The Supernatural First Century

I’m fascinated by the reports of supernatural events that occurred in the first century. In this post I want to collect a few bizarre quotes from various ancient sources for ease of reference.

①The Crimson Thread

The Jewish people had a yearly tradition for receiving forgiveness of sins. They would slaughter one goat to YWHW, and a second goat (known as the scapegoat) they would send to its doom into the desert. They would tie a crimson cord to it, and once it reached the edge of the desert, the cord would turn white signifying that their sins had been forgiven. However, the Talmud relates that after 30 AD, the ritual seemed to stop working: the cord would remain crimson.

[1] Jerusalem Talmud:

“Forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open” (Jacob Neusner, The Yerushalmi, p.156-157).

[2] Babylonian Talmud:

“Our rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ‘For the Lord’ did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the western most light shine; and the doors of the Hekel [Temple] would open by themselves” (Soncino version, Yoma 39b).

From 30 AD until the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD, the yearly forgiveness ritual seemed to fail the Levitical priesthood. I wonder what could have happened in 30 AD to so anger YHWH?

②Bizarre sightings in the skies

Josephus, in his History of the Wars, tells of a number of bizarre occurrences in the skies over Jerusalem in the years before its destruction by the Romans.


Besides these, a few days after that feast [of the unleavened bread], on the twenty first day of the month of Artemisius, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it [the destruction of the temple in 70] of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding the cities (6,5,3).

Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskilful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it. At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night… Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence’.

Tacitus, in his annals, corroborates these events, though he credits them to his own gods:

‘Prodigies had occurred, which this nation, prone to superstition, but hating all religious rites, did not deem it lawful to expiate by offering and sacrifice. There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods [sic!] were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure. Some few put a fearful meaning on these events, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire. These mysterious prophecies had pointed to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, with the usual blindness of ambition, had interpreted these mighty destinies of themselves, and could not be brought even by disasters to believe the truth.’

Tacitus, Cornelius. The Annals Of Tacitus, Book XIV. London :Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1939.

How to Read the Bible pt. 1

I hear the violence of the Old Testament quite often used by non-theists as proof of the illegitimacy of the Christian religion.

In the past few centuries, what I can only describe as “crass literalism” has come to dominate Biblical interpretations. I think that this is because we have forgotten what it means to read a text “ad litteram” in the tradition of late antiquity.

If I was king for a day, I would make the lecture below required viewing for anyone even considering picking up a Bible. In Part 2 of this series, I will give my thoughts on some of the more difficult areas of the Old Testament, but I think the video below is required viewing before broaching those issues.


Fideism & Rationalism

Recently, I’ve been thinking about Rationalism vs. Fideism.

Over on First Things, David Bentley Hart made a few extremely salient points regarding this age old divide that I think deserve reblogging here for posterity.

Hart writes:

If nothing else, excessive anxiety over the Scylla and Charybdis of “rationalism” and “fideism” seems like such a tarnished relic of the seventeenth century (or thereabouts). Both categories would have been unintelligible in the ancient or medieval worlds to which I had thought I was casting back a wistful eye—worlds in which reason and faith had not yet come to be regarded as utterly distinct, ultimately antithetical movements of the mind.

Precisely when the two concepts were set upon divergent paths, and precisely to whose charge the blame really should be laid—Scotists, nominalists, prophets of the novum organum, Cartesians, Encyclopaedists . . . —it is impossible to say. Whatever the case, though, at some point in the early modern period it became possible, and then normal, to think of “reason” as an essentially dispassionate and disinterested faculty capable of discerning first principles and deducing final conclusions without any surd of the irrational left over, and of “faith” as an essentially unreasoning paroxysm of the will, prompted by nameless yearnings and intuitions and hopes. Thereafter, one might still talk of “rational faith” or of “faithful reasoning,” but almost always with a sense of a paradox to be negotiated or ironically overcome.

Thus when late moderns come across, say, St. Anselm’s famous phrase fides quaerens intellectum” (faith seeking understanding), they are often predisposed to see it at best as slightly duplicitous, at worst as expressing a somewhat contemptible ambition: the aspiration of an irrational passion (fervent, tender, fierce) to the dignity of a rational conviction (cold, adamantine, calm). But for Anselm it described something much more like the natural course that reason must always take, from its initial stirrings in an act of naive conjecture to its consummation in an act of reflective knowledge. All reasoning begins from a venture of trust whose truthfulness can be ascertained only at the end of the sequence of postulates and predicates and judgments to which it gives rise.

What, after all, warrants our belief in the power of rational consciousness to give us a true knowledge of ­reality? Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, there is a fiduciary moment within every act of reason, which allows for thought’s first movement toward ends beyond itself. It is an implicit trust in an original accord between mind and world, mysterious but indissoluble; and it is one that (protest how we may) makes sense only if we presume some original ontological unity between consciousness and being. Every attempt of the rational mind to find the truth of things involves an implicit metaphysical presupposition: that there is some transcendent coincidence of world and soul, some original fullness of reality where they are always already one, which allows for their openness one to the other here below.

I’m sympathetic to Hart here. It sometimes seems as though we tend to take such a lofty view of Reason that all who suggest limitations are dismissed and lumped into the pejorative category of “Fideism.” But are things ever really so black and white?

Check out the full article here:

God on the Blackboard

There was a phrase used by Kevin Harris over on the Reasonable Faith podcast that has stuck with me ever since I heard it. In a discussion on standards of evidence and what skeptics find “convincing,” Harris mentions the attitude of “keeping God up on the blackboard.”

Kevin Harris: I think this is very important. I have heard it referred to just keeping God up on the blackboard. You can always examine and re-examine and wait for more evidence to come in. Discount that evidence. Bring this evidence in. Standards of evidence change from person to person and from era to era. They keep God as kind of an intellectual game. But that is not how we do personal relationships. It certainly is not how we do faith, you’ve said.

It’s my experience that this is absolutely the case with most skeptics of Christian Theism. No matter how rigorous the argument, the usual response once they have run out of counterarguments is “Well, I’m not convinced.”

As Harris points out, what people find “convincing” is a pretty arbitrary thing. It varies from person to person, and from day to day, and even from mood to mood. I’ve come to believe that what human beings find convincing is largely a function of emotion. As such, one will always be able to keep God up on the blackboard and deceive themselves into thinking that they are being rational and open minded about the whole thing. No amount of evidence will ever be sufficient for them.

In the same podcast Dr. William Lane Craig mentions the work of religious epistemologist Dr. Paul Moser (who I hope to look into in the future). Moser’s work deals heavily with the orientation of the will and how that influences the likelihood that one will come to believe in God or not. As Craig says:

Dr. Craig: That is absolutely right. Paul Moser has really emphasized this very well in his work on theism and religious epistemology. Moser has just emphasized over and over again that it is matters of the heart and disposition of the will – whether one is willing to approach God with humility and contrition and to come to God on his terms rather than to come to God on your own terms or to come to him on the standards that the skeptic sets. I suspect that a great many people have simply deceived themselves into thinking that they are seeking God in an appropriate way. In fact, they are seeking God in a kind of idolatrous way that seeks to make God conform to their standards and their image rather than seeking him in genuine humility and contrition. If we will seek him in that way then I think we will come to faith.

I think this ties in with what I said in my Open Mindedness? post. Describing religious belief in the abstract just doesn’t work. Is there really a good excuse to not at least attempt entering a religious tradition and trying something like contemplative prayer?

For those interested, please check out the full podcast here:


As an aside, it is my lived experience that belief in God can never be achieved (or at least maintained) purely by intellectual exercise. It requires action. As Tito Colliander once said,

“Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is. To let in fresh air we have to open a window; to get tanned we must go out into the sunshine. Achieving faith is no different; we never reach a goal by just sitting in comfort and waiting, say the holy Fathers. Let the Prodigal Son be our example. He arose and came.”

Prayer, penitence, fasting, and almsgiving will teach one what God is like. Actually getting out and giving alms to the poor, or trying to practice what is taught in the Sermon on the Mount has helped me to have a stronger belief in God. Because God is agápē (1 John 4:8), it is during acts of agápē that we begin to see the faintest glimmers of God’s nature. Of course, now we see as through a glass, darkly.

As St. Silouan the Athonite says:

“No matter how much we may study, it is not possible to come to know God unless we live according to His commandments, for God is not known by science, but by the Holy Spirit. Many philosophers and learned men came to the belief that God exists, but they did not know God. It is one thing to believe that God exists and another to know Him. If someone has come to know God by the Holy Spirit, his soul will burn with love for God day and night, and his soul cannot be bound to any earthly thing.”

Pavel Florensky’s Logical Proof of Antinomy

Today’s post is a reproduction of a little known paper which first appeared in Theandros – An Online journal of Orthodox Christian Theology and Philosophy.

I have heard there are issues with the proof as laid out in the paper below, but I have been told that Florensky’s The Pillar and Ground of the Truth contains about 75 pages devoted to the proof, so I hope to acquire this work and examine the full version.


Logical Proof of Antinomy: A Trinitarian Interpretation of the Law of Identity – Michael C. Rhodes – Theandros – An Online journal of Orthodox Christian Theology and Philosophy

Logical Proof of Antinomy: A Trinitarian Interpretation of the Law of Identity

Michael C. Rhodes

Department of Theology

Loyola University

1. Introduction

This essay presents Pavel Florensky’s paraconsistent logical proof of antinomy and delineates the relationship of his paraconsistent logic to the notion of the Holy Trinity. My discussion is based on the seventh chapter of his Pillar and Ground of Truth titled “Letter Six: Contradiction” (Florensky 1997, 106-123), and on the third chapter of this same text, “Letter Two: Doubt” (Florensky 1997, 14-38).

1.1. Brief Biography

Pavel Florensky (1882-1943) was a Russian Orthodox priest who was trained as a mathematician and philosopher. When he was 46, the Soviet regime sent him to Nizhny Novgorod as a political exile for two years; in 1930 he was released under the guise of having been ‘rehabilitated,’ but three years later was sentenced to ten years in the Labor Camps, during which time he somehow passed away. He published on many topics ranging from mathematics and logic to chemistry, philosophy and theology, some of which is available in translation. The most monumental of his works, however, is his aforementioned Pillar and Ground of Truth.

2. Logical Proof of Antinomy

The proof purports to show the insufficiency of the reductio ad absurdum formula by “two equally indubitable proofs” which derive both p and ~p by means of the reductio formula, forming as a conjunctive proposition (p · ~p) the ‘antinomy P’ (cf. Florensky 1997, 112-113).

Florensky’s first proof begins with the formula for the reductio ad absurdum.

((~p É p) É ~p)

The antecedent of this conditional (itself a conditional) Florensky transforms by the rule of material conditional to a disjunctive of the form ‘either not-p or p’. But since the antecedent p is already negated, then the equivalent logical statement is ‘either not-not-p or p’. These disjuncts however by the operation of the rule of ‘double negation’ are equivalent, ‘either p or p’. The original formula then has been transformed so that it now reads: ‘If either p or p, then p’. In symbolic notation, Florensky’s reasoning for the derivability of p from ~p is as follows:

(i) ~p By assumption

(ii) ((~p É p) By implication on (i)

(iii) (~~p v p) By material conditional on (ii)

(iv) (p v p) By double negation on (iii)

(v) (p v p) É p By implication on (iv)

\ (iv) p By modus ponens on (v) (cf. Florensky 1997, 112)

Florensky’s next proof shows the implication of p from not-p to prove that both p and ~p are derivable from the reductio formula.

Let ~p be represented through q (i.e. ~p = q) so that the above reductio formula reads: ‘assume not-q, derive q; conclude q’:

((~q É q) É q) Since ~p = q, then the reduction formula equally reads: ‘assume not-not-p, derive not-p; conclude not-p’. This substitution yields:

((~~p É ~p) É ~p) Again, by the rule of ‘double negation’, this is equivalent to:

((p É ~p) É ~p) So Florensky’s reasoning for the derivability of ~p from p is:

(i) ~p = q By definition

(ii) p By assumption

(iii) ((~q É q) É q) By definition on (i)

(iv) ((~~p É ~p) É ~p) By definition on (i) and (iii)

(v) ((p É ~p) É ~p) By double negation on (iv)

\ (iv) ~p By modus ponens on (v) (cf. Florensky 1997, 112)

In this manner, both p and ~p are derived from their opposites, making together the ‘antinomy P’, namely p and not-p, or (p · ~p) (Florensky 1997, 113). In symbolic notation, Florensky presents this as follows:

P = (p · ~p) = V where ‘P’ is a proposition with two contradictory terms (or a class whose members mutually exclude one another), and V is the truth truth-operator, which Florensky argues means that for “pure logic” “V in the definition of P is only an indication of the position of this P, an indication of the relation that is required toward it. . .it is not a constituent part of the structure of P itself. . .V represents the constituent elements, the spiritual unity, the suprasensuous [and suprarational] reality of antinomy.” An antinomic proposition, according to Florensky’s reasoning therefore, “jointly contains thesis and antithesis, so that it is inaccessible to any objection. . .[and] above the plane of rationality” (cf. Florensky 1997, 113).

2.1. P = (p · ~p) = V as ‘God is Consubstantial’ and ‘God is Trihypostatic’

One such proposition P, Florensky suggests, is ‘God is Consubstantial’ and ‘God is Trihypostatic’. Taking ‘Consubstantial’ as the thesis and ‘Trihypostatic’ as the antithesis, the antinomy P in this case is a proposition with two contradictory predicates attributed to God.

3. What about the Laws of Thought?

An antinomic proposition P = (p · ~p) taken in a strictly logical sense is either self-isolating or contradictory. But the assumption that truth is only logical, according to Florensky, relies on the laws of thought (the laws of identity, non-contradiction[1] and excluded middle). His proofs, however, necessarily imply that these laws are antinomic. Thus, to affirm that truth is only of a logical ilk, according to Florensky, is to affirm implicitly that it is not, and therefore, according to Florensky, truth is unavoidably antinomic.[2]

Florensky’s antinomic notion of truth does not formalize the nature of truth as being ‘either p or not-p’ (law of excluded middle)[3] but rather as a conjunctive synthesis (p and not-p), which according to Aristotelian, Boolean (algebraic) and mathematical (logistics, ‘class’ calculus) forms of logic is a gateway to falsehood via the ‘principle of explosion,’ namely ex contradictione quodlibet (‘from contradiction anything follows’).[4] Florensky’s proofs challenge this ‘principle’ by grounding antinomy in the Holy Trinity. Thus, according to Florensky, showing that truth is not of a logical ilk only does not imply ‘anything’ in general, but Trinitarian thought in particular.[5]

Truth as Antinomy: A Theological Interpretation

The claim that ‘from contradiction anything follows’ does not hold in a Florenskian paraconsistent logic because of his trinitarian reinterpretation of the law of identity in space-time, a personal interpretation of which leads to an affirmation of the Holy Trinity as the ground of truth. Such a defense against the charge that ‘anything follows’ begins, according to Florensky’s thinking, with an attempt to join together the conditional with the Unconditional.

3.1. Creation, Judgment, Reason

Given the antinomic nature of truth, the existence of creation[6] therefore implies, Florensky postulates, that antinomic-truth is a sort of ‘symbol’ of Truth, which he maintains suggests the epistemological problem of knowing and speaking the Unconditional by means of the conditional. “How is it possible to construct the unconditional formula of Divine Truth,” Florensky queries, is a self-contradictory judgment. . .The thesis and antithesis together form the expression of truth. In other words, truth is an antinomy, and it cannot fail to be such (Florensky 1997, 109).

Antinomy provides a way of knowing and speaking the Unconditional by means of the conditional, Florensky maintains, because it expresses the finite limits of reason through contradiction. If a rational formula can ‘gather all of life into itself’ (i.e. if it can reduce life to itself), both past actualities, present ‘becomings’ and future contingents, deal with all possible and actual objections, then it is rational, according to Florensky, that a rational formula might be able to fully possess all of life in itself. But according to Florensky, there is no evidence of reason’s being able to do this. If it is impossible, then there is no reason to conceive of rational formula in terms of logical certainty. Florensky suggests the notion of ‘limit’ so that the ‘truth claim’ of a rational formula is not required to encompass life in terms of logical norms, but to express it (both in a conditional sense as well as in an Unconditional sense) in terms of antinomy. A ‘truth claim’ of this form contains the limit of all its refutations in which both thesis-p and antithesis-~p remain. Thus, Florensky suggests an interpretation of rational formula in terms of contradiction which accepts its own finitude and conditionality as parameters that suggest not fallacy but Unconditional immediacy.

But what does this mean?

3.2. Spatio-Temporal Identity:

Florensky’s position suggests a spatio-temporal interpretation of the law of identity in terms of the conditional aspect of antinomic rationality.

If truth is antinomic, then, Florensky queries, what are we to make of temporal succession and spatiality? He argues that a spatio-temporal actuality both is and is becoming, it is identical to itself both because it is a certain spatio-temporal actuality and because it is becoming a certain spatio-temporal actuality through its relatedness to other spatio-temporal actualities, and so the law of identity is always both grounded and violated. Thus, A is A and A is becoming A through not-A, i.e. through a denial of itself.

This relationship, Florensky argues, is tripartite because if not-A is represented through B, and not-B through C, and not-C through A, then A is A because of B, B is B because of C, and C is C because of A, which according to Florensky grounds the law of identity in a tripartite scheme of spatio-temporal actuality in a conditional sense (cf. Florensky 1997, 36).

A truth claim of this form contains the limit of its refutations in the otherness of that which it is not but with which it stands in some relation, and so by this means expresses rather than encompasses life. But taken alone this scheme is contradictory according to reason. It must be grounded in the Unconditional.

3.3. Personal Spatio-Temporal Identity

Lastly, Florensky’s reasoning interprets the law of identity in a personal manner in both a conditional and an Unconditional manner.

The personal conditional dimension of this scheme is ‘I’, ‘He’ and ‘Thou’, according to Florensky, which he suggests implies that truth finds its Unconditional ground in the Holy Trinity: “I is the relation to He through Thou. Through Thou the subjective I becomes the objective He, and, in the latter, I has its affirmation, its objectivity as I.” “Truth,” therefore, “is the contemplation of Oneself through Another in a Third: Father, Son and Spirit” (Florensky 1997, 37).[7]

The full Trinitarian interpretation of the law of identity could be schematically presented as follows from the spatio-temporal conditional to the personal Unconditional:

not-A through B ~I through he ~Father through Son

not-B through C ~he through you ~Son through HS

not-C through A ~you through I ~HS through Father

A is A because of B I is I b/c of he Father is Father of Son

B is B because of C he is he b/c of you Son is Son b/c of HS

C is C because of A you is you b/c of I HS is HS b/c of Father

Since the actuality of a thesis, therefore, does not logically necessitate its antithesis, according to Florensky, then “each time it is necessary to become convinced not only of the truthfulness of the thesis p but also to clarify whether it is not half of some antinomy P” (Florensky 1997, 113) for the purpose of avoiding heresy (“hairesis [the Greek term] means choice, tendency, a disposition to something”), i.e. “a rational one-sidedness that claims to be everything” (Florensky 1997, 119). Thus, Florensky’s paraconsistent logic being grounded in the Holy Trinity does not allow that ‘anything follows’, rather it defines specific metaphysical parameters so that heresy as the emphasis of only one half of an antinomy can be avoided, implying, therefore, not that ‘anything follows,’ but that orthodoxy follows.

An antinomy contra-dicts life in so far as it is limited to the conditions of logic, according to Florensky, but expresses life insofar as it is grounded in the Tri-hypostatic-Unity: i.e. apart from the Trinity antinomy is against life as the source of irrationality, but in relation to the Trinity antinomy expresses life and is the source of rationality that is both conditional and Unconditional. A rational formula, therefore, according to Florensky, is defined by the relatedness of the conditional to the Unconditional, by its self-denial through that which it is not, rather than by the laws of logic alone.

4. Conclusion

In this essay I have presented Florensky’s form of paraconsistent logic, and have shown how for him it is grounded in the Trinity. The logical peccadilloes of such a position notwithstanding, Florensky’s position has merit first of all because he authored this theory in the early 20th century, long before the advent of paraconsistent logics beginning with F. G. Asenjo’s work in the 1960’s. Secondly, whereas paraconsistent logics are often motivated by interests in artificial intelligence, Florensky’s paraconsistent logic stems from his Orthodox Christian cosmology, and more particularly from his unique Trinitarian interpretation of identity and antinomy.


[1] Cf. B. Russell Principles of Mathematics (George Allen & Unwin: 1937), 16-18, 20. Russell argues that the principle of non-contradiction is provable from the first nine axioms of symbolic logic.

[2] Cf. Metaphysics III, 3 (1005), trans. Christopher Kirwan (Oxford: 1971), 7-8; George Boole Collected Logical Works vol. II (Open Court Publishing: 1940), 53-4; Lewis Carroll Symbolic Logic (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1977), 61-2; Bolzano seems to have been a bit more circumspect Theory of Science, trans Rudolf George (Basil Blackwell: 1972), §45 (George does not translate this section); W. S. Jevons’ comment in his Elementary Lessons in Logic (London: Macmillan, 1957) seems to capture the generally accepted perspective on this and the other two laws of thought: “and it is not too much to say that the whole of logic will be plain to those who will constantly use these laws as the key.” Concerning this law in particular, he says: “It is the very nature of existence that a thing cannot be otherwise than it is; and it may be safely said that all fallacy and error arise from unwittingly reasoning in a way inconsistent with this law. All statements or inferences taken which imply a combination of contradictory qualities must be taken as impossible and false, and the breaking of this law is the mark of their being false” (118; italics mine). See also Hilary Putnam “What is logic” in Philosophy of Logic (London: George Allen & Uwin Ltd., 1972), 4-5; W. E. V. Quine “Deviant Logic” Philosophy of Logic (Prentice Hall: 1970), 81: “My view of this dialogue is that neither party knows what he is talking about. They think they are talking about negation, ‘~’, ‘not’; but surely the notation ceased to be recognizable as a negation when they took to regarding some conjunctions of the form p ( ~p as true, and stopped regarding such sentences as implying all others. Here, evidently, is the deviant logician’s predicament: when he tries to deny the doctrine he only changes the subject.” To deny the law of non-contradiction (and the law of identity and the law of excluded middle) is to undermine the program of logic, so in this sense it is a ‘change of subject’. But for Florensky this ‘change’ is brought about as a product of logical implication: it reveals not a misunderstanding (as Quine seems to suggest) on the part of the ‘deviant’ (Florensky in this case) but on the part of the ‘non-deviant.’ For Florensky, it seems that the logician who insists on this law’s logical reliability changes the subject: it is not a question of a consistent usage of ‘negation’ but of a proper understanding of truth. Kant’s discussion in “Introduction” to his Logic trans. R. S. Hartzman and W. Schwarz (Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc.: 1974) sets the ‘principle of contradiction’ together with the ‘principle of sufficient reason’ as the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ grounds of logic respectively (57-8). Hegel’s logic would be of the ‘deviant’ sort it seems: see his Logic (Oxford: 1975), 171-3: “In the notion of the circle, centre and circumference are equally essential; both marks belong to it: and yet centre and circumference are opposite and contradictory to each other.” See also Heidegger “The Principle of Identity” in Identity and Difference (Harper and Row, 1969), and The Principle of Reason (Indiana: 1996).

[3] Logically equivalent to the law of non-contradiction: ‘not p and not-p’ is equivalent to ‘either p is true or p is false’, which is equivalent to ‘if p is true, then not p is false’ (by the inversion rule known as ‘material conditional’). The law of identity (p = p; if p, then p; p and p; p iff p) is transgressed either way.

[4] Also referred to as ‘ECQ’, this principle maintains “that anything follows from contradictory premises.” Cf. Priest, Graham, Tanaka, Koji, “Paraconsistent Logic”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .

[5] The obvious line of attack on an argument of this sort is by means of showing that the use of double negation can ultimately imply anything: i.e., the ‘principle of explosion’. Thus, a position such as Florensky’s, it could be argued, misconstrues the notion of ‘negation’ and simply affirms an absurdity. Cf. W.E.V. Quine “Deviant Logic” in Philosophy of Logic (Prentice Hall: 1970). See also note 4 below.

[6] His ninth letter is devoted to this topic: “Letter Nine: Creation” (190-230).

[7] Florensky addresses the question of participating in the life of the Trinity at the end his “Letter Two: Doubt”. He argues that there cannot be less than three hypostasis, but that there can be more than three; but each additional hypostasis would be conditional, not necessary to the self-giving-Subject. Hence, such hypostasis are more precisely referred to as ‘deified persons.’ The addition of other hypostases to the Trihypostatic Unity is necessary for these hypostases, but not for the Trinity itself; the Trinity could be apart from the addition of these other hypostases, but these other hypostases could not be apart from the Trinity (cf. 38).

The Pierced Messiah

Sometimes I like to categorize Old Testament prophecies in accordance with certain attributes of the Messiah (Kingly, Priestly, etc.)

For today’s post I want to share the core of the “pierced messiah” verses, including one that I think often goes unnoticed in terms of its implications.

■Zechariah 12:10

And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

■Zechariah 13:7

Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,against the man who is my associate,”says the Lord of hosts. Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.”

■Psalm 22

For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced※ my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

■Wisdom of Solomon 2:18-20

18 For if he be the true son of God, he will defend him, and will deliver him from the hands of his enemies.19 Let us examine him by outrages and tortures, that we may know his meekness and try his patience. 20 Let us condemn him to a most shameful death: for there shall be respect had unto him by his words.

■Isaiah 53:5

But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed.


Okay, so many readers may be familiar with the above verses. However I recently discovered the following little connection and felt it worth sharing.

■Zechariah 11:12-13

12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. 13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.

Now, what many people may not know (except astute readers of Exodus) is that thirty pieces of silver was the price to be paid to the owner of a servant who had been gored by your ox.

So here in stating that the price would be thirty pieces of silver, the implication is that someone would be “gored.”

■Exodus 21:32

If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

So here in Zechariah 11:12 we get yet another bit of foreshadowing of the fate that was to befall the Messiah.


※Ed. Note:

I understand that the translation of “pierced” here has been fiercely debated by Jewish rabbis over the years. Jewish bibles say “like a lion my hands and feet.”

However, all of the most ancient sources corroborate the “pierced” translation. Not only do the Septuagint (circa 150 BC) and the Peshitta contain it, but the Dead Sea Scrolls Fragment 4Q88 has been identified by Dr. Eugene Urlich (head editor of the Qumran scrolls) to say “pierced.” Additionally, the 5/6HevPs DSS text also says “pierced.”

For more information see:

・Eugene Urlich, The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Supplements to Vestus Testamentum, Vol. 134 (Brill 2010) p. 634

・Flint, Peter W., Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol 38 (Oxford)

The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English, edited by Martin G. Abegg, Peter W. Flint and Eugene Charles Ulrich

An a priori case for the Trinity

For today’s post I simply want to share an excerpt from Dr. Richard Swinburne’s book Was Jesus God? pages 28 – 34. Swinburne has developed a nifty little argument for the necessity of God’s Triunity based on a priori reasoning.

I will now set out a priori reasons for believing this to be true, that is reasons why, given that God the Father exists, we should expect there to be a Trinity, and then show how this belief was expressed in the Nicene Creed.

Suppose the Father existed alone. For a Tricoloringperson to exist alone, when he could cause others to exist and interact with him, would be bad.  A divine person is a perfectly good person, and that involves being a loving person. A loving person needs someone to love, and perfect love is love of an equal, totally mutual love, which is what is involved in a perfect marriage. While, of course, the love of a parent for a child is of immense value, it is not the love of equals; and what makes it as valuable as it is, is that the parent is seeking to make the child (as she grows up) into an equal. A perfectly good solitary person would seek to bring about another such person, with whom to share all that she has. There is an ancient principle called the Dionysian principle, which states that goodness is diffusive: it spreads itself. The Father will bring into existence another divine person with whom to share his rule of the universe. Following tradition, let us call that other person ‘God the Son‘.

But if the Father only began to cause the existence of the Son at some moment of time, say a trillion trilion years ago, that would be too late: for all eternity before that time he would not have manifested his perfect goodness. At each moment of everlasting time the Father must always cause the Son to exist, and so always keep the Son in being. Augustine wrote (On Diverse Questions 83 q.50) that if the Father ‘wished to “beget” the Son [that is, cause the Son to exist]. and was unable to do it, he would have been weak; if he was able to do it but did not wish to, he would have failed to do it because of “envy”‘ (that is, because he wished to be the only divine person). A solitary God would have been an ungenerous god and so no God. Although the Father is the (eternal) cause of the Son’s existence, and the Son is not the cause of the Father’s existence, they will in a certain sense be mutually dependent on each other. For the Father always to cause the Son to exist would be a unique best act of the Father, and so since being perfectly good is an essential property of a divine person, the Father will inevitably always cause the Son to exist. Hence the Father would not exist at all unless he caused the Son to exist; and that is why he requires the Son to exist for his won existence. And the perfect goodness of Father and Son means that they love each other without limit.

A twosome can be selfish. A marriage in which husband and wife are interested only in each other and do not seek to spread the love they have for each other is a deficient marriage. (And of course the obvious way, but not the only way, in which they can spread their love is by having children.) The love of the Father for the Son must include a wish to cooperate with the Son in further total sharing with an equal; and hence the need for a third member of the Trinity, whom, following tradition, we may call the Holy Spirit. whom they will love and by whom they will be loved. A universe in which there was only sharing and not cooperation in further sharing would have been a deficient universe; it would have lacked a certain kind of goodness. The Father and the Son would have been less than perfectly good unless they sought to spread their mutual love of cooperating in further sharing with an equal.

In the twelfth century Richard of St. Victor made this point and gave a further argument for it. He wrote (On the Trinity 3. 14 and 3.15) that anyone who really loves someone will seek the good of that person by finding some third person for him to love and be loved by. This demand can of course only be satisfied by have no less than three divine persons. And, as with the bringing about of the Son, any moment of time at which the Father and Son brought about the Spirit for the first time would have been too late; they would have not been perfectly good if there was a period at which they existed alone without the Spirit. Hence the Trinity must have always existed. Although the Father and the Son caused the Spirit to exist, and not vice versa, all are (in a sense) mutually dependent on  for the same reason as before. This is that, since being perfectly good is an essential characteristic of a divine being, unless Father and Son caused the Holy Spirit to exist, they would not exist themselves. And the perfect goodness of Father, Son, and Spirit means that they love each other without limit.


[T]here could not be two or more independent divine persons. So only the Father can be ontologically necessary (in the sense defined in Chapter 1, that is, he is not caused to exist by anything else). But since the perfect goodness of the Father requires the other two divine persons to exist just as inevitably as the Father exists, they are what I will call ‘metaphysically necessary’. I define as being as ‘metaphysically necessary’ if either it is ontologically necessary or it is caused to exist by an ontologically necessary being. Their equal inevitable existence makes the members of the Trinity equally worthy of worship. All three members of the Trinity are metaphysically necessary persons, but the Father alone is ontologically necessary. And the whole Trinity is ontologically necessary because nothing else caused it to exist.

I claimed in Chapter 1 that the simplest and so by far the most probable kind of God would lack thisness; and what I called ‘God’ in Chapter 1 is what I am calling ‘God the Father’ in this chapter. Something lacks thisness, the reader will recall, if it is what it is solely in virtue of its properties and not in virtue of something underlying its properties. Put in another way, if something has thisness, it could have a duplicate – something which has all the same properties but is not that thing. We humans have thisness, because instead of me there could have been a different person exactly like me who had the same body and all the same thoughts and feelings and yet was not me. Now if God the Father lacks thisness, he is what he is in virtue of his properties. These include the divine properties which the Son and Spirit also have. If the Son and Spirit are to be beings of the same kind as the Father, they must also lack thisness. So what makes each of them the particular divine person he is must be some further property; and there are obvious relational properties which will do this job. The Father is the Father because he has the essential property of not being caused to exist by anything else (that is, being ontologically necessary). The Son is the Son because he has the essential property of being caused to exist by an uncaused divine person acting alone. The Spirit is the Spirit because he is caused to exist by a divine person in cooperation with a divine person who is caused to exist by the uncaused divine person acting alone.

So why only three divine persons?  Do not these arguments suggest that there should be more than three divine persons, perhaps ab infinite number? I claimed in Chapter 1 that when there is a unique best action, God must do that; and when there is a best kind of action, God must do an action of that kind. Now, bringing about the sharing of divinity is a best kind of action and so it bringing about cooperation in sharing of divinity. But there is not comparable best kind of action which would be achieved by bringing about a fourth person. Bringing about cooperating in sharing with a fourth person is not a qualitatively different kind of good action from bringing about cooperating in sharing with a third person. Or, to use Richard of St Victor’s further point, bringing about the Spirit as well as the Son would provide for each divine person someone other than themselves for every other divine person to love and be loved by; but adding a fourth would not provide a new kind of good state.

You might think, nevertheless, that, for the above reasons the more divine persons the better. In that case, since however many divine persons the Father (in conjunction with others) brought about, it would be still better if he brought about more. But, we saw in Chapter 1, when a person has the choice of doing one of a series of incompatible actions, each better than the previous one and no best act, he would be perfectly good if he did any one of these acts. (To bring about only three divine persons would be incompatible with an alternative action of bring about only four divine persons, and so generally.) So the perfect goodness of the Father would be satisfied by his bringing about only two further divine persons. He does not have to bring about a fourth divine person in order to fulfill his divine nature. But then any fourth divine person would not exist necessarily, even in the sense of metaphysical necessity. His existence would not be a necessary consequence of the existence of an ontological necessary being; and hence he would not be divine. So there cannot be a fourth divine person. There must be and can only be three divine persons. Because it follows necessarily from the existence of one divine person, that there will also be two others, the hypothesis that there is a Trinity is not more complicated than the hypothesis of theism for the great simplicity of which I argued in Chapter 1. A simple hypothesis is no less simple for having complicated consequences: all the great simple scientific hypotheses have had many detailed complicated consequences.

Being omniscient, each divine person knows what the other is doing, and, being perfectly good, they give their active support to the actions initiated by the others in their spheres of activity. […] This can itself be said to be (in a derivative sense) omnipotent (it can do whatever any member of it chooses), omniscient (each member knows everything logically possible to know, perfectly free (no member is subject to any irrational influences in their choices), and eternal – all of these crucial terms being spelled out in the ways described in Chapter 1. […] I shall call it a ‘personal being‘, and for the rest of this book I shall use the word ‘God’ as the name of this being. Since, as argued earlier, there can only be three divine persons, there can only be one being of this kind. In this sense there is ‘one God‘. So (in a derivative sense) whatever a divine person is and does, God is and does.