Archive for the ‘Western Theology’ Category

ADS Thesis IV: Short Incarnational Addendum to Trinitarian Argument

December 27, 2009

The last argument I will examine from Hughes is the incompatibility of ADS with the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation. The problem for the proponent of ADS is derivative from the problem of the Trinity. If there is not a real distinction between the persons of the Trinity, if they are all merely ways of referring to the one absolutely simple essence, then there is no way to block the inference that the Father became incarnate and suffered and died on the cross. As Hughes puts it, “If the Word is the same as the divine nature, and the Father is the same as the divine nature, then the Word is the same as the Father; and if the Word is the same as the Father, and the Word stands in the relation of assumption to a human nature, then the Father must also stand in the relation of assumption to that nature.”

The best possible line of reply for the proponent of ADS is also derivative from the best possible line of reply against Hughes’s Trinitarian argument: a response utilizing RI logic. Once again, Van Inwagen provides an interesting defense of the logical coherency of the doctrine of the Incarnation using RI logic in his paper, “Not by Confusion of Substance, but by Unity of Person.” Although his account is quite clever, I will not get far into it. I will preemptively strike by referring the reader back to the last argument against the RI logic strategy. If this last argument is successful, then it is a problem for RI logic in general and will thus block Van Inwagen’s strategy here as well. Because I cannot see any other way out for the proponent of ADS, I must tentatively conclude that there is none and that ADS is incompatible with the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation which clearly denies that any person of the Trinity besides the Son became incarnate, suffered, and died on the cross.

Thesis Part III: ADS and Trinitarian Orthodoxy

December 18, 2009

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.

My Senior Thesis: Part 1 (for the 2 or 3 people interested: it's about ADS and Thomism)

December 14, 2009

A Simple Defense of the Complexity of God:
Examining Three Arguments Against Absolute Divine Simplicity and Suggesting a New One

This paper will deal with the Latin Christian doctrine of divine simplicity which I will hereafter refer to as Absolute Divine Simplicity, or ADS.  I will attempt to get clear on exactly what this oft-misunderstood doctrine actually is, as well as why one might be motivated to believe it.  After this, the majority of the paper will be devoted to examining a few of the arguments against ADS provided by Christopher Hughes in his book On a Complex Theory of a Simple God.  I will examine three arguments: one having to do with God’s omniscience and possible worlds, one having to do with the compatibility of ADS and the doctrine of the Trinity, and one having to do with the compatibility of ADS with the doctrine of the incarnation.  I will explore possible lines of reply for the proponent of ADS and then take up the task of defending Hughes against them.  Finally, I will attempt to give a “bare-bones” sketch of how an argument might go to try to show ethical tension between ADS and the fact that Christians are motivated to love God on the basis of rewards.  This argument will not be entirely complete and will certainly not be a “knock-down, drag-out” argument, but it will hopefully provoke some thoughtful discussion. In the conclusion I will make a few recommendations to the Christian philosophical and theological communities regarding how to go about articulating a coherent picture of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.  Before we move on, though, let it be stated that the thesis of this paper is that ADS is not compatible with various tenants of orthodox Christian theism. (more…)

Aquinas Conflating Person and Essence in God, Redux

April 14, 2009

This post was not actually written by MG, but by a former contributor named Zakk. If he requests that the post be removed, it will be removed.


In a previous post, Krause presented us with a quotation that seemed to show, in language all too plain, that Aquinas conflates person and essence in God. A commenter, however, felt that it was unfair to summarize Aquinas’s position as a conflation, especially without calling into account other relevant portions of the Summa Theologica. So, in the interest of fairness and ease of access, I present our readers with the portions suggested by the aforementioned commenter.


Aquinas on the one and the many

March 10, 2009

“Those things that have opposing concepts are themselves opposed.  But the very concept of one consists in undividedness, while the concpet of multiplicity includes division.  Therefore one is opposed to many.”

–Summa Theologica, Question 11, Article 2. (Reply)

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (3): St. John of Damascus

May 28, 2008

This is the third part in an ongoing series of posts on the use of arguments for God’s existence in early Christian theology. I hope to explore the implications of the use of these arguments by early Christians (to distinguish carefully what is being said from what is not being said by these theologians), and to hopefully gain a better grasp of the relationship between reason and faith, and the role of intellectual persuasion in the discourse of evangelism.

In Chapter 3, book 1 of On the Orthodox Faith, St. John of Damascus writes the following about the existence of God: (more…)

St. Cyril of Alexandria on Justification as Deliverance

May 7, 2008

I remember me and Mark had a conversation at lunch back when he was still a Calvinist, but had rejected penal substitution. I asked him “hey, what do you think justification is, if not imputed righteousness?” and he responded with a puzzled look. He went on to say something like “I donno, but it had better be connected to Christus Victor atonement somehow.” At the time this seemed absurd. After all, justification is obviously a legal term, so how could it have anything to do with being freed from the devil’s power? Right? (more…)

Breaking down the Law-Gospel dialectic

January 6, 2008

When we say “law” we generally mean “not gospel”; and when we say Gospel, we generally mean “not law”. The two are mutually exclusive categories that don’t share in each other. If this is so, what do we make of Revelation 14:6-7?

Rev 14:6-7 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

If law is observance of commandments (fear, give glory, worship), and the everlasting gospel teaches us to obey God’s commandments, then are the two really in opposition?

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (II); Athanasius

December 13, 2007

My first example is Athanasius, from On the Incarnation:

(2) In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self- originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.
Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.
Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture. For instance, the Lord, having reminded the Jews of the statement in Genesis, “He Who created them in the beginning made them male and female. . . ,” and having shown that for that reason a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, goes on to say with reference to the Creator, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And, again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says, “All things became by Him and without Him came nothing into being. How then could the Artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ?

(3)Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word. He says as much in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;[4] and again through that most helpful book The Shepherd, “Believe thou first and foremost that there is One God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.” Paul also indicates the same thing when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which we see now did not come into being out of things which had previously appeared.” For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved especial mercy for the race of men.

Notice the following about Saint Athanasius:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in Athanasius. He speaks as though Christian theology has authority separately from the considerations of his arguments. Notice how he takes divine Revelation as giving an adequate answer to opponents: “Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word.” He knows that God is infinite, not finite because of divine revelation–a claim that would make little sense if he thought his trust in the contents of Christian revelation required theistic arguments first.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical for Athanasius.
He appeals to the common standard of human *experience* (not some kind of supreme, neutral “reason”) to argue that the Epicurean view is unbelievable. He appeals to intuitions about divine perfection to argue against Platonism’s view that matter coexisted with God. This use of a shared standard of authority to show inconsistencies within opponents’ view and bring them in the direction of Christian faith is rhetorically powerful. In the first case, Athanasius argues that experience supports one specific view; in the second case, he argues that the view in question is inconsistent.

(3) The conclusions Athanasius draws are modest. Athanasius argues from experience and intuition to some of what the fathers would call “names of God”. He shows that God has names such as Creator, Orderer, etc. But this is very different from reasoning to truths about the divine essence. For creating and ordering are divine activities. God’s names of Creator and Orderer are designations of His personal acts. Athansius leads his opponents to approach the persons who are God via their personal activities.

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (I): Preliminary Considerations

December 10, 2007

Many Orthodox theologians dissociate themselves from using or endorsing arguments for God’s existence. It is sometimes claimed that the early Church Fathers–the early Christian theologians of the first few centuries–rejected human reason and logic and were mystics who did not care about philosophical questions. While it is true that reasoning from the reality of creation to a Creator does not factor into the theology of the Early Church Fathers in the way it does perhaps in subsequent Western theology, it has always seemed to me to be an exaggeration to deny that “natural theology” has any part to play in their thought.

The purpose of this series will be to examine the place of arguments for God’s existence and what I will call “common theistic claims” (beliefs theists generally hold about the soul, nature, etc.) in the thought of the Eastern Fathers. When I say “natural theology” I don’t mean the idea that natural reason can approach the divine essence; I just mean that human reason and experience can lead us to some knowledge of the existence of God (his activities as Creator, Designer, Lawgiver, etc.). Because of the extremely negative connotation “natural theology” has in contemporary theology, I will instead use the phrase “theistic arguments” or “arguments for God’s existence”. And notice that I do not say *unaided* human reason; because grace never abandoned nature, all intellectual movement toward God is God-given. My preliminary thesis is that the use of arguments for God’s existence and common theistic claims in the Eastern Fathers can be characterized in the following ways:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in the Fathers. By “foundation” I mean “beliefs that constitute the basic claims of Christianity which serve as the starting point for theology”. A foundational belief for Christian theology is “Jesus Christ is God”; this claim is part of the initial deliverances of Christian revelation. My claim is that “natural theology” does not serve as a starting point for what gives Christian faith its authority. It comes to conclusions that fit with the “foundation”; but the process is not itself the foundation. The ultimate authority of Christian claims comes from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the authority is known (or reasonably believed) ultimately through experience of God.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical. By rhetorical/persuasive/polemical I mean that they serve a purpose of moving those outside of the Christian faith toward the faith by showing the intellectual inadequacy of naturalism, dualism, Platonism, pantheism, etc. By rhetorical I do not, however, mean “lacking in intellectual integrity”, “merely intellectual and linguistic games”, or “lacking in substance”. Theistic arguments tell us real things about the world and can be used to persuade non-Christians or help the faith of catechumens and students.

(3) The conclusions are modest. The Fathers do not attempt to idolize philosophical rationality by claiming that arguments for God’s existence give deep insights into the nature of God. They don’t bring us all the way to the Christian God. They do not infer a whole lot about God but give us some basic propositions that fit with some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity.