Sunday, August 4, 2019

McCabe on the divine nature


Herbert McCabe was one of the more important Thomists of the twentieth century, and a great influence on thinkers like Brian Davies.  Not too long ago, Davies and Paul Kucharski edited The McCabe Reader, a very useful collection of representative writings.  Among the many topics covered are natural theology, Christian doctrine, ethics, politics, and Aquinas.  McCabe’s style throughout is lucid and pleasing, and the book is full of insights.  What follows are some remarks on what McCabe has to say about one specific theme that runs through the anthology, and about which he was especially insightful – the divine nature.

What God is not

What is God?  McCabe’s answer is that God is that which accounts for why there is anything at all.  “God is whatever answers our question ‘How come everything?’” (p. 10).  What he has to say about the divine nature is largely the working out of the implications of this basic idea.

Some readers are bound to misunderstand McCabe even at this starting point.  They might suppose that he is taking for granted some detailed and specifically Christian conception of God – as having revealed himself through the prophets, inspired scripture, become incarnate in Christ, and so on – and then going on to identify God so conceived with that which accounts for the existence of the world.  But that is precisely what he is not doing.  Of course, as a Catholic, he believes all that.  But that is not what he has in mind when he says that God is that which answers the question about why anything exists. 

What he is saying, in effect, is that when we start trying to think about God’s nature, we should begin by putting out of our minds everything but the idea that God is that which accounts for there being anything at all.  “What we mean by ‘God’ is just whatever answers the question” (p. 11, emphasis added).  That must be the governing conception, and only after we work out its implications can we properly understand the various specifically Christian claims we might make about God.

Now, the next thing to say, in McCabe’s view, is that if this is what God is, then he must be radically unlike the things whose existence we are accounting for by reference to him:

For one thing, whatever would answer our question could not itself be subject to the question – otherwise we are left as we were, with the same question still to answer.  Whatever we mean by ‘God’ cannot be whatever it is that makes us ask the question in the first place. (pp. 11-12)

In particular, any aspect of a thing that makes its existence stand in need of explanation by reference to something else cannot be attributed to God.  For example, since spatio-temporal objects require causes, God cannot be a spatio-temporal object.  For if he were, then he would require a cause and therefore he just wouldn’t be that which accounts for why anything exists at all.  He would himself just be one more thing among all the others whose existence we are trying to account for.

The things we are trying to account for have existence, but only insofar as they receive it from something else.  They have it yet might have lacked it.  God cannot be like that, or he wouldn’t be that which accounts for why anything at all exists.  He cannot be merely one existent alongside the others whose existence we are trying to account for when we appeal to God.  “If God made everything, God cannot be included in everything.  God can’t be one of the beings that go up to make everything” (p. 37).

That God makes it the case that anything exists at all is what is meant by creation.  But just as God’s being that which accounts for why anything exists at all rules out his being a spatio-temporal object, so too does it rule out any understanding of creation as a kind of manipulation of raw materials, or as a spatio-temporal process that we might observe as it unfolds.  For any such materials, and any such process, are themselves among the things the existence of which we are accounting for by reference to God:

So creation is making, but not making out of anything.  When X is created there is not anything that is changed into X.  Creation is ex nihilo… The fact that things are created does not make the slightest detectable or undetectable difference to them, any more than being thought about makes a difference to things. (pp. 38-39)

You might say that if you can perceive it, then it is not God and it is not God’s creative act, but rather just one further effect of God’s creative act.

All of this leads McCabe to a heavy emphasis on negative theology.  Theological terms cannot properly be understood unless we subtract from them the implications and connotations we associate with their applications to ordinary things, and carrying out this exercise in subtraction is essential to understanding.  There is no shortcut by which we can simply state a definition of a theological term without having to go through this exercise:

To say that ‘creation’ is ‘making’ with-a-new-mode-of-meaning is to talk, I think, about the whole intellectual process by which you get to the word: the whole process and not just the end of it.  I mean: you start by saying ‘God made the world’ and then you add various qualifications, all qualifications of a certain systematic kind, all qualifications, if you like, in a definite direction.  And by the time you have finished, the notion of making has been whittled away… You yourself have to go through the slow killing of the verb ‘to make’.  There is no separable end product, no finally refined concept, which is the meaning of the verb ‘to create’… Theological understanding, such as it is, comes just as the meanings elude our grasp. (pp. 36-37)

Among the things we need to delete from our conception of divine action is the idea that it amounts to an “interference” with what happens in the world.  Creation is not a matter of God tinkering with the natural order so as to make it do what it otherwise would not do.  It is a matter of his making it the case that there is any natural order at all.  McCabe writes: “God cannot interfere in the universe, not because he has not the power but because, so to speak, he has too much” (pp. 10-11).  His point is that modeling divine action on the way an engineer or builder alters preexisting materials trivializes it, reducing it to the sort of thing one part of the created order does to another.  God is not one cause alongside the others, but rather is that which makes it the case that there are any causes at all in the first place.  

As I’ve sometimes put it, God qua creator is not like one character in a novel alongside the others, who performs more impressive actions than they do.  He is rather like the author of the novel.  One character in a novel might interfere with what the others do or with natural processes going on in the story.  But the author certainly does not “interfere” with what happens in the novel, precisely because, as McCabe puts it, he “has too much” power over the story intelligibly to be said to be interfering with it.  His relation to the events of the story is of a radically different order from the relation the characters bear to them, and McCabe’s point is that God’s relation to the world is no less radically different from our relation to it.

Some applications

McCabe is very good at showing how such philosophical points illuminate various theological issues.  Consider his discussion of prayer.  McCabe defends petitionary prayer against those who think it necessarily superstitious or otherwise less respectable than prayers of thanksgiving:

If we are allowed to see what has already happened as God’s free gift, and to thank him, what is wrong with seeing what has not yet happened as his free gift also, and asking for it? (p. 154)

But he also emphasizes that petitionary prayer should not be understood as a way of manipulating God, of trying to change him or bring about an effect in him.  That makes no sense, since God is, again, that which accounts for there being anything at all, including my prayer.  Hence my request itself, no less than what I am requesting, is the effect of God:

My prayer is not me putting pressure on God, doing something to God; it is God doing something for me, raising me into the divine life or intensifying the divine life in me.  As Thomas Aquinas puts it, we should not say: 'In accordance with my prayer: God wills that it should be a fine day'; we should say: 'God wills: that it should be a fine day in accordance with my prayer.’  God brings about my prayer just as much as he brings about the fine day, and what he wills, what he has willed from eternity, is that this fine day should not be, so to say, just an ordinary fine day.  It should be for me a significant fine day, a sign, a communication from God.  It should be a fine day that comes about through my prayer. (p. 155)

McCabe sums up his position in striking remarks like: “Our praying is as much God’s gift as is the answer to it,” and “if you want to be forgiven, that is because God is forgiving you” (p. 25).  Our prayers and repentance are not precursors to God’s loving action but precisely a manifestation of it.

McCabe also has some illuminating things to say about the Trinity, in the course of expounding Aquinas’s views on the subject.  Here too he takes the philosophical points made above to be crucial to a proper understanding of theology.  He begins by noting:

There are people who think that the notion of God is a relatively clear one; you know where you are when you are simply talking about God whereas when it comes to the Trinity we move into the incomprehensible where our reason breaks down. To understand Aquinas it is essential to see that for him our reason has already broken down when we talk of God at all – at least it has broken down in the sense of recognizing what is beyond it.  (p. 269)

Again, because God is that which accounts for there being anything at all, what is true of the things we are accounting for by reference to God cannot be true of God himself.  Hence we have a clearer grasp of what God is not than we do of what he is.  He is already mysterious to us even before we consider the doctrine of the Trinity, so that the difficulties we have in grasping the latter should hardly be surprising.

In other ways too, negative theology is in McCabe’s view essential to approaching the doctrine of the Trinity.  Here he draws an analogy with physics.  The physicist is pushed to describe certain micro-level phenomena both in terms that apply to particles and in terms that apply to waves.  This sounds contradictory, but it is not, because the aspects of ordinary physical objects which would preclude their being both wave-like and particle-like don’t apply to the micro-level phenomena the physicist is describing.  That leaves us with a largely negative conception of the micro-level phenomena and thus with a high degree of mystery.  We can say that the phenomena are in some way both wave-like and particle-like and also that whatever might make these ascriptions contradictory cannot be true of the phenomena, but it is much harder to give further positive content to our description. 

Similarly, the doctrine of the Trinity tells us that there are three Persons in one God, and negative theology tells us that whatever would make such an assertion contradictory cannot be true of the divine nature.  But that leaves us with a largely negative conception of the Trinity.  As with wave-particle duality, it is easier to grasp what the Trinity is not than what it is.

Still, we can say something further, though here too negative theology plays a crucial role.  McCabe points out that on Aquinas’s philosophy of mind, to have an intellect is essentially to have the capacity to possess form without matter.  For example, when you understand what a dog is, your intellect takes on the form or nature of a dog but in a way that abstracts it or divorces it from the matter in which it is embedded in the case of a given particular individual dog.  Now, when this account is worked out it has the consequence that something is an intellect if and only if it is immaterial.  Intellects are necessarily immaterial and immaterial substances are necessarily intellects.  Naturally, all this raises questions, but McCabe’s point in his essay on the Trinity is not to defend Aquinas’s philosophy of mind but to show how it gets applied in an analysis of the Trinity.

Now, negative theology tells us that God is immaterial, since he is that which accounts for why anything exists at all, including material things.  He must be distinct from the material world that is among his effects.  But if being immaterial entails being an intellect, then we have to conclude that God is an intellect, albeit one from which we have to subtract all the limitations that apply to human intellects.  There is also the fact that even when it comes to the human intellect, our conception is largely negative.  It is easier to say what the intellect is not than what it is.  So, attributing intellect to God, while it adds content to our conception of him, is itself largely a further application of negative theology.

Still, it is one that is especially relevant to the doctrine of the Trinity, because it opens the door to the traditional analysis of the Persons of the Trinity on the model of the intellect (which corresponds to the Father), the intellect’s idea of itself (which corresponds to the Son), and the intellect’s willing of that idea (which corresponds to the Holy Spirit).  Once again, negative theology is crucial, because we have to subtract from our understanding of this model any of the limitations that apply to finite intellects like ours. 

Among the things we have to subtract is the notion that God’s idea of himself is a kind of accident or modification of God, the way that our ideas are accidents or modifications of our intellects.  For this would make God composite, and among the conclusions of negative theology is that God is non-composite or simple.  Divine simplicity is sometimes claimed to be in tension with the doctrine of the Trinity, but as McCabe shows, in fact it is essential to understanding the Trinity.  Divine simplicity entails that whatever is in God is God, and thus God’s idea of himself, and his willing of that idea, are God – exactly what we should expect given the Trinitarian insistence that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet they are not three Gods.

Simplicity is also essential to understanding the idea that the Persons of the Trinity are to be understood as relations.  For example, the Father is said to generate the Son and the Son to be generated by the Father.  But we have to subtract from these notions any supposition that the relations in question are accidents of God, the way that a human father’s relation to his son is a kind of accident.  Again, whatever is in God is God.  Hence God the Father doesn’t have a relation, he is a relation.  This is mysterious, McCabe acknowledges, but then, God is mysterious anyway, even apart from the doctrine of the Trinity.

McCabe has much else of interest to say about the divine nature (as well as the other topics in the anthology referred to above) but I have been emphasizing the remarks that involve application of the idea that God is fundamentally that which accounts for why anything exists at all.

Again, McCabe heavily emphasizes the ways in which this entails a negative theology.  In my opinion, he sometimes overdoes this a bit.  Theological language cannot be construed in an entirely negative way.  The most basic of theological assertions – that God exists – is at bottom an affirmative assertion, however many negative theological qualifications we put on it.  And talk of the divine attributes would have no content or motivation at all if we took their content to be entirely negative.  Negative theology is an essential corrective to theological misunderstanding, but it is not a complete account of theological language, and sometimes McCabe says things that seem to give the opposite impression.  All the same, these days the greater danger is to go to the opposite extreme of crudely anthropomorphizing God, and McCabe does a great service in exposing the folly and theological shallowness of doing so.

86 comments:

  1. With regards to God's creative power being unlike created causality, how much power can a created being conceivably have?

    The answer to this seems obvious: to actualise any potency in reality that doesn't require creatio ex nihilo. What requires creatio ex nihilo strictly speaking is only the creation of another rational nature. Creatio ex nihilo does also extend to creating purely material beings, but angels or others could just as well act on what exists and inform it with the form of that particular creature, so creatio ex nihilo isn't needed to get another material thing.

    In fact, if the only thing God created was a coin, an angel or other being could easily make an entire universe with it, by simply expanding it's size and quantity, and changing it's form and getting an entire universe filled with things from this. This would also extend to being able to make any non-rational living being simply by acting on reality to form it.

    Another interesting thing about possible created power is that it is also immaterial. An angel can easily pick up an object with it's will and make it hover in the air without any physical thing causing this. In other words, angels can actualise potencies in reality in an immaterial and direct way as well.

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    1. how much power can a created being conceivably have?

      I said a bit about this here:

      https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/first-without-second.html

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    2. @Edward Feser,


      Thanks for the direct response!

      Now, does this mean created beings can only act on already existing objects, so an angel can make trees come about only by changing the form of another material substance, or is it possible for an angel to make a tree simply by making it be in a certain location - by actualising the potency of a tree being in a certain spatial location without needing to act on some other material substance's prime matter and enforming it?

      Because to me it seems an angel (or other powerful being) could make a tree by simply actualising the potency of it being somewhere,
      because the angel would be acting on an already existing reality, not creating ex nihilo without anything to act on.

      What do you think?

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  2. An important question on the Divine Nature and how creatures have being, if anyone knowledgable enough can answer this:

    Is the way creatures have being better described as White Moonlight which is actually just sunlight reflected from the moon, or Blue Moonlight that the moon doesn't just reflect but actually makes by taking the constant sunlight. In both cases the moonlight is dependent on the sunlight, but in different senses.

    If created acts of existence are White Moonlight, this means God as Being Itself is literally the being of creatures, which is dangerously close to pantheism. If created acts of existence are Blue Moonlight, this means God as Being Itself is the efficient cause of the being of creatures, but He is NOT the being of creatures as such. The being of creatures is NOT the Divine Being in them / a finite mode.

    What do you think?

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  3. The positive assertion of God’s existence could be construed “negatively” as the statement that what we observe is not self-caused, or not requiring an explanation outside itself. I wonder if that is a standard move of negative theology.

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    1. But that's a negative statement about the creation, not about the creator. A statement to the effect that there is a creator is itself affirmative rather than negative.

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  4. Fair enough. St. Thomas himself did not start reflecting on God by ridding his mind of "everything but the idea that God is that which accounts for there being anything at all" or separating such reflection from revelation. Any reading of Aquinas himself shows all these things to be interwoven inextricably - almost the definition of Thomism one could say.

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    1. Aquinas begins his treatment of God in Summa Theologiae I.2 and Summa Contra Gentiles I.13 without saying anything about the Trinity or even about the divine attributes, but just beginning with the bare idea of God as the ultimate explanatory principle (under the guise of first mover, or uncaused cause, or necessary being, or whatever). Only then does he work out the divine attributes, and only after doing all that does he finally get into matters of revealed theology such as the Trinity. That sort of procedure is all I was talking about in the post.

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    2. From question 1 in the ST St. Thomas specifies that this is a work concerning sacred doctrine, revelation, which he distinguishes from the body of philosophical knowledge built up over time. He justifies his positions from A to Z with a mixture of arguments derived from revelation and reason. In the third article of Q2 he goes through the rational proofs of God' existence, yet even here there are arguments from Revelation and the Fathers. Aquinas never produced anything like the manuals of natural theology of recent times, which were fine of course.

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    3. Cervantes, for some reason you remind me of Ron Conte. That's not a good thing, mind you.

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  5. What do you think of Stump's quantum metaphysics? She to use the wave-particle duality issue as an analogy for but God being more universal and concrete. An Esse and an id quod est.

    In fact she uses it to make the Greek and Hebrew conception of God compatible. With the Greeks god is love. And with the Hebrews his also somehow loving.

    It's interesting you want to avoid the two extremes of negative theology and anthromorphism. In her 2003 book she scolds Lagrange for making the idea that we are made in the image of god unintelligible as God is SO different.

    I'd imagine you would disagree with her in the degree to which she stays away form negative theology?

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  6. Great article! McCabe is outstanding.

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  7. Ed,

    When you say "Still, it is one that is especially relevant to the doctrine of the Trinity, because it opens the door to the traditional analysis of the Persons of the Trinity on the model of the intellect (which corresponds to the Father), the intellect’s idea of itself (which corresponds to the Son), and the intellect’s willing of that idea (which corresponds to the Holy Spirit),"

    I am having difficulty to see if all that is coherent but if that is the case, then the usage of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Those three words have connotations.

    Why not say Intellect, the Intellect's Self-Conception, and the Intellect's Will?

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  8. I find it difficult to see how one can differentiate the intellect and the intellect's idea of itself. Intellect is the ability to understand. I do recognize that there is a vast difference between understanding 1+1=2 and understanding infinity. We humans have both concrete knowledge like this tangerine is smaller than the palm of my hand and something transcendental like the idea that the number PI has digits that go forever or that God has no limits. But we don't differentiate our different scales of our intellect into different persons. So I don't see why God would need to have more than one person to account for the difference of understanding his creation (Intellect) and difference in understanding Himself (Intellect's self-conception).

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  9. Also why should not other attributes such as God's justice and God's love be separate persons if there is a separate person for intellect and separate person for will?

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  10. Dr. Feser writes:

    ...the traditional analysis of the Persons of the Trinity on the model of the intellect (which corresponds to the Father), the intellect’s idea of itself (which corresponds to the Son), and the intellect’s willing of that idea (which corresponds to the Holy Spirit).

    But this doesn't appear to show in any sense how there are three persons involved. Intellect, idea and will are aspects of one person, not three.

    Divine simplicity entails that whatever is in God is God, and thus God’s idea of himself, and his willing of that idea, are God – exactly what we should expect given the Trinitarian insistence that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet they are not three Gods.

    But if there is a real distinction between the persons, how is that explained by simplicity? The Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit; the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. If the distinction is real, then this most definitely appears in "tension" with simplicity. If something in the divine essence is unique to a person, how can you avoid composition? Since a simple being cannot be composed, how are the persons distinct?

    Simplicity is also essential to understanding the idea that the Persons of the Trinity are to be understood as relations.

    Indeed, this is what Aquinas writes:

    In whatever multitude of things is to be found something common to all, it is necessary to seek out the principle of distinction. So, as the three persons agree in the unity of essence, we must seek to know the principle of distinction whereby they are several. Now, there are two principles of difference between the divine persons, and these are "origin" and "relation." Although these do not really differ, yet they differ in the mode of signification; for "origin" is signified by way of act, as "generation"; and "relation" by way of the form, as "paternity."

    So, origin and relation don't really differ, except in the mode of signification. Aquinas further states:

    Thus it is manifest that relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility; as in relation is meant that regard to its opposite which is not expressed in the name of essence. Thus it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same.

    So, what makes the persons common is the divine essence and what makes them distinct is the relations, but the relations are really the divine essence, and the relations differ from the essence only "in its mode of intelligibility." And since essence and relation do not differ from each other, "but are one and the same," then there is no real difference or distinction between the persons of the Godhead. This sounds a lot like a contradiction to me. What the persons have in common is identical to what they don't have in common (A=~A).

    The principle of commonality (PC) makes the persons the same, and the principle of distinction (PD) makes them different. These principles cannot be identical, for if every person has everything in common with the other persons, they would be identical (F=S=HS). There must be something about F that differs from S in order for them to be really distinct. Rejecting that means that it is possible for F to be distinct from S without differing from S in any way. But as noted, we're told that the PD is the relations which are really the divine essence (PC), so there is no real difference. If the distinction is merely a nominal one, then we get modalism.

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    1. Bill

      I think you are quite right about this.
      Per divine simplicity, God is identical to all his "attributes". This would mean that God's "son-ness" is God's "father-ness" is God's "spirit-ness".
      As a consequence, the distinction between the three persons in the Trinity is not internal to god, but it is just in the way we percieve things.
      We sometimes distinguish between god's mercy and God's justice, but they are really the same.

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    2. @Bill

      "Intellect, idea and will are aspects of one person, not three."

      I agree with you Bill.

      I would not like it if someone came to me and told me that I am not one person but three persons.

      And no one would like it. I assume Ed would not like it either.

      Thus, I think one ought to be careful to attribute to God the doctrine of multiple persons when we ourselves would find it offensive.

      I am not a Christian. I ask my Christian friends to reconsider the doctrine of the Trinity.

      It is not what Noah, Abraham, Moses, or Jesus taught.

      We have to look at the historical context of when, where, how, by whom the doctrine of the Trinity was introduced into Christian teachings.

      We have to consider the background of religions of that time period.

      Let us see what is attributed to Jesus...

      And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

      This is in Mark 12 (28-31)

      And the same is in Matthew:

      And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

      Matthew 22 (35-40)

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    3. The same is also in Luke...

      And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.

      Luke (10:25-28).

      This site explains how it is in all 4 gospels....

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Commandment

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    4. Per divine simplicity, God is identical to all his "attributes". This would mean that God's "son-ness" is God's "father-ness" is God's "spirit-ness".

      As Thomas teaches it, paternity in God is not an "attribute". We humans predicate paternity of God, and it is true that our language is formed by the modes which reference attributes, the mode of the language does not signify the reality in God (any more than the masculine mode in Latin for the word "ship" means that ships are feminine in their own substance - for Germans use a masculine mode for their word for ship.) That there is paternity in God does not imply that it is really an attribute.

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    5. @gratefulToGod:

      (PART 1 of reply)
      You say: "I would not like it if someone came to me and told me that I am not one person but three persons."

      Liking it or not isn't the point. The question is whether you actually are three persons. You are not. God is.

      You are not, because your self-understanding (or perhaps I ought to say: your understanding of being qua being, of subsistent existence itself) is imperfect; and in addition, being merely a human, your outpouring of self-giving love is also imperfect.

      God's understanding of subsistent existence itself (that is, of Himself) is not imperfect. Neither is His outpouring of self-giving love.

      What does it mean that your self-understanding is imperfect? Your online monker is "gratefulToGod," but for the sake of argument, I'm going to hypothesize that your actual name is, uh, Fred Smith.

      Now, when you say, "Fred Smith," you have an idea of yourself in your head. But it's an imperfect idea: You don't know yourself fully, and if you did, you couldn't hold everything there is to know about yourself in your head simultaneously. Your self-understanding lacks much of the truth of who you really are. Your self-understanding is not you.

      But God doesn't have that problem. His self-knowledge lacks nothing of His essence. Nothing is left out, neither His divinity nor His eternality nor anything else. His knowledge of God just is God; the only way it "differs" from Him (if one can call it a difference) is by a difference of relation between the One who is doing the knowing (God) and the one who is being known (God). Other than by a relation in which one is derivative of the other, they are both God; if they weren't, you would be saying that God's self-knowledge was imperfect.

      Given God's perfect self-knowledge, it's obvious that a loving God cannot avoid (good being always diffusive of itself) being entirely lovingly self-giving. But when we "give ourselves" what do we mean? Surely not total self-giving: We mean that we give another person our attention, our affection, a lot of our time and effort, and so on.

      But is God able to love perfectly? Of course: By definition. And by definition, He therefore pours Himself out in total self-gift, perfectly. But in that case, what God gives by totally loving just is God. Anything less than that would be a failure of total, perfect self-gift.

      So what God the Father does by loving God the Son is: He gives His perfect love, which is perfect self-gift, which is God, to God. This eternal love-outpouring of the inner life of God we call the Holy Spirit.

      And of course, the Son eternally offers Himself in total self-gift back to God the Father, reciprocally. This also is the Holy Spirit: The love-outpouring or "spiration" of the self-donating divine life of the Trinity from Father to Son and from Son to Father. This is why it is theologically accurate to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and also (reciprocally, derivatively, but no less wholly) from the Son.

      That, at any rate, is a good way to approach the topic, although we have to be warned that by making such analogies we inevitably use analogies that are flawed. Still, this particular analogy is helpful in that it shows God as One God, not Three; but shows a certain kind of interior Three-dimensionality to His personhood.

      (...to be continued...)

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    6. (...continuing...)

      (PART 2 of reply @gratefulToGod)
      And why not? Why wouldn't God's personhood be "thicker" and more substantial than our own? There are only two ways that God's personhood could be different from our own imperfect personhood: By being more personal, without sacrificing unity, or by being less personal. But I refuse to believe that God is less of a person than any human!

      Consequently, His personhood must be more personal than ours, not less, but still not failing to be One. How can that be? Well, again, all analogies fail, but some are more helpful than others, and we can see how the three-dimensionality of a cube is helpful. In a cube, the Length is not the Width, the Width is not the Height, and the Height is not the Length. But the Length is the Cube (take it all away, and there's no Cube there any more!). And the Width is the Cube. And the Height is the Cube. In short: It is perfectly possible for something to be both Three and One at the same time (but in different ways). It is only contradictory if you claim that something is both Three and One at the same time, in the same way.

      But that's not what Trinitarians claim. They claim that God is One (entirely Unified) in terms of what He is, but that He is Three in terms of who He is. This is doubtless unfamiliar to our daily experience of persons, but it is not a self-contradiction.

      I think the thing which is scandalous to those who oppose Trinitarianism is not the idea that God is more than one Person, but rather the idea that God is not either one Person, or else infinite Persons. To be merely three might seem a limitation.

      But, there again, we are not talking about a fractured personality (which in an infinite God might produce infinite fractured minds) but rather a wholly perfect Personhood so much more substantial (so three-dimensional, so "solid") than our own that even its own Self-Knowledge (an unfortunately limited-sounding term) and Self-Love (an even worse term) are both God, by virtue of being so perfect that each lacks nothing of what makes God God.

      What, then, could God know (other than God), that would be so perfectly like God, such that a perfect knowing of it (which would lack nothing of what it was) would therefore be God? Nothing else satisfies the requirement of knowing, and also the requirement of being God, such that that which is known is God. That gives you Sonship: Not infinite Sons (being uncreated and in eternity how could they be distinct?), but One, and Only One: The Only Begotten, "born" of the Father before all ages. Likewise to whom could God the Father pour out Himself infinitely as God, including His divinity, who would be infinitely capable of receiving and reciprocating the full self-gift of the divine, other than God the Son? How could there be more than one Holy Spirit? How could there be more than one relationship of perfect self-donation between the Father and the Son?

      So the Trinity is a logical requirement of thinking clearly about Who and What God Is and Knows and Loves and what that has to mean. Anything else necessarily makes God less God. (For example, anything else necessarily means that God only starts being able to love once He has created things to love; in which case, He is not love, but only has love on some conditional basis. But God's love does not depend on you or me existing!)

      The alternative to the Trinity is a "God" that doesn't love (save contingently) and who is imperfect in self-knowledge. You can hold that view if you like, but it would be a very peculiar definition of the word "God."

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    7. R.C.

      "God is One (entirely Unified) in terms of what He is, but that He is Three in terms of who He is."

      The problem with this is that there cannot be any distinction between who God is and what God is.
      Likewise, the cube analogy fails because a cube does have three dimensions. Like you sya, its height is not its width etc.
      But in thne case of god, the claim is that God is identical to all His (perceived) "atrributes". His mercy is His justice. His omniscience is His omnipotence etc.
      It then follows that his "son-ness" is his "father-ness" etc.
      IOW the Trinity only a perception, it doesn't correspond to any reality. God is One, simple and immutable.

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    8. Anonymous

      Of couse a simple God doesn't have attributes, that's the whole point. The mode of the language does not signify the reality in God, hence the language of the Trinity does not signify the reality of the Trinity in God either.

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    9. Walter,

      When you say, "Likewise, the cube analogy fails because a cube does have three dimensions. Like you sya [sic], its height is not its width etc."

      Absolutely. As I mentioned above, all analogies fail at a certain point, as is expected in the via negativa. The distance of difference between any created thing, and the creator and sustainer of all things, is necessarily infinitely greater than the similarity.

      Still, to the extent an analogy can help us make a certain point, it can be helpful. (Then we may have to call out its deficiencies so that the analogy isn't used inappropriately.) The whole point of the cube analogy was to say that we can make a distinction between the Persons, in much the same way (I don't say exactly the same way) that we can make distinctions between God's power and mercy and goodness and so on, without thereby implicitly getting three gods. The difference of relation is sufficient to make a distinction. But this doesn't make three gods any more than the distinction between length and width and height makes three cubes. I don't press the analogy farther than that. For that narrow point it is instructive; but if over-applied it will fail.

      For example, it would be wrong to say that each of the three persons could be "whittled away" from God piece-by-piece the way that the height of a cube could be lasered or sanded away, making it shorter and shorter until the whole cube was eventually gone. The non-composedness of the Persons (insofar as their eternal divinity is considered; I am saying nothing here about the hypostatic union) means than no Divine Person can be decomposed. So you can't whittle away one Person until God is gone. But, even there the analogy is somewhat helpful inasmuch as it stresses the idea that each Person really is God, in an analogous way (not a univocal way) to how the width of the cube is the cube (no width, no cube).

      So I agree that the analogy is limited in usefulness and misleading when used beyond its scope. My reaction is simply: Confine it to its scope of usefulness.

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    10. Walter,

      Having dealt with the limits of the cube analogy, I turn to the substantive complaint, which you state as follows:

      "The problem with [Trinitarianism] is that there cannot be any distinction between who God is and what God is.... [i]n the case of God, the claim is that God is identical to all His (perceived) 'attributes.' His mercy is His justice. His omniscience is His omnipotence etc. It then follows that his 'son-ness' is his 'father-ness' etc. IOW the Trinity only a perception, it doesn't correspond to any reality. God is One, simple and immutable."

      It's a good challenge, and my reply is a work-in-process and thus tentative. I'll give the rough draft, but for a full-dress apologia, I'm not yet ready. I defer to others, who I hope will pick up the slack.

      My rough draft starts as follows:
      (a.) who and what really are distinct questions, so that, yes, there not only can be but must of logical necessity be a distinction between who God is and what God is;
      (b.) who-ness exists for, and as an expression of, relationship;
      (c.) who-ness is not an "attribute" of any kind, in the relevant sense; and consequently,
      (d.) divine simplicity is in no way impacted by either the who-ness of God being distinct from His what-ness, nor by His who-ness containing interior relations.

      If I'm not getting a false-start, there, then it seems to me that relation is a key concept. God's relationship with me is not God's relationship with you, or with Alpha Centauri, or with Satan, or with a paramecium, or with a rock, or with the form of triangle, or with the concept of 2. I don't think that the fact that these relationships differ contradicts divine simplicity.

      My observation in my earlier posts (to which you responded) is that God is in relation not only to us (and all created things) but to Himself. Spelling that out further, it seems to me that...
      (a.) Any personal self can have a relationship to itself;
      (b.) Any such relationship will involve two distinct things: knowledge of self and intention (will) towards self;
      (c.) In a being with divine simplicity the knowledge of any object and intention (will) towards any object must be identical viewed as attributes but can't possibly be identical viewed as relationships (as seen above wherein God's relationships are not identical, but vary with their object);
      (d.) The term "viewed as" in (c.), above, is misleading because I think there is a real, not a merely perceived, distinction in there, but I am unsure how to tease it out or describe it.

      My muddle about (d.) is, I hope and expect, resolvable. Again I defer to those who may have already thought more clearly than I on these lines, or who have more tools to bring to bear on the question.

      Assuming that's resolvable, my conclusions from my earlier post would follow naturally: The Son is God's self-understanding, which is to say: God's understanding of existence itself, the intrinsic goodness of existence itself, and the internal logical coherence and non-contradiction of all existence, both that which is inherently existence itself (God), and acts of existence as applied to created things. This known logical coherence of existence (such that a thing of which contradictory predicates univocally applied to the same subject can't exist) is the Divine Logos, which God both knows and loves. If the knowledge is perfect you get God the Son; if the love is perfect you get God the Holy Spirit; if relations aren't attributes you don't lose divine simplicity.

      That's what I have so far. I think it needs polishing and completing, of course. Which is why (for the third time in this note!) I say: I defer to those who're better equipped than I.

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    11. @RC

      The arguments you offer do not resolve the problem for the reasons I stated above. You chose to ignore my post and reply to others. That's your prerogative, of course, but everything you write affirms the logical contradictions I identified above. Unless those contradictions can be resolved, the Doctrine of the Trinity (DT) remains unintelligible.

      As Ed's friend, Bill Vallicella, stated, I have to know what I'm affirming before I can affirm it. You cannot reasonably expect me to affirm the Trinity when you explain the Trinity with logical contradictions.

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    12. Bill,

      "You cannot reasonably expect me to affirm the Trinity when you explain the Trinity with logical contradictions."

      This is a wrong approach toward the doctrine, I´d say. The church never hid the fact that it poses paradoxes and always affirmed that this can only be known through revelation.

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    13. @Dominik

      There's a difference between a paradox and a logical contradiction. And if trinitarians can appeal to "paradoxes" to side-step logical objections, so may Arians and Modalists. It becomes an "out" for every ism which runs into logical difficulties.

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    14. Sorry, Bill,

      I didn't reply to you, other than the original post, because until now you hadn't directly addressed me. It's not like I was trying to give you the cold shoulder or anything.

      In your reply to Dominik, you say there's a difference between a paradox and a logical contradiction. I agree, and I hold that there's no logical contradiction. This means a distinction must be drawn. I am not confident that I am drawing the right distinction, but for my first attempt I selected the distinction between an attribute and a relation. My (current, tentative) view is that a difference of relation can produce a real distinctinction without contradicting divine simplicity, whereas a difference of attribute cannot, and that attributes proper to God are mutually identical in accord with divine simplicity. And the reason I (tentatively) hold that relation must be able to allow distinctions between the Persons without sacrificing divine simplicity is because I cannot see any way in which God's relation to any subject of relationship can be identical to God's relation to another subject: That His relation to an atom or a duck or a galaxy or the form of triangularity or an Englishman or an orangutan is not the same to any of the others in that same list, seems straightforward because their subjects are different.

      I can comfortably see how His power towards the orangutan might be identical to His love towards the orangutan. It is entirely non-obvious to me how His love towards the orangutan is identical to His love for the Virgin Mary. But if all relations are identical, these two loves must be identical; indeed, the knowledge of the two separate subjects must also be identical, in which case His knowledge of the Virgin Mary would just be His knowledge of an orangutan, which is about the least chivalrous assertion I can imagine.

      So I'm operating under the assumption that differences in relation don't contradict divine simplicity. And if that's the case, neither does the Trinity.

      But, as I keep saying: I'm willing to be superceded and corrected by someone else with more experience doing philosophy, since mine is dilettante-level.

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    15. Oh, one other thing, Bill,

      You quote Bill Vallicella saying, "I have to know what I'm affirming before I can affirm it. You cannot reasonably expect me to affirm the Trinity when you explain the Trinity with logical contradictions."

      I agree if they are logical contradictions.

      But that seems to me something not yet conclusively demonstrated. My own reasons for thinking that difference-of-relation doesn't contradict divine simplicity seem more obviously correct, to me at least, than the idea that God's relations have to all be treated as attributes of God and thus identical in order to rescue divine simplicity.

      Until someone convinces me on those two fronts, then, I don't see a reason to panic. My reaction is more on the level of, "Hmm, that's something to look into. Some improved technical vocabulary should probably be developed, in order to describe the relevant distinctions. I hope some clear thinker will manage to crystalize a helpful analysis in time to teach it to my unborn grandchildren."

      That may seem a rather casual and patient reaction! But here's why I take that stance: The Church Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries dealing with Trinitarianism and then with Christology were rife with misunderstandings and failures to properly interpret technical vocabulary coming from from other cultures. Some of those misunderstandings took until the last few decades to tease through. (I'm thinking of the story of the Oriental Orthodox, who, while not united to Rome, turned out to be much closer than they or Rome ever thought for over a thousand years.)

      Now, this problem seems to be asking for the very same kinds of distinctions to be drawn. But I haven't the chops. Maybe someone else does?

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    16. @R.C,

      1. I agree that our self-understanding or our understanding of anything is imperfect.

      I agree that God's self-understanding and God's understanding of everything other than Him is perfect.

      But the perfection of God does not entail for God to have another person carved within Him or to have another person added to Him or so on.

      Thick personhood does not require multiple persons. I think that this thought of thick personhood is wrongheaded. God is not an impersonal entity but God has consciousness and self-consciousness. For one to have consciousness or self-consciousness, it requires to be a person. Even if you say that God is consciousness itself, this power of consciousness is what a person has. But multiple persons are not required.

      2. I think we all can agree regardless of what religion or philosophy that one has that one should always be true to one's conscience. However, that would entail that one should always be open-minded because our conscience informs us that we have biases and we don't have full knowledge as you stated.

      Regarding the Trinity, I think we all can acknowledge that it is a doctrine that is difficult to find to be coherent.

      Thus, our defacto position should be to not accept the Trinity until it is proven to be true.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

      Trinity is an extraordinary claim.

      Peace and I hope that helps.

      May God guide us all and bless us all.

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    17. @RC

      You wrote two somewhat long posts in response to my brief address and didn't engage my argument at all. It you had but tried to address my argument, you would see that I answered your concerns therein.

      A former poster whose views are similar to mine in this regard would repeat himself over and over up to hundreds of posts. I'm certainly not going to do that. I've laid out my argument, and I'm all ears once you get around to addressing it.

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    18. @RC

      I will add one thing, though. I wasn't "quoting" Vallicella (you don't see quotation marks around my words). He said something similar, and I am simply expressing agreement with him.

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    19. R.C.

      "The whole point of the cube analogy was to say that we can make a distinction between the Persons, in much the same way (I don't say exactly the same way) that we can make distinctions between God's power and mercy and goodness and so on, without thereby implicitly getting three gods."

      I really think you misunderstand the issue here. We can make a distinction between God's power and mercy etc. but the point of Divine Simplicity is that those are not really distinct but only differ in the mode of signification.
      I think nobody is disputing that the Persons of the Trinity can differ in the mode of signification. But to say that they only differ in the mode of signification would be considered a heresy, I think.

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    20. Walter,

      I get that that's the point of Divine Simplicity. And I agree that to say that the persons of the Trinity differ only in mode of signification is probably heretical, and so for the sake of argument I presume that it is.

      When you stress the word "We" in "We can make a distinction" I realize you're quoting my own words back at me, but you're applying the analogy I was making for a use beyond its intention. (I'm beginning to regret mentioning the cube analogy, because that's happened twice in this conversation. I find it a helpful analogy for explaining the Trinity to middle-schoolers, but any interlocutors here are likely to try to consider it an attempted "proof" of the distinction I'm making between relation and attribute...but it's no good for that, and I never meant to use it that way.)

      Since...
      - I get that the point of Divine Simplicity is that the divine attributes themselves are the same even though we use differing terms in signification of them; and,
      - I get that saying that "the Son" and "the Father" are merely different representations of the same person is heretical
      ...it doesn't seem to me that I'm misunderstanding the issue.

      But I am positing that...
      1. A relation is not an attribute any more than a person is a nature;
      2. Divine simplicity logically applies to attributes but not to relations (else God's relation to Himself would be exactly the same relation as His relation to a cockroach, the Virgin Mary, a rock, or the Pegasus galaxy);
      3. God's divine "attributes" are all referring to the same thing under different significations (divine simplicity is true);
      4. God's relations are not attributes, are not all one relation, and are distinct from one another, and this does not in any way contradict divine simplicity (God is not composed of His relations);
      5. The persons in God differ only by their relations but not in their divinity;
      6. Since they differ in relation (a real difference) but not in divinity, they are really distinct persons, in a divinely simple God whose attributes all refer to the same God.

      Maybe that's wrong. As I say, I am positing it. But it does seem to directly address the issue unless there is some other aspect of the issue that you didn't mention in your last reply to me.

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    21. @Bill:

      I grant you were paraphrasing (rather than quoting) Vallicella. My bad, I should have been more careful to say that precisely.

      Re: Your argument: I've re-read it twice. I don't see how what I said doesn't address it.

      You say all relations are identical except in signification, and all actually signify the divine essence. I posit (while willing to be corrected) that that's wrong; that relations aren't attributes, and that attributes point to the divine essence (or else there'd be composition in God), but relations needn't (they have no implications re: composition).

      It appears that Aquinas is on your side, although the first time he says they differ only in "signification" he seems only to be saying that origin and relation are two different ways of describing the same thing (from opposite ends, so to speak). That's fine with me. But then you (he?) go (es) on to say that all God's relations just are the divine essence, and that's where I posit a different view.

      What did I leave out?

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    22. @gratefulToGod:

      You say, "May God guide us all and bless us all"; allow me to emphatically agree! Your point 2 tells me you aren't convinced by what I've said, but want your disagreement to be taken as respectful, not hostile. Perfect! Allow me to reciprocate: Peace be with you and yours.

      I agree the Trinity is an extraordinary claim, and sympathize with your request for "extraordinary evidence." (Or, more accurately: "a persuasive metaphysical demonstration," since we're not talking about tire tracks or trace fibers.)

      Now, some of the verbs you chose, like "carved within" (which suggests divisibility, which suggests composition, which entails: Not God) and "added to" (Jesus ain't no sidecar), are misleading. I don't describe the Trinity that way, and wouldn't defend such a description.

      But, I do argue that God's "thick" personhood really does imply precisely three persons differentiated by relation. If my argument holds, then the extraordinary claim would have been demonstrated.

      God relates to both Himself and to other non-God creatures, and these relations aren't "attributes" in the sense of all referring to the same essence (divine simplicity).

      Recall that when we know something, we hold the form of it in our minds, non-materially. If it's a material thing (e.g. an apple) we're comprehending, then the fact that it's non-material in our reason is critical: If our minds contained both the matter and form, then there'd just be an actual apple in our heads, since the form-of-apple united to actual matter just is an apple.

      Recall also that God's use of symbol has power to not merely signify, but cause to be that which is symbolized. From "let there be light" to "this is My body," the Word of God has power: What He asserts is, is. (We can expect no less of that which is subsistent existence itself.)

      What would it mean, then, for God to actively assert-as-true, in His own mind, the fullness of everything that was true about God, including the fact that God's existence is (by definition) not a created act-of-existence (as with an apple or an angel), but the divine existence itself?

      Well, you'd have the "form of God" perfectly instantiated in the mind of God, wouldn't you? Being a mental apprehension it wouldn't be material...but then, neither is God, so non-materiality wouldn't distinguish God's understanding of God from God Himself. What would there be, then, to distinguish God's Knowing Of God from God? Just the act of existing...but here again, God's existence is the divine existence, not a created act-of-existing, so that too is no distinction.

      The only distinction between God's understanding of God in God's mind, and God Himself, is just the relationship between the "conceiver" and the "conceived." That's it. To posit any other distinctives between God's self-knowledge and God would be to say his self-knowledge was imperfect. But it isn't imperfect. So whatever it is that God concevies as true about God just is God, truly God, in every way, apart from the fact that this "conception" comes from God.

      No disrespect if you aren't persuaded! I am, but I've had time to ponder.

      So far as I can see, the explanation doesn't contradict anything about itself, or anything we know of God...and yet, the conclusion is too brain-bendy and non-intuitive to be the kind of thing we humans would come up with on our own. (I certainly wouldn't have.) We expect circular orbits in a solar-system; we get ellipses. We expect indivisible atoms; we get quarks and double-slits and the Uncertainty Principle. To me, the Trinity has that same "taste" of the real.

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    23. I have to know what I'm affirming before I can affirm it. You cannot reasonably expect me to affirm the Trinity when you explain the Trinity with logical contradictions.

      I would like to offer a note of distinction that makes this not-quite-true. The substance of faith is in us under a two-fold aspect. On the one hand, there is the propositional aspect of the faith, which is in the mind as distinct truths expressed in words, which we assent to with positive acts of the intellect affirming their truth. On the other hand, there is the non-propositional aspect of faith, which includes both the urging of grace to assent, and the light which informs our intellect with knowing that is not reducible to clear words and propositions, because it exceeds our capacity to express in words. The latter is, for example, the kind of light the saints experience in union with God in a state of ecstasy, which cannot be communicated clearly to others because we haven't the words. Both are of faith, and in a sense we assent to both, though in the latter case it is less a matter of assent than of simple experiencing the light. But that light could be rejected by an act of the will.

      We humans are terrible at knowing when our interior experiences are sound and from God, and thus we have the works of revelation - Scripture and Tradition - which are concrete guides to set us on the right path and keep us from delusions. But both aspects of faith are valid. Hence it is indeed possible - in a sense - to assent to something that one cannot put into words.

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    24. @RC,

      Thank you for your polite exchange and your detailed response. I appreciate it.

      You write, "Well, you'd have the "form of God" perfectly instantiated in the mind of God, wouldn't you? Being a mental apprehension it wouldn't be material...but then, neither is God, so non-materiality wouldn't distinguish God's understanding of God from God Himself. What would there be, then, to distinguish God's Knowing Of God from God? Just the act of existing...but here again, God's existence is the divine existence, not a created act-of-existing, so that too is no distinction."

      1. I understand that you find it persuasive. I am asking others...Are there others that are persuaded this to be true? Why or why not?

      Is this the same argument that McCabe is making?...and what Ed I assume finds to be persuasive?

      2. @RC, I do not find it persuasive. But I am willing to try to understand more.

      I have a question. Imagine that God gives me the ability to perfectly understand myself. Let's denote M for myself and M2 for the concept of myself within me.

      M3 is concept of me understanding myself within M2. And M4 is the analogous thing.

      Now let us suppose that I can fully understand myself understanding myself....and again me fully understanding myself understanding fully myself understanding myself

      So let us denote that as M grasping M2 and M3 and M4.

      3. When I understand M3, and M4 perfectly, then I do not need another person or persons, correct?

      So why must there be another person to describe God.

      4. How does this provide proof for a Trinity and not 2 persons of God or 4 persons of God?

      Again, I would appreciate for others to chime in if the evidence that @RC and I assume McCabe and Ed are making is persuasive.

      -Grateful to God

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    25. @RC, you write:

      You say all relations are identical except in signification, and all actually signify the divine essence. I posit (while willing to be corrected) that that's wrong; that relations aren't attributes, and that attributes point to the divine essence (or else there'd be composition in God), but relations needn't (they have no implications re: composition).

      Either the relations are the divine essence or they are not. If they are not the divine essence, then they either creatures or notional distinctions. Any aspect of the divine essence unique to a person to the exclusion of the other persons is composition by definition.

      It appears that Aquinas is on your side, although the first time he says they differ only in "signification" he seems only to be saying that origin and relation are two different ways of describing the same thing (from opposite ends, so to speak). That's fine with me. But then you (he?) go (es) on to say that all God's relations just are the divine essence, and that's where I posit a different view.

      You read my post twice and you couldn't figure out that I linked to the Summa where Aquinas said that? Anyway, it is definitely Aquinas who states that the relations and the divine essence are one and the same and that they differ "only...its mode of intelligibility."

      As to your other posts, you start out that arguing in favor of a distinction between God's "who-ness" and "what-ness." But in God the who and the what are one and the same. Who God is is what He is for His essence is to exist. Given that, the distinction exists in your mind to assist your understanding of God. It does not establish a real difference in God.

      You then argue that God's relationships with other things differ, which you don't think impeaches divine simplicity. But the analogy commonly used is the Morning Star and the Evening Star. From our perspective, we relate to one in the morning and the other in the evening (thus the difference) but nothing changes in the star in that regard.

      Any personal self can have a relationship to itself;

      Even if this is applicable to God, we do not multiply persons to have that relationship. What follows from this point is that God is one person with distinct relations. That's not the Trinity.

      The Son is God's self-understanding, which is to say: God's understanding of existence itself, the intrinsic goodness of existence itself...

      So God, in understanding Himself, necessitates another person? Sorry, but that doesn't follow.You have to show how self-understanding necessitates two other persons. And again, if all you're saying is that God is aware of Himself, you've taken zero steps closer to showing that the Trinity is rational. In fact, you've done more to advance modalism.

      Now, with respect to my post and your posts, I have in mind this:

      His knowledge of God just is God; the only way it "differs" from Him (if one can call it a difference) is by a difference of relation between the One who is doing the knowing (God) and the one who is being known (God). Other than by a relation in which one is derivative of the other, they are both God; if they weren't, you would be saying that God's self-knowledge was imperfect.

      This is essentially what Aquinas argues, and that is what my original post is all about (that the relation and the essence are one and the same). What you've argued is a logical contradiction for the reasons I've elucidated. The PC is what makes the persons the same, and the PD is what makes them distinct. The PC cannot equal the PD, but that is what both Aquinas and you are arguing. If the relation isn't the divine essence, then the relation is a creature.

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    26. @Tony,

      Thanks for your post. I agree in essence with what you are saying, but my statement relates to logical contradictions.

      It is one thing to be unable to express in words what one is experiencing; it is another altogether to affirm a logical contradiction. It is my contention that those who believe the Doctrine of the Trinity (DT) ask me to affirm a contradiction, and that is something I cannot do.

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    27. @Bill:

      Re: "Either the relations are the divine essence or they are not. If they are not the divine essence, then they either creatures or notional distinctions."

      I dispute the second sentence in that.

      First let's distinguish between Relation as such, and particular relations.

      God's Power is God's Creativity is God's Will, per divine simplicity. I guess then that Relation as such (God's "Relatability?") is, like these other things, a label signifying the divine essence.

      But individual relations (particular applications of Relation) will not themselves be identical, any more than individual creatures (particular applications of Creativity) are.

      God's Power just is the divine essence. But God's power as applied to raising Lazarus from the dead is not God's power applied to killing Uzzah. (If it were, killing would be resuscitating and Lazarus would be Uzzah. These applications of God's power aren't identical, though God's power refers to the divine essence.)

      And I've been arguing the same is true with relations: The relation that pertains between God and you isn't the relation that pertains between God and Satan (unless you've been holding out on us, Bill).

      So individual relations aren't identical. Does this non-identical-ness imply that individual relations are creatures? Not necessarily: Ed wrote something in reply to Ryan Mullins which distinguishes between "real" properties (what I've been calling "attributes") of God and "Cambridge" properties, noting that divine simplicity does not require that all of God's properties are identical, but only "real" properties. The "Cambridge" properties can not only vary from one another, but change, without implying composition or change in God. For example, if God loves me and I lose my hair, the "Cambridge" property "God loves a salt-and-pepper-coiffed fellow" changes to "God loves a bald guy," without thereby implying change in God: God's love is still God's love.

      Therefore, a relation could be a property of God, provided it isn't the kind of property (previously I called them "attributes" but the term Ed uses is "real" property) involved in divine simplicity. If relations can be a "Cambridge" property, or even some third category apart from "real" and "Cambridge," then God's individual relations differing from one another doesn't contradict divine simplicity.

      And even if a relation is not a property at all, but some kind of (very eccentric usage of the term) "creature," then this would not make either God the Son or God the Holy Spirit a "creature," but only the relation between them would be creaturely. Things like begottenness and procession could be eternally-extant "creatures" made by God; but in each of those relations neither the subject nor the object is a creature.

      But as I said above, this seems to stretch the definition of "creature" out of all recognition. My guess is that it ought to be a whole other category, such that God has:
      - "real" properties (which all correspond to the divine essence)
      - "Cambridge" properties (which are not of the divine essence, and can differ, and can change)
      - relations (which can differ)
      - creatures (which obviously differ)

      Anyway in my view individual relations (as that between God the Father and God the Son) are not "real" properties of God (even though Relation as such is, and even though, in this particular relation, the Subject, the Object, the Subject's Knowledge of the Object, and the Subject's Will towards the Object, are all divine).

      Maybe taking that view sacrifices something critical to either Trinitarianism or Divine Simplicity. If so, I don't know what that is. If you know of something, please let me know so that I can look for some other solution.

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    28. @RC, you need to consider further what Feser wrote about Cambriddge properties:

      Now, what the doctrine of divine simplicity claims – contrary to what Mullins supposes (in what he labels premise (9) of his argument) – is, not that all of God’s properties are identical and thus are as necessary as he is, but rather that all of his real properties are. He can have Cambridge properties that are merely contingent.

      He states earlier that for Socrates to grow a beard involves the acquisition of a real property. But if Socrates becomes shorter than Plato because Plato has grown taller, the real change is in Plato, not Socrates. However, the DT asserts that the distinction between the persons of the Godhead is a real distinction, not a contingent one. So, your appeal to Cambridge properties doesn't work.

      You write:

      Therefore, a relation could be a property of God, provided it isn't the kind of property... involved in divine simplicity.

      Now, this is a logical leap.You move from contingent properties vis-à-vis creatures to assuming they can exist within the divine essence. But if it exists in the divine essence, it is no longer a relation between God and creatures; it is a real relation between divine persons which means it's no longer a Cambridge property. If you insist that the relations aren't "real," then they're contingent which would make the persons contingent. Remember, a Cambridge property involves change in a creature, not God, so you cannot apply it within the divine essence.

      And even if a relation is not a property at all, but some kind of (very eccentric usage of the term) "creature," then this would not make either God the Son or God the Holy Spirit a "creature," but only the relation between them would be creaturely.

      Then the "creature," as I've stated, is merely a conceptual difference from our perspective. If Plato grows taller, Socrates doesn't change, and if we perceive some sort of relational distinction in God in order to comprehend something about Him, nothing changes in God.

      The mistake you're making is you're attempting to cash in on creaturely distinctions by applying them to God. You say:

      Anyway in my view individual relations (as that between God the Father and God the Son) are not "real" properties of God (even though Relation as such is...

      But if this relation is God knowing Himself, as you've stated, then it doesn't justify the claim that He knows another. It does not necessitate the existence of another person. Besides, "another" implies something other than God, so that can't work either.

      Since the DT asserts a real distinction between the persons and that the distinction is the relations between said persons, your claim that they aren't "real" in God is not trinitarian.

      And if the relations aren't "real," then they are contingent, and all contingencies are in creatures.

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    29. @Bill:

      One other thing, but it's not important....

      In reply to my paragraph, "It appears that Aquinas is on your side.... But then you (he?) go (es) on to say that all God's relations just are the divine essence, and that's where I posit a different view," you said, "You read my post twice and you couldn't figure out that I linked to the Summa where Aquinas said that?"

      No, that was obvious. That wasn't what I was uncertain about, when I put "he" in parentheses with a question mark.

      I was expressing uncertainty, not about whether you were citing Aquinas, but whether you correctly understood what Aquinas had intended to say.

      You seemed to be saying that because Relation as such in God is of the divine essence, all the individual relations which instantiate Relation are also of the divine essence (which I dispute). And you are saying that Aquinas says the same thing (which seems possible, but there are phrases he uses which are unclear to me, which makes me less-than-certain).

      If he hadn't meant what you were saying, then he wasn't really "saying it," in which case only you were saying it. That's why I said "you" definitively, but put "he" in parentheses, questioningly: "(he?)"

      Like I said, not really important. (I do wish I could understand Aquinas more clearly in the linked passage, though.)

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    30. Oh, you just replied... okay, let me read through that....

      Re: "no longer a Cambridge property": Yes. That's (one of the reasons) why I said I suspected it belonged in an entirely different category (as shown in my bulleted list at the bottom of my 1:35 PM post). By referencing Cambridge properties I was only intending to convey that there are properties of God which don't logically necessitate a complete absence of distinctions. Cambridge properties are one variety; I posit that relations are another. And if creatures are to Creativity as relations are Relation-as-such, then we have an example of something existing in the divine nature (Creativity) which instantiates in things that aren't identical.

      But the rest of your reply is more detailed, and for all I know may convince me that you're correct. So, I need to read it more carefully before I respond.

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    31. @R.C.

      Dear R.C.

      I had a few more questions and I adding the new questions to the previous numbered list...

      4. Could not God (G1) think of the concept of God (G2) thinking that God (G3) is thinking of God (G4).

      Would that not entail 4 persons of God from the argument you (and perhaps McCabe and Ed) are making?

      6. Same as #5 above, could this not go on ever more to
      5 persons, 100 persons, 1 billion persons, etc.

      7. I realize that God's essence includes His existence. But when the essence and existence are the same thing, how can we know for sure that God's self understanding is the same as understanding....I mean we can explain that when understand something we hold the form of that thing in our mind, but can we say that God's understanding is in the same way....I realize we can say so analogically but can we say it is the same way?

      Of course, God's understanding would be absolute but would

      8. God has all knowledge of all things ....so when God is having self-understanding, is God understanding all things twice?....once as Himself and then again when he does self-understanding

      9. Relating to the majority Christian doctrine of death of Jesus, did that mean that the second person died and if so, then did the self-understanding of God vanish?

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  11. Hi Ed,

    I can remember having some lively exchanges of views with other students on Aquinas' argument for a First Cause at ANU (where I was studying at the time) back in the early 1980s. At that time, the objection that bothered me most wasn't the suggestion that the universe might be self-sufficient, and not require a cause - "just there, and that's all," as Russell would have put it. Rather, the objection that really bothered me was that the very idea of the universe's having a cause made no sense. In the course of our discussions, someone would always pipe up: "What do you mean by 'cause'?" And that always stumped me.

    In the passage above, you quote McCabe as writing: "by the time you have finished, the notion of making has been whittled away... You yourself have to go through the slow killing of the verb 'to make'. There is no separable end product, no finally refined concept, which is the meaning of the verb 'to create'." If I understand him rightly, McCabe appears to think there isn't any refined notion we can form of the term "[efficient] cause" that can be applied to God. But if that's the case, then the premise that every contingent being requires a cause (in the case, an efficient cause, since that is what Aquinas is arguing for in his second way) cannot even be formulated, and the argument doesn't get off the ground.

    It might be argued that Aquinas' third way, at least, doesn't require the notion of a cause: instead, it relies on the notion of an explanation, and appeals to the premise that everything that exists must have an adequate explanation for its existence (PSR). But it seems to me that the notion of an explanation is just as obscure (if not more so) as that of a cause. Hence if McCabe is right, the third way is just as vulnerable to attack as the second.

    How do you think McCabe would respond?

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    1. “Our praying is as much God’s gift as is the answer to it,” and “if you want to be forgiven, that is because God is forgiving you” (p. 25). Our prayers and repentance are not precursors to God’s loving action but precisely a manifestation of it.

      This sounds like Calvinism to me.
      If someone prays it is because God loves him. Doesn't that mean that if a person doesn't pray, it is because God doesn't love him?

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    2. It would rather mean the person refuses God's inspiration to pray.

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    3. That doesn't work, because God "is like the author of the novel". If, in the novel, John prays it is because that's what the author has written. Besides, McCabe says "if you want to be forgiven, that is because God is forgiving you". He doesn't merely say that God inspires you to ask for it, he says you ask it because God is forgiving you.

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    4. God is "like" the author of a novel only in some ways, not in all. In a novel, if a character intends evil as such, the author is the cause of that (imagined) evil. In the real world, God is not ever the cause of evil intentions as such.

      God is always the cause of good inspirations in you, but he is in no way the cause of your rejection of good inspirations in you. Those are always your own doing.

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    5. Anonymous

      Again, this isn't about inspiration, it is about McCabe's claim that praying to be forgiven is the result of God forgiving you.
      The claim by classical theists like Dr. Feser is that nothing at all can come into exsience or stay in existence for even an instant unless God actively creates and sustains it. That means that God is like the author of a novel in every way, in fact He is even more than merely an author.

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    6. God can only do good, by definition.
      So if a "character" in his "novel" acts sinfully, it can only ever be because his characters have, to a certain extent, agency not to comply with the script (unlike actual characters in an actual novel, the analogy only goes so far).

      I admit that these concepts are difficult to reconcile, but free will and predestination do not exclude each other.
      If they did, either there would be no evil, or God would have to be the author of evil. The first proposition is obviously false, and the second makes no sense.

      This isn't unlike Aristotle's coming up with the doctrine of hylemorphism to reconcile motion and being, which seem mutually exclusive at first glance. A lot of thinkers took side for one or the other. But still, they both stare us in the face, so the answer has to take both facets of reality into account.

      Olivier

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    7. God's omnipotence extends to the power to elevate creatures like us to the possibility of free-will.

      Then, it extends further to the additional option, at strategic times and places, of offsetting the freedom-overwhelming counterforces of addiction, habit, sensation, irascible and concupiscible appetites, and willed interference from other beings.

      These counterforces (traditionally grouped under the headings "The World, The Flesh, and The Devil") constitute a headwind, if you like, preventing human free will from normally exercising much or any effect on human action; or perhaps a side-wind, blowing a human's intentions-to-act helpless "off course" beyond his strength to steer them.

      God can act not only to elevate the human being to free-will, but to strengthen the capacity of the will sufficiently to overcome these counterforces (you can think of a contrary side-wind or tail-wind cancelling out the unhelpful one) until the creature simply has a choice: To cooperate or not.

      That choice is the option to cooperate with one's own salvation. But, it is an option you couldn't possibly have had apart from the sustaining and strengthening action of God, which you did not earn and which He was under no obligation to provide. That's why if you reject Him, you have only yourself to blame: You inherited millions and lit them on fire. And if you cooperate, you have only Him to thank: Who, after all, is in a position to purchase from God the free unearned gift of existing, let alone the dignity of free will (and thus of causation), let alone extra help at exercising that free will against difficulties, not once, but over and over again?

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  12. Ed,

    The idea of the trinity came into Christianity through historical processes.

    Ehrman elucidates this well

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLJZaPMoZG4.

    It is less than 10 minutes long.

    We need to integrate history with philosophy when we try to understand how dogmas originated and evolved in religions.

    God wants us to use reason in a thorough way. Does He not?

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    1. Sure it does, but Ehrman is not an expert when it comes to early Christology. Hurtado probably is the worlds leading expert in that area, Bauckham and Hays being also other high quality sources. So it is not really disputed that Paul, as well as the Gospels, as Ehrman concedes in his latest book, include Jesus within the divine identity. So for me, it doesn´t make any sense to judge the Trinity on the purely philosophical basis. It is undisputed that Jesus and his ministry was special (you won´t find any historian, atheistic or not, who would dispute that Jesus was a known miracle worker), but the conclusion, the inclusion of Jesus within the divine identity, and later the Trinity, have to be regarded on the basis of (mainly) experience of the Apostles and their followers. So I myself have a healthy skepticism toward the idea that with what we call "Trinity" we have a full and correct grasp of the nature of God. I´d still say that a trinitarian approach is warranted, when the resurrection happened, which I believe based on historical evidence.

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  13. With all due respect, Herbert McCabe was smoking crack.

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    1. Great contribution! Care to make an actual argument?

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    2. @Dominik Kowalski Thanks! Well to start with he was a classical theist and believed that God doesn't exist, but is existence itself. That's enough for the insane asylum in my view.

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    3. Classical theism is the belief that God does not have existence in the way that other entities do, but is existence and confers it upon everything else that exists. If you think that qualifies someone for the insane asylum, let us all hope you stay far, far away from the mental health professions. You’d lock up every theist in a heartbeat.

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    4. @Tom Simon Isn't it interesting that Plato and Aristotle did not believe that the unmoved mover was in any way worthy of worship? They both were theistic personalists and believed in personal gods that were truly worthy of worship.

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    5. Anon, I expect some references for this claim.

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    6. @Dominik Kowalski Try reading any page of either of their writings. It's pretty obvious. Incidentally the Catholic Church also has gods---- they call them saints.

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    7. The fact that God is existence just is the consequence of God's being necessary and entirely eternal and independent of any external thing. God exists, but not the way you and I and other finite things exist; He just is that which is behind all existence, all being.
      Plato certainly seemed to identify God with the Form of Good and Aristotle's view that the First Mover moves by being desired is quite congenial to theism.
      And saints are not gods; they're just very virtuous people whose lives we admire and whom we can ask to pray to God for us (like we can ask any friend to pray for us).

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  14. What he is saying, in effect, is that when we start trying to think about God’s nature, we should begin by putting out of our minds everything but the idea that God is that which accounts for there being anything at all. “What we mean by ‘God’ is just whatever answers the question”

    To what extent is this approach identical to - or reducible to - Anselm's "that than which nothing greater can be conceived"? To me, at least on first reading, they look pretty comparable, almost like one is a shadow or reflection of the other.

    Which would be rather surprising as a Thomistic account, given that Thomas pretty much disagreed with the Anselmian approach, pointing out that the conclusion of the argument only gets you to, roughly "the notion of that than which nothing greater can be conceived must be conceived AS existing", not that it must actually exist.

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    1. I don't think it's reducible to Anselm's. Defining the word "God" as "the reason things exist" is not reducible to defining the word "God" as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". The former definition allows you to "get out of your mind". The latter, as you point out with Aquinas, does not.

      Maybe there's some similarity in that Anselm's definition could be seen as including the other definition? After, all it seems that "the reason things exist" could reasonably be predicated of "that than which nothing greater can be conceived".

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    2. Thanks, that seems reasonable.

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  15. @Dominik,

    Did you look at the link? What do you think of it?

    Many Biblical scholars will say that the synoptic gospels have an increasing Christology from Mark to I think Matthew to Luke and then even more to John but they would say that Jesus is not God in the synoptic gospels...some would say that Jesus is not God even in John. (This is Grateful to God...At the moment...I am having problems commenting with that title)

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    1. One could write a similar genealogy regarding complex numbers or quaternions or s, p, d, and f orbitals, or quarks. That there was a complex process by which people eventually came to understand proposition p does not mean that proposition p is false.

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    2. @Grateful to God

      I have written a full comment, but deleted it after realizing that I messed up some timelines. I will reply to you tomorrow.

      @Tim Finlay

      This is, of course true, but I myself take a more humble view. The Trinity should be taken as an approach from finite minds to understand the nature of God who has revealed himself. I wouldn´t dare to claim that we have now a fully correct, let alone exhaustive answer. But something incredible must have happened when devout Jews like Paul was, included Jesus within the Shema in 1 Cor. 8:4-6, like several prominent scholars (e.g. Hurtado, Bauckham, Tillich, Studt, Hayes) agree to. If GTG is jewish, which I suspect, he realizes what this would mean within an orthodox culture.

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    3. @Grateful to God

      I had time now to study it a bit further. SHort: I agree with him on the historical development, but he is wrong about us not being able to read the Trinity back into the Synoptics. Okay, maybe not the Trinity, because of the Holy Spirit, but we should only care for Jesus in this context. And there it happens, that many will agree that they include him in the divinity, among those are Ehrman himself. The most important example is in Mark between Jesus and the High Priest.
      "Are you the Messiah, the son of God?"
      "I Am"
      Brant Pitre pointed this out (link below, when asking Ehrman), that Jesus himslef was supposed to make a divinity claim here. The High Priest reacts with tearing his clothes apart, but what exactly did Jesus claim here? Claiming Messiahship was not against the law and happened dozens of time a year, while Jesus was accused of blasphemy, something that is not applied to those who claim Messiahship. So the Priest himself understood Jesus as making a claim for divinity

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EeO8zRtFus

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  16. McCabe as quoted by Feser:
    For one thing, whatever would answer our question could not itself be subject to the question – otherwise we are left as we were, with the same question still to answer. Whatever we mean by ‘God’ cannot be whatever it is that makes us ask the question in the first place. (pp. 11-12)

    I agree with the first sentence here. He seems to be simply excluding infinite regress. The second sentence, though, seems to be an invalid leap in an attempt to exclude pantheism. If you define God as "the reason things exist", you can't immediately exclude pantheism. You must first prove at least some divine attributes (e.g., immateriality). Maybe in context McCabe does exactly that, but the quote as stands appears to be a non sequitur.

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  17. To those of you who are struggling with pain and sorrow, read Prima Secundae, Question 38 of the Summa Theologica.

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  18. I wish to apologize to those I wished harm on. I will refrain from commenting for six months.

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    1. @A Counter Rebel Repent and confess. Stick around. Your contributions are important to the community.

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    2. No his contributions aren't. The community would be better without his contributions, as they. If they markedly improve, then that might change.

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    3. Its Ok CR, take a break from any internet debates.Calm yourself, everything will be alright.

      And well the arguments of this side are way less than convincing to you but I hope you would at least develop a more charitable approach towards the perspective.

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    4. No his contributions aren't. The community would be better without his contributions, as they. If they markedly improve, then that might change.

      Is there one person here who disagrees with Ed that you welcome as constructive to the community? If not, that might be evidence that you don't hate the arguments ACR presents but rather hate the type of person ACR is.

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    5. Ed specifically told CR to get lost. He has repeatedly told logorrheic trolls to get lost. And CR has certainly acted as a logorrheic troll, only one step down from SP or Santi. Yes, I don't like that kind of person. He doesn't present proper arguments, anymore than SP or Santi do. If he reforms, though, that would be a different matter. Why on earth would we want logorrheic trolls here?

      You know who I also don't much like, the compulsive troll feeders and apologists.

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    6. It's not obvious to me that in your mind "logorrheic troll" and "people who disagree with Ed" are distinct concepts.

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    7. There's no legitimate reason for you to think that. I'm criticizing an obvious troll, who has been told by Ed to lost, yet still habitually returns to fill comboxes with utter bilge. What don't you understand about people like him making it worse for all of us here? Do you just not care? Maybe you should think about your contribution here, and hopefully knock off the compulsive troll feeding (which, again, Ed has specifically told us to stop).

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    8. I also wish to apologize for being too rude to you in the past. Sometimes I get carried away in discussions, and I can be nasty. I hope you'll feel better soon. God bless.

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  19. Is it accurate to say, "God's will is God"? I find I've been thinking it in my prayers. It helps me with loving God's will.

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  20. @Mozy01,

    I assume you don't really celebrate Eid but are just trying to make Eid look bad.

    I celebrate Eid which celebrates how Abraham was so sacrificing to God...but don't waste peoples time sending messages that are not pertinent to the topic. Respect peoples' time. - Grateful to God

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