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The Trinity and Attributes

To continue on the trinitarian theme, let me ruminate on something I’ve thought for a long time. In a typical discussion of the doctrine of the divine attributes most theologians have been careful to say that all three of the divine persons posses all the exact same attributes equally and identically. Thus, the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, the Spirit is omnipotent, etc. Some of this impulse is rooted in the affirmations of the Athanasian Creed. Regardless, though there is a general assumption that the divine persons are identical in every way, excpet in regard to their particular relations. Thus the Father is exactly like the Son in every way except that he is the Father, etc.

Now, obviously this approach has some difficulties. Most notable of which is the fact that its been pretty hard to figure out what “Father-ness,” “Sonship,” and “Holy Spiritude” really mean. The best we’ve ever been able to do is talk about eternal generation-type terms like begetting, being begotten, spirating, being spirated, and so on. Of course what those relations mean and how they are different from each other has never really been well-described.

But, what would happen if we didn’t just assume that the divine persons must be identical in every way except for the illusive categories of relations of origin? Why must we assume that the Father, Son, and Spirit must be exactly the same in all of their characteristics in order to be equally and fully divine? Does it not make sense to see them as perhaps quite different in their attributes, but by virtue of their complete, eternally actual indwelling of one another together constituting one divine reality, the Godhead? This would definitely make sense of the scriptural language which routinely speaks of the divine persons in very distinctive terms. Jesus is “the power and wisdom of God”; the Spirit is “the truth”; and so on.

On this reading it is not necessary to jump through hoops to prove how Jesus was omniscient when the gospels pretty clearly show that there was stuff he didn’t know. Equality in deity does not require identicality of attributes between the persons. Only a prior ontological commitment to what has been termed “substance metaphysics” would incline us to assume that it would. Rather it is precisely the differences between the Father, Son, and Spirit, utterly and sublimely united in one eternal divine reality, that constitute the perfections of the Trinity.


  1. Thomas wrote:

    Divine Simplicity?

    The problem is the one St. Gregory of Nyssa identified in Eunomius’ work: if all the perfections of the Father cannot be attributed to the Son, then there is by definition a deficiency in the Son, and non-composite existence does not admit to any degrees of more or less. In other words, not being able to attribute all perfections to all persons equally means that you have to say that whoever is lacking is composite, and thus part of creation, on the lower side of the ontico-ontological difference.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    I’ll write more about simplicity later today. But, I think you’re just begging my question here. Why should we assume that difference must equal deficiency? My whole point is that that very assumption should not be assumed unless we have a good reason. I don’t see any such good reasons.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  3. Agreed, for the persons of the trinity to not share in all divine characteristics implies that one person might have more or better characteristics, which would allow for certain persons the trinity to have ontological dominion over the others. Another problem that I find with this proposition is that if we separate the persons of the trinity too much, we drive a wedge that presents the Godhead as not being fully “one.” We can go too far either way. We can give certain divine characteristics, some lower and some higher, to certain persons and create too much of a stark difference. Or, we can emphasize the social aspects of the trinity that the Godhead no longer looks as if it is one God, as Jürgen Moltmann has done. I think that begetting and sent language is okay as long as we don’t attribute dominance to the begetter and the sender. Good provocative post Halden!

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Andrew, I agree that all persons of the trinity share in all the divine perfections. I am only making the slight — but perhaps quite critical — revision of saying that they share in the divine perfections precisely through their mutual indwelling of one another.

    Thus the Father truly has wisdom and power “in himself”, but only because the Son, the “wisdom and power of God” eternally dwells in the Father.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  5. Does then the Spirit have wisdom in himself? My fear here is that we end up having separate “wisdom’s,” which can lead to separate wills.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    No, there is only one divine wisdom, that is Christ himself and the Father and Spirit both “have” this wisdom in themselves by virtue of their eternal reception of the Son’s complete self-giving.

    As to the matter of separate wills, I think the prayer in the Garden (“not my will but thine. . .”) needs to be taken seriously. I’m not impressed with attempts to get out of this by saying that somehow that was really just Christ’s human nature talking to his divine nature. That’s positively Nestorian. If we take that narrative seriously and really believe that Jesus and the eternal Son are identical, I think we have to say that in some sense the Father and Son have different wills, albeit wills that ultimately coinhere perfectly.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  7. Is Christ not also God’s self-revelation, but self-determination in which there can be no separation of wills? (Karl Barth, Kirchliche Dogmatik, vol. II/2, 124. Church Dogmatics, vol. II/2, 115)

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    I think I’m actually going further in Barth’s trajectory rather than disagreeing with him here. Its not that there is ultimately a discord between the resolve of the Father and Son, indeed their purpose is one. What I’m saying is that the self-determination of God as Jesus Christ is precisely what we see in the Garden. This divine event of self-determination is precisely what is revealed here. The narrative however must determine how we understand this self-determination. It forbids us to view it as an event devoid of genuine deliberative and affective dimensions. Otherwise we just have to say that the actual life of Jesus and his conversations with the one he called Father just don’t really reveal anything about God. I can’t go that way.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  9. Thomas wrote:

    You mentioned the Father’s omniscience as opposed to the Son’s lack of omniscience. That’s obviously a deficiency.

    Attributes that one person of the Trinity possesses either are possessed in lesser degrees by the other persons, are shared by the other persons, or are absent. If they admit of lesser degrees, you are attributing privation to one of the members of the Trinity and therefore composite existence. If the attributes are not shared by the persons, then they either could be or could not be. If they could be shared by the other persons, then the other persons have some unrealized potential, and the problem of composite existence arises again. If the attributes could not be shared by the other persons, then one must say that the person possessing the attribute delimits the others, and a number of problems arise, not the least of which is the problem of the ontological unity of the Trinity.

    The only viable option, therefore, is that the persons share all attributes. It would help to remember that the Godhead, properly speaking, does not have “accidents” like we do, and so one attribute is not ultimately separate from another as, for example, color and length are in created things..

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    Again, you’re simply assuming a substantialist ontology here. Why should we assume that one person’s possessing some attribute the other lacks makes the other inferior?

    Consider for example that I, as a man am not able to get pregnant, whereas most women are. Does that say anything whatsoever about deficiency on either of our parts? Also, I don’t think you can get out of this by calling the difference a mere “accident.”

    Besides, if what you say above really has purchase then the doctrine of the Trinity itself can’t even be true at all. Since the Father clearly does not possess the attribute of Sonship which is clearly not an “accident” but something ontologically definitive of the Son’s being and divinity.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  11. Thomas wrote:

    Perhaps you should explain what you mean by “substantialist ontology”. I find it most often the case that those who use that term critically direct the term at Aristotle, though they only have a passing understanding of Aristotle in the first place (I’m thinking of pseudo-Heideggarians like Dreyfus here, who have entirely missed the Aristotelian problematic Heidegger works from). I’m sure you’re using it in a more circumspect way.

    In any case, traditionally a distinction has been correctly made between attributes and terms of relation, for the reason that the way in which two things possess an attribute is markedly different than the way they “possess” a relation.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink
  12. Derrick wrote:

    This is just me thinking on the fly for a second but I was curious about some clarification on what you mean by this new proposal (so please bear with me for a second). In the tradition the commonality of “attributes” was based on the commonality of ousia, while the differences between persons which emerged in pro-Nicene theology as you note were based on the hypostaseis being glossed by “tropos hyparxeos” or “mode of being” (i.e. as you noted they are distinct only via modes of origin in the tradition) and as being seen as different from the commonality of substance.

    When you write then that we could see them as possibly “quite different” yet nonetheless participating in the fullness of the Godhead, if we transfer the usual language of ousia being the “commonality of the Godhead” would it be then in your revision that “perichoresis = ousia” since you seem to be describing the commonality based not upon the simplicity of nature but the mutual indwelling of the persons?

    One further question then after this one. In the traditional schema as again you mentioned “hypostasis” was a fairly austere concept in that it had little to no positive content except that whatever hypostasis was, it was defined by relations of origin, and the fact that the Father is the Father and not the Son, etc… If by chance you should answer my first question as a yes (namely, you are trying to portray the perichoresis as the ousia or as a substitute for ousia language) and yet want to talk about distinctive attributes, on what “level” (if you forgive the term) are the attributes found? Originally attributes were “part” of the simple essence. But if you are doing away with that are you calling now for attributes to be seen as part of the hypostasis? (i.e. the Son’s hypostasis has the attribute of wisdom, which the Father has by the mutual indwelling between Father and Son…)

    I ask because perichoresis as a concept was originally meant as a descriptor of the divine life which in its logic already presupposed unity via ousia. In other words if (and this is a big if since Im not sure which way youre going) one substitutes perichoresis for ousia, the presupposition of unity is then no longer the simplicity of essence but the dynamic perichoresis of mutual indwelling. However since also originally the “attributes” (omnipotence etc…) were considered part of this simple ousia, and if you now consider the attributes to be a function of hypostasis (again a big if since I dont want to pretend to know the intricacies of your proposal) then how are we to avoid a more tri-theistic conception of three distinct hypostasis who commune in perichoresis (eternally) who are not only distinct by modes of origin, or mutual reciprocity (as Pannenberg notes) but also because the hypostasis, without an ousia, now bear distinctive attributes?

    Anyway like I said it was all a bit of off the cuff thinking but Id be curious about what you think about these (possibly non-) issues.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  13. I am unsure of saying that the divine “purpose” is one yet the divine “will” is not, in light of the fact that each persons “will” is directed towards the “purpose.” One could easily say that the Father and the Son have the same “purpose.” but they will to accommodate that “purpose” by two different means. I understand what you are trying to get at here, but I don’t think we can emphasize the actuality and agency of each person of the trinity so much so that the “wills” begin to change, but the “purpose” remains the same.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  14. Halden wrote:

    I’m actually thinking of the more neo-Platonic understanding of substance. The kind of thinking that Augustine, for example depended on heavily. Namely the notion that there is a divine substance or essence that somehow underlies the three persons of the Trinity in which they are modes of being or or relation or something of that nature.

    However, as to your second paragraph, that distinction is precisely what I want to question. Ultimately its a distinction without a difference. It simply posits as an unspoken presumption that God’s perfections must not be understood relationally. That is precisely what I think we should do because God is Trinity.

    In other words, why must we conceive the perfections of God as qualities that must be predicated of a unitarian divine substance behind the three persons? Why could they not be understood as perfections of the divine trinitarian relations themselves? So maybe that at least makes it clearer. I’m proposing that what have been typically spoken of as the “attributes” are better understood as dimensions of the trinitarian relations themselves. Thus attributing the perfections in different ways — as the Scripture explicitly does — does not posit any inequality in God anymore than the distinction between Fatherhood and Sonship does.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  15. Halden wrote:

    I suppose I was trying to point out that we may be using the term “will” in an equivocal way at this point and perhaps that is inhibiting communication.

    I agree with your last comment I think, I would only add that I most certainly cannot go with de-emphasizing “the actuality and agency” of the persons in any way that would somehow relativize or bypass the concrete historicity of Jesus’s own life. Whatever we have to say about the Trinity’s unity must be understood through what we see in Jesus, not around him

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Permalink
  16. I agree that the actuality and agency has to be emphasized for each person of the trinity, and also their dependence on one another, but we must do this without driving a wedge within the trinity. Halden, I don’t think you are necessarily wrong, I just don’t know if I would go much further than the trajectory which Barth sets. I do think that it is important that we emphasize the one will of God and continue to present the trinity as being one Godhead in order to avoid tritheist language.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  17. Halden wrote:

    We are definitely skirting the edge of the sayable here, if we haven’t crossed it already. Nevertheless, I always find conversations like this helpful for probing, refining, and clarifying my own thoughts.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  18. Halden, I agree wholeheartedly and I have enjoyed our theological conversion and see these discussions as very beneficial

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  19. I meant theological conversation

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  20. Thomas wrote:

    The language of one being/substance/ousia that is shared by the three persons was adopted by the Church in the Nicene Creed, and the language that a common nature underlies the Persons is not only at home in St. Augustine, but in every Patristic tradition I am familiar with. There may be good objections to some formulations of a common Divine Substance, but to reject that wholesale would be to reject Christianity.

    And the neo-platonic notion of substance does not provide for any possibility of a co-equal trinity; it only provides for a gradational Trinity: the en, nous, and psyche. The doctrine of the Trinity entails a rejection of neo-platonic metaphysics where manifestation is second in the metaphysical order. David Bentley Hart has a good lecture that’s available online about this; I can get you the link if you wish.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  21. Halden wrote:

    Thomas, I’m sorry but your first comment is ludicrous. The notion of an underlying substance is not present in the Nicene Creed at all. Nor does it appear in a developed form across the board in the way you suggest. Moreover, I am not dispensing with God’s ousia in any way. Only arguing that the nature of this ousia is better understood via biblical revelation and the doctrine of the Trinity than imported from some pre-existing metaphysic.

    To call anything thats been talked about in this thread as the rejection of Christianity is hyperbole of the worst order.

    You’re also thinking of neo-platonism in quite narrow terms. If you read D.B. Hart as advocating a “rejection of neo-platonic metaphysics” in any sort of wholesale sense, I must say I don’t think you’ve read him very widely.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  22. Thomas wrote:

    Read the comment again. I never said that the idea of an “underlying” substance is in the Creed; I said that was how it was understood. To be clear, I think talking about substance as “underlying” is misleading, and I’m just presuming you’re referring to a common essence that belongs to God in a similar way as human beings have a common essence that unites them. You obviously have some more sophisticated meaning in mind, so let’s hear it.

    I’m primarily thinking of neo-platonism as taught by Plotinus. Plotinus is very explicit about the absence of any possibility of the en knowing itself or admitting of anything like a Trinity; Plotinus’ Trinity exists on a descending scale: en, nous, psyche.

    And as it happens, David Hart’s work (or rather, the Church Fathers which Hart later expounds upon) undermines neo-platonic metaphysics at its most basic levels. Rather than having Being flow from that which is beyond being, rather than having difference arise as a refraction of the unity of the one, and rather than ascend the metaphysical scale by the annihilation of particularity, Hart claims that a Christian ontology rejects that which is absolutely beyond manifestation as belonging anywhere in the metaphysical order, says that difference exists already within the heart of being, and rejects the hierarchical model of participation with participation by the analogia entis. Hart explicitly claims this undermines neo-Platonic metaphysics, both in his online lecture “The Hidden and the Manifest”, and in many places in The Beauty of the Infinite, including especially p. 246-247 (starting out where he starts out “[t]he elations of Neoplatonism are so very instructive here because they are so transparently wedded to the pathos of philosophy in the West, in its every epoch…”, and then posits Christian ontology in opposition to it). Almost every time Hart mentions Neoplatonism in TBoI, he’s beating up on it.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  23. Glen wrote:

    I like this Halden. It’s a thoroughly Athanasian argument. He used this reasoning against Arius. He argued that since Christ is the Wisdom of the Father and since the Father’s never been without wisdom, He must always have possessed the Son.

    I think you’re on the money here. A little while ago I even drew some diagrams about it. As you say, the best thing about configuring the attriibutes this way is that it just allows Jesus to be Jesus.

    He says He doesn’t know the date of the eschaton, but He trusts His Father. He says He has another will in the Garden, but again He submits to the Father.

    At that point we have a choice – is this a revelation of His divinity or concealment? If we’ve properly understood the ousia in terms of mutual self-giving then these differences become a revelation of His divinity and nothing to be embarassed about.

    Oh and don’t forget 1 Cor 2:11 – no-one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. It’s by the mutual possession of one another that the Persons possess each attribute.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  24. Halden wrote:

    Exactly, Glen.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  25. kim fabricius wrote:

    I too like what you’re trying to tease out and push forward here, Halden: you’re taking the next step after the radical problematising of the logos asarkos, viz. the implications for the Trinity of Bruce McCormack’s lapidary claim that “The Second Person of the Trinity has a name, and his name is ‘Jesus Christ’ (the God-human in his divine-human unity).” You rightly recognise that this next stage requires the reconstruction of the theological ontology of the pro-Nicene Fathers, which is essentialist; i.e., it requires an historicised theological ontology. And I suspect that you will want to add to the mix the exciting work being done on apocalyptic by Nate Kerr and others. It’s a big omelette; expect to break a lot of eggs.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 5:45 am | Permalink
  26. Robby wrote:

    This is a good post and very helpful for me. I too have been wondering about the assumptions that underly pro-nicean doctrine of the trinity. primarily because some of it seemed disconnected from the biblical narrative and contrary to the relations that are revealed there. I’ve recently read through Steven Fowl’s commentary on Philippians – good stuff – and have had a renewed interest in an understanding of the Trinity that is based more upon this “historicised theological ontology”. I’ve had a lot of questions about assumptions of perfection that are based upon static notions of essence and substance and have been wondering if it would be better to think of perfection in terms of relations – I’m thinking in particular of Jesus’ statment in the sermon on the mount which seems to connect imitating the Father’s perfection with love of enemies. However, I’m new enough to the world of western philosophy – particularly, understanding metaphysics – that I’ve been hopeful to have people who can help me reflect on this faithfully. thanks for the good post.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  27. Thomas wrote:

    And, getting back to the main point, what exactly makes Augustine’s formulation of the Trinity a “substantialist ontology” that is not present in other formulations of the Trinity–such as that presented by Aquinas, or Tertullian, or Basil the Great?

    It’s strange that you claim I’m relying on a Neoplatonic, Augustinian ontology, when I’m employing primarily Aristotelian language. My suspicion is that you’re trying to avoid indicting the whole of Nicene Christianity ex post facto by restricting your criticism through the use of vague terminology.

    Still waiting to hear how the Son’s lack of knowledge contrasted with the Fathers omniscience is not a deficiency.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    Thomas, responding to the excessive name-dropping would clearly take more time and space than I am able to devote to this thread right now, so sorry about that.

    As to your last question, I’ve already addressed that above and you never responded to it.

    And besides, your quarrel there is simply what what Scripture very obviously says, not with me.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  29. Halden wrote:

    To be sure Hart claims that Christianity modifies and alters neo-platonism, but see for example page 192-23 where he claims that Gregory’s and Plotinus’s ideas of infinity are basically identical.

    Clearly there are no pure neo-platonists and there haven’t been for some time. That’s not what anyone was arguing.

    Whether Platonic or Aristotelian, it is essentialism as such that I’m unconvinced by. Now you are right to argue that most of the Christian tradition has affirmed some kind of essentialism, but that really doesn’t matter much to me. Most of the Christian tradition believed the world was flat too.

    If we’re going to use essentialism or any other philosophical framework to determine the meaning of the Trinity or any other Christian doctrine, it needs to stand on its own merits, not simply be able to claim a long pedigree.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  30. Halden wrote:

    Precisely, Kim.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  31. Thomas wrote:

    “Most of the Christian tradition believed the world was flat too. ”

    Um, what? Among the educated Christians, certainly among theologians, the earth was, as a rule, not only known to be round, but its circumference was known as well. I’m guessing this is a cunning bit of sarcasm.

    Hart begins that passage by saying that, on the face of it St. Gregory’s thought is similar to Plotinus’, then he develops the movement of St. Gregory’s theology, then begins to use it to take up slamming Plotinus again (around page 207 and he continues his assault almost every time Neoplatonism comes up for pretty much for the rest of the book). It’s strange of you to suggest that Hart is a neoplatonist when he explicitly regards it as an important moment in the advent of Nihilism in the West.

    I think we’ve got to the heart of your critique, though. You lump together the diverse Platonic and Aristotelian traditions together into one ontology in reckless disregard to any differences or subtleties which might be important to the issue so that you can disregard the traditions as a whole (much as my Christian grade-school teachers used to talk about the dangers of “post-modernism”), despite the fact that, broadly, the Greek language of essentialism was precisely what was at issue at the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople. Your critique of essentialism, as you’ve presented it here, is crude enough include (at least) all of the Patristic and most Medieval theologians within its ambit. Certainly the classical formulation of the Trinity is very suspect under such a view. Why not just own up to that? Why do we have to do this dance about how you object to Augustine’s tacit ontology, but not that of most other Fathers?

    Where is your criticism of “essentialism”? Or even a cogent exposition of what that means? Is it on your blog, or are you relying on the work of another theologian or philosopher? Or is that just a catchall term for an incoherent conception of those dastardly Greeks?

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink
  32. Halden wrote:

    I have written about essentialism here, if you really care.

    If you really want to actually explore these matters, I suggest you read Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology and see where that takes you. He certainly engages everyone you’ve brought up and formulates a doctrine of the Trinity that is quite amenable to what I’ve suggested in this post.

    Honestly I’m tired of the little rhetorical games you’re playing. You don’t respond to the actual points I’m making, instead you just orbit out make these meta-comments about how if I don’t get down with whatever you are saying I’m clearly abandoning everything Christianity’s ever believed. And somehow I’m the one making gross generalizations? Please.

    I’m very familiar with this strategy of doing nothing but dropping names and pretending at sophistication while just taking the same tired pot-shots over and over again. Do you really expect the comments on a blog thread to be able to expound, in detail the subtitles of every single theologian in the history of the church? You’re just blowing smoke because you don’t seem to like people questioning your pristine, unique snowflake of an ontology.

    You haven’t made one material objection to anything, just gone in circles asserting that whatever you think about ontology is somehow the only thing that makes sense. Sorry, that’s not an argument.

    And as long as we’re making meta-comments that don’t advance anything real, why don’t you just admit that you think certain philosphical constructs are the gospel itself? You clearly do.

    I think our discussion has run its course at this point.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Permalink
  33. Thomas wrote:


    Perhaps I shouldn’t have got sidetracked (though I really am curious if you were serious about the flat-earth thing, or if the joke’s on me and I’m not getting it). Recall that at the beginning of our discussion you claimed that I was begging the question by presuming an substantialist ontology. It’s not unfair for me to defend myself from that charge, or — as I was mostly doing — trying to figure out what in the world I was being accused of.

    My intentions were twofold: I was trying to figure out what exactly you meant by that a “substantialist ontology”, and whether it characterizes Nicene Christianity. The point of bringing up Aquinas (etc.) was simply to determine the breadth of your critique, not to get an in depth analysis of each thinker. I just wanted you to come right out and say whose thinking exactly suffers from the supposedly flawed ontology–again, not necessarily a list, but just the general picture. That seems to have offended you, as you waffled between limiting your critique to Augustinian “neo-platonism”, to “most of… Christian tradition” (!). If I haven’t been able to make substantive criticisms it’s because the target is changing so widely.

    I do think the issue of ontology is interesting, so if you wish to engage about that, I might comment over at the post you directed me to (Jenson’s on the fast-track reading list, BTW), if you’re open to it. If not, I can rest here. For the purposes of this post, I’d just like to get a definite idea of generally how much Christian tradition falls under the ambit of a substantialist ontology and how much does not.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  34. Bobby Grow wrote:


    I have a question, I’m not looking for a debate or anything; I just want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly.

    You’re saying that there are basically “three wills” and one “one will” (like the “one and many” thinking)? The former correlating to the hypostasis, the latter to the ousia of God; and that these “wills” actually coinhere in the one will and purpose of God . . . which in fact then actually gives us a theology of perichoresis of the wills of God (which turns out to really be a one will of God). Am I tracking with you?

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  35. d. stephen long wrote:

    Halden, I think youand a number of others have made some significant mistakes in your discussion here. First, you assume that terms like “simplicity” are “attributes.” They do not become this until at least Descartes, if not Locke. Recall that much of this disciplined language for God comes from Deny’s tradition of the “divine names,” which Aquinas draws on explicitly. Take a look at Janet Soskice’s important essay, “Naming God: A Study in Faith and Reason,” in Grifith/Hütter’s Reason and the Reasons of Faith. I would encourage you not to make any more claims about these so-called attributes until you read that essay with some care. If you think of the tradition of the divine names, rather than attributes known primarily by reason (Descartes, Locke) then you should recognize how wrong it would be to call the Father one of the divine names — always a version of the Divine Name (ehyeh asher ehyeh, or the LXX ego o on) and not call the Son or Spirit the same name. It would amount to nothing less than Arianism.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  36. Jon wrote:

    Bruce McCormack has been there and done that.

    You should read (I suppose you already have done?) his essay on a Reformed account of kenoticism in SJT. He lectured a series on this too which is being published soon.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  37. Jon wrote:

    I suppose we should mention Barth too who remarks that humility is actually inhered within what it means to be ‘Son’.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  38. James Crocker wrote:

    I don’t understand why we should assume that person = personality?

    Friday, November 6, 2009 at 7:55 am | Permalink
  39. Halden, we believe in one God, not three. I think that’s pretty much all that needs to be said.

    Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  40. myles wrote:

    I find Gregory of Naz’s Theological Orations against (in part) the Eunomians to be pretty instructive vis-a-vis Steve Long’s words.

    Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  41. I’m coming in quite late here, but Bulgakov wrestles with the problems of an impersonal/substative ousia somehow lurking “behind” the hypostases in “The Comforter”—the most profound Trinitarian theology I’ve read to date. Additionally, his development of the sophia tradition (admittedly odd at first) seems to resolve some of the tensions of sameness and difference in speaking about the three-personed God—as well as how this difference/sameness is manifest to creation (i.e. encountered and thematized as attributes). He strikes me as a voice that might profitably enter this conversation.

    Monday, November 9, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink
  42. Chris Donato wrote:

    For my part, I don’t see the problem in simply recognizing that the battles our fathers fought at Nicea (and Constantinople) were historically situated, and that situation was in response to essentialist heresy with respect to the Godhead.

    So, it’s perfectly appropriate to suggest another paradigm for another day with other emphases. Bauckham, in God Crucified, seems to be on the trajectory you’ve attempted to articulate here, Halden. To his mind, he sees the early Jewish (monotheistic) Christians asking: Who is Jesus? not What is Jesus?

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 9:38 am | Permalink
  43. Chris Donato wrote:

    In other words, it’s a matter of divine identity, not divine substance.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  44. Halden wrote:

    The question is not whether God is one, it is about the nature of God’s oneness and whether or not the revelation of Jesus Christ should guide our understanding thereof.

    Honestly, I think you’re better than these sorts of comments.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

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