The Maximality Test simply asks which of any two notions of God are greater, along some many dimensions of excellence. It turns out that in practice, the Test straightly demolishes the great Christological and Trinitarian heresies so prevalent in the early Church from AD 33 through AD 2022.
Let’s run through those perennial heresies in alphabetical order (rather than order of their allure, historical importance, foolishness, or wickedness), and see how they fare under the Test. Their descriptions are taken from the Infogalactic article on Trinitarian and Christological heresies.
- Adoptionism: Jesus was born as a mere (non-divine) man, was supremely virtuous, and was adopted later as “Son of God” by the descent of the Spirit on him. Adoptionists differ about when Jesus was adopted. Some argue for his Baptism, others for his Transfiguration, others for his Passion. No matter.
Which is greater, a God who started out as a mere man, a schmuck like you and me, who then somehow transmogrified into a god; or a God who is eternal and necessary, and who became incarnate as a man, uniting in one person the human and divine natures? Obviously, the latter. Hands down.
- Apollinarism: Jesus had a human body and lower soul (the seat of the emotions) but a divine mind.
Which is greater: a God who can and does unite in one person – his own – both his eternal divine nature and his temporal human nature – as manifest and expressed in a fully human body, mind, emotions, acts, thoughts, knowledge, the whole shooting match; or a God who can’t? Obviously, the former.
We don’t have to understand how God achieves the hypostatic union, or even comprehend just what that union is, in order to see that it is greater by far than anything less.
- Arianism: the Lógos was created by the Father, had a beginning in time, and the title “Son of God” given to Jesus – and to the Lógos – is a courtesy.
OK, this one is easy. Which is greater, a Lógos who is eternal, or a Lógos who is not? Nuff said. If you are worshipping a Lógos who is a creature, well then, hello, you idiot, you are worshipping *a creature,* and *not God.* You’ve got the whole religion thing bass ackward. Sheesh. It is pathetic that anyone needs this explained.
- Collyridianism: the Trinity consists of the Father, Son, and Mary, and the Son is a result of sexual intercourse between the other two.
This one is hard for most of us to take seriously these days, but it is still out there. Lots of modern scholars seriously suggest that the Holy Spirit is female, the Father male, and the Son is the fruit of their intercourse. Not corporeally, of course – although some do stoop that low in their powers of conception – but rather as Principles. There are myriad categorical errors implicit in this notion, but let’s cut to the chase. Which is greater, an eternal Trinity, or a “Trinity” of which one member is contingent? Bingo, end of story: the former is greater.
- Docetism: Jesus’ physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die.
Which is greater: a God capable of the hypostatic union of divine and human natures, or a thing incapable thereof? Res ipsa loquitur.
- Macedonianism or Pneumatomachianism: the Holy Spirit is a creation of the Son, and a servant of the Father and the Son. Again, we don’t hear much about this one in these latter days of the very early Church, but it is still out there, due mostly I suppose to the short shrift that the Holy Ghost is given in most courses of catechesis over the last thousand years or so.
Neglecting again the many categorical confusions presupposed by this notion, which alone can enable its serious entertainment, let’s cut to the bottom line: which is greater, a Trinity of which one member is contingent, or a Trinity that is in all three Persons eternal? The question answers itself.
- Melchisedichianism: Melchisedech is an incarnation of the Lógos, and is the Holy Ghost. Hoo boy, don’t get me started on this hot categorical mess. All props to Melchizedek, an obvious type – an image, as we Christians say, as are all men – of the Great High Priest whose archetype, master and Lord is the Lord YHWH, who is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Melchizedek may even be the immortal superhuman Founder of the Earthly temporal Priesthood of which all Christians, like their Lord, are members. He may, i.e., be someone rather like Gandalf in the Great Chain of Being, so that he could have had authority to initiate and bless such as Abraham, or even (like John Baptist) Jesus. But an instance of the type is not itself the type, unless it be itself also – as Jesus is – the archetype. The only way Melchizedek can simply *be* YHWH is if he is the Lógos. And not, i.e., the Holy Ghost.
But, to dispense with all that fascinating stuff – no jot of which, NB, at all escheats the nobility of Melchizedek – which is greater, the Trinity that has as one member a temporal Great High Priest, or the Trinity that is in all three Persons eternal (howsoever those Persons may be instantiate temporally)? The Maximality Test crushes the former proposition.
I spent way more time on this one than is merited by its historical importance. But, I’m interested in Melchizedek. Chaff me as you will.
- Monarchianism: emphasis on the indivisibility of God the Father at the expense of the other Persons of the Trinity – leading, that is to say, on the relative irreality of the Second and Third Persons.
OK, to get brutal with this: which is greater, a God who is three Persons in one being, or a God who is only one Person? This is just math, no? 3 > 1?
- Monophysitism or Eutychianism: Christ’s divinity dominates and overwhelms his humanity, as opposed to the Chalcedonian position which holds that Christ has two natures, one divine and one human, or the Miaphysite position which holds that the human nature and pre-incarnate divine nature of Christ were united as one divine human nature from the point of the Incarnation onwards.
Which is greater, a being who can fully achieve the hypostatic union between divine and human natures, or one who cannot? Again, we don’t need to understand the hypostatic union, or how it was achieved, in order to answer this question. It is a simple question.
- Monothelitism: Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will. This is contrary to the orthodox interpretation of Christology, which teaches that Jesus Christ has two wills (human and divine) corresponding to his two natures.
Gosh, this is so easy. Which is greater, a being that has only an eternal will, or a being that has such an eternal will that is also in perfect union with a temporal human will? I’m not even going to say. You can see it for yourself.
- Nestorianism: Jesus Christ was a natural union between the Flesh and the Word, thus not identical to the divine Son of God.
This one refutes itself. How can a natural union between Flesh and Word be other than the Word? 1 = 1, right? Still, notwithstanding that enormity: which is greater, a God who can achieve a natural union between Flesh and Word *that is the Word,*, or a God who cannot? Sheesh, yet again; I grow tired of this.
- Patripassianism: the Father and Son are not two distinct persons, and thus God the Father suffered on the cross as Jesus.
In the first place, if Father and Son are not distinct Persons, then all the talk in Scripture and in the Magisterium of their Persons is just noise. Which is a stupid idea. It is the death of the Trinity, which is the death of the notion of the Incarnation, and thus of the notion of our salvation.
In the second place, sure, God suffered with his Son; how not? What, is the Father an asshole?
But, OK, in the spirit of the Maximality Test: which is greater, a Father who can suffer with his Son even though they are distinct Persons, or a Father who cannot? D’oh!
- Psilanthropism: Jesus is “merely human:” either he never became divine, or he never existed prior to his incarnation as a man.
I doubt I need to spell this one out; I will leave the application of the Maximality Test to this idea as an exercise for the reader. Anyone confused by it, let me know and I’ll lay it to rest.
- Sabellianism: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three characterizations of one God, rather than three distinct “persons” in one God.
Which is greater: an illusion of Trinity, or the reality thereof?
Gosh; I knew this would be easy, but I didn’t think it would be quite as easy as it has turned out to be.
- Tritheism: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three independent and distinct divine beings as opposed to three persons of one being and one essence.
This is the only heresy that seems the least bit credible to me, under the Maximality Test. It seems prima facie that three eternal beings could be greater than only one. But not so fast. For, which would be greater: a situation in which there were three eternals (which, being all eternal, would all be coequal), or one in which there were only one eternal, in three subjective Persons? In the former case, what would determine priority of one eternal versus the others, if anything? Which would be the Father? If there were no such determination, then how might chaos be averted? If there were such a determination of priority, would we not then be left with the ultimate priority of that determination, which was ontologically prior to any of the three Persons? Whence, then, that determination? How could it ever arise, other than from … some eternal?
Of all the great heresies, tritheism is the most robust. But it is also radically incoherent – and this, not only philosophically, not only logically: for, it flies in the face of the First Commandment [Exodus 20:2-6]. Tritheism cannot survive the First Commandment.
Nor can it survive the Maximality Test: for, what is greater: a God who is 3 Persons in one being, or a God who can be 3 Persons only as they are each instantiate in 3 beings? The former; there can be no doubt about that.
The Maximality Test is really no more than the empirical test of mystical experience. All such, in all traditions, testifies to the same thing: the Ultimate is the Ultimate. Hello, right? Whatever you are thinking of that is less, *it is less;* stop therefore thinking of it, for God’s sake, and for the sake of mere sanity, of mere common sense. Better to stop thinking at all, than to think of what is less than the best thing to think of.
We are of course at virtuous liberty to think of lesser things than God. We may think of beer, or kids, or our women, or Thomism, or the Mass, or our next woodworking project – or, indeed, the goddamn taxes. But here’s the thing: we may not possibly think rightly and properly of any such lesser things than God, other than in view of our thought about and for God. All lesser things than God can assume for us their proper proportion and place in our lives, only insofar as we hold them, and ourselves, first and foremost in subjection to him.
This, in practical terms, is the Maximality Test.
On now to my next dram of whisky, thanks be to God, and bless me so that I may dedicate its joy and all its effects to his purposes.