Friday, September 11, 2015

More on Trinitarians and a Single Consciousness in God

The orthodox Trinitarian works that I've read all deny that there are three "I thinks" in God. Granted, the Trinity doctrine may allow room for the "God-man" Jesus Christ to possess a human consciousness and a divine consciousness simultaneously, but if we prescind from the Incarnation, then I think you'll find that Trinitarians generally do not believe there are three consciousnesses in the Godhead. This belief would normally constitute tritheism:

"The philosophical input from Descartes, Kant, and John Locke (1632-1704) led to the emergence of a (but not THE) typically modern notion of person as the subject of self-awareness and freedom--in brief, person as a conscious and autonomous self ('I think and am free, therefore I am a person'). This notion, when applied to the doctrine of the Trinity, readily produces what looks suspiciously like tritheism: three autonomous subjects living and working together in a quasi-social unity" (Gerald O'Collins, The Tripersonal God, 155-156).

"In contemporary parlance, person is spontaneously identified as centre of consciousness and freedom. However, if we bring these pre-reflective categories to theology, we are immediately confronted with a problem. For if we say that God is one being in three persons, and if we understand by person centres of consciousness and freedom, then God becomes three centres of consciousness and there are three I think's in God. But such an understanding is the same as tritheism" (John J. O'Donnell, The Mystery of the Triune God, 103).

So O'Donnell attempts to effect a synthesis between the differing trinitarian notions of person. He observes that trinitarians have either viewed the tres personae as distinct subsistent relations (Karl Rahner), or interpreted the "persons" as separate centers of consciousness. As an alternative to the previous accounts, he suggests viewing the triune God as "one divine consciousness . . . shared by three persons" (110). Analogically, this means that "whereas in human experience, person and community are not identical, in God they are" (110).

While O'Donnell's analogical language does make some distinctions not hitherto made by trinitarians in the past, its shortcomings are that it seems to employ meta-experiential and meta-rational methods to accomplish its task. If, as O'Donnell intimates, community and individuality are the same thing in God--is there truly an analogy of being (analogia entis) between God and man?

Addendum: of course, there is debate regarding whether there is one or there are three consciousnesses in the Godhead, but I often find that the one consciousness view wins out, for the most part.

9 comments:

Sean Killackey said...

This is an underdeveloped thought, however the one consciousness concept also implies one will, but Jesus said, "let your will take place." I could see how it might apply to the "human nature of God," but if there are in fact two wills would not Jesus have two minds? In that case would not Jesus be two persons, thereby nullifying the Hypostatic UNION?

I wish I could go into depth on this with Matt, however, from what it seems he does not like to continually go on on the consciousness issue; Mr. Holding says that Matt usually replies twice, so I'll be fortunate to get a third reply (a critique of his cone analogy), but I doubt I could get a fourth.

Also if each person is God (and God is merely the divine substance) and each has the one consciousness and will, it seems to produce a hybrid Modalistic Trinity, each three facets of One, or at least two reflections of the Father.

Edgar Foster said...

Another question that was raised in the early Christological controversies was how many wills (and minds) Jesus possesses as the God-man. The orthodox answer is two wils. See http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4018.htm

I've seen the two minds question discussed by T.V. Morris, but a common answer to the conundrum is that Christ unites two wills in one person. We cannot be sure exactly how he unites two minds (they say).

I guess Matt started limiting his interaction with non-trinitarians, since he used to engage quite fully in discussions on the Trinity with me and others. At any rate, subtle distinctions usually are made to avoid modalism. For example, Owen Thomas argues that the modes in God are eternal distinctions--not successive or temporary. These modes are atemporal and immutable ways of being God.

David Waltz said...

Hello Edgar,

In the opening sentence of this thread, you wrote:

=The orthodox Trinitarian works that I've read all deny that there are three "I thinks" in God.=

This probably means that you have not yet read the contributions on the doctrine of the Trinity produced by Eastern Orthodox scholars/theologians. The Eastern/Greek tradition has placed a much greater emphasis on the concrete individuality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit than the Western/Latin tradition, with some of their scholars/theologians going so far as to state that, "the One God" is the Father, and not the Trinity and/or the Divine Essence. (See this thread for examples.)


Grace and peace,

David

Edgar Foster said...

Thanks, David. But please see my addendum. You're correct that some do argue for a "social Trinity," which I noted in my addendum, but I think the one consciousness view continues to prevail. In Christology and the Trinity, I also quote Jaroslav Pelikan, who pretty much makes the point you mention about Eastern Orthodoxy. However, would you not agree that even the social Trinity folks or the Orthodox carefully walk the tightrope when advancing these positions?

All the best!

Edgar Foster said...

David,

I also still think the point remains that Trinitarians usually don't like to suggest that there are literally three Cartesian selves (as it were) in God. That still appears to be tritheistic.

Thank you,

Edgar

Killa Jules said...

Jesus says in John 5:31-38 "If I alone bear witness about myself, my witness is not true." He then mentions both John the Baptist and the Father as witnesses of him.

Trinitarians use the 'different persons' defense when encountering this verse and others like it (such as where Jesus prays), so how can they then say that there is only one self in the Trinity?

Their internally inconsistent arguments and goal-post shifting seems to force them to conclude that persons are not selves and that persons are not people. That sounds like a classic case of 'reductio ad absurdum'.

Additionally, no matter what other differences there may be between Father and Son within the 'Godhead', only different *people* can communicate, mediate and serve as witnesses for one another. If there is some other way, then that completely undermines Jesus point about the importance of the fact that *other people* bore witness about him.

David Waltz said...

Good morning Edgar,

Thanks much for publishing my comment, and your responses.

Yesterday, you wrote:

==You're correct that some do argue for a "social Trinity," which I noted in my addendum, but I think the one consciousness view continues to prevail.==

Agreed, the Augustinian/Latin/Western tradition is certainly the dominant view among non-EO trinitarians.

==In Christology and the Trinity, I also quote Jaroslav Pelikan, who pretty much makes the point you mention about Eastern Orthodoxy. However, would you not agree that even the social Trinity folks or the Orthodox carefully walk the tightrope when advancing these positions?==

Social trinitarians are a 'mixed-bag'. At one end you have Mormon philosophers claiming that they are social trinitarians (see this paper); while at the other end, you have folk like David Brown who affirms a self-consciousness of the whole Godhead while at the same time defending the consciousness of the three 'persons' (I find his attempt to define the term 'person' to be quite confusing). In between these two extremes you have Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Peter van Inwagen, Richard Swinburne, Millard Erickson, Stephen Davis, J. P. Moreland, and William Lane Craig, et al., who all exhibit some differences in their respective views.

When we turn to the more 'traditional' EO position (e.g. John Behr, George Florovsky, John Meyendorff, John Zizioulos) one finds a heavy emphasis on the 'monarchy of God the Father' (i.e. God the Father as 'the one God' and cause/source of the Son and Holy Spirit).

==I also still think the point remains that Trinitarians usually don't like to suggest that there are literally three Cartesian selves (as it were) in God. That still appears to be tritheistic.==

I think that holds true most of the time; but, there are important exceptions. For instance, as early as Gregory of Nyssa (mid 4th century) we have a comparison of the Father, Son and HS, with the three apostles, Peter James and John.

Now, with all that said, I think the most important point that needs to be made is that it is impossible to talk about "the Trinity", for it sure seems to me that there exists some substantive differences between the numerous competing views; this compels me to speak of "Trinities" rather than "the Trinity".


Grace and peace,

David

Edgar Foster said...

Killa Jules, here is something from a paper I wrote as an undergrad:

The idea of God subsisting as three centers of consciousness in one substance is a notion repugnant to most Trinitarians. Karl Rahner writes, "this is the very thing which is excluded by the dogmatic teaching on the single and unique essence of God" (135). That is, the three persons cannot be three separate centers of consciousness because: "this unicity of [God's] essence implies and includes the unicity of one single consciousness and one single freedom" that is determined by the "mysterious threeness" of the triune Godhead (135).

Edgar Foster said...

Good afternoon here, David.

I agree that there is variety among "social Trinitarians" (or whatever designation they prefer). Another name that might also be included in the list is Jurgen Moltmann. I also want to post something about Craig this week, if time permits.

Your last paragraph above has my complete assent. There is not one Trinity doctrine, but many Trinities indeed.