July 6, 2020

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

There was a recent conversation between my friends on the topic of whether the Son and Spirit possess aseity. I think some good points are made on each side of the conversation. So, I figured that I would let my readers get a taste of it:

Jimmy Stephens:

One example among many is the paralytic man in Mark 2. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus then proceeds to prove his divinity (viz. Son of Man, from Daniel) by forgiving the man.

It’s English phraseology, but it hits the nail on the head: “God alone?” The Jews recognize no one but the God of Israel is in the position to forgive sins. This is not merely a moral factoid. It’s not merely that God is very powerful or very wise, and so authoritative by coercion or because we like His ethical advice. God’s position of moral judgment is authoritative because He controls all the facts of reality and is the Good quite independent of them.

Which is to say, Jesus can forgive sins because Jesus is Yahweh: the I AM. Which is further to say, the Son in his humanity is demonstrating by practice his self-existence.

Only two kinds of people can “forgive” sins. One who forgives on behalf of the One who is self-existent, and the One who is self-existing forgiving.

Theophilus:

And when you say self-existence, what do you mean by this? Calvin believed the Son is self-existent qua God, but not qua person

Jimmy Stephens:

To say x is self-existent is to say x is a sufficient explanation why x exists. The problem with Calvin’s view is that it makes the Father and Son participate in different essences, if taken to its logical end. Obviously I don’t think Calvin believed that, but that’s what I see as the entailment.

Theophilus:

Do you think this is equivalent to saying X has no cause of its existence, or are they slightly different concepts?

Jimmy Stephens:

I’d say it’s not semantically identical, but logically identical.
For example
Saying Jesus was a man does not mean Jesus is not a dog.
But it does analytically entail that Jesus is not a dog.
Likewise, self-existence is a stronger concept than non-causal-dependence.
But it does imply it necessarily.

Theophilus:

Why do you think the Father alone being hypostatically self-existent entails that the Trinity has different essences?

Jimmy Stephens:

Let’s use your causal language.
I take it that the Bible teaches uncaused-ness of the divine nature.
So a member of the Trinity cannot possess the divine nature except to be uncaused.

Theophilus:

I believe the essence of the Father, Son, and Spirit is uncaused. So in that sense you could say the Son and Spirit are uncaused by nature.
But I don’t see how this rules out only the Father being hypostatically a se.

Jimmy Stephens:

I think an easy way to see why this is problematic would be to use another divine perfection.
Do you agree God is impassible?

Theophilus:

Yes

Jimmy Stephens:

Okay, but the trouble then is that if God (qua nature) possesses impassibility, no longer can we say the Son is impassible.

For you see, maybe that’s just a hypostatic quality of the Spirit.

Maybe the Father and Son are quite emotionally changed by the Spirit

What makes the divine nature unique from the persons is that its qualities must be equally shared by each.

Contrarily, what makes the Three Hypostases unique is that they can have qualities endowed upon the one nature but not transitively to each other.

To say, “God is light,” does not and cannot mean, “Just the Father is light.”

It always means, “The Members of the Trinity are light” via entailment.

Oppositely, saying the Son became flesh, does mean God became flesh, but does not mean the Father became flesh.

When we introduce this hypostatic participation concept, we end up in theistic skepticism about God’s character.
(Not accusing you of theistic skepticism at all, just to be clear.)

Theophilus:

What if I were to formulate it this way: the nature of the Son and Spirit is uncaused, but the Son and Spirit themselves are caused.

That seems like it would solve your impassibility counterexample

Jimmy Stephens:

I think it’s the opposite way around, but let’s try it this way:

If the divine nature is uncaused but not two Persons, why does one Person need to be uncaused?

Theophilus:

Because for the divine nature to be uncaused, it must belong to a person who is Himself uncaused. But there is nothing to prevent this uncaused person from communicating his uncaused nature to two other persons.

Jimmy Stephens:

The trouble seems to be that we can redescribe this as follows:

In order for the divine nature to be uncaused and possessed by three persons, it must be innately possessed by one who then causes the divine nature to be possessed by two other persons.

That’s just a contradiction in terms.

If the divine nature is uncaused, the Father cannot add anything to it, like members. That’s just to cause something about the divine nature.

My position is that it just is part of the divine nature to be possessed by Father, Son, Spirit.

Theophilus:

The Nicene fathers believed that while the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are consubstantial and coeternal with the Father, only the Father is uncaused. The Father is the eternal cause of their existence: the Son is eternally begotten from the Father, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. Thus, while the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are necessarily existent, they are not self-existent; only the Father has no cause of His existence.

You indicated that the Son and Spirit are self-existent, and I’ve seen many other Protestants and even Catholics say this. But you are also committed to believing in eternal generation and procession. These two beliefs seem logically incompatible. I know that some Protestants and maybe Catholics distinguish between hypostatic and essential aseity, but it’s not clear to me whether that distinction is coherent, since essence does not exist independently of hypostasis; it is hypostasis which supplies concrete existence to essence, not the other way around.

Michael:

The past couple of days
Basically there is 2 views
1 is only Father is a se and aseity is not in essence
Or 2 only father is uncaused but aseity is of the essence hence son and spirit are a se
So there is like hypostatic a se and essential a se, either way retains monarchy
Also all this language about cause
Very dodgy
Latin fathers used principle
Cause the causality we speak of in trinity is vastly different

Father is referred to as a principle without principle
Which gives both the notion of giving and not receiving(edited)
Son is the principle with principle
Which gives the notion of giving and receiving
And spirit is not a principle with principle
Which gives the notion of not giving and receiving

Theophilus:

It seems like Catholics dogmatized the concept of essential aseity in Canon 2 of the Fourth Lateran Council:

But we, with the approval of the holy and general council, believe and confess with Peter (Lombard) that there is one supreme entity, incomprehensible and ineffable, which is truly Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, together (simul) three persons and each one of them singly. And thus in God there is only trinity, not quaternity, because each of the three persons is that entity, namely, substance, essense, or divine nature, which alone is the principle of the universe and besides which there is no other. And that entity is not the one begetting or the one begotten or the one proceeding, but it is the Father who begets, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Ghost proceeds, in order that there may be distinctions in the Persons who unity in the nature.

The supreme entity, the sole principle of the universe besides which there is no other principle, is the divine essence. And this supreme entity, this sole principle of all things, is not any of the persons of the Trinity.

The eastern fathers did not think of the divine essence this way, so we don’t really have any concept of essential aseity. Not that I know of, anyway.

As for “cause,” this is the English translation of the Greek word aitia, which as you know was commonly used by the Greek fathers to describe the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. The Latins used “principium,” because whatever the word for “cause” was in their own language was too vague.

Because an essence does not exist in and of itself. An essence can only exist in an hypostasis
There is no “human essence” floating around. There are just human hypostases that share the same human essence.
In the same way, the Trinity is one in essence, but the divine essence is instantiated only in the three persons of the Trinity.