The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP addresses recent metaphysical crits of trinitarianism

Jason, thank you for addressing my question!

However, you misunderstood my question. Let me clarify.

If all three persons of the Godhead are God, then this neccessarily means that each of the three persons possesses all characteristics of God. What then could possibly distinguish one person of the Godhead from the other(s)?

My apologies for misunderstanding the question.

But I did write at some length above about the multipersonal distinction of a self-begetting and self-begotten singular ultimate entity. (Mostly setting aside the topic of the 3rd Person as requiring further discussion.)

The difference is perhaps in the direction of the logical approach. When I go through the metaphysical analysis, I discover first that I should believe in one ultimate Independent Fact (whether naturalistic or supernaturalist, theistic or atheistic) upon which all reality must depend for existence.

Then I discover that I should believe this IF to be rationally active (or actively rational, to put it the other way around). I thus accept theism to be true and reject atheism. But naturalism or supernaturalism might still be true.

The next issue I come to doesn’t solve for naturalism or supernaturalism either way (that comes later), but involves how a rationally active ultimate existence ultimately exists: by rationally acting. (The alternative, that this Independent Fact exists merely statically, not even self-causingly, runs into conflict with prior portions of my analysis, for reasons I cannot easily summarize here.) Put a little overbriefly, though, this self-generating action of God results in a paradoxical distinction that would be unique to the finally active cause of all existence: there is a conceptual action of cause and effect which, at this ultimate and finally irreducible level of existence, are effectively the same thing. God is both self-begetting and self-begotten. But this doesn’t mean that God, being self-begotten, is not God!–anymore than God, being self-begetting, would somehow thus not be God.

Consequently, since God, as an active sentience, is a personal entity (though not in the limited way that I am a personal entity, but upon which, or upon Whom, rather my own rational characteristics ultimately depend for existence), I thus am led to simultaneously affirm that God Self-begetting is a Person, and God Self-begotten is a Person.

(Note: at this point I’m working from some unpublished material that would otherwise fit into Section Three of SttH, the free postings of which are linked to in all my signatures.)

So far this might only be a modalistic doctrine. What God most fundamentally acts to do, in self-generational existence, must be fully and completely Himself; but this might only mean that we should treat this characteristic of God (a Person is self-begetting, a Person is self-begotten) as something of a useful legal fiction, the way we might consider a self-existent equation to be two distinct formulas because the formulas (though they are ultimately the same) ‘look’ different. Thus for certain purposes we might use or refer to the formula on the left side of the equal sign, while for other purposes we might be better served by referring to the formula on the right. The statement of principle would in either case be ultimately the same, but we might find different valid uses for different expressions of the statement. To this extent, enriching my perception of God by recognizing a ‘unity in multiplicity’ might be quite useful to me (the subjective observer); but by itself this doesn’t make it necessarily more than a convenient description.

However, now we come to the philosophical problem of consciousness. We have discovered that it is inconsistent to claim that a person is ‘conscious’ without some existent distinction for the person to be perceptive of for purposes of self-identification.

The problem then becomes this: if I take my own rationality seriously (according to a previous analysis which I have not summarized here), then I will fetch up sooner or later at the necessary existence of a sentient Independent Fact: God. It would be inconsistent (I agree with the atheists here) to say that God has these properties and yet is not conscious at that state of His existence where nothing else has been created. And I further agree (again with the atheists) that without a distinctive difference of states, it is nonsensical to say that God could be ‘conscious’. If I deduct that God exists, however, (with an inference such that I cannot feasibly believe God doesn’t exist without undermining any argument I might make on any topic), then I should be expecting some kind of real Personal distinction to obtain in the self-existence of God.

And the begettor/begotten distinction satisfies this requirement in the most basic manner possible; for differentiation requires some type of action by the IF, and there can be no more basic action than self-generation.

Thus I conclude that the most fundamental action of God, God’s self-generation, eternally introduces into His own most basic level of reality a true distinction of some sort; one which is intimately connected to the relationship between God’s action of self-generation and the result of self-generation which is He Himself God.

The simplest possible way of stating this would be: God the Begettor is in some true sense one distinctive Person, and God the Begotten is in some true sense another distinctive Person. The Father/Son imagery turns out to be increasingly more accurate. God, at His most fundamental level of reality, is first and foremost a Unity of Persons–one distinctively Begetting and one distinctively Begotten, both of them constituting a common ‘substance’ (so to speak) of existence.

Can I mentally picture this? No, and I doubt there is any properly full analogy for it either. But (just as in quantum physics, for example) I am not worried about a lack of totally accurate mental imagery, as long as the underlying precepts (the “logical math”, so to speak) remain self-consistent. The Father/Son imagery, as far as I can tell, is adequate: God the Father eternally begets God the Son, Who eternally submits in self-consistency back to the Father. The Son is of one mind with the Father and does the Father’s will, and indeed does nothing except what the Father does, being the very action of God Himself. The Son may be said to be dependent upon the Father, as God is dependent upon Himself for His very existence. The active sentience of God, however, requires for God’s own self-consciousness, that this unity of Persons be true not only modally (it would be at least that), but as a real distinction of Persons, at the level of God’s eternal self-sufficient existence.

(I’ve had to skip over a few important topics, such as why distinction-of-an-other-for-self-consciousness would also be true of God and not only a limitation of derivative sentience such as my own. Consider such things to be topics for further discussion. :sunglasses: )

The second to fourth century understanding of the begetting of the Son, was that the Father begat Him before all ages as His first act. This was understood to be a single act not an “eternal begetting”. Even the original Nicene Creed of 325 A.D. states that Jesus, the Son of God was “begotten before all ages”. It identifies the Father as the “one God” and His only begotten Son as the “one Lord”. There is not a hint of Trinitarianism in that creed. Yet the creed affirms that Jesus was “Very God of Very God”. This is consistent with second century Christian belief. Dogs beget dogs and the offspring is canine. Man begets man, and the offspring is human. God begets God, and the offspring is divine.

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages,
only begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
Through whom all things were made; both things in heaven and things on earth;
Who for us people, and for our salvation, came down, and was incarnate,
and was made man;
He suffered, and was raised again the third day,
And ascended into heaven
And he shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead,
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
And in one baptism of repentance for deliverance from sins,
And in one holy universal Church,
And in the resurrection of the flesh,
And in everlasting life.

I believe that single act of begetting marked the beginning of time. Though Arius, in one of his letters, referred to Jesus as “fully God”, he was mistaken in his statement, “There was a time at which the Son did not exist.” There wasn’t such a time, for there was no time before the beginning of time. The true concept of the beginning of time implies no “before”. Yet the Father caused the begetting of the Son.

One wise man put it quite succinctly, "The Father was causally, but not temporally prior to the Son.

According to Jerome, “The world groaned and marvelled at finding itself Arian.”

Jerome thought anyone who disagreed with his “eternal begetting” concept was an “Arian”. Jerome used this appellation for Eusebius of Caesarea (the church historian who was with the universal church of his day) and for even Origen (who died before Arius was born).

Fine, but if the Father possesses an attribute that the Son does not, and vice versa, then does this mean that both the Father and the Son lack the fullness of divine attributes?


My comments to your remarks about the history of “orthodoxy” are found back in the thread “Just what IS ‘orthodox Christian theism’?”, at this entry. I didn’t address them here, in order to keep the thread topic on track.

The comment about “one God, one Lord” is best addressed by reference to my analytical digest, which can be found as an attached doc file here. A much briefer general discussion of a common scriptural complaint on this topic can be found here in the scriptural crit thread.

The kind-from-kind comment was briefly addressed here in the metaphysical crit thread (though from another critic); also here.

A strong concern of mine regarding the religious application of these two topics was given here in the metaphysical crit thread.

The “begotten today” comment was addressed here in the metaphysical crit thread; and here in the scriptural crit thread.

Incidentally, it wasn’t Eusebius the famous church historian who was an Arian; that was a different Eusebius from another district. (I’ve mixed them up, too, before; an easy mistake to make. I assure you, I would actually be kind of amused for the guy who hagiologized and later baptized Constantine on his deathbed, and who wrote the first church history, to have been an Arian. {wry g} For one thing it would add a bit more explanation to why Constantine’s successors were universally Arian out through Julian the Apostate.)

JRP, did you see my last post?

Huh… yeah, and I wrote a rather in-depth reply about how it depends on what is meant by divine characteristics. Weird… I could have sworn I posted it, but it isn’t here in the thread or in my saved drafts either. (Or in the tempfile docs that I often use for composition offline.)

Great; now I’ll have to recreate whatever the heck it was I said! :laughing: I’ll try to post up a new version of it later, but first I’m going to look around and try to figure out if I somehow sent it elsewhere on the forum by accident… (is that even possible??)


Well I never did find the thing (I suspect I erased it from my saved drafts, thinking it was an extra of my link-pointing reply to Paidion), so I hope this recreation will be as good as the first one I did. :laughing:

This would be a problem if God was supposed to be constituted of parts, but the relationship isn’t like that. God’s self-existence (if positive aseity trinitarianism is true) involves being self-generationally existent, self-begetting and self-begotten. The self-begotten God still is God; the self-begetting God still is God. (The God proceeding from this self-generation still is God, too.) There is only one “substance” (in later philosophical parlance), not multiple substances, comprising the relationship.

The characteristics unique to ultimate divinity are ontological ones: all reality exists (and so depends upon) the action of this ultimate entity. (This would still be true if atheism, whether naturalistic or supernaturalistic, was true, by the way; although the term “action” would then have to mean merely generic “behavior” at best.) The Father and the Son and the Spirit all share in that ontological superiority in regard to the rest of reality. The relative hierarchy among themselves not only doesn’t compromise the ultimate ontological finality of God, their hierarchical interactions (at least between the 1st and 2nd Persons, God Self-begetting and God Self-begotten) actually constitute the fundamental reality of God (considered as a singularly final entity, the Independent Fact as I tend to put it). Without that interaction, eternally acting to fulfill fair-togetherness among the Persons, God Himself (substantially speaking) would not exist, and neither would the rest of reality.

Which, as I’ve noted elsewhere, has massively huge ramifications about what we can expect from God toward derivative persons, including in regard to salvation from sin. When nominal trinitarians have to start denying doctrines of orthodox trinitarianism (and even of supernaturalistic theism more basically), in order to keep a doctrine of non-universalism, then I for one am not remotely surprised.

(That probably wasn’t put as well as I did the first time I wrote it out, but… :wink: )

The scriptural digest I posted up (see first comment in this thread for a link now) demonstrates that the scriptures testify to the Father and the Son (and the Spirit, though with a few interesting omissions–the Spirit is never shown on the single throne of the Father and the Son for example) each not only doing the deeds archetypically unique to YHWH in scripture, but also having the honor and the authority and the names and (as a metaphor of the ontology) the seat uniquely due to God and to God alone; while nevertheless being distinct Persons in relation to one another. Which is exactly what my metaphysical rationale leads me to expect. (Aside from never being shown on the throne of God, so far as I can find, the Spirit doesn’t have much to do with the creation of Creation, either; but on the other hand has a lot to do with the creation of persons within Creation. Which is something my metaphysical rationale also leads me to expect.)


If I am following your logic (and I sense that I may not be!), it seems that you are proposing that none of the divine Persons is fully God. What am I missing?

Sorry for the delay in getting back to this. Today is my day to manfully attempt catching up on back-posts. :laughing:

No, each of the divine Persons, by the description I gave above, is still ultimately God. “The Father and the Son and the Spirit all share in that ontological superiority in regard to the rest of reality.”

I was stressing the unity of the singular “substance” (as philosophers tend to call it). It isn’t supposed to be three Persons with three instances of a type of substance; that would be cosmological tri-theism at best. (Maybe mere polytheism!) Instead I wrote, “their hierarchical interactions actually constitute the fundamental reality of God (considered as a singularly final entity).” Without the active cooperative interaction of at least two of the Persons (God self-begetting and God self-begotten), God’s own ‘nature’ (to put it a little differently than I was doing before) would not itself exist.

This concept also has to be distinguished from the concept of God being composed of multiple parts, none of them fully God in themselves.

The doctrine of divine simplicity (which is technically held by any naturalistic or supernaturalistic theist per se) can mean several things. But it’s always going to mean that there are not multiple Independent Facts (for example three Gods Who are all three IFs, i.e. cosmological tri-theism); and it’s also always going to mean that the IF isn’t composed of particulate entities less than It Itself (which among other problems would mean that the so-called ‘IF’ actually exists within a field of superordinate reality, and thus cannot be the true IF. This would also be a chief problem for cosmological tri-theism, in a slightly different way.)

The composition of the “orthodox Trinity” isn’t that of either of those concepts. And, personally, I have found that the concept of self-generation helps me avoid thinking in terms of composite particular structure. It isn’t three Ultimate Gods being put together as one Team of three Ultimate Gods; and it isn’t three lesser gods being put together to form one Ultimate God. (VOLTRON!!! :mrgreen: ) It’s “very God of very God”, as one creedal translation puts it.

That’s a nicely succinct phrase, because it gets in the generative begetting (“of”), and the identity of both begettor and begotten (“very God”) while also getting in a distinction (not merely “very God” but “very God of very God”). The ultimate God is ultimately of God: active self-existence.

I note in hindsight, btw, that my reply here was reiterating, in a little more detail, the concept in the paragraph I had written immediately previous to the one you had quoted me from.

Eh, thanks for trying, Jason. The meaning of what you wrote remains undecipherable to me, however. I suppose my degree in philosophy didn’t do me much good. :smiley:

••• If Jesus Christ was really God in the sense that he is an actual part of God that was uncreated in any sense, then who was running the universe when Jesus died? •••

Both critical parts of this question were addressed earlier in this thread, but this isn’t an unusual (or unreasonable) way to put them together.

To recap: if the action of God within Nature required the total abdication of God’s existence as the Independent Fact, then this would be an argument against God introducing effects within Nature at all. The problem isn’t with trinitarianism, but whether God can do miracles in Nature at all. This isn’t an unimportant issue, but it’s solved (one way or another) long before getting to trinitarian theism per se. (Relatedly, nominal deists and cosmological God/Nature dualists argue against the Incarnation precisely because they don’t or can’t expect God to operate in Nature at all.)

The question of the extent to which God can ‘die’, happens to be related to the question of how (and/or whether) God creates non-God entities at all. But, without going into a lot of philosophical discussion on this point (which again would be logically connected to the affirmation of supernaturalistic theism generally, not specifically to trinitarian theism), what can be more simply said is that most non-trinitarian Christians (along with most other theists, too) agree that even mere humans don’t utterly die at death (unless God annihilates them for being sinners) but continue spiritually existing somehow. The continuing spiritual existence of God at mortal death, is no more problematic than that. Also no more problematic than God ceasing to do any mere manifestation in Nature, either. (Although the Incarnation of Christ is rather more complex than that, admittedly. On the other hand, the OT manifestations turn out to have strong referential connections to Jesus!–see the 76-page digest for details.)

It should be noted that this answer doesn’t require specially dichotomizing between the death of Christ’s human nature and the death of Christ’s spiritual nature–not any moreso than a normal human’s spirit also survives death of the body. The divine spirit of Christ suffers as much death as a human spirit can (by the grace of God) suffer, so God still is sharing in our death and life. This actually has strong connections to soteriological and eschatological hope: we are to share in the death and so in the resurrection of Christ. As C. S. Lewis once paraphrased St. Paul: Christ does not die to merely save us from death, but He dies so that our deaths may be like His.

I suppose that we could still question the second point on the assumption of the immortality of our spirit? Although not an annihilationist, I still think any immortality we may have is conditional. At death, our spirit returns to God who gave it. But this does not, I think, guarantee any sort of consciousness to it? My understanding is that one of the things we were saved from is eternal death (annihilation). If Christ was not raised from the dead, then this is the result we would expect (annihilation). Also, I would’ve thought that the question of what extent God can or cannot die is moot, since the scripture says that he can’t.

Not really; the conditionality is dependent on God either way: the spirit of a person can only die so far. The same would be true to whatever extent God can die. Sure, He could annihilate Himself, but that would be literally self-defeating. :wink: (And permanently so.)

There are various scriptural testimonies otherwise (including from Jesus, though one of those may be considered only parabolical and so not to be pressed too far.) In fact, 1 Peter says that Christ preached to the dead (probably also referring to the rebel angels) during His own descent into hades after being slain. So He wasn’t any more completely dead than they were.

However, even if human (or angelic) consciousness ceased for a time in hades (for which there is also some scriptural testimony), this wouldn’t necessarily apply to God. Indeed, the consuming everlasting fire of Gehenna itself (which also appears operative in ‘hades’), must be God in some fashion (as the Holy Spirit most likely)–unless there are supposed to be two everlasting fires! (Which would be cosmological dualism.) And David says that God is with him even if he goes down into sheol (the pit/grave/death).

So it isn’t so much (scripturally speaking) that our spirit returns to God at death, but that God stays with our spirit, even in death, until He raises us to be with Him. (Which parallels 1 Peter’s teaching about Christ rather nicely; as well as paralleling, from another direction, the statement of Christ from GosJohn that He had not yet ascended to the Father, even after His resurrection.)

Back to the metaphysical side of things, though: if God completely died, that would be the end of God and of everything else (since everything continually depends on God for existence). And as it happens, I am prepared to believe and even to say that God can and does ‘die’ even further than derivative persons do (by God’s grace), in order for creation to occur at all. But the Son Incarnate doesn’t have to die that far to share in human death (since by God’s grace humans don’t die that far either); and even the extent to which God ‘dies’ in self-sacrifice (but not self-defeat!) for creational purposes, is not utter death.

In this, again, God still is the Living God; just as He is still the Living God in the grave to which we ourselves go. And from a temporal perspective, the self-sacrificial ‘death’ of God for the sake of creating not-God entities, happens simultaneously (and at every temporal instant) with the dynamically active life of God, too. (From God’s perspective, this action would happen even ‘more simultaneously’, to coin a phrase! :smiley: )

The answer to this, from the perspective of metaphysical analysis, is that there are different kinds and degrees of death. God cannot absolutely die and still exist, of course; but even trinitarians don’t normally propose this.

As to what the scriptures have to say on the matter, that’s covered in the scriptural thread (and even moreso in the scriptural digest). But even metaphysically there can be an operational distinction in this between the person of the Father and the person of the Son: it is the Son Who submits to the Father from all eternity; it is the Lamb (i.e. the Son) Who is slain not only from but as the foundation (literally the “explosive downpouring” as in a generating orgasm) of the world (for in Him we live and move and have our being and continually hold together); and while the Hebraist is extremely emphatic about the YHWH Who “remains” when all other things perish and Who is “the same, and Thy years will not come to an end” being the Son Jesus Who also suffers death (with us and for our sake), he does not claim that this is true about the person of the Father (even though he also is extremely emphatic about declaring the Father to be YHWH, too.)

In order to understand this better, though, the topic has to go back (metaphysically speaking) to how any not-God entity can come into existence, even by the action of God. Very briefly speaking, this requires the self-sacrifice of God, even (in some way) of the living action of God. Which (going back to the scriptures again) is one of the connotations of “Logos” in the scriptures. It doesn’t only mean ‘word’, as in the representation of an idea or meaning. More fundamentally, it means a rational action, even a foundationally rational action. (Literally the term is a noun version of the verb ‘to lay’. Note by the way that whenever New Testament authors speak of the “cornerstone”, they’re talking about Christ who they clearly state and even triumphantly proclaim to have died; but they’re also just as insistent that the cornerstone is the foundation of everything and is not itself ever destroyed–just as the cornerstone is treated prophetically in the OT.)

It is specifically the Son (not the Father nor the Spirit) Who is identified as the Logos, or in Aramaic/Hebrew the Memra, of God; but even the pre-Christian Jewish rabbis identified the Memra of God as being God Himself and intimately connected with the action of creation–back to Genesis 1:1. “The Memra of God” was by far the most common way of describing God Himself in the pre-Christian targums, which still survive today in the Jewish tradition, too.

(Although understandably, they don’t much like acknowledging the link to Christian doctrine thereby. Notably, the Talmudic deposits indicate that non-Christian rabbis developed a habit of treating the “Memra” as the Torah or Law–a habit Christians have sometimes gotten into, too–leading to some declarations so blasphemous I don’t even want to talk about them out of grief that Jewish teachers would have dared to say, teach and pass down such things. sigh. In fairness, this is similar to their reluctance to talk about us, too. :slight_smile: )

Forum poster Melchizedek, back in the scriptural crit thread, gives an objection to the substantial unity of Christ with God as follows (which for ease of reference I’m reposting in total here):

First, prior references in the two “crit” threads to topics in this challenge:

A brief notice about the Petrine descent-into-hades data in the script crit thread here.

The script crit thread discussion of the Cry From the Cross is back here.

Prior entries here in the metaphysical crit thread, on the question of God dying (on a cross or otherwise): here; here (more specifically about the Cry From the Cross; and here and here (an earlier answer to Mel on this topic).

That’ll catch up on discussion so far; more specific discussion to follow.

On to the more specific answer, then.

The briefest exhaustive (but hopefully least exhausting :mrgreen: ) way I can put the reply to your difficulties, Mel, is perhaps as follows.

Either Jesus was annihilated, or he continued to exist in some way by the grace of God.

If Jesus was annihilated, then of course he couldn’t be God; but then also neither was he resurrected, nor ascended, nor did he cooperate with God in any way at all after being annihilated, nor will he ever be cooperating with God in any way ever again. I am unsure what kind of “Christianity” would remain, but I for one have no intention of putting my faith in a mere man annihilated like a sinner by God. (Like a sinner?! Which is it better to believe, that Jesus was an innocent man utterly destroyed by God as though he was a sinner?–or that Jesus was a sinner utterly destroyed by God!? If I must choose between believing one or the other, the choice seems clear enough to me!)

If Jesus continued to exist by God’s grace in any way (especially “spiritually”), then (as previously demonstrated) the Son Incarnate could continue to exist in “death” as the Son, too, just the same. In order to share the death of sinners, God need not die any further than sinners do.

If it is replied that sinners may continue to exist “apart from God”, then my answer is that I do not believe there are multiple Independent Facts; consequently I do not believe any sinner begins self-existence (especially by being a sinner!), nor does a sinner begin existing in ultimate dependence on anything other than God the Omnipresent, in Whom we move and live and have our being, and for Whom and into Whom (as well as from Whom) are all things, and by Whom all things hold together. If I did believe sinners could continue to exist “apart from God”, I would be tacitly refuting both naturalistic and supernaturalistic theism. This is an issue that is resolved one way or another, long before considering whether orthodox trinitarian theism is true.

(Admittedly, trinitarian theist teachers themselves have a bad habit of trying to present sinners as existing “apart from God”, even in a rawly ontological sense; but that’s because they either don’t know any better or are just being sloppy, maybe for rhetoric’s sake. Their problem; not mine.)

The problem, then, is a non-problem. If God annihilated Jesus, then any Christianity is false and should be immediately repudiated and abandoned (and, where possible, vigorously if charitably opposed.) Ironically, this wouldn’t mean trinitarian theism is necessarily false!–only that Jesus could not be the Incarnation of God self-begotten. If God didn’t annihilate Jesus, then neither would the Son, God Incarnate, the only-begotten, be any more annihilated (nor actually separated from the Father) in sharing death with sinners.

(This is aside from going into what atonement and/or propitiation can or must mean. Although I will briefly point out that if Jesus was annihilated by God, then not only was he not in fact the Christ but there could not possibly be atonement with God through him.)

If you want to try proposing that God can annihilate a person and then un-annihilate that same person, then things are going to get rather more technical. :wink:

(By which I mean, six more pages worth of technical, at least. :mrgreen: The short version, is that even God cannot unannihilate a person, or any other specific entity, that He has ontologically annihilated; and only that kind of annihilation is going to get past the but-even-sinners-don’t-cease-existing-so-neither-would-God-in-sharing-their-death rebuttal.)

To which I will reiterate a bit of scriptural data already mentioned (in another context) in the script crit thread. But I’ll put that reiteration there, and crosslink here.

So according to the short version, God cannot unannihilate an ontologically annihilated entity. Hm. I’m assuming this is a metaphysical argument, because the scripture I’m aware of states that all things are possible with God.

I actually don’t think things need to be that complicated, really. I’m going to have to go back and read the other links to get a fuller picture.