Models Of The Trinity

As I noted above, the basic intuition underlying all traditional accounts of the Trinity is that the divine essence is somehow shareable. On the face of it, this would seem to favour those theories that allow that the divine essence is a universal. I shall argue that this is the right response, and that the reasons generally offered by those Western theologians who want to deny that the divine essence is a universal have more to do with their eccentric—or at least distinctive—theories of universals than they do with the theological matters at stake. Thus, I shall argue that the distinctions between the different traditions turn out to be more verbal matters than substantive issues of theology or philosophy.

By way of preliminary, we should keep in mind that the distinction of the divine persons is usually understood to entail that each one has at least one property not had by any of the others. This property is traditionally known as the person's 'personal property'. Thus, on the face of it, any divine person is a complex of essence and personal property. Whether this personal property should count as a particular or universal property is a moot point. It may be thought that the property could not be a universal, since as such it could not necessarily distinguish one person from another. But this is not right. Each person could be a unique bundle of essence + repeatable personal property. (If we think of the personal properties as universals, they would in principle be shared with other things—i.e., creatures.) So long as the combination is unique, the person is too. (In passing, it seems to me likely that Gregory of Nyssa held something like this view, and fairly certain that John of Damascus did too. I discuss this further below.) Still, for the sake of simplicity, I shall suppose that the personal property of a divine person is indeed a particular property, one that is in principle such that it cannot be shared by more than one substance or person. Again, it makes no difference to the question of the status of the divine essence which of these two views on the personal properties we adopt.

Having stated this presupposition, we are in a position to consider more closely the question of the status of the divine essence. We can best do this by considering more closely the applications of the different models of substance to the divine persons. I will ignore the substrate theories, since it is not clear to me that anyone seriously entertains the straightforward claim that the divine persons could be (or include) substrates, or that there could be a substrate for the simple, particular, divine essence. So I shall focus my attention on the claims that a substance (such as the divine person) could be a bundle ofcompresent properties. It may be felt that talking about a bundle here is too loose a unity, perhaps consistent with a merely aggregative unity. But the theory that a divine person is nothing more than properties could easily be modified to provide for a distinction between substances and aggregates, and I shall ignore this problem here. No substantial Trinitarian point will turn on this development of the theory. I will return below to the objection that the divine persons will, on this view, be complexes of properties (and thus not simple).

The Eastern view—that the divine essence is a shared universal—can be found clearly and unequivocally in Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory holds that the divine essence is common (koinon) to the three persons.14 He claims that the divine essence is, in this respect at least, the same as any created essence. He brings out the shared universality of divine and human essences by consistently drawing an analogy between the relation ofthe divine persons to the divine essence and the relation of three human individuals to human nature:

If now of two or more who are [man] in the same way, like Paul and Silas and Timothy an account of the ousia of men is sought, one will not give one account of the ousia of Paul, another one of Silas and again another one of Timothy; but by whatever terms the ousia of Paul is shown, these same will fit the others as well. And those are homoousioi to each other, who are described by the same formula of being.15... If now you transfer to the doctrine of God the principle of diflerentiation between ousia and hypostasis that you acknowledge on the human level, you will not go astray.

As Gregory understands such universals, they are numerically singular:

But the nature is one, united to itself and a precisely undivided unit (monas), not increased through addition, not decreased through subtraction, but being and remaining one (even if it were to appear in a multitude), undivided, continuous, perfect, and not divided by the individuals who participate in it.17

The term monas is found in the earlier theological tradition as a description ofthe Father, and in Plato and Plotinus as the form of (the) one. But in Iamblichean forms of Neoplatonism it is used to express the numerical singularity and indivisibility of any extrinsic form. In the passage from Gregory just quoted, it is a shared essence (such as the divine) that is described in this way: thus securing the understanding of this essence as a numerically singular universal. Gregory makes the claim about numerical singularity elsewhere too:

14 See, e.g., Gregory, Ad Ablabium [=Abl.] (GNO, III/1, 39.17, 40.11, 15, 20); Ad Graecos [=Graec.] (GNO, III/1, 27.1, 32.1).

15 Basil of Caesarea (= Gregory of Nyssa?), Epistula [=Ep.] 38.2, II. 19-26 (edited by Yves Courtonne, 3 vols., Collection des universités de France [Paris: Belles Lettres, 1957-66]), I, p. 82; translation from Johannes Zachhuber, Human Nature in Gregory of Nyssa: Philosophical Background and Theological Significance, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, 46 (Leiden, Boston, Cologne: Brill, 2000), p. 70.

16 Basil/Gregory, Ep. 38.3, II. 30-3 (Courtonne, I, 83). The analogy to human nature can be found in unquestionably authentic works of Gregory too: see, e.g., Gregory, Graec. (GNO, III/1, 21.2-10).

17 Gregory, Abl. (GNO, III/1, 40.24-41.7). Note that Gregory uses 'nature' (phusis) for 'essence' (ousia) here. It is easy enough, however, to show that he generally uses these two terms synonymously. I attempt to demonstrate this in my 'Gregory of Nyssa on Universals', Vigiliae Christianae, forthcoming, where I substantiate in more detail many of the claims briefly made here.

The essence is not divided into each of the persons, such that there are three essences for the respective persons. It is evident that the term 'God' is not so divided, since it signifies the essence; such a distinction would result in three Gods.18

In distinction from standard forms of Platonism, however, Gregory's universal essence is immanent in each person, rather than some extrinsic object to which each person has some sort of relation. Thus, he speaks of the divine essence as that 'of which' the persons are.19 Equally, he insists that each of the persons is the essence, thereby denying too any sort of substrate theory of substances or (in his terminology) persons.20 Thus, supposing that the divine essence is a universal entails that the divine persons are overlapping bundles of properties. This universal divine essence is shared by them; the personal properties are not.

Gregory's teaching became more or less standard in the East after his time. For example, John of Damascus—the great recapitulator of the whole Eastern tradition—argues similarly that the divine essence is a universal, and indeed that each divine person is a collection of universal essence + a personal property. Thus, he explicitly holds that the divine essence is 'according to the Holy Fathers' common,2i and that what distinguishes different persons in the same nature are in principle shareable properties.22

19 Gregory, Graec. (GNO, III/1, 19.15); Daniel F. Stramara suggestively—and wholly appropriately—translates this as 'of which the persons are constituted', suitably capturing the implied immanence of the universal essence in each person: see Stramara, 'Gregory of Nyssa Ad Graecos''How It Is That We Say There Are Three Persons In The Divinity But Do Not Say There Are Three Gods' (To the Greeks: Concerning the Commonality of Concepts)', Greek Orthodox Theological Review 41 (1996), pp. 375-91, at p. 381.

20 Gregory, Graec. (GNO, III/1, 20.24-25). In one famous passage, influenced by Basil of Caesarea, Gregory claims that the divine essence is a kind of substrate for the persons: see Gregory, Contra Eunomium libri 3/5.62, edited by W. Jaeger, II, 182.5-8). It is not clear to me precisely how we should understand this, but I take it that, minimally, it is a way of trying to assert that the divine essence is immanent in each person. Developing the account more fully would require knowledge of Gregory's theory of relations. It may be that Gregory would regard a relation as analogous to an inherent accident, and that asserting that the essence is a substrate is a way of asserting no more than the unity of any divine person (as 'composed' of substrate-essence and inherent relation). The claim that the divine persons fail to be absolutely simple later becomes a weapon in the anti-Nestorian armoury of the Neochalcedonians, which perhaps provides indirect evidence in favour of this reading: see, e.g., Leontius of Jerusalem, Adversus Nestorianos 1.28 (PG, LXXXVI, 1493D).

21 See John of Damascus, Contra Jacobitas 9-10 (edited by Bonifatius Kotter, Die Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos [=SJD] 4, Patristische Texte und Studien [= PTS], 22 [Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1981], 113.4[9] —9[10]), where John makes it clear that essences are shared, and De duabus in Christo voluntatibus [= Volunt.] (SJD, 4, PTS, 22 [Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1981], 177b.1-10, 1. 18-p. 178b.32) for the applicability of this to the divine essence. See too De natura composita contra acephalos (SJD, 4, PTS, 22 [Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1981], 412.6-7[4]); Expositio fidei [=Expos.] (SJD, 2, PTS, 12 [Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1973], 112.39-113.49). For John's teaching on universals and the divine essence, see Richard Cross, 'Perichoresis, Deification, and Christological Predication in John of Damascus', Mediaeval Studies 62 (2000), pp. 69-124 (section 1).

22 In addition to the second text cited in the previous note, see too Dialectica 28 (SJD, 1, PTS, 7 [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1969], 92. 2-3 [28]); Expos. 50 (SJD, II, 120, ll. 8-13); Volunt. 4 (SJD, IV, 177b, I. 121-p. 178b, I. 40). John is never explicit in his application of this general teaching on individuation to the persons of the Trinity—so it may be that he has no explicit teaching on the question of the divine personal properties.

The Eastern teaching, as thus seen in (respectively) its originator and most typical exponent, seems unequivocal: that the divine essence is a shared universal property. It seems to me that, despite their explicit claims to the contrary, the Western theologians accept this too. Thus, in denying exprofesso that the divine essence is a universal, the Western theologians are not denying the theory accepted by the East. Rather, they accept a different theory of universals, and deny that the divine essence is a universal in the sense of 'universal' accepted by the West, not the sense accepted by the East. The distinction between the two views on this question is thus terminological, not substantive. Let me try to show this by discussing Augustine and Aquinas—respectively the originator and clearest exponent of the Western tradition. I shall begin with the account of the divine essence, and then consider the West's account or accounts of universals. As we shall see, only one significant Western thinker (Duns Scotus) can see his way to accepting the terminology of the Eastern view, as well as its metaphysical contours—contours that, I am arguing, are accepted by all sides.

Augustine rejects the view that there is any sort of substrate in God, claiming instead that God just is his nature.23 This essence is (numerically) singular:

So the Father and the Son are together one essence and one greatness and one truth and one wisdom. But the Father and the Son are not both together one Word, because they are not both together one Son... It does not follow that because the Father is not the Son nor the Son the Father, or one is unbegotten, the other begotten, that therefore they are not one essence; for these names only declare their relationships. But both together are one wisdom and one essence.24

This essence is somehow shared by the persons, such that it is the same in each:

The Son will be the Godhead of the Father just as he is the wisdom and power of the Father, and just as he is the Word and image of the Father. And furthermore, because it is not one thing for him to be and another for him to be God, it follows that the Son will also be the essence of the Father, just as he is his Word and his image. This means that apart from being Father, the Father is nothing but that the Son is for him.25

Here, the essence of the Son is identical with the essence of the Father. And this has the consequence that the multiplication of persons does not entail the multiplication of essences:

In the simple Trinity one is as much as three are together, and two are not more than one, and in themselves they are inWnite. So they are each in each and all in each, and each in all and all in all, and all are one.26

23 'The Trinity, the one God, is called great, good, eternal, omnipotent, and he can also be called his own Godhead, his own greatness, his own goodness, his own eternity, his own omnipotence': Augustine, Trin. 5.11.12 (CCSL, L, 218-19). See too Trin. 5.11.12 (CCSL, L, 220).

26 Augustine, Trin. 6.10.12 (CCSL, L, 243). See too the following: 'Since therefore the Father alone or the Son alone or the Holy Spirit alone is as great as Father and Son and Holy Spirit together, in no way can they be called triple . . . Whether you take Father or Son or Holy Spirit, each is perfect,

The essence really is somehow shared by the persons. I take it that this reading of Augustine is not controversial, though there is, of course, a great deal more that could be said.

Aquinas, likewise, rejects the view that there could be some sort of substrate in God, and claims instead that God is just his nature.27 Furthermore, this nature is numerically singular: 'God is his nature... Therefore it is in virtue of the same thing that he is God and that he is this God. It is therefore impossible that there are many Gods.'28 Finally, this nature is identical with each divine person: 'In God, the essence is really identical with a [viz., each] person, even though the persons are really distinct from each other'29—which, given Aquinas's theory of relations (to which I return below), is a way of asserting that one and the same essence is shared by each divine person.

Philosophically, it is hard to distinguish all this from the Eastern view. But the Western theologians nevertheless appear to deny what the East affirms here, at any rate after Gregory of Nyssa: namely, that the divine essence is a universal. Augustine, for example, wants to deny that the divine essence is a universal (here labelled a 'species'):30

If essence is species, like man, and those which we call substances or persons are three, then they have the same species in common, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have in common the species which is called 'man'; and if while man can be subdivided into Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it does not mean that one man can be subdivided into several single men—obviously he cannot, because one man is already a single man—then how can one essence be subdivided into three substances or persons? For if essence, like man, is a species, then one essence is like one man.31

Here Augustine initially denies that the divine essence could be a species on the grounds that species are divisible into their instances in a way that the divine essence is not.32 The contrast with Gregory of Nyssa's acceptance of the analogy to three human beings is striking. But Augustine clearly considers too the sort of and God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is perfect, and so they are a Trinity rather than triple': Trin. 6.8.9 (CCSL, L, 238); 'We have demonstrated as briefly as we could the equality of the triad and its one identical substance': Trin. 6.9.10 (CCSL, L, 243).

27 Aquinas, ST 1.3.3 c (edited by Petrus Caramello, 3 vols. [Turin and Rome: Marietti, 1952—6], I/1, 16 ): 'In things that are not composed of matter and form—in which individuation is not by individual matter, i.e., this matter, but rather the forms are individuated through themselves—it is necessary that the forms themselves are subsistent supposita. Whence suppositum and nature are identical in them. And thus, since God is not composed of matter and form . . . it is necessary that God is his Godhead, his life, and whatever else is thus predicated of God.' ('Suppositum' is the medieval Latin equivalent of 'hypostasis'.)

30 On the identity of species and universal, see, e.g., Augustine, Trin. 7.6.11 (CCSL, L, 235), where Augustine asserts that species is common, and contrasts it with individual.

32 Contrast the Cappadocians' enthusiastic, or at least marked, acceptance of an analogy between the three divine persons and three human persons, noted above.

(universal) essence proposed by the Cappadocians: suppose—he reasons—the essence really is numerically singular, how could there be three persons at all? His puzzlement, it seems, springs simply from the lack, in his ontology of created substance, of anything like an immanent, singular, universal of the sort accepted by the Cappadocians.33 But it should be noted, too, that his own solution to the Trinitarian problem (as we shall see) entails accepting something like the Cappadocian claim; he simply wants to avoid thinking of the Trinity in terms of species and/or individual at all.

Why should Augustine believe that universals (species) are divisible'? The reason, as far as I can tell, is that he accepts the standard Neoplatonist understanding of in re universals. Neoplatonists are nominalists on the question of in re universals, and hold that universals are just aggregates of particulars. On this sort of view, universals are said to be divisible into parts: the particulars that compose them.34 Augustine's use of'subdivided' here is very suggestive of a Neoplatonic, nominalist, understanding of universals, and given that it is no surprise to find him rejecting the view that a universal is an appropriate analogue for the divine essence. The lesson of the later extreme monophysite John Philoponus is illuminating here. Philoponus held that there are three particular natures or essences in God, and that the universal divine essence is merely a concept. But John's view was rejected, by orthodox and monophysite alike, as amounting to tritheism,35 and it is easy to see how Augustine would have wanted to avoid such a position. If the available model of universals is nominalist and Neoplatonist, then the divine essence cannot be a universal.

In the later Middle Ages, Aquinas makes the Augustinian point beautifully: 'no universal is numerically the same in the things beneath it', whereas 'the divine essence is numerically the same in many persons'.56 In denying that a universal is numerically the same in the things beneath it, of course, Aquinas is not advocating a Neoplatonic nominalism, but a more Aristotelian variety of realism,

33 At Trin. 5.8.10 (L, 216—17), Augustine claims not to know what the purpose of the ousia— hypostasis distinction is. This, presumably, is because he assimilates both to substance, and understands that there cannot be overlapping substances, at least in the (comprehensible) created realm. As he notes, the word 'person' is used merely so as not to remain silent. But this is too pessimistic a view of his own analysis. In fact, Augustine on my reading has a straightforward account of overlapping substances, where the essence is simply the overlap, as it were. The agnosticism about the term 'person' is simply a function of the disanalogy, for Augustine, between anything like a Cappadocian universal property and anything in the created realm.

34 See, e.g., Boethius, De divisione liber: Critical Edition, Translation, Prolegomena and Commentary (Philosophia Antiqua 77), edited by John Magee (Leiden, Boston, Cologne: Brill, 1998), 8.9—16, reporting the teaching of Porphyry on the matter. I provide a detailed account of Neoplatonist views on all this in my 'Gregory of Nyssa on Universals'.

35 For a brief discussion of this, see Cross, 'Perichoresis, Deification, and Christological Predication', section 1.

36 Aquinas, Scriptum super Libros Sententiarum [=In Sent.] (edited by P. Mandonnet and M. F. Moos, 4 vols. [Paris: Lethielleux, 1929-47], I, 483). Interestingly, in the light of my argument here, Aquinas concedes that the divine essence is like a universal in the sense that it can be predicated (In Sent. ad 1 [I, 483-4]).

according to which a common nature has some kind of unity 'prior' to its instantiation—a view that reached its apogee in Scotus's claim that creaturely common natures have less-than-numerical unity.37

Unlike the Eastern tradition, thus, the Western tradition accepts—as a matter of philosophical fact—that universals, even in re universals, are not such that they are numerically identical in each exemplification. Hence, if the divine essence were a universal, it could not be numerically one. Of course, on this understanding of universals, it makes no sense to claim that the divine essence is a universal, since such a claim would amount to the view that the divine essence fails to be numerically one—a view rejected by all sides in the debate. A universal, on this view, fails to have the relevant degree of unity necessary for the divine essence. Of course, this view of universals is very different from the one that I introduced above, since on that view the mark of a universal is that one and the same universal can be found in more than one substance. I have been arguing here that the view of universals that I have been advocating is, as it happens, the one that can be found in the Cappadocians, and in the majority of Eastern Fathers after this time. The Cappadocian view is that all universals, not just the divine essence, are numerically singular, and (furthermore) that particulars are collections of such universals. Viewed in this way, it is not at all clear that Augustine and the Cappadocians—and indeed the Eastern and Western traditions here—are in fact in conflict on the question of the divine essence at all. To the extent that all parties accept that the divine essence is a numerically singular property, shared by the three divine persons—the point at which the persons overlap—all parties are in agreement.

Of course, all this philosophical talk about overlapping particulars may sound suspiciously like an abandonment of divine simplicity, and for that matter even of the view that each person is one substance. But it should not do. Properties are not eo ipso parts, and claiming that things are bundles of compresent properties does not in itself introduce mereological composition, composition from parts. I will return to this question again in the next section. Equally, claiming that the persons are overlapping bundles of properties does not entail that they are parts of some greater whole. Just as in Russell's view, there is no problem in the thought that complete substances can overlap in the way proposed. Their overlapping simply does not constitute some greater whole.

Do the sorts of theory that I have been discussing here entail that there is some sense in which the divine essence is something over and above the persons, or that it is somehow prior to or independent of them? Clearly not the latter two of these options, since there is no reason to suppose that universalia in rebus could possibly be prior to or independent of their exemplifications. Indeed, the

37 For a discussion of Scotus's teaching on less-than-numerical unity, see my 'Divisibility, Communicability, and Predicability in Duns Scotus's Theories of the Common Nature', forthcoming in Medieval Philosophy and Theology 10 (2001).

whole point of this sort of theory is to make the ontological order the other way around: such universals are dependent on, and posterior to, their exemplifications. Are such universals things over and above their exemplifications? Yes, but only in the very limited sense that the presence of a universal means that discrete objects can nevertheless be identical in part: they share identically the same essence without thereby being identically the same things. But this is harmless enough: the divine essence is the overlap of the divine persons, not a further thing distinct from any and all of them.


It may be objected that my attempt to show how close, in principle, the different views (Eastern and Western) are, ignores what many see as the most important distinguishing feature, namely that whereas the Cappadocian account can plausibly be appealed to by those who defend some sort of social view of the Trinity, the Augustinian one cannot be. The basic point of the objection is that, whether or not the divine persons could be distinct ontological subjects, there is no way in which they could be distinct psychological subjects38 on the Western view—as witness Augustine's use of the psychological acts and operations of just one person (psychological subject) as analogues for the distinct persons of the Trinity.

My reply to this objection is that it proceeds in delightful ignorance of the metaphysics of the matter. I have been arguing thus far that the account of the divine essence as such is not significantly distinct in Eastern and Western traditions. If this argument is correct, then it follows that the alleged amenability of Eastern views to social understandings of the Trinity must lie elsewhere. The most plausible candidate here would be a denial of the common Western view that the divine persons are subsistent relations, a view that on the face of it is incompatible with social Trinitarianism. I shall suggest that the gist of Western views here is arguably accepted by Eastern theologians, at least in the person of Gregory of Nyssa, whom I am taking as representative here.

It is clear that many Western thinkers have been sensitive to the worry about divine simplicity. By the time of Aquinas, certainly, a solution is available to deal with specifically Trinitarian concerns. Thus far, I have been assuming that a personal property is the sort of thing that could be a constituent in a compresent bundle of properties, whether particular, universal, or 'mixed' (including both particular and universal). But the standard Western view is that the personal

38 By a 'psychological subject', I mean merely something that can be a subject of psychological states such as cognition and appetition, states that all theologians would ascribe to God. Talk of 'centres of consciousness' presumably requires something more: a self's awareness of itself as an object.

properties are relations, and furthermore that relations are not entities with sufficient ontological depth to be (in any sense) constituents of things. Relations—at least in the context of the divine—are dyadic properties that somehow 'hang between' their relata rather than inhere in one or other of them. They cannot, on this view, be constituents of things. Suppose that 'A' is a proper name for the divine essence, and that the Father is A along with a relation, and the Son A along with a different relation. Relations are not properties, so neither Father nor Son include any property not included by A. But neither Father nor Son is identical with A, supposing that two objects can differ merely in virtue of relation—the Father includes a relation, whereas A does not; and likewise for the Son.39

It seems to me that something like this is the gist of Aquinas's account of these matters. He holds that the divine persons are 'rationally distinct' from the divine essence:40 by which he means that each person includes a relation not included by the divine essence, such that relations are not in any sense things—or even real properties—over and above the divine essence.41 But he holds too that the persons are really distinct from each other: by which he means that each person includes a relation incompossible with the relations included in either of the other persons.42 In short, Aquinas holds that the persons are subsistent relations: that the only thing that distinguishes one person from another is its relation to that other person:

Distinction in God arises only through relations of origin ... But a relation in God is not like an accident inherent in a subject, but is the divine essence itself. So it is subsistent just as the divine essence is subsistent. Just as, therefore, the Godhead is God, so the divine paternity is God the Father, who is a divine person. Therefore 'divine person' signifies a relation as subsistent.43

The source of this relation theory is Augustine. Augustine brings in the notion of relations as a way of dealing with the Arian threat that plurality of persons

39 Of course, we could deny that two things can differ merely in virtue of a relation, but we would then—to deal with the Trinitarian doctrine—need to accept relative identity, such that Father and Son are both the same as A, but not the same as each other: see Peter van Inwagen, 'And Yet There Are Not Three Gods but One God' in T. V. Morris (ed.), Philosophy and the Christian Faith, (Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1988), pp. 241—78.

40 Aquinas, ST 1.39.1 c (I/1, 193a): 'Relation, compared to the essence, does not differ really but rationally': as we shall see in a moment, Aquinas holds that the divine persons are really identical with their relations of origin.

41 Aquinas, ST 1.28.1c(I/1, 151b), and esp. ST 1.28.2 c(I/1: 152b-3a), where Aquinas makes it clear that relations in God do not add any sort of reality to the divine essence: relations are merely conditions of being 'towards' another thing.

42 Aquinas, ST 1.39.1 c (I/1, 193a): '[Relation], compared to the opposed relation, has, in virtue of the opposition, a real distinction.'

43 Aquinas, ST 1.29.4 c (I/1, 159b). More properly, the view that the persons are subsistent relations requires too the claim that the relations are not entities distinct from the persons. It is not clear to me whether a Greek theologian could subscribe to this claim, since it requires a clearly specified theory of relations. On this, see too note 20 above.

entails plurality of (kinds of) substance. The Arian argument, as reported by Augustine, is that God's inability to be a subject for accidents entails that all predications relate to his substance, such that the presence of incompatible properties (e.g., unbegotten-begotten) entails two distinct sorts of substance (e.g., an unbegotten sort of substance and a begotten sort of substance). Augustine notes that the premiss that God cannot be a subject for accidents—a premiss with which Augustine agrees—does not entail the Arian conclusion, since the Arians have overlooked a further sort of predicate in the Aristotelian categorical scheme, namely relation. Relations are non-inherent, and thus do not create the problems for divine immutability that all sides agree are created by the postulation of accidents in God:

With God, nothing is said accidentally, because there is nothing changeable with him. And yet not everything that is said of him is said substantially. Some things are said with reference to something else, like Father with reference to Son and Son with reference to Father; and this is not said accidentally, because the one is always Father and the other always Son.44

Augustine explicitly draws the conclusion that distinction of relational predicates does not entail distinction of substance: 'What is stated relationally does not designate substance. So although begotten differs from unbegotten, it does not indicate a different substance.^5

The motivation here is anti-Arian. Nevertheless, Augustine holds that each divine person is simple, just as he holds to the simplicity of the divine essence: 'Just as it is the same for him to be as to be God, to be great, to be good, so it is the same for him to be as to be person.^6 Although he does not make the point explicitly, Augustine is clearly supposing that appealing to relations in this context is a way of avoiding composition in a divine person. After all, he holds that accidents require a substrate, and that the presence of a substrate is incompatible with simplicity. He makes all these connections when arguing that God (the divine essence) is not properly a substance:

The word ['substance'] is rightly used for ordinary things which provide subjects for those things that are said to be in a subject, like colour or shape in a body... But if God subsists in such a way that he can properly be called substance, then something is in him as in its underlying subject, and he is not simple.47

The argument entails that a divine person can include a relation without that relation thereby entailing composition.

If it is held, as the vast consensus in the West is inclined to hold, that the only distinguishing features of the persons are their relations—that, in the standard

terminology, they are subsistent relations—then it is obvious enough that they cannot be distinct psychological subjects, since this subjecthood itself would be a distinct feature of them. This does not entail, of course, that the persons could not be distinct ontological subjects—and persons or substances in this sense. After all, on this view, substances can be distinct merely in virtue of relations. But they cannot be distinct psychological subjects unless they diflEr also in terms of psychological (and thus non-relational) properties.

Of course, holding that the persons are individuated by relations does not entail that relations are their only distinguishing features—the only things that the persons do not have in common. If they have other distinctive properties, then there is no reason why these properties could not include psychological ones. Still, the Western 'relation' account just outlined—the view that, in effect, the persons are subsistent relations—is equally open to the Eastern view, and it could not unreasonably be suggested that this is the gist of the Cappadocian view that the persons are distinguished by relations. Indeed, Gregory of Nyssa sometimes speaks as though the only distinguishing features of the persons are their causal relations to each other:

While confessing that the nature is undiflerentiated, we do not deny a distinction in causality, by which alone we seize the distinction of the one from the other: that is, by believing that one is the cause and the other is from the cause. We also consider another distinction with regard to that which is from the cause. There is the one which depends on the first, and there is that one which is through that which depends on the first.48

This would suggest that Gregory too accepts that the persons are just—in the Western sense—what a Western scholastic would call subsistent relations.49 In fact, this reading can be confirmed by other evidence too. For Gregory of Nyssa—in so far as he considers the problem—seems inclined to deny that the

48 Gregory of Nyssa, Abl. (GNO, III/1, 55.24-56.6).

49 AWestern theologian may be inclined at this point to object that, if I am right, then Eastern theologians ought to accept the filioque. After all, a standard Western argument in favour of the filioque is that, if the persons were just subsistent relations, then there would be no way for Son and Spirit to be distinct unless a distinct relation (of origin) obtains between them. The argument is that two objects x and y cannot be distinct from each other merely in terms of their relations (of origin) to some one further object z. z may have two relations, one to x and one to y, but this by itself does not guarantee that x and y fail to be identical: see e.g., Aquinas, ST 1.36.2 (I/1, 183b-4a). But this argument is specious if the relevant relations are relations of origin. One object cannot have two distinct relations of origin to one and the same thing. So if the Father has two relations of origin, then Son and Spirit are eo ipso distinct, even if they have no relation of origin between themselves. Thus the view that the persons are subsistent relations does not entail the filioque. Aquinas argues further, in the same article, that the presence of two non-opposed relations in the Father—one to Son and one to Spirit—does not entail that the Father is two persons; hence, the argument goes, non-opposed relations do not distinguish persons. But this ignores the originative order that obtains between the persons: one person can have two distinct 'causal' relations to two distinct things in a way that one thing cannot have two distinct and individually sufficient 'causal' origins. (Of course, it is open to Western theologians to hold that Father and Son are necessary and jointly sufficient 'causes' of the Spirit; this would amount to a claim that the filioque is true, but not amount to any sort of argument against the Eastern view.)

persons include distinct properties other than their relations. Sarah Coakley has recently argued compellingly that we should not think of persons in Gregory's account as centres of consciousness,50 and in any case the view that the persons are distinct only by relations seems straightforwardly entailed by Gregory's claim that the real distinction between divine and created essences lies in God's unity of activity. 51

Having said this, it is easy enough to see how, at an intuitive level, the Western theologians may have more naturally tended away from social views, and towards the view that the persons are just subsistent relations. After all, putting the matter bluntly, a Western theologian could easily suppose that there is only one psychological subject because his usual account of substances in general—and thus of psychological subjects in particular—is that they are logically equivalent to particular essences (of the relevant type): that is, to the parts of an essence that is divided ('subdivided', in Augustine's terminology) on instantiation. There are many such human essences, one for each instantiation of human nature, and thus many human substances. But there is one divine essence (shared by the three persons), and an analogy with creaturely essences could thus incline a theologian to accept just one divine subject. Subjecthood and substancehood (or, equiva-lently, personhood) would, on this analysis, tend to diverge. But they need not, of course; and if they do, then the reason for the distinction between God and creatures here has nothing to do with the distinctive shape of the proposed Trinitarian theology, and everything to do with the account of creaturely essences. If the West, then, inclines against social models, and in favour of the view that the persons are subsistent relations, this is due to a difference in the metaphysical account of created natures.

If I am right about all this, then, Eastern and Western views of the divine essence are both consistent with social accounts of the Trinity, though neither entails such accounts. And both, arguably, reject such accounts, not because of considerations about the divine essence, but because of agreements about the nature of the relational distinctions between the persons.52

One further point, of course, is that the closer the case of the divine essence is to that of creaturely essences, the less easy it is to show how the existence of three divine persons does not entail three Gods. For the West it is easy: 'God' is simply

50 See Sarah Coakley, '''Persons'' in the ''Social'' Doctrine of the Trinity: A Critique of Current Analytic Discussion' in Davis, Kendall and O'Collins (eds.), The Trinity, pp. 123-44.

52 Whether they are right to do this is, ofcourse, another matter. It seems to me that there is one powerful argument in favour of a social theory of the Trinity. Clearly, on any account of the divine persons, such persons are subjects of mental properties and states. If they are in some sense just one subject—as is entailed by the denial of the social view as I am characterizing it here—then Patripassianism is true. At the very least, the Son must be able to become a separate subject of (human) mental states in virtue of his assumption of human nature. The claim that there would be two divine psychological subjects during the Incarnation (one the Father and Spirit, and the other the Son) seems remarkably implausible, though not I suppose unorthodox.

a proper name for the shared divine essence. The East, too, can make such a claim, and indeed does so. But this does not allow the Eastern theologian to distinguish the case of God from that of any other essence. Gregory of Nyssa famously spots this, and claims that substance-sortals in general name essences: hence his claim that, properly speaking, there is only one man.53 For Gregory, the distinction between God and creatures on this point is located other than in the homoousion. What really accounts for divine unity, according to Gregory, is the persons' unity of activity—a unity of a kind not found in creatures.54

Thus far, I have ignored perhaps the most interesting Western account of these matters, the only account to notice that the claim that the numerically singular divine essence is shared by all three persons entails that the divine essence is a universal. The account is that of Duns Scotus, and he explicitly derives his view from John of Damascus.55 Scotus's strategy for distinguishing the case of God from that of creatures is very simple. He agrees with the Western metaphysical tradition in general that no shared creaturely essence is numerically one, but he claims that the divine essence is numerically one. For technical reasons, he restricts the notion of universality to those things that are both shared and numerically one. Thus, for him, the only truly universal essence is the divine essence.56 But it is important to grasp that the metaphysical differences between Scotus and the rest of the Western tradition are not great here, although the terminology is. In this, Scotus is—if my analysis here is correct—typical of the Eastern tradition and his relationship with his Western contemporaries a good case of the fundamental similarities between the two traditions. But his solution is novel: adopting the Western tradition (on the question of universals) for creatures, but, with the Eastern tradition, allowing the term 'universal' to refer to numerically singular objects such as the divine essence too.

Of course, from a Western point of view, Scotus is for other reasons a controversial figure to bring into the debate. He sees that nothing in the Western view about persons as subsistent relation entails the filioque, and he comes close to rejecting the view that the persons are distinguished by relations.57 Briefly, Western theologians argue that the divine persons must be relations in order to avoid a quaternity of (non-relational) substances in God.58 But Scotus clearly

53 See, e.g., Gregory, Abl. (GNO, III/1, 40.19-21, 41.8-12).

55 See Scotus, Ordinatio [=Ord.], nn. 39-40 (Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balic et al. [Civitas Vaticana: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950—], VII, p. 408.

56 For all of this, see my 'Duns Scotus on Divine Substance and the Trinity', forthcoming in Medieval Philosophy and Theology 11 (2002).

57 On all of this, see Richard Cross, Duns Scotus, Great Medieval Thinkers (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 63-4 (filioque) and pp. 65-7 (distinction between divine persons), and the references cited there.

58 For a discussion of the problem, see David CoVey, Deus Trinitas: The Doctrine of the Triune God (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 70-3: in particular p. 72: 'the three relative subsistences imply only three corresponding relative incommunicabilities, which cannot be counted long with the absolute incommunicability of the divine essence but are contained within it.'

understands the speciousness of this argument: the divine essence is a substance in a very different sense from the persons: it is a universal, whereas the persons are irreducibly particular.59 And this is sufficient to block the quaternity argument. But it would take me much too far to explore Scotus's Trinitarian theology in any detail here.

Is this whole discussion just a case of merely 'solving philosophical puzzles about the oneness and threeness of God'?60 Perhaps to some extent it is, but it seems clear enough to me that there are philosophical puzzles here, and that both East and West regarded solution of these as a pressing theological matter. If my analysis in this article is correct, then much of the traditional debate between East and West on the question of the divine essence should be thought out afresh. By the time of the Middle Ages, the established Western view—springing from Augustine—is that the divine essence is a numerically singular property shared by all three persons. And this, of course, is precisely the Eastern view too. Furthermore, it is not clear that Eastern views of the relationality of the divine persons are massively different from those defended by Western theologians. As I have tried to show, there seems no reason to suppose that Eastern views ofthe divine essence and relations are necessarily much closer to social views of the Trinity than Western views are. Equally, it is clear that if there are significant differences between East and West, then they are likely to be located in the very specific area of the sorts of properties that distinguish the persons—the greater the list, the more a view will tend towards some sort of social Trinitarianism (though I take it that full-blown social Trinitarianism will require the ascription of distinct mental states to the three persons). If my analysis is right—or even if it is no more than partly right—then there is a need for a thorough reassessment of the traditional alignments of Trinitarian theology. I hope to have shown here how I think such a reassessment could begin.

59 Scotus, Ord.1.5.1.un., n. 12 (Vatican edition, IV, 16).

60 As Colin Gunton remarks on the nature of the Trinitarian project as conceived in the West— as opposed to the East, for whom it is (allegedly) a matter of'fundamental ontology', whatever this may be: see Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p. 54.

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  • Timoteo
    Are the essences in the trininty relationak?
    2 months ago

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