Saturday, January 01, 2005

Trinity and the Cerberus Analogy

John DePoe over at Fides Quaerens Intellectum writes in response to yesterday's Trinity/Quaternity post:

I think this is a serious objection worthy of response. Here's how I handle it. I deny that the one substance who is God is a divine person. I know it sounds weird, but the creeds don't say God is one person with three persons. They teach that God is one substance with three persons. The personal nature of God is possessed by each person of the Trinity, not the one substance that they share.In their excellent introductory book, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig use the analogy of Cerberus, the mythical three-headed guard dog of Hades. It is possible to imagine that Cerberus has three "persons" or states of consciousness, while constituting only one being. There isn't a need to hypothesize another consciousness that is over the three to maintain the oneness of Cerberus. Likewise, I think orthodox Christians can avoid the infinite regress by denying the need for a "person" behind the three persons of the Trinity.

BV: First off, as John appreciates, I am not trying to 'refute' the Trinity, but understand it. Fides quarens intellectum. I do not assume that the doctrine is unintelligible; I am inquiring into ways to render it intelligible. But I also do not assume that there must be a way to render it intelligible. But more on these broader issues later.

For now, let's just consider the three persons in one dog analogy. Yes, the creeds say that God is one substance in three persons, rather than one person. But God is a purely spiritual substance, a unity of consciousness/self-consciousness. Thus the one God is quite unlike the one dog, Cerberus. The unity of the dog is not a mental/spiritual unity; the unity of God is. 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?


Somehow, the divine unity of consciousness must integrate the unities of consciousness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The problem is how it can do this without being distinct from the latter three.