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The Most Brutal and Inexcusable Error in Counting?: Trinity and Consistency

  • Keith E. Yandell (a1)


The Anglican Thirty Nine Articles join catholic Christendom in affirming that:

There is but one living and true God…and in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.



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1 Cf. John, Leith, ed., Creeds of the Churches (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1963), p. 266. The Thirty Nine Articles were formulated in 1563.

2 Published anonymously in 1687, this work is ascribed to John Biddle; italics are in the original. The passage is quoted in Hodgson, Leonard, The Doctrine of the Trinity (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944), p. 219.

3 Priestly, Joseph, Tracts (London: printed and published by the Unitarian Society, 1791), vol. 1, 182; italics in the original. This formulation of the problem suggests the reply that, as Theresa, Doris and Harriet may be three persons but share the feature being human so the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be three persons but share the feature being divine. The passage is quoted in Hodgson, loc. cit.

4 The Trinitarian Controversy Reviewed: or a Defense of the Appeal to the Common Sense of all Christian People (By the Author of the Appeal, London, 1791), p. 338. Quoted in Hodgson, loc. cit.

5 Philosophically sensitive accounts of trinitarian doctrine can be found in Feenstra, Ronald J. and Plantinga, Cornelius Jr, eds., Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement: Philosophical and Theological Essays (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989) and Brown, David, The Divine Trinity (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company, 1985).

6 I have not discussed omnibenevolence here. Morris, Thomas V., in The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986) deals with omnibenevolence in one way, and in Morris, Thomas V., ed., Divine and Human Action (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988, ‘Divine Necessity and Divine Goodness’, and ‘Some Problems for Tomistic Incarnationists’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, XXX (1991), 169–82, I deal with it in another. My own view is that it is logically impossible that any being, divine or human, have necessary omnibenevolence as a property, since being omnibenevolent entails being a moral agent, being a moral agent entails having libertarian freedom, and having libertarian freedom is incompatible with possessing necessary omnibenevolence. (For the purists: property P entails property Q if and only if X has P entails X has Q.) These matters are somewhat pursued in the concluding chapter of my The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). I see no reason to think that the same sorts of strategies followed in this paper will not do as nicely for omnibenevolence as they do for omniscience and omnipotence.

7 On Christian Doctrine I, 5, 5.

8 ‘Identity and Trinity’, Journal of Religion (1975), 170.

9 Van Inwagen, Peter, ‘And Yet They Are Not Three Gods But One God’, in Morris, Thomas V., ed., Philosophy and the Christian Faith (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 241–78, explains relativized identity and powerfully argues that if one relativizes identity one can create a logically consistent skeleton which can support the flesh of a full trinitarian doctrine. As is appropriate for a single essay, he does not do more; he does not actually develop a specific and detailed doctrine of the trinity, apparently (and rightly) taking what he does to be enough for one paper. I assent to his conditional while remaining unpersuaded of the wisdom of relativising identity.

10 I have further developed the notion of non-vacuous entailment among necessary truths in the final chapter of The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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