Ethics and the Third Person--an introduction to the Holy Spirit

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. Recently though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me (in my most recent entry) to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists.

This entry continues chapter 33, "a necessary truth of God's relationship to Man", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. In a couple of places, mentioning the footnote in-text would be too disruptive to the flow of the argument, perhaps, and so I have chosen to put those in the journal comments instead. (These will be marked where so.)

.......[excerpt begins here]

Is more than a third Person needed for the interaction of God, as a Person, to us as persons? If God did not transcend time and space, it might be so; but God is not limited to our temporal and derivative mode of being. If God could be a singularity instead of a unity, it might still be true--as I think Jewish and Muslim theologians, who profess merely the singularity of God, would agree--that He, not being limited to existing within our space and time, has all time and space to deal with us on a person-to-person basis. [See first comment below for footnote.]

In a (not entirely) similar way, I as author of a novel can deal with any person within my imagined realm at any point within that dependent system I have created. I can jump to book 3 chapter 15 and deal with one character, and then jump to book 1 chapter 23 and deal with another. I have to 'jump', because I am myself derivative and my saga does not proceed directly from me as a coherent reality. God has no need to 'jump around' like that in relation to his own infinite self-existent reality--although any supernatural agents whom He authorizes to interact in our world might perhaps 'jump around' space/time like this.

But even if God did have to 'jump around', such 'jumping' might still allow Him to deal with us personally, one on one, at any point of space and time we may inhabit. And if I somehow moved from one Nature to another, then I would find Him there as well, expressing Himself along the same principles of His character, to the same fundamental purposes, although quite possibly in different modes.

Yet as I said, I don't think God must 'jump around' like that. God eternally encompasses all subordinate realities (including any reality I might find myself in), and therefore needs only one distinction of Person to interact with me at all of my times, personally: but that Person must be within the overarching self-existent system of God's Unity, and is therefore distinctive (although not substantially separate) from the Father and the Son. The Spirit proceeds, from the unity of the Father and the Son, thus from the Father and the Son, instead of being begotten. Where one Person is in operation, all Persons are in operation, due to the substantial unity of the Persons: the Spirit brings us the Father and the Son.

But, is this 3rd Person eternal with respect to God Himself, the same way that the 2nd Person always is begotten from and returns to the 1st?

The Holy Spirit must certainly be eternal in relation to God's interaction with us, in the sense that He transcends time and space. This might mean, that because God decided to create subordinate sentiences, the 3rd Person is an eternally self-consistent result of that choice. If God had never created us, however, would the 3rd Person still exist, or have existed?

This question might be asked another way: does God relate to Himself as a Person? And if so, then does this require an overarching reality as common mediator for His own internal relationships with Himself?

God the Father begets: God the Son is God Himself begotten of Himself, self-existent. God is sentient; thus the Father and Son are sentient. The Father and Son are distinct in God’s action of self-existence, though also in unity (or else the self-existence would cease); thus they are distinct Persons. If God the Son had no relation with God the Father, the unity of self-existence would be broken and all reality would cease. God the Son is sentient and not a separate entity from the fullness of the Divine Unity; thus, He must know God the Father, and so He must know the Father is a Person. Does this mean the Son knows the Father (and vice versa) as a Person? Yes, I think He must; for although distinct, the 1st and 2nd Persons constitute the Unity of the self-existent God--both are fully God Himself. This means that the Father and Son must have personal--not merely causally self-existent--relationships to one another as Persons.

But does this require an overarching common reality for them to interact with one another? I do not think this is a necessity--for we are speaking of the unified ground of all reality. The active inter-relationship of the Father and Son is itself the self-existence of God as the Independent Fact.

God's existence depends on Himself. If it is not self-contradictive to propose this--and the coherent self-existence of something must lie at the bottom of any proposition about reality--then the personal relationship of God to God is already a given, the ground of His own self-existent facthood as well as of all derivative facts. The interPersonal relationship needs no overarching reality for self-expression; God's interPersonal self-expression is, itself, the overarching reality.

Any subordinate realities and thus any subordinate relationships (including of God to subordinate persons) shall reflect this in a distinctively derivative fashion. The necessity of an overarching system for your relationship to me, or for my relationship to God, is the shadow of the final (and first) reality, and shall exhibit properties of a shadow or reflection. This should not be surprising; God can only create shadows of Himself, to one (out of an infinite?) degree or another. He is Himself the ultimate of standards for the character of His creations.

Therefore, although I am deductively confident that the 3rd Person of the Unity must exist, given my own existence as a person and given God's relationship to me as Person to person, I do not think it necessarily follows that the 3rd Person 'would have' existed had God not created. However, I will not say that I have deduced that position as a certainty, either; perhaps in some manner I have not yet discerned, the 3rd Person would have existed anyway without God's decision to create persons who themselves are not Himself. I can only record that I do not see such a Person to be on those grounds a necessity--not like the 2nd must be a necessity even if God did not choose to create (for He must self-beget or else not exist at all).

In any case, the point is moot: for here I am, a derivative person, and if God relates to me Person to person, then (so I conclude and discover that I should believe) the 3rd Person of the Unity must exist.

Let me take a moment to assure my specifically Christian brethren that I am, by this argument, saying nothing against traditional (Nicene) orthodoxy. [See second comment below for footnote here.] We are taught that the Holy Spirit exists eternally; that it (or He, rather) is co-equal with God, in some way similar to yet distinctive from the Divine co-equality of Father and Son; that He proceeds forth from the eternally active love between the Father and Son; that He was present at the creation of our world. All these claims I affirm. [See third comment below for footnote here.]

What I ask you to understand is that 'eternal', although it can mean 'forever' in terms of temporal history, does not mean only forever in that sense. God's eternality, and His infinite properties, are not constrained by any space-time Nature; God's eternality enfolds and transcends all space-times.

But if God stoops to create, and abdicates Himself, giving of Himself so that real derivative people such as you and I can live and relate to Him, then He lets us contribute to creation; and so (I can think of no other way to put it) God's properties shall in some way reflect what He 'has done'. If there was a 'time' that God had not created, where God and only God existed--which claim of existence is only another way of saying that creation does not fill God's existence and that God transcends His creations--then merely in terms of that sort of particularity it would be nonsense to say that God 'had experienced' creation.

But, I do not think God's "time" runs like that. God creates: this must be true, for here we are. Any relation of God to His creation will be part and parcel of God's infinitude. God may choose not to reveal these specific truths to us--in fact it must be contradictory to say that God could give us a full revelation of His infinitude, for we are only derivative. Only the Son can fully know the Father, and only the Father can fully know the Son. [Footnote: the Spirit, which is a very generic way of speaking of the 3rd Person because no other distinction seems necessary other than some way of identifying Him other than Father or Son, is included in this economy of interPersonal knowledge as a Person of the Unity, of course.] But whether He tells us of these specific relational truths or not, those relations of God to His creation will be there, at all points within God the fully self-existent: for in Him we live and move and have our being, and it is by His continuing eternal action that we even continue cohereing together as derivative entities.

Given that God has created derivative people--and here we are--then the Holy Spirit of God's personal relationship to us, being itself as it must be fully God, will by being fully God be fully God: and so will be present as fully God from what we call the 'beginning' of our Nature, and will be present as fully God even in those particularities of God's infinitude where no derivative 'Nature' exists.

[Footnote: I have to use spatial metaphors in order to talk about something beyond spatial relationships; this is simply a limitation of natural human language and thought. (See my chapter on metaphors, back in the first [currently unpublished] Section.) But if I must use metaphors, ‘point’ is a fairly good one: for a point has no spatial existence properties, but only the property of intentionally asserted existence! I am sometimes amazed that geometrists do not all instantly convert out of materialism on this basis alone...]

The Holy Spirit is eternal, for He is God Himself, proceeding forth from the interacted love of the Father and the Son, for our sakes (and for the sake of all subordinate sentiences), to us, in inconceivably intimate (yet distinct) unity with God the self-Begettor and God the self-Begotten.

So, what does this Holy Spirit do within us; this "3rd Person of God"? That will be the topic of my next chapter.

[Next up: one might suppose from the title of this series, and the thrust of the argument so far, that we are now approaching the topic of “Ethics and the Third Person”. And, one would be correct. {g!} Um, almost correct--I don't quite get there for another entry. {s} Sorry. It's on the way though!]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]


Jason Pratt said…
[This is a footnote comment I thought would be too disruptive to the flow of the text to include above.]

My conclusion above is that because God must be a Unity, not a singularity, then this principle translates into the necessary existence of a Third Person for personal spiritual contact with created persons. My conclusion is not that God must be a Unity, instead of a singularity, in order to contact us. I might be able to succeed in building a valid argument for the Unity rather than a singularity along those lines as well; but I don't think I would be as sure about the answer.
Jason Pratt said…
[This is also a comment I thought would be too disruptive to the flow of the text to include above.]

The Nicene theologians arrived at this conclusion in the early 4th century--further polished in following centuries--in a somewhat different fashion than I have just done. But I am not applying to any specific Nicene authority or argumentation. For a highly detailed analysis of the philosophical and scriptural issues surrounding the development of the Nicene and catholic ('Athanasian') creeds, I recommend Rowan Williams' Arius: Heresy & Tradition, revised edition, 2001.
Jason Pratt said…
[This is also a footnote I thought would be too disruptive to the flow of the text, to be included above.]

Christians of the Eastern Orthodoxy may not agree with one of those points--specifically that the 3rd Person of God's Unity proceeds from the Unity of 1st and 2nd persons. They will agree the Holy Spirit proceeds at least from the Father; and certainly that there is supposed to be some distinction between this procession and being begotten.

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