Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Mathematical Analogies For the Holy Trinity

By Dave Armstrong (9-7-05)

The logical problem is overcome by the prior recognition of the possibility that one Being can subsist in three persons. For us, one Being is one person, but how can it be ruled out logically (or axiomatically) that Being and person may not always be in a one-to-one relationship? I think, then, that the flatland analogy is quite relevant, precisely because it hits upon this difference of perception and defined realities which is the prior axiomatic consideration before we even get to logic. The flatlander says that there are only two dimensions, so that talk of a third dimension is meaningless and incomprehensible to him.

C. S. Lewis maintained that this is how we are with regard to the Holy Trinity. We can't imagine one Being (even God) existing with more than one Person. But who's to say that we understand all of reality and that there isn't something more?

We know that there is a third dimension and that a cube has a oneness in a "greater" sense than a square possesses oneness. It's more complex, yet it remains a single entity. We can't comprehend with our thinking abilities alone, how God could subsist in three Persons, but it is not logically impossible or intrinsically self-contradictory, in my opinion. I think it's just very difficult to grasp, and must be accepted primarily by faith.

Revelation claims that it is a communication from this greater world. We arrive at the Trinity from revelation, not natural reason. But it's not inherently contradictory if we allow the possibility of three persons in one God, and don't rule it out beforehand.

That's how we can say the Father is not the Son, etc., and not be contradictory, because it isn't polytheism we're talking about, but rather, distinction of Person only.

God can subsist in three persons. To make a VERY imperfect analogy, I am a father, a son and a husband. All those things are me (though not all of me; as I said, it's imperfect):

A. Dave is a son.B. Dave is a father.C. Dave is a husband.

In the above analogy, I can be all three things, but that doesn't mean they are identical with each other:

a son qua son is not a father qua father, (etc.)

The concept of "Dave" (the totality of my being, self, or whatever term you wanna use) includes all these things (and many more) as an overarching concept, without contradiction:
1A) Dave is a son of Graham and Lois Armstrong.1B) This son of Graham and Lois Armstrong is DaveArmstrong. So "son" = "Dave".
2A) Dave is a father of four children: three boys and a girl.2B) This father of four children: three boys and a girl is Dave. So "father" = "Dave."
3A) Dave is the husband of Judy.3B) This husband of Judy is Dave. So "husband" = "Dave."

No contradiction is entailed. This father and this son and this husband are all me, but it doesn't follow that a father equals a son: that they are the same thing in relation to each other; no, they are different in that relational sense.

Therefore, if I can be all three things simultaneously and yet remain the same person, yet son and father and husband remain distinct categories, why is it contradictory for God to contain three persons (analogous to my three relational attributes) and remain one God, and also for the three persons to be distinct in relation to each other, yet each being God?


Ryan Herr said...

I've got a google blog search alert set up for "frank sheed trinity", and this post just popped up, evidently four years after the fact.

Let me recommend the excellent and accessible paper In Defense of Mystery by James N. Anderson, which introduces a cool new acronym: MACRUE (merely apparent contradiction resulting from unarticulated equivocation).

One of the problems with Frank Sheed in Theology and Sanity is that he fudges between implying that nature means individual nature and implying that nature means universal nature. If nature means universal nature, then you get tritheism. If nature means individual nature, then you get a contradiction, because by definition there is a 1-to-1 correspondance between individual and individual nature. If nature means something else, then Sheed didn't share what he had in mind, and didn't point back to his sources. And speaking of sources, the terms Sheed uses and the ways he uses them seem both somewhat traditional but also somewhat idiosyncratic.

Dave Armstrong said...

So you're critiquing him from a specifically Thomist approach?

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G|_3/\//\/ said...

Ok, here's a link to actual C programming code I came up with that acutally works (according to the compiler) and proofs that the Trinity isn't all that contradictory, it all depends on the context. As with all pointers declarations, it's easier to read each line from right to left to know how the pointers work.

Of course, this isn't suggesting exactly how the Trinity actually works...but i find this approach doesn't exactly fall to much into aspects of modalism, tritheism or hierachism (despite the use of nested pointers, access is still on the same level, and initialization is synchronous). Also, if you think about it, it matches the chronologicla order of the revealing of persons in Scripture, and how the Son points to the Father and the Holy Spirit points to the Son, etc. and yet different and unique from one another. Yet, all of them equate to God nevertheless.

Now, my only critique of the code is "Bleh, that's just a trick with the pointers...". BUt as always, it's just an illustration.

Dave Armstrong said...

Interesting stuff, but over my head!

James Rinkevich said...

Theology for Beginners is more on point with this.