Questions for Catholics about God

Three questions:

In Islam, it is said that Allah has an entity or essence, for all things that exist have an essence. However, it is not said that Allah has a substance, as substances and accidents are created. Why is it said in Christianity that God has a substance (ousia)?

Secondly, in the Middle Ages, Peter Lombard defined characteristics of the Divine Essence, but his definition was rejected by Joachim of Fiore, claiming that such a definition introduces a quarternity to the Trinity. The Church sided with Peter Lombard, but did any theologian actually answer Joachim of Fiore’s objection?

Third, since the Church affirms Divine Simplicity, how is this compatible with the Trinity? Even if the three persons are not considered parts of God, what kind of distinction is there between the three persons of the Trinity? Can there be a virtual distinction without falling into a heretical view of the Trinity, such as modalism? Or can there be formal or real distinction without contradicting Divine Simplicity?

Since your questions touch on matters of philosophy, you might want to also post them to the Philosophy Forum, a sub-forum of the Apologetics Forum.

I don’t think it much much sense to post in this part of the Forum since it’s not about non Catholic religions it is specifically about Catholicism.

Could a moderator please move this to the correct section? Thanks.

One is the Begetter, and one is the Begotten, the love between the Father and Son forms the Holy Spirit.

That is not what I asked, I am aware of this teaching. I asked whether the distinctions between the persons are virtual, formal, or real. It seems the distinction cannot be virtual without falling into a Trinitarian heresy (i.e. all persons are one and the same but merely logically distinct from each other), and it seems that the distinction cannot be formal or real without violating divine simplicity.

Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234).

catholicworldreport.com/Blog/2279/the_trinity_a_mystery_for_eternity.aspx

That reminds me of another question. Why is it that prior to Isa ibn Maryam (AS), all the prophets, the righteous and the believers among the children of Israel did not recognise the Trinity? The usual answer from Christians is that Revelation was in its infancy, as the aforementioned would not understand the Trinity. But clearly, not even Christians to this very day understand the Trinity, referring to it as a divine mystery. So the question still stands.

God is spirit. The Trinity is Spirit. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are ‘real’ persons of God and being of one ‘substance’. Which is spirit. Simple…

Many people do understand the Trinity including many converted Jews especially as it is central to the understanding of our beliefs. That said knowledge of the Trinity brings us into the mystery of God and how we become part of God the Father’s life through Jesus Christ His Son in the Unity of the Holy Spirit. Alas if you want to know God the Father know God the Son.

Substances and accidents are created. You claim God is a spirit, and therefore has a spiritual (as opposed to physical) substance. You should know that Angels too are spirits and therefore have spiritual substances. This is the error of claiming that God has a substance, as it violates creation ex nihilo and instead implies emanation. But in reality, Allah does not have a substance, as He is dissimilar to all contingent beings (which is necessary), and brought all contingent beings from nothing.

You don’t seem to understand what I am asking, perhaps due to your unfamiliarity with medieval scholasticism? Of course, prior to medieval scholasticism the church taught that the Trinity is one ousia, which is substance or nature in a general sense, but three hypostases, which is the same as ousia but in a specific sense. In medieval times, the Catholic theologians adopted divine simplicity from the Arab philosophers, which was eventually affirmed by the church (as the Council of Florence says: “In God all things are one and the same where there is no relation of opposition”). Divine simplicity does not allow for formal or real distinctions, which is why the attributes of God are said by the Thomists to be in reality, identical to God’s essence and identical to each other, but merely logically (virtually) distinct to God’s essence and each other. The Thomists also claim that the three persons of the Trinity are logically (virtually) distinct to God’s essence but what of the distinctions between the persons? How can there be a virtual distinction without falling into a Trinitarian heresy, and if not, how can there be a formal or real distinction without violating divine simplicity?

They are relationallly distinct. The Father is Father to the Son. Without the Son, He has no Fatherhood. The Son is the Son *of *the Father. Without the Father, He has no sonship. The Spirit is the spirit of the Father and of the Son. He is not Spirit in and of Himself, but only of them.

Thus, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are descriptions of relationships within the Trinity.

I am aware of the Christian teaching that the persons are distinct relations within the Godhead, but are distinctions virtual, formal, or real?

Hi Salam you clearly didn’t read what I said correctly. I didn’t say God was a spirit, I said God is Spirit. There is a big difference. And to be spirit is a substance. Whether it is a tangible substance or not is of no significance when talking about the spiritual because there are very real realities cause by the spiritual. Now what you believe is your belief so why ask the question when you clearly are not taking the time to understand another point of view than your own?:shrug:. Know the Son and you will know the Father.

I answered above the distinctions are real.

Hi I believe you have been misled, the Church has always believed in the Holy Trinity and wrote it down as a doctrinal belief of the Church at the 325AD Nicene counsel in the Nicene Creed virtually the same profession of faith we say at every Sunday Mass today. God doesn’t oppose Himself. He can’t because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are One ‘consubstantially’ with each other. And that is written in the Creed as well. And God isn’t an ‘essense’ rather God is God.

Originally Posted by SalamKhan

In Islam, it is said that Allah has an entity or essence, for all things that exist have an essence. However, it is not said that Allah has a substance, as substances and accidents are created. Why is it said in Christianity that God has a substance (ousia)?

Substance is whatever is a natural kind of thing and exists in its own right. A mouse is a substance since it exists in its own right; it does not exist in something else, the way a color(accident) does.

Ergo God is a substance because he does not exist in something else, but exists in his own right. And what is “this own right” mean? That the substance exists within it’s own nature … what it is. Examples are: rock, plant, animal, angel, man, God.

So accidents have their existence in another. Substances do not have their existence in another, but exist in their own nature. To know a substance means to know it’s nature. Unless we know the nature of something, we really don’t know it.

So God is a substance existing of itself who’s nature is self substantive depending on nothing other than itself. All else is not self substantive because that is not their nature.

Secondly, in the Middle Ages, Peter Lombard defined characteristics of the Divine Essence, but his definition was rejected by Joachim of Fiore, claiming that such a definition introduces a quarternity to the Trinity. The Church sided with Peter Lombard, but did any theologian actually answer Joachim of Fiore’s objection?

I have searched for the meaning of quarternity and haven’t found an explanation. Nor have I found a explanation on the meaning of the Trinity by Joachim of Fiore.

Third, since the Church affirms Divine Simplicity, how is this compatible with the Trinity? Even if the three persons are not considered parts of God, what kind of distinction is there between the three persons of the Trinity? Can there be a virtual distinction without falling into a heretical view of the Trinity, such as modalism? Or can there be formal or real distinction without contradicting Divine Simplicity?

Divine Simplicity means being one with no parts. As God said to Moses, “I am who am”. Or as Jesus said, “I am”.

The distinction of the three divine Persons is real.
This quote from our Catechism explains this.

CCC 255 The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: "In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance."89 Indeed "everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship."90 “Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son.”

I’m not going to have a crack at the second question about either Peter Lombard;s or Joachim of Fiore’s dispute, but I will have a go at the other two.

As far as I’m concerned, your first question is merely one of semantics, or word games. God obviously has some form of essence or substance, since He exists and always has existed. “God is spirit” said Christ. Simple as that.

Whether we decide to call that intrinsic spirit essence or substance is a word game. God simply is, whereas anything else is created, included both the natural (ie. this universe and all that is in it), and the spiritual order of beings (angels and demons, and whatever sort of environment they live in, since they must have some way of communicating with each other, even if the closest definition we could come to in their case is beings of pure intelligence).

Your third question on divine simplicity … no doubt you regard yourself as “simply human”, yet you are a trinity yourself - body, mind and soul. Without the body you would not be fully human and would be unable to do anything in the physical sense. Without the mind you could not think (and I have personal reasons for believing that mind outlasts death, which I’ll go into in a minute). Without the soul, you would have no life in you.

But at all times you are only aware of being “simply human”, or yourself. And you’re made in God’s image, hence God is a trinity.

On the business of mind outlasting death, my father died on the 11th January 1979. He was a real mongrel to me. On the night he died, he appeared in my room, despite his dead body lying several kilometres away.

He started with an apology for the way he treated me, we went on to have a somewhat heated argument and discussion, and at the very end, he gave this absolutely terrifying scream as it was obvious something was coming for him. Then he just disappeared.

But we were talking, he could to all intents and purposes see and think and hear. Yet he had no body. So he couldn’t have picked up a rock and thrown it at me if he’d tried. He was only two parts out of three in essence, since his body was dead, and he was no longer fully and simply human.

God is a trinity, just as you’re a trinity, except that God is a Trinity in such a way that our ridiculously tiny minds could not even begin to understand it.

Three occasions for example in Scripture in which God made it clear He is a Trinity are -

  1. When Peter, James and John ascended the mountain with Christ and a cloud came around them, and a voice addressed them saying about Christ, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” (Father and Son)

  2. Christ addressing the Jews - “The Father and I are one. …” (Father and Son again).

  3. The Day of Pentecost, about six weeks after Christ’s resurrection, when the Holy Spirit, whom Christ had promised to send, ascended on the disciples in the form of tongues of fire. That was also the real beginning of the Church.

Finally we’re not in a position to psycho-analyse God. If He tells us He’s a Trinity, then He’s a Trinity. Full stop.

I am aware of what substances and accidents are, so that was not my question. I am asking how God can be described by Christians as having a substance, if He transcends His creation. Moreover, if God is spirit, so too are His angels, and the implications of this are major.

Information about Peter Lombard and Joachim of Fiore’s dispute can be read here.

Two posters answered that there is a real distinction between the persons of the Trinity, yet did not answer how this does not violate divine simplicity; just as the essence-energies distinction doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox is considered to be contrary to divine simplicity.

Another poster likened the Trinity to the human body, mind, and soul. Not only is this contrary to divine simplicity, but this was considered to be a heresy by the Church, known as partialism. The poster then claimed that God said He is a Trinity. If this is the case, why did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc. not recognise the Trinity? And please, do not say that God did not yet reveal the Trinity to them as they would not understand it, when you yourself still do not understand it even after it was allegedly revealed.

I made the point that we are a trinity, which is an outright fact, and in that sense modelled on the fact God is a Trinity. I’m not silly enough to think that this means God has a body, mind and soul.

You may be aware that when Abraham was at the tree of Mamre, three men appeared to him. I suspect this was an early manifestation of the Trinity, or at least a hint of it.

The Jews have a different explanation, with at least one of their traditions saying they were the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. This doesn’t explain why Abraham addresses the lead angel as “My Lord” aka God, or why they seem to speak as one when it comes to asking Abraham where his wife was.

But lets assume there is some truth to the Jewish claim. The first time Gabriel (Daniel 8:16) and Michael (Daniel 10 & 12) are actually named in the Old Testament is in Daniel written hundreds of years later. Raphael only appears once, in Tobit. The implication? God was prepared to wait centuries before He even began to name some of these angelic beings to His own people, who may or may not have been at the tree of Mamre…

Likewise He was quite prepared to wait centuries, even millenia, before revealing Himself as a Trinity, at a time and place that fitted into HIs agenda. For God a thousand years is as a day, and a day is as a thousand years.

God’s under no obligation to commit to revealing aspects of Himself to us, to suit our understanding of His nature. For us to claim so is the height of arrogance.

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