Arguments in Favour of the Social Analogy

Of the writers considered so far in this chapter, Williams, Geach, Swinburne, MacKinnon and Brown all favour the social analogy over the psychological analogy for very obvious reasons. The psychological analogy, despite its venerable pedigree in Augustine and much western theology, contains a fundamental weakness. It seeks a model or image of the triune life of the God of the Christians in the distinctions and relations between, say, memory, understanding and will in an individual human mind. But this does not begin to make sense of the interpersonal relations within God of love given, love received and love shared still more that are revealed through the Incarnation and the gift of the Spirit, and required by maximal greatness theology, if God is not to lack the specific excellencies of love. As T. V. Morris puts the matter, in a brief exposition of trinitarian theism,37 it is difficult to see how 'singularity theories', as he calls those employing the psychological analogy, can do justice to 'the full data of biblical revelation and Christian experience'. 'And it is hard to see how any such theory will suffice to block what we have called the problem of the lonely God.' These considerations, he concludes, lead the Christian theist to embrace some form of social theory of the divine.

Swinburne clearly holds a form of social trinitarianism. The a posteriori arguments from revelation and the a priori arguments from the nature of love require us to understand the divine essence as consisting in three related, but logically inseparable, divine individuals. As pointed out above, Swinburne thinks it necessary to suppose that this involves eternal dependence relations of ultimate derivation where the second and third 'Persons' of the Trinity are concerned. Only so can their necessary, everlasting harmony of will be secured. Swinburne is more careful in his book than in the article in which he first put forward his arguments for trinitarian theism to reserve the term 'God' as such for the Trinity, and to speak of the Trinity as three divine individuals, inseparably interrelated. But, as Peter van Inwagen points out in an article in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the suspicion of tritheism remains, and it is far from clear that the Christian tradition has to maintain so stark a form of 'subordination', where the relations of the Son and the Spirit to the Father are concerned. We shall return to these points later in this chapter.

David Brown's much more extended discussion concludes that the factors that led to acknowledgement of the divinity of Christ and of the Spirit's work in taking us into the life of God can only be made sense of in terms of 'three distinct centres of consciousness, each with its own distinctive mental content'.42 The crucial question on such a view, of course, concerns the divine unity or identity. Brown rejects numerical identity. This would mean that the Father was the same as the Son. He also rejects relative identity. 'God' and 'Person' are not the same thing under different descriptions. He also rejects a 'constitutive' analysis. 'God' is not a term like 'gold' that can be shared by three distinct ingots. (There is a delightful scene in Graham Greene's novel, Monsignor Quixote,43 where the Monsignor explains the doctrine of the Trinity to the Communist ex-mayor by pointing to the three bottles of wine they have just consumed: one and the same wine, three bottles. But 'God' is not a sortal term like 'wine'.) According to Brown, the identity of the three Persons as one God is rather a generic identity, each one instantiating the core attributes of deity. Their unity consists not only in their essential harmony of will and action, but also in the way in which an inseparable loving union of Persons itself transcends individuality. To this last point, undeveloped by Brown in his book, we shall have to return.

Peter van Inwagen is more sympathetic to the theory of relative identity than either Brown or Swinburne. We have already considered his use of it in respect of the doctrine of the Incarnation in the previous chapter (see section 4.3). He attempts to defend its application to the doctrine of the Trinity in another essay in God, Knowledge and Mystery and, later, in the above-mentioned encyclopaedia article. On this analysis, one can differentiate what one wants to say about God qua Father, God qua Son and God qua Holy Spirit, in particular about the relations between them, without denying that God remains one in substance, essence or being. In other words, it does not follow from 'the Father is the same being as the Son' that 'the Father is the same Person as the Son'.

We have here, in Brown's generic identity theory and van Inwagen's relative identity theory, two examples of the kind of argument for the coherence of social trinitarianism which philosophical theology must provide, ifthe strong case for the social analogy outlined above is to be sustained.

An encouraging aspect of Richard Cross's article already mentioned45 is that, while he restricts himself to an examination of the underlying metaphysics of trinitarian theism, he is nevertheless prepared to say that 'Eastern and Western views of the divine essence are both consistent with social accounts of the Trinity'. Moreover, he ends his article by suggesting that the greater the list of properties, chiefly relational properties, that distinguish the Persons of the Trinity, the greater the case for some sort of social


The a priori and a posteriori arguments surveyed in this section, and in the two previous sections of this chapter, indicate precisely what these relational properties are: namely, love given, love received and love shared still more.

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