Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trinitarian Bruisings

I had thought that after Sean closed the door on our last conversation (link), he was content to lick his wounds and move on. Apparently not. While I see no point in beating dead quadrupeds of any kind, if Sean is going to continue his mulish “musings” at my expense, I will oblige him, though I had hoped by this point we would have gotten beyond potshot misrepresentations. Unfortunately, in his continued effort to kick against the pricks, Sean Gerety has written yet another article in which he states that my view of generic unity is false (link): 
Many readers of this blog are probably already familiar with Joel Parkinson’s excellent piece, The Intellectual Triunity of God, which he wrote as basically an appendix to Clark’s monograph on the Trinity.  In that piece, Parkinson offers an a arguably much needed additional defense of Clark’s realistic and generic view of the Trinity (as opposed to the faux theory of “generic” unity currently being offered up to the confusion of some by subordinationists Ryan Hedrich and Drake Shelton). 
I honestly don’t know what prompts Sean to write these things. One would think that multiple corrections on this point – both on his blog and mine – would make some impression. For a guy who doesn’t like digging in the mud, it sure seems as though he is willing to throw just about anything against a wall to see what sticks. If Sean really wants to get his hands dirty, I suggest he respond to this post in which I wrote a comprehensive review of Clark’s thoughts on generic and numeric unity, concluding that his and my usage of these terms are in agreement. Otherwise, his sniping is likely to accidentally hit Clark... and himself, for that matter, for Sean has elsewhere defined generic unity as follows: “A generic unity is that all three divine persons share in the definition of God. God is the genus, and, per Clark, “a genus is not one of its included individuals”” (link). Would it not be rather embarrassing if it turns out my understanding of generic unity is the same as Sean’s? 

Sure, Sean rejects that generic unity “requires three individual beings or essences, not one,” but this is merely a semantic quibble. I could eliminate the language of “being” from the discussion altogether and my criticisms of his position would be the same. But to indulge Sean for a moment, if a genus does not unite beings, what does it unite? Persons? But persons are just a specific type of being. We speak of human beings all the time; why can we not divine beings? Further, I’ve already pointed out to Sean that Clark equated “being” with “definition” – “Ousia means being (a participle noun), reality, or definition” (The Trinity, The Athanasian Creed). Different definitions of the Father and the Son would imply different beings. Does Sean think the definition of the Father is the same as the definition of the Son? I doubt Sean is a Sabellian. Or does he disagree with Clark’s definition of “being”? Remember what I said about accidental sniping? Surely anyone reading both sides of this exchange can see that Sean is just putting up a smokescreen.

I mentioned that my criticism of Sean’s position is the same regardless of the meaning of “being.” To reiterate it, there is a problem with a view of the Trinity in which generic unity is not supplemented: it leads to tritheism. Just as one definition of person does not imply there are not multiple people, just as one definition of human does not imply there are not multiple humans, so too one definition of God does not itself imply there are not multiple Gods. These would only be true if there were only one individual of whom this definition could be predicated. But there are quite obviously many individuals who can be called person and human. So too there are three individuals who may be said to be God, at least insofar as God means “divine”: there are three individuals who are divine (i.e. God) just as there are numerous individuals who are human or persons. Again, if not qualified, this leads to tritheism. After making this criticism several times, it seems Sean is finally realizing its seriousness. To this end, Sean predictably punts from answering it by citing an article by Joel Parkinson. Here is the first section:
The doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the orthodox Christian faith. Trinitarian thought pervades the New Testament and is presupposed in the central doctrines of the Incarnation (Luke 1.35), Atonement (Hebrews 9:14), Resurrection (Romans 8:11), and Salvation (1 Peter 1:2) as well as in the practices of water baptism (Matthew 28:19) and prayer (Ephesians 2:18). Consequently, there can be no doubt that failure to accept the Trinity will lead to fatal errors in the rest of one’s theology. However, the Trinity is often viewed as a difficult if not self-contradictory concept. Is the Trinity really incoherent? The present article seeks to respond to this question with an emphatic “No.” 
In essence, the doctrine of the Trinity may be outlined by the following three propositions: 
1. There is only one God who is immutably and eternally indivisible and simple (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6). 
2. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each fully and co-equally God (John 20:17; John 1:1; Acts 5:3-5). 
3. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct and not one and the same (Mark 1:10-11; John 15:26; Hebrews 9:14). 
Now each of these affirmations is essential to the doctrine of God. To deny (1) is to fall into the error of tritheism. To repudiate (2) is to embrace subordinationism. To reject (3) is to settle for modalism. The reader may note that the personality of the Three is not explicitly stated. This is because the word “person” is not a Biblical term but one of convenience in theology. Nonetheless the intent behind the word “person” is wrapped up in these three truths. Call them what you will – persons, consciousness, or selves – whatever the Father is, the Son and the Holy Spirit are as well.
There is not much here with which I would necessarily disagree. In other parts of his article – like where Parkinson predicates persons of the divine nature – I would have some disagreements, but in this section, the only points I would wish to be clarified pertain to what Parkinson means by certain words. For instance, in what sense is God “simple”? In the Augustinian or Neo-Platonic sense or some less strict sense? In any case, I believe Sean should have more difficulty accepting Parkinson’s three tenets than I do. Consider the fact that in Parkinson’s first affirmation, Parkinson uses the singular personal pronoun “who” to refer to the “only one God” and then cites two New Testament passages (Deuteronomy 6:4 is arguable as well) which are blatant references to the single person of the Father. Does Sean think the one God is a single person, i.e. the Father? No. Well, how then does Sean accept the first proposition? Does Sean think Parkinson is a Van Tilian in disguise?

Sean suggests I reject the second proposition. But if “God” is here defined as “divine,” I have no problem stating the persons of the Trinity are fully and equally God, for this definition is univocally predicated of each person. I’ve said this from day one. The suggestion I am a subordinationist is a canard I have refuted several times. I have even begun to refer to the subordination of the Son as immanent rather than ontological – both of which would be in contrast to a merely economic subordination – to avoid this confusion. But I have weathered Sean’s lies for some time now. At this point, I almost have to laugh when Sean says my alleged rejection of this second proposition by Parkinson puts me “outside of biblical trinitarianism no matter how conceived  and no matter how many pre-Nicene fathers may appear to support his view” – as if I have only cited pre-Nicene fathers or as if they only “appear” to support my view. But I suppose unequivocal agreement with the lead opponent of Arius (link) is not enough to disqualify me from the ranks of Unitarians, Arians, and semi-Arians... uh huh. Despite this, I imagine I will keep hearing these stale, pre-recorded accusations in the future.

Moving on, Sean cites Parkinson as saying:
…separability among the three is absolutely impossible. If there were to be a rift within the Godhead, then each of the Persons could no longer immediately know the thoughts of the others. But this could only occur if these thoughts were never known (denying that they were ever omniscient) or if they were to forget something (denying their immutable omniscience). So we see that the unique case of divine omniscience is only possible for the three Persons if they are utterly inseparable. Or, to put it another way, the fact of divine omniscience makes divisibility among the three thinking Persons metaphysically impossible.
After quoting an article in which Clark too recognized that his position could lead to tritheism – though it is curious that Clark did not go on to provide an explanation of how the Trinity are “one” in any “stricter” sense than generically – Sean again cites Parkinson as saying:
For instance, one could say that God is three Persons with one divine nature. But though this is true, if it is left unqualified it implies tritheism. Three men clearly share a common human nature but are not indivisible. One man could be killed without necessarily endangering the existence and identities of the other two. So there must be something unique to the divine nature precluding such divisibility.
Now, what does the indivisibility and inseparability of the persons prove? What is Sean’s point? My best guess is that these quotes are somehow intended to show that Sean’s position doesn’t lead to tritheism after all. But how does that follow from these paragraphs?

There are necessarily three eternally divine persons. True enough. Does that somehow imply there are not three eternally divine and distinct individuals? No. In fact, by Parkinson’s account, the indivisibility and inseparability of the persons of the Trinity also necessarily implies their individual distinctness. So when we say the Father is God (divine), the Son is God (divine), and the Spirit is God (divine), does the fact that the existences of the Father, Son, and Spirit are mutually entailing – each one implying the other two – somehow imply that that there are not three distinct or individual Gods (divinities)? No. “God” is still the genus, and there are still three persons who are distinct or individual members of this genus. The genus may necessarily require the eternality of all of its members, but it nevertheless remains the genus, and the members remain the members.

That is, to put it simply, Parkinson has, at most, demonstrated that the Father, Son, and Spirit must each be eternal and everlasting – there is never a time at which they don’t exist. So how is indivisibility and inseparability relevant to the problem of tritheism?


MikeD said...

It may not be as deep as we wish to go but I think indivisibility does pertain very much to the "oneness" of God. Yes the divine Persons are one in some sense and human persons are one in some sense... but those are not the same sense. Perhaps we can say that the similarity of oneness is that the individuals (human and divine) are members of a more general class (genus), but whereas you would remain a human person should I be annihilated (or never had existed - please disregard, if possible, any notion of strict necessitarianism for now), this is not the case for the Father and the Son. Does this not attribute God with a unity not true of any other being?

One other related comment, I've noticed that you strongly hold to the notion that there are many human beings and then this forms a line of argument. Need this be the case? I'm sympathetic to the notion as you hold to it, probably because of common usage, but does not scripture say that, "In Him we live and move and have our being"? Do not men have one common nature, implying that we should more precisely say that there really is only one human being, but many human persons?

Thanks for you time.

Ryan said...

"It may not be as deep as we wish to go but I think indivisibility does pertain very much to the "oneness" of God."

Define "God." The divine nature?

If so, I don't see how your argument is any different than Parkinson's. Yes, the unity of the Trinity is stricter than the unity of humans, because the Trinity are necessarily eternal. But the fact remains: the genus is the genus, the members are the members.

"Do not men have one common nature, implying that we should more precisely say that there really is only one human being, but many human persons?"

It depends on how you define the word under consideration. I did that when I stated agreement with Clark's definition of "being." Also, "being" function either as a singular or a plural. In Acts 17:28, it's plural, assuming the KJV is the most precise translation in the first place.

But as I said, I could eliminate the language of being altogether and the criticism is the same. Generically, there are many humans - persons of whom humanity may be predicated. Generically, there are many Gods - persons of whom divinity may be predicated.