Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 7)

Part the Last

What we have been witnessing is an ascending series of ever more noble emanations. In the lowest, a thing is not self-moving. Rather, what emanates from it, force, is what was worked on it by another: Billiard ball hits billiard ball, etc. Living vegetables (plants) move themselves and thus produce a product of themselves. However, this product (seed) separates off. Animals produce a product that remains within, the “picture” or trace of the thing that is sensed. However, the picture is always of something other than the sense power itself. The lion retains an image of the sheep, or the lamb, an image of the wolf. Thus, the image that is internally pictured, as it were, is not of the animal itself but of something else. The emanation begins from without. Rational creatures on the other hand can think of their own thinking. Thus, the concept that emanates from mind can be of mind itself. Hence, the emanation here is more interior. Now, the concept produced by the act of thinking has the same kind of ‘being’ that the act of thinking has. If the act of thinking is an “accident” and not identical in being with the thinker, then the concept will have an “accidental” existence and not the very being of the thinker. I have thoughts but am not my thinking; thus, my concepts are not the same in being with me.

Now, rational creatures are of various kinds. Human beings require many different “image pictures” of things in order ever to get to an understanding of the essence or concept: I need to see many balls before I can have any faltering grasp of what “ball” is. And I need to understand many external things for a long time before I begin to be reflective about myself: Who am I, who do these things? Thus, even our concepts of ourselves begin from without. Angels, unlike us, have innate or better intuitive knowledge of themselves. They see themselves directly. Thus, their concepts of themselves begin from within and, since they are concepts, remain within. They are more interior. However, an angel has many concepts, not just one. An angel is not identical with his thinking. An angel has thoughts but is not his thinking. Thus, the angel’s concepts are not identical in being with the angel. Unlike the angels, God is his thinking. He does not have thoughts but is his one, simple thought.

Thus, the theological suggestion is this: IF God produces a word / concept when he thinks, this Word will have the following characteristics: (a) it will always exist, as God always thinks; (b) it will be one and not many, because God is not divided into many but is simple, and his act of understanding is perfect and simple, so that the concept that expresses this act would be one, not many; (c) it would remain within God, just as our concepts remain within us; (d) it would be identical with the divine being, just as God’s act of understanding is his very existence; (e) yet, just as our concepts are from our thinking, so too God’s one simple divine Word would be from God and therefore distinct from God-speaking-the-Word. In short, the Word would be identical with God in divinity and distinct from God-speaking.

This is none other than the Christian faith, for Christians hold that God indeed does produce a word.

What Does “Loving the Sinner” Mean? What Does it Not Mean?

Lived Christianity has gone astray on what it means to “love the sinner” and what it does not mean.

To love is to will the good for someone. Your love is perverted if the good you will is not the true good of the someone. So, there are bad loves. But we are speaking only of true love, of a love that wills the true good.

Why do I need to define love, true love, as “to will the true good for someone”? Because none of us is GOD! That is why. Since we are not God, we are not our own fulfillment. We might exist, but that does not mean we have arrived. Our existence is one thing; our achievement of true meaning, true happiness, true life, is yet another thing. We couldn’t achieve anything without existing; true. Yet, just because we exist does not mean we have arrived!

Hence, we need to define love not simply in terms of “accepting” or “valuing” or “esteeming” or “cherishing” any human being. Rather, true love must will the true good of the beloved.

To love the sinner then entails to will the true good of the sinner. If I fail to will his true good, I fail to love him. Full Stop. Period.

Now, if he is committing sins, if he is in a state of sin, if he is “living in sin,” I do not love him unless I will that he be removed from that state of sin, that he leave it, abandon it, come to the truth.

Hence, to love the sinner necessarily entails hating the sin. The Sin is opposed to the sinner’s good. It is an evil. It conspires to make him eternally in-complete, eternally un-fulfilled, eternally miserable. Did I want him to be miserable eternally?

Thus, he who does not hate the sin in the sinner truly hates the sinner. For in this world there is no neutrality. I either love the sinner or I do not. If I do not, I essentially hate him.

Thus, he who “reaches out” to a sinner in such a way as to make it seem to the sinner that his sin is “OK”, that his sin “is not a true evil”, that his sin “is to be embraced” truly hates the sinner. This is no love but a sham lie and a deceit. If the alleged love thinks he is doing good and really wants the best but cannot find the way to make it clear tot he sinner that sin is harming him and instead just wants to be comfortable with the sinner, he is a very unskilled, inept and thus dangerous lover. Why dangerous? For he is leading this man to his doom.

He who reaches out in this way in a public manner would be bringing ruin on the sinner and on all who sinned in the same manner. Thus, such a one would be a grave scandal. If he did it unintentionally, he would still be a very unskilled and inept and thus dangerous lover.

Is the matter of love a tight-rope? Yes. It must be part of that “hard and narrow way, which few [can even] find”. Is failing to love, is hating, an easy way? Well, yes. For failing to reach out to a sinner in the first place is already withholding the abundance of wealth from him. And thus, failing even to approach the sinner, holding off as though from the leprous, is a crime. How easy it is to hold off from sinners. From those whose sins are “outward”, rather than hidden and inward. How easy it is. All the while, our own sins are probably deeper because hidden. Yet, to reach out in such a way as to cut off that public sinner from repentance, to reach out in such a way as to “ease his conscience” towards his wickedness, this too is serious sin. All this is part of that “wide and easy path, which many [go ahead and] take”.

God grant us the love that wills the true good of the sinner, which thus will bear the pain of the sinner’s alienation and not ‘mask’ it over with Pelagian magic of our ‘declarations’ that ‘it is OK’, and the prudence to find ways to approach the sinner so that he might the more quickly come to life.

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 6)

Consider merely material things. One acts on another. The action, or emanation, is entirely without: This ball hits that ball and conveys its momentum to it. This fire generates that fire. Etc. The “movement” or “emanation” is all without.

Consider a plant. Suddenly, we are at a new level of being. The plant is a whole and acts as a whole. It as it were “moves itself” to its act and is not just moved from without. Eventually, it produces seed. Thus, its movement is more interior.

Now consider an animal, with sense knowledge. Suddenly, there is an interior emanation. For in sensing other things, the dog has as it were within itself an image of the exterior reality. Through this image, it engages the exterior reality. Each of my eyes, in concert with my brain, produces an image that remains within me. Thus, there is an “emanation”, a “generation” of one from another – image from eye-brain – that remains within the agent itself.

Now enter your own mind. When you think conceptually about something, you are no longer merely in images. You rise above images, even though you use them at the same time. No man has seen a circle. Never! For a circle is defined by a “line”, and no line has any “breadth”. For a line is “breadthless length”. But you cannot see what has no breadth. You cannot see a point; you cannot see a line between points. BUT YOU CAN THINK IT! Yes, and you can deduce properties about it. You can very much think it, without ever getting its reality in your imagination. Therefore, we rational creatures rise above the merely imaginative sub-structure of the brain. Even though we need the brain as we do it. (The geometrician needs the imagined or sketched circle in order to conceive, beyond what he sees or imagines, the defined circle.)

The concepts that the mind produces are thus in-corporeal. They rise above the material, even what can be pictured by imagination. Hence, they are what we classically call “spiritual”. Not spiritual as in holy. Spiritual as in above the bodily. Products of mind, not merely of brain.

Now, the marvelous thing about the spiritual is that it can reflect on itself. The spiritual power can have itself as object. You can think your thinking.

Thus, in this way, the emanation can as it were “begin from within”. Not only does it end within (as does the imagined zebra, when I ‘picture it’ to myself). But it begins within, since the very object of the mind can be the very mind thinking.

But if this is the case, we have an instance of “emanation” in which what emanates, the concept, remains within the very source of its emanation, mind.

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 5)

We will consider one more objection from Taymiyyah. It is that if the Son is begotten, then he must “separate” off from the Father. For everything that is begotten separates off from its source. If it were to remain within the source, it could not be begotten. That is the objection.

The objection works for things material. For everything material involves place, and with regard to things material, distinction of thing entails distinction of place. The child leaves its mother. This is very simple.

However, the question at hand regards God. We should pose a question: If there were begetting in God, would it be material? The answer is obviously “no”. No argument can prove that there is begetting in God. That is, no theological argument on the topic. We could, however, make the case for Christianity as a whole. And if it as a whole bears the indicators of divinity that no other religion bears, then we reasonably give credence to it as a divine religion. And that is a remote argument for the Trinity, since Trinitarian doctrine is part of Christianity.

But we grant that no theological argument can prove that God begets. However, can we observe an order of “emanation” that becomes increasingly more refined, more intimate and interior, the higher we go in nature? Yes, we can. Stay tuned.

Gregory Nazianzus to a Fellow Bishop

Manly advice from Bishop Gregory:

“If they [heretics] who hold such views have authority to meet, your wisdom approved in Christ must see that, inasmuch as we do not approve their views, any permission of assembly granted to them is nothing less than a declaration that their view is thought more true than ours. For if they are permitted to teach their view as godly men, and with all confidence to preach their doctrine, it is manifest that the doctrine of the CHurch has been condemned, as though the truth were on their side. For nature does not admit of two contrary doctrines on the same subject being both true. How then could your noble and lofty mind submit to suspend your usual courage in regard to the correction of so great an evil? But even though there is no precedent for such a course, let your inimitable perfection in virtue stand up at a crisis like the present, and teach our most pious emperor that no gain will come from his zeal for the Church on other points if he allows such an evil to gain strength from freedom of speech for the subversion of sound faith.” (From Christology of the Later Fathers, pp. 231f).

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 4)

Another objection will be familiar to students of Christian history. Taymiyyah contends that everything begotten is posterior in time to its begetter. Thus, if the Son is begotten, he must be posterior in time to the Father. But that would mean that the Son is not co-eternal with the Father. If he is not co-eternal, he could not be the same God, for the divine essence is eternal.

This objection was raised also by Arius in the 4th century. It does not avail.

The source of being need not be temporally anterior to what derives from it. Of course, in the world of animals, the parent always precedes the offspring. This is because we live in the world of matter, and matter takes time to be formed. You cannot be a parent on day 1. You must first come to maturity. Similarly, your offspring does not spring adult from the womb. (Thanks be to God.)

However, there are “sources” that are contemporary with their products. For example, in an argument, the premises are the “cause” of the conclusion. However, they are not necessarily temporally prior to the conclusion. Picture the sun and its rays. The sun is indeed the cause of its rays; however, these are practically contemporary with the sun. Of course, we now know that light does take time to travel. So that example is only an approximating example. Another would be gravitational attraction. If two bodies exist, they are necessarily gravitationally attracted to each other. Their attraction does not have a “time lag” but co-exists with them. Thus, being a principle of something is not necessarily to be prior to that something. There is no necessary proportion between causing and time. The only necessary relation is this: The cause cannot cause unless it exists.

Consider the divine, now. Many solid Muslim thinkers contended that Aristotle was correct: The world can go backward infinitely in time. (Aristotle thought it had to go back, for various reasons. These thinkers agreed that it could go backwards infinitely.) That is, the world could “always have been”. Yet, all these Muslims agreed that that world would depend on God for its existence. Thus, God would be a principle and yet what he produces would always obtain. I think there is nothing implausible in this. Aquinas argued the case compellingly in the middle ages.

The net result of all this: It is no objection to say that if the Son is begotten, he must be posterior to the Father. These need not be the case. Thus, the objection fails.

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 3)

Another criticism is that, Taymiyyah alleges, Christians confess that the Son is “equal in essence” with the Father. But equality is not identity; it is a relation between. Therefore, the Son’s essence must not be the Father’s essence. Therefore, there are two essences, “supposedly divine”. But since only one can be God (Deut 6), the Son cannot be God. Therefore, he cannot be equal in substance with the Father.

This objection is based on a misreading of our creed. We do not confess that the Father and Son are “equal in essence” as Taymiyyah thinks we do. That is, we confess that they are one in essence. They are not two divine things, as two men are two human things.

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Yet another objection Taymiyyah makes is as follows. It is a twofold objection. First, Christians call the Holy Spirit “Life” and they call the Son “Wisdom” or “Knowledge”. But Life is a divine attribute. And wisdom is a divine attribute. And divine attributes apply to whatever is divine. Thus, insofar as Christians distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Son, they allege that there is a divine one that is Life but is not Wisdom, and another that is Wisdom but not Life. As this is absurd, so is the doctrine of the Trinity.

This objection betrays a total misunderstanding of Christian theology. Christians observe that the Bible speaks in two ways of divine attributes. Sometimes, the term “Wisdom” stands for a divine attribute simply as such. And in this way, whoever is divine is Wise. Sometimes, the term “Wisdom” stands for a particular person, in distinction from another. That is, sometimes the term Wisdom, which is naturally a divine attribute, is employed to signify just the Son, not the Father. We call this “appropriation”. Note that in cases such as this, the Bible is not teaching, nor are Christians confessing, that Wisdom is not also Living and Almighty. Rather, the Bible is teaching, and Christians are confessing, that the attribute Wisdom is most especially befitting the Son of God, because he is eternally generated from the Father, in his image. Similarly, when I express my thoughts to myself in a soliloquy, they are an “image” of my mind. They embody my knowledge. They are my wisdom, as it were. Christians confess that the Son knows all and the Father knows all; they each know all. Yet, the Son especially bears the marks of “Wisdom”. Hence, the term is used by appropriation. Taymiyyah knows nothing of this standard Christian exegetical principle.

Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part II)

Another objection is that the Trinity does not appear in the earliest revealed texts, those of early Jewish tradition (traditionally held to be the Pentateuch, but the objection could work in a different arrangement of dating). And the exegetical principle to which Ibn Taymiyyah appeals is that newer texts must be interpreted on the basis of older texts.

This objection raises an important criterion for authenticity of later revelations. However, it does not avail to debunk the doctrine of the Trinity.

If God knows all things, he cannot be deceived. And if he is all good, he cannot deceive. He is both omniscient and omnibenevolent; therefore, he cannot be deceived nor deceive. Therefore, he would not reveal something false to begin with and then later correct an error. Therefore, all revelation is true. Therefore, no later revelation can contradict an earlier revelation. Therefore, that which does contradict an earlier revelation is false. This much is true.

However, qualifications need to be made. Muslims recognize that some texts and revelations were originally meant only for a period of time. These can be “abrogated”. Christians believe the same. For instance, the “Old Law” was abrogated by the “New Law” of Jesus Christ. That means the ceremonies and political precepts of the Old Law had their use only for a time; Christ abolished them all by his sovereign authority. He laid down one New Law, which incorporated the moral precepts of the Old Law (those which correspond to natural law and some which correspond to divine law). Thus, on this score Christians and Muslims are on similar pages. In addition, Christians agree that no “allegedly revealed truth claim” that comes later can be true if it contradicts an earlier revealed truth claim. This is because truth is eternal.

However, as Christians will argue, the Old Testament revelation that God is one does not contradict the New Testament revelation of distinct divine persons. We will need to argue this out. And I will. However, note how the Islamic objection on this principle fails. Taymiyyah insisted that unless the proposition (Q) is revealed in the earliest books, it cannot be revealed in the later. This is manifestly absurd. It implies that God must say all things in his first statement. But, as Jews believe, so do Christians believe: God speaks in the language of men! And our human language cannot bear all truth in one statement. Nor is truth limited to one propositional statement. Truth is rich, because our minds are small. And therefore, we need to state many things about Truth in order to suggest this richness to our poverty. Therefore, if God speaks in the language of men – and if not, who is listening??? – then he speaks gradually, over time, revealing more and more of his High Truth to our lowliness. Thus, the principle Taymiyyah lays out and by which he purports to devastate Trinitarian doctrine, is utter nonsense.

Finally, I would note that if his principle were correct, then the Qur’an could add nothing to the first sentence of the Bible. But presumably Taymiyyah thinks the Qur’an does add something. Ergo….

Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 1)

Part 1

It is well known that Islam and Judaism reject the Christian faith that God is three persons. What is less known are the objections to that faith.

Ibn Taymiyyah (d. AD 1328) set out a number of objections in the 14th century. One interesting objection he makes is that the New Testament does not teach the Trinity. You cannot find the words “The Trinity” on any page of the New or Old Testaments.

That is true. However, most Christians, and most Jews as well, believe that one can state the words of God’s revelation in other words, at least sometimes, even though care is required. Thus, if the New Testament teaches that the Son is also God and that the Holy Spirit is God, and that there is only one God, then the New Testament teaches the Holy Trinity. The “Holy Trinity” would be a way of concisely summing up the New Testament teaching on God in himself.

Well, this is what the New Testament does teach. For instance, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with (the) God, and the Word was God” Jn 1:1. This amazing text “destroys all heresies” as Leo the Great teaches. Here, we see both a differentiation between the Word and the God, and also an identity between the Word and God. Since the Gospel is true, and since truth cannot contradict truth, we must find a way to reconcile this tension. The Tradition, guided by the Spirit, teaches us: The differentiation indicates we are dealing with two persons, the Word and the God; the identity indicates we are dealing with one nature or essence.

Society Should Punish those who Attempt Suicide, et alia

Should those who attempt suicide be punished?

Should those who consent to be abused by another, or maimed or killed, be punished?


“But they agreed / consented / wanted their death / injury.”

You premise that an ultimate criterion for law is the will of the individual victim. That premise is anarchical and inherently nihilistic. It itself is premised on a denial of nature and nature’s end.

In all men so foolish as to will to be injured or killed, nature itself rebels against their will. Rather, they rebel against nature. For nature inclines towards its preservation in all things. Such an inclination naturally gives way to injury or death only for the sake of an equal or higher good. For instance, the fireman can risk his life to rescue a child.  A man can cut off his leg if it is pinned under a tree, so as to save the rest of his life.

Now, the suicide and the masochist, each of them is a man divided. Qua inflicting the pain / wanting the pain, injury or death, such a man is wicked. Qua a member of the human race, whose nature flinches at such prospects, he is a victim. Thus, he is not at one with himself. His chosen action contradicts the tendency of his person according to nature. Therefore, he should not be treated as only one ‘subject’ of the law. He is, so to speak, two ‘subjects’ of the law. And the perpetrator must be punished so as to right the wrong against the victim.

Society can, and should, punish those who begin to undergo injury or murderous action willingly. Failure in principle to find grounds for such punishment indicates failure of law, as follows. Who deny that there is foundation for such punishment are, implicitly if unwittingly, denying the very orientation of nature to its preservation. They thereby uproot all criminal law from its foundation in nature and relegate all such law to the arbitrary decisions of man. Failure to find grounds to punish such, then, is to undercut the very grounding of law in nature and to throw its foundations to the whim of man and that to which he consents.

Such undercutting consequently becomes a grave threat to all society. Conversely, one bellwether of society is its legally codified or judicially practiced toleration, in principle, of willed victimization.