position against the pro-Nicenes. Both sides are guilty of circular reasoning of course, univocal predication is perfectly legit when one thinks the Son a creature, but that is precisely the point in question. Regardless, it does demonstrate the consistency of the inner logic of the Nicenes: if the Son is ‘very God of very God’ then univocal concepts are wholly inadequate to trinitarian theology, and the ground for the breakdown of the univocal is that God does not fall within the hierarchy of existent beings, which the fathers demonstrated by way of the simplicity of the divine nature – the coincidence of desire with possession, the absence of potentiality in actuality.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I agree, Robert, that divine simplicity is a metaphysical precondition for trinitarian reflection; but it is not the case that one cannot grasp the doctrine of the Trinity without a clear grasp of divine simplicity. There are other ways to bespeak the divine transcendence and the radical difference between God and creation. Indeed, that is precisely one of the purposes of the doctrine of creation from out of nothing, for example–i.e., to point to this radical difference.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I have yet to see DS in one form or another omitted in trinitarian writings of the Cappadocians, but you are better read than me.

            And ‘grasp’: such an unfortunate choice. Only kidding. 🙂

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  2. One difficulty I have is the “Zeus is God, Apollo is God, Poseidon is God”, analogy. The main question bites back to the question of essence–what is God? Why does a pagan say that these three are Gods?

    When going back to the core of essence, we see how the doctrine of divine simplicity is an even further necessary building block to the doctrine of the Trinity.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      My thinking is also along those lines. (But the question as to what God is, that is not answerable.) Your question stands – what is it that makes the Christian God God on philosophical grounds without resort to an explanation from revelation? I see no other way but through pure actuality, the identification of essence and existence. Whatever the case me be, it would seem to me far from trivial to theology proper.

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      • My line of thinking was more on the comparison to the Father is God, Son is…(etc.) vs. Zeus is God, Apollo…(etc.) as opposed to any such theology proper.

        As has been mentioned already, this is only an introductory to Trinitarian theology.

        A better statement though is “the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God and God is the Father, God is the Son, and God is the Holy Spirit yet the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son.”

        The Zeus analogy to the mainline Trinity formula is just a distraction from what Trinitarian theology seeks to say is all I’m saying. To bring into the discussion the Zeus analogy is to go down another theological rabbit-hole.

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  3. Wonder where he would go after this in talking about the two natures of the Son? If father and son are identical in quality but not in relation, wouldn’t the father have to have both a human and divine nature a son well?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Not following your reasoning. Divine perfections, qualities or attributes are not changed by the incarnation.

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      • I’m not saying they are “changed.” (What did I say implied that?) I’m wondering how he explains the fact that the Son assumed a human nature and the Father did not and still maintain that all the “qualities” of the father and son are identical.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I could be wrong or not fully understand your question, but the concern the author addresses regards the divine, uncreated nature; the human nature assumed by the Son as such does not pertain to trinitarian theology proper.

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    • phillipcary says:

      Look at statements one and two. Taken together, they imply that the Son and the Father share the same divine attributes, being equally God. Then look at statment 4: The Father is not the Son. That explains why it is possible for the Son to be incarnate but not the Father. Hence in fact the Father is not incarnate, has no specifically human attributes, does not die or suffer, etc.

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      • Phillip, thanks for the response. What word would you use to describe the fact that the Son assumed flesh, since “being human” is not a “quality” of the Son? According to the end of your article, all three persons share the same qualities. How then do you explain the difference in the fact that only the Son assumed? I guess I don’t see the work that the word quality is doing, since you also invoke divine “attributes.”

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  4. phillipcary says:

    All three persons share the same divine qualities (which can also be called divine attributes or divine perfections). They do not share human qualities, however, because they do not share human nature. For qualities go with natures. Hence the Father, who did not assume human nature, does not have human qualities. Whereas the Son, having assumed human nature, has all the qualities that belong properly and essentially to human nature (but not the qualities that vitiate human nature after sin).

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