ReKnewing Christology—Part 4

ETERNAL LOGOS.pdf-page-001Do the quotes from Trinity & Process (TP) in the previous post describe a view of the triune persons and their relations compatible with Kenoticism? Can it be the case on the one hand that the divine persons necessarily relate in the fullness of mutual love and knowledge (as TP argues) and that the Son voluntarily removes himself from this experience (Kenoticism) on the other hand? Can it be that God’s essential triune ‘existence’ is identical to his essential triune ‘experience’ (as TP argues) on the one hand and that his triune experience ceases (Kenoticism)?

We think not. But it seems Greg presently does. He writes in response to us:

“I believe my thought has deepened since writing [Trinity & Process], but it has not essentially changed. The error I believe [Tom and Dwayne] make in [their] critique is that [they] assume a perfectly loving relationship must exhaustively be defined [as] a moment-by-moment unbroken experience of unity. What I’ve come to believe is that the relational unity of the Trinity is even greater than that [viz., greater than God’s own experience of Godself as Tom and Dwayne suppose] precisely because it is other-oriented and self-sacrificial. [Their] loving unity is so great, it is willing to suspend the ‘experience’ of unity for the other (us) who needs this. Yet because the horrific suspension is entered into out of love, the suspension expresses the most profound unity rather than abolishes it.”

As an analogy, Greg invites us to imagine a perfectly united husband and wife whose kidnapped son could be saved only if the wife enters into a state in which she felt forsaken by her husband. Once reunited with their son, the loving unity of the couple would be “all the more beautiful” because of their experienced separation. And the fact that they agree to experience mutual alienation demonstrates that their loving unity was an other-oriented, self-sacrificial unity as opposed to being a self-centered and self-serving unity. So too, Greg sees the loving unity of the Trinity as “all the greater” precisely because Father, Son and Spirit were willing to temporarily sacrifice their experience of each other for us. For Greg, God experiences his antithesis. Indeed, God becomes his antithesis.

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But contrary to Greg’s evaluation, things are indeed essentially different. They’ve essentially changed because his arguments in TP regard what God’s experience is essentially and necessarily — i.e., the triune experience of unsurpassably intense satisfaction. But none of this survives Greg’s present kenotic view of God, as none of what he argues in TP are the necessary features (his ‘definitional disposition to be God’) of God’s essential existence remain necessary in his kenotic view. The eternal Son is instead transformed without remainder into the created finitude of a non-conscious, non-personal, non-experiencing zygote — not a subject of any sort of experience at all. Indeed, Greg is now without any conception of the metaphysical necessity of the divine persons. He simply supposes there is something to God’s triune existence and personal unity which is “greater than” God’s own triune experience and which holds God together.

We don’t know how to call this ‘trinitarian monotheism’ since immediately post-Incarnation there is no person of the Son to speak of. He doesn’t appear on any horizon Greg is willing to identify or even try to describe. He simply supposes:

“There is a relational unity [to] the Trinity which is greater than God’s own experience of it.”

This has to be the most objectionable theological claim we’ve ever heard Greg make. And it does nothing to save this as a genuinely ‘trinitarian monotheism’ to suggest that the cessation of experienced oneness by the triune persons is undertaken freely by the persons, or that it is undertaken out of other-oriented love, or that it is only temporary. How do these facts (being freely chosen, other-oriented, and self-sacrificial) constitute the “greater relational unity” that Greg now believes is the really necessary feature of divine existence in the absence of God’s own experience of it? This contradicts Greg’s conclusion in TP (ch. 6 in his appropriation of Edwards) that the Father’s very perfection is the (definitional) dispositional actuality to know his own ‘Image’ as the Son in unsurpassably satisfying love. If the Father ceases to know his own Image in terms of an experienced and loving unity, then something other than actual, experienced relations accounts for God’s unity. What would this be? What would now constitute, in Greg’s view, God’s abiding disposition to be triune if not God’s triune experience of Godself?

We argue that given Greg’s views in TP, one subject must simultaneously be subject to both the divine experience of unsurpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction and a human experience of surpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction. Greg’s (TP) metaphysics is incompatible with Kenoticism. It is not enough to identify in Jesus’ own embodied experience features one believes qualify his deity and others that constitute his humanity as if the divine definitional disposition to be God is fulfilled by created finitude. Greg’s already argued what sort of experience constitutes divine being (unsurpassable beatitude) and what qualifies as created being (surpassable beatitude). You can’t get an Incarnation of the divine Son with kenoticism.

What of Greg’s analogy of the parents who in love agree to suffer whatever form of temporary estrangement is needed to rescue their son? It’s hard to imagine the parents as “perfectly united” in the first place if their unity is diminishable and in the end “all the greater” and “all the more beautiful” because suffering interrupts it. If it’s “made greater” and “more beautiful” because of suffering a temporary failure, then Greg’s imagining something vastly unlike his previous work, for he has already argued that God’s freedom in creating the world is grounded in the experienced delight of mutually enjoyed relations. The very contingency of the world derives from this. So Greg’s analogy, as emotionally persuasive as it seems, nevertheless begins by assuming what he has elsewhere shown to be impossible, viz., that the experienced enjoyment of the divine persons is contingent and world-dependent.

(Picture here.)

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17 comments on “ReKnewing Christology—Part 4

  1. Jeff says:

    Tom: His analogy, as emotionally persuasive as it seems, nevertheless begins by assuming what Greg has already shown to be impossible, viz., that the experienced enjoyment of the divine persons is contingent and world-dependent.

    J: I’m not seeing how this follows from what Greg is saying. I think your wording should have been this:

    “His analogy begins by assuming that SOME experienced enjoyment of the divine persons is contingent and world-dependent.”

    IOW, creation does indeed ground the instantiation of SOME contingent, divine enjoyment. But what I hear you saying is that God needs a necessary enjoyment to be God. But that’s just another way of saying that you want to define God to just mean that God has necessary enjoyable social experience. But the whole problem all along is that you have yet to define God intelligibly simply because of the seeming impossibility of seriously considering a “person” a non-being. That would leave us with trying to define a “person” in terms of some other human category, like an “attribute,” “distance,” duration,” “color,” “taste,” “sound,” etc. This isn’t helpful at all.

    Granted, Greg has that same problem since he, too, wants to intelligibly posit a co-substantial trinity. But take that away, and there’s a way to intelligibly make his analogy doable. Co-substantial trinitarians (CT’s henceforth) already hold to certain notions like an “eternal begetting.” This sounds to me like whatever the Son is, he/it has no intrinsic capacities. Applying Greg’s analogy in non-CT-fashion, we need only posit that the Son, while having intrinsic capacities, doesn’t have to have them instantiated at all times. This would mean that the Son’s essential attributes are capacities rather than necessarily instantiated ones.

    But this is not a problem at all for explaining our finite experience, the existence of warranted belief, and plausible inductive meanings of scriptural texts. Rather, it aids those explanations by making them intelligible and consistent with our more commonly-accepted criteria for warranted belief.

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  2. tgbelt says:

    Tom: His analogy, as emotionally persuasive as it seems, nevertheless begins by assuming what Greg has already shown to be impossible, viz., that the experienced enjoyment of the divine persons is contingent and world-dependent.

    J: I think your wording should have been this: “His analogy begins by assuming that SOME experienced enjoyment of the divine persons is contingent and world-dependent.”

    T: That’s quite impossible on Greg’s published view (in TP at least). He argues there’s just no possibility of the Son going off-line that way. God certainly (in TP) enjoys the potential for free, contingent self-expression. But these would express the essential/necessary actuality of God which in Greg’s view just is the mutually enjoyed love of the Persons. Necessary self-constituting features can’t be contingently exemplified.

    If the Son does go off-line, then there’s no personal enjoyment ‘of’ the Son by Father and Spirit. So all are affected. I mean, we’re not discussing polytheism as if we had three divine beings who really like each other a lot and decide to do things with such loving cooperation that it comes across to us looking like monotheism. Greg’s position (following Orthodoxy mind ya) is that the unity of God (i.e., ‘monotheism’) is inseparable from the actual experienced love of the three. His thesis fails if one of the persons takes a vacation, because given his metaphysics, that’s impossible.

    J: What I hear you saying is that God needs a necessary enjoyment to be God.

    T: If by ‘need’ you mean logically for us as we’re viewing it, yes. God is defined as this triune enjoyment. That’s TP. But it’s not that God is ‘in need of’ love and finds a way to satisfy that need. Given there necessity of his existence as triune loving sociality, there is no ‘need’.

    J: But that’s just another way of saying that you want to define God to just mean that God has necessary enjoyable social experience. But the whole problem all along is that you have yet to define God intelligibly simply because of the seeming impossibility of seriously considering a “person” a non-being.

    T: You’ve got TP, Bro. Read it. You’ll find there the closest Dwayne and I are gonna get to fixing our language in terms of a definition (and we’re uncomfortable with saying we’ve succeeded in “defining” God). We actually have summarized it in previous posts.

    J: Granted, Greg has that same problem since he, too, wants to intelligibly posit a co-substantial trinity. But take that away, and there’s a way to intelligibly make his analogy doable.

    T: Obviously. I’m sure there are non-trinitarian views of God out there that deny the consubstantiality of the Persons for which Greg’s analogy would work perfectly.

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  3. Jeff says:

    T: I’m sure there are non-trinitarian view of God out there that deny the consubstantiality of the Persons for which Greg’s analogy would work perfectly.

    J: And intelligibly.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Yes, but none of them are intelligible versions of trinitarian monotheism and thus not versions of the Christian faith.

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      • Jeff says:

        T: Yes, but none of them are intelligible versions of trinitarian monotheism and thus not versions of the Christian faith.

        J: Good to know that Paul wasn’t a Christian.

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      • Jeff says:

        T: Yes, but none of them are intelligible versions of trinitarian monotheism and thus not versions of the Christian faith.

        J: Are you now contending, contra Aidan and many others, that your version of trinitarian monotheism has been intelligibly defined?

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      • tgbelt says:

        Dwayne and I have always maintained that, Jeff. You’ve asked me for “reasons” and “definitions” and I keep sending you to Greg’s TP. You’ll find the basic terms and framework there.

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  4. Jeff says:

    So when you talk about divine persons that are neither beings nor minds, you have an actual definition of “person” in mind that can be communicated in conventional language (i.e., in terms of human categories)? Can you provide it? That would help. Alternatively, are you saying Greg has done that in TP? One other thing: does “person,” per your version of divinity, mean the same thing for a divine “person” and a non-divine “person?” If not, can you, or does Greg, define each of them?

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    • Jeff says:

      I ask, Tom, because Greg’s TP has so many non-sequitors that it’s not very helpful at all as a philosophical argument. But if the definitions are in there, I’ll try to find them if you don’t want to provide them.

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      • tgbelt says:

        It’s not that I don’t want to provide them, Bro. It’s that they’re couched in very careful terms and fuller argument. To someone who doesn’t know physics at all, telling them E=mc2 “defines” Einstein’s masterpiece isn’t very helpful. You can’t just get the ‘definition’. You have to walk through the steps.

        I don’t speak of persons who aren’t beings and don’t have minds. Persons are actual, sentient entities (as opposed to abstract entities). Depending on what you mean by ‘being’ you might find a way to make it acceptable to call the three divine persons three beings. I wouldn’t go with that without tons of prepped qualification. My gut is to prefer saying the three persons are one being (using ‘being’ to posit the one ‘God’). I’m guessing you don’t favor this because your epistemology requires God (if spoken of at all) to be a very large instance of the categories we derive our language from (and our experience is those categories). I don’t think God is just a large instantiation of the same categories we participate in (thought that’s precisely the Process doctrine). But we’re not going to agree on this in the end I think. But yes, Greg does go into all this in TP.

        ‘Hypostasis’ has its own interesting history in the debates of centuries 3 to 5. But it basically means a concrete instantiation of a nature, or a particular instance of some nature. A particular tree is a ‘hypostatis’ of that KIND of thing. A ‘man’ is a hypostasis (particular instantiation) of the kind of thing he is (his nature). ‘Person’ describes a hypostasis of human-kind in its fullest sense, i.e., when its instantiation is concretely everything it is possibly qua its KIND. Naturally, created things have to ‘become’ what they can be. Zygotes are human beings, sure. But they’re concrete individuation as zygotes is as yet incomplete qua their natures. They have to become, over time, are arrive at the fulfillment of their natures. When human nature is all it can be, individuated in some particular expression of that kind—you’ve got a fully-realized ‘person’. That KIND has reached its TELOS in some concrete particular form.

        As a necessary being (Greg argues), God cannot ‘BECOME’ in the above sense (which itself begins to tilt our categories–we’re talking about someone/something that simply doesn’t appear on our MAP so to speak). The definitive features of the divine kind must by definition be fully and concretely instantiated. God cannot ‘be’ and not be all God can be qua his nature. So Father, Son, and Spirit are each a ‘hypostasis’ of one and the same divine nature—fully realized, fully and concretely, always and necessarily; God’s essential existence and God’s telos are one and the same. As the classic theists say (rightly, and Greg agrees), God’s essence IS his existence (though Greg expands upon it in TP). But there’s just no conceivable way the divine nature is individuated contingently, like pushing the pause button on the Son’s concrete personal existence while he takes a metaphysical nap and squeezes all that divinity into a zygote. In terms of Greg’s Hartshornean metaphysics–that’s ridiculous (though it’s what Greg is saying NOW–with NO responsible explanation in terms of his previous work).

        So the more important/interesting discussion has to do with ‘nature’ (divine and human) and not ‘person’ per se, since ‘person’ /’hypostasis’ is just going to be an concrete individuation of THAT kind of thing (divine or human). Greg’s work focuses on identifying (cataphatically we’d say) what any concrete instance of the divine nature would be. Off the top of my head, in TP those characteristic include: actuality (as opposed to being merely possible), concreteness (as opposed to being merely abstract), all-inclusive experience (experience that grounds and enfolds all non-divine experience within the scope of its perception), sentience/consciousness, and unsurpassably intense aesthetic perception/satisfaction. Any supposed instance of divinity which lacks any of these—ever, at any moment–cannot be divine.

        The Orthodox reeeeeally lean back at this kind of nuts-and-bolts philosophical talk when trying to talk about God—though the Fathers’ writing are full of this, very carefully worded, but fully engaged within the terms of the philosophies and beliefs of their day and culture. It’s just that when all is said and done, one backs up and bows down, and confesses that one has perhaps pointed in God’s direction, has captures the EXPERIENCE of God, yes, but without owning God’s existence and being intellectually.

        The danger with ‘definitions’ is that once we DEFINE something we feel we’ve encompassed it, circumscribed it, possessed it and so control it (to some extent).

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  5. Jeff says:

    T: The danger with ‘definitions’ is that once we DEFINE something we feel we’ve encompassed it, circumscribed it, possessed it and so control it (to some extent).

    J: We change definitions all the time to fit our experience to our classificational schemes for inductive ends. E.g., before we did so much discussion heretofore, it had never dawned on me that the sociality of God would need to be an essential attribute, rather than an accidental one, to satisfy inductive criteria. So “control” is not an issue. We learn as we think things through. But deductions, to be seen to be valid, require definitions, tentative or not. Nor do they need to be exhaustive of all essential attributes or characteristics of what we’re defining. They just need to be clear enough to see whether our deductions are valid.

    T: So Father, Son, and Spirit are each a ‘hypostasis’ of one and the same divine nature—fully realized, fully and concretely, always and necessarily;

    J: For clarification, disregarding the difficulty of trying to account for two distinct HUMAN categories of “being” for the trinity per se vs the members, wouldn’t you agree that all that means is that whatever we define the nature to be, it applies to all 3 identically?

    A necessary, non-interruptible social bliss (for the 3, at least) is something you certainly can posit as obligatory for Christians. But where I get lost is why we would posit it as obligatory for Christians if it explains nothing that renders otherwise obscure scripture clear or that accounts for the reality of warranted human belief. And what, other than these, are relevant to COMMUNAL obligatory faith?

    No doubt there are spiritually-revealed truths that Paul says are known by the “perfect.” And those “perfect” can therefore commune in those truths. But the “perfect” did not include the Corinthians he said that to. But the Corinthians WERE part of the believing community, nonetheless, and therefore deserved to be engaged rationally at the level they were at. Even Paul appealed to his class of signs and wonders as indicative of his God-given teaching authority. He didn’t expect folks to believe him merely because “he said so.” Humans are too diverse for unity to obtain by such an approach.

    T: But there’s just no conceivable way the divine nature is individuated contingently, like pushing the pause button on the Son’s concrete personal existence while he takes a metaphysical nap and squeezes all that divinity into a zygote.

    J: That would depend on what it means for the Son to be divine. If all it means is that he is a necessary being that has necessary capacities for certain mental, sentient and volitional activity, as well as certain necessary limitations to his activities (e.g., he can’t deny himself), then he can be divine while napping. If it means that all things are OUT of him, then he can’t be divine in the same sense as the Father if scripture is both true and means what it plausibly seems to mean. But seeings how scriptural language legitimately classifies angels and demons as gods, the former is not obviously problematic on scriptural grounds. And I don’t see how it can be inconsistent philosophically.

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    • Jeff says:

      And again, there is no doubt that even if the Son can nap as a divine being, this is only consistent with our theistic explanation of the existence of warranted belief IF that nap is done only for teleological reasons–which means that the very kind of blissful relationship you talk about had to exist prior TO creation to motivate the Father to create FOR the Son. Moreover, there is no reason to assume it ceases, however it might be relativized between the moment of creation and the fulfillment of all creational ends. But it’s precisely the risk of temporal relativization that allows us to explain TELEOLOGICALLY such that God is known as a CREATOR, not merely a higher power existing along side of the universe. If He were only the latter, theism would not explain the existence of warranted belief. And nothing else does explain it.

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  6. tgbelt says:

    Jeff, I don’t know what to say. You say, “Well, IF that’s what it means to be divine, then yeah; but if that’s not what it means to be divine, then no.”

    …Obviously.

    Greg’s arguments in TP are for its being the case that that that IS what it means to be divine. You’ll have to read it and wade thoughtfully through his arguments. I can’t discuss it with you apart from that. We just keep repeating ourselves. It won’t be the worst thing in the world you’ve read! Good luck.

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    • Jeff says:

      T: You say, “Well, IF that’s what it means to be divine, then yeah; but if that’s not what it means to be divine, then no.”

      …Obviously.

      J: Indeed. The more relevant issue is, again:

      “A necessary, non-interruptible social bliss (for the 3, at least) is something you certainly can posit as obligatory for Christians. But where I get lost is why we would posit it as obligatory for Christians if it explains nothing that renders otherwise obscure scripture clear or that accounts more generally for the reality of warranted human belief. And what, other than these, are relevant to COMMUNAL obligatory faith?”

      I have no intentions of supposing it obligatory for other HUMANS to agree with me where nothing is discernibly (per HUMAN modes of apprehension) given by God. I can think of nothing that renders such an approach consistent with benevolence.

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      • tgbelt says:

        J: Indeed. The more relevant issue is, again: “A necessary, non-interruptible social bliss (for the 3, at least) is something you certainly can posit as obligatory for Christians. But where I get lost is why we would posit it as obligatory for Christians if it explains nothing that…

        T: This conversation is like a record that’s stuck repeating overtop a scratch! Dude, the more relevant issue is this: that the explanations that may convince you are in a book you won’t read. So I’m not obliged to take you seriously on this anymore.

        J: I have no intentions of supposing it obligatory for other HUMANS to agree with me where nothing is discernibly (per HUMAN modes of apprehension) given by God. I can think of nothing that renders such an approach consistent with benevolence.

        T: Well, have a nice day and be blessed!

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  7. “There is a relational unity [to] the Trinity which is greater than God’s own experience of it.”

    You know, as objectionable as this sentence seems to other people, it seems to me a necessary and logical consequence of believing that God’s conscious states change. If you think that the persons of the Trinity experience different states of consciousness, then obviously God’s essential being – i.e. his unchanging essence or his fundamental unity as Trinity – CANNOT BE EQUIVALENT TO God’s “experience” of that unity.

    Of course, if you think God’s conscious experience cannot change then you need not grant this. But then THAT would entail (it seems to me) denying that God can really know creation, or that the Son could really have a changing human consciousness.

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