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6/23/2016 9:10 pm  #1


The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

North Canadian winters are long; summers, short. I thought I would revise and post something from an old notebook while I make the most of the season.

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There is a prima facie conflict between the three limbs of the doctrine of the Trinity:

(1) The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.
(2) The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, the Father is not the Holy Spirit.
(3) There is exactly one God.

Or the four in the more precise formulation here. I'm interested in what kind of ontological account of God we might give that satisfies all three limbs and Simplicity.

Relations

The scholastics thought we could use reflexive relations to solve the problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity. I, however, think we ought to reject this solution.

Let n and m be integers such that n doesn't equal m. The principle of instantial invariance states that if a universal instantiates n particulars in one instance, it can't instantiate m particulars in another instance[1].

If the principle holds, relation universals that normally obtain between two or more particulars can't be reflexive. Since the principle follows from the truism that a universal is strictly identical in all its instances, it does hold[2]. Hence, relations that normally hold between two or more particulars can't be reflexive. Since love is a relation that normally holds between two particulars, the relation of love can't be reflexive.

Likewise being the father of.

One reply is that there is a unique, reflexive relation of self-love, but this leads to an infinite regress. If I love myself, I also love myself loving myself. Hence, if I have a first-order relation of self-love, I have a second-order relation of self-love. By the same argument, if I love myself loving myself, I also love myself loving myself loving myself and have a third-order relation of self-love, and so on ad infinitum.

By the same argument, a self-fatherhood relation also leads to an infinite regress. So, it doesn't seem like we can use reflexive relation universals to account for the Trinity.

Since relation tropes face the same regress, it doesn't seem like we should use them to account for the Trinity.

Since res respectivae face the same regress as relations, it doesn't seem like we should use them to account for the Trinity.

The reflexive relations also seem to lead to a constituent ontology version of the dependency issues roughly summarized here.

Properties

Since Simplicity rules out using non-trope substances to account for the Trinity and the above rules out relations, it seems we need to use properties.

Unfortunately, I don't see how to account for the Trinity with properties either. I considered stacking the properties being the Son, being the Father, and being the Holy Spirit. If, however, God has the properties being the Son, being the Father, and being the Holy Spirit, by Simplicity God=the Son=the Father=the Holy Spirit, and that just reiterates the problem.

I also considered the property being the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but this seems artificial[3]. So it doesn't seem like we should use properties to account for the Trinity.

Since neither relations nor properties can account for the Trinity, universals can't account for the Trinity.

Duns Scotus: The Formal Distinction

Last, I considered Scotus's solution using formal distinctions. The problem is that to say that the persons of the Trinity are distinct without being merely logically or really distinct, sounds more like giving the problem a label than solving it.

A Retort: Ostrich Trinitarianism

Some people may, at this point, retort that since the Trinity—God—transcends the categories, we can give only analogical categorial analyses of it. My concern, however, is whether we can even give a tolerably clear analogical categorial analysis.

Conclusion

Neither particulars nor universals seem able to account for the doctrine of the Trinity. Since everything that exists is either a particular, or divides into particulars and universals, it seems no ontological account satisfies both Simplicity and the doctrine of the Trinity.


[1]For all n, if a universal is n-adic with respect to a particular instantiation, then it is n-adic with respect to all instantiations. (It is n-adic simpliciter.)
[2]In other words, a universal isn't strictly identical with itself in all its instances if it instantiates two particulars in one instance and three in another. 
[3]It also sounds a little like tritheism. From Simplicity, we get the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit=God. (It doesn't seem to give any of the doctrine of the Trinity's first limb.)

 

6/24/2016 3:37 am  #2


Re: The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

Agreed with the conclusion. Which is one of the reasons why I am not a Christian. I have a bias towards Divine Simiplicity and Trinity is irreconcilable with it. If I were a Christian, I would be some form of non-Trinitarian, making me unorthodox, so it's more honest to not be one at all. There are logically more palatable theological systems out there...

Going into details, the One must be reconciled with the multiplicity of the world somehow, such as via gradual generalizations. On this path, the Three would be an intermediate technical speculation where arbitrary terms would apply, but Christianity makes an absolute dogma out of this, with scripturally fixed terms. In Trinitarian Christianity, Trinity is the end-all, not a step along the way. Irreconcilable, looks like.

 

6/29/2016 12:34 pm  #3


Re: The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

I have three questions to ask.

Is’nt loving someone more than yourself a higher form of love than self love? The point is that if God is self loving that would not be highest form of love and hence He would need to have the Son to love for it to be the highest form of love, even if the Son and the Father are one (and before the creation of any other being). The love between the Father and the Son then becomes the Holy Spirit.  As Christians we are called to be the members of the body of Christ and would experience the Father Son relationship within the trinity through Christ. To me that would be the ultimate experience.

Could we consider God the Father a super “container of attributes”  with Son and Holy Spirit being smaller subsets of Father attributes and be “container of attributes” as well within the Father? Not sure if I can explain this concept any other way. Since we make distinctions between attributes in God we could do that for “containers of attributes” as well.

If a person has a split personality is it fair to say two persons in one or three persons in one or just one person split into two or three (I am of course talking about the metaphysical aspects of it and not what psychology might say about it)?

 

6/29/2016 1:07 pm  #4


Re: The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

Hey Jason,

Thanks for your reply:

Isn't loving someone more than yourself a higher form of love than self love?

Suppose it is. Then unless there is some way of accounting for both the Trinity and Simplicity, it would just be another problem for Trinitarianism or Simplicity.

The point is that if God is self loving that would not be highest form of love and hence He would need to have the Son to love for it to be the highest form of love, even if the Son and the Father are one (and before the creation of any other being). The love between the Father and the Son then becomes the Holy Spirit.  As Christians we are called to be the members of the body of Christ and would experience the Father Son relationship within the trinity through Christ. To me that would be the ultimate experience.

The trouble is that, given Simplicity, it's hard to see how (in ontological terms) to account for all this.

Could we consider God the Father a super “container of attributes”  with Son and Holy Spirit being smaller subsets of Father attributes and be “container of attributes” as well within the Father? Not sure if I can explain this concept any other way. Since we make distinctions between attributes in God we could do that for “containers of attributes” as well.

Given Simplicity, I unfortunately don't see how. (This would almost be a restatement of the problem I tried to tackle in my note, except that the doctrine of the Trinity is usually formulated to deny that it's possible for the Son and Spirit to have fewer properties than the Father. See consubstantiality behind the first link.)

If a person has a split personality is it fair to say two persons in one or three persons in one or just one person split into two or three (I am of course talking about the metaphysical aspects of it and not what psychology might say about it)?

For any account of split personalities of which I know to work, there has to be some kind of complexity in the person. It's not even possible for God to have complexity. (Maybe you have something specific in mind.)

     Thread Starter
 

6/29/2016 1:15 pm  #5


Re: The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

If it's any consolation, ostrichisms only earn failing grades when they deny Moorean facts. And nothing about Simplicity or the Trinity is a Moorean fact. Perhaps, the lesson, for Christians, is one of humility. (Perhaps you can prove them compatible indirectly by establishing papal infallibility.)

     Thread Starter
 

6/29/2016 3:43 pm  #6


Re: The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

 Perhaps, the lesson, for Christians, is one of humility.

Yes I do agree, and it is with humility I must say that I do not have a total philosophical grasp of the Trinity and add that it is a mystery. 

Suppose it is. Then unless there is some way of accounting for both the Trinity and Simplicity, it would just be another problem for Trinitarianism or Simplicity.

I do not think that Simplicity is incompatible with the Trinity precisely because I think the Persons in the Trinity are not parts.

Given Simplicity, I unfortunately don't see how. (This would almost be a restatement of the problem I tried to tackle in my note, except that the doctrine of the Trinity is usually formulated to deny that it's possible for the Son and Spirit to have fewer properties than the Father. See consubstantiality behind the first link.)

Yes I agree, my wording was chosen incorrectly when I said a smaller subset. You are also right about the split personality I was not thinking about complexity in the person.

I think what would be a better way to look at the Trinity would be to understand the procession in God and see it in those terms, I think http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1027.htm would give a much better explanation then I could. If we accept that procession in God exists then I also do not see any issues with the doctrine of Trinity and Divine Simplicity.

 

6/29/2016 3:50 pm  #7


Re: The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

I do not think that Simplicity is incompatible with the Trinity precisely because I think the Persons in the Trinity are not parts.

Right, but that doesn't matter. Parts are one of the “non-trope substances” I mentioned. What I've argued is that there is nothing, in any category, able to account for the Trinity.

I think what would be a better way to look at the Trinity would be to understand the procession in God and see it in those terms, I thinkhttp://www.newadvent.org/summa/1027.htm would give a much better explanation then I could. If we accept that procession in God exists then I also do not see any issues with the doctrine of Trinity and Divine Simplicity.

Aquinas, at least, accounts for the processions with species of relations (or, perhaps, res respectivae)[1]. Both those fall prey to the regress, and seem to fall prey to a constituent ontology version of the dependence issues.


[1]Ockham also tries to account for the Trinity with real relations. His rules of rational positing let him except them for theological purposes.

     Thread Starter
 

6/30/2016 12:25 am  #8


Re: The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

Jason wrote:

Is’nt loving someone more than yourself a higher form of love than self love? The point is that if God is self loving that would not be highest form of love...

True, presupposing that God's love is bound to function like human love. But is this a necessary presupposition?

Jason wrote:

...and hence He would need to have the Son to love for it to be the highest form of love, even if the Son and the Father are one (and before the creation of any other being). The love between the Father and the Son then becomes the Holy Spirit.

And why would we have to say specifically Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three persons of the Trinity instead of, for instance, three hypostases, aspects, characteristics, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva etc?

 

7/01/2016 9:57 am  #9


Re: The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

Here's a sketch of something like Aquinas's account. Aquinas seems to allow that God can be complex only insofar as he can have res respectivae (respectives).

Suppose the relations meant to account for the Divine Persons are substantial respectives[1]. Aquinas lists five relations: innascibility, paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession. Innascibility is a negative property, so we can eliminate it from the list of real properties. That leaves paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession.

Aquinas says that paternity constitutes the Father, filiation constitutes the Son, and procession constitutes the Spirit. (Common spiration is had by the paternity and filiation respectives.) Since the paternity respective can now point towards the filiation respective, the filiation respective towards the paternity respective, and the procession respective towards the paternity or filiation respectives, this neatly avoids the regress.[2]

But the account doesn't uphold the Trinity doctrine. Since it gives the Father and Son but not the Spirit common spiration respectives, it breaches consubstantiation. So, the account seems to fail.

It also doesn't seem to avoid the dependency issues. (Trinitarians' best bet may be to bite the bullet on the dependency issues by rejecting that God is ontologically ultimate, and if possible challenge Brandon's consubstantiation formulation in hope of the right one working with the account.)

Have a good weekend, everybody.

[1]Construed as substantial trope-like particulars, instead of universals, to avoid issues with the respectives' non-repeatability.
[2]You should probably also make sure the Trinity-constituting respectives have all the traditional properties, like omnipotence, to avoid the unwelcome consequence of the persons of the Trinity lacking them.

     Thread Starter
 

7/01/2016 11:10 am  #10


Re: The Problem of the Trinity and Divine Simplicity

Ah you beat me to it but here was my response I was formulating.

Aquinas, at least, accounts for the processions with species of relations (or, perhaps, res respectivae)[1]. Both those fall prey to the regress, and seem to fall prey to a constituent ontology version of the dependence issues.

Yes Aquinas uses subsistent relations (or subsistent relational universal) which is an analogical notion specific to the faith. The relation is in the terms of connected to or towards another.  When we say that the Father Loves the Son and the Son Loves the Father what is meant there is that they love by the same act and when Love is taken in a notional sense it means to spirate love which is similar to say something like when we speak, words are produced. Thus the love is the one act but with two modes of predicating it.

“the Son or Logos originates eternally from the Father as the immaterial generation of wisdom that comes forth from the Father. The Spirit originates eternally from the Father and the Son as the immaterial spiration of love shared by the Father and the Son” quote from Rev Thomas Joseph White paper on Divine Simplicity and the Holy Trinity see  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijst.12133/pdf (for the correct link)

The subsistent relation is not something that we see in our everyday relations. The terms property, person, relation and concrete universals all point to the same reality but different aspects of it. Just like the universal goodness is instantiated by God as Goodness itself so is the case with the personal property of “Father”. Now Goodness in God can be defended by philosophy but same cannot be said of Father, Son and Holy Spirit since those are based on revelation.

Last edited by Jason (7/01/2016 12:41 pm)

 

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