Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Trinity as creator

It is well known that Aquinas holds that the three Persons of the Trinity are each equally involved in the acts ad extra—the Persons equally know creatures, equally create them and equally love them, and in generally equally act with regard to the reality external to them. These acts are to be attributed to each Person and to the Trinity. This doctrine of the commonality of the acts ad extra is at the heart of St. Thomas' meta-argument for the non-existence of a proof of the doctrine of the Trinity: all our knowledge of God is by virtue of what God has created, and God's action of creation is not something that allows us to distinguish the persons.

As a result of this doctrine, which is a common doctrine of the Christian tradition and not specific to Aquinas, one might think that there is no real difference between Christian views of creation and the views of creation in Judaism and Islam.

But there is also another, deeper and I think somewhat less discussed, doctrine in Aquinas. In Article 6 of Question 45 [PDF] of the Prima Pars, St. Thomas wonders if it is true that "creating is proper to some divine person". His answer is negative, as the doctrine of the commonality of the acts ad extra would lead one to expect, but then he adds this amazing qualifier:

Still, the divine persons have causality with respect to the creation of things in accord with the nature of their processions. For since, as was shown above (q. 14, a. 8 and q. 19, a. 4), God acts by His knowledge and will, God is a cause of things through His intellect and will in the way that a craftsman is a cause of his artifacts. But a craftsman acts through the word conceived in his intellect and through the love of his will as directed toward something. In the same way, God the Father effects creatures through His Word, which is the Son, and through His Love, which is the Holy Spirit. And so to the extent that the processions of the divine persons include the attributes of the essence, viz., knowledge and will, they are causes (rationes) of the production of creatures.
So, even though there is indeed a commonality in the acts ad extra, there is a kind of individuation (I am not sure this is a good term; but think of "individual" as the term corresponding to "hypostasis") in these acts, not resulting from being differently oriented towards creation, but supervenient on the individuation implied by the Trinitarian relations of generation and spiration. There is commonality on the side of creation, a commonality making it impossible to discern the individuation by natural reason, but nonetheless there is a deeper Trinitarian structure on the side of God.

If St. Thomas is right, then Christianity goes beyond the knowledge of creation in the other monotheistic religions. The merely natural theologian can show that God exists and is creator, but there is more even to the doctrine of creation than the merely natural theologian can show, though this "more" does not contradict, of course, the merely monotheistic doctrine of creation.

I must confess to not really understand much of what is going on in the passage I quoted. But I think it bears much meditation.


Anonymous said...

The doctrine of the Trinity as articulated classically by the likes of Aquinas is logically incoherent, metaphysically impossible, not just false.

I have a proof of this on my blog that I hope you would care to read.

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. The standard answer to the numerical identity argument is that one shouldn't take the "is" in "The Father is God" and "The Father is not the Son" univocally.

2. One way of doing this is via relative identity views.

3. There is a cool approach due to Brower and Rea.

4. Your post seems to assume that univocal and equivocal predication are the only options. But there is also analogical predication.