Priori Arguments for Trinitarian Theism

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The chief a priori argument for affirming a plurality of Persons in God is the one already mentioned in the chapter on Creation. If God is thought of by analogy with an isolated individual, some creation or other appears to be necessary for God to have an object of his love. It follows that the supreme goodness of interpersonal relation cannot be predicated of God as such. But the only alternative to making some created object necessary to God, ifGod is love, is to postulate the relation of love given and love received in God. This argument is really an aspect of maximal greatness theology. As was pointed out in chapter 3, the perfection of love cannot be thought of as lacking in that than which no greater can be conceived. Aquinas himself, as Norman Kretzmann shows,18 was persuaded that reason could demonstrate that God is love. Admittedly, for Aquinas, this entailed no more than speaking of the love God has of himself.But, as C. J. F. Williams insists, in an essay of great importance for philosophical reflection on this particular doctrine, talk of self-love cannot capture the nature of what love is: 'real love, love in the literal sense, requires more than one person'.

Williams refers to the treatment of his topic by Peter Geach, in the book mentioned above. Christians need not worry about the possibility of love in a solitary person, says Geach; for Christians understand the divine life as a life of mutual love between the divine Persons.22 And Geach will have nothing to do with the suggestion that 'person' in trinitarian theology means something quite different from its normal use. Trinitarian theology supposes that there is mutual address in God: 'In the Scriptures "I" and ''you'' are used for the discourse of the divine Persons to one another.' So the analogy of at least two different subjects of personal relation in the one God cannot be avoided.

A corollary of this argument, to which we shall return later in this chapter, is that, when thinking of the personal, we have to think of persons in relation, not individuals, as basic. The individual is something of an abstraction. Maximal greatness cannot be modelled on such abstraction. It must include, essentially, interpersonal relation.

So far, this a priori argument for a plurality of Persons in God goes no further than the affirmation of love given and love received within the Supreme Being as such, the affirmation, that is to say, of at least two subjects or personal centres in the divine. There is, however, another a priori argument that purports to show that maximal greatness must include not two, but three such subjects. This argument is to be found, amongst a number of much less plausible arguments, it has to be admitted, in Swinburne's chapter on 'The Trinity' in his book, The Christian God. Swinburne accepts the argument, already sketched, that God's love must, necessarily, involve a mutuality ofgiving and receiving, but goes on to point out that cooperation in sharing is a further essential element in the perfection of love that cannot be thought absent from the divine. Just as the model of a single isolated individual fails to capture the nature of love, so the model of two subjects related only to each other fails to capture the excellence of cooperation in sharing with a third.

Swinburne refers to an early version of this argument in the medieval theologian Richard of St Victor, who argued that supreme charity or love must include not only 'dilection' (love for another) but also 'condilection' (mutual love for a third). This too cannot be lacking in the supreme and all-perfect good. This entails a Trinity of persons in the divine.

In some ways Richard of St Victor's argument is to be preferred to that of Richard Swinburne, who, more than somewhat implausibly, writes in terms of reasons for a first divine individual to bring about a second and a third. Richard of St Victor, by contrast, simply argues that there must be, in God, a Trinity of persons between whom both dilection and condilection everlastingly occur. We shall return to this question of the derivedness or equal underivedness of the second and third Persons of the Trinity later in this chapter.

The two Richards — Swinburne and St Victor — are agreed that no further case exists for postulating more than three personal subjects of love given and received and shared still more in the divine. To put the matter, again, in maximal greatness terms, there is no further excellence in the nature of love, beyond sharing and cooperation in sharing, that would require there to be four or more such subjects in the supreme analogate of love.

So much for a priori arguments for trinitarian theism. It will be recalled that they are premised upon the incoherence of making some creation or other necessary to God, if God is love, and the consequent inadequacy of any concept of God modelled on an isolated individual. These premises, it may be observed, gain some support from a telling remark by Thomas Aquinas. In reply to the objection that, since God is with the angels and the souls of the blessed, God cannot be said to be alone, Thomas says: 'Although angels and the souls of the blessed are always with God, nevertheless it would follow that God was alone or solitary if there were not several divine persons. For the company of something of quite a different nature does not end solitude, and so we say that a man is alone in a garden although there are in it many plants and animals.'26

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