‘Persons’ In the ‘Social’ Doctrine of the Trinity: A Critique of Current Analytic Discussion

Sarah Coakley

in The Trinity

Published in print February 2002 | ISBN: 9780199246120
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600531 | DOI:
                      ‘Persons’ In the ‘Social’ Doctrine of the Trinity: A Critique of Current Analytic Discussion

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Sarah Coakley outlines the recent debate that analytic philosophers of religion have conducted in defence of the so‐called ‘social’ doctrine of the Trinity. Since appeal is characteristically made by them to Gregory of Nyssa, and especially to his Ad Ablabium, she focuses on Gregory, and expounds what he says in the Ad Ablabium in the light of his other — somewhat fragmented — expositions of the three‐fold unity of the Godhead. Coakley holds it crucial for an expanding of the discussion to allow for the trinitarian insights that Gregory affords when not explicitly discussing the (supposedly) technical meanings of hypostasis or prosopon, but describing more loosely the soul's engagement with the Trinity at the ‘economic’ level of operation (as, for instance, in his Commentary on the Song of Songs). The notion of hypostasis (‘person’) that emerges from this analysis is far less tidy than the contemporary analytic discussions have supposed; and further, a covert smuggling of ‘modern’ notions of the ‘individual’ can be detected in some authors who purport to defend Gregory, resulting in a misleading account of Gregory's perception of intra‐divine relations. Finally, Coakley considers the implications of Gregory's profound apophaticism for the assessment of the status of his trinitarian language on the literal/analogical/metaphorical spectrum, as well as for the issues of gender, which interestingly intrude into Gregory's vision of incorporation into the divine life.

Keywords: Ad Ablabium; analogical; apophaticism; Coakley; Commentary on the Song of Songs; divine life; Gregory of Nyssa; hypostasis; intra‐divine relations; issues of gender; literal; metaphorical; prosopon; social doctrine of the Trinity

Chapter.  8758 words. 

Subjects: Christian Theology

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