Saturday, April 5, 2014

A new Lampe apologia

A couple of days ago, whilst browsing the internet, I came upon a new defense of Peter Lampe's, From Paul to Valentinus, by Brandon Addison, a conservative, Reformed gent. Brandon's apologia was, interestingly enough, posted as a "Guest Author" in a recent thread at the conservative Catholic site, Called to Communion - Reformation Meets Rome. [LINK TO THREAD.]

Back on August 27, 2010, I began a series of threads (link to all 10 related threads) that exposed certain weaknesses in Lampe's position. I also brought into question the use of Lampe by some conservative, Reformed Christians as a polemical tool against the Catholic Church. With that said, I am a bit surprised to find yet another conservative, Reformed Christian defending Lampe.

A couple of folk have raised some excellent questions concerning the use of Lampe (and other liberal, critical scholars who side with Lampe on a number of points) in the combox of the thread; see the follow links for two of their cogent posts:



Now, it has been awhile since I last read Lampe (and a number of other critical scholars that Brandon has brought into the mix), but I was able to detect some highly suspect aspects in Brandon's apologia. From Brandon's opening article/post we read:

In my own investigation of this issue I was pressed to look at multiple modern critics of the consensus: Bernard Green and Chrys Caragounis. The arguments of earlier writers like Felix Cirlot and Gregory Dix have been judged as deficient and dated by modern scholars. These men also do not interact with the broader argument of fractionation (arguing against Lampe or Brent) and therefore are not in the scope of this discussion. As such, I won’t interact with them explicitly, though my exegetical work in the Fathers and the Scriptures offers an alternative to their positions.

Dr. Owen touched on this issue in comment #20 (see above link), wherein he wrote:

13. Finally, it was sad to see such a dismissal of Cirlot and Dix. These men were brilliant scholars, and just because they are not taken seriously by modern academics (if that is even universally true) is no reason to dismiss them out of hand. The vast bulk of evangelical biblical scholarship could easily be thrown into the trash bin on the same grounds. You should know better.

I totally agree with Dr. Owen here, and would add that it is not some defective scholarship on the part of men like Felix Cirlot and Gregory Dix that has led to their neglect by the majority of modern, critical, liberal scholars like Lampe, but rather, it is their rejection of certain presuppositions held by Lampe and his guild which has precipitated such neglect. (I wonder if Brandon has even read the contributions of Cirlot and Dix.)

Even more troubling for me is Brandon's assessment of Dr. Robert Lee Williams monograph, Bishop Lists. Once again, from Brandon's opening post we read:

One final scholar bears mention in this discussion of dissent to the academic guild and that is Robert Williams. Williams states that the episcopate probably originated first in Jerusalem and developed in other areas but Williams is clear to state that notions of episcopacy found in Ignatius does not approximate anything close to Apostolic Succession. Williams states:

“The succession of bishops arose in Rome from Jewish Christian interpretation of apostolic plans in reaction to erosion of established presbyterial authority. These developments set the stage for the initial use of succession lists in internal crises rather than in dialogue with Greco-Roman Society."

In addition to affirming what was argued regarding Hegesippus, Williams states that the monarchical episcopate developed from the erosion of presbyterial authority. Once again, William’s conclusions are not conducive to the RCC’s claims and are favorable to the thesis of this paper.

Brandon's isolated quote fails to capture the major import of Dr. Williams broader assessments which in fact do support something, "close to Apostolic Succession". Note the following:

The New Testament, Ignatius, and 1 Clement contributed to the ecclesiastical concept of apostolic succession of monepiscopacy in diverse ways. They contain no complete concept of such and no bishop list. They record in separate developments the emergence of all the constituents of the concept. (Page 45)

The "erosion of presbyterial authority" is not what Brandon seems to think it is (a series of events that precipitated a post-apostolic development of the monepiscopacy), but rather, it was events that actually occured in the apostolic age, giving rise to the implementation of the monepiscopacy by the apostles themselves. Please note the following:

...Paul seems to anticipate defections (v. 30). We therefore conclude that Paul promoted the governing by overseers in some congregations threatened with disunification from external and internal troublemakers, from Paul's viewpoint, but that these overseers were not necessarily submitted to without reservation by their congregations.

The subsequent situation in Titus seems to mark a further stage of church leadership, conceivably developing from such difficulties as were anticipated in Acts 20. Paul has left Titus in Crete with the responsibility of appointing "elders" πρεσβύτεροι "in every city" (1:5). In this context, then, a list of qualifications for "an overseer, as God's steward" follows (vv. 7-9). Campbell proposes that this overseer is an elder appointed to oversee all the house churches in a city, a monepiskopos. From those elders in each city, each of whom oversees a church in his or her household, Titus is to choose one as overseer of all the congregations in the city. This overseer will be required in each city to  teach the apostle's doctrine and to defend it in the face of adversartes. Such a need is envisioned in light of difficulties which have developed similar to the first of the two anticipated in Acts 20:28-30. (page 51)

And a bit later:

Such citywide responsibility is a dramatic development in the role of overseeing. It involves a single Christian leader in a city, suggestive of the second century monepiskopos in Ignatius's letters. Furthermore, it indicates appointment of the overseer by one with apostolic authority, albeit delegated. Such apostolic initiative suggests apostolic succession of bishops, the terminology of which emerges at the end of the first century in 1 Clement. (Page 53)

"Such apostolic initiative suggests apostolic succession of bishops"; that Brandon overlooked this in his reading of Dr. Williams raises some concerns on my part.

Before ending, I would like to share a few thoughts on the following from Brandon's opening post:

In summation, modern scholarship from Allen Brent to Robert Williams agrees that the existence of a monarchical episcopate developed in the second century. There are virtually no scholars in the extant literature who dispute this. I’ve encountered exactly one academic article that suggests that there was a monarchical bishop in Rome in the first century and that article is answered deftly by Francis Sullivan.

A couple of items: first, I have already noted that Dr. Williams does not agree, "that the existence of a monarchical episcopate developed in the second century", but rather, sees its beginning with the apostle Paul (he also adds James, the brother of Jesus), in the first century; and second, Brandon has overstated his belief that, "[t]here are virtually no scholars in the extant literature who dispute this", for in addition to Williams, I know of three more who do in fact "dispute this". Interestingly enough, Brandon himself mentions two of them, David Albert Jones and Oswald Sobrino, with the third being Michael C. McGuckian.

I would like to end here, leaving open the possibility of another thread(s) to address some more of the issues raised by Brandon (and the critical, liberal scholars he invokes).


Grace and peace,

David

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Monarchy of God the Father: Goad vs. Dr. Beeley and the original Nicene Creed

Earlier this week, while engaged in some online research, I came across a doctoral dissertation that caught my eye: "TRINITARIAN GRAMMARS: A COMPARISON OF GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS AND SOME CONTEMPORARY MODELS" by Keith Wesley Goad [LINK to full pdf version]. The following is an abstract of the dissertation:

There is a growing trend among contemporary models to claim that their model is based upon the Eastern tradition in opposition to the Western model represented by Augustine. The purpose of the dissertation is to describe the doctrines of the knowledge of God and the Trinity as articulated by Gregory of Nazianzus, the Eastern father who defined these doctrines for the Eastern tradition, for the purpose of critically evaluating the contemporary models that seek to find their historical precedent in the Cappadocians.

The first two chapters demonstrate Gregory's doctrines of the knowledge of God and the Trinity in order to demonstrate how his numerous confessions all relate to and modify one another. Gregory's doctrine of God was based upon God's nature being infinite and only known through his actions and names. Gregory's doctrine of the Trinity is multifaceted so that he uses a number of grammars to defend the unity and the three persons. Chapter four compares Augustine's On The Trinity to Gregory's grammars to provide a concrete comparison between the two traditions to demonstrate that the typical paradigm that contrasts the East and West is oversimplified and wrong.

The contemporary models will then be analyzed in light of Gregory's grammars and model in order to demonstrate that they have introduced concepts and grammars that are contrary to that of Gregory. The contemporary theologians analyzed include Karl Rahner, Cornelius Plantinga, Bruce Ware, and Thom McCall. The contemporary models are wrong to claim Gregory as their historical precedent because they fail to meet the most basic standards of Orthodoxy as presented by Gregory. One of the main problems in the contemporary treatment of Gregory is that his doctrine is oversimplified so that one aspect or grammar is emphasized and the others are ignored. There is confusion over the proper relationship between the economic and immanent Trinities. There is also a number of problems in how the terms one, unity, essence, and person have been redefined by the contemporary models when compared to Gregory's doctrine. The final argument is that the contemporary models fail to provide the necessary grammars and confessions that safeguard the doctrine of the Trinity and promote worship when compared to Gregory.

I literally could not stop reading this dissertation (even though I knew from the provided abstract that I would disagree with a number of Goad's conclusions), for he did an excellent job of summarizing the, "growing trend among contemporary models to claim that their model is based upon the Eastern tradition in opposition to the Western model represented by Augustine", a topic that I have been studying in depth for over three years now. I have probably read at least 75% of the works cited by Goad so I was able to digest his dissertation without needing to do a good deal of supplementary study. There is so much material that could be covered, but I want to focus on the issue of the Monarchy of God the Father. Note the following:

There is a long history of debate concerning how Gregory used the concept of Monarchia in his confession of the Trinity. There appears to be two different grammatical roles for the term Monarchia. One establishes the Triune God as a whole so that the Creator is set apart from creation. The other seeks to distinguish the persons who exist within the God and provide a proper order among the persons. As already seen above, the Monarchia is used as a reference for monotheism over against polytheism and atheism. Gregory's grammar demands that all three persons must be understood to exist distinctly within the one Monarchy and single rule. While Monarchia is a reference for one God, the key issue is how Gregory used Monarchia within the other grammar. The Monarchia is also a key intra-­Trinitarian grammar for the Father being the arxe, aitia, and aitios of the Son and Spirit. The debate among Patristic scholars is how Gregory uses both grammars alongside one another and what he includes in the causal language of the latter. (Pages 142, 143.)

A bit later we read:

The most popular interpretation is that Gregory's use of the various causal/source terminology is ambiguous and possibly contradictory because in some places he says that the Father is the Monarchia and in others he says the essence is the Monarchia. There are two positions that seek to reconcile the confusion. First, the Father is the cause of the person of the Son and Spirit, but there is hesitation in confessing the Father is the cause of their deity. Second, the Father is the source of the person of the Son and Spirit as well as their deity. The major difference between these two positions is that the latter emphasizes the Father as God proper and blurs the distinctions between person and essence. A third option was seen above in Torrance and Cross who limit the Monarchy to the essence. (Page 144.)

Goad's assessment that the, "major difference between these two positions is that the latter emphasizes the Father as God proper and blurs the distinctions between person and essence", is wrong—in fact, I believe that it does just the opposite—the belief that the, "Father is the source of the person of the Son and Spirit as well as their deity", not only does NOT blur "the distinctions between person and essence", but it also represents the theology of the original Nicene Creed.

This misstep of Goad's becomes even more apparent when he attempts to dismantle Dr. Beeley's scholarship on this matter. Though Goad acknowledges that, "Christopher Beeley's work stands out as the most thorough study on the role of the Monarchy", he disagrees with Beeley's view that Gregory reconciles the, "role of the Monarchia by arguing that the Father is God proper and as such is the cause of the Son's person and essence" (p. 151); and this because Goad believes that the, "Father's  Monarchia cannot imply causation of the son's divine nature because this would deny the full deity of the Son" (p. 166).

Three important points here: first, Goad's position is at odds yet again with the theology of the original Nicene Creed; second, it goes against virtually every pre-Augustine Church Father (and many modern day Eastern Orthodox theologians); and third, causation does not require a diminishing of the nature conveyed, in fact, in many cases it requires the full communication of the nature.

In ending, though I believe that Goad's dissertation is valuable and a must read, I firmly believe that a number of his conclusions are faulty.


Grace and peace,

David

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Surah 4.157 - 10th century Muslim scholar defends the Biblical account of the death of Jesus

I recently received in the mail the first English translation (The Proofs of Prophecy), of a famous debate "that took place in the early tenth century between the famous Isma'ili missionary Abū Hātim al-Rāzi (d. ca. 933) and the even more celebrated Abū Bakr al-Rāzi (d. 925), the physician and philosopher known to medieval Europe as 'Rhazes'. The two were towering figures of pre-modern Islamic thought, and this account of the debate between them brings us into immediate contact with some of the most intellectually exciting topics of medieval Islamic culture." (Quotation from the dust cover of the book; also reproduced at Amazon.com.)

I ordered this book because of my ongoing interest in Islamic studies, coupled with the fact that I have been impressed by a number of other published works in BYU's "Islamic Translation Series". I was not disappointed; this 2011 contribution has become my favorite of the series. Not only does Abū Hātim al-Rāzi take "the heretic" (i.e. Abū Bakr al-Rāzi) to task for his rejection of supernatural revelation from God (including the Qur'ān), but he does so by appealing numerous times to the harmony between the Bible and the Qur'ān. (He quotes from the Bible in nearly one hundred instances, from 24 different books/epistles, including those of John, Paul, and Peter).

The most interesting section of the book (IMO) is where Abū Hātim al-Rāzi defends the crucifixion and death of Jesus as portrayed in Gospels, arguing that there is no disagreement here between the Gospels and the Qur'ān. Please note the following:

As for the claim of the heretic (i.e. Abū Bakr al-Rāzi) that the Qur'ān contradicts what the Jews and Christians hold regarding the killing of Christ because both groups maintain that he was killed and crucified, whereas the Qur'ān explicitly denies his death and crucifixion and assets that God made him ascent to Him, we answer: What is in the Qur'ān is right and truthful. It is a parable coined by God, whose true meaning is know to scholars of the community. Nevertheless, some scholars have advance the following argument: The verse in the Qur'ān states, "Assuredly they killed him not but God raised him up to Him" [Q. 4:157-58], means in fact, that even were they to assert that they killed him, he is indeed alive, having been made to ascend to God, and he is with God in full glory, honor, and joy, because he is a martyr. Martyrs are alive with God, as God Himself describes them in the following verses: "Do not say about those who are killed in the cause of God that they are dead; they are indeed alive, but you do not perceive them" [Q. 2:154]; or else, "Do not imagine those who are killed in the path of God to be dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, enjoying His bounty, jubilant at what God has granted them from His grace, eagerly expecting those who have not yet followed, to come after them. In truth, no fear shall fall upon them, nor shall they grieve" [Q. 3:169-70]. It may therefore be said that this is the case with Christ. Thus, the verse, "Assuredly they killed him not" [Q. 4:157-58], means they did not really kill him, because he is a martyr whom God has made to ascent to Him. He is thus with God, full of honor and joy.

A similar account is found in the Gospel of John, which states that Christ died in the body but is alive in the spirit [cf. 1 Peter 3:18*], and so they imagined that he who died in the body is free of sins. In the Gospel of Luke, we find, "I say to you my friends, Do not fear those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear; fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell," and "In truth I say to you, I shall go to the kingdom of heaven, and this my body that shall be delivered to death for your sake. Do likewise whenever you gather together, as a memorial of me" [cf. Luke 12:4-6, 22:19]. In the Gospel of Matthew, we find, "That which you have heard with your ears, proclaim from the rooftops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the spirit; fear him who can kill the spirit and cast the body into hellfire" [cf. Matthew 10:27-28].

This is what may be found in the Gospel, and it agrees with the Qur'ān in this respect. Christ has said that he delivers his body to death and will go to the kingdom of heaven. He also spoke of those who kill the body but cannot kill the spirit. This saying of his is in agreement with the words of the Almighty in the Qur'ān, "Assuredly they killed him not but God raised him up to Him" [Q. 4:157-58]. In another verse, God said, in addressing Christ, "I shall cause you to die and make you ascent to Me" [Q. 3:55]. In yet another verse, quoting Christ, God says, "I was a witness to them while I lived among them, but when You caused me to die, it was You who kept watch over them. You are a witness over all things" [Q. 5:117]. This means: You wee a witness for them while You remained among them. Then he says, "But when You caused me to die, it was You who kept watch over them. You are a witness over all things." This proves that God the Almighty caused him to die when he disappeared from them. Hence, the Qur'ān is in agreement with the Gospel in respect of the fact that God cause him to die and ascent to Him, and that he is alive with God. This interpretation is correct with reference to both the Qur'ān and the Gospel. Accordingly, the claim advanced by the heretic that the Qur'ān contradicts the Gospel in this respect is false. (Abū Hātim al-Rāzi: The Proofs of Prophecy - A parallel English-Arabic text, translated, introduced, and annotated by Tarif Khalidi, 2011, pp. 124, 125.)


Abū Bakr al-Rāzi was a humanist, and argued that there is no such thing as supernatural revelation, and that our Universe needs no such revelation to explain its existence. A 'tool' utilized in his attack on supernatural revelation was to claim that the Bible and Qur'ān contradicted each other, but Abū Hātim al-Rāzi refutes such claims, exposing "the heretic" for what he is: a pure humanist who allows no place for God in the lives of mankind.

In ending, with respect to the interpretation of Surah 4.157-158, I ask: will you side with the humanist or with the theist ???

[*Abū Hātim al-Rāzi incorrectly attributes the passage to John, it is actually from the first epistle of Peter.]


Grace and peace,

David

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God ? : The God who Jesus Christ worshipped

I am somewhat astonished/puzzled that the question concerning the God who Jesus Christ worshipped is rarely raised. And yet, I am convinced that the answer to this question is foundational to understanding who the true God is.

I would like to begin my exploration into the answer of this question by quoting an exchange Jesus had with a Pharisee/scribe:

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?

And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question. (Mark 12:28-34 - KJV; see also Matt. 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28.)

I am going to suggest that within the above dialogue, we have the very essence of what constitutes true faith; the true faith that forms the foundation of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The essence is this: first, belief in and love of the One God; and second, love of your neighbor as yourself.

Now, this One God is the God who Jesus Christ worshipped, "the God and Father" of Jesus Christ, the God who he addressed as "my God", the God of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". This One God is the source of everything else that exists (including the Son of God and the Holy Spirit).

Concerning the love of your neighbor as yourself, apart from the love of God, there is no greater commandment. If one loves their neighbor as oneself, "all the Law is fulfilled" (Gal. 5:14; see also James 2:8), and one will "inherit eternal life" (Luke 10:25-28).

Jesus Christ loved the One God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength; and he loved his neighbor as himself. He taught us that all mankind should follow his example, and that those who do so will inherit eternal life, the kingdom of God.

Who am I to second guess his example and exhortation...


Grace and peace,

David

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God ? : two valuable resources

As dialogue continues in the combox of the previous thread, I would like to recommend two informative/valuable resources that I consider must reads for those interested in this topic:






A high quality, PDF copy of the book is available for free at:


A hard copy of the book (paperback) can be purchased at one of the following sites:

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ENJOY !!!


Grace and peace,

David

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God ?

It was via a blog entry by Dr. Joel McDurman at Gary DeMar's American Vision (LINK) way back in June 2013 that I first came across what struck me as a very intriguing dialogue/discussion that was taking place within Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a conservative, Reformed denomination.

Dr. McDurman begins his blog entry with the following:

I remember when I joined the PCA, my pastor told me an anecdote. He said when his church was first being built in northwest Arkansas, he phoned a local Baptist pastor to ask some advice on a matter. The Baptist pastor cut him off: “Presbyterian, huh? You’ll be liberal in 20 years!” And he abruptly hung up on my pastor.

A bit later, he provides the following selection from a thread written by Lane Keister (published at two separate blogs: link 1 and link 2):

Debate was rather heated in the PCA General Assembly this year over a motion to include a statement to the effect of saying that the Muslims and the Christians worship the same God. It is usually felt by people who believe this that such a statement can be an effective bridge for evangelism to Muslims. They will also usually state the obvious, that the Arabic word for God is Allah, and so Arabic translations have the word “Allah” in the Bible. Therefore they have the same God that we do.

There are a number of serious problems with this line of reasoning. Firstly, the implication of such a statement is that the Trinity is not central to the Christian idea of God, but is an optional add-on. Folks, are we really willing to say that about the Trinity? That it is optional? I would think Athanasius would be rolling in his grave at the suggestion.


This "rather heated", "[d]ebate", "in the PCA General Assembly", was precipitated by a 'report' prepared for the 41st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, with the full title:  "THEOLOGY, GOSPEL MISSIONS, AND INSIDER MOVEMENTS - A PARTIAL REPORT (PART TWO OF TWO PARTS) OF THE AD INTERIM STUDY COMMITTEE ON INSIDER MOVEMENTS TO THE FORTY-FIRST GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA MARCH 20, 2013 [PDF copy of this report available online: HERE].

Dr. McDurman's opening paragraph 'set's the tone' for the rest of his contribution, which depicts the PCA as a denomination headed for full-blown liberalism.

However, this post is not about Dr. McDurman's reflections on future of the PCA, but rather, it concerns whether or not, "the Muslims and the Christians worship the same God." This question, raised in the PCA report, created a flood of comments on a number blogs, the majority of which answered the question with a resounding NO. Though a few of the negative reponses exhibited some deeper reflection/s, most appeared to me to be emotionally based, with little consideration of the broader issues that are inextricably linked to the question.

More often than not, the negative reponses revolved around the premise that if one rejects "the" doctrine of the Trinity, then one worships a different God; and since Muslims reject "the" doctrine of the Trinity, then by default, they worship a different God. But, I am firmly convinced that the above premise is severely flawed; and this, because of two very important issues. First, if the above premise were true, then Jesus and the Jews of his day worshipped a different God; and second, the vast majority of Christians (all ???) prior to Augustine worshipped a different God.

I suspect that those who are not familiar with this blog will view the above two ascertions as utterly false, but in a number of my posts over the last three years under the lablels Monarchy of God the Father and Trinity, I have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that my reflections rest on a solid foundation. Jesus and the Jews of his day did not worship a God that was "one what and three who's" (a favorite construct employed by a number of Christian apologists), but rather they worshipped the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob", the God the New Testament presents to us as "God the Father".  This "God the Father", is "the one God" of the Bible, early Church Fathers, and the Nicene Creed.

So, if the rejection of one form of "the" doctrine of the Trinity (i.e. the Augustinian/Latin construct) does not by default place one into the category of one who worships a different God, can one say that Muslims and Christians (and, of course, Jews) worship the same God ? I shall attempt to answer this question in an upcoming post (the Lord willing).

Grace and peace,


David

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: difficulties, inconsistencies and problems (contradictions ?)


Back on 10/22/13, a gent who posts under the name dguller, provided an argument in the combox of  the Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: introduction and resources thread which exposes what sure seems to me to be a logical contradiction in the Trinitarian thought of Aquinas. In my own readings of Aquinas, I too have detected, what appears to be, difficulties/inconsistencies/problems, but dguller's presentation is much more sophisticated than my own musings. In an attempt to bring students and/or scholars of Aquinas' thought 'to-the-table', I am reposting dguller's comment/s anew in this thread, without any alteration.


Here's an argument that purports to demonstrate the inconsistency of Thomism and the Trinity.

Let’s begin with some preliminaries.

Say that you have A and B, and that A and B are really distinct from one another. A and B would necessarily have some things in common, and some things not in common. You can call what A and B have in common, their “principle of commonality” (or P(C)), and you can call what A and B do not have in common, their “principle of distinction” (or P(D)).

Two points follow from this.

First, P(C) cannot be really identical to P(D). If P(C) were really identical to P(D), then it would follow that what A and B have in common is really identical to what A and B do not have in common, which is a logical contradiction. It would logically be the equivalent of saying that X = not-X, which is impossible. So, P(C) cannot be really identical to P(D).

Second, P(C) cannot account for the real distinction between A and B. Only P(D) can account for the real distinction between A and B. If there was only P(C) between A and B, then A and B would not be really distinct at all, but rather would be really identical. In other words, if A and B have everything in common, then A is identical to B. There must be something about A that differs from B in order for A and B, or vice versa, to be really distinct. That “something” is P(D). To reject this would mean that it is possible for A to be really distinct from B and yet A does not differ from B in any way, which is absurd.

Putting this all together, we have the following principle:

(P) A is really distinct from B if and only if (a) there is P(C) and P(D) between A and B, and (b) P(D) between A and B cannot be really identical to P(C) between A and B (i.e. P(C) = not-P(D)).

It should be noted that Aquinas himself endorses this principle. He writes: “In whatever multitude of things is to be found something common to all, it is necessary to seek out the principle of distinction” (ST 1.40.2), and he mentions this principle within the context of a discussion of the Trinity, meaning that it must be applicable to the Trinity itself.

So, let’s apply (P) to the Trinity, which is what Aquinas has already given us license to do.

We agree that the divine persons are really distinct from one another. It would follow, based upon (P), that (a) there must be a P(C) and a P(D) between the divine persons, and (b) P(C) cannot be really identical to P(D). Now, what would P(C) and P(D) be in this context?

Aquinas helpfully supplies us with an answer. He states that because “the persons agree in essence, it only remains to be said that the persons are distinguished from each other by the relations” (ST 1.40.2), specifically “by relation of origin” (ST 1.29.4). That means that the divine essence is P(C) and the divine relations are P(D). This is consistent with what Aquinas says elsewhere when he writes that “the relations themselves are not distinguished from each other so far as they are identified with the essence” (ST 1.39.1). In other words, the real distinction between the divine persons cannot be accounted for by the divine essence, because you cannot distinguish between the divine persons on the basis of what they have in common (i.e. the divine essence), but only upon what they do not have in common (i.e. the divine relations). Hence, on the basis of (P) it would necessarily follow that the divine relations (= P(D)) are not really identical to the divine essence (= P(C)).

But then we reach three severe problems.

First, Aquinas has written that “a divine person signifies a relation as subsisting” (ST 1.29.4), and thus the divine persons are the divine subsistent relations. So, this account is fundamentally circular and tautological. Saying that the real distinction between the divine persons is due to the real distinction between the divine persons does not really explain anything at all.

Second, Aquinas has written that “relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility” and “in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same” (ST 1.28.2). So, we have a logical contradiction, because the divine essence cannot be really identical to the divine relations, according to (P), and the divine essence is really identical to the divine relations, according to the doctrine of the Trinity.

(Furthermore, to say that the distinction between the divine essence and the divine relations is “only … in its mode of intelligibility” (ST 1.28.2) and “differ in our way of thinking” (ST 1.39.1) just means that there is no difference in reality between the divine essence and the divine relations. The distinction between them is exclusively and only in our minds, and does not correspond to reality at all. It is like the distinction between goodness and being, which also “differ only in idea” and “differ in thought” (ST 1.5.1). And that means that a key element in the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but a mental construct that does not correspond to anything in reality, which makes the Trinity a subjective truth of the human mind, and not an objective truth about reality. And that, in itself, undermines the truth of the Trinity.)

Third, Aquinas has written: “Everything which is not the divine essence is a creature” and “if it is not the divine essence, it is a creature” (ST 1.28.2). And this makes perfect sense, because, according to divine simplicity, the divine essence is Being Itself (ST 1.3.4), and only Being Itself does not depend upon anything else for its existence. Anything that is not Being Itself must depend upon something else for its existence, and anything that must depend upon something else for its existence is necessarily a creature. Thus, anything that is not Being Itself (i.e. the divine essence) is a creature. It would follow, therefore, that since the divine relations are not the divine essence, and everything that is not the divine essence is a creature, that the divine relations are creatures. Not only does this negate the Trinity, but it also has a number of absurd consequences, such as that the divine relations could not exist as cause until their effects first existed, that the divine relations must be composite entities, that the divine relations would exist in a relation of dependence upon creation, and so on.

In conclusion, if one endorses (P), and I do not see how one can coherently reject (P), and also endorses a number of other Trinitarian and Thomist principles, then one is led to a number of logical contradictions. Specifically, the following premises, when taken in conjunction, lead to inconsistency:

(1) A is really distinct from B if and only if (a) there is P(C) and P(D) between A and B, and (b) P(D) between A and B cannot be really identical to P(C) between A and B (i.e. P(C) = not-P(D))
(2) Everything that is not the divine essence is a creature
(3) The divine relations are really distinct from one another
(4) The divine relations share the divine essence in common
(5) The divine relations are really identical to the divine essence

One must reject, at least, one premise in order to avoid logical inconsistency. The question is which one.


Looking forward to some charitable and spirited discussion...


Grace and peace,

David