Friday, January 14, 2005

Pratt on Trinity and Analogy

Jason Pratt writes via e-mail:

Some good thinking in the recent exchange with Chuck B. A brief pithy set of paragraphs follows {g}:

BV: Thanks for accommodating my request for less loquacity from your eager pen. Brevity is the soul of blog. Pith, punch, precision: these are the watchwords. Now let's see if I can live up to my self-admonitions.

{{God is absolutely unique: not just contingently one of a kind, or even necessarily one of a kind, but such that the very distinction between kind and instance of a kind collapses. [...] If so, the unity of God is absolutely sui generis, absolutely unique, so that this unity cannot be represented as a kind of unity known here below.}}

JP: I think I agree with this; which is why I emphasize in my own work that theFather/Son language is analogical--definitely adequate for some purposes, but not for others.

{{What we need are some mundane examples of trinity or binity (bi-unity) that point us in the direction of the Trinity. We need some analogical bridges.}}

JP: Consequently, I don't think this is going to work. {g} If the unity of God is absolutely unique so that this unity cannot be represented as a kind of unity known here below; then you should know in advance that you aren't going to find any mundane examples of trinity or binity that can properly point you in the direction of the Trinity.

BV: I see what you are saying, but you are overlooking a distinction I make. My cat Caissa, and Alekhine's cat Chess, are instances of felinity, cases of that natural kind. Now we agree that God is not a case of a kind. Thus there is no kind or essence or property of which God is the example. This, by the way, implies something like the doctrine of divine ontological simplicity that we find in Augustine, Aquinas, and others according to which there are no real distinctions in God. One can argue to the divine simplicty from the divine aseity.

Now here is the distinction: It is one thing to say that God is not a case of a kind, a token of a type, etc. and quite another to say that there cannot be any mundane phenomena to serve as analogies of the divine tri-unity. Something that is absolutely unique, absolutely singular, cannot be subsumed under any pre-given rubric. The Absolute Reality is One without a second, indeed, One without even the possibility of a second. Otherwise, it wouldn't be absolute, ab-solus, a se. But how is it supposed to follow that there cannot be an analogy that takes us from some example of binity or trinity here below to the Holy Trinity?


If there aren't any examples of binity and trinity among the flotsam and jetsam of this here phenomenal world, then we are in deep trouble when it comes to the task of rendering intelligible to ourselves how there could be such a thing as a triune Absolute. After all, on the face of it, it is blatantly self-contradictory to say there is one thing that is also three things, and it is heretical to attempt to mitigate the contradiction by saying either (i) there is one God who expresses himself in three modes (Modalism), or else (ii) three Gods loosely associated (tritheism).

JP: The analogical language isn't supposed to be a bridge to the conclusion that the Trinity is even merely a feasible proposition (much less a truth). The feasibility will come, along with any appropriate analogical descriptions (with a recognition of appropriate limits), when/if the Persons of God are arrived at from progressing conclusions about the'nature' of God (so to speak). Even for sake of respecting tradition, the attributions shouldn't be forced or aimed at a priori.

BV: Being a philosopher, I must start with something I know in order to work my way up to that which I do not know, and will never completely know: all reputable traditions maintain that God in his innermost interiority remains utterly unknowable to any and all creatures. But perhaps I shouldn't use the term 'know.' My main concern at the moment is the preliminary one of establishing intelligibility (in plain English, understandability) or rational acceptability. The intellect has its demands, its exigencies (needs/demands) as a Frenchman (think: Blondel) would say, and they must be met. No crucifixion of the intellect allowed. That would be like nuking Athens to save Jerusalem. That won't cut it. Shestov be damned.

Starting from the sphere of immanence, from within the domain of rational autonomy, the idea is to find the analogical bridge, or some kind of bridge, that allows the finite mind to open out upon and make contact with the Transcendent (even if actual contact is due only to an initiative from the side of the Transcendent). The idea is, working from the side of immanence, to prepare a space of possibility where the Transcendent may, on its own initiative, be received. But to do this, the finite discursive intellect must be brought step-by-step to see how there could be a triune Absolute. If you cannot point to anything in the mundane sphere that analogically foreshadows the Trinity, then how meet the estimable Dr. Ray's contention that the Trinity is "a load of codswallop"?


If you start from God and then try to 'deduce' the Trinity, you will smash into the wall of unintelligibility. But with my bottom-up method, we stand a chance.

You realize, Jason, that there is a certain amount of shootin' from the hip going on here. The blogosopher is a blitz philosopher (to exploit yet another chess analogy), and mistakes are known to creep in when one is in Zeitnot. But just as there is always another game, there is always another post. Stay tuned, and come back at me, if you are so inspired. But as my man O'Reilly says, "Be pithy if you must opine." (I see that I haven't been all that pithy myself.)