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Wednesday, January 23, 2013


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I hate being like one of those thickos swinging on their chairs at the back of the classroom who causes everyone to moan when they ask their question. Can you please offer a definition of "person" to help me make sense of the comments you make?

In the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, the Persons refer to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine states that there is one God in three divine Persons. This from the Catholic Catechism:

253 The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the "consubstantial Trinity".83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: "The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God."84 In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), "Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature."85

Of course, I am a person and so are you. Boethius defined a person as an individual substance with a rational nature.

Nothing in the definition requires that persons be embodied. The God of Christianity is a personal God but wholly immaterial (Incarnation aside).


Thanks for the link. The paper lists some of the better analogies, though I agree with you about the problems with the statue-lump theory. I think it’s best to avoid analogies that use matter. The social and psychological models seem more appropriate. The paper is also a reminder that, although analogies are aids to understanding, analogical reasoning is inductive, hence suggestive and not probative.

It would help to juxtapose definitions of ‘person’ and ‘being' in order to see how three persons could be one being. I am inclined to accept something like the definition of person from Boethius, but I would add free will to rational nature. Why couldn’t one being have three centers of mind and will? In an eerie way, this is almost possible for a human being. Why not possible for God?

I think it might be helpful to look at Aquinas' understanding of Persons as "subsistent relations" and I don't know what your thinking on this would be. I agree that we can't treat the Trinity as material substance with Persons as "forms," nor the Persons as proper parts of God. Of course, as you pointed out in an earlier post, the problem is relating "persons" to "nature" in a way that is intelligible. I think the concept of a subsistent relation helps do that in a way that parts or "forms" does not. Aquinas gets to his notion by negating two problematic notions of "processions" found in God - Arius' cause to effect (where the Persons are effects or creatures) or Sabellius' effect to cause (where each Person is merely a different effect of a single cause). Instead, Aquinas notes either of these are processions from internal acts to external acts in matter. However, he uses as exemplary "internal" processions toward internal terms. That's why the psychological analogy is primary - it is a procession from the intellectual agent to an intellectual term (a concept). However, when Aquinas points to the distinction between Person and nature in God, he notes that they aren't really different - whereas in creatures relations are accidental, in God they are essential. So, the subsistent relations are identical with the divine nature (although they have to be separated in our predication because of how we know them - just like other divine perfections being simple in divine simplicity), but they aren't identical with each other. The analogy is the essence or form of something versus its "supposit" or individuation. So, the divine essence is not identical to one Person, but to all three in their mutual relations. Another factor to consider is the lack of distinction between abstract and concrete properties. For Aquinas, the Persons are nothing other than personal properties of God (concrete universals) - the Father *is* paternity, the Son *is* begottenness, and the Spirit *is* procession. Thus each fully is the divine nature, but they are distinct by a kind of relative opposition. The problem is more on the side of our predication, where abstracts cannot stand as substantives. So, it is wrong to say, "Essence begat essence," because that implies that the common properties to all three begat them - which is false. You could say "God begat God" because both are substantives. Aquinas lastly brings this together by making a distinction between relative and absolute properties. The essence of the Godhead is all absolute properties (eternity, wisdom, power, etc.) but the Persons are relative properties and hence not common to all three (although the relative properties are identical with the essence, as we said above). They are subsistent properties mutually distinct by being opposed (as paternity is not the same as filiation or procession, but can only be paternity by having filiation, etc.). Absolute properties are not so opposed, but are really one in divine simplicity. Thus, there aren't an infinity of persons correlated to all absolute properties.

I'd be curious what you think of this kind of solution to the Trinitarian problem.

This from the Baltimore Catechism:

24. Is there only one God?

Yes, there is only one God.

I am the Lord, and there is none else: there is no God besides me. (Isaiah 45:5)

25. How many Persons are there in God?

In God there are three Divine Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Going, therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 28:19)

Thanks for your comments, Bro. JD.

I'm afraid I don't see a clear solution to the problem in your remarks. What exactly is a subsistent relation, and how could a person be a relation subsistent or otherwise? Relating what to what?

And then there is the business about supposita, which are brought in to make sense of both Trinity and Incarnation. I find the notion very obscure.

Here is an old post on the topic: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2010/02/substance-and-suppositum.html

Bro JD,

See my latest post for why I have trouble with the Thomist doctrine.

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