Saturday, April 09, 2016

Question of the Day for Trinitarians

My question of the day for Trinitarians:

Some Trinitarians believe that God the Son voluntarily submitted himself to God the Father when he became incarnate or when he assumed humanity, even though he was divine.

But my question stems from the fact that the triune deity is supposed to be three persons, but only one God. Trinitarians usually say that "person" (persona in Latin) does not mean "individual center of consciousness" when applied to God. In other words, God (the triune deity) is only analogously a person, but not univocally a person. God is not a person like we are persons, they say.

However, if it's true that neither person of the Trinity is a distinct or individual center of consciousness, then how was it possible for the Son to "volunteer" to become subordinate to the Father, and assume humanity into his divinity? Would it not take consciousness for person 2 to submit to person 1? How could the Son submit to the Father if he's not a distinct mind from his Father?

21 comments:

Sean Killackey said...

Could a similar line or questions be asked about the Hypostatic Union?

And Christ must have two wills? If he only had one, how could he be fully human? Or, how could Christ, assuming he has only one mind and is but one person, be tempted only according to his human nature, but not his God nature, or how could he know something and not know it at the same time with only one mind?

Edgar Foster said...

Sean, I think you could pose similar questions about the hypostatic union. It seems that they must say he had/has two wills instead of one or else it results in monothelitism, which has been deemed heretical by the Church.

In answer to your other questions, they're good, but a Trinitarian might assert that the God-man as one hypostatis was tempted qua his human nature, but not qua his divine nature. The official teaching of the Church is that he has two wills and two natures, but it's not so clear how many minds he supposed to have. T.V. Morris has proposed a two-mind (consciousness) model for Christ. See https://theologyoutofbounds.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/does-jesus-have-two-minds-thomas-morris-on-the-incarnation/

Killa Jules said...

Claiming that Jesus had 2 wills and 2 natures seems meaningless and ad hoc to me. What does it mean to have 2 natures or 2 wills? If 'nature' means 'set of properties', then how can something have 2 sets of properties that contradict each other? Worse, there is no independent scriptural evidence to support this unintelligible notion.

Some Trinitarians use the 'it's a mystery' defense. I have no problem with mysteries regarding Jehovah and/or scripture, but the bible has to actually SAY that it is a mystery. Many bible writers asked questions, admitted ignorance and expressed their lack of understanding on many topics. If the trinity were a scriptural mystery, then the bible would actually call it that. It is absurd to assert that there was a difficult concept whose difficulty went entirely unacknowledged, even when relatively simple things such as circumcision were contested.

Any explanation on what 2 natures and 2 wills actually means would be greatly appreciated.

David Waltz said...

Hi Edgar,

Before I attempt to address your questions, I think it prudent that I delineate my current position on the doctrine of God. I subscribe to what some have termed, "Nicene Monarchism". "Nicene Monarchism" is a form of Trinitarianism that places a heavy emphasis on etiology; more specifically, the uncaused attribute of the Father as the "fontale principium totius divinitatis". (See THIS THREAD for more details.)

Now, you asked: "if it's true that neither person of the Trinity is a distinct or individual center of consciousness, then how was it possible for the Son to "volunteer" to become subordinate to the Father, and assume humanity into his divinity?"

"Nicene Monarchism" affirms, "a distinct or individual center of consciousness", for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, avoiding the apparent contradiction implied in the question. As such, your next two questions are also avoided.

Before ending, I think it is important to point out that Boethius' definition for "person"—an individual substance of a rational nature—was affirmed by many Trinitarians, including Aquinas. I don't know for sure when and why it became discarded by most (but certainly not all) Trinitarians. If one retains Boethius' definition, the questions you ask do not seem as problematic. But then, perhaps I have 'missed' something...


Grace and peace,

David

Edgar Foster said...

Killa Jules: the word "nature" in Greek, Latin, and English is ambiguous. It's not easy to define, and not all suggest the same denotation for the term. "Set of properties" might be one good rendition," especially for the Greek phusis. Also, from "Introduction to Theology" (p. 64), systematic theologian Owen Thomas writes:

"Ousia [OUSIA] means fundamental reality, that which
makes a thing what it is in distinction from something
else, that which exists in itself independently of
anything else, that in which attributes, qualities,
and properties inhere. Hypostasis [hUPOSTASIS] means
mode of being, the way in which a substance exists,
the manner in which a reality is presented."

So substance and essence are two other words used for "nature." In other words, Christ was supposed to be divine and human (he had features or properties of each reality, they claim). It's comparable to the nature of a tree, a rock, or the nature of a cat. Such language is rooted in Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi David, thanks for your answers. Granted, if one believes that distinct centers of consciousness exist in the triune godhead (or something to that effect), then it's easy to see how the Son might "volunteer" to subordinate himself to his Father and become incarnate. However, I'm not sure that Boethius, Augustine, Aquinas and a host of others would accept this kind of reasoning. Furthermore, once we begin to posit one person of God communicating or speaking with another (qua divinity), that seems to open the door for tritheism. The story begins to sound more like Zeus on Mt. Olympus with immortals belonging to the Greek pantheon.

The creeds of the church usually deny that each person is a distinct center of consciousness. We can hash out he particulars, if you like.

Best regards,

Edgar

Edgar Foster said...

David, please see http://fosterheologicalreflections.blogspot.com/2015/09/what-do-trinitarians-mean-by-divine.html

Regards,

Edgar

David Waltz said...

Hello again Edgar,

Thanks much for taking to time to respond; you wrote:

==Granted, if one believes that distinct centers of consciousness exist in the triune godhead (or something to that effect), then it's easy to see how the Son might "volunteer" to subordinate himself to his Father and become incarnate.==

I believe that the Son has always been, and still is, "subordinate" to his Father. I believe that this fact is just one of the many reasons why Jesus clearly stated that the, "Father is greater than I." (BTW, Aquinas taught this, saying: "even according to the divine nature the Father is greater than the Son".)

==However, I'm not sure that Boethius, Augustine, Aquinas and a host of others would accept this kind of reasoning.==

I think Boethius would, but Augustine would not. As for Aquinas, I am not sure either way.

==Furthermore, once we begin to posit one person of God communicating or speaking with another (qua divinity), that seems to open the door for tritheism.==

Tritheism has been (and is) a charge leveled by many followers of Augustine against Social Trinitarians and many Eastern Orthodox theologians. Most Muslims believe that ALL forms of Trinitarianism is tritheistic. Personally, I believe the Trinitarianism of the pre-Nicene Fathers, the Nicene Creed itself, and most EO theologians could be construed as tritheistic, but I personally believe that the label is not accurate.

As for Nicene Monarchism, some followers of Augustinian Trinitarianism have leveled the charge of tritheism against it, while others have termed it Arianism—I think neither is accurate.

==The story begins to sound more like Zeus on Mt. Olympus with immortals belonging to the Greek pantheon.==

This would apply only if the nature of God the Father (the nature he communicates to the Son) is finite and imperfect.

==The creeds of the church usually deny that each person is a distinct center of consciousness.==

I have not seen this in the so-called "Ecumenical" creeds. Could you provide references?


Grace and peace,

David

Edgar Foster said...

Hello David,

I would like to offer some remarks on Aquinas later. He's not a subordinationist, but he does make some interesting observations on John 14:28. Do you think Aquinas applied John 14:28 to the preexistent Son?

Would Boethius accept the idea that the Son of God could volunetter to subordinate himself to the Father? I don't think he would, but I want to provide references before stating this point unreservedly.

My comment about tritheism was limited to a very narrow interpretation of Trinitarianism, wherein one posits that God the Son speaks to God the Father or that God the Son submits (volitionally) to God the Father. I am not leveling this charge at all forms of Trinitarianism.

The point of my Zeus remark was that Trinitarians usually have defined "person" analogically rather than univocally. It's been customary for Trinitarians, at least in theory, to avoid discourse that would suggest "person" in God means the same as "person" among humanity. Please see the link above for examples of what I'm suggesting. I will work on Aquinas, Boethius, and specific references from the creeds.

Thanks for your input and all the best.


Edgar Foster said...

Hello again, David.

For Aquinas' explanation of John 14:28, please see http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.TP_Q58_A3.html#TP_Q58_A3-p4.3

See also http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/gentiles.vii.ix.html#vii.ix-p4.1

It seems that Aquinas applies John 14:28 to the humanity of Christ like Athanasius does.

David Waltz said...

Good morning Edgar,

Thanks for the references. You said:

== It seems that Aquinas applies John 14:28 to the humanity of Christ like Athanasius does.==

Aquinas does both (i.e. applies John 14:28 to the humanity and deity of Christ). Note the following:

In his commentary on the Gospel of John (verse 14:28), we read:

>>1971 One could also say, as Hilary does, that even according to the divine nature the Father is greater than the Son, yet the Son is not inferior to the Father, but equal. For the Father is not greater than the Son in power, eternity and greatness, but by the dignity of a grantor or source. For the Father receives nothing from another, but the Son, if I can put it this way, receives his nature from the Father by an eternal generation. So, the Father is greater because he gives; but the Son is not inferior, but equal, because he receives all that the Father has: "God has bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9). For the one to whom a single act of existence (esse) is given, is not inferior to the giver.>> [LINK to online source.]


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello again Edgar,

Sincerely hope that I am not becoming a pest, but I would like to suggest a couple of threads that focus on the issue of the subordination of the Son to the Father before His incarnation (based on the fact that the Son owes his very existence to the Father).

The first thread (LINK) includes copious selections from B. B. Warfield and his defense of Calvin's trinitarianism—specifically his application of the term αὐτόθεος to the Son. He points out that prior to Calvin, all 'orthodox' theologians formulated, "the Trinitarian relations along the lines of the traditional Nicene orthodoxy, with its assertion of a certain subordination of the Son to the Father".

The second thread (LINK) provides selections from a number of Eastern Orthodox theologians who emphasize the Monarchy of God the Father, and the personal distinictions of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; with some affirming that it is the Father alone who is "the one, true God".

I am heading out of town shortly, but upon my return, I hope to compile a list of selections from Social Trinitarians who affirm three distinct, 'personal centers of consciousness' within the Godhead.


Grace and peace,

David

Edgar Foster said...

Hello David,

Your quote from Aquinas is duly noted, and I've read that part of his work on the Fourth Gospel before. However, we must exercise care with the Dominican thinker. Is he applying John 14:28 to the Son's divinity or is he merely stating Hilary of Poitiers view? Before he states what you quoted, he writes:

This passage led Arius to the disparaging statement that the Father is greater than the Son. Yet our Lord's own words repel this error. One should understand the Father is greater than I, based on the meaning of I go to the Father. Now the Son does not go to the Father insofar as he is the Son of God, for as the Son of God he was with the Father from eternity: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God" (1:1). Rather, he is said to go to the Father because of his human nature. Thus when he says, the Father is greater than I, he does not mean I, as Son of God, but as Son of man, for in this way he is not only inferior to the Father and the Holy Spirit, but even to the angels: "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels" [Heb 2:9]. Again, in some things he was subject to human beings, as his parents (Lk 2:51). Consequently, he is inferior to the Father because of his human nature, but equal because of his divine nature: "He did not think it robbery to be equal to God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" [Phil 2:6].

Then after the part you quoted, he writes:

Chrysostom explains this by saying that our Lord is saying this by taking into account the opinions of the apostles, who did not yet know of the resurrection or think that he was equal to the Father.[53] And so he said to them: even if you do not believe me on the ground that I cannot help myself, or expect that I will see you again after my cross, yet believe me because I go to the Father, who is greater than I.

So, is he exploring different interpretive possibilities in this work?

Thank you,

Edgar

Edgar Foster said...

Please see http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4020.htm
https://thedivinelamp.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/cornelius-a-lapides-commentary-on-john-1427-31/

Best regards,

Edgar

Matt13weedhacker said...

Is anyone seeing what I'm seeing here?

Aquinas Commentary: "...For the Father is NOT GREAT-ER THAN the Son in power, eternity and GREAT-NESS..."

Matt13weedhacker said...

Mans imperfect attempts at trying to anachronistically reconcile: "is great-er than" with: "is not great-er than" is just to contrived to be convincing (let alone genuine = have the ring of truth).

David Waltz said...

Good morning Edgar,

Yesterday, you asked:

==...we must exercise care with the Dominican thinker. Is he applying John 14:28 to the Son's divinity or is he merely stating Hilary of Poitiers view?==

I think he is stating Hilary of Poiters view with approval, and further commentary. Note the following:

>>For the Father receives nothing from another, but the Son, if I can put it this way, receives his nature from the Father by an eternal generation. So, the Father is greater because he gives;==

Aquinas is quite clear in many instances that the Father is the "font of divinity" and that the is Son caused, and receives his divinity, from the Father. Since the Father is from no one (i.e. uncaused) and the Son is from the Father (i.e. caused), it makes perfect sense to say that the Father is greater. However, since the Father begets the Son from His very nature—the very nature of God—the Son's divine nature is not inferior to His Father's, anymore than my human nature is inferior to my father's human nature.

You also asked:

==So, is he exploring different interpretive possibilities in this work?==

Yes, I believe that he is.


Grace and peace,

David

Edgar Foster said...

Good day, David.

From numerous references made by Aquinas in the Summa and elsewhere along with his remarks from the Johannine Commentary, I'm inclined to think that while he relates Hilary's view, Aquinas doesn't necessarily accept it fully. In any event, I would agree that he affirms the eternal generation of the Son. But that still leaves the question open regarding how he applies John 14:28. I hope you had a chance to read the two links I posted because they also seem to explain Aquinas and other fathers in similar fashion. I just know from reading Aquinas before--and teaching students about him--that he might state a view without fully accepting it.

We agree that Aquinas would not say the Son is inferior to the Father. On the other hand, I wrote about the subject of divine intratrinitarian causation in my dissertation: that was part of my work. One thing I learned about ad intra causality is that church writers do not employ the terminology monosemically. They view "cause" language as an inadequate way to speak about God. Timeless (eternal) causation is difficult to understand, explain, and parse. Some argue that it's an impoverished way to speak of God.

David Waltz said...

Hi Edgar,

Thanks much for your patience and responses. Yesterday, you wrote:

== I hope you had a chance to read the two links I posted because they also seem to explain Aquinas and other fathers in similar fashion. I just know from reading Aquinas before--and teaching students about him--that he might state a view without fully accepting it.==

Yes, I read both. It seems to me that they have neglected some very important aspects of Aquinas's thought. The best treatment of Aquinas's theology of God that I have read is Gilles Emery's, The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (Oxford, 2007). [Google Books preview]

== I wrote about the subject of divine intratrinitarian causation in my dissertation==

Thanks much for the heads-up. I own, and have read your Angelomorphic Christology (2005), but did not know that your dissertation has been published. Some online research yielded the following:

Metaphor and Divine Paternity

I downloaded the document just moments ago, and shall start reading it later today. It looks very interesting Edgar...


Grace and peace,

David

Edgar Foster said...

Hi David,

Your responses are also appreciated. I have Emery's work, and been reading it, although I haven't got that far. It seems like a very informative book.

Yes, my dissertation is "Metaphor and Divine Paternity." The first part discusses metaphor, and the major patristic focus of my study was Lactantius as a test case. While intratrinitarian relations is not the main focus of my study, I do talk about the subject a little. Since I'm supposed to publish the dissertation in the future, I've also extensively revised many parts of it.

Best regards,

Edgar

Edgar Foster said...

Matt13:

I can't agree with you more.