Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Parthood, the Trinity and the Incarnation

Some theorists see the three persons of the Trinity as parts of the Trinity. Here is an untoward consequence of this. Parthood is transitive. Ten fingers are parts of Christ. Christ on the view is a part of the Trinity. Hence, the Trinity has ten fingers as parts. Which seems absurd.

Of course, one might worry about a similar problem for more orthodox views of the Trinity. Ten fingers are parts of Christ. But Christ is identical with God. So ten fingers are parts of God. However, the orthodox Trinitarian is used to answering problems of the form: "Christ is A (say, changeable or non-omniscient); Christ is identical with God; so God is A." She may accept the conclusion but block the absurdity by a qua move: "Christ qua human is changeable. So God qua human, i.e., a divine person who is human, is changeable." The parthood-Trinitarian had better not say that the Trinity has ten fingers qua human, because the Trinity is not human. Maybe she can say that the Trinity has ten fingers qua whole that has a part who is human. But by transitivity of parthood, that qua doesn't seem to do much work.

Another move for the more orthodox Trinitarian is to distinguish two different kinds of identity, identity of person and identity of essence, and say that that some predicates only transfer across one of these two identities. I suppose the analogue for parthood-Trinitarian might be to distinguish two kinds of parthood and say that they can't be combined transitivity-wise. That might be the best move for the parthood-Trinitarian.

Finally, the more orthodox Trinitarian can simply deny that there is such a relation as parthood—and in particular that ten fingers are part of Christ.


Drew said...

The human nature of Christ is not divine, and is not God. Christ's divine nature, or the Logos, is part of the Trinity. The person of Christ, as a whole, is not part of the Trinity.

This simply confuses an "is" of identity against an "is" of predication. The Father is (predication) God. The Father is not (identity) God. This is because identity is transitive. The Father is God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Father is not the Holy Spirit.

So we can say the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are parts of the Triune God. The human and divine natures are parts of the person of Christ. When we say that Christ is God, we mean the Logos, not all parts of the person. For nothing physical can ever be divine.

Heath White said...


You appear to be saying that the second person of the Trinity is not the same as the person of Christ. (The person of Christ has a human nature and ten fingers, while the second person of the Trinity does not.) Is that right?

Austin said...

Hi Professor Pruss,

Do you hold to a non-Orthodox view of the Trinity? I am just curious because I am not that familiar with your work yet.

If your view is Orthodox, how do you deal with this issue?


Alexander R Pruss said...

I hope my view is orthodox. (Whether it is Eastern Orthodox, I do not know.)

The orthodox view of the Trinity is that the persons are not parts of God, because each person *is* (and not just is a part of) the one and same God, though each is a different person. So there is no problem with the transitivity of parthood on the orthodox view, because Christ is not a *part* of the Trinity. (Indeed, on the orthodox view of God, God has no parts.)

I suppose the analogous worry for the orthodox view is: "Ten fingers are parts of Christ. Christ = God. So ten fingers are parts of God." But this is just a special case of the general problem of predication of human qualities in the Incarnation. Compare: "There are some things Christ doesn't know. Christ = God. So there are some things God doesn't know." There are standard answers to this. For instance, there is a qua move. There are some things Christ *qua man* doesn't know. So at most we can conclude: "There are some things a person who is God doesn't *qua man* know." Which is fine. Likewise fine is: "A person who is God *qua man* has ten fingers as parts."

(Actually, I am sceptical whether there is such a thing as parthood altogether. So I am inclined to deny that either I or Christ has ten fingers *as parts*.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

And let me add that if my view isn't orthodox, it's false. :-)

Richard Davis said...
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Richard Davis said...

In saying you are skeptical whether there is any such thing as parthood, do you mean that you are skeptical whether parthood is ever instantiated? Or something stronger? (I.e., the word 'parthood' is unthinkable or meaningless?)

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am sceptical whether anything can be a part of anything.

Austin said...

Good distinction between Orthodox and orthodox. I tend to over-capitalize.

I can sympathize with your skepticism toward "parts" being a real thing. Under Aristotlian-Thomistic Essentialism (which I am currently leaning towards), "having ten fingers" would be a characteristic of the form of "human-ness," though I don't think it would be a "part."

Would it be accurate to say that if parts are not real, then there is no actual reduction with anything? I suppose this would be the opposite of hyper-reductionist physicalists.