In Response to a Defense of the Doctrine of the Trinity

I find it difficult to understand why so many thinkers accept as true the classical Christian doctrine of the trinity, according to which there are the three divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all three being really identical with the one God but really distinct from each other; that it is quite simply impossible for me to accept the doctrine is the primary, though not the only, reason why I cannot return to the Roman Catholic faith I knew in my childhood and to which, at times, I wish I could return.

I published several posts on the topic a year-and-half or so ago, listed below* in order of importance, from the more to the less important as I see it. In today’s post I find myself returning to the subject, writing in response to “Trinity notes,” James Chastek’s November 2, 2015, brief post to his blog Just Thomism, a blog which I much enjoy reading and along with which I much enjoy thinking. In the post, one can read:

God is a self, the trinity is not a self, so God is not a trinity. This is a paralogism arising from an opposition between self and nature that is only true of creatures. When we say “God is a self” we mean the nature truly subsists just as Aristotle believes the individual truly subsists (though Plato disagrees with him). 

There are two claims being made here that I cannot accept. The one and clearly stated claim is that the argument given in the first sentence is a paralogism, i.e., an apparently valid but actually fallacious or invalid argument. The other, not as clearly stated, is that the elimination of the “opposition between self and nature that is only true of creatures” provides a way of avoiding the conclusion that God is not a trinity.

I. First, then, the claim that the argument given in the first sentence is a paralogism: it is not, if its formulation is suitably revised. Rather, it is valid. So, I will introduce four friendly amendments to the argument the effect of which will be that its validity will become obvious.

The first amendment is that of arranging the argument in the more traditional format of the categorical syllogism, thus:

God is a self.

The trinity is not a self.

So God is not a trinity.

The second amendment is that of re-arranging the order of the premises with the aim of rendering its validity perhaps more obvious:

The trinity is not a self.

God is a self.

So God is not a trinity.

The third of the friendly amendments is that of substituting, for the argument’s major premise,

The trinity is not a self.

the logically equivalent proposition,

No self is the trinity.

The argument thus reads:

No self is the trinity.

God is a self.

So God is not a trinity.

The fourth of the friendly amendments is that of substituting a definite article for the indefinite article of the predicate term of the conclusion so that it, the predicate term of the conclusion, matches the predicate term of the major premise, thus:

No self is the trinity.

God is a self.

So God is not the trinity.

The conclusion of the argument as thus rendered is the direct contradiction of the thesis which, I presume, Chastek sees himself defending, the thesis that God is the trinity, i.e., that the one god is the trinity of three distinct persons. But the argument is clearly valid; moreover, since presumably Chastek would hold the premises to be true, he would have to hold the argument to be sound.

II. Now, then, to the claim, not as outrightly stated, that the elimination of the “opposition between self and nature that is only true of creatures” provides a way of avoiding the conclusion that God is not a trinity. I take it, that is, that Chastek believes that the changes in the argument introduced by the understanding that the proposition:

God is a self.

“means” or is equivalent to the proposition:

The nature truly subsists. 

will provide us with an argument that does not lead to the unwanted conclusion.

The changes thus introduced do not have the desired result. But to see this we have to transpose the proposition, “The nature truly subsists,” into a form suitable for serving as a premise of the argument in the making. The following seems to me appropriate:

The nature (that God is) is a subsistent being.

I assume my expansion of Chastek’s “The nature” to “The nature (that God is)” is warranted by his identification of God as “the nature said of many” in a statement appearing a bit later in his post:

Unlike creatures, both the God (the nature said of many) and the persons (F, HS, S) really exist.

So we have one premise. The other premise then becomes:

The trinity is not a subsistent being.

The argument, then, is:

The nature (that God is) is a subsistent being.

The trinity is not a subsistent being.

So the nature (that God is) is not a trinity.

Revising this argument with revisions parallel to the four made above to Chastek’s original argument, we find ourselves with:

No subsistent being is the trinity.

The nature (that God is) is a subsistent being.

So the nature (that God is) is not the trinity.

The good news, for Chastek, is that there is no paralogism here. The bad news, of course, is that the conclusion remains that:

The nature (that God is) is not the trinity.

or, using the earlier terminology,

God is not the trinity.

Until next time.

Richard

* See:

The Inconsistency of the Doctrine of (the Distinction of Divine Persons and so That of) the Trinity with Monotheism

Garrigou-Lagrange on Trinity and Triple Identity

Dale Tuggy’s Podcasts on the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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