Orthodox Writers, Philosophy, the Trinity

In his short work on the Trinity, the Orthodox bishop Theodore Abu Qurrah manages to fit in the following arguments showing that the Trinity isn’t contradictory:

  • Using the analogy of human nature: how it is one, even though Peter, James, and John are three hypostases (also used by St. Gregory of Nyssa, in On “Not Three Gods”)
  • How both the sun and the rays of the sun give light to humans (somewhat similar to an argument used by St. Athanasius in De Decretis)
  • Comparing the Trinity to the unity of person, his word and his spirit  (used by St. Augustine in De Trinitate, St. John of Damascus in On the Orthodox Faith, ch. 6-7, later on by Thomas Aquinas in De Rationibus Fidei and many places elsewhere)

And this is in addition to his scriptural arguments and responses to objections that ask questions to try to show that Christians must speak incoherently about the Trinity. Abu Qurrah’s general method is to give an analogy and then complete it by saying “but unlike creatures, God’s nature is such that the three hypostases are totally undivided.”

We do not think that the heat belongs more properly to the fire than does the Son to the Father, nor that the heat is more closely united to the fire than the Son to the Father, notwithstanding that each of the two is a hypostasis. This is because the divine nature is not subject to composition as are bodies, nor is there in it matter and form, nor is any change found with regard to any of its hypostases. Rather, the Son is to the Father as the fire’s heat is to the fire and rays are to the sun and speech is to the mind, notwithstanding that we hold the Son to be a full hypostasis – and this, because the divine nature is too refined to be found to have change with regard to any of its hypostases, as we have just said.

Source: Theodore Abu Qurrah, trans. John C. Lamoreaux (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 2005), pp. 186-187.

This adds to my list of Christian writers who don’t immediately jump to “it’s a mystery” but rather provide some philosophical reasons for why the Trinity isn’t incoherent. But I think I was also able to find a counterexample to this. From Part I of St. Peter Mogila’s Confession:

Q. 10. How can the Trinity be understood more clearly?

R. No example can perfectly illustrate or clearly represent to our mind how God can be one in essence and three in persons. But, that which no example can illustrate, Jehovah himself indicated as he spoke through the Prophet: “To whom have you likened me, and made me equal, and compared me, and made me similar?” And so far, neither human nor angelic mind can capture, nor can any tongue express this; wherefore, it is not without reason that we must say with the Apostle: “destroying counsels and every lofty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every understanding into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” We firmly believe that God the Father, existing from eternity, is from nothing and even before the ages generates the Son from his essence and sends forth the Holy Spirit. Athanasius discourses more fully on this in his Creed. But so believing, we do not investigate, for the investigator of the Divine Majesty is forbidden, according to Scripture: “Seek not the things that are too high for you, and search not into things that are above your ability; but the things that God commanded you, think on them always, and in many of his works be not curious.” And so it suffices for us that Sacred Scripture of the Old Law, in professing one God, expresses three persons in saying: “Lord God said: Let us make man to our image and likeness.” And later: “Behold Adam is become as one of us.” In like manner: “Come, therefore, let us go down and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” This very same thing the Prophet expressed in saying: “And they cried out to one another and said: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, God, all the earth is full of his glory.”‘ And the Psalmist says: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were established, and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth.” Concerning these things there is fuller treatment in Sacred Scripture and Church Doctors.

Yet some of the things he writes (“Athanasius discourses more fully on this in his Creed” and “there is fuller treatment in Sacred Scripture and Church Doctors”) could be taken to mitigate what he writes about not probing into divine mysteries. It still stands, though, that he does not give an analogy. Perhaps in his more scholarly works he gives one, however.


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