Monday, May 6, 2013

Dr. Gilles Emery's book, The Trinity



Back on April 12th (2013), I mentioned the above pictured book by Dr. Gilles Emery that I was then reading (link). I actually finished the book the next day, but have waited until now to publish a separate thread on it. [Various purchasing options: HERE.]

The following "Overview" from the Barnes&Noble website is a good introduction to the book:

Representing the highest quality of scholarship, Gilles Emery offers a much-anticipated introduction to Catholic doctrine on the Trinity. His extensive research combined with lucid prose provides readers a resource to better understand the foundations of Trinitarian reflection. The book is addressed to all who wish to benefit from an initiation to Trinitarian doctrine.

The path proposed by this introductory work comprises six steps. First the book indicates some liturgical and biblical ways for entering into Trinitarian faith. It then presents the revelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament, by inviting the reader to reflect upon the signification of the word "God." Next it explores the confessions of Trinitarian faith, from the New Testament itself to the Creed of Constantinople, on which it offers a commentary. By emphasizing the Christian culture inherited from the fourth-century Fathers of the Church, the book presents the fundamental principles of Trinitarian doctrine, which find their summit in the Christian notion of "person."

On these foundations, the heart of the book is a synthetic exposition of the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in their divine being and mutual relations, and in their action for us. Finally, the last step takes up again the study of the creative and saving action of the Trinity: the book concludes with a doctrinal exposition of the "missions" of the Son and Holy Spirit, that is, the salvific sending of the Son and Holy Spirit that leads humankind to the contemplation of the Father.

Gilles Emery, a Dominican priest of the Swiss province of Preachers, is professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He is an elected member of the International Theological Commission and the author of several books, including The Trinitarian Theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Trinity, Church, and the Human Person. Matthew Levering, professor of theology at the University of Dayton, is author of several books, most recently Christ and the Catholic Priesthood and coeditor of Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on the Gospel of John.

"Gilles Emery's scholarship is impeccable. He presents clearly and elegantly a mainstream Trinitarian theology shaped by Aquinas, the Fathers of the Church, and the liturgy."—Gerald O'Collins, S.J., Emeritus Professor, Gregorian University (LINK)

Now, perhaps some of my readers are asking themselves why someone who has expressed concerns over the Augustinian/Latin/Western view of the Trinity is blogging about a book from that perspective: I am doing so because Dr. Emery has cogently addressed many of those concerns, especially the charge of 'neo-modalism'.

However, one difficulty still remains for me that was not covered in the book: the transition from God the Father being "the one God" of the Bible, early Church Fathers, and early Creeds, to the Trinity being the "the one God". IMO, this important change/development remains unresolved, which leaves for me the question: can it be resolved?


Grace and peace,

David

18 comments:

Steve said...

However, one difficulty still remains for me that was not covered in the book: the transition from God the Father being "the one God" of the Bible, early Church Fathers, and early Creeds, to the Trinity being the "the one God". IMO, this important change/development remains unresolved, which leaves for me the question: can it be resolved?

Is it possible that this change is one of emphasis, rather than a substantive theological change? After all, if there is only one God, and the Father is that one God, then the Son cannot be God, and the Holy Spirit cannot be God, unless the Son and Holy Spirit just are the Father. However, if we were to say that the Father is the one God in that He is the principle by which the Son and Holy Spirit exist, then this would not necessarily be in conflict with the Trinity as the one God when we incorporate a metaphysical understanding of divine simplicity. It seems to me that there was room for legitimate development here.

Also, are there any dogmatic early church statements on the Trinity that I would necessarily have to deny as a western Thomist?

Sadly, I've been too busy with other things to read Fr. Emery's book. Unfortunate timing, but such is life...I look forward to reading his insights as they surface on this thread, though.

David Waltz said...

Hi Steve,

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

==Is it possible that this change is one of emphasis, rather than a substantive theological change? After all, if there is only one God, and the Father is that one God, then the Son cannot be God, and the Holy Spirit cannot be God, unless the Son and Holy Spirit just are the Father. However, if we were to say that the Father is the one God in that He is the principle by which the Son and Holy Spirit exist, then this would not necessarily be in conflict with the Trinity as the one God when we incorporate a metaphysical understanding of divine simplicity. It seems to me that there was room for legitimate development here.==

Me: As one who has studied the complex issue/s of doctrinal development for well over a decade now, I certainly do not want to suggest that there is/was NO "room for legitimate development here." With that said, I am 'open' to the possibility that the Aquinian understanding of God and the Trinity is a "legitimate development"; but, I have yet to come across an adherent of Aquinas's understanding who discusses the transition from the one God being the Father, to the one God being the Trinity (a concept emphatically denied by some EO theologians—e.g. Fr. Behr, and Fr. Hopko). I would also like to see the issue of absolute divine simplicity involved in such a discussion for I am having difficulty understanding how strict ADS allows for multiple, distinct persons in the Godhead.

==Also, are there any dogmatic early church statements on the Trinity that I would necessarily have to deny as a western Thomist?==

Me: Good question; given the complexity of the issue, I would say (tentatively) no.

==Sadly, I've been too busy with other things to read Fr. Emery's book. Unfortunate timing, but such is life...I look forward to reading his insights as they surface on this thread, though.==

Me: I received an email from Jamie informing me that he now has the book and is reading it. Hopefully he will drop by and share some of his thoughts (though he also told me in the email that he too is very busy at this time, so it may be awhile before he can do so).


Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

I would also like to see the issue of absolute divine simplicity involved in such a discussion for I am having difficulty understanding how strict ADS allows for multiple, distinct persons in the Godhead.

It is difficult, indeed. I think the reason for this is that we are inextricably tied to the created order where everything we encounter is mixture of act and potency. To conceive of something as pure act (or pure potency for that matter:)) is completely unnatural for us. We can talk about it, and even reason to it as a necessary truth (lest we make God contingent in some way), but it will always elude our grasp. Perhaps the first stumbling block is thinking of God as possessing His nature, rather than being His nature. This certainly has implications regarding Trinitarian processions and subsistent relation, and is also why we have the doctrine of analogy.

How does Fr. Emery define "person" in the Trinitarian, uncreated, sense? Does he spend any time on divine simplicity before addressing this?

Also, Brian Davies' The Thought of Thomas Aquinas is quite good. You may not get Trinitarian procession and divine simplicity in the same chapter, but you will at least have it in the same book.


David Waltz said...

Hello again Steve,

In your last response, you wrote:

==It is difficult, indeed. I think the reason for this is that we are inextricably tied to the created order where everything we encounter is mixture of act and potency. To conceive of something as pure act (or pure potency for that matter:)) is completely unnatural for us. We can talk about it, and even reason to it as a necessary truth (lest we make God contingent in some way), but it will always elude our grasp. Perhaps the first stumbling block is thinking of God aspossessing His nature, rather than being His nature. This certainly has implications regarding Trinitarian processions and subsistent relation, and is also why we have the doctrine of analogy.==

Me: Very interesting Steve; you certainly have me reflecting over the difference between, "God as possessing His nature, rather than being His nature.

==How does Fr. Emery define "person" in the Trinitarian, uncreated, sense? Does he spend any time on divine simplicity before addressing this?==

Me: Dr./Fr. Emery has an entire chapter on this issue (ch. 4, "Three 'Persons' or 'Hypostases'", pp. 83-110). He uses Boethius's famous definition for person, and does state that:

"God is simple. This affirmation means that is exempt from all forms of composition that characterize creatures: composition of act and power, of essence and existence, of substance and accident, of whole and parts, of form and matter." (p. 90)

He adds: "The divine simplicity is a Trinitarian doctrine." (p. 91) "The incomprehensibility of God is connected to his simplicity. This forces us to us analogy." (p. 91) "The simplicity of the triune God belongs to the faith of the Church." (p. 92 - citing in a footnote the 4th Lateran Council)

==Also, Brian Davies' The Thought of Thomas Aquinas is quite good. You may not get Trinitarian procession and divine simplicity in the same chapter, but you will at least have it in the same book.==

Me: Thanks much for the heads up. Will look into obtaining a copy later today.


Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

you certainly have me reflecting over the difference between, "God as possessing His nature, rather than being His nature.

Maybe think of it this way: If God's existence is apart from His essence in any way, then God cannot be the reason for His existence. Therefore, God owes His existence to something outside of Himself, which means there is something outside of God on which God depends, but God cannot be limited in that way and still be God.

If God is not dependent on something outside of Himself for His existence, then either His essence is His existence, or He created Himself, which is an absurdity. We do not possess our essences, rather, we are our essences.

Incidently, this is what is meant by the proposition that if God exists, He exists neccessarily.

Jamie Donald said...

David,

I've completed chapter 2. It's a slow read for me due to schedule constraints at work and home.

I would have to echo much of what Steve has already said, so I won't rehash that material.

But before I can even begin to interact with you on your objection to the book, namely where you wrote, However, one difficulty still remains for me that was not covered in the book: the transition from God the Father being "the one God" of the Bible, early Church Fathers, and early Creeds, to the Trinity being the "the one God". IMO, this important change/development remains unresolved, which leaves for me the question: can it be resolved?, I think I need you to reiterate something. As you have stated you hold to the full divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and have said you can call each of them "God;" how do you see monotheism?

David Waltz said...

Hi Jamie,

So good to hear from you; thanks much for taking some time away from your busy schedule to comment. You wrote:

==But before I can even begin to interact with you on your objection to the book, namely where you wrote, However, one difficulty still remains for me that was not covered in the book: the transition from God the Father being "the one God" of the Bible, early Church Fathers, and early Creeds, to the Trinity being the "the one God". IMO, this important change/development remains unresolved, which leaves for me the question: can it be resolved?, I think I need you to reiterate something. As you have stated you hold to the full divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and have said you can call each of them "God;" how do you see monotheism?==

Me: A per certain EO theologians (e.g. Fr. Hopko, Fr. Behr), I lean heavily to the understanding that, "the one God is the Father, not the Trinity." Now, with that said, I would argue that "the one God" (i.e. monotheism) is that person/being who alone is the sole, supreme person/being who is the origin of everything else that exists, including the Son and the Holy Spirit (or as Aquinas puts it, "the principal without principle"; "the fontal principle of the entire Divinity". This attribute/property of the Father is His alone, and is not shared by either the Son or the HS. So, while I argue that the Son and HS share 'fully' in the "divine nature" (hence, "God from God"), it is derivative, from the one person/being who alone is without ANY derivation.

Sincerely hope I have offered some clarification on this matter; if not, please feel free to ask more questions.


Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

I don't think Aquinas would necessarily disagree with that, but he would also emphasize absolute equality of divine essence among the persons of the Trinity. For him, this is a principle of faith handed down by the authority of the Church. Not a proposition to be reasoned to.

Just didn't want to see this thread die...

David Waltz said...

Hi Steve,

Earlier today, you posted:

==I don't think Aquinas would necessarily disagree with that, but he would also emphasize absolute equality of divine essence among the persons of the Trinity. For him, this is a principle of faith handed down by the authority of the Church. Not a proposition to be reasoned to.==

Me: I think that this is a very good point Steve; it entails to a great degree the issue of doctrinal development, and even more specifically, how does one determine if/when a doctrinal development is a true/valid one. It also raises some serious questions concerning the doctrine of sola scriptura, which I have discussed at length here at AF (Link to Sola Scriptura Label)

This brings to mind the following that I posted in, "The Trinity: a 'clear' Biblical teaching, or a post-Biblical development?", thread (link):

>>...in no NT passage, not even in Matt. 28:19 (“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) is there precision about three divine Persons, co-equal but distinct, and one divine Nature—the core dogma of the Trinity. Greek philosophy, sharpened by continuing theological disputes in the church from the 2nd to the 5th centuries, contributed to the classical formulation of the dogma…If ‘tradition’ implies that first-century Christianity already understood three coequal but distinct divine Persons and one divine Nature but had not developed the precise terminology, I would dissent. Neither the terminology nor the basic ideas had reached clarity in the first century; problems and disputes were required before the clarity came…Precisely because the “Trinitarian” line of development was not the only line of thought detectable in the NT, one must posit the guidance of the Spirit and intuition of faith as the church came to its decision. (Raymond E. Brown, Biblical Exegesis & Church Doctrine, 1985, pp. 31-33.)>>


Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

Apropos your last comment the gospel reading at Mass today was from John 16 12-15.

Happy Trinity Sunday!

Steve said...

David,

See the first half of this post for a summary of the Thomistic understanding on the nature of God.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/06/nagel-and-his-critics-part-x.html#more

David Waltz said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks much for the link. From the post we read:

==The main reason is not so much that I think Plantinga and Moreland fail to show that the existence of God, so understood, is sufficiently probable, though their remarks do smack of a “god of the gaps” approach. The main reason is that God so understood is in my view not terribly philosophically interesting, and in particular not terribly God-like. Certainly the approach just sketched has nothing to do with the way Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas, and classical theists more generally have historically approached these issues. For the classical theist, God is not “a person” or “a being” -- not because he is impersonal or lacking in being, but because he is not “an” anything. He is not an instance of any kind. He is not in any genus. He does not merely participate in or “have” mind, life, existence, or anything else, the way we do. In that sense he doesn’t “have properties.” Indeed, he has no parts of any sort, but is absolutely simple. If he were not, then he would be just one more piece of furniture in the universe among all the others, requiring an explanation of his own -- an explanation of why he instantiates the properties he does. Even if he instantiated them in every possible world, if he were a substance distinct from his properties, or had an essence or nature distinct from his existence, he would not have the absolute metaphysical ultimacy that, for classical theism, is definitive of God and that only what is absolutely simple can have. For the classical theist, God is unparticipated being or subsistent being itself, unparticipated goodness or goodness itself, and whatever else we can attribute to him can be attributed only in an unparticipated sense rather than as the instantiation of a property.==

Me: Very interesting. If, "God is unparticipated being or subsistent being itself", then the Son of God cannot be God in that sense/definition, for the Son has his being/existence from the Father.


Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

The point is that God does not partake in anything metaphysically prior to Himself. To have properties is to do just that. In what sense is the Father prior to the Son if the Son is eternally begotten?

David Waltz said...

Hello again Steve,

In your last comment, you asked:

==In what sense is the Father prior to the Son if the Son is eternally begotten?==

Very good question. It is almost impossible for us finite creatures to answer, for we must first address what it means to exist outside of time (as we know it). If God creates time as we know it (and I subscribe to this) what was going on before this creative act?

Now, with that said, I would say that the Father begot the Son before He created time as we know it; hence, begotten in eternity or eternally begotten. Is there is sense (not bound by time as we know it) one can say that the Father is before the Son? If the Son owes his being/existence/life to the Father, then I would say yes; but, once again, the 'before' is not related at all to time as we know it.

Sincerely wish I could be more exhaustive here, but I just don't how beings who exist in time can truly explain it...


Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

but I just don't how beings who exist in time can truly explain it...

Indeed, and I think that viewing the uncreated order in much the same way we view the created order is largerly responsible for misguided attempts at explaining the Trinity. Perhaps this is why we need to take the Son's co-equality with the Father on faith. Your comment at 9:38 seems to want to undermine that principle of faith, and any explanations that do not remain framed in by that principle are simply non-starters. It would be like talking to Aristotle while ignoring the principle of non-contradiction. I assume this is why so many theologians rely on negative theology. It satisfies our psychological desire to think about the nature of things while giving us room to accept things on faith.

With that said, do you think there is any real difference between a concept and a concept known, other than relation?

Steve said...

David,
You might find this talk by Brian Davies interesting. At about 10 min he begins to discuss the differences between theistic personalism and the Thomistic view of God. I think it underscores how different the two paradigms are, and perhaps why discussions of the Trinity become so muddled when the two camps interact.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=brian+davies+and+theology&view=detail&mid=975762B4143D22DA6934975762B4143D22DA6934&first=0&FORM=NVPFVR

David Waltz said...

Steve,

Thanks much for your comments, and the link; a lot for me to reflect on...

I think I will postpone any further comments until I have taken in the Brian Davies video (probably will not be able to get to it until tomorrow).


Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

You might find this interesting, too...

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=dVoo0tAFNFgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Whose+God%3F+Which+Tradition%3F+The+Nature+of+Belief+in+God&hl=en&sa=X&ei=dBfDUbyeKeOZiQKWv4DICQ