This is a Facebook Dialogue I had with Ryan Hedrich.
Drake Shelton Ryan Hedrich, I thought I saw you commenting on the issue of simplicity a while back. I think you said you had a conversation with a guy about the necessity of simplicity, that is, simplicity is necessary for independence and a being with distinctions is inherently a dependent being. The whole thing is an ad hoc assertion in my opinion but I think you spoke to the issue in more detail. Could you refer me to that?
Ryan Hedrich That was a conversation I had with someone over facebook message. Here is an [edited] copy of it:
I’ve got some questions about Nicene triadology, as I’m rather sympathetic to it at the moment but still haven’t worked out many of the related issues in my mind.
1. Divine simplicity, as far as I can tell, seems to be the enemy of Nicene triadology, and I can think of various good arguments against it. (E.g. there is no real distinction between generation and creation, if nature = will.) But an argument for DDS which sounds rather convincing to me is that it is necessary for God’s independence; roughly, God cannot depend for His existence on anything that is not itself God, and thus there cannot be parts of God which compose Him. What are your thoughts on this pro-DDS argument?
2. Related to 1, it seems that modern Western philosophy involves a debate between “classical theism” (which includes DDS) and “theistic personalism.” Do you know if this debate at all corresponds with the debate between Western and Nicene trinitarianism?
3. What are your thoughts on Eastern Orthodox trinitarianism? That is, how close is it to your Nicene doctrine, and how does the Nicene doctrine relate to the essence/energies distinction?
Any recommended readings would be appreciated, too. Thank you for your help.
“But an argument for DDS which sounds rather convincing to me is that it is necessary for God’s independence; roughly, God cannot depend for His existence on anything that is not itself God, and thus there cannot be parts of God which compose Him. What are your thoughts on this pro-DDS argument?”
On Nicene Trinitarianism, “God” has multiple possible meanings. It can refer to the Father in a unique, Monarchical sense. It can refer to the Son and Spirit in the sense that both are consubstantial with the Father, members of the class of persons who are divine beings. It can also just refer to that actual genus under which each of these persons is classified.
The first question I would have, then, is what “God” means. I can’t answer the objection until that is clear. However, it seems to me DDS has a tendency to make “God” Totally Other and therefore utterly unknowable, rendering DDS self-defeating. Is God His attributes (cf. “itself”)? Are these attributes all really just one? Does it mean the same thing to attribute something to God as it does when we attribute something to a man? Are we God? Is language inadequate to describe God to us as He really is? Or is God three persons? If so, are there any real distinctions between the persons of the Trinity? How?
So I suppose I would deny the assumption that “God cannot depend for His existence on anything that is not itself God.” Even given one of the Western conceptions of God, whether a Trinity or set of attributes, one cannot do without the other. The persons are distinct from the attributes they possess – they cannot be conflated – but at the same time, there cannot be divine attributes without the persons and vice versa. And this seems to be the sort of “dependence” the argument has in mind.
“Related to 1, it seems that modern Western philosophy involves a debate between “classical theism” (which includes DDS) and “theistic personalism.” Do you know if this debate at all corresponds with the debate between Western and Nicene trinitarianism?”
Well, all the Nicene Trinitarians I know reject DDS, and the reason each one has changed his views on the Trinity has stemmed from a focus on the individual persons of the Trinity more so than the “being of God,” whatever that is taken to mean. But I honestly had to look up the debate you are talking about, so whether the connection is necessary or incidental, I don’t know.
“What are your thoughts on Eastern Orthodox trinitarianism? That is, how close is it to your Nicene doctrine, and how does the Nicene doctrine relate to the essence/energies distinction?”
The only book I have by an EO is Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church, so what I know about that distinction is derived from there. But he says enough in that to make it clear the distinction and reasons for it are absurd. Again, in the circles I’ve spoken with, there is a complete rejection of it by NTs as just another instance of an attempt to protect a God who is Totally or Wholly Other (Ware’s own words, in fact). We can know God, our knowledge is univocal with God’s (the Father’s, although the same can be said of the Son or Spirit) knowledge, and God’s omniscience is essential to His person, but pantheism does not follow from this. We are and ever remain partial knowers with creaturely limitations. But we can thereby be united to God – a real union, not an absurd one like being united to “energies” which somehow just are God without involving His “essence.”
As for recommended reading, Tertullian, Novatian, Alexander of Alexadria, and Athanasius are good ECFs, though they might differ on a few particulars. Samuel Clarke has some problems since he was a Unitarian, but the Scripture passages he cites are very useful. Bishop Bull is another guy from a few centuries ago who I would recommend you read something by on archive.com or whatnot. As far as contemporary authors go, I’m not sure that there’s much out there, to be honest. Most of my understanding has developed through group discussion/debate and reading the above authors.
I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to reply to this more in depth, but for now I have one question: is it true that Samuel Clarke was a Unitarian? I thought that was just the charge launched by those who couldn’t otherwise process what he was proposing, and that he was generally proposing the Nicene view.
He denied that the Son and Spirit necessarily exist:
Ryan Hedrich Interlocutor:
Thanks for the response, Ryan. I appreciate the reading recommendations.
The argument for DDS would most commonly use “the divine essence” as the definition of God, but I don’t think it actually matters much here what the definition is. The point of this DDS argument is that a being, to be perfect, must be completely independent and so lack all composition of any sort.
In other words, I do think a potentially good argument against DDS is that it is incompatible with trinitarianism, even with the “personal distinctions” posited within the mainstream Western conception of the Godhead. I also think that the resultant unknowability of God, as you mention, could be a good argument against it. But I’m trying to isolate this positive argument for DDS from the various negative arguments against it. So perhaps you could construe this argument as coming from a Muslim or even from a neoplatonist pagan, arguing that the “first principle” of reality, the ultimate metaphysical ground of all that exists, must be absolutely metaphysically simple, without any kind of composition whatsoever, not dependent for its existence on any parts.
My initial response is simply to deny that composition implies “dependence” on parts. When we, as men, discuss how we have a “dependent” or “contingent” existence, what we generally mean is that we would not exist unless God desired us to, we could cease to exist at any moment, and so on. But the fact that act and potency, or matter and form, etc. can be distinguished within us is not something that seems to mark out our dependence. And so it might be that with God the Father, on the NT view, real distinctions within Him, such as between nature and will, just as a matter of fact do not mark out any dependence within Him.
I got the sense that’s what you wanted, which is why I wrote that I suppose I would deny the assumption that “God cannot depend for His existence on anything that is not itself God.” That probably should have been its own paragraph to distinguish it from what followed.
I took “dependence” to refer to something without which God could not be who He is. That is, on the NT view, God “depends” on goodness insofar as He could not be God without being good. It’s necessary that one be good if one is God. But goodness isn’t God, it’s a component of God. So God depends on something that is not itself God.
My reply is just “so what?” Why do advocates of DDS think that “God cannot depend for His existence on anything that is not itself God”? It’s not as if goodness is somehow superior to God on the NT view, because we also hold that without God there could be no goodness. So dependency is mutual in that sense. [This might be what you are getting at in your reply as well? Goodness is not contingently related to God nor vice versa.] So I don’t see any reason to take their premise for granted.
Yeah, I agree with that. Thanks, I’ll probably be returning at random points in the future for further discussion.
Ryan Hedrich [A little while later]
I’m going to spill my thoughts a bit here and request feedback.
I’m discussing Nicene trinitarianism with some Reformed guys, and we’ve gotten to the point where we distinguish between two options: (1) the Son has the numerically same nature as the Father, in which case the Son also possesses the property of aseity, even though His personal distinction is generated by the Father; and (2) the Son has a numerically different nature from the Father, even though it is generically the same (just as two humans are part of the genus of humanness), in which case aseity is a particular property of the person of the Father, not an attribute peculiar to deity.
The main argument against (1), as I see it right now, is its incoherency. It makes no sense to speak of human relations this way (e.g. as if both father and son possessed the same token of the type of human nature, rather than having different tokens of the same type), and so we have good prima facie grounds to deny such an absurdity as the divine, uncreated foundation for all reality. But if this idea of three-persons-subsisting-in-one-numeric-nature is coherent, then I don’t think the revealed facts of eternal generation and eternal procession offer much evidence, in themselves, for your Nicene view; it sounds plausible enough to say that these three Persons stand in eternal causal relations with one another, even while they all subsist in one numeric nature. **If** it is coherent to say that three Persons can subsist in one numeric nature (a big “if”), then the idea that they could subsist in one numeric nature *and stand in eternal causal relations of generation and spiration* would also be coherent.
Here are the main arguments I can think of in favor of (1):
(a) The doctrine of divine simplicity entails (1).
(b) The Bible describes the three Persons as subsisting in one numeric nature.
(c) The biblical description of aseity as a divine attribute, rather than as a personal property of the Father, entails (1).
(d) The biblical teaching of monotheism entails (1).
(e) The early church fathers defended (1).
(i) Are there any good arguments for (b)? That seems as if it could not be found anywhere in the Bible, because the distinctions between (1) and (2) seem too precise for the Bible to explicitly handle.
(ii) Are there any good arguments for (c)? This seems like the most plausible argument that could be made from the biblical data for (1), yet it also seems too precise for the Bible to explicitly handle. (Ironically, I think this argument would be undermined if (a) were utilized.)
(iii) I would assume that if (c) cannot be proven, then (d) cannot either. I know that in your blog post about Drake’s triadology, you mention the charge of tritheism as being the most serious, but you also mention that it is false since Drake holds to the Father as the one true God. I’d like to read more on this specific argument. Are you aware of any other debate or discussion on it?
(iv) Regarding (e), I know you already mentioned several ECFs above, but do these men deal specifically with the issue of numeric unity versus generic unity? One of the Reformed guys with whom I was discussing this said that “this exact question was the nature of much debate during the Patristic period, and the unity of a single will and undivided nature.” If you’re aware of any ECFs who discuss this specific question (whether there’s one will shared by the three Persons, whether there’s one numeric nature shared by them), that would be most excellent.
(v) Besides the argument from incoherency I mentioned above, what are the best arguments of which you know that disprove (1)? Indirectly, I can imagine that any real distinction between personal properties and divine attributes entails the falsity of DDS, which is generally regarded as the cornerstone of this one-numeric-nature view, yet I don’t know how to formalize that argument as a full disproof of (1) (i.e. I don’t know if the falsity of DDS entails the falsity of (1)).
Ryan Hedrich Me:
“But if this idea of three-persons-subsisting-in-one-numeric-nature is coherent…Besides the argument from incoherency I mentioned above, what are the best arguments of which you know that disprove (1)”
I wrote a post thoroughly critiquing numeric unity here:
I don’t know of any biblical, exegetical arguments that are explicitly contradictory to this position. Then again, I don’t know Greek so wouldn’t consider exegesis my strong suit. You’re better off asking opponents what they think.
“I know that in your blog post about Drake’s triadology, you mention the charge of tritheism as being the most serious, but you also mention that it is false since Drake holds to the Father as the one true God. I’d like to read more on this specific argument. Are you aware of any other debate or discussion on it?”
In addition to the above link, see here:
See also these short posts:
“Regarding (e), I know you already mentioned several ECFs above, but do these men deal specifically with the issue of numeric unity versus generic unity?”
Here is a very, very brief summary of what ECFs have to say in favor of generic unity over numeric unity:
“Transfer, then, to the divine dogmas ***the same standard of difference which you recognise in the case both of essence and of hypostasis in human affairs,*** and you will not go wrong.” – Basil the Great
“This term also corrects the error of Sabellius, for it removes the idea of the identity of the hypostases, and introduces in perfection the idea of the Persons. For ***nothing can be of one substance with itself, but one thing is of one substance with another.***”
“The Son is not only “like,” but equal, the same in Godhead, the same in eternity and power. And yet ***we do not say, “tautoousion,”*** or the expression that some use might be compared with Sabellius.” – Epiphanius
“For neither do we hold a Son-Father, as do the Sabellians, ***calling Him of one but not of the same essence,*** and thus destroying the existence of the Son.”
“For as the Beginning is one Essence, so Its Word is one, essential, and subsisting, and Its Wisdom. For as He is God from God, and Wisdom from the Wise, and Word from the Rational, and Son from Father, so is He from Subsistence Subsistent, and from Essence Essential and Substantive, and ***Being from Being.***” – Athanasius
“For we, who by the grace of God possess an insight into both the times and the occasions of the Sacred Writings, especially ***we who are followers of the Paraclete, not of human teachers, do indeed definitively declare that Two Beings are God, the Father and the Son, and, with the addition of the Holy Spirit, even Three,*** according to the principle of the divine economy, which introduces number, in order that the Father may not, as you perversely infer, be Himself believed to have been born and to have suffered, which it is not lawful to believe, forasmuch as it has not been so handed down.” – Tertullian
Extremely helpful! Thank you so much.
“You’re better off asking opponents what they think.”
As you would surely agree, I’ve found that with various topics I’m much better off asking the people who don’t even believe it for the best arguments in its favor.
Whether 1 John 5:20 refers to the Son has repeatedly popped up. I think not, but if so, it would put a dent in the argument that the “one God” only refers to the Father. John 8:58 has been cited as indicative of the Son’s aseity. There is also a question as to whether or not the Son is referred to as Yahweh (Genesis 18, Isaiah 6, cf. John 12) has also required some qualification which can appear to some as ad hoc, viz. the Son is the perfect image of and representative for His Father, from whom He has received all things. I might be forgetting some.
Drake Shelton Ryan, it seems then that you are admitting that Yahweh does depend on his attributes with reference to the genus of epistemology but not the genus of being. Would that be correct? It seems then that if it is true we have another conflation.
It would appear then that the four horseman of the Triune construction are these:
1. A conflation between person and nature.
2. A conflation between relation and being.
3. A conflation between generic and numeric unity-in abstracto and in concreto.
4. A conflation between the genus of epistemology and the genus of being.
Drake Shelton Let these be released upon the modern seminaries and we shall go conquering and to conquer.
Ryan Hedrich ”Ryan, it seems then that you are admitting that Yahweh does depend on his attributes with reference to the genus of epistemology but not the genus of being. Would that be correct?”
Epistemologically: Given that Yahweh is an individual who is not beyond being – who we can know – then Yahweh is a member of genera or classes. He is in the class of beings whose attributes include goodness and/or eternality and/or omniscience, etc. We could not know Him if we could not classify Him, and so there clearly is some epistemological dependency, although again, that “dependency” is mutual since we couldn’t know what goodness, eternality, or omniscience is if we couldn’t know Yahweh.
Ontologically: I will probably have to think about this one a bit more, because it involves the status of the ontological existence of classes, but it seems to me Yahweh ontologically depends on His attributes insofar as Yahweh cannot be Yahweh unless He is good, eternal, omniscient, etc. Although none of these attributes are identical to Him, they are all essential components or parts (as some derogatorily refer to them) of Yahweh. God’s existence does not precede His essence; He did not become God. But by the same token and similar to the above point in the epistemological sphere, however, there goodness et. al. can’t “exist” apart from concretization in Yahweh. Yahweh, as an individual, is just as necessary for there to “be” goodness et. al., whether abstract or concrete [in anything/anyone else].
This doesn’t appear to me to be a conflation of epistemology and ontology for us. The cases are analogous insofar as God and God’s attributes are 1) both necessary in order for us to know either and 2) both necessary in order for either to exist. This isn’t even really surprising, given that what we know about God SHOULD correspond to who God is.
And this is obviously quite different from advocates of divine simplicity, who conflate epistemology and ontology when they argue that for us to know God would require that we be God because God just is what He knows.
Drake Shelton Ryan Hedrich, “God’s existence does not precede His essence”
>>>This is where I have distinguished essence and nature. In my mind Yahweh’s being/essence/faculties does logically precede in the order of being his attributes/thinking/nature. There must be a mind in order to think.
Ryan Hedrich I’ll have to think about that too. Any subclass must belong to a superclass, but such doesn’t require logical precedence. For example, a human must be a person, because all humans are persons. But we would not say that one who is a human was a person logically prior to that. However, what you are saying seems to be rather that since God is not pure act, there must be a difference between God’s activity (energy?) and the faculties which serve as a logical precondition for that. And that seems to be a mediating position between God as pure potentiality (existentialism) and God as pure act (simplicity). But [certain] activities would still need to be eternally necessary for God (e.g. thinking), right?
Drake Shelton Yes. That is a great deduction.