#479

June 19, 2016

What Does it Mean to Say God Is a Soul?

I would like to ask a clarifying question, and also ask you to consider some implications of your view on the Trinity.

For reference sake, here is the view to which I'm referring: "Suppose, then, that God is a soul which is endowed with three complete sets of rational cognitive faculties, each sufficient for personhood. Then God, though one soul, would not be one person but three, for God would have three centers of self-consciousness, intentionality, and volition, as Social Trinitarians maintain. God would clearly not be three discrete souls because the cognitive faculties in question are all faculties belonging to just one soul, one immaterial substance. God would therefore be one being which supports three persons, just as our individual beings each support one person."

Clarifying question: I have not seriously studied metaphysics yet. Can you explain to me what exactly you mean by "soul" in this context? If "soul" isn't shorthand for "rational cognitive faculties," I don't know what it is. You claim that "God would not be three discrete souls because the cognitive faculties in question are all faculties belonging to just one soul, one immaterial substance." What exactly is this immaterial substance to which these three sets of rational faculties belong? To ask this from another angle: what would be different if God were to have three souls? Aside from being unorthodox, what would it even mean for God to have three souls? I have a feeling you'd answer that it would involve God not being unified. But I still feel confused: what exactly is this nebulous "thing" that unifies things these persons?

And as for its implications: have you ever considered how this relates to the doctrines of glorification and/or theosis? In what sense will we, as Peter describes, "participate in the divine nature?" Is the "divine nature" equivalent to God's soul? And if so, will we be non-divine persons attached to this soul? Would we be belong to this soul in the same way the Father, Son, and Spirit do, the only difference being that we are not divine persons? I have a feeling the answer would be "no," but why?

Also: what implications would this view of the Trinity have on the Incarnation? I understand that you hold to Neo-Apollinarian views of the incarnation. Would you say that Jesus' consciousness would in his incarnation belong to both the "God soul" and a "Human Jesus soul"?

Thanks for your time good sir,

Over and out.

Jordan


United States

By a soul I mean a living, spiritual substance. In characterizing God as a soul, I mean what Jesus meant when he said, “God is spirit” (John 4.24). A human soul has rational cognitive faculties but is not identical with its rational faculties, since faculties are not something that exist on their own in abstraction from the thing that has them. What is a soul? It’s what you are without your body.

We normally assume that a rational soul is identical to a person. But that’s because we are familiar only with souls endowed with at most one set of rational faculties sufficient for personhood. My suggestion is that we think of God as a soul endowed with three sets of rational faculties, each sufficient for personhood, so that God is tri-personal.

Your question, “what would it even mean for God to have three souls?” is reminiscent of Cerberus, the mythological three-headed dog, which might be taken to have three souls inhabiting one canine body. But obviously God is not like that, since God has no body. If you mean, “what would it mean for God to be three souls?”, then the answer is that God would be a group, like the Boston Red Sox. Obviously, that is polytheism, not monotheism, and therefore unacceptable.

What exactly is this nebulous ‘thing’ that unifies . . . these persons?” It is the spiritual substance whose faculties they are. It is the immaterial entity or being which has these faculties.

I am not enamored with the doctrine of theosis, the idea that we shall come to somehow participate in the divine nature. The divine nature is God’s essential properties. We shall never come to be omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, metaphysically necessary, morally perfect, etc. A creature always remains a created thing. The Church Fathers who espoused this doctrine didn’t mean that we shall literally become deified but merely that we shall be glorified and shed our mortality and corruption. That truth should not be obscured by talk of deification.

When I spoke several years ago at a retreat of the Christian Medical Society, one of the doctors took us aside and said, “You should understand in speaking to this group that most doctors resent the fact that they were not made the fourth member of the Trinity!” No fear that that might happen! So in answer to your question, “Would we be belong to this soul in the same way the Father, Son, and Spirit do, the only difference being that we are not divine persons?”, it is impossible for us to become part of God, for we are created souls, distinct from the soul that God is. We shall come into closer relationship with God, but the Creator/creature distinction remains inviolate.

With regard to my suggested model of the incarnation, you could in a sense say that “Jesus' consciousness would in his incarnation belong to both the ‘God soul’ and a ‘Human Jesus soul’,” so long as you understand that the model doesn’t posit a “human Jesus soul” distinct from the “God soul.” It would be clearer to say that the set of rational faculties of God’s soul that are the Son’s faculties are also Jesus’ faculties, or more simply that the person who is Jesus is identical to the second person of the Trinity.