Monday, June 12, 2006

More Thoughts on Trinitarian Property Relations

Now there's a catchy title for you. My wife is always telling me that I need to get an editor for this blog; if anyone is willing to send me some titles I'll be happy to use them. Provided they're in line with my family values, of course. Of course, my wife will still be grumpy whenever I call anyone a moron, but you can't have everything your own way unless you start your own blog!

So anyway, I got to thinking about the property relations I talked about in my previous post: how the Father begets but is unbegotten, the Spirit proceeds but the Father and Son do not, etc. The various Creeds give us all of the relations we need to keep the three Persons straight, and--at least according to the author of the Quicumque vult--those are the only relations we need to know about in order to be saved. But that is not to say that other interesting relations don't follow from the ones that we know about, or that there aren't other, otherwise unstated but interesting facets of the ones that we know about.

The one that got me to thinking (if you want to call it thinking: it popped into my head while I was in the middle of a 10 mile bike ride this afternoon) is the relation of God the Father as arkhé, source or principal. In (Eastern) Orthodox theology is there great stress laid upon the principle of monarchy, the idea that the Father alone (monos) is the source or beginning (arché) of all things. An interesting example of this principle, I think, can be found in the passage in Mark 13.32 where Jesus tells his disciples that even the Son does not know the hour at which the Father will bring an end to this fallen world. If the Son is one with the Father, as Jesus also says (see, for example, John 10.30), how is it that the Father knows things that the Son does not know?

One way to approach this problem that I find particularly fascinating is the discussion of the nature of the Trinity is St. Augustine's treatise De Trinitate (On the Trinity). There he compares the Trinity to the relationship that exists between mind, object of thought, and content of thought. When I love someone, we may speak of three things. First, there is my mind, my self, that does the loving; second, there is the act of loving itself; third, there is the object of my love as conceived in my mind. In one sense these three things are clearly distinct; in another sense, they are also clearly simultaneous in their existence and ontologically bound to one another. Without a cognitive self to do the loving, no loving takes place; without an act of loving for the cognitive self to engage in, no loving takes place; without an object of (transitive) love, no loving takes place. The cognitive self is, in a sense, in charge here, since it is therein that the act of the will to love itself takes place. This means that in the case of the human cognitive agent there is a one-way ontological dependency that is not present in the case of the Trinity. I can choose not to love and, if I do so choose, there is no act of loving. But God is love, so although God the Father is the source of the Son and of the Spirit, we do not say that the Father could exist without the Son or the Spirit: all three necessarily exist precisely because love is the very nature of God Himself--God cannot be God without loving, and the Son and the Holy Spirit are the manifestations of God's love--as is also the Father, of course, as the great Cosmic arkhé of love.
But the Father is still the source, the origin, of all things, and in some sense this serves to remind us that God is totally free--nothing about him is constrained in any way by the will of any other being. The fact that the Son does not know the hour of the end is a sign to us that nothing constrains the Father's will--it will happen whenever He chooses, and nothing--not even the human will of Jesus of Nazareth--can direct the will of the Father (though Jesus' human will always willed in unity with the Divine Will, so although there were two wills and two acts of willing there was always only one object, one will willed).

But the Divine Will of the Second Person is numerically one with the Father's Will, since the Son and the Father are one. This seems to suggest that, if it is really true that the Son does not know the hour when the Father will consummate the world, then there is a distinct difference between the content of a will and the cognitive content of an epistemic subject. The Son can will that the end come when the Father wills it, but the Son cannot know the "when" of that object of willing, even though the Father can. This is a function, I suppose, of the three different First Person Perspectives that are present in the Persons of the Trinity. The Freedom and Sovereignty of the Father is underscored by this cognitive difference between Him and His Son.

No comments: