Friday, April 29, 2022

Richard Muller on Communicatio Idiomatum

Communicatio idiomatum/ communicatio proprietatum: communication of proper qualities; a term used in Christology to describe the way in which the properties, or idiomata, of each nature are communicated to or interchanged in the unity of the person. The communicatio can be characterized as either in concreto or in abstracto (q.v.). The former qualification, in concreto, refers to the concretion of Christ’s person in the incarnation and personal union; the two natures are here considered as joined in the person, and the interchange of attributes is understood as taking place at the level of the person and not between the natures. This view was typical of the Antiochene Christology and of the Reformed Christology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The latter qualification, in abstracto, refers to the abstractive consideration of the relation of the two natures to each other distinct from their union in the person and to the exchange of properties between the natures, specifically, a communication of divine properties to the human nature.This view was typical of Alexandrian and Cappadocian Christology in the early church. Both views raise doctrinal problems: the Antiochene position, taken to an extreme by Nestorius, threatens the unity of Christ’s person; the Alexandrian doctrine, taken to an extreme by Eutyches, threatens the integrity of the natures. In addition, the logic of predication argues the illegitimacy of the use of abstractions as predicates. …

… (1) The genus idiomaticum, or idiomatic genus, indicates the predication of the qualities or attributes of both natures of the person of the Mediator, so that the God-man can be said, as one person, to suffer and die but also to govern and sustain the whole creation. The qualities of each nature (idiomata) belong to the person of Christ, but each nature retains its own idiomata, so that the qualities of one nature do not, according to the genus idiomaticum, become the qualities of the other. …

… we note that the Reformed view of the communicatio, which tend to be restricted to the genus idiomaticum, approaches the communication more as a praedicatio verbalis, or verbal predication, of idiomata from both natures of the person, whereas the Lutheran view insists that the person actually bears the idiomata of both natures. The Reformed, in addition, do not view the apostelesmata, or shared operations, of the natures as a genus of the communicatio idiomatum but as a separate communicatio apostelesmatum according to which the divine operations of both natures are brought to completion in the one work of Christ. Thus, the Lutheran teaching is a real communicatio while the Reformed, remaining at the level of a communicatio in concreto only, is quite accurately called antidosis onomatōn (ἀντίδοσις ὀνομάτων), a mutual interchange or reciprocation of names, rather than a transfer or communication of properties, … is… praedicatio vera, a true predication of attributes, but of the person only and not between the natures.

[Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1985), 72-4]

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Eobard Thawne as an analogy of the Thomistic trinity

It is almost a truism that attempts to analogize the one true Triune God are doomed to failure, since there would always be more dissimilarities than similarities in the analogy. Since we desire to know how God can be one and three at the same time, any model that does not maintain the tension between the one and the three can be analogized, and none more so than the strong Thomistic model of the Trinity, where the persons are just "relations" within the one being of God.

Before I continue, I will readily acknowledge that many classical theists believe much more orthodox views of the Trinity. Nevertheless, in the interest of showing how certain statements about the Trinity by Thomists are logically suspect, I am purposely accentuating the current emphases into an analogy of the Thomistic trinity.

If the persons are just relations in the one being, if the persons of the Trinity are totally unlike the modern definition of a "person" but are merely relations in the one being, if the only communication within the Trinity is between the divine and the human nature of Jesus Christ, that there is no real communication otherwise within the Godhead including covenant making (any intra-Trinitarian covenant is a figurative covenant not a literal covenant), the Triune God works as one agent and one will, the persons do not will anything but only the one esence wills everything, then the Reverse Flash is a perfect analogy of this "Trinity." How is that, you might ask? The Thomistic trinity has only one essence; Eobard Thawne and his time remnants have one essence. The internal distinction between the Thomistic trinity is one of mere relations; same for Eobard Thawne and his time remnants. In this particular case, the distinction is between Thawne as unoriginate and which temporal context he spawns any one time remnant. But, you may object, Thawen is not eternal, and his time remnants have origins in time. Not really. The Reverse Flash has broke time until he exists necessarily apart from any one timeline, thus he is "unoriginate" in a sense. This goes the same for any one time remnant, which has a "origin" in time yet is tied to no one time and exists necessarily as long as Thawne exist (thus they receive their being from the unoriginate Thawne).

The Thomistic trinity has no real communication within the Godhead but there is a lot of communication towards creation and the towards the persons through the medium of creation, i.e. ad extra. Thawne and his time remnants are the same essence, and their talk comes out of the one will of the one essence of Thawne. They operate as one, having perfect knowledge of each other since they are the same being. Yes, the analogy is not perfect because each Thawen remnant may discover something that Thawne prime did not and thus the need for external talk, so the point of analogy is that all external communication is in a sense due to the external world.

When one interacts with a Thawne remnant, one intereacts with the one essence of Thawne, yet does not interact with the "person" of Thawne prime. Likewise, the Son died, thus God died, but the one essence of God did not die neither did the other persons of the Godhead died. One can almost predicate a form of communicatio idiomatum for Eobard Thawne, but I think you get the picture by now.

When it comes to analogy of the Trinity, Eobard Thawne aka the Reverse Flash makes for a compelling analogy of the Thomistic trinity. Except for Thawne's created status, his limited power, knowledge, wisdom, presence and so on, on the issue of being and person, he seems to be a great analogy for the Thomistic trinity. Now, I do not believe Thawne is an actual analogy of the Triune God, but then, I am not a Thomist.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Against the classical theist view of the "person" of the Trinity

In effect we find in [Marius - DHC] Victorinus a further specification of the energein katharon of the Anonymous Commentary [on Pamenides -DHC]. This energein now turns out to be esse, the unlimited and uncircumscribed being of the Father, from which is derived all the limited and circumscribed being (ὄν) found in the Son. Such esse is anything but “being” conceived as a static condition of existence; it is a kind of inwardly directed activity, containing implicitly life and intelligence as well as existence. In thinking itself it manifests itself as what it is, giving rise to the triad of ese, vivere, and intellegere – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Oddly enough, then, despite all the accretions of Neoplatonism, we are not too far from the self-thinking thought of Aristotle’s Prime Mover. The divine self-intellection remains the activity par excellence, the one that precedes all others, giving rise by virtue of its necessary intrinsic structure to the intelligible order and plurality of the world. (David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom, 115)

Whatever its shortcomings and its difficult and sharply dialectical style, the Mystagogy makes clear the basic Byzantine objection to the Latin doctrine of the Trinity: that it understands God as a single and philosophically simple essence, in which personal or hypostatic existence is reduced to the concept of mutual relations between the three Persons. (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical trends and doctrinal themes, 60)

In disputes over the doctrine of the Trinity, classical theists often claim that we should not import the "modern" ideas of personhood into the Trinity. So what is a person of the Trinity? Well, according to Thomas and Thomists, nothing more than the relations between the persons it seems. The primary focus is the one divine essence, and the persons are the differentiating relations, and nothing more. But how are those persons actually "persons"? Appeal to "mystery" does not help their case, because "mystery" excuses the super-rational, not the irrational. "Analogy" works only when one can show how the analogy works, otherwise the "analogy" is false. Classical theism runs around and around in circles, always ready to attack others with labels of heresy ("subordinationism," "tritheism," etc), but, like Mathew Barrett's book, empty vesssels do indeed make the most noise.

Perhaps a better way to look at the issue is to step away from the heat of the moment and look at how Trinitarianism came to be defined in history. And what one sees does not look good for the Western church. There is nothing wrong with focusing on the one essence, if one focuses at the same time on the three persons. Nevertheless, from the shift in the meaning of energein towards the Latin esse, it seems that a prima facie case can be made that the Western Church has collapsed the emerging category of "energy" into the category of "being." The "energies" of God in the West was collapsed into the category of "actuality." Aristotle's "thought thinking itself" was reformed in the Western church, with the triad of "ese, vivere, and intellegere" reforged into the one being of the divine.

The picture that emerges from this Latin understanding of the Trinity seems to be one being in three instantiations. What does this look like? While limited, the image that comes to my mind is that of Reverse Flash with two of his time remnants. In DC comics and in the Arowverse, speedsters have the ability to create multiple time remnants of themselves, exact same beings (same ontology) as the speedsters but who are disconnected from their original timelines and thus they exist side by side with their same being counterparts. The image that comes to mind is that of Eobard Thawn somehow creating two time remnants in eternity and the three of them exist for all time, if that could happen. This is not to suggest that the Latin Trinity is Eobard Thawne, but rather that the Reverse Flash with two time remnants is an image (an analogy) of how one being can be instantiated into three "persons."

This analogy should show us clearly why the view that the persons of the Trinity are mere relations is just ridiculous. Eobard Thawn, Thawne's first remnant, and Thawne's second remnant are not three persons, even though they have the ability to act differently despite their one essence. Instantiations of one being are not persons, and can never be persons. Persons, as the Greeks know to be the case, have their individual hypostasis (ὑποστασις) or personhood. Speaking of which, it is much more likely that the Greeks know their language and its meaning more than the Latins know the original Greek meaning of hypostasis. When the Greeks maintained that the persons of the Trinity are real persons, without all the qualifiers like "we should not import modern notions of personhood into the Trinity," it is much better to follow the Greeks than the Latins who are hardly experts on the Greek language.

In Eastern Orthodoxy, which seems to have a better doctrine of God, the one God is present in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is a person in the fullest sense of the term, with his own individual personality. While not necessarily taking the Eastern view concerning the filioque, it is clear that the East has some legitimate concerns over it, and behind it all lies a much more developed theology of the Trinity than Thomas Aquinas' view could ever be. It is certainly revealing that modalism and unitarianism is a constant danger in Western Trinitarianism, a sign that Western Trinitarianism, with its deficient view of personhood in reducing the persons to mere relations, has a corroded foundation that opens the way to these trinitarian heresies.

Friday, April 15, 2022

The Reformed Confessional view on DDS

There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. (WCF 2.1)

A Reformed confessional view is a view that is stated in the Reformed Confessions. Obviously, since the Reformed Confessions are not Scripture, what they state is not necessarily biblical and true. However, they are the learned judgments of a group of godly men, and therefore, inasmuch as the view is taught in Scripture, it has authority over the life of the believer and the church.

What the Reformed Confessional view is on a topic is one question. Whether the Reformed confessional view (or one of the views) is biblical or not is a separate question, a question reserved for those who are considering subscribing to those Confessions. The question that I want to look at here is not whether the Reformed Confessional view is biblical, but what it teaches and what it does not teaches, using the Westminster Confession of Faith as an exposition of the Reformed Confessional view.

In Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 2 paragraph 1, a condensed sentence was composed expressing the doctrine of God confessed by the Westminster Divines. Of all that is predicated of God, what is pertinent to our discussion is the phrase "without parts," which in two words expresses the entire doctrine of simplicity. God is a God "without parts." But what does that mean? In David Dickson's commentary of the WCF, we are not exactly told what "without parts" mean, except to say that the reason why this is so is because "God is like to no bodily thing, nor can he be represented by any image of corporeal likeness" [David Dickson, Truth's Victory over Error (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2007), p. 19]. Whatever the phrase "without parts" mean, it protects God's transcendence over the creature.

Reformed theologians have of course aided us in our understanding of the phrase "without parts." Herman Bavinck succinctly states that "simplicity is the antonym of 'compounded,'" and "if God is composed of parts, ... then his perfection, oneness, independence, and immutability cannot be maintained." (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2.176). Francis Turretin states that simplicity means that the divine nature is not only "free from all composition and division, but also as incapable of composition and divisibility" (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3.7.3). A more recent systematic theology merely states that God is "one and indivisible, not composite" (Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, 157), citing James Dolezal's book on the issue. From all that has been seen so far, it seems that the doctrine of simplicity requires an a priori commitment to some form of Aristotelian mereology, or does it?

It is indisputable that the Reformed confessional view on simplicity emerged in an Aristotelian context. But the question remains as to what the doctrine was meant to be teach. One can either go the route of asserting that the Westminster Divines intended to teach Aristotelian metaphysics, as some have obviously done, or one can state that they are trying to teach biblical truths using the existing prevailing philosophy of their time, Aristotelianism, as a tool. If one takes the former tool, one can either agree with the confessions and assert that they are biblical, or reject the confession as being unbiblical. The three options of dealing with the Reformed Confessional view on simplicity are as follows:

  1. Reformed Confessional view is Aristotelian, it is unbiblical and to be rejected
  2. Reformed Confessional view is Aristotelian, it is biblical and to be embraced
  3. Reformed Confessional view uses Aristotelianism as a tool. It is biblical, but the tool is not essential

There are many today who seems to think we have only options 1 and 2 to choose from. Many who claim to be all about the retrieval of Trinitarian orthodoxy (like James Dolezal) have taken position 2, where Aristotelian metaphysics as mediated by Thomas Aquinas is a prerequisite for Trinitarian orthodoxy. The claim is made that rejecting Aristotle and Aquinas would imply the rejection of the Reformed Confessional doctrine of God (Option 1). However, why are we only discussing options 1 and 2 as if another option is not available for us?

The relation of theology and philosophy is a fraught one throughout the history of the church. In her better times, philosophy is to function subservient to theology, as the handmaiden to theology. In other words, theology uses philosophy in its thought, but it itself beholden to no one philosophy either ancient or modern Philosophy is to be a tool to theology, meaning that if the tool outlives its usefulness, it is to be discarded for another tool. Since God is the God of Creation, He necessarily transcends human thought, and therefore we cannot claim that any one philosophy is fully adequate to address all questions concerning God.

This basic principle (an epistemic application of finitum non capax infiniti) means that option 3 is a more viable interpretation of the Reformed Confessional view of simplicity. We have noted that David Dickson, though commenting on the WCF around that time, did not go into depth into what simplicity means. We note that WCF 1.9-10 teaches the supreme authority of Scripture over all matters of faith. It seems clear that the Divines held philosophy to be a handmaiden to theology, and therefore, they would see Aristotelianism more as a tool than as a system that we must necessarily hold on to. Also, from the doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture, it seems clear that, whatever simplicity means, it must be simple enough to be expressed without philosophical language if it is indeed biblical.

What is the main point about simplicity? Perhaps the question can be asked: What happens if we say that God is not simple? According to theologians, a God that is not simple is made up of parts or divisible into parts. In other words, such a god could be created by combining various substances or attributes together. Or such a god could be divided into lesser "god components." What does that mean in simple terms? A non-simple god can be formed by putting divine parts together like creating a Lego set. Or a non-simple god can have a part removed (e.g. his wrath), and he would still remain "God." A slightly deficient god to be sure, but a "God" nonetheless.

Phrased this way, is there a way to understand simplicity without Aristotelianism? Yes. The core of simplicity is simply this: God cannot be any other from what He Himself is. It is the whole God, or nothing. One gets God, "warts and all," except of course God has no warts.

The Reformed Confessional view on DDS, as more consistently interpreted along the lines of option 3, is the view that God must be taken whole, or none. In line with the Reformed tradition of Sola Scriptura and scientia sub Scriptura, this sems to me to be the most consistent Reformed view on the topic of DDS. One is free to explicate how that works using different philosophies including Aristotelianism, but one is not free to mandate that only one philosophical interpretation of DDS is THE Reformed view on the topic.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

RT Mullins' Reluctant Theologian Podcast: Craig Carter, Classical Theism, and Creation Ex Nihilo

Ryan Mullins has a podcast, the Reluctant Theologian podcast. Recently, he did his podcast with guests Andrew Hollingsworth and Jordan Steffaniak on Craig Carter and his wild accusation that anyone who rejects Classical Theism, or rather, Thomistic Classical Theism, would logically deny God's transcendence and Creation Ex Nihilo. Obviously, the charge is ridiculous, and the theologians in the podcast assert that the whole thing is a diversion from the real isue, which is Carter's strong Thomistic version of the doctrine of divine simplicity or DDS. You can listen to that podcast here.

Monday, April 11, 2022

A journal article on the issue of modal collapse, and a brief comment

An interesting journal article has just come out on the issue of modal collapse as it relates to the doctrine of God, in the Journal of Reformed Theology which is currently open access here. Modal collapse is an argument, promoted by those like Ryan Mullins, that a strong version of divine simplicity (DDS) implies a collapse of all contingencies into absolute necessities in God. The article is an attempt to argue that such ideas of modal collapse depend on premises that are at best contested, and therefore the modal collapse argument is not the knockdown argument against the doctrine of divine simplicity as it has been stated to be.

There are a lot of interesting things in this article, and I am sure Mullins will respond to this article in due time. I would just like to make a brief comment here on the article's explanation of necessity. According to the authors, the difference between hypothetical and absolute necessity "rests solely on the source, or ground, of a thing’s necessity in relation to its essence or concept." The authors cite Boethius, Aquinas and Leibniz to support this distinction. The authors then argue that therefore, asserting that something will necessarily happen does not imply that it is absolutely necessary, since the ground of why it happens is external to its being, and therefore still considered hypothetically necessary. In other words, whether something is necessary in any and all possible worlds is totally irrelevant to the discussion about the nature of necessity, since the only thing that matters is the intrinsicity or extrinsicity of the act to its being.

While it is certainly understandable why the ancients think like that, that manner of thinking is something I reject. Intrinsicity or extrinsicity certainly informs one understanding of necessity, in the sense that nothing can go against its nature. Therefore, it is intrinsically necessary that a triangle has three sides. However, it is one thing to claim that intrinsic necessity is associated with absolute necessity. It is another to claim that intrinsic necessity IS absolute necessity, and extrinsic necessity IS hypothetical necessity. The authors in this article have cleverly asserted that even an appearance of absolute necessity does not imply that necessity is absolute if the ground is extrinsic, so any proof that an extrinsic necessity seems absolute will be rejected by this criterion. However, what if an intrinsic necessity can be shown to be not absolute? Such should certainly blow their argument apart.

What is a thing? Sometimes, defining what a thing is, and what is necessary for the thing to be what it is (intrinsically) is not that easy. So, what is a photon with a wavelength of 700nm? We call it a light particle transmitting red light. But what is intrinsically necessary in such a light particle? Well, traditional philosophers would probably say that "redness" is an essential property of such a light particle. However, we know from science that "redness" is perceived subjectively to the human person, therefore "redness" as a secondary property is not intrinsic to "photon with wavelength of 700nm." So "wavelength of 700nm" seems to be intrinsically necessary for such a proton. Except, it is not absolutely necessary for that photon to have a wavelength of 700nm. That photon is blue or red shifted to an observer moving at relativistic speed, thus it has a different wavelength despite the photon not undergoing any change. True, the different wavelength is due to perception from relativistic viewpoints, but the point remains that this intrinsic necessity is not absolutely necessary.

What is the intrinsic necessity of "infinity"? It seems clear that infinity is a number beyond all numbers. Therefore, an intrinsic necessity of infinity is transcendence. Yet, from the work of Georg Cantor, we know this intrinsic necessity is not an absolute necessity, since it is possible to have different infinities and therefore, despite the intrinsic necessity of infinity to transcend numbers, under specific mathematical manipulation, infinities can be managed, qualified, and even transcended despite their inherent transcendence. Here, we see another case in which intrinsic necessity is not absolute necessary.

These two counter-examples, one from physics and the other from math, show that intrinsic necessity does not necessarily mean absolute necessity. The point is not to separate the two, but to show that the assertion that hypothetical necessities are always hypothetical even when they look absolute, is based upon an association of the types of necessities that are not necessarily the case. If there can be even one intrinsic necessity that is not absolute, then one should not assert that the only thing that matters is the ground of necessity and not the overall manner in which any necessity plays out not just due to being but due to place and circumstance.

On the older distinction between hypothetical and absolute necessity, just because in many cases something is absolute or necessary due to whether it is intrinsic or extrinsic to the thing does not entitle one to ground necessity in being alone. In the case of light for example, "being" is very much linked with act, because light is in act. Therefore, it is much better to ground necessity in possible world scenarios rather than talk about essence. Speaking of essence, it is clear from looking at things like shadows that just because something is a thing does not imply it has a essence, so grounding necessity in essence is strange if it is possible that a thing does not have an essence. How does one talk about the necessity or otherwise of shadows since shadows have no essence?

Now, most certainly, this paper is an interesting paper. However, as I do not hold to the same metaphysics as the classical theists but that amenable to modern science, I do not find the arguments in the paper convincing. After all, why should I find arguments based on ontology persuasive when we all know that the ancients, while smart and perceptive and who build the foundation with which we can attain to modern science, are ignorant of actual ontology? We can respect their insight, respect their contribution, without uncritically accepting anything they have to say on any topic.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

The new and improved "anti-Strachan" "Reformed" way of arguing

In line with this post, I would like to post this similar line of thought to show how ridiculous this line of reasoning is. Both the original sentences and the red edited sentences are fine, but anyone who actually thinks the editor is to be lauded for making such changes is a moron.