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Trinity and mystery (UPDATED)

trinity.jpgThere's been a fair bit of discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity in the last week or two within (a certain subsection of) the philosophy blogosphere. Here's my response to some of it.

UPDATE 2/13: I've posted a follow-up here.

Comments (5)

Professor Feser:

In your post, you recommend reading The Divine Trinity: A Dogmatic Treatise, by Joseph Pohle. In the Introductory Remarks to that treatise, I find written:

With the exception of the relatively few champions of Lutheran orthodoxy, whose number is, moreover, constantly dwindling, modern Protestantism no longer holds the Christian idea of the Blessed Trinity.

I'm not sure what Pohle means by this. Does he mean that modern Protestants, while they for the most part accept the Trinity, do not adequately understand it, and so do not hold its "Christian idea"?

Or does he mean that modern Protestants, though they possess a passable notion of the Trinity, do receive it as Christian dogma, as they ought to?

Dr. Ed, I am puzzled about your statement C coming out of B:

B. The human mind is nevertheless too limited adequately to comprehend it.
C. The doctrine could, accordingly, never have been arrived at via purely philosophical arguments.

Can't the same be said about God? The existence of God CAN be arrived at by rigorous argument, but what that God is whom we know to exist cannot be comprehended by the intellect, even though we know Him to be there. In the same way, a person might argue that we can prove THAT there is a Trinity, we just can't comprehend it fully.

I know we can't prove the Trinity, but I think the reason for it has to go through other arguments than through B above. Something like: that all that we can know about God through reason comes to us through created being, and all created being is caused by God qua unified God rather than qua distinct Persons.

In the same way, a person might argue that we can prove THAT there is a Trinity, we just can't comprehend it fully.

The existence of the Trinity is revealed knowledge. By its very nature, it is not possible to come by it through reasoning. God is already revealed in nature and observing nature reveals the existence of God. One cannot observe God, only his effects, so one cannot observe the Trinity in the Godhead or the effects of the Trinity in nature. It must be revealed.

The Chicken


As the context indicates, he seems to have both tendencies in mind. Specifically, he mentions rationalist (e.g. Kant, Hegel) and liberal (e.g. Schleiermacher, Harnack) interpretations of the Trinity. If his claim about Protestantism sounds sweeping, keep in mind that he was writing at a time when the modernist theological approaches just mentioned were on the upswing and evangelicalism hadn't yet fully emerged as a counterforce in academic theology and philosophy.


You're right, I should have qualified what I said. It isn't just the general limitations on our intellects vis-a-vis the divine, but, as you say, the specific way we have natural knowledge of God -- i.e. as cause of the world -- that keeps us from grasping the Trinity (which has nothing to do with understanding God qua First Cause). Interested readers are directed to Aquinas's discussion in the Summa Theologiae.


Exactly, though I think Tony acknowledges that in his last paragraph.

Oh, and see my update (linked to above) for why Pohle objects to rationalist-Protestant approaches to the Trinity.

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