In chapter 24, Richard says that
Certainly one and the same substance is not something greater or lesser, better or worse than itself. Therefore, [there are no inequalities among members of the Trinity] since one and the same substance is certainly in each. …for this reason any two persons [in the Trinity] will not be something greater or better than any one person alone; nor will all three taken together be more [great?] than any two or any one alone by himself… (p. 396)
I take it that in the first sentence here that by “substance” he’s referring to the divine nature, saying that it can’t be greater than itself. That’s hard to argue with. He then argues that no person can be greater than any other. There’s an assumption here that greatness is solely a function of a thing’s nature. I’m not sure why we should accept that. Why not other intrinsic properties as well? One might think, e.g. it is greater to be the Father than it is to be the Son, hence even though they share the divine nature, one might think that the Father is greater than the Son. The inference from X and Y have the same substance to X and Y are the same in greatness, seems invalid. But if we make a valid argument, by adding the premise that greatness is a function solely of essence, we have valid argument, but then, why accept the premise? Why think the argument to be sound?
Maybe he doesn’t need the premise though. Working as he is in an Augustinian tradition of Trinity theories, he may be assuming that each Person has no intrinsic properties other than the divine nature – not only is the divine nature simple, but it is the only component of each Person, so that each person is simple as well. If this is what he’s assuming, we’d get a valid argument, like this:
- Greatness is a function of a thing’s intrinsic properties.
- The Persons have no intrinsic properties beyond the divine nature.
- The Persons share one and the same divine nature.
- Therefore, the Persons do not differ in greatness.
The idea here is that the Persons are three because of extrinsic relations – e.g. Fatherhood is not some extra ingredient or component in the Father. Instead, it’s just a way that… the divine nature relates to itself? This in my view is highly problematic, but that’s matter for a different post.
I assume he’s not arguing that Father and Son can’t differ in greatness because they are numerically identical. That would make the argument valid – as nothing can’t be greater than itself, and Father and Son are one thing, therefore, neither is greater than the other. But if they are numerically one, then they can’t differ in any way, as nothing can differ from itself. And Richard assumes that Father and Son differ. So, this must not be how he’s arguing.
Finally, he ends with a blow on the mysterian trumpet:
Now observe how incomprehensible is that coequality of greatness from every viewpoint and in every respect in that Trinity where unity does not lack plurality and plurality does not go beyond unity! (p. 396)
I’m not sure what to make of all of this. One could read into it relative identity theories, or the Rea-Brower constitution theory, which invokes the dubious concept of “numerical sameness without identity”. On the other hand, there is the appeal to “incomprehensibility”. Is this a nod towards the apparent inconsistency of his views?
It seems to me that Richard doesn’t think the Persons of the Trinity to be identical (numerically the same), even though he thinks them to not differ in any component (in all one of them – as the only component in each is one and the same divine nature). They are three agents/persons/selves, and they must be three, for his arguments about love to even get one inch off the launchpad. Now add in his point that the three of them share a nature. It doesn’t obviously follow that they are one because of this share component – why can’t three things share a nature? It may, per the above argument, suffice to make them equal.
But how can they then be in personal relationships with one another?
- If X and Y “share perfect love”, then X has the property of loving Y, and of being loved by Y.
- And Y has the property of loving X, and of being loved by X.
- But solely because of their sharing perfect love, unlike Y, X doesn’t have this property – being loved by X. Thus, X and Y differ, both intrinsically (in the acts of loving) and relationally (their receiving the other’s love).
- Thus, there must be more to both than just the divine nature – there must be some extra component. So, the person must each be simple, and yet none of them can be.
Is that the mystery (apparent inconsistency)? Or in the quote above just a habitual flourish? Or is there another way to read all of this?