Trinity, Logic, and the Transcendence of Transcendence

Philosopher Dale Tuggy believes he has a decisive proof against the coherency of the catholic doctrine of the Trinity. It goes like this: God is a personal being, i.e., a self. By “self” is understood a being who is conscious, intelligent, and capable of communication and friendship. Tuggy suggests that “this concept of a personal being is built into the human species, and is found without exception in all times and places in human history” (What is the Trinity?, p. 63). But the Trinitarian doctrine also claims that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three “persons.” Are we to understand this claim to mean that God is actually a collection of three selves? Orthodox theologians have traditionally said no, for the positing of three selves would mean three gods, which, as Tuggy remarks, is “two too many” (p. 66). Yet in the New Testament we see the man Jesus and the God of Israel, whom he calls Father, interacting “as person to person, self to self. Thus Jesus prays to his Father, and sometimes, the Father speaks about or to Jesus. This seems to presuppose that both Father and Son are selves. And in a few passages, ‘the Holy Spirit’ is said to speak, intercede, testify, or to grieve—things which arguably only selves can do” (p. 64). The contradiction is manifest. Either God is one divine self (thus excluding Jesus and the Spirit), or God is a community of divine selves (thus implying polytheism). We are thus caught on the two horns of a dilemma: “Either you give up real interpersonal friendship between the ‘Persons,’ or you compromise monotheism, with three ‘fully divine’ selves, each seemingly a god” (p. 57). QED.

The above argument can be formulated as a formal deductive argument, but not being a logician I’m reluctant to attempt it. (My blogs are sufficient embarrassment, thank you very much.) Tuggy does not lay out the formal argument in his book, but fortunately he does so in his essay “Divine Deception, Identity, and Social Trinitarianism“:

Let y name Yahweh, the one true God presented in the Old Testament. Let g be the God of the New Testament. Let f be the Father of Jesus Christ, and s and h be the Son of God and the Holy Spirit, respectively.

(1) y = g

(2) g = f

(3) y = f

(4) f ≠ (f,s,h)

(5) g ≠ (f,s,h)

(6) y ≠ (f,s,h)

In his Oxford handbook, “Metaphysics and Logic of the Trinity,” Tuggy presents an even niftier argument, logic symbols and all:


Logical Translation

Semi-Logical Translation


1. The Father is divine.


The Father is divine.


2. The Son is divine.


The Son is divine.


3. The Father and Son have differed.

ƎP ((Pf ^ ¬Ps) v (¬Pf ^ Ps))

There’s some feature P such that either the Father has had it while the Son lacked it, or vice versa.


4. Things which have differed are non-identical.

∀x∀y(ƎP ((Px ^ ¬Py) v (¬Px ^ Py)) → ¬(x = y))

For any x and any y, if they’ve differed in some way, then x and y are distinct (non-identical).


5. Therefore, Father and Son are non-identical.

¬ (f = s)

It is not the case that the Father just is the Son.

3, 4

6. For any two (or “two”) things, they are the same god only if each is divine, and they are identical.

∀x∀y (S(x,y) → (Dx ^ Dy ^ x = y))

For any x and any y, if x and y are the same god, then x is divine, y is divine, and x just is y.


7. Therefore, the Father and Son are not the same god.


It’s not the case that Father and Son are the same god.

5, 6

8. Therefore, there are at least two gods.

Ǝx (Dx ^ Ǝy (Dy ^ ¬(y = x)))

There is some x which is divine, and there is some y which is divine, and x and y are not numerically the same.

1, 2, 7

9. There is exactly one god.

Ǝx (Dx ^ ¬Ǝy (Dy ^ ¬(y = x)))

There’s some x which is divine, and there is no y which is divine and distinct from x.


10. But this is contradictory.

8, 9

11. Therefore, one or more of these is false: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9.

¬1 v ¬2 v ¬3 v ¬4 v ¬6 v ¬9


Tuggy assures us that the argument is valid, and I take him at his word (plus I’m sure that a symbolic logic calculator would confirm its validity). It also seems to be sound—on its own terms. If I were a rationalist committed to the univocity of being, I’d pack up my bags and leave the Christian religion. None of this new-fangled “biblical Unitarianism” for me. As Robert W. Jenson has noted, if the Church got the dogma of the Trinity wrong in the fourth century, then at that moment it ceased to be the community of the gospel. There’s no way for us to go back now and recover the gospel, if there ever was a gospel; there’s no way for us to go back and retrieve God’s original self-revelation, if there ever was an original self-revelation. Such is the consequence of irreversible dogma. The community appointed by God to receive, pass on, and interpret by the Spirit his self-revelation in Christ has, according to Tuggy’s account, been replaced by heretics and idolaters. The unitarian Christian faithful and their congregations perished ages ago. All that is left of their ancient religion are lifeless texts and artifacts. We can no more replicate the faith that gave them meaning than we can replicate the faith of the Gnostics. It would all be play-acting, like trying to recreate Druidic religion by dancing around the pillars of Stonehenge on Samhain. Hence I’ll take either Judaism or agnosticism any day of the week over a newly minted religion. Judaism at least has a legitimate claim to be the historical bearer of monotheistic revelation, and agnosticism at least doesn’t dubiously assert that we can figure out the apostolic revelation through an historical-critical reading of the Bible. What would be needed is a new prophet speaking in the name and authority of the one God. Dale Tuggy is not a prophet, nor does he pretend to be one. He’s just a sharp philosophical mind. Of course, Muslims believe that God did in fact send such a prophet. His name is Muhammad.

But I’m not abandoning my Christian faith nor leaving the Orthodox Church. How then can I reasonably stay? Am I guilty of irrational thinking and closed-mindedness? That’s always a possibility, but I nevertheless maintain that Tuggy’s philosophical critique against the Trinitarian dogma is only convincing on its own terms. It presupposes ways of thinking about God, divine revelation, Scripture, Church, theological language and doctrine I deem problematic. It most certainly does not touch the apophatic confession of the one Creator, Father, Son, and Spirit, who radically transcends creaturely categories and philosophical constructs. All of my previous articles in this series have led to this point. The “one can’t be three nor three one” argument is unoriginal to Tuggy. In one form or another, it has been advanced by Jewish and Islamic critics of Christianity from very early on (see Tuggy’s historical survey). Nor were the Church Fathers unaware of the logical arguments against the Nicene dogma, having encountered them in the writings of Aetius, Eunomius, and others, yet they were not fazed. They knew that the transcendent Mystery who had captured them in the gospel was a genuine mystery—not a conundrum that might some day be solved by new evidence or deeper intellectual reflection, like an unsolved mathematical problem—but an aporia that will always be aporia, the Holy Mystery. The task before the Fathers was to remain faithful to the revelation that had been traditioned to them in the mysterious life of the Church. It was a matter of faith and humility, not reason. St Augustine spoke for the entire patristic tradition when he wrote: “Si comprehendis, non Deus est,” “If you compre­hend, it is not God” (Sermon 52.16; cf. Sermon 117.5). Within this vision of ineffable Deity, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers proceeded to articulate the consubstantiality and mutual relations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In its sensibility, I suggest, theology is more akin to poetry than to rigorous philosophical analysis. Hence the willingness of the Church Fathers to appropriate philosophical terminology (ousiahypostasis) without providing precise definitions. The conciliar dogmas often have an ad hoc quality to them. It’s easier to state the errors they intended to exclude than to state their positive content. The scholastics later sought to tidy everything up, yet as long as they maintained the analogy of being, God remained free to be God (at least in theory).

Tuggy resists this “retreat” into fideism and mysterianism, which is no surprise. He is after all an analytic philosopher, and if apophaticism is the proper way to grasp the divine transcendence, then the analytic theological project would appear to be undermined at the root. At the very least, it would have to assume a more modest posture. As analytic theologian James N. Anderson writes:

If God is necessarily beyond human comprehension, we shouldn’t be all that surprised to encounter elements of paradox in our thinking and speaking about God. Why should we take for granted that our limited conceptual apparatus is sufficiently refined to allow us to grasp and articulate the metaphysics of the Trinity without any residue of paradox? Christians have commonly viewed the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation as “mysteries”. If the notion of doctrinal mystery is grounded in divine incomprehensibility, it can serve as a defeater-defeater with respect to theological paradox by giving the Christian adequate reason to think that any apparent contradictions in divinely revealed doctrines are merely apparent.  (“Positive Mysterianism Undefeated,” p. 4; cf. Karen Kilby, “Is An Apophatic Trinitarianism Possible?“)

Given his Reformed sola scriptura commitments, Anderson leaves open the possibility that the paradoxical formulation of the doctrine Trinity may be only provisional. Given my orthodox-catholic commitments, I am convinced that the doctrine is intrinsically antinomic, reflecting the incomprehensibility and radical transcendence of the divine essence. The God we meet in Jesus Christ is eternal Mystery, and the more deeply we plumb his Trinitarian depths, the more mysterious he becomes. Karl Rahner writes:

The three mysteries, the Trinity with its two processions, and the two self-communications of God ad extra in a real formal causality corresponding to the two processions, are not ‘intermediate mysteries’. They are not something provisional and deficient in the line of mystery which comes between the perspicuous truths of our natural knowledge and the absolute mystery of God, in so far as he remains incomprehensible in the beatific vision. Nor are they as it were mysteries of the beyond, which lie or lay still further on behind the God who is for us the holy mystery. But they signify the articulation of the one single mystery of God, being the radical form of his one comprehensive mysteriousness, since it has been revealed in Jesus Christ that this absolute and abiding mystery can exist not only in the guise of distant aloofness, but also as absolute proximity to us, through the divine self-communication. The mysteries of Christianity, in the plural, can be then understood as the concrete form of the one mystery, once the presupposition is made—which can however be known only by revelation—that this holy mystery also exists, and can exist, as the mystery in absolute proximity. This of course we only know in so far as this absolute proximity has already always been granted us in the concreteness of the incarnation and grace. … There are these three mysteries in Christianity, no more and no fewer, and the three mysteries affirm the same thing: that God has imparted himself to us through Jesus Christ in his Spirit as he is in himself, so that the inexpressible nameless mystery which reigns in us and over us should be in itself the immediate blessedness of the spirit which knows, and transforms itself into love. (“The Concept of Mystery in Catholic Theology,” Theological Investigations, IV:72-73)

One does not have to be a disciple of Rahner to affirm his fundamental theological assertion. God has not just revealed propositional truths about his Trinitarian being, which we are expected to believe on the basis of biblical and ecclesial authority. The Father has revealed himself in the inhomination of his Son, and by grace and Holy Spirit the baptized have been incorporated into the mystery of his triadic being. This is our existential reality as believers. We live in the Trinity; we share in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The paradoxicality of the doctrine of the Trinity thus points us to the eternal Mystery who is God, without in any way dissolving or flattening the mystery. Vladimir Lossky puts the matter even more strikingly:

The negations which draw attention to the divine incomprehensibility are not prohibitions upon knowledge: apophaticism, so far from being a limitation, enables us to transcend all concepts, every sphere of philosophical speculation. It is a tendency towards an ever-greater plenitude, in which knowledge is transformed into ignorance, the theology of concepts into contemplation, dogmas into experience of ineffable mysteries. It is, moreover, an existential theology involving man’s entire being, which sets him upon the way of union, which obliges him to be changed, to transform his nature that he may attain to the true gnosis which is the contemplation of the Holy Trinity. … If the incomprehensible God reveals Himself as the Holy Trinity, if His incomprehensibility appears as the mystery of the Three Persons and the One Nature, it is the Holy Spirit laying open to our contemplation the fullness of the divine being. This is why, in the Eastern rite, the day of Pentecost is called the festival of the Trinity. This is the absolute stability, the end of all contemplation and of all ascents, and, at the same time, the principle of all theology, primal verity, initial datum from which all thought and all being take their origin. (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pp. 238-239)

To be deified in Christ is to know the Holy Mystery as he gives himself to us, as he eternally is in his inner being. This is the doctrine of the Trinity—not a bunch of dogmatically imposed formulas, and certainly not a philosophical explanation of the internal workings of the triune Godhead, but a doxological, mystical, and holy life offered in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. Apophasis is not merely a matter of conceptual negation but a spiritual path to union with the uncreated Trinity. We must all enter into the cloud of unknowing.

But if the Church did not believe it was solving a metaphysical conundrum of one divine essence and three divine hypostases, what then was it doing when it dogmatically defined the homoousion? It was, I unoriginally suggest, stipulating grammatical rules for the proclama­tion of the gospel and the proper interpretation of the Scriptures: when you speak of God, be sure to follow these prescriptive norms; when you read Scripture, adhere to these hermeneutical rules. I am not proposing a grand scheme of theological grammar, but I have found the grammatical construal of dogma exceptionally useful ever since I read George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine. An example of the regulative function of the homoousion is found in the Contra Arianos of St Athanasius:

On this account and reasonably, having said before, ‘I and the Father are One,’ He added, ‘I in the Father and the Father in Me,’ by way of showing the identity of Godhead and the unity of Essence. For they are one, not as one thing divided into two parts, and these nothing but one, nor as one thing twice named, so that the Same becomes at one time Father, at another His own Son, for this Sabellius holding was judged an heretic. But They are two, because the Father is Father and is not also Son, and the Son is Son and not also Father; but the nature is one; (for the offspring is not unlike its parent, for it is his image), and all that is the Father’s, is the Son’s. Wherefore neither is the Son another God, for He was not procured from without, else were there many, if a godhead be procured foreign from the Father’s; for if the Son be other, as an Offspring, still He is the Same as God; and He and the Father are one in propriety and peculiarity of nature, and in the identity of the one Godhead, as has been said. For the radiance also is light, not second to the sun, nor a different light, nor from participation of it, but a whole and proper offspring of it. And such an offspring is necessarily one light; and no one would say that they are two lights, but sun and radiance two, yet one the light from the sun enlightening in its radiance all things. So also the Godhead of the Son is the Father’s; whence also it is indivisible; and thus there is one God and none other but He. And so, since they are one, and the Godhead itself one, the same things are said of the Son, which are said of the Father, except His being said to be Father. (C. Ar. 3.23; my emphasis)

Grammatical rule #1: attribute to the Son the essential properties of divinity but do not identify him as the Father. The rule can then be expanded: attribute to the Father the essential properties of divinity, but do not call him Son. Ditto for the Spirit, to whom we must also attribute the essential properties.

Grammatical rule #2: distinguish the Trinitarian persons by their unique hypostatic properties and relations: the Father is unbegotten; the Son is begotten by the Father; the Spirit is spirated by the Father.

Grammatical rule #3: distinguish the Father’s eternal generation of the Son and Spirit from his making of the cosmos from out of nothing. The Son and Spirit emanate from his substance; the cosmos issues forth by the divine will.

Understanding the Trinitarian dogma as a set of grammatical rules makes good sense of how dogma in fact works within the life of the catholic community of faith. Throughout the Church’s history, theologians have proposed various construals of the doctrine of the Trinity. None have been beyond criticism, yet as long as they have conformed to the syntactic structure of the language of faith, they have been recognized as falling within the orthodox ambit. Basil of Caesarea need not anathematize Augustine of Hippo; Thomas Aquinas need not declare heretical John of Damascus—nor vice versa. One happy consequence of the grammatical approach: one can be a competent speaker of Trinitarian faith without having ever read a single theology book! People do not achieve fluency by reading grammar manuals but by internalizing the language. After quoting Augustine and Gregory of Nazianzus, Brian Daley comments:

God’s identity is ultimate self-identity, like that of a conscious subject, even while it remains a dynamic, self-giving, internally related identity of three agents who, each and all together, realize God’s being, God’s subjectivity, and God’s unified action in eternally distinct ways. Each of these agents is the unique God!

These passages, like so many others in the classical tradition of Christian speech about the mystery of God, seem to bend the structures of linguistic coherence, to push the limits of normal meaning to the breaking point. What they reveal is that statements about God as one substance and three hypostases are, first of all, boundary statements: statements that mark out, in the name of the community of Christian faith and worship, the limits of what represents biblical and ecclesial faith from what lies outside it. As boundary statements, they are also rules of religious grammar: formal principles for the use of language within the ongoing tradition of the church’s belief. They are summaries of all that Christian faith proclaims about God, about God’s work in Jesus and God’s continuing work through the Spirit in the church, about human salvation and transformation by sharing in their mutual gift of life. Yet even so—perhaps for the very reason that they are not attempts at giving a satisfying explanation of God—their content and meaning remain inexhaustibly rich and provocative, irretrievably beyond what any of us can understand or explain.  (“Foreword” to Retrieving Nicaea by Khaled Anatolios, p. xiii)

Tuggy has little sympathy for the apophatic and grammatical approach I have outlined above. I imagine that many, though perhaps not all, of his fellow analytic philosophers would feel the same way. William Hasker, for example, briefly notes the apophatic tradition in his sophisticated work Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God, yet it does not appear to inform or condition his project. Does not this lack of sympathy demonstrate an alienation from the historic theological tradition? After all, the very same theologians who contributed to the formulation and development of the doctrine of the Trinity were also fully committed to the mysterian vision: their Trinitarian reflections presupposed it and flowed from it. The situation becomes dire in the case of Tuggy. Having ripped the central Trinitarian claims from their transcendental location and transposed them into a univocal key, he then proceeds to pit them one against the other in seemingly irrefutable refutation. But this only works if we forget the original apophatic context of the Nicene dogma, apart from which the dogma cannot be properly understood or practiced. I know that Tuggy is presently working on an academic book on the Trinity. I will be curious to see how it is received by the analytic community. I would imagine that those committed to the classical doctrine will appeal to the paradoxicality of theological statement, along the lines suggested by Anderson; yet what is truly needed is a recovery of the radicality of divine transcendence. Can that happen within the perfect being model of deity? The jury is out.

But what about those those three divine selves with which we began this article? I am sympathetic with what I judge to be one of Tuggy’s principal concerns—namely, the integrity of the biblical narrative. In this narrative we see God and Jesus, and perhaps the Spirit, interacting as if they were distinct persons. Trinitarians cannot simply dismiss this dimension of the narrative, as the doctrine of the Trinity insists that the narrative of Jesus and his Father and their Spirit discloses God as he exists in his eternal being. God is as he reveals himself to be. Hence the famous maxim of Karl Rahner: the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity, and the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity. We may not be willing to push the maxim as hard as Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg are willing to do, but the maxim must be respected. The biblical story reveals and manifests God. Here is the evangelical significance of the homoousion acclaimed by the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. Thus Thomas F. Torrance:

The meanings of οὐσία and ὑπόστασις, λόγος and ενέργεια, underwent a radical change through the use to which they were put in the hermeneutical and theological activity of the Church. They have to be understood in the light of the evangelical message to which they were adapted and through which they were reminted, that is, in light of the fact that in Jesus Christ God who is the creative Source of all being has become man, one with us, in such a way as to give us access through the Son and in the Spirit to the Father as he is in himself. The όμοούσιοϛ τω Πάτρι was revolutionary and decisive: it expressed the fact that what God is ‘toward us’ and ‘in the midst of us’ in and through the Word made flesh, he really is in himself; that he is in the internal relations of his transcendent being the very same Father, Son and Holy Spirit that he is in his revealing and saving activity in time and space toward mankind. (The Trinitarian Faith, p. 130)

Besides this truly wondrous and preachable news, the logical objections advanced by Tuggy against the Trinitarian doctrine pale in significance. Nicaea triumphed in the Church not because it succumbed to imperial coercion, but because it was captured by the vision and power of the gospel!

But how then are we to understand the interpersonal relationships between God and Jesus and the Spirit? If we identify each as equally divine, how do we not have three divine selves and thus three gods? Are we truly confronted with a dilemma between monotheism and tritheism? Unfortunately, this concluding article in my review of What is the Trinity? is already too long. They key, though, is to recognize the analogical nature of our positive concepts when speaking of the infinite God. Khaled Anatolios explains:

In this case as with all theological language, the dialectics of analogical predication must govern our understanding and discussion. Whenever the same language is applied to God and creation, its signification is realized only through a dialectic of likeness and difference. Difference does not negate likeness, and likeness does not cancel out difference. So we can simply take it as a foregone conclusion that if we understand trinitarian persona and trinitarian communion as simply equivalent to the human realities of these predications, we will end up with tritheism. But the question is not whether the relations and distinctions and self-subsistence of the trinitarian hypostases are equivalent to the human counterparts of these realities, but rather whether there is a continuity within difference that is revelatory of who God is and how God is related to the world and how we are meant to be related to each other in God. (“Personhood, Communion, and the Trinity in Some Patristic Texts,” in The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church, pp. 150-151; see my article “Perichoretic Trinity“)

An analogical reading of the Scriptures requires, however, a deeper comprehension of the absolute uniqueness and difference of the Creator—the transcendence of Transcendence.

(Return to first article)

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22 Responses to Trinity, Logic, and the Transcendence of Transcendence

  1. Question The Trinity says:

    Please help me comprehend your understanding of God.

    It sounds like you believe that the one God, the Trinity, is an essence (i.e. list of attributes?) who is a divine self with a will and bears the personal proper name YHWH. Within this self are three non-self persons that also bear the personal proper name YHWH. These three non-selfs are distinct, but each bear the name YHWH.

    Is this correct?

    If yes, how does this not result in modalism? I think it does and argue such here:

    The distinctions, even if eternal, are distinctions of one self — YHWH. Processions and modes could very well be synonymous right? Self and person seem synonymous too.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      QTT, I hope I have not attempted to advance a “theory” of the Most Holy Trinity in this review–if anything, just the opposite. The divine Mystery cannot be analyzed in scholastic fashion, though we can specify the boundaries of the orthodox Trinitarian faith. Modalism would be one such boundary; tritheism another. Beyond that, it’s all praise and prayer and service. We worship the Father through the incarnate and risen Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in the power and life of the Holy Spirit poured down on the Church on Pentecost.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Question The Trinity says:

        Would you clarify the difference between self and person?

        It seems like you want to say God is a self made of three persons.


        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Given my apophatic commitments, do you really think that I want to say that “God is a self made of three persons”? 🙂

          I’m probably more comfortable saying something like: in the economy of salvation the on God has presented himself in three mutually-related identities (Father, Son, and Spirit), and these identities constitute the divine unity—or something like that. But I generally stay away from the language of personhood and selfhood, though I do agree with Anatolios that such language is probably unavoidable, given the dynamics of the biblical narrative. Remember that the Nicene terminology of ousia and hypostasis has nothing to do with what we would today call personhood. I see these words as apophatic and heuristic, linguistic place-holders that direct us into the mystery of the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.


          • Question The Trinity says:

            Why are you more comfortable saying that God reavealed “himself” than stating God is a self?

            The grammatical rules outlined use words not explicitly stated in Scripture. I do not believe this is an issue in and of itself, but words like essential attributes and substance must be defined.

            It seems like the Scriptural “must haves” to identify the God of Israel vs. other gods is not simply a list of attributes, but the possession of the divine name YHWH.

            The personal proper name YHWH seems unfit (given its meaning) for the Trinity because the Trinity is not an “I/he”.


          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            “Why are you more comfortable saying that God reavealed “himself” than stating God is a self?”

            “Himself” is a pronoun—hence it has no meaning apart from its referent.

            I have no problem describing God as a self or as a person, as long as one immediately qualifies the statement as analogical or perhaps even metaphorical. Consider, every conscious, thinking, feeling self you know is an embodied, corporeal, temporal being; yet somehow we think we can easily think & talk about selves apart from corporeality and temporality.

            Now consider what is involved in projecting consciousness, rationality, emotions, personhood upon the infinite, incorproreal, and eternal deity. Do we really know what personhood means for God? That is the point of analogy–to remind us that we really do not know what we are talking about!

            Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Regarding YHWH, if it is rightly regarded as a proper name, then I tend to think that it has been effectively replaced in the New Covenant by the triple Name into which believers in Christ are baptized: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this triple Name that structures the life and prayer of the Church.

      Of course, our exegetical and reflections will not stop there. An long-standing exegetical tradition in the Church has reflected on the “I AM” and Jesus claims the “I AM” to himself. If I recall correctly, St Gregory of Nazianzus identifies the “I AM” with the divine nature, but I’d have to confirm that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Question The Trinity says:

        Do you believe YHWH is a proper name?

        If yes, how is a proper name that serves as a “name forever” and “memorial name to all generations” be replaced?

        If Jesus simply is the self named YHWH, and there is only one self YHWH, this sounds like modalism.

        Regarding covenants, is a covenant between two persons? If YHWH made the first covenant with Abraham, who makes the new covenant?


  2. William Witt says:

    I’ve just given this a quick reading, but it seems to me that the distinction between ousia and hypostasis (Eastern) or substance/essence and person (Western) and the notion of person as relation and neither substance nor accident were introduced to avoid precisely the kind of dilemma that Tuggy poses.

    The Father is divine and the Son is divine. That is, both Father and Son share the same ousia or substance.

    The Father and the Son differ, but in regard to person, not substance. The Father is not the Son and neither is the Holy Spirit. They are distinguished in terms of relations or origin, but not of substance. (Relations are neither substances nor accidents). The single substance is not something in addition to the relations of origin; nor is it something lying behind the relations of origin. Rather, the relations of origin between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simply are the one God, and so form the one substance.

    Bernard Lonergan somewhere described this in terms of the distinctions between “who” and “what.” Person answers to the question “who?” Substance answers to the question “what?” How many “whats” are there in God? (One). How many “whos” are there in God? (Three). How many “whos” are there in Jesus Christ? (One). How many “whats” are there in Jesus Christ? (Two).

    Liked by 3 people

  3. apoloniolatariii says:

    I would reject premises 4 and 6. I haven’t bought the book so I don’t know how he justifies them. The problem is that there are too many things to unfold here, such as the relationship between metaphysics and logic. If logic depends on metaphysics, then we should have a logic that would allow identity-difference. So if the dogma of the Trinity is true, then our logic should reflect a logic of identity that should fit that. In other words, logic is not neutral, but presupposes a metaphysical worldview. So, for example, if it is true that I exist contingently, then we need to have a logic that would fit to that and reject any principle that would allow that I exist necessarily (like the Barcan Formula, argued by Timothy Williamson). The problem is having a metaphysics that allows concepts like substance, personhood, relationship, event, etc to be translated to a logic. Florensky, for example, rejects modern logical principles because it does not express the true nature of love.

    Plus, identity is such a difficult metaphysical topic that I am doubtful of any strict logical axiom. This does not mean that we should reject logic outright, but must have a metaphysical structure first. The principle of contradiction, for example, should account for analogy of being (Przywara).

    As for YHWH being a proper name, any exegete will tell you that what God told Moses is actually a paradox: I am who am is not even a name. It is a presence, but not a name. It is a closeness and distance at the same time, a revelation and a hiddenness at the same time (which is really what love entails, since mystery, and therefore surprise, is part of love). What it does is show that God is transcendent and immanent at the same time. It is like saying God is being or esse. Esse is not a property that attaches to an existing thing. So when we speak of God as being, it is an artful expression that reveals the mystery of God.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      God cannot be properly named for he is not an object, neither a being among beings. Let us give thanks.


    • Question The Trinity says:

      if YHWH is not a name, why does the one speaking to Moses say it is his name forever?


      • apoloniolatariii says:

        Simple: to show that no one can ever possess or have dominion over God. So if YHWH is not a name but indicates a presence that no one can possess, to say that it is his name forever means that He will always be a transcendent presence (immanence) that no one can manipulate or have dominion over. That was the whole point of the paradox. Just like “being” is used as a predicate even though it is not a thing or a property to be attached to a thing. It’s a play on words to convey the mystery of God.

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  4. Tuggy is not making a distinction between person and nature. There is nothing illogical w saying there are 7 billion human persons that are consubstantial in human one nature/ousia/substance.

    If we said 3 ousia and 1 ousia, then that’s illogical. But we don’t.


    • Ed says:

      I wholly agree with you and I would go a bit further in the way of explaining the analogy. Since matter is included in the definition of human nature, human generation will necessarily produce a distinct material being. One cannot assume, as Tuggy seems to do, that the same logic applies in the case of a being that is simple. So, while the Father/Son relationship amongst humans implies two distinct men, this is not due to the Father/Son relationship as such but rather to the specific composite character of human nature. The simplicity of God, however, allows for a real Father/Son relationship within the Godhead without the production of two distinct gods. The same goes for the relationship of Father and Son to the Holy Spirit.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        And thus the gaping abyss of dissimilarity opens up before us: for somehow plurality in divine persons does not equate to a plurality of divisible, complementary instances of a nature. Such mystery may only be approached by analogy: “like what we know, yet not like it at all.” The mystery constrains us to hold the “yes” and the “no” together, while never arriving and always pointing to ever opening horizon yonder.

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  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Bill Vallicella has brought to my attention that a syllogism is restricted to two premises. I used to know that. Anyway, I have deleted the word and replaced it with the word “argument.” I hope that passes muster. 🙂


  6. RVW says:

    God being beyond all created categories, yet “the immanent trinity is the economic trinity” seem to be at variance. My reading of Fr. John Romanides suggests that this is why he so vehemently rejects Rahner and the “analogy of being.” However, I think there is a way here to have cake and eat it.

    God’s self-revelation as Trinity in the economy is, if I understand Palamas correctly, a revelation of His uncreated energies/actions, but mediated to us (necessarily) through created means (the first verses of 1 John come to mind). So, we are receiving true revelation of God, condescended to our nature which cannot in any way, shape, or form conceive of or circumscribe God. In His revelation of Himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit, He truly signifies what He is, but at the same time is beyond any of our attempts to understand, explain, systematize, and codify that truth. It is only as we engage in what St Gregory of Nyssa terms epektasis (or C.S. Lewis calls “farther in and further up”), that will will begin to grasp God — but given that we remain, even in the eschaton, creatures, all our knowing will become like unknowing, all our knowledge like ignorance, yet at the same time, it will be true, appropriate, and delightful communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit.

    At any rate, thanks for a great series of articles.



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