Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reading Group, 1c

3. The Gospel Similitude of the Divine Trinity

a. In the Gospel we find a similitude which is both exact and accessible to our mind and heart. This is seen above all in John 17. From the words of the Lord, it is evident that His followers will be penetrated by a close inner unity, such as that of the Father and the Son.

b. This high-priestly prayer does not lead one to regard the unity of Father and Son to be identical to that of Christians, but a similitude is revealed, as well as the opposition between the unity of the Church and the inner dividedness of the world.

c. We will now attempt to fathom manifestations of the Church’s life which contain a similarity to the mystery of the Trinity, thereby completing the appraisal of the moral idea of the Trinity, from the point of view of contemporary ethics. This will be shown to be in agreement with the Scriptures and Fathers.

d. The main obstacle to penetration by the dogma of the Trinity is the direct consciousness of self in the natural man, which divides personality from personality into evident, complete opposition. For a Christian to receive an awareness of his inner unity with Christ, the Father, and the body of the faithful he must free himself from the direct opposition of “I” and “not I.” Otherwise the teaching of the Trinity will not be assimilated.

e. This does not represent a renunciation of reason; the mystical unity of Christians will be seen not as abstract, but as real.

f. An inability to see the grace-filled unity of Christ and the Father and of the faithful results from our darkened, natural mind, upon our natural self-love. These properties are found in the laws of our self-consciousness, but this is not an absolute law, but one of fallen consciousness, and can be abolished by regeneration in Christian love.

  1. How does Metropolitan Anthony use John 17 to make his argument? Is it successful?
  2. What is the difference between the love shared between the Father and the Son and the love shared among the faithful?
  3. What is the main obstacle to the understanding of the Trinity? Why is it so?
  4. How is it that self-love makes understanding of the Trinity impossible?


Bosphorus said...

Metropolitan Anthony characterizes the unity (the one-ness) of the Father and Son as *different in degree* from the unity of Christians. Taken more or less at face value, this would mean that the Father and Son are fully united in essence, although distinct in hypostasis; Christians are distinct in hypostasis but also less than fully united in essence. So the difference in degree is a difference in unity in essence. Further, and by way of contrast, the unity in essence shared by Christians (although less full than that shared by Father and Son) is different not in degree but *in kind* from the "inner dividedness" among worldlings. We might say that there is a gulf fixed, where unity in essence is concerned, between the Trinity (full unity in essence) and the Church (less full unity in essence, and the Wold (inner dividedness). I wonder if we might not also say that the Church participates in the unity of the Trinity, whereas the world has not part in that unity at all? (I think here of Kierkegaard's tireless assault on the crowd, and his warnings against confusing the "unity" of the crowd with the unity of the Church and of the Trinity.)

I wonder if the reason why Christians differ in unity in degree from the Trinity is their creatural nature: to fully be united in essence with Father and the Son would be to join the Trinity itself--something precluded for the creature, who is everlastingly distinct from the creator even as the creature is divinized by participation in the unity of the Trinity? (Sorry for such a mouthful of a question.)

Felix Culpa said...

I think you'd find a full answer to your question in two patristic works: St Gregory of Nyssa's "Letter to Peter" (formerly attributed to St Basil the Great, Epistle 38) and St Gregory of Nyssa to Ablabius, "That There are Not Three Gods."

Let me know if you'd like a thumb-nail sketch.

Bosphorus said...

I will read those as I get a chance but would welcome your thumb-nail sketch.

Felix Culpa said...

You can read the full thing here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2905.htm

But the very boiled down reason why it is that we may speak both of men as being consubstantial while still many while we can't speak of God as being consubstantial and many (which is rather the opposite of your question) is that God, unlike humans have a single activity or operation that is incommesurate with human cooperation.

St Gregory writes, for example:

As we have to a certain extent shown by our statement that the word Godhead is not significant of nature but of operation, perhaps one might reasonably allege as a cause why, in the case of men, those who share with one another in the same pursuits are enumerated and spoken of in the plural, while on the other hand the Deity is spoken of in the singular as one God and one Godhead, even though the Three Persons are not separated from the significance expressed by the term Godhead,— one might allege, I say, the fact that men, even if several are engaged in the same form of action, work separately each by himself at the task he has undertaken, having no participation in his individual action with others who are engaged in the same occupation. For instance, supposing the case of several rhetoricians, their pursuit, being one, has the same name in the numerous cases: but each of those who follow it works by himself, this one pleading on his own account, and that on his own account. Thus, since among men the action of each in the same pursuits is discriminated, they are properly called many, since each of them is separated from the others within his own environment, according to the special character of his operation.

Mark Montague said...

Part of the confusion here may be due to the confusing phrase of Met. Antony, "... much less to assimilate the Divine Triunity in essence, about which the Lord prayed." I don't know what he means by this, but I'm confident that he doesn't mean that he expects us to become one in essence with the Father.

Bosphorus said...

Felix, I am unsure how to understand your response to my question. What I mean is this: Is my question mistaken (about the creature/Creator), and so should I take what you have written as if it were prefaced with a "No, rather..." Or, is the question ok but incomplete, and so should I take what you have written as if it were prefaced with a "Yes, but..." Thanks so much for your response and for the guidance on what to read!

Felix Culpa said...

Bosphorus: Please excuse me for any lack of clarity in my reply. I suppose my reply would be more along the lines of "Yes... AND" than anything else.

St Gregory of Nyssa, in the two readings I recommended, makes the point that ousia/essence/substance represents the general, which hypostasis/person represents the particular. The question then arises if Peter, James, and John are three men, then why are not Father, Son, and Spirit three Gods. And St Gregory's primary response to this is that in the Trinity there is a complete unity of activity that cannot be found among men.

So, in that sense, it is indeed our creaturly nature -- our human divisions and dividedness -- that keeps us from being one in essence in the full way that the Trinity is one in essence. But I don't think there's any worry in St Gregory's mind that if we became perfectly united we'd ourselves becomes Persons of the Trinity -- after all, we don't have a divine ousia.

Is that speaking more to the issue for you, or are we still talking past each other?

Bosphorus said...

Oh, I see. I thought it might be something like this. I was taking full unity to be a matter of coming to have the (Creator's) essence (divine ousia), where you are taking full unity to be compatible with our retaining our own (creatural) essence.

I see now that my question prematurely interwove two different issues: unity among Christians and unity with the Creator.

Mark is right to note the opaque phrase about "assimilating the Divine Triunity in essence". How do you understand that phrase, Felix? Also, how do you understand Metropolitan Anthony's talk of unity among Christians as not being "identical in degree with the unity of the Father and Son", given the framework you are using? (Thanks for your help.)

Felix Culpa said...

The phrase "assimilating the Divine Triunity in essence" is in the Russian original "уподобиться Божественному Триединству по существу," which I'd translate very literally as "to become like the Divine Triunity according to essence" (or, essentially). All I can really offer is to say that I do NOT think that he means "essence" here in sense of "divine ousia," but rather more in the adverbial form of "essentially." But let's not forget the rest of the passage -- he's pointing us towards John 17:23 ("I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that Thou has sent me, and hast loved them, as thou has loved me") and 14:20 ("At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and you in me, and I in you").

The framework I'm using is (I hope) the basic Cappadocian distinction between ousia and hypostasis, as found particularly in the two works of St Gregory of Nyssa I cited. If I'm reading Metropolitan Anthony correctly, his framework is not all that different: we will never have the same unity among men as there is among God because our "self" or "I" keeps intruding.

And it's you whose helping me think through these things!

Felix Culpa said...

Incidentally, you can look at the Russian here: http://catacomb.org.ua/modules.php?name=Pages&go=page&pid=688

Bosphorus said...

Felix, please bear in mind that I did not mean to suggest that your framework was idiosyncratically yours.

One reason all this is tricky is that there is more than one *unity* at issue. (As I like to tell students, the beginning of sanity in the study of Kant is recognizing the variety of unities he discusses. Odd that the same warning applies with Met. Anthony--but it does.) There is (1) the unity of Christians with one another, and (2) the unity of Christians with Son, and (3) the unity of the Son with the Father. For Met. Anthony, (1) bears a similitude to (3), but they are not identical (they differ in degree). Also, (1) can only occur if (2) occurs, since there is unity among Christians only insofar as the Christians are united with the Son.

The intrusion of the self or "I" strikes me as hindering both type (1) and (2) unities: it hinders (1) as I set myself apart from other Christians; it hinders (2) as it keeps me from being able to say that it is not longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. No such intrusion hinders (3). At the risk of too much cuteness: there is no "I" in God.

Becoming said...

I’m slowly catching up.

In light of Mark’s comments in the post for 1a, and Bosphorus’ answer’s may I offer something that helps to show, I believe, more evidence for Mark’s comments. I did not see it in the section we were then reading, so perhaps I misunderstand it, but, I believe, I do see it now. As Bosphorus answered that he believes the direction that Met Anthony moves is DOGMA --> MORAL IMPERATIVE I believe there is some confusion of which comes first when the Metropolitan is speaking of the moral imperative of love in relation to the dogma of the Trinity.

On p. 66 Met. Anthony says that unless we love (free ourselves from the “I” vs “”not I”) it will be impossible to be familiar with the teaching of the Triunity “even in thoughts.” Here we see moral imperative aids understanding of the dogma. A little further down the page we find that even if we accept the dogma of the Trinity and the commandment to love, our fulfillment of the commandment, and therein the strength of our belief in the Trinity, is dependent on “our unity with Christ, our abiding in Him, the appearance of Christ to us and the building in our soul of a dwelling for the Father and the Son. [66].

Perhaps, and in setting aside the initial reasons of why and how one may come to faith, one is given a slight understanding of the Trinity, maybe more of a fleeting awareness, and with this small awareness one puts into practice the commandments of the Gospels because of one’s love for Christ. Then according to the measure of one “spiritual perfection”, as he continues to serve God and deny himself, he will grow in his “understanding” of the Trinity. Here we would have a small portion of dogma that inspires moral activity and a continued steadfastness of moral activity along with of the grace of the Holy Spirit enlightens one to a greater understanding of the dogmas. What does anyone else think?


Bosphorus said...


Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I reckon that I understand the section on p. 66 differently than you do. if we think, as Met. Anthony does, that dogmas essentially contain moral ideas, then, to the extent that we do not realize those moral ideas, we do not have faith in the dogma. (I have touched on this in a post on 1e.) But that confirms, not disconfirms, the derivation from Dogma-->Morals. In effect, it is an instance of modus tollens (If P, then Q; not-Q; therefore not-P) applied to the derivation. If I claim to have faith in the dogma of the Trinity, to be penetrated by the dogma of the Trinity, then I will realize the moral imperative of love in my life. If I don't realize it, then I am not penetrated by the dogma, I do not have faith in it. But that does not imply that I could realize the moral imperative of love in my life, and thus come to faith in the dogma of the Trinity. Again, to think that is to think in a broadly Kantian way that Met. Anthony resolutely rejects.

Bosphorus said...

Sorry, Matthew (not Matthey). I can't type today.

Becoming said...

Comment #1
I have erred. I misunderstood, or simply, forgot Mark’s point in 1a because I do not believe the Metropolitan is using the moral imperatives to justify dogma. I would disagree with Mark’s suggested intentions of Met. Anthony and say that the direction is that all dogmas contain a moral imperative. Therefore I mistakenly thought Mark was making a different point of which I attempted to clarify above but hope to clarify here below.

Comment #2
The point is not which comes first because Met. Anthony simply advocates that within the dogmas are moral imperatives, period. The question arose as to what authenticates/justifies/ enlightens one/ to the knowledge of that dogma initially?

Drawing from Felix’s ques. #4 – “How is it that self-love makes understanding of the Trinity impossible?” In light of this question how is it that one would come to understand the Trinity?

Perhaps breaking this subject down into its part may help with its clarification, more for myself at least. I would not negate Met. Anthony’s thesis that there are moral imperative’s within the dogmas but that there seems to be something else circling it that I’m not able to put my finger on. In looking to the passage on p. 66 there is a relationship between one’s virtue and one’s growth in knowledge and understanding.

Beginning with dogma then moving to moral imperative could we not say that when one believes in the dogma of the Trinity one does not have the full understanding that can be had of the whole dogma of the Trinity. Instead one begins to understand it in part. Is Met. Anthony not saying that growth in understanding this dogma will be in proportion to one’s virtue? The dogma still comes first even if virtue will be responsible for the continuation (“degree”?) of growth in the understanding and knowledge of the dogma.

I realize that the above is off the topic (maybe). What has been discussed up to know is not epistemology of the dogmas, though it seems to creep in, but that the given dogmas of the Church have inherent moral imperatives. This also is the direction: Dogma --> Moral imperative. As well, this moral imperative becomes a judge of our own morality which shows where we err morally (ie. in our heart or in only keeping the externals) and dogmatically.

I find Bosphorus’ “sloppy” typing very amusing and I even chuckle occasionally. For the last year my keyboard has been missing the “A”, “Z” and “X” keys and only have the little nubs that the key sets on which I have to push very precisely to get to work. I usually have “a” ’s missing from my typed work:)


Becoming said...

Oh yes, I forgot, next time I will try to mind my P's and Q's more carefully. No doubt, I will bring these up later.


Bosphorus said...

Matthew et al.,

I hope I can do a better job typing. I don't have Matthew's good excuse of missing keys; I just have fingers of concrete.

Let me try to contextualize the way I am understanding Met. Anthony. Maybe in so doing I will reveal some crucial mistake I am making, and you folks can correct me.

I understand Met. Anthony's project to get its shape (in important part) from his rejection of Kant's project. Kant's project was a moral theology: he was going to show how we develop practical/moral (as opposed to theoretical) arguments for theological ideas--God, the Soul and Immortality. The practical/moral arguments would not establish the theological ideas as facts, but would reveal the ideas to be necessary for any coherent thinking-through of our practical/moral lives. Anyone who denied one of the ideas would be subject to what Kant called an *absurdum practicum*: the denier would be revealed as a scoundrel, would have to accept unwelcome consequence about his own status as a moral agent. (An *absurdum practicum* is like and unlike the more familiar *absurdum logicum*, in which a person is revealed as making inconsistent judgements.)

Met. Anthony wants to turn this project on its head. Kant's project is intended, among other things, to make revelation unnecessary; or, to put the same point another way, to (practically, but not theoretically) *rationalize faith*. But Met. Anthony takes revelation to be necessary, necessary to our moral lives. We cannot get from our practical/moral lives to the dogmas; the dogmas are revealed to us (for the purpose of our salvation--p. 61.) If Kant's project is a moral theology, we might call Met. Anthony's a dogmatic morality.

I would answer Matthew's question about what initially enlightens one to the dogma by saying--revelation. (Matthew also supplies other terms than 'enlightens', e.g., 'authenticates', 'justifies': I am speaking only to enlightenment. Authentication and justification are different matters.) But this (all) likely falls under the heading of what Matthew calls the epistemology of dogma--a good title. This epistemology has crept in somewhat, although it isn't (at least not in what of Met. Anthony I have so far read) central to Met. Anthony's project.

I agree with what Matthew says about dogma and virtue, and found it helpful. I would characterize what he says this way: To grow in faith in the dogma of the Trinity requires that I realize the moral imperative of love, that I am charitable and continue to grow in charity (treating charity of course as a virtue). This point is central to Met. Anthony's project.

I thank Matthew, Mark and Felix, and everyone else, for participating in this discussion. I am benefitting from it and learning a lot as we go.

Becoming said...

I've had to pause for a bit here in order to collect some thoughts and especially regarding how Bosphorus sees Met. Anthony's project as working out. I think that I am viewing it differently but need to reread several things. Your comments, Bosphorus, have been very, very helpful and have made me a bit more diligent in my reading and critical of what I am processing. This has proved to be exactly what I was hoping to accomplish by being part of this group. Like yourself, I am very thankful to everyone for their input and ideas and especially to Felix to hosting and finely moderating this forum.