The Trinity


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Political implications of the Trinity: Two approaches

Rather memory, understanding, and will or love must belong to each of the persons alone Augustine concludes with the reflection that having found in one human person an image of the Trinity, he had desired to illuminate the relation among the three divine persons; but in the end three things which belong to one person cannot suit the three persons of the Trinity Anti-Social Trinitarians frequently interpret Augustine to hold that the persons of the Trinity just are various relations subsisting in God.

But this is not what Augustine says 5. Arians had objected that if the Father is essentially unbegotten and the Son essentially begotten, then the Father and Son cannot share the same essence or substance homoousios. In response to this ingenious objection Augustine claims that the distinction between Father and Son is a matter neither of different essential properties nor of different accidental properties. Rather the persons are distinguished in virtue of the relations in which they stand.

Can you explain the Trinity?

No, says Augustine, for it is eternally and immutably the case for the Son to be begotten. The Father and Son would share the same intrinsic essential properties, but they would differ in virtue of their differing relational properties or the different internal relations in which they stand. Note what Augustine does not say, namely, that the Father and Son just are relations. He accepted the terminology somewhat grudgingly for want of a better word. But he did not try to reduce the persons to mere relations.

For a bonafide example of Anti-Social Trinitarianism, we may turn to Thomas Aquinas, who pushes the Augustinian analogy to its apparent limit.

Trinity | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Aquinas holds that there is a likeness of the Trinity in the human mind insofar as it understands itself and loves itself Summa contra gentiles 4. We find in the mind the mind itself, the mind conceived in the intellect, and the mind beloved in the will. According to Aquinas, since God knows Himself, there is in God the one who knows and the intentional object of that knowledge, which is the one known.

The one known exists in the one knowing as His Word. They share the same essence and are, indeed, identical to it, but they are relationally distinct 4. Indeed, Aquinas holds that the different divine persons just are the different relations in God, like paternity being father of and filiation being son of Summa theologiae 1a.

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Despite his commitment to divine simplicity, Aquinas regards these relations as subsisting entities in God Scg 4. Because the one knowing generates the one known and they share the same essence, they are related as Father to Son. Moreover, God loves Himself, so that God as beloved is relationally distinct from God as loving 4. But they are distinct because only the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Is Thomistic Anti-Social Trinitarianism viable? Intuitively, it seems obvious that a being which is absolutely without composition and transcends all distinctions cannot have real relations subsisting within it, much less be three distinct persons.

But if two things are identical with some third thing, they are identical with each other. Therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cannot be distinct persons or relations. It seems not. Relations do not cause things, know truths, or love people in the way the Bible says God does. Anti-Social Trinitarianism seems to reduce to classical Modalism.

Then two problems present themselves. First, there arises an infinite regress of persons in the Godhead. If God as understood really is a distinct person, called the Son, then the Son, like the Father, must also understand Himself and love Himself. There are thereby generated two further persons of the Godhead, who, in turn, can also consider themselves as intentional objects of their knowledge and will, thereby generating further persons, ad infinitum.

We wind up with a fractal-like infinite series of Trinities within Trinities in the Godhead. Classic Trinitarian doctrine affirms that more than one person may exist in one being, but persons are not the sort of entity that exists in another person.

loving justice in the heart of our city

Again, we seem forced to conclude that the subsisting relations posited by the Anti-Social Trinitarian do not rise to the standard of personhood. Are there brighter prospects for a viable Social Trinitarianism? To consider these in reverse order, Functional Monotheism appeals to the harmonious, interrelated functioning of the divine persons as the basis for viewing them as one God.


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For example, Richard Swinburne considers God to be a logically indivisible, collective substance composed of three persons who are also substances. He sees the Father as the everlasting active cause of the Son and Spirit, and the latter as permissive causes, in turn, of the Father. Because all of them are omnipotent and perfectly good, they cooperate in all their volitions and actions. It is logically impossible that any one person should exist or act independently of the other two. Swinburne considers this understanding sufficient to capture the intention of the Church Councils, whose monotheistic affirmations, he thinks, meant to deny that there were three independent divine beings who could exist and act without one another.

Thus, there is no salient difference between Functional Monotheism and polytheism. Group Mind Monotheism holds that the Trinity is a mind which is composed of the minds of the three persons in the Godhead.

If such a model is to be theologically acceptable, the mind of the Trinity cannot be a self-conscious self in addition to the three self-conscious selves who are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for otherwise we have not a Trinity but a Quaternity, so to speak. Therefore, the Trinity cannot itself be construed as an agent, endowed with intellect and will, in addition to the three persons of the Trinity.


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  5. The three persons would have to be thought of as subminds of the mind of God. In order to motivate such a view, Leftow appeals to thought experiments involving surgical operations in which the cerebral commissures, the network of nerves connecting the two hemispheres of the brain, are severed.

    Such operations have been performed as a treatment for severe epilepsy, and the results are provocative. Patients sometimes behave as though the two halves of their brain were operating independently of each other. The interpretation of such results is controversial, but one interpretation, suggested by various thought experiments, is that the patients come to have two minds. Now the question arises whether in a normally functioning human being we do not already have two separable subminds linked to their respective hemispheres which cooperate together in producing a single human consciousness.

    In such a case the human mind would itself be a group mind.

    Core Values

    Applying this notion of a group mind to the Trinity, we must, if we are to remain biblically orthodox, maintain that the minds of the persons of the Trinity are more than mere subminds which either never come to self-consciousness or else share a common mental state as a single self-consciousness. In order to be theologically acceptable, Group Mind Monotheism will have to be construed dynamically, as a process in which the subminds emerge into self-consciousness to replace the single Trinitarian self-consciousness.

    In other words, what Group Mind Monotheism offers is a strikingly modern version of the old Logos doctrine of the Greek Apologists. The divine Monarchy the single self-consciousness of the Trinity contains within itself an immanent Logos a submind which at the beginning of the creation of the world is deployed into the divine Economy the subminds emerge into self-consciousness in replacement of the former single self-consciousness. On the other hand, if we think of the primal self-consciousness of the Godhead as the Father, then the model requires that the person of the Father expires in the emergence of the three subminds into self-consciousness cf.

    Athanasius Four Discourses against the Arians 4. The whole model depends, of course, upon the very controversial notion of subminds and their emergence into distinct persons. If we do not equate minds with persons, then the result of the deployment of the divine economy will be merely one person with three minds, which falls short of the doctrine of the Trinity.

    Understanding The Trinity

    But if, as seems plausible, we understand minds and persons to exist in a one-to-one correspondence, then the emergence of three distinct persons raises once again the specter of tri-theism. But once the divine economy has been deployed, the group mind has lapsed away, and it is unclear why we do not now have three Gods in the place of one. We turn finally to Trinity Monotheism, which holds that while the persons of the Trinity are divine, it is the Trinity as a whole which is properly God.

    If this view is to be orthodox, it must hold that the Trinity alone is God and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while divine, are not Gods. Leftow presents the following challenge to this view:. Either the Trinity is a fourth case of the divine nature, in addition to the Persons, or it is not. If it is, we have too many cases of deity for orthodoxy. If it is not, and yet is divine, there are two ways to be divine—by being a case of deity, and by being a Trinity of such cases. If there is more than one way to be divine, Trinity monotheism becomes Plantingian Arianism.

    But if there is in fact only one way to be divine, then there are two alternatives. One is that only the Trinity is God, and God is composed of non-divine persons. The other is that the sum of all divine persons is somehow not divine. To accept this last claim would be to give up Trinity monotheism altogether. How should the Trinity Monotheist respond to this dilemma? Starting with the first disjunction, he will clearly want to say that the Trinity is not a fourth instance of the divine nature, lest there be four divine persons.

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