Dale Tuggy

Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.


  1. Matthew Mencel
    November 12, 2015 @ 1:33 am

    interesting. the Assyrian Church of the East takes the approach of the 3 persons of the Trinity are 3 individuated occurrences of one universal essence. (in Aramaic these are 3 Qnume in 1 Kyana). This would mean that their view of “one ousia” is definition 2.. whereas you have 3 ousias (definition 3).

    • Dale Tuggy
      November 13, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

      Hi Matthew,

      Thanks for the comment. Can you give me any citation for a primary source, translated into English, for official Assyrian theology? I’m just curious to follow up on their view.

  2. Thomas
    October 29, 2015 @ 11:13 am

    Any traditional monotheism would deny some of the notions enmeshed in (2). Monotheists don’t differ from polytheists in the number of individuals they believe fall into the kind “god”; they differ in that they do not regard God as an individual of a kind in the first place. Recall, for instance, that Aquinas denied that God is one in an arithmetical sense, for which he drew on the Church Fathers.

    Moreover, the “problem” cited in (2) is not really a problem for Patristic era. If ousia was spoken of as an essence, it is certainly not the case that by sharing that essence the Father, Son, and Spirit would be rendered distinct individual, for the simple reason that they generally regarded individuals who shared an essence to be individuated by matter, or some other form of metaphysical composition. But given that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not material beings, their sharing an essence does not render them distinct individuals in the way it would for you or me. So the fact that the hypostases of the Trinity differ yet share an essence does not render them different entities sharing a universal nature in the way two human beings would. The “problem” in (2) is only a problem if one forces upon the Patristic era an ontology they would have rejected.

    These sorts of pseudo-problems are inevitable if attention is not paid to the ontologies (especially regarding individuation and metaphysical composition) that were current in the Patristic era. And it’s simply impossible to understand what they (or any monotheists) are talking about if we think of either the Godhead or the persons thereof as beings in the same sense as finite things are beings.

    • Dale Tuggy
      October 29, 2015 @ 7:22 pm

      Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for the comments.

      “Any traditional monotheism would deny some of the notions enmeshed in (2)”

      2 assumes realism about universal essences, but some monotheists would accept those, with only God having that essence. Admittedly, there are arguably good reasons to deny realism about universals.

      “they do not regard God as an individual of a kind in the first place”

      An extremely controversial claim, in my view. What’s uncontroversial is that the one God is, of necessity, without peer, so not even possibly one of a kind. But it’s very controversial to say that God is Being Itself or somesuch. I would deny that that is monotheism at all. (http://trinities.org/blog/marcus-borgs-atheism/) I see it as a perennial contender with monotheism, which I call “Ultimism.”

      “beings in the same sense as finite things are beings”

      A theist/monotheist is committed to the reality of God, as a concrete being, a being with causal powers. (As creator, he must have the power to create.) But he’s supposed to be ultimate, the source of all else, but not himself in any way derived from or dependent on anything else. So, I don’t think any thoughtful theist is going to say that God is “the same sort of being” as you or me, unless they say that we’re the same as him in respect of being real / existing! Yes, I know that there is a tradition of saying that God neither exists nor doesn’t exist, but is “beyond existence”, but many of us deny that that’s intelligible.

      “it is certainly not the case that by sharing that essence the Father, Son, and Spirit would be rendered distinct individual”

      Well, “sharing” implies that they are indeed many. But no, it’s not implied that any x and y are distinct, just because they share a universal. What implies them to be distinct is their differing in any way. And Father and Son do differ. Do you deny this? Or that things which are different are non-identical?

      “for the simple reason that they generally regarded individuals who shared an essence to be individuated by matter”

      For material objects, sure. But they didn’t what to collapse, e.g. Father and Son into the same being; they regarded such a move as “Sabellian.”

      In all, it seems to me that you haven’t show what I mention under 2 to be a “pseudo-problem.” But please do continue, if you’re willing.

      • Thomas
        October 31, 2015 @ 6:59 pm


        On a purely historical level, I would argue that it is not at all controversial to say that, for the Patristic era, God is not regarded as an individual concrete being on a par with other beings. To put it in more precise language, the following two claims are held more or less universally by the Fathers: 1) being is not predicated of God and created things univocally, and 2) the Persons of the Trinity are not individuated in the same way that physical things are.

        I don’t think this is at all controversial, and I don’t think one could find a credible Patristics scholar who would regard this claim as incorrect. The claim might be controversial when advanced as true in the current (esp. Anglo-American context); but the fact that it is an accurate characterization of the Patristic era is not controversial at all. I can point to the treatments of St. Irenaeus, Origin, any of the Cappadocians, St. Athanasius, the Areopagite, Augustine, and so on to support the historical claim here.

        With respect to the debate about being and non-being, you’re right that there is a controversy about whether God is Being Itself. But, as an historical matter, the controversy is emphatically not whether God is a being or Being; rather, it is whether God is Being or is simply beyond being entirely. The Eastern Fathers are often characterized as saying that God is beyond being, while the Western Fathers are often characterized as saying that God is Being. But what nobody (or nobody significant) was saying was that God is a being, a being in the sense that we are beings.

        To clarify my initial comment then, the reason that the problems you cite with ousia being construed as an essence is in fact (for the Church Fathers) is a pseudo-problem is that they do not think that God has an essence the way we do. That is to say that whereas physical things share in an essence and yet are individuated by matter (which renders them individual things of a kind), the persons of the trinity cannot be individuated in that fashion. Of course, there are questions about how particular spirits are individuated that get answered differently, and way in which being is conceived differs among different schools. The problems that you cite aren’t actually problems unless you assume a metaphysics and a theology that is foreign to the Fathers.

  3. John Thomas
    October 29, 2015 @ 10:34 am

    Totally agree with you. I don’t know why church decided to go that route. They should have held the traditional Jewish view as Word and Spirit as emanations from self of one God or as manifested to humans (like Wisdom and Power of God). And Jesus seen as Messiah and incarnation of Word of God in the sense as someone who properly revealed Word of God to human beings.

  4. Matt13weedhacker
    October 28, 2015 @ 1:54 pm

    It’s interesting how history records, (or at least leaves a trace), that the Arian’s made a connection between Gk., ( ????????? ) or Ltn., ( consubstantialis ), in an accusation against the Pro-Nicene party, saying that they were promoting, or favoring the doctrine/opinion of: “Montanus.”

    Which “Montan[tist]” did they have in mind?

    In reference to Gk., ( ????????? ) and Ltn., ( consubstantialis )?

    Perhaps Tertullian?

    Historically speaking, he is the first one who springs to mind. Of course, we can’t say for sure.

    They could have had in mind the off-shoot group, (????? ?? ????? “some off them” referring to the Montantists), that Hippolytus mentioned, (AH Book 8 Chapter 19), who, quote: “…agree[d] with the heresy of the Noëtians in saying that the Father is the same with the Son, and that this One became subject to birth and suffering and death.”

    But did the Noetians use Gk., ( ????????? ) and Ltn., ( consubstantialis )? Where, how and what EXACTLY was the doctrinal overlap between them, and this Montantist splinter group?

    Yet, Tertullian, may have taught the equivalent of Gk., ( ????????? ) and Ltn., ( consubstantialis ) in: “una substantia, tres personae.”

    Here’s another point, (digressing slightly here), to consider, Tertullian’s Latin: “una substantia” could just as easily be interpreted as Gk., ( ?????????? ) “one-being/substance” instead of Gk., ( ????????? ).

    SOCRATES OF CONSTANTINOPLE [Or: “SCHOLASTICUS”] (circa. 380-after 439 C.E.): “…Yet as we ourselves have discovered from various letters which the bishops wrote to one another after the Synod, the term [Gk., ( ????????? ) Ltn., ( consubstantialis )] homoousios troubled some of them. So that while they occupied themselves in a too minute investigation of its import, they roused the strife against each other; it seemed not unlike a contest in the dark; for neither party appeared to understand distinctly the grounds on which they calumniated one another. THOSE WHO OBJECTED TO THE WORD [Gk., ( ????????? ) Ltn., ( consubstantialis )] HOMOOUSIOS, CONCEIVED THAT THOSE WHO APPROVED IT FAVORED [Gk., ( ??? ????????? ??? ???????? ????? ) Ltn., ( Sabellii ac Montani dogma )] THE OPINION OF SABELLIUS AND MONTANUS; they therefore called them blasphemers, as subverting the existence of the Son of God. And again
    the advocates of this term, charging their opponents with polytheism, inveighed against them as introducers of heathen superstitions….” – (Book 1, Chapter 23, Sections 57-58, “Church History,” Translated by A.C. Zenos. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 2.
    Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890.)

    Anyway, it’s a thought.

    • Dale Tuggy
      October 29, 2015 @ 10:50 am

      Great comment – thanks.

      Yeah, I’m not sure what they were thinking with the accusation of Montanism, but when it comes to what (they thought) Sabellius thought, their concern is that then Son may fail to be a distinct being from the Father, turning out to only be an aspect of God, or something like that – or else just God himself – either way, not an additional being in his own right.

      So in terms of my post here, they’re wondering why the homoousion claim doesn’t imply 1, either because that’s just what it means, or because it means 3, which implies 1, or 2 which combined with monotheism implies 1. And this, still, is a good question to ask defenders of this language.

      Present day apologists will spin their concern as being only to maintain that the Son is a distinct “Person” in God, but at this time, their concern really was that the Son should be an additional being to God, not God himself, or an aspect or manifestation of God.