Tuesday, January 04, 2005

From the Mail: Paleface on De Trinitate

Paleface writes by e-mail:

I am enthralled by your discussion on the Holy Trinity. I am the rankest of rank amateurs when it comes to this, but I can't resist jumping in, surely to make a fool of myself. We know the Church teaches God is one in substance, three in persons. You raise several objections to this, of which I note (fittingly) three.

BV: Indeed, it is only fitting that a trinity of objections should elicit a trinity of responses. And I am glad you are enjoying the discussion.

B1) "For there to be exactly one God, God has to be an individual in His own right."

B2) "God is tripersonal, while the Father is not. Therefore, by the Indiscernibility of Identicals (or, if you will, its contrapositive, the Discernibility of the Diverse), God is not identical to the Father. But God is identical to the Father. For there is only one God."

B3) "God is a purely spiritual substance, a unity of consciousness/self-consciousness. God is a mind, not a collection of minds. Nor is God a nonmental support of three distinct minds. If God is a mind, how can God not be a person?"

My responses:

P 1) God is not an individual, He is a unity of three persons in one substance. He exists in unius Trinitatae substantiae -- the substance of His being is Trinitarian or yields (by a natural or necessary process -- see Aquinas ST I-I Q41 A2) three persons, from eternity, world without end!

BV: You are bringing in the separate question of the procession of Persons which we should leave to one side for now. For example, does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son (filioque), or from the Father alone? (This is the point of doctrine that drove the Great Schism between the Roman church and Eastern Orthodoxy.) This is a secondary question compared to the question of how to make sense out of the three-in-one.

Are you saying that God is not an individual because He is a substance? What do you mean by 'substance'? Substance, substantia, in one sense means substratum (hypostasis, that which stands under or supports, or else hypokeimenon, that which is placed under). If that is what you mean, then there seems to be little difference between saying that God is an individual and saying that God is a substance.

P2) God is not identical to the Father -- the Father is God in substance, the Father in persona. Ditto for the other divine persons, who share an identity or unity in substance, not persons. There is one divine substance, three divine persons -- when we say there is one God, we refer to the substance of God and not the persons of God; cf. Augustine, De. Trin., v. 4, 5: "everything which is said of God, is said of Him as regards either His substance, or relation [in persons]". We cannot say God is one when referring to his persons . . .

BV: It seems that what you are doing is simply repeating the classical formulas. The question, however, is whether a precise logically coherent sense can be attached to them. The problem is to reconcile the unity of God with the numerical distinctness of Persons. God cannot be a collection of the Persons on pain of tritheism. It is perhaps self-evident that the unity of God cannot be the unity of a set or a mereological sum or an aggregate. Given any three items there is the set consisting of them. Thus me, my cat, and the Eiffel tower form a set. But there is no real unity binding together these three items. The unity of God cannot be loose and extrinsic like that.

It is also clear, I think, that the requisite unity cannot be secured nominalistically by application of a common name. Similarly, the unity cannot be nailed down by an Aristotelian secondary substance (deutero ousia) or essence. Let me explain. Someone might think to interpret the identity claim

The Father is God

in which the the 'is' expresses identity, as a predication, to wit

The Father is divine

where the 'is' expresses predication and not identity. One could then say that the secondary substance divinity, which is exemplified by the F, S, and HS, is what secures their identity. In this sense, the three persons could be said to be consubstantial. But how could the unity of God be the unity of a secondary substance? This suggestion won't work because it allows there to be three gods. For if you say that the F is divine or a god, and the S is divine or a god, and the HS is divine or a god, then you are committed to tritheism.

To block this outcome and secure the divine unity, one must interpret 'The Father is God' as what it appears to be, namely, an identity statement. But then the distinctness of persons goes by the board.

P3) According to sacred doctrine, the mind that is God yields, of necessity and eternally, three persons. Each of the persons being coeternal, that mind has never had any but its necessary three persons. Of course, the three persons are always in perfect agreement with one another, which befits persons of one mind! Is there anything about the concept "mind" that renders this nonsensical?I hope I am making some sense. What fun!

BV: You may be equivocating on 'of one mind.' You and I are of one mind on many topics, but your mind is numerically distinct from mine, and may be expected to remain so. The Persons are of one mind in that there is perfect agreement among them. The problem, however, is how three minds can be one mind, numerically one and the same mind. You can't deny that God is a unitary mind! Deny that and you fall into tritheism. How can that one mind integrate the other three without being a fourth mind?