CHAPTER XXII

 

TWO MODELS OF TRINITY: FRENCH POST-STRUCTURALIST VERSUS THE HISTORICAL-CRITICAL ARGUED IN THE FORM OF A DIALOGUE

  ROBERT MAGLIOLA

 

 

            Theologians have long taken heart from St. Paul's encouraging words, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God" (I Cor. 2:12), and "the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God" (2:13). Nowhere in theology has this search been more exciting but also -- necessarily -- more intimidating and awe-inspiring than in studies of the Blessed Trinity. As a professor teaching and researching in Asia since 1983, I have been touched in particular by the Buddhist emphasis on what -- in western terms -- can perhaps best be called non-entitativeness. Simultaneously, involved in Buddhist-Christian dialogue as I am, I have come to the conclusion that whatever `samenesses' exist between Buddhism and Christianity are founded on differences between the two religions, and not on `common ground.' Indeed, in our dialogues, we have found that whenever we Buddhists and Christians agree on a value -- on the importance of loving-kindness, for example -- our rationales justifying the value always reduce down sooner or later to purely differing `grounds'. Here, as on many occasions, a French post-structuralist claim, indeed, specifically a claim of Jacques Derrida, comes to my aid: `samenesses' are appointed, raised, `constituted' (in the philosophical sense) by `differences', not `common ground'.

            But how then to work out a Trinitarian model, and an orthodox one at that, which purely differs from Buddhist non-entitativeness yet influenced by the notion of non-entitativeness? The solution eventually came to me and became one of the main theses of my recent book, On Deconstructing Life-Worlds: Buddhism, Christianity, Culture (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997) (hereafter ODLW). Its characteristic is marked out in the following paragraph:

 

            Surely we should not expect that Christianity's deconstruction of holism imitate Buddhist deconstruction. Indeed, `pure negative reference', a key thought motif of this very section, means that the religions erect their `samenesses' by way of their very differences. What I have found, rather, is that pure negative reference has been `crypted' into Christian theology for a long time, perhaps from the beginning, crypted into Christian theology in ways purely differing from the Buddhist ones. For me the topic of Buddhist-Christian dialogue becomes, then, an intersection of Buddhist devoidness and Christian devoidness, two intersecting lines that necessarily have no `common ground'(183).

 

[The analogical reference is to mathematical lines, which do not have width and thus have no space in common even when they cross each other].

 

            In short, influenced and inspired by the Buddhist appreciation of non-entitativeness, I have come to find a Catholic non-entitativeness which has been there in the Catholic tradition, perhaps there all along: it purely differs from Buddhist non-entitativeness, but has been covered-up. Covered-up not by design, of course, but by western entitative thinking. On Deconstructing Life-Worlds introduces the Derridean notion of `glitch' to the theology of Trinity, developing further the Catholic non-entitative theory of Trinity which I first proposed in an earlier book, Derrida on the Mend (Purdue U. P., 1984; 2nd ed. 86) (hereafter DOM). Derrida argues that the irreconcilable clashes between formulae which are valid in their own contexts often `mark' the most productive and fecund points of `truth'. In my recent book I apply this notion of glitch to the equivocal status of the `Active Spiration of the Holy Spirit' in Conciliar declarations about the Trinity, where definitions, on the one hand, of the `oneness of God' and definitions, on the other hand, of the hypostases or Trinitiarian persons, seem to leave `no place' for the Active Spiration. This is an old conundrum recognizable to Trinitiarian scholars, of course, as are the `synthetic' solutions proposed by the scholastic tradition; but my Derridean approach reworks this famous `crux' into a fertile site, not a vexatious dilemma. Much of the fertility arises in terms of non-entitative thinking, deploying `negative overlap' and other maneuvers, derived from Derrida but which I appropriate in what I insist are orthodox Catholic ways, that is, ways not incompatible with the magisterium.

            On Deconstructing Life-Worlds includes many other topics besides theology, and the book has already elicited a number of reviews, most not in American journals. Yet, it is the private letter from a Catholic theologian friend which has most provoked me. He is a Biblical scholar, and enthusiast of the `historical-critical' method which now dominates Catholic Biblical scholarship and is becoming increasingly popular in dogmatic theology and the other theological disciplines too because it extends its claims as `founding' in relation to the other disciplines. As was to be expected, he excoriated me for my deference to the papal and Conciliar magisterium, which he considered slavish; and at the same time he excoriated me for my `distortion' of magisterial declarations on the Trinity according to the principle that if one is going to have recourse to the magisterium, the relevant magisterial texts must be read according to the `historical-critical' method. Our correspondence extended over several months, and was interesting enough, maybe even arresting enough, in my own opinion, to be published in its own right. In the course of the pages, scholastic intricacies were indeed engaged, very engaged, but what came to head were even more elemental questions roiling the Church today. What should theology do? How should the Scriptures be read? What are the roles of Church authority? What are the roots of religious experience? What seemed to be several meaningful ironies came to light, ironies to the extent that they would confound -- I believe -- the expectations of most mainstream Catholic academics. For example, it proves to be my position as post-structuralist which acknowledges and affirms Buddhist influence, whereas the `liberal' position represented by my friend excludes the possible pertinence of Buddhist thought to the Trinitarian project. Yet at the same time, it is my post-structuralism which positively matches the re-interpretation of Trinity to Church Council documents and even to Aquinas, whereas my historico-critical friend downplays the traditional magisterium of Pope and Councils and affirms the `magisterium of theologians' as an integral and real part of the Teaching Office (and not just as advisory periti).

            In any case, the result was that my theologian-friend refused permission to publish his side of the epistolary exchange. Convinced that the debated ideas were worth publishing, how could I continue my plan ethically, then? What I decided was (1) to extract the principles of the historical-critical position, idealizing and universalizing them so they stand as almost a generic historico-critical response to my post-structuralist position, and then (2) to create a fictional `interlocutor' who can in no way be tallied to my friend's identity. Through this device I would express the abstract arguments concretely, putting them in said fictional persona's mouth. My friend is not compromised and I am not compromised, yet the arguments are served. The resulting `dialogue' appears below, immediately after the précis of my Trinitarian thesis (condensed from the Trinitarian chapters of my two relevant books). The précis which is necessary, of course, if the reader is to make sense of the dialogue which follows. The dialogue itself is cast in the form of epistolary debate between me as `author' and an `interlocutor'.

 

A PRÉCIS OF A TRINITARIAN THESIS

 

            The Council of Florence (1438-39) affirmed that "everything is one" in God "except where an opposition of relationship [relationis oppositio] occurs," so that each of the three Persons as a Person is constituted (i.e., defined, established) only by oppositional relations among the Persons. Most theologians have always taken relationis oppositio in the Thomist sense (though this is by no means strictly necessary for the case I am making), namely -- the `opposition of relation' is contrariety rather than contradiction. The only `functions' that are applied uniquely to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit respectively in Scripture are the following: `Paternity' to the Father, `Filiation' (Sonship) to the Son, and `Passive Spiration' or that which is `breathed-out,' to the Holy Spirit.

            Because such is the case (among other reasons), Karl Rahner rejects the `psychological' theories of Trinity which define the Father as Knower, for example, and the Son as the Known (i.e., Truth): Scripture in one place or another identifies Knowing with each of the three Persons all told. Which is to say, according to the relationis oppositio clause, Knowing (in our example) does not define the Persons at all, but the Unity of God instead. (Scripture's attribution of Knowing to any one Person at any one time is said to be just `appropriated' to the Person: it does not really belong to that unique Person.)

            This operation is mind-bending in a very `postmodern' way. All that the Persons would share is sacrificed, is preempted or is always already `gutted out' of them, so that it belongs to the Unity.1 This `syncopation' in the midst of God involves kenosis, but -- since the Personal contrarieties `remain' -- it is `devoid' not `void' kenosis (I derive the void/devoid distinction from Derrida 2). Furthermore, we should speak in the plural of kenoses, rather than kenosis, since the `opposition of relation' between Paternity and Filiation, say, is not the same as that between Active Spiration and Passive Spiration, and thus what is preempted out of them is not the same. (As for the special problematic of Spiration, I shall address it momentarily.) Finally, apropos of the Personal contraries, there is at least one other point to be made here, one which jibes with a Post-Structuralist notion in a startling way: While it is the case that the kenoses are devoid, Persons relate in terms of pure negative reference (i.e., the two comparata are absolutely not like each other, yet are somehow linked anyway: they `belong together'3). The Father, for example, is purely, absolutely not the Son, recalling that what they `would' share has gone over to the Unity.

            To summarize, the relationis oppositio clause necessarily describes a Triune God wherein the three Persons raise the `sameness' of the Unity by way of their emptyings-out: This Unity is constituted indirectly by the `lateral' contraries of the Persons, and these contrary relations are themselves `pure negative references'. The kenoses raising the Divine Unity are devoid, and the Unity and the Three Persons are not interchangeable in the strict sense.

            The problematic of the Holy Spirit and its `procession' (Processio) from the Father and through the Son also can benefit from the application of post-structuralist, specifically Derridean stratagems of thought. The Holy Spirit is said to proceed from the Father/Son as from one principle. Given that even in (what is called) the Eastern Church's formula, that is, "through the Son," it is not a question of the Father transferring Himself or a part of Himself to or through the Son this would vitiate the relationis oppositio clause. The question opens up: How does the `one principle' work? I argue that the Derridean deconstruction of Signifier-Signified dyads4 can supply us with a clue. In Derrida, the representation, or Signifier, boomerangs back as different from the Signified, as its cause (while the Signified also remains as cause); so the model of simple dyad breaks down. One plus one make at least three. The inescapable `addition' of the Third requires the interaction of the `initial' Signified and Signifier and requires that the interaction involve infringement. I use the word, `initial,' advisedly because what Derrida is doing is a deconstruction. In other words, Derrida is learning/showing `sequentially' where the traditional Occidental logic of Signification really must lead. I use the word `infringement' advisedly, because the Signifier usurps the causality of the Signified. What we learn from the deconstruction is that the Signified-Signifier dyad is `always already' three, and that the Third of these three proceeds perpetually from a transgressive yet singular interaction of the other two. Finally, we learn that this `alternative solution'5 and the workings of the two that are three, must also necessarily come sous rature (`under erasure', a Derridean term meaning that an `alternative solution' in turn must undergo deconstruction because it violates the normative strictures of a yet larger frame).

            I argue that this Signified-Signifier dyad Which-is-always-already-Three, operates mutatis mutandis as the best clue towards understanding the Processio that the 20th century has hatched. (I appropriated the term, clue, and ask for patience with a post-structuralist idiom which can `sound' harsh [e.g., `infringement', `transgression', `disruption', etc.6]). Mutatis mutandis, I go on to insist that the Derridean account can indicate how the Father and Son `infringe' each other and still `as one principle' spirate the Holy Spirit. As we have just seen , Derrida's Signified and Signifier split to make a Third, and a split is of course `disruption'. `Disruption' in the sense that the Signifier does not at all close around into the Signified (does not do so even though this `circle' is conventionally expected,7 indeed, most expected). In short, the Signifier does not somehow mediate the Signified. In Conciliar theology, (which I mean, the theology insofar as it is set forth explicitly by the magisterium), it turns out that a like `disruption' is necessarily in effect.

            How so? The theology strictly distinguishes between the `one principle' that spirates the Holy Spirit and the Father's Generatio that begets the Son. The Generatio is unilateral (the Son cannot beget the Father in turn); but the `aspiration from one principle' involves the Father and Son in a kind of mutual transgression,8 in a kind of disruption. Which is to say, in short, there is no mediation between them. The Holy Spirit proceeds "from the Father and at once from the Son [simul et Filio], and from both (ex utroque) as from one principle."9 While remaining `one principle', the Son is considered the `principle,' and the Father is considered the `principle'.

            Next, there is a wonderfully Divine `glitch' in the Church's Conciliar theology of the Triune God. (Not that the `glitch' is in God; but that it marks a disconnection in the magisterial theology, sort of like a postmodern version of the Kantian antinomies: and an `otherness' of God is situated at that `blind spot' where the conceptual machine `jams'. In short, this `jamming', the how of a particular `glitch', is its own special kind of negative clue. It is a Clue in the peculiar Lack,10 one might even say. It does not at all mean the magisterial theology in its own context and insofar as it goes, is wrong.) Given that the `one principle' of Father and/with Son is in `oppositional relation' to the Holy Spirit it establishes, the `one principle' would appear to be a fourth Person. But a fourth Person is deemed Biblically impossible. Thus theology has long insisted that this Actve Spiration (of Father and/with Son) which `breathes out' the Holy Spirit (Who is the Passive Spiration) is virtual, not real. (`Virtual' is taken to mean `of only functional validity'). But the Councils have long declared that the Passive Spiration is real. Otherwise, the Holy Spirit would not be real, and thus not a Person.

            I argue that the `equivocating status' of the Active Spiration behaves much like a Derridean `double-bind'. To wit: (1) The Active Spiration overlaps with the definition of a Divine Person because it is in oppositional relation (relationis oppositio) to the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, and thus would be a Person too, but (First Bind) this is negative overlap because the Active Spiration is virtual, not real, and thus not a Person. (2) The Active Spiration overlaps with the definition of the Divine Unity because `as one principle' the Father and/with the Son are transgressive of each other but are not oppositional to each other, and "everything is one in God except where relationis oppositio occurs." But (Second Bind) this is negative overlap because the `one principle' cannot belong to the Unity: it is locked instead into a singular oppositional relation with the Holy Spirit, who is a real Person. The Active Spiration, as neither Personhood nor Divine Unity, is thus a privileged clue to the Difference between them, that is, to what we can call from our human side the Difference `within' the Triune God. We can say from our human side that `in negative overlaps and non-holistically does the happening of God perpetually go-on'. (Of course, all this must come necessarily sous rature, in this case, God's own erasure. To put it another way, God `puts an X' over our clue; this is how the `clue sous rature' survives for us in this world -- as a clue with an X over it.)11

            Lastly, the postmodern deployments described above can help the Church develop a theology of the impersonal in God (Rahner and Panikkar both agree that we already have a developed theology of Divine personalty, but not of Divine impersonality). In my case, Asian appreciations of impersonality have been a further influence (not that I duplicate these unique appreciations, however). Keeping in mind that Conciliar hypostasis as a term is meant to avoid identification with either the Unity, which would be `modalism,' or human personhood, which would be anthropomorphism, we can go on to propose -- according to the postmodern but orthodox protocols limned above -- the following scenario, and here I distinguish between `Person', as in the Trinitarian Persons, and `person', as in human personhood. (1) the Divine Unity is devoid and impersonal, (2) the Trinity -- because of its internal voiding oppositions -- is Personal, and (3) the Triune God is `impersonal' (except for the Son, insofar as the Son is incarnate in Jesus Christ, who in His human nature has `personal consciousness'). Moreover, figured into the Triune, God, is the dislocation (of the conventional human formulae of `unity') represented by the anomalous status of the Active Spiration, so the Triune God would seem to loop forever from the elegant double-bind at the Divine (Personal/imPersonal) core. It goes without saying that all this scenario, of course, in turn comes under erasure, God's X over our fragile, feeble human thinking. Recall St. Thomas Aquinas in mystic vision: ". . . all that I have written is as straw compared to what I have seen!"

 

AN EPISTOLARY DIALOGUE

 

Interlocutor

 

            (1) There is first of all an `external' problem with your discourse, both in Derrida on the Mend and in On Deconstructing Life-Worlds. There are at least two potential readerships who are not going to understand what you are arguing. Both the Buddhologists and the Derrideans are not trained in the disciplinary modes nor in the long and complex history of Catholic Trinitarian doctrine. As for the third readership, contemporary Catholic theologians, they will foreclose on reading your book because your kind of Trinitarian speculation has been superseded: the last of the important scholastic types was Lonergan.

            Now I go on to the `internal problems'. Your treatment of magisterial and scriptural authorities is proof-textish: you don't make necessary distinctions, and you disregard historical context. Your study of the trinity focuses on medieval trinitarian logic and ignores the early but founding history, especially the slow and twisting path from Philo to Augustine. If I may hark back to your earlier book involving Derrida, Buddhism and Catholicism, Derrida on the Mend, you say that there are scriptural texts which announce the co-equality, co-eternity, and co-substantiality (pp. 137-38). Actually, read in their own historical context and the Biblical contexts themselves, the scriptural texts you quote do not support the Nicenic interpretations. "I and the Father are one," for example, is a phenomenological statement: it expresses Jesus's experience of non-duality; and insofar as it deploys the Old Testament motif of the `unity of sender and sent', it is a very Jewish statement.

            (2) Aquinas represents medieval theology at its best. Perhaps his greatest real contribution to the theology of his epoch was his foundational methodology: whatever the speculation, he consistently referred back to the data of scriptural revelation and used these data to mark the limits of how far theological speculating can actually go. He does not put the cart before the horse. Thus, Aquinas functioned in the argumentative economy of his day so that most of his work is clarification: he studies and applies the rules of medieval theological language and logic in order to ascertain whether a given theological `position' is accountable to the scriptural data. He refutes heretical formulae precisely by measuring them in terms of these data. You say in your work that Derrida's "differential mode" allows us "true progress" in apprehending the manner of the Trinity; but Aquinas did not add to revelation, and the whole thrust of his work is to signal the limited scope of speculative `progress'. You want to replace entitative by non-entitative speculation, but the latter is no less accountable to Biblical data. There is no room for Buddhist influence here.

            (3) Aquinas is faithful, throughout, to the rule of faith. The one divine essence is identical with the Father, from whom the Son and the Holy Spirit receive it (the Son and Holy Spirit are thereby the same divine essence as the Father, God from God). The very process which constitutes Son and Spirit as `persons' or `supposita of the divine essence,' also constitutes them as God. There is no expropriation of the divine essence, as you seem to suggest. That the three persons, in your words, are "Perpetually and mutually and totally abrogating each other" (DOM 140), does not fit the Thomistic understanding of the trinitarian oppositions. The only differentiations allowed are those occurring "ubi obviat relationis oppositio" (where an opposition of relation occurs). The divine essence which the Father is, the Son is, and the Spirit is, is one and the same.

            "Thus it is manifest that relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility; . . . in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same" (STh I.28.2).12 The `real distinction' in God is "secundum rem relativam" (28.3). In other words, the relations are the essence, and differ from it only in reason. A trinitarian person is a `relation as subsisting,' and this hypostasis subsisting in the divine nature is nothing other than the divine nature. Indeed, Aquinas says although "the name `person' signifies relation directly, and the essence indirectly," the word `person' can likewise signify "directly the essence, and indirectly the relation, inasmuch as the essence is the same as the hypostasis" (29.4).

            You say "the three persons are not the self-same -- they do not share or hold in common the divine unity, simply because, qua persons, anything they would share in common belongs to the divine unity instead' (DOM 144, 146; ODLW, 184-85). No orthodox theologian, as you claim to be, can deny that the three persons have in common the divine essence. "The Father is good, the Son is good, the Spirit is good, yet not three goods but one good," and so on. The persons differ only as relationally opposed subsistences of that essence, (and `opposed' here is to be taken to mean `across from').

            (4) Your discussion of the problematic of the active spiration obfuscates what should be clear. In reference to `subsistent spiration', Aquinas says: "Although there are four relations in God, one of them, spiration, is not separated from the person of the Father and of the Son, but belongs to both; thus, although it is a relation, it is not called a property, because it does not belong to only one person; nor is it a personal relation -- i.e., constituting a person" (30.2 ad 1). Paternity, filiation, and passive spiration are person-constituting relations; but active spiration is not because the Father and Son are constituted before (sit venia verbo) they spirate, so spiration cannot constitute them.

            (5) Because it is a mystery, the logic of the trinity is flawed from the start. History shows that the scholastic kind of discourse is limited and impractical. I agree with Cardinal Newman's recapitulation, setting forth nine simple propositions in regard to trinitiarian dogma. These nine safeguard the dogma, and even these nine lead only to headaches if one attempts to build a metaphysical basis for them.

 

Author

 

            In God everything is one except where an opposition of relation occurs. The applications I had in mind were primarily to the `essential attributes' and `personal properties'. The essential attributes are represented in your letter to me by the reference, for example, to the famous `The Father is good, is wise; the Son is good, is wise; the Holy Spirit is good, is wise; yet not three goods and wises, but one good and wise', etc. Since your letter draws so much from Aquinas, I shall try to explain myself here in terms of his Summa Theologiae, though in point of fact the Summa Contra Gentiles (SCG) works quite well for my purposes too. In Aquinas the essential attributes are only `appropriated to' the Persons (39.7). For example, because "truth" belongs to the intellect, "It is appropriated to the Son, without, however, being a property of His. For truth can be considered as existing in the thought or in the thing itself. Hence, as intellect and thing in their essential meaning, are referred to the essence, and not to the Persons, so the same is to be said of truth" (39.8 ad 5). In other words, essence is identified with God's `unity' or `common nature', not with Persons qua Persons. These three `personal properties', paternity, filiation, and procession (30.2 ad 1) are "really distinguished from each other" (30.1. ad 2), whereas the "absolute properties in God, such as goodness and wisdom, are not mutually opposed; and hence, neither are they really distinguished from each other" (ibid.). "The very nature of relative opposition includes distinction. Hence, there must be real distinction in God, not, indeed, according to that which is absolute -- namely, essence, wherein there is supreme unity and simplicity -- but according to that which is relative" (28.3).

            Given that there are three Persons in/of one divine nature, the adjudication of terms such as essence, supposita, and subsistence (hypostasis) becomes, needless to say, extremely delicate, so Aquinas warns "if we wish to express ourselves correctly, we must take into account not only the thing which is signified, but also the mode of its signification . . ." (39.5). "To express unity of essence and of person, the holy Doctors have sometimes expressed themselves with greater emphasis than the strict propriety of terms allows" (ibid., ad 1). "Although God and the divine essence are really the same, nevertheless, on account of their different mode of signification, we must speak in a different way about each of them" (ibid., ad 3). "The word `essence', however, in its mode of signification, cannot stand for Person, because it signifies the essence as an abstract form. Consequently, what properly belongs to the Persons whereby they are distinguished from each other, cannot be attributed to the essence. For that would imply distinction in the divine essence, in the same way as there exists distinction in the `supposita'" (39.5). [In the SCG we have the same teaching, e.g., "The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and receives from the Son (John xv, 26; xvi, 14): which cannot be understood of the divine essence" (4.18).]

            God and the divine essence are really the same; "since this word `God' signifies the divine essence in Him that possesses it, from its mode of signification it can of its own nature stand for Person" (39.5). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each of them the one God, so how to retain their co-essentiality (STh's term, e.g., 30.2 ad 2) while still retaining the aforesaid strictures pertaining to the `supposita'? Aquinas answers, "The divine essence is predicated of the Father by mode of identity by reason of the divine simplicity [likewise it can be predicated of the Son and Holy Spirit]; yet it does not follow that it can stand for the Father [or Son, or Holy Spirit], its mode of signification being different" (39.5 ad 4). I take this to mean that the essence is predicated of each Person by virtue of the unity or oneness, not the `supposita'. To regard the three `supposita' as the divine essence in its three hypostatic related modes-of-being can suggest some sort of modalism, as if the essence were the foundation and the hypostatic oppositions some kind of overlay. Indeed, this would be an entitativeness in the derogatory Derridean sense! When the Church speaks of `one God in three Persons', each Person is understood as `God whole and entire' because of the oneness, not because of the `hypostasis' or subsisting personhood. This is what I mean when I say in ODLW that "All that the Persons would share is sacrificed, is preempted, is already `gutted out' of them, so that it belongs to the Unity" (ODLW 184).

 

Interlocutor

 

            I grant that the language of Basil and Augustine which was the underpinning for my reading of Aquinas can evoke a kind of modalism. In order to avoid offending Jews and Moslems, I have tended to emphasize the oneness of God, not the trinity of God. Granting this, I still think that you are turning distinctions into oppositions. You say the essence is predicated of each person by virtue of the unity or oneness, and "not by virtue of the supposita themselves." But that the supposita are at all is by virtue of the essence! Each person is a suppositum of the essence. The essence belongs to hypostases because the essence is communicated to the hypostases in their very constitution as hypostases. "It can be said that [the Father] is the principle of the whole Godhead, not because he generates and aspirates it but because by generating and aspirating he communicates it." (36.5 ad 6). The Father does not generate the essence, but by generating He communicates the essence. We cannot say the essence generates or is generated, but the essence is that whereby the Father generates and the Son is generated, -- we can perhaps call it, in less technical terms, the `substantive content of the relations.' The essence is the substance of Godhood but can only be found as subsisting in the three supposita.

 

Author

 

            When I was researching Derrida on the Mend, I developed a very extensive library on the problematic of the `common spiration' -- it has not been dismissed as a non-question. Aquinas when treating the `common spiration' (in 40.1 ad 1) supplies two reasons whereby the properties can be identical to the Persons, the first reason applying to `personal properties' and the second to `non-personal properties'. Both reasons can be argued from the divine simplicity. The first reason is: "Since the divine simplicity excludes the composition of matter and form, it follows that in God the abstract is the same as the concrete, as `Godhead' and `God'." In God the abstract is the same as the concrete, so the paternity is the same as the Father, the filiation the same as the Son, the procession the same as the Holy Spirit. The second reason is: "And as the divine simplicity excludes the composition of subject and accident, it follows that whatever is attributed to God, is His essence Itself; and so, wisdom and power are the same in God, because they are both in the divine essence." As the attribute is the essence Itself, so the "common spiration is the same as the Person of the Father, and the Person of the Son; not that it is one subsisting Person, but that as there is one essence in the two Persons, so also there is one property in the two Persons, as above explained" (explained in 30.2 which you, my interlocutor, quote). Since Aquinas assigns the `common spiration' to the kind of identity belonging to essential attributes, a problem opens up -- essential attributes belong necessarily to all three Persons because "the divine essence is not only really the same as one Person, but it is really the same as the three Persons" (39.6). Aquinas is placing the `common spiration' on the side of attribute because he must eschew the first reason for identity, which necessitates subsisting personhood; but the second reason for identity, according to Aquinas's own definitions, comports its own impossibility, viz., that the `common spiration' is the Holy Spirit, too.

            This kind of bind happens in other places also because Aquinas feels obliged to show that the common spiration, while not being a suppositum, must nonetheless remain correlative as `active spiration' to the procession (passive spiration). Later in history the need (on the part of theologians) to justify a very special status is further sharpened when the Council of Florence underscores both `oppositional relation' and procession from Father and Son as from `one principle'.

            The bind recurs in 28.4. We are told the procession of the Word has a proper name, viz., generation, and that therefore its opposing relations have proper names -- the relation of the principle is `paternity' and the relation of the Person proceeding from this principle is `filiation'. But the procession of Love, we are told, does not have a proper name, and so neither do the ensuing relations have a proper name of their own. In the case of the procession of Love, the relation of the principle is called `spiration' and the relation of the Person proceeding is called `procession'. Whereas the names `paternity' and `filiation' are self-reflexive, that is, name the relations, the names `spiration' and `procession' do not name themselves, but refer back to the `processions or origins themselves'. Aquinas here sends us to 27.4 where he says that the procession of the Word is consistent with the order of intellect, i.e., "The intellect is made actual by the object understood residing according to its own likeness in the intellect." The procession of Love is consistent with the order of will, i.e., "The will is made actual not by any similitude of the object willed within it, but by its having a certain inclination to the thing willed." Thus, Aquinas argues, there cannot be a proper name for the procession of Love. This is a most unconvincing rationale. The real reason that Aquinas says the procession of Love has no proper name is because (1) the procession is equally from Father and Son, and -- more importantly in the immediate context -- because therefrom he can argue that the spiration, the `relation of the principle', cannot have a self-reflexive proper name. If it did, it would `constitute a Person'.

            Controversies over such material are important for me, and not trivial, because my understanding of their function differs from yours. To me, a `glitch' refers to a point of disconnection between magisterial statements which must be taken as true. I give solemn statements of Church Councils the full weight of magisterium, and accept them as definitely true (at least insofar as they go, expressed in human language as they are). Also, I do not tie these statements as absolutely to immediate historical context as you do. In the case of magisterial statements about the Trinity, for example, of course I recognize that they are mediated, at least from the Middle Ages onward, through the language of scholasticism (and indeed must be understood as they operate in such a context). But for me this does not mean that their truth cannot transcend local context. (Any calls for me to forsake `Nicenic shortcuts', for example, really ask me to give up how I understand developmental theology works. For me the Nicenic interpretations of the Johannine texts, for example, supply a fuller divine meaning than the Johannine writer(s) may not have humanly intended. In terms borrowed/adapted from the (early) Heidegger, one could say, I privilege the als-Frage of the Council fathers and the resultant als-Struktur which is the Nicenic interpretation.

            Theologians are those whose métier is prudent speculation, and for me they properly operate according to the magisterial parameters. I think that those points, where officially-defined statements leave gaps that speculation cannot close, are Divine `markers.' The workings of the `failure' to close or `link-up' consistently are a clue to that which is most mysterious. I am not at all here suggesting the `glitches' are in God. Rather, the glitches, mark those points which -- because of our human inadequacy -- we especially cannot understand. They can be clues, however, in a sense analogous to how Ch'anist kung-an [Zen koans] are clues. A genius like Aquinas (of whom I have always been in awe) functions to `mark' these glitches, even while trying rationally/systematically to patch them (which it is his duty as a theologian to try to do).

            As for the cart and horse, I agree with those many historians who say that -- from a strictly scientific point of view -- the most that can be inferred from the `data' is that a faith-community arose in the first century, which believed in a savior-figure it came to name the Christ. (The failings of the `Jesus Seminar' point up once more the futility of questing for the `historical Jesus', and I do read Crossan and the others.) Gradually over the next century these Christians assembled, what came to be called, the `official' written New Testament. Which texts belong to it, and how they can be understood, was thrashed out in a long historical process, as was the structure of the church. The structure of the church evolved through the first millennium -- in terms of historical `power-structure' -- into the `Catholic church', eastern and western. This power structure was often overweening and overbearing; and it often ground minorities of one kind or another into oblivion. It was and is hated by many people. I still accept it because I believe it houses the Christ and that down through the centuries it is being purified into His Mystical Body. (From this point of view, even the Protestant Reformation was a terrible, but necessary purification that the sins of the Church brought down upon itself.)

            The biblical texts are by nature so ambiguous that so-called scientific efforts to `nest' their meanings comprehensively in terms of the first and second century faith-community are doomed to failure, as are scientific efforts adequately to describe that community itself.13 The claim of the Catholic Church became that it had from the beginning at least in embryo -- the charism to interpret Christian belief, including the Scriptures, in order to deliver the faithful from what would otherwise be a very precious but inchoate collection of potential confusions. I accept on faith this claim of the Church; and the Christ I believe in is the Christ nesting in the Church today, whose image is the ongoing result of a messy and torturous history. I proclaim the special presence of Christ in His Mystical Body which nourishes me today. When I read Scripture, it is in the light of this Body that I read it and not by the sterile light of `objective' scientism. I do not put the cart before the horse or the horse before the cart. The horse, or -- if you permit me to alter the metaphor -- the Lion (the Lion of Judah, of course) is in the cart and master of the cart.

 

Interlocutor

 

            The problematic of the active spiration may have excited much attention once, as you say, but nowadays it sounds like no more than a case of out-dated Problemstellung. In my view, any debate over it was really a problem of rules of language, not trinitarian ontology. The scholastic style of debate chased after every issue to the extreme and demanded an exactitude which we really cannot have about God.

            I do not want to tie magisterial statements absolutely to context; but I do want to stress that these statements are very `situated' in history: their truths can be passed on to later ages (and epistemes) only insofar as these truths can be translated into the theological languages of the later epistemes. As Karl Rahner said "the age of `dogmatic formulations' is over." In my view, the very fact that Vatican Council II did not issue doctrinal definitions signals the new emphasis on `Biblical proclamation.' This is the primary duty of the Church, but one long ignored by Catholicism.

            You speak of the points of disconnection between various authoritative statements of the magisterium, and you tend to mystify these `glitches'. The `points of disconnection' stem -- in my opinion -- from a hermeneutically unsophisticated reading of conciliar utterances, and can be dissolved by way of proper historical contextualization. Also, you should keep in mind that conciliar statements binding de fide definita do not include the argumentation used to arrive at these statements. When one faces the apparent blank contradiction -- on the status of non-Catholics -- between the Council of Florence and Vatican Council II, it becomes clear that the reconciliation of conciliar dogmas must be necessarily a flexible and complex art indeed.

            As for the `glitches' that beset Judaic and Christian theism, and have from the beginning, such as the disconnection between a benevolent omnipotent God and the rampant triumphs of evil, or between God's omniscience and human freedom, I maintain that a return to the Biblical sources allays these issues.

            My remarks on the `Nicenic shortcut' -- an unfortunate shortcut which elides both Biblical context and the first three centuries of dogmatic development -- were intended to mean that the Johannine utterances should instead be taken as contemplative ones perfectly sufficient in their own Judaic setting. When John leads the reader up Christ's ladder to "The Father and I are one," it is a `saturated phenomenon' in Jean-Luc Marion's sense. The topic is not the `consubstantiality' of the Logos and the Father. Nor, for that matter, is revelation of the dogma of the trinity the prime purpose of the Incarnation, as some theologians seem to suggest. An Easter encounter with Christ and his Spirit is the prime purpose.

            You say that theologians should "operate according to the magisterial parameters," but this is misleading. While respecting the magisterium, theologians should operate according to scripture (the `soul of theology', as Vatican Council II says). In fact, there were times in the history of the Church, at the Council of Trent, for example, when theologians were regarded explicitly as part of the magisterium. You say the métier of theologians is "prudent speculation." But I say their calling is to `interpretation', and the more Biblical their theology, the less speculation. It is dogmatic theology that tends to be `speculative'.

            You say "the most that can be inferred [in terms of scientific history] is that a faith-community arose which believed in a savior figure . . . ." If you are so sceptical about historical research, how can you then rest your case so squarely on Church councils that are in the `historical past'? Besides, historical-critical study of the conciliar texts reveals as much fuzziness and ambiguity as do the Biblical texts.

            I can appreciate your confusion over the scattered and reckless conclusions of the Jesus-seminar: its `seminarists' are misled by a-historicism and gullibility. There is now a third wave of questers after the historical Jesus (Meier, Freyne, etc.) who are doing a more responsible job.

            You say that from a socio-anthropological point of view, "Religions are ongoing constructs of the collective imagination of their believers, cultivated by the power-structures which the believers agree to affirm." I think this contradicts what you hold about the solemn definitions of the magisterium. I would say that religions are authentic insofar as they express objective truths which can be stated propositionally. Christianity cannot allow Christ to dissolve into legends, no matter how legendary a figure Padmsambhava is. Besides, in Buddhism Padmasambhava serves just as `expedient means' to enlightenment.

            Permit me two addenda, as I close. First, the Fourth Lateran Council declares against Joachim "that reality does not beget nor is it begotten, but it is the Father who begets and the Son who is begotten; he [the Father] gave him [the Son] his own substance, nor can it be said that he [the Father] did not retain the substance himself" [Denz. 432]. Surely your thesis of hypostatic `gutting-out' or expropriation is excluded here. Second, the Pontifical Biblical Commission emphasizes the priority of biblical over patristic and medieval language: "Les langages `auxiliaires' utilisés au cours de l'histoire de l'Eglise n'ont pas pour la foi une valeur identique à celle du langage référentiel utilisé par les auteurs inspirés: celui du Nouveau Testament qui plonge ses racines dans le Premier" (1.2.2.1).

 

Author

 

            The bulk of the readership of ODLW is either Buddhist or secular and postmodernist. My realization of this conditioned my rhetorical and argumentative strategies. You are right to say that neither secularists nor contemporary theologians will be attracted by what sounds like `out-dated' Problemstellungen and proof-texting; but here I draw the line -- there are some things I sense I must say, regardless of indifferent (or hostile) reception. Actually, I treat the pertaining Scholastic Trinitarianism in terms of Derridean/Lacanian/Deleuzian maneuvers which belong to a very contemporary episteme. Derrida, for one, says he inserts himself into traditional systems and finds internal fault-lines in the systems, fault-lines which -- ironically for some -- mark the special `truths' of these systems. Much as in George Herbert's poem "The Altar," the hidden cracks and interstices in the body of the text -- quite apart from the semantic -- are crucial clues to what the poem is most about. In terms of an ecclesiastical readership, if just about all of these readers would foreclose on me in advance, then so be it. I have nothing to lose. What I say about the Trinity for me is not a speculative game, but is intimately involved with my prayer life, and flows out of it (though necessarily in `translated' form). Nor is this `gnosticism' on my part, as you have sometimes privately implied to me, since my intention is always to subject whatever I write -- in the most loyal fashion -- to the scrutiny and jurisdiction of the Church.

            You say, in the matter of our debate, that Aquinas is really just treating (in the passages we discussed) a problem of `rules of language'. I answer that St. Thomas certainly did not think so, because he ascribed to a theory of language much akin to what we call nowadays a `correspondence-theory' of language. The references/notes to the 1947-48 Benziger Bros. Latin edition of the Summa are very good on language-theory in Aquinas, and make my point throughout. See also this same edition's citation to H.-F. Dondaine in his La Trinité, "[For Aquinas] metaphysic, logic and language are inseparable,"14 etc. The preponderance of late-20th century post-phenomenological French language-theory must necessarily agree with me, though surely not because of St. Thomas's reasons. Rather, it would agree because it affirms that language and referent are inextricably entangled in each other: that is, it would agree as a result of the deconstruction of language-referent correspondence.

            As for other possible `points of intersection', the sectors where my deconstruction could prove fruitful are (1) controversies over grace and free will and the magisterial guidelines generated as a reaction to these, to use the term, glitches, here could mark the problematic of so-called `inside' and `outside' and possibilities to which the western tradition has been blind, and (2) controversies and the resulting magisterial guidelines concerning God's `fore-knowledge'; glitches here could point to supernatural tracks through the problematic of what humans call `time'.

            I don't want to wax polemical; but it is Marcus Borg et al. who fall for a hermeneutic of transparent circularity between ancient and modern interpreters, not I. Apropos of the limited nature of magisterial statements, so that they do not extend to the "arguments used to arrive at them," of course I concur; but you are the one who initially shifted the ground and made Aquinas bear the brunt of our discussion.

            You are probably familiar with Philip S. Kaufman's Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic (Crossroad, 1994) which is a history of `apparent blank contradictions' between magisterial statements, and which I read upon its publication with great interest. In re, you point out the discrepancy regarding the status of non-Catholics. My intuition is to examine this `glitch' as meaningful in its own right, rather than to dissolve it away via `historical contextualization' (though I first am willing to give studies of historical contextualization which seek to accomplish this feat `their day in court'). Just as you approach research with fore-questions, so do I. My sense is that the aforesaid feats of contextualization can easily be `sophisticated' (as in sophistic) sleights-of-hand. I prefer the `fudges' of the Councils themselves (because I can be sure God's hand is in them). For instance, Vatican Council II, in the wake of "Mystici Corporis" and the "Letter to Cardinal Cushing," extends the applicability of `implicit desire' to people outside the Catholic historical orbit. According to my way of thinking these fudges -- given their provenance -- can be holy fudges of sorts: that is, they can be epiphanic, the opening up of a Divine Site. (`The epiphany that the magisterium is fallible!' a soi-disant wit might want to interject here. But I believe reason sous rature in my Derridean sense is in play at this point and Derridean double-bind, and it should not be belittled by a wit's stimulus-response rationalism nor by banal polemics.)

            The point I was making about Scripture and the Jesus Seminar is made by Luke Timothy Johnson in his own way (where is not mine) in The Real Jesus (Harper Collins, 1996), where he argues that "the writings of the New Testament are too few, too fragmentary, and too lacking in chronological and geographical controls to enable a truly comprehensive reconstruction of Christian origins" (p. 172). Instead, he proposes: "Within an ecclesial hermeneutics that begins with the premise that God's spirit is working in the world to transform people into the image of the `real Jesus', the discernment of the complex texts of human experience are brought into conversation with the complex and often conflicting voices of the normative texts of the tradition" (p. 176). Moreover, "Contradictions in the scriptural texts can be exploited to provide new insights into the `mind of Christ' by which the Church seeks to live" (ibid.) [italicizations mine].

            Regarding the relative ambiguity of Biblical texts and the clarity of Conciliar texts, you know as historian as well as theologian that Biblical texts are considerably older than Conciliar texts; and in almost all cases their archival data much more tenuous. Additionally, you know that Biblical genres in almost all cases do not employ the "propositional statements" (expressive of "objective truths") which you so admire; but on the contrary employ concrete polysemous language. There is the further consideration (which given your definition of the role of theologians, you would not agree to) that if the contemporary Church has substantive doubts about what the declarations of a long-past Council mean, it is assured in the last analysis that it has the charism to make these judgements. (In my view, the magisterium can give a full hearing to the presentation of historical evidence, but does not `rest its case' on this presentation.)

            Regarding your quotation from the Fourth Lateran Council, you splice together several Conciliar assertions and truncate the initial one. The first assertion in your quotation goes on to say what you omit -- " . . . , the Holy Spirit who proceeds; thus there are distinctions among persons and unity in nature." What I say in ODLW is that what the Persons would share belongs to the unity instead. I purposely do not ever mention `substance' or `nature' (because of the prejudicial slants of my majority readership). In our dialogue we have been discussing `substance;' and I can say here that `substance' or `nature' (the Council in this context equates them15) belongs to the unity and not to the Persons qua Persons. Each of the Persons is each of them the whole substance, but each of them is the whole substance by virtue of the unity, not personal subsistence.

            Apropos of your quotation from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, do you really mean that I should endow with authority a statement from one Pontifical Commission, but not declarations from the Nicenic Fathers in solemn Council? What authority should I give the other Pontifical Commissions and the Congregations of the curia which also must have their say, in matters pertaining to "thèses christologiques"? Now you are being far more authoritarian than I. (Aside: your invocation of Marion's `saturated phenomenon' does not relate to the argument. His saturation-phenomenon means that the phenomenon exceeds the capacity of either Kantian or Husserlian intuition -- and presumably by extension, of `human cognition in general' -- to `take it all in'; `saturation-phenomenon' does not exclude the possibility that the phenomenon's logical dimension can be partially expressed through logical `propositions' [sic].)

            Your thematic of scientific `objectivity' and `ongoing progress' casts doubt on your claims to `contemporaneity'. In my view, your hermeneutical assumptions and those of your like-minded colleagues seem positivist or at best modernist (i.e., `modernist' in the wider cultural and methodological sense: I do not mean here the ecclesial heresy of Modernism); and the rhetoric of 19th century meliorism further serves to `date' them. It is as if you were a Catholic Habermas, trying to sustain for Catholicism the `projet' of the 18th century Enlightenment which he tried to retrieve for Marxism (in the face of post-structuralist Marxism's Louis Althusser, etc.).

            There are no doubt many sub-texts to this concluding dialogue. I suggest some are described by Carl Jung, the `modern' psychiatrist and `postmodern' psychiatrist ahead-of-time, and who is out of fashion nowadays. I have written elsewhere of the `postmodern' Jung, the `Other Jung' (as deconstructionists like to say) who writes between his own lines:

 

            According to the syntax of symbols which Jung found to be so necessary for psychic transformation, the [spiritually] richest span in the Catholic Church's history is that in which it achieves a balance between right-brain cultus (the form matching that of synchronic Nature Religion) and left-brain cultus (the form matching that of diachronic, teleological religion). I would be willing to argue that the role of the right-brain [intuitive] cultus in this historical mandala [+ intersection of left-brain and right-brain activity] is perfectly defensible in Catholic terms. (244-45)16

 

            According to Jungian psychodynamics, we can say that if, when the Church puts a check on left-brain colonization of the right-brain, and reinforces a viable syntax of symbols, a contribution shall have been made to East-West relations too [e.g., by reducing the aggressive need -- in this age of globalization -- for finding so-called `common-ground' with the East]. (245)

 

                                                                        NOTES

 

            1. In the On Deconstructing Life-Worlds (ODLW) text, I here and later introduce comparisons with Masao Abe's proposed model for the Trinity, which he adapts in part from the void-plenum dialectic characteristic of  Japanese Buddhism's Kyoto School.  I argue that Abe's model disregards the Trinitarian kenoses unique to the Christian Trinity, and replaces them with Buddhist kenosis.  See ODLW, pp. 184-86, and also pp. 157-65.

            2. See ODLW, pp. 118, 140, 142, 184-85, 189.

            3. See references to `negative reference, pure' in Index, ODLW.

            4. See Derrida on the mind (DOM), pp. 9-17, 134-36, 140-44; ODLW, pp. 175-77, 186-88.

            5. See DOM, pp. 15-20, 35, 38-9, 42-3, 105, 147-8; ODLW, pp. 71-2, 139-41.

            6. Familiarity with these usages reveals that post-structuralists are in fact manipulating the Latin etymologies of these words as heuristic tools, and not literally describing hostile action at all.

            7. "Logocentrically expected," in the Derridean idiom.

            8. In the etymological sense, i.e., the Father and Son `cross' each other's (logocentrically expected) `defining borders'.

            9. Mediation as such is also excluded by the Eastern formula: see ODLW, p. 188.

            10. Lack is not a derogatory term here, nor is it in most post-structuralist thought.  Note the affinity that post-structuralist `fecund lack'  can have for Asian appreciation of absence.

            11. Note that the `negative overlap' and `non-holism' described in this paragraph can represent a Christian devoidness that intersects (but does not share common ground with) Buddhist devoidness.

            12. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. English Dominicans (N.Y.: Benziger Bros., 1947).

            13. An anthropologist would say that religion doesn't work this way in any case.  Religions are ongoing constructs of the collective imagination of their believers, cultivated by the power-structure(s) which the believers agree to affirm.  The constructs are constituted by the inside-and-outside (interlaced `subjective' and `objective' worlds) of the believing community.  (Indeed, this is how I think God works through them, and there is a whole line of Jungian Catholics who would agree with me.)  Whether  Padma Sambhava was the factual figure that the legends around him describe is not really all that important to a Tibetan Nyingma Buddhist, for example.  And if a deconstruction of historical research shows anything, it shows the breakdown of efforts to `objectively retrieve-and-reconstruct'.  Not that historians should therefore stop their research.  Rather, what happens is that their mind-set changes: many contemporary historians continue their project all the while incorporating an awareness of the inevitable objective breakdown into how they write/do history.  This does not mean that they abandon themselves to `subjectivity' -- indeed, they continue to try to be as `objective' as possible; but at the same time they acknowledge their own inescapable historical sedimentation and cultural embedding: they are self-aware enough to acknowledge their own vor-Struktur, their own fore-structure.  And the post-structuralist  Jacques Lacan goes so far as to remind us that when a human knows a thing, this very knowing necessarily blinds one to knowing some other thing.

            14. La Trinité, I, p. 64, cited in STh, Benziger ed., 1a.29.2. ftn. p. 47.

            15. Denz. 432: ". . . each of the Persons is that reality, namely, the divine substance."

            16. Magliola, "Transformation Theory and Postcolonial Discourse: Jung by Lacan by Derrida (bar Sinister Descent)," in R. Lumsden and R. Patke, eds., Institutions in Cultures: Theory and Practice, vol. 5, Critical Studies series (Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi B.V., 1996), pp. 239-60.