Social Trinitarianism

3.2.1 Functional Monotheism

Are there brighter prospects for a viable social trinitarianism? Brian Leftow has distinguished three forms of social trinitarianism on oflEr: Trinity monotheism, group mind monotheism and functional monotheism.

To consider these in reverse order, functional monotheism appeals to the harmonious, interrelated functioning of the divine persons as the basis for viewing them as one God. For example, Richard Swinburne considers God to be a logically indivisible, collective substance composed of three persons who are also substances. He sees the Father as the everlasting active cause of the Son and Spirit, and the latter as permissive causes, in turn, of the Father. Because all of them are omnipotent and perfectly good, they cooperate in all their volitions and actions. It is logically impossible that any one person should exist or act independent of the other two. Swinburne considers this understanding sufficient to capture the intention of the church councils, whose monotheistic affirmations, he thinks, meant to deny that there were three independent divine beings who could exist and act without one another.

Leftow blasts Swinburne's view as "a refined paganism,'' a thinly veiled form of polytheism.3 Since, on Swinburne's view, each person is a discrete substance, it is

3 Brian Leftow, ''Anti Social Trinitarianism," in The Trinity, ed. Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall and Gerald O'Collins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 232.

a distinct being, even if that being is causally dependent on some other being for its existence. Indeed, the causal dependence of the Son on the Father is problematic for the Son's being divine. For on Swinburne's account, the Son exists in the same way that creatures exist—only due to a divine person's conserving him in being and not annihilating him. Indeed, given that the Son is a distinct substance from the Father, the Father's begetting the Son amounts to creatio ex nihilo, which as Arius saw, makes the Son a creature. If we eliminate from Swinburne's account the causal dependence relation among the divine persons, then we are stuck with the surprising and inexplicable fact that there just happen to exist three divine beings all sharing the same nature, which seems incredible. As for the unity of will among the three divine persons, there is no reason at all to see this as constitutive of a collective substance, for three separate Gods who were each omnipotent and morally perfect would similarly act cooperatively, if Swinburne's argument against the possibility of dissension is correct. Thus there is no salient difference between functional monotheism and polytheism.

3.2.2 Group Mind Monotheism

Group mind monotheism holds that the Trinity is a mind that is composed of the minds of the three persons in the Godhead. If such a model is to be theologically acceptable, the mind of the Trinity cannot be a self-conscious self in addition to the three self-conscious selves who are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for otherwise we have not a Trinity but a Quaternity, so to speak. Therefore, the Trinity itself cannot be construed as an agent, endowed with intellect and will, in addition to the three persons of the Trinity. The three persons would have to be thought of as subminds of the mind of God. In order to render such a view intelligible, Leftow appeals to thought experiments involving surgical operations in which the cerebral commissures, the network of nerves connecting the two hemispheres of the brain, are severed. Such operations have been performed as a treatment for severe epilepsy, and the results are provocative. Patients sometimes behave as though the two halves of their brain were operating independent of each other. The interpretation of such results is controversial, but one interpretation, suggested by various thought experiments, is that the patients come to have two minds. Now the question arises whether in a normally functioning human being we do not already have two separable subminds linked to their respective hemispheres that cooperate together in producing a single human consciousness. In such a case the human mind would itself be a group mind.

Applying this notion of a group mind to the Trinity, we must, if we are to remain biblically orthodox, maintain that the minds of the persons of the Trinity are more than mere subminds which either never come to self-consciousness or else share a common mental state as a single self-consciousness. For such a view is incompatible with the persons' existing in I-Thou relationships with one another; on such a view God really is only one person.

In order to be theologically acceptable, group mind monotheism will have to be construed dynamically, as a process in which the subminds emerge into self-consciousness to replace the single trinitarian self-consciousness. In other words, what group mind monotheism oVers is a strikingly modern version of the old Logos doctrine of the Greek Apologists. The divine monarchy (the single self-consciousness of the Trinity) contains within itself an immanent Logos (a submind) that at the beginning of the creation of the world is deployed into the divine economy (the subminds emerge into self-consciousness in replacement of the former single self-consciousness).

This provocative model gives some sense to the otherwise very difficult idea of the Father's begetting the Son in his divine nature. On the other hand, if we think of the primal self-consciousness of the Godhead as the Father, then the model requires that the person of the Father expires in the emergence of the three subminds into self-consciousness (cf. Athanasius Four Discourses Against the Arians 4.3). In order to avoid this unwelcome implication, one would need to think of some way in which the Father's personal identity is preserved through the deployment of the divine economy, just as a patient survives a commissur-otomy.

The whole model, of course, depends on the very controversial notion of subminds and their emergence into distinct persons. If we do not equate minds with persons, then the result of the deployment of the divine economy will be merely one person with three minds, which falls short of the doctrine of the Trinity. But if, as seems plausible, we understand minds and persons to exist in a one-to-one correspondence, then the emergence of three distinct persons raises once again the specter of tritheism. The driving force behind group mind monotheism is to preserve the unity of God's being in a way functional monotheism cannot. But once the divine economy has been deployed, the group mind has lapsed away, and it is unclear why we do not now have three Gods in the place of one.

3.2.3 Trinity Monotheism

We turn finally to Trinity monotheism, which holds that while the persons of the Trinity are divine, it is the Trinity as a whole that is properly God. If this view is to be orthodox, it must hold that the Trinity alone is God and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while divine, are not Gods. Leftow presents the following challenge to this view:

Either the Trinity is a fourth case of the divine nature, in addition to the Persons, or it is not. If it is, we have too many cases of deity for orthodoxy. If it is not, and yet is divine, there are two ways to be divine—by being a case of deity, and by being a Trinity of such cases. If there is more than one way to be divine, Trinity monotheism becomes

Trinity monotheism / \

The Trinity is a fourth instance of the divine nature

The Trinity is not a fourth instance of the divine nature

There are four Gods

The Trinity is divine

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