Thinking rationally about the Holy Trinity

This is a reply to Bruce Charlton’s and Kristor’s recent articles about the Trinity.

Edit: some exaggerated statements against positive theology have been corrected.

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With all due respect I disagree with the Mr Charlton’s espoused LDS model.

 

I actually think that analogies with the Trinity don’t work well. Analogies are always abstract, God isn’t. As Kristor says, “Both these geometrical analogies are of course radically defective.” Not *both*, but ALL. “If God is the origin of all that is, then he can’t be explained in terms of anything else.” Being itself (God) comes prior to all that exists, this is why.

The analogy with the magnet makes little sense, mostly because it forgets the eternal begetting of the Son, but also because it makes Him equal to the Father, not just consubstantial.

 

I think that the Creed says it all. “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God…Begotten of the Father before all ages…Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made…And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father…”

The Father is the Father, the Son is the Father’s Son and the Spirit is the Father’s Spirit. They are all eternal, and yet only the Father is without origin, as seen in the relation between the Divine Hypostases. We relate to the Father only through the Son and the Spirit.

 

There can’t be much said. One can only get closer to the Trinity through prayer and grace, not though abstract thinking. The three lines that always touch each other don’t make sense and are one line, true. Representing Traditional Christians by this statement is basically equating them to morons. The Trinity is not a concept, it is a revealed mystery that cannot be expressed discursively except by via negativa (apophatic theology). The Trinity is God, the I-AM-THAT-I-AM, incomprehensible (in essence) and yet immanent (in energies). The Mormon “trinity” is making God comprehensible, equating us to Him by either making Him belong to the natural order, or by making us belong to the supernatural order. But there lies the importance of I-AM-THAT-I-AM – “I am God, you are not God”. He is the uncreated, we are the created. The whole distinction lies there, and is fundamental for both the Old and New Testament.

 

Saying that negative theology is useless is like saying that God is not necessary. Materialism can explain many things in reality – God is not a logical necessity. True. Yet God, All-Mighty and Creator of nature (the cosmos), has revealed Himself to and through His prophets and saints.

Positive theology, in an excessive quantity, is superstitions, because it talks discursively about He Who reveals Himself only noetically (non-discursively and non-empirically). It uses the human logos to describe the Divine Logos.

Briefly, positive theological statements without apophatic statements to balance them are pure speculation. We have three faculties – our empirical senses, our discursive reason and our Nous (“Pneuma” and “Kardia” are also used by the Fathers*). Using only the first two cannot bring us to the truth about the Trinity/God. And since the Fall, our Nous does not function properly. Only when our Nous is healed can we “know” God, in a super-discursive, super-rational way.

Negative theology (and its dogmas) is the main common language between those who’s Nous has been healed (the Fathers, the Prophets and other Saints) and those who are not yet healed.

Using rational concepts can give us much knowledge about creation, but they have the capacity to create idolatrous/false concepts of God**. Abstractions can help, yes, but it is an impossibility to create a concept of Ipsum esse, Being itself (God). Ipsum esse is an axiom prior to all logical reasoning.

The perdition resulting from such concepts comes especially from the practical consequences on our Christian life from holding views that contradict or “complete” dogma. There is no salvation outside the Church because after a few generations, one heretical belief will change ecclesial/liturgical practices to make them agree with the new beliefs; and after a few more generations, the faith of the Church won’t be at all the faith of the heretics. Dogma comes from the Saints who fought doctrines who contradict the incomprehensible essence, or the immanent (revealed) energies, of our Saviour and Healer.

 

A good evidence that the Mormon view of the Trinity cannot be the historical view is that in every age have the majority of Chrstians believed in creation ex-nihilo. And if we are created ex-nihilo, we are the created and He and His Logos and His Spirit are the uncreated, and uncreated too is the love that binds the Trinity. Our logos is sustained through His Logos. We have free will because He has wished that we have it, and this free will is sustained, like everything in the universe, by His Omnipresence.

 

Mysticism is not only practice; it is both theory and practice.

 

I will finish this article with a quote in the end of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

“There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.

The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—but it would be the only strictly correct method.

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

 

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* Hence the “prayer of the heart”, the Jesus prayer. It is the prayer of the “Kardia“, of the Nous.

** Rather good concepts are the “Unmoved Mover” and “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, good observations but in no way revelations, nor proofs for God. Rather bad ones are Sabellius’s, Arius’s and the Mormon view of the Trinity, which most likely have resulted from preference to use the discursive reason rather than prayer/the Nous.

4 thoughts on “Thinking rationally about the Holy Trinity

  1. The Son *has* to be co-equal to the Father, because they are the *same being.* That’s what “consubstantial” means.

    This does not mean that the Father is not logically prior to the Son. He is. It is in *this* sense that the magnet analogy fails, for neither of the poles of the magnet is logically prior to the other.

    The magnet analogy is defective in the order of logic, for the poles and the field that rotates about their axis are none of them logically prior to the others. With a magnet, you need all three in one logical operation in order to get a magnet.

    But this very defect in the logical order is a virtue in the ontological order; for, just as you have to get both poles and the field of the magnet in single operation in order to have a magnet in the first place, so likewise with the Trinity. The filiation and procession are eternal – so that, i.e., it is not the case that you get first one, and then the next, and then the third Person, but rather that you get all three at once, just as you do with the magnet.

    While I agree of course that it is impossible to encompass God with words or concepts, I should be remiss if I did not point out that apophatic theology is cataphatic in effect. If you say, e.g., that God is immense, you are still making a cataphatic assertion. The best way to speak properly of God is to “let all mortal flesh keep silence, and stand in fear and trembling.”

    • I see what you mean. Thank you for clarifying the analogy. It is, compared to others, a good one.

      “apophatic theology is cataphatic in effect”
      It is, in a sense. As we see in the Creed itself, there are cataphatic statements.

      “let all mortal flesh keep silence, and stand in fear and trembling.”
      Exactly what I meant. It reminds me that Kierkegaard’s in his book “Fear and trembling” insisted precisely that a God we understand and can fully explain logically is not one that we could love with all our hearts. His sublimity will not provoke awe in us if we pretend to know everything about him.

  2. Pingback: Divine Guidance: God leads His people | sermonati

  3. Pingback: An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity by JONATHAN EDWARDS | ajrogersphilosophy

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