Thesis Part III: ADS and Trinitarian Orthodoxy


From here I will transition to some of Hughes’s argumentation about the incompatibility of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and ADS. I won’t be able to go into the full depth of Hughes’s argument here because he spends much of the 53 pages doing very in depth exegesis of Aquinas. I will try to streamline and simplify his argument as much as possible to fit it in this already crowded paper. The heart of Hughes’s argument is essentially this:

“Surely if (a) the essence of x = the essence of y, and (b) the essence of x = x, and the essence of
y = y, it follows as the night does the day that x = y. And Aquinas maintains both that the divine persons are not distinct from their essences, and that they all have the same essence (cf. DP 8.4; ST Ia.39.2; and ST Ia.40.1).”

In fact, the problem for the proponent of ADS could be stated even more simply: If all there is to God is His essence, and His essence is free from any type of real distinction (As Stump and Kretzmann admit), then there cannot be three really distinct persons in the Trinity that we refer to as The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Here the Thomist obviously will object saying, “well of course the persons are really distinguished by the relations of mutual opposition that the persons are constituted by.” Even if we grant all the counter-intuitive things presupposed by this suggestion, (that persons can be relations, that relations establish distinct entities rather than presupposing distinct relata, that persons can be distinct, merely by relational properties, etc.) we will still run into problems when we consider that the relations inhere in the Divine Essence, and no real distinctions exist in the Divine Essence. So how can the relations be really distinct? In fact, Augustine and Aquinas both very clearly view “person” as identical to the one simple essence. One can see this very clearly in St. Augustine’s De Trinitate when he says, “to God it is not one thing to be, another to be a person, but it is absolutely the same…It is the same thing for Him to be as to be a person.” And Aquinas is perhaps even more clear when he argues for the identity of person and relation in God based on the fact that both are identical to the essence: “Since a relation, inasmuch as it is something real in God, is the divine essence itself, and the essence is the same as a person, as we have already made clear, it must be that the relation is the same as a person.”

So what can be said here on behalf of the proponent of ADS? The situation certainly seems bleak but the proponents of ADS (the Christian ones at least) continue to confess the Trinity, so there must be some response. The first response I will examine, is a very interesting response based on an analogy with time travel given by Brian Leftow in “A Latin Trinity.” Leftow characterizes the Thomisitc Trinitarian claim in terms of persons and tropes saying, “while both Father and Son instance the divine nature (deity), they have but one trope of deity between them, which is God’s.” Next, Leftow invites us to imagine a scenario in which Time travel is possible (I will not get into his argument for the possibility of time travel, rather I will just grant him that it is). We are to further imagine that we are at Radio City Music Hall watching three exactly similar Rockettes come from different points on stage and do their routine, side-by-side, with their hands on each other’s shoulders. The surprising reality of the situation is that only one Rockette showed up for work today: Jane. Jane has gone up on stage done the routine alone, and then time traveled backwards twice to do the routine with her past self. Thus, there are three numerically distinct Janes on stage, but only one trope of human nature. Leftow thinks that an analogy can be made between the time-traveling Rockette case and the case of the Latin Trinity such that the analogy supports the possibility of God being a Latin Trinity.

Based on the analogy, the view of the Trinity that Leftow has in mind is one in which “God’s life has the following peculiar structure: at any point in our lives, three discrete parts of God’s life are present.” The stories are disanalogous in the sense that God’s life does not have any temporal structuring. Instead, “God’s life just naturally runs in three streams…(and)…God always lives in all three streams.” Leftow goes on to further characterize the distinction between the different persons of the Trinity by saying, “what distinguishes God the Father from God the Son is simply which act God is performing…(thus,) the Persons simply are God as in certain Acts—certain events—in His inner life.”

There are two main problems with Leftow’s account that make it an illegitimate route for the proponent of ADS to take in defense of the compatibility of ADS with the Trinity. One problem is that there cannot be three really distinct acts, or portions of God’s life given ADS. For Aquinas there is no real distinction between God’s essence and His acts/operations. Because there are no real distinctions in God’s essence, there cannot really be three distinct “streams” of God’s life or three really distinct acts of God. God has only one Divine act which is identical to His essence. The other problem with Leftow’s suggestion is that it is modalistic in a fairly straightforward and unambiguous way. Modalism is basically the thesis that all the distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit amounts to is a distinction between different modes of being or activities of the one God. This describes Leftow’s view of the Trinity fairly accurately. The intuition behind the illegitimacy of modalism is that intuitively, things like modes of being, streams of one life, or acts cannot qualify as persons. Thus, Leftow’s suggestion is not open to the proponent of ADS, and it will not help in showing the compatibility of ADS with orthodox Trinitarianism anyways because it is unambiguously modalist.

Another more interesting suggestion (albeit perhaps even more strange) is Peter Van Inwagen’s defense of Trinitarian language against the charge of logical contradiction by appealing to Geachean relative identity logic. Relative identity logic (or RI logic for short) is a stripped down logic of identity that has no special rules beyond symmetry: from Iab infer Iba and transitivity: from Iab and Ibc we can infer Iac (where “I” is a relative identity predicate). What makes RI logic interesting, particularly in the context of Trinitarian arguments, is that statements of the form: “x is the same apple as y only if either a) x is green and y is green, or b) x is not green and y is not green,” will not express any general rule for RI logic as they would in classical identity logic. To put this conclusion another way, there are some RI predicates that are not dominant. An RI predicate I dominates a predicate F if all sentences of the form ‘Iab only if (F…a…iff F…b…)’ are true. If an RI predicate dominates all other predicates then it is dominant. For RI logic, there will be certain RI predicates that are not dominant.

Now, it is important to note that Van Inwagen does not advocate RI logic in general. He doesn’t even endorse it as a view of the Trinity, he is merely trying to explore whether or not the suggestion of applying RI logic to the Trinity will be a coherent way to defend the doctrine. The heart of RI logic’s utility for the Trinitarian defender has to do with the fact that some RI predicates are not dominant and the fact that without classical identity there is no absolute counting; merely counting by N’s. Without reproducing all the symbolic notation, I will simply grant that by utilizing RI logic and assuming that the RI predicate “is the same Divine Being as” dominates “is divine” but does not dominate “same person,” Van Inwagen can show that the statements: 1) there is exactly one God, 2) There are exactly three divine Persons, 3) There are three divine Persons in one divine Being, can be coherently taken together as true.

Here one might wonder whether or not I have simply given up the whole game here by granting this to Van Inwagen. Well, first of all, I think that I am clearly right in granting this to Van Inwagen, and second, I think that this type of defense can still be pushed back on. First, I will push back on Van Inwagen’s defense because it seems ad hoc. Now obviously there is no perfectly clear criterion for an argument’s being ad hoc, but what the proponent of ADS who uses the RI defense needs to do is give a principled reason for why their use of RI logic in the case of the Trinity is legitimate if RI logic is not applicable in general (and few philosophers think that it is applicable in general).

There is another more serious and complex problem with a RI logic defense of the Trinity however. Let us first of all note that we seem, in general, to be fairly facile with using the proper name, “God,” where being facile with a proper name amounts to determining, for a wide variety of sentences, which sentences containing the proper name are true or false. For a Geachean, this process will work in a Fregean sort of manner. By this, I mean that the proponent of RI will attempt to figure out which sentences that contain a proper name are true or false by coming up with a description that correlates to the proper name, picking out the object that matches this description, and then examining the object to figure out whether or not the sentence is true or false of the object. The Geachean will need to resort to this type of Fregean strategy for determining which sentences that contain a name are true and which are false because for the Geachean there are no “mere things.” For Geach, “we slice up reality with the aid of various basic sortal-relative identity predicates which, when ‘derelativized,’ yield basic count nouns.” Thus, objects can’t be picked out by simply demonstratively pointing at them. This would assume classical identity. Rather, what the Geachean needs to correlate a proper name with an object is a relative identity predicate. Thus, in order to pick out whether or not some sentence that contains “God” is true, we will have to use a relative identity predicate to pick out some object as God. Let anything be God that is the same Divine Being as the creator of all things. We will be able to problematize this way of using the name God by generating a contradiction. To do this let us look at the sentence: “God is begotten.” In order to assess the truth of the sentence, we have to find an object that is the same Divine Being as the creator of all things. One such object is: The Son. The Son is the same Divine Being as the creator of all things. Because the Son is begotten, it will turn out that the sentence “God is begotten,” is true. However, the Holy Spirit is also the same Divine Being as the creator of all things, and He is not begotten. Thus, in the case of the Holy Spirit, it will be false that “God is begotten.” If the Geachean way of using names generates contradictions, then the Geachean will certainly not be facile in using the name “God,” in particular and will not have an account of how to use proper names in general. Thus, despite the success of Van Inwagen’s Geachean account in avoiding the charge of logical contradiction for the Trinity, it will not work as a strategy for the proponent of ADS (or anyone else for that matter) because it commits one to an untenable view for how proper names are used.

If Van Inwagen’s strategy is closed, then I can think of no other way for the proponent of ADS to defend the compatibility of ADS with orthodox Trinitarian theology. Perhaps there is another way, but I cannot see what it could be. Thus, it seems that ADS is incompatible with orthodox Trinitarian theology and should be rejected by anyone with orthodox Christian commitments.


4 Responses to “Thesis Part III: ADS and Trinitarian Orthodoxy”

  1. Grail Seeker Says:

    I’ve enjoyed your recent posts on ADS. I think I am convinced ADS is faulty, but what do the Orthodox put in its place? I guess what I am trying to ask is if ADS is false, how to the Orthodox deal with “simplicity” in the godhead? I might not be making myself clear, but I would appreciate your help.

  2. ZSDP Says:

    Grail Seeker –

    Key to our doctrine of God is a denial of the single most definitive move made by Western philosophers and theologians, which is best summed up in Plotinus’s third ennead: “Distinction is opposition.” The Orthodox believe, therefore, that distinctions within a thing can be made without opposing it to itself and thereby breaking it up into parts. This leads us to depart from the Aristotelian view of God as “pure act” (since Aristotle, Aquinas, etc. believe the essence is the same as its energies [or acts]). Rather, we affirm a distinction between essence and energies. I could expand upon this at some length, but I’m not MG—and I believe you can find some decent information on the essence-energies distinction by searching through our archives, the archives of Energetic Procession, and even by looking at the eponymous Wikipedia article.

    Have fun, and, if you have any questions on the specifics of the doctrine, feel free to ask.

  3. Krause Says:

    Grail Seeker,

    Thanks. It’s nice that someone is actually reading my poor senior thesis from my philosophy undergrad program. There will be two more parts to it coming soon.

    As for your question, the Eastern Fathers speak of God’s simplicity as well. What they mean is that God is not composite. The East has a fundamentally different take on the problem of the one and the many than the west does. We do not take simplicity and multiplicity to be dialectically opposed to one another. This can be seen in St. Maximus’s famous dictum that the many logoi are the one Logos.

    That Christianity should solve the problem of the one and the many different from pagans should be obvious from the doctrine of the Trinity. Right?

    The main thing that the Fathers mean by God’s simplicity other than simply non-compositeness, is that God is fully present in each one of His energies (self-manefesting activites).

    Let me know if you have some specific questions or need me to expound on anything further.

    Merry Christmas, and thanks for reading the blog and interacting with us!

  4. Jon Andrew Greig Says:

    Reading this in some form now, I really wish I had had a look over this blog at this stage of life I was in at my ever so prototypical Thomist school. Finding fodder for real philosophical ammunition. Anyway.

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