The Logic of the Trinity: Augustine to Ockham

The Logic of the Trinity: Augustine to Ockham

The Logic of the Trinity: Augustine to Ockham

The Logic of the Trinity: Augustine to Ockham

Synopsis

This book recounts the remarkable history of efforts by significant medieval thinkers to accommodate the ontology of the Trinity within the framework of Aristotelian logic and ontology. These efforts were remarkable because they pushed creatively beyond the boundaries of existing thought while trying to strike a balance between the Church's traditional teachings and theoretical rigor in a context of institutional politics. In some cases, good theology, good philosophy, and good politics turned out to be three different things. The principal thinkers discussed are Augustine, Boethius, Ablard, Gilbert of Poitiers, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham. The aspects of Trinitarian doctrine dealt with are primarily internal ontological questions about the Trinity. The approach draws on history of theology and philosophy, as well as on the modern formal disciplines of set-theoretic semantics and formal ontology. Augustine inaugurated the project of constructing models of the Trinity in language drawn from Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, especially the conceptual framework of Aristotle's Categories. He used the Aristotelian notions of substance and relation to set up a model whose aim was not so much to demystify the Trinity as to demonstrate the logical consistency of maintaining that there is one and only one God at the same time as maintaining that there are three distinct persons, each of whom is God. Standing against this tradition are various heretical accounts of the Trinity. The book also analyzes these traditions, using the same techniques. All these accounts of the Trinity are evaluated relative to the three constraints under which they were formed, bearing in mind that the constraints on philosophical theorizing are not limited to internal consistency but also take note of explanatory power. Besides analyzing and evaluating individual accounts of the Trinity, the book provides a novel framework within which different theories can be compared.

Excerpt

The history of logic is not just a history of logic books. All sorts of writings provide a fitting context for logical theorizing. In the Middle Ages, one of those contexts was the tradition of philosophical theology surrounding questions about the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The reason is that some of the theological questions about the Trinity centered on concepts that are fundamentally logical—concepts of sameness and difference, the relative and the absolute. And so in these pages I want to explore part of that theological tradition of writing from the point of view of the history of logic.

I will offer analyses of the ways in which the medieval thinkers understood these concepts and adapted them for theological use. My analyses will be semantic and ontological. But I will not attempt to deploy the machinery of mathematical logic, with its formalized syntax and semantic models. Instead, I will use notions that the medievals themselves had at their disposal—basic semantic notions such as the distinction between language and the nonlinguistic world, and the idea that between these two there are relations of naming or being-true-of, as well as metaphysically charged notions such as the distinction between what a term is true of and what it is essentially true of, and the distinction between the concrete and the abstract.

The history of efforts by medieval thinkers to accommodate the ontology of the Trinity within the framework of Greek logic and ontology is a remarkable one. These efforts were remarkable because they pushed creatively beyond the boundaries of existing thought while being subject to three often-conflicting types of constraint. Because they were aimed at interpreting Scripture and the Church’s traditional teachings, they had to remain faithful to those objects of interpretation. But because they were a type of logico-ontological theorizing, they had to be logically rigorous and ontologically illuminating. What counted as good philosophical . . .

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