At long last, we’ve reached the 25th and last chapter of book three of Richard of St. Victor’s De Trinitate! (Here are the other Richard-related posts here @ trinities.)
Richard starts off with the point that for the Persons of the Trinity, unlike the case of any other persons, there is “individuality without plurality” – each is what it is without any plurality of any kind – and “unity without inequality” – I’m not sure what he means by this second phrase. (p. 396)
In contrast, any other person, such as you or me, can be “unequal to himself”, in that we can become greater or lesser over time. (e.g. I’m smarter and morally better now than when I was 14.) And persons like us have multiple properties (we’re not simple). (p. 396) And of a human person, say Barak Obama, we can say that “his power alone is dissimilar to itself… [since] one thing is easy for him, another is difficult and a third is impossible.” (p. 397)
Then he says, “one and the same nature… in one respect is less, in another it is greater, and [so is]… dissimilar and unequal to itself.” (p. 397) So, the same point he made about persons, can also be made about natures. Thus,
…where there is no true simplicity, true equality cannot exist. However in that Trinity, nowhere is anything dissimilar to itself nor is it unequal to any other in anything. (p. 397)
I assume that by “true equality” he means qualitative sameness/equality in the highest degree. Normally, when we call some X and some Y “qualitatively the same” we allow that they differ somewhat (e.g. two golf balls from the same package). But not here – the Father and Son don’t differ in their intrinsic properties, and so are as qualitatively the same as two things could possibly be. (This is just begging to be objected to, but I’ll pass it by.)
After this, he quotes the “Athanasian” creed on the equality of the Persons, and triumphantly ends with one more quote from that creed:
Behold now we have proved by open and manifold reasoning how true that is which we are commanded to believe, namely, that we venerate “one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity.” (p. 397, emphasis added)
I’ll end with just a few observations about our whole Richard series:
- Richard has not persuaded me, by any of his arguments, that a perfect being must be tri-personal, or even that a perfect being must enjoy reciprocated love of an equal. It seems to me possible that perfect being lacks that good, and is nonetheless happy, and perfectly benevolent.
- It’s also clear that Richard has no way to get his arguments (supposing they worked) to stop at three. Unlike Swinburne, he doesn’t even seem aware that he needs to show only three in addition to at least three. He leaves things at the latter.
- If your view of the Trinity is incompatible with the classical doctrine of divine simplicity – and if you call yourself a “social” trinitarian, it probably is, then Richard is not your ally, as he assumes the truth of the doctrine.
- As I explained last time, I don’t think his views on the Trinity are self-consistent. He needs the Persons to intrinsically differ from each other, and yet he insists, so as to remain orthodox, and to avoid tritheism, that they do not. Thus, he needs to appeal to mystery – this self-inconsistency must just be due to the greatness of the subject-matter. It isn’t that he’s trying to have it both ways… He repeatedly sounds (e.g. in ch. 9, 10, 24) what I call negative mysterian notes, but rather half-heartedly – his Anselmian zeal is little cooled by such points.
- Another apparent inconsistency: he crucially appeals to the notion of cooperation. But if X and Y cooperate in a work, they do it together, and each makes his own contribution. Each, that is, exercises his own power. Cooperation involves two exercises of power, to bring about one effect (or various parts of one effect). And yet, given Richard’s views on simplicity, there is between the Persons of the Trinity one power, and so one exercise of power in any alleged case of “cooperation”. Which is to say, it isn’t really cooperation. It’ll just be the action of one god.