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Trinity's "Persons" and Quaternity

Posted by Al Kidd on June 20, 1998 at 01:53:56:

The one object that trinitarianism manages to put before us by our abstracting some of the alleged attributes from the first and second "Persons"--so-called "Persons"--of the Trinity is a very problematic object, which really fails the test for its being a person because it has the following attributes: (a) from the "second Person" of the Trinity we take a body of divinized flesh; (b) from the "first Person" and third Persons--and from the second Person, too, if we extrapolate from what trinitarians say concerning Col 2:9--we take a thing antithetically opposed to bodily containment, namely, omnipresence; (c) and from the persons of the Trinity we take atemporality, meaning that Trinity does not exist in time but outside time--an attribute that, were it to exist, would make extremely problematic the thought that God has both the attributes of almightiness (absolute sovereignty) and free will.

Will our attempting to make such an abstraction of the aforementioned attributes put before our mind's eye a real person? I cannot see that it does.

Next, consider how classical trinitarianism has fallen into postulation of a Quaternity because trinitarianism imaginatively constructs an inner divine life that is greater than any one of the three "Persons" considered apart from the other "Persons," such being the legacy of the "Cappodocian solution" as it logically devolves from the things Gregory of Nyssa postulated. Consider the following excerpts of Gregory's "Concerning We Should Think of Saying That There Are Not Three Gods to Ablabius," which are taken from The Trinitarian Controversy, William G. Rusch (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1980) 150-57:

"[T]hrough the perceived peculiarities, the topic of the individual (hypostases) admits distinction and is viewed in number according to combination. But the nature is one . . . and not divided by those who individually share it . . . [B]ut the name of deity has not as its reference point nature but activity, perhaps someone would declare with reason why men who share with one another the same pursuits are counted and named in the plural but the deity is named in the singular as one God and one deity, even if the three hypostases are not distinguished from the significance reflected in "deity". . . . [Well,] among men, because the activity of each is distinguished, although in the same pursuit, they are properly mentioned in the plural. Each of them is separated into his peculiar context from the others in accord with his peculiar manner of activity . . . [B]ut every activity which pervades from God to creation and is named according to our manifold design starts off from the Father, proceeds through the Son, and is completed by the Holy Spirit. On account of this the activity is not divided into the multitude of those who are active. The activity of each in any regard is not divided and peculiar."

Gregory has earlier given the example of "seeing": "Scripture bears witness to the seeing equally of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . . [T]he name of deity signifies activity [of viewing, seeing--] and not nature."

Gregory's argument is weak, and regardless of his thought for keeping activity apart from nature, it is arbitrary, superficial, and accordingly fails its purpose, which was to show us that:

"[E]very activity which pervades from God to creation and is named according to our manifold design starts off from the Father, proceeds through the Son, and is completed by the Holy Spirit. On account of this, the name of the activity is not divided into the multitude of those who are active. The activity of each in any regard is not divided and peculiar . . . [T]he things which do happen are not three distinct things. . . . [T]ake one certain example . . . [viz., the giving to faithful ones of ] the crown of free gifts [(life)] . . . from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . [yet] we do not reason that three lives have been given us--individually one from each of them. It is the same life, activated [!] by the Holy Spirit, prepared [!] by the Son, and produced [!] by the Father's will. / Therefore, then, the holy Trinity works every activity according to the manner stated, not divided according to the number of the hypostases, but one certain motion and disposition of good will occurs, proceeding from the Father through the Son to the Spirit . . . . No activity is divided to the hypostases, completed individually by each and set apart without being viewed together . . . . If every good thing, and the name for it, is attached to a power and will without beginning, it is brought into perfection at once and apart from time by the power of the Spirit through the only-begotten God. No postponement occurs, or is thought of, in the movement of divine will from the Father through the Son to the Spirit. But deity is one of the good names and thoughts, and not reasonably is the name to be used in the plural, since the unity of activity prevents a plural counting."

In analyzing Gregory's argument, to what does it logically devolve? This: the unity of activity is simply an end result, for each hypostasis (individual) makes his own and unique contribution for an emergent, end result: the contributions from the three hypostases are both countable and are differentiated upon basis that each of the hypostases makes its own particular contribution. Divinity, then, despite Gregory's defining terms, is a compound substance, this so that in the substance there obtains a plural number of GODS just as, by way of analogy, there obtains for humanity a plural number of beings in its compound substance.

Furthermore, Gregory's arguments amount to postulation of a shared life for persons of the Trinity, a life that is greater than the life that each hypostasis uniquely has to himself, for if Gregory were correct, there should have to be a shared point of contact among the hypostases as an interface for a communication of the essential information and energy that informs each one's unique contribution to an "activity." It is absurd to hold that such an interface resides wholly in any one hypostasis of the Trinity.

(But even the idea of "activity" of any sort seems to be cast into serious doubt by Gregory's explicit reference to only one will, which he says belongs intrinsically, for its original "movement, to the Father alone.) But, even if we were to grant Gregory that he has made a meaningful case for three hypostases, still we should have to admit that he has them involved in a personalistic interface that is not wholly within any of them, and is thereby a fourth and necessary thing (for production of "activity" by the three of them); consequently, Gregory has made a Quaternity.


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