I commented briefly in the second half of this post on why I think that the McCall–Yandell argument fails. (To get up to speed on what that argument is, see my two previous posts here and here.) A couple of days ago I stumbled across a quote in John Feinberg’s No One Like Him that demonstrates nicely why that argument doesn’t succeed.
In the last section of his chapter on the Trinity, “Logic and the Doctrine of the Trinity,” Feinberg is responding to criticisms that challenge the logical coherency of the doctrine.
Timothy Bartel raises an objection that parallels the McCall–Yandell argument very closely, the only difference being which properties are in view. McCall and Yandell attacked the notions of authority and submission, but if their argument is applied consistently, it would have to encompass any properties that the three don’t share in common.
Feinberg summarizes the objection like this:
The church, as we noted, said that the Father is ungenerate and that he begets the Son. The Son’s property is being eternally begotten by the Father, and the Holy Spirit’s property is his procession from the Father (or Father and Son). Given these respective properties, . . . we seem to have a problem, according to Bartel, for we can now write an argument like the following:
God the Son is eternally begotten of the Father qua divine.
God the Father is not eternally begotten of the Father qua divine;
Therefore, God the Son is not the same deity as God the Father. (494)
Those familiar with the McCall–Yandell argument will immediately see the similarities. If one of the persons has a property that at least one of the others lacks, then they don’t have the same divine nature and Arianism is the result. It sounds logical on the surface, but Feinberg explains why it fails:
This may seem to be an insuperable dilemma, but Bartel thinks not, and I agree. . . . The reason is that being eternally begotten and eternally proceeding are not properties the Son and Spirit have in virtue of being divine, but in virtue of being distinct subsistences of that divine essence. Hence, the premises of the above should read “qua subsistence or person,” and the conclusion should say, “Therefore, God the Son is not the same person or subsistence as God the Father.” (494–95)
I think Feinberg’s analysis highlights perfectly why the McCall–Yandell argument just won’t work. It wrongly tries to draw a conclusion about the one shared divine nature when the properties under discussion belong to the persons qua persons, not to the persons qua divine.