William Lane Craig and the Monarchy of the Father (Part 2)

In the last post I constructed an argument against Monarchical Trinitarianism (hereafter, MT) based on some comments that Dr. William Lane Craig gives in his Defenders 3 series on the Trinity. Essentially, I took some of Craig’s comments and showed that if he thinks MT commits one to subordinationism simply because the Father has a great-making property (namely, aseity) that the Son lacks, that his argument is inconclusive. It just isn’t obvious that subordinationism follows if the proponent of MT grants that aseity is a great-making property and that the “greater than” relation is three-place.

In this post I’m going to try a different approach to this question based on other claims that Craig makes in these Defenders lessons.

Greater in Origination

One of the points that Dr. Craig raised in his lessons (specifically, in Part 10) is that one of the Cappadocian fathers claimed that the Father is greater than the Son with respect to “origination,” but not with respect to “nature.” Here’s the entire relevant section of the Oration that Craig is referring to:

As your third point you count the Word Greater; and as your fourth, To My God and your God. And indeed, if He had been called greater, and the word equal had not occurred, this might perhaps have been a point in their favour. But if we find both words clearly used what will these gentlemen have to say? How will it strengthen their argument? How will they reconcile the irreconcilable? For that the same thing should be at once greater than and equal to the same thing is an impossibility; and the evident solution is that the Greater refers to origination, while the Equal belongs to the Nature; and this we acknowledge with much good will. But perhaps some one else will back up our attack on your argument, and assert, that That which is from such a Cause is not inferior to that which has no Cause; for it would share the glory of the Unoriginate, because it is from the Unoriginate. And there is, besides, the Generation, which is to all men a matter so marvellous and of such Majesty. For to say that he is greater than the Son considered as man, is true indeed, but is no great thing. For what marvel is it if God is greater than man? Surely that is enough to say in answer to their talk about Greater.
—Gregory Nazianzen, Fourth Theological Oration VII

Craig seems to assume that the proper way to understand that the Father is greater than the Son by “origination” means that the Father alone has aseity. The Father alone exists “through himself,” and everything else does not. And that includes the other Persons of the Trinity. Yet, Gregory explicitly denies in the above that this means that the Father is greater than the Son by nature.

It also seems to be the case that Gregory (and the proponent of MT) accepts this principle:

ORIGIN. If the Father has aseity and the Son does not have aseity, then the Father is greater than the Son with respect to origination.
ORIGIN. (Ff & ~Fs) →  G(f, s, o)

The fact that Gregory accepts ORIGIN and yet denies that the Father is greater than the Son by nature seems to Craig to be nothing more than “logical nonsense.” It’s like saying 6 is greater than 3, but 3 is not less than 6. For this to be the case, though, Craig (or somebody sympathetic to his worries) needs to show that if ORIGIN is true, then it follows that the Father is greater than the Son by nature (i.e., that G(f, s, o) → G(f, s, n), where “n” refers to “nature”).

Effects and Creatures

Once again, we’re left wondering where the argument is for this claim. Let’s take another look at Craig’s comments to see if we can find an approach here.

I don’t think that, despite [Athanasius’ and Hilary’s] assurances to the contrary, this can do anything but diminish the Son because he becomes an effect which is contingent upon the Father.
—Defenders 3, Doctrine of God: Trinity (Part 9)

To be dependent upon the unoriginated being [i.e., the Father] for one’s existence is to lack a ground of being in oneself alone, and that surely is not as great as to be a self-existent being which is able to exist all on one’s own. It has the ground of its existence in itself. This kind of derivative being is the same way in which creatures exist. Creatures exist in virtue of being caused by another.

So despite the protestations to the contrary, it does seem to me that Nicaean orthodoxy has not completely shed the sort of subordinationism that was introduced into the doctrine of the Trinity by the early Greek apologists with their Logos doctrine.
—Defenders 3, Doctrine of God: Trinity (Part 10)

In these comments I think it’s clear that Craig worries that what he calls “Nicaean orthodoxy” implies that the Son (and the Spirit) have the same sort of existence that creatures have. And that doesn’t seem fitting for a divine Person; in fact, it seems like outright subordinationism.

Defeating MT

Given that Craig thinks there’s some sort of “logical nonsense” going on with MT, it think it would be fair to construct an argument he might give here as a reductio ad absurdum argument.

  1. Suppose that MT is true.
  2. Therefore, the Father has aseity.
  3. Therefore, the Son does not have aseity.
  4. Therefore, it is false that the Father is greater than the Son with respect to nature.
  5. ORIGIN.
  6. Therefore, the Father is greater than the Son with respect to origination.

I am granting (2)-(4) here based on what Gregory says above, and also on comments in Beau Branson’s presentation on MT. We also saw that Gregory seems to accept ORIGIN, and therefore (6) follows.

(As an aside, it seems to me that Gregory and the proponent of MT would grant a more general principle that ORIGIN follows from, namely that if the Father has aseity and any other thing does not, then the Father is greater in origination than the thing in question.)

Now the “logical nonsense” that Craig seems to be getting at from the block quotations above, if I understand him right, comes from this proof:

  1. Suppose that (6) is true and that creatures are effects of the Father.
  2. Therefore, creatures are effects of the Father.
  3. The Father is greater in nature to creatures.
  4. If (8) and (9), then the Father is greater in nature to the Son.
  5. Therefore, the Father is greater in nature to the Son.
  6. Therefore, if (6) is true and creatures are effects of the Father, then the Father is greater in nature to the Son.

It seems to me that premise (12) is something like what Craig has in mind and is assuming in his argument. But as you can see from what I’ve given, there isn’t much to go on, so I’m just trying to give a charitable reconstruction of what Craig might say.

Why should anybody accept the premises in this sub-proof from (7) to (11), which therefore yields (12)? Premise (7) is simply assumed for the sake of the proof, and (8) follows from (7) because it is a conjunct of (7). Nobody in this discussion is going to deny (9).

The truly crucial premise is (10). I think that Craig wants to accept it because he says that if the Son and creatures fail to exist a se like the Father does, then they exist in the same way. The Son and creatures are therefore comparable with respect to the way they exist. But if the Father is greater in nature to creatures who do not exist a se, then it seems to be special pleading to say that the Father is not greater than the Son with respect to nature as well. Really, it’s an argument by analogy: X and Y share some crucial feature Z, and if some truth follows from Z for Y, it seems to follow from Z for X as well. X and Y are creatures and the Son (respectively), and Z is failing to exist a se.

Finally, since nobody will deny that creatures are effects of the Father, the antecedent of (12) follows and we have the conclusion that Craig has been driving at: The Father is greater than the Son with respect to nature, which means MT is false.

A Classical Distinction

Since Craig doesn’t give very much by way of argument for the claims he’s been making against Nicaean orthodoxy, it’s possible that I am missing the mark with my argument reconstruction. Perhaps he has something else in mind. But if what I’ve said is something like what Craig is getting at, then I think he is making a fairly obvious blunder. This makes me think that I’ve gotten something wrong rather than him, but I’m going to proceed with these caveats in place.

The obvious blunder is this: Craig has failed to distinguish between a univocal cause and a non-univocal cause. This is a fairly classic distinction for anybody who has stomped around manuals on Scholastic metaphysics. Here’s one way to explain the distinction:

Univocal cause, which produces an effect of the same nature as itself; as an organism producing another organism of the same kind; non-univocal cause, which produces an effect of a different nature form itself, as when an artist paints a picture.
— John F. McCormick, Scholastic Metaphysics, 147

God is greater in nature to creatures that he causes because there is a difference in nature between God and the creatures. God is a non-univocal cause of creatures. Just like the artist who paints the picture, God must be greater with respect to nature than creatures because his nature differs from creatures’ natures.

But this obviously isn’t the case with the Son. It seems that the proponent of Nicaean orthodoxy (and MT) wants to say that the Father is eternally the cause of the Son—or perhaps “eternally shares his nature” with the Son—and yet is not greater than the Son with respect to nature. This is because one can say that the Father as a univocal cause of the Son, and eternally so.

Conclusion

Now, all this “cause” language can make Western thinkers uncomfortable. For my part, unless I’m badly misunderstanding something here, I just don’t see how Craig’s arguments land. It seems possible to claim that the Father alone has aseity, and yet is not greater than the Son in nature. The Father alone exists a se, but because he eternally shares his nature with the Son, there are (at least) two eternally divine Persons. Perhaps Hilary, Gregory, and Athanasius weren’t spouting logical nonsense after all.

Craig has actually recently published a paper that offers many (if not all) of the same arguments that I have discussed in the last two posts. Perhaps in a third post I’ll discuss that new paper.

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