Events And The Trinity

There is one Jane, but she was present many times over in the chorus line. At one point in our lives, many discrete maximal episodes in her life were co-present. These episodes were discrete in that along Jane's own personal timeline, they did not overlap (they were strictly successive). These episodes were maximal in that any point during each included one event in Jane's life of which every other event occurring at that point in Jane's life was part, and at any point we could say, for a shorthand, simply that that event was occurring. Suppose, then, that God's life has the following peculiar structure: at any point in our lives, three discrete parts of God's life are present. But this is not because one life's successive parts appear at once. Rather, it is because God always lives His life in three discrete strands at once, no event of His life occurring in more than one strand and no strand succeeding another.22 In one strand God lives the Father's life, in one the Son's,

21 Keith Ward speculates that a temporal God may be free from the usual temporal ordering (Rational Theology and the Creativity of God (N.Y.: The Pilgrim Press, 1982), 164-70); Philip Quinn advances the same notion in some detail in unpublished comments given at the 1993 APA Central Division meeting. Swinburne (Christian God, 137-44) and Alan Padgett (God, Eternity and the Nature of Time (London: The MacMillan Press, Ltd., 1992)) suggest His freedom from other aspects of time.

22 In saying this I use an ordinary, intuitive concept of an event. On some theories of events (e.g. Kim's), such things as God's being divine and God's being omniscient count as events. (For Kim's theory, see Jaegwon Kim, ''Events as Property-Exemplifications,'' in Douglas Walton and Myles and in one the Spirit's. The events of each strand add up to the life of a Person.23 The lives of the Persons add up to the life God lives as the three Persons. There is one God, but He is many in the events of His life, as Jane was in the chorus line: being the Son is a bit like being the leftmost Rockette.

Of course, the cases also differ. Not all of Jane's life is on display in the chorus line. But every event in God's life is part of the Father-Son-Spirit chorus line; God does not live save as Father, Son and Spirit. Jane has just one life, with a peculiar episode partway through. It does not consist of anything else that counts as an entire life. God's life always consists of three other things which count as entire ongoing lives.24 While the disruption between Jane's personal timeline and the sequence of events in ordinary public time had a special cause, God's life just naturally runs in three streams. Again, along Jane's personal timeline, first she only dances in one spot, then she runs to the machine, then she only dances in another spot. Jane dances in one spot only after she dances in another. Not so for God: God always lives in all three streams. God's life always consists ofthree non-overlapping lives going on at once, none after the other, as the series of positive numbers consists of two non-overlapping series, the positive rationals and irrationals, "going on at once'' within the series, neither after the other.

Jane's story includes an account of how the many Rockettes are generated (the time-travel story) which involves succession. This account does not rule out Jane's existing at all times, and even having three streams of her life going at all times. For suppose that Jane exists at all public times. Then if public time has a first and last instant, the time-machine brings it about that after Jane's life at time's last instant comes a next instant of Jane's life located at time's first instant.25 There is no public time after public time's last instant or before its first, but in Jane's life, her personal time, there is a period after the last instant of time (one which begins Jane's life's second stream, at time's first instant) and one

Brand, eds., Action Theory (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1980), 159—77.) If you hold such a view, modify this claim to: the strands have in common only those events involved in God's bare existence and having His nature, not any events composing His conscious life or involving His agency. Any other modifications to accommodate theories of events would not (I think) affect the basics of the view I am setting forth.

23 For now I do not take up just what makes this so.

24 If we are reincarnated, we have lives which consist of other items which count as complete lives. So the Trinitarian claim is at least as coherent as belief in this sort of reincarnation.

25 If so, Jane's life fails to be continuous. It is not even dense, as there is no time, public or Janeprivate, between Jane's life at public time's last instant and her life's next instant. On the other hand, there is no temporal gap between Jane at the last instant and Jane's next either. If Jane's life always has three segments ongoing, then it consists of three discrete segments with zero duration between them. In that sense, the segments' endpoints are closer together than any two points in a continuous stretch of time. No qualms about Jane's identity between time's last instant and her next ought to arise, then. If we found that time was universally discrete in the small, consisting of chronons (as some have argued), we would not conclude that no-one is identical over any long duration. We would adjust our account of identity over time to allow for this, speaking of not-quite-continuous duration where we used to speak of continuous. We can do the like for Jane.

before public time's first instant (namely, her entire first life-stream).26 If time has a finite length but no last instant, there is a further puzzle. Suppose that the Wells-o-matic sends Jane pastward at some particular time. If time has no last instant, there is time after that time. So it seems that Jane misses some of time the first time around, in which case it's not true that her first life-stream exists at all times. But suppose e.g. that there is a last full second followed by an open period not more than a second long. Then we can simply say that Jane spends all of that open period in the machine, and that the machine brings it about that the first period ofJane's second life-stream succeeds the period she spent in the machine. Iftime has an infinite future, there is no particular problem in saying that infinite periods of Jane's life succeed one another. Such number-series as 1, 3, 5...2, 4, 6...are mathematically unproblematic. Jane's life in this case would consist of minutes paired 1:1 with the members of some such series. What's puzzling is again just when the machine sends Jane back. One way to dissolve the puzzle is just to have Jane live in the machine for all time after a particular point, and say that the machine links her time in it to her life's second stream earlier in time. It should be clear from what I've said how the time-machine scenario can handle further permutations on the length and topology of time. So talk of time-travel can even provide some model of a life which always has three streams. Jane's generation-account, again, involves succession. Whatever account we give in God's case will not. But here my point is simply that we can make some sense of there being a life so structured as to have three discrete streams going on at once, even if that life includes all of time. I do not claim that the analogy is perfect.

Some might say that what makes the time-travel story comprehensible is precisely what's missing in the Trinitarian case.27 Parts of Jane's life succeed parts of Jane's life, and so we can make sense of her winding up as three dancers at once as we watch her. But Persons' lives do not succeed Persons' lives. Instead, I've said, God just always lives in three streams. So how does one better understand the Trinity via the time-travel analogy? In Jane's story, again, three streams of events going on at once, which initially seem like three lives, turn out to be the life of one individual. On the surface, it might seem that what makes the story work is the succession between the life-segments. But it's more basically the causal relations between her life-segments. These are segments ofone individual's life not because they succeed one another in a timeline but because the right causal relations link

26 In principle then, as a referee pointed out, Jane could live an infinite life by looping back endlessly through a finite period of public time. (She'd need infinite space to do this, as otherwise she would eventually run out of room-the whole universe would be filled nothing but time-travelling Janes. But there's no reason to think infinite space impossible.) But this does not entail that public time is infinite. Its properties arise out of the properties of all personal/private times. Even given Jane's peculiar life, all personal times might have the following trait: either they end no later than a particular instant — say, the Big Crunch — or they continue through that instant to some instant which as of the Big Crunch has already been occupied.

27 An anonymous referee raised this.

them. For one can imagine (borrowing an illustration from Lewis28) that when Jane enters the time-machine, she is annihilated and replaced by an atom-for-atom duplicate put together by the machine, with Jane existing at all times up to t in her personal timeline and the duplicate existing from Jane-time t onward. In this story, the duplicate is an "immaculate replacement'' for Jane— its timeline succeeds and continues hers without a gap. But clearly the resulting life is not a further part of Jane's. Now some argue that the difference between duplicate-succession and continued existence is primitive and ultimate—that identity over time is a brute matter, not grounded in relations among the events of a life.29 But if it is not, it rests largely on causality. The duplicate's life does not continue Jane's inter alia because the causal relations between the events aren't right—the positions, motion etc. of the atoms constituting Jane's body (and Jane herself, on materialism) don't directly cause those of the duplicate's atoms.30 Conversely, on materialism, it's because (inter alia) these atoms' present motion is caused in the right way by the immediately prior motion of the atoms in Jane's body that this person's life continues Jane's, and so this person is Jane. If Jane has a soul and continues to exist only if it does, still causation is relevant, for the same soul continues to exist only if its earlier states contribute causally to appropriate sets of its later.31 Succession by a duplicate isn't continued existence, and so doesn't give us a case of three streams of one life going on at once, because the causal relations between the relevant streams of events aren't right. Causal relations at least help determine the identity of the substance in the differing streams of Jane's life; it's (perhaps inter alia) because the right causal relations link them that they are successive stages of one life, as vs. successive smoothly

28 David Lewis, ''The Paradoxes of Time Travel, in David Lewis, Philosophical Papers, v. 2(N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1986) p. 73.

29 So e.g. Trenton Merricks, ''There Are No Criteria of Identity,'' Nous 32 (1998), 106-24.

30 It's not enough to have Jane that the atoms making her up at t be those which made her up just prior to t. There is also a causal condition, that her atoms be moving in ways their prior motion directly accounts for. A Star Trek transporter beam story can make this clear. One can suppose the beam to work by disassembling us into our constituent atoms, accelerating these to a destination, then rebuilding someone looking just like us from them there. Most people, given this description, will think of the transporter as a way to get killed, not a way to be transported: we do not survive being smashed into our constituent atoms, even if something is rebuilt from them later which looks like us. Now let's modify the case: suppose the disassembly is literally instantaneous, and the transporter sends one's atoms to their destination so fast that there is no time between our standing here whole and something looking just like us standing there whole at the destination. I suggest that even so, our intuition that we don't survive the process doesn't change. For what matters here is our belief that we don't survive being disassembled into atoms, not any fact about how fast the bits are reassembled. Disassembly and smashing are precisely situations in which there is massive interference with the movements our atoms would otherwise be making, and given the intervention of the beam, the positions, motion etc. of Jane's atoms prior to teleportation don't directly cause those of the duplicate's atoms at the destination point. So (I claim) the transporter story supports the text's claim that it defeats a claim of continued existence that the positions, motion etc. of the atoms constituting Jane's body don't directly cause those of the duplicate's atoms.

31 The causation here is ''immanent,'' not ''transeunt.'' See Dean Zimmerman, ''Immanent Causation,'' Philosophical Perspectives 11 (1997), 433-71.

continuous lives of duplicate Janes. And if this is correct, it lends itself to Trinitarian use.

As causal relations between the event-streams in the Jane case help make them streams within one life, we can suppose that causal relations do the like without succession in the Trinitarian case: that is, we can suppose that causal relations between the event-streams involved are what make them all streams within one individual's life. The causal relations involved are those of the Trinitarian processions: the Father "begetting" the Son, the Father and the Son "spirating'' the Spirit. Nobody has ever claimed to explain how these work, so I'm at no disadvantage if I do not either. Every Trinitarian has claimed that whatever these relations amount to, they yield distinct Persons who are the same God. I say the same. The time-travel analogy makes this point: causal relations between streams of events going on at once and apparently involving wholly distinct individuals can make them streams of events within a single life. That point applies univocally to the Trinitarian case. Those who hold that the Son eternally proceeds from the Father hold that there eternally is a causal relation between them such that the events of the Son's life and the events of the Father's are events within the life of one single God. They leave the mechanism involved a mystery. The time-travel case shows that there is some intelligible story one can put where the mystery is in a structurally similar case. This does not remove the mystery, but it domesticates it a bit: thinking about time-travel shows us that causation can do the kind of thing Trinitarians claim it does. In Jane's case, ordinary identity-preserving causal relations link events in her life as each Rockette, and the causal relation which makes what look like three individuals' lives into the lives of one individual—the one the time-machine induces—directly links only the ends of various short event-streams, not the events in the middle. The Trinitarian relations of generation directly link entire streams: every maximal event in the Father's stream has or contains a begetting relation to an appropriate event or set of events in the Son's stream. But we know of nothing that would make this impossible—why can't causal relations which turn what are apparently three lives into one life link more than just the end-segments of streams?

If one asks what sort of persons the Persons are, on this account, the right answer is that they are whatever sort God is- the Persons just are God, as the Latin approach will have it. The Persons have the same trope of deity. Numerically the same substance generates their mental episodes. Just as Jane has her own thoughts while she is the left- and rightmost Rockettes, God has His own thoughts as Father and Son. But just as Jane does not think her leftmost thoughts at the point in her life at which she is rightmost, God does not think His Father-thoughts at the points in His life at which He is Son. Just as Jane can token with truth "I am the leftmost Rockette'' and "I am the rightmost,'' God can token with truth "I am the Father'' and "I am the Son.'' But just as Jane cannot token both claims with truth at the same points in her life, God cannot token with truth "I am the

Son'' at points in His life at which He is Father.32 Just as Jane at the leftmost spot on the chorus line has no internal access to and is not thinking the thoughts she thinks at the rightmost spot, God as Father has no internal access to and is not thinking the thoughts of God as Son.33 So the Son is distinct from the Father as leftmost Rockette is from rightmost, and the Son's mind is distinct from the Father's as leftmost's is from rightmost's.

On my account, the Persons' distinctness, like the Rockettes', depends on that of events involving a particular substance. Their identities are event-based; facts about events in God's life are what make Him triune. There is reason to say that at least one classic Latin account of the Trinity is in this way event-based. Aquinas begins his Summa Theologiae la account of the Trinity with questions on Persons' procession from Persons (q. 27), relations among Persons (q. 28) and finally the Persons themselves (q. 29). The first claim in his positive account of procession is that "all procession is according to some action''34 that Persons proceed from Persons because of some divine act. The story Thomas tells of some of these acts is this.35 God understands Himself. This is a divine act—God does something.36 Because God does something, His understanding Himself is what we would call an event.37 According to Thomas, because God understands Himself, His mind naturally generates an "understood intention,'' something expressing the content of His self-understanding. This is His "inner Word.''38 The coming to be of this "intention'' is the Word's proceeding from the Father. Now "coming to be'' suggests a process. This is misleading, as the Word is generated instantaneously and so exists co-eternal with God's self-understanding.39 As Thomas points out, what's left when we remove this misleading implication is just an eternal relation of origin.40 But this is a causal relation. And so its distal term is a caused state of affairs, the Word's existing. The obtaining of a caused state of affairs as and because it is caused is (I'd argue) an event.41 One can call this event the Word's filiation. Because the Word proceeds, God's initial self-understanding has a relational property: it is the cause of an understood intention. Because it has

32 When Jane is the rightmost Rockette, she used to be the leftmost, even though she is rightmost and leftmost during the same period of public time. So strictly, she could say both that she is and that she used to be the leftmost, depending on whether she tensed the verbs to the public or to her personal timeline. But as we see in greater detail below, if time-travel is possible, the personal timeline takes precedence. I suggest below that something similar holds in the Trinitarian case.

33 Even if the Father reads the Son's mind, He reads it "from without.''

35 Thomas' story about the Spirit's proceeding is the same in all respects that matter to my point. So I needn't go into it here.

36 As Thomas sees it, this act is by nature rather than choice (ST Ia 41, 2). But that it is not in all respects free does not entail that it is not something God does. Even coerced acts are acts.

37 Though as Eleonore Stump pointed out to me, Thomas likely does not have a single concept that does the work of our event-concept.

38 Summa Contra Gentiles IV, 11.

41 Some would rejoin: for Thomas, the Word's existing, caused or not, is atemporal (STIa 10,1 et 4). So it can't count as an event. Well, if that's right, a timeless God can't act, either. For a case that this property, God's understanding Himself is also the Father's fathering the Son, His having the causal relation of paternity. For Thomas (following Augustine and Boethius), the Persons are distinguished solely by relational properties (being the Father of, being the Son of). That is, the only difference between God the Father and God the Son is that one is someone's Father (and no-one's Son) and the other is someone's Son (and no-one's Father). These relational properties are exemplified entirely because certain acts- events-take place in God's inner life (self-understanding, inner expression; fathering, filiation): this is why Thomas orders ST 's Trinity treatise to move from acts to processions to relational properties, and only then to Persons. In fact, Thomas says, the relational properties' being exemplified just is the acts' taking place.42 So what distinguishes God the Father from God the Son is simply which act God is performing. God the Father is God fathering. God the Son is God filiating, or being fathered. The Persons simply are God as in certain acts—certain events—in His inner life.43 These events have no temporal sequence. None succeeds the other, for none are in time. As they are not in time, they have no temporal parts. God just eternally does the acts which constitute His life; these acts render Him triune.

Aquinas attempts to explain why God's self-understanding renders Him a Father and a Son, when our own acts of self-understanding do not do this to us.44 But we needn't tackle this issue, at least for now.45 One could suggest that it's just a primitive fact about the kind of thing God is that one stream of His life generates a second stream, and the two together generate a third stream, as it is about our kind that that this does not happen to us.46 Explanation has to a timeless God can, see my Time and Eternity (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), 291—7. For a more general case in favor of non-temporal events, see my ''The Eternal Present,'' in Gregory Ganssle and David Woodruff, eds., God and Time (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2001), 21—48. In any case, that Thomas believes that some acts are atemporal is irrelevant to the fact that his Trinity-account is act-based, and so event-based.

42 Ibid.

43 Actually, things get a bit more complex than this. Due to the impact of his doctrine of divine simplicity, there are really two accounts of the Trinity in Thomas. I've given one; in the other, it might be better to say that the Persons are events in God's inner life.

44 See e.g. Compendium of Theology I, 41. The explanation has a surprising feature: while we might think the doctrine of divine simplicity a hindrance to the doctrine of the Trinity (how can a simple God contain Triune complexity?), Aquinas argues that the reason God is a Trinity and we are not is precisely that God is simple and we are not.

45 Here is at least a gesture at a different explanation. Suppose that as Aquinas thought, there are just three discrete maximal episodes in God's life: three events such that everything God does, thinks or experiences is part of just one of these. Then if God is timeless, these events are somehow all there, timelessly. They do not cease to occur. Neither does one take another's place. Yet as they are discrete, they do not overlap: one does not occur within another. What there timelessly is to the reality of God, then, is God in one episode, and in the second, and in the third. God might differ from episode to episode, as Father differs from Son. As events are natural causal relata, it would not be surprising if (say) God in one episode had causal relations He did not have in others, e.g. becoming incarnate in just one episode. Perhaps, in short, God's timelessness plus an assumption about God's life can generate a Latin Trinity—given the tenability of the notion of an atemporal event.

46 This is of course the pattern of generation-relations Western Christians posit between the Persons.

stop someplace, and the doctrine of the Trinity is supposed to be in the end mysterious.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment