Thursday, February 17, 2005

Faith and Philosophy and the Trinity

The most recent number of Faith and Philosophy came in the mail yesterday. There are three articles on the Trinity, two on Plantinga's notion of "Augustinian science", one on Craig on middle knowledge, one about Kierkegaard and Zen Buddhism, and one on reformational aesthetics. Some comments on the Trinitarian articles:

The three articles on the Trinity each gives a different account of the doctrine. "Trinity and Polytheism" continues Edward Wierenga's defense of what has come to be called Social Trinitarianism. Its basic argument is that we should distinguish being divine from being a God. When we say

(1) There are three really distinct Persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit);
(2) Each of the Persons is God;
(3) There is only one God;

then we should interpret (2) (in the Athanasian Creed, for instance) as saying "Each of the Persons is divine" rather than "Each of the Persons is a God". The second article, "The Problem with Social Trinitarianism: A Reply to Wierenga," by Jeffrey Brower, protests that the Athanasian Creed uses 'deus' rather than 'divinus':

Ita deus Pater, deus Filius, deus Spiritus sanctus.

I'm not sure that this really tells us anything; one can also question whether "deus Pater" should be translated "The Father is a God" rather than just "The Father is God". For example, saying "Deus Pater" is entirely consistent with saying that there is no such thing as "a God", there's just God; saying "The Father is a God" is not consistent with such a claim. Brower rightly goes on to note that Latin writers make no sharp distinction between divinus and deus, which are similar to the use of the words 'human' and 'man' in English (taking 'man' gender-neutrally). But this doesn't really show that Wierenga's difference from the Athanasian Creed is any more than verbal. However, Brower goes on to more substantive issues. Wierenga holds that properly speaking we shouldn't call any particular Person of the Trinity 'God'; we should only call them 'divine'. 'God' we should reserve for all three Persons taken together. Brower notes that this won't work with other statements in the Quicunque Vult; each of the three persons must be almighty, eternal, etc. Thus, Wierenga isn't offering a particularly natural interpretation of statements like these. Further, Wierenga's position requires us not only to say that, properly speaking, the Father isn't God, but also that, properly speaking, God isn't divine (since being divine applies to the persons), which is odd. Brower proposes as his own view the position that is sometimes called (a little misleadingly) the Material Constitution view (of which Michael Rea is the most notable defender, which argues that two things can be the same without being identical (a position that goes back to Aristotle's views on the material and formal constitution of objects - hence the name). Take a bronze statue. Are the bronze and the statue the same thing? We are usually inclined to say so. But the bronze and the statue aren't identical; they share all the same material parts, but the bronze statue's being a statue and its being bronze are essentially different (the bronze, for instance, can survive the statue's being melted down, while the statue cannot; the statue can survive the gradual replacement of its material parts, while the bronze cannot). Thus, on this view, each Person is numerically the same as God, but not identical to God. This is intended to contrast not only with Wierenga's Social Trinitarianism but also with the Relative Identity view of Geach and Van Inwagen. The Relative Identity view treats "Each Person is the same as God" as a case of identity; the Constitution view does not. According to Brower, "Unlike Social Trinitarianism, [the Constitution view] is clearly compatible witht eh view that there is exactly one divine being or deity (since it entails the existence of one and only [one] divine being); and unlike Relative-Identity Theory, it clearly has application otuside the context of the Trinity" (p. 302). I think this is a fair assessment; while the Trinity isn't a case of material or formal constitution, the Constitution view is not committed to saying it is; it just needs material and formal constitution to argue that not all kinds of sameness are identity, and then uses this latter conclusion.

In a footnote (294n23), Wierenga says, "It does seem to me that Augustine's development of teh doctrine, with its near reluctance to call the members of the Trinity 'persons' (De Trin, V, 9) and its analogy for the Trinity of mind, love, and knowledge (De Trin, IX, 4) is not social, but it is not far from modalism, either." Now, I am not convinced that there is any sense in which 'social' could legitimately be applied to the Trinity that would not be shared by the Cappadocians and Augustine; this is commonly stated, but not, I think, adequately argued. But more importantly, the reason Augustine is careful about the word 'person' in V.9 is not that he is in doubt about whether there are persons in God, but the purely historical fact that 'persona' as the Latin term had to be recruited from a meaning that didn't exactly fit the Greek word 'hypostasis'; he points out the well-known fact that "three hypostaseis in one ousia" sounds very confusing to Latin ears, because the natural way to translate this would be "three substantiae in one essentia," which is not what the Latins would say because they would tend to regard "substantia" and "essentia" as synonyms. The Latins had no easy way to make the right sort of distinction, so did the best they could and used "persona". So Augustine's "near reluctance" on this point really has no relevance to the question. And Augustine, contrary to Wierenga's point about IX.4, is quite far from modalism because he doesn't regard the analogy as anything more than an analogy, and, in fact, devotes almost the whole of Book XV to looking at ways in which the analogy fails! Virtually all the criticisms made against Augustine's account of the Trinity, including the "not far from modalism" charge, were originally considered by Augustine himself, in some version or other; this is because Augustine is explicitly not giving an account of the Trinity, but what he thinks is the best creaturely approximation to it: the mind when it is contemplatively knowing and loving God (Augustine looks at several different ways in which he thinks human beings are 'in the image of God'; this one is the image of God in the highest sense). He is very concerned, however, to make clear that this creaturely approximation falls short of the divine reality it approximates in some very important ways, and makes great efforts to prevent people from being misled on this score.

Brian Leftow has an article caleld "A Latin Trinity" in which he gives yet another view. Unlike the Constitution view, Leftow's view treats "Each Person is the same as God" as an identity. However, this view, which Leftow calls Latin Trinitarianism (LT for short) takes a somewhat different tack than Relative Identity views. He proposes an analogy between the Trinity and a time-traveling Rockette. Suppose Jane, a Rockette, uses a time machine to double herself up, i.e., Jane performs on stage and goes back in time to perform with herself on stage. Now the leftmost Jane is Jane and the rightmost Jane is Jane; each Jane is Jane, but Jane is there more than once. Even so, suggests Leftow, just as Jane's life now has two distinguishable simultaneous streams, so God's life has three distinguishable atemporal events (which Leftow associates with the Trinitarian analogy of remembering, understanding, and loving found in Augustine and Aquinas), namely, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, each simply identical to God, but distinct inasmuch as God (as it were) is tripled up. As I said, Leftow simply calls this Latin Trinitarianism, but let's call it the Multiplied-Personal Identity view in order to distinguish it from other formulations. I find this an interesting view, but I worry about modalism. This view makes it sound as if God constituted the Persons; whereas the traditional view, I think, is that the Persons constitute what it is to be God. Leftow does consider the issue of modalism and concludes that his view is not a case of it because modalism is the position that there are three successive manners of appearance to the world rather than three Persons, and his view is that the three divine lives are not successive and are intrinsic (they are not appearance to the world). I'm not wholly convinced that this deals with the danger, since, as I noted, I think the real issue is whether it is the divine substance that constitutes the persons; and I think Leftow's position seems to bring us on the wrong side of this question. But the pastward-time-travel analogy is an interesting one that perhaps deserves further consideration. I also note with pleasure that in a footnote (332n45) Leftow explicitly recognizes that on Aquinas's view, so far from simplicity being a problem for the Trinity, God is a Trinity rather than a Triad precisely because He is simple.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.