The Best Model of the Trinity

What is the best model of the Trinity? Surely there exists a Trinity of persons in God, for that is what God Himself revealed to us, and God must have a plurality of persons in Him in order to be a perfectly loving being. But which is the superior illustration of the nature of the Trinity? Social trinitarianism or anti-social trinitarianism (Thomistic, Latin, etc.)? Which model is independently plausible and does not suffer from the defects of the other models? At this point Social Trinitarianism seems doubtful to me. Any thoughts?

I have the book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland. In their wonderful and must-buy book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland critique Thomistic anti-social Trinitarianism. Their criticisms do not seem to defeat St. Aquinas’ model of the Trinity, however, and I will try to show this by presenting their arguments in a fair and accurate way and providing links to the relevant sections of Aquinas’ must-read theological masterpiece Summa Theologica where their objections are answered.

Is ATS truly orthodox (truly Trinitarian), or does it collapse into the heresy of modalism?
Their logical argument against ATS is composed of the following basic ideas.

  1. Persons cannot be equated with relations.
    St. Aquinas: Relation is the same as person in God.
  2. If God is absolutely simple, there are no real relations in God.
    St. Aquinas: God is altogether simple and yet there are real relations in God; they are intrinsic to the Divine essence and are four in number.
  3. Furthermore, given divine simplicity, the relations cannot really be distinguished from another.
    St. Aquinas: The relations are truly distinct from each other.
  4. It is not correct to say that there is procession or generation in God.
    St. Aquinas: There is procession in God, and one of the processions is generation. The Father is the Principle and it is proper to Him to be unbegotten; the holy doctors correctly assigned attributes to each person. The three persons are co-eternal, and the Father begetting and the Son being begotten are consistent with the omnipotence of all the persons. The persons are co-equal and this fact is harmonious with there being an order of nature in the Trinity. The Father and Son are but one principle of the Holy Ghost, Who proceeds from the Father through the Son.
  5. The persons aren’t distinguished by the relations and so there cannot really be a plurality of persons.
    St. Aquinas: The relations distinguish and constitute the persons, and this is consistent with divine simplicity.

But, let’s assume the relations in God really do constitute distinct persons (see above), Craig and Moreland say. Their ideas, enumerated below, lead to the false conclusion that AST’s proposed subsisting relations do not fit the bill of true personhood.

  1. Then there would be an infinite regress of persons who understand and love themselves.
    St. Aquinas: There are only two processions in God, and only three persons in the AST model.
  2. The Son cannot be said to be in the Father.
    St. Aquinas: The Son is in the Father, and the Father is in the Son.

I will continue in another post…

Now, the following is my understanding of requirements for the orthodoxy of a Trinitarian illustration. An orthodox model of the Trinity must not diminish the divinity of the persons. It must state that the Father is fully God, the Son is Fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God. At the same time, it must deny that each of the persons is a “part” of God or 1/3 of God. It must not say that the persons are divine because of their participation in the Trinity; rather, the persons participate in the Trinity but they are intrinsically fully divine. In other words, the persons, having the same essence, are necessarily infinitely divine in themselves.

As food for thought, you might want to visit

Here’s how I understand it, based on St. Thomas’ model and extrapolation on the Divine Name “I Am that Am”.

The Divine Name represents the Divine Essence perfectly, and tells us that God is Personal and Eternal. Personhood consists of three factors: Being, Intelligence, and Will. Being because a person must really exist to be a true person, and Intelligence and Will because those are the factors that combine to make the Being a Person rather than some other subsisting thing.

Now the most important aspect of the equation is that it’s the Divine Essence that is Personal. Now this doesn’t mean that there’s a Fourth Person of the Godhead, as I will show.

First off, you have the Divine Essence, which is Personal, “Being”. The Divine Essence “Being” contains all that is the Divine Essence, and this includes omnipotence, omniscience, ect. There is only one Divine Essence, and therefore only one omniscience, omnipotence, ect (it’s not necessary to get into how these things are actually one in simplicity).

Secondly, Intelligence and Will imply opposing relations that are truly distinct in there terms. Intelligence implies “knower” and “known” as opposite terms, at least logically within the term “knowledge”.

Logically following from the Divine Essence “Being”, existing in itself, is that this Personal “Being” knows Itself by Its Intelligence. Since It is omniscient, its Knowledge lacks nothing, and since Knowledge is known by the mode of the Knower, the infinite Divine Essence knows the infinite Divine Essence infinitely. This Knowledge is perfect, even down to it Being; it is distinguishable from the Divine Essence simply “Being” because It follows from the Divine Essence Knowing, which is logically “subsequent” to it Being (“one can’t know what is not”). Thus we have the Divine Essence “Being” fully and perfectly, and the Divine Essence “Known” fully and perfectly: the Father and the Son. They are really distinct because the term “knowing” implies opposite terms, and the Divine Essence must Know Itself from eternity since Its Knowledge is Eternal. Since Being is contained in the notion of the Divine Essence, and the Divine Essence Known is perfect owing to Omniscience, the Divine Essence Known has a reality eternally distinct from the Divine Essence Being by virtue of the opposite terms of “knower” and “known”, despite the fact that the Divine Essence is not divided in any way.

There is only ONE “Divine Essence Known” because there is only one Intelligence of the Divine Essence. The Son doesn’t “know” another Son into Being, because the Son’s Intelligence is the Father’s Intelligence, and Intelligence proceeds from Being.

The Holy Spirit corresponds to the single Divine Will, and proceeds as the Divine Essence “Being” willing Itself, and Will follows from both “Being” and “Knowledge”, because you can’t will what you do not know. In short, in the Divine Essence (Father) Knowing Itself (Son), It Wills Itself to Itself out of Love (Holy Spirit). Again, since there is a single Will of the Divine Essence, and this Will is omnipotent and lacking nothing, there is only one Holy Spirit who is perfectly the Divine Essence. The reason for its real distinction follows in a similar manner as the Son, due to the opposite terms “willer” and “willed”. You’ll notice that this representation allows for the “filioque” without minimizing the absolute “monarchy” of the Father, as the Will follows from the Knowledge, and indeed proceeds in a certain manner from it since what is Known first is also Willed. The Willed Divine Essence proceeds in one act from the Being and Knowledge, but principally from the Being as the “source” of the Divine Will.

This concludes the being and processions possible from the “Divine Name”, I Am that Am. “I” indicates Personhood, which necessarily implies Being, Intellect, and Will, and “Am that Am” implies eternal and unchanging Being. From this we can conclude Three Persons from the Three “facts” of Personhood, and these Persons share a single Essence while being distinguished by relation. The Father does not “proceed” from the Divine Essence, He IS the Divine Essence principally, with the other two Persons proceeding from the fact of Being, though lacking nothing of the Divine Essence as they are the Divine Essence perfectly Known and Willed, respectively.

I hope that was clear enough. Ask any questions you deem necessary, and I’ll try to clarify any points. Properly understood I think this model fits all of the requirements, but that doesn’t mean I expressed it accurately here.

Peace and God bless!

I am not exactly sure on how to respond to Craig and Moreland when they say the following, or if you have answered it already in your brilliant explanation. Forgive me; the Trinity and Trinitarian terminology are utterly mind-boggling!

A) "… it can be safely said that on no reasonable understanding of person can a person be equated with a relation. Relations do not cause things, know truths or love people in the way the Bible says God does. Moreover, to think that the intentional objects of God’s knowing himself and loving himself constitute in any sense really distinct persons is wholly implausible. Even if God the Father were a person and not a mere relation, there is no reason, even in Aquinas’s own metaphysical system, why the Father as understood and loved by himself would be different persons. The distinction involved here is merely that between oneself as subject (“I”) and object (“me”). There is no reason to think that the individual designated by “I,” “me” and “myself” constitutes a plurality of persons in God’s case than in any human being’s case. Anti-social trinitarianism seems to reduce to classical modalism."
B) “… the Son’s intellect and act of understanding just are the Father’s intellect and act of understanding; the Son’s understanding himself is identical with the Father’s understanding himself. The Son seems but a name given to the Father’s me.”

Their critique is based first on an erroneous understanding of how a relation is a person, and secondly on a failure to grasp the significance of an omniscient, omnipotent, infinite Being “knowing” and “loving” itself.

A relation is a Person in the Trinity not because relations are persons per se, but rather because distinctions between opposite relations is the only “division” that can at once lead to real distinction but at the same time not divide the essence. “Known” and “knower” are opposite relations in the term “knowing”, so in the case of the Divine Essence being perfectly known and perfectly knower there arises two Persons that are the Divine Essence, as “known” and “knower” always remain distinct relations, one arising from the other.

It’s wholly inappropriate to say that any Person of the Trinity is a “mere” relation, as that is a total misrepresentation of what a relation is in this context. We don’t say the Father is “merely a relation”, we say that the Father is distinguished as a Person by relation. Big, big difference. I think they’re misreading Aquinas’ language when he says that a “relation is the same as person in the Trinity”, as his point was not to equate relation with Person in any absolute way, but rather to point out that where you have a real relation within the Godhead, you have a Person by necessity.

As for the second part, there is absolutely a difference between the Divine knowing itself, and me knowing myself. I am not my own being, nor is my essence being absolutely. When I know myself, I am first of all not capable of absolutely perfect knowledge for numerous reasons, and even if I were I am not absolute being, but rather potential being made actual by God. Therefore even understanding myself perfectly would not necessitate a new “Intellectual” me, but would rather be a perfect potential me. This is the same as how God knew all things before He Created anything, and also how we are said to be “made through the Word” (Divine Intellect), as God literally “knows” us into being when He shares His Being with us. It is only by virtue of the absolute Being of the Divine Essence that knowing or willing it perfectly (as only God can do) puts forth a new Person of the Divine Essence.

The only modalism arises from their errors, not from the teachings of Aquinas or any of the Church Fathers. They seem unable to grasp the significance of “absolute being” knowing “absolute being” perfectly and absolutely. They don’t seem to grasp Aquinas’ point that “a thing known exists in the intellect according to the mode of the knower”, and in the case of the Divine Intellect this is perfect and absolute knowledge. So the Divine Essence known by the Divine Intellect exists perfectly and absolutely, distinguished only by virtue of it being “known” rather than “simply being” as the knower is, and the same applies to the Divine Essence “willed”.

These are pretty basic points, and I’m suprised they would raise such erroneous objections in a book purporting to express philosophical foundations of anything :stuck_out_tongue:

Peace and God bless!

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