259. Richard Cross on Philosophy and the Trinity

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Medieval discussions of the Trinity charted new metaphysical territory, as we see in this interview with Richard Cross.



Further Reading

• R. Cross, Duns Scotus, Great Medieval Thinkers (New York: 1999)

• R. Cross, Duns Scotus on God (Aldershot: 2005).

• R. Cross, "Relations and the Trinity: The Case of Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus," Documenti e studi sulla tradizione filosofica medievale, 16 (2005), 1-21.

• R. Cross, "Quid tres? On What Precisely Augustine Professes Not to Understand in De Trinitate V and VII," Harvard Theological Review, 100 (2007), 215-32.

• R. Cross, The Medieval Christian Philosophers: an Introduction (London: 2014).


AMK on 1 August 2016


How would this overview of sameness/difference, etc situate the Trinity vs. the existence of H2O molecules in ice, water and steam?

In reply to by AMK

Peter Adamson on 1 August 2016


That's an interesting one. I guess that this could be an example of sameness without identity, since ice water and steam are the same thing but non-identical because in different states? But I suppose that medievals would probably go for the idea that it is one matter with different forms, which of course is also a possible way of accounting for the Trinity (with divinity as being like "matter" and the persons functioning like "forms"). Of course the medievals don't know about the three phase theory of gas, liquid and solid, so it's a bit speculative to wonder what they would say about this case.

Ben Mordecai on 2 August 2016

Rational discovery of the Trinity apart from revelation

It was kind of touched on in this episode, with the argument of perfect love which Scotus aparently rejects, but couldn't a version of this argument prove, for example, to an Arian that God is Trinitarian? If the universe is not eternal and God is love, then God would for eternity be unable to exist apart from an object of love, and there could be no universe? Since an Arian would affirm a non-eternal universe and a loving God, would this corner them into having to account for one or the other?

In reply to by Ben Mordecai

Peter Adamson on 8 August 2016

Rational discovery

Yes, I think that is right - some medieval philosophers seem to flirt with the idea that you can prove not just that God exists using reason, but also that He is a Trinity. And Scotus seems to belong to that camp, also Abelard as we mentioned in the earlier episodes on the 12th c.

Thomas Litman on 15 August 2016

explanation of multiple properties

Hi Peter, great podcast! (all of them)

With respect to the example of you being both bearded and bald ... that the explanation for you being bearded can not be the same as the one for you being  bald (in other words: that multiple, contrasting properties - why you have hair and why you don't have hair - cannot have the same explanation): Actually, the explanation IS the same: it is testosteron :P


Nathanael on 16 August 2016

Giles of Rome and Godfrey of Fontaines

You're getting mighty close to covering John Duns Scotus so I was wondering whether Giles of Rome and Godfrey of Fontaines were going to get an episode.

In reply to by Nathanael

Peter Adamson on 17 August 2016

Giles and Godfrey

Yes, sort of. There is an episode coming up (already written) on late 13th century views about being, in which I compare and contrast the views of Aquinas, Giles, Godfrey, Henry of Ghent, and Scotus. But after that I move on to focusing just on Scotus.

Thomas Hennigan on 20 October 2016


If I understand correctly the reference to Augustine is incorrect. What distinguishes the essence from the persons is what is called the "substantial relations" and that is held both by Augustine and Aquinas. It is also held by the Cappadocians.  I don't agree with Scotus' position and I think Aquinas has it right when he states "actiones sunt suppositorum".  Fo good reason, Scotus was called "doctor subtilis"

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