Monday, July 25, 2005

Zubizantine Theology: The Trinitarian Life (Part 4)

I suggested at the end of the last installment that Zubiri had surpassed Byzantine theology to some extent, in that he got more out of revealed concepts by use of his formulation of "sentient intelligence." Specifically, he was able to connect the "who" and "what" of hypostatic generation in a conceptual way so that the image simultaneously conveyed both the monarchy of the Father and the procession of ousia around the persons of the Trinity (perichoresis). But it cannot be appreciated just how fundamental an improvement Zubiri has rendered until that can be tied back to the flip side of Zubiri's concept of "sentient intelligence," i.e., reality as dar de si (giving of itself) and as structure. The reason that sentient intelligence provides so much more useful a conception of hypostatic generation is that the reality that it reflects is so much more accurately captured by Zubiri's notion. And it is in this where I believe Zubiri has provided a theological framework that surpasses all that has come before it.

Let us recall that Zubiri considers reality itself more fundamental than being (which is simply an expression of reality's self-giving), and reality precisely is dar de si in structure, with the unity of the structure being the substantivity of the reality. But if one considers the previous discussion in light of these concepts, it will not fail to become apparent that Zubiri is arguing that the substantive reality of God just is the Trinity. It is not a question of real persons being in active relationship with one another (as in the Greek understanding), but rather, it is a question of real persons-in-active-relationship; the structure just is the reality. Nor is this a matter of simply putting the label "Trinity" on the divine essence and reasoning from there; Zubiri's approach could not be farther from such a view! No, it is instead a question of the reality of God being a structure and an activity, which Zubiri calls the Trinitarian life.

Zubiri's own explanation is useful here, and again, I refer to Joaquin Redondo's translation of Christianity, subject to the following copyright notice:

© 2001-2005 by Joaquín Redondo
Permission to republish in any form is hereby granted, provided that source is acknowledged.

Zubiri begins his explanation of the Trinitarian life by first noting that there is an implication of the Persons within one another. This implication is inseparable from the personhood of the Trinity, so it cannot simply be relegated to circulation of the divine ousia as the Greek explanation of perichoresis would suggest. Instead, it must be viewed in terms of the personal giving-of-self, which more closely resembles the "active interpenetration" of the Latin circumincession, although being completely alien to the "passive coinherence" of circuminsession, a development which Zubiri views as a consequence of exactly denying the primacy of personhood ("his-ownness") in favor of the divine essence. As Zubiri puts it:

Trinitarian respectivity is not a question of perichóresis of nature, but an implication of his-ownness, i.e., of the personal characteristics of the person as such. It is precisely the internal respectivity of the his-ownnesses as such. Of the Father insofar as Father, of the Son insofar as Son, and of the Holy Spirit insofar as Holy Spirit. In other words, it is a moment of his-ownness. Undeniably, there is a circulation of nature, but it exists as a consequence of this structural unity of the persons. Inasmuch as each person implicates the others we can speak of a circulation of that which the first person is, with that which the second is, and that which the third is.

The perichóresis is the circumincession, as the Latins said translating the Greeks. But they rather called it circuminsession, with which the Latins made both the concept and the term banal, because then it is not the case that a person may circulate through the others, but that one is in the other. The difference, from my point of view, is radical because it concerns the very concept of procession. From my own personal view, I think it is a processability, by virtue of which the persons implicate each other insofar as persons. God is an absolute self-giving, and gives of Himself. On the one hand, each his-ownness gives the other out of Himself; and on the other hand, the three give of themselves a unique essence.

But Zubiri does not dismiss the importance of the Greek understanding, because it affirms that there must be active interpenetration. This concept of activity is what Latin theology has difficulty conceptualizing with its focus on the divine essence as subject. The importance of this point for understanding Zubiri's theology cannot be understated, and on that account, I will reproduce Zubiri's explanation in its entirety:

Then, we articulate the question; if the nature is the same, in what does it consist {142} to have this alleged circulation? It is difficult to answer this if one starts from the idea of essence. That is the reason why the perichóresis, after all, has not had any effective and fruitful place in the conceptiveness of the Trinity in Latin theology.

However, if we place ourselves under the perspective of his-ownness the question changes aspect. Of course, we have no other alternative but to apply human similarities to the Trinitarian cases. Instead of using the simile of circulation let us propose another. In the case of two people in love, we say that the one sees through the eyes of the other. This is just metaphorical. But let us assume it is not a metaphor, but a reality. That is precisely what the essential perichóresis is. In the Trinity there is an internal interpenetration by virtue of which that which the Father is, is precisely what the Son is. And the Father sees, in a certain way, through the intelligence of the Son, as the Son is what He is by seeing what the intelligence of the Father has actualized. There is a true interpenetration. And this interpenetration is not simply a circulation.

The concept of interpenetration is supremely important. Latin theology has been in the habit of starting from the idea of the divine essence as pure act. The proof for the existence of God was based on the absolutely existing essence, the essence that is pure act. That is the way St. Thomas proceeds in his Summa theologica. But if we start from the person, from the his-ownness of the Father, then the matter is different. Because then what we would have to say is not that the essence of God may not be a pure act (He could not be otherwise), but that the purity of His act, speaking in human terms, is constituted by the Trinitarian processability of His persons. We could assume that each person is a God in a certain way complete in Himself. There is no doubt. Let us take the case of the Father. Certainly the Father is a God complete in Himself, but He is such insofar {143} as Father. And insofar as Father involves the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because if His condition of Father is eliminated He is not a complete God, He is not even God.The purity of act is mysteriously constituted by the processable Trinity in which the persons consist. God realizes Himself; He auto-realizes in pure act in and by the processable Trinity of the persons. The pure act is a characteristic that mysteriously cannot constitute the starting point of the Trinitarian theology, but rather is in a certain way (humanly speaking), the precipitate of that marvelous Trinitarian processability in which the divine his-ownness precisely consists in its three his-ownnesses. To be his-own as fontanal reality; to be his-own as actual truth; and to be his-own as identically truth and reality in the Spirit of Truth. Because it is the case that the essence is founded on the person, and not the person on the essence. The procession is formally personal. Therefore, the unity is a unity, which is in a certain way decanted in the constitution of the pure act in which the divine essence consists.

As I said, the importance of this point cannot be overstated, and so I will summarize it once again: the pure activity of God is in reality, not simply being. St. Thomas has identified reality with being (entifies reality); Zubiri instead puts reality before being, as more fundamental than being. It is in this respect, more than any other philosopher that I have encountered, that Zubiri can seize the Trinity as the absolutely fundamental concept of reality by rendering the acting structure itself (as opposed to acting subjects) the substantive reality of God. Thus, Zubiri can elucidate what has been missing in the previous attempts of both Latin and Greek metaphysics to explain the Trinity:

We have something else besides this implication and this interpenetration. There is, in the third place, something that seems to me absolutely important. Namely, that the three persons, because they have this type of structure, have a unity by virtue of which they cannot be a person unless making another proceed nor can they possess one nature if it is not communicating it to another. This nature will not be a numerical one (this would be equivalent to perforating the Trinity or admitting with Cajetan2 a fourth subsistence proper to the divine nature), but consists in the personal life of God.

The fact is that the term “life” can have two meanings. It can have the meaning of an act, which proceeds from nature, from the essence. And, in that case, obviously, in God there is only one life, and in addition identical in the three persons, precisely as {144} His own essence. But if we understand life from a personal point of view, then personal life is not formed by only one person. It is just the reverse. The fullness of the personal life of God is formed by several persons. And these several persons, personally different, constitute just one personal life, which is not numerically one, but does have an intrinsic unity of respectivity.

That is the case of the Trinity. Mysteriously, not by a numerical unity (since they are three really distinct persons qua his-ownnesses), but due to the processable characteristic in which these persons are implicated and interpenetrated in their essence, the life of God, from the personal point of view, is a “single” life which is Trinitarially personal. There is a unity in God, which is not numerical (otherwise this would be to introduce a fourth personality or perforate the three persons), but of persons, which by their difference constitute one single Trinitarian life, which is really and actually the life of God.

We are accustomed to “trichotomize” the life of God for the benefit of the Trinity of persons in which God exists. This is absolutely absurd. In God there is only one life, a purely respective unity and not numerical, as it might exist among several human persons, which in their personal differences, however, live a single type of personal life. Reversely, the personal divine life in the very Trinity is essentially lived in three different persons. In God there is “one” Trinitarian life, which has in a certain way this particular unitary structure, as a unity of respectivity. The Father is not the Son as his-ownness, nor the Son or the Father are the Holy Spirit as his-ownness, but none of the three can exist and be who He is unless making the other proceed. This is an activity, which has a unity of respectivity, and this unity of respectivity is, from my point of view, what constitutes the Trinitarian life of God. {145}

The life of God is not simply the life, which emerges as the immanent action of His own nature, but is primarily and formally a Trinitarian personal life, which is based on the very divine essence in the form of a pure act. This divine life has a modal characteristic, what is usually called eternal life. But this is an equivocal term. It suggests what He is and what He will be from the “whole of eternity”. That is the unfathomable duration of God. But there is something anterior and primary. Everything God is and does possesses an eternal mode. Eternity is the modal concept of the divine life. And if He is durationally eternal, this is the result of being modally eternal. Even in those acts ad extra, which presuppose a temporal created reality, God lives those realities not from the whole of eternity, but rather eternally. I shall return to this.
Nevertheless, let us not forget that the unity of these functions precisely constitutes the molding of religation in religion, and in this case, in the Christian religion [NOTE: Here the relationship between Zubiri's thinking and the idea of "economy" becomes more apparent -- JP]. Now we can readily understand that in the end the Trinitarian life of God precisely consists in the {146} unfathomable and transcendent divinity to which the constitutive religation of the being of man is anchored as such. That is the place we must start from in order not to lose ourselves in multiple metaphysical convolutions about the Trinity. They are three his-ownnesses (understanding that each proceeds from the other), which have an internal structure by virtue of which each one cannot be present without the other. Also, they are realized in a “what”, and that “what” is not realized except to be communicated or to be ratified. Precisely in this internal and primary processability, which constitutes the unity of respectivity of the three his-ownesses (of the three divine persons, in common language) is where the principle is found that God is pure act. No one has said that we have to start from God as pure act in order to conceive the Trinity. We could try the opposite way. With all due modesty and aware of the limitations of a human intellection, I do consider that perhaps present theology is in dire need of unburdening the Trinity from an enormous mass of metaphysical concepts.

Thus is established the fundamental metaphysical basis of Christian theology in Zubiri's metaphysical system. It is from this point that one can proceed to the analysis of other areas of Christian doctrine, and we will follow Zubiri in those pursuits in subsequent installments.