Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

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Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby Kurieuo » Thu May 19, 2016 4:19 pm

I'm hoping you'll weigh in Jac with how God being simple is reconcilable with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. And of course, anyone else feel free to chime in.

Whenever I've explained the Trinity in the past, it's always been in reference to this person or that person intertwined under God's raw divine essence. However, a simple view of God, especially where God would embody Person rather than "being a person" like God is Righteousness rather than "being righteous", it seems a social Trinitarian position doesn't find a comfortable home with Divine Simplicity.
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Re: Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby Jac3510 » Thu May 19, 2016 8:37 pm

So, yeah, this is a difficult problem. Not impossible, of course, but difficult. Aquinas talks about it here:

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1028.htm

I talk about it here (page 122 numbered or 124 absolutely) and here (chapter 12).

So much for links . . . the short(ish) answer is first to just deny the problem as a unique problem at all. The Trinity, by definition, is the idea that in One God subsists Three Persons. Simplicity is nothing more than the first part--that in One God. Obviously Simplicity runs a lot deeper, but that really does get to the heart of the matter, because when people object to DS on the basis of the Trinity, rather than showing a flaw in DS, it actually demonstrates a flaw in their perception of the Trinity. That is (much like your social trinity suggestion), it suggests that when they are thinking about the Trinity, they are thinking of the three Persons as distinct beings that are in some mystical, almost magical way, "one" being. Ignore the problem that God should not be considered a being at all. My point is just that this line of attack reveals a latent tritheism in the back of most people's minds. As soon as they do the work to get rid of the tritheism, they'll find themselves at the traditional Christian language of ousia or essence and the Persons (or hypostases) being identical with that essence and so on. And when they get into all that, they'll in the process answer the DS objection anyway.

So I start that way because I think that takes any force of the argument if someone (not thinking of you) are making an argument against DS. If we can just see it as a better attempt to understand the Trinity itself, we'll get a lot further. We're just asking what is it we really mean when we say that the One God is Three Persons? And the traditional answer goes something like this:

If any Person exists in the Trinity, then that Person is identical to the Divine Essence. So there is at least One Person--no one doubts that at all. But in Persons there are one are called "processions," the two of particular interest being the procession of the will (or love) and the intellect. We can't make the obvious move of making the intellect a second Person and the will a third Person, because then the First Person wouldn't have an intellect or will; the second wouldn't have a principle or will; and the third wouldn't have a principle or intellect. But the fact remains that these processions are real. For reasons I won't get into here but will if we need to, the processions (technically called "internal processions") are themselves identical with the Divine Essence and so with each other. That shouldn't be too surprising--in God, to will is to know and to know is to will. Fine. But because these are processions, and because the processions themselves are real, and far more important than that, there are relations between these processions, and these are necessarily real relations. And to simply a bit further, THAT is where you get the three Persons. A relation always and necessarily implies opposites to be related. Since the relations are themselves identical with the divine essence, they are truly God. They are not distinguishable at the level of essence. They are only distinguishable in terms of their relations one to another (the Principle that gives rise to the procession of the intellect, and that procession is called generation; so when one generates another, the first is called Father, and the second is called Son; and the procession of the will is called love, such that the relation between the two Persons--the willing of the Principle of the Second Person--we call "spiration," which is to say, the Spirit). That's really important--there can be absolutely NO way to distinguish the Persons except in their relations one to each other, because the Persons just are the the relations. But, again, since the relations just are the divine essence, and since they therefore cannot be distinguished otherwise, then the three Persons are actually identical with the essence and distinguishable from one another only with respect to one another.

Clear? :lol: y=P~
Proinsias wrote:I don't think you are hearing me. Preference for ice cream is a moral issue

And that, brothers and sisters, is the kind of foolishness you get people who insist on denying biblical theism. A good illustration of any as the length people will go to avoid acknowledging basic truths.

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Re: Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby crochet1949 » Fri May 20, 2016 6:38 pm

Clear? I notice you're laughing at the clear part. Maybe 'clear as murky water' would be accurate.

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Re: Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby Jac3510 » Fri May 20, 2016 8:42 pm

It's a tough subject. Work though it line by line, and where you have a question, ask. :P
Proinsias wrote:I don't think you are hearing me. Preference for ice cream is a moral issue

And that, brothers and sisters, is the kind of foolishness you get people who insist on denying biblical theism. A good illustration of any as the length people will go to avoid acknowledging basic truths.

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Re: Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby crochet1949 » Sat May 21, 2016 9:03 am

Your last paragraph about 'processians' -- maybe in more 'layman's language'. I'm reading / understanding from a Baptist perspective // that which is in Scripture. You're sounding more philosophical?

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Re: Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby Jac3510 » Sat May 21, 2016 12:09 pm

It is philosophical. Coming from a Baptist tradition, I think I can fairly say that Baptists make very little use of philosophy at all. The unfortunate part of that is that they insist on teaching and accepting doctrines that are by the nature necessarily philosophical, but failing to understand that, they think theological language is the same as an explanation. They do this (again, in my experience, which is extensive in Baptist circles) certainly with the Trinity, but also with the hypostatic union and even to some extent creation ex nihilo and pretty much anything that say with reference to God's omnipotence, immutability, and aseity. The Calvinist argument that has been raging for the last two decades in the SBC is completely and totally rooted in a failure to distinguish correctly between philosophical and theological problems.

OK, so much for that rant. Bringing it back to this thread, it's important to note that the Trinity is not a doctrine to be explained. It is the explanation of the biblical data. So asking for an explanation of the Trinity is just asking for an explanation of the explanation. And that's fine, but then we have to ask what kind of explanation the Trinity is. And the answer is that it is a philosophical analysis of the biblical data. Therefore, you can't explain the Trinity using only (or even primarily) biblical language, because that's not what it is. Again, the Trinity is, by definition, a philosophical explanation for the biblical data, and it is that data that is the theological language we are trying to understand.

So theological data is actually pretty simple. You need to affirm these statements:

1. There is only one God
2. There is a Person called the Father is who God
3. There is a Person called the Son who is God
4. There is a Person called the Holy Spirit who is God
5. These Three Persons are distinct from one another (that is, the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit).

If you affirm those five statements, you are orthodox. The problem becomes answering the question, "How can we hold those five statements to be true together?" The answer to that question is the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, to be clear, you could--in theory--reject the Trinity (insofar as you reject the explanation) even as you accept all five statements and still be orthodox. But practical problem is that in rejecting the explanation of the Trinity, you end up denying at least one of the five. And sadly, many people--especially Baptists--don't understand the explanation because they don't understand philosphy, such that they do hold all five statements to be true, but their own attempts to explain it theologically rather than philosophically fall short such that they do not accept the Trinity as actually stated, and worse, their own explanations (unintentionally) entail a rejection of one of the five statements. This usually takes the form of either a latent Tritheism (i.e., a social gospel) or else a latent Modalism (i.e., comparing the Father, Son, and Spirit to the three states of water or to the three sides of a triangle).

If, then, I've sold you on the importance of the philosophical language, I'll just address the notion of procession. Aquinas discusses it in some detail here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1027.htm

So strictly, a procession is just something that proceeds or comes from something else. So in any cause/effect relationship, the effect is a procession of the cause. Taken one way, the effect proceeds from the cause; taken another way, the cause proceeds to the effect. My wife and I producing children might be an example of the former: our children proceed from (are processions of) us. The second is more common, where this causes that: a baseball shatters a glass, in which the shattering is a procession of the ball hitting it in a certain way at a certain time. Now the Bible clearly says that the Son proceeds from the Father (John 8:42), so we know there is procession in God. The problem is that in these processions, that which processes from is different that which processes to. The effect and cause are different, and that obviously. But taken seriously, this should imply that the Father and Son are different things entirely, where the Father is the cause of the Son. But that would create very seriously problems, as you can imagine.

The solution is to recognize that the types of processions discussed above are called "outward processions." This proceeds externally to that. But at least in the case rational creatures, for every outward procession there is a corresponding inward procession. In the case of the will, we call this inward procession an intention. In the case of the intellect, we call this knowing. So if I knowingly throw a baseball through the window, then there is an outward procession of the second type discussed above, but there are also two inward corresponding processions--there is my knowledge that if I throw the ball through the window it will shatter (I had to think about that to know it), and then there is the related intention to actually throw the ball through the window. In both of these cases, there is an internal action that precedes the outward action and, in fact, gives rise to it. Now, in any inward procession, that which proceeds from and proceeds to are identical. It is I myself who knew that the ball would shatter the glass (you see the inward procession from me to what I know), and it is I myself who intended to so throw the ball (again, you see the inward procession). In both cases, I am the same--I was that which proceeded in myself, from this, to that. There are more technical reasons this is true when you get into a deeper philosophical understanding of the the intellect and the will actually are, but let that pass for now.

Now if there is inward procession in us, then how much--how much higher--ought any procession in God be inward as well. And to quote Aquinas here, as I think he is rather clear on this point: "Procession, therefore, is not to be understood from what it is in bodies, either according to local movement or by way of a cause proceeding forth to its exterior effect, as, for instance, like heat from the agent to the thing made hot. Rather it is to be understood by way of an intelligible emanation, for example, of the intelligible word which proceeds from the speaker, yet remains in him. In that sense the Catholic Faith understands procession as existing in God."

So you will find out that there are two processions in God. There is the procession of the Word (which will for still other reasons come to be called generation) and there is a procession of love (which for still other reasons is not generation, but simply a procession absolutely). And these processions will form the basis of the relations between them, and those relations are identical with the three Persons.

Somewhat technical, I know. But thoughts so far?
Proinsias wrote:I don't think you are hearing me. Preference for ice cream is a moral issue

And that, brothers and sisters, is the kind of foolishness you get people who insist on denying biblical theism. A good illustration of any as the length people will go to avoid acknowledging basic truths.

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Re: Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby Kurieuo » Sun May 22, 2016 8:27 pm

Thanks Jac, when I get some time, I'm going to mull over it all.
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Re: Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby Kurieuo » Mon May 23, 2016 8:28 am

I've had time to mull over this, and I'm just going to try give a summary version of what I've arrived at.

Given we identify "love" in the world, then the maximal perfection of such necessarily requires personal relations. Thus, in order for God to possess love maximally, God is Relational within who God is as God. Evidently, only Christianity can come close to describing God in this way.

I do not believe this understanding of God is necessarily contradictory to Divine Simplicity, and in fact DS thinking consistently applied easily allows for a Trinitarian understanding of God, even a social conception. There just needs to be a change in gears from an apologetical "maximal being" framework that describes this and that attribute, to an openness as to the nature of God as God. This change in gears is justified, once we realise what we call God as being this or that attribute, ought to be more simply reduced to God exhibiting godliness (i.e., God as God).

Once it is realised we're abstracting attributes in human terms from this maximal being (i.e., God) and then re-applying them back onto God (quite funny actually), we are then free to reasonably search out God as God rather than God being this and that individualised attribute (Anselm's argument still holds, if not more-so imo).

Furthermore, I really can't see how an individualisation of attributes can really be tolerated in DS thinking, but strangely it is always done. For example, it is often said God doesn't possess goodness but is Goodness, God doesn't possess love but is Love, etc; this individualisation of attributes seems to be inconsistent with Divine Simplicity which ought to at most say God loves because God is God.
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Re: Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby Jac3510 » Mon May 23, 2016 8:03 pm

Kurieuo wrote:I've had time to mull over this, and I'm just going to try give a summary version of what I've arrived at.

Given we identify "love" in the world, then the maximal perfection of such necessarily requires personal relations. Thus, in order for God to possess love maximally, God is Relational within who God is as God. Evidently, only Christianity can come close to describing God in this way.

A great apologetic for the basic truthfulness of Christianity, no--or at least for the Christian conception of God being the closest we know of to any God that really does exist.

I do not believe this understanding of God is necessarily contradictory to Divine Simplicity, and in fact DS thinking consistently applied easily allows for a Trinitarian understanding of God, even a social conception. There just needs to be a change in gears from an apologetical "maximal being" framework that describes this and that attribute, to an openness as to the nature of God as God. This change in gears is justified, once we realise what we call God as being this or that attribute, ought to be more simply reduced to God exhibiting godliness (i.e., God as God).

You are quite right that Thomists don't like the "maximal being" framework. In fact, thoroughgoing Thomists think that whole concept is really absurd, as is the related idea of "best possible world." And you are also correct that, at base, what God exhibits just is "godness."

Once it is realised we're abstracting attributes in human terms from this maximal being (i.e., God) and then re-applying them back onto God (quite funny actually), we are then free to reasonably search out God as God rather than God being this and that individualised attribute (Anselm's argument still holds, if not more-so imo).

Right. So if Anselm's argument does not work, it has really very little to do with DS. There is a technical argument against it, but it turns out to be an epsitemological argument . . . well . . . not really, but yes. It's sort of hard to explain and way off topic. But in any case, I'm in full agreement here, too.

Furthermore, I really can't see how an individualisation of attributes can really be tolerated in DS thinking, but strangely it is always done. For example, it is often said God doesn't possess goodness but is Goodness, God doesn't possess love but is Love, etc; this individualisation of attributes seems to be inconsistent with Divine Simplicity which ought to at most say God loves because God is God.

So this is the only place I might nuance what you are saying a bit. If we are talking about attributes in the platonic sense, as if omniscience is really somehow a distinct reality/property/attribute/whatever from omnipotence (like in humans power is really different from knowledge, whatever that ends up meaning), then you are quite correct. The way Thomists have traditionally dealt with this is to point out that all of our statements about God are analogous. There are really no univocal terms between God['s essence] and the created world. So when we identify love int his world and then we identify perfect love in God, what we are really saying is, "The perfection called love in this world corresponds in some way to God's essence, such that we can properly think about God's essence in a finite way as analogous to what love really is." And the same thing is true with all perfections. Further, the Thomists go further and say that in God love really is just identical with omnipotence and with omniscience and all the rest. In God, all those things are not different attributes, but they are just God.

Therefore, as you are seeing, we wouldn't really talk about any of these attributes individualizing in God. Rather, they are just different ways we may legitimately think about God's essence. And that isn't really as odd as it might sound. If I may quote from my thesis on this (and I think I said something very similar in the book, too, but I don't exactly recall):

    For instance, to speak of God’s perfection is to say that He is fully actualized, for a being is perfect insofar as it has being. God, being pure existence, is perfect in every way. Likewise, He is perfectly good since, in Thomas’ view, something is good to the extent that it exists. God is immutable because, as pure act, there is no potential in Him for change. He is eternal because there is no succession of moments, for again, a succession of moments implies potentiality, which does not exist in Him. God is omnipresent in the sense that He is giving existence to anything, anywhere, and any time that it exists. He is omnipotent in that nothing limits what God does; what He does, He simply does. Perhaps the most complicated attribute is God’s omniscience. Since God is pure being, to the extent that anything exists, it resembles Him. Thus, in fully knowing Himself, God simultaneously knows every way in which something could resemble His own essence. That, however, covers all possibilities as well as all actualities. But to know all things that are both actual and possible is to know everything, which is called omniscience. What this demonstrates is that there is no reason to think of God’s properties (e.g., “being omniscient,” and “being perfect”) as abstract objects that exist independently of God. Rather, they are different ways of thinking about the same act of God. By the very act of causing everything, God can in one way be said to be all powerful, in another way said to be all loving, in another way said to be all knowing, etc. This is even true of the various ideas that God knows. Plantinga, for instance, argues that “the property of being a horse is distinct from that of being a turkey and both are distinct from God and his essence.” But if everything—including being a turkey or horse—is similar to God insofar as it exists, then God, by virtue of knowing His own nature (a single idea) would simultaneously comprehend what it would mean to be a turkey or horse. Thus, even these ideas, when considered in themselves are distinct, yet when considered as to how they are known by God are one and the same.
The bottom line, then, is the individualization happens in the human mind. We, by nature, cannot conceive of pure existence. We can only conceive of something existing this way or that. And therefore, even the idea of existence itself is a mere analogy to God, because saying that reduces pure existence to a form--pure existence would be existence this way. So because that's the way our mind works, we end up talking about attributes--a good word when you think about it. It is we who "attribute to" God this or that property, where the properties are not some external existence but rather only "what is proper to say about" Him. It is proper to say that He knows everything. It is more proper to say that He just is all knowledge. But it is only proper as an analogy. Still because it is proper in that way, we may call it a property and attribute it to Him, and so we may say it is an attribute. We just have to make sure that we don't confuse our problems with linguistics and epistemology to force us to make certain ontological commitments (i.e., with Craig, that "being good" is really different from "being all knowing" or "being all powerful.")
Proinsias wrote:I don't think you are hearing me. Preference for ice cream is a moral issue

And that, brothers and sisters, is the kind of foolishness you get people who insist on denying biblical theism. A good illustration of any as the length people will go to avoid acknowledging basic truths.

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Re: Reconciling the Trinity with Divine Simplicity

Postby patrick » Thu Jan 26, 2017 2:01 am

So I thought I'd revive this thread to review my understanding of the Trinity. And perhaps get more discussion going.

Jac3510 wrote:...(much like your social trinity suggestion), it suggests that when they are thinking about the Trinity, they are thinking of the three Persons as distinct beings that are in some mystical, almost magical way, "one" being. Ignore the problem that God should not be considered a being at all.


It was interesting to me to see you take this approach, because I'd have said the key issue here is that the 3 persons of the Trinity are all God precisely because they are all fully being. IOW, everything else -- you, me, sand on the beach -- is not God because everything else lacks some degree of being. It's only because the three persons of the Trinity don't lack full being that they are the exclusive 3 persons.

Jac3510 wrote:...the processions (technically called "internal processions") are themselves identical with the Divine Essence and so with each other. That shouldn't be too surprising--in God, to will is to know and to know is to will. Fine. But because these are processions, and because the processions themselves are real, and far more important than that, there are relations between these processions, and these are necessarily real relations. And to simply a bit further, THAT is where you get the three Persons. A relation always and necessarily implies opposites to be related.


While the talk of processions as being one in the same as God is temple-rubbingly dense, I find it easier to place this stuff by keeping in mind the purpose of divine simpicity. That is to say, God is necessarily simple because God must be contingent on nothing but Himself. These processions, regardless of how one might understand them, are not things that God is contingent on, but rather things whose existence is contingent on God's existence. And a reflection on what the nature of this contingency is reveals that they are merely conceptual distinctions. In the same way that omnipotence is omnipresence (just thought about from a different angle), the Divine Will is the Divine Essence (again thought about focusing on just one aspect).

Jac3510 wrote:Since the relations are themselves identical with the divine essence, they are truly God. They are not distinguishable at the level of essence. They are only distinguishable in terms of their relations one to another (the Principle that gives rise to the procession of the intellect, and that procession is called generation; so when one generates another, the first is called Father, and the second is called Son; ...


This part gives me pause, because it sounds like it'd be equivalent to say the Father caused/genereated the Son. But ultimately I don't really have a problem with this, as the Son has (at least) two essences: immaterial (divine) and material (human). So even if the Son is caused by the Father as a human, the Divine Essence (that the Son also is) is not caused by the Father. More importantly, going back to my earlier point, the Son participates in the form God because He doesn't lack being, and that being can't be understood as separate in the Father and the Son since it's not "a being" but rather "beingness."


Thoughts? -- I just took apart Jac's post since he's elaborated most on defending DS, but I'm interested in hearing from anyone versed on this topic.


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