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Thursday, January 24, 2013

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This has been an excellent series of articles. I wonder if somehow, say, Edward Feser could be persuaded to weigh in.

You seem to me to be holding, in speaking of "a reality that lies beyond the discursive intellect, a reality that is mystical" and "a reality that cannot be grasped in discursive terms," that the the Trinity is real. If that is the case, then you committed to the thesis, indeed, the doctrine that the Trinity is real is true.

Can, however, that doctrine be true if you are right in saying, as you do, that "every doctrine of the Trinity issues in problems, questions, and outright inconsistencies"? Wouldn't the doctrine that the Trinity is real is true also be "untenable"?

Thank you, Richard.

My claim is that there is an absolute reality of a divine nature. Some of us get glimpses of it in mystical and religious and other paranormal experiences (OBEs, NDEs, etc.) Its reality is intimated to us by our moral sense. Various phenomena point to it, e.g. our inability to be satisfied by anything finite, etc. There are many arguments for it, though none amount to a proof strictu dictu.

Thinking about this absolute we may be led to suppose that it has both a personal and an impersonal side. Making sense of the personal side we may be led to some notion of a trinity of persons.

But any doctrine we come up with is but a 'necessary makeshift' -- phrase from F. H. Bradley who used it in a different connection. We cannot help but talk and think about this Absolute, but we must realize that it cannot be adequately represented discursively. When we try to do that we fall into inconsistencies. They are a symptom of the fact that we are trying to grasp the transdiscursive discursively.

For example, the Absolute must be ontologically simple, but how make sense of that in discursive terms? If you say that the Absolute is identical to each of its attributes, that each attribute is identical to every other one, that there is no real distinction within it between essence and existence, etc., you arrive at propositions that the discursive intellect cannot wrap itself around while remaining discursive and thus governed by LNC.

I am not saying that any extant doctrine of the Trinity is true; I am saying that there is a transconceptual Reality that might be usefully represented in trinitarian terms as long as we don't get hung up on these terms and confuse them with the Reality.

If doctrines are 'necessary makeshifts' on the discursive plane, then my doctrine that there is an Absolute, that it is ontologically simple, that it cannot have less reality than that of a human person, etc. is itself a necessary makeshift on the disxcursive plane and can be expected to give rise to problems, questions, and perhaps outright inconsistences.

For example, if I say that the Absolute exists and is simple, then I am committed to saying that it is Existence itself. So Existence exists, which is at the very least a strange thing to say. The steps leading up to this saying are intelligible and can be laid out rigorously, but the saying itself is just barely intelligible when viewed as the limit of that series of steps, but unintelligible in itself. At that point one must step over into the Transdiscursive and abandon philosophy for mysticism -- which is what Aquinas did.

So to answer your challenge: I am being logical consistent as I must: everything I say about God and the Trinity is problematic too.

Thank you, Bill.

I'm not sure that you are right when you say "If you say that the Absolute is identical to each of its attributes, that each attribute is identical to every other one, that there is no real distinction within it between essence and existence, etc., you arrive at propositions that the discursive intellect cannot wrap itself around while remaining discursive and thus governed by LNC." While I don't quite understand just what an intellect "wrapping itself around propositions" might be, it seems to me that in formulating the given propositions neither your discursive intellect nor that of Aquinas has fallen into inconsistency or even falsehood in any obvious way. Rather I have a sense that the propositions at hand may well be true, in pretty much the same way as you have a sense that "there is an absolute reality of a divine nature."

Finally, I'm not sure that it is accurate to say that Aquinas had to abandon philosophy for mysticism in order to arrive the given identities. I think, though still relying on that very fallible sense, that some variation on the theme of the first two or three of his "Five Ways" leading to the conclusion that there is an existent the essence of which is its existence. And I have a sense that the not very mystical Aristotle, being presented with such an argument, might say, "You, know, I think you're right."

I retract the sentence you quoted. That was hastily written and doesn't express my view. My view is subtle and I don't have the time at the moment to present it carefully and fully.

I didn't say that Aquinas had to abandon philosophy to arrive at the identities in question. He arrived at them as a sort of limit of a series of discursive steps while remaining within the discursive sphere.

I note that you didn't say anything to defend Aquinas against any of the specific points I made -- which is where the meat of the post lies.

The point of this series of posts is to examine whether any Trinitarian theory stands up to careful scrutiny, and the point of the one above is to consider whether the notion of the Persons as subsistent relations does.

Bill,

I agree that the doctrine signifies the Reality beyond our discursive range. Although we ought to employ language as clearly and as far as possible, the fullness of reality transcends the language we use to describe it. Ancient thinkers understood this point. The point is implicit in the books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Plato explicitly makes the point in his “Seventh Letter.” The great teachers often used parables and poetic language instead of syllogisms to address the absolute. “Existence exists” may be strange to say, but it seems consistent with the name that God revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14).

Dr. Bill,
Thanks so much for the post! I see now more where you're coming from. I do have some thoughts that might clarify the discussion, but I do think it's important to start by saying that I find (and I won't spill unnecessary ink) your concept of doctrine to be a problem. I think dogmatic statements must refer to realities which they do not exhaust, but that they must predicate either truly or falsely unless they are to be nonsense. If we can have statements about God at all that are meaningful (and hence any knowledge of God at all), they have to have truth value. If they are real contradictions, they are meaningless. If no statements about God are able to have "sense," then we best follow Wittgenstein's advice and be silent entirely.

To get to the Trinity:

1 - "It is difficult to see, however, how a relation between x and y can constitute the numerical difference between x and y. I should think that the numerical difference between x and y is a logically prior condition of their standing in any relation."
But it seems to me that universals are differentiated by their own "formal" difference in an easy analogy. So, can easily say that Goodness and Whiteness are formally distinct and so consequently necessarily numerically distinct. The properties that are the Persons are analogous, as I said earlier, to "subsisting universals" so the analogy is quite close.

2 - "The problem, however, is to understand how the relata of the relations (of paternity, filiality, etc.) can be (identical to) the relations. Paternity and filiality are different relations."
On one hand, yes, the formal difference is clearly established. On the other hand, the concept of a "subsisting relation" is hard to grasp. But therein lies the mystery. The relation itself IS a property akin to paternity - it is not the human concept of paternity. The point is that the Father IS a subsisting relation whose proper name is "Father," not to exhaust what cannot be known except in the Beatific Vision. So the lack of clarity in "what" the Father is strikes me as necessary and fitting with what you say about dogmatic realities being trans-discursive. What is important is that we can point to the property (like God as the cause of visible effect) and delimit it with truth. Mystical knowledge of God is precisely coming to know the personal property of the Persons through experimental-connatural knowledge.

3 - "So the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father by the same act of loving. But acts are individuated by their objects. So loving the Father is a different act than loving the Son. It cannot be the same act on pain of incoherence. But Aquinas says that they love by the same act. He has to say this because he cannot admit that there are three separate unities of consciousness in the Godhead. For this would entail that there are three Gods."
This seems a bigger objection, but Aquinas directly spends a lot of time on this objection in particular. In discussing how we might mean "loves by" in the ablative, he notes you can mean it essentially or notionally. Thus, you can speak of the one term of the action as the term by which the action happens (the Holy Ghost - notionally predicated ablative) or from which the act proceeds (the essence - essentially predicated ablative). "For we say that fire warms by heating, although heating is not the heat which is the form of the fire, but is an action proceeding from the fire; and we say that a tree flowers with the flower, although the flower is not the tree's form, but is the effect proceeding from the form. ...when the term Love is taken in a notional sense it means nothing else than "to spirate love"; just as to speak is to produce a word, and to flower is to produce flowers. As therefore we say that a tree flowers by its flower, so do we say that the Father, by the Word or the Son, speaks Himself, and His creatures; and that the Father and the Son love each other and us, by the Holy Ghost, or by Love proceeding." Thus, one act and one term but two modes of predicating it (and so two seeming but not really distinct acts). Or, in other words, to assume there are different objects is, in a certain sense, to beg the question.

4 - "If the 'is' is taken to be the 'is' of identity, logical inconsistency is unavoidable. If F = G and S = G. then F = S, by the symmetry and transitivity of identity. You cannot consistently with that go on to say that it is not the case that F = S."
It is the "is" of identity in the first case, but "is not" is a different mode of predication. The Father IS the Son in the sense of being God. He is not the Son in the sense of being the same relation or Person. Each Person does not "exhaust" the Godhead, although each is fully God (possessing all of the abstract properties simply, having one intellect and will).

6 - "Are the relations identical to persons, or do the relations belong to persons?"
The relations are identical to persons, as is "property." Each is a different term, but each indicate the same reality (just like God's mercy and goodness are different concepts designating the same reality). I tend to think GL means the technical term "notions" or else is stating that they are proper parts, but that's not important.

Maybe I'm not expressing myself well (and it's easy to be obscure on this matter among all), but I hope it is clarifying.

Thank you for responding to my specific points, JD. I have time now just for the first.

>>1 - "It is difficult to see, however, how a relation between x and y can constitute the numerical difference between x and y. I should think that the numerical difference between x and y is a logically prior condition of their standing in any relation."
But it seems to me that universals are differentiated by their own "formal" difference in an easy analogy. So, can easily say that Goodness and Whiteness are formally distinct and so consequently necessarily numerically distinct. The properties that are the Persons are analogous, as I said earlier, to "subsisting universals" so the analogy is quite close.<<

The doctrine, however, states that the Persons are subsistent relations, not subsistent (monadic) universals. Even if it is granted that paternity and filiality are distinct subsistent relational universals, there re,ains the diffiuclty of identifying these universals with Persons. A Person is not a universal but an individual.

If the Father = paternity and the Son = filiality, then paternity stands in the paternity relation to filiality, which is incoherent. There are two problems here: How can any relation be susbsitent? How can any person be a relation, subsistent or not?

I don't want to overwhelm you with many responses, but I do have time to offer a clarification. I think you maybe see the first point I'm trying to make. The term "subsistent relation" does mean "subsistent relational universal." The "abstract" property of the Father (which is identical with His relation, person, etc.) IS a relational universal akin to (again, but not identical with human concepts of) "paternity." The "notions" - unbegottenness and active spiration and begetting - are the ways in which His property is related to the others, but these are inherent in His property. They only indicate how we conceptualize the relations between Persons, whereas each Person's relation to the other is identical with themselves. On the second, Aquinas' conception is that, in God, all universals are concretes. Say, for example, God *is* the Good. On this level, the universals are relative universals and so constitute each other by a formal opposition. There is no "real" relation outside of the universal (paternity being immediately related and referred to sonship), even though we draw a virtual distinction of relationship that is in reality identical with the Person (Father being related to Son by a certain begetting relationship). Lastly, it is a mystery exactly what a "Person" or any of these look like. But this use of Person in God as a subsisting, concrete relational universal fits with the Boethian definition of person. That's what it intends to satisfy. The theory doesn't mean to "explain" God's personhood, but to maintain consistency against incoherence and avoid error - which I believe it does.

I will, when things allow, do the serious and systematic thinking the topic and your challenge demand and get back to you.

Thanks again.

Br. JD writes: >>The "abstract" property of the Father (which is identical with His relation, person, etc.) IS a relational universal akin to (again, but not identical with human concepts of) "paternity."<<

The problem is that I cannot make head nor tail of a sentence like this. Which property of the Father are you talking about?

Or do you mean that the Father is an abstract property? As most philosophers understand 'abstract,' the abstract is causally inefficacious. So if the Father is abstract, then he cannot beget the Son, since begetting is a sort of causation.

My point, and I apologize for being obscure, is that property, person, relation, and "concrete universal" are equivalent terms all referring to the same reality but pointing to different aspects. The Father is not abstract except in the sense of being a universal. But, like all properties of the Godhead, the personal property of the Father is a "concrete universal" as God instantiates "Goodness itself," despite "goodness" being a universal and hence abstract. The Father is no less a kind of "concrete relational universal." But I think you have agreed in the past (correct me if I am wrong) to statements like "God is goodness itself." If so, I don't see the problem with accepting that there could be other kinds of "concrete universals."

You do have a point. If it makes sense to say that God is goodness itself, then it perhaps also makes sense to say that the Father is a subsistent relation. The problem is that while there are powerful reasons for maintaining that God is ontologically simple, it is very difficult to make sense of it. The doctrine points toward the mystical. What I said earlier strikes me as on the right track:

The steps leading up to this saying [God is goodness itself, existence itself, etc.] are intelligible and can be laid out rigorously, but the saying itself is just barely intelligible when viewed as the limit of that series of steps, but unintelligible in itself. At that point one must step over into the Transdiscursive and abandon philosophy for mysticism -- which is what Aquinas did.

As you know, one day while saying mass he had a mystical experience, after which he wrote no more philosophy/theology and regarded what he had written as so much "straw."

Augustine says that God is what he has. He is identical to his attributes. That is already a mystical saying.

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