Time for the old Spanish Inquisition. Will she survive The (self-administered) Rack?
In the final part of her article “Sabellianism Reconsidered”, Baber turns to theological objections. To wit:
- The account renders it impossible for the Son to pray to the Father. But the NT says this happened.
- The account denies that each Person of the Trinity is himself eternal, and has eternally born relations to the other two Persons. (pp. 8-9, paraphrased)
Her answers? Jesus, like his contemporaries, was not a trinitarian. That is, he didn’t realize that the God to whom he prayed had temporal parts which were gods. Or even if he did, he didn’t intend to teach any trinitarian doctrine. Thus, he addressed not the Father, but God, as “Father”. (p. 10) Thus the term “Father”, in Jesus’ context, referred to God, while nowadays (post 380 CE?) it refers to the Father, the (temporally) first Person of the Trinity.
In response to the second objection, she notes that “a notion of timeless, metaphysically necessary causation… is… at best, obscure.” (p. 10) Hence, it is better to avoid the traditional, orthodox claims that the Father eternally generates the Son, and that these two “spirate” the Spirit. Rather, on the Trinity theory she proposes, no person of the Trinity is a cause or source of any other. So they may be truly equal, and we avoid the absurd claim that the Father is “the First among equals.” (p.10)
But God, the whole Trinity, can be said to be the “source of” the Persons, insofar as they are temporal parts of him. And “Father” can refer to God / the Trinity. Hence, Christians may say that the Father begets the Son and the Spirit, and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father – but “Father” in both these statements refers to God, not to his temporal part the Father. So while the traditional procession and generation claims are wholly mysterious, on this theory such relations are no “more mysterious that similar relations which hold on mundane objects… the relation between a thing and its temporal parts.” (p.10)
In sum, Baber urges that this “Neo-Sabellian account” of the Trinity doesn’t “commit us to relative identity or require any ad hoc philosophical commitments”, i.e. theories adopted just to rescue the Trinity doctrine from difficulties. (p.11) Thus, is is better than relative identity theories, which do one or both of the above. She concludes:
Arguably, Christianity should not commit one to any large-scale metaphysical system or to any philosophical doctrines. If it turns out that the objections to Sabellianism assume commitment to Platonic doctrines, we should reconsider the decision to reject Sabellianism as heretical. And if, as I have argued, it gets the religious results Christians want at a lower philosophical cost than competing orthodox views, it should be preferred. (p. 11, emphases added)
Next time: Is this theory a home run?