The Logical Problem of the Trinity

Dissertation, University of Notre Dame (2014)
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The doctrine of the Trinity is central to mainstream Christianity. But insofar as it posits “three persons” (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), who are “one God,” it appears as inconsistent as the claim that 1+1+1=1. Much of the literature on “The Logical Problem of the Trinity,” as this has been called, attacks or defends Trinitarianism with little regard to the fourth century theological controversies and the late Hellenistic and early Medieval philosophical background in which it took shape. I argue that this methodol- ogy, which I call “the Puzzle Approach,” produces obviously invalid arguments, and it is unclear how to repair it without collapsing into my preferred method- ology, “the Historical Approach,” which sees history as essential to the debate. I also discuss “mysterianism,” arguing that, successful or not, it has a different goal from the other approaches. I further argue that any solution from the His- torical Approach satisfies the concerns of the Puzzle Approach and mysterianism anyway. I then examine the solution to the Logical Problem of the Trinity found in St. Gregory of Nyssa’s writings, both due to his place in the history of the doctrine, and his clarity in explicating what I call “the metaphysics of synergy.” I recast his solution in standard predicate logic and provide a formal proof of its consistency. I end by considering the possibilities for attacking the broader philosophical context of his defense and conclude that the prospects for doing so are dim. In any case, if there should turn out to be any problem with the doctrine of the Trinity at all, it will not be one of mere logical inconsistency in saying that “These Three are One.”
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