Generic unity refers to unity among multiple distinct species according to the genus or genera under which they may be subsumed. So, for example, Peter, Paul, and John are generically united because of each the definition of “human,” “male,” “Jew,” etc. may be univocally applied though distinctly possessed. They are individual members of the same classes.
I have been told by a fellow Scripturalist that I don’t have “any understanding of numeric as opposed to generic unity as it relates to the Trinity” (link). Let’s see what Gordon Clark has to say and, in the process, evaluate Clark’s related beliefs.
His clearest exposition of numeric unity is found in Ancient Philosophy (pgs. 112-113). In context, Clark is expositing Plato’s theory of Ideas by providing a few historical criticisms. One such criticism was that an individual Idea or objects of thought “could not be present with two other objects at the same time, though such presence is necessary because the Idea Animal must be simultaneously present with the Idea Horse and the Idea Dog” (pg. 112). That is, Dog and Horse could not be distinct [sub-]species of Animal. Humoring the argument, Clark writes:
The Animal in the illustration is either numerically one or not. Since it is individual, the more plausible alternative is its numerical unity. If, then, this Animal is one, we have an animal which both barks and neighs” (pg. 113)
That is, the Ideas Dog and Horse would be [numerically] united such that they would refer to the same animal. Dog and Horse may mean, imply, or connote different predicates of this one animal – the animal can bark because it is a dog and neigh because it is a horse – but the referent would be identical. This is precisely how I view numeric unity.
In my question to Sean on the subject of numeric unity, I asked: “Have you accepted numeric unity after all? Is there but one Trinitarian mind and will?” The reason numeric unity would imply one mind and will rather than three is because the referent of “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” would be the same [person], a fact which is plainly Sabellian. So why doesn’t Sean answer the question? I suspect it is because he knows where my argument is headed: generic unity alone is an insufficient defense against the charge of tritheism. Clark recognized this too. More on this later.
Clark’s response to the aforementioned criticism of Plato’s theory of Ideas can be traced from Plato himself through Augustine. Clark notes that Aristotle used the same method of definition as Plato: “State the genus, then add the difference; this gives the species. The whole universal tree descends from the supreme genus to the infimae, lowest species” (Logic, pg. 24). Plato viewed the relation between species and genus as follows:
As Plato so clearly said in his Parmenides, the Idea, or genus, is not like a canopy or tent in which each man is directly under only a part of the covering. The Idea or definition must be complete in every individual case, or – in better Platonic language – every man must participate in the whole Idea. (The Atonement, pg. 112)
Neo-Platonists developed the idea of participation:
…if there be an object which completely realizes the Idea, still the Idea and the object remain distinct; the Idea never becomes the exclusive possession of the object but may also be present with other objects as well, with the same integral presence. The root of all difficulty in explaining participation is the tendency to think in spatial terms. Omnipresence is not hard to understand if one grasps clearly that it is the omnipresence of a spaceless and timeless entity. (Ancient Philosophy, pg. 245)
This philosophical tradition was improved by Augustine, who converted to Christianity from Neo-Platonism:
Plato had Ideas. Augustine has truths or propositions. In reading what Augustine wrote, most people fail to note what he did not write; namely, they fail to note that he has no theory of abstraction. Instead of abstract ideas, he has truths. The present treatise follows Augustine on this point: There are no such things as abstraction and abstract ideas. (The Trinity, Individuation)
Finally, Clark himself connects this transition from Ideas to propositions to the unity between subjects and predicates, species and genera, members and classes:
All items of knowledge are judgments or predications. A term, such as triangle, by itself cannot be either true or false. But if one says, “the triangle is an isosceles triangle,” or, “the triangle is a four-sided figure,” one has said something either true or false. All judgments are classifications. The triangle is classified under the species of isosceles triangle, or, falsely, under the class of four-sided figures. Two terms, therefore, the subject and the predicate, are brought together. Thus the mind imposes unity on experience by judging or classifying. Since judgments or propositions are the products of the mind’s unifying activity, the several types of judgment are witnesses to several functions of unity. These are the categories, the non-empirical contribution of the mind to knowledge – the prerequisites of learning. They are not based on or derived from experience, but rather the possibility of meaningful experience depends on them. (A Christian View of Men and Things, pgs. 218-219)
In sum, the “participation” of one truth in another is non-rivalrous. That is, the definitions of “dog” and “horse” can both include the definition of “animal” without its needing to be the case that there is just one animal in question, a numerically singular animal to which any reference to “dog” or “horse” would co-refer.
Rather, than being numerically united, then, the definitions of “dog” and “horse” are united by the possession of a common genus or class as a predicate in their respective definitions. This is possible because “a genus is not one of its included individuals” (The Trinity, Individuation); an animal is not a dog or horse per se. To speak of what a genus such as animal “is” means to define it, in which case “animal” is the subject, whereas in the case of species such as “dog” and “horse,” “animal” functions as a predicate. In its place as one predicate among many in these definitions we may substitute the predicates found in the definition of “animal” without a loss of meaning, but then it is obvious that there is a distinction between the genus [as a subject] and the species which possesses the genus [as a predicate]. In other words, the numerical oneness or distinctness of “animal” is unaffected by many species “participating” in it. Furthermore, in that same chapter in The Trinity, Clark notes:
…species and genera can be counted as well as individuals. This pussy, Timothy Ticklepitchers by name, and this puppy, Sport, are two numerically different animals. But feline and canine are also numerically different species. One is as numerical as the other. We can count and number species as easily as we can individuals.
In keeping with the previous illustration, not only is “animal” a genus under which species (dog, horse, etc.) can be generically united, but it is also itself just one among many species which may in turn be subsumed under a broader class or genus like “living creature.” Extrapolation from this fact begs the question: if, in this process of classification and definition, there is a lowest limit – individuals which cannot function as a genus (“non-aristotelian infimae species” per Clark’s Chapter on Augustine in The Trinity) – is there an upper limit, a genus that is not a species or sub-category of some broader genus or class? Yes, though what this limit is may depend on the sort of definition one is interested in:
A good enough beginning for the problem of definition, but only a beginning, is the distinction between connotative and denotative definitions. In fact we may say that the term definition is itself equivocal. Suppose now we wish to define the term eligible voters in such and such a locality. This may be done by saying, A person eligible to vote must be an American citizen, above a certain age, a resident of the State for one year (or whatever the State specifies), and a resident of the precinct for sixty days before the election, and registered. This is call connotative definition, because it lists the necessary and sufficient qualifications. The qualifications are necessary: That is, if any one of them is lacking, the person is ineligible to vote. The qualifications are also sufficient: No further qualification can be required. There is, however, another way to define eligible voters. This is called a denotative definition. A denotative definition explicitly mentions every individual – person, place, or thing – in the class. (Logic, pg. 21)
Denotatively, the upper limit of classification can be said to be existence, reality, or being. These words are simply meant to encompass what “is,” viz. everything. Clark’s dislike of using these words as predicates stems from the fact that they can, in some sense, be applied to every subject. Because they cannot distinguish any one subject from another, they don’t really serve a useful connotative function: can anything fail “to be [real or existent]”? No. Everything qualifies ipso facto. This is why Clark considered himself to be a Realist. On the other hand, an exhaustive denotative list of everything is useful because knowledge requires distinctions and distinctions imply multiple subjects or material from which a hierarchy of classifications can be demonstrated, the total sum of which is just existence, reality, or being that an omniscience would know. But as this is becoming somewhat beside the intended point of this post, I digress.
To lay the groundwork for understanding the way[s] in which Clark believed the persons of the Trinity are united, it will be useful to see how Clark viewed the unity of men. In The Biblical Doctrine of Man, Clark states, using A.A. Hodge’s The Atonement as a foil against which to discuss the proper perspective of the relationship between traducianism and Realism:
How could Adam’s descendants be personally guilty and merit God’s punishment? Hodge objects to the Realism of W.G.T. Shedd, whom he represents as saying (not a verbatim quotation from Shedd) that “Adam was the entire genus homo, as well as the first individual… every individual member [of the human race] was physically and numerically one with him… hence the whole genus is guilty…. This is the Realistic view recently advocated… by Dr. William G.T. Shedd” (p. 99). On the next two pages he reiterates the idea that we “were really and numerically one with Adam” and that “this Realistic theory of our numerical oneness with Adam is an essential element of the doctrine….”
Realism of course asserts the real existence of the human genus. This is an Idea in God’s mind and it is a real object of knowledge. But it is hard to imagine any Realist identifying the perfect eternal Idea with a temporal and imperfect individual. The relationship of Adam to the Idea is precisely the same as the relationship of any other individual man to the Idea. The individuals “participate” in, or are all “patterned after” the Idea; but the notion that one individual is “physically and numerically one” with Adam is enough to send poor Plato to his grace in despair…
There must be some sort of Adamic existence and unity; this unity surely has something to do with both body and soul; and the species man was eternally in God’s mind as truly as Adam was created. But these indubitable truths do not justify an assertion of the numerical and physical unity of each human being with Adam. Could Shedd or anyone else ever have held that I am physically and numerically Adam, and that you are too, and that therefore you and I are the numerically identical body now sitting in this chair? (pgs. 48-50)
Again, on Clark’s view, everything is “real” or “exists” in some sense. Every subject has predicates. Even an arbitrary jumble of letters not meant to mean or refer to anything can be said to be “an arbitrary jumble of letters not meant to mean or refer to anything” – this predicate is meaningful, even if the intention of the speech is not. So a genus or “Idea” is real, a point whose importance will emerge later when discussing why Clark believes that “God is one substance and three Persons” (The Trinity, More On Terminology) harmonizes monotheism with Trinitarianism.
Clark corrects Hodge’s misunderstanding of Realism in two important ways. Firstly, the idea that Adam is the entire human genus is false if such is a statement of identity – Adam is no more or less man than Plato, Clark, or I am. All individuals distinctly “participate” in Ideas – or more precisely, propositions. Unity among men is not to be found in numerical identification between any one individual and a genus. This should be fairly obvious, as Adam has a physical body whereas the “Idea” of man is not. As was mentioned above, “participation” is not spatial.
Secondly, unity among men is also not to be found in numerical identification among individuals. While participation in an Idea is not spatial, the assertion that men are numerically united once again is viewed by Clark as implying that two different words or statements refer to the same object. In this case, the simplest way to show that no two human individuals are numerically united is to note that no two human individuals are bodily identical. Several pages later, Clark reiterates both this and the fact no genus is one of its individual members:
Hodge (Systematic Theology II, p. 217) admits President Edwards’ theory of original sin “is not exactly the old realistic theory.” Indeed it is not. Edwards was not a realist at all. He was an empiricist, deeply influenced by Locke and Berkeley. Hence objections to Edwards damage neither realism nor traducianism. But Hodge wants to convict realism, even apart from Edwards. He writes (p. 221) “the realistic doctrine… makes the numerical sameness of substance the essence of identity. Every genus or species of plants or animals is one because all the individuals of those genera and species are partakers of one and the same substance. In every species there is but one substance of which the individuals are the modes of manifestations.” From this he infers that realism must identify the individual Adam with the individuals Peter and Paul.
But the difficulty, and of course there are others also, lies in the word substance. This is the word that causes difficulty in the doctrine of the Trinity. Since substance is Latin, and since it was given a different meaning from its Greek cognate hypostasis, one wants to know what Hodge means by it. If we use the medieval Latin, we would not say that “in every species there is but one substance.” We would say, “every species is one substance.” Taking this back to Aristotle, this means that every species has a fixed definition. Plato would have said that the individuals participate in the Idea. In this way an individual could be called a mode of the Idea’s or definition’s manifestation. But this is far from identifying one mode of manifestation with another mode. That is, this is far from identifying the individual Adam with the individual Peter or Paul.
It is also far from identifying Adam with the species homo sapiens. A late Neoplatonist, Porphyry (c. 275), got his name attached to the phrase “a tree of Porphyry.” This is a dichotomous scheme of classification. For example, Living Being is divided into immortal and mortal; mortal is divided into rational and irrational; irrational is divided into plant and animal. Now, then, this individual dachshund, Zephi, is a “manifestation” of the essence, definition, or reality Dachshund. He also participates in the essence of definition of Dog; and of Animal.
If anyone should suspect that Porphyry in the third century of our era cannot be trusted as a representative of Plato six centuries earlier, we may note that Plato’s dialogue Sophist begins with a playful illustration of a “tree of Porphyry” in defining an angler. It eventually discusses the highest Ideas of Being, Same, Other, Rest and Motion; and concludes with another tree of Porphyry defining the Sophist. The dialogue Parmenides is too intricate to discuss here.
But even if Adam and Peter are “lowest species,” they are not identical with each other or with the higher species homo. Someone may now object that all this is too pagan. What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? This is the device of escapism. It evinces a disinclination to serious study. Yet a theologian may and ought to translate this material into more Biblical terminology. So we say, God knows, has the idea of, defines man, Adam, and Peter. God’s knowledge is clear and distinct. He does not confuse one definition with another; he does not confuse Adam with Peter, or either one with the definition of man. (The Biblical Doctrine of Man, pgs. 69-71)
Here too we see a rejection of the numerical unity, identity, or sameness of two individuals or of an individual and a genus. Each has a distinct definition. But a hierarchy of classes shows how one [definition] can “participate” in [a distinct definition of] another through incorporation. Adam and Peter both are men because in the distinct definition of each one will find that [the definition of] “man” is a predicate. In this way, individuals may be said to be particular instances of whatever classes they can be traced to on the “tree of Porphyry.”
It is unclear whether Clark would say that because genera can also be categorized under broader genera – for genera can “participate” in other “Ideas” – genera too can be modes, manifestations, or instances of higher classes. Genera by definition have species: do modes, manifestations, and instances only apply to concrete or particular individuals?
Regardless, if numerical identity is not the means by which all men are united, what is? And how does this relate to the Trinity? Clark answers this in several of his books, so we will examine each in turn. In his article “The Trinity” (link), he writes, “If there be any influence of Greek philosophy on the doctrine of the Trinity, it would be in the relationship of the three Persons to the one essence. This is very complicated. It involves the general philosophic problem of unity in multiplicity.” Prefacing his explanation as to how there can be “unity in multiplicity” in the Trinity, Clark replies to the problem more generally by once again advocating “Realism”:
The solution the following pages defend is the philosophy of Realism, often called Platonism. Strictly, it is not Platonism, but rather the theory of ideas as transformed by Philo. The term Realism, as opposed to empirical and nominalistic epistemology, denotes any theory insisting that we know the real object, and not merely a sensory image or representation of it. Plato called these real objects Ideas. The argument is this: Suppose we have a lot of dice of various sizes. They all have the same shape. Now, this shape is something real. Even though the shape comes in different sizes, it is the same identical shape. If sensory objects alone were real, there could be no idea of similarity or identity, for none of the individual dice is itself similarity. Nor is any one of the dice cube. If one of the dice were the cube, and if only sense objects are real, then no other die could be cube. Hence, there is a real object of knowledge, the cube. It is not a sense object, not only for the preceding reason, but also because this cube exists in many places at once, as no sense object can. Similarly, Plato united all men under the Idea Man, all horses under the Horse, and all beautiful things under real Beauty. With other arguments also Plato asserted the reality of knowable intellectual objects.
Here, Clark associates “participation” with unity [among participants]. Species presuppose a real genus, and it is by being subsumed under this genus that they are really united - this is just what I mean by generic unity. Again, the Idea is not physical, which is why it can be “omnipresent” or equally fully inherent in each participant; in Clark’s preferred terms, the definition of the class can be univocally predicated of each member. So with cubes, so with horses, so with men, and so too with the Trinity, as shall be shown in the following citations:
Postponing the matter of the Tri-personality, let us first examine the indivisibility of the substance. The term substance is an unfortunately mistaken Latin translation. Athanasius spoke of one ousia and insisted that the Three Persons were homoousioi, the same in ousia. Ousia means being (a participial noun), reality, or definition. Charles Hodge, Volume I, 460, complains that homoousias can mean either specific sameness or numerical identity. He then argues that Athanasius intended the latter meaning. “In the former sense,” says Hodge, “all spirits, whether God, angels, or men are [h]omoousioi because they are all rational intelligences.” This is not, however, a good argument against the specific, or generic, use of the term homoousios. While God, angels, including Satan, and men are all rational intelligences, just as apple trees, rose bushes, strawberries and plums are rosaceae, the homoousios of Athanasius did not refer to the definition of rational intelligences, but to the definition of God in Three Persons. Species may be defined. So may genera. All the members of a genus are homoousioi. All the members of a species are also homoousioi. But the two homoousioi are not the same ousia. All apple trees belong to the same genus; but not all rosaceae are apple trees. The definition of the latter is more restrictive than the definition of the former. Therefore Athanasius was justified in asserting that the Three Persons were homoousioi, for this does not imply that men and angels are specifically homoousioi with the Three Persons. To make the point clearer, if that be necessary, not only are God and angels homoousioi: God, demons, men, plants, and even rocks are homoousioi. But this does not transmute worms into Deity.
Hodge, of course, is quite correct in saying that the Council took homoousios and homoiousios in radically different senses. But he has not disproved the specific unity of the Godhead. (The Trinity, The Athanasian Creed)
I am not exactly sure what Clark had in mind when he said “God, demons, men, plants, and even rocks are homoousioi.” He may have meant that each are at least included in the denotative list of all things: God, demons, men, plants, and rocks are all “real.” But in Trinitarian contexts, to say the persons of the Trinity are homoousioi is to say they are species of the genus “God.” All the members of a genus are homoousioi – the same in ousia – yet not the same ousia. That is, they are the same in being or definition, but not the same being or definition. In one respect, the same definition may be said to apply to each – in this case, the definition of “God” – but as this definition does not exhaust any of the persons, the persons may yet differ in some other respect such that they are specifically but not numerically the same:
One substance or essence means that neither the Father nor the Son is an “essence.” Each is a “person.” Only the Trinity as such is an “essence.” The confusion here and in the footnote above disappears, or at least is alleviated, by using the word definition instead of essence; and also by remembering that the Son has an “essence” that is different from the “essence” of the Father, but which in both cases contains the “essence” of Deity. The definition of Deity does not define the Son; nor can the definition of the Son apply to Deity. A succulent does not have all the qualities of a cactus, but the latter has all of the characteristics of the former. That is to say, the Trinity or Godhead, absolutely and as such, does not have the characteristics of any one Person, absolutely and as such; but each Person has all the predicates of Deity. Note that the word here is Deity, not Father. (The Trinity, Augustine)
Simplified: each Trinitarian person or species distinctly yet univocally possesses the genus “God.” Hence the label “specific” or “generic” unity: the species are united; the genus is that which unites. Not only does Clark equate specific and generic unity in his article “The Trinity,” but he also explicitly notes that the persons of the Trinity are united in the same sense men are united and uses this to in part explain why he thinks monotheism and Trinitarianism are compatible:
Now, when we face the subject of the Trinity – the common unity in the three Persons – may we not say that the three Persons share or communicate the common characteristics of omnipotence, omniscience, and so forth, and so constitute one essence? The Platonic point of view makes this essence a reality, as truly as Man and Beauty are real. Were the essence not a reality, and the Persons therefore the only realities, we should have tritheism instead of monotheism.
But if anyone assert that it is completely wrong to begin with realistic epistemology, it is enough to recall that nominalism provides no basis for the imputation of righteousness and justification by faith. Or even for talking about the human race. For any doctrine, it is necessary that the cube be a real object of knowledge.
A more substantial objection is that unity in the Godhead cannot be the unity of a species or a genus. The three Persons are one in a stricter, deeper, more inexplicable sense than the sense in which three or thirty men are one. Whether this objection is plausibly true or not depends on the sense in which men are one and the sense in which the Trinity is one. Those who make this objection should define the two senses (if indeed they are two) and point out the distinction. Unless we know how the Persons are one and how men are one, we cannot tell whether the unity is the same or different. But the objectors hardly define specific unity and disclaim ability to define divine unity. Their wording, however, suggests that they are using Aristotelian terminology and have misunderstood Plato.
Hodge wrote (Systematic Theology, II, 59), “the whole nature of essence is in the divine person [each one], but the human person [each one] is only a part of the common human nature” [Hodge is quoting W. G. T. Shedd, History of Christian Doctrine, II, 120. -Ed.] This is a confusing sentence. To fit the argument, it ought to read, “the whole nature or essence is in the divine person, but only a part of the common human nature is in the human person.” If the sentence is not so interpreted, the antithesis Hodge wants to assert-the antithesis between the unity in God and the unity in men-vanishes. Yet this interpretation, the only one that preserves the antithesis, makes the second half of the sentence false; for if a part of human nature were lacking in an object, if the definition of that object did not include every part of the definition of man, if the man did not participate in the whole Idea, that object would not be an individual man. A man is a man only because the entire definition fits.
The arguments of the eminent American theologian fail completely to show that epistemological realism, and especially the assertion that there are eternal Ideas in the mind of God, are inconsistent with the doctrine of the Trinity. But it must be made likewise clear, in the interest of sound logic, that the failure of Hodge’s arguments do not prove the identity of the type of unity among men with the type of unity among the three Persons of the Trinity. It remains an unrefuted plausible option. It seems to be the best solution ever proposed. But it still may be and undoubtedly is inadequate.
Taking note of Clark’s proposed solution first, he says the divine attributes may be predicated of each person of the Trinity. They are therefore specifically or generically united in some sense. Furthermore, “The attributes constitute the definition of God” (The Trinity, Hodge and Berkhof). This definition, like the definition of “man,” is as real as the persons or definitions of whom these definitions may be predicated, so Clark puts forward the argument that monotheism is true because there is just one [real] definition of “God” – the divine attributes – that is applied to each person.
The primary objection to this is that if there is one God in the same sense that there is one man – one generic definition applied to each species – then there would be nothing to prevent us from saying that there are three Gods just as we say there are “three or thirty men.” So even though there is but one definition of “God,” tritheism is still a real danger. Indeed, Clark does not even attempt to reply to this objection in the article. His conclusion here is simply that while the unity among the persons of the Trinity is parallel to the unity among men, “it still may be and undoubtedly is inadequate.” Elsewhere, however, he attempts an answer:
It is interesting to see how Gregory relates the generic Man to the One God. In a letter (?) to Ablabius, On ‘Not Three Gods’ (331-336), he raises the question why, if Peter, James, and John are one human nature, but three men, why are not the Three Persons, of the same nature, three Gods? With unintentional understatement he remarks that this is a difficult question. All men, he continues, have the same nature. Similarly an army has a nature, and though each soldier has an individual name, the nature cannot be divided. However, in the case of God, the matter is more complicated. Gregory’s answer seems to be that God’s nature is unnameable and unspeakable. God is indeed incorruptible, but this word does not express God’s nature in essence. When we say that God is incorruptible, we say that his nature suffers no corruption, but we do not say what that nature is.
Yet, Gregory admits, this does not solve the problem: If there is one common nature, why are there not three Gods? The Godhead signifies an operation, not a nature. Philosophy is an operation, but there are three philosophers. Gregory replies, perhaps lamely, that although the Godhead is an operation, like shoemaking or philosophy, and not a nature, the men operate independently, but the Three Persons always act conjointly, and their operation is one, not three operations. For example, he adds, a sinner does not have three regenerations. Therefore there are not three Gods. (The Trinity, Three Intermediates)
While first paragraph should clarify that Clark’s references to “one nature” or “same nature” is to be taken in a generic rather than numeric sense, it’s worth repeating. Men are not numerically united. The Father, Son, and Spirit are not numerically united. As the aforementioned dog-horse illustration shows, that would lead to Sabellianism. There is one definition but multiple possessions of that one definition. There is not one omniscient mind, though there may be one definition of “omniscient mind.” Actually, Clark’s primary method of individuation necessitates three omniscient minds:
Though they are all equally omniscient, they do not all know the same truths. Neither the complex of truths we call the Father nor those we call the Spirit, has the proposition, “I was incarnated.” This proposition occurs only in the Son’s complex. Other examples are implied. The Father cannot say, “I walked from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Nor can the Spirit say, “I begot the Son.” Hence the Godhead consists of three persons, each omniscient without having precisely the same context. (The Incarnation, pgs. 54-55)
Naturally, human beings are mutable: Their thoughts or minds change. The three Persons of the Godhead are immutable because their thoughts never change. They never forget what they now know, they never learn something new, in fact they have never learned anything. Their thought is eternal. Since also the three Persons do not have precisely the same set of thoughts, they are not one Person, but three. If substance were the principle of individuation – for we have seen that space-time cannot be – then there could not be three Persons. Identity of substance would mean identity of person. If then substance, for this and other reasons, is not the principle of individuation, the theologians referred to should explain what their principle is. (The Trinity, Individuation)
More precise would be to say that though each person knows the same truths and propositions – meanings of statements – they are able to state their knowledge differently. This variance in ability is entirely due to the utterer, not the content of what it uttered per se. One can refer to oneself or one’s ego with the indexical “I.” Such reflexive utterances would mean the same thing as [others’] statements in which the name of the person is substituted for the indexical he would use, for the referent is the same in both cases – so it is the same propositional knowledge – but still, only the first person can state the proposition with the indexical without a loss of or change in meaning. At any rate, Clark is correct that the Father, Son, and Spirit have different thoughts. Distinct persons and thoughts both imply distinct minds, and Clark implies as much when he equates “a person” with “a mind, an intelligence” (The Trinity, The Holy Spirit).
I mention all this because I find it strange that Clark would be inclined to agree with Gregory of Nyssa that the joint operation of the Trinitarian persons is the principle of unity which suffices for Trinitarians to legitimately believe in one God rather than three. If the “Godhead signifies an operation, not a nature,” then Godhead and God do not mean the same thing. For Clark agrees with Berkhof and Gill that “God” is His attributes and His attributes are His nature:
The Biblical data, as it seems to me, adequately support Berkhof’s assertion that “God and his attributes are one” (44). Psalm 85:10 gives literary expression to this idea: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” The Scriptures give no hint of a quality-less ousia to which separate attributes are somehow glued on. “Neither can they be regarded as something added to the Being of God.”
In this Berkhof agrees with John Gill, who also held that “the attributes of God...are not other than God himself, and neither differ from one another, but with respect to their objects and effects, and in our manner of conception of them; nor from the nature and essence of God: they are himself and his nature...” (A Body of Divinity, I, iv, 34, column 2). (The Trinity, Hodge and Berkhof)
One Godhead or [joint] operation, then, would not answer the tritheistic objection. There would still be three possessions of the one definition of “God.” To be sure, this definition may necessitate cooperative rather than independent action, but this does not establish monotheism. Monotheism pertains to the immanent or ontological Trinity, not the economic Trinity, so reference to the activity of the persons seems out of place in this discussion anyway.
But sometimes Clark himself is less than clear in his usage terminology, so it is difficult to follow what meaning of Godhead he intends. Does he really think “Godhead” means the operation of the persons per Gregory of Nyssa? Or does he think it refers to the “qualities” or “attributes” the persons have in common?
The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity certainly teaches that the Father and Son are equal in power and glory, and, as equally eternal, they may be called equally ultimate. But the Father is not to be equated with unity and the Son with plurality. The three persons are the plurality and the Godhead is the unity. The Godhead is not one of the persons as distinct from another, but rather the common reality shared by the three. Such is our partial answer to the objections of Islam, and also to some confused American theologians. But whether the group of common qualities, the Godhead, is more ultimate than any one of the three persons who share these attributes, and whether “ultimate” means “generic,” for certainly there is no chronological precedence in this argument, are questions more properly discussed in a systematic theology than in an exegesis of Colossians. (Commentaries on Paul’s Epistles, pg. 204)
Clark certainly doesn’t seem satisfied with Gregory of Nyssa’s answer, which he admitted was perhaps lame. But then, I don’t see that Clark provides a significantly different answer. Clark writes that “…the Trinity has three Persons but only one will” (The Incarnation, pg. 22), and he uses this fact in what may be his most direct explanation as to how the unity among the persons of the Trinity is superior to the unity among men:
Naturally the Persons of the Trinity are one in the sense that all men are one, and all horses; but it does not follow that the three Persons are one only in that sense. For example, three human beings have three wills; but the three Persons of the Trinity have but one will. Hence the diversification of human beings is not identical to the diversification of the Persons, for which reason we cannot assert that the two unities are completely identical. (The Atonement, pg. 117)
However, if this is intended to explain how there are not three Gods, it seems to be very similar to be Gregory of Nyssa’s answer. It depends on whether “operation” is synonymous with “will.” If so, then the above criticisms apply. But in any case, is “one will” to be taken generically or numerically? If the former, saying the persons of the Trinity are “of one will” insofar as they distinctly will unto to the same ends, goals, or purposes seems little different than the fact that the Trinity is “of one mind.” And as men could hypothetically be completely of one mind or will and remain three distinct men, the persons of the Trinity could be completely of one mind and will and remain three distinct Gods.
So even if the following citations can somehow be squared with the idea that the three persons of the Trinity each possess a numerically distinct will which nevertheless cannot act apart from the wills of the other persons, this affirmation of generic unity would not explain how the unity of will in the Trinity differs in nature from unity possible among men, let alone why it means that there is one God in a sense significantly different than all other genera such that the fact three species of the genus may each be called “God” does not in turn imply three Gods:
God sent His Son. Christ did not come of his own individual volition. He was sent. This does not mean that he was unwilling and reluctant to come. In fact, the phrase ‘his own individual volition’ is very poor theology. The three Persons of the Trinity have but one will. On earth Christ did not act on his own volition: “I did not come of myself (on my own authority), but he who sent me is true”; and, “I do nothing on my own authority, but as the Father has taught me, these things I speak” (the Gospel 7:28, 8:28, 42). (First John, pg. 134)
…one would ordinarily think that a person must have a will. But the orthodox doctrine allows the three persons of the Trinity to have one will only, while surprisingly the incarnate Jesus has two wills, one divine, one human; and yet even with a human will, and “reasonable soul,” he is not a human person. (The Trinity, The Athanasian Creed)
Thus the begetting of the Son occurs, and the Son as a Person exists, by a necessity of the divine nature – the nature of the divine will. Later this theme may become complicated, or simplified, by the identification of the Father’s will, the Son’s will, and the Spirit’s will as one will. (The Trinity, Eternal Generation)
If, as is apparent, Clark means that there is really just one numeric will, how is that metaphysically possible? How can wills of persons be numerically united without persons being numerically united? The ambiguity of what it means for there to be “one will” is surprising, given Clark’s usual antipathy for imprecise terminology.
Does this mean Father will to die on cross? How can one person love another if there is only one numeric will? Doesn’t agreement between two parties presuppose numerically distinct wills and, if so, how is the covenant of redemption possible on Clark’s view? How can the persons have different thoughts if each does not distinctly possess a will whereby He is able to assent to differently indexed statements?
It does not look like Clark has any other answer than to return to the idea that monotheism is true because, as a genus, “God” is numerically distinct from all other subjects. It has a unique definition. That returns us to the problem of why we may say there are three men but not three Gods. Or if there really is only one man, is there only one “person”? For there are a great many individuals of whom “person” can be predicated. Does the fact that these are species of the genus “Person” imply that there is one person? Is Clark a solipsist? Doubtful. Does it not make more sense to say that while the definition of “person,” “man,” and “God,” is the same in each case of predication, because the members’ possessions of it are distinct, they are each able to be counted as numerically distinct instances of the Idea? If not, what has happened to the “omnipresence” of the Idea?
It appears that despite his best efforts, Clark did not harmonize monotheism with Trinitarianism. So what is there left to say? For starters, I think I know what generic and numeric unity mean. Additionally, on the one hand, Trinity and Trinitarianism are not words found in Scripture. Scripture does not bind our conscience to these labels. On the other hand, what these labels represent in church history is relevant insofar as the persons associated with the label accurately explain and defend Scripture. I am a Scripturalist, but I recognize the practical function of history. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t refer to myself as a Calvinist, Protestant, etc. And I believe Clark agreed:
After the time of the apostles the immediate need of the church was to formulate and defend the deity of Christ, which it did in the doctrine of the Trinity in the Nicene Creed. (Predestination, pg. 82)
Some theologians, whose Christianity is in doubt, assert that the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of Athanasius, is seriously deformed by a large admixture of Greek philosophy. If the reader takes the good advice to turn immediately to Athanasius’ On the Decree, he may be amazed at the amount of Scripture he uses, and the virtually complete absence of Greek philosophy – only one short reference in the whole book, if I remember correctly. (First John, pg. 154)
If, as Clark thinks, Trinitarianism is represented by the Nicene Creed and Athanasian doctrine – and I would certainly agree – then I would and will argue that these and other primary Trinitarian sources certainly permit Trinitarians to hold to the subordination of the Son, the Monarchy of the Father, and the denial of numeric unity among the persons of the Trinity or between these persons and the divine nature. That is to say, they permit the idea that the Father is the metaphysical ground of the persons and definitions of the Son and Spirit, and the resultant perichoretic unity is able to account for their unity in mind, will, and nature as well as biblical monotheism and Trinitarianism. These men and creeds are fallible, but there is much about Scripture which can be learned through them. To conclude, then, I still insist I at the very least hold to an orthodox strain of historic Trinitarianism.