There is a certain popular sermon on the Trinity. It goes like this: God is not the great eternal bachelor. For he is not selfish. Therefore, he is the Holy Trinity.
Notice, the sermon does run, “Therefore.” With startling logical skill, the local priest has succeeded in overcoming all odds so as to prove the Trinity from the simple observation that “God is not a bachelor.” I call this “Evil Knievel Logic.” One stands astounded that Aristotle didn’t see the point. Or Muslims. Or Jews.
And that is my point. This sermon is offensive for interreligious dialogue. For what is a Jew to make of this sermon. That his God is “just a bachelor”? I recall a female Muslim student of mine remarking, after we had read a theological argument along the lines above, “This argument seems to presuppose a God who is less than God and therefore requires company.” To which, the only answer is, “You are exactly correct.” And how sad that a Muslim should have to encounter such a presentation of Our Most Holy Trinity. Rather than being one Almighty Pure Act, so she might conclude if that reading were the presentation of the Trinity for her, our God is a set of several none of whom is pure act. But no set of finites yields an infinite.
This sermon has got to stop.
Take another example. Some argue thus, “Every I needs a Thou. Therefore, God is Triune.” Again, one stands absolutely flabbergasted. In one fell swoop, the Highest of Mysteries Proven. QED. But this sermon / theological argument, too, must stop.
OR RATHER, each of these must be reconfigured. Each must be reconfigured so as to do justice both to the majesty of Christian faith and to the legitimate concerns of Muslims, Jews, and non-religious Theists. The core concern is that God needs no “help” to be perfect. We Christians share and endorse that concern. Our God is not “looking” for another “Thou” so that he can become God, be happy, be loving. Our God is essentially perfect. He lacks nothing in his substance. Yet, Our God is the Explosion of Pure Act from Pure Act. Our God is in Three Hypostases. The One essence is communicated and possessed in three distinct hypostases. This is what we add to the merely rational conception of deity. Thus, we take nothing away from philosophy or the Old Covenant revelation. Rather do we augment it. RATHER, Almighty God augments it by inviting us more close than Moses peered.
Now, then, if we reconfigure the above bad sermons into theological expositions which presuppose our faith, we can save them. We say that Pure Act in fact has power to generate and spirate. We say, to deny this power is to downplay Pure Act. And, with reference to God’s own being, possibility is necessity. Therefore, if it is possible for God to generate (his essential power), it is necessary that he do so. Thus, it is necessary that there are three persons in God. We praise the essence and multiply the hypostases. That is what we mean when we say that God is not a bachelor. We mean, as Bonaventure so astutely put it, God is not infecund! Bonaventure registered that remark so utterly carefully. For he knew that it is only faith which can judge that in God it is better to be fecund than not. Thus, neither do we trample on reason or the concerns of believers who believe God is only one person. Finally, we acknowledge that “Every I needs a Thou” because we believe. We do not arrive at a universal axiom by examining human persons and then running with this axiom straight up to God, as though we could size up what he can and cannot be. No, rather, we hear his Word and therefore proclaim that in fact Every I Needs a Thou.