Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On the Holy Trinity

The Doctrine of the Triune Nature of God is the most fundamental tenet of Christianity--and it is also the most misunderstood of all Christian doctrines--both by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Almost every heresy in the Early Church revolved around some aspect of the Trinity, and most, if not all, of the cults and religions that are based on Christianity are a repackaging of one of those ancient heresies.

Recently, I was presented with a series of arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity. In this article, I will present first the anti-Trinity argument in its entirety, with my comments, and then I will offer my rebuttal.

However, before I begin, I think it wise to define just what we are talking about: namely, God; specifically, God as Trinity. What, then, do we mean by the term "God"? Obviously, since this is a Catholic Apologetics blog, we should understand by "God" the historical Christian understanding of God. As such, I tend to incline toward St. Anselm's given definition of "God is that which nothing greater can be conceived" (Proslogion ch. 2).

This definition essentially covers the general attributes normally associated with God that Christians refer to and see described in the Bible, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, love, goodness, etc. This definition will also be important for the later development of my argument for the Trinity, so keep it in mind.

As to the latter, the doctrine of the Trinity is somewhat more complex to define. Essentially, the Church teaches that the One God subsists in three co-eternal Persons within the One Being. That is, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the One God, but the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and neither is the Holy Spirit the Father nor the Son--yet all are the One God. On the other hand, the three Persons are not parts of God or facets of God. The Son, in other words, is not a particular manifestation or mode of God, nor is He simply one third of God.

Obviously, mathematically, there is no easy solution. However, while the Trinity is a mystery which we can never fully comprehend, logic and revelation show its truth and the necessity of its belief, as I hope to demonstrate below.

The following is the argument against the Trinity, with my reply after each point:

There is only one God, the Lord of the worlds. Some people believe in two gods. Some believe in an entity divided by three, each sharing the responsibility of managing the worlds. Some feel that there are many gods, each responsible for some aspects of life.

From the outset, the main error committed by the author of these arguments is to make the Trinity out to be more than One God. Since Christians believe that the Three Persons of the Trinity are all the One God together, many of the arguments presented simply do not apply in arguing against the Christian conception of God. Christians neither believe in two (or more) gods, nor in "an entity divided by three," nor obviously in the latter polytheistic view mentioned. Nevertheless, I shall now address all eight given arguments, and conclude with a presentation of what Christianity does teach.

The fact is, there is One God, the Creator, and everything else other than Him, is the creation--created by Him--, and thus, cannot be God. Logic necessitates it, and here are just a few logical arguments:

This is what we believe, certainly--as far as it goes.

1) Hypothetically, if we assume that there are two gods, which is of course impossible, then both must be equally capable of doing everything at will. If one wants to move something and the other god doesn’t, then either:

a. Both of their wills will be executed, which is impossible, as two opposite things cannot happen at the same exact second, which leads to the conclusion that both are incapable, and therefore cannot be gods.

b. None of their wills are executed, therefore, they cannot be gods, since a god cannot be incapacitated, because incapacitation is imperfection, and imperfection cannot be attributed to God.

c. One of them will have his way, which means, he is capable and the other is not, hence, the other is not God.

This is exactly the case for God, assuming our given definition is correct: That God is that which nothing greater can be conceived. For I can conceive of a God who is perfect--and so, God, if He exists, must be perfect (in fact, even more perfect than my conception of Him).

2) If we assume--contrary to the truth--that there are two gods, then they both must be equal in the attribute of existence, yet they must be distinguished from each other. Otherwise what is the logic behind two? And in fact it is impossible to be different, since God is attributed with the perfect attributes, and is clear of all and any imperfection. That would necessitate one of them having more perfect attributes than the other, which would make the latter lesser, hence, he cannot be God. Or that one would simply have more attributes that are not attributes of perfection. But God is attributed only with the attributes of perfection; therefore the second is not God.

Again, the logical contradiction of two ultimate perfections which are yet distinct argues in favour for One God. St. Thomas Aquinas makes this same point in his Summa Theologica (Part 1, Question 11, Article 3):

God comprehends in Himself the whole perfection of being. If then many gods existed, they would necessarily differ from each other. Something therefore would belong to one which did not belong to another. And if this were a privation, one of them would not be absolutely perfect; but if a perfection, one of them would be without it. So it is impossible for many gods to exist. Hence also the ancient philosophers, constrained as it were by truth, when they asserted an infinite principle, asserted likewise that there was only one such principle.
3) If we assume-–contrary to the truth--that there are two gods, then either one of them is enough to manage the worlds or one is not enough. If one of them is enough, then the second god is not needed, and nothing is in need of him, and it would be nonsense to have him to start with. If one cannot manage the worlds without the other, then they both are needy, and dependent, and incapacitated on their own, hence, both cannot be gods, as God is not in need of anything, and everything is in need for Him.

Obviously, again, a God who is independent is better than a God who is dependent--and a God who is necessary better than a God who is unnecessary. Thus, according to St. Anselm's definition, this argument is again quite valid.

4) If we assume-–contrary to the truth--that there are two gods, then one of them should be able to hide some of his actions from the other, or he is incapacitated of that. If he can hide things from the other, then that makes the other ignorant and unknowledgeable, which means the other is not God. And if he can’t hide any action from the other one, then he is incapacitated and not able to do all he wills, and not omnipotent.

I must confess that while I see the logic of the argument, it fails to strike me as a very strong one. I suppose it works better cumulatively. I fail to see why a God greater than that which can be conceived would need to hide His actions from another god (should one exist). However, that is neither here nor there.

5) If we assume-–contrary to the truth--that there are two equally omnipotent gods, then the summation of both of their powers must be more than each power alone. Hence, the summation is more perfect that what each god has, which means that their power was not perfect and sublime, meaning they cannot be god.

This is an interesting concept. However, I'm not a capable enough mathematician to know whether two infinities is actually greater than one infinity. If it is, then this argument succeeds. If not, then not. Perhaps any theoretical mathematicians could help us out on this point?

6) Partnership and association is a sign of imperfection and need. The king who does not have any associates or partners other than himself is much more perfect than the one who does. God is attributed with the attributes of perfection, but having a partner or an associate implies imperfection, which means that such a partnership is impossible.

This one, I have to take issue with. There is nothing implying need for someone to voluntarily partner with another. Consider the investor who helps an up-and-coming businessman start a new venture. The investor does not need the businessman in order to be wealthy--he already is. It is rather a sign of his great wealth that he can freely invest in the business venture, with all its risks and uncertainties.

For God to freely partner with another--for the purposes of my beliefs--with me, say, or with you--in order to achieve His will on earth, is not to say that He couldn't have achieved His will without me, or you, but rather, out of His abundant perfection and love, He has chosen to use me or you in the achievement of His will. Despite the risk to the achievement of His will that our involvement poses to Him, His omnipotence is demonstrated by the fact that His will is achieved despite our limitations. Or, as St. Paul put it, "My grace is sufficient for you; for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

As such, the above argument fails utterly insofar as it is formulated in this way.

7) God is attributed with the attributes of perfection. Sharing such attributes or even some of them with any other entity, revokes the uniqueness, superiority and perfection of God. The Creator’s attributes are unique to Him, nothing else has any of them.

Again, I deny that this argument has any merit. The author here seems to think that an omnipotent God could lose something of His omnipotence by sharing it. I can conceive of a God who could share His power with another (for example, Moses, or St. Peter) without losing that power Himself. Again, we enter into the abstract concept of infinity. This is much the same as the above argument, for God bestowing a portion of His perfection on His creation does not diminish His perfection, but rather represents it in the other--which is not perfect in and of itself, but only by participation in the perfection of God. In the author's hurry to vindicate and vouchsafe the utter uniqueness of God's perfection, he has unfortunately overstated his case without fully examining the logical consequences of his statement.

8) If we assume--contrary to the truth--that there are two gods, then can one of them buy the other one out, and remain the only power? If he can, then the second god is weak, and not needed, meaning he is not god. If he can’t then he is incapacitated, and god cannot be incapacitated.

This, I must confess, does not make much sense to me. The ground of two gods with contradictory wills both being exercised has been covered already. I am not sure what this argument adds except the seemingly absurd concept of fiscal relations between the two deities supposed.

From all the above and many more logical arguments we can conclude that there is only One God, the Creator.

As I said, I wholeheartedly agree with the conclusion: that there is only One God, the Creator. However, God's Oneness does very little to tell us anything about that One God other than that He is one, and that He is perfect. So let us explore the concept of the One Perfect God, using St. Anselm's definition as a guide or mental exercise, and see if logically we cannot come to any further conclusions about this One Perfect Creator.

First, if God is greater than that which can be conceived, we start with some questions about what such a God is like. If we borrow (to save time) from the list of attributes typically associated with God, we can ask questions like, Is God Good, or Evil? I can conceive of a good God, which is greater than an evil God. God then, must be good. Certain things logically flow from that: Namely, Love is Good, and hatred evil. If God is good, then He must be loving.

Here we come to a quandary, though. For Love, by definition, needs a lover, and one to be loved. But God is One. How do we understand "One"? Solitariness? If God is solitary, He cannot love, for there is no one to love. But I can conceive of a good and loving God. Moreover, I can conceive of a God who is not solitary--that is, He is not lonely and deprived of someone to love.

We have a couple options, then. Either the Solitary God created the world and people in order to fulfil His need to love, or He did not become loving until He created the world. Or, He was not solitary in His Oneness.

Let us examine these options:
First, if God created the world because He needed someone to love, then His love is dependent upon another. That makes God needy. Need means God is imperfect, which cannot be. Thus, God could not have created the world out of some sort of need.

Moreover, what happens if God creates the world, and us, out of a need to love us and to be loved by us? What happens when we reject that love? What does omnipotent God do when we reject His love? This answer, I believe, is played out in those strictly monotheistic religions who are so zealous for God's worship that they either claim that God is vengeful and angry with us; or who themselves take up God's anger and act violently toward the infidel. It is the logical conclusion of a lonely God being spurned by His creation. If God has need, and that need is not met, beware the consequence! But God has no need.

Option 2, is that God created the world, and then became loving. But this implies a change in God, from not being loving to being loving. But perfection can have no change, for a change is either an increase in perfection, or a decrease in perfection. Thus, God did not become loving, but always was loving, since a loving God is greater than an unloving God.

Option 3, God is One, but not Solitary. That is, while there is One Divine Being, that Being is, within Himself, a social entity. This is what the Church identifies as the Trinity (why Three and not Two, or more than Three, will be established in a minute). The One Being of God subsists within Himself in different Persons, who share in the One Substance of God (and since there cannot be another God, having God's substance means you are God). These Persons within God each share in God's Attributes equally, and are thus neither less nor more than each other. They are undivided, and so the One God; but unconfused in that unity, and so distinct. Since distinct, they are able to relate to each other--in a relationship of Love. Hence, God is loving, from all eternity, without change, without need, without compulsion, without imperfection.

Why then did God create us? Not from need, but out of the overflow of His infinite love and generosity. He desired others to share in the joy of His infinite love, not for His own sake, but for theirs. So He made man, and made him free to love. But it does not hurt God when we reject Him. We do not fail to gratify His need. So He continues to love us and strive to call us back to Him (in ways that will not violate our free will, and thus, our ability to love). Rather than striking us dead when we rejected Him, He came Himself, to call us back to Him. He Himself paid our debt of sin, and He Himself gives us to share in His divine life of grace. The consequences and punishments incurred by our rejection are not because we have injured God and so He retaliates. Rather, they are the only other possibility of existence without God. Hell, then, is not the capricious torture of an angry and insulted God, but simply the state of existence resulting from being granted our own free wish to be without Him. This is a fundamental difference between Christianity and other monotheistic views of God.

Whence the three Persons, no more, no less? At this point, simple logic cannot help us, but we must rely on God's own self-revelation.

The Scriptures teach us that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." (John 1:1, 14).

What do we see? That the Word (Jesus Christ) who "became flesh" (that is, was incarnated--who was born as a man), was "with God" in the beginning--that is, from all eternity, Jesus, the Son of God, existed with God. And yet the next line tells us that the Word wasn't simply there with God as a separate being, but that the Word was God. So we see this Word as being the same substance as God, and thus God Himself (as we mentioned above) and yet somehow distinct from "God". How are we to reconcile this? Only in the doctrine of the Trinity--that God, who is One, nevertheless subsists in different Persons, co-equal, co-eternal.

The Word, the Logos (in Greek), is the Wisdom of God--His utter and complete self-expression. In the Word of God (by which I am not referring to the Bible, but to the "Word" of John's Gospel), God communicates Himself in such an efficacious and infinite self-description, that it itself is completely what God is. That is, God, from all eternity, reveals Himself through the Word--a never-ending, eternal communication from before time, resulting in the Word which is so infinitely perfect an expression of God that it is God, not separate from God or different from God, except that one is the "speaker" and the other is the "spoken", or, in more familiar parlance, one is Father, and the other is Son. The Father eternally generates the Son, and the Son is eternally begotten of the Father--not as a separate Being, nor as something created by God, but begotten by God. Just as a man begets a son who is not a dog nor a statue, but another human (of the same kind) as the father who begot him, so the Son of God is of the same kind as the Father who begot Him--yet since two Gods is a contradiction, the two persons of Father and Son are still the One God together.

Moreover, since the Father begets the Son from all eternity, there was never a moment when the Father existed without the Son. Thus, there was never an addition to God, nor a change in God, from not-Father to Father; from sonless to having a Son. The Son existed with the Father from all eternity, together as the One God.

This Father and Son loved each other with the infinite Love that is God's essential nature. Thus the love of God did not come into existence at a later point and so change God; neither did the loving God ever need anyone to love and to love Him. The Father and the Son were content and joyous in their mutual Love--and that Love was so perfect, so eternal an expression of God, that it itself was God, for God is Love. And this Love is what we call the Holy Spirit--who Himself is the Third Person in the Trinity, the expression or the manifestation of the eternal Love of God the Father for God the Son, and God the Son for God the Father, and of each for the Holy Spirit, and of the Holy Spirit for them--for all eternity, without beginning and without end.

Hence, we come to the Three Persons of the Trinity, each distinct from the other, yet each the One God together; co-equal, co-eternal, sharing in the life of each other and the One Substance of the God Who Is.

There are no more Persons than this, for if there were, there would be no necessary distinction between them and the Three Persons. For we have the Begetter, the Begotten, and the Procession of their Love. If another is begotten, in what primary way does He differ from His Divine Brother? He becomes arbitrary and unreal. If there are, on the other hand, two begetters, then we have the consequence of Two Deities, which is absurd.

Moreover, The Son, who became Man, revealed to us no more than the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and we depend on His revelation of God.

(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)

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