Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Addressing Jason's Trinitarian Arguments -Part I

Before I wrap up my series on the Trinity doctrine in the light of reason, I want to address a few objections posed by some Trinitarian objectors. An Orthodox apologist named "Jason" submits the following reply:

Before making any further pronoucements [sic] on the alleged 'unreasonableness' of the doctrine of the Trinity, you might want to reflect on the following answer to the question which Edgar raised on his blog. The reason why human beings cannot be one and many at the same time involves the following observations.

Edgar: the first mistake that Jason makes is to deal with a question that is not identical to the one that I posed. My question concerns how it is factually possible for three persons (however one defines the term "person") to exist as one being rather than three beings. But Jason chooses to frame my question in terms of the One and Many problem. In this way, he basically sidesteps my initial query.

Jason continues to quote Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas:

(a) In human existence, nature precedes the person. When John or George or Basil are born, the one human nature precedes them; they, therefore represent and embody only part of the human nature. Through human procreation humanity is divided, and no human person can be said to be the bearer of the totality of human nature. This is why the death of one person does not automatically bring about the death of the rest — or conversely, the life of one such person the life of the rest.

The term "nature" is ambiguous. One should clearly define what he or she means by the term. (For instance, see Christopher Stead's work Divine Substance.)Granted, there is a sense in which "nature" (understood as the complex of properties that inform X) is existentially prior to X (= an entity that instantiates a determinate complex of properties). But "nature" can be analyzed in more ways than Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas or Jason suggest. For instance, Aristotle makes a distinction between primary and secondary substance (SUBSTANTIA) and John Duns Scotus is known for analyzing "nature" in terms of an entity's "thisness" or HAECCEITAS (i.e. Peter not only instantiates a nature that is like John's, but Peter also instantiates a haecceity or thisness). Hence, the analysis presented above is inadequate or at best incomplete. Besides, Jason's source does not refute what I have hitherto stated. He does not satisfactorily explain how three persons do not = three beings in the divine sphere. Even the Cappadocians recognized the difficulties with speaking of three persons as one being. See Gregory of Nyssa's attempt to handle this logical difficulty:

Compare his words with Gregory of Nazianzius in Migne PG 35:1220-1221 here:,M1

(b) Because of this, each human person can be conceived as an individual, i.e. as an entity independent ontologically from other human beings. The unity between human beings is not ontologically identical with their diversity or multiplicity. The one and the many do not coincide. It is this existential difficulty that leads to the logical difficulty of saying 'one' and 'many' with the same breath.

My argument is not regarding the One and the Many. It concerns the difficulty that both Gregory of Nazianzius and Gregory of Nyssa discerned in their treatises, namely, how is it factually possible for three persons to = one being? Gregory of Nyssa tried to address the logical difficulty by insisting that human language incorrectly refers to Peter, James, and John as "three men" since human nature is not divisible nor capable of increase or decrease. He writes:

But since the correction of the habit is impracticable (for how could you persuade any one not to speak of those who are exhibited in the same nature as “many men”?—indeed, in every case habit is a thing hard to change), we are not so far wrong in not going contrary to the prevailing habit in the case of the lower nature, since no harm results from the mistaken use of the name

Compare Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition 1:218-224.

Now, if we contrast this with God's existence, we see immediately that this existential and hence logical difficulty is not applicable to God. Since God by definition has not had a beginning, and space and time do not enter His existence, the three persons of the Trinity do not share a pre-existing or logically prior to them divine nature, but coincide with it. Multiplicity in God does not involve a division of His nature, as happens with man." - Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas, The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: The Significance of the Cappadocian Contribution.

I have already noted the irrelevance of this answer, so I will not repeat what I have pointed out above. I will conclude by noting that question begging in abundance is occurring here. Firstly, I like the way that "individual" is redefined in an ad hoc manner. After all, Boethius had no problem using the expression "individual substance of a rational nature" to describe a divine person. Thomas Aquinas was amenable to Boethius' definition of PERSONA although he saw the need to nuance each term belonging to the Boethian definition.

Secondly, while I agree with Zizioulas that God has no beginning, God's relationship to time is more debatable. Additionally, whether there is a triune God or a nature with which these supposed three persons coincide is the question. This kind of circular reasoning should be avoided at all costs. Thirdly, multiplicity in God has yet to be proved (quod erat demonstrandum). Why is Jason employing a priori reasoning to supposedly refute my views?

I will address Jason's other "arguments" in another submission.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My only comment concerning Jason is he goes far beyond scripture in trying to explain his point of view