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

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 38, can be found here.]

[This entry concludes Chapter 38, "Inferring the Third Person of God".]

A Third Person of God can thus be inferred as solving a special conceptual problem, that is sometimes (and I would say quite rightly) advanced against mere monotheism, on the grounds that God can be necessarily expected to interact personally with created persons (such as ourselves) and that God has characteristics which allow for the existence of a proceeding distinct Person of God Who exists (analogically) ‘within’ the overarching Self-begetting and Self-begotten independent reality of God (without being either the Self-begetting or Self-begotten Persons).

But I hinted back in Section Three, when inferring the interpersonal unity of God (as God Self-begetting and God Self-begotten), that I could have gone on immediately at that point to inferring the existence of a Third Person of God. At the time, I needed to focus topically on the relation of God to creation more generally, and then to persons such as you and I more specifically, so I moved along with a note that I would be getting back to this topic.

While a Third Person of God would solve my conceptual problem, and may be inferred to necessarily exist (if I have properly identified some other characteristics of God and some related necessities), the strength of this conclusion would be reinforced even further if I arrive at an inference of the Third Person’s existence before arriving at the problem.

So, going back for a minute to that earlier place in my argument: we may ask what the first action of God would be if God ever acts at all beyond Self-begetting. To generate not-God reality? That would certainly be an obvious distinction in action: to generate ‘God’ and to generate ‘not-God’. But that first category of generation needs a bit more detail: to generate ‘self-generating God’.

If God generates that which is ‘not-God, then of course God is generating systems and entities (including persons such as ourselves) which (and who) are not self-generating--there can be only one Independent Fact of reality. But if the Self-generating Person of God generates a Self-generated Person of God as the corporate action of God’s own intrinsic self-existence, it is at least worth asking the question whether it is nonsensical for God (the Persons of the Father and the Son) to generate a Person of God Who is not specifically involved in the self-generating action of God.

Such a Person would be not Self-begetting or Self-begotten, but would (for want of a better word) proceed from the Self-begetting and Self-begotten Persons, yet would still be God fully God in the ontological supremacy of God as the final ground of all reality.

Another way of looking at this proposition would be from the standpoint of the love of the Father and the Son for each other. The Father gives the Son Sonship, and gives the Son Himself as well; the Son gives the Father the Son’s Sonship, and in eternally choosing to complete the Unity of Deity could even in a way be said to be giving the Father Fatherhood--the Father could not exist without the Son, no more than the Son could exist without the Father (even though the Son does not beget the Father). The fundamental action of love in the Deity is the giving of Persons to each other.

So we may say that the Persons give the Self-begetting-and-begotten God to one another. Anything else they gave would be generated by and in their Self-existent unity. That would certainly include not-God creation: the Father gives all things to the Son, and the Son surrenders all things to the Father, each loving the other in their fundamental glory. But if they are giving ‘God’ to one another already, in the Persons of themselves, it would be coherent for them to give ‘God’ to one another in a Person of themselves Who is not themselves and yet is, like these Persons in fundamental ultimate unity, God Most High.

If this is not incoherent for the Independent Fact’s unique capabilities and characteristics (compared to any other fact that might exist), then I may correctly expect this to be the next ontological action of God: the Father and Son would generate a corporate Person of God, as fully God as the first two Persons in the single substantial unity, to give to one another in love: “I give you Myself and also this Person, together with You” each of them would in effect be saying and doing.

I do not know (for now anyway) that I can infer that they would necessarily be doing this, at their level of existence, no matter what; but I would at least strongly expect it. And if I come to infer that not-God persons exist (such as you and I) in a not-God system of created reality, then I may consequently deepen that expectation into a certainty: if we exist, then (not causally from our existence, but inferred from evidence of our existence, in conjunction with inferred characteristics and capabilities of God) the Third Person of God must also exist. God would have done that, and would be doing that (and will be doing that), ontologically first, before creation.

I would already believe in the existence of a Third Person of God, therefore, before arriving at my most recent problem; which the existence of a Third Person handily solves. But in order to address a more pressing problem at the time, regarding whether the concept of God’s creation of not-God persons was intrinsically nonsense, I have chosen to wait until now to consider this issue (which also allows me to introduce this Person as part of a developing sectional theme.)

Inferring the existence of this Person is hardly the end of the matter, of course; it opens up many questions, some of which I have already addressed.

But beginning with a question of relevance to why I introduced the Third Person now: 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 educated Jews and Muslims, 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.

In a (not entirely) similar way, I as author of a fantasy saga 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 152 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 specific actions.

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 system of God's Unity, and is therefore distinctive (but not separate) from the Father and the Son. This Third Person proceeds, from the unity of the Father and the Son, thus from the Father and the Son, instead of being begotten. But where one Person is in operation, all Persons are in operation, due to the substantial unity of the Persons: the 3rd Person brings us the Father and the Son; the Father and the Son send us this Person, this Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

But while this might solve a conceptual problem of relation between persons and Persons within an overarching reality, does God not relate to Himself as a Person? And if so, then does this not 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 rationally active, personally sentient; thus the Father and Son are personal. The Father and Son are distinct in God’s action of Self-existence, although also in unity (else the self-existence would not be happening); 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 rationally 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 comprise 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 self-expression is, itself, the overarching reality: the overarching reality does not need an overarching reality in order to relate to itself.

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.

So, no, I do not believe the Father or the Son need the Third Person (the Spirit) in order to relate to one another as the unified ground of all existence. But they would corporately generate the Spirit graciously as the first continuing gift of love to one another after the continuing gift of existential love to one another, and so that inter-relationship between the Persons actively exists in the total fundamental reality of God as God: the Father and the Son always and never-endingly love the Spirit together; the Father and the Spirit always and never-endingly love the Son together; the Son and the Spirit always and never-endingly love the Father together; and the Spirit cooperates with the Father and the Son in any further actions of their singular Independent reality together.

This concept of the Spirit cooperating with-and-as God, in creation of not-God entities, deserves some more consideration. 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 is another way of saying something I have found I must affirm anyway, 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" exists 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 specific truths to us--He is under no obligation to ever give us a full revelation, and 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 the Spirit, only the Father can fully know the Son and the Spirit, only the Spirit can fully know the Father and the Son. But whether God tells us specific truths or not, including specific relational truths, 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 God’s continuing eternal action that we even continue cohering 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 (using language of spatial analogy) no derivative 'Nature' exists.

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: some requirements for personal interaction]


Jason Pratt said…
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