Saturday, October 17, 2015

Karl Rahner on the Trinity Qua Relations (Weedhacker)

I've posted this materal before as part of a larger project. This time, I'm just submitting a portion of the larger research project:

From Rahner's frame of reference, to think of the Trinity numerically (one nature, etc.) is ipso facto not to think of God's triunity at all! Rahner further insists that "the three persons are not three distinct things per se but are three distinct things only in and through their relations with each other" (Davis 139). He frequently employs such terms as "relative realities" or "mere and opposed relations" to describe the tres personae of the Godhead, all the while insisting that the Trinity is a "unity of three divine persons" exemplified in "three distinct manners of subsisting" (qt. in Davis 139). The tres personae "are identical to the Godhead but only virtually distinct from each other" (Davis 139). In this regard, Stephen Davis comments:

Rahner calls relations "the most unreal of realities" but insists that they are absolutely real as other determinations. But I do not see how this helps. There is nothing in my experience that helps me understand the concepts Rahner is working with; thus they do not help me understand the doctrine of the Trinity (140).

After this observation, Davis tries to illustrate what he thinks Rahner is attempting to say, but the problems apparently remain. Davis asks us to suppose that there are two persons--call them A and B--who are qualitatively identical (there are no substantial differences between them), but who differ vis-a'-vis their spatial relations (A B). In such a case, we would normally conclude that A and B are qualitatively or substantially identical beings yet numerically distinct non-identical beings. But what if A and B are immaterial beings? They would therefore have no spatial location. How then, would we distinguish A from B? Using Rahner's approach, we might say that A and B are possibly distinguished by their relations to and through each other. What though is their relation to one another? Is it
not one of "non-numerical identity," based on Rahner's thesis? Since
this is the case, Davis concludes that "obviously we cannot use this
relationship to distinguish A and B; it is the very relationship we are
trying to find grounds for" (Davis 140). Davis therefore concludes that
Rahner's attempt to elucidate the mystery of the Trinity fails to
render the doctrine coherent. While Davis feels that it is possible
for a philosopher or theologian to achieve a coherent treatment of the
Trinity, he admits that he presently does not know of any such


Matt13weedhacker said...

"There is nothing in my experience that helps me understand
the concepts Rahner is working with; thus they do not help me
understand the doctrine of the Trinity (140)."

This about sums it up for me. They just keep digging the whole deeper and deeper, and become vaguer and vaguer, the more they write.

The reason they can't make 3 = 1, or 1 = 3, (or "monad" = "triad"), is simply because 3 doesn't = 1, and 1 does not = 3 etc.

The whole doctrine is based on a faulty premise. One could argue with the Tri{3}nitairans that the 3-in-1 Modalistic theory is also a "divine simplicity." A very very simple divine simplicity.

Sean Killackey said...

In my discussions with Trinitarians it usually ends up as "its a mystery;" that's fine. Unless, that is, you definitions are enough to create a self-contradiction.

Edgar Foster said...

The Trinity doctrine does not make sense to me, and it seems logically contradictory, although it's not that easy to point out the formal fallacies in Trinitarian reasoning. Granted, some things are "mysterious" in the biblical sense of MUSTHRION; however, I believe that approach is often used as an escape clause by Trinitarians.

Matt13weedhacker said...

I agree. There are "mysteries" in the real sense of a sacred secrets, that will, or have been revealed, and then there are "mysteries", which are simply excuses for mistaken/faulty doctrines, to hide behind.

I still think that "Tri{3}nity" is "Modalism" modified.

And that is the real reason WHY the LOGICAL end EFFECT of the "Tri{3}nity" is the same as, (or functions as), "Modlaism" = confusing the "Persons", (so-called), into 1.

I think "Modalism", (the first simplistic 3-in-1 and 2-in-1 confusion heresies), came first chronologically.

And that Tertullians "Tri{3}nity", came next.

And, (as you point out Edgar), the later, (more gradual rise), of the co-equalized co-eternalized version of the Pro-Homoousians, came after that.

Both, were, (in my opinion), a polarized reaction and attempt at making, (i.e. modifying), the pre-existing "Modalism", (or the simplistic 3-in-1 concepts), conform CLOSER, (in their mistaken eyes), to the Scriptures, by the instrumental means of Non-Scriptural metaphysical concepts.

And because it was based on the, (modified of course), basic structure of simplistic 3-in-1 confusion, it becomes, just a more complex 3-in-1 confusion.

In an attempt to make EFFECTIVELY all 3, the 1 Jehovah, the 1 and the same God, the 1 God of the Bible, ("our Father who art in heaven" YHWH).

To me, it's imperfection betrays it's, (un-inspired), origin!

It's a "doctrine of men," and not God's.

Edgar Foster said...


Trinitarianism does lean towards modalism or tritheism (social Trinitarianism): we find both tendencies in Trinitarian writers. We also find Neoplatonic or Middle Platonist ideas in the early creeds (Nicaea and thenceforth); that is why it's so hard to unravel Trinitarianism. How many people today have a command of Platonic thought, or even a familiarity with it?

Medieval theologians-philosophers tried to resolve the logical problem of if A, B, and C all = D--then why don't they = one another? But I still have trouble understanding the supposed reply to this logical conundrum.

At the end of the day, 1 Timothy 4:1-3 undoubtedly explains how the Trinity developed. It is a doctrine of men.