Trinity, Creation, and the Christian Distinction

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:14).

The triadic benediction does not surprise us. We have heard it countless times from the pulpit. Though St Paul appears to have habitually preferred a christological benediction, I’m confident the original recipients of this letter were equally unsurprised. The Apostle was evidently comfortable with one-membered, two-membered, and three-membered formulas.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. (1 Cor 16:23)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Philemon 25)

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying. (Eph 6:23)

The benedictional forms appear to be equally immediate. Why Paul chose one over another probably depended on mood and whimsy, more than anything else. What they share is the invocation of Jesus Christ. From there the benediction naturally and logically expands in both directions—such is the primary language of faith.

The most important triadic naming in the New Testament is expressed in the dominical institution of baptism: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). We do not have examples of the initiation rites used in the apostolic Church; but in one way or another, in obedience to the command of the Lord, we may be confident that converts were baptized into the three titles. Even if some were baptized only into the name of Jesus, the Father and Spirit were implicitly invoked, for Jesus cannot be named without simultaneously thinking of the Father whose Son he is and the Spirit by whose power he bestows the new life of the Kingdom. “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” summarizes the apostolic apprehension of faith—a complex of three names that effectively serves as one name identifying the divinity into whom believers have been reborn by water and Spirit. “The function of naming God in initiation, in baptism as elsewhere,” Robert W. Jenson explains, “is to address the initiate to new reality, to grant new access to God. In the community of the baptized, therefore, the divine name spoken in baptism is established as that by which the community has its particular address to God” (The Triune Identity, p. 16).

Before there was a doctrine of the Holy Trinity, there simply was the Holy Trinity in whose reality Christians lived and prayed. The Trinitarian naming structured and formed the worship of the Church. From the beginning believers prayed to the Father, through and with the Son, in and by the Spirit. When confronted with the charge of polytheism, they no doubt insisted that they worshipped and served the one God of Israel, yet to this one God they now attached, by divine revelation and sacramental mandate, the names of Jesus and the Spirit, as exemplified in the earliest examples of credal faith. Jenson again:

The creeds are confessional and doxological utterances, and they follow precisely the prayer and praise structure of Scripture, where “God” is a term of address and where it is indeed to the Father that the address is made. But the decisive gospel-insight is that if we pray only to God, if our relation to God is reducible to the “to” and is not decisively determined also by “with” and “in,” then it is not the true God whom we identify in our address, but rather some distant and timelessly uninvolved divinity whom we have envisaged. We pray indeed to the Father, and so usually address the Father simply as “God.” But we address this Father in that and only in that we pray with Jesus in their Spirit. The particular God of Scripture does not just stand over against us; he envelops us. And only by the full structure of the envelopment do we have this God. (p. 51)

Hence we may speak of a foundational Trinitarianism embodied in the stories, hymns, and ritual practices of the apostolic Church. The narrative of how the catholic doctrine of the Trinity developed and became dogma begins here, with the primal language of faith.

Eventually Christians needed to reflect on their Trinitarian experience and explain the nature of the God in whom they lived and to whom they prayed. All sorts of interesting questions presented themselves:

What is the relationship between the Father believers confessed as the one God and the Jesus to whom they prayed and the Spirit in whose power they proclaimed the gospel?

Are the Son and Spirit to be regarded as divine, as somehow sharing in the divine work of creation and redemption?

If yes, are they equally divine as the Father?

If yes, how the heck do we logically explain that? Should we even try?

Not surprisingly, theologians quickly found themselves interpreting divinity within the subordinationist categories of Hellenism. This was the easy response, the path of least resistance, yet one that was ultimately unsustainable. A graded construal of triadic divinity may have temporarily worked in the second and third centuries (though it was always vulnerable to the charge of polytheism); but it became increasingly problematic once the Church assimilated the purport and implications of its own doctrine of divine creation, defined over against Hellenistic philosophy in the mid- to late-second century. I refer, of course, to the creatio ex nihilo.

At the same time the 2nd-century Apologists were seeking to explain to their pagan audience the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, they were also clarifying a properly Christian understanding of divine creation. It was by no means obvious how such an understanding might differ from, say, the Platonic construal of the Demiurge, who creates the cosmos from out of pre-existing matter, or the emanationist cosmogonies of Gnosticism. St Justin Martyr, for example, happily drew on the Timaeus in his elaboration of the creation of the world. Yet by the end of the second century, Christian theologians had settled on a genuinely novel theory—creatio ex nihilo. By Greek philosophical lights, such a theory was pure nonsense. Centuries earlier Parmenides had taught the Greek world the basic metaphysical principle—nothing comes from nothing. Hence the cosmos must be everlasting, for if we were to posit its beginning from nothingness, then it cannot ever have been and therefore is not now. Creatio ex nihilo, we might say, was quite literally unthinkable. Cosmos and divinity must be and must always be in interdependent relationship. What cannot be imagined is the possibility that the cosmos might not have been. Philosopher Robert Sokolowski puts it this way:

The issue of creation has been discussed by theologians and philosophers for so long that the unusual character of the question has become forgotten. It seems to be obvious that men should observe the contingency of the world and ask themselves why there is something rather than nothing. But such issues do not arise automatically wherever there are men, even if the men are thoughtful. If we examine pagan thinking about the divine, we do not find the issue of creation raised in the way it is raised in Christianity, nor do we find the understanding of God that is maintained by Christian. In Greek and Roman religions, and in Greek and Roman philosophies, god or the gods are appreciated as the most powerful, most independent and self-sufficient, most unchanging beings in the world, but they are accepted within the context of being. Although god or the gods are conceived as the steadiest and most complete beings, the possibility that they could be even though everything that is not divine were not, is not a possibility that occurs to anyone. The being of pagan gods is to be a part, though the most important part, of what is: no matter how independent they are, the pagan gods must be with things that are not divine. (The God of Faith and Reason, p. 12; also see Kathryn Tanner, “Creation Ex Nihilo as Mixed Metaphor,” in Creation ‘Ex Nihilo’ and Modern Theology, pp. 138-155, and David B. Burrell, “The Act of Creation with its Theological Consequences,” in Creation and the God of Abraham, pp. 40-52)

Even when Plato, Aristotle, and others began to demythologize pagan religion, they did not deny the divine but rather assimilated it to the natural necessities of existence, that which is and must always be. Divinity was posited to explain the movement and mutability of the world. So Aristotle proposed an unmoved mover, self-thinking thought, oblivious to everything around him yet drawing everything to him by the teleological attraction of final causality. It is metaphysically necessary, Sokolowski observes, “that there be other things besides him, whether he is aware of them or not” (p. 16). And similarly for Plato:

In Plato the divine does not take the substantial form of a prime mover or a self-thinking mind; it reaches its highest state in something beyond substance. But even the One or the Good is taken as “part” of what is: it is the One by being a one over, for, and in many, never by being One only alone by itself. Plato’s notion of what is divine and ultimate is more elusive than the god of Aristotle; more elusive than the even more thing-like gods of the Epicureans, the eternal conglomeration of atoms, living their carefree lives in the spaces between the world; and more elusive than the Stoic divinity, the all-governing mind-stuff that pervades the world and guides it through the developments that are fated for it. But in all these cases, the divine, even in its most ultimate form, is never conceived as capable of being without the world. The One of Plato is on the margin of, and in touch with, the many; it lets the many and the variegated be what they are. Even the One written about by Plotinus, which is placed still further “beyond” being than it is in Plato’s writings, and which shows the influence of religious and speculative beliefs different from those of Greece, cannot “be” without there also being its reflections and its emanations in the other hypostases (the Mind and the Soul) and in the things of the world itself. The Plotinian One may not want or need anything else to be itself, so other things do not arise in order to make up any deficiency in the One; but such other things are still not understood as being there through a choice that might not have been made. (p. 18)

This pagan sensibility forms the backdrop against which the Christian formulation of the doctrine of creation must be understood and appreciated. Affirming the freedom and sovereignty of the one Creator, Christian theologians confessed the unthinkable: (1) God has created the world from out of nothing—it therefore enjoys its own creaturely integrity; and (2) the world need not have been, without any diminishment of the divine being and glory. Counterfactual though it might be, it is meaningful to conceive God as existing without the things he has made, conceivable that he might never have been Creator, even though the claim is meaningless for the pagan sense of the divine.

I introduce all of this at this point of my review of Dale Tuggy’s What is the Trinity? because the mysteries of Incarnation and Trinity cannot be understood apart from this unique confession of absolute creation. Creatio ex nihilo made possible an articulation of otherness, immanental presence, and union that had previously been unstatable. In the natural order each thing is what it is and cannot be what it is not without ceasing to be what it is. A tree is not a lion. A chair is not a caterpillar. A human being is not a rock. And a god is not a human being

And since the divine as part of the world is one of the natures in the world, in the natural order of things a god, as understood by pagan thinking, cannot be human. A god could become human only by becoming less than a god, or not fully human, or by being only apparently human or only apparently divine, or by becoming some kind of thing different from both the divine and human. One being could not be fully human and fully divine. Zeus might appear as a swan, but he could not have become a swan. (Sokolowski, “Creation and Christian Understanding,” Christian Faith and Understanding, p. 44)

And the same reasoning applies to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The sense of divine transcendence made possible by the creatio ex nihilo opens up the possibility of thinking the mystery of three equally divine hypostases united in perichoretic union:

In worldly being, it would again be incoherent to speak of three persons in one substance. Each agent or person we experience is one being. But when we conceive of God as so different from the necessities of the world that he could exist, with no loss of excellence, even if the world were not, then we cannot say that the Triune God is not possible. The limitations and definitions we are familiar with from our experience of the world and of agency within the world no longer apply without qualification. (p. 44)

The articulation of the mysteries of Incarnation and Trinity requires us to employ the language of paradox and antinomy, but that is what one should expect, if God is radically transcendent in the way the catholic tradition affirms. God is not a being within the world; he does not exist within the continuum of existence; he is not finally comprehended by way of contrast with creaturely entities, for he exists beyond such contrasts. In the Latin theological tradition, he came to be understood as Being itself (ipsum esse subsistens); in the Byzantine tradition, as Beyond Being or super-essential essence (hyperousios). Both traditions are seeking to express the apprehension divine transcendence which underlies the mysteries of the Trinitarian faith.

A historical and theological narrative of how the Church moved from trinity to Trinity must include the creatio ex nihilo and the search for the “Christian distinction.” If it does not, then patristic and medieval reflection on the Trinity will seem speculative, irrelevant, incoherent, as just so much “mystery-mongering.” But perhaps “search” is the wrong word. The Christian distinction was lived before it was explicitly articulated:

Christian theology is differentiated from pagan religious and philosophical reflection primarily by the introduction of a new distinction, the distinction between the world understood as possibly not having existed and God understood as possibly being all that there is, with no diminution of goodness or greatness. It is not the case that God and the world are each separately understood in this new way, and only subsequently related to each other; they are determined in the distinction, not each apart from the other. The Christian distinction between the world and God may receive its precise verbal formulation in a theoretical context, since it is described especially by theologians and philosophers, but the distinction does not emerge for the first time in this theoretical setting. It receives its formulation in reflective thought because it has already been achieved in the life that goes on before reflective thinking occurs. The distinction is lived in Christian life, and most originally it was lived and expressed in the life of Jesus after having been anticipated, and hence to some extent possessed, in the Old Testament history which Jesus completed. The Christian distinction between God and the world is there for us now, as something for us to live and as an issue for reflection, because it was brought forward in the life and teaching of Christ, and because that life and teaching continue to be available in the life and teaching of the church. (The God of Faith and Reason, pp. 23-24)

Is it possible for the analytic philosophical tradition to think beyond its logic and apprehend the radical distinction between Deity and cosmos? If it does not, it will never grasp the holy mysteries of the Christian faith.

(Go to “Uncreated and Created”)

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31 Responses to Trinity, Creation, and the Christian Distinction

  1. I haven’t read Tuggy, but this seems off when we consider Origen:

    “I introduce all of this at this point of my review of Dale Tuggy’s What is the Trinity? because the mysteries of Incarnation and Trinity cannot be understood apart from this unique confession of absolute creation.”

    Origen held to a coeval creation and he was strongly Trinitarian with the three hypostases as same ousia.

    Philosophically, you could hold to an coeval universe and be Trinitarian. Plotinus had the eternal universe as an emanation of the “deity” and thus divine. But for a Christian (probably what Ammonius Saccas taught to Origen), the Christian would just state that the coveal universe is not consubstantial with the Trinity. The Christian would say that the substances of creation are non-divine because their substances depend on or participate within the transcendental ousia of the Trinity.

    I don’t believe that, but it’s rationally possible.

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    • Thomas says:

      Creatio ex nihilo generally does not necessarily entail a temporal claim about the beginning of the universe, though a temporal claim accompanies it in the context of the Christian faith. And I think it’s clear that the general doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is necessary to affirming an orthodox view of the Trinity and the Incarnation. (Of course, one can hold to the orthodox view of the Trinity and logically inconsistent notions–who hasn’t heard a well intending preacher affirm some sort of modalism unintentionally?)

      You can see this in what passes for Trinitarian theology in certain analytic circles. The affirmation that there are three conscious centers, who exist in time and are distinguished from other things primarily by their immateriality, longevity, and impressive super powers, has nothing to do with Trinitarian discourse. We might use similar words, but we mean vastly different things. It is analogous to when we talk about ourselves thinking and a computer program thinking.

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      • I completely agree about analytic approach to Trinity and “conscious centers” etc.

        It’s a good point about temporality. Creation ex nihilo does not necessary mean that creation has a beginning (though it usually does mean that), but rather that the created universe gained its substance **from nothing** and is not a mere emanation of the divine essence (as in Plotinus).

        “ex nihilo” shatters the ontological identity between Trinity and creation.

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    • Origen held to a coeval creation and he was strongly Trinitarian with the three hypostases as same ousia.

      Origen was imbibed with Hellenistic philosophy , and was a Subordinationist, so, to speak of “three hypostases as same ousia”, as though he was an “egalitarian” trinitarian, makes very little sense. Origen and Plotinus were contemporaries and pupils of the same Neo-Platonic philosopher Ammonius Saccas. This was so embarrassing for later Christians that Eusebius had to invent some “Origen the pagan”, other than “Origen the Christian”, but also a pupil of Ammonius!

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  2. The sense of divine transcendence made possible by the creatio ex nihilo opens up the possibility of thinking the mystery of three equally divine hypostases united in perichoretic union

    I had never considered that it was the fully-fledged development of the notion of creatio ex nihilo that started the process that led from the Hellenistic-Christian conception of a Subordinationist trinity, through the crisis of Arianism, to the fully-fledged (co-equal, co-eternal, tri-personal) Trinity. But it makes sense.

    From your Orthodox perspective (however eclectic) you obviously consider this development a positive result, but …

    – Inasmuch as the creatio ex nihilo is the proper biblical understanding of Creation, why hasn’t the doctrine of the Trinity been developed within the Biblical Religion, before the “Christ event”, and the Hellenistic-Christian musings of the Church Fathers. Or are you suggesting that the creatio ex nihilo is a peculiar Christian doctrine, which doesn’t owe anything to the previous Biblical Religion? If this is the case, how and whence would the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo have originated?

    – More important (at least AFAIAC), have you considered at all that the fully-fledged doctrine the Trinity, far from being an improvement in the Cristian understanding of the Godhead, was only the inappropriate (actually un-Biblical) “remedy” of the “original sin” of resorting to the notion of “another God and Lord” (Gr. theos kai kurios eterosDialogue With Trypho, ch. 56, Justin Martyr – probably filched from Philo), which is simply incompatible with the One and Only God of the Bible.

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  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Thank you, Miguel, for your good comment. Regarding the creatio ex nihilo, please click on this link and read the series I wrote on the topic a while back. The second article in the series looks at the biblical testimony. I am relying on Gerhard May’s treatise on the topic, but do not have strong opinions about whether the creatio ex nihilo is explicitly found in the OT. I’m happy to be persuaded that it is. Regardless, I don’t think that Christians really began to do what we might call “serious” Christian reflection on the nature of divinity until the second-century, which was the same time when they started to clearly formulate the creatio ex nihilo. As far as I can tell, Christians were the ones who first formulated it (perhaps with help from Philo). Eventually Jews and Muslims followed suit. It’s unclear to me when rabbinical Judaism embraced the creatio ex nihilo as an article of faith. Maimonides clearly asserts it in the medieval period. The rule seems to be this: once the creatio ex nihilo becomes established in the monotheistic religions, the notion of degrees of divinity eventually gets tossed into the dustbin as a piece of pagan mythology.

    You are right that as an Orthodox Christian I firmly and unapologetically approve, affirm, and confess the fourth-century dogmatization of the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son (and Spirit). This is not to say that a unitarian like Dale Tuggy cannot offer plausible arguments to the contrary, but as I stated in my first article, Tuggy’s scenario becomes unconvincing once he comes to the fourth century. Athanasius and the Cappadocians certainly did not believe they were inventing a new God. They saw themselves as living in continuity with the earlier tradition. But I do believe that something new happened in the fourth century, and that will be the topic of my next article. Hint: in the name of biblical monotheism, the Nicene Fathers abandoned the notion of graded divinity and thus rethought the meaning of the subordination of the Son.

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  4. Thank you Aidan for your prompt reply, and thank you also for the link.

    You haven’t answered my question, though, which I will repeat here: “Inasmuch as the creatio ex nihilo is the proper biblical understanding of Creation, why hasn’t the doctrine of the Trinity been developed within the Biblical Religion[?]” This is even more puzzling if you consider OT theophanies as christophanies.

    Regarding the “Christian reflection on the nature of divinity”, perhaps it has escaped you that I called Justin Martyr’s theos kai kurios eteros (probably adapted from Philo’s deuteros theos) a spurious and unstable twist, that was only “stabilized” and remedied, ultimately, with the fully fledged (co-equal, co-eternal, tri-personal) Trinity. No mystery, just a clumsy patch.

    There would have been another way, that of Marcellus of Ancyra, but unfortunately, is spite of his leading role at Nicea 325, he was gradually excluded.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Miguel writes: “Inasmuch as the creatio ex nihilo is the proper biblical understanding of Creation, why hasn’t the doctrine of the Trinity been developed within the Biblical Religion, before the “Christ event”, and the Hellenistic-Christian musings of the Church Fathers.”

      The Old Testament certainly could not develope a doctrine of the Trinity before the Incarnation. Trinitarian reflection is necessarily reflection upon Jesus Christ and the Spirit in whose life and power he lived and ministered. It was only after the resurrection that the disciples were able to “see” Jesus in the Scriptures (see John Behr, The Mystery of Christ).

      What about the New Testament writers? We certainly find the seeds of the doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament. I won’t quote verses, because you are as familiar with them as I am, I’m sure. Most importantly, what we find in the New Testament are triadic patterns of thought and the Christological interpretation of divinity. Does that count as doctrine? I suppose it all depends on how what defines “doctrine.”

      Doctrine gets formulated in the history of the Church as need requires, typically prompted by heterodox teaching. As John Henry Newman wrote: “The refutation and remedy of errors cannot precede their rise.” Until Arius and Eunomius pressed their subordinationist views as hard as they did, the Church did not need to dogmatize on the subject. Such is the nature of doctrinal development.

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      • The Old Testament certainly could not develope a doctrine of the Trinity before the Incarnation.

        Thank you for confirming implicitly that you reject the interpretation of OT theophanies as christophanies.

        Doctrine gets formulated in the history of the Church as need requires, typically prompted by heterodox teaching.

        I agree. It is disastrous that Justin Martyr’s theos kai kyrios etheros was not immediately recognized for what it was: incompatible with Biblical Monotheism.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Miguel, you are reading into my words something I did not say. Please do not do that.

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          • Which comment? First, second or both?

            If first, the recognition of the OT theophanies as manifestations of a distinct “person” in/of God certainly would have allowed the development of a doctrine of the Trinity.

            If second, the thought is mine. I consider Justin Martyr’s theos kai kyrios etheros incompatible with Biblical Monotheism. Don’t you?

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            The first comment regarding theophanies/christophanies. The critical point is this: trinitarian reflection begins with Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Until he “enters” history, there can be no trinitarian reflection–not because God is not Trinity but because until he becomes incarnate his Trinitarian identity is unrevealed. But once God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, once he has made himself known as Father, Son, and Spirit, then we may begin to engage in Trinitarian reflection. At this point, but only at this point, we may and must begin to read the Old Testament Scriptures as revelation of the Trinity. Theophany becomes Christophany.

            This is how the apostolic Christians read the Scriptures after Pascha. Remember the story of Christ’s appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Christ himself opened the Scriptures to them and showed them that all had been prefigured and prophesied. From Pascha on, Jesus becomes the hermeneutic of Scripture.

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  5. Thomas says:

    The anxiety of “Biblical” unitarians at the historical influence Greek culture had on the early Church is something I just cannot share. The Old Testament is, after all, loaded with Mesopotamian mythology. But for all the pagan influences in the Old Testament, we don’t discard it for that reason.

    Even the possibility that the transition from an ethnic henotheism to a universalist monotheism was in large part due to Persian influence–or else the socio-political demands that attended the Babylonian captivity and its aftermath–doesn’t seem any more or less problematic than the influence of Greek and Roman cultures on the New Testament and the early Christian era. It is just evidence that we don’t believe in the something as silly as the book of Mormon.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thomas, I agree. Let me add this: I believe that the attempt to return to the good ole New Testament days of pre-Greek Christianity is impossible and naive. Impossible, because to one degree or another, everyone was Hellenized, either in a positive way, by appropriation, or in a negative way, by reaction and dissent. Naive, because God does not wish us to become Second Temple Jewish Christians. That would be play-acting. He wishes us to become followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st century.

      I also do not believe there is anything called “New Testament theology.” There is simply theology as Christian believers reflect on the Scriptures in light of the pressing questions and concerns of their life in the present moment. Hence the reality and importance of Holy Tradition.

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    • The Old Testament is, after all, loaded with Mesopotamian mythology.

      True. And non-fundamentalists take Genesis 1-11 with a handful of salt. 🙂

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  6. At this point, but only at this point, we may and must begin to read the Old Testament Scriptures as revelation of the Trinity. Theophany becomes Christophany.

    Sorry, Aidan, but your “logic” is rather wonky. Just an example. Who appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush? The Father? The Son, The Holy Spirit? The whole threesome? Maybe the Lord Jesus Christ, with the Virgin Mary (this is NOT a bad joke, I have seen a beautiful painting in the South of France)?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I happily concede and affirm the wonkiness of the Orthodox faith! 🙂

      If you ask a Jew who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he will answer: YHWH.

      If you ask a Christian, he will answer: Jesus. Who else could it be? Jesus is the mediator of God’s self-revelation throughout human history. That’s the whole point of the Nicene Creed: Jesus Christ is homoousios with the Father. As our Lord declared: “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

      If you want to understand catholic Christianity, you need to get your head around the Christian logic.

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  7. [1] If you ask a Jew who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he will answer: YHWH. [2] If you ask a Christian, he will answer: Jesus.

    Sorry, Aidan, but your “logic” is even more wonky than I thought. If you had said, “the Son”, I would have disagreed, because I deny there is any Biblical support for that claim, but I would have understood that your trinitarianism leads you there. I only mentioned Jesus Chris (in that painting in Aix-en-Provence, he was sitting on the Virgin’s lap – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Nicolas_Froment_-_The_Burning_Bush_-_WGA08306.jpg) as a bait. My logic – Aristotelian logic, the only one human mind is capable of, without falling in mere gibberish – tells me that if [1] and [2] are both valid, then the only possible consequence is that Jesus = YHWH, in the sense of “numerically identical”, as they like to say. But Jesus is “perfect God and perfect man”, “one person in two natures”, so there is a manifest contradiction. Sorry, try it again, Aidan 🙂

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Miguel, I do not think you have identified a flaw in my logic, but let’s put it to the test. Put together some kind of syllogism for all of us to see.

      But I do think we are at an impasse, because I suspect we have very different understandings of divine transcendence and divine eternity and therefore very different understandings of how theological language works. Hence what appears to you to be illogical in the Orthodox faith is not at all illogical to Orthodox believers. We are playing, if you will, in two different ball parks. Christians are just as capable of putting together a logical argument as anyone else–just take a look at the Summa Theologiae–but we also know the points where human logic necessarily breaks down.

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      • Aidan, a preliminary remark, which is not to do with logic, but with doctrine. I seriously doubt how many Christians (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) would follow you in your claim that “who appeared to Moses in the burning bush was Jesus”. Are you seriously suggesting that (NOT the “Son”, BUT) the human-divine Jesus, unbeknown to Moses, existed even before he was conceived in the Womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

        As for logic in general, I would leave the Summa Theologiae alone, if I were you. Gregory Palamas’ ideas weren’t exactly in tune with those of Thomas Aquinas …

        As for the claim that there are “points where human logic necessarily breaks down”, I fully agree, but “human logic” is the only one that human reason is endowed with and, as human reason is a gift of God, in fact part of what is our likeness with God, with should treat it as precious. It is not honest to affirm that human logic is limited (and it is), and to challenge me to “put together some kind of syllogism for all of us to see”.

        Anyway, as for the logic in this case:

        [1] The one who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is YHWH

        [2] The one who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is Jesus

        [3] Therefore Jesus is identical to YHWH [from 1,2]

        [4] YHWH is purely and simply God [Deut 6:4]

        [5] Jesus is both God and man [no need for references]

        [6] Therefore Jesus is NOT identical to YHWH [from 4,5]

        [7] There is a contradiction [between 3 and 6]

        Q.E.D.

        Enjoy yourself 🙂

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Thanks for laying out your argument. I’m busy this weekend, but hopefully others will comment. I’ll check in on the discussion from time to time. I simply note that what you have offered is a variation of Dale Tuggy’s God is one-self argument. I hope to write a post on his argument sometime next week.

          P.S. Given that I’ve been reading a lot of Aquinas over the past two years, I’m not about to stop now. St Gregory approves. I understand that he and St Thomas go out to dinner once a week now and argue about the precise nature of the theosis in which they both participate.

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          • I understand that he [Gregory Palamas] and St Thomas go out to dinner once a week now and argue about the precise nature of the theosis in which they both participate.

            You’d better check how different is their choice of menu, when it comes to the created vs uncreated light of the Transfiguration 😉

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Possibly tangential, but Charles Williams (with, I think, conscious debts to Aquinas as he understood him), imaginatively presented ordinary human persons from later in time interacting with ordinary human persons earlier in time, and seemed to think this was possible given the natures of time and eternity and their interrelations. (Consider, for a worked-out, striking example, the novel, Descent into Hell.)

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        • Ed says:

          Dear Miguel,
          The argument you’ve made seems to rely on the use of equivocal terms. So, for instance, the first proposition, “The one who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is YHWH.” is unclear as to its meaning. Is the word YHWH intended to refer to the person or to the nature? If it refers to the nature, then there is no contradiction in stating that the one who appeared in the burning bush is YHWH and, at the same time, also Jesus. It is no different than if I were to say, on the one hand, “the one who is writing this response to Miguel is human,” and on the other, “the one who is writing this response to Miguel is Ed.” Both statements are true and do not involve the strict identity “human = Ed” (if they did, then neither Miguel, nor Father Aidan, nor anyone else, for that matter, would be human).
          If, on the other hand, the use of the word YHWH is intended to refer to the person, then, the trinitarian can only reply that it is not strictly correct to refer to YHWH as a person when He is, in fact, tri-personal: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To state, as Father Aidan did, that the one (in the sense of person) who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is Jesus, is to state nothing other than that it was the Logos (the second person of the Blessed Trinity) who appeared there. The fact that Jesus is both God and man is of no consequence, since, in accord with Chalcedonian orthodoxy, Jesus is none other than the Divine Person of the Logos who has taken on a human nature.

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          • Dear Ed

            … the first proposition, “The one who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is YHWH.” is unclear as to its meaning.

            First, I did not invent the proposition, I simply derived it, without altering its sense, from what Aidan had written.

            Second, and most important, YHWH is not unclear or equivocal. Unlike the therm “God” (theos, elohim) it is NOT a noun to refer to a category of individuals, BUT a proper name, as YHWH makes perfectly clear, speaking to Moses (see Exodus 6:3).

            To state, as Father Aidan did, that the one (in the sense of person) who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is Jesus, is to state nothing other than that it was the Logos (the second person of the Blessed Trinity) who appeared there.

            Wrong. According to orthodox Christianity (which includes both Trinity and Incarnation), the Logos, being the “second person of the Trinity”, is purely and simply God. Jesus, who is the Incarnation of the Logos, is God and man.

            The fact that Jesus is both God and man is of no consequence, since, in accord with Chalcedonian orthodoxy, Jesus is none other than the Divine Person of the Logos who has taken on a human nature.

            To answer this, I will redirect you to my post Sorry: you cannot … Have Your Trinity & INCARNATION, Too!, at my blog Strict Monotheism.

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  8. … what you have offered is a variation of Dale Tuggy’s God is one-self argument. I hope to write a post on his argument sometime next week.

    I do not like the use of the word “self” – although I am fully aware it is a fav of Tuggy’s – when applied to personal beings, where the appropriate word is, purely and simply, “person”. And I do, indeed, affirm that the One and Only God is not only personal, but ONE person. Jesus Christ is certainly a person, but not a split second before the logos (an essential, eternal attribute of the One and Only God) became incarnated (sarx egeneto) in the Womb of the BVM. As for the Holy Spirit (the other essential, eternal attribute of the One and Only God), it is “incarnated” in the Church, since the Pentecost. On the last day, when the tares will be destroyed, the Church Triumphant will be the perfect “incarnation” of the Holy Spirit. Another way of putting all this is that the Trinity is NOT a protological reality, but an eschatological one. Does this imply that God “articulates” himself? Indeed. As I do not subscribe to classical theism, I have no problem whatsoever with this thought.

    I understand that he [Gregory Palamas] and St Thomas go out to dinner once a week now and argue about the precise nature of the theosis in which they both participate.

    You’d better check how different is their choice of menu, when it comes to the created vs uncreated light of the Transfiguration 😉

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  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    A couple points – not having reread your ‘ex nihilo’ series:

    The (Vulgate) Latin of 2 Maccabees 7:28 is “ut aspicias ad caelum et terram, et ad omnia quae in eis sunt : et intelligas, quia ex nihilo fecit illa Deus, et hominum genus” (I haven’t tried to check for the Vetus, if any, or paused to dig out my Rahlfs’ LXX, but 2 Macc. is generally presumed pre-Incarnation, so this is – presumably? – possibly? – plausibly? – a Jewish expression of ‘creation ex nihilo’).

    Demiurge is also a Biblical term: Hebrews 11:10, “demiourgos ho theos”.

    Plato is subject to lots of competing interpretations, etc. Is there any decisive reason to think he thought ‘the Good Beyond Being’ necessarily presumed Being must actually ‘Be’ and could not have been brought into being, or not?

    Something I’d like to see some recommended reading on, or discussion of, (from/by whomever-all) is the history of Christian assumption that the Trinity was known as such by (some of) the Old Testament Patriarchs, etc. D.P. Walker (for example) is quite interesting about this in the Renaissance, but what about, e.g., St. Basil the Great (and who-all else, how – inescapably? – plausibly? – possibly? – earlier)?

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  10. Ed says:

    “First, I did not invent the proposition, I simply derived it, without altering its sense, from what Aidan had written.”

    Once you use a proposition in the context of an argument, you must take responsibility for its meaning in that argument. I frankly doubt that you understand the proposition in the same sense intended by Father Aidan.

    “Second, and most important, YHWH is not unclear or equivocal. Unlike the therm “God” (theos, elohim) it is NOT a noun to refer to a category of individuals, BUT a proper name, as YHWH makes perfectly clear, speaking to Moses”

    The only way your argument could make any sense at all is if you think of the name YHWH as being a proper name in the same sense as the names Ed or Miguel. This is simply not the case. The names Ed and Miguel are not, strictly speaking, proper names at all. There have been and are many other people in the world who share those names. A truly proper name, according to Jewish thinking, is one that points to the essence or nature of a thing. And this is what the name YHWH does. It refers to that whose essence it is to exist.
    Given this, I would rephrase your first proposition as follows: “the one who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is that whose essence it is to exist.” In trinitarian thought, the Logos possesses that essence. And since Jesus is the Logos incarnate, He also possesses that essence. The fact that He also has a human nature is neither here nor there. Of course, when Father Aidan said that, for Christians, it was Jesus who appeared in the burning bush, he was not implying that the incarnate Logos appeared there as incarnate, but rather that the person of Jesus, i.e., the Logos appeared there. This is a normal way of speaking that we all use from time to time. For instance, if I say that the President of the United States was the host of a reality TV show, no one will object that this is not the case, since he wasn’t the President when he hosted the TV show.

    A simple analysis of your argument reveals it to be a formally invalid one. Let’s just look at the first argument you make. It has the following form: 1) A is B, 2) A is C, and 3) therefore B is identically C. A simple Venn diagram will show you that this is formally invalid. B need not be identical to C. All that need be implied is that B and C share something in common and that A is included in that common space.

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    • IOW,

      a. I have to take responsibility for a statement that Aidan made, unproblematically, but, in case this is not enough …
      b. The name YHWH does not identify the God of Israel, but, in case this is not enough …
      c. My argument is formally invalid, but, in case this is not enough …

      … listen, mate, I have tried to be patient with you: no more. AFAIAC, you can go about crowing that you have won the case 😦

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  11. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I don’t see why YHWH (or however one wishes to transliterate the Tetragrammaton) cannot unequivocally name the Trinity: YHWH the Father, YHWH the Son, YHWH the Spirit, One God in Three Persons.

    I don’t know that we know enough to say Which Person(s) was/were ‘Autophonously’ revealed (so to put it) to Moses.

    Insofar as the Son was involved, I would be inclined to speak of Huiophany or Logophany rather than Christophany or Jesophany, but don’t know what has been regularly done, when.

    Since this took place before the Incarnation, if one referred to the Son/Logos as Jesus then, I would take it to mean the Son/Logos Who in the fulness of time became Incarnate as the Man, Jesus.

    I’m not satisfied I understand the interrelations of time-space and ‘eternity’ to know how (to speak Chalcedonianly) the Enhypostasized Humanitas of Jesus Christ Our True God once Incarnate could (or, conceivably, could not) relate to earlier, pre-Incarnation times.

    In the post, “Sorry: you cannot … Have Your Trinity & INCARNATION, Too!”, I cannot see why the two options are asserted to be the only two possibilities.

    In spatio-temporal-ktesiological (so to put it) terms, there is an obvious sense in which one can say, ‘there was a period of time when the Son was not yet Incarnate’.

    As the Unfallen Creation was “(very) good”, and the Humanitas of the Man Jesus is Unfallen, there would seem ways in which one could speak of the Divinity of the Son being ‘creaturely enriched’ by the Incarnation, and the Divinity of the Trinity being ‘creaturely enriched’ by the Son’s having become Incarnate, but that does not obviously necessarily entail “God’s immutability” per se is questioned, or say anything about the nature of the Divinization of the Unfallen Humanitas of the Man, Jesus.

    If God need not Create, Sustain, become Filially Incarnate, there must be a proper, lucid way to talk about the distinction of God being Creator, Sustainer, and Filially Incarnate (and therewith Divinizing), but I am not sure what that way is.

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