Monday, January 18, 2010

Pyramid Power

The following is a response to Steve Hays in our discussion on the Trinity and Eternal Generation. (link)

Me: “There is a difference between what consubstantial means with how it can be. No one has any idea as to how the Trinitarian persons can be consubstantial, but that doesn't mean we don't know if consubstantial means numeric or generic identity.”

Thee: And how do you know that? On the basis of exegetical theology? Historical theology? Philosophical theology? What’s your frame of reference?

Exegetical, from the passages which teach God is one. Deuteronomy 6:4-6; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Mark 12:32-34; James 2:19; Galatians 3:20; Deuteronomy 32:39; 2 Kings 19:15; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 37:20; Zechariah 14:9; John 5:44; Romans 3:30; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 2:5; Jude 1:25. It is in this sense that we understand John 10:30.

Historically, the church explained the scriptures this way and used philosophy to reconcile this idea with other scriptural truths. I am not sure it that’s what you had in mind by historical theology/philosophical theology.

Me: “Through generation essence is passed from one to anther. In the Trinity, generation provides for the mode of continuation of existence.”

Thee: “Continuation” is a temporal concept, involving duration through time.

Yes, and continuation of existence throughout eternity involves all points in time. If we look at time as originating at creation then the Father's generation of the Son covers the Son's a-temporal being as well.

Me: “Not origination, for the Son is unoriginated.”

Thee: You can’t logically say the Son is unoriginated and also say he receives his essence from a second party (the Father). If he receives his essence from a second party, then the second party is the source of his essence–in which case he has his source of origin in the second party.
It's true the metaphor 'receives' and 'generates' breaks down at points. Since our experiences are in time, in some significant way this generation is unlike what we experience. Your argument assumes that the analogy must be like the reality in all points. What does not ‘break down’ is “One God, three persons”. But your view of three distinct divine essences seems to contradict this view.

Me: “Not caused, for cause implies temporality and this generation is eternal.”

Thee: If the Son has a divine essence because that essence is conveyed to him by the Father, then his possession of a divine essence is something caused by the conveyance of the essence from the Father to the Son.

Why? Take for example the logical order of the decrees. The decrees don't cause each other as if God had internal parts temporally interacting with each other, yet each decree explain and is the foundation of the next. A syllogism does not cause the truth of the conclusion, nor does the math equation 1/3 cause .3333… to increase infinitely.

Me: “But in a logical and ontological order, the Son proceeds from the Father.”

Thee: If the Father transmits a (the) divine essence to the Son, then that transaction involves causal priority as well as logical and/or ontological priority.

Again, why?

Me: “This does not follow from eternal generation.”

Thee: How does making the generation eternal avoid making the Son a creature of the Father? Why wouldn’t that simply make him an eternal creature?

Because God is not a creature. The Divine essence is numerically one.

Me: “The generation may be seen as natural and necessary rather than volitional.”

Thee: And where’s your argument for that claim?

Clearly some things we do are natural and others are by choice. Sadly, not even all generation is by choice.

Thee: If the Son and Spirit receive their essence from the Father, then what necessitates the Father to transmit his divine essence to another party?

It could be via His nature.

Thee: Did you get that from exegetical theology? Philosophical theology? What?

I don't take a strong stance on this question, but I am inclined to speculate it's natural rather than volitional based on philosophical theology.

Me: “You undersell natural generation and oversell eternal generation to make space for this problem. In natural generation, while the whole nature isn't transferred, a part is. And that part is numerically one with the generator. So the metaphor of passing nature or essence does preserve the unity of the Trinity.”

Thee: i) Parceling the Trinity into three different parts doesn’t strike me as a terribly promising way to preserve the unity of the Godhead. On your explanation, the Father possesses the whole nature while the Son and Spirit only possess a part of the essence.

I didn't parce the Trinity into three different parts; the Son and Spirit possess the whole essence.

Me: “Indeed without it, I doubt monotheism can be defended. Three distinct divine essences that are of them divine, is tri-theism.”

Thee: I don’t think that a modalistic paradigm of the Trinity is preferable to tritheistic paradigm.

Right, neither represent the Trinity well.

Thee: iv) As I’ve already said to you, as well as having said on other occasions, if we want a model of how the Godhead can be three-in-one, I think enantiomorphic symmetries afford a more satisfactory illustration.

The pyramid analogy has problems as well, the least of which is it’s susceptible to pyramid power jokes.




Me: “Now it's true that the metaphor is restricted. Natural generation is in time, not eternal and only part of the nature is transferred, not the whole. And this is because we know God is one and eternal. Are these restrictions add hoc?”

Thee: i) Eternality doesn’t distinguish between generic and numeric unity.

ii) Procession doesn’t distinguish between generic and numeric unity.

True, but God's being one does. Hum… when I say eternal generation preserves the unity of the Trinity, I am not say the metaphor grants us full understanding. Rather, I am saying the reality the metaphor represents unites the three persons.

Thee: iii) You also need to justify your use of these metaphors in the first place. Why should we frame our formulation of the immanent Trinity in terms of generation and procession? For my part, I’ve already discussed the traditional prooftexts.

Fine. Besides the passages on the generation of the Son, we have other texts that help us understand the generation analogy. For example:

John 6:57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

So the Son's life is because of the Father.

Also we have passages saying the Father is the Son’s God.

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”

Revelation 3:12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,

Colossians 1:3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

Further, we have passages where the Father gives authority to the Son

Philippians 2:9-11 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

John 17:2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.

John 5:22-26 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,

Ephesians 1:22-23 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Hebrews 1:2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Mark 9:37 “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

John 7:16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.

Acts 3:13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.

Me: “But I like the rays of the sun or a river flowing from a lake.”

Thee: i) River water from lake water is a case of generic unity, not numeric unity.

ii) And it also involves you in a cause-and-effect relation. The lake causes the river.

Same problems with your solar metaphor.

How about the brightness of His glory?

Me: “On the other hand, if Leibniz is really saying that logically two things can't be identical, and you accept his principle, that rules out your own understanding of consubtantiallity.”

Thee: i) Of course you’re equivocating. The persons of the Godhead aren’t identical in every respect: otherwise, they wouldn’t be distinct persons.

If x and y are distinct then there is at least one property that x has and y does not, or vice versa.
Conversely, if, for every property F, object x has F if and only if object y has F, then x is identical to y.

ii) It’s not my job to make sense of your terminology. You were the one who defined numerical unity/simplicity in contrast to “ just two things with identical properties.”


My concern here isn't the divine persons but the divine essence. If the Son's divinity is somehow unlike the Father's in your view, that's a denial of consubstantially to go along with your denial of eternal generation. But you previously asserted you accepted consubstantiality. So by your principles either Leibniz's rule or your view of consubstantiality has to go.

However Leibniz's rule is perfectly consistent with one divine essence, nor do I see a problem with three persons sharing one essence.

Me: “But you deny they have their essence from another (either eternally or via origination), no? So in one sense they are of themselves or auto-theos, no?”

Thee: “Of themselves” connotes sourcehood. By contrast, there is nothing above, beyond, or behind the persons. They aren’t “from” themselves anymore than they are “from” another. We’ve already arrived at a bedrock fact. The end of the explanatory trail.

Three first principles is tri-theism.

Me: “How can the Father be Christ's God, if He does not receive His essence from the Father. How can He be His Son, without eternal generation?”

Thee: i) The metaphor of fatherhood/sonship...

That the Father is Christ's God is not a metaphor.

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