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Divine Simplicity

Posted: Thu Jun 20, 2019 1:21 pm
by darinhouston
This thread is to carry on a conversation for those wanting to explore Thomistic and other views of Divine Simplicity.

Here is a panel discussion on the subject, including William Lane Craig, for those wanting a backgrounder.

Here is brotheralan's comment which prompted this thread...
brotheralan wrote:Also, not a question, but a clarification of the doctrine of the Trinity: this doctrine does not hold that God is a "compound God"; the word "compound" implies that God is made of "parts", and the doctrine does not hold that. Rather, the doctrine holds that there is one God, perfectly simple (not composed of any "parts"), whose nature/essence the Three Persons each perfectly possess (thus, making each of the Three Persons to be the one true God).
I haven't got the gray matter or the philosophy training to handle this one very well, but I personally don't think this answers the so-called "accidents" of God and is inconsistent with what I see as a clear subordination (and therefore relation) between the Son and the Father.

Re: Divine Simplicity

Posted: Thu Jun 20, 2019 5:02 pm
by Paidion
"Brother Alan" wrote:Also, not a question, but a clarification of the doctrine of the Trinity: this doctrine does not hold that God is a "compound God"; the word "compound" implies that God is made of "parts", and the doctrine does not hold that. Rather, the doctrine holds that there is one God, perfectly simple (not composed of any "parts"), whose nature/essence the Three Persons each perfectly possess (thus, making each of the Three Persons to be the one true God).
If there's ONE God made up of three Persons, then each of those three Persons is part of God.

The ONE God is "perfectly simple" only if that ONE God is a single Individual.

The latter is the way Jesus Himself viewed God. In His prayer, Jesus addressed the Father as the ONLY true God! (John 17:3)

If the Father is the ONLY true God, then the ONLY true God does not consist of three divine Persons.

Re: Divine Simplicity

Posted: Thu Jun 20, 2019 5:05 pm
by darinhouston
But, Paidion, if you wrap it up in enough pious accoutrement, it doesn’t seem quite as incoherent.

Re: Divine Simplicity

Posted: Fri Jun 21, 2019 12:02 am
by BrotherAlan
We absolutely do not need sarcastic and rude statements like that. "Charity", the first commandment for the Christian, "is not rude." This is an honest discussion about the meaning of the Scriptures, and, at the very least, a humble mind would acknowledge that the doctrine of the Trinity has been seriously and deeply pondered by some of the greatest minds the Church has ever known, and has been held by MOST Christians throughout the ages (these facts alone should lead one to AT LEAST have a humble respect for the position, even if one doesn't believe it). To reduce this VERY high theology on the Trinity--involving the highest, most difficult concepts to grasp in ALL of human studies-- to mere "pious accoutrement" is not only very offensive to me and others who believe in the Trinity, but, honestly, brother, it also does not reflect well on you (both in terms of your displaying, in this instance, bad manners, as well as manifesting an apparent and serious lack of appreciation on your part for the lofty theology involved in the centuries of serious prayerful thinking that has gone into the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity). Long story short, cut out that sort of sarcastic talk. I'm not at all interested in engaging in a dialogue with anyone who is set on having that sort of attitude (which is why I enjoy engaging in dialogue with Paidion and Homer, as they generally present their views firmly and clearly, but also respectfully).

In due time, I plan on responding later to the actual questions at hand (but needed to first give this important input concerning expectations/rules for our investigation on these very lofty matters... The loftiness of which requires all of us to engage in this investigation with humility and mutual respect for each other, all of whom, we should assume, in charity, desire to know the truth).

With real and genuine Christian charity,

Re: Divine Simplicity

Posted: Fri Jun 21, 2019 10:13 am
by darinhouston
BrotherAlan, I hesitate to respond out of fear it might be seen as lacking charity or humility. I have reflected on how to apologize to you, personally, for any personal affront even while seeing no reason to apologize for the more general accusations you make as to a lack of charity or humility -- even in using sarcasm or humor in connection with the doctrine itself or its history or tradition. I do not want to appear as if I making a qualified apology; however, that is the reality of the situation.

First, I must recognize that I have been uncharitable on occasion here and elsewhere, and on reflection recall now that I still owe Matt and the participants on another thread a heartfelt apology for suggesting Trinitarians "resort" to the kenosis theory to answer difficult objections as to the dual nature of Christ. That is not charitable, as it does suggest a motive and lack of intellectual honesty, which is unfair, even uncharitable.

I do also apologize to you here, personally, to the extent that my comments offend your personal sensitivities on the doctrine and on tradition or to the degree it suggests any motive on your part to obfuscate incoherence with flourish. I do think this is often the result in some circles, but I don’t know you well enough to know if it is your specific intent. So, to the extent the comment suggests this, I apologize. It was not my intent.

Even so, I will defend the use of sarcasm at times in the good natured manner it was intended, no matter the doctrine. You should appreciate that Homer and Paidion and I (and others) have been in a wide variety of discourse for more than a decade, and while we may disagree strongly on occasion (while being odd bedfellows on others) we do respect each other and get along quite well though we do have fun with each other from time to time. Humor, and even sarcasm, can be a useful tool even in doctrinal discourse. I mean no disrespect to you, personally, but do in fact mean some disrespect for any particular authority of the history and tradition of which you speak.

I likewise mean no further disrespect to you, personally, by responding further that (as you may have gathered) this is a free and open forum for the exchange of ideas in a way that is safe and permits one taking risks as to positions and to test one's own theories while even being the "devil's advocate" from time to time. This is almost always a very congenial bunch and you don't see the sort of vitriol and illogic that is on so many other online forums. This is, perhaps, because most of us are seeking truth and not trying to convince one another of a particular position (though we advocate strongly for the reasonableness of a particular theory on occasion). This does happen, from time to time, with some particular doctrines and the Trinity does seem to have been a “third rail” of sorts throughout church history. But that is why a forum of this nature is so important. You do have to have a somewhat thick "doctrinal skin" to enter such debates as no proverbial "cow" is sacred here, even while we do seek to remain civil. Civility does not, however, require a high degree of respect for tradition or authority.

Speaking only for myself, I owe very little to tradition in this discussion, and regarding “charity” the history of this doctrine is deserving of very little. I dare say that the history of this debate and of treatment of "heretics" who have attempted to question traditional views over the millennia has not shown itself worthy of the high degree of respect which you seek. The history of Nicea, itself, (and in particular the years following) was more political than perhaps even that of the Reformation. And when alternative doctrines arose again from humble and pious men seeking truth during and following the Reformation, the lack of charity against those seen as heretics such as Servetus seems to have emanated from the evil one himself and is paralleled perhaps only by the Crusades. It is, in fact, the strength of tradition in this doctrine even in the face of what few can grasp with apparent contradictions and incoherence that requires a real level-setting and laying aside of tradition and authority.

You may well find that there is indeed also a low view of authority here – we have clergy here from time to time, and those that leave vestments and homilies behind do well. However, those seeking to catechize the participants are not viewed with particular favor. Though there may be exceptions, by and large the only authority held in high esteem here (in a way that would affect discourse or argument) is that of our Lord, and His apostles’ teaching which we try desperately to understand and to apply as THEY intended, and not as tradition and authority has dictated. As an aside, the only real exception is that you will find that we all seek to also have a high degree of respect and to honor Steve’s authority here as this forum is an outgrowth of his ministry, and we recognize that what we do here does reflect on him and his teaching. But, Steve has likewise defended sarcasm in measure over the years, perhaps notably against appeals to authority or tradition. However, this is the one place where we lay aside tradition and history and seek from time to time to deconstruct doctrines and theories to seek truth.

In closing, I will return to the sentiment expressed in my brief post. Sarcasm aside, I do hope you see the irony in your closing salutation. Charity and humility cuts both ways, and I see very little of either in your missive or in many of your posts. They tend to be condescending and patronizing, even as they go out of their way to sound pious. I might suggest that a simple statement that you were offended might have been met with a simple apology. However, the manner of your sermonizing is likewise offensive to me. The very fact that you feel you can dictate the rules of discourse and debate to the degree that sarcasm can’t be used here should at least suggest a pause on your part. We welcome diversity of opinion and viewpoints. However, if we have anything here it is doctrinal humility (though we can all exercise more charity at times) and expect the same. The tenor of this and many of your posts frankly do not seem aligned with seeking to understand one another to learn together, but instead (though irenic and pious) seem to be a Socratic approach to “school” the heretics here and to indeed catechize us in accepted tradition and dogma. They frequently come across more as sermons with flourish and pious recitations of tradition than as rational explanations or argumentation.

Finally, since you are defending the tradition and history of the Trinity doctrine, itself, it is worth at least mentioning that the sarcastic post was not in regards to the fundamental aspects of the Trinity which so many have indeed held and which are held strongly by (as you say) a majority of the church. It was, instead, a criticism of a very narrow and not widely known or understood peripheral argument as to divine simplicity. This may be a strong tenet of Roman Catholicism. But, I dare say you’d be hard pressed to find any laity coming out of a protestant church who had even heard of it. The formulation you posited (though not your own) was about as incoherent as any I could fashion, and worthy of a degree of sarcasm even in the most irenic of debates. I think humility requires a recognition at least as to how this sounds to the un-initiated, and a bit of charity is warranted to the one chuckling a bit at its apparent incoherence (along with notions such as eternal begetting). As I stated in my immediately prior post, I lack the gray matter or the philosophy training to deal with divine simplicity – so, perhaps I shouldn’t have posted at all in that thread and resorted to sarcasm out of frustration and inability. But, there is likewise a temptation to cover incoherence with church-speak – regardless of the motive, many are hesitant to attack something that sounds so pious, so I see added piety and flourish in a forum like this often as a type of fallacy, intended to overpower argument with a soft glove – akin to an appeal against sacrilege or the like. To question the underlying positions is to question God Himself. But, it’s at least instructive that as I have read “what remains” of the works of some of the heretics who were in many cases burned at the stake for daring to question very narrow aspects the Trinity few today would even defend, I am struck first by how orthodox they sound today, and more importantly how pious they sound – men like Servetus and Arius sought after God with a fervor, piety, and intellectual honesty like few do today, and their clear desire was only to be true to Scripture and to God. And yet they were often burned or ridiculed or worse. It seems that charity and humility has historically been in short supply in this doctrine as it has been in soteriological discussions and too many others. We could all use a dose.

(by the way, what do you mean when you say that charity is the first commandment?)

Re: Divine Simplicity

Posted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:16 am
by BrotherAlan
Thank you for replying.

First, to answer your last question: "What do you mean when you say that charity is the first commandment?" I am simply referring to Christ's words which state that the first and greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is like to it: loving one's neighbor. Paul will later say that the whole of the law is summed up in this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." So, that's what I meant (basically, charity-- love of God with the love of friendship, loving neighbor as ourselves-- or, better, as Christ loved us-- out of love for God-- is the first commandment in the sense that it is the most important commandment, and that all other commandments flow from that).

With respect to the use of sarcasm/satire: there is a time and a place for that in various kinds of debates (including theological debates). However, in my strong opinion, when we are doing what we are doing here-- honestly discussing matters which, by your own admission, are EXTREMELY difficult to handle, i.e., very difficult philosophical and theological topics such as the simplicity of God, the Essence of God, is it possible for more than one person to possess the divine essence, the meaning of "time" and "eternity", etc.--- and if we are to truly help each other gain a better understanding of these topics (and not simply have our minds already made up and want to "win a debate") then, in a situation like this, sarcasm is out of place and counterproductive. For, one utilizes sarcasm when a.) one's mind is already made up on a matter, and b.) one regards the opposite position as ridiculous. While, with respect to the first point, we all may have strong positions and beliefs on some of these matters (and, so, our minds may be already "made up" in the sense that we have, even prior to our discussing a topic, already formed a strong opinion or hold to a strong belief on something), nevertheless, with regard to the second point, when we are discussing such topics which are, as I said, so very difficult, it seems to me to be quite out of place to regard an opposing position as utterly ridiculous (which, again, is what sarcasm/satire communicates). For, again, let's be honest: these sorts of questions are DIFFICULT questions which even TRAINED philosophers and theologians struggles with. While I myself have been blessed to have had the opportunity to receive a good number of years of formal education in philosophy and theology (receiving degrees in both fields), I HARDLY consider myself a "trained" philosophy or theologian, for, even after those years of formal study, I still regard such questions as RATHER/EXTREMELY difficult (in fact, if there was one thing that I learned from those years of study, it was that I realized how little I actually know and how dumb I am when it comes to grasping such difficult concepts). Studying mathematics and computer science (which I also studied-- my undergrad degree was in those areas), as difficult as those subjects are, is EASY-- VERY easy!-- compared to studying philosophy and theology. So, while I may, of course, have disagreements with others in discussion of such topics, I would very rarely-- if EVER-- regard an opposing position on such difficult topics as being simply ridiculous (i.e., a position worthy of being EASILY dismissed or disdained, which is, again, what is being communicated when one responds with sarcasm). Thus, for example, while I disagree with Paidion's idea that eternity "does not make sense", I can understand why he might say that because, well, shoot, the concept of "eternity" is an EXTREMELY difficult concept to adequately grasp! (Now, that does not mean that it is "nonsense"-- for, when one studies and contemplates it enough, one gets little "flashes" of insights onto it's nature, even if ever so dim-- it simply means that our minds are not strong enough to be able to EASILY grasp such concepts; in taking on such concepts, we are like little children who barely know how to add, and, yet, now, we are trying to do Calculus, or something like that). The main point I am making here, Darin, is that these concepts that we are taking on are extremely difficult (again, even for trained philosophers and theologians), and so, if we are to honestly help each other in gaining better understandings on such concepts, we ought to be open to listening and learning from each other with regard to what insights another might have; and, even should one utter something that seems "off" to us, in my opinion, considering the difficulty of the subject matter with which we are dealing, it does not seem appropriate, or, rather, seems really inappropriate, to hold that opposing position as being ridiculous (and, thus, worthy of a snide or sarcastic remark). Sarcasm is for stuff that is easy to see: none of this stuff that we are talking about here is easy to see. Hope that makes sense, man.

We ALSO have to remember that, in discussing such stuff, we not only have to keep in mind the difficulty our neighbor might have in thinking about such things, but, even more importantly, we have to remember that we are talking about GOD. And, while we all have our own beliefs about God, unless one is absolutely certain about something with respect to God, we ought to be at least a little bit careful about what we assert (or deny) about Him, lest we offend Him. Sure, we might make mistakes about Him (and He, being merciful, understands honest mistakes, so those are easily forgiveable); but, if we, when speaking about God and the Mystery that He is, fall into the idea that talking about Him is easy, then I believe we are on a very dangerous path (and, it seems to me that, when we hold opposing positions about God as being easily dismissed or simply ridiculous-- again, things which, it seems to me, are being communicated in the use of sarcastic comments-- then we are at least giving the appearance that talking about these mysteries related to God are EASY when, in fact, they are far from easy for us human beings and our very limited intellects), for we could be reducing the great mystery Who is God to our meager level of understanding about Him (and, this, I fear, could be not just a little, but quite, offensive to Him, as it would be an act of injustice towards Him, Who, in His Mystery, deserves to be regarded with complete awe and reverence, even as we do our best, with His help-- His Word and His grace-- to talk about Him as best as we can using our limited minds and vocab). Really, to be honest, that is my main concern when we employ sarcastic speech in discussing such difficult topics involving our God: the concern about potentially offending our all-holy and mysterious God. (I hope that is not overly-pious or over-the-top for you, but, well, that's where I, personally, am at on all of this).

Alright, bro, God bless you...Peace; I hope to write more to you and the others later (after my week-long retreat....I'll pray for you, and the others, on the retreat; as I also ask for your prayers for me, sinner that I know that I am).

With fraternal charity in Christ,

P. S.
I was also going to write some stuff about how authority and tradition can be helpful things for us, but I will have to leave that for later (suffice for now to point out that the Scriptures-- which, again, were handed down to us through an authoritative Christian tradition and through Christian leaders who had authority from Christ to hand down to us these Scriptures-- tell us to "Remember our leaders, and imitate their faith, etc." So, we ought to have a healthy respect for the leaders in the Church whom God gives to us. But, again, I'll have to say more about that later. Peace...