Kevin’s reply to my third soteriological sidebar has a single point: he wants to assert that the debate on the generation of the Son cannot but be a debate within the very strict parameters of God’s nature and will. My argument has been that the generation of the Son, while inescapably involving nature and will, is by revelation and the Church’s experience (and not simply, despite his sarcastic question ending his second paragraph, by virtue of my own definition), first a personal generation, which generation hypostatizes the nature and will of the person so generating.
After a couple of paragraphs of throat clearing, Kevin gets to the heart of his argument in his third paragraph:
Bottom line- it is not possible to remove this question from the nature/will debate.
This, as it stands, is the whole of his argument. By a simple ispe dixit he has removed from the debate, so he thinks, Trinitarian modes of being and of personal exercise of the divine will. What is his evidence? Simply that he cannot apparently conceive of any other way to talk about filial generation and pneumatological procession. For he certainly offers no other evidence than his assertion. The rest of his argument begs this essential question.
He continues immediately from the above sentence:
But, as long as Clifton contends that it is, I have another question. What does this have to do with the larger debate? The subject is monergism and its relationship to the will. A significant ground of my own argument for monergism is the impossibility of libertarian free will. Whatever can be predicated of any person as such can be predicated of all persons. Consequently, if it can be demonstrated that the Father, a person within the Trinity has libertarian free will, then we must allow the possibility that any other person may have libertarian free will. If Clifton can demonstrate that the begetting of the Son is a matter of the Father’s will as unconstrained by his nature, he will have succeeded in shaking my own argument for monergism. Oddly enough, though, he removes the question from the nature/will debate. Which leads me to wonder just what, in his mind, the connection is. Either the Father’s begetting of the Son is a matter of libertarian free will, or, whether as an example of the will exercised according to the nature or not an example of the will at all, it is not relevant to the discussion.
Kevin’s failure to grasp the implications for monergism of Trinitarian person-nature dogma is not any proof that such a dogma has nothing whatsoever to do with monergism. It is simply prima facie evidence of the poverty of his imagination.
In point of fact, if God is three Persons, and if those Persons are really, if ineffably distinct, then there must also be a distinction of will. We know there is a such a distinction for Jesus’ himself noted that his will was to do the Father’s, and in the Garden he prayed, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” Either these are distinctions which make no difference, and are therefore merely nominal, or they are real distinctions. If the former, we have Sabellianism. But if the latter, how can the divine will remain one while also having these personal distinctions?
Quite simply, it is the same problem which confronts us with the Trinitarian Persons. How do we speak of three real and distinct persons without devolving into tritheism? And how do we insist on the unity of Persons without descending into modalism? It is incumbent upon us—in order to preserve both the unity of the Godhead and the Trinity of Persons—to address these matters with the distinctions between nature and modes (tropoi) of being, as well as the natural will and the personal mode of willing.
These distinctions are important, otherwise the Godhead has no libertarian free will, something I affirm, and so, apparently, unless I misunderstand him, does Kevin. As Kevin should know, the natural will is the energetic operation of the nature. It is the movement of the nature of a thing toward its telos, or end. For all other creatures than God, their respective teloi, are all in God himself. God, who is perfect being, and hyperousia (beyond being), has no other end than himself. All his natural willing is simply the energetic operation of his nature. This divine will is the same natural will among all the Persons of the Godhead. But the employment of this natural will among the Persons of the Godhead is not identical. This personal employment of the natural will is the mode of willing unique to each Person of the Godhead. The Son does not will to beget but to be begotten. The Father does not will to be begotten, but to beget. The Spirit does not will to send forth but to be sent forth. The Father does not will to be sent forth, but to send forth. The mode of willing of each Person is in complete union with the mode of willing of the other Persons, and that union arises from the single divine will of the divine nature. But that union does not eliminate the very real, if ineffable, distinctions between the modes of willing of the respective Trinitarian Persons.
If, as Kevin’s argument ultimately must conclude, the mode of willing is identical to the divine natural will, then there is no distinction between Person and nature. But if there is no distinction between nature and Person, then God is nothing more than his nature. And if he is nothing more than his nature, then his nature determines his will, and he cannot but will that which is his nature. If it is his nature to create, then he must create, he is bound by his own necessity. He does not have free will.
So, while perhaps in some respects it is true that nature and will must be a fundamental part of the discussion of Trinitarian modes of willing, Kevin cannot successfully argue that Trinitarian modes of willing must be subsumed under and within the nature/will debate. This is ultimately nothing more than Sabellianism in some respects, and Plotinian theology in others.
Still, despite his quest for irrelevance, Clifton has not succeeded. The question of the Son’s begetting cannot be removed from the nature/will debate and, despite his objections to the contrary, Clifton’s own explanations place him squarely on the side of will. They also create a situation of far more consequence than the debate between synergism and monergism. The point of my harmonization between Gregory and Athanasius was to show that their use of the will could not be the same. The essence of Arianism is found in the proposition that there was a time when the Son was not. If this statement is true, then the Son cannot be God. If it is not, then the Son must be God.
Kevin’s apparent misunderstanding of the the Cappadocians is evident in the above, for on his terms will is nothing else or other than the natural will. That is to say, he fails to grasp the distinctions in St. Gregory’s use of the tropological will and St. Athanasios’ use of the natural will. I do affirm the begetting of the Son in terms of the Father’s will, that is to say in terms of the tropological will of the First Person of the Trinity. But that will is ineffably distinguishable from the natural will of the Godhead, as I have indicated above. The natural will in the Son’s begetting, however, is wholly one, if, however, the Son and the Father employ their Personal willing in ways tropologically unique to such Personal willing. That the Son is homoousios of the Father is preserved in this natural will by which the tropological willing is unified. But that the distinction of the Persons are preserved from Sabellian heresy in that tropological willing must also be remembered. Kevin’s ignoring (or ignorance of) this classical Christian Trinitarian Personal distinctive is the undoing of his own argument.
This is important, for his criticism of my own argument founders on the loss of this distinction. This is evident in his attempt to criticize my argument from the standpoint of necessary and contingent being.
Clifton affirms the necessity of the Father begetting the Son. He claims that this begetting is, in fact, eternal. This is, as far as it goes, orthodox. However, the necessity of which Clifton speaks is only the kind wherein that which actually is the case is necessarily the case. While this is a legitimate use of necessity, it says nothing about whether something had to be that way in the first place. Every contingent thing is necessary during its actual state of existence. But nothing says that it actually had to exist. In denying the premise presented by Chris in the comments section, that “It is not the case that the Son might not have existed,” Clifton attempts to be consistent with his view of the necessity of the Son’s generation. Even though the Son has always existed, this did not have to be the case. The distinction between this view and that of Arius is that Arius flat out denies that the Son always existed. Clifton does not, in fact, he affirms that the Son has always existed. Unfortunately for his case, however, this is an affirmation that, logically, cannot be maintained.
A little background. In his own criticism of my third soteriological sidebar, Chris had laid out a syllogism which was his attempt to demonstrate the impossibility of the Son not having been begotten, and thus to somehow demonstrate that the natural/tropological distinction of divine willing could not rescue my argument regarding the divine essence and the Trinitarian Persons. My reply was to show that it is precisely the failure of maintaining these distinctions that leads to theological error. Chris responded that my position was simply Arian, and then signed off any further correspondence with me.
Returning to Kevin’s paragraph above: In attempting to make his point, Kevin assumes his conclusion in his premise. That is to say, he assumes without proof that God’s nature and Person are fused, and attempts to criticize my point.
But my reply to Chris’ original criticism was about the epistemic possibility of claiming that we could know definitively that what now obtains in terms of the divine essence and the relation of the Trinitarian Persons is the only way God could be. But in fact, we cannot know that. That is my point. To make such an epistemic claim is to claim to know the divine essence so fully as to know what possible ways such an essence could be. Since it is a given of Christian thought that we cannot know the divine essence at all, my criticism of Chris’ syllogism focused on the fact that he is making definitive assertions about how God might or might not have been.
Kevin next moves into discussion of necessity and contingency, but founders in failing to distinguish epistemological claims from theological ones.
Clifton denies the possibility of knowing how God might otherwise have been. We cannot know, by his account, whether or not the Father might have existed without the Son. This is wrong. The actuality of the Son’s eternal existence proves the impossibility of the contrary.
Kevin here merely repeats my own criticism of Chris noted above. I had said to Chris:
Your syllogism fails from the very first premise:
1) It is not the case that the Son might not have existed.”
In fact, we know nothing of the sort. There is no way we could know anything of the sort, since we have no way of knowing how it is the God might otherwise be. All we can say is that we know that it is not the case that the Son has never existed. But that’s a far different matter from positing a theoretical proposition about how God might otherwise have been had he not been the way he is now. Since your first premise fails, the entire syllogism fails.
Read Kevin’s comment cited above, then read my comment immediately above. All Kevin does above, then, is repeat my own argument as a criticism against the very thing he is claiming I am doing. Clearly he is confused here.
His next confusion arises from the analogia entis, that somehow by arguing truths about his own existence he can then argue the relevant points about God’s existence. But as I have said repeatedly, this is an impossibility. Our ousia is incomparable to God’s hyperousia.
More to the point, Kevin’s arguments regarding temporality and the various possibilities of God’s theoretical modes of existence is mistaken in that the use of temporally located speech to speak of God is a non-starter. God is eternal and therefore outside of time. Kevin’s discussion about possibilities of existence, in terms of his (Kevin’s) own temporal being, do not and cannot map onto God. At least not the Christian God. Kevin’s description might fit the philosopher god (and I do not even think it fits that god), but it utterly fails to grasp the Christian God of personal revelation.
Kevin’s argument runs thus:
At the moment I am typing this (which must be distinguished from the moment anyone may be reading this) I am the only one in my immediate vicinity. There is no one that I have ever known for whom I can say with absolute certainty, “This person is currently alive.” From my limited perception of how things are at this moment, the statement, “Human person X might not exist” is true. It is not, however, true of me. I know that I’m alive right now; therefore, it is necessary that this be the case. There is no way that it might be otherwise. Even though I cannot say that I might not exist right now, I can say that I might not have existed right now. There are any number of ways that I could have been eliminated before now. Furthermore, I might not have existed at all. God could have chosen not to exercise the Kevin option. My existence could have been prevented all together.
For any point in my life, it is possible to say that I might not have existed. It is not possible, however, to pick any point from my conception up to the present moment and claim the possibility that I did not exist then. My actual existence throughout my life dictates the impossibility of the contrary. Admitting the possibility that I might not have existed is not the same as claiming the possibility that I never came into existence. Why not? Why is it that the present perfect and the simple past tense are not different means of expressing the same idea? First, I have limited the past tense to my actual existence. But I could have just given some dates. Given the propositions, “It is possible that I did not exist in 1960″ and “It is possible that I did not exist in 1980″ anyone who does not know me would have to agree. They may make educated guesses, but the possibility of both would remain. On the other hand, those who do know me well enough would also know whether the contrary disproved one or even both of these statement. They are, in fact, compelled to disagree with the second statement. The information content of the past tense is limited by how far back I decide to take it and by the prior knowledge of my readers as to my actual time of birth. The present perfect does not work in the same way. I cannot limit this tense to a particular time of my choosing. Instead, it latches on to a time when the contrary to my existence actually obtained. Despite appearances, the use of the past perfect here is not so much about ignorance of what might otherwise have been as it is of knowledge about what actually was the case at one time. “I might not have been” is a concept inseparable from “At one time, I wasn’t.”
This confusion of categories doesn’t help Kevin’s argument against my Trinitarian position in any way. But it sure does help him make the non sequitor leap from epistemological claims about God’s existence to Christological claims.
If we affirm that the Son has always existed, then we cannot say that he might not have existed. If we say that the Son might not have existed, then we must affirm that he has not always existed. The denial of the proposition “It is not the case that the Son might not have existed” logically entails the proposition “There was a time when the Son was not.”
In point of fact, I never made the claim that the Son might never have existed. I made the claim that we could never know it, precisely because a) God’s essence and his personal modes of being are beyond our rational grasp (God is hyperousia) and b) all we can know is that the Son as eternally existed (though that “existence” is beyond what we ourselves know and experience).
Kevin has been boxing at shadows here in a display of rhetorical vacuosity. I’ll turn to his other responses in due course.
[Note: the archive of links in this diablog can be accessed here.]