Thursday, October 10, 2013

Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: introduction and resources


Back on April 7, 2013, I called into question Drake Shelton's attempt to identify Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of the Trinity as Sabellian (link to the thread).

Because of my respect for Drake, since that post, I have been reading a great deal of Aquinas' writings on the doctrine of the Trinity (as time has allowed), to determine if I might have possibly been wrong in my assessment. My studies are still continuing, but I would like to share some of my reflections on the material I have read up to this point. Before I delve into this topic in upcoming threads (the Lord willing), I would like to provide interested readers with links to some important Aquinas online sources concerning his doctrine of the Trinity.



Commentary on the Gospel of John (Scattered throughout this commentary are numerous reflections on the doctrine of the Trinity and a number of its opponents.)


Sincerely hope that interested readers will take the time to look into the above resources before I begin my own musings (hopefully early next week, the Lord willing).



Grace and peace,

David

12 comments:

Iohannes said...

Hi David,

Thanks for these links. On a related note, Kevin Davis just did a series on transubstantiation in Thomas. If you're interested, the first post is here.

Blessings in Christ,
John

David Waltz said...

Hi John,

Thanks much for the link to Kevin Davis', "series on transubstantiation in Thomas". I briefly skimmed over the material earlier today, and hope to engage in a serious reading this weekend.


Grace and peace,

David

dguller said...

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)).

dguller said...

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.

David Waltz said...

Hi Edward,

An informative post(s) for sure !!! Thank you so much taking the time to share your insights here at AF (I think this is the first time you have posted here—am I correct on this ?)

The 5th premise that you listed at the end of your second post ("The divine relations are really identical to the divine essence") has been on my own 'radar' for quite sometime now, and is a premise that I personally would reject, for this premise coupled with ADS, can only lead to Sabellianism in my assessment.

I also would reject premise #2, for if the one rejects #5, #2 must be rejected for any of the three persons to remain divine.

Though I have read a great deal of Aquinas, I am certainly not a Thomistic scholar by any means. I sincerely wonder how a bright Thomist would address your inconsistencies...

Thanks again for your marvelous post.


Grace and peace,

David

dguller said...

David:

Thanks for the kind remarks about my comments.

First, my name is not Edward. I’m dguller. :)

Second, this is the first time that I’ve posted here.

Third, to reject premise (5) directly contradicts Aquinas and Catholic doctrine about the Trinity.

Fourth, to reject premise (2) is to reject divine simplicity.

Ultimately, in order to avoid a contradiction, one must reject key Catholic doctrines, I think.

David Waltz said...

Hello again dguller,

Earlier today, you posted:

==First, my name is not Edward. I’m dguller. :)==

Me: Oooops...my bad. I clicked on "dguller", saw the name "Edward Feser" and assumed, wrongfully so, that it was you.

==Second, this is the first time that I’ve posted here.==

Me: Sincerely hope to see more of your thoughtful contributions in the near future.

==Third, to reject premise (5) directly contradicts Aquinas and Catholic doctrine about the Trinity.==

Me: Could you provide an 'official' source (i.e. Ecumenical council, infallible Papal decree) that clearly affirms premise #5.

==Fourth, to reject premise (2) is to reject divine simplicity.==

Me: Agreed.

==Ultimately, in order to avoid a contradiction, one must reject key Catholic doctrines, I think.==

Me: Not all Catholic are Thomists. I truly wonder if ADS is a non-reformable teaching of the RCC.


Grace and peace,

David

dguller said...

David:

I'm not familiar enough with Catholic doctrine to cite an authority that you mentioned to support premise (5). I could only cite Aquinas, and some Catholic commentators on Aquinas. I'm not too sure if that would be good enough.

And I find it interesting that not all Catholics are Thomists. I thought Thomism was the theology of the Catholic Church.

Take care.

David Waltz said...

==And I find it interesting that not all Catholics are Thomists. I thought Thomism was the theology of the Catholic Church.==

The Franciscans were bitter opponents of the Dominicans, and hence, Thomism; but, the rivalry today, is nothing like it was.

As for today, I would say the Molinism is the predominant contender against Thomism. Though I am not 100% sure on this, I think Thomism has been on the decline for decades now.


Grace and peace,

David

aquinasetc.com said...

Thomism is not the official theology or philosophy of the Catholic Church.

First, as to the latter, Pope JPII wrote in Fides et Ratio that there is no official philosophy precisely because Christianity is a religion, not a philosophy. Second, as to the former, theology’s role in the Catholic Church is to understand what has been revealed, not to define what the content of the Faith is. So St. Thomas does not represent the Faith per se but rather a great expression of one man’s understanding of it.

Hope this helps.

Fred

aquinasetc.com said...

I would like to see a justification of premise 5 from Aquinas, please. I do not recall ever seeing him say anything remotely like that. If the relations are the divine Essence then there is no distinction between the Persons at all, and I find it pretty hard to believe that Aquinas would have committed such a gaffe.

Lastly, it is my understanding from Ott that divine simplicity is de fide.

Fred

dguller said...

Fred:

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).