Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Trinity and Mystery

Marcus over at A Green Conservatism writes:

Interestingly, MP says "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."

Does that mean he is a believer? That, in the end, his escape hatch will involve asserting the legitimacy of the traditional solution, that the Trinity is a mystery?A solution rejected at various times by the Arians, the Socinians, the Unitarians, and even the Jehovah's Witnesses.

BV: Am I a believer in the Trinity? I would like to believe it, but I am adamantly opposed to any sort of fideism that denigrates reason. Reason is a magnificent thing, and I wouldn't be a philosopher if I thought otherwise. By the way, that is why Lev Shestov didn't make it onto my (under construction) Neglected Philosophers list (sidebar). He strikes me as a bloody irrationalist whose writings can only have a sort of pathological interest. But that's an interim judgment subject to revision after more study.

Here is one problem. If faith seeks understanding, but does not attain it, then what? One way forward is to continue to seek understanding. But what if one seeks understanding, does not find it, but finds instead that the doctrine one is supposed to believe is demonstrably unintelligible? How can one believe a proposition that has no meaning to one, or else a contradictory meaning? What would one be believing? I cannot give my intellectual assent to a proposition I do not understand. There is more to religion than doctrine, of course, but religions make claims about reality and to that extent entail doctrines. (This is of course a separate, and rather large, topic.)

It scarcely need be pointed out that repetition of a verbal formula is not the same as understanding the proposition -- if there is one -- expressed by the formula. Words that have meaning taken singly sometimes add up to no meaning -- or else a contradictory meaning -- when formed into a sentence.

If something is actual, then it is possible whether or not we understand how it is possible. For example, given that motion is actual, it is possible, and Zeno's arguments against its possibility cannot be sound. Same goes for the Trinity. But there is a difference: we experience motion, but we don't experience the Trinity. (One might try to bring in mystical experience here, but do any Jewish or Sufi mystics report experiences of a triune God?)

Still, why could it not be the case that the Trinity is an actuality that is simply beyond our ability to comprehend? Can it be rigorously demonstrated that nothing can be real that transcends our ability to understand?

My thoughts on this remain in flux.

P.S. Interesting question: Do the arguments for substance dualism that turn on the unity of counsciousness, when brought to bear on this issue, prove that if there are three divine persons then there are at least 3 distinct gods, one each? I would suspect so, myself. But then, I don't claim to be orthodox.

BV: You are close to what I was arguing before. Each Person in the Trinity is a unity of consciousness, and these unities are numerically distinct. If we are not to fall into tritheism, then they need to be subordinated to God himself. But how? God himself is a unity of consciousness. So now we either have four unities, or else we deny that God himself is a unity of consciousness. Either way, an impasse.